There was a warm welcome in Long Beach Wednesday as Dr. Rodney Bennett stepped on stage at USM Gulf Coast. The preferred candidate to be president of USM wasted no time presenting his platform.
"I believe in the work that we do. I believe in higher education," said Dr. Bennett.
He said he believes there is tremendous potential on the coast.
"This campus and this region is at the forefront of growth and opportunity," Dr. Bennett said with a smile.
The forum then moved to a question and answer session. Dr. Bennett answered questions about a potential graduate program at the Gulf Coast campus, retaining faculty, offering childcare for students and staff and promoting from within.
"It really is not rocket science to figure out how to get someone from an assistant professor position to a professor with tenure," said Dr. Bennett.
Behind his zealous answers and motivated agenda, was a simple man.
"A husband, a father, a son," said Dr. Bennett describing himself.
He called himself an optimist and said becoming a college president has been a lifelong dream.
"It really didn't matter where it was. I was more looking for fit, for an institution who was committed to education," said Dr. Bennett.
If Dr. Bennett gets the job, he'll be the first African-American to become president of a historically white university in Mississippi.
"It's a tremendous honor for me. I'm very excited about it. When I applied for this position, I never really thought about the historical significance of it," said Dr. Bennett.
His enthusiasm was well received.
"He seems like he's really great and real compassionate," said USM Gulf Coast student Aaron Broussard.
"He seems very genuine, very open to looking at things that need to be changed," said USM Gulf Coast nursing professor Sarah Powell.
Dr. Bennett said his visit to the Gulf Coast is all part of his bigger plan.
"Take Southern Miss to the top," said Dr. Bennett.
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