Pharmacy Professor Becomes Graduate School Associate Dean

Robert Doerksen is former director of medicinal chemistry graduate program

Robert Doerksen

OXFORD, Miss – Robert Doerksen, associate professor of medicinal chemistry, is the new associate dean of the University of Mississippi Graduate School. As of Monday (Dec. 11), he will manage the Office of the Graduate School and assist with expanding graduate education initiatives.

A faculty member in the School of Pharmacy since 2004, Doerksen has mentored graduate students for many years. He spent the last year as the director of the graduate program of the medicinal chemistry division within the school’s Department of BioMolecular Sciences.

Doerksen said he has long been interested in graduate studies, even spending time as an undergraduate reading about the history of higher education in Western society.

“Since then, I have loved the idea of how important and valuable it is to educate students to the highest level in a wide range of subjects,” Doerksen said.

As part of his new responsibilities, Doerksen also will supervise key staff members in the Graduate School, coordinate the Graduate Council and help ensure all aspects of graduate education run smoothly, including recruitment, admissions, finances and records.

“We must focus on improvements in quality, quantity and diversity of graduate students and of graduate degree programs, while also enhancing the sense of community and commitment across campus for administrators, faculty, students and staff,” he said.

In addition to his work at Ole Miss, Doerksen has experience with graduate education at various institutions, including Regent College, University of New Brunswick, University of California at Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania and National Pingtung University of Science and Technology in Taiwan.

During his time at the pharmacy school, Doerksen has twice won the school’s Faculty Service Award, as well as the Faculty Instructional Innovation Award. In July, he was recognized as one of the school’s four Distinguished Teaching Scholars.

“I expect that Robert’s extensive experience as a graduate student mentor will be transformed into fresh ideas and programs coming out of the Graduate School,” said Kristie Willett, chair of the biomolecular sciences department. “The Graduate School and its initiatives to recruit, support and reward our graduate students are essential to the success of an R1 university like the University of Mississippi.”

Although Doerksen said he has “very much enjoyed” teaching professional and graduate courses, he will greatly reduce his teaching responsibilities to focus on the new position.

“I will always be involved in the informal teaching that goes with being an adviser to members of my research group, including postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduate students,” Doerksen said. “This is the kind of teaching that I think is at the heart of a great university.”

Doerksen was selected based on his experience teaching and mentoring graduate students, as well as the “breadth and depth of his vision for graduate education” at UM, said Christy Wyandt, interim Graduate School dean.

“Robert has been a key member of our faculty for many years, as can be seen by his record of service, teaching and research success,” said David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “He has a clear commitment to graduate education that will serve the university well.”

Doerksen aims to continue the success of the Graduate School and seek out ways it can contribute to the university and to society.

“I don’t want to overlook the importance of maintaining a well-functioning graduate school with its many moving parts,” Doerksen said. “At the same time, I dream of ways that we can improve graduate education at the University of Mississippi.”

Committed Community Servants Honored at University

'Hickman girls' pay tribute to parents' lives, examples with two scholarships

Known while growing up as the ‘Hickman girls,’ Jenny Hickman Poole (left), Debbie Hickman Little and Lisa Hickman Tollison have created two scholarships at the University of Mississippi to pay tribute to their parents, Dewey and Will Hickman, pictured in the portraits. Photo by Heather Cosby Poole

OXFORD, Miss. – The late Dewey and Will Hickman were known for their committed service to the University of Mississippi and the state’s other universities, the Oxford-Lafayette County community and its economic development, local schools, their church and – most of all – their three daughters.

“Our parents led by example, with the message being to us that demonstrating love and loyalty to each other is an important value,” said daughter Jenny Hickman Poole of Batesville.

Those daughters – known around Oxford as the “Hickman girls” – are expressing that affection and devotion by establishing two scholarships at Ole Miss to pay tribute to their parents. Poole and sisters Debbie Hickman Little and Lisa Hickman Tollison, both of Oxford, have funded the Will A. and Dewey C. Hickman Memorial Law Scholarship Endowment for full-time students in the School of Law who are Mississippi residents and have financial need.

The second scholarship is the Will A. and Dewey C. Hickman Memorial Scholarship Endowment designated for full-time students who are community college transfers and Mississippi residents with financial need; first preference will be given to students in the School of Business Administration.

“When we lost our parents, we knew we wanted to do something for these special people who did so much for others,” Poole said. “Their love for Ole Miss was so strong and such an important part of their lives that establishing something at the university in their names seemed appropriate.”

“Our parents left a wonderful legacy of dedication and service, which we want to memorialize with this gift,” Little said.

The designation of the new scholarships models the Hickmans’ paths in higher education. After losing his father at the age of 12, Will Hickman, a native of Monticello, attended Hinds Community College on a basketball scholarship while doing custodial work on campus. Meanwhile, Dewey Hickman graduated as salutatorian of Meadville High School and enrolled at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

“They educated three daughters, who earned degrees from Ole Miss, and were instrumental in educating their seven grandchildren,” Tollison said. “Although we were blessed, not everyone gets the same opportunity to receive a formal education. Our parents would be very pleased to know these scholarships will aid other young men and women.”

Will Hickman, a senior law partner with Hickman, Goza and Spragins, made far-reaching contributions as part of the leadership on the board of trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning for 13 years, where he served a term as president. The IHL is the governing body for policy and financial oversight of Mississippi’s eight public universities.

His experience in desegregation and civil rights cases within public schools and with Ole Miss made his service “valuable” on the board of trustees during the Ayers case, a civil rights case that sought to correct inadequate funding for Mississippi’s three historically black universities, Little said. “My dad was an advocate for educational opportunities for everyone.”

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter praised the daughters for choosing to honor their parents through student scholarships.

“Dewey and Will Hickman were outstanding alumni who will always be part of this university,” Vitter said. “We are extremely grateful to their daughters for this gift of scholarships bearing their names and reflecting their parents’ strongly held belief in extending educational opportunities to others.

“Will Hickman provided transformational leadership and service to the IHL board that will be felt for generations of students attending Mississippi’s eight public universities. Likewise, Dewey Hickman was a source of unwavering support to her husband throughout this meaningful service and also worked tirelessly to strengthen Ole Miss, local schools and other institutions. Their generous spirit could be seen in that they often opened their home for Ole Miss events.”

Hickman also was uniquely poised to influence the community as the board attorney for the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, Oxford School District, Oxford-Lafayette County Hospital and Northeast Mississippi Electric Power Association. He was president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and the North Mississippi Industrial Foundation, as well as chairman of the education committee of the Oxford Economic Development Foundation.

Will Hickman served in the U.S. 5th Army, commanded by Mark Clark, in the Italian theater during World War II, fighting all the way to France. Afterward, he enrolled in Millsaps College, where he met the love of his life, fellow student Dewey Cobb. After graduation they married, moved to the Oxford campus and lived in the “Vet Village” while Hickman earned his law degree from Ole Miss.

Dewey Hickman taught school in Abbeville for five years and earned a master’s degree in business administration from UM. They had planned to move back home to south Mississippi but chose to remain in their adopted hometown of Oxford.

Will Hickman served Oxford as mayor pro tempore and as an alderman for two terms. Appreciation for his contributions was recognized in 1986 when he was honored as Oxford’s Citizen of the Year. Hinds Community College named him Alumnus of the Year in 1988. He was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the university in 1996. The Ole Miss School of Law selected him as its 1998 Alumnus of the Year.

“They fell in love with Ole Miss and Oxford,” Little said. “They were the typical Southern couple, stately and courteous. Mom was the serious one, and Dad had an excellent sense of humor. He was a good man to have on your team.

“Dad always gave credit to Mom whenever he was recognized. Mom was the creative, behind-the-scenes person. She had a servant’s heart and wrote notes of encouragement to people all her life. They believed the family unit to be critical, with Dad often saying, ‘If you don’t maintain close family ties, you’ve lost something that will be difficult to regain.'”

Poole said the words that come to mind when describing her parents are “commitment, hard work, determination, giving and family.”

That family also includes their three sons-in-law: Ray Poole, Larry Little and Grady Tollison.

Dewey Hickman was named Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Oxford. She taught business communication at Ole Miss for a year. She was active in the community and the First Presbyterian Church for many years. Leadership positions included chair of the Easter Seal Campaign, secretary of the Lafayette County Library Board, member of the V.F.W. Auxiliary and the Oxford Army Advisory Committee and president of the Cosmopolitan and Oxford Garden clubs.

“Our parents were heavily involved in all our activities,” Poole said. “They drove us to everything – cheerleading, Girl Scouts and more. They gave so much of their time and resources to the community but they were always present for their daughters.”

Both the Will A. and Dewey C. Hickman Memorial Law Scholarship and the Will A. and Dewey Hickman Memorial Scholarship Endowment are open to accept gifts from individuals and organizations. Send checks to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the fund(s) noted in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or give online at http://umfoundation.com/makeagift.

For more information contact William Kneip, development officer for the College of Liberal Arts, at 662-915-2254 or Kneip@olemiss.edu.

General Engineers: The Medical Field Is an Option

Problem-solving skills learned in engineering are valuable in medicine

UM engineering graduates who are now medical doctors include, from left, Drs. Brooks Turner at Halifax Medical Center, Jennie Katherine Ellis Lofton at UMMC, Steve Faulks at the University of Florida College of Medicine and Cameron Bonds at North Mississippi Medical Center. Submitted photo

When Dr. Brooks Turner, a 2013 general engineer graduate from Ole Miss, was considering career options, he knew he wanted to go into a field where he could help make a difference in people’s lives. He then made the decision to go into the medical field, which he viewed as a combination of altruism and science, similar to engineering. He is now practicing family medicine at the Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“I believe the critical-thinking skills I acquired in engineering have played a major role in preparing me for the medical field,” Turner said. “The system-based approach to problem solving has definitely helped me in evaluating clinical scenarios.”

Dr. Ellis Lofton, a psychiatrist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, was a general engineering major at Ole Miss and graduated in 2013. She said she believes there can be a misunderstanding when it comes to general engineers and their career paths.

“I think there is a misconception that you have to major in biology or chemistry to gain acceptance into medical school,” Lofton said. “However, I don’t believe that is the case. While my medical school class did have a significant proportion of students with science backgrounds, we also had students with backgrounds in engineering, architecture, law and seminary.”

Her engineering undergraduate skills, similar to Turner’s, also taught her how to problem solve, which has benefited her medical career.

“I think one of the greatest things I learned in my engineering studies was how to problem solve,” Lofton said. “Now, I use those same problem-solving skills from undergraduate to work with patients and find what therapies and treatments work best.”

The medical field is open to engineers, and Turner said he hopes future undergraduates will take advantage of it.

“I would definitely encourage students to strongly consider engineering as a pathway to medicine,” Turner said. “It’ll prepare you to critically think when problem solving, allow you to tailor your pre-med undergraduate schedule in a way that fits your plans for taking the MCAT and applying for medical school, and it will most certainly help your resume and application stand out.”

Electrical Engineering Alumnus Leads Stanford Wave Physics Laboratory

Jerry M. Harris is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geophysics

Electrical engineering alumnus Jerry M. Harris is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geophysics at Stanford University. Submitted photo

When it comes to terrestrial understanding, University of Mississippi alumnus Jerry Harris (BSEE 73) knows the lay of the land.

As the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geophysics in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, the Sardis native teaches geophysical courses and directs the Stanford Wave Physics Laboratory, a research group on campus.

“My group includes students, postdocs and research scientists,” said Harris, who also earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. “We work on seismic imaging for characterizing and monitoring Earth resources.”

Harris joined the Stanford faculty in 1988. During his tenure, he has served as chair of the Department of Geophysics, director of the Center for Computational Earth and Environmental Science, associate dean for academic affairs and associate dean for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, both in the School of Earth Sciences.

Prior to joining academia, Harris worked for 11 years in private industry with the Communications Satellite Corp., Exxon Production Research Co. and British Petroleum. He credited his continual career success to his beginnings at Ole Miss and described his career as a meandering stream rather than a pipeline.

“I chose Ole Miss because it was close to home and they offered me a band/music scholarship,” he said. “In high school, I liked building things, especially radios. Electrical engineering seemed like a good choice of major and had good job opportunities.”

Harris said his favorite engineering professor was Leonard Tsai.

“He was young, a minority and spoke the language of students,” he said. “His door was not just open; he invited me in to chat about academic issues and the social issues of the day, namely race relations on campus and in the country.

Other favorites of Harris were Chalmers Butler, with whom he did his senior thesis, and Damon Wall, who was “a friendly face” to all the students. They, and especially, Tsai influenced Harris’ career path.

“My undergraduate senior project on antennas gave rise to my interest in electromagnetics,” he said. “I went on to get a Ph.D. in electromagnetics from Caltech, though my interests shifted to wave propagation. My desire to become a professor was born from those chats with Leonard Tsai. While Ole Miss was not a very welcoming place for African American students in the early 1970s, Professor Tsai was a friendly voice in electrical engineering. Ole Miss Engineering not only prepared me academically but also helped to recognize the important role professors have in shaping the aspirations of students.”

Harris has received many honors and said they are meaningful for different reasons.

I hold the Cecil and Ida Green Endowed Chair in Geophysics. Cecil Green was an electrical engineer whose company, Geophysical Services Inc., contributed to the introduction of digital electronics to the petroleum industry,” Harris said. “GSI spun off the now powerhouse electronics company Texas Instruments. I’m proud to be an electrical engineer [like Green] who found his career path in the field of applied geophysics for the petroleum industry.”

Being named Distinguished Lecturer for the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, American Association of Petroleum Geologists and Society of Petroleum Engineers are other honors Harris found fulfilling.

“These honors recognize my contribution to the development of the field of crosswell seismic imaging and also for the importance of the field to the industry of reservoir geophysics,” Harris said. “Lastly is the Stanford University Diversity Award, which was awarded to me (as cognizant dean) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, in recognition of the summer pathways program SURGE that has helped numerous undergraduates from underrepresented groups get admitted to top tier U.S. graduate schools.”

Harris met his wife, Claudia (who also has a Ph.D. in geophysics), during his visit to the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras. Their son, Marek, is an undergraduate at Stanford majoring in human biology and planning to go to medical school. His daughter, Rashida, is a marketing executive with AT&T in Atlanta.

 

Taiho Yeom Joins Mechanical Engineering Faculty

Assistant professor specializes in thermal-fluid sciences

Assistant professor Taiho Yeom brings his professional experience to the mechanical engineering department. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Taiho Yeom, the newest faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the University of Mississippi is the right fit for him.

“Like most of others applying for jobs, I found the position from job searching online websites and immediately realized that I would nicely fit into the position based on my career and research backgrounds,” said Yeom, who began his employment this past fall. “The position at Ole Miss came out looking for exactly what I had been looking for. Then I applied, and, thankfully, Dr. (Arunachalam) Rajendran (chair and professor of mechanical engineering) contacted and offered me the position.”

UM’s academic reputation, long history and tradition as the flagship university of Mississippi all played a part in Yeom’s decision to accept the offer.

“I thought that this is the great place where I can start my academic career,” he said.

Rajendran said Yeom is a welcome addition to the department.

“Our students will benefit through Dr. Yeom’s teaching of a very important subject such as thermal management as applied to electronic devices and other applications,” he said. “A mechanical engineer with some thermal management background and training will be able to work in a wide variety of industries; I am indeed excited about this opportunity.”

Originally from Gwangju, South Korea, Yeom said Oxford’s climate is similar to that of his homeland. Having earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Ajou University in South Korea, he migrated to the United States to seek master’s and Ph.D. degrees. Yeom received the former from Oklahoma State University and the latter from the University of Minnesota. Both degrees are also in mechanical engineering.

“After my Ph.D., I joined Seagate Technology, one of the largest data storage companies, in Minnesota as a senior mechanical engineer,” Yeom said. “I worked on developing (a) next-generation recording head assembly that consists of elaborate micro-scale actuators and sensors focusing on improving structural and dynamic characteristics of the system.”

While Yeom enjoyed his experience at Seagate, he said he missed the research in thermal and fluid sciences he’d conducted in graduate school.

“I always wanted to go back to my original specialty area because I did not want to waste my skills and knowledge that I achieved during almost the entirety of my graduate school years,” Yeom said. “Since I had been struggling a lot in the very cold Minnesota weather for many years, the weather was another reason I wanted a change.”

When his wife, Sohye Lee, became an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Memphis right after he received the offer from “Dr. Raj,” Yeom knew he had to accept the position.

“That was the final stamp on our decision process,” he said. “Now, I am commuting from Collierville (Tennessee) for about an hour, twice per day, enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery.”

As a tenure-track assistant professor, Yeom is teaching Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer this spring semester. He expects to teach other courses in thermal-fluid areas such as Compressible Flow and Thermodynamics.

“My research interest lies in the area of thermal-fluid sciences with a special emphasis on developing novel methods of thermal management and energy conversion systems,” Yeom said.

“The research in thermal management will try to answer the question of how to effectively remove heat from various scales engineering systems employing a variety of cooling techniques, such as piezoelectric active air cooling, microstructured surfaces and multiphase interchip cooling. The research in energy conversion will focus on improving conversion efficiency of pyroelectric devices by employing nano-engineered novel structures.”

Yeom’s short-term career goals at Ole Miss are to initiate teaching activities, look for external funding opportunities and set up his research lab.

“I will try to publish (in) high-impact journals and expose my research to the relevant academic communities,” he said. “Seeking good collaborations will be essential in developing early stages of my research programs. I will put efforts in developing teaching materials and formats to provide improved quality of education to students.”

His long-term goal is to become a recognized researcher and educator in his field so he can contribute to elevating the reputation of the mechanical engineering department, School of Engineering and Ole Miss.

Of Yeom’s professional achievements, he said becoming a faculty member at Ole Miss is the most gratifying.

“It became a turning point in my life, which otherwise would have gone for a completely different direction,” Yeom said. “It will give me a variety of opportunities to achieve what I have been trying to do. I hope to get more great achievements, honors and awards as I walk through my career.”

Yeom and Lee have two sons, Jihoon and Jio. The family enjoys traveling, reading books, swimming, fishing and exercising.

 

Chinelo Ibekwe Named West Africa Rhodes Semifinalist

Chemical engineering senior is also seeking Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Chinelo Ibekwe, a senior chemical engineering major and student in the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, has applied for both Rhodes and Cambridge scholarships. Submitted photo

University of Mississippi senior Chinelo Ibekwe was recently named a Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa semifinalist.

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College student was among 65 candidates selected for the semifinal round from 2,948 applicants. Ibekwe interviewed via Skype with judges in Lagos, Nigeria, in mid-November 2017.

“We had good conversations about my background and my interest in the Rhodes Scholarship,” said the chemical engineering major from Nigeria. “I did not move on to the final round of 15 finalists. However, I am currently applying for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship and will receive news in March 2018.”

Ibekwe said she is also applying to graduate schools in the U.S. for further study in health-related fields. She seeks to modernize her country’s health care system to help overcome its technology infrastructure challenges.

“I am also open to global health fellowships in African countries and job opportunities in health care companies,” Ibekwe said. “My long-term goal is to work in the Nigerian Ministry of Health and to help foster technology innovation in our health care sector.”

Ibekwe is also a student in the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence and has worked with the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders in Togo, West Africa. She has done two internships with Goldman Sachs. In addition, Ibekwe interned with Mars Food Co. and took a year off to work for Medtronic. She also was a summer public policy fellow at Princeton University and a summer pre-MBA student in the Tuck Business Bridge Program organized by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

Ibekwe is writing her honors thesis about health policies that affect nursing mothers in the Mississippi Delta region. She chose her major, her research topic and her internships to prepare her to return to Nigeria, where she would like to be the minister of health one day.

“Chinelo has been deliberate in designing an interdisciplinary academic and co-curricular experience, from chemical engineering to manufacturing, visits with health care professionals during winter breaks, internships in finance, food production and medical device development, and, most recently, a summer institute focusing on public policy,” said Toni Avant, director of UM’s Career Center and Ibekwe’s adviser. “I have never seen a student more dedicated to reaching her career goal.”

The West Africa Rhodes Scholarship was introduced in 2017 to identify and support innovative young leaders in West Africa. Students selected for the West Africa Rhodes will receive scholarships for tuition and living expenses to study at the University of Oxford in fall 2018. The Rhodes Trust, established in 1903, selects creative young leaders with a commitment to serving others.

Since 1903, it has “convened a community of extraordinary people who share a history of enriching their communities, pioneering in their chosen fields, and applying the knowledge and experience acquired as scholars for the betterment of society,” according to Charles Conn, chief executive officer of the Rhodes Trust. The Rhodes Scholarship selection committees seek students of outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service.

 

Pigford Recalls BSU’s Proud Tradition of Uniting Student Groups

Former president uses leadership lessons learned at UM to help others

Kezia Pigford

OXFORD, Miss. – Being part of the “Turn Your Back on Hate” campaign at the University of Mississippi was a defining moment for Kezia Pigford.

Pigford, a native of Hattiesburg who graduated from UM in 2005 with a marketing communications degree, served as president of the Black Student Union during the 2003-04 school year. She was part of the “Turn Your Back on Hate” movement, which was an approach to confronting controversial speakers on campus.

This tactic involved students lining up to protest hateful speakers, but instead of yelling at them or holding signs, students peacefully turned their backs. 

“This was the turning point for me,” Pigford said. “I decided BSU was the organization I wanted to be part of. They really were interested in equality and coming together with all members of the Ole Miss student body to make things better.

“Watching how they handled adversity and handled it professionally was inspiring.” 

The university’s BSU, founded in 1968, celebrates its 50th anniversary with events throughout the 2017-18 academic year. The group’s golden birthday will culminate with a gala in February 2018. 

Throughout the period of celebration, past presidents, former members and current students will be profiled on the BSU website and on the UM website. Special anniversary content on social media can also be found using the hashtag #UMBSU50.

Pigford got involved with the group her sophomore year, and going into her junior year, she was encouraged to run for BSU president. As the group’s leader, she focused on the BSU mission of making sure that everyone always felt welcome. 

“The BSU made it known that we were all welcome here and that yes, this present is for you to make it what you want it to be,” Pigford said. “BSU is a place of acceptance and comfort.

“It also pushed me to step out into campus and let me know I didn’t just have to be in BSU and be withdrawn. BSU is the vehicle to show all the possibilities at Ole Miss.” 

While serving as president, she found herself thrust into a more active leadership role than most BSU presidents have because that year, the Associated Student Body president was removed from office, leaving a large leadership void on campus. Taking on these roles gave her valuable leadership experience, including becoming better at public speaking, she said. 

Jacqueline Certion, coordinator of enrollment and advising for UM’s Foundations for Academic Success Track, worked at the university when Pigford was in school. Pigford considers her a mentor, along with Val Ross, director of the UM Office of Leadership and Advocacy

Certion, who also served as Pigford’s Sigma Gamma Rho adviser, draws from a Douglas MacArthur quote when remembering her.

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of others,” MacArthur said. “He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

Pigford epitomizes this quote, Certion said. 

“Kezia was a passionate leader,” Certion said. “Her ability to connect with diverse populations made her a wonderful asset to every organization in which she served. She led by example, therefore making it easy for those who followed.”

Pigford teaches elementary math and science in Bossier City, Louisiana, which she said she enjoys because she gets to affect the lives of her students, just like she was able to affect the lives of Ole Miss students. She said some of the lessons she learned at UM find their way into her classroom these days. 

“It does matter what has happened, but you can’t let it define you,” Pigford said. “You have to channel it and use it. The question is, what are you going to do with what you have now and the opportunities that are there for you in the future.

“I want to help those who are younger than me move forward in a positive direction and know they can overcome any adversity.”

UM Students and Faculty Help Children Develop to Their Potential

Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders offers assessments and in-home services

Lauren Stantz, of Houston, a graduate student in communication sciences and disorders, conducts a play therapy session, which regularly helps address a variety of speech, language, cognitive or physical developmental delays for clients in the Early Intervention Program. UM photo by Sarah Sapp

OXFORD, Miss. – As children progress through infancy and early childhood, parents rely on health care professionals to determine if they are meeting normal developmental milestones. The earlier a delay is detected in cognitive, speech, language or physical development, the sooner practitioners and parents can implement strategies and therapies to help children achieve their potential.

Graduate students in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders have an opportunity to see firsthand how critical early intervention can be.

Through the Mississippi Department of Health’s Early Intervention Program grant, CSD graduate students and certified speech and language pathologists provide in-home, individual assessment, evaluation and treatment for children with developmental delays or diagnosed physical or mental conditions.

“We will see anywhere from one to five evaluations in one day,” said Gina Keene, a certified speech and language pathologist and UM clinical supervisor. “We see such a variety of children – babies as young as less than a month old, up to toddlers – for a variety of reasons.

“Some aren’t talking yet, some with Down syndrome, swallowing problems, complicated medical histories or extreme prematurity.”

Participation in the program helps graduate students get the 400 clinical hours required to become a certified speech and language pathologist, including 25 observation hours and 375 hands-on hours, under the direction of Keene.

“They’re a part of a multidisciplinary team of speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and special education instructors that conducts in-home, individual assessments of the infants or toddlers and their families to develop an individualized family service plan,” said Michele Masterson, district coordinator for the Early Intervention Program.

Through an open referral system, cases of infants or toddlers with diagnosed physical or mental conditions, or those who exhibit a 33 percent delay in one area of cognitive, physical, social or communication development or a 25 percent delay in two or more areas of development, are routed to the Mississippi Department of Health, where district coordinators assign evaluation teams.

“Catching delays early can be critical,” Masterson said. “That is our purpose – catching it early – so when they begin Head Start or a preschool program, they’re caught up and their delays are being addressed.”

As service providers and evaluators for the Northwest Public Health District, Ole Miss students and certified speech and language pathologists serve 323 children across a nine-county district, Masterson said. The most successful interventions occur in a natural, home environment, so teams travel throughout the district to provide in-home services, she said.

Teams coordinate services including family-centered programming, nutrition counseling, behavioral services, vision and hearing assessment, physical therapy, occupational therapy and/or language development. The services are free for families, with payment being processed through insurance or Medicaid first, with the MSDH grant-funded program serving as payer of last resort.

“Not only are the Ole Miss students getting an understanding of the first piece of the intervention, they’re actually getting to see the services and carry out the services with the babies,” Masterson said. “They can see the changes in the child when they follow the case for year. They can see the difference in the child from the time they met them to the time they leave.”

Graduate student Lauren Stantz, of Houston, understands firsthand the importance of early intervention.

“It is really interesting to go into the homes and include the caregivers in the therapy session,” Stanz said. “They are able to see firsthand strategies they can use to continue progress when the SLP’s aren’t around.

“I also love getting to be in the child’s everyday environment and incorporating activities and toys they are familiar with. It is helpful in communicating with them and building language skills.

“I’ve had a few clients who I’ve seen make some really great progress in sessions, and it’s been very heartwarming. I have definitely learned things I feel like I wouldn’t have in any other setting. It has been wonderful, and I’m extremely thankful for this opportunity.”

Rebecca Lowe, CSD clinical assistant professor and coordinator of the Early Intervention Program, praised the program for providing service-learning opportunities for her students and providing job opportunities.

“We really look at this as a feeder program, since our graduate students who participate can become professional service providers in the state network after graduation and licensure,” Lowe said.

Lowe and Masterson are working to further develop the university’s involvement in the grant by tapping other disciplines across campus for help, such as education, exercise science and health professions.

“We want to eventually expand our work with other programs from the university,” said Masterson, indicating a need for special instructors in early childhood and special education, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

“We have a mission to improve human health and well-being, first and foremost, in Mississippi,” said Teresa Carithers, interim dean of the School of Applied Sciences. “Through research and service-learning, our departments seek to solve problems for individuals, families and communities in need, and children are chief among the most vulnerable populations.”

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders within the School of Applied Sciences provides an accredited program to educate and train graduate students in the discipline of communication sciences and disorders specific to the field of speech-language pathology. The department also houses a Speech and Hearing Clinic for training students and for service to the community and university consumers.

Visit http://www.csd.olemiss.edu for more information about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders or email csd@olemiss.edu. For more information about the Early Intervention Program, visit http://www.msdh.ms.gov.

Professor Sheds Light on Overlooked Artistic Side of Vikings

Nancy Wicker is completing a book about the art and culture of ancient Norsemen

Nancy Wicker, UM professor of art history, is working to shed light on the artwork Vikings made, including pieces like the replica jewelry she is wearing. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Vikings are often portrayed as brutish, violent Norse conquerors, but a University of Mississippi professor wants to shed light on the often-misunderstood peoples’ artistic side that led them to make intricate golden jewelry and impressive wooden carvings on the prows of their ships.

Nancy Wicker, a professor of art history, is involved in projects that aim to broaden what the world knows about the early Scandinavians, who continue to capture the public imagination through TV shows such as “Vikings.” She hopes to shift some of the focus from stereotypical characteristics to the art they made, as well as how they traveled like no group before them.

“I ask people who are interested in Vikings, ‘Do you know about Viking art?'” Wicker said. “They say, ‘Did they have art? They were a bunch of barbarians. Would they have had art?’ Of course they had art. All cultures produce art.”

Her goal is ambitious, given that the public’s basic understanding about the group is often oversimplified or just plain inaccurate. Even the iconic “Viking helmet” with horns protruding from the sides isn’t historically correct. They didn’t wear them. But, misperceptions aside, the public has a longstanding fascination with the Norse warriors and explorers.

“People are fascinated,” Wicker said. “We art historians and museum curators laugh about it. Everyone is interested in Vikings, mummies and dinosaurs. If museums have any of those three, they’re golden.”

During the 2016-17 academic year, Wicker was on sabbatical to write a book about art of the Viking Age. She was a fellow-in-residence at the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The experience provided her with access to some of the world’s best library collections and also gave her a work site very conducive to writing, she said.

She gave a public lecture there in April about Viking art, but the room full of scholars quickly shifted the discussions back to the darker aspects of folklore.

“The first question I got was, ‘What about the moral compass of the Vikings?'” Wicker said.

She’s committed to broadening understanding of the misunderstood group. Many people have a simplistic view of them that is mostly portrayed as violent.

Yet Vikings even produced art on their ships, which featured impressive carvings in their own distinctive style. They also made metal objects, most of them very small, featuring likenesses of various animals and people.

“You may have seen the Viking ship woodcarvings,” Wicker said. “They made the jewelry they wore. They had arm rings, neck rings and pendants. … You will see lots of animals, very, very abstracted animals on brooches and pendants that hold clothing together.”

 Metal detecting is very popular and legal in Denmark and the United Kingdom. 

There’s a TV show in the UK called “Detectorists” about hobbyists who hope to find treasure. The show may have boosted the popularity of the avocation.

Metal detecting also has led to new discoveries of Viking art that differs somewhat from what’s traditionally been uncovered in graves.

“In addition to animal art, small figurines are now being found,” Wicker said. “My argument is that the newest discoveries of human figures are changing our view of Viking art. We can’t say it’s all just animal art.”

This small silver pendant, which is around an inch high, found in Sweden, is interpreted as a Valkyrie offering a cup of mead to welcome a fallen warrior to Valhalla, the hall of the slain, according to Norse mythology. Submitted photo by Creative Commons

Besides their artistic endeavors, the great distances Vikings traveled for trade and exploration are worth scholarly treatment. They traveled from Scandinavia to Spain, North Africa and Italy, and in the other direction to Russia, the Black Sea, Istanbul, Greece and Baghdad, among other places, Wicker said.

“There are many theories about why they expanded,” she said. “They were already traveling before the Viking Age – not as far, not to Spain, not to Russia, but certainly across the Baltic and to England.

“They were already on the move, and there was a population boom. What do the second and third sons do when the first son inherits the farm?”

Around the eighth century, just before the beginning of the Viking Age, Scandinavians developed ships that were faster than the vessels that came before them due to use of sails, but they still had a shallow draw. The innovation enabled them to conquer both the seas and rivers with relative ease.

“The new ships were very adaptable, which really allowed them to be on the move and go all around the coast of France and Spain, and across the Atlantic to Greenland, North America and Newfoundland, as well as down the rivers of Russia,” Wicker said. “The development of ships is very important in the eighth century, just on the cusp of the Viking Age.”

Despite their creativity and nautical ingenuity, Vikings suffer from perceptions based on inaccuracies.

Many people who are most fascinated by the idea of pagan Nordic Vikings don’t realize that their world was multicultural. Vikings – both Christian and pagan – were in contact with Christians in Western Europe, Muslims and Jews in Spain, Slavs in Russia and Eastern Europe, and Byzantine leaders in Constantinople, as well as Turkic and Jewish groups in Central Asia.

These people also traveled to Scandinavia to trade and sometimes stay, as indicated by grave finds where Wicker excavated at Birka, in Sweden, for instance, she noted.

“The art of the Viking world fascinates me because it reflects these wide-ranging interactions,” Wicker said. “With my research, I want to show others how these diverse peoples influenced each other’s cultures.”

Wicker is also studying how pre-Viking gold jewelry reveals wear and breakage. She’s lending her expertise in this area to collaborate with Dr. Jason Griggs, associate dean for research in the School of Dentistry and professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Materials Science at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Gold is an important metal in dental work because it is sturdy, malleable and noncorrosive.

She made impressions of jewelry breakage at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, and Griggs will analyze the fractal geometry of her impressions as part of his analysis of material fatigue and failure.

The department is fortunate to have Wicker, who has achieved national and international recognition, said Virginia Rougon Chavis, chair of the Department of Art and Art History and professor of art.

“To say that Dr. Wicker is actively engaged in scholarly activity would be an understatement,” Chavis said. “Dr. Wicker is not only interested in her own scholarship, but in the advancement of her field as a whole.

“She is well-connected across the globe with other members at the top of her field. She has been an essential collaborator on various projects and is one of the most rigorous of colleagues I have known. She is a truly devoted scholar, and it is an honor to have her as a member of our faculty.”

UM Students Place in International Robotics Contest

Mechanical engineering teams win second and third prizes

Members of the award-winning UM team are Jonathan Brown (left), Eli Schuette, Turner Wharton and Ryan Steele. Submitted photo by Arunachalam Rajendran.

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi mechanical engineering student teams have brought home top prizes from an international robotics competition in Tampa, Florida.

The 2017 American Society of Mechanical Engineers Student Design Competition (The Robot Pentathlon: Citius, Altius, Ingenious) challenged each team to create a fast, strong and agile robot. Each team was also expected to build a device to remotely control its robot and compete against others in five different events – a robot pentathlon.

This competition is based on design requirements and a set of rules that change annually. This year, the requirement was to design a robot that could accomplish five objectives: a 10-meter sprint, a stair climb, a tennis ball throw, a golf ball hit and a weight lift.

“Ole Miss had two teams that not only won first and second place in the regional competition in Tennessee, but also those teams went on to win second and third place in the finals, which included teams from around the world,” said Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering, who accompanied the teams.

The original regional competition, held at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee, last April, included such universities as Virginia Tech, Clemson University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and several SEC universities. After their victory, the UM students graduated and began their careers. However, the robots they left were eligible to compete in the international competition, held in mid-November.

“After the competition was completed, the first-place award went to the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, second went to the Ole Miss Red team with Ryan Steele of Southaven and Turner Wharton of Fairfax, Virginia, and third went to the Ole Miss Blue team with Jonathan Brown of Ecru and Eli Schuette of Ocean Springs,” Rajendran said. “Overall, the Ole Miss students won $1,500 in prizes, plus an additional $750 to the ASME student group on campus.”

Matt Lowe, machine shop supervisor in UM’s mechanical engineering department, said the teams can be very proud of their placements in the competition.

“They took a cost-effective approach to complete a very engineering-effective design,” Lowe said. “For example, the manufacturing cost for the Ole Miss robot was less than $500, and it outperformed a robot from a rival institution that costs more than 10 times as much to create.”

“We couldn’t have won the top two places without the hard work and dedication of the Machine Shop Supervisor Mr. Matt Lowe,” Rajendran said. “The team members worked very hard under the supervision of Mr. Lowe and utilized all resources in our machine shop for exceptional cost savings. I am so proud of them all.”

Ryan Steele (left) and Turner Wharton pose in front of the ASME official display. Submitted photo by Arunachalam Rajendran.

The ASME competition provides a platform for engineering students to present solutions to design problems ranging from everyday household tasks to groundbreaking space exploration. Each team is required to design, construct and operate a prototype that meets the requirements of an annually determined problem statement.

“This experience not only allowed students to learn more about robotics, design and engineering, but it also showed engineers from around the world the fantastic capabilities that Ole Miss has in engineering,” Rajendran said. “Several hundred schools enter the regional competitions each year, yet Ole Miss teams held two victorious positions. This not only shows the amazing growth and engagement that Ole Miss Engineering has had in recent years, but it is also a testament to the opportunities that are possible with incredible faculty support.”