Dallas Baker Lands a Top Post at Neel-Schaffer

Mechanical engineering alumnus is new director of environmental services

UM Mechanical Engineering alum Dallas Baker is now the Director of Environmental Quality for Neel-Schaffer Inc. in Jackson. (Submitted photo)

Dallas Baker (BSME 93, MS 97) has retired from a longtime job, but he isn’t finishing working yet.

After serving nearly 24 years with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in a variety of roles, the mechanical engineering alumnus has joined Neel-Schaffer Inc. of Jackson as the firm’s director of environmental services.

“I lead a team of engineers, geologists and technicians in assessing properties and facilities owned by clients who seek help in complying with environmental regulations, then provide engineering solutions to meet their business goals,” Baker said. “The diversity of the work and its people is what makes this firm strong and what attracted me to remain in Mississippi as a practicing engineer.”

Baker plans to enhance the capabilities of Neel-Schaffer’s environmental services to enable the firm to better serve a wider variety of industrial clients across the region.

“We are excited about Dallas Baker joining our firm to lead our environmental services,” said Keith O’Keefe, PE, senior vice president for Neel-Schaffer’s central Mississippi operations. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in environmental engineering to our firm that will shape our growth in that discipline. Dallas is widely respected across the environmental landscape, and we look forward to having his vision and leadership.”

A registered professional engineer in the state of Mississippi, Baker most recently served MDEQ as air director and chief of its Air Division. There he was responsible for maintaining National Ambient Air Quality Standards and policies affecting statewide programs that control air pollution. In previous roles, he managed air and water permit projects for several industrial facilities in the energy, chemical, manufacturing and wood products sectors.

“In addition to establishing the fundamentals of mechanical engineering, my Ole Miss degree exposed me to leadership, business, liberal arts and other disciplines that gave me the confidence to seek organizational management roles,” he said. “It has led me to be a more versatile leader in the workplace and in professional associations, and influence operations that affect environmental engineering practices well beyond what I had expected.”

A native of Oxford, Baker attended the university because his father, John Baker, was a professor of medicinal chemistry in the School of Pharmacy, who encouraged him to attend and major in professional studies of some sort.

“Mechanical engineering was the best fit, and I knew then a degree from Ole Miss would open doors that build a rewarding career,” Baker said.

As an undergraduate, Baker said he was privileged to study under many great professors. His favorite was Karl Brenkert, a former dean of the School of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering.

“He spent significant time encouraging us to use an engineering degree to benefit society, as well as to uphold the highest ethical and professional standards,” Baker said. “He encouraged us to seek the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, which led me to be a licensed professional engineer. Dr. Brenkert made a lasting impression on me and hundreds of students.”

Baker serves as secretary of the Ole Miss School of Engineering Advisory Board and president of the Mississippi Energy Coordinators Association. He was recently elected by his peers as international president of the Air & Waste Management Association, an organization of environmental professionals with over 100 chapters located in 65 countries.

“In my role as president, I lead its board of directors and (uphold) its stated mission and core purpose through strategic planning, sound financial management and exercising leadership principles I’ve acquired throughout my career, going back to my days at the university.”

Baker said the position was particularly gratifying because he was able to be an ambassador from the state of Mississippi and its flagship university to cities across America and countries such as Canada and China.

He is board certified by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, and is a certified public manager.

Besides his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s degree in environmental engineering from Ole Miss, Baker also earned an MBA from Mississippi College.

He and his wife, Marla, are the parents of two teenagers: Paris, 15, and William, 13. One of the family’s favorite annual trips is its vacation in Fort Myers, Florida, in the week between Christmas and returning to school after the New Year.

“We avoid winter where we can, even the Mississippi variety,” Baker said.

Baker’s father; mother, Shelly Baker; and sister Diane (BA 93), live in Austin, Texas.

“It’s a privilege to give back to a university that has meant so much to me and my family,” Baker said. “We bleed red and blue!”



Three Engineering Students Receive Outstanding Senior Leadership Awards

Adam Schildhammer, Dustin Dykes and Holly Pitts represent School of Engineering's best

Three students have been chosen as Outstanding Seniors in the UM School of Engineering. They are Adam Schildhammer (left), Dustin Dykes and Holly Pitts. (Submitted photo by Ryan Upshaw)

Three University of Mississippi seniors have been named recipients of the 2016-17 Outstanding Senior Leadership Award in the School of Engineering.

Chosen are Dustin Dykes of Madison, Alabama; Holly Pitts of Indianola; and Adam Schildhammer of Alpharetta, Georgia. Each recipient was selected through a competitive nomination process in his or her respective department. Nominations are based on the students’ records of academic achievement, leadership, professional development and community service. The students also delivered a presentation to the selection committee about their undergraduate experiences while pursuing their engineering degrees.

“Adam, Holly, Dustin and the additional nominees represent some of the best and brightest students that Ole Miss Engineering has to offer,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the School of Engineering. “We are always excited to celebrate this tradition of recognizing outstanding students pursuing degrees within the School of Engineering.”

A civil engineering and general studies major (minors in studio art, mathematics and business), Pitts has maintained a 3.99 GPA as a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges, she serves as vice president of the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and Engineers Without Borders. Pitts also serves as president of Chi Epsilon civil engineering society and has been selected to Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Omicron Delta Kappa leadership society and Tau Beta Pi engineering society.

She received the Outstanding Junior Award from the Department of Civil Engineering as well as the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award from Order of Omega Greek honor society. She served as an intern with the Mississippi Grammy Museum and the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. Pitts is involved with the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, serving as a Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Scholar. She has volunteered with RebelTHON and the Green Grove Initiative.

In addition to the leadership award, she was named the university’s representative to the Mississippi Engineering Society’s Outstanding Senior award program in Jackson. There she was also the recipient of a Mississippi Engineering Society scholarship. After graduation, Pitts plans to earn a master’s degree in business administration and a master’s in fine arts to combine her interests in engineering, business and art. She hopes to become an engineer for a custom fabrication and engineering company.

Dykes, a mechanical engineering major, has maintained a 4.0 GPA and is a recipient of the university’s Distinguished Senior Scholarship. He serves as president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and has served as secretary-treasurer of the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council as well as vice president of the Baptist Student Union. He has been selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi and Tau Beta Pi. He was also named to Who’s Who.

An active member of the Ole Miss Army ROTC, Dykes has served as battalion commander. In 2016, he was ranked as the No. 9 cadet in the nation and received the 2016 Association of the United States Army scholarship for top cadet in the nation. Dykes also received the National Defense Transportation Award in 2016 as well as the Society of American Military Engineers scholarship in 2014 and 2015.

He has volunteered with the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society and participated in the Oxford First Baptist Church choir.

After graduating summa cum laude, Dykes plans to be commissioned as a second lieutenant. He also hopes to attend graduate school to study aerospace engineering and serve as a U.S. Army test pilot.

A geological engineering major, Schildhammer was named the Outstanding Freshman in Geological Engineering in 2013. Since then, he has been named to the Chancellor’s and Dean’s honor rolls and has been inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Order of Omega honor societies. Schildhammer serves as a teaching assistant for engineering geology, sedimentology and stratigraphy, and physical geology under professors Zhen Guo and Brian Platt. He has also participated in field camps in New Mexico and Oklahoma.

He has served as scholarship chairman for his fraternity, Kappa Sigma, where he implemented a plan to increase his chapter’s GPA and received the Outstanding Scholar Award. He also assisted with the planning of the fraternity’s annual philanthropy, which raises funds for Batson Children’s Hospital. Additionally, Schildhammer has served as a team manager and practice player for the Ole Miss women’s basketball team.

He has plans to attend graduate school in petroleum or geological engineering.


Chemical Engineering Alumnus Establishes Endowed Scholarship

Gift helps support chemical engineering students from counties surrounding Greenville

Chemical engineering alumnus Ike Brodofsky (right) and his wife, Amanda Trabue, have created an endowed scholarship in the UM School of Engineering. (Submitted photo)

When it comes to generosity toward the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, Ike Brodofsky (BSChE 03) and his wife, Amanda Trabue, are shining examples.

The couple recently established the Ike Brodofsky and Amanda Trabue Engineering Scholarship Endowment for chemical engineering students from Washington, Humphries, Sunflower, Leflore, Bolivar, Sharkey or Issaquena counties. The duo set up a scholarship, matched by Bridgestone, paid over five years until 2021.

Giving to higher education comes naturally for the pair. Both from large families, they know that paying for college expenses can be tough. Brodofsky came to the university largely because of the financial package UM offered him.

“I had always wanted to give back in some way to Ole Miss, but I never seemed to get over the hump to actually do anything,” Brodofsky said. “Having (my wife) guide me really helped, and in the end I realized that it was all in my head, and that I wish I had given back much earlier. We wanted to help those students realize their dream of a college degree.”

Trabue echoed her husband’s sentiment.

“I had already established a scholarship at my alma mater,” said the Glasgow, Kentucky, native who graduated with a B.A. in marketing in 2002 and an MBA in 2004 from Western Kentucky University. “I encouraged Ike that it was time to start one at his alma mater as well.”

A native of Greenville, Brodofsky said he instinctively knew he belonged at UM. His father and sister are also alumni, so it was a pretty easy decision for him to make.

“I loved the student-to-faculty ratio at Ole Miss, so I knew all of my professors quite well,” he said. “It was a well-rounded group, from Dr. (Randell) Price and his quirkiness to Dr. (Peter) Sukanek and his toughness to Dr. (Clint) Williford taking us on coffee breaks to wake up for his early morning reactions course to Dr. (John) O’Haver’s friendly conversations.”

Brodofsky remembers one of his favorite courses was Thermodynamics.

“It teaches you to see everything as simple algebra and builds problem-solving skills,” he said. “To this day, I use that philosophy in my career and try to tackle all problems by breaking it down into simple equations.”

A second course that truly challenged Brodofsky was Chemical Process Principles.

“It’s a decision course in that it forces you to quickly realize if you want to pursue this career,” he said. “It was not easy and not my favorite, but the challenge presented makes you quickly realize that even if you aren’t the brightest in the class that you can do this if you follow the teaching and seek help from the readily available faculty.”

Brodofsky is a senior process engineer for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations. Trabue is an associate dean for development and alumni relations at Vanderbilt University. The couple lives in Nashville.

“I am involved with developing rubber formulas for tires of all sizes from tiny car tires to massive mining tires and scaling up those formulas to production volumes,” Brodofsky said. “There is also a great deal of troubleshooting for day-to-day issues that arise in a manufacturing setting.”

Brodofsky said his Ole Miss engineering education has proven invaluable to him on the job.

“You must be able to quickly handle these problems and find the optimal solution without sacrificing safety, quality or production,” he said. “My education gave me a lot of confidence to tackle these problems. Chemical engineering builds a strong base in being able to define a problem. If you can define it, then you can solve it.”

Brodofsky and Trabue both travel frequently for work, so one of their hobbies is taking weekend getaways with their travel points to relax. They also enjoy trying new restaurants and activities and being tourists in their own city with the many events and activities Nashville has to offer.

“We have season football tickets to both our schools, so we are on the go nonstop during the football season traveling between Oxford and Bowling Green to watch the Rebels and the Hilltoppers,” he said.

“What a great example of the legacy our professors help to foster with our students,” said Kevin Gardner, development officer for the engineering school. “Ike and Amanda creatively combined their gratitude for home by paying tribute to the chemical engineering department and counties surrounding Greenville in the Mississippi Delta, thereby creating an engineering endowment scholarship. We are grateful for their sacrifice and passionate desire to help move Ole Miss from great to greater.”

With this gift, the School of Engineering Scholarship Committee will be able to select a deserving student who has demonstrated an exceptional academic record and remained in a major track in engineering at the university.

Dean Alex Cheng said the donation has already proven very beneficial to the program.

It was during an engineering tailgating that I was introduced to Amanda and Ike,” Cheng said. “We chatted, and I was surprised by such passion and goodwill coming from a relatively young couple.


‘Leadership and Professionalism’ Course Enhances Students’ Career Skills

Fall offering features guest speakers, out-of-classroom activities

Students in Senior Leadership Class always enjoy a variety of activities, including trips away from campus. (Submitted photo)

Companies often use a transcript as validation of “aptitude” but then use an interview to evaluate “attitude.” How does an engineering school teach attitude to the millennial generation? Students born between the early ’80s and 2000 may have very different views on cultural identity, politics, workplace expectations and technology. For the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, the attitude advantage continues to be delivered through the ENGR 400 “Leadership and Professionalism” course.

Forty-five students come to class each Friday in the fall, anxious to hear words of wisdom from a variety of guest speakers. Every semester offers a different lineup of speakers, panel discussions, events and activities.

“The class this year has been very enriching,” said David Phelts, a senior geological engineering major from Atlanta, Georgia. “Being able to listen and learn from many successful alumni and leaders in the community is something I would never have been able to get from a textbook. I’m confident I will be able to apply the valuable lessons learned from great guest speakers we’ve had this fall as I make my transition to the professional world.”

From military leadership philosophy to corporate engineering, entrepreneurial startups and success stories to U.S. congressional leadership, municipal leadership, international humanitarian leadership, from young alumni to seasoned professionals, and everything in between, students gain a new attitude about leadership and professionalism through this course. Co-taught by Dean Alex Cheng and Assistant Dean Marni Kendricks, students are challenged to define their professional goals and leadership aspirations by the end of the semester.

Reading John Maxwell’s “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader,” students have the opportunity to assess these qualities in their lives and improve themselves. Networking with the Engineering Advisory Board, participating in the Fall Career Fair and a team-building afternoon at the Rebel Challenge Course, attending business etiquette luncheons, giving 60-second impromptu elevator pitches, and practicing mock interviews and business correspondence are all part of their professional development, one of the major goals of the course.

Technical skills, soft skills and leadership skills are distinct terms used in the workplace. It is assumed that all engineers have the first skill set accomplished by the time they graduate.

“Having the benefit of an engineering school in the middle of a liberal arts university where social life is such a significant part of the campus, we believe soft skills naturally develop to some extent,” Kendricks said. “Leadership skills can always be enhanced, but for 21- to 22-year-olds, hearing heart-to-heart words of wisdom and encouragement on a weekly basis from a wide variety of leaders is like signing up for a class but receiving a bar of 24 carat gold … far better than just an A.”

If interested in speaking to this class, please contact Marni Kendricks, mckendri@olemiss.edu.

Alex Lopez Joins Chemical Engineering Faculty

New assistant professor's goals include developing research lab, improving graduate program

Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor Alexander Lopoez (far left) guides some of his students in the laboratory. (Submitted photo)

When the opportunity to join the University of Mississippi faculty presented itself, Alexander Lopez, assistant professor of chemical engineering, enthusiastically embraced it.

“During my on-site visit, I was pleased by the vibrancy of Oxford, the university and the chemical engineering department in which I was applying,” said Lopez, who began teaching courses last September. “I decided to accept the position due to the potential to help direct and grow a department that has recently undergone significant faculty turnover as well as impact an area of the country that has great need of greater academic resources.”

The Claremore, Oklahoma, native teaches fluid mechanics and heat transfer as well as Plant Design II. He is in the process of developing a membrane science course with colleagues in the department. Lopez’s main research projects are the development of ionic liquid/polymer-based epoxy resin materials for selective membrane separations.

“My short-term career goal is to develop a research laboratory focused on developing novel materials applicable for separations and beyond,” he said. “My long-term goals are to improve the graduate education offered in our department while maintaining the excellent undergraduate education we currently provide.

“By improving our graduate program, the department’s prestige and influence will grow, improving the university’s renown as a prominent research university.”

John O’Haver, chair and professor of chemical engineering, said Lopez is a welcome addition to the department.

“Dr. Lopez brings knowledge, experience and innovation to our department,” O’Haver said. “His presence has already proven most beneficial to our faculty, staff and students.”

A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Lopez earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees there in 2011 and 2015, respectively. He was also a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado at Boulder under the direction of Richard Noble and Douglas Gin.

His time as a student yielded two of his most personally rewarding achievements to date.

“Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I was surprised with an Outstanding Senior award,” Lopez said. “My second most gratifying award was an Outstanding Teacher award that I received in graduate school. These experiences solidified my desire to enter academia in order to impact students’ education and continue my service to the university.”

Lopez and his wife, Brittany, have two dogs: Peanut and Wolfe. The couple’s favorite leisure activities include taking walks, shopping and exploring town, reading, playing guitar, watching movies and woodworking.

For more about UM’s Department of Chemical Engineering, go to https://engineering.olemiss.edu/chemical/ or call 662-915-7023.