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Viking Range, corporate supporter of many UM programs, manufactures products for more than 80 countries worldwide, with a distribution network regarded as one of the strongest in the major appliance industry.

A $25,000 gift by Viking Range Corporation to the Ole Miss Women's Council (OMWC) for Philanthropy will expand its leadership series to include students in the University of Mississippi's (UM) Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME).

In its sixth year, the OMWC Leadership Series guides students through a multicourse program led by professionals. "The involvement of leaders from our university, city government and influential members of the business and non-profit community is what makes our program so unique," said Sarah Hollis, associate director for university development. "Often a student's favorite speaker or mentor comes from an individual that before this experience, they might not have seen as a leader."

Conceived by OMWC members Mary Ann Frugé of Oxford and Ellen Rolfes of Memphis, the leadership series provides training and education that fosters personal development, encourages recognition of individual potential, and guides participants in seeing leadership as self expression and a means of serving, inspiring and empowering others.

"While there are a number of leadership courses on campus that pertain to particular disciplines, no leadership program incorporates practical, teachable skills as well as an academic element," said Frugé. "Many leadership skills are teachable; this program equips students with those skills. In addition, we have seen participants' confidence grow throughout the program so they are better prepared to be leaders on campus and later in their communities, families and professions. Being part of this program has been very rewarding as I've witnessed personal growth within the students."

Around 50 students, typically sophomores, are selected from across disciplines by the series' supporting agencies including OMWC, Ole Miss First, Division of Student Affairs, Lott Leadership Institute and now CME.

"We've broadened our reach to involve students who might not already realize they have leadership capabilities," said Betsy Patton, series coordinator. "Students are often pigeon-holed into categories very early on, and I don't think leadership can be defined as one-size fits all. There are many types and styles."

The series help students discover their core traits and develop a self-defined leadership style. Participants are introduced to all leadership styles, how to work with them collaboratively, leadership ethics and how to demonstrate authentic leadership. Lastly, students benefit from preparation on constructive management and resolution of conflict.

Jacob Moorehead of Water Valley, Miss., an OMWC Scholar and sophomore mechanical engineering major with an emphasis in manufacturing, described his experience in the series. "I was surprised by how entertaining it was. It seemed to fly by because the information was so interesting and helpful. All of the participants were friendly and came in with open minds.

"Our exercises indicated that my leadership strategy was to ‘take charge and do the job,'" he said. "The series taught me how to incorporate others into the planning and execution process. I also learned that sometimes I can be a better leader by simply stepping back and letting someone else take charge when they have a positive contribution to make to a project."

Ron Ussery, senior vice president of manufacturing at Viking Range, said, "Viking is pleased to support the CME and the Ole Miss Women's Council by providing outstanding students the opportunity to develop leadership skills so necessary in today's fast-paced manufacturing environment."

Viking Range's generosity can be seen not just at CME but across campus. The company has supported UM's Southern Foodways Alliance, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, School of Business Administration, Lott Leadership Institute and Carrier House.

CME Director James Vaughan expressed appreciation to Viking Range for solidifying CME's participation in the leadership series. "Viking understands the need for well-rounded leadership in this new era of manufacturing. The OMWC Leadership Series gives our students an opportunity to look at issues of leadership in a different context. The material is presented with a fresh perspective, and students are asked to rethink how they normally approach conflict or problem solving," Vaughan stated. "It is also a great chance for CME students to interact with students outside the engineering and business schools."

Established in July 2008, CME is the only program of its kind in the nation. "The concept of the Center for Manufacturing Excellence was conceived by Governor Barbour," said Vaughan. "It is based on interdisciplinary educational opportunities within an innovative academic learning model that provides our students with practical experiences, fundamental knowledge and creative practices needed to lead the world of modern manufacturing."

CME welcomed its first students in 2010 with 27 freshmen from nine states. In 2011, 36 freshmen enrolled, while 2012 brought 51 freshmen and transfer students, bringing total enrollment to more than 100. CME's goal is to enroll 200 by 2014.

Initially, first-year applicants were mechanical engineering majors but not so anymore. "CME has seen a substantial bump in business major applicants," said Ryan Miller, CME's assistant director. "We recruit not only based on academic prowess but also on who students are as individuals. We need students who have unique qualities – team players, leaders and independent thinkers."

CME students enter a real-world manufacturing experience. Viking was among the first to contribute machinery to the factory floor through a Stripit punch press used to make range tops. "Buying this piece of equipment would have been a very costly endeavor for us. Having students train to understand all levels of manufacturing is very important. We don't train students to be factory floor workers, but it is essential that they understand that environment," Miller said.

Both Vaughan and Miller said Mississippi industry leaders have invested in CME. "Viking founder Fred Carl has served on our Advisory Board since the beginning," said Miller. "One of the great things is we have supporters who work in this sector every day and can tell us exactly what they need … and who they are looking to hire. Because of them, we are building a program that truly prepares students for modern manufacturing careers.

"Additionally, Viking has allowed CME students to intern and given tours to interested high school students through our camps, and this past winter session Viking allowed thirteen twenty-year-olds and me to have class on their manufacturing floor. We worked with their assembly line crew and management to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  They saw the value of this for our students and their futures," Miller said.

Both Viking Range's contribution and the OMWC Leadership Series' growth are expected to have long-lasting influence. "We have a mandate to build up manufacturing awareness and quality in Mississippi," said Miller. "The students who participate in this leadership series bring their training back to CME and that has a lasting ripple effect on our other students, then eventually to our whole region, throughout industries and eventually the world."

The OMWC is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by sending a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655 or visit To learn more about the OMWC Leadership Series contact Sarah Hollis at 662-915-1584 or

Katie Morrison


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.