Fun, Frights and Food Set for Annual ‘Spooky Physics’ Night

UM Department of Physics and Astronomy hosts hands-on event Oct. 26

An Oxford Elementary School student lies on a bed of nails as a volunteer places a weight on her while other ‘Spooky Physics’ participants observe. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – New frights and fresh takes on old delights are the order of the evening when the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy presents “Spooky Physics Demonstrations” from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 26 in Lewis Hall.

The program will include a stage show at 7:30 p.m. New demonstrations planned include a virtual reality simulation that will allow people to see a particle detector in 3D. New demonstrations on electricity, magnetism, lasers and optics also will be on hand.

“As in the past years, there will be shows and a lot of hands-on science demonstrations with a Halloween ‘twist’ to experience weird physics phenomena, from electricity to heat and pressure to the ultra-cold,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and coordinator of the evening’s activities. “And to make the evening ‘sweeter,’ guests will be able to taste our world-famous liquid nitrogen ice cream.”

Activities throughout the evening include freezing objects in liquid nitrogen (at minus 320 degrees), generating sound waves with Bunsen burners and tubes, and levitating magnets with superconductors. Other fun hands-on experiences include optical illusions with mirrors, a Van de Graaff generator (a “hair-raising” electrical device), a bed of nails and other contraptions.

Physics department personnel also will prepare ice cream with liquid nitrogen and award prizes for the most original, scariest and cutest costumes to kids 10 and under.

“Prizes will be cool physics demonstration toys,” Cavaglia said. “Winners will be able to impress their friends by repeating some of the cool demonstrations they will see at the show.”

The annual event is the department’s way to give something back to the community, said Luca Bombelli, chair and professor of physics and astronomy.

“We, as scientists, feel that outreach and education is an important part of our work,” he said. “Many people are often intimidated by science, and children often do not pursue a career in STEM because they have not been exposed to it.

“We want to show cool science while having fun. And, who knows? Maybe one day one of the children at our ‘Spooky Physics’ night will win a Nobel Prize.”

Parking will be available along All American Drive, in the Circle, areas alongside or behind the Turner Center and the Intensive English building (just west of the Turner Center), in the Pavilion garage or in the Tad Smith Coliseum parking lot after 6 p.m.

For more information or for assistance related to a disability, call the Department of Physics and Astronomy at 662-915-5325.

Rudy Kittlitz Remembers Alma Mater through Generous Donation

Successful chemical engineer becomes major donor to School of Engineering

Donor Rudy Kitlitz Jr. (left) meets with Marni Kendricks, associate dean for academics in the UM School of Engineering. Submitted photo

Since he graduated from the University of Mississippi half-a-century ago, Rudolf “Rudy” G. Kittlitz Jr. (BSChE 57) has enjoyed a long and prosperous career. Not one to forget where he came from, the retired chemical engineering alumnus has become a major donor to the School of Engineering at his beloved alma mater.

“For the past several years, I’ve provided a gift so that engineering students, who are otherwise not financially able, may attend the engineering banquet in the spring,” Kittlitz said. “To continue supporting Ole Miss, I’ve included the university in my will.”

The funds tentatively will be used for scholarships and lab equipment.

“Rudy Kittlitz has a deep appreciation for the education he received as an Ole Miss student and has been inspired to assist our School of Engineering students for years,” said Dean Dave Puleo. “Now he has committed a thoughtful planned gift that will strengthen the engineering school and transform students’ lives. We are grateful for his generous gift that reflects his great love for the University of Mississippi and his concern for young people.”

Marni Kendricks, the engineering school’s assistant dean for undergraduate academics, agreed.

“I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rudy in Waco last fall,” she said. “What a fun, memorable lunch, reminiscing about Oxford and the Ole Miss campus and people we both knew and our common affection for Ole Miss Engineering! His warm emails addressed ‘Howdy Marni’ always make my day better.”

Kittlitz’s connection to UM began when he decided to attend its engineering school in 1953. The Waco, Texas, native chose chemical engineering as his major after he read a novel on space travel by Willy Lee.

“I wanted to major in rocket engineering,” he said. “However, at that time it was not possible.”

As a student, Kittlitz recalled that each of his classes had no more than 10 students. Among his favorite professors was the late Frank Anderson, dean emeritus, and chair and professor emeritus of chemical engineering.

“These small classes enabled the students to quickly ask questions and get understandable answers,” Kittlitz said.

Rudy Kitlitz Jr. spends time reading in his backyard. Submitted photo

Following graduation, he began a 43-year career with the DuPont Chemical Co. There he worked with polychemicals research in Wilmington, Delaware, from 1957 to 1960. Kittlitz then moved to the company’s textile fiber divisions in both Seaford, Delaware, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, before switching to the nylon division and eventually becoming a senior research associate and statistical consultant for fibers.

“I taught myself statistics, which eventually became my career at DuPont,” he said. “My new knowledge of statistics and the Delrin plant startup were very beneficial as I began to learn the making of textile fibers.”

A member of the American Society for Quality since 1972, Kittlitz became a fellow in 1981. He served in leadership positions within ASQ including chair, program chair, chemical divisional councilor, founding member of the Delmarva Section, co-developer and instructor of the Quality Engineering Review course for the Delmarva Section, Region 5 director and executive regional director.

“In 1989, I was awarded the second William G. Hunter Award by the statistical division of the ASQ,” he said. “This was recognition of my being chair of a multicompany quality control group. Our people wrote ‘Quality Assurance for the Chemical and Process Industries.’”

He also has held professional memberships in the American Statistical Association and National Association of Parliamentarians. A registered professional engineer from 1984 to 2015, Kittlitz was an adjunct professor at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, a Citizen Ambassador to Russia and Ukraine, and a Delaware Quality Award judge.

“My attending and then graduating from Ole Miss means very much to me,” Kittlitz said. “I honestly did not know what kind of career I would have had, had I not received the NROTC scholarship to Ole Miss.”

Kittlitz earned his Master of Science in Engineering degree from the University of Alabama in Mobile. He is co-author of several publications and articles in peer-reviewed journals.

The father of three daughters and a son, Kittlitz lives at Lutheran Sunset Ministries, a retirement community in Clifton, Texas. He enjoys reading, traveling and hiking the Big Bend National Park area of Texas.


UM Scientists Further NASA’s Mission to Mars

ME professor Shan Jiang leads faculty-student research team in advancing space exploration

Shan Jiang (third from right) discusses his interdisciplinary NASA research project with (from left) Ronald Smith, Abigail Hughes, Makena Tisor, Jungmin Jeon and Katelyn Franklin. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

As NASA continues preparations for missions to Mars and beyond, a team of University of Mississippi scientists is conducting research that may advance deep-space exploration for decades to come.

Shan Jiang, UM assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is the principal investigator for “An Integrated Computational Framework for Atomic-level Investigation of the Sintering Mechanisms during In-Space Additive Manufacturing of Metals and Alloys,” a project funded by the Mississippi NASA EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Development, or RID, Program (No. NNX15AK39A) and directed by Nathan Murray, UM research assistant professor of chemical engineering.

The project is composed of synergistic, integrated, high-performance computing activities, including modeling, simulation, prediction and optimization of pure metal and alloy nanoparticle sintering, which is a process to make a powdered material coalesce into a solid or porous mass by heating it (and usually also compressing it) without liquefaction.

“One of the key areas of NASA mission-supportive research is ‘in-space additive manufacturing’ (known as AM) during Earth-independent missions on Mars,” Jiang said. “In the next two decades, NASA will push three fronts in realizing the ‘Journey to Mars’ mission: Earth-reliant exploration aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and in low Earth orbit; proving-ground exploration with planned missions near the moon and on a redirected asteroid; and Earth-independent exploration with missions planned for low Mars orbit to explore the entry, descent, landing and in situ resource utilization on Mars.”

Currently, a major area of focus on the ISS is to develop integrated AM facilities to rapidly manufacture items such as consumables and equipment replacement parts using materials such as metals, plastics, composites and ceramics.

“AM plays a key role in the NASA In-Space Manufacturing Vision for Extraterrestrial Environments, especially for 3D printing in zero gravity and for in-space additive repair,” Jiang said. “Powder metal sintering and the relevant atomic-level mechanisms associated with this process govern the AM of various types of metals and alloys.”

However, many fundamental aspects concerning the sintering phenomena (as well as associated melting and solidification behaviors) of various metal powders, especially at the atomic level, nanoscale and microscale, still remain largely unknown.

“In this project, we are aiming to develop an integrated modeling-computation-optimization framework for gaining fundamental insights into the atomic-level sintering behavior of various types of metals and alloys, with the ultimate purpose of predicting and optimizing the final additively manufactured parts and in part supporting the NASA In-Space Manufacturing and Repair Platform,” he said.

Using the research expertise of fellow junior faculty members within the School of Engineering, as well as the research groups at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the program aims to build the necessary research infrastructure for NASA-related modeling and computational research in a top-notch national field, i.e., additive manufacturing for metal printing and additive repair.

“The research will provide theoretical and technical support to both ground & ISS demos of the additive manufacturing of metals and alloys,” Jiang said. “In addition, fundamental computational studies to understand the sintering mechanisms of metal/alloy powders under extreme extraterrestrial environments will fill one of the knowledge gaps in the current state of the art of the in-space AM, as contained in the NASA In-space Manufacturing Exploration Technology Development Roadmap.”

Other UM faculty members collaborating with Jiang are Hunain Alkhateb, associate professor of civil engineering; and Alex Lopez and Sasan Nouranian, both assistant professors of chemical engineering. The four have been working successfully together for more than two years.

“As we realized the importance and stipulation for the outreach and the research-activities integration, we have established an Additive Manufacturing for Research and Education Cluster, or AMREC, with one of the major goals being to foster research and educational collaboration between four faculty members within the said departments,” Jiang said. “So far, we as an interdisciplinary team have obtained three seed grants (one from NASA Mississippi Space Grant and two from Mississippi NASA EPSCoR) related to additive manufacturing.”

A membrane scientist by training, Lopez’s work is focused on the treatment of wastewaters through electrodialysis and electrodeionization using material modification of ion exchange membranes.

“The majority of my work is centered around ionic liquid-based composites materials,” he said. “The AMREC, an interdepartmental collaboration aimed at the pursuit of novel materials with application in additive manufacturing, seeks to develop new insights into the possibilities of additive manufacturing and grow the field in a transdisciplinary way.”

The team also has involved some of its students in the research. Students include Jungmin Jeon of Korea, a master’s degree candidate in mechanical engineering; Katelyn Franklin of Ocean Springs, Abigail Hughes of Elgin, Illinois, and Makena Tisor of Madison, junior mechanical engineering majors; and Ronald Smith, a junior civil engineering major from Meridian.

“Jungmin is performing the modeling of nanopowders and nanoparticles, as well as the molecular dynamics (or MD) simulations of (the) laser sintering process,” Jiang said. “She is also assisting me in training other undergraduates to learn how to use MD package and submit parallel computational jobs on supercomputers at the Mississippi Center for Supercomputing Research.”

Franklin runs bimetallic nanoparticles simulations to mimic the heating and cooling process of nanoparticles considering different heating rates, as well as performing data analysis for the simulation data. Smith is running simulations on Ti/Al core-shell particles to understand the melting behavior during the formation process of nanorods, as well as performing data analysis for the simulation data. He also helps Jeon do data analysis of single-crystal titanium nanoparticle simulations.

Hughes is learning how to use an open-source code (LAMMPS) to realize parallel MD simulations and is expected to complete some large-scale parallel MD simulations of alloy particles soon. New to learning numerical techniques in molecular dynamics, Tisor is also performing a comparative study on how the mixture of simulated Martian (as well as lunar) regolith and resin will 3D print compared to the standard photopolymer resin under Lopez’s supervision.

For more about the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Mississippi, visit For more about NASA’s “Journey to Mars” program, go to The NASA Mississippi Space Grant program,, and Mississippi NASA EPSCoR program,, are funded by training grants from the NASA Office of STEM Engagement.




Alireza Asiaee Joins Chemical Engineering Department

Newest instructor brings professional experience, research expertise to UM students

Alireza Asiaee has joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Mississippi. Submitted photo

As an undergraduate chemical engineering major at Shiraz University in Iran, Alireza Asiaee dreamed of one day earning his terminal degree and joining the faculty of a prestigious university. Since then, both dreams have come true.

Asiaee is the newest instructor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Mississippi. He was hired Aug. 1, after receiving both his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and his Master of Science degree in chemical engineering from Shiraz University.

“I always had a passion for teaching and transferring chemical engineering knowledge to (the) next generation,” said Asiaee, who previously worked as a process engineer at ideaCHEM Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota, and as a lecturer at Rajaee Higher Education Institute in Shiraz, Iran. “During my graduate studies, I volunteered to be a teaching assistant for courses in computer programming, thermodynamics and advanced chemical engineering mathematics.”

Asiaee is teaching Programming for Chemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering Lab this fall. Next semester, he will be teaching Programming, Chemical Engineering Lab II and Web-based Thermodynamics.

“In addition to teaching the assigned courses, my short-term goals are developing new elective courses in the department, updating the current chemical engineering laboratory, providing support and help to update the existing curriculum, as well as helping and advising students with their research,” Asiaee said.

“My long-term goals include developing new courses and labs related to my research background in computational chemistry and bioprocesses and collaborating with other faculty members to establish research centers in computational and/or supercritical fluid areas.”

In addition to joining the UM chemical engineering department, Asiaee said his most satisfying achievement has been the outcomes of his Ph.D. research, which has established some new methods and procedures in studying and computational modeling of solid-fluid interfaces and heterogeneous catalysis.

“One of my articles was published as an ‘Editor’s Choice Paper,’ where we addressed some of the challenges and discussions between the theoretical results and experimental observations in Fischer-Tropsch synthesis process,” he said. “Due to the outstanding methods we developed in the mentioned paper, the company who owns the applied software (Accelrys) has reached out to my previous research group requesting our calculations and procedure in order to update their software packages and develop new procedures for estimation of first-degree reaction rates and parameters.”

Asiaee provides the enthusiasm and energy of a newly graduated Ph.D. to the department, said John O’Haver, chair and professor.

“He is providing the attention and creativity needed for our laboratory classes, as well as providing our freshmen with the fundamentals of using and programming in Excel,” O’Haver said. “He brings research skills that will enable him to collaborate at times with faculty. We are excited to have him in the department.”

Asiaee has a fiancée, who is working in Salt Lake City as an energy engineer. His family includes his parents and sisters.

“My extracurricular activities are mainly sports,” he said. “I am a member of Ole Miss Badminton Club. My other favorite sports are mountain biking, racquetball and playing pool.”



Jake McCall Finds True Calling

Electrical engineering senior succeeds in major and as C Spire intern

Jake McCall (right) works with a fellow student in the electrical engineering lab. Submitted photo

Jake McCall applied to the University of Mississippi as a psychology major. However, at the advice of a close family member, the Memphian decided to pursue engineering and found it to be the best fit with his interest in being creative.

Before classes officially started, McCall chose to study electrical engineering with an emphasis in computer engineering. Since then, he has found the experience to be both challenging and fulfilling.

“My favorite class has probably been EL E 425: Local Area Networks taught by Dr. John Daigle,” he said. “The class teaches the basics of how networks operate, specifically internet networks, and I enjoy learning the mechanics of commonly used pieces of technology.”

McCall also reflected that he found the practical applications of the course helpful in his understanding of computers and how to fully use them as instruments of engineering.

A highlight of McCall’s undergraduate experience happened last summer when he interned with C Spire. He enjoyed the collaborative working environment fostered by the staff.

“C Spire treated me like I was important to their work,” McCall said. “Instead of being given stereotypical intern tasks, I worked directly with full-time employees on real projects in the systems integration department.”

In addition to his summer internship experience, McCall is working on his senior thesis as part of his membership in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. He is working under the mentorship of Daigle, professor of electrical engineering. McCall’s project is focusing on localization using multiple inertial measurement unit, or IMU, sensors to perform digital dead reckoning.

“I have really enjoyed getting to work on a problem that has not really been solved in the public domain (at least not very well),” he said. “I have also gained a lot of practical knowledge along the way that I can use in my own personal projects.”

McCall said he is looking forward to presenting his research next spring.

Daigle taught McCall in both his Theory of Controls course and his Networking course and praised his academic performance. This, ultimately, led to them working together based on a common research interest area focusing on inertial measurement units. They began working together on this project last spring.

“Initially, Jake approached a different professor to inquire about working on this topic, but that faculty member knew that I was already researching this issue and had a graduate student working on it, so he directed Jake to me,” Daigle said. “I had written a proposal to (the) National Institute of Standards and Technology in which I proposed techniques based upon a combination of IMUs and Wi-Fi to track responders in emergency situations.”

McCall has been recognized for his academic success on campus. A 2018 Taylor Medal recipient and named the 2018 Outstanding Junior in Electrical Engineering, he has been inducted into Phi Kappa Phi honor society and Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, and serves as treasurer of Eta Kappa Nu electrical engineering society. Additionally, he has been heavily involved in the Baptist Student Union, where he leads worship and volunteers with its Grove cleanup after home football games. McCall is the recipient of the C Spire-Nokia Bell Labs Fellowship, which entails a four-month-long position at Bell Labs in New Jersey.

After graduation, he will return to Mississippi to work for C Spire in Jackson. He also is considering graduate school as he is interested in pursuing a Master of Science in either electrical or computer engineering.



Scientist Invents Device to Improve Fishery Operations

Design being tested by Gulf shrimpers reduces bycatch of untargeted marine life

Glenn Parsons

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi marine biologist has created a new device that could greatly improve shrimping operations and is putting the device to the test through partnerships with members of the Gulf of Mexico fishing industry.

Glenn Parsons, professor of biology and director of the UM Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, has invented a device that reduces unwanted fish and other creatures caught during the commercial fishing process – also known as bycatch – and thereby significantly increases the amount of shrimp caught.

“Bycatch slows down fishing, requiring extensive sorting to separate shrimp from bycatch,” Parsons said. “I have squatted on the back deck of countless shrimp boats, sorting shrimp from bycatch. It is back-breaking work – sort of like picking cotton.”

About a decade ago, Parsons noticed that previous bycatch reduction devices do not take advantage of flow quality changes that encourage fish to move to a place in the net where they can escape. With that in mind and through collaboration with Gulf Coast shrimpers and scientists at the Pascagoula Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Parsons developed an improved version.

A typical catch on shrimp boats operating in the Gulf of Mexico contains many unwanted fish (bottom basket), known as bycatch, creating work for crews and reducing the amount of shrimp caught. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

“Called the Cylinder Bycatch Reduction Device, it was developed to increase the amount of shrimp that is retained in the trawl and to eliminate a greater number of bycatch species,” he said. “This BRD creates a flow shadow that draws fish – but not shrimp – to it. The fish are then able to escape.”

Final design modifications of the Cylinder BRD occurred two years ago. The device has been tested by the National Marine Fisheries Service, passing with flying colors.

“A BRD has to deliver 30 percent or more bycatch reduction to be certified,” said Dan Foster, gear development specialist at the service in Pascagoula. “Ours came in at about 44 percent.”

Before administrative certification, Parsons and company decided that it should be placed on commercial shrimp boats to gauge its acceptance. It is being tested on about 10 boats in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

One boat captain using the CBRD gave it rave reviews.

Shrimpers using the Cylinder Bycatch Reduction Device have recorded dramatic decreases in the amount of bycatch (left basket), which means less work and more profitable catches. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

“He said that it eliminated about half of the fish from the trawl and lost very little shrimp,” Parsons said. “The shrimp loss is a very important consideration for shrimpers.

“Most shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico are using a BRD called the ‘fish eye,’ and it loses about 10 percent of the shrimp that enters the net. The Cylinder BRD enjoys superior bycatch reduction but only loses 1.7 percent of shrimp.”

The new BRD is fully developed and is being distributed, free of charge, to shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico. While some changes will likely be required, early evaluation of the device by shrimpers has been extremely promising. Parsons will deliver the BRD to shrimpers wherever they are.

“Feedback from shrimpers is very important for gauging the performance of the device in a real-world situation,” Parsons said. “After using the device, we require a short questionnaire to be filled out. As an incentive, we’re offering a $250 honorarium to try the device.”

Parsons’ device is funded under his U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA cooperative agreement No. NA17NMF4720254, “Application of a New Bycatch Reduction Device for Use in the U.S. Shrimp Industry.”

To evaluate the new BRD, contact Parsons at 662-915-7479 or Learn more about the device at

English Professor Included in Poetry and Essay Anthologies

Aimee Nezhukumatahil published fourth poetry collection last spring

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi professor’s poetry and essay have been selected for inclusion in two separate prestigious national publications.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, professor of English in the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, has been selected to the 2018 edition of the “Best American Poetry” anthology series. This is her second time in three years to have been selected for inclusion in the series.

Also, her essay “What Wonder Can Do,” from her forthcoming book of short nature essays, has been named as a notable essay for “Best American Essays 2018.”

“These are collections that I looked to when I was an undergrad to get a taste for what was being hailed as important and interesting work being published from each year,” Nezhukumatathil said. “I’m especially pleased to say for the first time in my listed biography for this anthology that I live and teach in Mississippi, since traditionally many of the poets who get usually get selected are from the East or West Coast.”

Nezhukumatathil said she hopes that her recognitions serve as a reminder of all the acclaimed literary work being produced at the university that continues to engage national conversations about literature.

“I am so thrilled to be part of a dynamic literary community here in Oxford,” she said.

Celebrating 30 years, “Best American Poetry, praised by the Chicago Tribune as “a ‘best’ anthology that really lives up to its title,” collects the most significant poems of the year, this year chosen by Dana Gioia, poet laureate of California.

Nezhukumatathil’s poem “Invitation” originally appeared in Poetry magazine, one of the world’s most prestigious poetry journals, earlier this year.

The author is most deserving of her latest recognitions, said Jay Watson, professor of English and Howry professor of Faulkner Studies.

“Aimee has long been established as one of the most original and resonant poetic voices working in English today,” he said. “Now she’s proven herself just as vital in the realm of creative nonfiction.

“The versatility she brings to her teaching and creative work, along with her commitment to continuing exploration and growth as a writer, make her an ideal model and mentor for our students.”

Due out next year, Nezkuhumatahil’s forthcoming book for Milkweed Editions is a series of essays about the wonders of the unsung plants and animals that are usually viewed as too “weird” or not very well-known, and her reflections on growing up as an Asian-American girl who grew to love and study nature.

“I think one of the great joys of writing essays is the ability to stretch metaphor and music as wide and far as you want without the exuberant tyranny of the line break,” she said. “I very much think in poems in some ways, but my knowledge of plants and animals helps me expand that lyrical way of processing this world with a scientific knowledge to back it up.

“I can’t wait to be finished with it. It’s absolutely a celebration of being present in this complex and scary and gorgeous world.”

Nezhukumatathil has authored four books of poetry, most recently, Oceanic (Copper Canyon, 2018). Her honors include a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She was the 2016-17 Grisham Writer-in Residence and is poetry editor of Orion magazine.

For more information about the UM Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, go to

Powerful Conversations, Emotions Shared at UM Event on Hazing

Families of Max Gruver and Tim Piazza share stories of sons' deaths, call for change in culture

Audience members watch a video as Evelyn Piazza (left), Rae Ann Gruver and Steve Gruver share their sons’ stories. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Painful memories and brutal facts were revealed Tuesday (Oct. 9) at the University of Mississippif     as the parents of Max Gruver and Tim Piazza detailed how their sons died from binge drinking during separate fraternity hazing incidents in 2017.

More than 1,000 people from the community filled the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts for “Family Matters: A Community Conversation on Hazing.” The audience listened intently as Steve and Rae Ann Gruver and Evelyn Piazza spoke frankly about the trauma surrounding the two tragic fatalities that were among four separate pledge deaths across the country last year.

The trio also called upon student leaders to join campus administrators in effecting a “no-hazing” culture on campus.

“This hazing has to stop,” Evelyn Piazza said. “It has no place on college campuses. It’s time to end hazing and to save lives.”

On Feb. 3, 2017, Piazza’s son, who attended Pennsylvania State University, was served 18 drinks in roughly an hour-and-a-half during a Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge initiation called “The Gauntlet.” The 19-year-old fell several times, including down a flight of stairs, causing numerous traumatic injuries.

Members didn’t get him medical attention until the next morning. He died Feb. 4, 2017.

During an initiation called “Bible Study,” senior Phi Delta Theta fraternity members at Louisiana State University instructed Gruver, 18, and other pledges to chug 190-proof Diesel liquor. He died Sept. 14 with a blood-alcohol level of .496, more than six times the state’s legal driving limit.

“Max was made to drink Diesel, which is the highest-potency alcohol there is,” Rae Ann Gruver said. “No one tried to save him by calling 911. Can you really call this a brotherhood – subjecting pledges to life-threatening activities?”

Steve Gruver shared how hazing is a misdemeanor in Mississippi punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and six months in jail. In states where hazing is a felony, those convicted have permanent criminal records.

Rae Ann Gruver (left) listens as her husband, Steve, warns Ole Miss students about the dangers and damage of hazing. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“You’re guilty of hazing even if you’re a bystander,” Gruver said. “If you see someone in distress or in need of medical attention and don’t call for help, you can be charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter.”

Using video and photo stills, the Gruvers and Piazza shared pertinent information about the manners and types of hazing, number of campus hazing deaths nationally since 2005 and actions that can be taken to counter hazing.

“The destruction caused by hazing is far-ranging and forever,” Piazza said. “Consider the consequences. Don’t think it won’t happen here, because it can and it does. Please listen to us. Don’t haze.”

Arthur Doctor Jr., UM director of fraternal leadership and learning, and student Brittany Brown served as moderators for the event. Ann Weston Sistrunk, College Panhellenic president, gave a welcome; Randon Hill, National Pan-Hellenic Council president, introduced the presenters; and Bennett Wilfong, Interfraternity Council representative, gave closing words to those in attendance.

“Hazing should have no place on our campus if we will all live by the words of the UM Creed,” Wilfong said. “Speaking up will not be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

“Let’s care for one another, get involved, make the right decisions and spread this message: hazing isn’t allowed here.”

For a second year, Ole Miss administrators addressed high-risk behaviors on campus in an open letter to the campus in September. Other steps taken include:

  • Mandatory prospective new member education regarding alcohol/drugs and violence prevention/sexual assault
  • Launch of the Livesafe app
  • Updates to the event registration process to address safety and help curb high-risk behavior
  • Recruitment visits and assessments by National Interfraternity Council representatives.

To report any concerning behavior, complete the Hazing Report Form at

Professors, Students Continue Collaboration with Marks Residents

Recent summer program yielded useful insights for future projects

Anne Cafer (left), principal investigator of the Marks Project, conducts research with community members of the Mississippi Delta community. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Two years ago, three University of Mississippi faculty members became aware of efforts by several Marks residents to improve living conditions in their community. With a commitment to support these endeavors, the trio began recruiting undergraduate students to assist them.

Recently, the faculty members and five UM undergraduate students conducted a summer study of community renovation in the Mississippi Delta.

Anne Cafer, assistant professor of sociology and coordinator of the Community Based Research Collaborative via UM’s Center for Population Studies; Kimberly Kaiser, assistant professor of legal studies; and Georgianna Mann, assistant professor of nutrition and hospitality management, received funding to conduct research in Marks from May through August.

Cafer and Mann, who have worked on a number of different initiatives related to health and nutrition in Marks, identified a need for more concrete data on how people are navigating their food environment, which has led to this particular project. All three faculty supervise students who routinely sign up for classes to be able to work on real-world problems.

“I think this project speaks to a larger desire by faculty on this campus to engage community stakeholders and use our academic skills in ways that benefit others,” Cafer said. “I’ve had a number of faculty express a desire to work in communities, particularly in the Delta, and not for one-off projects, but with the idea that their involvement would be long-term.”

As part of an ongoing relationship with this community, the UM team worked with a local food pantry to recruit participants to share information about the major barriers to individual and community well-being. The group used an innovative combination of methods to investigate these barriers and worked with 34 adults and children,

“We walked students through the research questions and design components, then worked with them to collect data in the Mississippi Delta,” said Cafer, principal investigator for the project. Kaiser and Mann are both co-principal investigators.

“This involved mentoring students in qualitative interviewing and an innovative method, fuzzy cognitive mapping.”

Students working on the project were Sydney Mitchell, of Raymond; Payton Meadows, of Goldsboro, North Carolina; Cole Borek, of Senatobia; John Haynes, of Booneville; and Alan Cuff, of Mandeville, Louisiana.

The partnership is making a positive impact on the community, said Judy Bland, executive director of the Marks Project.

Judy Bland (center), executive director of the Marks Project, meets with UM students (from left), Sydney Mitchell, Payton Meadoes, Kym Gordon, Cole Borek, John Haynes and Alan Cuff. Submitted photo

“They have worked many hours in our communities to determine the underlying issues and find some solutions, especially in the areas of health and nutrition,” Bland said. “Their presence here in Marks and Quitman County is making a difference in the lives of our residents.”

Mitchell, a biochemistry and Spanish major, said the work has been rewarding for her as well.

“The most meaningful part about the project was getting to know the community and also the people that made up this unique community,” she said. “From this experience, I was able to hear their stories and better understand where they were coming from.”

Students interviewed parent-child pairs about their physical, spiritual and mental well-being and how their community supported it. They also discussed barriers present in their community to achieving well-being in each of these dimensions.

After data collection, students analyzed results and wrote up their reports.

The data will be used for three student publications and to apply for additional grant support through the National Science Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“The data will also be used in piloting a new method in the social sciences and a report being developed for community stakeholders, including a public meeting to be held for feedback and to help prioritize next steps,” Cafer said.

Cafer’s proposal was one of two inaugural awards given by the UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for 2018 for Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grants. Program funding was provided by the Office of the Provost, with additional contributions coming from the College of Liberal Arts.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grants program has three goals: to encourage the submission of proposals for external grants that support undergraduate research projects; to allow faculty to gain experiences facilitating undergraduate research programs, experience that helps make external proposals more competitive; and to engage undergraduate students in research or creative scholarship.

University to Host Community Conversation on Hazing

Families of LSU, Penn State hazing victims to speak Tuesday at Ford Center

OXFORD, Miss. – The families of two students who died as a result of fraternity hazing in 2017 are coming to the University of Mississippi Tuesday (Oct. 9) to raise awareness of the dangers of hazing and other high-risk behaviors in an effort to prevent similar tragedies.

Steve and Rae Ann Gruver, parents of Max Gruver, and Evelyn Piazza, mother of Tim Piazza, will speak at “Family Matters: A Community Conversation on Hazing.” The free event begins at 7 p.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Piazza’s and Gruver’s fatalities were among four separate pledge deaths across the country last year. UM representatives scheduled to participate in the program include Ann Weston Sistrunk, College Panhellenic president; Randon Hill, National Pan-Hellenic Council president; and Bennett Wilfong, Interfraternity Council representative.

“These parents will tell the heartbreaking stories about losing their sons due to hazing,” said Arthur Doctor Jr., UM director of fraternal leadership and learning. “Their stories are different, yet they share similar and terrifying characteristics. There is much our community can learn from their message.”

On Feb. 3, 2017, Piazza was served 18 drinks in roughly an hour-and-a-half during a Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge initiation called “The Gauntlet” at Pennsylvania State University. The 19-year-old fell several times, including down a flight of stairs, causing numerous traumatic injuries.

Fraternity members didn’t get medical attention for Piazza until the next morning. He died Feb. 4, 2017.

During an initiation called “Bible Study,” senior Phi Delta Theta fraternity members at Louisiana State University instructed Gruver, 18, and other pledges to chug 190-proof Diesel liquor. He died Sept. 14, 2017, with a blood-alcohol level of .496, more than six times the state’s legal driving limit.

“The event started from a dialogue between Dr. (Brandi) Hepher LaBanc (vice chancellor for student affairs) and Mrs. Gruver related to the open letter that was sent to the UM community last fall,” Doctor said. “‘Family Matters’ was planned to address hazing as a collective community.”

Following Piazza’s and Gruver’s deaths, Ole Miss administrators addressed high-risk behaviors on campus. In addition to the open letter, steps taken at that time included:

  • Mandatory prospective new member education regarding alcohol/drugs and violence/sexual assault prevention
  • Launch of the Livesafe app
  • Updates to the event registration process to address safety and help curb high-risk behavior
  • Recruitment visits and assessments by National Fraternity Council representatives.

The Max Gruver Foundation was established as a nonprofit organization working to end hazing on college campuses. On its website, the foundation encourages personal responsibility and taking action.

“Please look out for yourself and, as importantly, look out for others,” reads an open letter on the site. “Speak up if you see a situation that does not look right. If you’re noticing something doesn’t seem right – chances are, it’s not. Take action. Get help. Taking action requires courage – even if it seems like the unpopular route to take.”

Mindy Sutton Noss, UM assistant vice chancellor and dean of students, echoed this message.

“It is our hope that members of our community will not only be more informed about hazing but be more inclined to speak up when they see or hear something that is not in line with the Creed and university expectations,” Sutton Noss said. The open letter was reissued last month.

For information about the Max Gruver Foundation or Timothy J. Piazza Memorial Foundation, visit and, respectively.

To report concerning behavior in a campus organization, complete the Hazing Report Form at