Dave Heflin Outdoor Lab opens on campus

President LaForge joined a large group of people from campus and the community to officially open the Dave Heflin Outdoor Laboratory at Delta State.

The division of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Delta State University held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new lab on Feb. 11.

This space is an exciting new addition to campus that will further expand curriculum available to HPER students and enhance recreational opportunities for the campus as a whole.

The lab is named for Dave Heflin, assistant professor emeritus HPER at Delta State, and the founder of the Outback and Kayak Club. Heflin’s contributions to the field of educational recreation at Delta State are legendary among the generations of students whose lives he influenced.

Dave Heflin and President LaForge

Heflin and his family have provided funding and support to enable the program to continue in that tradition, making it possible for future generations of students to experience a range of outdoor education experiences that lead to lifelong recreational habits.

“The new space will provide this program with an enhanced identity and place of pride for students as they engage in activities and educational experiences in the outdoor recreation program,” said Dr. Charles McAdams, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “The program has a great history and many alumni recall with great fondness the experiences they have had in this program. Dave Heflin was able to build a program with a great reputation, and Todd Davis has grown the program and clearly taken the program to the next level. The future is indeed bright for this program, especially with this newly renovated lab.”

The lab allows for new classroom space, an HD projector and screen for lectures and presentations, a rock climbing wall, maps and guidebooks, equipment storage space, kitchen and laundry facilities, and adequate space to function as an operating training facility for outdoor recreation.

Dr. Leslie Griffin, dean of the College of Education and Human Science, is thrilled with the new facility. 

“The Dave Heflin Outdoor Recreation Lab is testimony to the inherent power in shared vision and what it can produce,” said Griffin. “With Todd Davis at the helm, the opening of the lab is our next step along the way to engage students in the program early and in authentic ways.”

In recent years, the Outdoor Recreation Education Program has expanded to include a viable HPER concentration in Recreation Leadership and an array of outdoor recreation courses that expose students to a variety of experiences. The rigor of trip courses has increased through curriculum development, and enrollment trends are positive. A total of 637 students have enrolled in outdoor recreation trip courses during the past 12 years.

Todd Davis, program director for Outdoor Education, is excited to begin programming in the new space.

“I’m excited for our students,” said Davis. “I’m excited that they will have a professional space to learn and develop their skills in a beautiful setting with photos that illustrate the legacy of the program. I’m excited for the possible growth of this program.

“I hope students are able to realize what an enormous benefit this program is to campus life and to the overall education of a student,” added Davis. “It provides opportunities for students to grow, understand and be active in their world. This lab is a magnificent addition to the College of Education and Human Sciences, the Dave Heflin Professorship, and the Division for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. We are very proud of the fact that we re-purposed an unused space and stayed under budget, while exceeding expectations.”

Investing in our Academic Future

By William N. LaForge, President, Delta State University

The continued cuts to state funding for public universities in Mississippi present a significant challenge that is felt not only at the university level, but also across the entire state.

Each of the eight public four year universities has a considerable investment in our students, businesses, employees, communities, outreach efforts, and research projects—all of which ripple out to impact the state’s economy and future. All of us as citizens of Mississippi are affected directly or indirectly by higher education outcomes, sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

Mississippi Today recently reported that between fiscal years 2010 and 2017, state university funding has declined 4.5 percent, and general funding for IHL has declined more than 7 percent. During that same time, system-wide enrollment has increased more than 12 percent, and the number of degrees awarded in this state has increased nearly 14 percent.  The hardest hit budgets have been the universities’ operating budgets that provide funding for maintaining campus operations and paying the salaries of the faculty and staff who educate our students.

State funding is necessary to supplement tuition and other revenue for our universities that, collectively, are one of the best higher education bargains in the country, and which boast reasonable tuition rates that other states and universities envy.

To support the vision of a new Mississippi, the most appropriate view of higher education expenditures by the state is not simply that of an expense item in the budget. It is much more essentially an investment—in our students, in our state, and in our future.

Like our sister public institutions, Delta State manages scarce resources in an environment of competing priorities every day. We strategically focus our attention and spending on programs, initiatives, and educational offerings that bring value to our students and to the state. And, we rely basically on state funding and student tuition to provide the revenue necessary to accomplish our mission. Some ask, ‘How can we measure the outcomes and the return on our investment?’  The answer is in the products we produce—prepared students who are ready to enter the professions and workforce across the state.  All of our state universities are working hard every day to meet that goal through prudent allocation of resources.

One example of smart, targeted spending that produces terrific outcomes at Delta State is our emphasis on improved retention—helping our students stay in school and on the path to graduation.  Between the fall of 2015 and the fall of 2016, we experienced significant increases in retention rates for first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen—5.2 percent; first time, full-time, degree-seeking transfer students—7.8 percent; and, all full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students—3.7 percent. Simply put, this means more students stayed in school and on the path to graduation—and on the path to being more productive, employable citizens of our state.

But, the retention programs that produce this success cost money. Better said, they beg for our investment of dollars to support a program that will help Mississippi get off the bottom rung of American educational and economic metrics.  We are being asked by the state to continue doing this good work—to continue producing more and better-educated students—with fewer and fewer resources. By any measure, that is an unsustainable pattern.

Here at Delta State University, as at all our public universities, we believe in putting students first, and that quality education should be available to all qualified students in this state. We offer the lowest tuition in the region, and we make the most of our limited resources, while still providing a top-tier education for our students.  But, as long as state funding is severely limited or cut, this model of success will be undermined.

Just as our eight public universities merit the investment of Mississippi tax dollars to support our educational mission, our students individually also need financial assistance to enroll and stay in school.  State research data show that 89 percent of our eligible full-time, degree-seeking students, both undergraduate and graduate, received some form of financial aid during the 2015-16 academic year. These deserving students need our support to help them earn a college degree—a tangible outcome that serves the best interests of our state on so many   levels.

In the rural Delta of Mississippi, Delta State is seen as a beacon of opportunity in a place where opportunity is sometimes lacking. In the fall of 2016, for example, 25 percent of our student body comprised first-generation students. This number is clearly indicative of the urgent need for, and value of, higher education in the Magnolia State. When we educate that first­ generation student, we are lifting up an entire family.

Continuing to cut state funding for higher education puts statewide efforts for student success at dire risk. Future cuts will only produce a steeper uphill battle in the fight to lift this state off the economic bottom. We cannot continue to be expected to produce more graduates, continue our outreach efforts in our communities, and fund vital research with fewer resources.

Let’s continue to educate Mississippians and to make this state a better place to live, work, prosper, and raise our families. Enhanced state funding for higher education—not more budget cuts—is the key to a brighter future for this state.

Fulbright panel to discuss international opportunities

Joining President LaForge is Jamie Dahman, assistant professor of music at Delta State and coordinator of the Fulbright Fellowship program here on campus.

One of President LaForge’s priorities has been to boost the number of international students studying on campus as well as to encourage students to study abroad, which has led to cultural exchange programs with Russia, Poland, and Korea.

Over the last three years, enrollment of international students has increased 65%—from 78 students in Fall 2013 to 129 students in Fall 2016. During that same time span, the number of countries represented has increased 79%. Delta State now has partnerships with universities in six countries—Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Korea, Poland, and Russia—and we are eager to expand our international exchange opportunities.

We also encourage students and faculty members to apply for Fulbright fellowships. The Fulbright Fellowship program is one of the most recognized cultural and educational exchange programs in the United States, and it provides opportunities for thousands of successful applicants to pursue research, creative endeavors, and instruction opportunities at universities all over the globe.

On February 28, four former Fulbright Fellows, including President LaForge, will participate in a panel discussion about their experiences in the Fulbright program. The event is set for 12:15 p.m. in the Baioni Conference Center in Broom Hall.

In other news on campus, on Saturday, February 11, and Monday, February 13, the Delta State American Chemical Society and the Wiley Planetarium will present “A Night Under the Stars.” Tickets are $20 per couple and include a keepsake photo and desserts to be served after the 3D show. Shows are set for 7 p.m. To request tickets, send an email to deltastateacs@gmail.com. On Wednesday, February 8, Omicron Delta Kappa will host an interest meeting for students interested in joining the leadership honor society. That event is set for noon in Room 302A of the H. L. Nowell Student Union.

You can keep up with all of our news, events and activities by visiting our web site deltastate.edu.