- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Former University of Southern Mississippi President Aubrey Lucas has a favorite story about Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Paul. It occurred when Lucas’ granddaughter was preparing to come to the university as a freshman.

“She said she had a friend who was well connected - who knew Joe Paul,” Lucas said. “Her grandfather was president of the university, but the person to know was Joe Paul.”

Paul is retiring June 30, after nearly four decades employed with the university. He has spent all those years in jobs requiring interactions with students.

“I’ve been giving students advice for 39 years,” he said. “I found a passion for working with students.”

Student Government Association President Jeffrey George, a senior, has known Paul since his freshman year.

“We met almost once a week,” he said. “He’s someone I would talk to - fill him in on what was going on that week. He’s had a serious impact on my life.”

It all began for Paul in 1972 when he arrived at USM as a freshman.

Embarrassed he didn’t have a car, Paul didn’t want anyone to know his mother had driven him to school, so he had her drop him off a block from campus.

Then-sophomore Eddie Holloway, now assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of students, was there to check Paul into his dorm.

“He was short and had that hairstyle called a mullet,” Holloway remembers. “He had an attractive personality (and) a very warm smile.”

Paul graduated in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and got a job in Bogalusa, Louisiana, as a small-town chamber of commerce manager.

“I thought that might be my career path, but I realized pretty quickly I didn’t have enough business acumen,” Paul said.

In short order, he was back at USM, working part time on his master’s degree and employed full time as assistant director of student activities.

“That job included supervising the game room and advising the activities council,” Paul said. “That was August 1976. I’ve been here ever since - 39 years.”

That job also set Paul on his lifelong career path of working with students.

“That was my calling,” he said. “I stumbled into it because I was just looking for a job, but I found out that was what I was really passionate about - working with and helping students.”

Paul did step away from the university a bit, commuting to the University of Alabama nights, weekends and summers to earn his Ph.D. in administration of higher education. Despite all that time on the road, Paul kept his full-time job at USM.

He went on to rise up the ladder at the university, getting promoted to assistant vice president and dean of students. Then in 1993, he took his current position as vice president for student affairs - a job that includes overseeing students outside the classroom in residence, recreational and Greek life, along with areas such as counseling and health services.

Lucas said the students liked to work with Paul.

“He’s personable. He’s likable,” he said. “The students love him because he truly is interested in them, and he is available.

“They don’t have to have an appointment. If they go to his office and there’s not another student in there, he’ll see them.”

Graduate Maley Morris Haro, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech language pathology in 2011 and 2013, said her brother introduced her to Paul when she was a freshman.

“It was just kind of informal - to meet this guy who’s going to go above and beyond anything you’ll need and so we could have that introduction for our entire life,” she said.

Haro said Paul often would stop by her lunch table and share a meal with her and her friends.

“It becomes more than just a familiar face - it becomes a friendship,” she said.

Haro said when she was facing some challenges her junior year, Paul helped her in the way she was approaching them.

“He didn’t talk me into doing it,” she said. “He talked me through it to make me believe that I could do it.”

Paul said it’s the interactions with students like Haro that make his job worthwhile.

“You’re dealing with budgets and personnel, but the function I treasure most is to counsel, encourage and help students,” he said. “Students will come for a myriad of reasons. If it’s an academic challenge, if it’s about getting them to the right people who can help - how many people are blessed to come to work every day and help people?”

Paul is known for giving sage advice to students, but he’s especially known for his saying, “Leave it better than you found it.”

“About 20 years ago at an orientation, and at every opportunity to address students since then, I would challenge students to leave Southern Miss better than they found it,” he said. “We know that students who are engaged and involved do better. (They’ve) got an opportunity to make a difference. It’s caught on and become part of the culture of this place.”

Paul said there are many ways a student could better USM.

“There’s not one way to do it,” he said. “You don’t have to be student government president. Maybe you pick up a piece of trash or help a student who is struggling in class.”

Paul expects to stay as busy in retirement as he did at the university.

“I envision that I’ll find ways to stay active and engaged,” he said. “I’ve done some business consulting - executive coaching, team building, leadership and supervisory skill training.”

Paul said there are some things he’ll miss about his job, but overall, he feels good about leaving.

“I’m really clear about what I’m going to miss most, and it’s those relationships with students,” he said. “But I feel like the university is a great place and poised to prosper.

“Reflecting on a long career that’s been so rewarding - I’m at peace. I’m leaving it in good shape, and I’m looking forward to the next adventure in life.”


Information from: The Hattiesburg American, https://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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