MOST Conference Provides Resources, Guidance for Potential Students

More than 400 rising high school seniors attended the annual UM recruiting and empowerment event

Participants enjoy a pep rally presented by Ole Miss athletics during the 2017 MOST Conference. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 400 students attended the 2017 Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent Conference, a three-day annual event that offers leadership activities, academic and campus resources, and guidance from faculty, staff and student leaders for prospective African-American students.

A partnership between the university’s Office of Admissions and the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement, the conference was made possible through the support of the Office of the Provost, FedEx, Ole Miss Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, FASTtrack and the LuckyDay Scholars Program.

The conference provides a positive influence for prospective students, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs.

“As I interact with the students that attend MOST, I frequently hear them say, ‘I wasn’t even looking at Ole Miss, but now I plan to attend,'” she said. “MOST gives these students a chance to see what our campus is all about and leaves them interested in being a part of that experience.”

This year, 426 prospective students gathered on campus for the conference, said Shawnboda Mead, director of the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement.

“They were paired with mentors who will remain connected with them through the senior year, helping with the college admission process, and throughout their freshmen year when they enroll at the University of Mississippi,” Mead said.

Among the keynote speakers during the conference were Ethel Young-Scurlock, associate professor of English and African American studies and senior fellow of the Luckyday Residential College; and Brian Foster, assistant professor of sociology and Southern studies.

Several participants said that the conference was an enormously positive experience.

Alvin Edney, a senior from Brandon, worried about negative stereotypes before attending the event.

“I’ve learned that Ole Miss has a lot to offer and that people here really are like a family,” he said. “I truly believe that the mentors I met and friends I made here will remain whether I attend here or not.”

Conference mentors said they understood why some students may have had reservations about coming to campus and volunteered because they wanted to help alleviate those anxieties.

“I came to the 2015 MOST Conference and had a great experience because of my mentor,” said Michael Bennett, a junior pre-pharmacy major from Jackson. “My mentor helped me prepare my college application and motivated me to excel before and after my arrival.

“I decided to become a mentor myself because I wanted to pass along what I’d experienced to others.”

The attention of MOST mentors was appreciated by their mentees and has provided helpful information for students as they begin their college search and selection process.

“Since I’ve been here, Ole Miss has definitely moved up on my list,” said Mariah Beckom, a senior from Columbus. “The mentors helped us a lot by letting us ask questions and giving us real answers. I’m planning to stay in touch with mine all while I’m in my senior year of high school.”

Activities during the event included informational sessions, panel discussions, a talent show, presentations by Greek and campus organization, small group meetings , team-building games led by the Department of Campus Recreation, a faculty-staff networking dinner and Ole Miss athletics pep rally.

During the closing ceremonies, Assistant Provost Donald Cole assured the high school participants that UM is a challenging, but nurturing, place for students who want to pursue higher education.

“The University of Mississippi is ready to assist you with a diverse faculty, staff and student body,” Cole said. “Receiving your education here won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”

A MOST Conference reunion is scheduled for Nov. 14, and students said they are already planning to attend that meeting as well.

“This has truly been a wonderful experience that I would recommend to anybody,” said Jordan Harper, a senior from Jackson. “They opened more than just their facilities to us. They opened their hearts and let us know we are wanted and welcomed here.”

Catherine Grace Norris: Muzungu from Mississippi

UM geology and geological engineering graduate joins Peace Corps, works in Zambia

Catherine Norris (center) embraces twin sisters Jane (left) and Joy Mulambila. ‘We are triplets, and they taught me how to scream when you see vermin as well as how to cook.’ Submitted photo.

It’s a long way from the Grove, but Zambia is going to be home now for Catherine Grace Norris (BSGE 16).

Norris took her “still warm” diploma around the world to find relevance and reward in her major. She is working with strangers who have become her closest friends overnight, literally. The night is a good time to have close friends when living in a mud hut, draped in mosquito netting, listening to the small and large sounds that waft through the walls and settle silently in the corners.

So, the truth is, Norris is no ordinary young woman.

With a good education and job prospects to contemplate, she jumped off the edge of the cliff and joined the Peace Corps, a decision born of spirit, spunk and gargantuan optimism. Norris embraced the certainty that there would be hardships and languages to learn, she opened her future to the world and gave up her apartment. Little did she know that the three-month training and the mountain of “Google-ese” were only the caption on a full-color, 3-D, action-packed movie of her future.

Norris calls herself stubborn, but committed may be a better word. At 23, she is both respectful and impulsive, and she touts being adaptable as well. She served for two years as the Girl Friday in the dean’s office in the School of Engineering and did some awesome work, all the while under appreciating the indoor plumbing and Wi-Fi. She has neither now, but she is effusive in her praise of the Peace Corps’ grassroots development model and “mandatory” orientation.

Norris references her upbringing in the Bible Belt and acknowledges the culture shock of Luapula Province in the district of Mwense bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has picked up some Bemba with a just sprinkle of Lunda. Norris has fought the good fight with malaria mosquitoes and rumored black mamba snakes (lethally venomous), and she still insists “this is the most amazing thing I have ever done.”

One of the early highlights of her Peace Corps assignment was discovering an elephant orphanage near her town. Although it is a tourist destination, it has a commendable mission to rehabilitate elephants orphaned by the poaching in Zambia. While the entrance fee of 50 kwacha (about $5) was beyond her Peace Corps salary … “it’s free on Mondays!”

Norris’ work has involved meeting with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a rice nongovernmental organization, to discuss hosting a workshop in Luapula Province. She frequently hosts demonstrations on how to make compost fertilizer and smaller projects involving animal husbandry, women’s empowerment and hydrogeology. At the end of the day, Norris cooks her dinner on her brazier, fends off mosquitoes, plays with her cat and dog, and watches the corners of the room for signs of life.

A true sign of contentment is that Catherine signs her blog “Your African Queen.” Not a bad job, and who wouldn’t want to be Katharine Hepburn?

 

 

Valuable Lessons from a Candy Bar

Assistant professor demonstrates practical applications of chemical engineering to freshmen

Madeleine Mixon (left) and Cole Bofrek prepare caramel for their chocolate bar. Photo by Brenda Prager

Chemical engineering students enrolled in Ch E 101: Introduction to Chemical Engineering were required midway through the semester to use their cooking expertise to prepare a Snickers bar. Why, you might ask?

After observing the strengths and pitfalls of carefully preparing caramel dispersed with roasted peanuts, and mixing nougat to the correct consistency with a scrumptious peanut butter flavor, the freshmen investigated in depth a chocolate bar manufacturing process.

Many were surprised to learn that everyday items often taken for granted were part of an intricate chemical process. They learned that food manufacturing requires careful planning of unit operations and their order within the overall process, as well as accurate control of many variables (particularly temperature) within each step.

Students worked in groups of four, learning valuable teamwork skills, which included the inevitable compromise and dealing with conflict and, of course, an overall enriching experience and greater depth of learning through collaboration.

Writing up a practical report was a first-time experience for many students. Not only were they required to describe the chocolate bar preparation, but they also had to consider likely equipment items, draw process flow sheets, and conduct basic chemical engineering calculations such as flow rate and average molecular weight of the nougat stream.

I am a chemical engineer and educator with both industry and academic experience, and have been implementing differentiated teaching and learning techniques into my freshman classes in order to present students with a more targeted education that best matches their learning needs. This method of teaching is common in many K-12 settings but underutilized at the university level.

Freshmen often come from varied backgrounds and different high school experiences, and it is important that their first year adapts to their needs and assists in progression of both learning and retention. Differentiation is characterized by a) understanding student need; b) presenting concepts in multiple ways; c) providing challenging learning experiences; d) promoting collaborative tasks; and e) progressing students into independent learners.

By successfully preparing students with these skills in their freshman year, they are more likely to thrive in later years and proceed to completion of their course.

Through the Snickers bar project, students learned new chemical engineering skills and reviewed most of the engineering calculations covered previously within the course as well. Throughout the project, students were required to make decisions and judgments about various sections of their written reports, providing real-life experiences of working in teams and becoming independent learners.

The semesterlong course contained targeted instruction covering the five points described above. Formal feedback from students upon completion of the course showed important progress in the implementation of differentiated learning at a college level. For example, 83 percent of the class found active reading and problem-solving study skills sessions extremely or very useful; and 87 percent used the differentiated homework sheets to challenge themselves or choose questions matching their current ability level.

With respect to the chocolate bar project, 70 percent learned a lot about cooperation and compromise within a group setting; almost 60 percent were more confident with engineering calculations encountered earlier in the semester; and 87 percent learned – as a team – the key points in writing a technical report.

Research in this area is important to pursue. It is vital that students receive a targeted education to meet their needs and successfully graduate. STEM education is important for the nation and is sadly in decline, so teaching and learning strategies that enable students to thrive and become educated in STEM will greatly boost both the local and national economy.

Brenda Prager is an assistant professor of chemical engineering in the UM School of Engineering.

 

Nominations Sought for University’s Next TEDx Event

Professors, alumni and students wanted for lineup of third forum with theme 'MOMENTUM'

Josh Mabus discusses ‘Quitting Versus Failing’ during the 2017 TEDxUniversityofMississippi event in the Ford Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Faculty, staff, alumni and students are encouraged to submit speaker nominations for the 2018 TEDxUniversity of Mississippi. The theme this year is ‘MOMENTUM.’

Nominations are being accepted online through Aug. 28. The event will be Feb. 2 or 3, 2018.

“Anyone can nominate anyone and submit as many nominations as they like,” said Marvin King, associate professor of political science and African American studies and program coordinator. “We will take seven speakers for the event, including at least one spot reserved for a student speaker. In the fall, we will have an ‘(American) Idol’ type competition to select the student speaker.”

TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. After nominations are submitted, the student selection committee uses a blind process to select the speakers they think best represent ideas worth spreading. Students do not know the name, gender or race of any speaker nominee.

In 2015, UM hosted its first TEDx event at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. In spring 2016, the TEDxUniversityofMississippi Student Planning Committee submitted a public call for speaker nominations and topic proposals. A second TEDxUM program was presented in January 2017.

“As an R1 research institution and Mississippi’s flagship university, we believe it is our duty to promote and disseminate the best ideas to the biggest possible audience,” King said.

Partners include the offices of the chancellor and provost; the College of Liberal Arts and its departments of African American Studies, History, Physics and Astronomy, Political Science and Theatre Arts; Residential College South; Croft Institute for International Studies; Division of Student Affairs; Office of Research and Sponsored Programs; Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College; Ole Miss Alumni Association; and the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce.

To submit MOMENTUM nominations, visit http://bit.ly/2odGhBR, or http://bit.ly/2odqrXT for student speakers. For more event information, go to http://tedx.olemiss.edu/.

StarTalk Program Gives High School Students Education in Chinese

Classroom instruction, cultural activities create enjoyable summer learning experience

Students enrolled in Mississippi StarTalk, an intensive Chinese language camp on the Ole Miss campus, practice their Chinese reading and writing skills. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Thirty high school students from across the nation are learning how to fluently speak Mandarin Chinese thanks to an intense summer program at the University of Mississippi.

Mississippi StarTalk, which began June 28 and runs through July 28, is a federal program for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. Besides studying Chinese inside and out of the classroom, students participate in a cultural program introducing them to China, its people and its culture.

All students who complete the program receive college and/or high school credit in Mandarin Chinese.

“The University of Mississippi has one of the premier undergraduate Chinese language programs in the country and it receives special federal funding to send students to study in China,” said Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs and professor of Russian and linguistics in the College of Liberal Arts.

“Students who have become highly proficient speakers of Chinese during their high school and college careers will find themselves with unlimited career opportunities when they finish their education over the coming decade.”

In its 11th year, StarTalk provides three levels of instruction. Instructors are Lynn Tian, Yiwen “Abbie” Wang and Cheng-Fu Chen. Ole Miss Chinese students Liz Newsom, Dean Ramsey and Wesley Hale are serving as tutor-counselors.

“Ms. Tian teaches at the Hutchison (Middle) School in Memphis,” Dyer said. “Ms. Wang teaches at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, and Dr. Chen is joining our Chinese faculty this fall after several years of teaching at Framingham State University in Massachusetts.”

Days consist of classes, workshops and Summer College activities. Students learn Chinese calligraphy, cooking, paper cutting and Chinese tea culture. Other activities include dinner at a Chinese restaurant, shopping in a simulated Chinese market, tai qi (martial art) instruction and a panel on studying abroad in China.

“Mississippi StarTalk is a chance to begin or continue the study of Chinese under ideal circumstances and with opportunities to continue during the coming year and into college,” said Brendan Ryan, a UM Stamps leadership scholar who serves as program coordinator. Both Ryan and Hale participated in the StarTalk program in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

A mathematics and Chinese major, Ryan participated in the Fulbright Hayes Group Project Abroad in Xi’an, China and will return in August to partake in the Capstone year of the Chinese Flagship Program.

StarTalk program participants said they have benefitted already from being in the program.

“I love this program and its intensity,” said Mary Entrekin, a Level 1 student from Gulfport. “I catch myself saying things in Chinese that I did not think I knew how to say simply because of all of the exposure that I’m getting to the language and the culture.”

Entrekin said she plans to keep up her Chinese skills with a tutor since Chinese is not offered at her high school.

“I also plan to be able to communicate with Chinese-speaking students in a more efficient way,” she said. “I love learning foreign languages and their corresponding cultures, and this program was the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

Other StarTalk program participants are Robert Anderson, Cara Calhoun, Tabitha Ellis, Abigail Melssen and John Tichenor IV, all of Edmond, Oklahoma; Donald Beck of Sikeston, Missouri; Briana Berger Slowinski of Clinton; Aristide Brown and Yurik Warren, both of Charlotte, North Carolina; Rachel Cieplak of Culpeper, Virginia; Madison Conroy of Miami Beach, Florida; Johanna Cooper of Knoxville, Tennessee; Samantha Fabian of Omaha, Nebraska; Daniel Ferro of Rockville Centre, New York; Harrison Fox of Gulfport; Quinn Gordon of Brandon; Taliya Harman of Gaithersburg, Maryland; Sophia Hellams of Miami; Mackenzie Huffman of Houston; Ethan Joss of McLean, Virginia; Emily Lambert of Hattiesburg; Lucy Meehan of Worcester, New York; Madeline Meyer of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Avery Pearson of Dallas; Sophia Ranck of Eugene, Oregon; Sebastian Rouse of New Orleans; Olivia Saunders of Tallahassee, Florida; Francena Sekul of Biloxi; and Alex Yang of Appleton, Wisconsin.

UM offers the state’s only Mandarin Chinese degree program and is home to one of 12 Chinese Flagship programs in the U.S.

“We run one of the largest and most successful summer StarTalk programs in the country, from which we recruit excellent students for our flagship program,” Dyer said.

For more about UM’s Chinese Language Flagship Program, go to http://chinese.olemiss.edu/. For more about Mississippi StarTalk, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/youth/startalk/.

English Professor Wins Pushcart Prize for Best Essay

Chris Offutt also won Kentucky Literary Award for nonfiction this year

Chris Offutt. Photo by Sandra Dyas

OXFORD, Miss. – Even for someone who is already a respected, prize-winning author and screenwriter, winning the prestigious Pushcart Prize is a rewarding experience.

“The Pushcart Prize is a personal milestone,” said Chris Offutt, associate professor of English and screenwriting at the University of Mississippi. Offutt won the top annual literary honor for his essay “Trash Food,” originally published in Oxford American magazine.

“When I first started writing seriously, I read several volumes of the Pushcart Prize anthology in a public library,” he said. “It seemed far-fetched to imagine that one day I’d write something that would be in there. I’m still surprised that my commitment to writing has worked out.”

The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year. Awarded annually since 1976, the prize is considered one of the most prestigious in its field.

Magazine and small press editors are invited to submit up to six works for consideration. Pushcart Press publishes annual anthologies of the winners. 

Offutt wrote the essay at the request of John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which is part of the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. The essay is about race and class in the South – an issue of great importance to Offutt – and how it plays out in the food people eat.

“The award meant that I’d gotten my points across well,” he said. “It also meant more people would read it. According to the editor at Oxford American, the essay went viral online.”

Ivo Kamps, UM chair and professor of English, praised Offutt’s latest achievement.

“We’re very happy, though not surprised, that Chris Offutt has been chosen for the honor,” Kamps said. “Mr. Offutt is an accomplished and prolific writer, and winning a Pushcart Prize on the heels of the 2017 Kentucky Literary Award for a memoir about his father further underscores the power and far-reaching impact of his prose.

“For the last six years, he has been an enormous asset to our English department. It’s truly wonderful that our aspiring young writers can study with someone of his caliber and dedication.”

Offutt worked on the HBO drama “True Blood” and the Showtime series “Weeds.” His books include “Kentucky Straight,” “The Same River Twice,” “The Good Brother,” “Out of the Woods” and “No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home.”

His work has appeared in such anthologies as “The Best American Essays” and “The Best American Short Stories.”

“I’d like to express my deep appreciation to Ivo Kamps and to all my colleagues in literature and creative writing,” Offutt said. “I have found a home here – physically and intellectually. My experience of teaching here for the past six years has been terrific in every way.”

To read “Trash Food,” visit http://www.oxfordamerican.org/magazine/item/550-trash-food.

UM Library, Grove Among Sites for Oxford Blues Fest

Annual event this weekend features concerts, interviews and brunch

OXFORD, Miss. – The J.D. Williams Library and the Grove Stage at the University of Mississippi are scheduled sites for Saturday events during the eighth annual Oxford Blues Festival this weekend (July 14-16).

A panel discussion with Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, one of the greatest blues guitarist of all time, begins at 11 a.m. Saturday in the library. It is followed by a guided tour of the university’s Blues Archive with Greg Johnson at 12:15 p.m. Both events are free to the public.

Musicians will begin performing free 45-minute concerts at 1:15 p.m. on the Grove Stage. Besides Watkins, the lineup includes Hill Country Stomp, Seven Mile Mushroom, R.L. Boyce Band, the King Bees and the Cedric Burnside Project. Donations are accepted.

The festival opens at 6 p.m. Friday at Tallahatchie Gourmet restaurant on the Oxford Square. Featured performers are Ben Wiley Payton and “The Great” Effie Burt.

The closing event on Sunday is a Gospel Brunch at the Mesquite Chop House restaurant, starting at 11 a.m. A Family Affair Gospel Singers will perform. Tickets are available for a suggested $10 donation.

For more information, contact Joyce Byrd at joyce.byrd@oxfordbluesfest.com or visit the festival website at http://oxfordbluesfest.com/.

 

UM Engineering Science Ph.D. Continues Research at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Mamun Miah studying earthquake hazard simulations, risk assessments

Mamun Miah, a UM chemical engineering graduate, is a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Submitted photo

From the suburbs of his native Dhaka, Bangladesh, to the Energy Geosciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, Mamun Miah has been on an incredible journey. And the faculty, courses and programs of the University of Mississippi School of Engineering have played an important role in his career path.

“During my undergraduate study, I felt the need to further my technical as well as communicative skills, which made me think of coming to the USA,” Miah said. “Following that dream, I applied and got accepted into the civil engineering programs at several U.S. universities. Ole Miss has a good engineering program and offered me financial assistance, which helped me decide to attend Ole Miss eventually.”

After earning his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2009, Miah entered UM.

“Ole Miss is a great school, not only for its academic curriculum but also for its sincere engagement in students’ overall well-being,” he said. “Some courses that shaped my career include Finite Element Analysis for Structures provided by Dr. Christopher Mullen, Continuum Mechanics by Dr. Ahmed Al-Ostaz, Shear Strength of Soil by Dr. Chung Song, Groundwater Modeling by Dr. Robert Holt and Engineering Analysis by Dr. Wei-Yen Chen. Ole Miss Engineering also has some career fair and diversity inclusion programs, which helped me further my career by building connections and communications beyond the school.”

Miah’s former UM engineering professors have fond memories of him.

“A hardworking student, Mamun showed great interest to learn new technologies and accept challenging research topics,” said Waheed Uddin, a professor of civil engineering who directed Miah’s thesis. “His M.S. thesis research involved traditional two-dimensional and innovative three-dimensional geospatial analysis for floodplain mapping and aviation infrastructure visualization. I am glad that he successfully pursued and completed his doctoral degree.”

“In academic and technical matters, he transitioned almost seamlessly from a transportation-oriented master thesis to a structural engineering-related research project to a geophysics-based dissertation,” said Christopher Mullen, professor of civil engineering and Miah’s dissertation director. “Mamun has demonstrated both self-motivation and talent in applying programming-based computer modeling to numerical simulations of some very complex problems in engineering science. It has been a pleasure to see him develop from a graduate student unsure of his direction in life to a highly skilled, self-assured postdoctoral researcher at one of the world’s most respected government research laboratories.”

Yacoub “Jacob” Najjar, chair and professor of civil engineering, said Miah was an outstanding graduate student during his time at Ole Miss.

“Besides working on his research, he was also nicely engaged in teaching and helping CE faculty in a number of courses,” he said. “Above all, Mamun is one of those exceptional doctoral students who was able to choose his Ph.D. research topic and get it funded by an external sponsor. We are very proud of him and his achievements. I wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.”

It was at a UM career fair where Miah connected with the Berkeley Lab.

“I attended a National Lab day in 2012, which was held at The Inn at Ole Miss,” Miah said. “By talking and engaging in discussions with the scientists from across the nation, I eventually availed an internship at the prestigious Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2013. After a successful internship, I wrote a grant proposal to LBNL for my Ph.D. thesis, which they approved.”

At Berkeley, Miah found a very sound research resource on his thesis topic. He also kept attending science and engineering seminars provided by some of the world’s most renowned scientists and professors.

“I think this internship opportunity had a tremendous effect on my career success,” he said.

Miah received his master’s in engineering science in 2010 and Ph.D. in the same field in 2016, both from Ole Miss. He then became a postdoctoral fellow at the Energy Geosciences Division at LBNL.

“I am working on exascale-level computing for regional-scale earthquake hazard simulations and risk assessments in the San Francisco Bay Area,” he said. “I am also working on earthquake soil-structure interaction for safety of nuclear power plants managed by (the) U.S. Department of Energy.”

Miah said he also appreciated the instruction he received at Bangladesh University.

“Almost all the faculty members have a very solid understanding as well as teaching capability for the comprehensive civil engineering program,” he said. “Their teaching style along with relevant learning materials and homework problems made the courses really interesting to learn and apply for the practical engineering purpose. I owe them a lot for my today’s career.”

For more about Mamun Miah and his work at LBNL, visit

https://eesa.lbl.gov/meet-postdoc-mamun-miah/

By Edwin Smith

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Inoka Widanagamage Joins Geological Engineering

Newest assistant professor brings teaching excellence, research expertise to department

Inoka Widanagamage conducting geological research in the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. Submitted photo

Inoka Widanagamage has been fascinated by geology as long as she can remember and wanted to share her fascination with others interested in the subject. As the newest faculty member in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, she is fulfilling her passion by teaching class and conducting research.

“I found this position through the higher education website,” Widanagamage said. “Because of my interest of teaching geology, I thought that this position is a good fit for my interest and expertise. So I decided to apply.”

Widanagamage’s educational background extends from pure geology (e.g., Precambrian geology, structural geology, mineralogy, petrology, high-temperature geochemistry) to applied geology (e.g., environmental geochemistry, low-temperature geochemistry). She has the ability to teach courses in a wide spectrum.

“I teach Earth Dynamics, Environmental Geology, Economic Geology, Geology and Geological Engineering seminar, Physical Geology, Historical Geology and co-teach Mineralogy and Petrology,” she said. “During the summer, I also teach a geological field camp in Ada, Oklahoma. I enjoy sharing my teaching and research experiences with students in a classroom setting to develop their theoretical and practical knowledge.”

Her research interests are stable isotope geochemistry, environmental mineralogy, structural geology and tectonics.

“I mainly focus on the trace metal (stable isotope) distribution in biogeochemical cycles,” Widanagamage said. “I approach my research goals via three major components: studying the natural environment, designing and performing laboratory experiments, and modeling.”

Widanagamage said her short-term plan is to establish a strong teaching profile by teaching a variety of geology courses according to the departmental requirements. Her long-term plan is to develop new upper-level courses related to her research background.

“Also as a long-term plan, I expect to work with senior undergraduate geology students to continue my research projects that I initiated during my tenure as a postdoctoral associate in Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,” she said. “I am also working on [a] few external grant proposals, seeking potential collaborations within, as well as outside, of our department.”

Widanagamage is a welcome addition to the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor.

“She has infectious enthusiasm for teaching, both in the classroom and getting students out into the field,” he said. “We are excited that her position will be reclassified in 2018 as an instructional assistant professor. This will allow us to take greater advantage of her research expertise in isotopes and geochemistry, expanding her impact with Honors College classes, assisting with undergraduate research and teaching graduate-level classes.”

Widanagamage received both the Best Teaching Assistant Award and the Outstanding Ph.D. Student Award in the Department of Geology at Kent State University in 2014. She was also nominated for a University Fellowship Award there the previous year and completed an e-Learning training course with honors at UM.

“These are among my most gratifying professional achievements thus far,” Widanagamage said.

She is married to Waruna Weerasinghe, a mechanical engineering student at the university. The couple has one son, Senidu Weerasinghe. Widanagamage said she enjoys spending time with her family and, of course, exploring the geology of the earth.

By Edwin Smith

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Joe Cerny Enters New Chapter in Life

Successful chemical engineering alumnus retires after a half-century in nuclear science

Joseph ‘Joe’ Cerny, a 1957 UM chemical engineering alumnus, recently retired after a prestigious half-century career at the University of California at Berkeley and Berkeley Lab. Submitted photo

After more than half a century of research and leadership at Berkeley Lab and the University of California at Berkeley, University of Mississippi chemical engineering alumnus Joseph Cerny (ChE 57) has retired.

The former head of the Nuclear Science Division and associate laboratory director at Berkeley Lab, professor of chemistry and former chemistry department chair, graduate division dean, provost and vice chancellor for research, Cerny left with another singular honor to add to a long list: the Berkeley Citation, awarded to those “whose attainments significantly exceed the standards of excellence in their fields” and whose contributions are “above and beyond the call of duty.”

Cerny reflected upon how he came to Ole Miss.

“Even though my parents were from Illinois and Kansas, my father was offered a faculty position in the Ole Miss business school,” Cerny said. “He accepted the job and we moved to Oxford in 1946, where I entered the sixth grade.”

As he finished high school, Cerny decided that he wanted to become a chemical engineer. That decision is what prompted him to enter the university’s School of Engineering.

“I had many classes with Frank Anderson, who was a great teacher,” Cerny said. “Other professors I remember as extremely demanding were C.N. Jones and Samuel Clark.”

Born at the height of the Great Depression, Cerny got his bachelor’s degree from UM with support from the ROTC program. During 1957-58, he attended the University of Manchester in England on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Cerny earned his doctorate in nuclear chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1961 and immediately started work as an assistant professor at the university, simultaneously joining the Nuclear Science Division (then the Nuclear Chemistry Division) at Berkeley Lab (then the Radiation Laboratory, or Rad Lab).

Shortly after the East German government began building the Berlin Wall, Cerny was on active duty as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. For most of the next 16 months, he was in New Jersey evaluating techniques for studying explosive detonations.

Once back at Berkeley, Cerny wasted no time catching up with nuclear science.

“Russian theorists had suggested some interesting ideas about experiments that could be done to study light nuclei very far from stability,” Cerny said. These were isotopes of elements like carbon whose nuclei had more protons than neutrons; most carbon is stable carbon-12, with six protons and six neutrons.

“For example, we wanted to know the lightest carbon nucleus that could hold together on the order of a hundred milliseconds.”

Cerny had a stellar new instrument to work with. His graduate work had been done with Ernest Lawrence’s 60-inch cyclotron, still operating on campus, but upon his return from the Army in 1963, the Rad Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron was up and running. It would be pivotal in Cerny’s research throughout his career.

Using state-of-the-art detectors and electronics developed by Fred Goulding and Don Landis at the lab, Cerny found the answer to the carbon stability question – carbon-9, with six protons and three neutrons, has a half-life of 126 thousandths of a second, whereas the lighter carbon-8 lasts only about 100 septillionths of a second – “a huge dividing line,” he said.

Cerny continued experiments on very proton-rich nuclei while on sabbatical at Oxford University in 1969-70, using a heavy-ion cyclotron at the Harwell Laboratory. He completed these studies at the 88-Inch. The result was the discovery of a new radioactive decay mode, direct proton radioactivity – the first mode of single-step radioactive transmutation to be discovered since alpha decay, beta decay and spontaneous fission.

Cerny received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Memorial Award of the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor of the U.S. Department of Energy) in 1974, for his “discovery of proton emission as a mode of radioactive decay, for investigation of the limits of nuclear stability of a number of light elements” – and, significantly – “for ingenious instruments that made these discoveries possible.”

In 1975, Cerny became chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Chemistry. One of his major acts was a first for the department: the appointment of a woman, Judith P. Klinman, as a tenured associate professor of bioorganic and biophysical chemistry. In 1979, Cerny was appointed head of the Nuclear Science Division and an associate lab director at Berkeley Lab, a time when the lab was operating three national accelerator facilities: the 88-Inch Cyclotron, SuperHilac and Bevalac, with a distinct taste for heavy-ion physics.

Cerny and his group continued research on radioactive decay modes, adding another first: beta-delayed two-proton emission, which had been predicted by Russian theorist V. Gol’danskii. Among other honors, Cerny received the American Chemical Society’s Award in Nuclear Chemistry for work leading to the discovery of “two new modes of radioactive decay: proton emission and beta-delayed two-proton emission.”

In 1985, Cerny was appointed dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate Division, serving in that post until 2000. From 1986 to 1994, he also was provost for research, and from 1994 to 2000 was the university’s vice chancellor for research. And in 1990, Cerny additionally became a nuclear physicist, when the University of Jyväskylä in Finland awarded him an honorary doctorate in physics.

At a festschrift on his 60th birthday in 1996, Cerny presented a proposal for equipping the 88-Inch Cyclotron to handle radioactive beams of light ions. Radioactive isotopes of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen would be made by the cyclotron of the Berkeley Isotope Facility in Building 56, part of the imaging facilities of the Life Sciences Division. The radioactive ions would be transported 350 feet through a capillary down the steep slope of Blackberry Canyon to the 88-Inch.

Dubbed BEARS, for Berkeley Experiments with Accelerated Radioactive Species, the transport system was in operation just three years later, enabling the 88-Inch Cyclotron to produce a world record beam of radioactive carbon-11. That isotope’s 20-minute half-life was easily long enough, once it was created, to mix it with oxygen to make carbon dioxide and send the gas through the pipeline to the 88-Inch, where it was trapped and fed into an ion source at the cyclotron.

Cerny’s research, teaching and service work for DOE, NSF and the UC system are continuing from his base in Berkeley, where he and his family are longtime residents. It’s not unlikely that Cerny will be seen around the 88-Inch, a mainstay of his work since his Berkeley beginnings, for many days to come.

Cerny was married to the late Susan Cerny. He is the father of two sons: Keith, who is the general director of the Dallas (Texas) Opera Company, and Mark, a senior video game consultant with Sony Entertainment.

Cerny’s favorite leisure activities include hiking and worldwide travel.