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Like most people around the country, the average Mississippian knows two salient facts about Marshall University – it’s the alma mater of all-world wide receiver Randy Moss and it was the university portrayed in the Matthew McConaughey movie “We Are Marshall” that was based on the tragic 1970 plane crash that claimed 75 of the school’s players, coaches and boosters.

Now, we can all add a third piece of information – the new president of Marshall University is Jackson native Jerome A. “Jerry” Gilbert – who spent the bulk of his distinguished academic career at Mississippi State University. Gilbert is a graduate of Jackson Prep.

Gilbert’s own academic path is impressive. After earning a bachelors degree in biological engineering at MSU in 1977, he next went to Duke and earned a Ph.D in biomedical engineering.

After research and teaching jobs at Duke, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gilbert returned to his alma mater in Starkville in 1988 as an associate professor of biological engineering and simultaneously held a position as clinical assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery research at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

For the next 27 years, Gilbert climbed the ladder at MSU, spending the last five years as the university’s chief academic officer as provost and executive vice president.

Of particular academic interest to Gilbert has been the plight of persons with disabilities and those who could be helped to rehabilitation by biomechanics and biomedical engineering.

Gilbert has been a finalist for presidential vacancies at Austin Peay and at the University of South Alabama. But what made Marshall such a good fit for the talented research scientist?

Marshall University is also home to the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, a medical school that specializes in rural health care. Gilbert’s background at MSU and in Mississippi – with stints in both MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and UMMC – gives him a unique and valuable understanding of rural health care in states like Mississippi and West Virginia.

I got a chance to spend time with Dr. Gilbert during our joint service representing MSU on the board of directors of the University Press of Mississippi.

The other arena where Gilbert really excelled at MSU as someone President Mark Keenum relied upon and trusted was in the area of diversity and inclusion. Gilbert worked hard for the current MSU administration in initiatives to build bridges not just for minority students, but for women, for foreign students and for students with challenges of all kinds.

Learning of Marshall’s invitation to his second in command at MSU, Keenum said, “Marshall University has made an extremely wise choice in selecting Dr. Jerry Gilbert as their next president. Dr. Gilbert has been an extraordinarily effective executive vice president and provost at Mississippi State ....”

In his own right, Gilbert had earned a national reputation while at MSU. It speaks well of Mississippi when our academic leaders are tapped to lead universities with national reputations. It speaks particularly well when that individual spent the bulk of their academic careers working and doing significant research right here at home in Mississippi universities.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at

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