Engineering Senior Led UM Team in College BattleFrog Competition

Jack Coffin spurred teammates to second place in rigorous nationally televised challenge

Christopher “Jack” Coffin

Christopher ‘Jack’ Coffin

When four University of Mississippi students placed second in the first-ever BattleFrog College Championship in Orlando, Florida, Christopher “Jack” Coffin couldn’t have been more proud.

That’s because the 22-year-old senior general engineering major from Ruckersville, Virginia, led his three teammates in the ESPN2-televised completion. BattleFrog is an obstacle race that was inspired by U.S. Navy Seals training.

Kim Duff, 24, a 2015 graduate from Greensboro, North Carolina; Josh Brenc, 19, a sophomore from Chicago; and Emily Lewis, 20, a senior from St. Louis, also represented the university. The collegiate tournament featured a 400-meter relay, which accompanied more than 20 challenging obstacles for contestants to overcome. The Ole Miss team was among 16 teams competing in a single-elimination tournament in hopes of winning a collegiate title, a $10,000 grand prize and the Trident Cup.

“I had heard about the competition through my twin sister, who is the female elite captain of the BattleFrog race team,” Coffin said. “I asked Josh through training together in Navy ROTC, and I had met Emily our freshman year and was impressed with her work ethic and enthusiasm for crossfit. Kim and I have been great friends since sophomore year, and as a strong performer on the Ole Miss women’s soccer team, I knew she still had that competitive and athletic edge. It was hectic getting the team together at the last minute, but everyone was excited to give it a shot.”

The Ole Miss contingent was not even on the original 16-team roster for the tournament, which was staged March 12-15. The University of Texas team dropped out last minute, thus opening a spot for the Ole Miss squad to enter the competition as first alternate.

“I remember when Jack told me about it I, thought it sounded super-cool,” Lewis said. “Leading up to forming the team and then being accepted to the tournament, it was all so sudden. We did not really have a clue how the competition would be structured. We only had a description of obstacles that would be featured at the race.”

“I didn’t think twice about joining the team,” Duff said. “The experience turned out to exceed my expectations. Not only did we compete well with this team we threw together in two weeks, but it was a blast.”

The tournament structure over that March weekend allowed teams to go through the course on Friday for time trials that would affect seeding for the rest of the weekend. The Saturday and Sunday events featured matchups of seeded teams until only two teams remained. Obstacles included rope climbs, monkey bar courses, wall climbs and more, all designed to test the physical limits of participants.

“Most teams didn’t know what to expect when they entered the competition,” Coffin said. “The race was a sprint, but many schools brought their triathlon teams expecting a longer course. We brought a strong team, allowing us to move through the obstacles more quickly, and Emily and Kim were some of the strongest females in the competition.”

Coffin took the reins as team captain, helping strengthen the group’s bonds and taking the necessary steps to enter them into the competition.

“It takes everyone on the team to succeed and only one person to fail,” Coffin said. “That is how these type of races work. But we didn’t have a weak link, and we worked extremely well together. We all felt honored to represent our school in such an exciting competition.”

Coffin chose to major in general engineering with an emphasis on naval science because it increased his chances of picking up a Navy scholarship.

“Eighty percent of Navy scholarships are awarded to engineers, and the emphasis on naval science allowed me to use my ROTC classes towards my major and graduate on time, without spreading myself too thin,” Coffin said. “As an ensign in the United States Navy, I will be reporting to Coronado, California, for Basic Underwater Demolition school, where I will begin training as a naval special warfare officer.”

Mighty Marni Makes Military Mark

Assistant engineering dean completed Army ROTC boot camp in July

Kendricks repelled down 64-foot wall during camp.

Kendricks repelled down 64-foot wall during camp.

Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for undergraduate academics in the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, recently represented the university’s Army ROTC Program at the U.S. Army Summer Cadet Training Leadership Symposium in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Kendricks was among 40 people from across the nation, identified as “persons of influence” or representing “centers of influence,” to spend a few days with the cadets and cadre to learn more about how the Army is training the next generation of military officers. Participants have opportunities to endorse or recommend this program to potential future officers and leaders.

With challenges facing the military, the U.S. Army is serious about recruiting the best and brightest to lead. Military leaders are particularly interested in increasing the number of officers with engineering and technical backgrounds.

“I had the pleasure of spending a few days with provosts, deans, chancellors, athletics directors and associates from all across the U.S. representing a variety of Army ROTC universities,” Kendricks said. “We interacted with senior military officers, professors of military science and cadets in summer training. They invited the academics to participate in several activities to experience some of the Army training firsthand.”

As part of her training experience, Kendricks practiced loading a magazine and shooting enemy threats on an electronic rifle range.

“We participated in a computer-simulated attack and a virtual training activity in heavy protective gear,” she said. “I will never forget rappelling from a 64-foot tower and going through the full-scale ropes course.”

She quickly developed a great deal of trust and confidence in the professionals who were teaching those events.

“As I ended my high-adrenaline week with a few bruises and scrapes, I thought about the power of a program that could coach even a bunch of nutty professors through those challenges,” Kendricks said. “It was obvious the U.S. military has the ability and experience to transform fit, focused, young, capable 22-year-olds into great leaders to serve our country in a critical role.”

The Ole Miss unit is proud of how well Kendricks performed at Fort Knox, said Scott Caldwell, UM Army ROTC recruiting operations officer. “She represented both the engineering program and the University of Mississippi well during all of the challenging events,” he said.

UM has about 100 active Army ROTC cadets in its program and is expecting seven National Scholarship Award winners as part of the incoming freshman class. In addition to these, the unit anticipates an incoming freshman class of about 30 students who will be competing for Campus Based Scholarships or Guaranteed Reserve Forces Duty Scholarships.

Cliff Nash is an Aeronautical Industry ‘Top Gun’

UM alumnus is executive director of Tupelo Regional Airport, president of Mississippi Airports Association

Cliff Nash

Cliff Nash

University of Mississippi engineering alumnus Cliff Nash is among the “top guns” in aeronautics these days.

Previously elected president of the Mississippi Airports Association, Nash was recently named executive director of the Tupelo Regional Airport. Selected from a pool of about 100 applicants, he had served as director of Tunica Airport since 2002.

“My job is to oversee the day-to-day administration, operations and maintenance of a commercial service airport,” said Nash, who also directed the Greenville Airport from 1995 to 2002. “Another responsibility is to develop and coordinate capital improvement plans along with available funding sources and work with engineering consultants and contractors.”

Nash also interacts with airfield tenants, pilots, passengers and prospective users and companies.

“Airport management, especially at smaller airports where you wear many different hats, is tremendously exciting,” he said. “There is never a dull or routine day.”

A certified member of the American Association of Airport Executives and life member of the Air Force Association, Nash helped start air operations in Tunica, which opened its airport in 2003 with a 3,500-foot runway. It was expanded a year later to 7,000 feet and again in 2006 to 8,500 feet. The $50 million airport was the first new commercial-service, federalized airport built after 9/11.

He acknowledges his UM engineering education as having been fundamental to his career success.

“Simply put, it instilled confidence, fostered determination and provided analytical thinking,” Nash said. “Basically, given the opportunity, I believe I can be productive and a valued asset anywhere. Tempered with my riverboat and military experiences, the three have certainly shaped my capabilities, work ethics and management style.”

An Oxford native, Nash literally grew up on the Ole Miss campus. His father served as director of student housing and the family lived in Sam Hall. He vividly recalled being in first grade when James Meredith enrolled and lived in nearby Baxter Hall.

“The National Guard was camped on and around the intermural field where the old athletic dorm is now,” Nash said. “I spent a lot of time hanging around and talking with the soldiers. That experience, and with my father being in the Naval Reserves, influenced me tremendously.”

The Nashes also lived in Kincannon Hall and the Twin Towers residence halls when they were built, all three on Rebel Drive.

“Someday, I’m going to write a book about growing up on the campus and call it, ‘My Life Experiences at Ole Miss: All Downhill,'” he jokingly said. “Seriously, the campus landscape has changed dramatically since 1959. However, it has remained Ole Miss and has grown more beautiful, beloved and renowned.”

Attending UM after high school on a faculty-staff scholarship was a simple decision for Nash. He first enrolled in 1974 for two years, then left college to work on the Mississippi River for Magnolia Marine, serving on riverboats carrying bunker oil to power plants in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. In the summer of 1979, he returned to Ole Miss and changed his major from law enforcement to civil engineering.

“I worked three part-time jobs, got married, had my first son, graduated with a BE degree and was commissioned in the Air Force, all by August 1982,” Nash said.

Taking a lot of courses in a very short time, Nash didn’t get to know his professors very well. A couple of engineering faculty and staff do stand out in his memory though.

“Although I only had Dean (Karl) Brenkert for two classes, I admired him for his character and resolve,” Nash said. “The one person I owe my entire experience and degree to was Mr. Damon Wall, who was the adviser for the School of Engineering. Had it not been for his counseling and support, I would not have completed my degree in three years and been commissioned in the Air Force.”

Keeping the Tupelo airport viable is important, and Nash is the right fit, said Fred Cook, chairman of the Tupelo Airport Authority.

“He definitely knows the ins and outs of the airport business with his experience, and we think we have a great candidate for director,” Cook said. “His experience, not only with the airports, but with the communities, stood out for the committee.”

Nash earned his Master of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry-Middle Aeronautical University. He also served in the U.S. Air Force as an air traffic control officer in both fixed and mobile facilities and performed airspace management duties that included redesigning the airspace used by the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana. He also served on the AAAE’s U.S. Contract Tower Policy Board.

Nash and his wife, the former Ellen Crouch of Oxford, have two sons, Tyler and Lee, both of whom are married. They also have two granddaughters. He is a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church.

Nash is proud to acknowledge the impact UM has had on their family.

“In my immediate family, there are eight Ole Miss alums,” he said. “This is what I think makes Ole Miss so special – being cared for like family.”

Clint Williford Says Goodbye to Faculty Life

After 33 years, chair and professor of chemical engineering retiring

Clint Wilford

Clint Williford

When Clint W. Williford Jr. joined the University of Mississippi School of Engineering faculty more than 33 years ago, he had no idea his academic career would culminate in such a long list of achievements.

During his tenure, Williford served as an associate professor and professor before becoming chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering eight years ago. He also served on the Faculty Senate and several committees, including selection of Taylor Medalists. After more than three decades of dedicated service, Williford retired June 30.

“While I had the opportunity to continue in industrial R&D, I was more motivated to teach and have the flexibility to work on projects of my own,” he said. “My association with the university has been a deeply enjoyable one. I hope to continue some engagement.”

Williford said he has found Ole Miss chemical engineering students to be among the strongest academically and has derived great satisfaction in helping them learn and mature.

“They are multidimensional – pursuing Chinese, building a school in Africa and enthusiastically competing in soccer and volleyball,” he said. “On a personal level, they are so positive, friendly and appreciative. It was just fun spending my summers working with students in the lab. And they have gone on to productive careers, contributing to society as professionals, citizens and caring people.”

Over the past three decades, Williford has taught almost all courses in UM’s chemical engineering curriculum, including those on thermodynamics, transport phenomena, reaction kinetics/reactor design, unit operations, numerical methods, process control, technical communications and laboratory instruction. He also developed and taught courses in environmental remediation and bioprocessing at the graduate level.

Outside the university, Williford taught a short course to personnel at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and to students through the graduate institute with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“I particularly enjoyed this work, and they expressed appreciation for what I did for them,” he said.

Williford has been engaged in many projects, including coal conversion, environmental studies and biofuels. He has performed and managed research projects for multiple funding agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy. Williford also served as the coordinating PI on a multi-institution grant on biomass conversion.

“Our component focused on microbial conditioning and pretreatment as they affected glucose/xylose liberation and lignin properties (as potential co-products),” he said. “Previously, I served as a PI and UM lead investigator for our DOE-EPSCoR biomass conversion project.”

Williford earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Christian Brothers College in Memphis, Tennessee. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Tulane University. He joined UM as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1982, after working as a visiting assistant professor of chemical engineering at Louisiana State University and a research engineer at Exxon R&D Labs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

His sabbatical and summer appointments included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station, Environmental Laboratory and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab.

“My experience with statistical methods includes research, instruction and contractual sample analysis,” Williford said. “I have performed site investigations and experiments, made depositions to opposing attorneys and have testified in court. This has been one of the more interesting aspects of my career.”

While recognition from the university, the School of Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering have been rewarding, Williford said his family is the most fulfilling part of his life.

“As a retired home health and hospice nurse, my wife, Sharyn, brought such comfort, guidance and healing to so many in our community,” he said. “Our older son, Josh, joined an organization providing wilderness therapy for troubled youth. Our younger son, Jake, served in the Navy for six years, attended a community college in San Diego studying criminal justice and will happily will continue this fall at Ole Miss. And my dad, Clint Sr., just turned 93 and drives a mean mowing machine.”

John O’Haver, newly-appointed chair and professor of chemical engineering, commended Willford’s service to the university.

“Clint did a nice job as department head, helping us during a very difficult time of growth and through one accreditation cycle,” O’Haver said. “During his tenure as chair, we grew from approximately 70 to 220 undergrads, earned a six-year (the maximum) reaccreditation, helped increase the average ACT score of our students, represented the department’s needs and increased the number of faculty from six to eight, negotiated much-needed increases in departmental research space and helped navigate us through all of this growth in a time of near-flat departmental budgets.”

Williford’s leisure activities include carpentry, gardening and walking the family dog. And while he recently completed an eLearning course for creating online courses, his post-retirement plans are most inclusive.

“My bucket list is long and includes travel, photography and scuba diving,” he said. “My advice is don’t wait to retire to start doing these.”