UM Employees Play Santa’s Helpers

Books and Bears program changes venue, sets new record for donations distributed

UM's annual Books and Bears event.  Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

UM’s annual Books and Bears event. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – There will be many more presents under a lot of University of Mississippi Physical Plant employees’ trees on Christmas Day, thanks to the generosity of the campus community and its Black Faculty and Staff Organization.

Smiles abounded Friday morning (Dec. 19) in the Gertrude Castellow Ford Ballroom at the Inn at Ole Miss as BFSO members distributed more than 1,000 gifts through the group’s 17th annual Books and Bears program. The items were donated by UM faculty, staff, students and alumni over the past three weeks. The number of presents given reached a new record.

Reception at the event was enthusiastic.

“Without this event, lots of kids wouldn’t have very much on Christmas Day,” said Pauline Beard of Oxford, a general maintenance worker. “Every little bit helps and a little goes a long way.”

Alice Fryson of Oxford, who has attended every Books and Bears distribution since the program began, said she hoped to leave with a very special present for one of her nieces or nephews.

“I’m trying to get that bike,” Fryson said. “Maybe today is the day. If not, I definitely hope it will happen before I retire.”

Specificity is not a requirement for Randall Pino of Oxford.

“It doesn’t have to be any particular thing for my children,” the 10-year employee said. “Just seeing the excitement on their faces over whatever they receive is a blessing.”

The donations were noticed and greatly appreciated by BFSO officials.

“The thoughtfulness and outpouring of support from the UM family has been nothing short of amazing this year,” said Donald Cole, associate provost and assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. “By helping others, we have truly captured the spirit of the holidays.”

The spirit of generosity generated by the program appears to be contagious.

“I don’t have any children myself, but one of my co-workers is adopting several kids and couldn’t be here today,” said James Tindle of Oxford. “He doesn’t even know I’m doing this for him. I just wanted to help him and his family out in any way that I could.”

Spreading the good will beyond the boundaries of the main campus, all employees videotaped a group holiday greeting, which will be shown to Chancellor Dan Jones and his wife, Lydia. Jones, who has been a cancer patient at the UM Medical Center in Jackson since late October, has actively supported and attended past Books and Bears distributions.

“Merry Christmas and happy new year!” the crowd shouted.

BSFO members expressed their pleasure over the assistance in obtaining toys and books for the children.

“Over the years, Books and Bears just keeps growing and growing,” said Jackie Certion, senior academic adviser in the UM College of Liberal Arts. “We outgrew the Union Ballroom, which is why it was moved here. Next year, we’ll probably pack out the Jackson Avenue Center. Then we’ll need the Ford Center and maybe the coliseum after that. Who knows?”

New teddy bears, children’s books and toys have been collected for children of custodial and grounds workers each year since 1997.

Reed Serves as Role Model for UM Engineering

Successful civil engineering alumnus is savoring career, supporting alma mater

W. R. “Bob” Reed, UM Civil Engineering alumnus

W.R. ‘Bob’ Reed

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, W.R. “Bob” Reed’s two great loves were working in the family-owned lumberyard and watching University of Mississippi sporting events.

“My father was in the construction business, so I had construction in my blood,” the Cleveland native said. “Civil engineering was suggested to me by Dad. I chose Ole Miss because I had always been an Ole Miss sports fan.”

Reed, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1981, is president and general manager at the Mid-South division of Cives Steel Co. in Rosedale. The company is a structural steel fabricator with expertise in connection design and project management.

Asked which professional and personal achievements he finds most fulfilling, Reed quickly responds.

“I’m proud to be a registered PE in Mississippi,” he said. “I’m equally proud to be an Eagle Scout as a youth and recipient of Scouting’s Silver Beaver Award as an adult after serving 23 years as a scoutmaster.”

Reed finds working with young people other than his own children to be very rewarding.

“Scouting is a long-term program allowing you to work with a boy from 11 to 17 and really be a part of his growing-up process,” he said.

Since graduation, Reed has remained connected to the UM Department of Civil Engineering.

“Dr. Sam DeLeeuw, Dr. Abduhlrahman, Dr. Mullen and Dean Alex Cheng have allowed me to speak with students about issues they will encounter when they hit the working world,” Reed said. “Subjects have included steel construction, scheduling, contract issues and shop tours at our plant.”

Engineering school faculty members said Reed is a welcome addition in their classrooms.

“Bob has been a good friend to me as well as a mentor and role model for scores of civil engineering students in Steel Design and senior capstone design classes I’ve taught,” said Christopher Mullen, professor of civil engineering. “Most memorable are invaluable field trips he hosted at his fabrication yard in which he arranged guided tours of the Rosedale plant’s offices and welding operations for literally busloads of our seniors. Catfish lunches he sponsored at a nearby state park were enjoyed by all.”

Reed also recently joined the School of Engineering advisory board.

“His company faithfully comes to our annual Engineering Career Fair to recruit every year,” Cheng said. “Bob has visited the civil engineering department multiple times to give lectures on steel connection to Dr. Mullen’s civil engineering design class.”

Reed and his wife, Teresa, have two sons, Will and Caleb.

“Both are married and have given us two great daughters-in-law and three lovely granddaughters,” Reed said.

His hobbies include hunting, fishing and working out.

Reed credits Ole Miss engineering with laying the foundation for his successful career.

“My Ole Miss engineering education allowed me to learn how to perform complex connection design,” he said. “It also allowed me to effectively communicate with our customers’ engineers.”

Still Serving Soulful Sounds

UM Gospel Choir recently celebrated 40th anniversary with a joyous reunion

The Ole Miss Gospel Choir performs at the 2013 Appreciation Reception.  Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The Ole Miss Gospel Choir performs at the 2013 Appreciation Reception. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Thirty-seven years ago, I arrived at the University of Mississippi as a sophomore transfer student from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University). Like many first-year students, I was unfamiliar with the campus and knew very few people. But one of those people was my first cousin, Roswietha Ellliott.

Wietha (pronounced “VEE-ta”) and I spent a great deal of time together, mostly talking and attending worship services at local churches, including Burns United Methodist, Second, Clear Creek and Providence M.B. Frequently, the university’s then-Black Student Union Choir would sing during these services. Weitha and I enjoyed the choir’s soulful gospel sounds and eventually decided to join the ensemble.

A busy pharmacy student, Wietha opted out of the choir after the second semester. I, however, sang tenor in the choir for three years. Within a few semesters, I emerged as one of the featured soloists on several songs. The group would rehearse every Thursday night in the old Y Building, now known as the Croft Institute for International Studies. Joyful noise would shake the rafters and could be heard across the Grove and the Circle. Other students, who were not black or necessarily Christian, would wander in, sit or stand and be totally enraptured by our harmonies, spirit and sincerity.

The BSU Choir sang at programs on and off campus. We traveled – mostly in our own cars, but occasionally in a university-chartered bus – around the state and outside it. The highlight would always be the choir’s end-of-the semester concert in Fulton Chapel.

Man, we had some great times! One weekend in April, the BSU choir participated in a college choir workshop-retreat in Jackson. Friday night, the combined choir rehearsed for hours. Each college and university choir did three of their own selections in a concert that Saturday night. The event closed Sunday afternoon with a combined choir, which opened for a concert by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter-musician Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins Family. We returned to campus that evening physically exhausted and spiritually full.

Years later, the BSU Choir became the acclaimed University of Mississippi Gospel Choir. The group has recorded a CD, won awards and represented the university on concert stages far and wide. Now interracial, the choir stands – in my opinion – on equal footing with the classically-trained University Concert Singers (of which I was also briefly a member).

In celebration of the choir’s 40th anniversary, a glorious weekend concert was presented in mid-November. Although I missed the performance, I’m sure it was a wonderful reunion of former members as they enjoyed the soulful sounds served by the newest generation of the UM Gospel Choir. I hope to hear the Gospel Choir in the near future. After I do, I’m sure I’ll leave physically rejuvenated and spiritually full.

And somewhere, I’m sure Wietha will be listening with a smile.

Space Plants on Way Back to Earth

Following six months aboard the International Space Station, UM researcher's experiment germinates

Scene from the launch of SpaceX-4 in September 2014.

Scene from the launch of SpaceX-4 in September 2014.

OXFORD, Miss. – Farming in deep space is explored in the recent movie “Interstellar,” but a University of Mississippi biologist’s research program appears to be bringing the sci-fi scenario closer to reality.

The Seedling Growth Series of plant biology experiments is part of an agreement between NASA and the European Space Agency, said John Z. Kiss, dean of the UM Graduate School and NASA’s principal investigator for the project. PIs from both agencies combined proposals to maximize scientific returns.

“The major goals are to determine how gravity and light responses influence each other in plants and to better understand the cellular signaling mechanisms of phototropism and cellular response of light stimulation involved,” Kiss said.

The first phase of the space seedlings experiment was aboard the SpaceX-2 launch in March 2013 and returned on the SpaceX-3 in May 2014. The second phase traveled to the International Space Station on SpaceX-4 last September and is due to return on SpaceX-5 in January 2015.

Preliminary data indicates the plants are taking root, showing promise for future such experiments and eventually leading to actual extraterrestrial crops and harvests.

“In SG-2, we have successfully completed the reduced gravity series, which can be added to the series in SG-1,” said Kiss, whose leading role as a NASA spaceflight researcher spans more than 20 years. “To our knowledge, for the first time in the course of plant space biology, we will have information on a physiological response across a continuum of gravity conditions.”

Scientists are confident they have a sample size that will produce statistically significant results due to the robust design of their experiment. Findings will be published in respected peer-reviewed journals.

F. Javier Medina, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council and ESA’s PI on the space seedlings project, indicated the development of SG-2 operations in flight is quite satisfactory.

“The seeds have germinated at a good rate, and seedlings of all genotypes have shown a robust growth,” Medina said. “In the first run of the experiment, we have attempted for the first time the growth of seedlings under the constant conditions of gravity throughout the entire growth period, either micro-G or one-G.”

Following the return of the seed cassettes and subsequent findings next month, NASA and ESA will develop SG-3, which is expected to launch on SpaceX-9 in late 2015. The development of SG-4 is to be determined.

For updates on the Space Seedlings Growth Series project, visit view video of astronaut Butch Wilmore harvesting seedlings on the ISS at the end of the experiment in November, go to

Computer Science Alumnus Presents Hadoop Workshop

Arun Buduri taught students, faculty and staff to use MapReduce software

Arun Buduri (standing), UM computer and information science alumnus, conducted a Big-Data Hands-On Workshop at the department recently.

Arun Buduri (standing), UM computer and information science alumnus, conducted a Big-Data Hands-On Workshop at the department recently.

Managing huge amounts of data can be a challenge for even the most savvy computer scientist. So when University of Mississippi students, faculty and staff got an opportunity to learn more skills from a talented alumnus who is enjoying a successful professional career, they took advantage of it.

Arun Burduri, a 2000 UM alumnus who works as a venture accelerator, conducted the Big Data Hadoop MapReduce Workshop in mid-November. Some 50 undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Computer and Information Science joined faculty and UM Information Technology staff for the daylong event.

“The workshop’s purpose was to learn the fundamentals of distributed computing hands-on by getting into the internals of one of most popular, open-source ‘Big Data’ tools, Apache Hadoop,” said Byunghyun Jang, assistant professor of computer and information science and co-coordinator of the workshop. “Topics included fundamentals of HDFS-distributed file system, fundamentals of Hadoop, internals of MapReduce, how MapReduce works and the components of the system.”

The training also covered writing and running a basic MapReduce job (in Java), creating a cluster of laptops to run a job in true distributed mode, processing 1 billion rows of data using just laptop(s), tweaking the cluster config parameters to understand its effect on the performance and Google Cloud, said Dawn Wilkins, professor of computer and information science and workshop co-coordinator.

Buduri, who has worked for Nortel Networks, Microsoft, Ingersoll Rand and other companies, helps accelerate early-stage startups in taking their product or business to market. The workshop was received very well, he said.

“I have been conducting these Big Data Hadoop hands-on workshops in the U.S. and India and plan to conduct in Singapore and other countries early 2015,” Buduri said. “The workshop ends with an introduction to Hadoop on Google Cloud platform so the attendees can learn and build bigger solutions on the cloud.”

Buduri said he would definitely enjoy returning to his alma mater to conduct more workshops in the future.

“Depending on the students’ availability and free time for a similar full-day workshop, I’d love to bring them up to speed on some of the latest cloud techniques,” he said. “Google is working with me on my workshops by sponsoring a $500 Google Cloud credit to anyone who attends.”

While such hands-on workshops typically cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per person elsewhere, Buduri conducts these via a Meetup group free of charge.

“My main goal is to share my Big Data experience and knowledge with the academia and the general public whenever I have spare time,” Buduri said.

For more information, visit

UM’s Six Most Interesting Research Stories of 2014

From tortoises to teachers, scientific strides made national headlines

Seedling Growth Experiment Team

John Z. Kiss (right foreground), dean of the University of Mississippi Graduate School, stands with his hand on the experimental containers with seeds that will be launched on SpaceX2 for the Seedling Growth experiment on the ISS. Kiss is shown with the personnel at the Ames Research Center (NASA) who are involved in the preparation of the space experiment.

As the state of Mississippi’s flagship institution of higher learning, the University of Mississippi has a proven track record for conducting major research projects in every discipline imaginable. Faculty, staff and students continued to make progress this year, thanks to substantial grants and partnerships with other universities and agencies.

While athletics and academics continue generating the lion’s share of media attention for UM, here are six of the most interesting research stories of 2014 that you may have missed:

What interesting UM research projects will make headlines in 2015? Stay tuned Ole Miss News for the latest.

Fans of ‘Downton Abbey’ Can Get Sneak Peek at Season Premiere Dec. 9

Popular BBC-TV program making special appearance at The Lyric Oxford

Downton Abbey Invitation for Dec 9-page-001What could possibly be better than setting your DVR to record your favorite TV program and watching it later at your own convenience? For Oxford-area fans of BBC-TV’s popular “Downton Abbey,” the answer is a chance to view the first episode of Season Five before it airs.

The MPB Foundation and Mississippi Public Broadcasting are hosting “Downton Abbey on the Square” Tuesday (Dec. 9) in Oxford. The evening starts at 5 p.m. with a cocktail party at Southside Gallery, followed by a gourmet dinner at City Grocery, all inspired by an evening at Downton. The night concludes at the Lyric Oxford with a 60-minute preview of the new season’s first episode.

Tickets are $125 each and limited to two per person. The price includes the cocktail party, gourmet dinner and screening. Space is limited, so patrons should register and purchase tickets at http://www.mpbonline.oprg/downtonabbeyonthesquare. During the screening, enjoy a complimentary drink and VIP seats.

The doors of the Lyric Oxford open at 7 p.m., and the free screening begins at 8. For an even more memorable evening, patrons can participate in a “Downton Abbey” costume contest and create a memento at the Downton photo booth. Photos are $5 per printed picture. Tickets to the photo booth can pre-purchased online when registering, or at the screening.

Local sponsors for the “Downton Abbey” preview screening are Daniel Coker Horton & Bell, Renasant, Krutz Family Cellars, City Grocery,, “Mississippi’s Greatest Athletes,” the Lyric Oxford, the Oxford Center for Cosmetic and General Dentistry, Southside Gallery, Square Books and Visit Oxford MS.

The new season of “Downton Abbey” premieres Jan. 5 on MPB-TV. For DVDs and more, visit

United Way Pledges Make Great Stocking Stuffers

Year-end giving urged in order to reach $150,000 campaign goal

Open the Envelope

Open the Envelope

OXFORD, Miss. – As 2014 quickly comes to a close, University of Mississippi faculty, staff, alumni and students are urged to make 11th-hour contributions to the area United Way campaign before year’s end.

Approximately $50,000 in campus donations has been confirmed since the annual fundraising effort was launched in mid-October. All UM employees received an envelope containing an appeal letter and a pledge card. While many have accepted the challenge to donate a portion of their salaries to help the worthy cause, more pledges are needed.

“The sooner each of us makes a pledge, the quicker we will reach the $150,000 goal for this year,” said Lucile McCook, director of health professions advising and campus committee co-chair. “A gift to the United Way makes a great stocking stuffer and is still tax-deductible if it’s made by Dec. 31.”

A limited supply of free “Live United” T-shirts are available for those who make donations.

“The members of the UM United Way Campaign Committee encourage all administration, faculty and staff to support our local United Way,” said Kate Kellum, associate director of institutional research and assessment. “Contributions may be made through payroll deductions each work period, or through one-time gifts of cash or check.”

Several groups of donors are recognized by UM. Fair Share givers contribute one hour’s wages each month to the United Way. Leadership givers contribute at least $500.

The Nov. 30 deadline has been extended, but employees are urged not to procrastinate.

“In this critical economic climate, we want to make sure that our campus United Way campaign does not fall short of reaching our goal,” said Thelma Curry, University Police officer and campaign committee co-chairperson.

UM contributions definitely play a significant role in the overall area United Way campaign.

“Ever since United Way Oxford-Lafayette County was founded 44 years ago, University of Mississippi leadership, faculty, staff and students have donated generously, inspiring others throughout the LOU community to do the same,” said Alice Ricks, UWOLC executive director. “Just as importantly, UWOLC works closely with individuals and departments from across campus on critical issues affecting the community – from early childhood education to affordable housing to healthy aging. UM is one of our strongest partners.”

When it comes to the United Way and UM, it’s a reciprocal relationship.

“The university community is strengthened by this work,” said James Thomas, assistant professor of sociology. “We, in turn, support our United Way by donating and volunteering.”

The communitywide goal for the UWOLC campaign is $540,000, of which $150,000 is to hoped to come from campus. To make a pledge to the UM effort, visit or contact either McCook at or Curry at

Be Santa Claus for the Cause

UM basketball fans called to support Books and Bears program Dec. 4

Calling all Ole Miss Rebel basketball fans! It’s time to add a little “ho-ho-ho!” to your “Hotty Toddy.”

Donations for the 17th annual Books and Bears program will be accepted at Tad Smith Coliseum during the men’s basketball game against Texas Christian University, which tips off at 8 p.m. Dec. 4. Toys and books received that night will added to those for Dec. 19 distribution to children of University of Mississippi Physical Plant and custodial employees. The annual Books and Bears distribution will be in the Gertrude Ford Ballroom of the Inn at Ole Miss.

“With the help of our awesome marketing department, we will be collecting items during our contest against TCU,” said Jennifer Saxon, assistant athletics director for development. “We will be advertising donation collection during the contests leading up to that date.”

If you happen to miss the game, donations can also be made at the following locations: third floor of the Khayat Law Center; the Graduate School; second floor of Vardaman Hall; first floor of Ventress Hall; Office of the Provost in the Lyceum; the UM Central Ticket Office in the Student Union; Howry Hall, Room 308; Hume Hall, Room 305; Farley Hall; the Yerby Center; the Career Center at Martindale Hall; Powers Hall; and the Lucky Day Residential College.

“Help spread the word,” said Donald Cole, associate provost and assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. “A big shout out to Jennifer and Derek Cowherd (senior associate athletic director for academic support). They’re the greatest!”

So, be a Santa and not a Scrooge this Christmas. While you’re rushing out to do your Christmas shopping, pick up an extra bike, doll, teddy bear, computer or board game, or book (or two). Knowing some child’s Christmas morning will be a lot brighter because you cared enough to support the Books and Bears program should make you feel really good.

And should Ole Miss beat TCU that night, consider it a bonus!

Attractive from Coast to Coast

Engineering freshmen make UM connections

David Thomas

David Thomas

Over the past five years, the University of Mississippi School of Engineering‘s undergraduate population has doubled from roughly 700 to more than 1,400 students. While a significant number of those come from Mississippi, many others come from long distances to pursue engineering education here.

Two such students are David Thomas of Brooklyn, New York, and Richard Jaramillo of San Diego. Thomas, who was accepted into the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering and hopes to become a student in the Center for Manufacturing Excellence to earn an emphasis in manufacturing. A graduate of LaGuardia High School, he was drawn to Oxford and the university because of personal connections to the region as well as the academic programs available.

“I have always liked the South and have been visiting my entire life,” Thomas said. “I have family nearby who really encouraged me to consider Ole Miss. I was definitely drawn in because of the combination of the School of Engineering and the Honors College along with the strong athletics and social scene. My official campus visit helped seal the deal!”

Although Thomas was a member of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and participated in theater productions in high school, the AP Scholar and Eagle Scout found that engineering was a great match for his interests.

“I’ve always loved solving problems and thinking of better ways to do things,” he said. “That’s exactly what an engineer does.” His favorite courses this semester are calculus and psychology.

So far, he has had a positive transition to the university because faculty and staff have been very supportive. He has decided to become a member of a Greek organization and has joined the Ultimate Frisbee team. He hopes to get involved with Engineers Without Borders.

Jaramillo, a member of the Provost Scholars program, has also enjoyed his first few months on campus. Although he admits to missing family and the weather back home in California, he has found the adjustment to Ole Miss easy.

“People are really nice, and it has been easy to make new friends here,” Jaramillo said. “Also, the staff at the Center for Manufacturing Excellence are willing to help you in any way that they can. The CME provides a one-on-one experience stronger than any of my other classes.”

He has started discussing cooperative education program opportunities (co-ops) for a future semester.

A graduate of Scripps Ranch High School, Jaramillo visited campus before a home football game and was introduced to the CME by a current engineering student. He believes the emphasis in manufacturing will allow him to engage in his areas of interest, since he has always considered a career in engineering.

“From a young age, I liked to fix things,” he said. “I have rewired rotary phones and worked on classic cars. I love to make things work, better them or create something new.”

Jaramillo’s favorite course this semester is Manufacturing 250, which involves Creo 3D modeling. He has become involved in a Greek organization and spends free time playing intramural sports. Jaramillo hopes to become involved with the internal combustion industry.

Both Thomas and Jaramillo encourage any high school students who are considering engineering to take time to visit the university.