USM President shares vision for growing Coastal operations

This week, WLOX toured USM’s Gulf Park campus with Dr. Joe Paul. He also discussed where the school’s Coastal operations fit in with his master plan for the Uni
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 5:56 PM CST
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Long Beach, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s been three months since Dr. Joe Paul officially became the President of the University of Southern Mississippi.

This week, WLOX toured USM’s Gulf Park campus with Dr. Paul. He also discussed where the school’s Coastal operations fit in with his master plan for the University.

Dr. Joe Paul’s passion for Southern Miss is easy to see. That passion includes growing USM’s Gulf Coast footprint.

“It is a strong and high priority for me to grow our enrollment at Coastal USM and particularly at Gulf Park,” Paul said.

Paul’s goals are ambitious. Right now, about 1,000 students study on the Gulf Park campus, and Paul’s vision would double or even triple enrollment over the next four years.

“We’re focusing strategically on Coastal academic programs for Coastal people for Coastal jobs,” Paul said.

The plan to boost Gulf Park is backed up with cash. $1.6 million was spent last year on enhancing programs on the Long Beach Campus. Next year, a $13 million dollar long-range master plan begins taking shape.

The upgrades already in place include making the library a one stop for academic support and improving classroom technology for multimedia - arts and film studies. Also a big part of the Coast focus centers around the water, offering students hands on experience in programs like hydrographic science and ocean engineering.

“We believe that this blue economy is not something that’s for a generation away, but literally within the next ten years is going to generate tons of employment opportunities and we want to be right here poised as the gateway to that opportunity,” said Paul.

While the blue economy offers new opportunities, Paul says students can also be set up for success at Gulf Park for traditional career paths including a big area of need, nursing. The accelerated nursing pathway program just launched this year.

“A student with a bachelor degree in any discipline who decides they want to become a nurse can come to our accelerated program, they have to run fast and work hard, but they can earn a B.S. in nursing in 12-18 months,” said Paul.

With 30 academic programs available for students to choose from, Paul believes the infrastructure to make his enrollment goals a reality is already in place.

“We have the capacity for what we have now to double the enrollment over time, if not more. As the demand grows you can see that we still have spaces still if we had to do new construction.”

Part of the process of growing enrollment on the Coast includes working with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

“We’ve also invited our partner Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to come on the Long Beach campus by fall and be teaching freshman and sophomore classes as well. It will be very easy for a student to start here and finish here.”

Along with growing the academic programs, community support is also part of the University’s vision. Children with communication disabilities will soon have more help available the Coast.

USM is getting ready to turn an empty space on the Gulf Park campus into an expanded Children’s Center for Communication and Development. The facility will also include a branch of the DuBard School for Language Disorders. $7.9 million of the construction costs will be paid for with federal grants.

“As a state university that’s what we’re about, how can we serve Mississippians. Mississippians with children that have special needs around language and other kinds of challenges, there’s no greater group that we could serve.”

Another key component for Paul is making sure his University’s operations on the Coast aren’t a secret.

“It’s a beautiful site, with unique programs, with great faculty, great facilities and we’re going to make sure everybody knows about.”

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