The Mississippi Legislature acknowledged academic excellence with a keynote address by Jackson State University interim President Dr. Rod Paige and extolled scholastic achievements of students and faculty statewide, including two from JSU, during the 30th anniversary of Higher Education Appreciation Day, Working for Academic Excellence (HEADWAE) on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
After Paige championed education, the two honorees from JSU would later take center stage with other elite scholars. Representing the state’s only urban HBCU were William Kayitare, a 4.0 chemistry student whose family escaped Rwanda amid atrocities; and Dr. Deidre L. Wheaton, a celebrated assistant professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies.
Paige, praising state legislators in the downtown Marriott for HEADWAE, described the honorees from each of the 34 public and private member institutions as “great individuals with a great future in our state.”
He touted the benefits of higher education, declaring, “I am a witness of what it can do. It’s a fundamental foundation for our nation’s progress. … There are many ways to economic and social success, but the greatest of them is higher education.” He credited academic progress for helping to “catapult people from poverty to wealth. There is no other lever that can move generations into well being any faster that higher education.”
Paige urged a redoubling of efforts to expand college opportunities for all individuals such as Kayitare, a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, who continues to rack up awards.
Kayitare was among those recognized as an outstanding achiever. The latest distinction further pads his résumé, which consists of being a distinguished Who’s Who Among American Colleges and Universities.
Of his special HEADWAE honor, Kayitare said, “It’s humbling to be given an opportunity to represent my university, and I will continue to do my best in the future.” After JSU, he said he plans to attend graduate school at the University of California, Berkely, to study synthetic organic chemistry with emphasis on producing natural products to be used in pharmaceuticals drugs.
Dr. Richard A. Aló, dean of CSET, described Kayitare as a “top-notched” student who will likely pursue his doctorate at UC-Berkely. Aló expressed admiration for all of Kayitare’s accomplishments “given all that he experienced in Rwanda.”
Meanwhile, Wheaton – coordinator of social and cultural studies – said she’s ecstatic about the HEADWAE recognition. She’s been at JSU for two years and said, “I’m honored. I’ve had an extraordinary opportunity to collaborate on research projects with colleagues, so this means a lot.” She said she’s looking forward to submitting her third-year review packet for tenure so she can continue to be a great asset to JSU.
Dr. Daniel Watkins, dean of the College of Education, praised his celebrated staffer, Wheaton, for her successes and contributions.“It could not have happened to a better person. Dr. Wheaton is a hard worker and does so much for our university. She’s representative of the kind of people we have who educate our young people.”
HEADWAE was established by a Mississippi legislative resolution to annually honor academically talented students and faculty members of Mississippi’s higher education institutions who have made outstanding contributions in promoting academic excellence.
As part of the recognition, honorees were invited to the State Capitol, welcomed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and recognized in each chamber of the Legislature. During the luncheon, each was recognized by name in front of their guests, institutional leaders, corporate sponsors and legislators.
HEADWAE is the Legislature’s way of saying “thank you” to students and faculty for their commitment to the future of Mississippi. Furthermore, it encourages excellence and knowledge among those involved in higher education, inspires leadership and promotes good citizens who are capable of meeting future challenges.