Business School Launches Networking Program

Business Connect will link students with former graduates for employment

Alon Bee (left) of Regions Bank, Phil Dixon of R.J. Young and Tyler Meisenheimer, Business Connect director, gather at a Jackson reception to officially launch the UM Business Connect program. Photo by Caroline Stewart

OXFORD, Miss. – Gathering leaders from some of the state’s largest businesses for a high-powered reception in Jackson, the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration has kicked off a new networking program to connect students with alumni for employment.

The Business Connect program, founded this summer, seeks to determine the hiring/talent acquisition goals of employers and match them with the school’s “business-ready” students and graduates for placement with permanent career and internship opportunities.

The program officially kicked off Nov. 8 at a reception at the Jackson Yacht Club. Attendees included UM business Dean Ken Cyree, Business Connect director Tyler Meisenheimer and representatives of the school’s advisory board, alumni and potential employers.

“Business leaders have spoken about keeping a talented workforce in state,” Meisenheimer said. “The business school at the University of Mississippi has listened to their voices and acted quickly with the creation of this new program.

“My focus is to build relationships with industry leaders to discover their talent-acquisition goals that match our ‘business-ready’ graduates. Our students are benefitting from a multitude of career preparation resources with a dedicated team to prepare them for their respective careers.”

The purpose of the gathering was to bring industry leaders and university advocates together to learn about how the program can benefit their organizations with hiring top talent. Some 60 attendees representing 25 companies came to learn about the program’s goals and to connect with one other.

Chip Crunk (left) of R.J. Young, incoming president of the business school advisory board; Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration, and Melanie Dowell of Morgan Stanley, president of the school’s advisory board, chat at the Jackson reception. Photo by Caroline Stewart

“We were pleased with the response and the turnout for the event,” said Melanie Dowell, president of the school’s advisory board. “We were also particularly impressed by the number of businesses expressing a desire to learn more about the Business Connect program and hire our graduates.

“We are excited about this new program for the business school and appreciate Dean Cyree and Provost Wilkin’s support and enthusiasm as we move ahead.”

The participating organizations included: C Spire, Trustmark Bank, Butler Snow LLP, University of Mississippi Medical Center, St. Dominic Health Services, Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corp., Regions Bank, Sysco, Ergon, Morgan Stanley, Raymond James, Irby, the Molpus Group and BancorpSouth.

Hu Meena, C Spire president and CEO, discussed the uniqueness of Ole Miss business graduates who are highly-skilled in communication and networking and have excelled as C Spire employees.

Cyree discussed the university’s commitment to Business Connect, and Meisenheimer detailed how the business school is taking major strides to prepare students for future careers and internships.

“This is the first step in outreach to potential employers who will hire our graduates, and the success of the event was very encouraging,” Cyree said. “We are pleased to have had such a successful launch of this final piece of our career team to help our students get jobs and internships.

“We are delighted there was such an interest in Business Connect, and the impact it will have as employers engage with the business school and hire our students.”

Alumni Couple Hosts Prospective Students in Houston

John Cleveland is a civil engineering alumnus and ExxonMobil employee

John and Beth Cleveland (center) welcome UM staff and Houston, Texas, area high school students into their home for conversation and treats. Submitted photo

A University of Mississippi alumni couple recently welcomed a group of high school students and their families into their home to provide information about the university. 

John and Beth Cleveland hosted the group in Houston, Texas, with a team of Ole Miss representatives. John Cleveland (BSCE 87) is the central region and national oil & gas manager for ExxonMobil’s U.S. lubricants business unit and is an annual guest lecturer in ENGR 400: Leadership & Professionalism in Engineering. He is also a member of the UM Engineering Advisory Board.

He and Beth Cleveland (BAEd 87) both hail from Fulton, and with three Ole Miss Rebel daughters, they have been tremendous supporters of the schools of Engineering and Education, and the university as a whole.

“Ole Miss provided a foundation of opportunity for our family, and we believe it our duty to help others as they seek their path in life, knowing that Ole Miss can be their launching pad too,” John Cleveland said.

“The recruiting event, complete with Grove-style food and atmosphere, was delightful for us and very beneficial for the high school prospects, having a great opportunity for casual conversations with Ole Miss representatives,” said Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for academics in the School of Engineering. “We are most appreciative to the Clevelands for hosting such a wonderful event.”

Thomas Werfel Joins Biomedical Engineering Faculty

Assistant professor brings research experience, scholarship to position

Thomas A. Werfel is an assistant professor in the University of Mississippi’s new biomedical engineering program. Submitted photo

Recognizing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to be involved with something “very special,” Thomas Werfel has joined the faculty of the newly launched biomedical engineering program at the University of Mississippi.

“I was excited to come here and help build the new program in biomedical engineering because I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than looking back 30 years from now and being able to reflect on the immense impact this program will have for students, industry partners and the University of Mississippi,” said the new assistant professor of chemical engineering.

“I was also drawn to the University of Mississippi because of the university’s emphasis on strong undergraduate education and reputation as a liberal arts college. I think studying engineering at a liberal arts institution generates a unique student compared to graduates from engineering and technology schools.”

Werfel said he wants his students to excel in reading, writing, communication and creativity.

“I am convinced that those who do so will differentiate themselves from their peers and find rapid career advancement,” he said. “Thus, I felt that the strengths of UM aligned well with my teaching philosophy.”

Werfel is a welcome addition to the biomedical engineering program, said John O’Haver, chair and professor of chemical engineering.

“Dr. Werfel brings some exciting research, which dovetails nicely with that done by Dr. Adam Smith (associate professor of chemical engineering),” O’Haver said. “Their collaborations should prove very productive and raise the national visibility of them both.”

Werfel teaches Biomaterials, Immunoengineering, and Drug and Gene Delivery. He said he hopes to develop more electives for upperclassmen and graduate students over the next few years.

“I perceived that my research program would benefit by synergizing with existing strengths here in the School of Pharmacy, departments of Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the National Center for Physical Acoustics and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” Werfel said, adding that his experience at UM has been excellent so far.

“The staff here are (second) to none and have been so helpful for helping me get oriented,” he said. “The other faculty are very welcoming and collegial. The students are positive and hardworking. And there are ample opportunities to collaborate in research.”

Werfel said his short-term goals are to make his research lab fully functional, recruit graduate students, secure independent research funding, develop the courses mentioned above, and identify opportunities to serve at UM, in Oxford and with professional organizations.

His long-term goals are to maintain an independently funded, highly active research lab, publish primary research articles in highly visible journals, teach exciting and interactive courses, contribute to the growth of the biomedical engineering program and become a leader at UM.

“I have created a career development plan that focuses on growth in teaching, research, service and leadership to achieve my short- and long-term goals,” Werfel said. “Through my career development plan, I identified where I want to be five years from now and created a ‘roadmap’ to get there.”

Werfel said a fulfilling professional achievement was being awarded an F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health on his first try.

“Receiving the award was really a culmination of all the hard work I put in as a graduate student and was a strong validation that pursuing a career in research and academics was the right choice for me,” he said.

Werfel earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Murray State University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, both from Vanderbilt University. He and his wife, Ashton, have a daughter, Finley Beth. The family loves to spend time exploring the Square, playing in Avent Park or having a picnic in the Grove.

“I spend a lot of time cooking,” Werfel said. “I also love to be outdoors, whether it be walking, hiking, camping or gardening.”


An Era Passes

Eassons retire aprons after two-decade tailgate service to UM engineering family

Greg and Darlene Easson have cooked out at School of Engineering tailgates for 20 years. Photo by Bill Dabney

Time is money.

If the adage is accurate, Greg and Darlene Easson have, by now, made a major gift to the University of Mississippi School of Engineering.

For the past 20 years, the Oxford couple has spent football-weekend Friday nights shopping and cooking, preparing to serve the next day’s breakfast and lunch in the Circle, pre- and postgame, to hundreds of members of the School of Engineering’s extended family.

“When we started out, we were just cooking about three-dozen burgers for a few friends on a Weber grill that we carried up here. Then it got bigger and bigger,” said Greg Easson, the school’s associate dean for research and graduate programs, director of the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute, and professor of geology and geological engineering.

“On a normal weekend, when we have a pregame in the afternoon, we don’t count people but we look at the number of plates. So we start out with a package of 250 plates, and we’ll go through two of those.”

That’s a lot of breakfast burritos, bratwurst and burgers. The Eassons also serve up two kinds of wings, pulled pork and a variety of sliders. Not to mention the sides: coleslaw, mac and cheese and more – all of which they assemble from scratch at home on those football Friday nights.

For an 11 a.m. game, they arrive before sunrise, light their Sterno warmers and begin serving a piping-hot breakfast cafeteria-style. The location is always the same, strategically located between Brevard Hall and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence – both of which house engineering classes. Crowds return to the tent week after week, year after year.

It’s good for business, Dean David Puleo said.

“School of Engineering tailgating has been an outstanding event, where we have a mix of future students, current students, faculty, staff and alumni who come back and engage in conversations,” he said. “It’s the past, present and future meeting together to enjoy a social activity and to get to know one another and ultimately enjoy a good football game.”

Puleo said the tailgate often serves as prospective students’ introduction to campus, one that frequently results in their ultimate enrollment at Ole Miss.

It’s not only the food that welcomes visitors but the atmosphere as well. The School of Engineering tent is well-appointed with big-screen televisions and comfortable seating, where Rebel fans and visitors alike share a tailgating experience like no other.

“When TVs in the Grove were a novelty, we would get huge crowds around the tent, and both teams would be cheering or booing or whatever,” Darlene Easson said. “It’s always been a really good atmosphere. We’ve always been the place where both students and families know they can gather on game days.”

Rain or shine. For 20 years. This year, however, the Eassons will hang up their aprons. They’re ready to take a turn on the receiving end of those serving spoons.

“It’s great to see somebody like him do what he’s done, and I don’t know what they’re going to do because he’s going to retire after this year,” said Tom Riddell of Madison, a neighboring tailgater who has supported the School of Engineering tent with monetary gifts for years. “Who’s going to take his place?

“He’s doing God’s work, in my opinion, and that’s the reason I support him and the engineering group so much, because this tailgate is open to anybody.”

A pin Darlene Easson wears seems to capture the essence of the couple’s philosophy.

It simply says, “Kind.”


Brisack Makes History as UM’s First Female Rhodes Scholar

Senior from Oxford earns coveted award, becomes university's 26th honoree

Jaz Brisack

OXFORD, Miss. – Jaz Brisack is the University of Mississippi’s 26th Rhodes Scholar, and the first woman in the university’s history to be selected to the elite international academic program. 

Brisack, a senior general studies major from Oxford, is the 2018 Truman Scholar for Mississippi and has a long history as a champion for human, civil and labor rights in Mississippi. She is president of the College Democrats and a frequent contributor to The Daily Mississippian.

She has worked as a teacher-adviser for the Sunflower Freedom Project in 2016 and as a labor organizer with the United Auto Workers on the Nissan campaign. She also helps defend the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, known as the “Pink House,” Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic.

She was selected after interviews with officials from the Rhodes Trust Nov. 16-17 in Birmingham, Alabama. Scholarship recipients were announced Saturday (Nov. 17).

“I guess this is one small step toward smashing the patriarchy,” Brisack said. “But I think it’s especially important to use this platform to call attention to the way the glass ceiling is easier for some women to break through than others.”

The Rhodes Scholarships, which were created in 1902, bring outstanding students from many countries to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Besides “intellectual distinction,” the selection committee seeks excellence in qualities of mind and of person, which combined offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead.

Rhodes Scholars receive tuition, travel, room and board, and a stipend for two years of study at Oxford University, with the possibility of being renewed for a third year.

Ole Miss students Jarvis Benson and John Chappell were also 2018 finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship and competed in Birmingham with Brisack. Besides those current students, Chinelo Ibekwe, a 2018 chemical engineering graduate from Lagos, Nigeria, was named a finalist in the Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa program. She will interview Dec. 1 in her category. 

UM has had 25 Rhodes Scholars and many Rhodes finalists, but never four finalists in one year.

“I’m awed by how wonderful the other applicants all are,” Brisack said. “I’ve known John and Jarvis, the other UM applicants, for years and am continually inspired by them. But everyone was brilliant, caring and amazing.”

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said that from last year’s Truman Scholarship to this distinction of being the university’s first female Rhodes Scholar, Brisack continues to chart a groundbreaking path of excellence.

“Her success on the national stage reflects the best of the university’s exceptional programs – like the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College – that enable students to flourish intellectually and personally,” Vitter said. “With her deep drive, leadership abilities and passion, Jaz will continue making a difference in the lives of others.”

Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, said that out of the thousands of honors students he’s met over a decade-and-a-half, Brisack is one of the top 10.

“She engaged our academic community with deep conviction, knowledge and understanding,” Sullivan-González said. “The name of Jaz Brisack may become a household name when all is said and done. I’m proud to know her as a colleague and scholar of the SMBHC.”

Brisack is thankful for the opportunity that Ole Miss and the Honors College have provided her to work with professors who have inspired her.

“I have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people at this school, from Debra Young and Tim Dolan to Joe Atkins and Curtis Wilkie to JoAnn Edwards and Kiese Laymon,” Brisack said. “They have challenged me to think about the world in different ways and inspired me to pursue this chance.”

Journalism professor Curtis Wilkie first met Brisack when she was in an upper-level Honors College course he was teaching. He said Brisack is one of the most extraordinary students he’s ever taught. 

“I was astonished that she already knew virtually every book that I cited during the semester,” Wilkie said. “Aside from her excellent grades, I’ve been impressed by her passion for so many causes that are rarely embraced by people of her age. 

“We are all so proud of Jaz, and feel that her triumph is one for Ole Miss as well.”

Applied Sciences Students Take Top Two Awards in 3MT Competition

Matthew Frakes and Prabhdeep Sandha win top doctoral category honors

Matthew Frakes delivers his winning presentation on nutrition intervention in concussion treatment at the Three Minute Thesis Competition, sponsored by the UM Graduate School. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Matthew Frakes, of Columbus, Ohio, and Prabhdeep Sandha, of Jalandhar City, Punjab, India, won first and second place in the doctoral category in the recent Three Minute Thesis Competition sponsored by the University of Mississippi Graduate School.

This annual competition asks graduate students to present a compelling oration on their research thesis topic and its significance in just three minutes. They are allowed to use one PowerPoint slide.

“My 3MT topic was looking at a nutrition intervention at the time of concussion diagnosis or suspicion of a sports-related concussion throughout the athlete’s concussion protocol until the athlete returns to baseline measurements,” said Frakes, a doctoral student studying sports nutrition in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management.

Frakes said the nutrition intervention helps support overall energy and nutrient intake that is potentially diverged due to athlete’s loss of appetite or nausea symptoms experienced in concussions.

“I am also observing athlete symptomology and assessing total calorie intake and overall dietary intake, where these observations and recordings may be related to the return to baseline measurements from pre- and post-concussion assessments,” he said. “The goal of my study is to contribute to the findings on sports-related concussion recovery, and the impact overall energy intake has on return to baseline recovery time.”

Melinda Valliant, professor of nutrition and hospitality management, oversees Frakes in his doctoral research.

“Matthew has done an excellent job learning from and managing all facets of his pilot research project,” Valliant said. “His success in the 3MT competition is a testament to his willingness to take feedback and apply it.

“Matt has demonstrated that he is not afraid to step out of his comfort zone and take risks, and I am so happy that has received this well-deserved honor.”

Prabhdeep Sandha took second place in the doctoral category in the UM Three Minute Thesis Competition. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Sandha’s thesis also examined nutrition, but her research interest is in food security.

“One in eight Americans, or 40 million Americans, experience some form of food insecurity in a 12-month period,” said Sandha, also a doctoral student in nutrition and hospitality management.

“My research examined the impact of produce intervention on produce intake and behaviors of parents/caretakers of elementary school students in an economically distressed, highly food insecure, rural Appalachian Mississippi region.”

Three schools participated in the study; two were control schools and one was the intervention school. A six-week intervention was implemented with three important parts: cafeteria tasting station twice a week, nutrition education, and provision of take-home materials and gadgets.

Every Friday, participants at the intervention school also received $15 worth of fresh produce to replicate tasting station recipes at home.

“We utilized a validated 10-item USDA Household Adult Food Security Survey Module, which had questions like, ‘We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more’ or ‘We couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals,'” Sandha said.

Sandha and her research partners found the perceived willingness to try new fruits and vegetables was significantly higher in the intervention group parents, compared to the control group.

“With this project, we were able to transform the household food environment to make it more likely that the family members have an adequate amount and access to healthy foods,” Sandha said. “This program also enhanced the university’s Flagship Constellation mission, which is to transform life through community outreach and community well-being.”

David H. Holben, professor of nutrition and hospitality management, oversees Sandha’s research.

“Ms. Sandha is very deserving of this award,” Holben said. “She is a servant-leader who excels in the classroom, in her assistantship at the Institute for Child Nutrition and in a research setting. This award recognizes her excellence.”

For more information about the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, visit

UM Cadets Ready to Run in Egg Bowl Tradition

ROTC students will carry game ball from Calhoun City to Oxford

Ole Miss ROTC cadets reach the Calhoun City town square and are welcomed by cheering fans during last year’s Egg Bowl Run. This year’s run, which will bring the ceremonial game ball for the annual Egg Bowl game to Oxford, will be Monday (Nov. 19). Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD – Two dozen ArmyNavy/Marine and Air Force ROTC cadets from the University of Mississippi will arrive by van in Calhoun City Monday morning (Nov. 19) on a mission to retrieve the ceremonial game ball for the 91st Battle for the Golden Egg, but it will be their feet that bring them home to Oxford.

The ROTC’s Sixth Annual Egg Bowl Run will feature Ole Miss cadets taking turns trekking more than 40 miles, from the Calhoun City town square to the Lyceum, with the game ball in tow after receiving it from cadets from Mississippi State University. The transfer of the ball is to occur around noon at the gazebo in the Calhoun City public square.

The football will be signed by MSU coach Joe Moorhead, and Ole Miss coach Matt Luke will sign the ball after the cadets return it to Oxford.

Waiting in Calhoun City will be residents of the town, as well as fans who come from all over Mississippi to see the cadets meet, circle the town square with the ball, trade cheers and friendly trash talk, and eventually part, heading back to their respective universities.

“It’s breathtaking (when you come into town),” said Ole Miss Army ROTC cadet Sam Faulkner, an Egg Bowl Run veteran. “It’s a really fascinating site to see that amount of people show up in support of the Egg Bowl Run.”

The Egg Bowl Run began in 2013 as a way for Ole Miss ROTC to show its support of Ole Miss athletics. The event serves as a fundraiser for the Rebel Battalion Cadet Activity Fund. Supporters can visit the Army ROTC Facebook pagewhere a link will be posted to direct people to a donation website.

“Our cadets think this run is so important,” said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Douglas with UM Army ROTC. “These cadets run in rain and sleet without ever complaining or feeling sorry for themselves.

“From the moment that they take over carrying the ball, their singular focus is to get that ball to the Lyceum. There’s a lot of dedication and resilience they will have to exhibit come (Monday).”

Laura Edwards, president of the Calhoun City Chamber of Commerce, said the event usually hosts some 500 fans, split down the middle between each school. Fans host tailgates, and there are activities for all ages. The National Guard provides an interactive military display for children and adults to enjoy.

Ole Miss ROTC cadets receive the handoff of the ceremonial game ball from Mississippi State University cadets at the Calhoun City town square. Rebel cadets will run the ball back to the Lyceum on the Ole Miss campus during this year’s run, which is set for Monday (Nov. 19). Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Along the run back to Oxford, Ole Miss cadets greet fans and supporters, sometimes passing out candy to children along the route, Faulkner said.

“There is a really good split between fans of both schools to support the runners,” Faulkner said. “We have good support along the route with people who stop to cheer us on and say, ‘Hotty Toddy!'”

The tradition is catching on with Ole Miss fans, and support continues to grow, Douglas said.

“We’ve had a steady increase in fan participation,” he said. “Every year, there’s a few more Ole Miss tents and shirts in the Calhoun City square. Knowing that Ole Miss fans are there at the handoff means a lot to us all.”

And while the focus of the Egg Bowl often remains on the football field, Edwards said the Egg Bowl Run is a way to shift the attention to those who will serve the country.

“Our military doesn’t always get the thanks and notoriety that it should,” she said. “I think we need to keep that on the forefront of our children’s minds. They need to understand that freedom isn’t free.

“It needs to stay something that we have respect for, and we need to respect what (these cadets) do.”

Cadets see the run as a good chance to connect with not only their own classmates, but also with counterparts from MSU.

“I know a lot of older guys in the program that I’m friends with that said this is something you should experience,” first-time Egg Bowl Run participant Cole Cromwell said. “It’s a good way to meet cadets from Mississippi State and build connections.”

Douglas said he hopes Ole Miss supporters will show Calhoun City and the Ole Miss cadets a true Rebel football atmosphere.

“We would prefer that the Calhoun City square looked more like a game-day Grove scene,” Douglas said. “It would be icing on the cake if businesses and the LOU community lined University Avenue on our way back into town or if they met us at the Lyceum at the conclusion of the run.”

MSU cadets will leave Starkville at approximately 5 a.m. Monday. They will meet and exchange the ball with Ole Miss cadets around noon, and then Ole Miss cadets will return to campus and take the ball to the Lyceum about 9 p.m.

Times may vary, but a link will be shared on the Army ROTC Facebook page where fans can keep track of the runners’ progress via GPS, Douglas said.

UM Establishes Center for Researching Multi-messenger Astrophysics

Emergent scientific field arose from discovery of gravitational waves

Neutron stars – pictured in this artist’s illustration of two merging neutron stars – are among the phenomena to be studied at the new UM Center for Multi-messenger Astrophysics. The narrow beam represents the gamma-ray burst, and the rippling spacetime grid indicates the isotropic gravitational waves that characterize the merger. Swirling clouds of materials ejected from the collision are a possible source of the light that was seen at lower energies. Graphic courtesy National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

OXFORD, Miss. – Riding a new frontier of scientific discovery into gravitational waves, the University of Mississippi is now home to the Center for Multi-messenger Astrophysics.

The center was launched Nov. 1 after the center’s creation was approved by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning in August. It will allow UM researchers to play a prominent role in the emergent field of multi-messenger astrophysics, which is a new branch of science born in 2015 through the discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO.

Multi-messenger astrophysics studies “messengers” – electromagnetic waves, high-energy particles and gravitational waves – to reveal information about the universe.

“That event really opened up a new branch of astronomy and astrophysics,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and the center’s director. “Since the dawn of humanity, most, if not all, of the information we had from the universe was in the form of light, with some exceptions because we also use particle physics.

“Gravitational waves are a completely new way of looking at objects – for example looking at black holes, what happens to the center of stars when they explode and even the beginning of the universe.

“The main goal is to learn more about the universe, how the universe works. This is really frontier science. Science has always been motivated by trying to understand the world and the universe around us.”

Marco Cavaglia, UM professor of physics and astronomy and an active member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, is director of the new Center for Multi-messenger Astrophysics. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Cavaglia also is principal investigator of the UM Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Group, which is an active member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Last year, the LIGO detectors, along with the Europe-based Virgo detector and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories, directly detected gravitational waves – ripples in space and time – in addition to light from the merging of two neutron stars. It was the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light.

The center will allow Ole Miss faculty and students to further their research into the field and build upon existing research programs and expertise of faculty within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, where the center will be housed. Plans call for adding two additional full-time faculty members affiliated with the center in fall 2019, with at least one more added by 2021.

The center also will support several post-doctoral research associates and graduate student research assistants.

“The experimental detection of gravitational waves marked a historic event in physics, and UM is so proud to have played a role in that discovery,” said Josh Gladden, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “With strengths in high energy physics, observational astronomy and now gravitational waves, UM is well-positioned to establish a Center for Multi-messenger Astrophysics.”

This new branch of physics has exploded, and the time is right to have a center dedicated to multi-messenger astrophysics that will boost the image of the department while conducting groundbreaking research, Cavaglia said.

“I really hope that it will help put Mississippi on the map more when it comes to this kind of research,” he said. “And it will attract and retain new faculty and students. This is an emerging field.

“It will really help recruit bright minds from around the world to come here and do research. That aligns well with the research mission of the university and also its educational component. And it’s cool. It’s cool stuff.”

History Makers: Three UM Students, 1 alumna among Rhodes Scholarship Finalists

Jarvis Benson, Jaz Brisack, John Chappell, Chinelo Ibekwe set to compete for coveted award

Jarvis Benson

OXFORD, Miss. – For the first time ever, the University of Mississippi boasts four 2019 finalists for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships, which draw students from around the world to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. 

Jarvis Benson, Jaz Brisack and John Chappell will compete for Rhodes Scholarships in meetings Nov. 16-17 in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to those current UM students, Chinelo Ibekwe, a 2018 Ole Miss chemical engineering graduate from Lagos, Nigeria, was named a finalist in the Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa program. She will interview Dec. 1 in her category.

UM has had 25 Rhodes Scholars and many Rhodes finalists in its history, but never four finalists in one year.

Having four finalists is a testament not only to the students, but also to the university’s faculty, said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, where Benson, Brisack and Chappell are students. 

“Our pride and joy are immeasurable,” Sullivan-González said. “That our university has produced four finalists for the prestigious Rhodes scholarship means that our faculty and staff have worked with some incredible scholars who have stood up to the questions of the day, and the world has taken notice.

“Once again, our flagship university produces an intellectual nexus to challenge and provoke, and our students engage this moment with verve. What a great time to be working at the University of Mississippi.”

The Rhodes Scholarships, which were created in 1902, bring outstanding students from many countries to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Besides “intellectual distinction,” the selection committee seeks excellence in qualities of mind and of person, which combined offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead.

Rhodes Scholars receive tuition, travel, room and board, and a stipend for two years of study at Oxford University, with the possibility of being renewed for a third year.

Benson, a senior Croft international studies and Spanish major from Grenada, serves as president of the UM Black Student Union. He has worked on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and education and was a 2018 Truman Scholarship finalist for Mississippi. He’s looking forward to representing the university. 

“To be selected as a Rhodes finalist is surreal,” Benson said. “I am so blessed to have the chance to represent the university. While I am very excited for the opportunity to further my education at Oxford, I am more excited to show that people who look like me are able to attend and thrive in academic environments.

“To be selected as a finalist, I hope, is to show that it is possible.” 

Jaz Brisack

Brisack, a senior general studies and journalism major from Oxford, is the 2018 Truman Scholar for Mississippi and has a long history as a champion for human, civil and labor rights in Mississippi. She is president of the College Democrats, a frequent contributor to The Daily Mississippian and was a teacher-adviser for the Sunflower Freedom Project in 2016. 

“The U.K.’s historical dominance on the world stage, and Oxford’s position as that empire’s center of intellectual thought, make this school and this degree program the perfect place to deepen my understanding of how power structures emerge, evolve and can best be influenced or fundamentally altered,” Brisack said. “Interacting with professors and other students who are engaging with these issues from myriad global perspectives will give me the opportunity to critically challenge my own ideas and learn from others’ ranges of experience.”

Chappell, a senior international studies and Arabic major from Albuquerque, New Mexico, co-founded Mississippi Votes and works on international human and civil rights. He is a 2017 Barksdale Scholar.

John Chappell

He said he’s thrilled to be in the competition with Brisack and Benson, both of whom he said are friends and partners in community organizing and coalition building at Ole Miss. Being selected is a testament to the people and communities who have made him who he is today, Chappell said.

“I absolutely could not have come this far without the support of the Croft Institute, Honors College and broader university community, as well as the people who have helped me create homes away from home in Mississippi and abroad,” Chappell said. “My family and hometown community of Albuquerque also make me who I am, and I hope to make them proud in my future career.”

Last year, Ibekwe was a semifinalist for the Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa program , which was unveiled in 2017 to support innovative young leaders in West Africa. Ibekwe was a SMBHC student.

Chinelo Ibekwe

Her long-term goal is to serve as Nigeria’s minister of health. She is particularly passionate about introducing advanced technology into the country’s health sector, as well as reforming maternal and child health care policies.

“As Africa is viewed as the last frontier in development, it is important that the next generation of leaders and policy makers – Rhodes Scholars – understands Africa’s cultural and political landscape,” Ibekwe said. “I look forward to tapping into the diverse perspectives in the Rhodes Scholar community to prepare myself for the challenges that I may experience on the journey to prosperity for Africa.”

Mississippi River Pollution Topic of Next Science Cafe

UM professor speaking on water contamination, solutions at Nov. 13 event

Inoka Widanagamage

OXFORD, Miss. – Protecting the Mississippi River and preserving farming communities in the state is the focus of this month’s Oxford Science Cafe.

The monthly program, organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy, will feature Inoka Widanagamage, UM instructional assistant professor of geology and geological engineering. It is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 13) at Uptown Coffee, 265 North Lamar Blvd.

Widanagamage, a low-temperature geochemist, said she hopes to educate the community on the types of pollution affecting the “Mighty Mississippi.”

She plans to discuss the negative effects that industrial and farming pollution are having on the Mississippi River, one of the most polluted waterways in North America. She will propose solutions to the river’s many environmental problems and discuss steps that can be taken to protect and improve agricultural lands negatively affected by the river.

“(The Oxford Science Cafe) is really an important program where you can reach out to the community and share knowledge,” Widanagamage said. “It will help the community to understand the importance of protecting the Mississippi River.”

The Oxford Science Cafe, launched in October 2011, takes place monthly during the fall and spring semesters and is free to the public. The event features a speaker who gives a short lecture on any topic in the science field, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The topic of pollution and its impact on the health of Mississippians and the state’s economy is one that needs to be examined and discussed by the community, said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and Science Café organizer.

“I think it is very important for people to hear about science, especially science that we do here at the University of Mississippi,” Cavaglia said. “Students in particular may benefit from Science Café lectures to complement what they learn in classes. We discuss topics that are often not covered in class.”

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