About Contact Careers News Financial Aid ASU President Search
Public Relations
BOARD OF TRUSTEES HOLDS ANNUAL DIVERSITY AWARDS RECOGNITION

2/25/2019 - Jackson, Miss.

Penny Sisson of Oxford receives the Karen Cummins Community Service Award.
Dr. Michael Ryan of the University of Mississippi Medical Center is named the 2019 Diversity Educator of the Year.

The Mississippi Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning celebrated Black History Month by holding its annual Diversity Awards ceremony at the meeting held recently in Jackson. Campus and community leaders were recognized for their efforts in advancing diversity and encouraging understanding and respect. Dr. Michael Ryan, Professor and Associate Dean for Student Affairs, School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences for the University of Mississippi Medical Center was named the 2019 Diversity Educator of the Year.

Retired educator and community volunteer Penny Sisson of Oxford received the Karen Cummins Community Service Award. In 2017, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name the Community Service Award in memory of Trustee Cummins in recognition that her life epitomized what the award is all about, helping to improve Mississippi's communities with a welcoming and inclusive spirit.

"The Board of Trustees is honored to recognize Dr. Ryan and Mrs. Sisson," said Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Chair of the Board of Trustees' Diversity Committee. "They both demonstrate a tremendous capacity for helping others and have directed their talents and skills in ways that have made an incredible difference to countless individuals. They have helped our communities and our state become more inclusive places to live, work and raise a family."

Penny Sisson has taught Spanish in a variety of settings from Pre-Kindergarten through adult education, including Oxford University School, elementary and secondary schools in Cambridge and Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and Grenada, Mississippi; and universities including the University of North Carolina and the University of Mississippi. She has also tutored students at the University of Mississippi and offered Spanish classes for the community of Oxford, incorporating cultural information, understanding and appreciation for similarities and differences throughout these classes.

Sisson has taught English as a second language for the Oxford School District, volunteered her time and expertise to teach English to members of the Oxford community; and offered workshops for teachers explaining cultural differences. She has taught multi-cultural education for the University of Mississippi on both the Oxford and Tupelo campuses.

For more than 20 years, Sisson has worked in the Hispanic Ministry at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Oxford, offering worship, teaching English classes, and introducing the Hispanic community to a variety of social services available.

Sisson formed a group at St. Peter's Episcopal Church called "International Friends" for women from a variety of countries; and while meeting each week, toured many places in the Oxford community, including the public library, Southside Gallery, and Azalea Gardens. Through the experiences, the members learned about cultural differences and worked on understanding and appreciating differences among the members, who included those speaking Arabic and Chinese, and Korean, Latin American and African women.

Sisson has participated in the Racial Reconciliation training provided by the Diocese of Mississippi and she worked with the Racial Reconciliation group at St. Peter's to help make the church's Rise and Shine Breakfast a shining example of what racial reconciliation work can achieve as participants come together for breakfast, fellowship and understanding as they enjoy their time together.

Sisson has served as a translator and interpreter for the Honduras Medical Mission for more than 25 times. She has lived in Palenque, Cardenas, Cholula, and Tehuacan, Mexico, which has given her the perspective of being an outsider in a community and informed her desire to develop an inclusive mindset in the Oxford community.

Originally from Grenada, Sisson earned both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from the University of Mississippi.

University of Mississippi Medical Center Professor and Associate Dean for Student Affairs, School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, Dr. Michael Ryan was named the 2019 Diversity Educator of the Year for his contributions to diversity and positive relations among all segments of the medical center campus and the broader community.

Dr. Ryan has worked with the University of Mississippi Medical Center since 2004, serving in various roles, including Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics; Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics; Director of the School of Graduate Studies Discovery U Programs; Director of the Graduate Program in Physiology and Biophysics; Director of the Master of Biomedical Sciences Program; and as a Research Health Scientist for the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Dr. Ryan has also worked as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Iowa.

In his letter of nomination, Dr. Ralph H. Didlake, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, summarizes Dr. Ryan's contributions by writing, "Our enthusiasm for Dr. Ryan's nomination is based on his substantive work to attract and mentor underrepresented students into the sphere of bioscience research. This is a critical diversity need and the institution is very proud of his efforts."

Dr. Ryan has served as an outstanding mentor for many undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral underrepresented minority trainees and championed the careers of women and minorities in all phases of his professional career, including teaching, research, service, and leadership. He has trained many high school and undergraduate students who are minorities.

Dr. Ryan has played a major role in increasing the number, quality, and diversity of the student body at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and has been awarded a National Institutes of Health R25 grant to promote a diverse biomedical research work force in Mississippi, which has supported 40 underrepresented minority students from undergraduate institutions, many of them historically black colleges and universities.

The percentage of underrepresented minority students in doctoral programs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center has nearly doubled and Dr. Ryan has helped them in numerous ways, including preparing for their qualifying exams, serving on dissertation committees and counseling them when they have difficulties. Dr. Ryan advises approximately 65 students each year, of which 27 percent are underrepresented minority students and 55 percent are women.

Dr. Ryan has served as a leader and mentor in several programs that provide summer research experiences for K-12 students and undergraduate students, including the Summer Undergraduate Research Enrichment (SURE) Program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Under Dr. Ryan's direction, the number of minorities in the SURE program has steadily increased from 12 percent to 35 percent.

Dr. Ryan's contributions to diversity and inclusion extend beyond the University of Mississippi Medical Center into the community. He has organized and led community outreach events that bring science to elementary, middle, and high school students, such as an outreach event at the Mississippi Children's Museum and the Discovery U High School Program. Dr. Ryan has served as a mentor for the Base Pair Program with Murrah High School and on the Mississippi Children's Museum's Scientific Advisory Board.

Dr. Ryan is consistently rated as one of the top instructors in Medical Physiology and Dental Physiology and has been recognized with numerous awards for his work both inside the classroom and beyond, including election to the Norman C. Nelson Order of Teaching Excellence at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and election as Chair of the Water and Electrolyte Homeostasis Section of the American Physiological Society. Dr. Ryan has also received the University of Mississippi Medical Center Gold Level Excellence in Research Award, the American Society of Hypertension Young Scholars Award, the UMMC Dental School All-Star Faculty Award, and the Merck Young Investigator Award.

Dr. Ryan has been recognized for his efforts on diversity and inclusion initiatives with the A. Clifford Barger Underrepresented Minority Mentorship Award from the American Physiological Society, the UMMC Beacon Award and the Veteran's Affairs Merit Award.

Dr. Ryan graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biological Sciences from Cortland College in Cortland, N.Y., and earned a doctoral degree in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y. Dr. Ryan is a member of several professional associations, including the American Society of Gravitational and Space Biology, the American Physiological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Heart Association, the Gulf Coast Physiological Society, the Biochemical Society and the University of Mississippi Medical Center Group on Women in Medicine and Science.

In addition to the Educator of the Year, the Board also honored faculty from each of Mississippi's public universities for advancing diversity at their institutions. These honorees include:

    Dr. Cynthia Skaggs Scurria
    Chairperson of the Department of English, Languages and Mass Communication
    Alcorn State University

    Dr. Natasha Barnes
    Assistant Professor of Counselor Education
    Delta State University

    Heather A. Wilcox
    Director of the Center for University-Based Development
    Jackson State University

    Dr. Mimmo Parisi
    Executive Director of the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center (NSPARC)
    Mississippi State University

    Dr. Scott Willard
    Associate Dean and Professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
    Mississippi State University
    Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine

    Dr. Phillip Stockton
    Assistant Professor of Music Education and Director of Choral Activities
    Mississippi University for Women

    Deborah Purnell
    Instructor, English and Foreign Languages and Creative Writing Club Advisor
    Mississippi Valley State University

    Sandra Cox-McCarty
    Associate Dean, School of Law
    The University of Mississippi

    Dr. Thomas V. O'Brien
    Professor, College of Education and Human Sciences
    The University of Southern Mississippi

Photos of honorees may be downloaded from the following links:

Michael Ryan

(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham; 2019 Diversity Educator of the Year Dr. Michael Ryan; Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks; Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center Dr. LouAnn Woodward

Penny Sisson

(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Penny Sisson, Karen Cummins Community Service Award recipient

Cynthia Skaggs Scurria
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Dr. Cynthia Skaggs Scurria, Interim President Donzell Lee, Alcorn State University
Natasha Barnes
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Dr. Natasha Barnes, President William LaForge, Delta State University
Heather A. Wilcox
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Heather A. Wilcox, President Will Bynum, Jackson State University
Scott Willard
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham; Interim Association Vice President for Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine Reuben Moore; Dr. Scott Willard; President Mark Keenum, Mississippi State University, Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine.
Mimmo Parisi
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Dr. Mimmo Parisi, President Mark Keenum, Mississippi State University
Phillip Stockton
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Dr. Phillip Stockton, President Nora Miller, Mississippi University for Women
Deborah Purnell
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Deborah Purnell, President Jerryl Briggs, Mississippi Valley State University
Sandra Cox-McCarty
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, Sandra Cox-McCarty, Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks, University of Mississippi
Thomas V. O'Brien
(l-r) Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, President Rodney Bennett, University of Southern Mississippi, accepting on behalf of Dr. Thomas V. O'Brien

###

The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

News Archive

The Pathway to Growth for Our State

Alcorn State University
President Search

Caron Blanton
Director of Communications
Telephone: 601.432.6333

Sophie Wolf
Digital Media Manager
Telephone: 601.432.6651