Messages from the President - 2023
Faculty, Staff and Students,
This morning we were pleased to deliver to the USA Board of Trustees an enrollment report that shows growth for the first time in seven years and a freshman class that jumped 19 percent over last fall.
The Class of 2027 is one of the most academically talented, with an average GPA of 3.76; there were significant enrollment gains in several of our colleges and schools; and first-year retention grew to 76 percent.
In all, student enrollment in 2023 rose to 13,768. A news release detailing our achievements can be found on USA News.
This success is due to the dedicated and focused work of our faculty, staff and students.
Because of you, more and more students and their families see the value of a first-class ticket to a brighter future through a degree from the University of South Alabama. There are many reasons to be proud of our University, as well as to be optimistic for our future.
Increasing enrollment and improving retention take constant work and attention. That doesn’t happen overnight. Positive results are only possible when everyone plays a role.
We’re especially grateful to our faculty and staff, who have gone the extra mile to put our students first. They have implemented innovative teaching strategies and provided enriched opportunities for research, service and campus involvement. They visit high schools on recruiting trips and meet our students where they are — in person and online — to guide them in their academic pursuits.
Collectively, we are meeting this moment of opportunity. We are living out our mission of promoting discovery, health and learning because that’s what the people who came before us envisioned, worked for and, quite frankly, expected.
This is just the beginning. Today we celebrate, but we also recommit to telling South’s story and sharing the value of a degree from the Flagship of the Gulf Coast.
With heartfelt thanks,
Dr. Andi Kent
Executive Vice President and Provost
Students, Faculty and Staff,
With our first week of class coming to a close, I didn’t want to miss a chance to tell you how incredibly proud I have been with the start of our academic year.
From Move-In Days this past weekend, to Convocation on Monday, to our 60th Anniversary group photo and movie night at Hancock Whitney Stadium, there has been something for everyone. We want all of our Jaguars to find their place at South.
A BIG THANK YOU to all our volunteers — students, faculty and staff — who have made all these events possible. There is more to come. Check out Week of Welcome and Beyond events online.
To our newest Jaguars, we know you might still have questions about preparing for your classes, selecting a path for your major or figuring out how to get involved. The transition from high school to college can be challenging, but know that there is an army of people on campus ready to support you. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
You can reach out to the Center for Academic Excellence, your advisors or one of your professors. USA One Stop also is good source of information. And remember, if you need a ride, look for me and SGA President Amya Douglas on the Presidential Golf Cart. Flag us down by showing your J.
As I told students at Convocation, we are grateful each of you is here, and, moreover, we are honored you chose South Alabama as your university. I want to make sure we do everything in our power to get you to the graduation finish line and help you earn a first-class ticket to a brighter future. Along the way, you’re going to meet lifelong friends, expand what you thought was possible, and learn a lot about yourself and your field of study.
All of this is meant to prepare you for what comes next in life. You’ve already learned how important it is to make a strong start.
Until we meet on campus,
Convocation Remarks, 2023
Good morning. It’s great to see you all. What an exciting way to kick off the fall semester, even though it still feels like summer. We are grateful each of you is here, and moreover, we are honored you chose South Alabama as your place to get a great college education.
In just a bit, I’m going to talk with you about a few pivotal moments in life.
The fact that you are here is one of those moments, and I want to make sure we do everything in our power to get you to that graduation finish line – to earn that degree and a first-class ticket to a brighter future. Along the way, you’re going to meet lifelong friends, expand what you ever thought was possible, learn a lot about yourself and even more about your field of study.
Our faculty – many who are here today – join me in welcoming you to this special moment in your life.
All of this is meant to prepare you for what comes next in life.
Now, for some, judging by the amount of things we helped you haul up those stairs on Friday and Saturday during “Move-In Days,” it seems like you may be planning on staying here a while. Remember… the goal is to graduate in four years!
Let me tell you about a dinner my wife, Janée, and I hosted the other night for Head Football Coach Kane Wommack and his lovely wife, Melissa, along with a few other friends.
During the course of what was a great visit, we got the chance to reflect on last year’s team, when YOUR Jaguars went 10-2 during the regular season, and topped it off with a bowl game in the Superdome in New Orleans.
By the way, we’re returning to New Orleans on September 2 to kick off this year’s season against nationally-ranked Tulane. I look forward to seeing each of you at our home games this fall.
But that night, over dinner at our house, Coach Wommack said something that really made an impression on me. He said: “President Bonner… We were five plays from being undefeated.”
Think about that. Five plays. Five moments that changed the trajectory of those games.
You see, this happens in our lives, as well.
Warren Buffett is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and the fifth richest man in the world. He still lives in Omaha … in a house he purchased in 1958 for about $31,000.
Each year, Mr. Buffett sends a much-anticipated letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. In it, he shares company news and thoughts on investing. This is a must read for investors. After all, how could you not want insight from a man who is worth more than $118 billion?
In this year’s letter, Warren Buffett said much of his company’s fortunes have been the product of about a dozen truly good decisions – an average of one every five years.
One of those was to invest in Coke … $1.3 billion back in the 90s. That investment today is worth $25 billion with an annual dividend – the profit for investors – of $704 million dollars.
It may seem, then, as though you only have to make a few good decisions in life. The problem is, we face thousands of decisions each day.
Researchers at Cornell estimate we make about 220 decisions each day on food alone. No wonder there are so many photos of pizza on Instagram.
And while I can almost guarantee you that your choice between sausage and pepperoni won’t change your life, I have no idea what decision you will make today, tomorrow, or next year that will. The fact is, neither do you.
That’s not to say you have no control over your life’s direction. You made the decision to be here today; what you learn, who you surround yourself with and what you do in the next four years will go a long way toward shaping what your next 40 years look like.
So what about those decisions you don’t get right … the ones that end up in “failure”?
I’m here to tell you they usually don’t end up as badly as you might think. You see, failure is opportunity if you’ll only look at it the right way. I can see that through my own life, and I know it will be true in yours as well.
When I was in college – a long time ago – I tried out for Big Al, the University of Alabama’s mascot. Came in third.
I also ran for SGA president. Came in third, there, too.
That night, the night of the election, I showed up at the victory party to congratulate my opponent, Gordon Martin, the guy who won. Many were surprised to see me there, but it was one of those good decisions I ended up making. Gordon and I ended up working closely together that next year and we became lifelong friends.
Losing that race also freed me up for the summer, so I could go to Washington D.C. and intern for Congressman Jack Edwards, who represented South Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The rest, as they say, is history. Just a few years later, I got a job working for Mr. Edward’s successor, Congressman Sonny Callahan. And when Sonny left Congress after 18 years, I ran for his seat.
Sure, I lost SGA president, but that defeat set into motion a series of events that led me to being elected to Congress for six terms and a lifetime of public service.
In Congress, as you know, you run for office every two years. So I quickly learned I needed to always be campaigning and one trick of the trade is to leave people something with your name on it, like a keychain.
Today, one of the favorite parts of my job is campaigning for South Alabama, and we’re doing that as we visit schools from across our region, bringing many students back for VIP tours. Some of you, then, already have at least one of our Jaguar spirit buttons from those visits, or from orientation this summer or even from this weekend. I find the buttons are a lot more popular than keychains.
And between the two of us, Dr. Andi Kent, our executive vice president and provost, and I have passed out literally thousands of buttons since we introduced them last year.
For those who are unfamiliar with these buttons, let me give you a quick explanation.
We have more than 30 different buttons, and that number is growing as we add more and more. If you collect all of them, you get a free Coca-Cola from me … and a chance to make Mr. Buffett even richer.
Today, we’re officially adding two more buttons for the Week of Welcome – WOW and Good Vibes Only.
Now, since this is one of the biggest freshmen classes we’ve had in years, I’m going to need some help passing these buttons out. Here’s how we’re going to do it:
I’m sure most of you all remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A new version of the movie comes out this year featuring Timothée Chalamet, and before that, was the version with Johnny Depp, and before that Gene Wilder, and before that the book.
That book was published in 1964 – the first year of your University.
If you recall, five golden tickets were put in random Wonka bars worldwide … five chances to visit the Wonka Factory.
Today, for our first-year students on the floor, there are five golden tickets. Each of them is a ticket to help me pass out these buttons, and each of them includes $25 in Jag Bucks for USA Dining. One of those golden tickets carries with it a complete set of our Jag spirit buttons.
Only one other student has collected a full set of the buttons since we began this nearly two years ago. So, for our freshmen, check the underside of your chairs, and will the five winners please come up!
All our first-year students are going to get one of these two buttons. But you’ll need to find me over the next few days for the other button. I’ll be around … I promise!
Helping our five freshmen are members of the “Southerners.” Now as we go down to start passing out these buttons, let me get everyone to put your left hand up, make a “J” and let’s do a Big “Go Jags!”
Faculty, Staff and Students,
Summer makes me realize how much I’m ready for fall.
It’s not the heat. Like most of us, I’m used to Alabama summers. It’s walking into the Student Center Ballroom in front of a packed house of incoming students and their parents that makes me look forward to the start of classes, the sound of our Jaguar Marching Band and the fun of cheering with our fans at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
Our Southbound orientation sessions over the last two months have been remarkable, and the number of first-year students we’re seeing suggests a strong freshman class. Of course, our final enrollment total is dependent on a number of factors, including headwinds not unique to our University.
We should all be proud of the work we’re doing to attract new students. I consider myself fortunate to join our enrollment team in welcoming our new students, giving them their first Jaguar spirit buttons and, recently, handing out some much-appreciated red, white and blue frozen treats.
Speaking of buttons, I often get asked about how many buttons we have. For good reason: Amassing a complete collection carries the promise of a free drink, and I’ve only had to give out one Coca-Cola so far. While the collection is always growing, you now can find out which ones you’re missing and keep track of the latest additions on my personal corner of the University’s website.
Last year, Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Andi Kent and I committed to visiting high schools across our region and bringing students back to our campus for VIP tours onboard our Jaguar Athletics buses. We’ve logged more than 100 visits to students, teachers and college counselors.
We will recommit to that effort for this coming year as well, and we’re adding two buses — one red and one blue — to our motor pool. The addition of these buses, made possible because of our relationships in Montgomery, improves our transportation for athletics and other University functions, gives the University brand exposure and makes us less reliant on rentals.
Our focus on reaching new audiences is wide. Just a few weeks ago Dr. Kent and I met with district attorney investigators from across the state to talk about the expansion of our Heroes Scholarship program to give public safety workers a break on tuition and a chance to advance with a college degree. And last week we visited Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery to talk with its commander and president, Lt. Gen. Andrea Tullos, about ideas for collaboration. (Lt. Gen. Tullos is a friend from last summer when she and I attended the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents.)
Before most students arrive back on campus, many of our student-athletes will be returning to begin practice. I’m looking forward to attending their events, and hopefully visiting with them during practice. This summer, your Jaguars once again were awarded the Vic Bubas Cup — the Sun Belt Conference’s annual all-sports championship trophy.
This is the sixth time in nine years, and a league-best 16th time in total, that South Alabama has been named all-sports champion. No other Sun Belt program has a better overall record.
At USA Health, we remain on track for the Oct. 1 acquisition of Providence Hospital and its clinics. As we onboard 2,200 new employees, among them many South graduates, we proceed with shared optimism about how we can further develop innovative strategies to enhance patient care, research and education to meet the unique medical needs of people in our region.
There is a need on the Gulf Coast for academic-based healthcare, and we welcome the opportunity to serve. Our future growth and success will always be guided by our mission of helping people lead longer, better lives, relying on thoughtful leadership from our dedicated employees, our Board of Trustees, and the healthcare and civic leaders on our newly formed USA Health Board of Advisors.
I will close this message with a request from our faculty and staff for your help. We will kick off fall semester strong, and you soon will be hearing about Week of Welcome activities. The tradition begins with Move-In Weekend Aug. 18-19.
If you have not already, please consider signing up to help welcome our students to campus. A friendly “Go Jags!” is just as important as helping students and their families unload vehicles. Any support is appreciated and encouraged as we begin what is sure to be an exciting academic year.
With gratitude and anticipation,
Faculty, Staff and Students,
After 25 years of dedicated service to the University of South Alabama, Vice President for Finance and Administration Polly Stokley has announced her retirement effective June 1.
A proud University alumna, Polly has worn many hats through the years and played a critical role in the agreement to acquire Providence Hospital by the University of South Alabama Health Care Authority. She began her career at South in 1998 as an assistant to the vice president for financial affairs, and held the titles of assistant controller and controller. She has led finance and administration, either as interim vice president or vice president, since January 2022.
Throughout her tenure, Polly has contributed to the University’s success through sound fiscal and operational management. In short, Polly has helped keep our institution running smoothly.
Her retirement allows us to move three employees who have reported directly to Polly into redefined roles: Kristen Roberts as chief financial officer; Peter Susman as chief administrative officer; and Buck Kelley as chief facilities management officer.
Kristen Roberts has been at the University since 2015 as a senior financial reporting analyst, assistant controller, controller and assistant vice president, a role she has held since 2021. Kristen previously worked in finance at the University of Alabama, where she holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a Master of Accountancy.
Peter Susman started at South in 2016 as an assistant controller and also served as budget director before being named assistant vice president for finance and administration in 2021. Peter’s prior experience includes work with Deloitte & Touche LLP in Chicago. He earned bachelor’s degrees in accounting and political science from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Alabama.
Buck Kelley has been with the University since 2012. His roles have included facilities manager, construction project manager and senior construction project manager. He has led our facilities team since 2021 and serves as assistant vice president for facilities and construction. Prior, he worked at Auburn University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in building construction, and in private industry.
Thank you to Polly for her many years of service and to Kristen, Peter and Buck for their continued leadership in finance, administration and facilities management.
Dr. Andi Kent
Executive Vice President and Provost
Faculty, Staff and Students,
As we wrap up the spring semester, we begin what will become a yearlong celebration marking an important milestone: the University of South Alabama’s 60th Anniversary.
Our University was founded by an act of the Alabama Legislature on this day in 1963. Celebrating our diamond anniversary is a reminder of what we've accomplished in six short decades. Just as important, it allows us to look forward and shape our future. Where do we want to be at 75?
Allow me to personally invite – and encourage – all our students, faculty and staff to join us this Friday at 10 a.m. in the Student Center Ballroom to commemorate the 60th Anniversary with a special video and announcement. The event will livestream on SouthAlabama.edu for those who are unable to attend.
All of us play important roles in advancing our institution, and that was reflected in what we heard this spring during a series of employee town hall meetings across campus and at USA Health. Attending each with me were Dr. Andi Kent, executive vice president and provost; Dr. John Marymont, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine; and Owen Bailey, senior associate vice president for medical affairs and chief executive officer of USA Health.
It was important – and I believe many found it particularly beneficial – to connect both our academic and healthcare missions in these discussions. Thank you to all who attended and gave feedback, and special thanks to our Faculty Senate leaders for extending the invitation.
Our USA Health meetings were scheduled toward the end of the semester in hopes that we would be able to gather after a significant announcement: The University of South Alabama Health Care Authority has entered into an agreement to acquire Providence Hospital and its clinics. USA Health and Providence have long shared a commitment to provide compassionate care to those who need it the most, and this transaction will only enhance access to the high-quality academic healthcare that we are providing along the upper Gulf Coast.
As we launch our 60th Anniversary commemoration, we have the tail wind of what can only be called the biggest healthcare announcement in our region since the University began its medical school 50 years ago.
We have the additional good news of a strong visit and review this past March by a team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The on-site review team was clearly impressed by our University, and that’s a reflection of our culture and years of work by so many people. The team indicated that their report to the SACSCOC Board of Trustees would endorse Reaffirmation of Accreditation. Heartfelt thanks to all who helped in this process.
We enter our 60th year on solid ground, and I want to take a moment to highlight a group that literally helps build our foundations – Facilities Management. Because of its work managing competitively bid projects, the Alabama Chapter of the Associated General Contractors chose our University as its Public Owner of the Year for 2023. A special salute to Mr. Buck Kelley, assistant vice president for facilities and construction, and his entire team!
In addition to our 60th Anniversary celebration, I also look forward to seeing members of our University community at spring Commencement. Mobile native and former NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson, best known as the entrepreneur who invented the Super Soaker water gun, will address graduates at Friday’s ceremony. Our own Coach Kane Wommack, who led our Jaguar football team to an exciting 10-3 season last year, will speak Saturday morning.
As we see our alumni ranks grow, we look forward to welcoming a new class of students in the fall. Undergraduate enrollment continues to look promising. I was fortunate to meet some members of the newest class just two weekends ago at the spring USA Day – South’s open house and a chance to show prospective students all we have to offer. Thank you to all faculty and staff, particularly our enrollment team, who helped welcome students and their families.
I’d like to close today’s message with a special congratulations to two leaders with new roles – newly elected Faculty Senate President Dr. Donna Streeter and Student Government Association President Amya Douglas.
Dr. Streeter is an associate professor in the College of Nursing who has focused on nursing leadership, community partnerships and the culture of safety. Ms. Douglas, who is majoring in communications, came to South from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and immediately jumped into student government as a member of the First Year Council. Please join me in congratulating both.
As I say quite often, there is nothing we cannot accomplish when we work together. With the beginning of our yearlong 60th celebration, there is no better time than now to recommit to our shared goal of advancing the Flagship of the Gulf Coast.
P.S. You can show your Jaguar Pride and support student scholarships with a University of South Alabama license plate. And, for the first time, you can help determine what our next tag will look like. Vote online today.
Dear USA Faculty and Staff,
In recognition of the dedication of our USA employees, each quarter the University recognizes the exceptional efforts of one University general staff employee for the Employee of the Quarter award.
I am pleased to announce that Danielle L. Miller, IACUC/IBC Administrator in Research Compliance and Assurance, has been selected as USA Employee of the Quarter for the first quarter of 2023. Her nomination reads, in part: “Danielle makes research happen on campus as she reviews every animal research and biosafety protocol that is required at South. Additionally, she is the primary person to ensure South is compliant in research. She is an excellent liaison for her office. Danielle is always pleasant to interact with, extremely prompt in responding to emails, and is continuously helping faculty navigate the online compliance system to make sure their research programs run smoothly. We would not run efficiently without Danielle’s dedication and service.”
In recognition of Danielle’s commitment to excellence, the presentation of this award took place at the Board of Trustees meeting on March 3, 2023. Congratulations, Danielle!
Faculty, staff and students,
Soon after becoming your president last January, I hosted a series of listening sessions throughout campus as an opportunity to learn more about our great University, and to hear directly from you about what’s working and where we have opportunities for growth and improvement.
While I’m always available to anyone from our community – just stop me on campus or email firstname.lastname@example.org – we’ve begun a limited series of “Town Hall Meetings” as a follow-up at each of our colleges and schools that will run through early May.
In each case, I’ll meet with administrators, Faculty Senate leadership, faculty and staff. Joining me will be our Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Andi Kent as well as Dr. John Marymont, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Whiddon College of Medicine, and Owen Bailey, CEO of USA Health and senior associate vice president for medical affairs.
Individual colleges and schools will be communicating with their communities about location and logistics. I look forward to this opportunity to hear – and learn – directly from you.
During these visits, I am pleased to be able to spread the good news about our many recent successes. As you know, we have all been focused on recruitment and retention, and those efforts are yielding results.
From fall to spring of this year, our first-year student retention rate topped 90 percent, highlighting both student resilience and the purposeful work of our faculty and staff to get them to the graduation finish line. At the same time, while it is still early, first-year student enrollment for fall 2023 looks promising. Applications are up from this time last year, and that positive momentum is reflected in student housing requests.
While it will take longer to see if early indicators result in increased first-year student enrollment, we should all be encouraged. If you know someone who would be interested in attending South, you can pass along their information through a new web portal, and we will be sure to let them know why they should choose the Flagship of the Gulf Coast.
To be clear, there is great interest right now in our University. I hear it when I’m on our Jag Athletics buses picking up high school students for VIP tours, and I heard it – loudly! – on the streets of downtown Mobile just last week.
That’s when SGA President Camille Bonura and I, along with America’s favorite mascots, SouthPaw and Miss Pawla, joined the Jaguar Marching Band in leading the Infant Mystics parade. The band sounded fantastic, as usual, and we had fun tossing beads from the Presidential Golf Cart and hopping off it to hand out SouthPaw Mardi Gras buttons to the crowd. Our Prowlers even got in on the fun by leading the Tableau at the IM’s Ball.
Speaking of those buttons, a student finally made me make good on my promise to buy a drink for anyone who collects a full set of presidential buttons! I’ve seen Riki Nguyen at least a dozen times at events over the last year as he sought out the latest pin, or collected ones he already had to trade for those he didn’t. He recently stopped by the office with a full set and collected his Coca-Cola.
Riki is a big reason we have an ROTC button. A member of our Army ROTC Jaguar Battalion, Riki emailed last year suggesting we design one. Thank you, Riki, for your service, and congratulations! (At least a few new buttons will be released this spring, so if you think you have a complete set, that’s about to change.)
I’d like to close this letter by mentioning two of the many events I attended in February.
On Feb. 14, I was at the unveiling of a new Mother/Baby Unit at USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital. The 20-suite unit is designed to promote comfort and bonding for families and their newborns. USA Health is the area’s leader in births, and it now has the finest postpartum facilities in our region.
Two days later, I had the good fortune of being invited to the annual Soul Food Luncheon hosted by our Multicultural Leadership Center. The Student Center ballroom was filled with energy and purpose. To witness the love, encouragement and sense of community demonstrated by our students at one of our major events for Black History Month was, indeed, good for the soul.
As we head into the spring months – a season that will bring new growth and opportunities – I look forward to seeing you on our beautiful campus and at our hospitals and clinics. Go Jags!