Nishanth Rodrigues Joins UM as Chief Information Officer

Administrator to lead efforts to enhance campus technological infrastructure and capabilities

Nishanth Rodrigues

OXFORD, Miss. – Nishanth Rodrigues, an award-winning leader in information technology, has been named the University of Mississippi’s new chief information officer.

With more than 24 years of IT experience in academia, manufacturing and professional health care, Rodrigues assumed duties at the university Sept. 5. As CIO, his responsibilities are to provide leadership, management and strategic direction to the Office of Information Technology and provide strategic leadership to the university and other state agencies on all matters related to information technology.

He will work with internal and external stakeholders to provide technology tools, infrastructure and services to support and enhance student services, traditional and online education, research, student recruitment and enrollment, business and administrative processes, and outreach and community service.

“We are truly pleased that Nishanth Rodrigues has joined our leadership team in academic affairs,” said Noel Wilkin, the university’s interim provost. “Information technology is critical to everything that we do. His breadth of experience will be a valuable asset as we continue to innovate and enhance our campus infrastructure and technological capabilities.”

Rodrigues said he is “ecstatic and honored” to become a part of the Ole Miss community.

“The mission of the University of Mississippi aligns very well with my objectives, and the Creed of UM articulates the spirit of the institution, which goes along with my belief system,” Rodrigues said. “Today, technology plays a central role in everything we do, and my challenge is to leverage the best technologies and information systems to enhance the student experience and ensure the continued success of the university, a flagship institution and a powerhouse in the state of Mississippi.

“It’s a true privilege and honor to join the University of Mississippi, an institution with a rich history of academic and research excellence. I’m proud to be a part of such a talented and dedicated team of administrators and educators and look forward to helping the University of Mississippi to grow and succeed.”

Acknowledging that he is still on the “learn and understand” trajectory, Rodrigues shared his short- and long-term goals in the position.

“My short-term goals are to help the Information Technology department continue to create efficiencies in daily operations and refine our processes to benefit our stakeholders and the larger organizational community,” he said. “My long-term goals include, among others, developing standards and policies for expectations and accountability, maintaining a secure IT infrastructure and working with key stakeholders on a go-forward strategy for the institution’s ERP system.”

Formerly assistant vice president and chief technology officer at Michigan State University, Rodrigues led a team responsible for all aspects related to infrastructure: Data Center, Electronic Medical Record, Service Management and Operations.

Before that, Rodrigues was director of IT technology/interoperability at Bronson Healthcare in Kalmazoo, Michigan. For his service, he was awarded the Bronson President’s Leadership Award and earned the highest employee opinion survey results in 2013.

“The President’s Leadership Award is an honor bestowed on only one individual in the company per year in recognition of their contributions to the hospital system,” Rodrigues said. “To me, this was a hallmark following years of hard work and effort to gets teams and departments to work together to seamlessly roll out an ERP for Bronson Healthcare.

“To me, strong leadership is about building consensus and bringing people together to benefit a common objective, and the award qualified the achievement as a valued outcome acknowledged by the top leaders in the organization.”

Other positions Rodrigues has held include global systems engineering manager at Perrigo Inc. in Allegan, Michigan, and director of operations and infrastructure/site service delivery director and clinical systems team manager at Borgess Health in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Rodrigues earned his Master of Business Administration degree from Michigan State University and his bachelor’s degree in network engineering from Davenport University. His professional memberships include the Intel Corp. Mobility Advisory Board, Michigan Healthcare Cybersecurity Council, Big Ten Academic Alliance and several committees at MSU.

Rodrigues and his wife, Mary, have one daughter, Celestina.

MFA Student Wins Prestigious Cave Canem Award in Poetry

Julian Randall gets $1,000 and will have collection of poems published

Julian Randall of Chicago is the recipient of a 2017 Cave Canem Award in Poetry. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi graduate student is the latest recipient of a prestigious award cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African-American poets.

Julian David Randall, a second-year student in the university’s critically acclaimed Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, has won the 2017 Cave Canem Award in Poetry.

The Chicago native gets a $1,000 cash prize and publication contract, and his first full-length collection of poetry will be published and marketed nationwide. “Refuse” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018) was selected for publication by Vievee Francis, who is considered one of the greatest minds in modern poetry.

“I know that it’s stereotypical to say, ‘I was pinching myself,’ but my genuine reaction was that I had to still be asleep,” Randall recalled. “The Cave Canem Prize is literally my dream prize and my favorite book prize, the only prize for which I own every single book that has ever won it.

“For this to happen, to have my name alongside books I have wept over, aspired towards, that have launched careers that have made so much of my poetics possible, it’s beyond surreal.”

UM administrators and faculty said Randall is most deserving is his honor.

“Julian is one of our brightest and most promising MFA students,” said Ivo Kamps, chair and professor of English. “That he won the Cave Canem Award before even starting his second year in the program is nothing short of astonishing. It’s literally unprecedented.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Julian, his mentor Dr. Derrick Harriell and our entire MFA faculty.”

Randall is among the most dedicated graduate students with whom he’s had the privilege to work, said Harriell, assistant professor of English and MFA program director.

“His attention to detail and powerful subject matter is illustrated in this very prestigious honor,” he said. “The Cave Canem book prize is amongst our most celebrated, and to have one of our own MFA students be this year’s recipient is gratifying on so many levels.

“I know that Julian will continue to do great things in the future. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Randall earned his bachelor’s degree in English-black studies and education from Swarthmore College. He was drawn to the Ole Miss MFA program after hearing it praised by podcast co-hostess and alumna Aziza Barnes.

“The way Aziza spoke of Ole Miss and why come to Oxford aligned really well with what I saw as the trajectory of ‘Refuse’ at that time,” he said. “I can honestly say the day Derrick called to tell me that I got in was one of the best days of my entire life, and we’ve been rolling strong ever since.

“I’ve had a really great experience at Ole Miss thus far and I’ve never studied anywhere that the faculty have been more open to suggestions and requests.”

Randall said he plans to promote his book in New York this fall.

“I’m not sure where this will take me,” Randall said. “I just know I’m going to keep working as hard as I can to be worthy of the life I’ve been gifted thus far.”

A nonprofit literary service organization with administrative and programming headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, the Cave Canem Foundation has grown from a gathering of 26 poets to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty, high-achieving national fellowship of over 400 and a workshop community of 900.

For more about the university’s MFA program in creative writing, visit For more about the Cave Canem Foundation, go to

Biomimetic Acoustic Sensors Topic of Sept. 19 Science Cafe

Renowned researcher Ronald N. Miles is first lecturer for fall semester

A fly sits atop a cricket listening to sounds inaudible to the human ear. A new nanochip inside a hearing aid is capable of mimicking the fly’s acoustic sensors. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The acoustical organs of insects and their potential to revolutionize human hearing aids is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The fall semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. on Oxford. Ronald N. Miles, chair and distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at the State University of New York at Binghamton, will discuss “Biomimetic Acoustic Sensors for Hearing Aids.” Admission is free.

“We have studied the hearing in mosquitoes, flies, crickets, midges, caterpillars and spiders to explore remarkable ways these insects sense sound,” Miles said. “In this presentation, I will describe our discovery of the amazing directional ears of a special fly, Ormia ochracea, which is able to localize sound better than humans can, even though its ears fit in a space only 1 millimeter across.”

Mile’s 40-minute presentation also will include discussion about the development of biomimetic microphones based on this discovery, which show better performance than existing hearing aid microphones.

“We have also recently discovered new ways to sense sound based on the use of nanoscale fibers, such as insect hairs or spider silk,” he said. “This has resulted in a directional microphone that has ideal flat frequency response from 1 hertz to 50 kilohertz, far beyond the range of human hearing.

“There remains much more to learn from nature to create technology to improve hearing.”

Miles also will present a talk in the colloquium series of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at 4 p.m. that day in Lewis Hall, Room 101, on “The Naonphone: Sensing sound with nanoscale spider silk.”

Miles’ appearance should be interesting for everybody, said Marco Cavaglia, organizer of the Science Cafe series.                                                                                                                                                          

“Dr. Miles is an expert in acoustic engineering, electronic engineering and optical engineering,” said Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy. “His presentations are sure to be fascinating and enlightening.”

Miles received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California at Berkley, and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington at Seattle. He holds memberships in the Acoustical Society of America, American Society of Engineering Education, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the International Society for Neuroethology.

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.

FedEx Founder Fred Smith Issues Challenge at Honors Convocation

Annual fall event also featured Silicon Valley icon Jim Barksdale

Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, delivers the keynote address Tuesday evening during the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Fall Convocation in the Ford Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Legendary FedEx founder and CEO Frederick W. Smith challenged University of Mississippi honors students Tuesday (Sept. 12) to continue having academic conversations with the aim of developing workable solutions to national and global problems.

Smith was the keynote speaker for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College’s Fall Convocation at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Celebrating the college’s 20th anniversary, the program also featured Silicon Valley icon and Ole Miss alumnus Jim Barksdale, who introduced Smith.

“If this country is to continue being recognized as the leading nation on the global scene, then we must use rational thinking and political compromise to fix our problems,” Smith said. “I think that the answers are going from young minds such as those found in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“Even as students, when you search for good ideas, it can lead to big things.”

Considered one of the world’s most influential entrepreneurs, Smith founded FedEx more than 46 years ago. He recounted how his global corporation began with a paper he wrote as a student at Yale University. Smith’s idea went on to revolutionize the transportation industry and beyond.

“We singlehandedly created the overnight delivery system,” Smith said. “We also invented the ability to track and trace shipments while in transit, pioneered the unique wireless technology to keep in touch with all our service people and spearheaded transportation deregulation, which made it easier for growing companies to get goods and services to market.”

While citing the company’s assets and achievements, Smith maintained that its people are the real key to FedEx’s success.

“The FedEx culture is that people plus service equals prosperity,” Smith said. “The Purple Promise of every employee is ‘I will make every FedEx experience outstanding.'”

Barksdale credited Smith with changing traditional business operations from the industrial model into a technological society.

“FedEx has such a stellar reputation because it was led by this man of such great integrity and incredible executive leadership acumen,” he said.

Smith, in turn, praised Barksdale as “one of the great resources of American history.”

“This Honors College is named for one of the greatest philanthropists and advocates for education that I have ever known,” Smith said. “She was a true American hero who lived her life for the betterment of others.”

Smith’s visit represented an extraordinary moment for UM students, Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“Mr. Smith is one this country’s most important and innovative corporate leaders,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “I am thrilled that our students had the opportunity to hear and interact with such an impactful figure in his field.”

Sullivan-Gonzalez also praised Barksdale and his family for their contributions to the Honors College.

“Jim is a pioneer and leader in the technology world and a great friend of education and the University of Mississippi,” he said. “A noted alum of our business school, Jim’s career achievements and the commitment of his time, energy, passion and resources to elevating the quality of life in his home state are truly remarkable.”

With an annual income exceeding $60 billion, FedEx employs more than 400,000 workers in 220 countries. With a fleet of 650 cargo aircraft and thousands of delivery trucks, the company delivers more than 13 million shipments daily.

Visiting Professor to Discuss Foods of Slave Trade Thursday at UM

Judith Carney featured speaker of the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program

Judith Carney

OXFORD, Miss. – A geographer from the University of California at Los Angeles will discuss foods grown by African slaves Thursday (Sept. 14) at the University of Mississippi.

Judith Carney begins her lecture, “Seeds of Memory: Food Legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” at 5:30 p.m. in the Tupelo Room of Barnard Observatory. Her appearance, part of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society’s Visiting Scholar Program, is free and open to the public.

The event is co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and its departments of History and Modern Languages, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“Professor Carney’s lecture on the contribution of the transatlantic slave trade to the foodways of the Americas, including the southeastern United States, will give people a new perspective on something very familiar: the food on their plates,” said William Schenck, associate director of UM’s Croft Institute for International Studies and president of the UM chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

“It will also highlight the agency of enslaved African people, who, using their knowledge about the cultivation of African plants to feed themselves, created a new food culture, with important consequences for what – and how – we eat today.”

Carney’s research centers on African ecology and development, food security and agrarian change and African contributions to New World environmental history. She is the author of “Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas” (Harvard University Press, 2001) and “In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World” (University of California Press, 2010).

“This talk shifts our usual historical focus from the export crops slaves produced to the foods they planted for their own sustenance,” Carney said. “The lecture emphasizes the role of African foods in provisioning the transatlantic slave trade, the slave ship as a medium for their circulation and the slave food plots where these foods initially appeared.

“In doing so, it underscores the significance of the transatlantic slave trade for the circulation of African plants, animals and natural knowledge in the Atlantic world.”

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization in the liberal arts. Chartered in 2001, the UM chapter is the second of two in Mississippi and the only one sheltered at a public university in the state.

“An event such as this is the epitome of cultural opportunity available to those living in a college town,” said Sandra Spiroff, associate professor of mathematics and vice president of the chapter.

“The Visiting Scholar Program provides the community free access to presentations by national researchers on a variety of topics and potentially challenges the listener to consider viewpoints other than his or her own. For students of all ages, this is a particular aim of a liberal education.”

FedEx Founder Fred Smith Featured Speaker for Fall Honors Convocation

Jim Barksdale will introduce entrepreneur at 20th anniversary event Sept. 12 in Ford Center

Fred Smith

OXFORD, Miss. – This year’s Fall Convocation for the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College brings together two renowned businessmen to share their journeys to international success.

Frederick W. Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, will deliver the keynote address at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 12) in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. James Barksdale, founder and CEO of Netscape Communications Corp., will introduce Smith.

The event is free and open to the public.

Smith is among the country’s most innovative corporate leaders, said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, the college’s dean.

“We are honored and delighted that Fred Smith, the visionary founder of FedEx, will be our guest speaker on the special occasion of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “I am thrilled that our students will have the opportunity to hear and interact with such an impactful figure in his field.”

Smith is chairman, president and CEO of FedEx, originally known as Federal Express.

A native of Marks, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and was a commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps. Honorably discharged with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, Smith purchased controlling interest in an aircraft maintenance company, Ark Aviation Sales, and by 1971 turned its focus to trading used jets.

In June, 1971, Smith founded Federal Express with $4 million of his own money. The company began offering service to 25 cities in 1973, beginning with small packages and documents and a fleet of 14 Falcon 20 (DA-20) jets. His focus was on developing an integrated air-ground system, which had never been done.

He developed FedEx on the business idea of a shipment version of a bank clearing house, where one bank clearing house was situated in the middle of the represented banks and all their representatives would be sent to the central location to exchange materials.

Jim Barksdale, former president and CEO of Netscape Communications, also will speak during the Honors Convocation Tuesday in the Ford Center. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Smith is a former chairman of the board of governors for the International Air Transport Association and the U.S. Air Transport Association. He is chair of the Business Roundtable’s Security Task Force, and a member of the Business Council and the Cato Institute. He served as chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council and is chairman of the French-American Business Council.

He was awarded “CEO of the Year 2004” by Chief Executive Magazine and the 2008 Kellogg Award for Distinguished Leadership, presented by the Kellogg School of Management. In March 2014, Fortune Magazine ranked him 26th among its list of “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”

“The Honors College has taken its place among the nation’s leading honors programs,” Chancellor’s Honors College Artist-In-Residence Bruce Levingston said.

“As we celebrate its remarkable founding and growth during the last 20 years, we remind ourselves how incredibly blessed we’ve been by the insightful guidance and unflinching support of Jim Barksdale and his family. The Barksdales have long stood strong for excellence in education, and their exceptional standards continue to inspire us and help us take the Honors College to even greater heights.”

Barksdale and his family gave a $5.4 million endowment to Ole Miss to help form the Honors College in 1997. In January 2000, they gave $100 million to the state of Mississippi to create the Barksdale Reading Institute, a joint venture with the Mississippi Department of Education and the state’s public universities.

His latest gift, given in conjunction with his wife, Donna, created the Mississippi Principal Corps at UM.

“The Honors College Convocation is always an exceptional event, providing a great venue for our students to hear from stellar and accomplished individuals,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “This year, we are so fortunate to have not one, but two visionaries join us, as Fred Smith and Jim Barksdale will share their time and thoughts with our campus community.

“It is yet another example of the tremendous growth opportunities and events available to the students at the University of Mississippi.”

UM Student Selected as Inaugural Ira Wolf Scholar

Gwenafaye McCormick to spend 2017-18 academic year studying in Japan

Gwenafaye McCormick of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will be studying at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan this year as the inaugural recipient of the Ira Wolf Scholarship. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi student is the first to receive a prestigious new scholarship from the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation.

Gwenafaye McCormick, a junior international studies and biology major from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is the inaugural recipient of the Ira Wolf Scholarship. She will study Japanese culture and history at Waseda University in Tokyo for the 2017-18 school year.

“I am utterly humbled and thrilled by this,” said McCormick, a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Croft Institute for International Studies. “Although I briefly visited Switzerland, Paris and London in high school, this will be my first time actually studying abroad. I feel like I will learn a lot more than I think I will.”

The scholarship is named after a greatly admired and respected foreign service officer, U.S. trade representative and, most recently, employee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group in Tokyo. Wolf died in January 2016 after having spent half his adult life in Japan.

“With the support of Ira Wolf’s family and his colleagues in Washington, D.C., and Japan, we created the Ira Wolf Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor his memory,” said Jean M. Falvey, deputy director of the Bridging Foundation.

“Ms. McCormick was selected because she embodies Ira Wolf’s intellect and commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship and she’s helping to keep his legacy alive as an emerging global leader. We are very happy to help support her and her dreams.”

Kaoru Ochiai, instructional assistant professor of Japanese in the Croft Institute and UM Department of Modern Languages, has high expectations for her student.

“This study abroad experience will help her to improve Japanese language proficiency and grow her interests in researching the field that she has chosen,” Ochiai said. “She will take all the opportunities to meet Japanese people to become friends and to learn about Japanese culture, which will grow her as a person.”

McCormick became interested in learning Japanese after taking a course in high school. That initial exposure led her to pursue a degree in the language, which ultimately led to her coming to UM.

“Upon visiting campus, I fell in love with Ole Miss and the Croft Institute,” McCormick said. “I’m very interested in environmental studies and conservation, as well as Japanese.

“My plans are to combine my interests into a career which makes a meaningful contribution to the international community.”

Ochaia described McCormick as “warm-hearted” and a person who can anticipate the needs of others.

“I appreciate her supports to Japanese exchange students,” she said. “She volunteered to do many things, such as helping them with English, taking them to grocery shopping and teaching them about American college life. She helped them settle into a new life in Oxford and made their lives comfortable.”

Wolf was deeply committed to strengthening ties between the U.S. and Japan through his professional work and volunteerism, Falvey said.

“He was passionate about educating young adults on all things Japanese,” she said. “As a member of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, he helped award funds to many organizations involved in educational and cultural activities related to Japan.”

McCormick is the daughter of Paige McCormick, a professor of English literature at the University of Alabama, and Mark McCormick, vice president of academic affairs at Stillman College.

Created in 1998, the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation works to strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship by developing global leaders and cultivating a globally competent talent pipeline of the next generation’s workforce, through study abroad in Japan as “Bridging Scholars.”

In the past 19 years, the nonprofit organization has supported 1,837 U.S. undergraduate students’ cultural and educational exchanges, providing opportunities for a diverse cross-section of young adults to develop global leadership and workforce skills that will deepen their understanding of Japan and strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Calling All Connections

Alumni, constituents asked to submit suggestions for 2017-18 Ole Miss Engineer

Engineering friends,

I have had the privilege of serving as one of the editors the past few years and more recently as editor-in-chief of Ole Miss Engineer magazine. We are gearing up for the 2017-18 edition now. I so enjoy collecting great articles to share with our alumni, friends, prospective and current students, visitors and university community through this publication of the School of Engineering Dean’s Office. This is definitely one of the most fun things I get to do for the school.

In addition to great new material from departments, you will soon read about news from our research groups, engineering advisory board, Center for Manufacturing Excellence, co-op program and other engineering school entities. We’re considering Ole Miss Engineering connections as the theme for this year’s feature story. And there are many!

If you have a story to share about an interesting connection that led you to Ole Miss Engineering, a great job connection after graduation, classmate connection, even a random “Hotty Toddy” in an airport that led to a connection – we want to hear it! I’ve collected a few stories so far and can’t wait to hear more! 

Please email and we’ll get connected! 

Engineering Students Enjoy Summer Internships

Prospective employers provide employment, training to four from UM

Professional development is vital to the preparation of future engineers. Students who graduate with some type of internship experience are more likely to gain employment upon graduation than those who do not, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Many students receive employment offers directly from their internship employers.

This past summer, several University of Mississippi engineering students completed internships, gaining skills and experience that will be beneficial as they complete their degrees and seek future employment.

Ben Maples at International Paper. Submitted photo

Benjamin Maples of Lucedale completed an internship with International Paper in Vicksburg. The junior mechanical engineering major learned about this

opportunity by attending the biannual Engineering, Manufacturing and Technology Career Fair, co-sponsored by the School of Engineering and the UM Career Center. As part of Maples’ internship, he worked on a variety of projects in the powerhouse area of the mill and worked closely with a reliability engineer on tracking shipments.

“This experience has been invaluable because I have learned to apply topics that I learn in class to real-world problems and situations,” he said. “I’m also getting exposed to topics that I will soon learn about in class like heat transfer.”

Maples also said that communication is important when working with a team on complex projects. While he considers himself a good communicator, he said the internship helped him develop more effective communication skills.

William Peaster at BASF. Submitted photo

Yazoo City native William Peaster also found that communication was important through his internship with BASF in Mobile, Alabama. The company produces chemical products for customers across the country. Peaster helped with creating new diagrams for all of the process lines in the plant.

He also had the chance to create a mass balance that helped identify some yield issues within the plant, and was exposed to the business side through working with the supply chain management team.

During his time at BASF, the senior chemical engineering student was able to see firsthand the inner workings of a chemical plant, and like Maples, see things that he could not glean from a textbook. It also helped him define his future role as an engineer.

“Part of being an engineer is being able to come up with an answer and a solution when things are gray,” he said. “My internship experience allowed me to see the constant communication between engineers, managers, accountants, operators and other team members.”

Jake Azbell at Dynetics. Submitted photo

Electrical engineering senior Jake Azbell spent his summer interning with Dynetics in Huntsville, Alabama. The Riddleton, Tennessee, native learned of the internship opportunity from Ole Miss graduates who were recruiting on campus. Since working in Huntsville, Azbell has worked on data simulation and real-time processing for a radar prototype and has implemented the simulation using GPU programming.

Like Peaster, he said his experience as an intern has helped him see what the professional world will look like after he graduates this upcoming year.

“Being an intern has given me the chance to see how a postgraduate career will look and how to better prepare for life after school,” Azbell said. “I have had the opportunity to explore different aspects of engineering at the company and develop needed skills for my future career.”

While he found it challenging to learn the software for his projects in such a short time, he said that his course work had provided some basic experience in the area. He would also consider working for Dynetics as a result of his positive experience working with the company.

Catherine Teh (left) at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Submitted photo

Like Maples, Catherine Teh secured her internship with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality after interviewing with representatives at the on-campus career fair. However, she initially received notice from MDEQ that she had not been selected for a spot. Nevertheless, she received a phone call in mid-May, informing her that the department was interested in offering her a position, and she gladly accepted.

Although the process did not begin how she wanted, Teh, a sophomore chemical engineering major from Brandon found the internship experience to be eye-opening. According to Teh, MDEQ interns spend five days in each of the seven divisions of the Pollution Control office and are given small projects in each division. This way, they are exposed to all areas of the organization. She was also able to shadow an MDEQ mentor and go out into the field as well as take part in some sample collection.

“Even though I learned a great deal of technical skills, I took from the experience that it’s OK to make mistakes and how important interpersonal skills are in the workplace,” she said. “It’s important to seek out challenges and opportunities to grow. I received that from my internship with MDEQ.”

Teh said one of her biggest challenges was rotating between all the different divisions and getting to know so many people. As a rising sophomore, she found it difficult since she didn’t have an opportunity to settle into a routine. She does hope, however, to secure future internship opportunities to continue to develop her skills.



UM Engineering Faculty Collaborates on Deep-Space Communications

Team includes researchers at Jackson State University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Caption for photo 1: UM researchers, from left, Kenneth S. Andrews, Ramananarayanan Viswanathan, John N. Daigle, Jon Hamkins, Dariush Divsalar and Lei Cao meet in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in July 2015. Submitted photo

Three University of Mississippi engineering professors are collaborating with colleagues at Jackson State University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to improve communications with deep-space probes and, perhaps even, manned missions.

Lei Cao, Ramanarayanan Viswanathan and John Daigle, all professors of electrical engineering, are working with researchers at Jackson State University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a project funded by NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR.

The project, “A New Paradigm for Efficient Space Communications: Rateless Coding with Unequal Error Control and Data Fusion,” has achieved good results in theory and simulations. The team has proposed a new protocol for deep-space communications that may both improve the reliability and increase the reception rate of images or data received from spacecraft.

The results may provide a basis for improving data transfer rates over wireless systems, such as cellular phones. The project also may help enable the co-existence of different wireless communication systems for sharing the same frequency spectrum.

“Our simulation results demonstrated that the new protocol could improve the telemetry channel throughput by 46 percent over a fixed-rate communication method,” Cao said. “It could also achieve 92 percent of the theoretic upper-bound, while eliminating the need of retransmission.”

The primary challenge in deep-space communications is that as spacecraft travel farther from Earth, the vast distances cause substantial round-trip delays in the signal and high bit error rates in wireless communications.

“For instance, the round-trip time for (a) radio signal is from 8 to 40 minutes between the Earth and Mars,” Cao said. “This feature makes the protocols based on the receiver acknowledgment and transmitter retransmission of lost data packets that are currently deployed in our daily-used, land-based wireless communications networks no longer appropriate for deep-space communications.”

Also, the long distances cause large attenuation (loss in the signal’s strength along the path), various noise and distortion due to the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun’s corona.

“The water vapor, in particular, affects higher-frequency microwave signals, such as 32 gigahertz Ka-band,” said Kenneth Andrews, of the JPL. “If a spacecraft is on the far side of the sun, and the sun-Earth-probe angle is less than about 3 degrees, then the received signal that passes close enough to the sun will also be distorted by the tenuous plasma of the sun’s corona.

“Therefore, the signal-to-noise power ratio at a receiver is often extremely low, which easily raises the bit error rate to higher than 1 percent in many deep-space communication scenarios.”

Solving these difficult problems is critical because the need for higher data-rate communications for various exploration missions continues to grow, said Viswanathan, who also is chair of the UM Department of Electrical Engineering.

“Through this cooperative agreement, the research team at UM has made significant contributions to improve both the quantity and quality of information obtained through deep-space exploration,” he said.

Participants at the NSF I/UCRC Broadband Wireless Access & Application Center workshop, held at UM in 2015. Photo by Kevin Bain Ole Miss Communications

Data in communications are in the form of binary bit sequences. One bit sequence is often segmented into a number of packets, or basic data units. For example, a few thousand bits could be grouped into one packet. Bits in the packet can be coded together to increase their resilience to signal distortion.

To deal with the effects of long round-trip time, instead of transmitting the original data packets, the researchers encode the packets into a large number of new packets for transmission. At the receiver, the original packets are recovered by using sophisticated algorithms to decode a number of new packets.

“The success of recovery will not depend on which new packets are received but on the number of packets received, which is slightly more than the number of original packets,” Daigle said. “As a result, the new protocol eliminates the need of requesting the transmitter to resend any unsuccessfully delivered packets.”

Together with this new protocol, a number of advancements, including effective coding and decoding algorithms, dynamic selection of the code rate of error control codes and channel prediction algorithms, have been made so that substantial improvements in data transmission over space-to-earth channels can be achieved.

In addition, efficient methods of fusing data to improve the quality of information derived from the collected data have also been developed. New strategies have been proposed to determine what kind of information should be sent to the fusion center from different observers and what optimal fusion rule should be used to maximize the detection probability while minimizing the false-alarm probability.

“The theoretic advancements and practical implementation methods made through this project have been documented in more than 20 peer-referred publications and invited talks and conference presentations,” Viswanathan said.

Besides the technical achievement, a research team, which includes three professors and several graduate students in the Department of Electrical Engineering, has been formed to focus on areas of fountain codes, signal detection and wireless communications. This team, working with other faculty within School of Engineering, has been pursuing collaboration and research opportunities with other agencies and companies.

A stand-alone mobile communication network, built by UM undergraduate students using OpenBTS and USRP, was tested in the field last March 2017. Submitted photo

One prominent success is the establishment of the UM site of the Broadband Wireless Access and Applications Center in 2016. BWAC is a multi-university National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, led by the University of Arizona in partnership with UM, Virginia Tech, University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America.

With NSF support, the center works to advance wireless technologies and provide cost-effective and practical solutions for next-generation – 5G and beyond – wireless systems, millimeter-wave communications, wireless cybersecurity, shared-spectrum access systems, full-duplex transmissions, massive multiple input, multiple output techniques, and more.

“The mission of BWAC is to collaborate with industry research partners to create flexible, efficient and secure wireless networks that satisfy broadband communication needs in businesses, in the home and in the lives of individuals,” Daigle said.

“Through this UM site, the research team has been collaborating with companies including Intel, Qualcomm, Raytheon and C Spire in various projects in wireless communications, particularly in antenna design, 3-D printing and cognitive radio in 5G wireless systems.”

Some of the work directly links to the technologies and expertise developed through this NASA project.

“To contribute to the higher education in the state of Mississippi, the research team has also actively involved undergraduate U.S. citizen students into the project to gain them hands-on research experience,” Cao said. “Using Universal Software Radio Peripheral and GNU radio, the undergraduate students at UM have built up some interesting projects in wireless communications.”

For example, they have built a small network that can perform the same basic functions as a commercial Global System for Mobile network, including voice, Short Message Service, Multimedia Messaging Service and General Packet Radio Service.

“The advantage of this implementation is that a self-contained cellular network can be created with a single computer,” Viswanathan said. “This simple network can be extended with multiple nodes to ideally use for situations where mobile communications infrastructure is absent or compromised, such as in disaster-struck areas.”

The students presented their work at the 31st National Conference on Undergraduate Research and published a paper in the UM Undergraduate Research Journal.

This project is funded by NASA cooperative agreement No. NNX14AN38A. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.