UM Professors Receive IHL Excellence in Diversity Awards

RoSusan Bartee, Dr. Leandro Mena and Dr. Helen B. Barnes lauded at ceremonies in Jackson

Dr. Leandro Mena (center), UMMC professor and chair of population health science, receives an IHL Excellence in Diversity Award from trustee Shane Hooper (left) as Charles S. O’Mara, UMMC associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, congratulates him. Photo by Jay Ferchaud/UMMC

OXFORD, Miss. – Faculty members at the University of Mississippi and the university’s Medical Center have been honored with diversity awards by the board of trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

RoSusan Bartee, professor of leadership and counselor education, and Dr. Leandro Mena, professor and chair of population health science, were recognized at the IHL’s Excellence in Diversity Awards ceremony Feb. 15 in Jackson. Dr. Helen Beatrice Barnes, a retired UMMC physician and administrator, also was awarded the Karen Cummins Community Service Award.

Each was presented a plaque by Shane Hooper, IHL trustee and chair of the Diversity Committee.

“Dr. Bartee and Dr. Mena make a profound difference on the students at the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” Hooper said. “They are committed to ensuring that all students are welcomed and provided every opportunity to succeed. Their dedication creates a better campus climate for all students, faculty and visitors.”

Bartee said she is humbled by her recognition.

“The IHL Excellence in Diversity Award is particularly meaningful because narrow pathways of access and opportunity continue to plague the institution of higher education and the constituencies served,” Bartee said. “I believe my contributions have been experienced in the manner they were purposed whenever, wherever and however my contributions generate either broadened access or more opportunity for those served and subsequent public recognition – or not – occurs as a result of impact.”

Mena echoed similar thoughts.

“I recognize that I am just one member of a much larger community of very passionate people in our health center who collectively are doing an amazing work promoting inclusiveness and equity not only in our health center but throughout our state,” he said.

“I have seen how UMMC has become a leader in the promotion of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness in our state and our region, so it felt very special and meaningful to receive this recognition from my own institution where so much work is being done by others promoting diversity.”

Barnes, professor emerita of the UM School of Medicine and co-founder of the Primary Care Clinic at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center, was honored for her longtime commitment to improving the health and lives of Mississippi women.

After joining the UMMC faculty as an assistant professor of medicine in 1969, Barnes served as professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology until her retirement in 2003. After that, her vision and passion to provide comprehensive health care for women led to the founding of the Primary Care Clinic for Women at the Medical Mall, which became the primary clinical site for the National Center for Excellence in Women’s Health at UMMC.

Doug Rouse, IHL trustee, presents Dr. Helen Barnes, UMMC professor emerita, with the Karen Cummins Community Service Award. Submitted photo by Jay Ferchaud/UMMC

The board voted last year to name the community service award in memory of trustee Karen Cummins in recognition that her life epitomized what the award is all about, helping to improve Mississippi’s communities with a welcoming and inclusive spirit.

The IHL honors enhance the university’s ongoing efforts to promote diversity, said Katrina Caldwell, UM vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement.

“The IHL Excellence in Diversity Award is special because it celebrates the often-invisible labor of faculty and staff in our community who are deeply dedicated to helping us honor our stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion on our campuses,” she said.

Each IHL member institution, as well as UMMC and Mississippi State University Division of Agricultural, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, submitted one nomination for consideration to the board’s Diversity Committee. Nominees were evaluated based on positive contributions to the campus and the state and advancing diversity among their respective institutions.

Bartee became the first African-American to receive tenure and promotion to professor in the Department of Leadership and Counselor Education at Ole Miss. She is listed in Top 40/Under 40 in Mississippi, Who’s Who in Black Mississippi, Who’s Who Among Executives and Professionals and Who’s Who in America.

A School of Education researcher of the year, Bartee previously served as program coordinator for the master’s, specialist and doctoral programs in educational leadership. She utilizes every opportunity to champion equality and equal rights.

RoSusan Bartee (center), UM professor of leadership and counselor education, receives an IHL Excellence in Diversity Award from trustee Shane Hooper (left) and congratulations from Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. Photo by Jay Ferchaud/UMMC

“My commitment to diversity simply mirrors my commitment to humankind,” Bartee said. “Human beings are our greatest resource, yet most underutilized asset.

“To the extent that our intellectual, interrogative and inspirational capacities are used to advance all humankind is the extent to which campuses and society alike will fulfill the potential with-in and with-out.”

Associate professor of medicine with the Division of Infectious Diseases, Mena graduated from the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Urena in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans. He is director of the Center for HIV/AIDS Research, Education and Policy for the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities.

Mena served 14 years as the medical director of Crossroads Clinic, the only publicly funded exclusive STD/HIV clinic in the state, and co-founded Open Arms Healthcare Center, a community-based clinic that offers primary care services with an emphasis in health care needs for LGBT populations in Jackson.

He has more than 26 years of experience in clinical and epidemiological research in the area of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, with special interest in the dynamics of transmission and the role that social determinants of health play in perpetuating these epidemics in sexual and gender minority populations.

“My commitment to diversity comes from the firm believe that we all deserve to be welcomed and valued for the contributions that we make,” Mena said. “I applaud IHL for recognizing efforts in the public institutions of higher education in our state to promote diversity and inclusiveness. Such recognition elevate the conversation and, hopefully, encourage others to get involved.”

For more information on diversity and inclusion efforts at UM, go to For more information about the IHL, contact Caron Blanton at

Mechanical Engineering Alumnus Shows He’s a Team Player

Justin Carrillo works for US Army Corps of ERDC in Vicksburg

Mechanical engineering alumnus Justin Carrillo is part of an award-winning division at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Economic Research and Development Center in Vicksburg. Submitted photo

Five years ago, Justin Carrillo (BSME 13) was only beginning his career as a professional engineer. Today, the University of Mississippi alumnus works as a research mechanical engineer and is one of the award-winning team members in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg.

“The U.S. Army ERDC Award for Outstanding Team Effort is one of the most fulfilling achievements in my professional career,” Carrillo said. “Personally, the best measure of success of any organization is the ability of teams to work together to accomplish overall objectives and goals of an organization. I firmly believe a successful team is greater than the sum of its parts. This award highlights the most important goal of my career.”

A Raymond native, Carillo decided to attend UM for several reasons.

“First, I had family members that graduated from Ole Miss as well as family that was currently attending Ole Miss at the time,” he said. “Second, the trips that were taken to view the engineering program made a big difference in deciding to be involved in Ole Miss’ engineering program and thus lead me to attending Ole Miss.

“Lastly, the amount of opportunities that Ole Miss provided both in and outside of the classroom played a major role.”

As an undergraduate, Carrillo gained practical experience by participating in the Student Temporary Employment Program at ERDC and in Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. He graduated magna cum laude.

“My favorite professors were Dr. Jeffrey Roux, Dr. Tyrus McCarty, Dr. Ellen Lackey, Dr. Alexander Yakovlev and Dr. James Chambers,” Carrillo said. “All of the professors listed were without a doubt passionate, although expressed in different ways, about teaching and devoted to the success of their students even beyond the classroom. They were the professors in my eyes that made the biggest difference in the future of their students.”

Carrillo’s favorite engineering courses typically required heavy use of mathematics or use of some form of programming.

Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering, said he knew Carrillo would have a successful career one day.

“Justin graduated in the top 5 percent of his class in terms of overall GPA, with a unique talent to excel in all academic studies, including undergraduate research,” Rajendran said. “As I always believed that Justin would pursue his graduate degree, he is obtaining his master’s degree from the Purdue University under ERDC sponsorship. I am indeed very proud of our graduates like Justin who always bring laurels to Ole Miss as alumni.”

While working for the Mobility Systems Branch, Carrillo specialized in the area of high-performance computing for computational modeling of sensors, vehicle-terrain interaction and vehicle dynamics, as well as vehicle and sensor field testing.

He is a principal investigator and work unit manager on various programs related to the off-road performance of manned/unmanned ground vehicles, manned-unmanned teaming, and development of high-performance computer-based simulations for testing and evaluation of autonomous systems through sensor-environment interactions.

Justin Carrillo stands beside two of the vehicles he drives when at work with the Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg. Submitted photo

“My Ole Miss engineering education has given me the academic background that is needed to become successful in my career combined with additional broad-based skills that have played an even bigger role in the success of my career,” said Carrillo, who is working on receiving his master’s degree in computational engineering from Purdue University in 2019. “An Ole Miss engineering education comes with both academic and in-the-field knowledge, communication skills, leadership skills and, most importantly, teamwork skills that are critical for being successful in any career.”

A published author, Carrillo has written articles for numerous professional journals. He holds membership in the International Society for Terrain-Vehicle Systems and has received both the 2015 ERDC Award for Outstanding Team Effort and the 2014 Department of the Army Achievement Medal for Civilian Service.

Carrillo lives in Raymond, with his wife, Carra, and children, Lillian and Walter. When not working, he likes to play baseball, basketball and golf.


UM Professor’s Research Highlighted in Ship Technology Publication

Waheed Uddin shares insights into how infrastructure improvements can protect ports during coastal disasters

Waheed Uddin is a civil engineering professor and director of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

A University of Mississippi civil engineering professor’s research about how infrastructure improvements can help protect ports from the effects of coastal disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis was featured in a technology publication recently.

Waheed Uddin, director of UM’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology, was featured in a story appearing in the digital magazine Ship Technology on Nov. 9, 2017. Uddin conducted a study that uses computer modeling and geospatial analysis of natural disaster risks to identify the priority measures that ports can take to build a comprehensive resilience management strategy. Two of Uddin’s civil engineering graduate students assisted in his study: Quang Nguyen (PhD 17) and W. Tucker Stafford (MS 17). Uddin and Nguyen presented the results for Vietnam’s port city at an international infrastructure and disaster resilience conference in Seoul, Korea, in July 2017.

To read the Ship Technology article, visit


5 Students Selected for Outstanding Senior Leadership Awards

All are members of Center for Manufacturing Excellence or Honors College

Five seniors have been named recipients of the 2017-18 Outstanding Senior Leadership Award from the University of Mississippi School of Engineering.

Honorees are William Garrett of Greenfield, Indiana; Harleigh Huggins of Oxford, Colbert Lehr of Brandon, Zachary Mitchell of Moss Point and David Rozier of Oxford. Each recipient was selected through a competitive nomination process in his or her respective department.

Nominations are based on the students’ records of academic achievement, leadership, professional development and community service. The students also delivered a presentation to the selection committee about their undergraduate experiences while pursuing their engineering degrees.

“This year’s selection process was particularly difficult for the review committee,” said Dean Alexander Cheng. “These five students rose to the top of an exceptional group of nominees from the senior class, and we are always excited to celebrate the accomplishments of our students.”

A mechanical engineering major, Huggins has maintained a 4.0 GPA while also being a part of the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has been extensively involved in engineering student organizations, having served as president of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, the Collegiate Automotive Manufacturing Society and the Society of Women Engineers.

Huggins also served as co-chair of the CME student advisory board and was selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board societies. She also held two separate internships with ABB Inc. and completed co-ops with BorgWarner and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing.

“I am honored and proud to be receiving this award, especially with all of the amazing students we have graduating from the School of Engineering this year,” Huggins said. “I am grateful for all of the opportunities that the Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the mechanical engineering department have afforded me during my collegiate career. I look forward to representing the School of Engineering, and I will do my best to reflect its excellence.”

In addition to the leadership award, Huggins was named the university’s representative to the Mississippi Engineering Society’s Outstanding Senior award program in Jackson. After graduation, she will assume a full-time position with ABB Inc.’s Manufacturing Engineering group in Senatobia.

Garrett, who is also pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, is a member of the CME and has maintained a 3.98 GPA. He has been an active member of Engineers Without Borders and Tau Beta Pi. Garrett has also been selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi, and served as house manager and chaplain of his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha.

He held internships with Ingersoll Rand and Rolls Royce North America, and completed two separate co-ops with South Mississippi Electric Power Association in Batesville and Viking Range in Greenwood. Garrett has accepted a full-time position with Milwaukee Tool at one of its Mississippi locations.

An electrical engineering major, Lehr served as Engineering Student Body president during the 2016-17 academic year and has served as a member of the ESB Leadership Council for four years. He also represented the School of Engineering at the National Association of Engineering Student Councils Conference, as well as the PULSE Leadership Conference in 2016.

Having maintained a 3.98 GPA, Lehr has been selected for membership in a variety of honor societies, including Omicron Delta Kappa, Lambda Sigma, Mortar Board, Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi. He has volunteered extensively with the FIRST Robotics program, serving as a team mentor and referee for the event. Lehr also completed two internships with Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in Forest.

He plans to return to Raytheon full time after graduation and to complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering while employed.

Mitchell, a general engineering major, is a member of the Honors College and has maintained a 3.91 GPA. He serves as vice president of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s. Mitchell is also a member of the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council and active with Sigma Nu fraternity. He has been selected for membership in Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi and has volunteered in the emergency room at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford.

Mitchell has also served as both a teaching assistant and a research assistant in the Department of Biology. He is working on his honors thesis, titled “Nonlinear Analysis of Postural Stability in Postmenopausal Women and Its Relationship to Estrogen Deficiency.” After graduation, Mitchell plans to attend medical school.

A member of the Honors College and the CME, Rozier maintained a 4.0 GPA in chemical engineering and completed his honors thesis in 2017. He was named a Taylor Medalist in 2016 and received Who’s Who honors in 2017. Rozier also received the Outstanding Chemical Engineering Student Award in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He serves on the CME student advisory board and has been selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi, Omicron Delta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi. He is also an active member of Sigma Nu.

Rozier completed three summer internships: two with International Paper in Vicksburg and one with 3M in Decatur, Alabama, as well as a co-op with ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After graduation, he will return to International Paper as a full-time process engineer.



Dwight Waddell Directs Successful, New Biomedical Engineering Degree Program

With 51 students in the inaugural class, the number of applicants continues to increase

Electrical engineering assistant professor Dwight Waddell continues teaching courses while leading UM’s new biomedical engineering degree program. Submitted photo

Years ago, a biomedical engineering degree program in the University of Mississippi School of Engineering was only a dream. But with 51 students accepted into the inaugural class last fall, the dream is now a wonderful reality.

“The word is apparently out,” said Dwight Waddell, BME program director and associate professor of electrical engineering. “Our current BME class has representatives from states across the country. Twenty-six are new freshmen, and we had a fair number of transfers from other departments on campus after we got started last August.”

The idea and initial work for the new program were initiated by Ramanarayanan “Vish” Viswanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering, with support from Alex Cheng, engineering dean. Waddell, who was a UM associate professor of health, exercise and recreation management, joined the engineering faculty in 2013 to facilitate program development.

“I was responsible for newly created courses, including Physiology for Biomedical Engineers, Biosignal Analysis, Introduction to Biomedical Engineering and a lab-based course to teach bio-measurement techniques,” said Waddell, who worked with Paul Scovazzo, associate professor of chemical engineering, to launch the emphasis. “Prior to this, I taught courses in biomechanics, electromyography and neuromotor control.”

Waddell said the inaugural class is exceptional.

“In truth, it is a hard curriculum, but the inaugural class was notable in their academic preparation before university,” he said. “The average ACT score and high school GPA of the applicants were quite high, which was very exciting for everyone involved. The students are very proactive. They are hungry.”

Last semester, the charter for UM’s Biomedical Engineering Society student chapter was established.

“It was really two students who did the lion’s share of work getting national approval,” Waddell said. “A big shoutout to BME students Justin Reynolds and Juliana Davis for making it happen and recruiting over 20 inaugural student members. It is an exciting time around here.”

If preliminary fall 2018 enrollment figures are any indication of what’s to be expected, the BME program is just getting started.

“The number of admitted applicants for the upcoming fall term is impressive,” Waddell said. “As of Feb 12, we have already admitted 142 biomedical engineering first-year students. This is a substantial increase in admitted students over the same time last year.”

While Waddell said not all of these students will decide to attend the university, he is confident that the number of incoming students will match and exceed expectations.

“Our number of retained students (admitted versus actual attendees) last year was above 50 percent,” he said. “We estimated 30 freshmen for the second year, and I am confident we will meet and exceed that number.”

Chairs in both the electrical and chemical engineering departments said Waddell’s leadership has exceeded their expectations.

“Dwight is extremely busy this academic year,” Viswanathan said. “In addition to advising all (biomedical engineering) students, he’s juggling teaching two courses each semester, advising students’ research, conducting a search for two tenure-track faculty positions and serving on several university committees.”

“Dwight has done an outstanding job of moving the BME program forward,” said John O’Haver, chair and professor of chemical engineering. “His passion for the program, for the students, and his ability to work well with the departments that are involved in the program have caused it to progress rapidly and well.”

A former postdoctoral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Waddell has a master’s and a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana State University.

The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved the biomedical engineering program in 2016. Biomedical engineering prepares students for rapidly growing opportunities in three primary job markets: biomolecular engineering, biomedical systems engineering and bioinformatics.

For more information about UM’s biomedical engineering program, visit


High School Programmers Pilot Robots to Success in UM Competition

Three teams advance to regional contest next month in Georgia

Members of the Mechanical Master Minds of Long Beach High School (left, in maroon shirts) challenge rival team Blue Crew from HESWM in Summit at the sixth annual Mississippi FIRST Tech Robotics Competition held at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communication

OXFORD, Miss. – After a grueling six-month journey, three high school teams bested 21 others to win top honors in Mississippi’s sixth annual FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition Saturday (Feb. 17) at the University of Mississippi.

Hosted by the UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education, the event began with judging at 7 a.m. in Tad Smith Coliseum. Public events started at 10 a.m., and the competition ran through 5 p.m.

Teams of students, ranging from seventh to 12th grades, came from across the state to pilot their robots with the hopes of qualifying for FIRST’s South Super Regional competition, coming up March 8-10 in Athens, Georgia.

This year’s game was dubbed Relic Recovery. In the game, four robots competed on a 12-by-12-foot field to score the most points by placing “glyphs,” 6-inch foam blocks, into holders dubbed “Cryptoboxes,” solving a cipher pattern, recovering a “lost relic” and then balancing on top of a platform at the end of each match.

“Blue Crew” from the Home Educators of Southwest Mississippi in Summit won the Rockwell Collins Innovative Award and a Winning Alliance Award. “Wait for It” from Rankin Robotics took home the first-place Inspire Award and a Winning Alliance Award. “Challenge Accepted” from Northwest Mississippi Robotics received the Connect Award and the second-place Inspire Award. All three teams advance to the regional contest.

“What a day and a great event,” said Mannie Lowe, FIRST program manager at the CMSE. “Twenty-four teams competed hard and did very well. This event would not have been possible without the dedicated hard work of all of our volunteers from near and far.

“Thank you to all the wonderful students, teams, coaches and mentors, parents and supporters for being so great. Congratulations to everyone.”

Winners at next month’s regional competition advance to the world championship April 18-21 in Houston, Texas.

Other teams and their honors include Teen Tech of Vicksburg, Judges Award; Benton Bots 2.0 of NCMS Robotics in Potts Camp, Control Award and Finalist Alliance; NEKOS of Hartfield Academy in Flowood. Motivate Award; Simpson County Future Engineers – Lighthouse Community Development, Design Award; Techno Warriors Advance of Central Mississippi Robotics, Think Award; Techno Cats of Bogue Chitto Attendance Center and Exotic Robotics of Madison Ridgeland Academy, Finalist Alliance; and Mechanical Master Minds of Long Beach High School, Winning Alliance.

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, nonprofit organization was founded 26 years ago by inventor Dean Kaman in an effort to build interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Competing teams design and build their own robots, keep an engineer’s notebook and do some kind of outreach to promote STEM careers. The robots can be built out of any material as long as teams follow regulation rules. In the past, some teams have built robots using PVC pipe, wood and aluminum.

Each match played for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. For the first 30 seconds, the robots operated autonomously, and students took control of the robots using handheld controllers for the final 2 minutes.

In the past, Mississippi teams have done well at FIRST Super Regional competitions. In 2016, a Mississippi team won the Inspire Award, the highest given in the competition. Last year, “Wait for It” from Pearl won the World Championship.

Some 5,000 teams participate worldwide, and the program has grown tremendously in Mississippi, where only four teams took part in the challenge five years ago, Lowe said.

Students began designing and building their robots in September when the theme was announced.

Two Honors College Students Receive Barksdale Awards

Bethany Fitts and Gabrielle Schust each given $5,000 to fulfill dream projects

Gabrielle Schust (left) and Bethany Fitts are congratulated by Dean Douglass Sullivan-González after receiving Barksdale Awards during the Honors College’s annual spring convocation. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With $5,000 awards to support separate creative projects, two students in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi have been named 2018 Barksdale Award winners.

Bethany Fitts, a junior English and history major from Tupelo, and Gabrielle Schust, a junior international studies and Spanish major from Columbia, Missouri, were presented the awards during the Honors College’s annual spring convocation Tuesday (Feb. 20).

The Barksdale Awards were established in 2005 to encourage students to test themselves in environments beyond the classroom, teaching lab or library. Fitts and Schust are the 23rd and 24th recipients of the honor.

“Our Barksdale Award winners have proposed tasks that will help them help us push our understanding of being human and being in this world,” said Douglas Sullivan-González, dean of the Honors College. “Bethany and Gabrielle are each taking on both a troubled past and a troubled present, seeking the connections that give hope and ways forward. I am proud that the Barksdale Award can fund such visions.”

Fitts will spend time in Washington state and in Hawaii, gaining ground-level experience with several kindred topics: poetry publication, conservation and W.S. Merwin, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and a founder of a conservancy housing more than 400 species of endangered palm trees.

In Washington, with the well-respected Copper Canyon Press, she will gain hands-on experience with everything about poetry publication, from helping to organize community events to editing and marketing. At the Merwin Conservancy in Maui, Fitts will work in its education program and alongside the conservancy’s gardener. As a follow-up, she hopes to promote similar poetry/ecology work in all 50 states and to write her own collection of poems drawn from her experiences.

“As a writer and lover of words, I have always been curious about the ways in which literature, particularly poetry, intersects with real people and the world’s concerns,” said Fitts, who expects to graduate in May 2020. “Many people view poetry as separate from the world, and while this view does not necessarily diminish poetry’s value, I simply think that it is wrong. I think that, now more than ever, our country and our world must wake up to the political, social and environmental concerns that we have allowed to develop, and one way to engage with this waking process is poetry.”

Fitts serves as editorial assistant for the Ole Miss Alumni Review and as creative content editor for the undergraduate Populi Magazine. Last year, she won the English department’s Campbell Award. Fitts volunteers with Mississippi Votes and, last summer, was an intern with the Sunflower County Freedom Project, where she taught literacy, gardening and creative writing to students. Her questions have to do with the poet’s role in today’s chaotic society, and her own identity as a poet in that world and in Mississippi as it exists today.

Fitts has worked with Daniel Stout, associate professor of British literature.

“Bethany is a student of particular academic gifts, but her truly distinguishing quality is the depth and energy of her commitment to an interdisciplinary life of the mind,” Stout wrote in a letter of recommendation. “She is the true model of the citizen scholar, interested in how literature helps people interact with their surroundings, in literature as a form of social enrichment.”

Schust will travel to England to collect oral histories of older women in religious orders whose charitable works in the 1960s and early 1970s (pre-National Health Service) focused on medical care for the poor, especially for women or children. She has already contacted three such orders and arranged interviews with eight sisters, the eldest of whom is now 103.

By collecting their stories, Schust hopes to gain insights into any changes over the past 70 years in how women in religious life had provided social services for the poor. She plans to capture the interviews on camera and create a mini-documentary, so that there will be a “window into the world of these women and the communities in which they worked.”

During an academic year in Lima, Peru, next year, Schust will conduct research into similar work being conducted in the Andes by women in religious orders.

The statistics about poverty, maternal/fetal mortality rates and life expectancy in today’s Andes and England before the National Health Service are “striking,” Schust said. She hopes to determine how today’s efforts compare and provide an assessment for how the Andean practices might be improved upon.

Schust has volunteered as an ACT Prep Class instructor and with the Oxford Film Festival, as well as for various local and national political campaigns. She is a member of Model UN and involved with UM’s Ghostlight Repertory Theatre and participates in youth and community theatre at home in Missouri.

Schust spent a summer in Bolivia in the field school of Kate Centellas, Croft associate professor of sociology and anthropology.

“I remember Gabrielle sitting and talking with her host family for hours, as she heard their stories and learned more about them and their perspectives,” Centellas said. “That time helped her understand the power of oral histories in the context of social science research. Her project is timely and innovative, and it needs doing.”

For more information about the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, visit

UM Makes Kiplinger’s ‘Best Values’ List for Fifth Year

State's flagship university among nation's Top 100 public institutions

The University of Mississippi is ranked No. 75 on Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine’s top 100 best values in public colleges list for 2018. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications.

OXFORD, Miss. – For the fifth straight year, the University of Mississippi has been named among the nation’s best values in higher education. The editors of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine placed UM on its “Top 100 Values in Public Colleges” list for 2018.

The university was ranked No. 75, a jump of 13 spots from the 2017 list. It is the only public institution in Mississippi to be named a “Best Value.”

“We are committed to offering outstanding academic programs and to helping students succeed while keeping tuition affordable,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Our inclusion on this list, for the fifth year, is a testament to the commitment of our faculty and staff to meet these goals.”

Kiplinger’s process in naming Best Values relies on measurable criteria, such as student-faculty ratios, admissions rates, on-time graduation rates, sticker price and financial aid. Non-U.S. schools and specialty schools, such as military academies, medical specialty schools and art schools, are not included.

“Our rankings, which weight affordability alongside academic quality, are a great resource for students and their parents when sorting through college choices,” said Mark Solheim, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. “We start with a universe of nearly 1,200 schools and trim the list using measures of academic quality.

“We then rank the schools based on cost and financial aid data. All 300 schools on our list are worth a look.”

For more information on the Kiplinger’s reports, visit

Usefulness of Math Topic of February Science Cafe

UM professor Sandra Spiroff to discuss applications of mathematics

UM mathematics professor Sandra Spiroff explains complex mathematical equations in the classroom. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Practical uses for mathematical concepts is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s second meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 20) at Lusa Pastry Cafe, 2305 W. Jackson Ave. Sandra Spiroff, UM associate professor of mathematics, will discuss “When are we ever going to use this?: Some Applications of Mathematics.” Admission is free.

“In 1623, Galileo Galilei wrote, ‘Philosophy is written in this grand book (meaning the universe), which stands continually open to our gaze, but cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written,'” Spiroff said. “‘It is written in the language of mathematics, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.'”

Spiroff’s 40-minute presentation will explore the mathematics behind some of our everyday experiences.

“In addition, we will use technology to model the behavior we wish to understand,” she said.

Spiroff earned her doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research area is commutative algebra, which includes the study of rings, modules, fields, groups, and the maps and invariants associated to these constructions.

She holds a five-year grant from the Simons Foundation and is an advocate for underrepresented groups in the study of mathematics, including women and minorities. Spiroff is organizing a research conference at the Banff International Research Station in Canada for the former and participating in national and regional conferences in support of the latter.

Active in the university’s globalization efforts, Spiroff will be traveling to China with a UM delegation to pursue partnerships with universities in Beijing and beyond. She is vice president of the UM Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and faculty adviser of the American Mathematical Society Graduate Student Chapter.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-5311.

UM Professor Leads Dinosaur Track Preservation Project

Findings from discovery and digital reconstruction of trackway site result in journal article

The team preserved the tracks, created by dinosaurs that roamed near an ancient sea, at an Arkansas gypsum quarry. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi geologist’s collaboration with researchers at the University of Arkansas has yielded the discovery and digital preservation of the first tracks of carnivorous dinosaurs ever found in Arkansas.

Brian Platt, assistant professor of geology and geological engineering at UM, was lead author of “LiDAR-based characterization and conservation of the first theropod dinosaur trackways from Arkansas, USA,” an article in the Jan. 2 edition of the journal Public Library of Science ONE. He was contacted by colleagues at UA after miners discovered the large, three-toed prints in a gypsum quarry near Nashville in 2011.

The footprints were preserved in a layer of rock that the mine had been blasting through to reach deposits of gypsum, a widely distributed mineral frequently used as a soil amendment and in making wallboard and plaster of Paris.

“When I first saw the footprints, I could barely contain my excitement – the entire surface of the site was completely trampled by dinosaurs,” Platt said. “I remember trying to follow one of the trackways by stepping in each footprint and I just couldn’t do it because the tracks were too far apart. It is thrilling to me to be able to step in the exact spot that a dinosaur stepped over 100 million years ago.”

The miners generously agreed to delay blasting so the team could examine the site before it was destroyed.

Because time was of the essence, the team applied for a special grant through the National Science Foundation that is designed for time-sensitive projects, called a RAPID grant. The University of Arkansas received RAPID funding for $10,000, and the UA vice provost for research and economic development and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences each provided matching grants, making the combined total funding $30,000.

To preserve the site, colleagues from the UA Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies used a method of laser scanning called LiDAR to create a digital replica of the site. LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, uses a pulsed laser to measure distances to the earth in tiny increments. Researchers used LiDAR because traditional methods would have taken too long.

“Once the site was preserved digitally, I could use the digital data to begin the time-intensive work of drafting a map of the site and taking measurements of the footprints,” Platt said. “I spent a lot of time working on the map during a 2012-13 post-doc, but there was so much LiDAR data to sort through that I needed to spend some time at the University of Arkansas to take precise measurements with the proper computer software.”

Platt’s 2014 travel was funded by a Southeastern Conference Traveling Faculty Grant, which the conference awards each year to enable SEC faculty members to collaborate with peers at other conference institutions. The award, which was supplemented with funds from the UM Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, allowed him to spend a week at UA over spring break to collect the measurements he needed.

Brian Platt, UM assistant professor of geology and geological engineering, displays models he uses in presentations about rare dinosaur tracks he and a University of Arkansas team uncovered and digitally preserved. Submitted photo

The tracks have since been destroyed, but the scans allowed the team of researchers to study the tracks and determine that they were made by Acrocanthosaurus, a large, carnivorous dinosaur. The findings extended the known range of the dinosaur 56 miles east, to what was the western shore of an ancient sea.

“It actually confirms that the main genus of large theropods in North America was Acrocanthosaurus,” said Celina Suarez, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at UA, who was part of the team that documented and studied the tracks. “It now has been found in Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Maryland – a huge range.”

The site had two different sized tracks, suggesting both adult and younger animals lived in the area about 113 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period. It also contained tracks made by sauropods, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs.

“Now we know more about the ancient ecosystem, e.g., both sauropods and theropods lived together in the same environment,” Platt said. “On a broader scale, the rocks that contain the footprints tell us that the environment was once a large tidal flat or evaporative coastal basin that experienced very dry conditions.

“Ancient climatic information like this can be used to help us better understand the impacts of climate change on ecosystems.”

Platt earned a bachelor’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and master’s and doctoral degrees in geology from the University of Kansas. Before coming to Ole Miss, he worked for an environmental consulting firm in New Jersey and as an instructor and lecturer for the geology department at the University of Kansas.

After completing his doctorate, he spent a year working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Kansas Geological Survey. His research integrates sedimentary geology and paleontology.

Researchers also created a detailed, publicly accessible online map of the site and the tracks. The digital reconstruction of the trackway site can be viewed at the website for the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies.

To read the PLOS ONE article, visit