News + Events

Leah Kemp selected for 2018 LEAP program at MSU

By Allison Matthews

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Carl Small Town Center director Leah Kemp is one of seventeen Mississippi State staff members selected to participate in the university’s 2018 Leadership Excellence for Accomplished Professionals (LEAP) program.

LEAP’s goals include the advancement of knowledge and enhancement of leadership skills, along with direct practical work applications for selected employees.

During the intensive four-month program, members meet with campus and community leaders from various areas to explore and more effectively develop their administrative proficiencies. Conflict resolution and decision making, managing change, effective team building, and employee performance management are among session topics.

“We’ve seen the benefits of the LEAP program through the outstanding work that continues to be done by the program’s participants. We are excited to see how this year’s candidates accept the challenge of reaching their next level of leadership and moving MSU forward,” said Darrell Easley, learning and development manager for MSU’s human resources management department.

For additional information about LEAP, contact Easley at or 662-325-2203.

Carl Small Town Center to write Starkville design guidelines

By Alex Holloway

The Commercial Dispatch

STARKVILLE, Miss.—The city of Starkville and the Carl Small Town Center are partnering to craft a set of guidelines to help preserve the character of the city’s downtown.

Community Development Department Director Buddy Sanders said the process for the guidelines started about two-and-a-half years ago.

“The historic preservation commission became concerned about possible redevelopments in the downtown area and the effect that a renovation may have on a downtown building losing the character of that historic property,” Sanders said.

Commissioners reached out to then-Greater Starkville Development CEO Jennifer Gregory, who suggested creating a set of guidelines to offer for businesses looking to move into or renovate a building downtown.

The city applied for a Certified Local Government grant through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. In June, the city received the grant, which will offer $6,500 in reimbursement for the $13,000 contract with the Carl Small Town Center, which aldermen approved at the most recent regular board meeting. The city is paying $3,250 of the contract’s cost, and the remaining $3,250 is covered through in-kind volunteer services from the center.

Leah Kemp, director of the Carl Small Town Center, said the template is going to focus on exterior characteristics of the buildings.

“We look at the height of the buildings, the character and the materiality,” she said. “We look at how they were made. The goal is to provide options so future development can not necessarily return things to the way they were, but make decisions in keeping with the character and scale of what is already there.

“Sometimes in other cities, you can see bad examples of what not to do,” she added. “We are going to provide in our standards examples of what to do and what not to do.”

Sanders said the guidelines will focus wholly on the outside of buildings.

“A bright, canary yellow paint is not going to work on a 1910 building,” he said.

Work has to be completed on the design guidelines by mid-September, and Sanders said he expects it to be finished before then, with the center already “moving quickly” on the work.

He said the document will be strictly suggestive, rather than codified in an ordinance. Still, he said the center will likely present the document to the board of aldermen when it’s completed.

“We were very open with the Carl Small Town Center that we wanted the document to be a template for other Mississippi cities,” Sanders said.

Kemp said the work Starkville is doing could set a positive model for other communities.

“The more progressive communities around the state are the ones who understand the value of preserving their identities,” she said. “Starkville is poised to grow a whole lot more, and the local board and mayor understand that and want to make sure they’re growing in a positive way.

“I think Starkville has been charged with setting a sense of design excellence,” she later added. “This template will help set that standard of excellence so Starkville can be looked at as a place that sets a good example for other communities.”

Note: This article originally appeared in the Commercial Dispatch on August 1, 2018.

Kemp and Gregory present at 2018 MML Annual Conference

BILOXI, Miss.—The Carl Small Town Center’s Leah Kemp and Thomas Gregory presented at the Mississippi Municipal League’s Annual Conference in Biloxi on Tuesday, June 26.

The session, entitled, “Community Connections: Creatively Linking Key Destinations through Transit and Pedestrian Infrastructure,” discussed the impact that walkability has on a community’s health and economy.

Kemp and Gregory used case studies from successful CSTC projects in Marks, Aberdeen, and Ripley, Mississippi to illustrate the creative ways that communities have linked destinations in their towns through bike and pedestrian pathways.

The Mississippi Municipal League is a voluntary group of Mississippi cities and towns whose mission is to serve its members through legislative advocacy, benefits programs, training and educational opportunities, and multiple publications.

CSTC welcomes 2018 summer associates

Photo, from left to right: Shameen Akhtar, Felipe Olvera, and Baleigh Hull.

STARKVILLE, Miss.—The Carl Small Town Center (CSTC) at Mississippi State University is proud to welcome three summer associates who will be working in our office at Giles Hall this summer. Each associate brings a unique set of interests and skills, which will contribute to the CSTC’s design projects.

Shameen Akhtar is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a BFA in architecture. For the past year and a half, Shameen worked for the Master Plan Street Team in her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she used community engagement to develop the master plan’s five areas of focus. Shameen is interested in the collaboration of public interest design and architecture.

Felipe Olvera is a native of Memphis, Tennessee and is a third year architecture student at Mississippi State University. Felipe’s interests include mass timber and passive building systems. Felipe is the public relations chair for AIAS, serves as the co-editor of BarnWorks at MSU, and served on the Freedom by Design team, which worked to build an ADA ramp for the Oktoc Community Center.

Baleigh Hull is a fourth year architecture student at Mississippi State University from Collinsville, Mississippi. Baleigh has been working for the CSTC for the past year on a variety of community design projects, including the Ripley Master Plan. Baleigh is interested in sustainable design and the use of reusable building materials. She has served as a volunteer for Clean the Stream in West Alabama.

CREATE Common Ground students implement design project in Ripley

Photo, left to right: CSTC community planner Thomas Gregory, student Rayce Belton, Mayor Chris Marsalis, student Shelby Jaco, assistant professor Silvina Lopez Barrera. Not pictured: student Nada Aziz.

RIPLEY, Miss.—Each year, a community in Northeast Mississippi is selected from a pool of applicants to participate with the Carl Small Town Center’s CREATE Common Ground class. CREATE Common Ground is the result of a partnership between the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC) at Mississippi State University and the CREATE Foundation, which began in 1998.

The course seeks to engage both students and municipal leaders in the community design process to begin thinking about design issues and opportunities. This year, assistant professor Silvina Lopez Barrerra and CSTC community planner Thomas Gregory served as instructors for the course.

Ripley, Mississippi was chosen as the 2018 CREATE Common Ground project as a result of an ongoing partnership between the Carl Small Town Center and the Ripley community. Students met with Ripley mayor Chris Marsalis and Ripley Main Street director Elizabeth Behm to identify opportunities for design interventions around the Tippah County Courthouse square.

Architecture students Nada Aziz, Rayce Belton, and Shelby Jaco developed schematic designs in early spring, which were presented to Mayor Marsalis and Ms. Behm during a community review in March.

Working with these local leaders, the team selected a narrow alley connecting a public parking lot to South Commerce Street as the site where the design intervention would be implemented. The students then combined their ideas and developed a singular design for the alley improvements.

On April 19, the students and instructors traveled to Ripley and spent the day installing handcrafted overhead light fixtures, which provide much needed light in the dark space. The students also painted a unique design on the freshly washed concrete surface to create interest.

Finally, wayfinding signage was made and sent to the City of Ripley to be affixed to the walls leading into the alley to let pedestrians know how to access the parking lot and courthouse square.

The CREATE Ripley project serves as a great example of how the design process can be used to help solve small town problems by combining creativity, hard work, and a little bit of money.

Kemp leads tour of CSTC’s Marking the Mule interpretive trail

MARKS, Miss.—As part of its weeklong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign, Carl Small Town Center Director Leah Kemp was invited to the community of Marks, Mississippi, to tour Martin Luther King III through the Marking the Mule interpretive trail.

Designed by the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC), the multi-modal Marking the Mule interpretive trail highlights the Marks Mule Train Civil Rights campaign, a vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

In July 2015, the CSTC was awarded a $25,000 Our Town grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to work with the community to vision a way to commemorate the historic civil rights campaign.

The yearlong public outreach campaign project engaged local residents, historians, architects and planners. The CSTC developed interpretive pedestrian and vehicle trails along with corresponding signage highlighting Civil Rights-related sites in Marks. The project also included a master plan for the designated Trailhead Park and the construction of a welcome sign showing interactive maps for new trails.

The CSTC recently received two statewide awards for its Marking the Mule project, which focused on advancing citizen engagement in the Marks community – a 2017 Public Outreach Award from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association and an AIA Design Award from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

You can learn more about the Marking the Mule project on our projects page.


Ripley To Receive Comprehensive Data-Driven Vision

Photo: Ripley citizen Jerry Windham discusses plan with MSU architecture students.

by Jed Pressgrove

STARKVILLE, Miss.—NSPARC and the Carl Small Town Center at Mississippi State University have partnered to create an in-depth strategic plan for the rural town of Ripley, Mississippi.

The NSPARC-sponsored plan, which will be informed by a wide variety of data, will include a comprehensive vision for the community of Ripley, specific recommendations, and details on how to implement aspects of the plan. The document will reflect both NSPARC’s commitment to data science and the Carl Small Town Center’s dedication to community engagement within the field of architecture and design.

“This plan can help Ripley innovate and thus increase its economic competitiveness,” NSPARC Executive Director Mimmo Parisi said. “Data science will continue to play a key role in inspiring rural communities to evolve.”

“The partnership with the Carl Small Town Center and NSPARC in Ripley is the first of its kind, but one we believe to be a model for helping other communities,” Carl Small Town Center Director Leah Kemp said. “Together, we have combined our resources to offer Ripley a comprehensive analysis and vision for its community. It helps the community on so many levels, and having this service paid for by NSPARC relieves a tremendous burden for the community.”

Ripley Mayor Chris Marsalis said the need for a plan was identified during a series of discussions that he had with a county development officer about a year ago. Since then, numerous community leaders have bought into the notion of a strategic 20-year vision to address the various needs of the town.

“I can’t really place a value on it,” Marsalis said. “Without this arrangement [with NSPARC and the Carl Small Town Center], we would not be able to receive this type of detailed direction for the town.”

Carl Small Town Center community planner Thomas Gregory said his team has spent several months communicating with the Ripley community about its needs. The dialogue started with a meeting of community leaders and representatives who identified broad needs, such as downtown design, transportation, and community appearance.

“We worked with the Ripley community to select this group of stakeholders that represented all aspects of the community,” Gregory said.

The Carl Small Town Center then had an open meeting with the community that was attended by about 35 people who grouped specific issues and solutions under the broad needs identified during the meeting described above. Gregory said these meetings reflect a bottom-up approach to plan development.

“Community engagement is at the heart of what we do in communities across the state,” he said. “We like to think of the plan as being developed by the community, with technical assistance provided by the Carl Small Town Center. We are the facilitators of the visioning and planning process.”

Marsalis said there are many facets to Ripley that have to be thought about as a whole and as individual details. This complexity speaks to the importance of having expert help, especially in a non-urban setting.

“It’s a holistic approach to small-town operations,” Marsalis said. “The Carl Small Town Center brings architectural and planning expertise that small towns don’t have compared to big cities.”

Both NSPARC and the Carl Small Town Center think Ripley’s future will be brighter than ever.

“This project will give Ripley the knowledge and the tools to transform their ideas into reality,” Parisi said. “That’s what data can do for any community.”

“Once the new comprehensive plan is finished in summer 2018, the community will be able to leverage grants and other funding to implement the projects outlined in the plan, ultimately bringing economic success to the overall community,” Kemp said.

Carl Small Town Center seeking applications for Public Interest Design Summer Associate

STARKVILLE, Miss.— The Carl Small Town Center is seeking applicants for a Summer Associate to work on a range of public interest design projects, including architectural design and community planning projects.

The Summer Associate will work 40 hours per week for 8-10 weeks during the summer of 2018.

Applicants should have completed a bachelor’s degree in architecture, city planning, urban design, or a related field. Proficiency with Microsoft Office Suite and Adobe Creative Suite is required. Experience with architectural design software (AutoCAD, SketchUp, and/or Revit) is preferred.

The Carl Small Town Center, a community design center at the Mississippi State University School of Architecture, engages communities to provide meaningful design solutions for small towns.

Instructions for applying and other information about the Summer Associate position can be found here.


Carl Small Town Center’s Gregory to lead statewide planning association

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A Mississippi State alumnus and community planner for the university’s Carl Small Town Center is beginning a new leadership role with the state’s professional organization for city planners.

Thomas R. Gregory III recently was elected to a one-year term as president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association. In January 2019, he will begin a two-year term as the organization’s president.

“It is an honor to be selected by my peers and colleagues across Mississippi to lead our state chapter,” Gregory said. “The work we do as planners is critical to the success of Mississippi’s communities, and I will work hard to promote our profession across the state.”

Gregory said he looks forward to collaborating with the executive team to update the chapter’s strategic plan and increase membership among planning professionals in Mississippi.

“I would also like to piggy-back on our national organization’s ‘Great Places’ initiative by creating a ‘Great Places in Mississippi’ program to recognize Mississippi communities that exemplify good planning,” Gregory added.

Prior to being named president-elect, Gregory served as APA Mississippi’s public information officer and conference committee chair. He currently serves the APA on a national level as a member of its leadership development taskforce.

Gregory, a native of Greenwood, is a 2005 MSU magna cum laude business administration, construction management and land development bachelor’s graduate who also minored in economics and political science. He returned to his alma mater during the 2017 fall semester after serving eight years as chief administrative officer for the City of Greenwood. There, he served on the board of directors for Main Street Greenwood, Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce, Greenwood Boys and Girls Club and ArtPlace Mississippi.

A Master of City and Regional Planning graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gregory is licensed by the American Institute of Certified Planners and is a member of Congress for the New Urbanism, among other professional groups. He is a graduate of the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, Public Interest Design Institute and Leadership Mississippi.

The Carl Small Town Center, a community design center at Mississippi State University, is an advocate of meaningful design for small towns.

Carl Small Town Center’s Ripley project provides students with ‘real-world’ experience

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State’s Carl Small Town Center has collaborated with students in the university’s College of Architecture, Art and Design to reimagine a popular site in Ripley as part of a proposed master plan for the Tippah County town.

Director Leah F. Kemp said the CSTC began work on the Ripley master plan this past August. For the project, the center solicited help from MSU Assistant Professor Fred Esenwein’s fourth-year architecture studio class to generate ideas for the 50-acre First Monday Trade Days and Flea Market site in Ripley.

Throughout the fall semester, Esenwein’s students worked in groups to develop a master plan featuring cohesive structures for the site, which has brought together craftsmen, artists, farmers, ranchers and other community members for more than 120 years. Ripley residents and CSTC staff also provided feedback to students over the course of the project.

Kemp said the architecture students received words of praise while recently presenting their completed projects to Ripley stakeholders at the Carl Small Town Center in MSU’s Giles Hall. The center will incorporate the students’ design recommendations into a master plan fostering economic growth and community development in Ripley and Tippah County as a whole.

“The Carl Small Town Center is a valuable resource for the School of Architecture as it provides a meaningful way to link students to communities and their needs,” Kemp said. “It also provides students with the opportunity to engage in public interest design.”

Asher Paxton, a senior architecture major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was among students who participated in the CSTC project. He enjoyed interacting with Ripley residents and stakeholders on-site, as well as during their recent visit to the Starkville campus.

“For us architecture students, having the clients come to our fourth-year studio review to critique our work was super beneficial,” Paxton said. “It helped us think about the site in a real-world way.”

Greenwood resident Fred E. Carl Jr., a major Mississippi State benefactor and the Carl Small Town Center’s namesake, founded and served as the first president and CEO of nationally recognized Viking Range Corp. A one-time architecture major at MSU, he endowed the university’s statewide community design outreach program in 2004.

The Carl Small Town Center, a community design center at Mississippi State University, is an advocate of meaningful design for small towns.