Dallas Baker Lands a Top Post at Neel-Schaffer

Mechanical engineering alumnus is new director of environmental services

UM Mechanical Engineering alum Dallas Baker is now the Director of Environmental Quality for Neel-Schaffer Inc. in Jackson. (Submitted photo)

Dallas Baker (BSME 93, MS 97) has retired from a longtime job, but he isn’t finishing working yet.

After serving nearly 24 years with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in a variety of roles, the mechanical engineering alumnus has joined Neel-Schaffer Inc. of Jackson as the firm’s director of environmental services.

“I lead a team of engineers, geologists and technicians in assessing properties and facilities owned by clients who seek help in complying with environmental regulations, then provide engineering solutions to meet their business goals,” Baker said. “The diversity of the work and its people is what makes this firm strong and what attracted me to remain in Mississippi as a practicing engineer.”

Baker plans to enhance the capabilities of Neel-Schaffer’s environmental services to enable the firm to better serve a wider variety of industrial clients across the region.

“We are excited about Dallas Baker joining our firm to lead our environmental services,” said Keith O’Keefe, PE, senior vice president for Neel-Schaffer’s central Mississippi operations. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in environmental engineering to our firm that will shape our growth in that discipline. Dallas is widely respected across the environmental landscape, and we look forward to having his vision and leadership.”

A registered professional engineer in the state of Mississippi, Baker most recently served MDEQ as air director and chief of its Air Division. There he was responsible for maintaining National Ambient Air Quality Standards and policies affecting statewide programs that control air pollution. In previous roles, he managed air and water permit projects for several industrial facilities in the energy, chemical, manufacturing and wood products sectors.

“In addition to establishing the fundamentals of mechanical engineering, my Ole Miss degree exposed me to leadership, business, liberal arts and other disciplines that gave me the confidence to seek organizational management roles,” he said. “It has led me to be a more versatile leader in the workplace and in professional associations, and influence operations that affect environmental engineering practices well beyond what I had expected.”

A native of Oxford, Baker attended the university because his father, John Baker, was a professor of medicinal chemistry in the School of Pharmacy, who encouraged him to attend and major in professional studies of some sort.

“Mechanical engineering was the best fit, and I knew then a degree from Ole Miss would open doors that build a rewarding career,” Baker said.

As an undergraduate, Baker said he was privileged to study under many great professors. His favorite was Karl Brenkert, a former dean of the School of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering.

“He spent significant time encouraging us to use an engineering degree to benefit society, as well as to uphold the highest ethical and professional standards,” Baker said. “He encouraged us to seek the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, which led me to be a licensed professional engineer. Dr. Brenkert made a lasting impression on me and hundreds of students.”

Baker serves as secretary of the Ole Miss School of Engineering Advisory Board and president of the Mississippi Energy Coordinators Association. He was recently elected by his peers as international president of the Air & Waste Management Association, an organization of environmental professionals with over 100 chapters located in 65 countries.

“In my role as president, I lead its board of directors and (uphold) its stated mission and core purpose through strategic planning, sound financial management and exercising leadership principles I’ve acquired throughout my career, going back to my days at the university.”

Baker said the position was particularly gratifying because he was able to be an ambassador from the state of Mississippi and its flagship university to cities across America and countries such as Canada and China.

He is board certified by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, and is a certified public manager.

Besides his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s degree in environmental engineering from Ole Miss, Baker also earned an MBA from Mississippi College.

He and his wife, Marla, are the parents of two teenagers: Paris, 15, and William, 13. One of the family’s favorite annual trips is its vacation in Fort Myers, Florida, in the week between Christmas and returning to school after the New Year.

“We avoid winter where we can, even the Mississippi variety,” Baker said.

Baker’s father; mother, Shelly Baker; and sister Diane (BA 93), live in Austin, Texas.

“It’s a privilege to give back to a university that has meant so much to me and my family,” Baker said. “We bleed red and blue!”

 

 

Three Engineering Students Receive Outstanding Senior Leadership Awards

Adam Schildhammer, Dustin Dykes and Holly Pitts represent School of Engineering's best

Three students have been chosen as Outstanding Seniors in the UM School of Engineering. They are Adam Schildhammer (left), Dustin Dykes and Holly Pitts. (Submitted photo by Ryan Upshaw)

Three University of Mississippi seniors have been named recipients of the 2016-17 Outstanding Senior Leadership Award in the School of Engineering.

Chosen are Dustin Dykes of Madison, Alabama; Holly Pitts of Indianola; and Adam Schildhammer of Alpharetta, Georgia. Each recipient was selected through a competitive nomination process in his or her respective department. Nominations are based on the students’ records of academic achievement, leadership, professional development and community service. The students also delivered a presentation to the selection committee about their undergraduate experiences while pursuing their engineering degrees.

“Adam, Holly, Dustin and the additional nominees represent some of the best and brightest students that Ole Miss Engineering has to offer,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the School of Engineering. “We are always excited to celebrate this tradition of recognizing outstanding students pursuing degrees within the School of Engineering.”

A civil engineering and general studies major (minors in studio art, mathematics and business), Pitts has maintained a 3.99 GPA as a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges, she serves as vice president of the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and Engineers Without Borders. Pitts also serves as president of Chi Epsilon civil engineering society and has been selected to Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Omicron Delta Kappa leadership society and Tau Beta Pi engineering society.

She received the Outstanding Junior Award from the Department of Civil Engineering as well as the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award from Order of Omega Greek honor society. She served as an intern with the Mississippi Grammy Museum and the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. Pitts is involved with the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, serving as a Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Scholar. She has volunteered with RebelTHON and the Green Grove Initiative.

In addition to the leadership award, she was named the university’s representative to the Mississippi Engineering Society’s Outstanding Senior award program in Jackson. There she was also the recipient of a Mississippi Engineering Society scholarship. After graduation, Pitts plans to earn a master’s degree in business administration and a master’s in fine arts to combine her interests in engineering, business and art. She hopes to become an engineer for a custom fabrication and engineering company.

Dykes, a mechanical engineering major, has maintained a 4.0 GPA and is a recipient of the university’s Distinguished Senior Scholarship. He serves as president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and has served as secretary-treasurer of the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council as well as vice president of the Baptist Student Union. He has been selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi and Tau Beta Pi. He was also named to Who’s Who.

An active member of the Ole Miss Army ROTC, Dykes has served as battalion commander. In 2016, he was ranked as the No. 9 cadet in the nation and received the 2016 Association of the United States Army scholarship for top cadet in the nation. Dykes also received the National Defense Transportation Award in 2016 as well as the Society of American Military Engineers scholarship in 2014 and 2015.

He has volunteered with the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society and participated in the Oxford First Baptist Church choir.

After graduating summa cum laude, Dykes plans to be commissioned as a second lieutenant. He also hopes to attend graduate school to study aerospace engineering and serve as a U.S. Army test pilot.

A geological engineering major, Schildhammer was named the Outstanding Freshman in Geological Engineering in 2013. Since then, he has been named to the Chancellor’s and Dean’s honor rolls and has been inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Order of Omega honor societies. Schildhammer serves as a teaching assistant for engineering geology, sedimentology and stratigraphy, and physical geology under professors Zhen Guo and Brian Platt. He has also participated in field camps in New Mexico and Oklahoma.

He has served as scholarship chairman for his fraternity, Kappa Sigma, where he implemented a plan to increase his chapter’s GPA and received the Outstanding Scholar Award. He also assisted with the planning of the fraternity’s annual philanthropy, which raises funds for Batson Children’s Hospital. Additionally, Schildhammer has served as a team manager and practice player for the Ole Miss women’s basketball team.

He has plans to attend graduate school in petroleum or geological engineering.

 

Chemical Engineering Alumnus Establishes Endowed Scholarship

Gift helps support chemical engineering students from counties surrounding Greenville

Chemical engineering alumnus Ike Brodofsky (right) and his wife, Amanda Trabue, have created an endowed scholarship in the UM School of Engineering. (Submitted photo)

When it comes to generosity toward the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, Ike Brodofsky (BSChE 03) and his wife, Amanda Trabue, are shining examples.

The couple recently established the Ike Brodofsky and Amanda Trabue Engineering Scholarship Endowment for chemical engineering students from Washington, Humphries, Sunflower, Leflore, Bolivar, Sharkey or Issaquena counties. The duo set up a scholarship, matched by Bridgestone, paid over five years until 2021.

Giving to higher education comes naturally for the pair. Both from large families, they know that paying for college expenses can be tough. Brodofsky came to the university largely because of the financial package UM offered him.

“I had always wanted to give back in some way to Ole Miss, but I never seemed to get over the hump to actually do anything,” Brodofsky said. “Having (my wife) guide me really helped, and in the end I realized that it was all in my head, and that I wish I had given back much earlier. We wanted to help those students realize their dream of a college degree.”

Trabue echoed her husband’s sentiment.

“I had already established a scholarship at my alma mater,” said the Glasgow, Kentucky, native who graduated with a B.A. in marketing in 2002 and an MBA in 2004 from Western Kentucky University. “I encouraged Ike that it was time to start one at his alma mater as well.”

A native of Greenville, Brodofsky said he instinctively knew he belonged at UM. His father and sister are also alumni, so it was a pretty easy decision for him to make.

“I loved the student-to-faculty ratio at Ole Miss, so I knew all of my professors quite well,” he said. “It was a well-rounded group, from Dr. (Randell) Price and his quirkiness to Dr. (Peter) Sukanek and his toughness to Dr. (Clint) Williford taking us on coffee breaks to wake up for his early morning reactions course to Dr. (John) O’Haver’s friendly conversations.”

Brodofsky remembers one of his favorite courses was Thermodynamics.

“It teaches you to see everything as simple algebra and builds problem-solving skills,” he said. “To this day, I use that philosophy in my career and try to tackle all problems by breaking it down into simple equations.”

A second course that truly challenged Brodofsky was Chemical Process Principles.

“It’s a decision course in that it forces you to quickly realize if you want to pursue this career,” he said. “It was not easy and not my favorite, but the challenge presented makes you quickly realize that even if you aren’t the brightest in the class that you can do this if you follow the teaching and seek help from the readily available faculty.”

Brodofsky is a senior process engineer for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations. Trabue is an associate dean for development and alumni relations at Vanderbilt University. The couple lives in Nashville.

“I am involved with developing rubber formulas for tires of all sizes from tiny car tires to massive mining tires and scaling up those formulas to production volumes,” Brodofsky said. “There is also a great deal of troubleshooting for day-to-day issues that arise in a manufacturing setting.”

Brodofsky said his Ole Miss engineering education has proven invaluable to him on the job.

“You must be able to quickly handle these problems and find the optimal solution without sacrificing safety, quality or production,” he said. “My education gave me a lot of confidence to tackle these problems. Chemical engineering builds a strong base in being able to define a problem. If you can define it, then you can solve it.”

Brodofsky and Trabue both travel frequently for work, so one of their hobbies is taking weekend getaways with their travel points to relax. They also enjoy trying new restaurants and activities and being tourists in their own city with the many events and activities Nashville has to offer.

“We have season football tickets to both our schools, so we are on the go nonstop during the football season traveling between Oxford and Bowling Green to watch the Rebels and the Hilltoppers,” he said.

“What a great example of the legacy our professors help to foster with our students,” said Kevin Gardner, development officer for the engineering school. “Ike and Amanda creatively combined their gratitude for home by paying tribute to the chemical engineering department and counties surrounding Greenville in the Mississippi Delta, thereby creating an engineering endowment scholarship. We are grateful for their sacrifice and passionate desire to help move Ole Miss from great to greater.”

With this gift, the School of Engineering Scholarship Committee will be able to select a deserving student who has demonstrated an exceptional academic record and remained in a major track in engineering at the university.

Dean Alex Cheng said the donation has already proven very beneficial to the program.

It was during an engineering tailgating that I was introduced to Amanda and Ike,” Cheng said. “We chatted, and I was surprised by such passion and goodwill coming from a relatively young couple.

 

‘Leadership and Professionalism’ Course Enhances Students’ Career Skills

Fall offering features guest speakers, out-of-classroom activities

Students in Senior Leadership Class always enjoy a variety of activities, including trips away from campus. (Submitted photo)

Companies often use a transcript as validation of “aptitude” but then use an interview to evaluate “attitude.” How does an engineering school teach attitude to the millennial generation? Students born between the early ’80s and 2000 may have very different views on cultural identity, politics, workplace expectations and technology. For the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, the attitude advantage continues to be delivered through the ENGR 400 “Leadership and Professionalism” course.

Forty-five students come to class each Friday in the fall, anxious to hear words of wisdom from a variety of guest speakers. Every semester offers a different lineup of speakers, panel discussions, events and activities.

“The class this year has been very enriching,” said David Phelts, a senior geological engineering major from Atlanta, Georgia. “Being able to listen and learn from many successful alumni and leaders in the community is something I would never have been able to get from a textbook. I’m confident I will be able to apply the valuable lessons learned from great guest speakers we’ve had this fall as I make my transition to the professional world.”

From military leadership philosophy to corporate engineering, entrepreneurial startups and success stories to U.S. congressional leadership, municipal leadership, international humanitarian leadership, from young alumni to seasoned professionals, and everything in between, students gain a new attitude about leadership and professionalism through this course. Co-taught by Dean Alex Cheng and Assistant Dean Marni Kendricks, students are challenged to define their professional goals and leadership aspirations by the end of the semester.

Reading John Maxwell’s “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader,” students have the opportunity to assess these qualities in their lives and improve themselves. Networking with the Engineering Advisory Board, participating in the Fall Career Fair and a team-building afternoon at the Rebel Challenge Course, attending business etiquette luncheons, giving 60-second impromptu elevator pitches, and practicing mock interviews and business correspondence are all part of their professional development, one of the major goals of the course.

Technical skills, soft skills and leadership skills are distinct terms used in the workplace. It is assumed that all engineers have the first skill set accomplished by the time they graduate.

“Having the benefit of an engineering school in the middle of a liberal arts university where social life is such a significant part of the campus, we believe soft skills naturally develop to some extent,” Kendricks said. “Leadership skills can always be enhanced, but for 21- to 22-year-olds, hearing heart-to-heart words of wisdom and encouragement on a weekly basis from a wide variety of leaders is like signing up for a class but receiving a bar of 24 carat gold … far better than just an A.”

If interested in speaking to this class, please contact Marni Kendricks, mckendri@olemiss.edu.

Alex Lopez Joins Chemical Engineering Faculty

New assistant professor's goals include developing research lab, improving graduate program

Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor Alexander Lopoez (far left) guides some of his students in the laboratory. (Submitted photo)

When the opportunity to join the University of Mississippi faculty presented itself, Alexander Lopez, assistant professor of chemical engineering, enthusiastically embraced it.

“During my on-site visit, I was pleased by the vibrancy of Oxford, the university and the chemical engineering department in which I was applying,” said Lopez, who began teaching courses last September. “I decided to accept the position due to the potential to help direct and grow a department that has recently undergone significant faculty turnover as well as impact an area of the country that has great need of greater academic resources.”

The Claremore, Oklahoma, native teaches fluid mechanics and heat transfer as well as Plant Design II. He is in the process of developing a membrane science course with colleagues in the department. Lopez’s main research projects are the development of ionic liquid/polymer-based epoxy resin materials for selective membrane separations.

“My short-term career goal is to develop a research laboratory focused on developing novel materials applicable for separations and beyond,” he said. “My long-term goals are to improve the graduate education offered in our department while maintaining the excellent undergraduate education we currently provide.

“By improving our graduate program, the department’s prestige and influence will grow, improving the university’s renown as a prominent research university.”

John O’Haver, chair and professor of chemical engineering, said Lopez is a welcome addition to the department.

“Dr. Lopez brings knowledge, experience and innovation to our department,” O’Haver said. “His presence has already proven most beneficial to our faculty, staff and students.”

A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Lopez earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees there in 2011 and 2015, respectively. He was also a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado at Boulder under the direction of Richard Noble and Douglas Gin.

His time as a student yielded two of his most personally rewarding achievements to date.

“Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I was surprised with an Outstanding Senior award,” Lopez said. “My second most gratifying award was an Outstanding Teacher award that I received in graduate school. These experiences solidified my desire to enter academia in order to impact students’ education and continue my service to the university.”

Lopez and his wife, Brittany, have two dogs: Peanut and Wolfe. The couple’s favorite leisure activities include taking walks, shopping and exploring town, reading, playing guitar, watching movies and woodworking.

For more about UM’s Department of Chemical Engineering, go to https://engineering.olemiss.edu/chemical/ or call 662-915-7023.

 

 

CIS Professor Named Region 4 Adviser of the Year

Byunghyun Jang won the campus adviser award last year

Byung Jang (back row, center) and his students engage in cutting-edge excascale research. The assistant professor has won the NACADA Region 4 Excellence in Academic Advising Award. Submitted photo

Last year, Byunghyun Jang won the University of Mississippi’s Excellence in Advising award. As winner of the campus award, he was nominated for additional recognition through the National Association of Academic Advisors.

Now Jang is NACADA Region 4 winner of the Certificate of Merit for Excellence in Advising.

“It was a really big surprise as I never thought I deserved this award,” said the assistant professor of computer and information science. “I am very humbled by this award, and I feel like this award is given to tell me to improve my advising.”

Jang’s original nomination was made by his graduate and undergraduate research assistants.

“I was very pleased to see that students who work with me on a daily basis enjoy my advising and mentorship,” he said. “I always wanted my students to succeed in their study and research.”

Jang joined the UM engineering faculty five years ago. He teaches undergraduate and graduate computer architecture, compiler and high-performance parallel computing courses.

His research focuses on efficient co-design of software and hardware for high-performance and energy-efficient computing. He formerly had such projects with industry and government agencies such as Samsung, LG, MediaTek, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army.

“I believe that the CIS department at Ole Miss has great potential for growth, and my expertise in high-performance heterogeneous systems can have synergistic effect through collaboration with the faculty and students in the department and across the university,” Jang said. “My grand vision is to make the department and the School of Engineering a leading center for ‘exascale computing’ and to make the classroom full of excitement and motivation through practical teaching and research.”

Exascale computing refers to a computer system capable of reaching performance of at least one exaflop. Such capacity would represent a thousandfold increase over the existing petascale. (One exaflop is a thousand petaflops.  A petaflop is equal to a thousand million million operations per second.)

Jang has led efforts on several important projects in prominent companies in his field, including Advanced Micro Devices and Samsung. During his doctoral study, he won an AMD/ATI Ph.D. fellowship, which is awarded to only four doctoral students worldwide annually after rigorous project proposal review.

“I hope that by working with me, my students can have a deep understanding of current computer science and technology fields,” Jang said. “With good skills, hard work and by contributing to this field, they can succeed as engineers, researchers, professors and so forth.”

UM administrators congratulated Jang on his achievement.

“This is indeed good recognition and good news,” Dean Alex Cheng said. “What a wonderful and well deserved honor.”

“The National Academic Advising Association is the gold standard for research, publications and best practices within the profession of academic advising,” said Travis Hitchcock, assistant director for advising in the UM Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience. “To be recognized by them is a huge achievement for Dr. Jang and highlights the university’s commitment to facilitating a quality advising program.”

Jang earned his bachelor’s degree from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea. He earned his master’s degree at Oklahoma State University and his doctorate from Northeastern University.

Established in 1983, the NACADA Annual Awards Program for Academic Advising honors individuals and institutions making significant contributions to the improvement of academic advising. NACADA is a representative and advocate of academic advising and those providing that service to higher education.

The association has grown to more than 11,000 members and hosts an annual conference each fall that has attracted more than 3,000 attendees, as well as 10 regional conferences, international conferences and intensive study of advising through various other events held throughout the year. NACADA publishes a scholarly journal, a quarterly e-publication and occasional special publications.

For more about the Department of Computer and Information Science, go to http://www.cs.olemiss.edu/ or call 662-915-7396.

 

Co-Op Intern Yields Experience for CIS-Studio Art Major

Claire Hubacek spent summer working at Toyota

Claire Hubacek was a co-op intern at Toyota Mississippi last summer. Submitted photo

Last spring, Claire Hubacek attended the University of Mississippi Engineering, Manufacturing & Technology Career Fair on a mission: to find a co-op position. After meeting with representatives from Toyota at the event, the Flowood native received a call from the company a week later.

The senior, double majoring in computer science and studio art, was attracted to the opportunity with Toyota because it provided her a chance to branch out beyond her academic experiences.

“Toyota offered me an Information Systems/Information Technology Co-op,” Hubacek said. “At Toyota, I was excited to learn more ways to apply my knowledge in a real-life setting with hands-on experience and even more so to be able to work on projects that directly affect the rest of the company.”

As a co-op student, Hubacek was required to complete a Toyota Business Practice project. These TBP projects are designed to teach co-ops the “Toyota Way,” as well as problem-solving techniques that the company has used for decades to solve problems.

“My TBP assignment was reducing money wasted on repairing and maintaining a piece of information systems equipment used within the company,” she said.

Her main accomplishment at the company was identifying an issue that reduced repairs by 80 percent and establishing a chain of command for maintaining the equipment. Ultimately, her work stopped a problem that had cost Toyota more than $100,000 and saved the company at least $50,000 a year going forward.

Hubacek said she was proud to present the results of her project to the plant president, national information systems manager and North American CIO at the end of her co-op. While she found success, she faced several challenges, including those of implementing ideas in a large company as a paraprofessional.

“Executing changes in a company requires many different levels of approval and cooperation,” Hubacek said. “As a female in a factory setting who is at least 10 years younger than anyone I worked with, I had to communicate with a lot of different people and be absolutely certain in my ideas in order to get the support I needed to implement the changes and have their support to maintain those changes.”

Hubacek advises any student interested in a co-op experience to keep their grades in mind. Initially, she was surprised to find that Toyota would not consider any co-op applicants with less than a 3.0 GPA. She encourages potential co-op students to maintain a high standard of academic success to be competitive.

She also encourages students to attend career fairs and events hosted by the School of Engineering and the Career Center.

Overall, Hubacek had a great experience working with Toyota.

“As a computer programmer, taking this position really didn’t seem to fit with my career goals,” she said. “However, it was invaluable as an experience in engineering and working with a large company. It has additionally helped me refocus my future career goals in ways I didn’t expect.”

Hubacek is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Association of Computing Machinery and the university’s Mock Trial team. She has been selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi society and Upsilon Pi Upsilon computer science honor society, and she is involved in Hip Hop Rebs and her sorority, Alpha Phi.

Following graduation in May, Hubacek hopes to go to law school to study intellectual property law to represent engineers who are also innovators.

Richard Chisolm Chosen MDOT Assistant Chief Engineer

1995 civil engineering alumnus served agency 22 years before latest promotion

Richard Chisolm, a 1995 civil engineering graduate, is assistant chief engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Submitted photo

Professional advancement is always cause for joy, and Richard Chisolm has much to smile about these days.

Since earning his civil engineering degree in 1995, the University of Mississippi alumnus has worked in the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Over more than two decades, the Madison resident has steadily been promoted from entry level engineer-in-training to his present position as assistant chief engineer in field operations.

“Assistant Chief Engineer Chisolm will have the responsibility of overseeing MDOT’s Construction, Maintenance and Traffic Engineering Divisions,” said Melinda McGrath, MDOT executive director. “Prior to his current role, he served as the state construction engineer, where he oversaw the administration of construction contracts throughout the state.”

Chisolm said he was very pleased to accept the new position and credits his Ole Miss engineering education for his career success.

“The most rewarding part is serving on numerous AASHTO committees and sharing and learning ideas from other states in regards to the transportation industry,” Chisolm said. “The strong fundamental principles learned at Ole Miss, along with the emphasis put on communicating your thoughts and ideas to others, have led me to where I am today.”

Originally from Lexington, Chisolm attended Holmes Community College for a year-and-a-half before transferring to Ole Miss, where he received a football scholarship.

“I was the punter for Ole Miss in 1991 and 1992,” he said.

Chisolm fondly recalled his favorite engineering professors and courses.

“Mustafa Abdulrahman (had) this unique ability to be able to explain things so that you could fully comprehend exactly what he was teaching,” he said. “Waheed Uddin always showed enthusiasm and used a ‘hands-on’ approach with his students.”

Civil engineering professor Uddin remembers Chisolm among the most talented group of students whom he had the privilege to teach during his early years at the university.

“I remember him as a dedicated student who excelled in my transportation and all other courses and continued outstanding performance in the professional life,” Uddin said. “I am very proud that Richard has been promoted in the important leadership position as assistant chief engineer at MDOT. His promotion brings recognition to Ole Miss engineering and serves as an exceptional role model for younger students and engineers.”

Chisolm and his wife, Bridgett, are parents of three children: Connor, Morgan and Matthew. His favorite past-times include keeping involved with his kids’ numerous sporting activities, hunting and watching Ole Miss sports. The family also is active in Madison United Methodist Church.

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.”

Charting Their Own Course

Three female chemical engineering graduates find success with Cooper Tire Co.

Jessica Sinak is a Tire Engineer at Cooper Tire. (Submitted photo)

Jessica Sinak is a tire engineer at Cooper Tire. Submitted photo

In a field and industry traditionally dominated by men, three female chemical engineering alumni from the University of Mississippi are making their mark at the Cooper Tire manufacturing plant in Tupelo.

Jessica Sinak, Elizabeth Spence Taylor and Nichole Williams, all of whom earned their degrees within the past five years, each have launched promising careers within the company.

Sinak, a tire engineer in the technical department, works on new product designs and supports the products already run in the plant.

“Cooper is definitely a team atmosphere, and it makes my job more enjoyable knowing that everyone is willing to help if you need it,” said the St. Louis native who celebrates her second anniversary with the company this winter.

“It’s like a little family, and I enjoy coming to work every day. One of the best things about my position is that it changes day to day. I really love that variety and thrive on change.”

The 2014 graduate cited John O’Haver as her favorite professor, saying that his classes were where she learned the most.

“I could go to him about anything, on any given day and he would be there to help,” she said. “The courses were about learning the process, how to problem-solve and really just understanding the basics of engineering principles. It was these classes that made it clear to me that I had chosen the right major.”

A chemical engineer in materials development, Taylor, a 2011 graduate, works with the mixing of tread compounds. The Grenada native said she chose to study chemical engineering because she wanted a challenge after graduating from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

Elizabeth Spencer Taylor is a Chemical Engineer in the Tupelo plant. (Submitted photo)

Elizabeth Spencer Taylor is a chemical engineer in the Tupelo plant. Submitted photo

“I fell in love with chemistry and physics in high school, so chemical engineering seemed like a logical choice for me,” she said. “I enjoy the challenge. Every day is different than the last, and my education at Ole Miss fully prepared me for the challenges that I face daily.”

In addition to her daily responsibilities, Taylor is also the co-captain of the Cooper Tire Dream Team. The Dream Team is a part of the Manufacturing Institute’s “Dream It. Do It.” program, an initiative geared toward enhancing the perception of manufacturing among middle school students.

“It’s very rewarding to get students interested in careers in STEM fields,” Taylor said. “I was also awarded a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University’s executive MBA program, which I am currently attending.”

Like Sinak, Taylor said O’Haver was her favorite professor.

“He always emphasized that the major component of engineering is figuring out how to solve problems, and it also happened that he was great at listening to problems, engineering or otherwise,” she said. “I still call him when I need a sounding board.”

Taylor’s husband, Wesley, is also an Ole Miss alumnus, originally from Brookhaven. Her leisure activities include spending time with their daughter, cheering on the Rebels and wine tasting.

Williams, a 2013 graduate, joined the company in 2013 as a Six Sigma Black Belt. She is responsible for leading a variety of process improvement projects for the facility, focused in the plant’s mixing and receiving departments.

“I love the challenge that comes with being a Black Belt,” the Iuka native said. “I get the opportunity to work in several different areas of the plant and get exposure to different levels of our organization. I might go from a project that addresses a specific problem on a specific machine to a project affecting an entire department, to a project that requires me to interact with our corporate office.”

Six Sigma Black Belt Nichole Williams poses with her 2016 Emerging Leader Award. Photo courtesy of the National Assoc. of Manufacturers;Photo by Ian Wagreich

Six Sigma Black Belt Nichole Williams poses with her 2016 Emerging Leader Award. Photo courtesy of the National Association of Manufacturers/Ian Wagreich

Recently, Williams was named a 2016 Emerging Leader by the Manufacturing Institute’s Science Technology Engineering Production Ahead program. While 100 women are chosen annually to be honorees for achievements in manufacturing, only 30 are chosen as Emerging Leaders.

Williams also was one of only two honorees to speak during the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. Her speech highlighted the importance of encouraging the next generation, particularly girls, to pursue careers in manufacturing.

Williams said that UM “always felt like home.” She intended to study chemistry but changed her mind after attending a Math Camp sponsored by the university’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education. That’s where Williams was first introduced to chemical engineering.

“I enjoyed each of my professors for different reasons, but two of my favorites were Dr. O’Haver and Dr. (Paul) Scovazzo,” Williams said. “‘Dr. O’ is such an inspirational teacher who makes you feel like you can achieve anything. Dr. Scovazzo provided great guidance for a professional career, and I credit him with pushing me to a career in engineering, as opposed to just an education.”

Williams and her husband, Drew, a 2009 UM computer science graduate, are parents of an infant son, Anderson. When she’s not at work, she enjoys adjusting to life as a new mom, reading, planning the next family trip or buried in whatever hobby she’s taken up recently.

Here’s to the all the UM women engineers. These women engineers are making a difference within a global manufacturing organization.