Rudy Kittlitz Remembers Alma Mater through Generous Donation

Successful chemical engineer becomes major donor to School of Engineering

Donor Rudy Kittlitz Jr. (left) meets with Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for academics in the UM School of Engineering. Submitted photo

Since he graduated from the University of Mississippi half-a-century ago, Rudolf “Rudy” G. Kittlitz Jr. (BSChE 57) has enjoyed a long and prosperous career. Not one to forget where he came from, the retired chemical engineering alumnus has become a major donor to the School of Engineering at his beloved alma mater.

“For the past several years, I’ve provided a gift so that engineering students, who are otherwise not financially able, may attend the engineering banquet in the spring,” Kittlitz said. “To continue supporting Ole Miss, I’ve included the university in my will.”

The funds tentatively will be used for scholarships and lab equipment.

“Rudy Kittlitz has a deep appreciation for the education he received as an Ole Miss student and has been inspired to assist our School of Engineering students for years,” said Dean Dave Puleo. “Now he has committed a thoughtful planned gift that will strengthen the engineering school and transform students’ lives. We are grateful for his generous gift that reflects his great love for the University of Mississippi and his concern for young people.”

Marni Kendricks, the engineering school’s assistant dean for undergraduate academics, agreed.

“I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rudy in Waco last fall,” she said. “What a fun, memorable lunch, reminiscing about Oxford and the Ole Miss campus and people we both knew and our common affection for Ole Miss Engineering! His warm emails addressed ‘Howdy Marni’ always make my day better.”

Kittlitz’s connection to UM began when he decided to attend its engineering school in 1953. The Waco, Texas, native chose chemical engineering as his major after he read a novel on space travel by Willy Lee.

“I wanted to major in rocket engineering,” he said. “However, at that time it was not possible.”

As a student, Kittlitz recalled that each of his classes had no more than 10 students. Among his favorite professors was the late Frank Anderson, dean emeritus, and chair and professor emeritus of chemical engineering.

“These small classes enabled the students to quickly ask questions and get understandable answers,” Kittlitz said.

Rudy Kittlitz Jr. spends time reading in his backyard. Submitted photo

Following graduation, he began a 43-year career with the DuPont Chemical Co. There he worked with polychemicals research in Wilmington, Delaware, from 1957 to 1960. Kittlitz then moved to the company’s textile fiber divisions in both Seaford, Delaware, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, before switching to the nylon division and eventually becoming a senior research associate and statistical consultant for fibers.

“I taught myself statistics, which eventually became my career at DuPont,” he said. “My new knowledge of statistics and the Delrin plant startup were very beneficial as I began to learn the making of textile fibers.”

A member of the American Society for Quality since 1972, Kittlitz became a fellow in 1981. He served in leadership positions within ASQ including chair, program chair, chemical divisional councilor, founding member of the Delmarva Section, co-developer and instructor of the Quality Engineering Review course for the Delmarva Section, Region 5 director and executive regional director.

“In 1989, I was awarded the second William G. Hunter Award by the statistical division of the ASQ,” he said. “This was recognition of my being chair of a multicompany quality control group. Our people wrote ‘Quality Assurance for the Chemical and Process Industries.’”

He also has held professional memberships in the American Statistical Association and National Association of Parliamentarians. A registered professional engineer from 1984 to 2015, Kittlitz was an adjunct professor at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, a Citizen Ambassador to Russia and Ukraine, and a Delaware Quality Award judge.

“My attending and then graduating from Ole Miss means very much to me,” Kittlitz said. “I honestly did not know what kind of career I would have had, had I not received the NROTC scholarship to Ole Miss.”

Kittlitz earned his Master of Science in Engineering degree from the University of Alabama in Mobile. He is co-author of several publications and articles in peer-reviewed journals.

The father of three daughters and a son, Kittlitz lives at Lutheran Sunset Ministries, a retirement community in Clifton, Texas. He enjoys reading, traveling and hiking the Big Bend National Park area of Texas.


UM Scientists Further NASA’s Mission to Mars

ME professor Shan Jiang leads faculty-student research team in advancing space exploration

Shan Jiang (third from right) discusses his interdisciplinary NASA research project with (from left) Ronald Smith, Abigail Hughes, Makena Tisor, Jungmin Jeon and Katelyn Franklin. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

As NASA continues preparations for missions to Mars and beyond, a team of University of Mississippi scientists is conducting research that may advance deep-space exploration for decades to come.

Shan Jiang, UM assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is the principal investigator for “An Integrated Computational Framework for Atomic-level Investigation of the Sintering Mechanisms during In-Space Additive Manufacturing of Metals and Alloys,” a project funded by the Mississippi NASA EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Development, or RID, Program (No. NNX15AK39A) and directed by Nathan Murray, UM research assistant professor of chemical engineering.

The project is composed of synergistic, integrated, high-performance computing activities, including modeling, simulation, prediction and optimization of pure metal and alloy nanoparticle sintering, which is a process to make a powdered material coalesce into a solid or porous mass by heating it (and usually also compressing it) without liquefaction.

“One of the key areas of NASA mission-supportive research is ‘in-space additive manufacturing’ (known as AM) during Earth-independent missions on Mars,” Jiang said. “In the next two decades, NASA will push three fronts in realizing the ‘Journey to Mars’ mission: Earth-reliant exploration aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and in low Earth orbit; proving-ground exploration with planned missions near the moon and on a redirected asteroid; and Earth-independent exploration with missions planned for low Mars orbit to explore the entry, descent, landing and in situ resource utilization on Mars.”

Currently, a major area of focus on the ISS is to develop integrated AM facilities to rapidly manufacture items such as consumables and equipment replacement parts using materials such as metals, plastics, composites and ceramics.

“AM plays a key role in the NASA In-Space Manufacturing Vision for Extraterrestrial Environments, especially for 3D printing in zero gravity and for in-space additive repair,” Jiang said. “Powder metal sintering and the relevant atomic-level mechanisms associated with this process govern the AM of various types of metals and alloys.”

However, many fundamental aspects concerning the sintering phenomena (as well as associated melting and solidification behaviors) of various metal powders, especially at the atomic level, nanoscale and microscale, still remain largely unknown.

“In this project, we are aiming to develop an integrated modeling-computation-optimization framework for gaining fundamental insights into the atomic-level sintering behavior of various types of metals and alloys, with the ultimate purpose of predicting and optimizing the final additively manufactured parts and in part supporting the NASA In-Space Manufacturing and Repair Platform,” he said.

Using the research expertise of fellow junior faculty members within the School of Engineering, as well as the research groups at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the program aims to build the necessary research infrastructure for NASA-related modeling and computational research in a top-notch national field, i.e., additive manufacturing for metal printing and additive repair.

“The research will provide theoretical and technical support to both ground & ISS demos of the additive manufacturing of metals and alloys,” Jiang said. “In addition, fundamental computational studies to understand the sintering mechanisms of metal/alloy powders under extreme extraterrestrial environments will fill one of the knowledge gaps in the current state of the art of the in-space AM, as contained in the NASA In-space Manufacturing Exploration Technology Development Roadmap.”

Other UM faculty members collaborating with Jiang are Hunain Alkhateb, associate professor of civil engineering; and Alex Lopez and Sasan Nouranian, both assistant professors of chemical engineering. The four have been working successfully together for more than two years.

“As we realized the importance and stipulation for the outreach and the research-activities integration, we have established an Additive Manufacturing for Research and Education Cluster, or AMREC, with one of the major goals being to foster research and educational collaboration between four faculty members within the said departments,” Jiang said. “So far, we as an interdisciplinary team have obtained three seed grants (one from NASA Mississippi Space Grant and two from Mississippi NASA EPSCoR) related to additive manufacturing.”

A membrane scientist by training, Lopez’s work is focused on the treatment of wastewaters through electrodialysis and electrodeionization using material modification of ion exchange membranes.

“The majority of my work is centered around ionic liquid-based composites materials,” he said. “The AMREC, an interdepartmental collaboration aimed at the pursuit of novel materials with application in additive manufacturing, seeks to develop new insights into the possibilities of additive manufacturing and grow the field in a transdisciplinary way.”

The team also has involved some of its students in the research. Students include Jungmin Jeon of Korea, a master’s degree candidate in mechanical engineering; Katelyn Franklin of Ocean Springs, Abigail Hughes of Elgin, Illinois, and Makena Tisor of Madison, junior mechanical engineering majors; and Ronald Smith, a junior civil engineering major from Meridian.

“Jungmin is performing the modeling of nanopowders and nanoparticles, as well as the molecular dynamics (or MD) simulations of (the) laser sintering process,” Jiang said. “She is also assisting me in training other undergraduates to learn how to use MD package and submit parallel computational jobs on supercomputers at the Mississippi Center for Supercomputing Research.”

Franklin runs bimetallic nanoparticles simulations to mimic the heating and cooling process of nanoparticles considering different heating rates, as well as performing data analysis for the simulation data. Smith is running simulations on Ti/Al core-shell particles to understand the melting behavior during the formation process of nanorods, as well as performing data analysis for the simulation data. He also helps Jeon do data analysis of single-crystal titanium nanoparticle simulations.

Hughes is learning how to use an open-source code (LAMMPS) to realize parallel MD simulations and is expected to complete some large-scale parallel MD simulations of alloy particles soon. New to learning numerical techniques in molecular dynamics, Tisor is also performing a comparative study on how the mixture of simulated Martian (as well as lunar) regolith and resin will 3D print compared to the standard photopolymer resin under Lopez’s supervision.

For more about the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Mississippi, visit For more about NASA’s “Journey to Mars” program, go to The NASA Mississippi Space Grant program,, and Mississippi NASA EPSCoR program,, are funded by training grants from the NASA Office of STEM Engagement.




Alireza Asiaee Joins Chemical Engineering Department

Newest instructor brings professional experience, research expertise to UM students

Alireza Asiaee has joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Mississippi. Submitted photo

As an undergraduate chemical engineering major at Shiraz University in Iran, Alireza Asiaee dreamed of one day earning his terminal degree and joining the faculty of a prestigious university. Since then, both dreams have come true.

Asiaee is the newest instructor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Mississippi. He was hired Aug. 1, after receiving both his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and his Master of Science degree in chemical engineering from Shiraz University.

“I always had a passion for teaching and transferring chemical engineering knowledge to (the) next generation,” said Asiaee, who previously worked as a process engineer at ideaCHEM Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota, and as a lecturer at Rajaee Higher Education Institute in Shiraz, Iran. “During my graduate studies, I volunteered to be a teaching assistant for courses in computer programming, thermodynamics and advanced chemical engineering mathematics.”

Asiaee is teaching Programming for Chemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering Lab this fall. Next semester, he will be teaching Programming, Chemical Engineering Lab II and web-based Thermodynamics.

“In addition to teaching the assigned courses, my short-term goals are developing new elective courses in the department, updating the current chemical engineering laboratory, providing support and help to update the existing curriculum, as well as helping and advising students with their research,” Asiaee said.

“My long-term goals include developing new courses and labs related to my research background in computational chemistry and bioprocesses and collaborating with other faculty members to establish research centers in computational and/or supercritical fluid areas.”

In addition to joining the UM chemical engineering department, Asiaee said his most satisfying achievement has been the outcomes of his Ph.D. research, which have established some new methods and procedures in studying and computational modeling of solid-fluid interfaces and heterogeneous catalysis.

“One of my articles was published as an ‘Editor’s Choice Paper,’ where we addressed some of the challenges and discussions between the theoretical results and experimental observations in Fischer-Tropsch synthesis process,” he said. “Due to the outstanding methods we developed in the mentioned paper, the company who owns the applied software (Accelrys) has reached out to my previous research group requesting our calculations and procedure in order to update their software packages and develop new procedures for estimation of first-degree reaction rates and parameters.”

Asiaee provides the enthusiasm and energy of a newly graduated Ph.D. to the department, said John O’Haver, chair and professor.

“He is providing the attention and creativity needed for our laboratory classes, as well as providing our freshmen with the fundamentals of using and programming in Excel,” O’Haver said. “He brings research skills that will enable him to collaborate at times with faculty. We are excited to have him in the department.”

Asiaee has a fiancée, who is working in Salt Lake City as an energy engineer. His family includes his parents and sisters.

“My extracurricular activities are mainly sports,” he said. “I am a member of Ole Miss Badminton Club. My other favorite sports are mountain biking, racquetball and playing pool.”



Jake McCall Finds True Calling

Electrical engineering senior succeeds in major and as C Spire intern

Jake McCall (right) works with a fellow student in the electrical engineering lab. Submitted photo

Jake McCall applied to the University of Mississippi as a psychology major. However, at the advice of a close family member, the Memphian decided to pursue engineering and found it to be the best fit with his interest in doing creative work.

Before classes officially started, McCall chose to study electrical engineering with an emphasis in computer engineering. Since then, he has found the experience to be both challenging and fulfilling.

“My favorite class has probably been EL E 425: Local Area Networks taught by Dr. John Daigle,” he said. “The class teaches the basics of how networks operate, specifically internet networks, and I enjoy learning the mechanics of commonly used pieces of technology.”

McCall also reflected that he found the practical applications of the course helpful in his understanding of computers and how to fully use them as instruments of engineering.

A highlight of McCall’s undergraduate experience happened last summer when he interned with C Spire. He enjoyed the collaborative working environment fostered by the staff.

“C Spire treated me like I was important to their work,” McCall said. “Instead of being given stereotypical intern tasks, I worked directly with full-time employees on real projects in the systems integration department.”

In addition to his summer internship experience, McCall is working on his senior thesis as part of his membership in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. He is working under the mentorship of Daigle, professor of electrical engineering. McCall’s project is focusing on localization using multiple inertial measurement unit, or IMU, sensors to perform digital dead reckoning.

“I have really enjoyed getting to work on a problem that has not really been solved in the public domain (at least not very well),” he said. “I have also gained a lot of practical knowledge along the way that I can use in my own personal projects.”

McCall said he is looking forward to presenting his research next spring.

Daigle taught McCall in both his Theory of Controls course and his Networking course and praised his academic performance. This, ultimately, led to them working together based on a common research interest area focusing on inertial measurement units. They began working together on this project last spring.

“Initially, Jake approached a different professor to inquire about working on this topic, but that faculty member knew that I was already researching this issue and had a graduate student working on it, so he directed Jake to me,” Daigle said. “I had written a proposal to (the) National Institute of Standards and Technology in which I proposed techniques based upon a combination of IMUs and Wi-Fi to track responders in emergency situations.”

McCall has been recognized for his academic success on campus. A 2018 Taylor Medal recipient and named the 2018 Outstanding Junior in Electrical Engineering, he has been inducted into Phi Kappa Phi honor society and Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, and serves as treasurer of Eta Kappa Nu electrical engineering society. Additionally, he has been heavily involved in the Baptist Student Union, where he leads worship and volunteers with its Grove cleanup after home football games. McCall is the recipient of the C Spire-Nokia Bell Labs Fellowship, which entails a four-month-long position at Bell Labs in New Jersey.

After graduation, he will return to Mississippi to work for C Spire in Jackson. He also is considering graduate school as he is interested in pursuing a Master of Science in either electrical or computer engineering.



Engineering Research Group Developing Coatings for Sturdier Packaging

10 undergraduate chemical engineering majors part of group also investigating antibacterial coatings, oil-spreading behavior over soils

Chemical engineering majors Anas Al-Abri (left), Brandon Knight and Shaylin Williams conduct lab experiments in Brenda Prager’s Coatings, Surfaces and Interfaces Research Group. Submitted photo

Three years ago, Brenda Prager received a parcel of medications from her Australian pharmacist. As it was winter in Australia, the parcel was badly damaged because of wet weather, and the box containing the medications fell apart upon opening.

“It struck me at the time that a cheap but strong, hydrophobic-coated surface over this paper-based package would have gone a long way in protecting my medications,” said Prager, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Mississippi.

About the same time, a friend sent her some much-wanted “Aussie chocolate.” The Mississippi heat, however, melted the tasty treats.

“Thermal barrier coatings, in this case, would have enabled my beloved Cadbury’s to have arrived safely during transportation,” she said.

Fed up with ineffective package wrappings, Prager created the Coatings, Surfaces and Interfaces Group (CSIG), a research team dealing primarily with the development of intelligent and functional coatings onto paper substrates for packaging applications and investigating their surface behavior, functionality, interactions with the paper substrate and mechanical strength properties.

“Three types of coatings are currently being investigated: hydrophobic, or water repellent, coating; thermal barrier coatings; and antibacterial coatings,” Prager said. “Using the same fundamental science of surfaces and interfaces, I’ve also expanded my research into a fourth project area, investigating oil-spreading behavior over soils, a phenomenon occurring during an oil spill. Understanding this fundamental behavior may lead to modified incident responses following an oil spill.”

The CSIG group includes three graduate researchers (one of whom is a former undergraduate research student of Prager’s): Kola Adenekan of Nigeria, who is working toward his Ph.D. in engineering science; Anas Khalaf Al-Abri of Oman, who has begun his master’s degree in engineering science; and Mustafees Khan of India, who recently completed his master’s in engineering science.

The graduate students help supervise 10 undergraduate students, all chemical engineering majors. They are Claire Cozadd of O’Fallon, Illinois; Osas Imafidon of Lagos, Nigeria; Jared Foster of Horn Lake; Shaylin Williams of Natchez (a McNair Scholar); Aransa Gonzalez of Caracas, Venezuela; Brandon Knight of Collinsville; Ebrima Komma of the Gambia in West Africa; Adam Luckett of Jackson; Jordan Ryan of Gulfport; and Mitch Sypniewski of Vero Beach, Florida.

“Many of my students begin in my research group as volunteers to get a taste of research,” Prager said. “While not all stay in the group, those who do are typically drawn into the excitement that research brings and genuinely enjoy the challenges and higher-order thinking required to successfully conduct the research.”

Komma entered the research group after having taken Prager’s mass and energy balance course last summer.

“I wanted to put into practice the theories that I learned, so I talked to Dr. Prager about research, and she told me about the CSIG research group,” Komma said. “The work they do there interested me, so I gladly joined when she offered me a position.”

The most rewarding part for Komma has been the hands-on experience.

“Making a hydrophobic coating on a filter paper sounds fancy, and being able to be a part of that will help me grow my knowledge in chemical engineering,” he said. “I haven’t particularly gone deep into what (I) am supposed to do, but I do have the gist of it.”

Ryan said being able to work with such an incredible team is what he finds most rewarding.

“Though I’ve been on this research team for a short time, Dr. Prager’s involvement and leadership is such a critical part of our work,” he said. “Also, knowing that our research might solve real-world problems is very gratifying.”

Other students are introduced to research by teaming up with Prager to complete their honors project or by taking credit hours in ChE 330, a class specifically designed for students to conduct research in chemical engineering.

While most of these projects were initially funded by Prager’s startup money, the hard work by her team has enabled two successful research grants to be received: a NASA seed grant (Award NNX 15AH78H) investigating thermal barrier coatings (October 2017 to September 2018) and a USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative seed grant (Award No. 2018-67022-27972) investigating thermal barrier and hydrophobic coatings for food packaging applications (June 2018 to May 2020).

“These grants have allowed some of the undergraduate researchers to undertake paid research work and employ a new master’s student on the thermal barrier project,” Prager said. “Brandon was also able to attend the 2018 American Coatings Conference in Indianapolis, finding it an enriching experience.”

Prager is searching for another master’s student to lead the soil remediation work using departmental funds awarded to her for this project. She is also preparing a small grant for the antibacterial coatings project.

“I actively recruit students into my research group, encouraging women and other minorities to consider these opportunities,” Prager said. “There is a dual benefit: The students learn the nuts and bolts of how to do research and cultivate higher-order thinking skills in areas related to their class work. Their hard work then enables research grants to be written and publication of results in journal articles.”

Prager said necessity usually dictates the focus of her research projects.

“I’ve spent most of my working life in industry and academia dealing with all sorts of coatings – photographic coatings, paperboard coatings and biomedical coatings on point-of-care sensors, investigating in-depth their respective functionalities, surface and interfacial properties,” she said.

“It was my damaged medications and melted chocolates which inspired me to create this particular research group. The end must justify the means.”




14 Freshmen Receive Prestigious Engineering Scholarships

Exceptional students from 4 states named Brevard Family, John G. Adler and Harper Johnson scholars

The 2018 John G. Adler, Brevard Family and Harper Johnson Engineering Scholarship recipients include (back row, from left): Leah Ladner, Spencer Johns, Henry Seiler, Aditya Surakanti and John Martin Paczak; (front row, from left): Doc Herrin, Anne Stewart Piazza, Cindy Nguyen, Jabria Thompson and Ajah Singleton. Submitted photo

Fourteen University of Mississippi freshmen have been named recipients of top scholarships in the School of Engineering this fall.

Representing Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, they are this year’s Brevard Family, John G. Adler and Harper Johnson scholars. The exceptional group of students posted an average ACT score of 33.4 and an average 3.92 high school grade-point average.

“We are excited to welcome these outstanding students to the School of Engineering,” said Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean for student services. Upshaw manages the School of Engineering’s recruitment efforts and coordinates the scholarship awarding process. “We look forward to their contributions to the school and to the university.”

Aditya Surakanti, a biomedical engineering major from Madison, is a Brevard Scholarship recipient. A STAR student and AP Scholar at Madison Central High School, he participated in the UM Summer College for High School Students engineering program and was part of the MCHS Engineering Academy. He is also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“I worked hard to receive scholarships to reduce the financial burden for my family,” Surakanti said. “When I found out that I was receiving this scholarship, I was elated, and it strengthened my commitment to Ole Miss.”

Other Brevard scholars are Wallace “Doc” Herrin of Picayune, Cindy Nguyen of D’Iberville, Henry Seiler of Tupelo and Lauren Skinner of Ocean Springs.

Herrin earned the status of salutatorian and served as student body president at Pearl River Central High School. He was also the student representative on the school board and attended the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference. He also plans to study biomedical engineering as part of the Honors College and has been accepted into the Chancellor’s Leadership Class.

Valedictorian of D’Iberville High School, Nguyen received numerous academic awards. She served as president of both the Key Club and the math and science team. She plans to study biomedical engineering as part of the Provost Scholars program.

STAR Student at Tupelo High School, Seiler was named an AP Scholar. He was also a member of the AP Science Club and served as a section leader for the marching band. He plans to study biomedical engineering as part of the Honors College.

Skinner was named valedictorian and STAR Student at St. Patrick Catholic School and attended the APEX Leadership Summit. She served as captain of the Science Olympiad and mentored a local Lego League team. She plans to study biomedical engineering as part of the Honors College.

Adler Scholar Spencer Johns of Little Cypress, Texas, hopes to pursue a career in the intelligence community after studying computer science and participating in the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies. He was named valedictorian at Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School and attended both the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference and Texas Boys State. An Eagle Scout, he served as junior class president.

“I was overwhelmed when I received the email notifying me of the award,” Johns said. “It meant a lot to me that someone believed enough in my drive and experience that they would help support my further growth.”

Additional Adler scholars are Ashton Devall of Ethel, Louisiana, Leah Ladner of Gulfport, Bryson O’Malley of Mathews, Alabama, John Martin Paczak of Madison and Anne Stewart Piazza of Vicksburg.

Valedictorian of Centreville Academy, Devall was named STAR Student and served as senior class president and president of the Beta Club. She attended the APEX Leadership Summit. She plans to study chemical engineering as part of the Honors College.

Named to the Hancock High School Hall of Fame, Ladner was ranked sixth in her class and served as both president and regional governor of Mu Alpha Theta. She also served as treasurer of the Catholic Youth Organization. She plans to major in biomedical engineering as part of the Honors College.

O’Malley earned the status of salutatorian and served as National Honor Society vice president at Macon East-Montgomery Academy. He was selected to represent his school at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference. He plans to pursue a degree in engineering as part of the Honors College.

A STAR Student at Madison Central, Paczak was named an AP Scholar and participated in the APEX Leadership Summit. He attended Youth Leadership Madison County and Mississippi Boys State. He plans to study civil engineering as part of the Honors College.

Piazza was ranked fifth in her class at St. Aloysius High School. She served as president of the senior class and the National Honor Society. She represented her school at the UM Trent Lott Leadership Institute summer program. She plans to study biomedical engineering as part of the Honors College.

Harper Johnson scholars are Peyton Lott of Clarksdale, Ajah Singleton of Raymond and Jabria Thompson of Florence.

Ranked third in his class, Lott served as sophomore and junior class president as well as student body president at Lee Academy. He also participated in the Clarksdale Youth Leadership program. He plans to study chemical engineering.

President of the student body at Raymond High School, Singleton was ranked fourth in her class and also served as junior class president and president of the Beta Club. She plans to study biomedical engineering as part of the Honors College.

Thompson earned the status of salutatorian and served as senior class president at Hartfield Academy. She also served as vice president of Mu Alpha Theta and co-captain of the varsity dance team. She plans to study chemical engineering as part of the Honors College.


Computer Science Staff Members Help Ignite Esports at Ole Miss

CS department chair Dawn Wilkins and administrative assistant Carrie Long see potential of gaming tourneys

Cray Pennison (left), president of the Ole Miss Esports club, is joined by Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor, and Jason DeShong, president of MSU Esports, to announce the Esports Egg Bowl set for Oct. 13 in the Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

On Sept. 13, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University announced the first-ever Esports Egg Bowl, an electronic matchup Oct. 13 in the Pavilion at Ole Miss between the two schools whose football rivalry stretches back to 1901.

The history of Ole Miss Esports is not nearly as lengthy. The club, designed to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus, was founded in January 2017 by junior English major Cray Pennison, of Mandeville, Louisiana.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Pennison approached the UM Department of Computer and Information Science requesting financial support for Rebel Rumble 2017, a campus club gaming tourney. The department, under the direction of Chair Dawn Wilkins, again assisted with Rebel Rumble this spring, and the club’s momentum was ignited.

“The timing just seemed right,” said Carrie Long, administrative assistant for the department and a self-described “ally” of the club. “Esports is undoubtedly a very popular event worldwide and can be used in the university setting in multiple facets.

“It is a good team-building unit, much the same as any team sport; it can be used to help motivate students to participate in leading roles as well as collaborate with others working toward common goals.”

Scholarly pursuits, including research into programming, psychology, kinesiology and virtual reality, also can be linked to esports, Long said.

And esports can be supportive in assisting a student’s mental health.

“Our hope is this will help students find others in the community who have similar interests, as well as support their interest but also make them accountable for going to class and encouraging them to be more social,” Long said.

Long and Wilkins approached Provost Noel Wilkin about administration support for the club. It did not take much to persuade him.

“This is about embracing the future: the future of online gaming, the future of sports and the future of understanding how the online world brings society together,” Wilkin said. “The future is here, competition is changing and the need for new talent is emerging. Ole Miss is changing the world.”

As the esports conversation accelerated over the summer, the idea arose for an Esports Egg Bowl, with Ole Miss and MSU battling it out for esports supremacy in the state.

“The fact that Ole Miss pulled the trigger on (supporting an esports club) is a really smart move,” said Gage Angle, a junior economics major from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and vice president and co-founder of the Ole Miss Esports club. “They are taking it seriously. That’s making people realize that this is going to be real.”

The club, born out of a defunct League of Legends club on campus, convened with about five members at its first meeting. At a club social Aug. 23 in Brevard Hall, 85 people signed up for the club, with more than 100 students in attendance, chowing down on pizza and playing video games. More than 50 students attended the club’s first official fall meeting.

The explosion of the group mirrors the mushrooming popularity of esports around the globe. Newzoo, a games, esports and mobile market intelligence provider, forecasts that the total, global esports audience will grow from 395 million this year to 580 million by 2021. 

Newzoo also states that the global esports economy will grow to $905.6 million this year, a year-on-year growth of 38 percent.

The Ole Miss Esports club was founded in January 2017 to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

Games are played on a trio of platforms – mobile (smartphone and tablets), PC and console games – in genres that include fighting and multiplayer online battle arena, first-person shooter or real-time strategy games. Some of the most popular games are “Call of Duty,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Dota 2,” “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League,” “Super Smash Bros. Melee” and “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.” 

Players go by game aliases. Pennison’s is “Syliris” because he likes the combination of sounds; Angle’s is “Geiji,” a Japanese pronunciation of his first name.

And while millions play the games, millions more watch online, thanks to sites such as Twitch and YouTube. Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon, is a live-streaming video service and social site with an estimated daily viewership in the last 30 days of more than 1.1 million viewers. By comparison, ESPN – the leading U.S. basic cable sports network – had an average of 2.5 million total viewers in primetime for the week of Sept. 3.

Besides the free, live event sponsored by C Spire at the Pavilion, the Esports Egg Bowl will likewise stream online – time and place to be announced.

“One of the things I get is, ‘So you enjoy watching other people play video games?'” Pennison said. “I always joke back, ‘You like watching people play football as you sit on the couch?’ It’s the same thing.”

That growing worldwide fascination with esports, the popularity of which first bloomed in South Korea, is gaining notice in the U.S. ESPN has added esports to the growing list of sports it covers. And the Mississippi High School Activities Association added esports as a pilot program in 2018-19.

Esports also has become a varsity collegiate sport. In 2014, Robert Morris University in Illinois announced a scholarship-sponsored “League of Legends” team.

Since then, the esports scene has skyrocketed, with a national governing body known as the National Association of Collegiate Esports representing more than 90 institutions, ranging from tiny Culver-Stockton College in Missouri to larger schools such as the University of North Texas and Georgia State University.

In March, the University of North Georgia captured the first-ever Peach Belt Conference League of Legends Championship. The championship was the first of its kind in the nation as the PBC is the first NCAA conference to present a league title for esports.

The popularity of esports – competitive video game playing – is booming, with an estimated global audience of 395 million in 2018. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

Yes, the showdown will be a battle, because esports is competitive. The Ole Miss Esports club has finished highly ranked at some competitions, including two top 10 finishes in the Collegiate Battleground Association’s fall 2017 and spring 2018 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tournaments.

The idea is for the club to compete this year in the most popular esports games, with club members split into their respective games of interest and each game overseen by a chairman. Some games have multiple teams, and each team is coached by a captain.

Much like other team sports, esport captains develop game plans by researching opponents, searching for patterns in play or weaknesses, and poring over data. Players, especially in a multiplayer online battle arena game such as “League of Legends,” are always searching for that most efficient tactic.

“In the ‘Call of Duty’ team here, our practices consist of (playing training games against) other schools for at least 15 hours a week in-game, watching hours of video-on-demand to get intel on other school’s teams, and even writing down strategies and critiques of our own play to use in-game,” said Sergio Brack, alias “Physix,” a pre-pharmacy major from Chicago who is the club’s “Call of Duty” chairman.

All this takes time, and it takes a great amount of time to become even competent at a game. But esport players do not have to be athletic freaks of nature, able to hit a nasty 85 mph slider or slalom up and down a soccer field, dribbling the ball while avoiding opposing players.

“(Esports) seem more accessible than other sports,” Angle said. “You see athletes, and it is like, ‘Those guys are big and tall, and they have the genetics and they’ve been working out their whole lives,’ and then you see guys playing video games and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I do that.’

“In esports, there is not much you can be born with for talent. You have to work hard. You have to get ahead of everybody.”

While athletic ability, beyond talents such as hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes, is not necessary for excelling at esports, a competitive spirit is beneficial.

“I noticed with esports, people who play competitively, when they were younger, they usually played sports so they have that competitive nature,” Pennison said. “And then they played video games, so it becomes where you can play the thing you really like to do – video games – and enjoy the high of being competitive and being good at it.”

Still, the games are essentially supposed to be fun, an escape from stress and the tasks of being a student. That is the role these games have played in Ole Miss Esports players’ lives since they started playing video games, which have been a near-constant since birth.

Austin Turner, a junior computer science major from Yazoo City, remembers playing as a child on his PlayStation, thinking it was the “coolest thing ever.” By high school, he was playing “League of Legends,” and when he arrived at UM, he started playing “Overwatch” for “hours on end with no end in sight.”

“For me, the joy is just the pure rush,” said Turner, the club’s “Overwatch” chairman. “I play competitive games and also survival games, so the rush for me comes when I am able to overpower another player in a game and get rewards from it.”

Esport players compete in a number of games, with some of the most popular being ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,’ ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Overwatch.’ Here, Ole Miss students play ‘Super Smash Bros.’ Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

So where does all this lead? Down the road to a National Collegiate Esports Tournament in a dedicated Ole Miss arena? (It’s not so far-fetched: The University of California at Irvine opened its UCI eSports Arena in September 2016.)

But first steps first, such as opening a practice room for Ole Miss Esports members, then maybe becoming an officially recognized sport and offering scholarships. Then the arena and national tournament.

Wilkin said UM will work toward establishing “sites where Ole Miss gamers can gather, practice and connect with expert gamers recreationally and in preparation for tournaments.”

“We will work toward establishing a competitive program that will enable our Rebel gamers to compete against the best collegiate gamers in the country. It is consistent with our efforts to build excellent programs that give students the knowledge and understanding necessary to enable them to unleash their potential and prepare them for the lifelong learning necessary in their careers.”

James Zhou, a junior managerial finance major from Madison who goes by the gamer alias “icytea,” sees a big future for Ole Miss Esports, especially with the university’s support.

“It’s still a long shot for any school, but hopefully we can become national contenders for multiple popular esports,” said Zhou, who is the club’s “League of Legends” chairman. “Universities from around the world have been hopping on the esports train.

“I definitely did not expect the amount of growth that we’ve had in the past few years, so props to everyone involved, especially the leadership.”

And by supporting the development of the Ole Miss Esports club, the university is doing more than creating a new team; it is giving students a new channel for developing their talents.

“Esports, here at Ole Miss, is an outlet for some very talented people to come and show off a skill that doesn’t involve having to be physically good at something,” Turner said. “This is an opportunity for people that may have social issues, physical issues, medical issues, etc., to come and show off that they don’t have to conform their bodies to a certain sport or face the negative stigma around gaming.

“We’re all geeks in some way or fashion but together in this organization, we can come together and push boundaries that have never been reached at Ole Miss.”

School of Engineering Welcomes New Dean David A. Puleo

Former Kentucky associate dean brings years of leadership experience, vision to position

David Puleo

OXFORD, Miss. – David A. Puleo, an administrator nationally respected for his activities in both academics and research, has been named the new dean of the School of Engineering at the University of Mississippi.

“Thanks to its leaders over the past 120 years, the (UM) school has a strong foundation, educating generations of engineers, computer scientists and geologists,” said Puleo, who assumes his duties at UM on Aug. 27. “The School of Engineering will play a key role in the university’s inspiring Flagship Forward strategic plan, and I believe my experiences at a large, public flagship university in the Southeast enable me to lead the school forward to ‘ever-increasing excellence.’”

A graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, he was the associate dean for research and graduate studies at the University of Kentucky. Puleo, who was a professor in the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering at UK, also founded Regenera Materials LLC, in Lexington, Kentucky.

As graduate studies director, Puleo supervised academic policy development and implementation, new course and program development, graduate student recruitment in partnership with UK’s Graduate Studies Team, selection and awarding of College of Engineering graduate student fellowships, and graduate program assessment.

“Our School of Engineering remains an integral component of academic excellence and scholarship at the University of Mississippi,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “David Puleo’s direction will enhance our already strong and competitive position among institutions of higher learning around the country and beyond its borders.”

Puleo said he plans to immerse himself in the culture of Ole Miss and the engineering school, which will set the stage for drafting a strategic plan for the school using a “collaborative visioning” approach that involves stakeholders from all constituencies.

“We will create a roadmap, with objectives, strategies and metrics for maintaining and growing strong, hands-on undergraduate programs with high-impact components; growing and selectively adding graduate programs; expanding our research portfolio, addressing 21st-century challenges best served by interdisciplinary, team-based approaches; ensuring a diverse and inclusive environment; and acquiring resources needed to achieve these objectives,” he said.

This roadmap should lead to the longer-term goal of the UM School of Engineering being recognized regionally, and then nationally, for exceptional education, cutting-edge research and outstanding service to the state and the engineering profession.

“A key strength of the school is the broad-based and ‘high touch’ approach to undergraduate education,” Puleo said. “We must maintain that quality of educating the next generations of engineers, computer scientists and geologists while also expanding our graduate programs and the highly related research enterprise. The close proximity of multiple other schools, as well as the not-too-distant UM Medical Center, provide outstanding transdisciplinary educational and research opportunities.”

The new dean’s track record includes being a fellow in the International Union of Societies for Biomaterials Science and Engineering, the Biomedical Engineering Society and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. A member of the advisory board for Viking Scientific Inc. and Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, Puleo received UK’s Excellence in Teaching in 2011, 2013 and 2015 and the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research in 2013.

Yet these and other awards pale is comparison to the fulfillment Puleo said he derives from seeing others who worked with him become successful.

“This is the satisfaction of seeing ‘my’ students and faculty succeed,” he said. “Being able to facilitate these types of success led me to continue down an administrative path in my career.”

Previous positions Puleo held during his 27-year employment at the University of Kentucky include assistant professor of biomedical engineering, associate professor of biomedical engineering, adjunct associate professor in the College of Dentistry and professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, both in the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. He also served as director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering before becoming chair after conversion to a department.

A prolific author, Puleo has written numerous refereed journal articles, papers and been published in several other publications. He has also been an invited presenter at numerous webinars, conference workshops and annual meetings.

As a researcher, the new dean has served as principal investigator and investigator of both internally and externally funded grants totaling millions. Heavily involved in service at all levels, he has chaired or served on national and state organizations and University of Kentucky committees.

Puleo and his wife, Sue, have two adult children, Nick and Angie.

While confident in his ability to continue building upon the UM engineering school’s legacy, he said he is still humbled by the challenge.

“The previous heads of the School of Engineering set a high standard and accomplished great things,” he said. “The call is also quite exciting, causing me to ponder the great opportunities to work with the students, staff, faculty and administrators to elevate the School of Engineering.”

For more information about the School of Engineering at the University of Mississippi, visit

Chemical Engineering Junior Wades into Study at Water Security Institute

Jordan Wescovich part of two-week study of Gulf Coast's water security issues

Jordan Wescovich spent part of her summer participating in the Mississippi Water Security Institute hosted by the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Submitted photo

Understanding the importance of water quality and availability, a University of Mississippi engineering student participated in the Mississippi Water Security Institute, which took place May 13-27.

Jordan Wescovich, a junior chemical engineering major from Ocean Springs, was among 17 students selected for the program. Students from Mississippi State University, Jackson State University, the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi Valley State University have also participated since the program’s inception in 2016. The institute was directed by Clifford Ochs, UM professor of biology.

UM’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College hosted the two-week experience, which focused on water security issues of the Gulf Coast region. Participants represented a wide range of academic disciplines, from science and engineering to business and public policy.

“We participated in a variety of activities related to conservation and sustainability,” Wescovich said. “We confronted questions of the relationships of water quality and availability to sound economic development and healthy ecosystems in urban environments.”

Funded by the Hearin Foundation of Jackson, the program’s overall purpose is to introduce honors students to the challenges and complexities of the use and management of water resources to meet present and future needs.

Wescovich had the opportunity to learn about water issues in Oxford as well as in her hometown.

“Our group spent time in both Oxford and Ocean Springs, learning the basics of water – including saltwater, freshwater and groundwater – from experts at Ole Miss and delved further into water issues that specifically affect the Gulf Coast while meeting with city officials, business owners, government agencies and residents along the coast,” she said.

At the end of the program, Wescovich presented a TED Talk titled “Transparency in Turbidity – What Are We Owed in What We Know?” This presentation, in conjunction with work from the entire group of student participants, comprised the 2018 Mississippi Water Security Institute white paper. The document was sent to the program’s collaborators and state leadership, including the Hearin Foundation and the Governor’s Office.

According to Wescovich, each of the WSI fellows came into the program with different notions of how to approach the issues surrounding water security as well as different goals of what to take away from the experience.

“Some people were used to thinking about water security in a purely environmental way, and others were used to thinking about water use as it pertained to industry,” Wescovich said. “It was certainly an eye-opener in terms of my daily habits concerning water use – like the water footprint that is a direct result of the foods I eat – and the way I now think about water security.”

In addition to her participation in WSI, Wescovich is secretary of the Ole Miss student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and a member of the AIChE car team. She also participated in the UM PULSE Leadership conference as a sophomore. Wescovich hopes to work toward more environmental-friendly and efficient chemical processes that are profitable and at the same time leave the environment virtually untouched.

“I would really enjoy doing this on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where fragile estuary systems deserve extra protection from human activity,” she said.




Jacob Najjar Is Just Getting Started

Civil engineering chair and professor notes achievements, sets sights on new goals

Yacoub ‘Jacob’ Najjar has been chair and professor of civil engineering at UM since July 2012. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Six years ago, Yacoub “Jacob” Najjar was one of two new department chairs in the University of Mississippi School of Engineering. With vision and dedication, the chair and professor of civil engineering accepted the challenge to build upon the solid foundation established by his predecessors and reach even higher levels of achievement.

Najjar reflected on the department’s growth over the past few years.

“Our graduate program has been nationally ranked for most of the period,” he said. “We have been ranked in the top 70s among similar programs within public universities. Our faculty has been active in research, teaching and service at local, national and international levels.”

As examples, Najjar noted his civil engineering colleagues’ achievements: Cristiane Surbeck serves as president of the Environmental and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); Waheed Uddin has been recognized multiple times at international, national and state levels; Ahmed Al-Ostaz has been named director of the newly established Center for Graphene Research and Innovation and as the leader of the UM constellation on disaster resilience.

Also, Elizabeth Ervin and Hakan Yasarer have been picked to attend selective teaching workshops; Hunain Alkhateb is nationally known for her work on additive manufacturing and 3-D printing; and Christopher Mullen is an active member of the ASCE Engineering Mechanics Institute Objective Resilience Committee.

“Even though we have achieved a good amount, I believe the department will realize more recognitions in the future,” Najjar said.

One of Najjar’s goals was to create and maintain a happy civil engineering family by encouraging a collegial work environment. He said he believes that, too, is being achieved.

“I see good interactions among CE faculty and staff,” he said. “To reinforce this even further, a few years ago I started the pre-faculty meeting social time. I dedicate at least 30 minutes before our faculty meetings for social interactions. I am a firm believer that for the family members to nicely work together, they have to first like each other. I think we are on the right track.”

Finally, Najjar wanted to align the departmental strategic goals with those of the School of Engineering and the university to efficiently serve the community, state and nation. The work of the CE faculty on this front has been “outstanding,” he said.

“Ms. (Grace) Rushing and Dr. Alkhateb (current and former faculty advisers, respectively, of UM’s ASCE student chapter) have been doing a wonderful job on outreach activities, such as the annual catapult competition, Science Olympiad water tower and UM STEM/engineering summer camps for students from various Mississippi schools,” Najjar said. “Dr. Ervin has organized various activities, via the Society of Women Engineers, by engaging many girls from Mississippi high schools. Most of the CE faculty are effectively engaged in technical and service activities through state and the national level committees.”

Najjar said that securing ABET accreditation in 2016 for the maximum allowance of six years and passing the evaluation with a “clean sheet” has been the most rewarding experience for all in the CE department.

“It was a collective effort of everyone in the department,” he said. “Furthermore, the successful efforts of the department’s administration, faculty and staff were recognized with the 2015 Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education Award from the UM Graduate School. In addition, a number of CE faculty and staff received the School of Engineering research and service awards.”

Najjar received the 2017 CE Department Award for Excellence in Teaching from the ASCE student chapter, which he said was especially rewarding because his teaching contributions have been reduced since he became department chair.

A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Najjar served as interim chair and professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University prior to joining UM. His teaching awards and honors include the 2006 Midwest Section Outstanding Teaching Award from the American Society for Engineering Education and the 2012 Kansas State Commerce Bank Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Najjar’s research focuses on the application of artificial neural networks and computational mechanics to advance the civil infrastructure. His research on the interaction of soil and civil structures, transportation, geomechanics, geosynthetics and geoenvironmental systems has yielded more than 90 peer-refereed articles.

Najjar and his wife, Oana, have three sons: Danny, 25, Adam, 12, and Noah, 10.