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Center for Population Studies
University of Mississippi

UM Launches Flagship Constellations to Tackle ‘Grand Challenges’

Multidisciplinary teams seek significant and innovative solutions

NOVEMBER 21, 2017 BY 

Community Wellbeing Flagship Steering Committee member Meagan Rosenthal, who is also a CPS-Affiliated Research Associate, presented at the UM debut of the new interdisciplinary research initiative. The Center for Population Studies is a collaborative partner in this innovative effort.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi unveiled its Flagship Constellations initiative, which includes multidisciplinary teams with the goal of creating solutions in the areas of big data, brain wellness, community wellbeing and disaster resilience, on Friday (Nov. 17).

Each team consists of faculty, staff and students through a collaborative effort to explore and solve complex issues through the diversity of ideas. The constellations also will include subthemes, allowing groups to work on multiple projects at once.

“These four constellations are made up of brilliant individual stars, yes, but it’s together that they can make their legendary impact,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “By working together, we can address compelling challenges where no single discipline has all the answers and where only deep insights from multiple points of view will discover solutions.”

Vitter also announced a donation of $1 million in support of this effort by Tommy and Jim Duff to create the Ernest R. Duff Flagship Constellation Fund, in honor of their father.

“With this gift, they are commemorating their late father’s love for Ole Miss, his alma mater,” he said. “This support will allow us to truly maximize and launch the potential of the Flagship Constellations.”

Community Wellbeing Team to Foster Stronger and More Vibrant Communities

Rural communities, especially in Mississippi, face many challenges to their economies, personal and environmental health, food security, housing and infrastructure. Members of this constellation will work in communities to identify factors that are impeding upon quality of life and implement new programs and methods to foster stronger and more vibrant communities.

Major concerns both in the United States and around the world are lifestyle and behavior health issues causing premature births, fetal origins of adult diseases, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and disability.

“These issues don’t stand alone,” said Kate Centellas, Croft associate professor of anthropology. “They are very often coupled with limited access to appropriate and local care.

“Many of them disproportionately impact the poor and people of color. That means we not only face a health care crisis; we’re also facing a crisis of equality and lost potential.”

The central goal is to develop innovative methods in addressing these issues. The constellation is already working to implement telemedicine in Bolivia, along with two projects in Mississippi: one to help residents of the Mississippi Delta improve water safety, and another to help premature and low-birth weight children and mothers attempting to breast-feed these children.

“Working with the most vulnerable babies and offering state-of-the-art support to their families, the insights from this work will help to inform new models of care that span across the rural-urban continuum,” said Dr. Josh Mann, chair of preventative medicine at UMMC.

Provost Noel Wilkin said he is excited about the energy Ole Miss faculty and staff have brought to the Flagship Constellations initiative.

“This collaborative initiative has the ability to advance our standing as an academic institution, to magnify the influence of our research on solving major challenges faced by society and to contribute knowledge that will changes the lives of people,” Wilkin said.

“I also hope that it will rekindle your confidence that our faculty and researchers have incredible potential to change the lives of others through their research. I look forward to the meaningful work that will be done and this difference we’re going to make in society.”

For more information about these collaborations, visit