Dr. Mark Everett Keenum became Mississippi State’s 19th president Jan. 5, 2009, following a distinguished public service career.
Now in his 11th year of tenure, Dr. Keenum has guided Mississippi State to unprecedented heights with an unwavering focus on students — preparing them for success in a rapidly changing world and instilling in them the timeless values of integrity, hard work, and respect. The university has experienced record enrollment growth — reaching a new all-time high in Fall 2019 with 22,226 students. Mississippi State has awarded more than 4,000 degrees at all levels for eight straight years, and the university is ranked by SmartAsset as Mississippi’s Best Value College with graduates earning the highest average starting salary in the state. The Chronicle of Higher Education has designated Mississippi State as a “Great College To Work For” for the past four years after receiving top ratings from employees on workforce practices and policies. The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society, granted Mississippi State a chapter in 2018 after a rigorous, multi-year review. Only 10 percent of U.S. colleges and universities shelter Phi Beta Kappa chapters.
The campus has expanded and improved on Dr. Keenum’s watch. Mississippi State has completed or initiated capital improvements totaling more than $1 billion since 2009. Chief among these projects has been the $68 million expansion of Dudy Noble Field/Polk-DeMent Stadium, home to one of the most storied college baseball programs in America, and construction of the new Left Field Lofts, all of which opened in February 2019. The Mill at MSU — a $40 million, state-of-the-art conference and meeting complex — has sparked a revitalization of the Russell Street corridor in Starkville. The Old Main Academic Center, a $41 million classroom building and multi-level parking garage, opened in 2017. A $10 million, fourth-floor expansion of Mitchell Memorial Library to house the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana celebrated its official opening in 2017. A $60 million project featuring two new residence halls and Nusz Hall, which houses the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans, opened in 2016.
In March 2018, the university and its partner, Greystar (formerly EdR Collegiate Housing), broke ground on the innovative $67 million College View development. The first-of-its-kind project for any Mississippi university combines student housing with a mix of retail, commercial, and restaurant space. College View opened in August 2019. A groundbreaking celebration was held for the $34 million Rula Engineering and Science Complex at a site on the university’s famed “Engineering Row” in December 2018. Planning is also underway for a new Music Building adjacent to the Band Hall and Choral Facility along Hardy Road. A new Animal and Dairy Science/Poultry Science Complex for the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine is also nearing completion at the corner of Blackjack Road and the new Hail State Boulevard. Additionally, the university is developing a comprehensive plan to build additional teaching and research lab space to meet growing demand, and investing in campus infrastructure, including new parking facilities, roadways, and technology.
Fundraising has reached all-time record levels in recent years, including $113 million for the recently completed fiscal year. The university has raised more than $100 million in gifts and pledges for each of the past six consecutive years. MSU’s current Infinite Impact capital campaign reached its initial goal three years ahead of schedule. Due to that unprecedented success, the university announced a new goal — $1 billion by 2020 — the largest campaign goal ever for an educational institution in Mississippi. The university is set to again reach this milestone ahead of schedule later this year.
During his tenure, Dr. Keenum has been instrumental in expanding the MSU Promise Program, which provides need-based scholarship assistance to Mississippi students whose families have limited financial means. The number of endowed scholarships and endowed faculty chairs and professorships has also grown significantly.
Dr. Keenum has served as president of the Southeastern Conference. During his two-year term, he led the SEC Executive Committee, and he continues to serve on the SEC’s Content Committee Board of Directors that oversees the highly successful ESPN-SEC Network. In 2018, he was named chairman of the College Football Playoff’s (CFP) Board of Managers. The CFP determines the national champion of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.
In 2018, he was elected to serve a six-year term on the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which is the second-oldest state department of archives and history in the country. A comprehensive historical agency founded in 1902, MDAH collects, preserves, and provides access to the archival resources of the state; administers museums and historic sites, including the new Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum; and oversees statewide programs for historic preservation, government records management, and publications.
Dr. Keenum travels frequently to Washington, D.C., meeting with Congressional leaders and federal agency heads to pursue research opportunities and broaden the university’s influence on the national level. He has also worked closely with state leaders in Jackson in support of higher education in Mississippi.
A Carnegie Foundation R1-Very High Research Activity Doctoral University, Mississippi State plays an integral role in economic development locally, statewide, and across the region. Its impact is further felt nationally and internationally through unique collaborative partnerships with peer institutions, business and industry, government agencies, and leading non-governmental organizations. Dr. Keenum leads these efforts because he understands the positive impact the nation’s major research universities can have in the diverse communities they serve. Mississippi State is ranked by the National Science Foundation as a “Top 100” research institution, and its annual research and development expenditures have exceeded $244 million. MSU R&D expenditures consistently account for more than half of all expenditures in the state. This research activity is playing an ever-increasing role in Mississippi’s overall economic development efforts.
A graduate of Mississippi State with degrees in agricultural economics, Dr. Keenum’s interest in international food security has strengthened the university’s contributions to global economic sustainability. In 2014, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and now serves as chairman. That same year along with other university presidents, he signed the Presidents’ Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security at the United Nations in New York City. This marks the first time universities around the world began to share a collective focus on ending food insecurity. Dr. Keenum’s passion for international engagement and transformative research and service has positioned Mississippi State as a leader in addressing global food security and poverty, among other critical issues. In 2014 and again in 2016, he was invited to address the United Nations in New York about the crucial roles public research universities play as the global community works to address critical challenges.
In 2018, Dr. Keenum was appointed as the chairman of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD). BIFAD was created in 1975 under Title XII (Famine Prevention and Freedom from Hunger) of the Foreign Assistance Act. Its mission is to draw on higher education’s scientific knowledge and expertise in global food security and world hunger to advise U.S. international assistance efforts in order to feed the world’s growing population that is projected to reach up to 10 billion people by the year 2050.
Dr. Keenum began his career at MSU as a faculty member with the Extension Service and the Department of Agricultural Economics. He went on to serve as chief of staff to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran in Washington, D.C. and was Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture prior to returning home to Mississippi State.
A graduate of Corinth High School, Dr. Keenum earned an Associate in Arts degree from Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville and was a member of the Northeast Tigers football team. He is married to the former Rhonda Newman of Booneville, also an MSU graduate. They have four children: Rett, Mary Phillips, Katie and Torie.