Esteban Urena-Benavides Joins Chemical Engineering Department

Assistant professor brings exceptional scholarship, teaching excellence

Esteban Urena-Benevides

Esteban Urena-Benevides

Esteban Urena-Benavides joined the Department of Chemical Engineering faculty at the University of Mississippi 12 months ago, a move that he says has proven to be one the best choices of his professional career.

“In my view, the University of Mississippi is one of the few academic institutions that gives the opportunity to have a truly balanced academic and personal life,” the assistant professor said. “The School of Engineering and I share the same sincere passion for teaching and research.”

Urena-Benavides earned his doctorate from Clemson University and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Costa Rica. Courses he has taught at UM include Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics and Chemical Reactors Analysis and Design. He is teaching Thermodynamics over the summer and will develop a course on intermolecular and interfacial forces in the future.

Urena-Benevides’ definitely brings significant contributions to the chemical engineering program, said John O’Haver, department chair and professor.

“Dr. Esteban has brought many things to the department,” O’Haver said. “An infectious, positive attitude, great interactions with students, an excellent start to a new research area, a willingness to help, someone who understands who we are and who wants to make us even better.”

Urena-Benevides said his previous professional achievements have helped him be where he is today.

“Life has taken me to complete three postdoctoral appointments at Auburn University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin,” he said. “This has given me the opportunity to publish high-impact research in a wide variety of fields and learn directly from some of the most brilliant researchers in the world.”

His research interests are related to sustainable nanotechnology.

“Mostly, I will use fundamental colloids and interfacial science principles to develop carbon monoxide foams for greenhouse gas underground sequestration, oil-and-water emulsions for oil spill cleanup and novel sustainable nano-composite materials,” he said. “Mainly, I will take advantage of the properties of bio-based carbohydrate nanoparticles.”

His short-term goals are to become an exceptional teacher and researcher.

“I am committed to high-quality education at undergraduate and graduate levels,” Urena-Benevides said. “Charles Eckert, who is one of my postdoctoral advisers, once told me, ‘the main product of a university is its students, and research is a highly valuable tool we use to make an excellent product.’ I truly share that view and I will develop my career with that in mind.”

His long-term goals are to contribute to improving the image of Ole Miss nationally and internationally by graduating better-prepared students at all levels, publishing groundbreaking research and giving service to the state.

“I seek to develop economically and environmentally viable technologies to improve the sustainability of the U.S. materials and energy industries,” he said. “For this purpose, I hope to lower the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, support the implementation of alternative energies and facilitate underground sequestration of carbon monoxide to mitigate global warming. I will also contribute introducing sustainability topics to middle schools across the state of Mississippi.”

Urena-Benevides said his wife, Linda, and son, Damian, are the most important parts of his life.

The family enjoys taking short road trips to experience the natural beauty of Mississippi and surrounding areas, as well as the different urban regions within moderate proximity to Oxford. When possible, they also like watching and playing soccer.

Matt Brown Shines on Field, in Classroom

Determined student-athlete is also exceptional chemical engineering major

Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown enrolled at the University of Mississippi both to carry on a family tradition and to play sports at an SEC university. Both his parents graduated from the university, so when he was presented an opportunity to join the football team, he quickly accepted the chance to live out a lifelong dream.

However, Brown knew that he wanted to pursue educational opportunities that were available as a result of his aptitude for math and science. As a result, he chose to pursue a degree in chemical engineering.

But being a student-athlete while following a rigorous academic program in engineering has not been without its challenges.

“Time management was the biggest key to being able to stay on top of my coursework while managing the busy schedule that being a member of the football team presents,” the former Rebel tight end said.

Team meetings, workouts and game days are just a few of the additional schedule items that student-athletes such as Brown have to take on while still attending classes, labs and study groups. He is confident that he has become a more well-rounded person as a result of his experiences and pushing himself to achieve his goals.

“The skills I’ve gained from being a member of a collegiate sports team have not only helped me in the classroom, but they also helped me outside the classroom as I have sought professional positions in the field of engineering,” Brown said. “Balancing football and chemical engineering has not been easy, but the late nights of studying and working on projects have been worthwhile so that I could achieve my goals in athletics and academics.”

Brown’s efforts and discipline were noticed by those in athletics.

“Matt was the true embodiment of the term student-athlete,” said Justin Light, senior academic counselor. “I always knew that I could trust that he was going to work just as hard in the classroom as he was on the field. I have no doubt he is destined for even more success in his career.”

Although the journey has been challenging, Brown has excelled in the classroom. During his time at Ole Miss, he has consistently been listed on the Chancellor’s, Dean’s, SEC Academic or UMAA honor rolls. He also completed his degree in four years and graduated cum laude as a member of the Class of 2016.

One of his highest honors came recently when he was one of three Ole Miss players named to the 2016 National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society. Brown, along with fellow seniors Dillon Barrett and Quintavius Burdette, were recognized for their academic accomplishments by the society.

The NFF Hampshire Honor Society is composed of college football players from all divisions who each maintained a cumulative 3.2 GPA or better throughout their college career. Some 868 players from 275 schools qualified for membership as the society celebrates its 10th year, setting a new record for the number of players honored during the history of the program.

As Brown reflected on his time at the university, he had some words of encouragement for future student-athletes who want to pursue a similar academic path.

“I would first and foremost tell them to make the most of their opportunity to get a degree and enjoy the process of furthering their athletic career,” Brown said. “The most successful people are those who accept obstacles, stare them in the face and overcome them, no matter how difficult.”

Brown, who will soon begin his career as a REACH Engineer with International Paper in Louisiana, also said that finishing his football career with a Sugar Bowl win is a memory he will cherish forever.

Harris Happily Heads Engineering School at Prairie View

UM mechanical engineering alumnus is dean and professor

Kendall Harris

Kendall Harris

The difference between a career and a job is that the former is something you find a privilege to serve in and the latter is often a duty you endure to pay the bills. Kendall Harris definitely has a career.

“To be totally honest, I enjoy my career,” said the University of Mississippi alumnus, who serves as both dean of the Prairie View A&M University School of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering. “The most fulfilling part of my position is the development of future engineers.

“As a professor, there is no more special feeling than when the proverbial light bulb goes on once a student gets a concept or understands a subject. As the dean, it’s great to know that the decisions that I make help to guide and shape the overall development of our engineering student body.”

Harris’ achievements draw admiration from UM engineering school administrators.

“Dean Harris is a national leader in STEM education, particularly for under-represented and under-prepared students,” said Alex Cheng, engineering school dean. “The program he runs at Prairie View A&M retained a high percentage of such students and guided them to to success in engineering. The program has gained a national reputation.”

Harris’ journey began when the native of East St. Louis, Illinois, graduated from high school at the tender age of 16. He earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Kansas and spent several years serving in the U.S. Navy before finding his way to Ole Miss.

“I had moved to my mom’s home in right after I left the Navy to ‘find myself,'” Harris said. “I wasn’t working at the time because I had saved a lot of money from the Navy, so I thought I had time to burn.”

Harris’ mother, however, believed that “men” were supposed to put in an honest day of work.

“She had a big problem with me sleeping in while she went to work each morning,” he said. “After about two months of her biting her tongue about me not working, she brought home an application from her school district and told me to fill it out.”

Harris remembers telling his mother that he didn’t want to be a school teacher. Her response shocked him.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Baby, we don’t need school teachers; we need janitors,'” he said. “I was too stunned and right then and there, I knew I had to get out of her home.”

Fortunately, Harris’ best friend, Richard Doss, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from UM, was home and invited Harris to come with him and visit Ole Miss.

“Upon my visit, I met Dr. Tyrus McCarty and Dr. Jeffery Roux (who would eventually become his advisers) and Mr. Thomas Wallace,” Harris said. “They showed me around the campus and convinced me to work on my master’s degree in engineering until I found myself. Best decision I have ever made in my life.”

McCarty fondly remembers Harris as a most intellectual student with exceptional creativity, leadership ability and potential.

“Kendall Harris was one of the brightest and best students I have ever encountered during my tenure at Ole Miss,” the mechanical engineering professor said. “I always believed he would go on to accomplish great things, and he has done just that. I’m proud to know him, both as a former student and a friend.”

Harris has similarly fond memories of McCarty and Roux.

“Each of them was dedicated to me graduating, providing me his guidance and his overall caring,” Harris said. “I can recall that one time I was taking a difficult math course. Dr. McCarty actually sat in with me on the course to make sure that I got the material. That’s dedication.”

Harris, who earned degrees in aerospace engineering and psychology at Kansas, received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Ole Miss.

He has moved through the ranks of academia, including promotion from assistant professor to professor by age 37 and becoming dean before age 40.

“I have been truly blessed to achieve some remarkable things in my personal and professional life, but the most significant accolade for me was obtaining my Ph.D. from UM,” Harris said. “I say this because the door that opened for me once I received my doctorate has been opened so wide that I am still receiving opportunities from it.

“I am totally grateful to UM and my professors for giving me the opportunity that has become the catalyst for everything else in my professional career.”

Harris’ family includes his wife, Shundra, a computer engineer-turned interior designer; and their two sons, Edward and DaKary. Other family members are his mother, Carrie Harris-Jefferson; stepfather, Gary Jefferson; sister, Dr. Josette Bradford, and her husband, Dr. Corey Bradford; brother, Donte Harris, another UM mechanical engineering alumnus, and his wife, Jennifer.

Harris said he loves to travel and has visited China, India, Egypt, Brazil, Spain, Portugal and many other places. He also enjoys sports – both spectating and participating – and attending Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, where he actively serves.

Of everything Harris has experienced and learned over the years, the life lessons that he gained at UM have maintained him throughout his professional career.

“One of the most profound statements that Dr. McCarty told me – and I live my life around this even today – is, ‘Kendall, surround yourself with right-thinking people, no matter what they look like. Just ensure that they are rightthinking,'” Harris said. “My education was world-class. I couldn’t have been educated better at a different university.”

UM Offers New Minor in Digital Media Studies

Program will include four emphases with common areas of technology and problem-solving

The new minor in digital studies is designed to equip undergraduate students from many different degree majors with digital computing, design and communication skills. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The new minor in digital studies is designed to equip undergraduate students from many different degree majors with digital computing, design and communication skills. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will offer a new interdisciplinary minor in digital studies designed to equip undergraduate students from many different degree majors with digital computing, design and communication skills to complement their main academic focus.

The new minor, offered beginning in fall 2016, will be housed and administered in the College of Liberal ArtsDepartment of Writing and Rhetoric. Robert Cummings, chair and associate professor of writing and rhetoric, will serve as director of the minor.

Faculty members affiliated with the program will meet periodically to consider changes to the curriculum and assist in the advising process.

“Students can now prepare for exciting and contemporary technology applications by combining their current major with the DMS minor, which offers a choice of emphases in computing, digital arts and/or digital communications,” Cummings said. “The digital media studies minor offers a novel pathway for students to extend their knowledge in to the creative economy of the information age.”

The College of Liberal Arts, School of Engineering and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media jointly proposed the undergraduate minor. Faculty from across academic programs, UM Libraries and Information Technology met to formulate the proposal and flesh out the courses to be included.

The DMS minor aims to teach students basic web authoring and programming skills, how to critically evaluate digital information and also how to apply digital skills and expertise in multiple fields.

Students will take 18 credit hours, which includes six hours of core classes. They choose the remaining 12 hours from an approved list of options.

The minor includes four emphases from which to choose: computing, digital communications, digital arts or a generalist track. The emphases have different, but connected paths of digital technology and problem-solving, according to the developers of the course.

Richard Forgette, senior associate dean of liberal arts and professor of political science, played a major role in the development of the program. He said there was wide interest from the student body.

“Thanks to all the faculty from across the university who made this happen,” Forgette said. “The new minor will allow students to develop skills needed for emerging career paths in web development, data analytics, computational art, graphic design, data visualization and digital media marketing.”