Author Archives: Merritt Baria

Summer Entrepreneurial Leadership Program Expands

Weeklong enrichment camp hosted by Grisham-McLean Institute serves rising high school students


Ole Miss alumna Edith Kelly-Green (standing), founder of The KGR Group and a former vice president at FedEx Corp., speaks to MELP students during a session at the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Conner Hall. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – High school students from across the state are looking for innovative ways to tackle social and economic problems in their hometowns after taking part in an annual University of Mississippi summer entrepreneurial leadership program.

The seventh annual McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, or MELP, was a weeklong experience for 15 high school students. Presented by innovation fellows and scholars of the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, or CEED, Initiative at the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, the program took place June 19-24 on the Ole Miss campus.

Students from Pontotoc, Como, New Albany, Lexington, Greenwood, Tutwiler, Sardis and Memphis, Tennessee, participated this year. This included students from the M Partner counties of Holmes, Tallahatchie, Pontotoc and Union, where the university has engaged in more than 100 community-driven projects since 2018.

M Partner is a campuswide initiative that seeks to pair university resources with community-driven projects to improve quality of life in partner communities.

“The goal of the MELP program was to introduce students from around the state to the entrepreneurial spirit of community and economic development,” said Molly Archer, a CEED scholar who led the week’s events.

MELP students interacted with community leaders throughout Oxford and Lafayette County, and attended readings and lectures by professors, community leaders and students.

“This leadership program was initiated to stimulate an entrepreneurial mindset that can be utilized to solve community and state problems through community engagement,” said Albert Nylander, Grisham-McLean Institute director and professor of sociology.

The program is structured to cultivate innovative approaches to solving problems that students identify in their communities. They studied principles of entrepreneurship, data and demographics, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness.

This year included the use of virtual reality technologies to stimulate workforce skills.

Laura Martin (right), associate director of the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and director of the M Partner program, consults with MELP participant Jasmine Hill, of Como, after a session at the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Submitted photo

“The impact from this weeklong program is being felt in communities across Mississippi,” said J.R. Love, CEED project manager. “Business and community leaders are seeing their local high school students develop action-oriented solutions for their own community.”

When asked about the impact the MELP experience had upon them, students responded positively.

“Before this, I wasn’t even thinking about being an entrepreneur,” said Jalin Lewis, of Tallahatchie County. “Now I have something to fall back on should I not achieve my original goal of playing in the NFL or the NBA.”

Ma’Kayla Moore, of Lexington, said MELP improved her communication skills.

“This program made me realize how shy I could be at times,” she said. “I now realize that I must have strong communications skills if I want to become a lawyer one day.”

The goal of MELP and M Partner is to bring about this type of inspired and innovative thinking, said Laura Martin, the institute’s associate director and director of M Partner.

“Thanks to our CEED students, program partners and the talented students who join us for MELP, we are able to learn from one another and join forces to address pressing social and economic problems in Mississippi,” Martin said. “I am optimistic that we can expand this program in the future and develop a network of partnerships across the state that will impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

Besides support from the Office of Pre-College Programs, other MELP partners include the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, School of Law, Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, and Lobaki Inc. The Robert M. Hearin Foundation and Ole Miss alumnus Bill Fry also provided financial support to fund the CEED initiative and youth leadership and technology programs.

To learn more about the McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, visit To learn more about M Partner, visit

MSU hosts competition awarding $720,000 to drone enthusiasts for their innovative ideas

NIST First Responders UAS Triple Challenge (photo by Robby Lozano / © Mississippi State University)

Contact: Chris Bryant

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory recently played an integral role in an unmanned aircraft systems flight competition in Starkville, Mississippi, where $720,000 in prize money was awarded through federal innovation funding to drone enthusiasts.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Public Safety Communications Research Division, along with Mississippi State and Kansas State University Aerospace and Technology Campus, hosted the First Responder UAS Triple Challenge; a prize competition for drone enthusiasts to build and operate unmanned aircraft that can better help first responders in emergency situations.

After a week’s worth of competitions, the First Responder UAS Triple Challenge awarded $150,000 in the final stage, part of a total available prize purse of $520,000 for two challenges, to teams of drone enthusiasts for building solutions to help emergency first responders locate multiple missing persons more efficiently.

“We were impressed with the competitors’ innovative ideas and diligent preparation,” said Tom Brooks, director of the Raspet Flight Lab. “Efforts like this accelerate technology availability to first responders, and we were thrilled to be a part of it.”  

Challenge 3.1 winners were selected for improving image detection and enhanced navigation techniques to “close the distance” more quickly. Winners include:

  • – First place, Team AMAV from the University of Maryland, $40,000;
  • – Second place, Team ARCC from Pennsylvania State University, $20,000;
  • – Third place, Team Aggie from North Carolina A&T State University/Purdue University, $10,000; and
  • – First Responder’s Choice Award, Team AMAV from University of Maryland, $5,000.

In Challenge 3.2, teams were awarded prize money for innovating a cost-effective, robust and easily deployable drone solution which delivers data files in a cellular denied area. Winners of 3.2 include:

  • – First place, Team ARCC from Pennsylvania State University, $40,000;
  • – Second place, Team Mantech/FLYT Aerospace, $20,000;
  • – Third place, Team EpiSci, $10,000; and
  • – First Responder’s Choice Award, Team ARCC from Pennsylvania State University, $5,000.

Finally, the competition awarded prize money to teams for developing an attack and countermeasure on open-source navigation or control software that may disrupt a drone’s navigation for Challenge 3.3. The following winners were awarded $30,000 each:

  • – Team Mantech/FLYT Aerospace;
  • – Team ARCC from Pennsylvania State University; and
  • – Team CNA Corporation/RIIS LLC.

Raspet’s portion of the effort was coordinated by Shawn McNutt, aviation program manager in the MSU flight lab.

MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory is the nation’s leading academic research center dedicated to the advancement of unmanned aircraft systems. Raspet is the only institute in the world designated both as the Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Safety Research Facility and as official UAS Test Sites for both the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security. Home to a fleet of the largest and most capable unmanned aircraft in academic use, Raspet conducts UAS research on behalf of federal agencies and commercial industry.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

USM Research Foundation and SeaAhead Launch the Gulf Blue Navigator

The University of Southern Mississippi Research Foundation in partnership with SeaAhead Inc. announces the launch of the Gulf Blue(SM) Navigator program for established blue technology startups.

This is the first innovation program in the Gulf of Mexico focused on the new blue economy. Applications for the first cohort of startups will open this summer, for a program starting in November 2022. The program is funded by a variety of private and public sponsors, and includes financial support for companies to cover the costs of participation, technical and sector expertise, ability to access testing facilities, and co-working space at the Gulf & Ship Island building in Gulfport, Miss.

“The Navigator program connects blue technology startups from around the world to the existing strengths and capabilities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast ecosystem. Cohort participants will have easier access to a variety of The University of Southern Mississippi resources including research and technical expertise and coastal research facilities like the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center and the Marine Research Center,” said Dr. Kelly Lucas, Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM). 

“Some milestones that the USM Research Foundation I think will be looking to meet within the next few years is to have this building fully occupied, and then to see folks graduate from the program out into our community. They lease commercial office space, they build buildings, they hire employees, they begin to buy goods and services from providers in the community,” said Johnny Atherton, President, USM Research Foundation.

The Navigator program will be seeking applicants with technologies and business models in areas including uncrewed maritime systems, precision marine aquaculture, ocean-related data analytics, coastal restoration, ocean-friendly plastics, sea and space systems and ‘the Future of Maritime.’

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is the home to significant operations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Navy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers. The proximity provides startups with direct market access, potential partnerships, and customers to shorten the timeline of development.

“NOAA is pleased to extend our partnership with USM, Jackson State University and SeaAhead, including with the first Navigator business cohort. NOAA’s authoritative environmental and climate data fuel the New Blue Economy. Cohort participants will play a critical role in turning NOAA’s public data into innovative products and services needed to build the ocean economy while ensuring the health and resilience of our coastal communities in the face of climate change,” said Sharon Mesick, Regional Climate Service Director, Southern Region, National Centers for Environmental Information.

Further information on the Gulf Blue Navigator Program will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. For opportunities to participate, please visit or email

MSU EcoCAR team wins several first-place national Mobility Challenge awards

Contact: Carl Smith

Members of the MSU EcoCAR team pose with awards they received during this month’s EcoCAR Mobility Challenge’s Year 4 Competition in Arizona. Pictured are (front row, from left to right) General Motors Mentor Gary Rushton; Oussama Oussi, mechanical engineering graduate student, Starkville; Nathan Reynolds, mechanical engineering junior, Petal; Ashutosh Shah, mechanical engineering senior, Starkville; Vance Hudson, mechanical engineering master’s graduate, Collierville, Tennessee; Jonah Gandy, electrical and computer engineering master’s graduate, Madison; (second row, from left) Staff Advisor Debi McNabb, project coordinator, MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems; Debbie Alencar Oliveira, industrial engineering senior, Brazil; Bailey Jose, industrial and systems engineering graduate student, Olive Branch; Rachel Hendricks, Master of Business Administration graduate, Hoover, Alabama; Mary Nielson Clinton, communication/public relations graduate, Germantown, Tennessee; (third row, from left) Jagdeo Singh, mechanical engineering senior, Laurel; Faculty Advisor Randy Follett, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Amine Taoudi, electrical and computer engineering graduate student, Morocco; Matthew Sinclair, mechanical engineering senior, Mendenhall; and Staff Advisor Michael Gibson, research engineer III at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. (Photo submitted)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State’s EcoCAR team recently returned to campus with numerous awards from this month’s EcoCAR Mobility Challenge’s Year 4 Competition, including top spots for overall project management, project status presentation and human-machine interface/user experience evaluation, and a MathWorks Model-Based Design Award.

The event was the culmination of a four-year challenge pitting 11 universities to improve a 2019 Chevrolet Blazer’s energy efficiency, safety and consumer appeal through electrification, advanced propulsion systems and automated vehicle technology. Team vehicles went through a variety of tests and challenges, including technical inspections, dynamic testing events and ride-and-drive courses. Teams also were evaluated in six technical presentations that demonstrated the viability of their designs to government and industry judges.

The MSU EcoCAR team earned nine recognitions, including placing fifth in the overall competition, and Vance Hudson, a Collierville, Tennessee, native who recently graduated with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, was one of only two students in the competition who won the Excellence in Leadership Award.

MSU Bagley College of Engineering Dean Jason Keith praised the team for its performance and said the program fully prepares students to enter the workforce and make an immediate impact in whatever field they choose.

“Across the four years of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge, I have seen the impact of our students’ hard work on their career trajectories,” he said. “Team members have obtained internships, full-time jobs and other research positions across Mississippi State University and in industry throughout the nation. Additionally, the leadership experience that EcoCAR students obtain allow them to start their positions with salaries higher than peers.”

The complete list of awards earned by the MSU EcoCAR team includes:

—First place, Project Status Presentation

—First place, Overall Project Management

—First place, HMI/UX Evaluation

—First place, MathWorks Model-Based Design Award

—Second place, HMI/UX Presentation

—Second place, Communications Presentation

—Second place, CAV Capability Evaluation

—Third place, PCM Presentation

—Fourth place, Overall Communications

—Fifth place, Overall

—Excellence in Leadership Award, Vance Hudson

“This team has undergone some major challenges over the years, and at the start of this four-year competition, their specific goal was to re-establish a sustainable basis for having a highly competitive team year-in and year-out,” said Randy Follett, the team’s faculty advisor and an MSU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“As a part of this, their focus was on having a vehicle that could complete every event in the Year 4 final competition. Not only did they accomplish this task, but they were also the first team to complete every dynamic event in the week-long series of competitive events in Yuma, Arizona. In doing this, they have re-established the MSU team as a solid competitor for the foreseeable future, with clear leadership development processes to continue the winning tradition in the EcoCAR EV Challenge, which begins this fall. I’m incredibly proud of the hard work that they have put in over the last four years, and the successes that this work has created for them—both in the competition and personally. It has truly been an honor to be associated with each and every one of them,” Follett said.

Learn more about the MSU EcoCAR team and its projects by visiting

Visit for more information about MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at


Starkville, MS­­– Lemonade Day is a free, fun, experiential learning program that teaches kids how to start, own and operate their very own business – a lemonade stand. Lemonade Day has spread to over 57 cities in 23 states and 3 countries. We are proud to announce that this year kids in the Golden Triangle will once again get to join in on the fun.

Each child who registers gets access to an online interactive program that teaches them the valuable lessons of Lemonade Day – including how to set a goal, make a plan, work the plan, and achieve their dreams. Participants are encouraged to spend, save, and share some of their profit.

Lemonade day is sponsored by Mark Castleberry, Cadence Bank and the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, CEO. Lemonade Day Partners include the Main Street Columbus, the West Point- Clay County Growth Alliance and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.

Mark Castleberry of Castle Properties is proud to sponsor the event once again, “It’s warming up and I am ready for some great lemonade, creativity, and profits for kids in the Golden Triangle. This is one event I look forward to every year.”

Jeffrey Rupp with MSU’s CEO says, “This is a fantastic program to start teaching young people that they can be the boss and make their own money.”

Jerry Toney, Cadence Bank EVP in Starkville, says, “We’re excited to once again sponsor Lemonade Day and, as a bit of incentive, all kids who register to participate in Lemonade Day are automatically entered in the “Cadence Bank Best Business Contest” for a chance to win fantastic prizes. We are on the hunt for those stands that turn the greatest profit and have the best slogan.”

Learn more about Lemonade Day in this quick video:

A $4 Billion Firm Gets Its Start at Insight Park

UM alumnus Jon Scala’s business venture has grown into powerhouse company


Jon Scala, executive vice president at Cloudmed, began building his business in 2014, when he purchased Health Check and moved it to the university’s Insight Park incubator. Scala, who has hired many Ole Miss graduates for his fast-paced entrepreneurial ventures, hopes to providing opportunities for talented professionals starting their careers. Photo courtesy Orlando Headshots

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi graduate has nurtured the small health care auditing company he bought and based at UM’s Insight Park in 2014 to a valuation of $4.1 billion.

Through a series of strategic acquisitions and strong growth, a company that started with 40 employees has grown to employ what will be more than 1,700 team members by the end of the second quarter.

Jon Scala, executive vice president at Cloudmed, earned a bachelor’s degree in accountancy in 2005 and a master’s in 2006, both from UM. On Jan. 10, Cloudmed announced that it is being acquired by R1 RCM Inc. The deal valued Cloudmed, which is based in Atlanta and serves more than 3,100 health care providers, at $4.1 billion.

“It’s been a journey,” Scala said. “We will close the second quarter with more than 1,700 employees and soon to be part of a large publicly traded company if things go as planned.

UM Provost Noel Wilkin said the story of Scala’s company is inspiring.

“This wonderful success story says a lot about the amazing students who choose to pursue their educational goals at our university,” Wilkin said. “Additionally, the collaborations and opportunities exemplified by Jon and his company are a testament to how our faculty and staff nurture innovation and economic growth in addition to opportunities for students.”

After graduation, Scala began working for the CPA firm BDO Seidman in its Memphis office but quickly realized that he had the entrepreneurial itch. In 2014, he purchased Health Check, a small managed care auditing firm, and moved it to Insight Park, hiring 10 graduates of the university’s Patterson School of Accountancy to start.

The company also employed accountancy students part time, giving them valuable work experience while still in school. Scala has maintained a close relationship with the university, placing many UM graduates in jobs in a fast-paced entrepreneurial environment.

Having access to recruit from the university was critical in the early stages of growth for the company, Scala said.

William Nicholas, UM economic development director, helped bring the company to campus. He’s seen it grow from 10 employees in the Insight Park location to the powerhouse it has become.

“Jon is a dynamic entrepreneur,” Nicholas said. “He’s ambitious, creative and works tirelessly. Jon had a vision for Health Check that some doubted, but his determination never wavered.

“I’m grateful he gave Insight Park and UM alumni and students opportunities to be part of the growth of this company.”

Scala credits the university with helping him set up shop in 2014.

“I am very thankful for William Nicholas and (former UM assistant vice chancellor for administration and human resources) Clay Jones as they fought tirelessly on my behalf to provide our original space at Insight Park and for their continued support and encouragement.” he said.

Blake Pruett, senior client success director at Cloudmed for the West Coast region, began working for the company while he completed his MBA at the university. Photo courtesy Orlando Headshots

Health Check found a niche in the complex world of health care reimbursement, tapping into a great need for cash-strapped hospitals. The company audited payments from insurance companies against the hospital’s bill in conjunction with the contractual obligations the payer has made with the hospital.

In 2017, the company identified nearly $100 million in revenue for hospitals across the country, including many in Mississippi. Health Check was acquired by New Mountain Capital in October 2017 and rebranded as Revint Solutions, continuing to acquire additional companies from 2018 through 2020.

Its largest acquisition in 2020 brought Revint Solutions and Triage Consulting Group together and formed what became Cloudmed. 

The changes positioned the company for a bright future with more resources for its clients and room to hire more employees. In 2021, Cloudmed recovered more than $1.7 billion of underpaid or unidentified revenue for its health care customers.

UM alumnus Blake Pruett is a senior client success director at Cloudmed for the West Coast region. His name may be familiar to Ole Miss football fans – while an Ole Miss student, Pruett was a member of the rap group King Kobraz, which scored a major hit with fans in 2013 with “Feed Moncrief,” a tribute to then-Rebels wide receiver Donte Moncrief.

Pruett began working as an auditor with Health Check during the final semester of his MBA classes. He is responsible for managing the relationship with clients and walks the line of representing the company to the client and representing his client to the company.

Alexandra Waller, Cloudmed’s senior client success director, started in an entry-level position with Health Check in 2014 after meeting Jon Scala in the Grove. Submitted photo

“Ole Miss prepared me on and off the court for this role,” Pruett said. “I was fortunate to be in Croft Institute as well as the Honors College, which provided ample opportunity for new experiences, which comes in handy when leaving the Southeast.

“I’d say outside of the classroom, Ole Miss taught me how to be social and associate with a variety of people.”

Alexandra Waller, a 2015 UM graduate with a degree in economics, is senior client success director at Cloudmed. The native of Lexington, Kentucky, started with Health Check in 2014.

“The journey began after meeting Jon Scala in the Grove and working for his soon-to-be company in an entry-level position,” Waller said. “From there, post-graduation, the company continued to evolve and I would say the same for my role.”

“I work across internal and external departments to ensure client needs are understood and satisfied. Although many years have passed and we have been through several mergers and acquisitions, I still have the pleasure of working directly with Jon and several other Ole Miss alums.”

MSU, ERDC celebrate successful partnerships promoting cutting-edge, collaborative research

Leaders from Mississippi State University and the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center held a panel discussion Thursday [April 14] at MSU to highlight current partnerships and allow MSU students to learn more about the research and career opportunities taking place at ERDC. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University and the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center celebrated their longstanding partnership as part of ERDC Day on the MSU campus.

Leaders from the research center spent Thursday [April 14] morning interacting with students in MSU’s James Worth Bagley College of Engineering before taking part in a public panel discussion. Approximately 600 College of Engineering students heard presentations from ERDC leaders on a variety of topics throughout the day.

Based in Vicksburg, ERDC is the research unit of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is one of the premier engineering and scientific research organizations in the world. MSU and ERDC have have collaborated on dozens of research projects. In 2014, the two partnered to create the Institute for Systems Engineering Research, also housed in Vicksburg. The MSU and ERDC alliance includes areas of mutual expertise and capability such as high performance computing, materials science, military engineering, autonomous systems, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and machine learning, among others. Additionally, ERDC is among the largest employers of MSU engineering graduates.

“We have a long-standing record of partnership with Mississippi State, and it continues to grow each day,” said Bart Durst, director of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory at ERDC and an MSU alumnus. “At ERDC, we solve problems that are huge for this world, and we draw a lot of talent from Mississippi State that stays with us for a long time.”

MSU Provost and Executive Vice President David Shaw noted that several MSU research centers have ongoing collaborations with ERDC, including the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, Raspet Flight Research Laboratory and the Center for Cyber Innovation.

“Those are just the tip of the iceberg of the activities that we have going on already,” Shaw said. “The opportunities that we can see coming in the future are really only limited by our imagination.”

MSU launched a military engineering concentration in 2018, in part to help ERDC meet its training needs with a local academic partner. Military engineering also is the focus of a major ongoing research project at MSU that aims to develop new technologies to enhance ERDC’s engineering force protection capabilities in support of national defense. MSU researchers are developing advanced materials and systems, garnering new insights into the protection capabilities of next-generation materials used in military efforts. They also are conducting autonomous vehicle modeling and simulation for navigation in cold environments.

During Thursday’s question-and-answer session, MSU students gleaned insight into ERDC career pathways, sustainability efforts, future uses of artificial intelligence and machine learning, among other topics. In addition to Durst, Senior Scientific Technical Manager of Materials and Structures Robert Moser and Information Technology Laboratory Director David Horner represented ERDC on the panel. In addition to Shaw, MSU was represented by Vice President for Research and Economic Development Julie Jordan and Bagley College of Engineering Dean Jason Keith.

The Vicksburg ERDC headquarters also is home to four of its seven laboratories: the Coastal and Hydraulics; Geotechnical and Structures; Environmental; and Information Technology laboratories. Additional laboratories include the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Illinois; Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, New Hampshire; and Geospatial Research Laboratory in Alexandria, Virginia. A diverse organization with approximately 2,100 employees, its annual program exceeds $1 billion as it supports the Department of Defense and other agencies in military and civilian projects. For more, visit

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

MDA to launch technical assistance program for technology ventures

The Mississippi Development Authority currently is accepting applications for Virtual Quad grants from qualified teams developing new products or services in energy and agriculture technologies.

Teams are eligible for a maximum award of $25,000 each in the form of a voucher that may be used to receive technical assistance from a research university in Mississippi. MDA will award a total of $100,000 in the Entrepreneurs Technical Assistance Program, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy – State Energy Program. Teams receiving an ETAP grant will be paired with a relevant research university to solve specific technical challenges posed by the applicants. Teams will have up to nine months to complete their respective proposed tasks.

The goal of V-Quad is to build an innovative, virtual incubator network to support Mississippi entrepreneurs launching businesses focused on energy- and agriculture-related technologies. V-Quad is a public-private partnership that connects Mississippi’s research universities, industry, government and non-profits in a cohesive, tech-based entrepreneurial network.

The project also includes a consortium with MDA, Innovate Mississippi, the Institutions of Higher Learning and the four research universities: Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi, University of Southern Mississippi and Jackson State University.

The competition is open to teams of high school and college students, university or community college faculty, for-profit businesses, non-profit organizations, public-sector employees or any combination of individuals from these entities.

Examples of eligible projects include the use of clean energy and energy-efficient products and services, agricultural products and services, as well as robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, unmanned aerial and terrestrial vehicles and genomics applied within the energy and agriculture sectors.

The deadline to apply for a grant is Thursday, June 30, 2022. For more information and an application, go to

The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) Hosts Industry Forums to Aid in Professional Development

By: NCS4 Staff

The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) recently completed its 2022 Forum Series, reaching more than 250 sports safety and security stakeholders.

The industry-specific forums were held in a one-day live virtual format between January and March 2022, attracting professionals working with marathon and endurance events, intercollegiate athletics, professional sports and entertainment venues, and interscholastic athletics and after-school activities.

“We worked closely with our advisory committees to identify relevant programming and speakers. The forums were designed to account for each industry’s unique safety, security, and business challenges and provided a platform for information sharing and peer-to-peer learning,” said Dr. Stacey A. Hall, NCS4 Executive Director and Professor of Sport Management.

The forums focused on interactive sessions with industry experts on crowd management, cybersecurity, and de-escalation strategies. Participants represented professional sports leagues, collegiate athletics, marathon and endurance events, and the interscholastic community.

“It is always nice to discuss and hear best practices from industry experts, but it is critical how pertinent these topics are to our events and the current climate we are in,” said Kathryn Benda, Director of Football Gameday Operations, The Pennsylvania State University.

“One of the outcomes of the COVID-19 era is a prevailing anger within the country; that ire frequently can be directed towards authority figures such as high school athletics leaders,” said Gary Stevens, Athletic Administrator, Thornton Academy, when asked why de-escalation was an important topic for the Interscholastic Forum. “Understanding the psyche of the fan as well as how to employ critical communication skills such as active listening can help defuse potentially volatile situations and contribute to a more positive sporting environment.” 

Recordings from the general sessions of each forum are available to NCS⁴ Connect members and are posted on the NCS⁴ Connect membership website. Please visit for more information on how to become a member and access the content.

The NCS4 Annual National Safety and Security Conference & Exhibition is set for June 28-30 in Orlando. Visit the website to view the agenda or register at