Hank Bounds, right, Commissioner of Higher Education, congratulates Mark and Rhonda Keenum following the investing of the official presidential medal of Mississippi State University on Friday in Starkville. Scott Ross, background right, president of the state Board of Trustees, Institutions of Higher Learning, made the official presentation. Photo by: Megan Bean/Mississippi State University
October 18, 2009 12:07:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- When Mark Keenum and Scott Ross roamed the campus of Mississippi State University three decades ago, they were just students with their whole lives ahead of them.
The two were together again Friday at MSU as Ross, who now serves as the president of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, formally installed Keenum as the 19th president of the land-grant university.
"Dr. Keenum, when you and I were walking this campus together as students some number of years ago, I don''t imagine that either one of us thought we''d both be standing here today," Ross said to a round of laughter from the packed audience in Bettersworth Auditorium. "But I do want to say that this great Bulldog family has long-dreamed of this day, when you could come home to us and bring your leadership and unite the Bulldog Nation as it should be. Go bulldogs."
Keenum received his bachelor''s and master''s degrees in agricultural economics at Mississippi State, then joined the university faculty in 1984 as a marketing specialist with the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service. Two years later, he accepted a position as a research associate with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at MSU.
He continued his education at the university, in 1988 receiving a doctorate in agricultural economics, and he joined the faculty of that department as an assistant professor/economist.
In 1989, Dr. Keenum joined the Washington, D.C., staff of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran as Legislative Assistant for Agriculture and Natural Resources.
From 1996-2006, Keenum served as Chief of Staff for Sen. Cochran. In this role, Dr. Keenum was the chief adviser to the senator on political, legislative and appropriations issues. He also was responsible for managing all administrative and legislative functions of Sen. Cochran''s Washington, D.C., office and three Mississippi offices, including direct oversight of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.
During his professional tenure at Mississippi State, his primary research and extension work focused on the marketing and economics of aquaculture, specialty crops and forestry. He continued his faculty ties at the university 1997-2006 as an adjunct professor, teaching an annual course on agricultural legislative policy.
Prior to being named president of Mississippi State in November 2008, Dr. Keenum served as Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for two years, where he provided leadership and oversight for the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency and the Foreign Agricultural Service.
Although he''s been back in Starkville since he took over as president in January, Keenum still couldn''t contain his excitement Friday when talking about the return to his alma mater. He''s been a MSU fan his entire life, even getting brought home from the hospital after he was born wrapped in a maroon and white blanket.
"I become the 19th president of my alma mater in its 131st year with a keen awareness that Mississippi State has a long and distinguished history; that among my predecessors have been some exceptional leaders; and that the continued success of this university is of vital importance to the State of Mississippi and its citizens," Keenum said. "With these things in mind, I accept the office of president with humility, with determination to do my best, and with deep gratitude to the Board of Trustees and all who had the confidence in me to bestow this responsibility. I solicit your patience, your advice, and most importantly, your prayers."
Gov. Haley Barbour was on hand and offered his kind words, calling a Keenum "a great friend" and "political ally," but he also warned of the tough economic times facing the state, its industries and its universities.
"Let''s not kid ourselves; these are going to be challenging times for Mark Keenum - for any president of Mississippi State University," Barbour said. "These are troubled times for agriculture and for our forests, our forest products industries, for different reasons: An incredibly and unusually wet fall is going to have an enormous negative financial impact on agriculture in Mississippi. I think we underestimate today the enormity of what we''re talking about."
"The international and national recession has hurt forestry in our state - our forest products industry, whether it''s furniture or lumber yards," Barbour continued. "These people are going to be looking to Mississippi State University for leadership, for help, for support. The good news is you''re going to have a man who is president at Mississippi State who is almost uniquely qualified to reach out with that help, to provide that support."
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