Engineering Fall Enrollment Includes Inaugural Biomedical Engineering Class

New admission standard expected to ensure higher quality of students, help underprepared students succeed

New School of Engineering students attend the Engineering Freshmen Convocation. Submitted photo by Ryan Upshaw

The Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Mississippi is off to a successful start. Approved last November by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, the inaugural class consists of 37 new freshmen and 17 internal transfers.

“The new freshmen have an average ACT score of almost 31 (30.9) and GPA of 3.92,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the School of Engineering. “Seventy-three percent of them have at least a 30 on the ACT. We anticipate a great success for the program.”

This fall also marks the first time the engineering school raised its admission requirements to reorganize the student body and better develop underprepared students. Incoming freshmen in every UM engineering degree program except general engineering are required to have an ACT math score of 25 and high school GPA of 3.00 to be admitted. Students with an ACT of 22-24 and a GPA of 2.80-3.00 are admitted to the general engineering program.

“These students are in Math 125, EDHE 105 and three sections of Introduction to Engineering classes,” Cheng said. “Once they finish Math 125 with a B to qualify for calculus, and have a 2.50 GPA, they will be moved to the department of their choice.”

This new policy has caused a small decline in new freshmen enrollment (337 versus last year’s 349), but the overall quality continues to improve, Cheng said.

“The whole new freshman class has (an average) 27.7 ACT (+0.4), 3.73 GPA, and 35 percent have at least a 30 on the ACT,” he said. “As the underprepared students (start in) general engineering, each department also sees improvement in student quality. We hope that this new admission policy can help us to continue our path to an elite program, (and) at the same time to take a firm control of less-prepared students to make them successful.”

 

 

 

 

Matthew Morrison Wins Excellence in Academic Advising Award

Assistant professor of electrical engineering recognized for support of students

Matthew Morrison, assistant professor of electrical engineering, received the 2017 Excellence in Academic Advising Award during the fall faculty meeting in August. Submitted photo

Over the past three years, Matthew Morrison has advised, encouraged and lent a compassionate ear to hundreds of students at the University of Mississippi. Now they’re putting him up for awards – and he’s winning.

Morrison, assistant professor of electrical engineering, has been honored with one of UM’s 2017 Academic Advising Network’s Excellence in Advising awards. The awards are presented each year to one staff academic adviser and one faculty academic adviser. Sovent Taylor, instructor and assistant director of the Health Professions Advising Office, is the staff recipient.

Advisers are nominated by students, peers and administrators. The award is coordinated through the Academic Advising Network steering committee. The network comprises faculty and staff who have an active role in academic advising on campus.

“I was surprised,” said Morrison, an award-winning teacher and researcher who oversees the department’s emphasis in computer engineering science. “I wasn’t even aware I was nominated. I’m grateful that my efforts were acknowledged by the students and my fellow faculty members.”

Winners of the award were recognized at the fall faculty meeting. They received a stipend from the Office of the Provost, had their names placed on a plaque in Martindale Student Services Center and will represent the University of Mississippi for the National Academic Advising Association regional and national awards. The Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience assists them with the completion of their NACADA nomination packet in late fall.

Morrison said that building on students’ capability and potential goes beyond improving their proficiency in the classroom.

“I work with my students on professionalism, communication skills and developing life plans,” he said.

A University of South Florida alumnus, Morrison started with the Department of Electrical Engineering in 2014. He won the Junior Faculty Research Award from the School of Engineering this year. Advising became a natural career path as he worked with students.

“I made serving as an adviser a priority when I started here at Ole Miss,” he said. “Everything I do in terms of teaching and research – whether it’s how I give homework and exams to how I instruct the Senior Design course – also has a component of developing the student(s) into outstanding engineers beyond just the classroom and their grades.”

In the engineering school, Morrison is known for guiding aspiring engineers through degree paths and toward obtaining a professional engineer license. He’s also known for giving students either the compassion or motivational push needed when the pressures of college become overwhelming.

“From helping you with job applications and giving advice on how to navigate through life’s problems from his experience, he is the definition of an all-complete adviser for any student,” said Demba Komma, the student who nominated Morrison for the award. “He cares about his students and is a very relatable person. He has earned the trust of his students by being readily available to offer help when needed.”

This award marks the second time Morrison has been honored for his work with students. At USF, he won the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Teaching Assistant. There he implemented many of the teaching methods developed at the Naval Nuclear Power School, which he found engendered greater creativity in students.

Morrison won the Navy Club of the United States Military Excellence Award in U.S. Navy Recruit Training. The award is presented to the graduating recruit who best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military appearance and behavior, self-discipline and teamwork.

“I am proud of this award because I realized during boot camp that I have the potential to lead, give to my community and achieve excellence through hard work and dedication,” Morrison said. “Receiving this award marked a significant milestone in my life, and every achievement since has been the result of the same enthusiasm and discipline that I developed in boot camp.”

 

Electrical Engineering Alumnus Helps Entrepreneurs Succeed

David Aune serves on engineering school's advisory board

David Aune (BSEE 77) is a MOBI Plus instructor in the My Own Business Institute at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. Submitted photo

David Aune (BSEE 77) has accumulated more than 25 years of management experience. He has led customer-service and marketing operations at large companies, but he said he especially enjoys mentoring startups.

“The hardest and also most gratifying achievements have been working in several startup businesses,” said Aune, an instructor in the Leavey School of Business’ My Own Business Institute, or MOBI, at Santa Clara University. “I am now on a personal mission to give back by helping entrepreneurs succeed. I enjoy sharing lessons about what worked for me and what mistakes I made so entrepreneurs can get started on the right path.”

Reared in Water Valley, Aune went to the University of Mississippi because his mother was an alumna and the university had a strong academic reputation. As a student, his favorite engineering professors included the late Charles E. Smith Sr., chair and professor of electrical engineering, and Roy T. Arnold, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy.

“Dr. Smith listened to me, explained things in a way that I could understand and gave me good advice,” Aune said. “I stay in touch with Dr. Arnold, and we still discuss challenging, unsolved questions.”

Aune is working on a “How to Start a Business” course in partnership with the Center for Employment Training in San Jose, California. In addition to classroom instruction and facilitation, his duties include reviewing applications for the program, designing course syllabi, recruiting relevant guest speakers, reviewing and giving feedback on business plans, and monitoring and helping students progress successfully.

He has been an executive in tech industries, such as Software as a Service, for such companies as AlephCloud, Kaleidescape, ViewCade Solutions, Five Across and Brandsoft. He has served as vice president of marketing and customer support at FileMaker Inc. (formerly Claris Inc.), a software subsidiary of Apple Computer. He has also held technical management positions at Ungermann-Bass and Hewlett-Packard.

Aune and his wife, Glenda (BA 75), reside in Saratoga, California. The couple has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since he graduated from Ole Miss. His leisure activities include culinary arts.

“My last avocado toast attempt tasted great,” he said. “However, I have not yet perfected a photo of the dish that is ‘Instagram worthy.’”

Administrators in the School of Engineering said they appreciate Aune’s contributions as an alumnus and advisory board member.

“From day one, David showed great interest in our curriculum and the latest tools and laboratories made available to our students,” said Ramanarayanan Viswanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering. “In his deliberations with our faculty, he brought forth many years of his work experience and provided valuable guidance to the department. He also gave an inspiring talk to (the) dean’s leadership class. It is indeed our fortune that we established contact with one of our early graduates.”

Dawn Wilkins, chair and professor of computer and information science, concurred.

“I’m very excited that David has joined the Engineering Advisory Board,” she said. “Many of our computer science students have aspirations to become entrepreneurs, and David has the passion to encourage them and the knowledge to assist the faculty in guiding the students to be successful entrepreneurs.”

Aune said he credits his Ole Miss engineering education for his career success.

“I developed problem-solving skills, the ability to analyze, diagnose, experiment, test and prove a solution,” he said. “I also learned discipline, to be accurate, pay attention to detail, get the focus right and do the complete job. Finally, I found persistence, being able to make progress one step at a time and don’t give up, especially when you are stuck.”

 

 

 

 

 

School of Pharmacy Expands Residency Programs

Residencies offer recent graduates experience in practice settings

Austin Crocker, a Post-Graduate Year 1 Community Pharmacy Resident at UM, administers a blood pressure screening at Tyson Drugs in Holly Springs. UM photo by Lauren Bloodworth

JACKSON, Miss. – For recent pharmacy graduates looking to continue their education, the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has expanded its residency program to five positions, with three focused in community pharmacy and two in ambulatory, or outpatient, care.

The expansion is partly due to an increased demand for residency opportunities. In 2017, 69 percent of the 6,027 pharmacy graduates nationwide who applied were accepted to a residency program, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Several professional organizations advocate for all pharmacists in direct patient care settings to receive residency training as a prerequisite for entering the pharmacy workforce by 2020, said Seena Haines, chair of the UM Department of Pharmacy Practice who oversees the school’s residency programs..

“Our residency programs develop highly qualified and independent practitioners who are able to provide patient-centered care in a variety of health care settings with a high level of maturity and leadership to conduct practice-related projects,” Haines said.

The school offered its first residency program in 2009, a Post-Graduate Year 1 Community Pharmacy Residency Program on the pharmacy school’s Jackson campus under the direction of Leigh Ann Ross, associate dean for clinical affairs. Over the next eight years, the pharmacy school expanded the programs and graduated 15 residents with the help of local pharmacies and outpatient clinics.

The most recent addition is a Post-Graduate Year 1 Community Pharmacy Residency Program at Tyson Drugs in Holly Springs. Tyson Drugs’ owner, Bob Lomenick, pioneered a medication synchronization program that the school wanted pharmacy graduates to experience.

This year’s resident at Tyson Drugs is Austin Crocker, a 2017 Pharm.D. graduate of Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy and a native of Madison. Crocker and Lomenick recently began providing community organizations with information about the opioid abuse crisis and overdose reversal agent training.

“Community pharmacy continues to expand beyond the traditional dispensing role,” Crocker said. “As the resident, my goal is to help develop and implement new services offered at the pharmacy and in prescriber offices. 

“There are countless opportunities for pharmacy to expand in Mississippi, and that was a major draw to this residency program.”

Lomenick has been energized by the collaboration and the impact it’s having in his practice.

“I didn’t know what a residency program was, and it was out of my comfort zone, but I was willing to try,” Lomenick said. “Now that I’m a part of it, I realize that training residents aligns with the direction where community pharmacy practice is headed.

“I can honestly say it has carried my practice to a new level, and I see it continuing to grow.”

Stephanie Ostling

Stephanie Ostling, a Pharm.D. graduate from the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, practices in several different half-day clinics as one of two PGY-2 Ambulatory Care Pharmacy residents in the Ole Miss program. Ostling also teaches and precepts at the school as part of the residency, along with other PGY-1 and PGY-2 residents.

“I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pursue a PGY-2, but when I learned about the opportunities this residency offered, I reconsidered,” Ostling said. “My goals for this year are to develop my role as an educator and preceptor, while also strengthening my clinical practice.

“In addition, serving in clinics aligns with my long-standing interest in population health.”

The school continues to seek new ways to train well-qualified residents, bringing together Mississippi-based programs to discuss ways of advancing clinical practice. As a result of these discussions, the school developed a formal program for training preceptors – the pharmacists who train residents – as well as a Teaching and Learning Certificate Program for its residents.

The program is rigorous, with each resident designing, developing and implementing instructional activities throughout the curriculum, said Stuart Haines, professor of pharmacy practice and the certificate program’s coordinator. He hopes to expand the program.

“Many residents want to learn more about being an effective educator, which is why we introduced the Teaching and Learning Certificate,” Haines said. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how engaged the residents and faculty mentors have been this year.”

To support the goal of expanding residents’ academic training, some of the school’s faculty serve as program directors, site coordinators and preceptors for the residency programs, which include programs at UMMC, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, St. Dominic’s Health System and Baptist Memorial Hospital.

The benefits of residency training are numerous, said Joshua Fleming, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice and director of the school’s ambulatory care residency program.

“With the pharmacy profession’s increased focus on patient care, the training the School of Pharmacy offers will help pharmacists enhance those skills and put them into practice,” Fleming said. “Whether a resident is preparing for a career in community pharmacy, academia or any other pharmacy setting, a residency offers invaluable, hands-on experience that will give them a deeper understanding of their practice.”

Calling All Connections

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

Engineering friends,

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

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

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

Please email marni@olemiss.edu and we’ll get connected! 

Engineering Students Enjoy Summer Internships

Prospective employers provide employment, training to four from UM

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

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

Ben Maples at International Paper. Submitted photo

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

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

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

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

William Peaster at BASF. Submitted photo

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

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

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

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

Jake Azbell at Dynetics. Submitted photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

UM Engineering Faculty Collaborates on Deep-Space Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UM, Jackson Prep Offer Pre-Engineering Course

Marni Kendricks and Marsha Hobbs co-teach Engineering 100

Marsha Hobbs (in green top) discusses 3-D graphics with students enrolled in Engineering 100 class at Jackson Preparatory School. Submitted photo

Marsha Hobbs had been teaching physics and engineering courses at Jackson Preparatory School for two decades when she decided it was time for a change: not where she taught or what she taught, but how she taught.

“I just thought it was time for a 21st-century approach,” said Hobbs, who holds degrees in physics and electrical engineering from the University of Virginia. “These kids have grown up with the internet and technology. That has changed the way they learn. They like a more hands-on approach.”

So that’s what Hobbs gave her students. She developed a project-based engineering course that emphasized collaboration and kinesthetic learning over traditional text and lecture methods. She set up the “FabLab,” outfitted with everything from a 3-D printer to soldering irons, and “maker spaces” to facilitate individual experimentation.

As she was organizing her new course, Hobbs also wanted to make sure that it would be a gateway to the engineering profession. Toward that goal, she worked with Marni Kendricks, assistant dean of the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, to establish a dual-enrollment program with the university. Once again, she was breaking new ground.

“This was the first dual credit at our school,” Hobbs said. “I made a ‘cold’ call to the (engineering school) and was immediately put in contact with Kendricks. I think they had done this somewhere before, but she and I basically tailored it to the needs of our schools.”

The two women teamed up for the ENGR 100 course and co-taught an engineering graphics course. Witt Lovelace, now a junior mechanical engineering major, was one of the first dual-enrollment students to benefit from Kendricks and Hobbs’ class.

“Both women are very understanding of industry needs,” Lovelace said. “With the help of  programs like AutoCAD and Arduino, their students have been able to further advance their engineering ‘tool boxes.’ They both understand teamwork, communication and the organizational skills that the best engineers utilize every day.”

Lila Burton, another member of the inaugural class, agreed.

Engineering 100 students enjoy discussing technology in class. Submitted photo.

“Mrs. Hobbs was a great teacher that guided me in deciding on my major at the University of Mississippi as a chemical engineer,” she said. “Through the course she taught, I was prepared more than the others here at the university, and already ahead on how to use a variety of software that is utilized in the engineering curriculum, such as AutoCAD. Along with the syllabus and Mrs. Hobbs’ guidance, I highly recommend taking the opportunity of dual enrollment in order to advance with a major in the STEM programs.”

As a former engineer herself, connecting theoretical learning objectives with practical skills is something Hobbs believes will help promote interest in the field of engineering.

“The skills the students learn teach them to think like engineers,” she said. “They just finished the mousetrap catapult. I was fascinated to see them engage with the design process. I know that will improve throughout the year.”

Giving her students a valuable head start might be reward enough for a dedicated teacher, but Hobbs’ work has also been recognized nationally. In 2016, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, administered by the National Science Foundation.

 

Catherine Grace Norris: Muzungu from Mississippi

UM geology and geological engineering graduate joins Peace Corps, works in Zambia

Catherine Norris (center) embraces twin sisters Jane (left) and Joy Mulambila. ‘We are triplets, and they taught me how to scream when you see vermin as well as how to cook.’ Submitted photo.

It’s a long way from the Grove, but Zambia is going to be home now for Catherine Grace Norris (BSGE 16).

Norris took her “still warm” diploma around the world to find relevance and reward in her major. She is working with strangers who have become her closest friends overnight, literally. The night is a good time to have close friends when living in a mud hut, draped in mosquito netting, listening to the small and large sounds that waft through the walls and settle silently in the corners.

So, the truth is, Norris is no ordinary young woman.

With a good education and job prospects to contemplate, she jumped off the edge of the cliff and joined the Peace Corps, a decision born of spirit, spunk and gargantuan optimism. Norris embraced the certainty that there would be hardships and languages to learn, she opened her future to the world and gave up her apartment. Little did she know that the three-month training and the mountain of “Google-ese” were only the caption on a full-color, 3-D, action-packed movie of her future.

Norris calls herself stubborn, but committed may be a better word. At 23, she is both respectful and impulsive, and she touts being adaptable as well. She served for two years as the Girl Friday in the dean’s office in the School of Engineering and did some awesome work, all the while under appreciating the indoor plumbing and Wi-Fi. She has neither now, but she is effusive in her praise of the Peace Corps’ grassroots development model and “mandatory” orientation.

Norris references her upbringing in the Bible Belt and acknowledges the culture shock of Luapula Province in the district of Mwense bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has picked up some Bemba with a just sprinkle of Lunda. Norris has fought the good fight with malaria mosquitoes and rumored black mamba snakes (lethally venomous), and she still insists “this is the most amazing thing I have ever done.”

One of the early highlights of her Peace Corps assignment was discovering an elephant orphanage near her town. Although it is a tourist destination, it has a commendable mission to rehabilitate elephants orphaned by the poaching in Zambia. While the entrance fee of 50 kwacha (about $5) was beyond her Peace Corps salary … “it’s free on Mondays!”

Norris’ work has involved meeting with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a rice nongovernmental organization, to discuss hosting a workshop in Luapula Province. She frequently hosts demonstrations on how to make compost fertilizer and smaller projects involving animal husbandry, women’s empowerment and hydrogeology. At the end of the day, Norris cooks her dinner on her brazier, fends off mosquitoes, plays with her cat and dog, and watches the corners of the room for signs of life.

A true sign of contentment is that Catherine signs her blog “Your African Queen.” Not a bad job, and who wouldn’t want to be Katharine Hepburn?

 

 

Valuable Lessons from a Candy Bar

Assistant professor demonstrates practical applications of chemical engineering to freshmen

Madeleine Mixon (left) and Cole Bofrek prepare caramel for their chocolate bar. Photo by Brenda Prager

Chemical engineering students enrolled in Ch E 101: Introduction to Chemical Engineering were required midway through the semester to use their cooking expertise to prepare a Snickers bar. Why, you might ask?

After observing the strengths and pitfalls of carefully preparing caramel dispersed with roasted peanuts, and mixing nougat to the correct consistency with a scrumptious peanut butter flavor, the freshmen investigated in depth a chocolate bar manufacturing process.

Many were surprised to learn that everyday items often taken for granted were part of an intricate chemical process. They learned that food manufacturing requires careful planning of unit operations and their order within the overall process, as well as accurate control of many variables (particularly temperature) within each step.

Students worked in groups of four, learning valuable teamwork skills, which included the inevitable compromise and dealing with conflict and, of course, an overall enriching experience and greater depth of learning through collaboration.

Writing up a practical report was a first-time experience for many students. Not only were they required to describe the chocolate bar preparation, but they also had to consider likely equipment items, draw process flow sheets, and conduct basic chemical engineering calculations such as flow rate and average molecular weight of the nougat stream.

“This project was a very fun endeavor, as it allowed me and my group to indulge some delicious treats while also applying scientific methods and analytics to our process,” said Walker Abel, one of the students.

After working in both industry and academia as a chemical engineer, I first learned about Differentiated Teaching and Learning when I completed an M. Teach (secondary) from the University of Melbourne, and subsequently taught high school chemistry, physics and mathematics for five years. Coming back into academia and chemical engineering, I decided to implement these techniques into my freshman classes in order to present students with a more targeted education that best matched their learning needs. This method of teaching is common in many K-12 settings but underutilized at the university level.

Freshmen often come from varied backgrounds and different high school experiences, and it is important that their first year adapts to their needs and assists in progression of both learning and retention. Differentiation is characterized by a) understanding student need; b) presenting concepts in multiple ways; c) providing challenging learning experiences; d) promoting collaborative tasks; and e) progressing students into independent learners.

By successfully preparing students with these skills in their freshman year, they are more likely to thrive in later years and proceed to completion of their course.

Through the Snickers bar project, students learned new chemical engineering skills and reviewed most of the engineering calculations covered previously within the course as well. Throughout the project, students were required to make decisions and judgments about various sections of their written reports, providing real-life experiences of working in teams and becoming independent learners.

“As a team, we achieved our goal of making the bar, as well as applying the techniques that we used in the preparation of the candy bar in a large-scale setting,” Abel said.

The semesterlong course contained targeted instruction covering the five points described above. Formal feedback from students upon completion of the course showed important progress in the implementation of differentiated learning at a college level. For example, 83 percent of the class found active reading and problem-solving study skills sessions extremely or very useful; and 87 percent used the differentiated homework sheets to challenge themselves or choose questions matching their current ability level.

With respect to the chocolate bar project, 70 percent learned a lot about cooperation and compromise within a group setting; almost 60 percent were more confident with engineering calculations encountered earlier in the semester; and 87 percent learned – as a team – the key points in writing a technical report.

Research in this area is important to pursue. It is vital that students receive a targeted education to meet their needs and successfully graduate. STEM education is important for the nation, and although improvements have been made, a 2016 report showed that attracting high school students to STEM education in college remains a challenge. The students in STEM courses must be cultivated and encouraged from day one, so teaching and learning strategies that are targeted to students’ needs is an important step in attracting more students into these areas.

Brenda Prager is an assistant professor of chemical engineering in the UM School of Engineering.