UM School of Engineering Honors Alumni, Faculty and Students

Annual awards recognize recipients' achievements, service

UM Engineering Dean Alex Cheng presents 2017 Engineer of Service Awards to brothers Chuck (center) and Steve Smith during the annual awards banquet. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Successful University of Mississippi School of Engineering alumni, faculty and students received their due Thursday (April 20) during the school’s 2017 Honors Banquet.

The annual awards were presented by Dean Alex Cheng and others at the Inn at Ole Miss. Alumni recipients are Karen Comer Matthews (BSCE 85), president and CEO of Delta Health Alliance, and Charles E. Smith Jr. (BSEE 83) and Steven A. Smith (BSEE 93), co-founders of Guardian Manufacturing Inc. Matthews received the Engineer of Distinction Award, while the Smith brothers were given Engineer of Service Awards.

“We’re enjoying a warm and wonderful evening celebrating the accomplishments and service of our students, faculty and alumni,” Cheng said. “We are proud of them and are honored to join them to celebrate together.”

Each honoree expressed gratitude for the recognitions.

“You have honored me today with this recognition, one in which I accept with both humility and gratitude,” Matthews said. “I truly hope that I have been true to my quest, that I have created some positive forward motion in Mississippi – however slight it may be in the grand scheme of life – and, most importantly, lived a life that validates the love and respect of my family, my divine guidance and the desire to return the respect that we all have for this institution.”

A nonprofit organization that funds and operates more than 20 health care and education initiatives throughout the Mississippi Delta, the alliance works to overcome health and education disparities in rural communities. It has been a leader in using information technologies to improve delivery of services, nurturing collaborations among professional disciplines and community organizations, and applying quantitative assessment and evaluation to guide development and improvement of programs.

“Engineers, regardless of discipline, are people who contrive and derive from cleverness, and we are this little secret group of problem solvers that the rest of the world sees as nerds, but we know better,” said Matthews, a Fulton native who also earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Memphis and her doctorate in health science administration from the University of Tennessee.

Before joining Delta Health Alliance, she served as vice chancellor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where she was responsible for promoting, establishing and supporting interdisciplinary and inter-organizational collaborations in research, education and patient care.

Karen Comer Matthews accepts the 2017 Distinguished Engineer of the Year Award during the annual UM School of Engineering awards banquet. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Under her direction, Tennessee Health Science Center was an early leader in establishing telemedicine networks as a way of bringing health care specialists to underserved communities. The Tennessee system ultimately grew to more than 110 sites throughout the Mid-South and was named the third largest network in the country in 2005.

Matthews has served as principal investigator on numerous state and federal contracts, authored more than 50 articles for academic journals and written successful grant applications for more than $250 million in research support.

Chuck and Steve Smith are the oldest and middle of three sons of the late Charles E. Smith Sr., who from 1975 to 2004 devoted his life to the advancement of the UM electrical engineering program as chair and professor. Years later, his legacy is being maintained by the benevolence of his two sons.

The Smith brothers have served as members of the Engineering Advisory Board since 2007. Steve served as an executive committee member since 2010 and as chair for 2014 and 2015.

“Receiving an award that was previously given to our father many years ago is very special,” Chuck Smith said. “His dedication and service to Ole Miss and the School of Engineering meant everything to him and to be honored in a similar way is a humbling experience.”

Both served in the Engineering School’s Vision Council in 2010-12 for strategic planning. They have spoken to students on multiple occasions and generously donated to rename the former Engineering Science Building to Charles E. Smith Sr. Hall in 2004.

“Ole Miss and Oxford represent a very special place for our family,” Chuck Smith said. “We have so many friends and fond memories of family and growing up here. Although we live in Florida, our roots are and will always be in Oxford.”

Steve Smith echoed his brother’s sentiment.

“Being recognized from my Ole Miss home is humbling, yet brings a deeper purpose to strive even harder,” he said. “Raised in the halls of engineering, I was fortunate to have many mentors, many who grace the walls today.

“I always remember walking by plaques that adorn the walls, many whom I knew, thinking one day I would join them. Little did I know, I would join with my father and brother – a family affair.”

Both are both involved in Shema Ministry of Merit Island, Florida, serving as board members. This is a group of business leaders committed to helping meet financial needs of individuals in the community.

Steve Smith and his wife, Karen, have served as ministry leaders to other couples through Calvary Chapel Viera. He is also a board member of My Community Cares Inc., served as a Lafayette County volunteer firefighter during the years he lived in Oxford and Yocona communities and donated airline miles a year ago for UM’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders travel to the West African nation of Togo.

Chuck and Steve support the Veteran’s Airlift Command and other charitable causes, where they donate time on their corporate aircraft to provide transportation to veterans and others in tough situations at no charge. Chuck also serves on the Luis Palau President’s Council.

Employees who received awards included Ramanarayanan (“Dr. Vish”) Vishwanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering, Outstanding Engineering Faculty of the Year Award; Wei-Yin Chen, professor of chemical engineering, Senior Faculty Research Award; Matt Morrison, assistant professor of electrical engineering, Junior Faculty Research Award; Alexander Yakovlev, professor of electrical engineering, Faculty Teaching Award; Dwight Waddell, associate professor of electrical engineering, Faculty Service Award; and Paul Matthew Lowe, machine shop supervisor, Outstanding Staff Award.

Students recognized as Outstanding Senior Leaders during the ceremonies included Dustin Dykes, a mechanical engineering major from Madison, Alabama; Holly Pitts, a civil engineering major from Indianola; and Adam Schildhammer, a geological engineering major from Alpharetta, Georgia. Frances Miramon, a civil engineering major from Shreveport, Louisiana, received the David Arnold Engineering Award. Graduate students Bradley Goodwiller, a civil engineering major, and Matthew Nelms, a mechanical engineering major, both from Oxford, received Graduate Achievement Awards.

For more about the UM School of Engineering, visit


UM Honors Two Employees with Access Awards

Excellence in disability awareness recognized in annual ceremony

UM graduate assistant Meghan Edwards, left, receives the Faculty Access Award from Stacey Reycraft, the university’s director of student disability services. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi employees have been recognized for their outstanding service to assist students with disabilities.

Meghan Edwards, a graduate assistant in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, and Heather Duncan, administrative coordinator in the Patterson School of Accountancy, were presented Access Awards in the faculty and staff categories, respectively, Wednesday (April 19).

The annual awards are sponsored by the university’s Office of Student Disability Services as part of its open house activities in Martindale Hall.

“The recipients are nominated each year by students registered with the office for demonstrating exceptional support for inclusion of students with disabilities,” said Stacey Reycraft, SDS director. “This year, we had more nominations than ever before.

“All of the students’ comments we received were incredible, which made selecting our award recipients truly a challenge.”

Both honorees expressed surprise and gratitude for the honor.

“I am humbled and honored to have been chosen to receive this award,” said Duncan, who began working at the university Sept. 11, 2001 as a senior clerk typist. “I try to treat all of our students as if they were my very own kids because that’s the way I would want someone to treat my child while in school.”

The Oxford native was a senior administrative secretary before assuming her current duties.

Heather Duncan, right, a senior administrative coordinator in the Patterson School of Accountancy, is presented the Staff Access Award by Stacey Reycraft, the university’s director of student disability services. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Employed at the university for three years, Edwards teaches classroom courses and several activity courses for the department. Receiving the award has additional meaning to Edwards, who herself had experiences with trying to learn while coping with a sleeping disorder.

“During my undergraduate years, I was registered with my university’s disability services,” the Plymouth, Minnesota, native said. “Despite having a diagnosed sleeping condition, I still had instructors that seemed to not understand what I was going through.

“I would always tell professors that my condition causes me to fall asleep unexpectedly, and that it is no personal disrespect to them or their class. Yet, sometimes I still felt like professors thought I was a lazy or disrespectful student.”

However, Edwards said she also had some professors who really empathized and worked with her to accommodate in any way they could to ensure her academic success.

“Feeling like your professor is on your side and genuinely wants to see you succeed is quite powerful,” she said. “I am just thankful that I was able to serve in this capacity for a student.”

Excerpts from students’ nomination letters praised the two recipients for their exemplary efforts.

Edwards is described as “an incredible, patient, kind, charismatic teacher, and now, a friend.” Duncan is cited as being “absolutely outstanding” when it comes to arranging for students to take tests with their accommodations.

“Meg has gone out of her way to help me achieve my greatest potential, taken the time to even email me whenever I have told her that I am having a hard time and reminded me that she is always there to help,” one student wrote.

“She always makes sure that my test accommodations are comfortable, is extremely easy to talk to and responds to me, usually within minutes, if I need to catch up on something or just vent about what is going on. Meg is what Ole Miss should strive to always be about.”

Those words are all the acknowledgement needed to continue working with students, Edwards said.

“Her words have served as a wonderful reminder of the importance of my continued efforts to do this for all of my students,” she said.

The Patterson School of Accountancy has many students whom need accommodations, and Duncan goes above and beyond to make sure their needs are met, the student wrote.

“She always goes out of her way to ensure each student is comfortable and has everything they need for exams in order to help the student remain calm during the test. When you arrive, she always greets you with a smile and a kind word.

“If a student needed something, from a pencil to a hug, Ms. Duncan would go out of her way to make sure each student was accommodated appropriately. She always makes sure you have a clock and a quiet testing environment. We are so lucky to have Ms. Duncan, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

Previous Access Award recipients include Natcha Knight-Evans, from the Office of the Registrar; Denis Goulet, Department of Biology; Julie Anderson, Department of Mathematics; Sue Hodge, School of Business Administration; Sam Thomas, Department of Accounting; Linda Colley, Department of Psychology; Carl Jensen, Center for Intelligence and Security Studies; Barbara Leeton, College of Liberal Arts; Jennifer Buford, Department of Social Work; Kerry Scott, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Gayle Wicker, UM at Tupelo regional campus; Micah Everett, Department of Music; Michael Howland, Veteran and Military Services; and Violetta Davydenko, Department of Finance.

For more information about the Office oif Student Disability Services, visit

March for Science Set for Weekend

UM, Oxford community to participate in national event

OXFORD, Miss. – In celebration of scientific investigation and its benefits, and in support for publicly-funded science, the Oxford community is invited to a March for Science this weekend.

Co-sponsored by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Physics Graduate Students Association, the nonpartisan event begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday (April 22) on the steps of the Lyceum.

Walkers will begin a 1-mile route through the Grove, head east on University Avenue, then north on South Lamar Boulevard. The march ends with a gathering on the Square.

“We value inclusion, diversity, equity and access to everybody,” said Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy and one of the event’s organizers. “We aim for a diverse group of participants, including first-time marchers. Families with young children are welcome.”

This weekend’s event is one of many Marches for Science in cities and towns around the world. Each seeks to reaffirm core values of science.

“Science protects the health of our communities, the safety of our families, the education of our children, the foundation of our economy and jobs, and the future we all want to live in and preserve for coming generations,” said Luca Bombelli, chair and professor of physics and astronomy at Ole Miss.

“Science is a tool of discovery that allows us to constantly expand and revise our knowledge of the universe. In doing so, science serves the interests of all humans.”

March for Science supporters contend that science education teaches children and adults to think critically, ask questions and evaluate truth based on the weight of evidence.

“Science promotes diversity and inclusion and builds robust and resilient communities for the benefit of all people,” Bombelli said. “Science makes our democracy stronger.

“Please show your support for science as a vital feature of a working democracy, spurring innovation, critical thinking, increased understanding and better, healthier lives for all people.”

Follow the Oxford March for Science on Twitter @ScienceoxfordMS and Facebook at For assistance related to a disability, contact Marco Cavaglia at 662-915-7642 or

UM Research Day Ignites Discussions, Collaborations

Third annual event unites campuses, interests

SUNY neuroscientist Dr. Susana Martinez-Conde delivers the morning keynote during the third annual UM-UMMC Research Day. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – If public peer acknowledgement of genius is every researcher’s dream, then the third annual University of Mississippi-University of Mississippi Medical Center Research Day was a scientist’s dream come true.

More than 200 participants were on hand to present their work and explore collaborations through a series of lectures and posters Thursday (April 13) in the Inn at Ole Miss Ballroom. Alternating each year between the Oxford and Jackson campuses, Research Day is meant to facilitate communication and collaboration between the campuses through a series of lectures, breakout sessions, and posters.

The theme of this year’s event was “Nurturing Collaboration.”

“Research Day provides a great opportunity to bring our researchers together to increase awareness and build synergies,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said in opening remarks. “Collaboration across the university helps us build upon our R1 Carnegie ‘highest research activity’ designation by accelerating and inspiring solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges.”

Research Day has been a successful tool for fostering increased interactions between the Oxford and Medical Center campuses, said Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research at UMMC.

“It has allowed our investigators to learn more about each other’s work and find areas for potential collaboration,” Summers said. “By strengthening this connection, we increase the potential for scientific discoveries and advancements that improve human health and society.”

During the morning session, Dr. Susana Martinez-Conde, professor of neuroscience at the State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center, presented a keynote lecture on “Keeping an Eye Out for Collaboration.” Her discussion combined her main research on eye movements with her research into the neural bases of magic.

In her primary research, Martinez-Conde and her team use a combination of techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging, electrophysiological recording from single neurons, psychophysical measurements and computational models of visual function.

“Our research focuses on understanding the neural bases of our visual experience,” Martinez-Conde said.

Research such as Martinez-Conde’s contributes to the “cycle of innovation” that Vitter describes as important to attracting the best and brightest faculty and students to Mississippi.

Research Day is “a great event for UM researchers to explore connections that will help solve some of society’s grand challenges,” said Josh Gladden, UM interim vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs. New elements were introduced this year to foster more individual and small interest group conversations such as speed networking, breakout sessions and extended breaks.

Another focus of Research Day were the Flagship Constellation Talks, which emanate from the Flagship Constellations Initiative that Vitter announced during his investiture speech in November.

The purpose of the initiative is to accelerate and inspire solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges where no one discipline has all the answers and collaboration is key. It will involve the formation of innovative, multidisciplinary research and creative achievement clusters of faculty, staff, students, alumni and external partners.

Afternoon breakout sessions focused on resilience, sustainability, ecology, health and diseases, “STEM and Big Data” and “The South: History and Future.”

Exemplifying the spirit of collaboration, the afternoon keynote was co-delivered by Walt Chambliss, UM director of technology management; Soumyajit Majumdar, associate professor of pharmacology; and Daniel Riche, associate professor of pharmacy practice. The trio addressed “Beside to Bench: An Accelerated Pharmaceutical Development Program.”

The entire event was a tremendous success, Gladden said.

“We’ve had a lot of energy in the room throughout the day,” he said in his closing remarks. “There were 200 registrants and even more people dropping by to view posters and listen to presentations.

“Our keynote speakers inspired everyone with their great messages about the importance of sharing and teamwork. I believe that we expect even greater collaborations between the researchers on all our campuses following this.”

C Spire Tech Experience to Bring Immersive Demonstrations to UM

Mini-SXSW event April 27 at The Pavilion at Ole Miss features immersive demonstrations

Lee Eason (left), Ethan Luckett and McKennon McMillan experiment with virtual reality eyewear in Adam Jones’ laboratory. Submitted Photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A major technology event featuring nationally acclaimed speakers and cutting-edge demonstrations is scheduled for April 27 at the University of Mississippi.

CTX – the C Spire Tech Experience – begins at 2 p.m. in The Pavilion at Ole Miss. The mini-SXSW expo features Brian Uzzi, a Northwestern University professor and artificial intelligence expert; Michelle McKenna-Doyle, chief information officer for the National Football League; and Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media and former chief marketing officer of Facebook.

Demonstrations for some of the leading technology innovations in the U.S., including virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and a “sneak peek” of C Spire’s forthcoming streaming digital television product are also planned. The VR demonstrations will feature advanced work by faculty and students in the UM School of Engineering and the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

Brian Uzzi

Partners for the event include the UM schools of Business Administration and Engineering, Associated Student Body, the CME and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“We’re excited to partner with an industry leader in hosting a major high-tech event on campus,” Chancellor Jeffery Vitter said. “It will help spur ideas and innovation that will enable our students and faculty to more fully participate in the new digital economy.”

C Spire CEO Hu Meena said the Mississippi-based telecommunications and technology services company is likewise pleased to be coming to the university.

“As the region’s technology leader, we’re uniquely positioned to bring to life an event at the intersection of music and technology,” Meena said. “In the new digital economy, these are some of the leading innovations that hold promise for greatly improving the quality of our lives.”

Besides providing the venue and additional support for CTX, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will have two demonstrations set up in the vendor area.

Randi Zuckerberg

“One is our virtual reality kiosk, which allows viewers to put on a headset and go on the Walk of Champions, inside the locker room and other Rebels’ sports-related scenarios,” said Michael Thompson, senior associate athletics director of communications and marketing. “The second one is our Rebel Rewards app, which gives faithful patrons and users several discounts on Ole Miss Athletics merchandise.”

A group of nearly 40 students in UM’s virtual reality class is working on demonstrations for CTX.

“These students are from all across the state, nation and world,” said Adam Jones, assistant professor of computer and information science. “This class is the first of its kind at Ole Miss and is the only regular class in the state dedicated to developing virtual reality systems.”

Jones’ Hi5 Virtual Reality Lab students, his research group, also will show some of their projects.

“These students will be demonstrating novel mixed reality and augmented reality experiences that bring elements of the real world into VR with you,” he said.

CME students’ demos include a table that showcases the NASA Student Launch rocket project in which they participated.

Michelle McKenna-Doyle

“Our research project was devoted to designing, constructing and launching a high-powered rocket to a target altitude of 1 mile,” said Dillon Hall, a senior mechanical engineering major from Saltillo and leader of the 12-member team. “Our rocket also had to carry an experimental payload apparatus designed to protect a fragile cargo installed into the launch vehicle throughout an entire flight.”

In addition, CTX 2017 includes a music concert that evening at The Lyric Oxford, near the Square. Featured performers include Passion Pit, a highly-regarded alternative indietronic band from Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Weeks and the Lonely Biscuits, both from Nashville, Tennessee.

CTX’s technology focus will help kick-off the 22nd annual Double Decker Festival, set for April 28-29. The two-day event attracts thousands of visitors and features nearly 200 arts, crafts and food vendors, along with live music and other entertainment.

For discounted student tickets, see For ticket availability, pricing and more information about CTX 2017, visit or follow C Spire on Twitter.

UM Catapult Competition Draws Top Guns

Tishomingo County High School teams defeated 16 others to take home top honors

Members of the Hot-N-Spicy team from Desoto Central High School experience the joy of victory during the Siege the Castle event at UM’s annual Catapult Competition. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Normally, tennis balls volley back and forth on the tennis court, but Wednesday afternoon (April 12), the fluorescent yellow balls were being catapulted in the C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum at the University of Mississippi.

The School of Engineering, Center for Math and Science Education and Division of Outreach and Continuing Education hosted the 11th annual Catapult Competition. Middle and high school students from across Mississippi designed and constructed catapults and brought them to campus to test their engineering skills.

Catapults, which originated as ancient engines of war, hurl projectiles at targets. Among the most powerful medieval weapons, catapults known as trebuchets use a counterweight to propel their payload. Modern catapults use tension, such as a spring or elastic band, that is suddenly released to fling a projectile.

“This is the 11th annual Catapult Competition, formerly Trebuchet Competition,” said Tiffany Gray, research associate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and co-coordinator of the event. “We changed the rules on what the students were building last year, so last year we changed the name to reflect this.”

In the UM competition, students designed and constructed catapults of metal, wood and PVC to hurl tennis balls across the field. Registering for the event were 17 teams representing eight schools: Central Hinds Academy, Desoto Central High School, Guntown Middle School, Lafayette Middle School, Oxford High School, Tishomingo County High School, Water Valley High School and West Jones High School.

UM engineering graduate students weighed and measured the catapults to make sure specifications were met. Catapults not meeting specs either had to be modified or were penalized points for not meeting the criteria.

Teams competed in Design, Pop-A-Shot, Humpty Dumpty and Siege the Castle categories. Catapults were scored on their design process, safety features, construction, creativity and originality, and team interviews.

First place overall went to America’s Mitochondria from Tishomingo County High School. Second and third places overall went to Sojourn, also from TCHS, and Memengineers from Oxford High School.

Students on the Enduring Frustration team from Tishomingo County High School are in the zone during the Siege the Castle event at the annual UM Catapult Competition.Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Winners in Pop-A-Shot were America’s Mitochondria (first), Indeed from Lafayette Middle (second) and Ultimus from Guntown Middle (third). In Humpty Dumpty, winners were America’s Mitochondria (first), Shorts from Central Hinds Academy (second) and Enduring Frustration from Tishomingo County (third). Siege the Castle winners were America’s Mitochondra (first), Hot-N-Spicy from Desoto Central (second) and Memengineers (third). In Design, Sojourn placed first, America’s Mitochondria took second and B.L.A.G.H. from Desoto Central came in third.

The Pop-A-Shot required teams to launch four shots from three different locations at a regulation basketball hoop. The Humpty Dumpty event called for teams to launch tennis balls in attempts to knock three cardboard boxes off a wall of blocks without disturbing the wall. The Siege the Castle competition required teams to use catapults to knock down a cardboard brick wall.

The Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence created 3-D-printed desktop catapults for the overall winners. Plaques made in the Mechanical Engineering Machine Shop were presented for each category. The overall winner was the team with the highest total score.

Six Ole Miss graduate students judged the entries: mechanical engineering majors Damian Stoddard of St. Louis, Cody Berrey of Meridian and Zach Wallace of Batesville; civil engineering major Grace McMahen of Union; geology and geological engineering major Alex Weatherwax of Williamsburg, Virginia; and physics major Sunethra Dayavansha of Kandy, Sri Lanka.

The Sojourn team intentionally went for a more creative design for its catapult, said Samuel Zafic, a senior at Tishomingo County High School.

“Most everyone goes for the traditional arm and bar design,” he said. “Going a different route allowed me to experience some of what it’s like to be in the engineering profession.”

Davis Powell, a junior also from TCHS, described the annual Division of Outreach program as “amazing.”

“I entered the competition last year because it looked like it would be fun,” said Powell, who hinted he might return to the university as a biochemical engineering major after he graduates in 2018. “It is fun, but it is also challenging. I definitely plan on coming back for next year’s competition.”

Middle and high school students from across the state of Mississippi participate in the 11th annual Catapult Competition at Tad Smith Coliseum. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Before the day’s final competitive event, participants faced off in preliminaries and made adjustments to their catapults. Sometimes, the machines broke during this process.

“It is impressive to see the tools come out and students making repairs to get their machine up and hurling again,” Gray said. “That is what the engineering experience is all about.”

The catapult project encourages students to think and use the engineering design process, engineering school staff members said.

“Each year, I see familiar faces from previous competitions,” said Matt Nelms of Oxford, a UM staff member who serves as the event’s co-coordinator. “It’s very meaningful to see these high school and middle school students mature and the extremely impressive engineering solutions they come up with at such young ages. Their intelligence always exceeds our expectations.”

In medieval times, trebuchets were more accurate than other catapults, which use tension or torsion to fire projectiles. In modern times, trebuchets have become popular devices for hurling pumpkins, frozen turkeys or even junk cars in light-spirited competitions.

For more information about the School of Engineering, visit

For more about the Center for Math and Science Education, go to For more about the Division of Outreach, visit

Sigma Nu Charity Bowl Changing Lives

Annual UM fraternity event raises funds for deserving recipients and nonprofits

Gridiron action during the 2016 Sigma Nu Charity Bowl. (Submitted photo)

OXFORD, Miss. – Twenty-eight years ago, University of Mississippi football player Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins became a quadriplegic when he was injured during the Rebels’ Homecoming game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Decades later, overwhelming response to that tragic incident has been transformed into a triumphant philanthropic achievement benefitting yet another former collegiate football star turned paraplegic by an unfortunate accident.

On April 12, Sigma Nu and Kappa Sigma fraternity members suit up for the 28th annual Sigma Nu Charity Bowl football game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the first time in more than two years that the game has been played in the stadium. The event, which begins at 6 p.m., also features a sorority cheer competition before kick-off and a homecoming-style court at halftime.

“This year’s recipient, Chris Madison of Memphis, will receive $75,000 to aid with costs stemming from his injuries and rehabilitation and to help him complete his undergraduate education,” said James-Roland Markos of Jackson, Tennessee, Sigma Nu chapter president and a senior biology, public policy leadership and biochemistry major in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“Our goal is $150,000, with the additional funds being donated to the establishment of a new student wellness center. We also aim to allot funds to the Manning Family Fund and research to find cures for paralysis. Our goal is to donate remaining funds to local nonprofit organizations serving the LOU community.”

The recipient check presentation and announcement of the cheer competition winner are set for halftime.

Madison, 26, was paralyzed while riding in a car that crashed during a rainstorm. He lives by himself in Memphis and has no way to access transportation, cutting him off from the outside world.

Chris Madison of Memphis, Tennessee is the recipient of the 2017 Sigma Nu Charity Bowl. He will be presented the award April 12 during halftime ceremonies. (Submitted photo)

“Our goal is to raise enough money to purchase Chris a handicapped-accessible van that he will be able to take to rehab and eventually to classes to continue his education,” said John North of Birmingham, Alabama, the chapter’s philanthropy chairman. “The brothers of Sigma Nu are wholly moved by the spirit of determination and service Chris personifies as he overcomes his obstacles, and we are honored to be a part of Chris’ inspiring journey.”

A promising talent, Madison was recruited by many colleges and received a full football scholarship to the University of Arkansas at Monticello after graduating from Manassas High School. He planned to pursue a career in undergraduate education after football.

After completing his first year of college, Madison came home for a short summer break before returning to school to prepare for the fall season. Accompanying his cousin on an hour drive up Interstate 40 on a rainy evening, tragedy struck.

“I don’t recall anything from the actual accident itself,” Madison said. “I only remember waking up ejected from the car, lying motionless as two passersby stopped and administered CPR.

“To this day, I have no idea who the two men are, where they came from or where they went afterwards. I call them my guardian angels because physicians later credited them with saving my life.”

Madison’s next recollection was waking up in a hospital bed in Memphis, paralyzed from his waist down with additional nerve damage to his hands and arms, realizing his life would never be the same. After being informed he would never walk again, his first thought was, “How will I provide for my family and what will I do now?”

With football gone forever, Madison’s goal immediately turned to survival. His mother and grandmother, committed and faithful ladies, always taught him to keep the faith, believe and trust in God, and, in the words of the Ole Miss football legend Chucky Mullins himself, “Never quit.”

And Madison has not. Despite the tragedy and loss, he strives to seize every second of life his survival has afforded him. He continues extensive physical therapy to maintain and regain motor function.

Remarkably, he lives on his own in Memphis and dreams of returning to college to complete his education and find a job that will allow him to provide for himself and his family.

“Chris still has huge obstacles to realize his educational aspirations,” North said. “Without reliable, accessible transportation, he cannot finish his education and must wait for someone to be available to take him to physical therapy and elsewhere.

“Proving his will and toughness, his dream is to be able to completely care for himself so he does not need to rely on anyone else, but rather so that others can rely on him.”

Sigma Nu Charity Bowl was founded in 1990 to honor Mullins, who was paralyzed the previous season. Mullins was injured on a play in which he tackled fullback Brad Gaines.

Ole Miss fans, college football fans in the South and people from all over the nation immediately began to donate money towards Mullins’ growing medical expenses. President George H.W. Bush visited Mullins in his hospital room and encouraged him while on a visit to Memphis.

Soon, UM established the Chucky Mullins Trust Fund to properly manage the donations. The city of Oxford donated land for a custom-designed, handicapped-accessible house for him. Donations to the trust fund eventually exceeded $1 million.

Mullins returned to the university on June 20, 1990 to resume his undergraduate studies, but less than a year later, he was stricken by a pulmonary embolism, caused by blood clots formed by inactivity and poor circulation. He died May 6, 1991 and was buried outside his home town of Russellville, Alabama.

Funding is raised for Charity Bowl primarily through program advertisement sales and financial donations. In the years since its inception, Charity Bowl has grown to be the largest collegiate Greek philanthropy in the country.

Through the hard work of the active members, as well as the generous donations of chapter alumni and businesses across the nation, Sigma Nu has been able to accumulate over $1.9 million for its recipients.

“We will break a total of $2 million since the philanthropy’s inception 28 years ago,” Markos said.

In recent years, Sigma Nu also has contributed to the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson and to various charitable organizations around the Oxford and Lafayette County community. For more information or to make an online donation, visit

Neuroscientist Slated for Science Cafe, Brain Awareness Week Lectures

Susana Martinez-Conde to discuss visual perception, magic of brain April 11-13

Susana Martinez-Conde, a neuroscientist at the State University of New York, will make three separate appearances April 11-13 in Oxford and at UM. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A renowned neuroscientist is scheduled to give three separate lectures on brain function and visual perception April 11-13 in Oxford and at the University of Mississippi.

Susana Martinez-Conde of State University of New York will open the week with “Vision is All About Change,” a presentation of the Oxford Science Cafe, at 6 p.m. April 11 at Lusa Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. This 30-minute talk will focus on the brain and its role in interpreting the world, using magic as an example.

As always, the fourth and final Science Cafe of the spring semester, organized by the UM Department of Physics and Astronomy, is free.

As an observance of Brain Awareness Week, Martinez-Conde will present “Your Brain on Magic: The Neuroscience of Illusion” at 4 p.m. April 12 in Lamar Hall, Room 126. Officially April 13-19, Brain Awareness Week is a nationwide initiative to increase the public’s appreciation for the importance of brain research and was the original impetus for inviting Martinez-Conde to UM.

Martinez-Conde will close the week at the university’s third annual Research Day, where she will present “Keeping an Eye Out for Collaboration.” The lecture, tentatively scheduled for 10:15 a.m. April 13 in the ballroom of the Inn at Ole Miss, will combine her main research line on eye movements with her research into the neural bases of magic.

These final two appearances are co-sponsored by UM’s Department of Health Exercise Science and Recreation Management, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, College of Liberal Arts, School of Applied Sciences, Graduate School and the Ole Miss minor program in neuroscience.

“Our research focuses on understanding the neural bases of our visual experience,” Martinez-Conde said. “How can the electrical activity of a neuron, or a neuronal population, convey the color or brightness of an object? How can we determine the signal from the noise in a train of electrical impulses within a neuron? What type of neural code do neurons use to communicate information to each other? How are neural impulses grouped to represent the different features of a visual scene?”

To address these questions, Martinez-Conde uses a combination of techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging – which looks at blood flow within the brain – electrophysiological recordings from single neurons, psychophysical measurements and computational models of visual function.

Martinez-Conde’s appearances should be most interesting, said Alberto Del Arco, UM assistant professor of exercise science and a scientist in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences at the UM Medical Center.

“The idea of this brain awareness event is to promote a better understanding of how our brain works as well as sharpening our critical thinking,” Del Arco said. “Unfortunately, there are still many false beliefs about the brain – brain myths – in our 21st century society.

Image with neurons: ©Barrow Neurological Institute

“People should know that we do not use 10 percent of our brain or that we cannot communicate telepathically with other people. In contrast, brain research shows that even our most considered complex human behaviors – e.g. moral beliefs or decisions – can be tracked by investigating the activity of our brain in interaction with the environment.”

Having met Martinez-Conde at a similar event in Madrid, Del Arco said he thinks that she is the ideal scientist for this kind of event.

“First, Susana is a highly recognized neuroscientist and her research on the neuronal bases of visual experience is published in top journals,” he said. “And second, she enjoys transmitting her research in a way that appeals to the general public. We are going to have fun, and I hope that many people come to know her and enjoy her presentation.”

Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy and organizer of the Science Cafe programs, agreed.

“Dr. Martinez-Conde collaborated with magicians to understand how our brain is so easily fooled by magic,” Cavaglia said. “There is a feature documentary about her work presented by Neil DeGrasse Tyson on PBS.”

Originally from A Coruña, Spain, Martinez-Conde earned her bachelor’s degree from University Complutense of Madrid and her doctorate from University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. A professor of ophthalmology, neurology, physiology and pharmacology at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, she conducts research that bridges perceptual, oculomotor and cognitive neuroscience.

She directed laboratories previously at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix and at University College London in the United Kingdom. Martinez-Conde received her postdoctoral training from Nobel laureate David Hubel at Harvard Medical School, where she was later an instructor in neurobiology.

Honors and awards Martinez-Conde has received for her work include the Empire Innovator Award from the state of New York. Her work with Parkinsonian patients was honored with the EyeTrack Award, a global science prize given annually to a single cutting-edge publication in eye movement research. Martinez-Conde has received various other distinctions, including the “100 Spaniards” Prize.

She complements her research with science communication, education and public outreach. She writes for Scientific American, where she has a regular column called “MIND,” on the neuroscience of illusion. Martinez-Conde is the 2014 recipient of the Science Educator Award, given by the Society for Neuroscience to an outstanding scientist who has made significant contributions to educating the public.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046. For more about Brain Awareness Week, go to For more information about UM Research Day, visit

UM Honors College Dedicates Expanded Facility

Campus, community celebrate program's 20th anniversary with new building

UM alumnus and donor Jim Barksdale (left) is welcomed Thursday by Chancellor Jeffery Vitter during dedication ceremonies for the expanded Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A line of blustery, threatening weather moving through the area didn’t stop more than 100 University of Mississippi students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni from celebrating the successes of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College on Thursday (March 30) afternoon.

The crowd squeezed into the Honors College’s great room to dedicate the expanded and renovated building, putting the cap on a two-year project. The ceremony, which was relocated from outdoors because of the weather, also marked the 20th anniversary of the Honors College and was followed by a reception and open house.

“The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College is an incredible asset to our university,” Chancellor Jeffery Vitter said. “It distinguishes us among peer institutions and allows Ole Miss to offer exceptional personalized opportunities to extremely talented students. I am very excited to be celebrating its expansion and renovation today.”

Others making remarks during the ceremony were Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez; David Buford, director of risk management for the State Institutions of Higher Learning; Honors College alumni Dr. Marc Walker and Christin Gates Calloway; and Jim Barksdale, who helped launch the Honors College when he and his late wife, Sally McDonnell Barksdale, donated funds to expand the university’s Honors Program in 1997.

Moving into the new space was “a 10-year dream come true,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“The new building represents a great blend of classroom and study space to go deep into conversation with peers on the tough questions of the day,” he said. “We are grateful for the new and renovated space at the SMBHC.”

The $6.9 million project added 15,000 new square feet to the existing building, bringing the total to 32,290 square feet. The renovated section includes seven new classrooms, a new kitchen, study area, a great room, computer lab, three new study rooms and new faculty offices.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter welcomes the crowd at the dedication of the new and renovated Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“This is great and I’m so proud of what has been accomplished here during the past 20 years,” Barksdale said. “In life, you always want the chance to do something significant and different.

“This opportunity came along at the right time, the right place and with the right people. What a wonderful return upon our investment.”

Both Calloway and Walker said their Honors College experiences have proven invaluable to their careers.

“My professional path for the past 11 years has been built upon my Freshman Ventures at Weyerhaeuser Paper in Seattle and my medical missions trips to Bolivia, all made possible through the Honors College,” said Walker, a 2006 alumnus who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in chemistry, religion and philosophy. He earned degrees from both Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School and is set to become chief resident in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital next year.

“I’ve learned that surgery is a lot easier with the right tools and a committed team. That’s exactly what the Honors College offers.”

A Kosciusko native who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2011, Calloway said the Honors College is where she “grappled with some of the toughest social, educational and political challenges of our time.”

“The Honors College is one of the most unique and enriching opportunities I’ve ever experienced,” said the doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Had I not attended here, I wouldn’t have had the courage, determination and tenacity to continue my education at some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning.”

The Honors College has grown tremendously from its humble beginnings. Opening with an initial class of 121 students in 1997, its student body has grown to more than 1,400.

The program annually attracts high-performing students from across the state and country. The average ACT score for incoming scholars last fall was 30.9, and their average high school GPA was 3.92.

For the last two years, more than 400 freshmen have joined the SMBHC each year. To accommodate the growing student body, the Honors College broke ground on its expansion in 2014, and the new addition opened in March 2016. The original building was then renovated, and work was completed in December.

“Our students enjoy deep conversations, and this is a welcoming space that encourages us to take time to engage in meaningful discussion,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “This provides the needed infrastructure to assure that this program will be the ‘tip of the spear’ to lead the university’s academic charge for years to come.”

The Barksdales made the idea of an Honors College possible, enabling the purchase and renovation of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority building to house the new program. That first gift also endowed 16 scholarships and provided funding for operating expenses.

Other generous donations include endowments from the Parker estates to fund scholarships, and from Lynda and John Shea to support study abroad fellowships.

With the death of Sally McDonnell Barksdale in December 2003, the Honors College was renamed in her memory in spring 2004.

“The University of Mississippi and, indeed, all of the state’s citizens are indebted to the Barksdales for their continued and transformative support,” Vitter said. “For 20 years now, the impact of the Honors College has been far-reaching, helping create a vibrant legacy of attracting the best and brightest to Ole Miss.”

For more information on the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, go to

A ‘Dilley’ of an Honor

Civil engineering alumna named Mississippi Engineering Society's Young Engineer of the Year

Jeff Elly, MDOT state planning engineer, presents Jessica Dilley with the Mississippi Engineering Society’s ‘Young Engineer of the Year’ award during the organization’s 2017 winter meeting in Jackson. (Submitted photo by Marni Kendricks)

Jessica Headrick Dilley, a planning engineer at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, was honored as the Mississippi Engineering Society’s “Young Engineer of the Year” during the organization’s annual winter meeting in Jackson.

“I felt very humbled to win this award,” said Dilley (BSCE 08, MS 10), a native of Sugarland, Texas. “There is a lot of young, talented engineers in the field right now, many of which I look to for guidance and direction.”

Winning awards for her outstanding work is nothing new for Dilley.

As a UM civil engineering undergraduate, she won first place at the 2010 Institute of Transportation Engineers Deep South District 5 Student Chapter Paper competition, first runner-up in the 2008 American Society of Civil Engineers Deep South Section Professional Paper Competition and third place in that same organization’s 2008 Canoe Competition.

While earning her master’s degree in environmental engineering from the university, research from Dilley’s thesis, titled “Geospatial Analysis of Roadway Traffic Volume, Flow Simulation and Air Pollution Impacts on the Built Environment,” was included in MDOT’s State Study 213, “Performance Evaluation of Roundabouts for Traffic Delay and Crash Reductions in Oxford.” MDOT was awarded the 2014 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ “Sweet Sixteen” High Value Research Award for this study, and it was presented as a poster session at the 2015 Transportation Research Board.

Requirements for the Mississippi Engineering Society recognition include being a resident of the state of Mississippi, a registered engineer, a member in good standing in the society and under the age of 35. The award is weighted on professional integrity, professional reputation that extends beyond the engineering field, and promotion of the welfare of the engineer and the engineering profession.

“I must give special recognition to the staff and professors in the School of Engineering at the University of Mississippi,” Dilley said. “I especially thank Dr. (Waheed) Uddin for supporting me throughout my undergraduate and graduate school, Marni (Kendricks), who served as my counselor and role model, and Dr. (Alex) Cheng, for always being there for all his students.”

Uddin, a UM professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology, said he found Dilley’s achievement rewarding.

“Her award is a testimony to her professional achievements and makes her a great role model for UM engineering students,” Uddin said. “Jessica helped me develop instruction materials for my Geospatial course, which I am currently offering as CE 495. She is a dependable, loyal Ole Miss alum and a great asset to MDOT’s Planning Division.”

Uddin began mentoring Dilley in her junior year at the university. Dilley and her classmate Katherine Osborne recruited, trained and managed a geographic information system staff of more than 12 students from 2007 to 2009.

“This was an essential task of CAIT’s Karachi transportation study for the successful completion of this National Academy of Sciences-USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) project,” Uddin said. “Her thesis produced two peer-reviewed papers and several conference presentations. Jessica coordinated the extensive field traffic data collection by 12 undergraduate and four graduate students. Her outstanding M.S. research involved capacity analysis, congestion costs, traffic micro-simulation, vehicle emissions and traffic safety analysis.”

Uddin said Dilley has returned to campus, with her MDOT colleague Colby Willis, and presented a lecture to his class on highway planning and design. Since receiving the news of Dilley’s MES honor, several other UM civil engineering faculty members have invited her to come speak to their students as well.

“It would be my pleasure to schedule her for my senior design and the introductory freshmen classes,” said assistant professor Hunain Alkhateb. “The students are always inspired by successful alums.”

The civil engineering department is “extremely delighted” about Dilley’s notable achievement, said Jacob Najjar, chair and professor of civil engineering. “She represents a superb role model for our CE students and recent graduates.”

Dilley said she will always feel a debt of gratitude to Ole Miss engineering faculty and staff.

“They did an amazing job working with us individually throughout our time at the university and keep in touch with us once we have graduated,” she said. “They truly become our lifelong mentors, and I cannot say enough good things about the engineering program at Ole Miss.”

Dilley and her husband, Adam, have two children, Gracyn and Hayes.