Legacy of Culture

Legacy of Culture

Leader Committed to Getting Southern Miss to the Top

Dr. Joseph Paul
Dr. Joseph S. Paul
President, University of Southern Mississippi

A distinguished alumnus of Southern Miss, Dr. Joseph Paul has devoted 40 years to the university, primarily in student affairs. As we navigate the post-pandemic era, his focus remains on enhancing student life, amplifying the Southern Miss narrative, and bolstering its athletics in the Sun Belt Conference. With a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama and multiple degrees from USM, Dr. Paul’s accolades include an induction into the USM Alumni Hall of Fame in 2000.

Beyond academia, Dr. Paul’s expertise in management and leadership has benefited giants like UPS, RJR Nabisco, and the U.S. Navy. His civic contributions span from presidencies at the United Way of Southeast Mississippi to board roles in various Hattiesburg institutions.

In your opinion, what is the most critical aspect of campus culture that the University of Southern Mississippi is focused on in today’s college landscape?

Southern Miss provides a culture that is defined by grit. And I define grit in a way that compels our students to chase audacious goals and dreams with unrivaled passion and relentless persistence. As a Carnegie R1 institution, we challenge our students to always reach for the next level of achievement. Our motto of “Southern Miss to the Top!” encourages Southern Miss students to always reach for the next level of achievement. We do not stop at the first “No,” and when we face an obstacle or others who say we should not achieve the goal we have set, we tell them “Sit back and watch.” Our mantra is “Never give up and never give in.”

With shifts towards online learning, how has the University of Southern Mississippi adapted to ensure a positive campus culture for students?

Southern Miss is a long-time leader in quality online education, with a mix of fully online students and traditional students taking online courses. We continue to invest in on-campus technology infrastructure, faculty development and support resources, such as the expansion of our writing and speaking centers, Math Zone, and program-specific peer tutoring programs. Then, most importantly, we encourage Southern Miss students to have a hand on the wheel to use these resources and ensure not only their success, but the success of the university.

“My advice is to start with prioritizing students and providing them the support they need to reach the audacious goals they have set for themselves.”

– Dr. Joseph S. Paul, President, University of Southern Mississippi

How do you see the role of technology in shaping campus culture in the coming years at the University of Southern Mississippi?

Technology has the potential to not only shape campus culture, but the culture of our region. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Southern Miss researchers are helping to attract companies like Ocean Aero, which has created the world’s first and only environmentally powered Autonomous Underwater and Surface Vehicle, from San Diego to Mississippi. We are expanding uncrewed systems partnerships with NOAA. Our location near the Gulf of Mexico is a competitive advantage for Southern Miss. In Hattiesburg, our polymer science and engineering program remains among the nation’s best, as it works with partners like Boeing and the U.S. Army to develop life-saving and life-sustaining technology. Southern Miss-driven technology improves the economy and quality of life across the Gulf South.

What measures is the university taking to ensure that students are engaged and feel a sense of community on campus?

Southern Miss is an institution with a long and storied history of excellence in academics, research, athletics, and the arts. We are one of only 14 R1 institutions in the country who also competes at the Division 1 Level in NCAA Athletics and maintains accreditation across all four major areas of the arts. We are also one of only 64 public universities in the country that maintains both the R1 and Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement designations. Deep-rooted traditions like our Painting of the Eagle Walk, during which we encourage new freshman students to leave their mark on a street of gold next to others who have come before them, connect our new students to the university. Strategic investments in student life, fraternity and sorority life, and mental health and wellness help to create a culture that encourages engagement during their time as students and for a lifetime. 

In your experience, what are the key ingredients for building a strong executive team at the University of Southern Mississippi that can effectively create and maintain a positive campus culture?

I’m so pleased to have completed the formation of our senior leadership team with administrators who are student-centered and understand and embody the Southern Miss culture of grit and determination. These leaders can inspire excellence in others and possess the qualities we expect from Southern Miss students. They are a talented, passionate, hard-working group that can help shape our culture of grit.

What advice would you give to other university leaders who are looking to improve their campus culture and engage students more effectively, based on your experience at the University of Southern Mississippi? My advice is to start with prioritizing students and providing them the support they need to reach the audacious goals they have set for themselves. Leaders, in their decision-making, must also carefully consider what is best for students and the institution, as the decisions they make have long-term impacts that extend beyond their tenure.