General Engineers: The Medical Field Is an Option

Problem-solving skills learned in engineering are valuable in medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electrical Engineering Alumnus Leads Stanford Wave Physics Laboratory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harris said his favorite engineering professor was Leonard Tsai.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taiho Yeom Joins Mechanical Engineering Faculty

Assistant professor specializes in thermal-fluid sciences

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

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

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

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

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

Rajendran said Yeom is a welcome addition to the department.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chinelo Ibekwe Named West Africa Rhodes Semifinalist

Chemical engineering senior is also seeking Gates Cambridge Scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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