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CONSERVATION CORNER
(For the week of December 1, 2008)
Keenum Named President of MSU
by James L. Cummins

It was 4:30 p.m. on November 5, 2008. I was on edge and had not heard anything about who the College Board had named as the preferred candidate for President of Mississippi State University, my alma mater. I called a friend in Jackson, no official word yet and he had just gotten off of the phone with Mark. Finally, at 5:00, he emailed me that Mark was just named. What a relief. Mark was on his way to his dream job.

Mark's experience on Capitol Hill and with the Bush Administration, as well as his background in economics, makes him a great choice for such a tough job. I have great confidence in his professional abilities and in him personally.

Mark is currently serving as the under secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff for Senator Thad Cochran and before that as assistant professor and economist of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University. He has also worked as a research associate with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Mark received his bachelor, masters and Ph.D. from Mississippi State University. He is married to the former Rhonda Newman, of Booneville, who most recently served as deputy assistant to the President of the United States and director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. They currently reside in Alexandria, Virginia, and have four children. I worked for Mark when he was a legislative assistant over agriculture and natural resource issues for Senator Cochran in 1989. It has been a pleasure to work with him ever since. The way Mark conducts himself has been an inspiration to me. The way he treats Mississippians reminds me of something Senator Cochran once said of his late administrative assistant, Wiley Carter. He said, "...he reminded all of us by his example that one of our highest priorities was to help solve the problems of the people of our State and to treat everyone who called on us with respect and courtesy." Mark has a lot of Wiley in him. And while serving as President of Mississippi State has been Mark's dream job, the University is fortunate to have him lead us through these tough economic, budget and political times.

People are cynical about business, government and politics. I do not have all of the answers, but I do know that more people with the traits of Mark and Rhonda Keenum would be a good thing. We need more people who work to make government respond to the needs of ordinary citizens and respect their opinions.

Mississippi State University is blessed to have the benefit of the fine service of Dr. Mark Keenum.


James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.