Spero Peters Picks Perfect Profession, Pastimes

Mechanical engineering alumnus has a passion for nuclear power work

Spero Peters is a 2010 alumnus of UM. (Submitted photo)

Spero Peters always seems to make just the right choices for himself.

Nearly 10 years ago, the Germantown, Tennessee, native decided to attend the University of Mississippi. “Between family and friends that had gone or were going to Ole Miss, I was very familiar with the university,” he said. “It just seemed like a good fit after I visited to look at enrolling.”

Once he was accepted into the School of Engineering, Peters chose mechanical engineering as his major.

“The late Dr. (James) Chambers was a favorite for a bunch of us in my class,” Peters said. “His Power Conversion course was by far my favorite course at Ole Miss. I had an interest in nuclear power, and this class let me look into that subject in greater detail.

“Also, the way he taught the course was discussion-based, more like a graduate-level course, which really made it engaging and anything but dull.”

Toward the end of Peters’ time at the university, he accepted an opportunity to work at the National Center for Physical Acoustics.

“Getting to be around a research center like that prepared me for the environment I found myself in when I went to get my master’s in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville,” he said. “Also, the courses I took in Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer gave me a good foundation in those subjects that came in handy when it was time to take the test for my PE license.”

After earning his degrees, Peters went to work as a nuclear engineer for Bechtel National Inc. in Reston, Virginia. He is working on the Hanford Tank Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.

Spero Peters (far right) answered questions from UM students during his guest lecture in Engineering 400. (Submitted photo)

“Its purpose is to take millions of gallons of radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project sitting in tanks and convert – or vitrify – them into solid glass for safe disposal,” he said. “I model radiation dose rates in the plant using computer simulations and evaluate mechanical system and radiation shielding designs to ensure that doses to future workers are minimized once the plant is constructed.”

Peters has worked on commercial nuclear power projects, including the design of a scaled-down nuclear power plant called a small modular reactor. He considers creating that design to be his most fulfilling professional achievement to date.

“In nuclear power, many of the power plants were built and designed decades ago, so getting to progress a new concept was a unique experience that I enjoyed,” Peters said. “Plus, it really utilized both my nuclear and mechanical backgrounds.”

Since graduation, Peters decided to return to Ole Miss for the Leadership 400 Class and the Power Conversion ME 405 class.

“Dr. Chambers had me back in 2015 to guest lecture the class on nuclear power,” he said. “I learned I couldn’t do it on a Friday – which would have been convenient – because, as he informed me, apparently my classmates and I had talked him out of having a Friday class years ago.

“The students were thankful for my ‘contributions’ to the department, at least!”

Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering, remembers Peters as one of the department’s shining stars.

“I always noticed his ability to initiate a conversation on any extracurricular activity whether it was related to the student chapter of ASME or the growth of the mechanical engineering department as truly amazing,” he said. “Spero was always proactive in providing outside-the-box ideas to me whenever I approached him for suggestions related to class room teaching or capstone projects.

“I am not surprised to see him very successful in his career thus far.”

Assistant Engineering Dean Marni Kendricks voiced similar sentiments.

“Spero did a great job,” she said. “He and Jim Chambers were very close.”

Peters’ family includes his parents, Manuel and Susanna Peters, and his brother, Alex. Engineering seems to run in the family bloodline.

“Dad’s an electrical engineer, retired from Memphis Light Gas & Water, and Alex is a chemical engineer,” he said.

As for leisure, Peters again found just the right choices.

“When not working, I love getting ribs on the smoker, especially for an Ole Miss game, and am part of a Memphis in May Championship Barbecue competition team,” he said. “I also enjoy running and golf to help balance out the barbecuing’s side effects.”

UM Manufacturing Students Organize Automotive Society Chapter

Several members attended Southern Automotive Conference; plan future activities

Members of the UM chapter of the Collegiate Automotive Manufacturing Society include (from eft) Joseph Reed, a mechanical engineering major; Taylor Scism, a buiiness management major; and Tyler Thompson, who is majoring in mechanical engineering. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Members of the UM chapter of the Collegiate Automotive Manufacturing Society include (from left) Joseph Reed, a mechanical engineering major; Taylor Scism, a business management major; and Tyler Thompson, who is majoring in mechanical engineering. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – As the auto industry in the United States continues to rebound, University of Mississippi students are positioning themselves for future productivity and success.

Twelve students have formed a campus chapter of the Collegiate Automotive Manufacturing Society. The chapter began in fall 2015 as a result of an idea presented by Ryan Miller, programs manager for the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the group’s adviser.

A member of the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association board of directors, Miller suggested to the CME students that they found a collegiate engineering-business-accounting honors society with MAMA as the parent association.

The goal is to better connect automotive manufacturers with millennials and try to help the manufacturers better understand them through more direct contact. Miller’s dream is that all the Automotive Manufacturers Associations will develop CAM Society chapters of their own in their respective states’ public universities.

“Ryan approached me with the idea, looking for input and assistance from a student perspective,” said Harleigh Huggins of Oxford, a junior mechanical engineering major and chapter president. “Together, we developed the officer structure and planned the first recruitment meeting.

“It has grown from there. We are the guinea pigs for this project, as we are the first CAM Society to get past the planning stage into the recruitment stage. We will hopefully pave the way for future CAM societies.”

Other CAM Society officers are Tyler Thompson of Madison, a junior mechanical engineering student and vice president; and Taylor Scism, a junior business management major from St. Louis, serves as the chapter’s chief financial officer.

Representatives of the group attended the Southern Automotive Conference this fall in Biloxi, where they served as panelists in two sessions dealing with a multigenerational workforce and working with “millennials.”

“It was a great opportunity for us to network with Southern automotive manufactures and their suppliers,” Huggins said. “Giving members that exposure and opportunity for networking is extremely important to CAM.”

The students’ presentation received high marks from those in attendance.

“They have been lauded as the best part of this conference by multiple sources,” Miller said. “The team represented the university with great class, tact and professionalism.”

UM students Harleigh Huggins (second from left) and Joseph Reed (far right) answer questions following a presentation at the Southern Automotive Association annual meeting. (Submitted photo by Taylor Scism)

UM students Harleigh Huggins (second from left) and Joseph Reed (far right) answer questions following a presentation at the Southern Automotive Association annual meeting. (Submitted photo by Taylor Scism)

Among activities the chapter has sponsored in since its charter was having Donald “Stogie” Stoegbauer, a member of MAMA, come talk to chapter members about his group’s importance and the benefits of a relationship with MAMA.

“It is our goal to get students in higher education more involved with the automotive manufacturing industry and make it easier for those already in the industry to engage with potential future employees,” Scism said. “It is our hope that other four-year institutions nationally recognize the impact this could have on the industry and create their own chapters.

“As we are expanding our recruitment process, we are looking for engaged individuals who have a passion for the automotive industry and academics.”

Plans for the coming year include a recruiting event scheduled for Feb. 9, 2017, for all interested Ole Miss engineering, business and accountancy students.

“We will meet potential recruits and explain what the CAM Society is all about,” Huggins said. “We will also have applications for CAM and an email sign-up list available. Part of the application will be submitting a resume. After that, we will be holding interviews and sending out acceptances into CAM Society.”

Other spring events will be member events, such as philanthropy, team-building activities and a “Cars Under the Stars” event with MAMA. Members also have discussed helping local Cub Scout packs with their Pinewood Derby car designs as an outreach activity.

Crossing the River Together: A UM Humanitarian Project

Engineering students and faculty work together to provide infrastructure for West African villages

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

OXFORD, Miss. – In Africa, there is a saying: “Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.” Or, in the words of the Dalai Lama, “Universal humanitarianism is essential to solve global problems.”

Western visitors to the low, sandy terrain of the West African nation of Togo find a world far different than where they live. It is a world where locals drink polluted water from the same open source. A world where resources are scarce and where health care and education are not always options. A world unlike this one in many ways but connected through its people and their desire for a stronger community.

A team of faculty members and students at the University of Mississippi, all members of the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders, is working to help residents of one village strengthen their community. Among them is Cristiane Surbeck, an associate professor of civil engineering who is committed to “actually doing” good for this community to make a major impact on the people who live within it.

“I hope to help the people of Togo with projects that require engineering labor and teach UM students how to be engineers,” Surbeck said.

Engineers Without Borders is an organization of engineering professionals, academics and students who are dedicated to the empowerment of impoverished communities abroad. They travel to places such as Togo, bringing with them resources that strengthen and encourage the communities they adopt.

These resources include students and faculty educated in engineering, as well as manpower and useful tools for building.

In the last four years, members of the UM chapter have dedicated themselves to helping the small village of Hedome.

The children of Hedome aspire to be doctors and layers and engineers; some even hope to be congressmen. Learning, however, was difficult without a school.

In 2012, the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders recognized the community’s need for a place of learning, where the children of Togo could be encouraged to expand their education. The chapter collectively developed plans for an infrastructure and raised funds to start work.

After much hard work, a schoolhouse for the children of Hedome village was completed. The school has been the group’s greatest accomplishment thus far, Surbeck said.

Vera Gardner, a senior mechanical engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee, agreed.

“When we saw the students attending classes and learning in their new schoolhouse, it showed that the community’s efforts and the UM-EWB chapter’s work was being used for its intended use and a good cause,” he said. “Everyone’s hard work paid off.”

With this great accomplishment, the chapter members have plowed forward into their next project, the installation of a deep water well in the village of Akoumape. The UM chapter began planning the project in January 2016, and it remains in development.

This deep water well will replace the shallow well that the village has been using. A deeper well means cleaner water both for the residents and for a local children’s hospital in the village. This installation will mean all-around better health and should help to energize the Togo community.

“When we complete the job, I can see the faces of the people we are helping.” said Zack Lepchitz, a UM graduate student in geological engineering who is involved with the developing construction projects in Togo.

Students involved with the chapter’s trip to Togo “are learning the technical and social skills necessary to complete a construction project to the client’s satisfaction,” Surbeck said.

Scholarship Fund Honors ‘Capt. Max’

Family, friends of Max Miller hope to establish endowment in his name

Capt. Max Miller and wife Janis enjoy a moment with their grandchildren during the Christmas 2015 season. Photo courtesy Ryan Miller

Capt. Max Miller and wife Janis enjoy a moment with their grandchildren during the Christmas 2015 season. Photo courtesy Ryan Miller

OXFORD, Miss. – Family and friends of the late Max R. Miller Jr., of Oxford, are seeking support for a scholarship fund that will honor the life of the longtime University of Mississippi administrator.

Before his death on April 22, 2016, while traveling to meet Ole Miss engineering students on a field trip, Miller had served the university for two decades, most recently as associate director of projects for the Center for Manufacturing Excellence. He had previously served as associate director of admissions and on staff in the Office of Financial Aid and Office of the Registrar.

“Through his multiple roles within the university, my father had the pleasure and privilege of working with many students in their pursuit of a quality education and finding a fulfilling career,” said Ryan Miller, CME programs manager and assistant director. “He was able to provide wonderful insight, encouragement and wisdom that helped so many students and their families in his time here at Ole Miss.”

Ryan Miller; his brother Patrick Miller of Bossier City, Louisiana; Scott Kilpatrick, CME associate director for internal operations; and Jason McCormick, a UM development officer who previously worked with Max Miller in the Office of Admissions, are raising funds to provide financial assistance to eligible Ole Miss students in any field of study. Gifts of different sizes can be made through the university’s crowdfunding site, Ignite Ole Miss, at https://ignite.olemiss.edu/.

“The loss of our father, while devastating, has only solidified our belief that we have been called to find ways to perpetuate his acts of service for generations to come,” Patrick Miller said.

Max Miller

Max Miller

The project owners hope to raise at least $25,000, enough to establish an endowment in Max Miller’s name, memorializing him among generations of future Ole Miss students.

A native of Bakersfield, California, Max Miller chose to pursue a career of service by attending the California Maritime Academy. After college, he served as a fire fighter in the Kern County Fire Department before beginning a 25-year career with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Miller married Janis Shanahan in 1971 and, after a number of cross-country moves with the military, established a permanent residence in Oxford, where Ole Miss students affectionately dubbed him “Captain Max.”

“Through the generous contributions of all those who knew my father, I am confident that we will be able to continue to impact students’ lives in meaningful ways and continue the work of a great man, a proud Rebel: our Captain Max,” Ryan Miller said.

Kilpatrick said there is perhaps no better way to honor a man whose life was dedicated to student development and success.

“Max Miller’s love for his country was matched by his love for his beloved Ole Miss,” Kilpatrick said. “He believed his role within the university family was to do something positive for someone else every day and to do so with tact, compassion and, often, anonymity.

“He gave so that others might have the chance to pursue their life’s goal of receiving an education at one of the finest academic institutions in the country.”

For more information on donating to “The Captain’s Fund,” click here or contact Jason McCormick at 662-915-1757 or jason@olemiss.edu.