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USM’s Spring 2024 Graduates Ready for Life as they make Path Toward Golden Future

Mon, 05/13/2024 - 04:25pm | By: David Tisdale

Spring 2024 University of 51 Mississippi (USM) graduates are taking their education and experience from their alma mater out into the world with hopes and plans not only for personal fulfillment, but to also better the communities where they will live and work.

More than 1,900 earned degrees from the university this semester, with commencement ceremonies held at Reed Green Coliseum on the Hattiesburg campus and at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi.

USM Graduate

Damien Cooper

*Damien Cooper of Batesville, Miss. earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry (ACS certified) as a McNair Scholar at the university. He served as president of American Chemical Society’s student chapter at USM; he will continue his education this fall as a Ph.D. student in chemistry at Rice University in Houston, Texas through the support of the competitive, federally funded National Science Foundation Graduate Readiness Fellowship.

Cooper was attracted to the USM chemistry program for its undergraduate research opportunities. He cited USM professors Dr. Julie Pigza and his research advisor, Dr. Matthew Donahue, for their inspiration and guidance in opening a plethora of opportunities for him.

“Through the chemistry program here at USM, studying under Drs. Pigza and Donahue and doing research in the Donahue Group, I’ve been able to travel across the country, speak with leaders in my field, and present my research at numerous conferences,” Cooper continued. “My coursework here also supplemented these endeavors. “

Cooper took upper-level chemistry courses from Dr. Pigza, including "Spectral Elucidation of Structure” in which he learned to interpret the data of multiple instruments chemists use daily. “Not only did she make the class engaging, but she also made it enjoyable. I still use the skills and techniques that I learned in this class to this day,” Cooper said.

As a freshman in 2020 with no prior lab experience, Dr. Donahue allowed Cooper to join his research group. “Through my time in his lab, I have mentored many peers, attended 16 conferences, earned awards for my research, gained countless lab skills, and met some of my closest friends,” Cooper reflected. “Without Dr. Donahue’s guidance and mentorship, I would not be the person or chemist I am today.”

USM Graduate

Ian Beall

*Ian Beall, a polymer science major from Hattiesburg, says he’s excited about completing his program and is looking forward to working in his chosen field of study, but will miss the daily interactions with friends and professors he’s bonded with over the last four years. A member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, he assisted with Golden Eagle Welcome Weekend as a volunteer during his senior year.

Beall is currently looking at job options focused on coatings and composites development. He praised USM School of Polymer Science and Engineering faculty Dr. Heather Broadhead and Dr. Jeff Wiggins for helping him and fellow graduates get ready for life after graduation.

“Dr. Broadhead has been great to work with as an advisor, keeping us all on track in our course schedules, and I also can’t say enough good things about Dr. Wiggins and his guidance in the classes I took from him and working in his lab. He really showed us the ins and outs of how molecules are taken to become materials, explaining that process from starting point to end point in terms of product development in the private sector.

“He also taught us invaluable lessons in teamwork, creating group assignment situations for us to help us get out of our comfort zones, and develop leadership skills we’ll need in the workplace to see a project or assignment to completion. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”

USM Graduate

Cocavah "Coco" Fraise

*Cocavah "Coco" Fraise overcame personal challenges to realize her dream of securing her degree in legal studies (pre-law) with a minor in forensic science. A transfer student from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), Fraise juggled a full schedule as she majored in legal studies (pre-law) and minored in forensic science. She commuted from Picayune, Miss. to the Hattiesburg campus, worked part-time, and cared for her daughter and her fiancé who is dealing with health challenges, while also participating as a member of the USM Forensic Science Society and serving as president of the USM Paralegal Society.

After taking time to prepare for the Law School 51 Test (LSAT), she plans to attend Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

“I heard positive stories from a lot of people who graduated from USM, so I was interested in coming here since high school,” she said. “Once I decided on a career to pursue, I realized the university could help me achieve my dreams. It was one of the best decisions I could have ever made.”

Fraise’s first instructor at USM was Kristi Johnson, who inspired her interest in forensic science. “The way she describes and discusses topics in forensics made it fascinating and interesting,” Fraise explained. “I admire and appreciate her work as a crime scene investigator and latent print examiner, and also that she is a mom who was able to achieve so much in her career and education. Her classes are where I learned that these fields and careers exist.

“It’s truly a blessing to have been able to attend 51 Miss – this place has done an amazing job preparing for me for my next journey in life.”

USM Graduate

Sean Smith

*Sean Smith of Petal, Miss. earned his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, with emphasis areas in English and communication. He studied photography at USM as part of his communication coursework and employed his talents capturing images for USM’s Student Printznewspaper and statewide media to include the Clarion-Ledger and Hattiesburg American, among others.

Smith also played a role in helping the USM School of Communication secure the Roy Howard Community Journalism Center, providing visuals included in its grant application for the center. His photography earned recognition from the Southeastern Journalism Conference; this year, he was awarded USM’s Damian E. Morgan Memorial Scholarship in Photography. His post-graduation plans include working as a photographer for a media outlet.

Smith says his USM experience “has meant the world to me.”

“Working with The Student Printz has given me several opportunities, such as photographing President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden’s visit to Mississippi following the tornado that struck Rolling Fork, the NCAA College Baseball Super Regionals here at Pete Taylor Park, and [actor and composer] Lin-Manuel Miranda,” Smith continued. “Without my time at USM, I would not have had these experiences or the opportunities in front of me.

“And every faculty member I’ve interacted with here has helped me in unique ways to ensure my success.”