Attractive from Coast to Coast

Engineering freshmen make UM connections

David Thomas

David Thomas

Over the past five years, the University of Mississippi School of Engineering‘s undergraduate population has doubled from roughly 700 to more than 1,400 students. While a significant number of those come from Mississippi, many others come from long distances to pursue engineering education here.

Two such students are David Thomas of Brooklyn, New York, and Richard Jaramillo of San Diego. Thomas, who was accepted into the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering and hopes to become a student in the Center for Manufacturing Excellence to earn an emphasis in manufacturing. A graduate of LaGuardia High School, he was drawn to Oxford and the university because of personal connections to the region as well as the academic programs available.

“I have always liked the South and have been visiting my entire life,” Thomas said. “I have family nearby who really encouraged me to consider Ole Miss. I was definitely drawn in because of the combination of the School of Engineering and the Honors College along with the strong athletics and social scene. My official campus visit helped seal the deal!”

Although Thomas was a member of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and participated in theater productions in high school, the AP Scholar and Eagle Scout found that engineering was a great match for his interests.

“I’ve always loved solving problems and thinking of better ways to do things,” he said. “That’s exactly what an engineer does.” His favorite courses this semester are calculus and psychology.

So far, he has had a positive transition to the university because faculty and staff have been very supportive. He has decided to become a member of a Greek organization and has joined the Ultimate Frisbee team. He hopes to get involved with Engineers Without Borders.

Jaramillo, a member of the Provost Scholars program, has also enjoyed his first few months on campus. Although he admits to missing family and the weather back home in California, he has found the adjustment to Ole Miss easy.

“People are really nice, and it has been easy to make new friends here,” Jaramillo said. “Also, the staff at the Center for Manufacturing Excellence are willing to help you in any way that they can. The CME provides a one-on-one experience stronger than any of my other classes.”

He has started discussing cooperative education program opportunities (co-ops) for a future semester.

A graduate of Scripps Ranch High School, Jaramillo visited campus before a home football game and was introduced to the CME by a current engineering student. He believes the emphasis in manufacturing will allow him to engage in his areas of interest, since he has always considered a career in engineering.

“From a young age, I liked to fix things,” he said. “I have rewired rotary phones and worked on classic cars. I love to make things work, better them or create something new.”

Jaramillo’s favorite course this semester is Manufacturing 250, which involves Creo 3D modeling. He has become involved in a Greek organization and spends free time playing intramural sports. Jaramillo hopes to become involved with the internal combustion industry.

Both Thomas and Jaramillo encourage any high school students who are considering engineering to take time to visit the university.

Engineering’s ‘O’Reilly Factor’

Auburn alumnus Andy O'Reilly joins faculty in geology and geological engineering

Andy O'Reilly

Andy O’Reilly

Andrew “Andy” O’Reilly may not have attended the University of Mississippi, but the new assistant professor of geology and geological engineering is more than pleased to be part of the UM faculty.

“Ole Miss has a growing, respected ABET-accredited program in geological engineering that allows me to combine my broad engineering/design skills from my civil engineering background and my expertise in the hydrological and geological sciences developed at the U.S. Geological Survey,” said O’Reilly, a product of Auburn University and the University of Central Florida. “Additionally, the collegiality and breadth of expertise of the faculty in the department and the emphasis on student engagement, both in teaching and research, were very attractive.”

O’Reilly taught ENG 645 (Contaminant Transport) this fall. In the spring, he will teach GE 503 (Environmental Geochemistry) and assist in teaching GE 421 (Geological Engineering Design). Previously, he was a teaching assistant at Auburn and a USGS hydrologist for 21 years before entering academia.

“While at the U.S. Geological Survey and as a Ph.D. candidate at UCF, I was closely involved in the development of a new storm water best management practice,” O’Reilly said. “The new BMP utilizes an innovative storm water infiltration basin and biosorption activated media, a functionalized soil amendment to reduce inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus to groundwater.”

The jointly funded, collaborative effort combined the unique expertise and contributions of academia with those of federal, state and local science and resource management agencies. The new BMP is continuing to effectively reduce nutrient loading to groundwater and has served as a model for additional applications of similar nutrient reduction technology.

“The study was particularly meaningful to me because it linked research and application, culminating in the design and construction of a functioning facility,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly is a welcome addition to the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, colleagues said.

“He brings two decades of experience with the U.S. Geological Survey out of Florida, where he worked with regional groundwater models and efforts to protect the state’s water resources,” said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor of geology and geological engineering. “The addition of Dr. O’Reilly strengthens our areas of expertise in hydrogeology and engineering.”

O’Reilly said his professional goals include continuing his geoenvironmental subfield research, focusing on processes in shallow, heterogeneous geologic environments in Earth’s critical zone that govern aquifer recharge and groundwater quality.

“I endeavor to use knowledge gained from my research to develop and implement engineering solutions for maintaining and enhancing groundwater quantity and quality while fostering sustainable development within a wide range of geoenvironmental challenges facing society,” he said.

O’Reilly and his wife, Kelli, have a daughter, Felicity. He enjoys bonsai and amateur astronomy.

He summed up his ultimate goal for his UM tenure as follows:

“I want to provide opportunities for young engineers and scientists to achieve their full potential by passing along what I have learned in my experiences within and outside academia in an effort to always link research and application via teaching and societal engagement.”

CE Alumnus Manages Jackson’s Department of Public Works

Charles E. Williams Jr. credits Ole Miss foundation with his impressive career success

Charles Williams Jr.

Charles Williams Jr.

As a solid infrastructure is essential for a populated area’s establishment, growth and survival, so was Charles E. Williams Jr.’s education at the University of Mississippi School of Engineering vital to his successful academic endeavors and professional career.

“I appreciate Dr. (Waheed) Uddin giving me the foundation during my understudies at UM that has helped me be successful both professionally and academically,” Williams said. A 1996 civil engineering graduate, he is the acting managing engineer of public works with the city of Jackson. Before, he worked in the Materials Division of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“Charles is an exceptionally talented graduate,” said Uddin, civil engineering professor and founder-director of the UM’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology. “You will not find such positions commonly filled by a graduate degree holder.”

Williams completed his doctorate in civil engineering at the University of Alabama. He also earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from Mississippi State University and an MBA from Belhaven College.

“Again, he is one of the few CE alums who have achieved these significant academic milestones at such a relatively young age,” Uddin said.

Williams said he enjoyed all of his professors within the Department of Civil Engineering.

“The classes were very challenging,” he said. “My education from Ole Miss has provided me with a foundation built on solid fundamental engineering principles to exceed higher than I personally ever expected to achieve.”

In his position, Williams is responsible for the oversight and management of six divisions comprising 500 employees and an annual budget of $398 million. He also implements and manages a $400 million sewer consent decree.

Williams grew up in west Jackson but his family moved to Clinton, where he graduated from Clinton High School. Though he originally planned to attend engineering school and play football at Mississippi State, he decided to play football at Hinds Community College in Raymond. After one year, Williams transferred to Ole Miss to play for the Rebels.

“My football career ended early due to multiple injuries, but I am glad my pathway led to Ole Miss,” he said. “I enjoyed my time attending the university, and met a lot of great people.”

A licensed professional civil engineer in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, Williams holds memberships in the American Public Works Association, American Society of Civil Engineers, National Society of Professional Engineers/Mississippi Engineering Society and Chi Epsilon Engineering Honor Society. He considers being named the 2012 City of Jackson Public Works Department Engineer of the Year to be his most meaningful professional honor/achievement.

“It felt good to be recognized by my work peers who respect my work ethic and leadership,” said Williams, who is also a 2013 graduate of Leadership Greater Jackson.

Being inducted into Chi Epsilon at the University of Alabama was also a great accomplishment, he said. “Knowing that my name will always be displayed on a plaque honoring my academic achievement is most rewarding.”

Williams and his wife, the former Alix Davis, have two sons: Cameron, 9, and Graham Warren, 5. He enjoys spending time with his sons, who are completing football and soccer seasons. Williams also participates in various programs at Wells United Methodist Church that provide community service to low income residents living within the Jackson Metro area.

Williams is scheduled to return to UM next spring as a guest lecturer for a graduate seminar class and a transportation class. He finds it a pleasure to share his experiences with present engineering students.

“You have to give back by mentoring,” Williams said. “I was able to tutor my senior year through a partnership with NSPE Mathcounts and the Clarksdale Public School District. I drove over to Clarksdale once a week to help mentor elementary school kids struggling in math. The mentoring experience in college allowed me to continue to mentor over years through various programs at work that outreached to local high schools and colleges within the Jackson metro area.”

UM Alumnus Discusses Intelligent Transportation System

MDOT engineer Acey Roberts emerges as leader with innovative safety technology

UM alum Acey Roberts (second from left) shares the ITS Hall of Fame award with (from left) John Gilligan, MDOT Traffic Management Center Operations Manager, Jim Willis, MDOT Assistant State Traffic Engineer, Melinda McGrath, MDOT Executive Director, James Sullivan, MDOT State Traffic Engineer and Mike Stokes, Former ITS Program Manager (Retired).

UM alum Acey Roberts (second from left) shares the ITS Hall of Fame award with (from left) John Gilligan, MDOT Traffic Management Center Operations Manager,
Jim Willis, MDOT Assistant State Traffic Engineer, Melinda McGrath, MDOT Executive Director, James Sullivan, MDOT State Traffic Engineer and Mike Stokes, Former ITS Program Manager (Retired).

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi civil engineering alumnus Thursday (Oct. 30) shared details of an internationally recognized intelligent transportation system he helped design with others in the traffic control industry.

Acey Roberts, intelligent transportation systems engineer with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, moderated and presented during the daylong active traffic management workshop at the Inn at Ole Miss.

MDOT, in conjunction with the states of Arkansas and Louisiana, designed an ITS system on four shared Mississippi River bridge crossings. The project received the Best New Innovative Practice – Partnership Deployment award at the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress last month in Detroit.

“We installed traffic sensors, cameras and message boards to communicate with surface roadway traffic and river traffic to communicate any potential impacts to travelers,” said Roberts, president of the Gulf Region Intelligent Transportation Society. “This project won the international award for the Americas in 2014. It was a great opportunity to represent our state on the same stage as other international traffic systems winners London, England, and New Zealand.”

The award goes to the organization with projects that can demonstrate specific and measurable outcomes and show innovation by establishing a “new dimension” of performance.

Roberts, who also earned graduate hours at Mississippi State University and Northwestern University, has been with MDOT since 2008. His group plans and implements roadway sensors and computer networks to help make the interstates safer and reduce traffic congestion.

“Our website,, highlights the video and communication systems we have in the state to allow the traveling public to make better decisions on traveling around and through construction zones, traffic accidents scenes or other incidents they may encounter,” he said. “All of this work is focused on reducing accidents and injuries and improving your travel times on the state highways and interstates.”

About 40 people representing public and private sectors of the transportation systems industry attended the workshop. Participants praised Roberts’ leadership of and service to the organization.

“Acey was part of the steering committee, served as treasurer and ascended through the ranks by volunteering his personal and professional time,” said Chris Hilyer, ALDOT operations manager and immediate past president of GRITS. “This organization wouldn’t be where it is without his contributions.”

Roberts acknowledged Waheed Uddin, UM professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology, as playing a pivotal role in his career trajectory and success.

“Dr. Uddin was one of the professors I worked with the most, and I still work with him today,” he said. “He allowed me to work for him in research and in the classroom, so I got a little taste of what engineers did for a living.”

Uddin remembers Roberts as one of the top students in his transportation course who was destined to excel in his profession.

“Early on, he was willing to take challenging assignments,” Uddin said. “He demonstrated this when he worked on my NASA/Mississippi DOT-funded project in his senior year to evaluate airborne laser terrain survey technology for highway design. He worked with professional survey teams who collected topographic survey data that I later used for ‘ground truthing.'”

The UM School of Engineering is also indebted to Roberts, Dean Alex Cheng said.

“He has been instrumental in bringing MDOT equipment that includes a high-speed fiber optic line, a TV wall and other equipment into Dr. Uddin’s transportation lab that allows the real-time monitoring of traffic throughout the state wherever there is a traffic camera,” Cheng said. “The facility can be used not only for Dr. Uddin’s research, but by the university to monitor game day traffic around Oxford.”

Roberts said he is grateful for all his UM engineering education has helped him achieve.

“I really believe in the benefits of ITS systems and it was very fulfilling to get recognition for the work we do in Mississippi,” Roberts said. “Even though Mississippi doesn’t have the largest population and the worst traffic problems, we provide a big safety benefit to our commercial and local commuters in the region, not to mention it is a very cost effective solution to traffic problems.”

For a view of the MDOT project, go to