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.
“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.”