Infrastructure Experts Talk Resilience during UM Workshop

Meeting brings together state, national infrastructure leaders

David Pittman, director of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, addresses the audience at the Infrastructure Objective Resilience Workshop held at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Experts from around the country recently gathered at the University of Mississippi for a two-day conference on infrastructure resilience.

Hosted by UM and the UM School of Engineering, the Infrastructure Objective Resilience Workshop included university and federal experts in engineering, materials science, physical acoustics, geology, journalism, computer science, construction, psychology and hydroscience.

More than 80 stakeholders of the nation’s infrastructure sectors discussed the latest progress in objective resilience and talked about the need for transformative research that could lead to improving the nation’s infrastructure resilience against natural and man-made disasters.

The meeting included such federal agencies as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Insurance & Mitigation Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“The workshop gathered the nation’s leaders in infrastructure resilience and was aimed at fostering collaboration between the University of Mississippi, government agencies, government labs, industries and other academic institutions in an area of national importance,” said Ahmed Al-Ostaz, UM civil engineering professor and workshop coordinator.

“It was our hope that the workshop would be an important step towards unlocking the combined disaster resilience potentials and emphasize the role of the University of Mississippi and the state of Mississippi as the leader in addressing an issue of regional and national concern,” he said.

In his welcoming address, Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said the importance of the workshop and the work of its attendees could not be overstated.

He also noted how the workshop tied into the university’s Flagship Constellations initiative, which includes multidisciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students creating solutions to challenges in the areas of big data, brain wellness, community well-being and disaster resilience.

“The University of Mississippi places tremendous value and importance on the work that you are addressing today,” he told attendees. “We have a strong foundation in this area, and our disaster resilience constellation marries insight and research from environmental and legal disciplines with materials science, information technology … along with a variety of disciplines.

“We’re focused on developing technologies, tools and policies to mitigate disasters and increase the resilience, security and sustainability of our communities.”

The workshop started March 27 with a keynote session by Eric Letvin, deputy associate administrator, mitigation directorate, Federal Insurance & Mitigation Administration, which is part of FEMA.

Letvin said during his address that FEMA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan includes building a culture of preparedness, readying the nation for catastrophic disasters and reducing the complexity of FEMA.

Mississippi’s geographical location makes it prone to disasters, including tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, heat waves and earthquakes. Reducing the impact of these disasters on local communities through increasing the resilience and sustainability of communities is one of the aims of the Disaster Resilience Flagship Constellation.

“Striving toward infrastructure resilience is of keen interest to the state of Mississippi, and as the state’s flagship university, the University of Mississippi is committed to advancing that goal,” Josh Gladden, UM interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, told attendees. “The constellations bring together a diverse set of faculty from diverse disciplines that help address very large and complex problems.

“With engineers, scientists, legal and policy experts, medical professionals, communications specialists and social scientists all under one roof, I believe that universities are uniquely suited to build the kinds of teams that are needed to address such multidimensional problems and are obligated to do so.”

Other speakers were Jason Averill, chief of the Materials and Structural Systems Division of the Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Amar Chaker, director of the Engineering Mechanics Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers; Ryan Colker, vice president of the National Institute of Building Sciences; Norma Jean Mattei, 2017 president of the American Society of Civil Engineers; David Pittman, director of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center; and David Wulf, deputy assistant secretary for infrastructure protection (acting), U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Alumnus Paul Whitfield Murrill Dies

Chemical engineering graduate was chancellor at Louisiana State University

Paul W. Murrill, a University of Mississippi engineering alumnus who served as chancellor at Louisiana State University for several years, passed recently. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Paul Whitfield Murrill, a University of Mississippi alumnus who served many years as chancellor at Louisiana State University, died April 2 at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was 83.

Murrill was fondly remembered by a UM alumnus who knew him.

“Dr. Murrill received numerous accolades for his academic and business proficiency, all of which are certainly well deserved,” said Norman Jones, a 1970 civil engineering graduate who met the deceased through the church both attended. “His sincere and genuine people skills, however, are more difficult to describe. Regardless of the occasion or who was present, he was able to put his audience at ease and explain things in a manner that not only showed his expertise of the subject matter, but which also demonstrated his innate ability to connect with people on a personal level.”

Murrill’s humility, generosity of time and resources, and his kindness and compassion for others are qualities that Jones said he will always cherish.

“He was truly a remarkable gentleman, and I am honored to have known him,” he said.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Murrill grew up in Hinds County, Mississippi, after his family moved there. A lifelong learner, his early education began in a one-room school in Pocahontas, then continued in the public schools of Clinton, from which he graduated in 1952. Receiving a Navy ROTC scholarship, he began his college education at UM, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in chemical engineering in 1956.

While at the university, Murrill met his wife, Nancy Hoover Williams, of Lexington. Upon graduation, he received his commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy and spent the next three years as a naval officer aboard USS Valley Forge. Thus began a lifelong love for the Navy and the sea. He was initially machine division officer in charge of Valley Forge’s engine rooms, but always in search of a challenge, he requested and received permission from the captain to train for officer of the deck – underway, a position that was conferred upon him in 1958. He was later promoted from ensign to lieutenant (junior grade).

After discharge from the Navy, Murrill and Williams married in May 1959, and were married for 59 years. Murrill had a brief career as a chemical engineer at Columbia-Southern (PPG) in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but soon pursued higher education in chemical engineering. Encouraged by a mentor at UM, he attended LSU where he completed his master’s degree and then his Ph.D in 1963. Murrill was hired initially by LSU as an interim professor, but his natural leadership ability and intellect led to his being hired for a full-time position as professor in the chemical engineering department. He was named head of that department, then dean of academic affairs and provost of the university soon thereafter.

In 1974, at only age 39, Murrill was named chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus and served in that capacity until 1981. During that time, he was the 21st living American to be named a distinguished member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, and in 1978, Change magazine named him one of the top 100 educators in the country. Under his leadership, LSU applied for and was granted a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and became the 13th university to be named a Sea Grant institution.

Murrill oversaw the implementation of Title IX for women’s athletics at LSU and during the country’s bicentennial (1976) he launched a special project, “The Native Flora of Louisiana,” with botanical artist Margaret Stones executing the watercolor drawings. He was a member of 13 honorary and professional societies, including the LSU and Ole Miss alumni halls of fame. He wrote and edited many books, including seminal texts on process theory, which are still in use today.

In 2003, the Instrument Society of America named him one of the 50 most influential people in history in the fields of automation, instrumentation and control technologies. Murrill retired from LSU in 1981 and began an accomplished career in the corporate world. As a testament to his abilities, he was asked to and served on the boards of 27 publicly traded corporations regulated by the SEC. He was chief executive officer of Gulf States Utilities and continued on that board after it was acquired by Entergy Corp. He served as lead director of the board of Tidewater Inc., which named an offshore supply ship the Paul W. Murrill in his honor.

His corporate career also included serving on the boards of Piccadilly Inc, Foxboro Corp. (Massachusetts), Zygo Corp. (Connecticut) and the Baton Rouge Water Co. From 1979 to 1997, he was an adviser to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Laboratory at Oak Ridge. He served on numerous nonprofit boards and foundations, including the Baton Rouge Food Bank and two years as chairman of the board of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady.

Murrill was an ordained deacon at University Baptist Church, which he and his wife joined in 1960, and over the years he taught various ages in Sunday school. He had many and varying interests: early lighting, fishing and gardening, to name a few, but none so important to him as his family and religion. Of his many accomplishments, the most important was that he was humble, kind, ever-loving and compassionate. During his later years, he taught a Sunday school class of his peers (some older, some younger), and this was a most meaningful experience for him.

For six years, until January of this year, he wrote a newsletter he called “The Peep,” which began with his class and expanded to include a wide range of devoted friends in various parts of the country, who he greeted weekly as “my fellow pilgrims.”

Murrill was preceded in death by his parents, Horace and Grace Murrill, and a son Paul Whitfield Murrill Jr. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; son John (Elizabeth) of Baton Rouge; son Britt (Kasey) of Baton Rouge; daughter-in-law, Andrea, of Baton Rouge, and grandchildren, Parham, Baker, Paul, James Henry, Alexander, Boyd, Anna Grace, Gray and Mary Elizabeth Murrill, all of Baton Rouge, as well as two step-grandchildren, Ben Shea of Los Angeles and Ava Vasquez of Baton Rouge.

Information for this article came from Murrill’s obituary published in The Advocate in Baton Rouge.


A Vision for Engineering Education

Estate gift awards scholarships to transfer students majoring in engineering at Ole Miss

The Vassar Hemphill Estate left a generous gift to the UM School of Engineering for student scholarships. Submitted photo

A recent major gift bequeathed to the University of Mississippi School of Engineering will honor an esteemed graduate while providing financial assistance to students transferring to Ole Miss.

The School of Engineering established the Vassar D. Hemphill Jr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment with a gift of $138,400 from Hemphill’s estate. Recipients will be full-time transfer students majoring in engineering at Ole Miss.

Hemphill died at age 91 in July 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“We are extremely grateful to Mr. Hemphill for his foresight in planning a gift that will benefit students within the School of Engineering,” said Alex Cheng, dean of engineering. “When our alumni want to give back in return for the education they’ve received here, it speaks volumes about the Ole Miss experience.”

A native of Greenwood, Mississippi, Hemphill was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity and graduated from the university in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering administration. His career path includes employment at B.F. Goodrich, Dixie Steel and Leopards Interiors.

Prior to college, Hemphill served in the Philippines under Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II.

Vassar Hemphill (left) with his mother, Adele Barnwell Hemphill, and brother Simpson Hemphill. Submitted photo

In this article published in the Tuscaloosa News, Hemphill’s friends say he possessed encyclopedic knowledge about antique cars, old silver and camellias. His passion for car racing, golf, books, dancing and music remained prominent throughout his life. Additionally, trains, fine food and parties always made him happy, but most of all, he loved his adopted hometown of Tuscaloosa, the Mississippi Delta and being surrounded by close friends.

With a keen interest in historic preservation, Hemphill was a director emeritus of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society and a generous benefactor of the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion. He also was a co-founder of the Friends of WVAL and a longtime member of the Phoenix Club.

Hemphill and his wife, Adele, attended Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa.

“Planned gifts like Mr. Hemphill’s are so important to the welfare of our great university,” said Sandra Guest, vice president of the UM Foundation. “His gift will enable generations of students to reach their higher education goals and hopefully, one day, they will return the favor and the cycle will continue.”

For information on including the University of Mississippi in long-term estate and financial plans, alumni and friends can visit or contact Sandra Guest, UM Foundation vice president, at 662-915-5208 or

The Vassar D. Hemphill Jr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visit; or contact Denson Hollis at or 662-915-5092.


UM Chemical Engineering Alumna Named Chairman, President of BP America

Susan Dio assumes leadership position May 1

Susan Dio, a University of Mississippi chemical engineering alumna, is the new CEO of BP America Inc. Submitted photo

As of May 1, the new head of BP America Inc. will be a University of Mississippi chemical engineering alumna.

Susan Dio has been appointed BP America’s chairman and president, making her BP’s chief representative in the United States. She will succeed John Mingé, who will move to chair a National Petroleum Council study of carbon capture utilization and storage technologies. Mingé will retire from BP in March 2019.

“It will be a great honor to represent BP in the U.S., which is home to some of our most important operations anywhere in the world,” Dio said. “I look forward to telling our story and meeting with BP employees all across the country.”

A fellow alumna remembers Dio as an excellent role model who set the bar high and helped other female chemical engineering graduates from UM who were looking to begin their careers in the oil and gas industry.

“I was a freshman her senior year and have very clear memories of her sitting at the (Delta Gamma sorority house) dining room table studying late into the night,” said Lisa Wadlington, global manager of chemical sales at Chevron Oronite Co. in Houston, Texas. “I would ask her what her future career plans were, which professors to avoid and all the usual questions.”

As it turns out, her interactions with Dio had a significant impact on Wadlington’s career.

“Susan worked offshore as a roustabout one summer for Mobil Oil, and my dream was to do the same,” Wadlington said. “When I expressed to Susan my goal, she provided me with the name of her contact, and he hired me. To this day, that summer is one of my favorite work experiences.”

Bob Dudley, BP group chief executive, said, “Susan’s breadth of operational and commercial experience gained with BP around the world — including leading our global shipping business, running a major refinery and managing a chemical plant — make her ideally suited for the key role of representing BP in the U.S. The U.S is a vital part of BP — we have invested more than $100 billion here since 2005. All our businesses, from exploration to refining to renewable energies, operate at scale in the U.S., and together they make up the largest portfolio of businesses we have anywhere in the world.”

A chemical engineer by training, Dio became chief executive of BP Shipping in 2015, with responsibility for moving 200 million tons of oil, gas and products around the world each year. Responding to the demands of a changing energy marketplace, she reset the organization’s strategy and oversaw the recent renewal of the BP fleet, including the commissioning and delivery of 26 highly efficient new tankers.

Over the course of her 33-year career with BP and heritage companies, Dio also has held senior commercial and operating roles in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

“The engineering education I received at Ole Miss served as the foundation of my career,” Dio said. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had — including the opportunity to mentor many of BP’s future leaders — and I can’t wait to join the team at BP America.”



Electrical Engineering Senior Soars to Success

Kranthi Kadaru started the Ole Miss Robotics Club and joined several academic honor societies

Kranthi Kadaru won second place in the 2016 Gillespie Business Plan Competition. He also attended HackMIT 2017, a Hackathon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Although the University of Mississippi was the only school he applied to, Kranthi Kadaru arrived on campus as a freshman with some doubts.

Hailing from India, he chose to enroll based on the academic excellence scholarship opportunities he was offered as well as photos of the campus that he saw online. He also had a passion for engineering that started in the eighth grade and led him to choose electrical engineering as a major.

“When I came here, I did not know anyone, could not speak English well, and the worst of all was the fear and self-doubt.” Kadaru said.

Nevertheless, he found his niche in a variety of campus activities and proved himself as a student leader in many of them. He found success in the classroom as well.

Kadaru recently participated in undergraduate research and completed his senior thesis as part of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. He worked on a team with Tai Do and Rodrick Rogers, both fellow electrical engineering students. The title of his project was “Home Network Protector – IOT Security Device,” and the aim was to develop a plug-and-play network security device with routing capabilities and security features to protect home networks from possible penetration techniques. It was directed by Matthew Morrison, assistant professor of electrical engineering.

Kadaru has also been named to Eta Kappa Nu electrical engineering society, Tau Beta Pi engineering society as well as Phi Kappa Phi, Omicron Delta Kappa and Golden Key. He was also recognized with Who’s Who honors last month.

Outside his academic pursuits, Kadaru founded the Ole Miss Robotics Club in 2017. He reflected on this experience as being his biggest success as a student.

“I was not sure if I would get any support for the organization, but I knew that I was passionate about robotics and may not have been the only one in the School of Engineering,” he said. “After receiving funding from the School of Engineering, we now have many dedicated members who are consistently working towards our goals and purpose of providing an engaging environment for students to learn about robotics.”

In addition to his work with the Robotics Club, Kadaru has served as an Associated Student Body senator, a member of the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council and a community assistant for Student Housing, and participated in the Gillespie Business Plan Competition where he earned second-place honors. He also served as president of the Entrepreneurship Club and worked as a Pre-College Programs counselor for the Division of Outreach.

Kadaru said he learned a lot from the activities he was involved in during his four years on campus and he is grateful for the opportunities that were provided to him at the university.

“Ole Miss pushed me to give back to the community and helped me get out of my comfort zone,” he said. “Every leadership role I served in helped me grow as a person. Overall, it was challenging but rewarding.”

He said he is also grateful for the experiences he had as part of the School of Engineering and credits faculty such as Morrison for their assistance and advice, which helped him achieve his academic goals.

“Our small, but growing, engineering program helped me form better relationships with faculty and staff,” he said.

Kadaru is slated to graduate summa cum laude this month. He has accepted a position as an R&D controls engineer at Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc. in Jonesboro, Arkansas.