James Vaughan Reflects on a Distinguished Career

After 35 years at UM, F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering is retiring

When James G. Vaughan joined the University of Mississippi faculty more than 35 years ago, he couldn’t envision his academic career would become legendary.

CME Director James Vaughan, Peyton Randolph and Jarrett Davis, first recipients of the Mississippi Manufactures Association Scholarship, with MS Manufactures Association Director Jay Moon and Chancellor Dan Jones. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

CME Director James Vaughan, Peyton Randolph and Jarrett Davis, first recipients of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association Scholarship, with MMA Director Jay Moon and Chancellor Dan Jones.
Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

“I always knew that I wanted to teach, however, I ultimately decided that working for a few years in industry before starting my university career would be a good thing,” said the Fredrick A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “While working for a DOE prime contractor in Kansas City, Missouri, I received a telephone call from Dr. John Fox, then chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering asking if I would be interested in interviewing for a position in mechanical engineering to teach and develop a materials science program. I interviewed in the fall of 1979 and took the position in January 1980.”

After nearly more than three decades of dedicated service, Vaughan retired June 30.

“My post-retirement plans include spending a lot more time with my family, not working long hours into the night, reading books that are not textbooks, listening to music, spending some time outdoors in the yard and not worrying over the next five-year strategic plan/budget,” he said.

Vaughan earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and his master’s and doctoral degrees in materials science and engineering from Vanderbilt University. He joined UM as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and rose to the rank of professor in 1989. Two years later, Vaughan received the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award. In 1998, he was named F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor, the university’s highest rank for a faculty member.

“These two top university honors in teaching and research are most humbling,” he said. “I am the only University of Mississippi faculty member to date to have received both of these awards.”

During his storied career, Vaughan has worked with many colleagues and administrators.

“I have served under three chairs of the Department of Mechanical Engineering: Dr. John Fox, Dr. Jeff Roux and Dr. Raj,” he said. “Dr. Sam Wang served as intern chair for two years. Pretty amazing to have only three chairs in that time period and also only three deans. I worked with Dr. Allie Smith, Dr. Kai-Fong Lee and Alex Cheng. I just missed Karl Brenkert as dean but had the great opportunity to work with him as a faculty member for about eight years.”

Vaughan said Ellen Lackey, Raju Mantena, and Tryrus McCarty have all helped him along the way, with Lackey helping to co-develop the Composite Materials Research Group into the most recognized academic pultrusion research facility in the world.

Vaughan continuously demonstrated his commitment to education through excellence in teaching and supervision of graduate and undergraduate students.

“There have been far too many students to go back and recognize individually, but Ole Miss engineering has graduated some very impressive students over my years here that I am happy to still call my friend,” Vaughan said. “Just last week, I received several emails from five of our former graduate students having a small Ole Miss reunion at an international composite materials conference. It is such a great feeling to know that former students are doing so well in their own professions.”

Vaughan has received several awards from the School of Engineering, the university and many professional societies based on his outstanding teaching, research and service. From 1989 to 2009, he served as associate dean of the engineering school. Since 2008, he served as interim director and then founding director of the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

“All CME employees and university administrators have worked hard to make this venture a success and all have been great to work with,” he said. “As I retire, I will greatly miss the staff of the CME and our daily debates as to how we can improve.”

Although recognition from the university, the engineering school and the mechanical engineering department have been rewarding, Vaughan said the most fulfilling achievement comes when former students see him on campus or in town and come over to say how much they appreciate his efforts to teach them about materials science or manufacturing, or his help to get them through difficult situations.

“Just this week, a student from 30 years ago saw my wife and me in Handy Andy’s eating and came over to thank me for helping him back in his days as a student,” he said. “I had not seen this former student in at least 25 years, but he came over to the table to ask if it was me, and he wanted to tell me thank you. Those comments from past students really can make your day.”

During 2015 Commencement activities, Vaughan received a citation commending him for his service.

“Dr. Vaughan is attributed as the single most important person in the creation and organization of the academic programs of CME,” said Chancellor Dan Jones, who presented the award. “He will be greatly missed by students and colleagues at the university.”

Spitzer Seizes Success

Mechanical engineering alumnus founded his own global investment firm

Richard Spitzer enjoys his success.

Richard Spitzer enjoys his success.

Destiny is largely determined by our choices. Richard D. Spitzer can certainly attest that continuing his family’s agricultural legacy would probably have been his future had he not decided to venture beyond the boundaries of the comfortable and familiar.

“I grew up on a big farm that was in my family for multiple generations,” said the native of Malden, Missouri. “I had a great set of cousins, the Tatums, in Oxford who convinced me Ole Miss was the place (to attend college). And so it was.”

After finishing high school, Spitzer enrolled at the University of Mississippi and majored in mechanical engineering. An exceptional student, he found his professors and their courses intellectually stimulating.

“Engineering school at Ole Miss was not easy,” he said. “There’s no party school in that world. Still, I had several favorites, including Dr. Karl Brenkert, Dr. John Fox, Dr. Sam Wang, Dr. Shields, Dr. James Vaughan and Dr. Jeff Roux.”

Roux, professor of mechanical engineering and former chair of the department, remembers Spitzer as an outstanding student.

“Richard was a very, very gifted guy,” Roux said. “He was the kind of person who saw being a mechanical engineer as an important goal to strive for. Still, his abilities were such that he was bound to be successful in whatever he chose to do.”

Spitzer also enjoyed his professors outside of engineering.

“Dr. Charles Alexander in the (Department) of Mathematics and Dr. Woods who was an economics professor in the business school,” Spitzer said. “All these professors were top-notch.”

Spitzer’s intellectual prowess also impressed then-graduate student Tyrus McCarty. The two became lifelong friends who continue to stay in touch since their days at UM.

“Richard was always an exceptional individual in every respect,” said McCarty, associate professor of mechanical engineering and assistant engineering dean for special initiatives. “He and I spent many hours in lively discussions that were thought-provoking and enlightening.”

During his undergraduate tenure, Spitzer was an active member of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Spitzer’s roles in both organizations later proved instrumental in getting him jobs at Texas Instruments and beyond.

The degrees that Spitzer earned include a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in1986 with honors and a Master of Business Administration from Southern Methodist University, also with honors.

“Interestingly, Dr. Gerald Turner was the chancellor at Ole Miss back then, and is now the president of SMU,” Spitzer said.

Founder and CEO of the Spitzer Group LLC, he works predominantly with a closely held private equity group on acquiring and turning around or originating automotive and related business-to-business and business-to-consumer assets globally, including interests in India/Southeast Asia, Africa, China/Northeast Asia and the Americas. Reflecting upon his success, Spitzer said he thinks every step has had its moments.

“Graduating with honors at Ole Miss and SMU, getting my PE, winning awards at work, getting voted top 25 consultants in Consulting Magazine were all wonderful,” he said. “But nothing happens without help and support from family and friends.”

Spitzer said his wife, Dainty “DD,” and their daughter, Morgan, are fundamental to his sense of achievement.

“I’d say I’m most proud of my daughter getting elected president of the Academy of Finance at Memorial Senior High School in Houston,” he said. “She also got an internship this summer with Ernst & Young.”

When not working, Spitzer enjoys exercising, being with his family and spending time with other Ole Miss and SMU alumni.

Mike and Emily Williams Spread Wealth through Woods Society

Alumni couple's generosity helps create scholarships like ones they received as students

Mike and Emily Williams enjoy family time with their daughters.

Mike and Emily Williams enjoy family time with their daughters Samantha and Annie.

Fourteen years ago, Mike and Emily Williams both graduated from the University of Mississippi with bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering. Since then, they have raised two daughters and thrived in their avocations. And they continue to provide generous support for the School of Engineering.

As scholarship recipients, the Williams are appreciative of the assistance they received during college. Since graduation, they have contributed their time and money to ensure future generations of UM engineering students continue to receive the opportunities they did. They have established a scholarship fund for Ole Miss engineering students and continue to contribute to The Woods Society each month.

Mike Williams was born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, which he described as the “heart of Cajun and LSU country.” Despite his roots, he decided to attend Ole Miss.

“I really liked the small town feel of Oxford, the beautiful Ole Miss campus and the small size of the engineering school,” he said. “I also received more scholarship support from Ole Miss than from any other school which made my parents very happy!”

Emily Williams is originally from Portland, Oregon, but grew up in various towns across the Southeast. When it came time for college, Ole Miss was a simple choice. Emily was a National Merit Scholar in high school and was offered a full-tuition academic scholarship from Ole Miss.

“This generous scholarship and the beautiful campus definitely made my decision easy,” she said.

Both Mike and Emily said the education they received at Ole Miss has been instrumental throughout their lives and careers. After working for ExxonMobil, XTO Energy and other small companies in the upstream oil and gas industry, Mike is reservoir engineering manager at MorningStar Partners, a new oil and gas company in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Beyond the standard textbook engineering knowledge that is taught in every school, the professors at Ole Miss also taught us several intangible concepts that have been extremely beneficial, such as the importance of being able to work effectively in a team, the role economics play in engineering decisions and the concept of propagation of error and levels of uncertainty,” he said.

Post-graduation, Emily worked as an engineer for a few years, until she decided to go back to school to pursue a new degree. Enrolled at Texas Christian University, she is in the process of earning a bachelor’s degree in biology with plans to pursue a doctorate in immunology.

“The process of earning an engineering degree instills a very strong work ethic and ability to be a creative problem solver,” Emily Williams said. “These skills continue to serve me well as I am now back in school pursuing a new degree.”

“As scholarship recipients, clearly the Williams want others to benefit by studying engineering at Ole Miss as well,” said Kevin Gardner, engineering development officer at UM. “It is easy to see the love for Ole Miss by their early example of giving back soon after graduation. We are grateful to Emily and Mike for their purposeful generosity.”

Computer Science Student Part of Nationally-Recognized Chapter

Chapter works to foster good cross-cultural relationships on campus

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi student-led organization that strives to improve Sino-American relations was awarded the most outstanding chapter of its kind at Yale University’s Global China Connection World Fair.

GBC tent

The UM Global China Connection has been named the most outstanding chapter of its kind. Photo courtesy of UM Global China Connection.

The university’s Global China Connection chapter was named the best at the conference, where the quality of 60 active chapters from top-tier universities around the world was evaluated. The UM group bested University of Pennsylvania’s chapter, which placed second, and New York University’s, at third.

“We’ve been holding events on campus to try to foster friendships between Chinese students, whether they be Chinese-Americans or Chinese foreign exchange students, and American students,” said Will Foley, a senior computer science and linguistics major from Petal. “Some of the main things we’ve done are tents in the Grove with Chinese cuisines and had get-togethers, but we’ve also had meetings and more formal gatherings, too. We want to build friendships, but we also want to raise awareness about issues critical to Sino-American relations.”

The group holds an international conference each year. The most recent was in February at Vanderbilt University. In February 2016, UM will host the international conference, which will draw GCC chapters from around the world.

Foley, also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, helped found the chapter here two years ago with fellow student Frank Anderson. The group has about 25 students involved and focuses mainly on fellowship and important discussions about issues affecting relationships between China and the United States. Foley said he expects the group’s efforts to expand as the chapter grows stronger in coming years.

The chapter has worked hard to foster good relationships between Chinese and American students, said Johnathan Larkin, a junior economics and liberal studies major from St. Louis who is also in the Honors College. The interactions provide an invaluable opportunity for genuine connections, which helps promote greater understanding about the two cultures.

“These relationships on campus are especially important to me because they provide a real experience that you can’t get through a book, online article or history professor,” Larkin said. “That’s the game changer in my mind.”

Mark Chen, chair and professor of the UM Department of Public Policy Leadership, works with the student organization and said the group is very deserving of the award.

“The success of UM chapter as one of the newest chapters of Global China Connection could be attributed to the leadership of the UM chapter, teamwork and their care about the future of the world,” Chen said. “Our UM chapter students surely understand that future starts today with them and it is important for them to connect and network in a communication age and global society.”