Climbing Mountains in the Sky

Talented scholar Charlie King remembered with engineering scholarship

Charlie King

Charlie King

By the time he was 2, Charlie King had already started filling his pockets with rocks. At 25, he was honing his skills as a scholar in geological engineering and geophysics and filling his life with people, travel, music, the outdoors and the environment he loved.

The University of Mississippi graduate student lost his life after a climbing accident on Mexico’s Mount Orizaba in early 2014, but his life and spirit will continue to be interwoven with others through the Charles Dunbar King Memorial Scholarship Endowment. Created by his parents, Kerry and Terry King of Dillon, Colo., the scholarship will assist graduate or undergraduate students in geology and geological engineering.

“Charlie led a life that deserved to be remembered, and his love for Ole Miss and the School of Engineering inspired us to choose a scholarship,” Kerry King said. “Charlie had plans to work in the field for several years and then pursue a doctorate. We believe he would eventually have become a college professor.”

Adnan Aydin, professor of geology and geological engineering, was King’s undergraduate and graduate adviser, giving him “the privilege of knowing this extraordinary young person.”

“Charlie was a brilliant independent thinker, ready to embark on a great academic journey and to leave his lasting mark on the world,” Aydin said. “He was the most decent person, a perfect student, a dear friend and a young colleague.

“Charlie was fully aware of his capacity for a substantial contribution, and for him, that contribution had to be something that made a real and significant difference. He had the pure and selfless views of an ideal youth on all facets of academia and society at large. He was a compassionate and unifying person.”

The Kings, their son Matthew King and many other family members are Ole Miss alumni and appreciate the continuing support they are receiving from the UM School of Engineering since Charlie King’s death. The Oxford natives are quick to acknowledge the engineering program’s impact on his life.

“Charlie knew from a very early age what he wanted to do and never wavered,” Kerry King said. “He loved that program and it matured Charlie. He was like one of those rough rocks he collected all his life. The School of Engineering faculty helped smooth his edges, helping him to become a complete person.”

Robert Holt, a UM professor of geology and geological engineering, and his wife, Shari, became close to King.

“I chose Charlie as my teaching assistant because during his senior year he earned As in both of my courses,” Holt said. “He assisted me for several years in my course on geological subsurface site characterization. Charlie was excellent; he was so good at anticipating what we needed to prepare. He could have gone to graduate school anywhere. He had great scientific intuition and wrote very well, which set him apart. We lost one of our shining stars.”

Gregg Davidson, chair and professor of geology and geological engineering, said the department “greatly misses” the talented student who was plugged into the academic and the social life of the Ole Miss community.

“The scholarship established by his parents has been a wonderful way to keep him in our minds and not let the business of life dull our memories,” Davidson said. “We especially appreciate their wisdom in adding flow-through funds as the endowment is growing that enabled us to offer scholarships the same year the fund was established. By doing so, students who knew Charlie personally benefited from the scholarship in his memory.

“Two graduate students have been beneficiaries, Austin Patton and Zhen Guo. The scholarship for Austin was timely, because he had just months earlier lost everything he owned in an apartment fire. The Charlie King scholarship helped get him back on his feet much faster than would have been possible otherwise.

“Zhen was especially moved by the award and struggled with accepting a financial benefit from the loss of his friend. On learning of his concern, Charlie’s parents reminded Zhen of Charlie’s giving nature and assured him that it was a special privilege to be able to know that the scholarship was going to someone who knew and loved Charlie.”

Patton, an inaugural recipient and now a project engineer for an environmental remediation construction company in Houston, Texas, had every class with King from Geology 101 through graduate school, and their friendship developed over a shared enjoyment of adventure and the outdoors. Patton also benefited from King’s positive attitude and humor, saying, “Charlie was one in a million. … If you were having a bad day, he would most definitely find a way to cheer you up.

“Charlie seemed to excel in all his geology and engineering classes. It came to him naturally and was something he just ‘got.’ This was probably because he enjoyed it so much.”

Patton shared memories of an upper-level geological engineering course that he passed because of the time his friend dedicated weekly to teaching him the material.

“Charlie accomplished so much and influenced so many lives in the short time that God gave him on this earth,” he said. “Though quite a hackneyed expression, I truly believe that if the world was filled with more people like Charlie King, it would surely be a more enjoyable place. Charlie left this earth doing what he loved most. I will never forget his bright, jubilant demeanor as long as I live. A piece of Charlie will always be with his closest friends and his family members on any adventure we may seek. And rest assured we will all meet again soon, but as for now, Charlie is thoroughly enjoying himself climbing mountains in the sky.”

The reason so many fellow Ole Miss students, faculty members and others felt such fondness for Charlie King can be glimpsed through descriptions of his personality, hobbies and passions. He was an environmentalist, mountain climber, skier, cyclist, paddle boarder and musician who had goals of traveling the world. He brought back rocks from every place he visited, and his parents keep those rocks scattered throughout their home where they can be seen.

“Charlie was happy all his life,” Terry King said. “He went out of his way to help others and was very generous with his time. Not only did he enjoy tutoring other students, but he also enjoyed cooking Chinese and Indian dishes for them. Charlie was obviously serious about his academic studies, but he likewise appreciated the light moments of life.”

One such moment was recalled by Holt, who said Charlie had a “playful spirit with a rebellious streak.”

“I remember one field trip to Tishomingo State Park, we had about 100 freshmen on the trip,” the professor said. “We always take as many graduate students and faculty as we can to help corral this group. We were about to hike up along the highway on the Natchez Trace, so I used my very serious, drill sergeant tone and told the students how to conduct themselves, especially to stay off the road.

“A couple minutes later I look up and there’s this student, jumping on and off the road, over and over again. I’m ready to go yell at this disobedient freshman, and I get closer and realize it’s Charlie, just having some fun at my expense. He was always a rebel at heart.”

That humor was also countered with love and respect for others, his dad said. “Charlie was one of those rare human beings who never said an unkind word to anyone.”

King had been affectionately called “Charlie Bear” all his life, and his parents now give rocks with a Charlie Bear inscription to family and friends, particularly when they are traveling. The rocks have been placed on mountain peaks and many other places, and on the first anniversary of Charlie King’s death, a climber placed a memorial marker on Mount Orizaba.

Friends and family also joined to contribute to the scholarship fund.

“There was a great outpouring of support for the scholarship,” Terry King said. “We’re so happy the endowment continues to grow and serve as a tribute to our son. There are many students who find they are literally broke after earning college degrees, and we want this fund to help.”

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to the Charles Dunbar King Memorial Scholarship Endowment by sending a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting online at; or contacting Kevin Gardner, development officer for the School of Engineering, at 662-915-7601 or

Ryan Upshaw Named Outstanding Staff Member by BSU

Assistant dean has long association with university

Ryan Upshaw receives the Outstanding Faculty and Staff Award from Briana O’Neal, president of the UM Black Student Union.

Ryan Upshaw receives the Outstanding Faculty and Staff Award from Briana O’Neal, president of the UM Black Student Union.

When Ryan Upshaw helped plan the University of Mississippi’s annual Black History Month observances, he had no idea that he would be honored during the activities.

The School of Engineering’s assistant dean for student services is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Faculty and Staff Award, presented by the Black Student Union.

“My reaction was pure shock, especially since a student I recruited was the one who presented the award,” Upshaw said. “This is the first award like this I have received as a professional. It means a great deal that the students involved in the BSU would choose to honor me in this way. There are so many faculty and staff members on our campus who could have been selected.”

As a student affairs professional, Upshaw said his goal is to help students have the best experience possible. Over the past eight years, he has worked to actively recruit, retain and graduate students as well as encourage them to be active alumni.

“I push students to perform well academically, but also to find their passions outside the classroom via campus or community involvement,” he said. “I also want to provide them with a sounding board when they are experiencing challenges.”

A UM alumnus, the Moss Point native earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in higher education. He hopes to pursue the new Doctor of Education in higher education soon.

“I chose to attend the university after visiting through an event called Scholars Day, hosted by the Office of Admissions, and being fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from the Luckyday Foundation,” Upshaw said. “I am thankful to have had mentors like Dr. Thomas Wallace, Mrs. Valeria Ross and Dr. Donald Cole who continue to inspire me as higher education professionals.”

Cole, assistant provost and special assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs, spoke highly of Upshaw.

“When the university recruited Ryan as a student here a number of years ago, I knew that it was a milestone event,” Cole said. “Ryan’s real impact on the university came when he decided to remain for employment with us. At UM, Ryan not only found an institution from which he could obtain a quality education and meaningful employment, he found a home.”

Before working with the School of Engineering, Upshaw worked for five years in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, where he coordinated recruitment efforts and the admissions process.

Briana O’Neil, president of the UM Black Student Union, has known Upshaw for almost five years. During this period, he has been her mentor and friend.

“He is a big reason that I chose to come to Ole Miss and he has been supportive ever since,” O’Neil said. “You can always tell that he cares about the students at Ole Miss and wants to see them succeed. He is friendly and welcoming, but also gives solid advice.”

Upshaw has always been willing to give students his time, said Benjamin Lapane, president of the UM Engineering Student Body. “I think that is one of the most admirable characteristics a student adviser can have,” he said.

“I really enjoy being involved in both the university and Oxford communities,” said Upshaw, a lifetime member of the Ole Miss Alumni Association. “At the university, I serve as adviser to a number of organizations, including the Engineering Student Body, Omicron Delta Kappa senior honor society, Lambda Sigma sophomore honor society and the RebelTHON board of directors.

He also serves on the university’s scholarship committee, housing appeals committee and judicial council. Outside the university, Upshaw has been on the board of directors for the United Way of Oxford-Lafayette County since 2009 and serves as chair of its Community Investment Committee. On the Leadership Lafayette program’s steering committee since 2010, he is also on the National Advisory Council for Omicron Delta Kappa society and the Region III Advisory Board for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. He is a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

Upshaw enjoys supporting Ole Miss athletics by attending sporting events whenever possible.

Jim Newman is Soaring High

Civil engineering alumnus once worked for NASA, became distinguished professor at MSU

Jim Newman

Jim Newman

One of Mississippi State University’s most distinguished engineering faculty members happens to be an alumnus of the University of Mississippi.

Jim Newman received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Ole Miss in 1964. Since then, he’s evolved into one of the world’s leading fracture mechanics experts. Newman spent 37 years at NASA-Langley before coming to MSU in 2001.

“The education that I received at Ole Miss was the foundation for my future studies at Virginia Tech and my research work at the NASA Langley Research Center,” Newman said. “A job at NASA was a dream come true.”

Newman has received a legion of awards for his substantial contributions to fatigue and fracture mechanics, including the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the NASA Superstars in Aeronautics Award. He is a William Giles Professor at MSU (the highest honor a faculty member there can achieve) and he was the first recipient of the Richard Johnson Chair in Aerospace Engineering.

“At NASA and MSU, I have continued my research in the area of fatigue and fracture mechanics for aerospace materials and structures,” Newman said. “Since arriving at MSU, Dr. Steve Daniewicz, Dr. Judy Schneider and I have built a world-class fatigue and fracture laboratory, with the support of MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering and the Office of Research and Economic Development.​”

Undoubtedly, Newman has earned the respect of his colleagues.

“Jim is an outstanding faculty member,” said Jason Keith, interim dean of MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering. “We are proud to have him in our college.”

“Jim is still very loyal to Ole Miss,” said Thomas E. Lacy Jr., professor and interim head of MSU’s Department of Aerospace Engineering. “When you meet Jim, I think you’ll find him to be a very genuine, kind, modest and down-to-earth person. That makes us feel especially lucky.”

A native of Memphis, Newman decided to attend UM because a cousin, Peggy Newman, and her husband, David Orr, attended Ole Miss a few years before him.

“I remember listening to the radio when Eagle Day was the Ole Miss quarterback,” he said. “As far back as I can remember, I was an Ole Miss football fan.”

One of Newman’s favorite engineering professors was C.C. Feng, who taught mechanics classes.

“I still have the notes that I took in his class and the homework assignments in my office at MSU,” Newman said. “I enjoyed his classes because he was tough and made us work a lot of homework. I believe in homework. That is the only way a student will ever learn the subject.”

Newman considers his selection as one of three engineers from Langley to be named Superstars in Modern Aeronautics (along with three engineers from several other NASA research centers) to be his greatest career achievement.

“I was placed on the same poster with Dr. Richard Whitcomb (Langley Research Center), the real superstar in aeronautics,” he said. “Dr. Whitcomb’s achievements were many times more significant than all of the others on the poster.”

Newman was married to Frances Mehan Newman, who passed away in January 2014. They had four sons.

“My mother, my sons and my grandkids are the greatest joy in my life,” Newman said. “My dad was my inspiration to become an engineer, but he passed away in January 1980. Ironically, after World War II, he was a ‘crack’ inspector for an airline in Memphis. And his son would become a world expert on ‘crack’ mechanics (the field of fracture mechanics).”

ESB President Reflects on Banner Year

Ben Lapane led student body to new heights

Ben Lapane

Ben Lapane

After Benjamin Lapane discussed the role of the Engineering Student Body president with members of the dean’s office staff, he felt compelled to run for the position. He won that election last spring and quickly began seeking ways to improve the School of Engineering for current and future students.

“One of my major goals while serving as ESB president was to improve career services for engineering students,” said Lapane, a senior mechanical engineering major from Mobile, Alabama. “We worked with our adviser to deliver survey results to the dean of engineering which focused on student feedback about career services. I was very pleased to hear that the dean’s office is in the early stages of planning to hire a staff member dedicated to career development.”

Although his major goal was realized, Lapane said that the position was not without its challenges.

“My major challenges were taking time to relax, balancing a major leadership role with classwork and preparing for life after graduation,” Lapane said. “Nevertheless, I highly recommend future students seek leadership positions with the ESB. This can be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences within the School of Engineering.”

Lapane thanked members of the dean’s office staff and School of Engineering faculty for their support during his tenure as president. He acknowledged Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean for student services and ESB adviser, for his dedication and time working with the Leadership Council; Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for undergraduate academics, for her support as his academic adviser; and Elizabeth Ervin, associate professor of civil engineering, for her inspiration with his academic efforts.

“The people here are what make the University of Mississippi one of the best institutions in the country,” Lapane said. “It has been wonderful to serve with the ESB Leadership Council who have been some of the most dedicated student leaders I’ve ever worked with.”

Besides his role as ESB president, Lapane is a former javelin thrower on the Rebels track and field team. He served as president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and was recognized with Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities honors.

Lapane has accepted a job offer with Dow Chemical Co. and will move to Houston, Texas, with his wife and fellow engineering senior, Mary Louise Lapane, to start his career.

“Ben has been an outstanding and enthusiastic leader for the ESB this year,” Upshaw said. “He has really elevated the organization and set a high bar for future ESB leaders. I have truly enjoyed working with him and serving as the ESB adviser.”

As the student governing organization for the school, the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council represents all disciplines. ESB provides student services and coordinates social and professional development events throughout the year. These include the School of Engineering Tailgate, National Engineering Week activities, Freshmen Convocation and the Engineering Formal. The group is also responsible for seeking feedback from engineering students and facilitating discussions with the administrators or faculty members.