Gravitational Waves Detected from Second Pair of Colliding Black Holes

UM physicists part of team working with data from Advanced LIGO detectors

Massive Bodies Warp Space-Time. Image Credit: T. Pyle/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Massive bodies warp space-time. Image Credit: T. Pyle/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi researchers are among scientists worldwide elated that gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of space-time – have been observed for a second time.

The gravitational waves were detected Dec. 26, 2015, by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, detectors, in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. The discovery has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the LIGO facilities were conceived, built and are operated by Caltech and MIT. The discovery was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration – which includes the GEO Collaboration, the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy – and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.

Gravitational waves carry information about their origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained, and physicists have concluded that these gravitational waves were produced during the final moments of the merger of two black holes – 14 and 8 times the mass of the sun – to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole that is 21 times the mass of the sun.

“The black holes producing the gravitational waves were about three times smaller in size than the black holes we observed in September,” said Marco Cavaglia, UM associate professor of physics and astronomy and assistant spokesperson of the LSC. “Their size is closer to what astronomers observe in galactic X-ray binaries.

“LIGO data also show with very high confidence that at least one of the black holes was spinning before it collided with its companion. This is the first detection of a spinning black hole in a binary system which does not rely on X-ray observations.”

During the merger, which occurred some 1.4 billion years ago, a quantity of energy roughly equivalent to the mass of the sun was converted into gravitational waves. The detected signal comes from the last 27 orbits of the black holes before their merger.

Based on the arrival time of the signals – with the Livingston detector measuring the waves 1.1 milliseconds before the Hanford detector – the position of the source in the sky can be roughly determined.

“In the near future, Virgo, the European interferometer, will join a growing network of gravitational wave detectors, which work together with ground-based telescopes that follow up on the signals,” said Fulvio Ricci, the Virgo Collaboration spokesperson. “The three interferometers together will permit a far better localization in the sky of the signals.”

The first detection of gravitational waves, announced Feb. 11, was a milestone in physics and astronomy; it confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and marked the beginning of the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy.

“It is very significant that these black holes were much less massive than those observed in the first detection,” says Gabriela Gonzalez, LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesperson and professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University. “Because of their lighter masses compared to the first detection, they spent more time – about one second – in the sensitive band of the detectors. It is a promising start to mapping the populations of black holes in our universe.”

“The LIGO detectors are the most precise measurement devices ever built,” said Katherine Dooley, a UM assistant professor of physics and astronomy. “The gravitational waves create phenomenally small changes in the distance between two points in space, and we use laser light to measure that change in distance.”

The second discovery “has truly put the ‘O’ for Observatory in LIGO,” said Caltech’s Albert Lazzarini, deputy director of the LIGO Laboratory. “With detections of two strong events in the four months of our first observing run, we can begin to make predictions about how often we might be hearing gravitational waves in the future.

“LIGO is bringing us a new way to observe some of the darkest, yet most energetic, events in our universe.”

In the short time since the first announcement, the observation of gravitational waves has already changed how scientists view information coming from across the universe, said Luca Bombelli, a UM professor of physics and astronomy.

“Scientists have used it to find out about a distant astrophysical event that we would not have detected otherwise, to study the gravity of black holes and even as a tool to learn more about quantum theory and test predictions of theories on the nature of space-time,” Bombelli said.

“From a practical point of view, the detection has increased the chances of funding for future experiments. This second announcement confirms the fact that we are now in a new era in the study of the cosmos.”

Both discoveries were made possible by the enhanced capabilities of Advanced LIGO, a major upgrade that increases the sensitivity of the instruments compared to the first-generation LIGO detectors.

“With the advent of Advanced LIGO, we anticipated researchers would eventually succeed at detecting unexpected phenomena, but these two detections thus far have surpassed our expectations,” said France A. Córdova, NSF director. “NSF’s 40-year investment in this foundational research is already yielding new information about the nature of the dark universe.”

Advanced LIGO’s next data-taking run will begin this fall. By then, further improvements in detector sensitivity are expected to allow LIGO to reach as much as 1.5 to 2 times more of the volume of the universe. The Virgo detector is expected to join in the latter half of the upcoming observing run.

LIGO research is carried out by the LSC, a group of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data; about 250 students are strong contributing members of the collaboration. The LSC detector network includes the LIGO interferometers and the GEO600 detector.

UM has been a member of the LSC since 2007. Researchers in the university’s LSC group include not only faculty, but also many active student researchers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Ole Miss contributions to LIGO research are in the areas of instrumentation and data analysis.

“We are constantly working on developing new technologies to improve the sensitivity of the gravitational wave detectors, so that we can detect other types of events that are weaker than black hole collisions,” Dooley said. “One such line of work that is researched at Ole Miss is the manipulation of the quantum nature of light.”

Virgo research is carried out by the Virgo Collaboration, consisting of more than 250 physicists and engineers belonging to 19 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare in Italy; two in The Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland and the European Gravitational Observatory, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.

“The University of Mississippi is thrilled to again be part of the historic developments of the LIGO team,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs and associate professor of physics and astronomy. “This second detection of two black holes merging further demonstrates that gravitational wave astronomy will be a powerful new tool to help us better understand our universe.”

The weaker signal of this event is important because it shows the detector is sensitive enough to pick up not only large events with extreme energies, but also lower energy events, which are more common, Gladden said.

“Every event detected brings new data that can be compared to theory, which pushes our understanding of our universe forward,” he said.

The NSF leads in financial support for Advanced LIGO. Funding organizations in Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) also have made significant commitments to the project.

“We are all very excited to hear of the LIGO detection of a second gravitational wave event and congratulate the Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, LIGO detectors for this new finding, and the UM team of scientists on LIGO,” said Lucien Cremaldi, chair of UM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “A second event discovered in the LIGO 2015 data set seems to indicate that gravitational waves are all around, just awaiting our detection.”

For more information about LIGO, visit

Mississippi-Made Mandarin Recognized as World-Class

UM Flagship Chinese Program draws fevered students, yields fluent alumni

Henrietta Yang teaches students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program.

Henrietta Yang teaches students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program.

OXFORD, Miss. – Offering the immersive experience of any Language Flagship Program is a tremendous plus for any university, but being the country’s best program is far better. And that’s exactly what faculty and students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program at the University of Mississippi have succeeded in doing.

The Language Flagship program began in 2002 and includes intensive programs in languages deemed critical for American government, business and military interests – including Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Russian – at several U.S. colleges and universities. UM was among the first institutions to launch a Chinese Language Flagship Program.

“The Language Flagship began as a small pilot project to challenge a few U.S. universities to build programs of advanced language education,” said Donald Dyer, UM chair and professor of modern languages. “Being one of The Language Flagship’s Chinese programs means this is a program designed to take students to the superior level of Chinese, a program on steroids.”

UM is among a dozen institutions offering the intensive program, and the university’s success in preparing its students for careers involving Chinese language and culture attracts students from across the country.

“Ole Miss has one of the most effective Chinese programs in the country, which is why I chose to come here in the first place,” said Liana Tai, a senior international studies and Chinese major from Arlington, Virginia.

Flagship programs are results-driven. One factor used to determine just how good a program is involves examining how many students it can send to the Flagship Capstone. To participate, students must fulfill all required courses, apply, pass all qualifying tests and be accepted by the Flagship Chinese Council.

From 2003 to 2013, Ole Miss sent only 12 students to Capstone. From 2014 to 2016, UM has sent 20 students to Capstone.

“For the past two years, the University of Mississippi has had the largest group among the 12 Chinese Flagship Capstone Programs,” said Henrietta Yang, Croft associate professor of Chinese and co-director of the program.

“During the selection process, all students were ranked based on their application packages, which included a personal statement, a Chinese writing sample, a Chinese speech sample, transcripts, three recommendation letters and a Chinese resume. Three of the top five selected and admitted were UM students, and eight of 13 were ranked above 30.”

The Ole Miss CLFP also is the only Chinese Flagship program that operates an intensive domestic summer program before the freshman year and a post-freshman summer program at Shanghai University in China. This program aims to raise students’ linguistic proficiency and cultural knowledge considerably within an eight-week period.

The university’s CLFP Shanghai Program is open to take students from the other 11 flagship programs.

“Establishing our Shanghai program, which is very well-respected and replete with high standards, is another huge success that is very rewarding to me,” Yang said.

Since taking over the program in 2013, Yang has redesigned the curriculum, which has high standards, thematic courses, domain mentoring and cultural preparation. Unlike some Chinese Flagship programs around the country, which offer only upper-level courses, the Ole Miss CLFP allows for entry at various skill levels.

The university also boasts one of the finest language teaching teams in the nation. Joining Yang are two assistant professors and three full-time instructors. Approximately 100 alumni of the program have gone on to successful careers in international business, public policy leadership, medicine and politics, to name a few fields.

Instruction extends far beyond the borders of the Oxford campus.

“We have seeded Chinese instruction at Oxford, Lafayette and Holly Springs high schools,” Dyer said. “More than 10 students from OHS have matriculated into our flagship program. Students come here from all over the country to study Chinese at a high level.”

Students enrolled in the program are singing their praises of the professors’ instruction and the valuable learning opportunities being received.

Prospective job opportunities in the international business arena are what drew Conner Clark, an international studies and Chinese major, to the UM Chinese Flagship program. The senior from Dallas also participated in the Capstone Year Program.

“During the first semester, we were direct-enrolled at Nanjing University,” Clark said. “For the second semester, we applied to whichever organizations that we were interested in and completed a full-time internship for a minimum of 16 consecutive weeks. This second semester was the most fulfilling for me.”

James DeMarshall, a junior Chinese and international studies double major with a minor in mathematics, said he knew that the Ole Miss program would make him proficient in the language.

“The culture of this program is infectious,” said the native of Glassboro, New Jersey. “Everyone is very supportive of each other, almost like a big family. When I visited campus and sat in on classes, I knew I wanted to be part of this special atmosphere the flagship program has cultivated here.”

Having studied consecutive summers in Shanghai and Harbin, DeMarshall recently learned he was awarded a U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship to spend this upcoming summer studying in the city of Xi’an, in China’s Shaanxi province. He is also the incoming president for the UM chapter of a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization called Global China Connection, of which the Chinese Language Flagship Program has been very supportive.

“I recently had the opportunity to travel to New York City to participate in a conference for GCC, and I was one of maybe 10 or 15 non-Chinese people in attendance,” he said. “As the event went on, I realized how far my Chinese had come in such a really short period of time spent here at Ole Miss.

“I was able to comfortably function in Chinese, which made it easier for me to network and connect with all the other young professionals in attendance. In essence, there was no language barrier. I can entirely thank the UM Flagship Program for that capability.”

As a result of the Chinese program’s success, the department applied for an Arabic flagship program in 2015. Although the request was not granted, the university’s Arabic program is good enough to achieve flagship status, Dyer said.

“Our Arabic program is also exceptional, modeled after Chinese, and reaching the same level of productivity and success,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yang is anticipating even greater levels of success for the Chinese program.

“We are preparing for as many as 19 students for Capstone next year,” she said. “Ours has dominated among the 12 Chinese Flagship Programs in the past two years. I would have to agree that UM has the best Chinese Flagship program in the country.”

McLean Summer Program Turning High School Students into Entrepreneurs

Inaugural weeklong program helped develop leadership and creativity

Terrius Harris and Albert Ball learn yoga in the grove.

Terrius Harris and Albert Ball learn yoga in the Grove.

OXFORD, Miss. – Twelve high school students from across Mississippi gained exposure to innovative problem-solving skills by participating in an entrepreneurial leadership program at the University of Mississippi.

The inaugural class of the McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, or MELP, met May 29-June 3 on the Oxford campus. The weeklong series of activities was sponsored by UM’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement in partnership with the Office of Pre-College Programs.

Terrius Harris and Ryan Snow, innovation scholars with the McLean Institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative, were instrumental in planning and facilitating the program.

“In this first summer, we sought to introduce an initial cohort of students from around the state to the entrepreneurial approaches to addressing pressing community needs,” said Albert Nylander, director of the McLean Institute and a professor of sociology.

“Our initial assessment indicates that at the beginning of the week, only one student believed that he or she could become an entrepreneur. By week’s end, the overwhelming majority of participants believed they had the potential to become entrepreneurs.”

MELP was structured to cultivate an innovative approach to solving problems that students identified in their communities. Throughout the week, participants studied principles of entrepreneurship, data and demographics, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness through readings, lectures from UM faculty and staff, and field trips to meet with community leaders.

Snow, of Summerville, South Carolina, and Harris, of Eagle River, Alaska, reflected on their experiences planning and leading the program.

“I am excited to see this program develop into a statewide initiative,” Snow said. “As I begin my next phase of involvement with the McLean Institute as a graduate innovation fellow, I intend to continue the work of MELP by working with the students to implement the projects they planned during the program.”

Working with students in the inaugural MELP program has been rewarding, Harris said.

“This program attracted high-caliber high school students from across Mississippi,” he said. “I believe we’re off to a great start and on the verge of something truly significant for our state’s economic growth and community development.”

MELP’s first-year goal was to pilot a scalable and replicable program that will stimulate an entrepreneurial interest among high school students that can be utilized to solve community and state problems through community engagement.

“With entrepreneurial problem-solving as the central focus of the week, students were required to complete a weeklong project with the goal of generating an actionable plan to address a community challenge,” said Zack Grossenbacher, another innovation fellow in the McLean Institute. “This project was developed in conjunction with faculty and community members with the intention of allowing students to actively practice the skills that they acquired throughout the week.”

The inaugural participants were Albert Ball and Ajene Buchanan, both of Oxford; Dylan Dickerson, Kyarria “Ari” Hardy, Tyteanna Wragg, Hailey Fox, Kendall Dawkins, Mister Clemmones and McKinley Ware, all of Newton; Abidemi “Titi” Ayegbaroju and Jimeya Mayes, both of Greenwood; and Baylea Brown of Magee. All enter the 10th, 11th or 12th grade in the fall.

Several of the students weighed in on their expectations versus their experiences. Ayegbarojou said she had a particularly emotional moment during a session at the Robert C. Khayat Law Center.

“They asked us to share what we value the most, and I discovered what I value most is myself,” the Greenwood High School sophomore said. “I also found out that in order to be a good leader, you must first be a good follower. And that you must have no fear of failure in order to succeed.”

Brown said she thought she’d feel disconnected and isolated from the others during the week.

“Instead, I found we all made a great connection and learned how well we can communicate,” said the junior from Magee High School. “By sharing like we did, we each built one another up.”

Dickerson, a sophomore at Newton High School, said he was expecting “a bunch of boring meetings.”

“But, that’s not what happened at all,” he said. “Everything and everyone has been wonderful. I hope we all get to return if they do this again next year.”

As followup, the McLean Institute conducted exit interviews and had students fill out surveys to evaluate the program. When asked to define the term “entrepreneurship,” one student responded with “having the courage to speak up about a problem and make a plan to fix it and follow through with your plan.”

The goal of MELP was to bring about this type of inspired and innovative thinking, said J.R. Love, project manager for the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative.

“Thanks to our CEED students, program partners and the students who joined us this week, we have come together to learn from one another and join forces to address pressing social and economic problems in Mississippi,” Love said. “I am optimistic that we can expand this program in the future and develop a network of partnerships across the state that will impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

Besides support from the Office of Pre-College Programs, other MELP partners included the Center for Population Studies, Office of Sustainability, RebelWell, the UM Food Bank, Square Books in Oxford and Home Place Pastures in Como.

To learn more about the McLean Institute, visit

UM Faculty at Forefront of Effort to Reduce Textbook Costs

Three-year initiative will expand open educational resources in state's public higher education

Ross Whitwam, Jocelyn Tipton, and Rachel Johnson Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Ross Whitwam (left), Jocelyn Tipton and Rachel Johnson work on Phase 1 of the Z-Degree program. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi faculty are among the leaders of a new program designed to improve teaching and learning in the state’s higher education institutions by reducing textbook costs and enabling faculty customization of curricula.

“Z-Degree Mississippi” is a three-year plan to expand adoption of open educational resources, or OER, at the state’s eight public universities and four community colleges. The effort is funded by a $200,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and $80,000 from the UM College of Liberal Arts.

“When faculty adopt OER for their courses, those courses are tagged as ‘Z-Degree’ on the course schedule, indicating that they have zero textbook cost,” said Robert Cummings, chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric and associate professor of English. “Once enough courses are designated Z-Degree, it is possible for students to earn a degree with no textbook costs.”

Z-Degree Mississippi will unfold in three phases. Phase 1, which runs through June, entails establishing at least one OER course at each of the 12 colleges and universities.

Phase 2, which begins in July and runs through June 2017, involves expanding OER adoptions at four universities and two community colleges, focusing on those schools with the most faculty champions and momentum. It also includes the development of new OER courses to achieve 50 percent completion of general education/associate’s degree pathway.

Phase 3, July 2017 to June 2018, is to complete the OER general education/associate’s degree pathway at two Mississippi schools and continue expanding the pathway at others. The goal is to achieve a four-year Z-degree pathway by 2020.

UM faculty in the inaugural phase are Heather Allen, assistant professor of Spanish; Susan Grayzel, professor of history; Rachel Johnson, instructor of writing and rhetoric at the Tupelo regional campus; Rhona Justice-Malloy, professor of theatre arts; Maureen Meyers, assistant professor of anthropology; Jason Solinger, associate professor of English; Joseph Ward, chair and professor of history; Marc Watkins, instructor of composition and rhetoric; and Brooke White, associate professor of art.

“I am pleased that so many faculty members in various departments within the College of Liberal Arts are volunteering to participate in the Z-Degree Mississippi program,” said Lee Cohen, UM liberal arts dean. “Our commitment is to remain a leader in this initiative as it progressively moves from being a vision to becoming a reality.”

Z-Degree Mississippi courses being taught by Ole Miss faculty include Introduction to Anthropology, Beginning Photography, Digital Photography, Advanced Black-and-White Photography, Advanced Digital Photography and Survey of English Literature.

An estimated one-third to two-thirds of students nationwide no longer purchase textbooks. Campus bookstores have difficulty supplying adequate numbers of textbooks, and instructors face challenges teaching effectively with traditional textbooks because students aren’t buying them.

For more information about Z-Degree Mississippi, visit

John G. Adler Succumbs to Cancer

UM engineering alumnus generously contributed to his alma mater

OXFORD, Miss. – With great sadness, the University of Mississippi School of Engineering announces the passing of one of its most faithful alumni donors, John G. Adler. The retired chairman of the board of directors of Adaptec Corp. succumbed following an extended illness.

The Oxford campus is where the former Hungarian refugee initially received the love and support that led to his engineering degree. That School of Engineering education launched his lucrative career in computer and information science.

Adler has made several substantial donations to his alma mater. These gifts include $150,000 to the university’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education in 2008. He previously donated company stock worth some $3 million to the School of Engineering to establish an engineering scholarship endowment fund that bears his name and for other support.

“The university has had a very big impact upon me; wherever the money is to be invested, I’m sure there will be measurable results,” said Adler, a member of the Woods Order, a UM engineering alumni fundraising and leadership group.

Adler’s story began in the mid-1950s. The young teenager participated in an uprising against the Communist tyranny in Hungary. When Russian tanks rolled in, Adler and others fled the country. Penniless, he was rescued and brought to the United States.

While staying at a camp and studying English, Adler learned of a scholarship offered by the university. He boarded a train and came here from the East Coast in 1956. Upon his arrival, he was warmly welcomed by a group of UM students and administrators.

After hearing his story, the Oxford and Ole Miss community made collections in churches and community gatherings to fund a generous scholarship. Adler was immensely moved by this outpouring of love and concern.

Earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1960, Adler began working for IBM. In 1979, he became manager of the company’s high-end disk drive controller laboratory.

From 1981 to 1985, Adler held various senior level positions at Amdahl Corp., a key competitor of IBM founded by former IBM employees. He joined Adaptec as president in 1985 and was appointed CEO in 1986. In 1990, he was appointed chairman of the company’s board of directors.

He served on the advisory council for the College of Engineering at San Jose State University and was on the advisory board of the Leavey School of Business Administration at Santa Clara University.

For more information on John G. Adler and his Ole Miss legacy, visit

Esteban Urena-Benavides Joins Chemical Engineering Department

Assistant professor brings exceptional scholarship, teaching excellence

Esteban Urena-Benevides

Esteban Urena-Benevides

Esteban Urena-Benavides joined the Department of Chemical Engineering faculty at the University of Mississippi 12 months ago, a move that he says has proven to be one the best choices of his professional career.

“In my view, the University of Mississippi is one of the few academic institutions that gives the opportunity to have a truly balanced academic and personal life,” the assistant professor said. “The School of Engineering and I share the same sincere passion for teaching and research.”

Urena-Benavides earned his doctorate from Clemson University and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Costa Rica. Courses he has taught at UM include Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics and Chemical Reactors Analysis and Design. He is teaching Thermodynamics over the summer and will develop a course on intermolecular and interfacial forces in the future.

Urena-Benevides’ definitely brings significant contributions to the chemical engineering program, said John O’Haver, department chair and professor.

“Dr. Esteban has brought many things to the department,” O’Haver said. “An infectious, positive attitude, great interactions with students, an excellent start to a new research area, a willingness to help, someone who understands who we are and who wants to make us even better.”

Urena-Benevides said his previous professional achievements have helped him be where he is today.

“Life has taken me to complete three postdoctoral appointments at Auburn University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin,” he said. “This has given me the opportunity to publish high-impact research in a wide variety of fields and learn directly from some of the most brilliant researchers in the world.”

His research interests are related to sustainable nanotechnology.

“Mostly, I will use fundamental colloids and interfacial science principles to develop carbon monoxide foams for greenhouse gas underground sequestration, oil-and-water emulsions for oil spill cleanup and novel sustainable nano-composite materials,” he said. “Mainly, I will take advantage of the properties of bio-based carbohydrate nanoparticles.”

His short-term goals are to become an exceptional teacher and researcher.

“I am committed to high-quality education at undergraduate and graduate levels,” Urena-Benevides said. “Charles Eckert, who is one of my postdoctoral advisers, once told me, ‘the main product of a university is its students, and research is a highly valuable tool we use to make an excellent product.’ I truly share that view and I will develop my career with that in mind.”

His long-term goals are to contribute to improving the image of Ole Miss nationally and internationally by graduating better-prepared students at all levels, publishing groundbreaking research and giving service to the state.

“I seek to develop economically and environmentally viable technologies to improve the sustainability of the U.S. materials and energy industries,” he said. “For this purpose, I hope to lower the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, support the implementation of alternative energies and facilitate underground sequestration of carbon monoxide to mitigate global warming. I will also contribute introducing sustainability topics to middle schools across the state of Mississippi.”

Urena-Benevides said his wife, Linda, and son, Damian, are the most important parts of his life.

The family enjoys taking short road trips to experience the natural beauty of Mississippi and surrounding areas, as well as the different urban regions within moderate proximity to Oxford. When possible, they also like watching and playing soccer.

Matt Brown Shines on Field, in Classroom

Determined student-athlete is also exceptional chemical engineering major

Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown enrolled at the University of Mississippi both to carry on a family tradition and to play sports at an SEC university. Both his parents graduated from the university, so when he was presented an opportunity to join the football team, he quickly accepted the chance to live out a lifelong dream.

However, Brown knew that he wanted to pursue educational opportunities that were available as a result of his aptitude for math and science. As a result, he chose to pursue a degree in chemical engineering.

But being a student-athlete while following a rigorous academic program in engineering has not been without its challenges.

“Time management was the biggest key to being able to stay on top of my coursework while managing the busy schedule that being a member of the football team presents,” the former Rebel tight end said.

Team meetings, workouts and game days are just a few of the additional schedule items that student-athletes such as Brown have to take on while still attending classes, labs and study groups. He is confident that he has become a more well-rounded person as a result of his experiences and pushing himself to achieve his goals.

“The skills I’ve gained from being a member of a collegiate sports team have not only helped me in the classroom, but they also helped me outside the classroom as I have sought professional positions in the field of engineering,” Brown said. “Balancing football and chemical engineering has not been easy, but the late nights of studying and working on projects have been worthwhile so that I could achieve my goals in athletics and academics.”

Brown’s efforts and discipline were noticed by those in athletics.

“Matt was the true embodiment of the term student-athlete,” said Justin Light, senior academic counselor. “I always knew that I could trust that he was going to work just as hard in the classroom as he was on the field. I have no doubt he is destined for even more success in his career.”

Although the journey has been challenging, Brown has excelled in the classroom. During his time at Ole Miss, he has consistently been listed on the Chancellor’s, Dean’s, SEC Academic or UMAA honor rolls. He also completed his degree in four years and graduated cum laude as a member of the Class of 2016.

One of his highest honors came recently when he was one of three Ole Miss players named to the 2016 National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society. Brown, along with fellow seniors Dillon Barrett and Quintavius Burdette, were recognized for their academic accomplishments by the society.

The NFF Hampshire Honor Society is composed of college football players from all divisions who each maintained a cumulative 3.2 GPA or better throughout their college career. Some 868 players from 275 schools qualified for membership as the society celebrates its 10th year, setting a new record for the number of players honored during the history of the program.

As Brown reflected on his time at the university, he had some words of encouragement for future student-athletes who want to pursue a similar academic path.

“I would first and foremost tell them to make the most of their opportunity to get a degree and enjoy the process of furthering their athletic career,” Brown said. “The most successful people are those who accept obstacles, stare them in the face and overcome them, no matter how difficult.”

Brown, who will soon begin his career as a REACH Engineer with International Paper in Louisiana, also said that finishing his football career with a Sugar Bowl win is a memory he will cherish forever.

Harris Happily Heads Engineering School at Prairie View

UM mechanical engineering alumnus is dean and professor

Kendall Harris

Kendall Harris

The difference between a career and a job is that the former is something you find a privilege to serve in and the latter is often a duty you endure to pay the bills. Kendall Harris definitely has a career.

“To be totally honest, I enjoy my career,” said the University of Mississippi alumnus, who serves as both dean of the Prairie View A&M University School of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering. “The most fulfilling part of my position is the development of future engineers.

“As a professor, there is no more special feeling than when the proverbial light bulb goes on once a student gets a concept or understands a subject. As the dean, it’s great to know that the decisions that I make help to guide and shape the overall development of our engineering student body.”

Harris’ achievements draw admiration from UM engineering school administrators.

“Dean Harris is a national leader in STEM education, particularly for under-represented and under-prepared students,” said Alex Cheng, engineering school dean. “The program he runs at Prairie View A&M retained a high percentage of such students and guided them to to success in engineering. The program has gained a national reputation.”

Harris’ journey began when the native of East St. Louis, Illinois, graduated from high school at the tender age of 16. He earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Kansas and spent several years serving in the U.S. Navy before finding his way to Ole Miss.

“I had moved to my mom’s home in right after I left the Navy to ‘find myself,'” Harris said. “I wasn’t working at the time because I had saved a lot of money from the Navy, so I thought I had time to burn.”

Harris’ mother, however, believed that “men” were supposed to put in an honest day of work.

“She had a big problem with me sleeping in while she went to work each morning,” he said. “After about two months of her biting her tongue about me not working, she brought home an application from her school district and told me to fill it out.”

Harris remembers telling his mother that he didn’t want to be a school teacher. Her response shocked him.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Baby, we don’t need school teachers; we need janitors,'” he said. “I was too stunned and right then and there, I knew I had to get out of her home.”

Fortunately, Harris’ best friend, Richard Doss, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from UM, was home and invited Harris to come with him and visit Ole Miss.

“Upon my visit, I met Dr. Tyrus McCarty and Dr. Jeffery Roux (who would eventually become his advisers) and Mr. Thomas Wallace,” Harris said. “They showed me around the campus and convinced me to work on my master’s degree in engineering until I found myself. Best decision I have ever made in my life.”

McCarty fondly remembers Harris as a most intellectual student with exceptional creativity, leadership ability and potential.

“Kendall Harris was one of the brightest and best students I have ever encountered during my tenure at Ole Miss,” the mechanical engineering professor said. “I always believed he would go on to accomplish great things, and he has done just that. I’m proud to know him, both as a former student and a friend.”

Harris has similarly fond memories of McCarty and Roux.

“Each of them was dedicated to me graduating, providing me his guidance and his overall caring,” Harris said. “I can recall that one time I was taking a difficult math course. Dr. McCarty actually sat in with me on the course to make sure that I got the material. That’s dedication.”

Harris, who earned degrees in aerospace engineering and psychology at Kansas, received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Ole Miss.

He has moved through the ranks of academia, including promotion from assistant professor to professor by age 37 and becoming dean before age 40.

“I have been truly blessed to achieve some remarkable things in my personal and professional life, but the most significant accolade for me was obtaining my Ph.D. from UM,” Harris said. “I say this because the door that opened for me once I received my doctorate has been opened so wide that I am still receiving opportunities from it.

“I am totally grateful to UM and my professors for giving me the opportunity that has become the catalyst for everything else in my professional career.”

Harris’ family includes his wife, Shundra, a computer engineer-turned interior designer; and their two sons, Edward and DaKary. Other family members are his mother, Carrie Harris-Jefferson; stepfather, Gary Jefferson; sister, Dr. Josette Bradford, and her husband, Dr. Corey Bradford; brother, Donte Harris, another UM mechanical engineering alumnus, and his wife, Jennifer.

Harris said he loves to travel and has visited China, India, Egypt, Brazil, Spain, Portugal and many other places. He also enjoys sports – both spectating and participating – and attending Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, where he actively serves.

Of everything Harris has experienced and learned over the years, the life lessons that he gained at UM have maintained him throughout his professional career.

“One of the most profound statements that Dr. McCarty told me – and I live my life around this even today – is, ‘Kendall, surround yourself with right-thinking people, no matter what they look like. Just ensure that they are rightthinking,'” Harris said. “My education was world-class. I couldn’t have been educated better at a different university.”

Seven UM Employees Receive Outstanding Staff Awards

Personnel recognized for excellence in service categories

Seven UM staff members are recognized for outstanding service.

Seven UM staff members are recognized for outstanding service.

Human Resources employee Andrea Jekabsons was all smiles Friday (May 20) after being named the University of Mississippi’s 2016 Overall Outstanding Staff Member.

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter presented the assistant director of employment and training a plaque, $1,000 and two season football tickets during the annual Staff Appreciation Awards program in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

“The overall award winner this year has been with us since 2006, but the contribution she is making is already significant,” Vitter said. “She is a role model for her peers and has proven herself to be one of the leaders on her team. She takes pride in all that she does and is an outstanding employee. She loves her job, and it shows in her performance.”

Beaming with joy as she jogged to the stage to accept her award, Jekabsons said she was truly humbled.

“I tried to get my staff to come on stage with me because I always say, ‘It takes a village,'” she said. “I’m taking my first two-week vacation this summer, so this (cash award) will certainly make that more enjoyable.”

Six other employees were equally surprised to be presented Outstanding Service Awards, including a $500 stipend, in their respective EEO categories. Winners were Jeffery McManus, director of landscape services and airport/golf course operations, for EEO 1 (Executive and Managerial); Jennifer Phillips, assistant director for retention, for EEO 3 (Professional Nonfaculty); Kimberly Barnes, executive coordinator to the Chancellor, for EEO 4 (Secretarial/Clerical); Jason T. Mangrum, instrumentation and controls technician in the Physical Plant Department, for EEO 5 (Technical/Paraprofessional); Jonathan Joe “J.J.” Potts, senior plumber in the Physical Plant Department, for EEO 6 (Skilled Crafts); and Sheila Ann Lewis, senior custodian in Custodial Services, for EEO 7 (Service Maintenance).

More than 280 UM employees were recognized during the ceremony. Those hired since May 1 were asked to stand in the assembly. Afterwards, 102 five-year, 72 10-year and 33 15-year employees were called. Each received a certificate and lapel pin in recognition of their service.

A plaque and keepsake was presented to 30 20-year, 19 25-year, five 30-year and 25 30-plus-year employees for their dedicated service to the institution. Among these was Katherine Tidwell, manager of contractual services and director of the University ID center, who received a lengthy standing ovation for her 47 years here. Having served under four chancellors, Tidwell has been a UM employee longer than anyone.

Near the program’s end, two surprise awards were presented. The first was the second annual Daniel W. Jones, M.D. Outstanding Team Service Award, which went to 10 employees known as “The Student Advising and Field Experience Team” in the School of Education.

The second award was the Staff Council Distinguished Service Award, presented to Sovent Taylor for his outstanding leadership as staff council president.

“You, the staff here, are what make the University of Mississippi work,” Vitter said. “I’m honored to be a part of this great, great family.”

The outstanding staff awards were created in 1990 as a way to honor staff members for their contributions to the university.

“Staff members can vote for other staff members in their respective EEO categories through myOleMiss,” said Taylor, instructor and assistant director of the Health Professions Advising Office in the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience. “The person with the most votes in their respective EEO category is recognized at our awards day ceremony.”

Anyone can nominate someone for the overall outstanding staff member, regardless of EEO category.

“Individuals wishing to nominate a staff member for the overall outstanding award submit a narrative explaining why they believe their nominee should be recognized,” Taylor said. “These nomination forms then go before a committee of staff council members who choose the overall outstanding staff member.”

Congratulations to all this year’s winners! I’m celebrating a decade of employment at UM and look forward to many more years to come.

UM College of Liberal Arts Launches New Minor in Society and Health

Interdisciplinary program is collaboration with the Center for Population Studies

John Green Photo by UM Photographer Kevin Bain

John Green Photo by UM Photographer Kevin Bain

OXFORD, Miss. – A new academic minor with an emphasis on society and health is available at the University of Mississippi.

Housed within the College of Liberal Arts and directed through the Center for Population Studies, the interdisciplinary academic program consists of 18 credit hours. The minor was created in association with the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College to build a broader social and cultural understanding of the context of health outcomes and health care through perspectives from the individual to population levels.

“The minor in society and health arose partially as a result of changes in the medical school entrance exam, shifting expectations for the education of health professionals and recognition of the need for interdisciplinary approaches to address health problems,” said John Green, professor of sociology and anthropology and director of both the Center for Population Studies and the new minor.

“An advisory committee comprised of faculty representing several disciplines across the College of Liberal Arts helped craft the curriculum for the minor. The Honors College, School of Applied Sciences, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and the School of Pharmacy are also represented on the committee.”

Required courses include Elementary Statistics and one of the two advanced courses: Society and Population Health or Medical Humanities. Following the completion of one of these courses, Ole Miss students can then apply to the minor program It is also recommended that students take General Psychology and Introductory Sociology to complete the general education social science requirements.

“In Society and Population Health, students learn about health disparities in Mississippi and the value of interdisciplinary and interprofessional teams in tackling these issues,” Green said. “They also make field visits to medical/nursing schools and public health programs.”

Medical Humanities is a combined readings and field experience course in a hospital setting to study the ethical, social and cultural issues in medicine. Additionally, students must take advanced elective courses.

Students must take courses from at least two different departments when completing the last requirement of 12 credit hours of advanced social science and humanities courses. They should note that the same course may not satisfy requirements for both the major and the minor.

Students who complete relative internships, special topics, study abroad or directed study courses must consult with the director before enrollment in the course for approval.

“This unique and timely minor provides a social science and humanities perspective to the understanding of health,” said Lee M. Cohen, UM liberal arts dean. “I believe such a perspective will foster an appreciation and respect for team-based problem-solving to improve the delivery of health care. The College of Liberal Arts is proud to provide this new program for our students.”

For more information about the minor in society and health, visit or contact Lynn Woo, research associate with the Center for Population Studies, at or at 662-915-7288.