Background Image Alternative Text: Panelists (seated, l-r) include John McRae, John Poros, Kimberly Brown, Shannon Criss, Nils Gore, and Michael Buono.
Background Image Alternative Text: Former CAAD Dean Jim West, standing, introduces a panel of former faculty and administrators of the university’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center. Panelists (seated, l-r) include John McRae, John Poros, Kimberly Brown, Shannon Criss, Nils Gore, and Michael Buono.

MSU’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center celebration, exhibit highlight 40 years of meaningful service

The celebration included an opening reception for the School of Architecture’s Charlotte and Richard McNeel Architecture Gallery.

By Sasha Steinberg | Mississippi State University

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center Monday [Oct. 7] with a Small Town Celebration and Exhibit and opening of a major benefactor gallery.

The daylong event at Giles Hall featured various presentations highlighting the significant impact of the university’s statewide community design outreach program housed in the College of Architecture, Art and Design. The center was endowed in 2004 by major benefactor Fred E. Carl Jr. of Greenwood, who attended MSU as an architecture major and was a 2009 selection for an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

Director Leah Kemp said as an advocate of meaningful design for small towns, the center provides planning and design services and conducts research to generate solutions for problems faced by communities across the nation.

“Through 50-plus partnerships and participation from more than 500 students, faculty and staff, we’ve invested over $2 million in service to more than 100 small towns over the past 40 years,” she said. “Projects may start out as an idea, concept or sketch, and then communities can tweak those and make them their own. We’re very appreciative of Fred Carl for his endowment, which will help the center in continuing to make a huge difference.”

The celebration included an opening reception for the School of Architecture’s Charlotte and Richard McNeel Architecture Gallery, displaying a “40 Years at the Carl Small Town Center” exhibit through Friday [Oct. 11]. Admission is free to all.

Community leaders, architects, planners and others in attendance also heard from Wendy Benscoter, executive director for Shreveport Common Inc. During her keynote address, she shared inspiring stories about action-oriented teams of public/private partners working to transform small towns in Louisiana through Creative Placemaking. The evolving field of practice leverages the power of arts, culture and creativity to make communities more vibrant, sustainable and fun.

“The Creative Placemaking process puts broad and diverse groups of people together to look at multi-layered projects that build on existing assets, respect quality of place, create healthier communities and a healthier climate for creative and cultural expression, and provide economic opportunity and an improved quality of life for all,” Benscoter said.

“It’s a tall order, but when the community’s voice is heard and teams of architects, artists, neighbors, property owners, innovators, planners, mayors, city department heads and community experts bring their accountability to detail together at the same table, imagination and innovation are limitless,” she said.

Also part of the Small Town Celebration was a panel discussion that reconnected MSU School of Architecture alumni with former faculty and administrators. Michael Buono, former professor and project director at the then-Center for Small Town Research and Design (now known as the Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center), was among the panelists who shared words of praise for the center’s work on projects that “serve communities extremely well.”

“It’s great to come back to Mississippi State and see former students’ names on major spaces within the building now,” he said. “As educators, we measure our successes by our students, and when our students succeed, we feel successful too.”

School of Architecture Professor and Interim Director Jassen Callender said, “Support really matters and lets us do things that are bigger and better. Much like the Carl Small Town Center has Fred Carl, the gallery needs that kind of support to move forward, and that’s where Charlotte and Richard McNeel come in. They have done so much for the School of Architecture, College of Architecture, Art and Design, and the architecture profession.”

Charlotte McNeel has MSU bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, which she earned in 1975 and 1977, respectively. Richard McNeel is a 1979 MSU architecture bachelor’s graduate, current chair of the MSU School of Architecture’s Advisory Council and 2019 recipient of the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service, the highest honor awarded by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. He brings 40 years of professional experience in planning, design and building to his work as president of the Jackson-based firm JBHM Architecture.

As parents of MSU architecture alumnae Catherine and Kirke, the McNeels said they are proud to make this gift to the School of Architecture.

“We’re excited because students will get to see architecture work demonstrated in key exhibits that the gallery hosts,” Richard McNeel said.

“We feel very blessed, and we love Mississippi State,” added Charlotte McNeel.

For more information on MSU’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center, visit and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @smalltowncenter. Kemp can be contacted at 662-325-8671 or

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

See photos from the event.

Watch a video about the Small Town Center's history with Jim Barker

Watch a video about the Small Town Center's history with Dr. Michael Fazio