The University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett has been working to create ways to encourage Southern Miss students, as well as ways to connect with them.
In May, he started “Dr. B’s Book Club” as a way to encourage students to read and remain engaged in their studies over the summer. The club started as a Facebook page where students could post what they were reading and interact personally with the president.
Bennett said this idea was inspired by the concept that students forget what they learn over the summer, and reading helps make up for some of what is lost.
“I was just sitting here one day and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool as a university community if we focused on reading and trying to connect what we are reading back to our academics’?” he said.
In an effort to encourage students to read more, Bennett wanted to offer some other incentives for participating in summer reading.
Once fall classes start, he will invite a few book club participants to his home for a reading reception. He also plans to select a group of students to join him in the President’s skybox for a home football game.
“The selection for the invitation list is going to be totally random,” he said. “We’re just going to go back to the Facebook page and select people that made posts on there and try to get together an interesting group of people.”
Bennett said he wants to encourage the university community as a whole to take part in a more academic conversation this year. He saw “Dr. B’s Book Club” as a way to spark that academic conversation among the Southern Miss community.
“As a university, we have got to focus this year on recruitment of good students, retention, progression and graduation rates,” he said. “I think if we can get our arms around that, then a lot of the other things that have been challenging for us will really start to balance out.”
Junior speech pathology major Rachael Luckett, participated in “Dr. B’s Book Club” this summer.
“Usually I take a break from books during the summer, but his passion to feed our learning outside the classroom really inspired me to actually read a few books this summer,” Luckett said.
Ned Nelson, a senior Business Administration major, likes that President Bennett is taking the time to connect with students.“It’s really great to have a university president with a student affairs mindset,” Nelson said. “He brings a friendly enthusiastic personality to a job that isn’t traditionally engaged in student life.”
Bennett also hopes that Southern Miss students will become more engaged and interested not only in academics on campus, but will take advantage of the privilege of being a student.
“Your travels and interactions outside this community are going to expose you to a lot,” he said. “I think the way you maximize that is by being a lifelong learner, and reading just allows you to go places that you would likely otherwise would not be able to go.”