10th President of USM officially takes office - WDAM.COM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

10th President of USM officially takes office

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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

Dr. Rodney Bennett is quickly gaining in popularity across the Southern Miss campus. From his speech to students during the tornado clean-up, to his help in securing 1,000 student tickets to last week's NIT game. But it wasn't until Monday morning that he officially became the new president of the University of Southern Mississippi.

"Today is my first official day as the 10th President of the University of Southern Mississippi, and I cannot be more thrilled to have just made that statement," said Dr. Rodney Bennett, new President of the University of Southern Mississippi.

Dr. Bennett has kept a high profile across campus the last two months. His efforts have been focused on helping the university recover since the February 10th tornado, something that continues to be a work in progress.

"The student clean-up day was a real shot in the arm in the right direction. We could have not have done it and restored the campus as quickly as we did without student support," said Dr. Bennett. "We have received good financial support from alumni and friends all across the country to assist in the cleanup effort."

Dr. Bennett took the time to address some areas of concern and focus as he begins his time in office.

"Student retention. I think we ot to look at how we are recruiting students. I think we ot to look at how students are progressing once they are enrolled at Southern Miss," explained Dr. Bennett. "I think we have got to look at faculty salaries and how we are able to compete for the best and brightest faculty. I think we have to continue our efforts along the coast to recover from the BP oil spill."

Recent budget cuts have hit hard at USM. Students are paying 8.5% more for tuition this year compared to 2012, with another 6% increase for 2014.  But Dr. Bennett says signs look positive on the monetary front for USM.

"I think our alums will be very pleased with what we have been appropriated with and the support that we have received from the legislature and the IHL board. I think it will allow us to continue the momentum that we enjoy now in several different areas," said Dr. Bennett.

Dr. Bennett was previously with the University of Georgia, serving as the vice president for student affairs. He received his undergraduate degree at Middle Tennessee State University and a doctorate of education at Tennessee State University in Nashville.

Before joining UGA in 2001, Bennett was dean of students at Winthrop University in South Carolina.

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