UM Graduate’s ‘Destiny’ is Video Game Voice-overs

Morla Gorrondona got first voice job at Ole Miss

Morla Gorrondona


OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi graduates have enjoyed plenty of success in the performing arts and Ole Miss alumna Morla Gorrondona is no exception.  Gorrondona, who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2000, voiced the character Eris in the hot new video game “Destiny,” an action-adventure shared-world shooter developed by Bungie and published by Activision.

Eris is a mysterious guide for the Guardian (the character the player controls) throughout all the missions. However, Gorrondona is also responsible for voicing many other creatures in the game.

“It’s an interesting turn of game development events that my character Eris sends the Guardian on missions to eliminate other characters I voiced,” she said

A New Orleans native, Gorrondona lives in the Seattle area, but she began her voice career when she decided to attend Ole Miss.

“Within the theater arts program I was provided the tools with which to refine my craft as a professional voice actor,” she said. “The practices and methods presented in those classes became so ingrained during my college years that I use them now without even considering them. They are second nature”

Her first voice-over job came while she was a junior at Ole Miss, but after college, she worked in theater, film, improvisation and production in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Still, voice acting seemed to be her real calling.

“Though I wasn’t actively seeking it, I kept landing voice-over work.” she said. “When I decided to focus all my attention on a career in voice acting, things really started to take off.”

James Shollenberger, former chair of the Department of Theatre Arts, recalled the years Gorrondona was enrolled at Ole Miss and said he expected her to be successful.

“Destiny: The Dark Below"

‘Destiny: The Dark Below’

“Morla has always been a very skilled and talented woman who was born with an amazing voice and an even more amazing work ethic,” Shollenberger said. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least that she is finding success as a voice actor.”

Gorrondona said the challenging and promising curriculum at Ole Miss was ideal for her in her search for a university.

“I remember well weighing the options available to a high school senior looking to make acting career,” she said. “But the theater program at Ole Miss with Dr. James Shollenberger as department chair was comprehensive, demanding and encouraging. At the end of my four years, I held a degree from a prestigious university, and I use that degree every day.”

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.”

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

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Give Advice to UM Law Students

Audience gets glimpse of jurists' real character, perspectives on constitutional law

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – United States Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan offered advice Monday (Dec. 15) to law students at the University of Mississippi during a law school event at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The justices told the audience of nearly 1,000 about their days at Harvard Law School, their journey to the nation’s highest legal position and their decisions on some of their most interesting cases.

“The moment I arrived (at Harvard), I thought, ‘This was where I want to be,'” Kagan said.

Scalia added that though his time at Harvard wasn’t “warm and fuzzy,” he had a great experience.
“I probably learned as much from my classmates as I did from my professors,” he said.

Although the justices may have differences of opinion, there is no animosity on the court, Scalia said, adding that he and Kagan are good friends.

“If you can’t disagree on the law without taking it personally, find another day job,” he said.

This is the first time two Supreme Court justices have visited the Ole Miss campus together, said Matthew Hall, the law school’s senior associate dean.

“This is one of the branches of the federal government and it’s led by nine people,” Hall said. “Two of them are here at the University of Mississippi. That’s an extraordinary occasion for the university, particularly for the law students who want to hear constitutional law straight from the source.”

Learning about the justices’ personal experiences really resonated for Marie Wicks, an Ocean Springs native and former Miss Mississippi who is in her second year of law school.

“It’s just such an incredible opportunity,” Wicks said. “It was an illuminating experience to have two Supreme Court justices come and visit my school at the point when I’m halfway through law school. It’s one of those experiences that I will never forget.”

Third-year law student Davis Gates, of Byram, enjoyed learning the views the two justices have of the Constitution, as well as experiencing a little bit of their individual characters.

“I’m really happy that I got to see a different side of the justices,” he said. “It really humanized them.”

Gates added that when he arrived at Ole Miss in 2008, he had no idea that he would witness some of the events that have happened on campus.

“I’ve been all across the nation and to D.C. and never once even caught a glimpse of a justice,” he said. “I’ve been here since 2008, since the presidential debate, so in order to continue to be able to have these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities is definitely amazing.”

UM Common Reading Short List Announced

Former UM chancellor's book and a Hurricane Katrina story among five finalists

Common Reading Experience 2014

Common Reading Experience 2014

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Common Reading Experience list has been narrowed down to five books, with one to be chosen in early 2015 to be the focus of universitywide discussions and events over the coming year.

The Common Reading Selection Subcommittee will narrow the list, which includes a book about Hurricane Katrina, former Chancellor Robert Khayat’s memoir and the story of a group of men who took up rowing and entered the 1936 Olympics, among others. The committee, which is made up of faculty members from many departments, staff and students, will recommend one book to the provost. The chosen book’s author will be invited to speak at fall convocation.

Robert Cummings, chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, and Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, are co-chairs of the Common Reading Experience. The committee will select a text that makes students analyze complicated issues, Cummings said.

“The Common Reading Experience provides our incoming first-year students the opportunity to build community around one text, blending social with academic purposes,” he said. “Each year’s selection has also provided an occasion for our students to wrestle with some complex issues. I am looking forward again this year to finding a text which changes our students’ assumptions about the world we live in.”

Discussions resulting from reading the book are crucial to broadening students’ awareness of the world around them, Banahan said.

“The university is a community of readers,” she said. “Reading is such an integral part of education and having a Common Reading Experience allows us to have discussions about one book. I think it introduces students to a different, higher level of learning. One thing they learn is to express their points of view and to learn things that are similar to their experiences and things that are different. I think the books challenge them to look at things differently.”

The committee will read these five books over winter break:

Last year, the committee chose “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan, which was about the experiences of young women who worked on a secret project during World War II. Kiernan spoke at last year’s fall convocation.

Banahan expects a healthy discussion before the final 2015 Common Reading Experience text is selected.

“We have people who are passionate about science fiction, biographies, literature and self-help books (among others),” Banahan said. “I like that there’s an appropriate amount of tension. As we discuss books, some people, myself included, can get pretty passionate about one we love.”

Documenting the Culinary Wealth of the South

Jim 'N Nick's founder, wife make major gift to Southern Foodways Alliance

Barnard Observatory houses the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Barnard Observatory houses the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

OXFORD, Miss. – Nick and Suzanne Pihakis of Birmingham, Alabama, have made a transformative gift to endow the Pihakis Foodways Documentary Fellow, a filmmaking and teaching position at the University of Mississippi and its Southern Foodways Alliance.

Thanks to their generosity, stories of the South’s diverse food cultures will be filmed and produced for posterity and shared with students, researchers and the general public.

For more than a decade leading up to this major gift, Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, has generously underwritten the documentary work of the SFA, a nonprofit institute of UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“Nick and Suzanne have long invested their time and money in the cultural and culinary wealth of the American South,” said SFA director John T. Edge. “With this gift, they help ensure that this important work will continue. This watershed gift will resonate for a long, long time.”

Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, and his wife, Suzanne, have contributed a major gift to support the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute in the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo courtesy Melany Mullens.

Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, and his wife, Suzanne, have contributed a major gift to support the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute in the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo courtesy Melany Mullens.

Pihakis, who established the business with his late father, Jim Pihakis, has long focused on honest barbecue, community service and locally-sourced crops and goods. A passion for making good food accessible and affordable has driven Jim ‘N Nick’s, led by the younger Pihakis, to become one of the nation’s most respected restaurant groups.

Endowed positions such as this one require a $1.5 million commitment. With investment income from the Pihakis endowment, UM will recruit a documentary fellow to direct films for the SFA and teach documentary classes on the Oxford campus. The start date for the position is expected to be fall 2015.

SFA has long worked with Andy Harper and Joe York of the Southern Documentary Project to make award-winning documentary films, Edge said. This gift will bring a second filmmaker partner to join the SFA team, producing documentaries and teaching students.

Pihakis began contributing to UM in 2004, when the SFA developed a year of foodways programming focused on the state of race relations in the American South. When the SFA staged its Summer Symposium in Birmingham, Pihakis marshaled the resources of his rapidly growing company to make the event a success. Soon after, he developed an innovative philanthropy plan for supporting SFA documentary initiatives, Edge said.

“I thought that what the SFA was doing – telling stories about fried chicken cooks and oystermen and pig farmers and vegetable farmers – was really important,” Pihakis said. “Through food and through hospitality, our company shares those stories. And I think it’s important that our company invest in the documentary work that the SFA does.”

The first investment Pihakis made in 2004 was a commitment to SFA of $2,500 per store annually. Those resources, which are contributed by local owners in markets from Alabama to Colorado, top $75,000 each year. Using Pihakis’ innovative philanthropic strategy, Jim ‘N Nick’s has already given more than $500,000 to support SFA work at the university.

Going forward, Edge said the future looks bright for this cultural partnership because as Jim ‘N Nick’s grows over the next few years, its ongoing SFA contribution will also grow in importance and impact.

Pihakis is proud of this gift. And he’s proud of his relationship with the SFA.

“Working with John T. Edge and his colleagues, I learned so much about the culture of food,” he said. “I recognized that the stories they tell of cooks and farmers are deeply important to my identity and to the identity of the South as a whole. My intent is that our gift ensures that great storytelling work continues for generations to come.”

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The SFA sets a common table where black and white, rich and poor – all who gather – may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation. A member-supported nonprofit institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, the SFA sponsors scholarship, mentors students, stages symposia, collects and shares oral histories, and produces and publishes books, films and podcasts. For more information, visit and follow on Twitter @Potlikker.

For more information, contact Sara Camp Arnold at 662-915-3327 or

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan to Visit UM

Session is free and open to the public, but tickets are required

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Law will host two U.S. Supreme Court justices in December for a session open to the general public.

The meeting, titled “A Conversation with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Elena Kagan,” will take place at 10 a.m. Dec. 15 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The session will be moderated by Jack Nowlin, associate dean for faculty development and professor of law at the UM School of Law. Nowlin is a constitutional law expert.

“It would be a great day for the law school and university community if we had just one U.S. Supreme Court justice coming,” said Richard Gershon, UM law dean. “It is truly special to have both Justice Kagan and Justice Scalia at Ole Miss. It is an honor for us to have these outstanding jurists here.”

Everyone must have a ticket to attend. There will be no entry after 10 a.m. Parking will be available at the Ford Center.

The event is being made possible by the James McClure Memorial Lectures Endowment. The endowment was established in 1979 by the Hon. James McClure and Mrs. Tupper McClure Lampton to honor their father, James McClure.

Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan. Photo by, The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. Photo by the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Elena Kagan, Associate Justice, was born in New York, New York, on April 28, 1960. She received an A.B. from Princeton in 1981, an M. Phil. from Oxford in 1983, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1986. She clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1986-1987 and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1987 Term. After briefly practicing law at a Washington, D.C. law firm, she became a law professor, first at the University of Chicago Law School and later at Harvard Law School. She also served for four years in the Clinton administration, as associate counsel to the president and then as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy. Between 2003 and 2009, she served as the dean of Harvard Law School. In 2009, President Obama nominated her as the Solicitor General of the United States. After serving in that role for a year, the president nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 10, 2010. She took her seat on August 7, 2010.

Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, March 11, 1936. He married Maureen McCarthy and has nine children: Ann Forrest, Eugene, John Francis, Catherine Elisabeth, Mary Clare, Paul David, Matthew, Christopher James and Margaret Jane. He received his A.B. from Georgetown University and the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and his LL.B. from Harvard Law School, and was a Sheldon Fellow of Harvard University from 1960–1961. He was in private practice in Cleveland, Ohio, from 1961 to 1967, a professor of law at the University of Virginia from 1967 to 1971, and a professor of law at the University of Chicago from 1977 to 1982 and a visiting professor of law at Georgetown University and Stanford University. He was chairman of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law, 1981-1982, and its Conference of Section Chairmen, 1982-1983. He served the federal government as general counsel of the Office of Telecommunications Policy from 1971 to 1972, chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States from 1972 to 1974, and assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel from 1974 to 1977. He was appointed Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982. President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat September 26, 1986.

For more information about the event, please visit

For more information about Justice Scalia or Justice Kagan, please visit

For additional inquiries, contact Jenny Kate Luster at 662-915-3424 or

CELI Helps Delta Elementary School Rise to A Rating

Literacy instruction center provides resources for Tunica teachers

CELI literacy specialist Olivia Pasterchick explains a literacy workstation to a Dundee Elementary student.

CELI literacy specialist Olivia Pasterchick explains a literacy workstation to a Dundee Elementary student.

OXFORD, Miss. – With support from the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, or CELI, Dundee Elementary School in Tunica has earned an A rating from the Mississippi Department of Education, making it the highest-rated school in the Tunica County School District.

The latest MDE data shows third- through fifth-graders at Dundee achieved significant academic growth this year, especially in reading. The school reported that 94.4 percent of students improved in reading and nearly 67 percent of students are reading above the 80th percentile for their grade; more than 10 points higher than the state average.

This upturn has helped Dundee, which has 216 children in grades P-5, rise from B to A status in 2014, and Principal Natasha Bates attributes much of this success to ongoing curriculum support from CELI.

“A lot of the strategies that we’ve put in place in reading are a result of our ongoing partnership with CELI,” said Bates, who earned a specialist degree in educational leadership from UM in 2010. “They work with our teachers to identify areas for growth and provide strategies for our teachers to use in the classroom.”

Established in 2007, CELI provides professional development, research and service to reading teachers throughout Mississippi. It is also an official affiliate of the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling organization, which provides continuing education for literacy teachers nationwide.

“When you can help a child learn to read, you help improve their life trajectory,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director and founder. “We’re happy to see our ongoing partnership with Dundee is having a positive impact on children and educators.”

At Dundee, CELI specialists work primarily with recently hired teachers. They offer resources to help faculty make data-based decisions and set paths for improved professional performance and student outcomes by utilizing the latest research-based practices for literacy educators. One example includes helping implement individualized workstations for students, allowing them to improve in reading based on their skill level. The center has worked with the Mississippi Delta school since 2008.

“The teachers at Dundee are very driven and really want to see their students excel, and I think that makes the difference,” CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell said. “We work with Dundee teachers to help them constantly evaluate how they can improve. Every strategy we recommend is based on data and research.”

Third-grade teacher Suzanne Wheeler, who received an elementary education degree from UM in 2006, noted that CELI literacy specialists provide not only teaching resources, but also valuable feedback on how she can improve her craft and align lessons with Common Core state standards.

“Right now (CELI specialists) are helping me create a writers’ workshop for my students,” she explained. “We’ve set a schedule and identified benchmarks and the types of prompts we can use to help children practice the types of writing they will be tested on. They’ve been a fabulous resource.”

Bates hopes Dundee will continue to be a model for student success in her district and hopes to continue the partnership with CELI.

“At Dundee, our goal is to cater to the whole student, whether that’s emotionally or academically,” she said. “We’re here to mold productive citizens and we thank CELI for its help in making sure our students are prepared to succeed at the next level.”

UM to Host 2015 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

Event is one of six prestigious regional meetings scheduled

Cecille Labuda, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, shares her research at a recent conference.

UM Department of Physics and Astronomy graduate student Ola Nusierat, shares her research at a recent conference.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is scheduled to host a prestigious Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics in January.

The three-day event, set for Jan. 16-18, is one of six regional meetings nationally sponsored by the American Physical Society and the National Science Foundation.

Co-sponsored locally by UM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, College of Liberal Arts, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and others, the Southeastern conference program includes research talks by prominent female physicists from academia and industry. Panel discussions on graduate programs, career opportunities and diversity issues in the workplace, a poster session for students and talks by young participants and graduate students are also slated.

“Every year five to six regional CUWIP conferences take place simultaneously across the United States,” said Marco Cavaglia, UM associate professor of physics and astronomy and one of three faculty members coordinating the program. “This year, UM was selected on a competitive basis to host the Southeastern conference. This is a great achievement for us.”

As pre-registration continues, anticipation for the conference is rising as well.

“Everybody involved recognizes the importance of UM hosting this conference,” said Cecille Labuda, assistant professor of physics and astronomy and conference co-coordinator.

“We’re looking forward to hosting tens of the brightest young minds in physics from the region,” said Luca Bombelli, associate professor of physics and astronomy and co-coordinator. “These students will become tomorrow’s much-needed physics teachers and researchers.”

For more information, visit and the UM local conference website at

UM Professor Talks Turkeys On NPR Today

Richard Buchholz will talk about his research of the mating habits of America's favorite Thanksgiving bird

University of Mississippi Associate Professor of Biology Richard Buchholz will talk about the mating habits of wild turkeys on today’s NPR Science Friday. His segment is expected to air between 2:50 and 3 p.m. (Central).

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, was conducted at the UM field station. To hear Buchholz talk about this timely topic with Thanksgiving less than a week away, check out this list of stations that air the program.