Pageants to PhDs

Lacy Nelson
3 min readJan 5, 2021


This is the sixth in a series of profiles of current graduate students at the University of Mississippi. To read the previous profile, click here.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of this year’s Miss Mississippi Pageant, Chensey Mardis is not letting that stop her from representing the Mississippi Delta Region for the second year in a row as Miss Delta Crossroads! However, a crown is not the only hat Mardis wears. She is also highly invested in fitness and wellness, which led to her beginning a PhD program in health and kinesiology this fall at the University of Mississippi.

Originally from Grenada, Mississippi, Mardis grew up in Orlando, Florida. The eldest of five children, she was always outdoors — paddle boarding, swimming, horseback riding, kayaking and working out. A competitive swimmer, Mardis found herself home again in Mississippi on an athletic scholarship to attend Delta State University (DSU) in Cleveland, Mississippi. Unfortunately, an injury left her unable to compete — but this did not deter Mardis. She went on to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at DSU, while finding solace in the Miss America Organization.

“Unfortunately, I suffered an athletic career ending injury and could no longer swim. However, this fueled my passion for fitness and wellness and motivated me to train my mind since I could no longer train my body.”

Mardis grew up cheering “Hotty Toddy” and always dreamed of one day attending the University of Mississippi. While the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a different experience than she envisioned for her first semester, Mardis is still excited about finally landing in Oxford, Mississippi, and has a lot to look forward to.

“I can’t wait for football games to be back at full capacity! I have this dream of finally getting to ‘Lock the Vaught’ as a student with a packed student section! I can’t wait for that moment.”

When you first encounter Mardis, you are met with a warm welcome and a big smile. She has an infectious, energetic personality and you immediately get a sense of the passion she carries for health and wellness. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States, Mardis was teaching at DSU and had to transition her in-person physical education classes to online. Although the transition was certainly a challenge, Mardis did not let this bring her down. She said the additional time to herself allowed her to grow in mind, body and spirit.

Despite being in her first semester of a lengthy PhD program, Mardis already has big plans for the future. Committed to Oxford and the University, she hopes to one day step foot on campus as faculty, where she could continue her research surrounding a holistic approach to fitness and wellness. She would also like one day to open a Human Performance Center, as an extension of the University, where she can work on developing more efficient training programs to prevent athletic injury, as well as to design custom wellness programs for the community.

The week of October 26, 2020 was Chesney Mardis’ “Crown-iversary” as Miss Delta Crossroads 2020. The Miss Mississippi Pageant will hopefully return in June 2021, where Mardis will once again compete for the title of Miss Mississippi.

A version of this story was published in the University of Mississippi Graduate School Fall/Winter 2020 newsletter.



Lacy Nelson

South Mississippian. Expat in D.C. Sno-ball enthusiast. Willie Morris fan. Avid distance runner. Congressional swamp creature. AP style purist [mostly].