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Finance student, from left to right: Cameron Tom, Brittany Taylor, and Picasso Nelson Jr., received special recognition during the College of Business' annual awards day ceremony. (Photo by Kelly Dunn))

USM student-athletes excel in banking and finance program

We’ve all seen or heard the conventional rap on collegiate student-athletes: preferential treatment while taking the easiest courses offered. At The University of Southern Mississippi, that long-held stereotype has been expelled.

Enter Cameron Tom, Picasso Nelson Jr., Parker Adamson, Brittany Taylor, and Randall Dias II – scholarship student-athletes who are making distinct marks in the highly demanding banking and finance program. With just two weeks remaining in the 2017 spring semester, this group owns five of the 10-highest GPA’s among banking and finance seniors.

“Taking on full-time studies in a challenging major is demanding to begin with if you intend to excel,” said Dr. G.W. Kelly, chair of the Department of Finance, Real Estate, and Business Law. “That these students have added the immense time and energy demands of an athletic scholarship and excelled at both is nothing short of remarkable.”

The group’s GPA roster reads like this:

Dias II, cross-country (hometown: Albuquerque, N.M.) – 4.000

Tom, football (hometown: Baton Rouge, La.) – 3.754

Taylor, soccer (hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada) – 3.725

Nelson, football (hometown: Mendenhall, Miss.) – 3.688

Adamson, football (hometown: Oxford, Miss.) – 3.560

Tom, Taylor, and Adamson are all scheduled to graduate next month. Tom, who started 47 consecutive games at center for the Golden Eagles, considered one of the country’s top professional prospects, is expected to sign with an NFL team in the near future.

College of Business students at Southern Miss choosing the finance emphasis are prepared for careers with banks and other financial institutions, securities firms and government agencies that oversee the financial sector. The outstanding example being set by the aforementioned quintet is not lost on Jon Gilbert, Director of Athletics.

“The pursuit of a college degree is our number one priority for our Student-Athletes. I applaud Cameron, Parker, Picasso, Brittany and Randall for their outstanding success in the classroom,” said Gilbert. “We are proud of their accomplishments and salute their effort to attain this high standard.”

Nelson Jr., a defensive back, appeared in all 13 games for the Golden Eagles last season and finished third on the team with 48 tackles. The former Oak Grove High standout picked off two passes in the season finale. A recent winner of the Special Achievement Award in Finance, he harbors big dreams for his senior season and beyond.

When asked what prompted him to pursue a degree in finance, Nelson said: “Growing up I always knew I would one day be a millionaire. I chose a degree in finance because I wanted to be able to manage my own money and have the knowledge to invest the money I make so that I can have my money working for me.”

Nelson’s father, Picasso Nelson Sr., saw considerable success in the NFL and Canadian Football League before ultimately earning a master’s degree and doctorate. The younger Nelson already has mapped out a strategy for success after completing his undergraduate degree requirements.

“I hope to have an outstanding senior season as a team and individual and then continue my career in the NFL while working on my master’s in the off-season,” he said. “Long-term, I want to get my Ph.D., enter the real estate business with a goal of owning at least 500 properties by the time I’m 35. Ultimately, I’d like to acquire up to 2,000 properties.”

Taylor has accrued numerous school records during her four seasons with the USM women’s soccer team. Among those: first in single-game saves with 21 against Louisiana Tech in 2014; No. 1 with saves in a single season with 128 in 2013; No. 1 in total career saves with 381.

A recent winner of the Finance Faculty Award, she says striking the perfect balance between commitments in the classroom and on the playing field has always been a supreme challenge.

“I have always been an organized person but my skills were put to the test when I realized I would have practice from 6-8 a.m., class all day and then homework at night,” said Taylor. “I would be lying if I said it was easy. I went through a rough patch where I felt burned-out physically and mentally. The one thing that I found that worked for me was fitting in time for my social life and for myself as well.”

Taylor takes particular pride in doing her part to dissolve the negative stereotype associated with student-athletes.

“Many teachers that have taught me told me that student-athletes are their favorite students because of the dedication and work ethic,” she said. “I believe this to be true because it is in our blood to work hard and have a competitive outlook on everything we do, setting us a little bit apart from the average student.”

A keen interest in the stock market led Dias to pursue a degree in banking and finance. A distance runner who came to Southern Miss via South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, Dias collected a season-high, fourth-place finish in the 800-meter event at the 2017 Bulldog Relays.

Dias points out that the discipline required to perform as a collegiate athlete is also vital to his academic success.

“I try to do everything according to a schedule. I also don’t procrastinate when it comes to class assignments,” he said. “I found that by getting them done early usually makes the rest of the week go by easier. I also try to prioritize and do my work within certain times of the day. That way, I can practice stress-free and perhaps have a little bit of free time.”

Adamson served as a backup quarterback for the Southern Miss football team in the 2016 season. In four appearances he completed 19 of 39 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown. He has decided to forego his senior year with the Golden Eagles and enter graduate school at Tulane University.

Adamson is well aware of the knock on student-athletes, particularly football players, who are often regarded as privileged “jocks” with no motivation to take harder academic courses.

“Sure, some athletes might take lighter loads, but there are dozens of athletes across the State of Mississippi who choose to push themselves in the classroom,” said Adamson. “I think the stereotype has been disappearing for some time. Unfortunately, good grades don’t make many headlines. It’s typically the negative stuff about athletes that makes the news.”

A fierce competitor, Adamson concedes that he and Tom routinely compared test scores over the past two years since the Southern Miss teammates shared so many classes.

“It wasn’t much of a competition because Cam would always beat me,” said Adamson. “But I do feel my competitive nature in general played a role in the classroom. I always wanted to do my best.”

Tom has been a stalwart along the Golden Eagles’ offensive line since breaking into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2013. He was named to the All-Conference USA first team in 2015 and 2016, while making the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll for the past three years. He was recently presented with the Finance Faculty Award from the University’s College of Business.

With his sights set squarely on a career in the NFL, Tom is also preparing himself for a life beyond the bright lights and locker rooms.

“My hope is to play football professionally for as long as I can,” he said. “My long-term goal is to own and run my own financial advising company.”

As to why he selected such a grueling collegiate academic program, Tom said: “I have always wanted to work in business, and I have always been good with numbers and math. I felt finance gave me the best of both worlds.”

Kelly can’t help but beam when discussing the exemplary effort exhibited by this group. He acknowledges that banking and finance would perhaps be among the last places one would expect to find student-athletes.

“Stereotypes are rooted in real observations, but they aren’t law,” said Kelly. “These are great folks, and I can’t praise them enough.”

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