Gazebo Gazette

Student organizations at The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, Miss. are working hard to make their presence known and impact felt with abundant opportunities for everyone. Increasing student involvement remains a key objective for these groups.

Dr. Kristi Motter, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, said student organizations offer the opportunity for leadership, collaboration, critical thinking and peer-to-peer interaction.

“Student engagement increases the likelihood of student success,” said Motter. “All these things contribute to the growth mindset for students. We are creating an environment that will prepare students to be ready for life after Southern Miss.”

Women Can Be Engineers, Too.

One such group is Gulf Park’s Women in STEM organization comprised of many students looking to break the barrier for female engineers. Hannah McDuffie, President of Women in STEM, is helping cultivate a growing network designed to pave the way for female workers in the blue economy.

“Our purpose is to support women majoring in STEM fields. We are geared to having a supportive community for women,” said McDuffie.

McDuffie helped start Women in STEM in 2019 and wants students to know the organization exists, and that they too can be engineers. She notes how women often discount themselves when thinking about STEM-related careers. Her goal is to gather members across the coastal campuses to encourage each other for success within their programs, while promoting network opportunities outside the classroom.

Dr. Jennifer Walker, Associate Dean for Coastal Operations, serves as the organization’s advisor. Walker is encouraged by a report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) stating that the number of women in the STEM workforce increased by three percent from 2011-2021.

“This is a very positive trend that we want to see continue. Individuals of both genders have different skills that are valuable in the STEM workplace and the goal is to achieve equal representation in all STEM fields,” said Walker. “The student group, Women in STEM, is important because it provides a place for women students in STEM fields to support each other and help them not only reach the goal of graduation but have substantive conversations about the types of opportunities available in STEM career fields.”

Members meet every other Tuesday throughout the semester to hear guest speakers, socialize and gather for community activities. Many activities involve brainstorming different sustainable efforts on campus. The group conducts research on the Gulf Coast Phenology Trail and provides mentorship opportunities.

McDuffie is excited to schedule kayaking trips and bonfires with other Women in STEM organizations along the coast. The networking effort provides pathways to future job opportunities.

“I’ve been the president for three years now. To help other students along their career paths is extremely rewarding,” said McDuffie.

Connect with Women in STEM through their Facebook page.

Making Waves in Ocean Conservation

Another Gulf Park organization with a unique name is Fins and Flippers, a certified scuba diving club founded in 2021 by USM business graduate Ka’Lon Duncanson. The organization’s goal is to establish a community of certified scuba divers, primarily focused on coordinating scuba trips with a mix of marine conservation activities including beach cleanups, aquarium visits and snorkeling excursions.

“This organization means a great deal to me on both a personal and professional level. On a personal level, it represents my passion for scuba diving and my desire to share that passion with others who have similar interests,” said Duncanson. “On a professional level, the club represents leadership, organization, and management skills that I’ve developed through the process of starting and running the organization.”

Michael DeNardo, a sophomore majoring in biology at Gulf Park, serves as the current president of Fins and Flippers. He was first introduced to the group at his orientation and quickly became interested in the various networking opportunities and conservation efforts.

“We’re trying to spread the word about coastal conservation and marine life,” said DeNardo. “This is a really good way to meet new people and experience different things. The new connections I’ve made have opened job opportunities. It’s a really good club!”

DeNardo was excited to get scuba certified and be a part of a community of students looking to explore the coast and provide positivity for the growing blue economy. Fins and Flippers gets together at various points throughout the semester for an annual car wash, semester social events and cruises.

Dr. Jacob Breland, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and advisor for Fins and Flippers said the organization started small and grew quickly.

“Their interest in conversation of our marine environment, fun attitude, and commitments to each other really provided them with opportunities to contribute to their goals. They have had numerous successful fundraisers, several overnight trips, including to the Atlanta Aquarium and a Caribbean cruise, and I am so proud of all they have done. They represent the very best spirit of USM and the Gulf Park Campus,” said Breland.

“Students should consider joining to immerse themselves in a vibrant community, embrace adventure and exploration, and make a positive impact on the environment—all while having fun and creating lifelong memories,” said Duncanson.

Learn more about Fins and Flippers.

Mental Health as the Forefront of Student Life

Miranda South, a USM psychology major, dedicates her time to providing a safe space for students at Gulf Park through the new Active Minds chapter. She wants students to know that focusing on their mental health is a vital part of success as a student and beyond graduation.

“We are here to help people with their mental health and give them a space where they can unwind. We provide helpful tips about mental health in their daily lives,” said South.

South collaborates with Kristen Chachati, Gulf Park Active Minds advisor, to organize activities for students to relax and take their minds off schoolwork. The goal is to provide a space for students to talk, meet new people and break the walls of social anxiety.

“We did journaling last semester and provided a space for students to sit down and take that intentional time to journal,” said Chachati. “Students really want that self-care aspect.”

Members took a walk to a local coffee shop to grab a cup of joe and get some exercise for the day. Chachati and South know that college life is stressful and can be overwhelming, but they encourage everyone at Gulf Park to become involved in Active Minds to foster positive change in their health and support fellow classmates in their college career.

“I wanted to relate it [Active Minds] to my major and how I can impact people while I’m still working on my degree,” said South.

(Contributed by Gabriela Shinskie, Front Photo: Michael DeNardo, President of Fins and Flippers takes a swim during a group’s scuba diving trip.  Inside Photo: Pictured from left to right, Debra Veeder  Mississippi Environmental Education Alliance (MEEA) Chairman, Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA) Chair, and Adopt-A-Stream Director, Trinity Lewis- Former WIS Secretary, Hannah McDuffie- President of Women in STEM, Daniela Ramirez- Member and Miranda South- Vice President of Women in STEM.)