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Our View: Under Keenum, MSU enjoys a renaissance




Mississippi State University President Dr. Mark Keenum spoke at Tuesday's Columbus Rotary Club on Tuesday at the Lion Hills Center. His 30-minute message could be compressed to a single phrase: 


"It's all good." 


Enrollment is up. In a few days, the university will announced its official enrollment figures, which are expected to show record freshman enrollment. The university is not only attracting more students, it is attracting better students, too. The average ACT score for the freshman class is 24. 


There is also a building boom on campus and donations are pouring in. 


Oh, and the university has a really good football program, something Keenum said should not be dismissed. The success of a school's athletic teams raise the profile of the school like little else. MSU's brand has been expanded tremendously as a result of the Bulldogs' success on the football field. 


MSU students, alumni and fans have reasons for optimism on any number of fronts, both in academics and athletics. 


That wasn't always the case. 


There was a time, not so long ago, that Mississippi State was sort of a generic brand. Aside from its agriculture school, there was little to distinguish the school from the scores of regional universities whose influence and reputation were pretty much confined within state borders. 


MSU used to be an ag school that offered other stuff. 


That has changed dramatically since Keenum's arrival as president in 2009. While it would be inaccurate to attribute all of MSU's success since then to Keenum, there is no disputing his role in that success. 


He arrived at a time of chaos at the university, with three different men occupying the president's office in the nine months preceding his arrival. 


Prior to coming to MSU, Keenum had spent 22 years in the nation's capital -- 17 years as chief of staff for Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and three years as an undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 


His background tells the story of a man skilled in developing policy and strategy, a behind-the-scene expert who understood how things get done. He brought not only stability to the university, but focus. 


It is easy to see how those attributes have been applied in his role as MSU president. 


MSU has long been known -- and will continue to be known -- for its excellence in ag science. But the university's reputation as a broadly-based research university has grown significantly during Keenum's tenure. 


Today, the university is a key player in research in such fields as unmanned aircraft and automotive. 


Perhaps the university's most valuable contribution in the field of research lies just ahead. 


MSU has partnered with the famed Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago in a effort to create the "battery of the future." 


For years now, our nation's best and brightest young mathematicians and scientists have been working on developing a battery with a capacity for energy storage could fundamentally change the way the world operates. 


If and when that breakthrough occurs, our dependence on fossil fuel will be greatly reduced, and we will have taken a giant step in the direction of clean, sustainable energy. 


MSU could be a part of the biggest revolution in energy the world has ever seen. 


It's all good, indeed.



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