Innovate Mississippi’s Startup Weekend Returns to Oxford

Workshops help participants move from ideas to viable business plans

Volunteer coaches and professionals help advise emerging entrepreneurs throughout the course of the weekend.

Volunteer coaches and professionals help advise emerging entrepreneurs throughout the course of the weekend.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Insight Park and School of Business Administration are co-hosting Startup Weekend Oxford, set for Feb. 12-14.

The weekend will feature Innovation Boot Camp, Discovery Luncheon and Startup Weekend activities. The beginning of the weekend will give participants experience with assembling business models, with the end of the weekend resulting in pitching these business models to potential investors.

Innovation Boot Camp is a two-hour workshop beginning at 3 p.m. in Holman Hall, Room 38, designed to help students develop viable business and product ideas. Students are able to have one-on-one communication with faculty and brainstorming sessions with other participating students. The boot camp is the Startup Weekend kickoff event for students.

The Discovery Luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 12 at the Oxford Conference Center and features guest speaker Garret Gray, president and CEO of Next Gear Solutions of Oxford.

Later that evening, the Startup Weekend activities commence. Over the course of 54 hours, participants have an opportunity to create a viable business. Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, this three-day event brings together entrepreneurs, programmers, coders, developers and other business-minded individuals to form ideas and create business plans.

“Startup Weekend is an opportunity for startup enthusiasts to collaborate and go from concept to creation over a weekend,” said William Nicholas, UM director of economic development and organizer of the event. “It is a real pleasure to be surrounded talented people with a passion for entrepreneurship.”

Participants begin by taking 60 seconds to pitch their ideas to the group of attendees. All attendees vote for their favorite ideas, and the winning ideas are selected to build upon for the weekend. The group then divides into smaller teams, and each team spends the remainder of the weekend focusing in on a single business idea to develop.

Clay Dibrell, associate professor of management and holder of the William W. Gresham Jr. Entrepreneurial Professorship, is also the CIE’s executive director. He said he is excited to see members of the campus, community and state entrepreneurial-focused organizations work together to make this event possible.

“It is thrilling to see people who come to Startup Weekend with just an idea, and then over the weekend, you can see these potential entrepreneurs turning the corner from an idea to starting a new venture,” he said.

Stephen D. Johnston, CEO and board member of SmartSynch Inc. in Jackson, is the guest speaker on Friday night. His expertise at leading his company from start-up to a global technology leader for cellular-based smart grid communications will inspire participants in their quest to succeed as entrepreneurs.

During the course of the weekend, volunteer coaches will assist the teams and provide advice. A panel of professionals evaluates each group’s business development and their chances of real-world success.

“It is a highly beneficial partnership between Ole Miss entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship entities outside of the university,” Dibrell said. “Our common goal is to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem which allows Mississippi entrepreneurs to successfully stay in Mississippi.”

Insight Park staff members, the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation and employees of Innovate Mississippi organize Startup Weekend Oxford.

Registration is open to the public. Tickets for students are $25 and $50 for nonstudents. Click here to register.

UM Recognized Among Country’s Elite Research Universities

Carnegie Classification recognizes R&D investment, doctoral degrees granted and faculty achievement

Caleb Ezell (left) and Eleanor Anthony, both students in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, work with English professor Gregory Heyworth to examine a 15th century Italian manuscript for Oberlin College. The work is part of the Lazarus Project, which uses multispectral imaging technology to analyze old and/or damaged documents and recover faded or erased text. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Caleb Ezell (left) and Eleanor Anthony, both students in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, work with English professor Gregory Heyworth to examine a 15th century Italian manuscript for Oberlin College. The work is part of the Lazarus Project, which uses multispectral imaging technology to analyze old and/or damaged documents and recover faded or erased text. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is included in the elite group of R-1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the definitive list for the top doctoral research universities in the United States.

UM is among a distinguished group of 115 institutions including Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins in the “highest research,” or R-1 category. This group represents the top 2.5 percent of institutions of higher education.

The Carnegie Classification analyzes Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, data from all U.S. post-secondary institutions and evaluates measures of research activity for doctoral universities in making its assessments, which are released every five years.

“As a flagship university, the University of Mississippi is determined to play a key role in the cycle of research and discovery that drives and sustains our community and world,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “This ranking was achieved thanks to our outstanding faculty and their dedication to research and education.”

The Carnegie Classification’s assignment to categories of highest, higher and moderate research activity is based on research and development expenditures, science and engineering research staff including post-doctoral candidates and non-faculty staff members with doctorates, and doctoral conferrals in humanities and social sciences fields, in STEM fields and in other areas such as business, education, public policy and social work.

Dr. Wael ElShamy, director of the UMMC Cancer Institute’s Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Program, has received a patent on a method to diagnose and treat several cancer types and subtypes. The method may lead to the first targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer and add to therapies for other cancers.

Dr. Wael ElShamy, director of the UMMC Cancer Institute’s Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Program, has received a patent on a method to diagnose and treat several cancer types and subtypes. The method may lead to the first targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer and add to therapies for other cancers.

Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, applauded the university’s new classification and affirmed the vital economic role that a world-class research institution plays in the state and region.

“Attaining the Carnegie ‘highest research activity’ classification is historic for our university,” Clark said. “It illustrates the value we place on scholarly inquiry and the application of our expertise to understanding and improving our world and educating future leaders. Our faculty, staff and students deserve this recognition of their efforts to create and innovate.”

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at the UM Medical Center, was elated at the Carnegie distinction.

“We are very pleased and proud to be a part of a university where research and scholarly activity are highly valued,” she said. “From internationally renowned basic science research in physiology to large population studies being conducted through the MIND Center and the Jackson Heart Study, UMMC is leading the way in research on the diseases that impact Mississippians most.”

The university received more than $117 million in sponsored awards, with more than $105 million in research and development expenditures, during fiscal year 2015. Of that total, more than $77 million was in federal grants, more than $16 million was from foundations, about $11 million came from the state of Mississippi, approximately $8 million was from industry and roughly $4 million came from other sources.

UM researchers submitted 876 proposals and 546 research projects were funded in the last fiscal year.

Among the university’s most prestigious and longstanding research projects is the Jackson Heart Study. UMMC researchers are collaborating with Tougaloo College and Jackson State University on the world’s largest long-term study of cardiovascular risk factors in African-Americans.

In 2013, the university joined the American Heart Association and Boston University for “Heart Studies v2.0,” which will expand upon the landmark Framingham and Jackson studies to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular ailments.

The population study has followed the health of 5,000 participants, producing data that continues to yield insights into the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. In 2013, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, each a part of the National Institutes of Health, announced renewed funding for the JHS.

Other long-term prestigious projects are the marijuana research project conducted by the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research, jet noise reduction studies at the National Center for Physical Acoustics, known as NCPA, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory collaboration through the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Faculty and postdoctoral researchers in the physics department played major roles in the search and discovery of the Higgs boson, the subatomic particle thought to be responsible for all mass in the universe. The discovery was announced July 2012 by scientists at CERN, a multinational research center headquartered in Geneva.

Most recently, two faculty members within the physics department and NCPA received a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to study nuclear fuel storage safety and stability.

Three Ole Miss professors received Faculty Early Career Development Awards from the National Science Foundation within the past eight months. Patrick Curtis, assistant professor of biology, is the seventh CAREER award recipient at the university in the last eight years. Sarah Liljegren, associate professor of biology, received the award last November and Jared Delcamp, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, earned a similar award in June 2015. This marks the first time three UM faculty members were selected in the same academic year.

From its first class of 80 students in 1848, UM has grown to a doctoral degree-granting university with 15 academic divisions and more than 23,800 students. Located on its main campus in Oxford are the College of Liberal Arts; the schools of Accountancy, Applied Sciences, Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Journalism and New Media, Pharmacy and Law; and the Graduate School. The Medical Center in Jackson trains professionals in its schools of Medicine, Nursing, Health Related Professions, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Graduate Studies.

In all, more than 100 programs of study offer superior academic experiences that provide each graduate with the background necessary for a lifetime of scholastic, social and professional growth. Strengthening and expanding the academic experience are the acclaimed Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Croft Institute for International Studies and Lott Leadership Institute.

For more information about research at UM, visit

UM Remembers Longtime Theater Chair Jim Shollenberger

Unflinchingly honest mentor beloved by students and colleagues; bravely managed his cancer for years

Jim Shollenberger, left, served as chair of the University of Mississippi Theater Department from 1984 to 2010.

Jim Shollenberger, left, served as chair of the Department of Theatre Arts from 1984 to 2010.

OXFORD, Miss. – Jim Shollenberger was always unflinchingly honest with his criticisms, but was also a deeply caring mentor who loved his students and colleagues and was always committed to bringing out the best in them.

Shollenberger, 72, a Vietnam veteran and former professor and chair of the University of Mississippi Department of Theatre Arts, joined the UM faculty in 1977 and served as department chair from 1984 to 2010. He died of cancer Saturday (Jan. 30).

A celebration of his life is planned for 2 p.m. March 6 at the Powerhouse in Oxford. Waller Funeral Home, which is in charge of arrangements, will fly the U.S. Air Force flag to recognize his military service.

Wife Leah Shollenberger said her husband worked hard to raise the profile and reputation of the university’s theater department during his tenure. His passion for the stage and his commitment to helping students succeed were obvious to anyone who knew him.

“He was very bright and very witty, but could say some stinging remarks about the performance the students were doing,” Leah Shollenberger said. “But he cared very deeply and wanted his students to learn everything he had to offer them.”

Leah Shollenberger met her husband 37 years ago when she was working as a dancer in a production. She taught theater at Lafayette High School for more than 30 years.

Jim Shollenberger is survived by two daughters, Kristin Shollenberger Pheasant, of Manassas Park, Virginia, and Tia Shollenberger Mapes, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, who graduated with a degree from the Ole Miss theater department and teaches high school theater.

The couple’s very close and honest relationship was always present in their theater-centric household.

“I didn’t try to change him and he didn’t try to change me,” Leah Shollenberger said. “It was a really special relationship.”

Shollenberger was a native of Louisville, Kentucky. He served as a captain in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and later worked in theater and television in California. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Bellarmine College, a master’s degree in theater from California State University and a Ph.D. in theater from Ohio State University.

He was heavily involved in Theatre Oxford and the Oxford Film Festival. He also founded the Festival of Southern Theater, which ran from 1984 to 1995.

Working with the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society was another one of his passions.

But he will best be remembered as a mentor and friend to many who passed through the Ole Miss theater department.

Rene E. Pulliam, interim chair of the Department of Theatre Arts, remembers her former boss as someone who never flinched at doling out tough love to his students. Many saw him as a father figure, too, and they affectionately referred to him as “Shollen Daddy.”

“There was a lot of tough love and there was just a lot of love there overall,” Pulliam said. “He didn’t back off if they did something wrong. He wanted them to own up to it.”

He was also quick to offer sound advice to her. The first time she directed, she worked on “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” She told him it wasn’t working and wanted him to come watch a rehearsal. She fretted over the lack of transitions in the play.

“He looked at me and said, ‘There is no transition written in the play. There’s nothing you can do about it,'” she said. “I said, ‘Then am I going to write my own transitions.'”

Pulliam suspects she knows the root of Shollenberger’s keen observation skills. He served as a photographer and intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. He earned a Purple Heart after being wounded, but said very little about his service.

“I know he saw things in Vietnam through the lens of the camera,” Pulliam said. “He would sometimes let us know that seeing things through a camera somewhat softened it, but it was not pretty. It was horrifying. That dose of reality kept him, as a theater artist, grounded in the real world.”

Shollenberger was UM theater professor Jennifer Mizenko’s first real boss. She was a young faculty member at the time, and Shollenberger became like a second father to her.

“Jim was a little gruff on the outside, but very caring and gentle on the inside,” Mizenko said.

She always wanted his approval on her dance productions. Her boss had been holding back when she would ask him what he thought. After seven years at the university, she created a modern adaptation of “The Nutcracker” called “Mixed Nuts.”

“After the show, he came to me and said, ‘Great job, kid,'” Mizenko said. “That was the first time I knew he liked my work. His approval was hard-earned, but when I received it, I knew he really meant it, and that meant the world to me.” 

The last years of Jim Shollenberger’s life can only be described as a miracle. In 2010, he visited a nationally renowned medical center and was diagnosed with a fast-progressing form of liver cancer. He was given about four months to live, but he felt great and stubbornly refused to believe the diagnosis. He began to seek other opinions.

Dr. Thomas Glasgow, of Oxford, recommended the book “Cancer Free: Your Guide to Non-Toxic Healing” by Bill Henderson. Shollenberger followed the book’s advice and cut everything but organic foods from his diet and swore off red meat, opting for free-range chicken and wild-caught fish instead. He became an expert on vitamins and supplements and used an ionizer to keep his drinking water pure.

He said cancer has to be managed, and unless I brought it up, he never seemed to think of cancer,” Leah Shollenberger said. “He lived his life fully every day. He said he wasn’t interested in trying to keep from dying; he was interested in living.”

He beat the odds for more than five years and felt well enough to travel the world with his bride. They went to Costa Rica, New Orleans, and visited the East Coast to see the fall foliage. They also traveled across Europe and the Mediterranean, among other places.

“He was a walking miracle,” Leah Shollenberger said. “If he hadn’t been stubborn and hardheaded, if he hadn’t had that kind of temperament, he would have died immediately.”

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Shollenberger’s memory to 9 Lives Cat Rescue, P.O. Box 2006, Oxford, MS 38655 or; The Pantry, 713 Molly Barr, Oxford, MS 38655; or FURR – Feral University Rebel Rescuers, 2607 Sterling Drive, Oxford, MS 38655.

Alzheimer’s Support Group Begins 31st Year

Monday's meeting for caregivers features guest speaker from LSU

The support group provides an avenue for caregivers to exchange ideas and learn more about the disorders, techniques of behavioral treatment and methods of symptom management.

The support group provides an avenue for caregivers to exchange ideas and learn more about the disorders, techniques of behavioral treatment and methods of symptom management.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Caregiver Support group, in conjunction with the University of Mississippi Department of Social Work and Brookdale Oxford, will commemorate its 31st year of monthly meetings Monday (Feb. 8) at Brookdale Senior Living in Oxford.

The meeting will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Jo Ann O’Quin, UM professor emerita of social work, was the founding member of the caregiver support group. Early in her career as a budding gerontologist, O’Quin was advised to learn as much as possible about a neurological disease named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. As a community service project with an Ole Miss graduate student in her Psychosocial Aspects of Aging course, O’Quin held a communitywide educational meeting at the public library in Oxford.

“In that meeting in December 1985, I couldn’t believe the turnout we had because at that time few people had heard about this disease,” O’Quin said. “Due to the astonishing number of caregivers in attendance, I asked if they would like to meet again. The response was a resounding ‘Yes.’

“I started the support group February 1986, and we’ve been holding monthly meetings ever since.”

Caregivers that have been part of the group may have changed, but the issues and the voracity of the illnesses have not, O’Quin said.

“Today, we know more about these irreversible brain disorders and that Alzheimer’s is the most common of the dementia-related illnesses,” she said. “Luckily, there is no longer such a stigma associated with these disorders. Now we can talk about dementia-related illnesses, and these meetings provide a forum for caregivers to converse with someone else who is dealing with those same problems.”

These support group meetings routinely meet at 7 p.m. the first Monday of each month at Brookdale Oxford. The support group provides an avenue for caregivers to exchange ideas and learn more about the disorders, techniques of behavioral treatment and methods of symptom management.

The support group offers a multitude of resources in managing the health of people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia-related diseases. Unfortunately, while the methods and management of the disorders have changed for the better, no cure is available for those suffering from the disorder.

Dr. Jo Ann O’Quin

Jo Ann O’Quin

“I look back on the differences these past 30 years and am so thankful we now have more resources than the often-used guidebook, ‘The 36-Hour Day,’ which we still recommend,” O’Quin said.

“In our area, in addition to nursing homes, we now have a Caregiver Resource Center and Memory Makers day respite program, assisted living retirement homes, the State Veteran’s home, home care services and hospice services that all provide additional help for memory care for individuals and their caregivers.”

The Feb. 8 meeting that starts the 31st year as a support group will feature Scott Wilks, gerontology certificate program coordinator and associate professor of social work at LSU, who will discuss “Grief, Guilt, and Bereavement: Now and Later, and host a question-and-answer session.

“My discussion on Monday night focuses on not only the burden of active caregiving, but also the often unexpected emotional challenges once the caregiving role has ended,” Wilks said. “This is the first time to speak in Mississippi and I am delighted to communicate with as many caregivers in Oxford as possible.”

Wilks also is a Licensed Master Social Worker, a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and a John A. Hartford Foundation faculty scholar in geriatric social work. His research interests focus primarily on risk, coping and resilience related to Alzheimer’s care.

“One of the most important things about my research is the opportunity to speak directly with Alzheimer’s caregivers,” Wilks said. “The direct personal interaction with caregivers is fundamental in guiding my research at a broader level.”

O’Quin said she wants the meetings to be as comfortable as possible for the caregivers to come and express their daily struggles.

“My true hope is that I can one day say that we no longer need this type of support group, but until we find a cause and cure, we are here to provide education, resources and understanding,” O’Quin said. “And I make sure we have plenty of refreshments and tissues, and most importantly for caregivers to find a way to leave smiling.”

Business Law Network to Host Winter Conference and CLE

State Treasurer Lynn Fitch to deliver keynote at Feb. 12 event in Jackson

Lynn Fitch

Lynn Fitch

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Law‘s Business Law Network will host a conference Feb. 12 at the Fairview Inn in Jackson, offering three hours of CLE credit to attendees. Lynn Fitch, Mississippi state treasurer, will discuss the business law implications of her office.

The Business Law Network’s mission is dedicated to connecting students who have an interest in business law with practicing business law attorneys. The Business Law Network is composed of more than 50 student members from the Ole Miss law school.

“We are very excited to have the state treasurer of Mississippi and University of Mississippi School of Law alum Lynn Fitch featured as the keynote speaker for our winter conference,” said Gregory Alston, CEO of the Business Law Network. “Treasurer Fitch has been a great leader for the state bringing positivity and accountability to the treasurer’s office and we are looking forward to giving her the opportunity to speak in front of students and attorneys from around Mississippi.”

Marie Cope, clinical professor at the UM School of Law, will speak about the roles and responsibilities of advising small business clients. Business Law Newsletter members Marie Wicks and Sam Kapoor also will make presentations.

Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. For CLE credit, a $60 fee, which includes lunch, is payable by cash or check at the door. Attendees are asked to RSVP to Gregory Alston at

Past keynote speakers include Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Supreme Court Justice Randy Pierce.

For more information, visit

National Accreditation Adds Prominence to UMMC Bariatric Surgery Program

Dr. Kenneth Vick, associate professor of surgery and a key player in the growth of UMMC’s bariatric surgery program, chats with patient Chanci Stewart of Ridgeland, who lost 140 pounds after undergoing bariatric surgery at UMMC.

Dr. Kenneth Vick, associate professor of surgery and a key player in the growth of UMMC’s bariatric surgery program, chats with patient Chanci Stewart of Ridgeland, who lost 140 pounds after undergoing bariatric surgery at UMMC.

JACKSON, Miss. — The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s bariatric surgery program has been accredited by the American College of Surgeons.

The national accolade comes from the College’s Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program. UMMC received notification of the accreditation this month, signifying that its program meets essential criteria for staffing, training and facility infrastructure and protocols for care, ensuring its ability to support patients with severe obesity.

The accreditation “also signifies our commitment to reporting our outcomes from surgery, and to ensure that those outcomes meet, or are better than, national averages,” said Dr. Kenneth Vick, associate professor of surgery and a key player in the growth of UMMC’s bariatric surgery program.

“Examples of data that we are required to report include reoperation rates, infection rates, death rates, and hospital readmissions after bariatric surgery,” Vick said. “These outcomes must continue to be met and will be reviewed on cycle to ensure continued accreditation.”

Bariatric surgery offers the morbidly obese the option of weight loss that’s more rapid than with conventional diets, and it can save the lives of patients who suffer from obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Life expectancy and the quality of life are dramatically improved, and other related conditions such as acid reflux and sleep apnea can disappear totally.

Those patients include Chanci Stewart of Ridgeland, who feared she’d be dead within five years because of the health issues she suffered at 290 pounds.

Nine months after Vick performed her surgery, Stewart is 140 pounds lighter and feels great after undergoing a vertical-sleeve gastrectomy, also known as a gastric sleeve, in March 2015 at UMMC. She’s exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, two lifestyle habits emphasized by the Medical Center’s bariatric surgery program.

“I get to see my kids grow up,” the mom of four said.

The Medical Center’s bariatric surgery program, a collaboration with the UMMC-based Mississippi Center for Obesity Research, in 2015 completed 60 surgeries, including 55 vertical-sleeve gastrectomies, three adjustable gastric bands, and two gastric bypasses. “We hope that receiving this accreditation will expand our role in the state as a leader in health care,” Vick said.

Centers receiving accreditation must ensure that their bariatric surgical patients receive a multidisciplinary program, not just a surgical procedure, which improves patient outcomes and long-term success. Accredited centers offers preoperative and postoperative care designed specifically for their severely obese patients.

The new accreditation, Vick said, “also expands access to bariatric surgery for our patients, as many insurance organizations require this designation for coverage of services.

“Patients can expect safe, compassionate, efficient care when they choose our program, and know that UMMC has all of the resources and personnel to deliver the best possible care for obese patients 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year,” he said.

For information on UMMC’s bariatric surgery and weight management programs, go to or

UM Civil Engineers Assist MDOT with Bridges and Highways

Researchers provide expertise, technology for inspections

Civil engineering graduate students take vibration measurements on Ford Center Bridge.

UM civil engineering graduate students take vibration measurements on University Avenue bridge over Gertrude Ford Boulevard.

OXFORD, Miss. – As Mississippi lawmakers continue to examine means to fund a $375 million proposal for state highways and bridges, University of Mississippi civil engineers are developing new ways to assist with inspections and maintenance.

The Mississippi Economic Council and state Chamber of Commerce released a report in December advising that Mississippi needs to invest funds to replace 562 deficient bridges and repave many roads. Though financial sources remain uncertain, the report suggests lawmakers consider higher fuel taxes, license plate fees, rental car taxes and/or general sales taxes.

“For several years now, the University of Mississippi has been a leading contributor in helping MDOT with these infrastructure challenges,” said Waheed Uddin, professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology at UM. “Through our collaborative efforts with them and researchers at other universities, we have developed programs that have repeatedly proven successful in achieving transportation objectives.”

The university’s researchers have developed ways to use such high-tech tools as computational modeling, laser-assisted measuring devices and more to help MDOT monitor bridges and roads throughout the state.

For example, Uddin’s CAIT lab has conducted two MDOT Research Division studies since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, using ground-penetrating radar to assess the structural integrity of state highways and to check bridges.

UM civil engineering professor Elizabeth Ervin (right) inspects the University Avenue bridge for weaknesses.

UM civil engineering professor Elizabeth Ervin (right) inspects the University Avenue bridge for weaknesses.

Working with the university’s National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering, Uddin and his students also have used extreme flood simulation results and created three-dimensional computational models of bridges to show how catastrophic failures happen. This work is helping improve the resilience of bridges built over streams and rivers.

“When funding is extremely limited, asset management becomes all the more important,” said Uddin, who serves as a member of the Mississippi Transportation Institute board of directors. “By using a Highway Asset Management System, MDOT has been able to monitor existing roads and bridges for maintenance, safety and stability.”

Another project, a partnership with MDOT’s Construction Division and NASA, has yielded a laser technology to conduct aerial surveys for highway and bridge design alignment.

“Most states’ Department of Transportation agencies now use this technology, which was evaluated for accuracy and cost right here at the University of Mississippi,” Uddin said.

The MDOT Traffic Engineering Division worked with Ole Miss professors when deciding to conduct a field performance study of roundabouts on South Lamar Avenue in Oxford.

Following the construction of roundabouts on both ends of the Highway 6 bridge on South Lamar – which have proven highly successful in promoting safety and traffic flow – the roundabout project was selected as one of the Sweet 16 projects for national recognition by American Association of State Highways and Transportation officials.

Roundabouts were later built on Old Taylor Road, easing traffic flow on the Highway 6 bridge on this major link between the Ole Miss campus and new housing developments in Oxford and Lafayette County.

Another important new tool is a software package called Structural Health Evaluation, developed by Elizabeth Ervin, associate professor of civil engineering.

The system measures vibrations on a bridge to locate its weakest points. The measurements can usually be taken in less than a day and do not require roads to be closed. Data collected has the potential to help inspectors better determine which bridges are most likely to fail and how to best address the issues.

“Visual observation alone of bridges is no longer the best way to select and prioritize them for repairs,” Ervin said. “While the vibration sensors can’t make predictions, it can help inspectors know which bridges are weakest and most likely to fail first.”

Chris Mullen, another Ole Miss civil engineering professor, is using computational modeling to help determine which structural parts are most likely to cause critical failure (such as in the case of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2015). Combining Mullen’s modeling technology and Ervin’s vibration sensors could greatly enhance the effectiveness of bridge inspection practices, Ervin said.

UM civil engineering professor Waheed Uddin checks data using his ground penetrating radar system.

UM civil engineering professor Waheed Uddin checks data using terrain laser mapping sensor equipment aboard an aircraft.

“Of course, no one can accurately predict exactly when a structure will fail,” she said. “We can only give our best guesses about when it might occur and, based on that data, determine a plan of action. Lowering truck weight limits alone is not a guarantee. Research and technology offer better alternatives.”

Uddin and Ervin both said they’re hopeful that funding for infrastructure improvements can be found.

“We’re certainly very hopeful that the Mississippi Legislature will pass the MDOT funding proposal,” Uddin said. “We want to continue offering our expertise in partnership with other institutions and agencies for the good of all transportation users.”

“This proposal, if it passes, is a good start,” Ervin said. “Still, the maintenance of existing bridges and highways, not to mention the possible construction of new ones, is a mind-boggling problem. We still have a long, long way to go.”

New Fund Honors Pam Hamilton’s Lasting Impact

Endowment pays tribute to late journalist, supports lecture series and scholarship

Pam Hamilton

Pam Hamilton

OXFORD, Miss. – Gifts to a new University of Mississippi fund will honor the life of alumna Pamela E. Hamilton while also establishing a lecture series and scholarship in her name.

A successful journalist with a passion for using words and media to change the world around her, Hamilton died Aug. 10, 2015, due to complications associated with lupus, an autoimmune disease she had battled since February 2006.

Friends and family are requesting support for the fund via an online campaign launched by the UM Foundation on Tuesday (Feb. 2), when Hamilton would have celebrated her 36th birthday.

The Pamela E. Hamilton Memorial Fund will help continue Hamilton’s legacy at Ole Miss by supporting an annual lecture series on social justice and media, as well as an annual academic award to a student in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. The inaugural Pamela E. Hamilton Memorial Lecture will be held April 1 during the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association Spring Convention on the Oxford campus.

“Whether you knew Pam as a friend, classmate or loving family member, we encourage you to support this fund as a memorial in her name,” said Hamilton’s sister, Melissa Hamilton of Atlanta. “Much of Pam’s success was possible due to scholarships and the love and support of her family and community. She would be proud to know that other students will receive similar support as a result of the impact she made.”

Hamilton, who graduated from Ole Miss in 2002 with degrees in journalism and English, began her career as a reporter for the Lion’s Roar newspaper staff at Raleigh (Miss.) High School, where she was a member of the Class of 1998. A dedicated scholar, she also was a National Achievement Finalist, a varsity cheerleader captain, dance captain and class president. She won first place in the state History Day competition and first place in the NAACP Creative Writing Contest. She was elected homecoming queen, Miss Raleigh High School and Most Likely to Succeed.

“To the class of ’98, Pam was our president, a prize student to her teachers and a friend to everyone who knew her,” said Hamilton’s cousin and Raleigh High classmate, Perez Hamilton. “She loved to see everyone succeed and was our biggest cheerleader. Watching Pam break barriers and strive to accomplish goals inspired us all to do the same. Pam’s impact is continuously felt in the Raleigh-Smith County community.”

Hamilton continued to pursue her passion for journalism at Ole Miss, where she began writing for The Daily Mississippian student newspaper her freshman year and served as editor in 2000-2001. During her tenure, she opened the paper’s ranks to student writers from across campus while encouraging the free exchange and reporting of ideas from all groups.

She used her position as editor to bring people together and promote social justice. While an Ole Miss student, she also completed an editorial board internship at The New York Timesprimarily covering higher education issues.

“Pam was easily one of the finest journalists and editors at The Daily Mississippian,” said Ralph Braseth, Hamilton’s UM faculty adviser and now a Loyola University professor. “She was a leader for sure, and anyone who worked with her knew that.

“But most impressive, year after year, I watched how much she cared for others. When Pam Hamilton spoke with you, she zeroed in like no person I know; she made you feel like you were the only person in the world. That’s one reason why she was such a remarkable journalist. … I miss Pam and I always will.”

At Ole Miss, Hamilton was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, the Chancellor’s Leadership Class, Mortar Board, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges and the National Association of Black Journalists. She was inducted into the Ole Miss Hall of Fame in 2002, one of the highest honors awarded to graduating seniors.

After college, Hamilton worked as a reporter for the Associated Press, covering education in South Carolina. In 2007, she earned a master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her stellar career continued as she accepted various positions at The New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN and Thomson Reuters news service.

In Raleigh, Hamilton was a member of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, and in Atlanta she actively served as a data entry volunteer with the Assimilation Ministry at Elizabeth Baptist Church.

Contributions to the Pamela E. Hamilton Memorial Fund can be made through the campaign website at Additionally, gifts can be made by mailing a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677-0249.

UM Gospel Choir Sings with Praise

Donor creates endowment to support 'premier student organization'

Members of the UM Gospel Choir perform during the Black History Month Kick-Off Celebration. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Members of the UM Gospel Choir perform during the Black History Month Kick-Off Celebration. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Gospel Choir members shouted “Hallelulah!” at the Monday kickoff event of Black History Month upon learning that an anonymous donor has given  $27,000 to establish the first endowment to support their contributions to campus life and provide leadership activities.

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs, made the surprise announcement right before the choir was set to perform.

“I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of this donor and knew immediately that this would be a transformational gift for the Gospel Choir,” Hephner LaBanc said. “In all honesty, I welled up a bit.

“Aside from the beautiful voices and inspiring gospel lyrics, this choir is one of our university’s premier student organizations. Choir members have earned this stature and are asked to perform at numerous campus and public events because they represent the University of Mississippi in such a professional artistic manner.”

According to the memorandum of agreement, the funds are to be used to sponsor an annual retreat to explore the purpose and possibilities of the choir and its members as leaders on campus. Other support is to be directed to inviting a distinguished choir director to be in residence for a short period, as well as to hire musicians to accompany practice and performances, help develop its repertoire and project its image at the university and beyond.

Founded in 1974 as the Black Student Union Choir (later changing its name to the UM Gospel Choir), this “no-audition” group steadily consists of 100-plus students, including 20 who run its operations. Choir advisers are Danielle Sims and E.J. Edney.

The anonymous donor, who has admired the student organization for years, said the university has often called upon the Gospel Choir to be “its face and voice.” The donor also found it noteworthy that the choir experience provides a nurturing environment for its members.

“According to the experiences of founding students and current student members, the Gospel Choir has always served as a place for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds – most of whom have been and continue to be African-American – where they can feel they belong during their educational journey at the university,” the donor said.

“This call underlies the initiative to support Gospel Choir members during their educational experiences, providing ample resources to nurture their successes in the choir and as enrolled students at the university. Hopefully, this endowment will encourage choir members to explore fully the leadership role of the Gospel Choir and to focus on their own development as students and leaders.”

The “unexpected gift” is welcomed and appreciated, said Shawnboda D. Mead, director of UM’s Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement.

“I am beyond excited for the choir,” Mead said. “This generous gift is a testament to the impact the choir has had and continues to have on our campus. I’m confident this gift will allow the choir to continue expanding its reach and serving the university community.

“To see and hear the UM Gospel Choir perform is always a special experience. The choir continues to attract an amazingly talented group of students and provides them with a family atmosphere.”

It is important for college students to participate in extracurricular activities, Hephner LaBanc said, encouraging donors to consider making investments in student organizations.

“The college experience at Ole Miss is holistic in nature,” she said. “It extends beyond the classroom and into the full experience of our students while they are enrolled. Student organizations provide the opportunities for our students to put their intellectual and creative talents into action. Through private gift support, organizations are able to expand their capacity for leadership and educational opportunities.”

To finance the choir’s first album in 1999, “Send Up the Praise,” choir members undertook a $14,000 fundraising effort. The successful campaign led to Malaco Records’ support of the live project with a mobile studio and mixing support.

After hearing a copy of the live recording, the label’s executives decided to sign the group. The resulting CD was nominated for a 2000 Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group.

The donor has directed $2,000 of the gift to an account for immediate use, and $25,000 goes to establish the endowment. Endowed funds are held permanently and managed by the University of Mississippi Foundation. The annual income generated from an endowment is directed to support the program, scholarship, faculty position, etc., named in the endowment’s creation.

Any individual or organization can make a contribution to help build the UM Gospel Choir Endowment by sending a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. The fund should be noted in the check’s memo line. Donations also can be made online at For more information, contact Brett Barefoot, development officer at or 662-915-2711.


Vitter Launches Flagship Forum at Meeting with Student Leaders

Sustained conversation continues to gather input on UM's future

Chancellor Vitter talks with student leaders at a luncheon as part of the Flagship Forum. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Chancellor Vitter talks with student leaders at a luncheon as part of the Flagship Forum. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter began his “Flagship Forum” series Thursday (Jan. 28) during a luncheon with student leaders at the Lyceum.

The Flagship Forum serves as a listening and learning tour for Vitter to help him engage with and learn about the many facets of the university, as well as let the Ole Miss family get to know him.

That’s just what happened Thursday when Vitter enjoyed lunch with student leaders, said William Kneip, president of the Columns Society. Kneip said it was “refreshing and reassuring” to be able to have a face-to-face meeting with the new chancellor.

“While in the meeting, it was apparent that although he is new to the job, Chancellor Vitter and his wife, Sharon, have quickly become our strongest advocates as students,” Kneip said. “As a student, I am confident in his ability to not only communicate with us as students, but also his ability to communicate with faculty, staff, state legislators, alumni and friends of Ole Miss.”

The Flagship Forum series will continue throughout the spring. In the process, Vitter will invite all segments of the university community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and fans – to share their suggestions on the future of the university.

“As a core value, I believe deeply in directly engaging the entire university community so that the best ideas come forward,” Vitter said. “Through our Flagship Forum, I will be visiting with the UM community to learn what makes us, as a university, great, what makes us distinctive and what must we aspire to in order to be greater.”

In recent decades, UM has earned a reputation for academic excellence, service, national leadership and accessibility for all Mississippians. Vitter wants to engage with all of UM’s constituencies to define and give structure to how, together, the UM family can build upon these past achievements. Topics will include enhancing academic excellence, student success, diversity, community engagement, global understanding and entrepreneurship.

As part of the Flagship Forum, Vitter will hear from students, faculty and staff on UM’s Oxford campus, the regional campuses and the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. In addition, he will travel the state and region to meet with members of the Ole Miss alumni chapters and other key stakeholders. For those who aren’t able to attend one of the upcoming forums, they will be able to engage online with Vitter by asking questions and providing comments.

“Nothing is more important to the future success and vitality of our society than higher education,” Vitter said. “With the liberal arts as the heart and soul of the university and with the powerful added dimensions that professional schools bring, higher education forms the basis for our democratic society. Higher education is our seed corn for the future. The ideas and innovations of UM scholars lead to new technologies, enhanced well-being, jobs and economic development.”

Vitter sees synergy as an important enabler for tackling difficult questions.

“Increasingly, we live in a multidisciplinary world,” he said. “No one person or discipline has the full breadth of knowledge capable of solving society’s grand challenges. While our individual creativity has value and power, those ideas will be multiplied and leveraged far beyond our imagination if we share insights and perspectives. I look forward to working with the entire UM community to position the university as an innovation engine and magnet for creative people.”

More details about upcoming events of the Flagship Forum will be posted on the chancellor’s Web page,, and via Twitter @UMchancellor.