MSMS Students Win Scholarships to Study Russian Abroad

Hillary Gerber and Sydney "Sam" Matrisciano

Hillary Gerber and Sydney "Sam" Matrisciano

COLUMBUS -- Two Mississippi School for Math and Science students will study Russian in the former Soviet Union this summer after winning $7,000 scholarships sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Hillary Gerber and Sydney (Sam) Matrisciano, both 17, were chosen to participate in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, which sends students abroad to study Russian, Mandarin, Arabic and four other languages that the U.S. government deems critical.

In June, Gerber will travel to Moscow and Matrisciano to the former Soviet republic of Moldova. During their six-week immersion, the two students will live with host families, attend intensive Russian classes and take part in an array of cultural activities.

Gerber, the daughter of Warren “Chip” Gerber and Maureen Gerber of Columbus, and Matrisciano, daughter of Suzanne and Louis Matrisciano of Winona, are students of MSMS world language teacher Margaret Mary Henry. MSMS, located on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women, is the only high school in the state that offers the Slavic language.

“At a time when relations between Russia and the United States are under great strain, our country needs specialists who understand Russia and speak Russian,” Henry said. “Our government is wise to invest in these two gifted young scholars.” The teacher added that MSMS’s decision in 2012 to begin offering the critical language reflects the global aspect of the school’s mission: “In developing the gifts of young Mississippians who aspire to understand Russia deeply and speak Russian fluently, MSMS is forming global leaders who can help the United States engage constructively in the world.”

More than 3,500 high school students applied this year for programs in the seven languages offered under NSLI-Y, according to Emily Matts, program manager for NSLI-Y, which is administered by the American Councils for International Education, in Washington, D.C. Gerber and Matrisciano were among about 600 selected to receive the merit-based scholarships.

“I am extremely excited to experience Russia at its heart – Moscow,” said Gerber, who will be studying from June 29 to August 12 at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “I am really excited to learn about the language, culture, and history. I am nervous as well, because Russia is so far away and it is so different from the United States.”

A member of the Class of 2017, Gerber will be attending Rhodes College in Memphis, which has awarded her the Diehl Scholarship of $21,000 per year.  Although she has not yet decided on a career, she plans to major or minor in Russian.

Matrisciano, a junior, will study at the Ion Creangă Pedagogical State University in Chisinau, Moldova from June 14-July 31. “I am hoping this program will accelerate my understanding of Russian and prepare me for future work in an international field,” said Matrisciano. “I plan to major in Russian, with a minor in either French, international studies, or political science.” She aspires to become an officer in the U.S. diplomatic corps.

Both Gerber and Matrisciano won gold medals in the 2017 Olympiad of Spoken Russian, held April 6 at Rhodes College in Memphis.

Four current university students who began Russian at MSMS will also be studying in Russia this summer.

Mississippi State University junior Kristen Conguista of Brandon, an electrical engineering major and Russian minor, and State freshman Christian Donoho of Columbus, who is majoring in computer science and minoring in Russian, will be studying at the GRINT Centre Gateway to Russian Language and Culture for International Students at the Moscow University for the Humanities. Both have received scholarship funding from MSU to assist with their studies abroad.

Kimya Jamasbi of Tupelo, a sophomore Russian major at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Mary Frances Holland of Lucedale, a sophomore international studies major at the University of Mississippi, have won federally funded Critical Language Scholarships for eight weeks of study at Lobachevsky State University in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. (Holland studied in Moldova in 2015 after winning an NSLI-Y scholarship.)

Russian is spoken by more than a hundred million Russians, but it is also the lingua franca of the vast former Soviet Union, a second language in territory stretching from the Baltics to the Caucasus to Central Asia.

The Graduation of the MSMS Class of 2017

Join us live on Saturday, May 20 at 11:00 am for the graduation of the MSMS Class of 2017. The 118 students who make up this class have been awarded nearly $9.5 million in scholarship dollars and were offered more than $28 million.

Graduation will take place in Rent Auditorium on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women. This year's commencement speaker is Dr. Cary Gunn, CEO and founder of the California based medical technology company Genalyte.

College Reveal 2017

On Monday, May 1, 2017, the MSMS Class of 2017 told the world their college plans in this year's College Reveal. The students spent all day wearing MSMS tshirts and polos over the shirts from the colleges and universities they plan to attend in the fall. Then, as a student body, they shed their high school skin and let their college colors fly!

Congratulations to Chuck Yarborough

Chuck Yarborough, U.S. history teacher at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, has placed first alternate in the statewide Teacher of the Year program for the 2016-17 school year. (This story is an expert from the Commercial Dispatch click here to read more).

Yarborough was among four finalists selected by the Mississippi Department of Education in a program that recognizes exemplary teachers in the state. 

"It's an incredible honor to be in the group," Yarborough said. "That's kind of cliche ... but it's true. I'm fundamentally honored by the fact that I'm in the midst of all these other great teachers, all of whom are shaping their community and our state in some kind of positive way. It's pretty cool to be recognized." Read More

MSMS Students Triumph at Russian Contest

Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science students took top honors in the Olympiad of Spoken Russian, held at Rhodes College in Memphis April 6. The contest is a unique event among language competitions and tests the most difficult aspect of language acquisition, speaking. In the four parts of the event, contestants describe in Russian themselves, their families and their interests; discuss aspects of Russian culture and geography; recite Russian poetry; and answer questions based on Russian narratives.

Senior Haley Hsu of Horn Lake received the overall gold medal and was recognized for the highest score ever earned at the Olympiada contest in the Memphis region. For her achievement, the judges nominated Haley for national recognition by the American Council of Teachers of Russian.

Fellow Russian 2 team members Hillary Gerber of Columbus and Alex Wheeler of West Point received gold medals and Noah McKone of Bogue Chitto won silver. In this group Alex received the highest score.

In Russian 1, juniors Elise Cook of Steens, Sydney "Sam" Matrisciano of Winona, Micah Robinson of Brandon and Matthew Westmoreland of Terry won gold. Matthew was the high scorer in Russian 1. Sam was given a special award for grace and composure in her responses to the questions and tasks of the Olympiad.

"I'm tremendously proud of these students," said MSMS Russian teacher Margaret Mary Henry. "They have worked very hard. What a joy to see their efforts so richly rewarded." Ms. Henry also had praise for junior Olga Goupalova, an MSMS junior originally from St. Petersburg, Russia who helped coach the MSMS team. "Olga did a superb job and was a big part of our success. She is an excellent peer tutor who truly reflects the four MSMS ideals of scholarship, community, service and creativity."

MSMS Got Talent

The 2017 MSMS Got Talent Show will take place on April 21 at 6:30 pm in Nissan Auditorium. Admission is free, but if you can't make the show you can still get in on all the fun (and vote for your favorite performers!) via the Livestream link above.

You know MSMS students have it going on when it comes to academics, but our students are also dynamically talented in music, dance, and other types of performance. Join us for MSMS Got Talent, on Friday, April 21, 2017!

This event is made possible by the MSMS Residential Life staff.

Tales From The Crypt 2017

The 2017 Tales From the Crypt performance has come and gone. Nearly 2,000 people from all over the world attended this year's four performances and $6,000 was raised for charity.

Read Commercial Dispatch Coverage of Tales From the Crypt here.

All About Tales

·      Featured on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” May 25, 2015 -

·       Featured in The Atlantic online magazine -

·      2014 Heritage Award for Preservation Education from the Mississippi Heritage Trust

·      2009 Award for Outstanding Use of Historical Documents in the Mississippi K-12 Classroom

·      2005 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts recipient -

·      2005 national Finalist for the History Channel’s Save Our History Classroom Award

·      Featured annually in the Commercial Dispatch and other regional publications - ;

·      Featured on Turner South Broadcasting’s 3 Day Weekend, episode 02-018

For the twenty-sixth time, this year 41 students at MSMS will explore history as well as honor people buried in historic Friendship Cemetery by attempting to uncover and tell their life stories as well as the story of this community’s historic development.

The Reasoning:

The Egyptians believed that when you said a person’s name aloud you were granting that person immortality.  And William Faulkner has written that “The past is never dead.  It is not even past.”  Additionally, Edward Ayers, a Pulitzer-prize finalist and Historian at the University of Virginia, argues that all history is local history writ large.

Recognizing a convergence of these three beliefs, for 26 years, students at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science have honored those buried in historic Friendship Cemetery and explored their regional and national relevance by attempting to uncover and tell their life stories and place them in the context of their times.

The project has been a successful partnership between MSMS, the Columbus-Lowndes County Library, and the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation (formerly the Columbus Historic Foundation).  It has received national and regional awards while also gaining recognition through imitation and publicity throughout the country.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour once said that Mississippi needs examples of excellence to which to aspire.  Tales from the Crypt has proven to be one such example.

The research and dramatic performance project is the brainchild of founding MSMS faculty member, Mississippi Master Teacher, and long-time Columbus resident Carl Butler.  For the past 16 years, the program has developed further under the direction of MSMS History teacher Chuck Yarborough.

The Project:


This year 41 11th grade US History students at MSMS are participating in research and development of the project.

Following an introduction to the project and a brief overview of Columbus history, each student selects the name of a person buried in Friendship Cemetery (from a master list of over 100 – not previously researched) who died in the nineteenth or early twentieth century (prior to 1930).   Students then visit the gravesite of their research subject in order to begin the research process.

During the fall semester, each student conducts primary and secondary source research in the local archives of the Columbus/Lowndes County public library (which are phenomenal as a result of our county having the only county Department of Archives and History in Mississippi in the late 1970s), the Lowndes County courthouse records, the special collections at nearby Mississippi State University and the Mississippi University for Women, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, and additional archives as revealed by each student’s work. 

From their research, students write a research paper exploring the life of their research subject and placing their subject in the larger historical context of their day.

"If You Know It, Tell It!"

Mississippi's Pulitzer Prize winner Eudora Welty said there is a Mississippi saying, “If you know it, tell it!” 

In early January, student researchers begin to do exactly that!  Each student will develop a character and write an original monologue script conveying the student's interpretation of significant events which influenced and were influenced by their research subject.  Mr. Yarborough as well as previous Tales participants assist students as they develop their character for audition.

In auditions, 9 or 10 students will be selected based upon dramatic performance potential and historical accuracy.  These students will develop their characters further and hone their performances in production teams with fellow students, under the direction of their MSMS History teacher.  (Students who are not selected to perform their character continue to participate in the project as production team members.  These students also learn parts as narrators/guides for the performances during evening tours.) 


This year during Columbus' 2017 Spring Pilgrimage, MSMS students will perform the 27th annual Tales from the Crypt by candlelight in Friendship Cemetery.  Performers will tell their stories on the gravesite of the individual researched and student guides lead groups of tourists through the cemetery, introducing them to Columbus and Mississippi History.

Incorporating dramatic performance into a History research program, MSMS has created an opportunity for students and their audiences to explore our cultural and mental roots from different viewpoints.  Tales from the Crypt performances create a space in which the performers and the audiences are allowed the freedom to twist and play with their conceptions and where they are temporarily free to create new realizations and new levels of understanding.  

Tales from the Crypt performances will be March 31, April 3, 5, & 7, Spring 2017.

Annually, between two and three thousand visitors tour Friendship Cemetery and experience the performances!  As a community service project, admission is kept low so entire families can afford to come enjoy the show – only $5 for adults with a discounted price for students.

Community Service

The affordable admission covers performance costs and usually generates a small profit.  Profits from the project are donated to charitable projects selected by the students.  In 2016, Tales students donated over $6,600 to charitable causes – including the Columbus Boys & Girls Club, the Columbus-Lowndes County Library, the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Fisher House Foundation, and the Tulane University Hospital!

Other recent donation recipients have included the Palmer Home for Children in Columbus; the Mississippi Red Cross; MS Public Broadcasting; funds for an historic marker at the childhood home of Richard Wright in Natchez, MS; funds to purchase a slave record manual and other resources for the Columbus/Lowndes Country Archives; funds for an historic marker at the downtown Jewish business complex in Port Gibson, MS, and others…

MSMS Chess Team Brings Home Top Prize

The MSMS Chess Team are state champions.

The MSMS chess team--seniors Braeden Foldenauer, and Andy Zhao, and juniors Spencer Bolhuis, William Johnson, Gary Nguyen, and Daniel Smothers--traveled to Starkville Saturday to compete in the 2017 Mississippi Scholastic Chess Association state team tournament. Teams from all areas of the state were there, but as the tournament entered the fifth and final round, three teams, DeSoto County, Franklin County, and MSMS, were engaged in a close and intense struggle to bring home the championship trophy. That trophy is now sitting in the lobby of Hooper. Congratulations to these students for a gutsy performance, a performance worthy of champions.

MSMS Hosts Latin Conference

On the grassy field outside the Pohl gymnasium on Mississippi University for Women's campus Friday, a group of teenagers encircled a handful of their peers. The teenage "gladiators" in the center of the ring each had a brightly colored balloon tied around one ankle and were frantically beating their opponents with equally brightly colored pool noodles, all as their peers cheered them on in English -- and Latin (this is an excerpt of a story that appeared in the Commercial Dispatch. Click here to read more)

The object of the melee was to pop each other's balloons, so it probably didn't resemble the gladiatorial battles of ancient Rome 2,000 years ago. But at least Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science senior Rebecca Chen, who tied for first in the women's gladiatorial contest, didn't have to face a Roman emperor's thumbs down. 

"I didn't think I'd get that far, because all the girls looked really intimidating, but it feels really great," Chen said. 

It was the fourth statewide Latin convention MSMS students have attended in as many years and the first they have hosted. MSMS Latin teacher Lori Pierce helped organize the event for 10 school groups totaling more than 200 students studying Latin or classics. Set up by the Mississippi Junior Classical League, the event allows students to compete in various athletic, academic and artistic events, each with a Latin or Roman history component. Read More

Reunion Weekend Alumni Discussion Panels

The MSMS 2017 Reunion Weekend will take place on Friday, March 31 – Saturday, April 1. This year, the MSMS Classes of 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2012 will be honored (but ALL MSMS Alumni are invited to attend).

There are several events lined up for this year’s Reunion Weekend, all of which can be learned about here.

For the first time, however, MSMS will host an Alumni Discussion Panel. During the panel, MSMS alumni will have the chance to impart their experience and wisdom with the current MSMS student body.

The panelists will be Geof Morris (’97), Dr. Neeka Sanders (’92), Dr. Sarah Prather (’07), Jennifer Rogers (’97), Dr. Amy Bogan (’92), Michael Counihan (’07), and Juliette Lawrence (’07). Information about each speaker can be found below.

The seminars will take place in Rent Auditorium on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm.

The Alumni Discussion Panel will be moderated by MSMS Coordinator for Alumni and Public Relations, Wade Leonard.

Geof Morris – Class of 1997

Geof Morris has 15 years of aerospace engineering, project management, and real-time operations experience.  After graduating from MSMS, he finished a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) in mechanical/aerospace engineering (2002), and he has stayed as an active member of the Greater Huntsville community ever since.  He has been a speaker at Ceremony of Lights and has twice been an interviewer for incoming classes.  He and his wife, Danielle, both work at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.  They live in Madison, Alabama, and have one of the cutest rescue dogs north of the Tennessee River.

Dr. Neeka L. Sanders – Class of 1992

Dr. Neeka L. Sanders is a Obstetrician and Gynecologist with the Ob Hospitalist Group. She is based at the North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital in Tupelo, Mississippi. She is a graduate of Millsaps College and the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Dr. Sarah Prather – Class of 2007

Dr. Sarah Prather is originally from West Point, MS. While at MSMS, Dr. Prather received the Spirit of Community award and served as an Emissary.

She entered into Mississippi State University’s early entry program and completed an MSMS mentorship with an MSU equine surgeon during her junior year. She is a graduate of MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and currently practices in south Alabama.

Dr. Amy Bogan – Class of 1992

Dr. Boggan is a native of Jasper County, Mississippi. She holds a B.A. in political science and minors in piano and speech pathology and audiology from the University of Southern Mississippi. She holds an M.A. in government and politics from the University of Maryland, College Park. During the late 1990s, she served internships with the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. After moving to Texas in 2000, she taught geography and humanities in Plano public schools and American government at Collin College.  After returning to graduate study, Dr. Boggan completed an M.S. in applied cognition and neuroscience and a Ph.D. in cognition and neuroscience from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2012.  She currently is an associate professor in psychology at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains. Her research involves perceptual expertise and related topics in cognitive psychology, such as memory and attention. She has presented her research at several professional conferences and is an author on papers appearing in the Journal of Neurosciencethe Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Neuroscience Letters, and Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.  She is an active musician and plays guitar, mandolin, and melodeon for the band Cornbread Ted and the Butterbeans.  In her spare time, she enjoys photographing birds.

Michael Counihan – Class of 2007

Michael is a strategy and operations consultant based in Washington, DC. He graduated from MSMS in 2007 and attended Georgetown University, earning a BSFS in International Political Economy and an MA in Security Studies in 2011. Michael then served as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense Officer in the US Army, where he led both reconnaissance and decontamination units. Michael and his wife Sarah Thompson (c/o 2008) live in Baltimore, where Sarah attends Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Juliette Lawrence – Class of 2007

After graduating from MSMS in 2007, Juliette earned a bachelor's degree in English and psychology from the University of Mississippi, where she served as lab coordinator of clinical research in social psychology.

Currently, she is discharge coordinator for Oxford Treatment Center. Juliette works with therapists, patients, and families to place graduates of the Oxford Center’s treatment program into appropriate follow-up care, across the nation and the world.

Jennifer Rogers –  Class of 1997

Jennifer Rogers is the director of the Mississippi Office of Student Financial Aid. In that role, she oversees administration of a $45 million budget and the state’s 32 student financial aid programs. Since Rogers took leadership of the office in 2009, the Office has reduced its administrative overhead while increasing the number of students eligible for the state’s only need-based grant program by more than 1,000%. Rogers is leading efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of state-supported student financial aid programs with the ultimate goal of

improving college affordability for Mississippi families. Rogers previously led the development efforts for the state’s college access website, (Rise Up!). Rogers is a native of Mississippi. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of the South (Sewanee) in Tennessee and her MBA from Millsaps College in Jackson. When her children Ellen (11) and Gunner (6) are just a bit older, she fully intends to return to the classroom for her terminal degree!

MSMS Students Stack Awards at MMSC

MSMS racked up EIGHT awards at this year’s Mississippi Model Security Council. During the MMSC, students from across the state act as mock-delegates who represent different countries.

The students debate and negotiate to best position their countries and the world at large. The group is sponsored by MSMS social science instructor, Julie Heintz.

  • Caleb Eubanks – Best Delegation
  • Tyler Hartman and Achintya Prasad – Best Resolution
  • Alex Monterde and Caleb Robinson – Best Delegation
  • Sydney Matrisciano and Pal Patel – Best Delegation
  • Keegan Lindsey – Best Resolution
  • Greg Billingsley and Samuel Patterson – Best Delegation
  • Mayukh Datta and Mikel Sandifer – Best Delegation
  • Braeden Foldenauer – Best Delegation

MSMS Students Win Gold Medal for National German Exam

MSMS seniors Alex Leise and Daniel Cieslinski recently learned that they both are winners of National German Exam Gold Medals. Leise and Cieslinski both scored within the upper 94th percentile of the 20,000 students who took this year’s exam. Both are students of Lori LeVar Pierce’s German class.

According to the NGE press release: The National German Exam, now in its 57th year, rewards students through an extensive prize program and provide a means of comparing students in all regions of the US. Hal Boland, teacher of German at Heritage High School in Leesburg, Virginia and AATG President said, “The outstanding performance of these German students in our national competition brings honor to their school, their district, and their German program. The AATG salutes their tremendous accomplishment and the great worktheir teachers do.”

Founded in 1926, the AATG represents German teachers at all levels of instruction. The AATG is dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the teaching of language, literature, and culture of the German‐speaking countries.

MSMS Take Prizes at Business Competition

MSMS wishes to congratulate those who participated in the Future Business Leaders of America Northern District Competition in February! Along with MSMS student and state FBLA president Brianna Ladnier, all the students who competed were great representatives of MSMS! The results were:

1st place in Marketing- Sophia Ali, Calisa Henry, Devon Matheny
1st place in Word Processing- Aurelia Caine
3rd place in Accounting- Anna Katherine Overstreet

These students will go on to compete at the state conference in April!

MSMS Hosts Chess Tournament

MSMS hosted a Mississippi Scholastic Chess Association tournament Saturday, Feb. 25. 71 students from all areas of the state participated. Braedon Foldenhauer, Spencer Bolhuis, Gary Nguyen, Andy Zhao, and William Johnson were the MSMS students who played. Braedon finished second in the high school division, and Spencer finished third. Scholarships to MSMS summer camps were awarded to the first and second place winners in the K-7 and K-9 divisions. Emisaries helped with the tournament and conducted tours of the school for prospective students and their parents.

MSMS Step Teams Take Home Prizes

The MSMS Blu Diamondz and Blu Knights strutted their stuff at the recent Back to Basics Black History Step and Dance Competition.

The ladies of the Blue Diamondz stepped their way to first place and the the young men of the Blue Knights landed an impressive third.

The event was held at Nissan Auditorium on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women and was sponsored by Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.