UM School of Engineering Honors Alumni, Faculty and Students

Annual awards recognize recipients' achievements, service

UM Engineering Dean Alex Cheng presents 2017 Engineer of Service Awards to brothers Chuck (center) and Steve Smith during the annual awards banquet. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Successful University of Mississippi School of Engineering alumni, faculty and students received their due Thursday (April 20) during the school’s 2017 Honors Banquet.

The annual awards were presented by Dean Alex Cheng and others at the Inn at Ole Miss. Alumni recipients are Karen Comer Matthews (BSCE 85), president and CEO of Delta Health Alliance, and Charles E. Smith Jr. (BSEE 83) and Steven A. Smith (BSEE 93), co-founders of Guardian Manufacturing Inc. Matthews received the Engineer of Distinction Award, while the Smith brothers were given Engineer of Service Awards.

“We’re enjoying a warm and wonderful evening celebrating the accomplishments and service of our students, faculty and alumni,” Cheng said. “We are proud of them and are honored to join them to celebrate together.”

Each honoree expressed gratitude for the recognitions.

“You have honored me today with this recognition, one in which I accept with both humility and gratitude,” Matthews said. “I truly hope that I have been true to my quest, that I have created some positive forward motion in Mississippi – however slight it may be in the grand scheme of life – and, most importantly, lived a life that validates the love and respect of my family, my divine guidance and the desire to return the respect that we all have for this institution.”

A nonprofit organization that funds and operates more than 20 health care and education initiatives throughout the Mississippi Delta, the alliance works to overcome health and education disparities in rural communities. It has been a leader in using information technologies to improve delivery of services, nurturing collaborations among professional disciplines and community organizations, and applying quantitative assessment and evaluation to guide development and improvement of programs.

“Engineers, regardless of discipline, are people who contrive and derive from cleverness, and we are this little secret group of problem solvers that the rest of the world sees as nerds, but we know better,” said Matthews, a Fulton native who also earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Memphis and her doctorate in health science administration from the University of Tennessee.

Before joining Delta Health Alliance, she served as vice chancellor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where she was responsible for promoting, establishing and supporting interdisciplinary and inter-organizational collaborations in research, education and patient care.

Karen Comer Matthews accepts the 2017 Distinguished Engineer of the Year Award during the annual UM School of Engineering awards banquet. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Under her direction, Tennessee Health Science Center was an early leader in establishing telemedicine networks as a way of bringing health care specialists to underserved communities. The Tennessee system ultimately grew to more than 110 sites throughout the Mid-South and was named the third largest network in the country in 2005.

Matthews has served as principal investigator on numerous state and federal contracts, authored more than 50 articles for academic journals and written successful grant applications for more than $250 million in research support.

Chuck and Steve Smith are the oldest and middle of three sons of the late Charles E. Smith Sr., who from 1975 to 2004 devoted his life to the advancement of the UM electrical engineering program as chair and professor. Years later, his legacy is being maintained by the benevolence of his two sons.

The Smith brothers have served as members of the Engineering Advisory Board since 2007. Steve served as an executive committee member since 2010 and as chair for 2014 and 2015.

“Receiving an award that was previously given to our father many years ago is very special,” Chuck Smith said. “His dedication and service to Ole Miss and the School of Engineering meant everything to him and to be honored in a similar way is a humbling experience.”

Both served in the Engineering School’s Vision Council in 2010-12 for strategic planning. They have spoken to students on multiple occasions and generously donated to rename the former Engineering Science Building to Charles E. Smith Sr. Hall in 2004.

“Ole Miss and Oxford represent a very special place for our family,” Chuck Smith said. “We have so many friends and fond memories of family and growing up here. Although we live in Florida, our roots are and will always be in Oxford.”

Steve Smith echoed his brother’s sentiment.

“Being recognized from my Ole Miss home is humbling, yet brings a deeper purpose to strive even harder,” he said. “Raised in the halls of engineering, I was fortunate to have many mentors, many who grace the walls today.

“I always remember walking by plaques that adorn the walls, many whom I knew, thinking one day I would join them. Little did I know, I would join with my father and brother – a family affair.”

Both are both involved in Shema Ministry of Merit Island, Florida, serving as board members. This is a group of business leaders committed to helping meet financial needs of individuals in the community.

Steve Smith and his wife, Karen, have served as ministry leaders to other couples through Calvary Chapel Viera. He is also a board member of My Community Cares Inc., served as a Lafayette County volunteer firefighter during the years he lived in Oxford and Yocona communities and donated airline miles a year ago for UM’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders travel to the West African nation of Togo.

Chuck and Steve support the Veteran’s Airlift Command and other charitable causes, where they donate time on their corporate aircraft to provide transportation to veterans and others in tough situations at no charge. Chuck also serves on the Luis Palau President’s Council.

Employees who received awards included Ramanarayanan (“Dr. Vish”) Vishwanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering, Outstanding Engineering Faculty of the Year Award; Wei-Yin Chen, professor of chemical engineering, Senior Faculty Research Award; Matt Morrison, assistant professor of electrical engineering, Junior Faculty Research Award; Alexander Yakovlev, professor of electrical engineering, Faculty Teaching Award; Dwight Waddell, associate professor of electrical engineering, Faculty Service Award; and Paul Matthew Lowe, machine shop supervisor, Outstanding Staff Award.

Students recognized as Outstanding Senior Leaders during the ceremonies included Dustin Dykes, a mechanical engineering major from Madison, Alabama; Holly Pitts, a civil engineering major from Indianola; and Adam Schildhammer, a geological engineering major from Alpharetta, Georgia. Frances Miramon, a civil engineering major from Shreveport, Louisiana, received the David Arnold Engineering Award. Graduate students Bradley Goodwiller, a civil engineering major, and Matthew Nelms, a mechanical engineering major, both from Oxford, received Graduate Achievement Awards.

For more about the UM School of Engineering, visit


UM Catapult Competition Draws Top Guns

Tishomingo County High School teams defeated 16 others to take home top honors

Members of the Hot-N-Spicy team from Desoto Central High School experience the joy of victory during the Siege the Castle event at UM’s annual Catapult Competition. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Normally, tennis balls volley back and forth on the tennis court, but Wednesday afternoon (April 12), the fluorescent yellow balls were being catapulted in the C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum at the University of Mississippi.

The School of Engineering, Center for Math and Science Education and Division of Outreach and Continuing Education hosted the 11th annual Catapult Competition. Middle and high school students from across Mississippi designed and constructed catapults and brought them to campus to test their engineering skills.

Catapults, which originated as ancient engines of war, hurl projectiles at targets. Among the most powerful medieval weapons, catapults known as trebuchets use a counterweight to propel their payload. Modern catapults use tension, such as a spring or elastic band, that is suddenly released to fling a projectile.

“This is the 11th annual Catapult Competition, formerly Trebuchet Competition,” said Tiffany Gray, research associate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and co-coordinator of the event. “We changed the rules on what the students were building last year, so last year we changed the name to reflect this.”

In the UM competition, students designed and constructed catapults of metal, wood and PVC to hurl tennis balls across the field. Registering for the event were 17 teams representing eight schools: Central Hinds Academy, Desoto Central High School, Guntown Middle School, Lafayette Middle School, Oxford High School, Tishomingo County High School, Water Valley High School and West Jones High School.

UM engineering graduate students weighed and measured the catapults to make sure specifications were met. Catapults not meeting specs either had to be modified or were penalized points for not meeting the criteria.

Teams competed in Design, Pop-A-Shot, Humpty Dumpty and Siege the Castle categories. Catapults were scored on their design process, safety features, construction, creativity and originality, and team interviews.

First place overall went to America’s Mitochondria from Tishomingo County High School. Second and third places overall went to Sojourn, also from TCHS, and Memengineers from Oxford High School.

Students on the Enduring Frustration team from Tishomingo County High School are in the zone during the Siege the Castle event at the annual UM Catapult Competition.Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Winners in Pop-A-Shot were America’s Mitochondria (first), Indeed from Lafayette Middle (second) and Ultimus from Guntown Middle (third). In Humpty Dumpty, winners were America’s Mitochondria (first), Shorts from Central Hinds Academy (second) and Enduring Frustration from Tishomingo County (third). Siege the Castle winners were America’s Mitochondra (first), Hot-N-Spicy from Desoto Central (second) and Memengineers (third). In Design, Sojourn placed first, America’s Mitochondria took second and B.L.A.G.H. from Desoto Central came in third.

The Pop-A-Shot required teams to launch four shots from three different locations at a regulation basketball hoop. The Humpty Dumpty event called for teams to launch tennis balls in attempts to knock three cardboard boxes off a wall of blocks without disturbing the wall. The Siege the Castle competition required teams to use catapults to knock down a cardboard brick wall.

The Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence created 3-D-printed desktop catapults for the overall winners. Plaques made in the Mechanical Engineering Machine Shop were presented for each category. The overall winner was the team with the highest total score.

Six Ole Miss graduate students judged the entries: mechanical engineering majors Damian Stoddard of St. Louis, Cody Berrey of Meridian and Zach Wallace of Batesville; civil engineering major Grace McMahen of Union; geology and geological engineering major Alex Weatherwax of Williamsburg, Virginia; and physics major Sunethra Dayavansha of Kandy, Sri Lanka.

The Sojourn team intentionally went for a more creative design for its catapult, said Samuel Zafic, a senior at Tishomingo County High School.

“Most everyone goes for the traditional arm and bar design,” he said. “Going a different route allowed me to experience some of what it’s like to be in the engineering profession.”

Davis Powell, a junior also from TCHS, described the annual Division of Outreach program as “amazing.”

“I entered the competition last year because it looked like it would be fun,” said Powell, who hinted he might return to the university as a biochemical engineering major after he graduates in 2018. “It is fun, but it is also challenging. I definitely plan on coming back for next year’s competition.”

Middle and high school students from across the state of Mississippi participate in the 11th annual Catapult Competition at Tad Smith Coliseum. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Before the day’s final competitive event, participants faced off in preliminaries and made adjustments to their catapults. Sometimes, the machines broke during this process.

“It is impressive to see the tools come out and students making repairs to get their machine up and hurling again,” Gray said. “That is what the engineering experience is all about.”

The catapult project encourages students to think and use the engineering design process, engineering school staff members said.

“Each year, I see familiar faces from previous competitions,” said Matt Nelms of Oxford, a UM staff member who serves as the event’s co-coordinator. “It’s very meaningful to see these high school and middle school students mature and the extremely impressive engineering solutions they come up with at such young ages. Their intelligence always exceeds our expectations.”

In medieval times, trebuchets were more accurate than other catapults, which use tension or torsion to fire projectiles. In modern times, trebuchets have become popular devices for hurling pumpkins, frozen turkeys or even junk cars in light-spirited competitions.

For more information about the School of Engineering, visit

For more about the Center for Math and Science Education, go to For more about the Division of Outreach, visit

A ‘Dilley’ of an Honor

Civil engineering alumna named Mississippi Engineering Society's Young Engineer of the Year

Jeff Elly, MDOT state planning engineer, presents Jessica Dilley with the Mississippi Engineering Society’s ‘Young Engineer of the Year’ award during the organization’s 2017 winter meeting in Jackson. (Submitted photo by Marni Kendricks)

Jessica Headrick Dilley, a planning engineer at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, was honored as the Mississippi Engineering Society’s “Young Engineer of the Year” during the organization’s annual winter meeting in Jackson.

“I felt very humbled to win this award,” said Dilley (BSCE 08, MS 10), a native of Sugarland, Texas. “There is a lot of young, talented engineers in the field right now, many of which I look to for guidance and direction.”

Winning awards for her outstanding work is nothing new for Dilley.

As a UM civil engineering undergraduate, she won first place at the 2010 Institute of Transportation Engineers Deep South District 5 Student Chapter Paper competition, first runner-up in the 2008 American Society of Civil Engineers Deep South Section Professional Paper Competition and third place in that same organization’s 2008 Canoe Competition.

While earning her master’s degree in environmental engineering from the university, research from Dilley’s thesis, titled “Geospatial Analysis of Roadway Traffic Volume, Flow Simulation and Air Pollution Impacts on the Built Environment,” was included in MDOT’s State Study 213, “Performance Evaluation of Roundabouts for Traffic Delay and Crash Reductions in Oxford.” MDOT was awarded the 2014 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ “Sweet Sixteen” High Value Research Award for this study, and it was presented as a poster session at the 2015 Transportation Research Board.

Requirements for the Mississippi Engineering Society recognition include being a resident of the state of Mississippi, a registered engineer, a member in good standing in the society and under the age of 35. The award is weighted on professional integrity, professional reputation that extends beyond the engineering field, and promotion of the welfare of the engineer and the engineering profession.

“I must give special recognition to the staff and professors in the School of Engineering at the University of Mississippi,” Dilley said. “I especially thank Dr. (Waheed) Uddin for supporting me throughout my undergraduate and graduate school, Marni (Kendricks), who served as my counselor and role model, and Dr. (Alex) Cheng, for always being there for all his students.”

Uddin, a UM professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology, said he found Dilley’s achievement rewarding.

“Her award is a testimony to her professional achievements and makes her a great role model for UM engineering students,” Uddin said. “Jessica helped me develop instruction materials for my Geospatial course, which I am currently offering as CE 495. She is a dependable, loyal Ole Miss alum and a great asset to MDOT’s Planning Division.”

Uddin began mentoring Dilley in her junior year at the university. Dilley and her classmate Katherine Osborne recruited, trained and managed a geographic information system staff of more than 12 students from 2007 to 2009.

“This was an essential task of CAIT’s Karachi transportation study for the successful completion of this National Academy of Sciences-USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) project,” Uddin said. “Her thesis produced two peer-reviewed papers and several conference presentations. Jessica coordinated the extensive field traffic data collection by 12 undergraduate and four graduate students. Her outstanding M.S. research involved capacity analysis, congestion costs, traffic micro-simulation, vehicle emissions and traffic safety analysis.”

Uddin said Dilley has returned to campus, with her MDOT colleague Colby Willis, and presented a lecture to his class on highway planning and design. Since receiving the news of Dilley’s MES honor, several other UM civil engineering faculty members have invited her to come speak to their students as well.

“It would be my pleasure to schedule her for my senior design and the introductory freshmen classes,” said assistant professor Hunain Alkhateb. “The students are always inspired by successful alums.”

The civil engineering department is “extremely delighted” about Dilley’s notable achievement, said Jacob Najjar, chair and professor of civil engineering. “She represents a superb role model for our CE students and recent graduates.”

Dilley said she will always feel a debt of gratitude to Ole Miss engineering faculty and staff.

“They did an amazing job working with us individually throughout our time at the university and keep in touch with us once we have graduated,” she said. “They truly become our lifelong mentors, and I cannot say enough good things about the engineering program at Ole Miss.”

Dilley and her husband, Adam, have two children, Gracyn and Hayes.



CE Senior Wins David Arnold Service Award

Frances Miramon has given back to community while maintaining excellence in academics

Frances Miramon is a senior civil engineering major from Louisiana. Submitted photo

Established in 2002, the David Arnold Service Award has allowed the University of Mississippi School of Engineering to recognize students who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve in the community and lead within the university. Engineering departments are given the chance to submit nominations of outstanding students for this award, and a selection committee designates the final recipient. The selection criteria for the award include service, intellect, leadership and character. Only one student receives the award each year.

The 2017 recipient of the David Arnold Award is Frances Miramon of Shreveport, Louisiana. Miramon is a senior pursuing a degree in civil engineering. She is set to earn her degree as a magna cum laude graduate in May. She was nominated for the honor by Yacoub “Jacob” Najjar, chair and professor of civil engineering.

“I recognized early on that she is more than a high-GPA student who gets the correct answers on class assignments, projects and exams,” Najjar said. “Her outstanding service activities and effective leadership roles during the past few years have greatly elevated the reputation of the civil engineering department. With this recognition, I am confident that Frances will continue to excel in a manner that is very consistent with the expectations of the Arnold award.”

While Miramon initially enrolled as a pharmacy student, she quickly found her niche as an engineer. She was more than excited when she was notified of her selection to receive this top honor.

“I was thrilled to receive the David Arnold Service Award,” she said. “Ole Miss engineering has given me so much over the years, and it has been an honor to give back to the program.”

Miramon’s service work includes volunteering with the Leap Frog tutoring program and working with the Oxford High School engineering club to promote STEM education to high school students. One of her most memorable roles has been serving as a School of Engineering ambassador since 2015.

“It has been rewarding to assist in recruiting prospective students as an ambassador,” she said. “I feel like it is my duty to let prospective students know about the wonderful opportunities available to them here in engineering.”

As an ambassador, Miramon has volunteered her time to attend campus recruiting events and write letters to high school students who are considering majoring in engineering. Many of the recruiting events take place on early Saturday mornings.

In addition to her service to the community, Miramon has held a number of leadership roles in engineering student organizations. She is serving as president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and secretary of Chi Epsilon civil engineering honor society. She participated in the Deep South Conference for the American Society of Civil Engineers and is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and Engineers Without Borders.

A Provost scholar, she was named to Phi Kappa Phi and Tau Beta Pi honor societies as well as to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. She received the 2016 Civil Engineering Junior Leadership Award and was nominated for the Outstanding Senior Leadership Award for the School of Engineering. Additionally, Miramon has served as an undergraduate research assistant in both the Nano Infrastructure Research Group and the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology on campus.

During spring semester 2015, Miramon studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh, which sparked her interest in transportation and planning. In summer 2016, she spent time in The Woodlands, Texas, interning with Jones/Carter, a multicity engineering firm, in its community development area. Upon graduation, she hopes to pursue graduate school to continue her education in civil engineering with an emphasis in transportation systems. She is considering Southern Methodist University, New York University or Penn State.