DAFVM Spotlight Employees

The administration for the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine (DAFVM) plans to spotlight two employees each month. All benefits-eligible professional and support staff employees within the Division qualify as part of the pool from which employees will be chosen. Highlighted employees will be randomly selected and given his or her choice of a $50 prize from DAFVM to be claimed from specific vendors at MSU. See Guidelines.
Mary Katherine Burkhardt-McNeel

Mary Katherine Burkhardt-McNeel
February 2016

Accounting Assistant, College of Forest Resources
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 4
Years of Service to MSU: 4

Mary Katherine Burkhardt-McNeel didn’t grow up planning to work in the College of Forest Resources, but it has been home for a lot longer than her tenure as an accounting assistant.

“I wouldn’t say I chose this career; I would say it chose me,” Mary Katherine said. “My father, Charles Burkhardt, worked for MSU for more than 25 years. I grew up, literally, in CFR. Many of the faculty were like family to me.”

In her job, Mary Katherine is responsible for taking care of details: completing paperwork for new hires, payroll and procard purchases. But her favorite work-related activity is interacting with the graduate students.

“I love meeting new people and forming lifelong friendships with some of them,” she said.

While many of the faculty members she knew while she was growing have moved on to other jobs, a few are still at MSU.

“Especially since my father’s passing, it pleases my heart to see them,” she said. “They stop by my office and check on me from time to time. They knew me as a kid. Being part of the college that is so near and dear to my heart means the world to me.”

Mary Katherine has been married to Coby McNeel for 10 years, and they have a 5-year-old daughter, Burklee Elizabeth.

When she’s not at work, Mary Katherine enjoys planning events, playing with her daughter, traveling and going to the beach.

Verleen Gray

Verleen Gray
February 2016

Communications Operator, CVM Facilities Engineering
Starkville Campus

Years in Position: 2
Years of Service to MSU: 12

Verleen Gray helps keep the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine running smoothly while encouraging clients, students and staff.

As a communications operator, Verleen answers the phone and directs calls to small animal admissions and the clinic. She also handles work orders for items that break and operates the gate to let clients into and out of the hospital. Logging visitors’ names, times and destinations helps keep CVM secure.

“We also have two new classrooms, so I’ve been giving directions to students coming here from the main campus,” she added.

Before coming to CVM, Verleen worked in a variety of customer service jobs. On campus, she worked at the bookstore and then as a dispatcher for the MSU Police Department.

“I’ve always been a big customer service person, I like helping other people,” Verleen said. “I feel like you have to be a very compassionate person to work any customer service job. What might not be a big deal to someone else is a serious issue to the person on the other end of the phone. Here at CVM, I try to comfort clients and assure them everything is going to be okay with regard to their pets.”

Verleen never imaged her training as a police dispatcher would come in so handy in her job at CVM. During the 2015 active shooter incident, Verleen was asked to make announcements over the intercom.

“I had to tell everyone we were on lockdown and relay whatever Dr. Burt advised me to say,” Verleen remembered. “I stayed calm and gave people directions. Later I heard someone say ‘whoever was making those announcements had experience,’ and that made me feel good.”

Verleen said she works hard to smile and greet everyone who comes by the operator’s desk.

“I love helping make people’s day better,” she said.

She credits her faith in God with her desire to be an encourager.

“That’s where we get our start being compassionate,” she observed. “The bottom line is I just love to help.”

Outside of work, Verleen enjoys attending church and spending time with her two daughters, a freshman in high school and a freshman at MSU.


  • The drawing for the DAFVM Staff Spotlight recognition will take place the last week of each month and be announced the first working day of the upcoming month.  Names are pulled randomly from a pre-populated Banner list.
  • To be the highlighted staff for any given month, the employee must have acceptable recent performance evaluations on file. Those evaluations will be reviewed prior to acknowledgement of the employee and awarding a prize. The evaluation itself will not be viewed but rather HRM will provide a general recommendation based on the employee’s past reviews.
  • The selected employees will be notified by letter from Dr. Greg Bohach, Vice President, DAFVM.
  • A required photo and a brief  interview of the recipients will be posted on the DAFVM Staff Council Web page www.dafvm.msstate.edu/advisory/spotlight/. This information will also be displayed on the monitors of the first floor of the Bost Building, as well as in other MSU locations and publications.
  • Each recipient can choose one of the following prizes:
    • $50 gift certificate to the University Florist
    • $50 gift certificate to the MAFES Sales Store
    • MSU apparel item ($50 value)

At each annual DAFVM Summer Celebration, the Staff Spotlight recipients from the previous year will be acknowledged. The DAFVM website will have an archive of all winners listed by month/date.

An employee cannot be chosen more than once during a two (2) year period.