Mustafa Altinakar Multiplies UM Assets

NCCHE director generates abundance of research and funding

Mustafa Altinakar is the second director of the National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The University of Mississippi’s National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering already was renowned for its expertise in modeling water flow, sediment transport and erosion when Mustafa Altinakar became its director in 2010. But instead of being content with that reputation, Altinakar has pushed the center’s scientists and programs to even greater heights each year.

Altinakar joined the NCCHE in 2002 as a research professor and was promoted to director after Sam Shu-Yi Wang, the center’s founder-director and F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, retired.

“Our center has a wide range of research interests, which encompasses free surface flows and hydrodynamics in rivers and coastal areas, soil erosion, sediment transport and morphodynamics changes, contaminant transport and fate, and water quality,” he said.

“A couple of years ago, we also constructed two experimental facilities at the laboratories of NSL (National Sedimentation Laboratory). One is a general-purpose dam-break and flood-simulation facility, which is currently being used for research in dam-break flows of granular materials.

“The other is a wave flume in which we have been studying wave attenuation by vegetation and bank erosion in agricultural ponds due to waves. The physical data collected have been invaluable for improving and validating our situational models. During the last two years, our researchers also designed field studies of boat-wave erosion in rivers.”

Altinakar also works to strengthen the center’s ties with federal and state agencies and private engineering companies to provide technology transfer and expertise. In addition, he oversees UM’s graduate program (M.S. and Ph.D.) in computational hydroscience and engineering, which is unique among SEC universities, and teaches various graduate courses.

“In recent years, the numerical modeling has gained wider acceptance and use in water resources management, conservation of water and land resources, environmental protection, prediction and prevention of water-related disasters due to its cost effectiveness in funds and time,” he said.

“We are very proud to be educating the next generation workforce that will carry on the future developments in computational hydroscience and engineering. An important part of my job is also to make sure that our research team, staff and students enjoy a stable, harmonious and friendly environment conducive to creative research and development work.”

Altinakar said he has found Ole Miss to be a tight-knit, encouraging community.

Mustafa Altinakar (second from left) discusses disaster and emergency management data with Nezih Altay, Haibo Wang and Dave Benway. Photo by Robert Jordan/University Communications

“NCCHE researchers, staff and students enjoy the small family atmosphere that stimulates open discussion and close collaboration,” he said. “I also enjoy the close collaboration we have with the School of Engineering and the UM Office of Research, who have been very supportive and attentive to our problems, which encourages us to work harder for achieving higher level of success.

“I particularly enjoy the close relationship and multidisciplinary collaborative research we have with several faculty and researchers in other departments in the School of Engineering and in the University of Mississippi as a whole.”

Before December 2002, Altinakar worked in Switzerland as the acting director of the Environmental Hydraulics Laboratory (formerly Hydraulic Research Laboratory) at the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). His decision to leave that post and become a research professor at NCCHE was motivated by his belief that he could help raise the center’s success to a higher level.

“I had first met Dr. Wang at the International Association for Hydro-Environment (Engineering and Research) conference in Tokyo, Japan, in 1993,” Altinakar said. “In 2000, he invited professor Walter Graf, my Ph.D. thesis supervisor, and myself to teach a short course in fluvial hydraulics here at NCCHE. At the end of the short course, he asked me to join NCCHE as a research professor and a potential candidate for the directorship at his retirement.”

Altinakar’s proven track record and visionary leadership are what prompted the offer, Wang said.

“Dr. Altinakar has tremendous ability to handle all kinds of things required to effectively hold his position,” Wang said. “Not only that, he is very personable, a great conversationalist who is able to make friends at almost first meeting.

“He is the perfect person for persuading people to adopt the computational modeling technology. The university was very fortunate he decided to accept the position here.”

Upon his return to Lausanne, Altinakar kept in touch with Wang, and they discussed how the former might contribute to the future of NCCHE. During his visit at Ole Miss, Altinakar had met his future colleagues and established a strong affinity due to their common research interests.

“What finally attracted me to NCCHE was not only the opportunity to work with a strong team of researchers at the forefront (of) numerical modeling technology, but also the fact that the modeling technologies were being transferred to federal and state agencies to solve real-life scientific and engineering problems,” he said.

“Organic research ties with the National Sedimentation Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the interaction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg were also important factors in making the decision to come to NCCHE. I felt that the research triangle formed by NCCHE, NSL and ERDC could be a good basis for pushing the frontiers of the state-of-the-art numerical modeling and making it available in scientific and engineering practice.”

After eight years as a research professor, Altinakar became NCCHE director in July 2010, following Wang’s retirement. In this role, he is responsible for bringing in funded research projects to sustain NCCHE as a leading research center in computational hydroscience and engineering. Since its establishment in 1983, NCCHE has succeeded in remaining a self-sustaining unit through funded research projects.

Altinakar is particularly proud of NCCHE’s research, which led to the development of dam and levee-break flood modeling and mapping software DSS-WISE™. This ongoing research was funded originally by the Science and Technology Division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the Southeast Region Research program.

In 2012, NCCHE developed a web-based version of this software, called DSS-WISE™ Lite, which was provided free to all dam-safety stakeholders through a portal at Argonne National Laboratory. Until the end of 2014, this system handled more than 3,000 simulations of about 900 dams launched by more than 100 users from 41 states.

“In 2015, following the closing of the portal at ANL, many states expressed strongly the need for the continuation of DSS-WISE™ Lite service,” Altinakar said. “The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency signed a five-year ‘sole-source’ contract with NCCHE to develop a stand-alone web portal with DSS-WISE™ Lite capability. This was the first contract FEMA signed with the University of Mississippi. The fact that it is sole source goes to show that FEMA recognizes NCCHE as the only research group that can provide this capability.

“Our small team developed the stand-alone portal for the DSS-WISE™ Lite capability from scratch in less than a year, and FEMA has evaluated our work as ‘exceptional.’ In doing so, our team used primarily open-source technologies to create the web portal and trained several graduate students who are now employed by our center. Our team has now working expertise in this area, which is unique in our university and quite rare even across the other academic institutions in the U.S.”

In the second year of the five-year project, the DSS-WISE™ Lite server at NCCHE is providing web-based, automated dam-break capability to FEMA’s main office, 10 FEMA regional offices, the National Weather Service of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and all state dam safety offices, Altinakar said.

“I dare say that this is a unique capability in the world, which offers automated input data preparation, in addition to an extremely powerful and fast computational engine,” he said. “I am also proud to have introduced the development of GIS and numerical modeling-based decision support tools in inundation mapping and consequence analysis for flood risk analysis, general purpose Graphics Processing Unit, faster than real-time flood modeling.

“We have been closely working with the researchers at NSL to develop a web-based platform called AIMS (Agricultural Integrated Management System) that allows users to simulate any watershed in the conterminous U.S. This system is currently being tested and will soon be available free of charge to conservation engineers, watershed managers and scientists.”

Altinakar and his spouse, Ayse, have lived in Oxford for the past 15 years. She holds a degree in French philology from University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She is also a graduate of UM’s Patterson School of Accountancy. The couple has a son who earned a doctorate in mathematics from the Polytechnique Montréal, and lives and works in Montreal.

“I and Ayse are both book lovers,” Altinakar said. “We have a large library at home containing books in Turkish, French and English. I am an avid reader. I read novels, mystery books, history books, scientific books, etc. One of my favorite leisure activities is playing guitar (mostly classical and flamenco). I also draw and paint.

“I used to be a good tennis and table tennis player, but I cannot find time anymore.”

Bennetts Benefit from Ole Miss Engineering

Alumni couple finds love, marriage and careers while earning degrees

Arledia Bennett likes spending time with her Chihuahua, Sadie.

David and Arledia Bennett, like many other couples before and after them, found love and happiness through their connections to Ole Miss engineering.

“They have an interesting story to tell,” said Kevin Gardner, development officer for the UM School of Engineering.

Their tale began when David Bennett (BA 74, BE 83) came from Ripley to the university on a football scholarship. Arledia Bush (BA 75, BSCS 83) came from Jackson to campus to study journalism. As fate would have it, the two met each other in their senior year through a mutual friend. Following graduation, Bennett married Bush, and they began pursuing careers in Oxford.

The rest, as they say, is history.

David Bennett initially earned his bachelor’s degree in general science with an emphasis in biology and chemistry. He later returned to the university after he was hired by the City of Oxford.

“I realized that I needed to further my studies in general engineering, so I went back to school for my engineering degree,” he said. “I served for 15 years until my retirement. My engineering degree enabled me to enjoy a professional career, serving the public in a work environment that I truly loved with the City of Oxford.”

Although Arledia Bennett earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, when her husband went back to engineering school, she decided to do so also.

“That is when I got a B.S. in Computer Science from the School of Engineering,” she said. “I have to admit that I have not used my computer science degree, as I did not change careers after I graduated. I loved what I was doing professionally as director of the Lafayette County Foster Grandparent Program, a volunteer program for seniors working with children with special or exceptional needs.”

The families of both Bennetts have strong ties to the university.

“My family had close ties as Rebels, as both my mom and dad graduated from here,” David Bennett said. “I had many offers for football scholarships, but I had always been a Rebel fan so coming to Ole Miss was an easy choice for me.”

Arledia Bennett’s father earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UM. And her mother was an R.N. and worked on campus at the University Hospital before it was moved to Jackson.

David Bennett enjoys duck hunting.

“My dad always jokingly told me I could go to school anywhere I wanted, but he was only going to pay for me to come to Ole Miss,” she said. “So Ole Miss has always been a special place for both of our families, and I never considered any other school.”

David Bennett said his favorite engineering course was hydraulics. His favorite professors were M.S. Abdulrahman, professor emeritus of civil engineering, and Sam Deleeuw, chair emeritus and professor emeritus of civil engineering. Arledia Bennett said she most enjoyed the classes of Tobin Maginnis, associate professor of computer science.

The Bennetts’ degrees have allowed both of them to pursue careers they have enjoyed and have kept them involved in the Oxford and Lafayette County community.

“Both of us were offered jobs in other places after we graduated from engineering school, but Oxford was home, and we chose to stay here,” he said. “We enjoyed the jobs we already had here.”

The alumni couple makes an annual donation to the School of Engineering, and David Bennett assisted engineering students with senior projects when he worked for the City of Oxford.

“We do it so that other students will have the opportunity to pursue their career in engineering as we did,” Arledia Bennett said. “Giving back has always been important to us and has been an important part of my professional career.”

David Bennett has a son, Bryan; a brother, Dan, who graduated from UM with a degree in mechanical engineering; and a sister, Betty. He enjoys hunting, fishing and working in the yard. 

Arledia Bennett has a brother, Sonny, and a sister, Denise. She enjoys sitting in the sunroom, reading a good book when not at work.

 

 

Farhad Farzbod Joins Mechanical Engineering Faculty

Newest professor brings creativity, energy to students and colleagues

Farhad Farzbad (far right) enjoys some time with his wife, Rosita, and friends at YellowStone National Park.

Farhad Farzbad (far right) enjoys some time with his wife, Rosita, and friends at YellowStone National Park.

As technological advances continue, the imaginary line between fiction and reality is being erased. And that’s one of the reasons Farhad Farzbod is an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi.

“I looked for academic opportunities in the South and I found Ole Miss,” said Farzbod, who joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering faculty last August. “When I visited the campus, I was attracted to the level of collegiality in the department and how helpful everyone was. Not to mention that the campus was much more beautiful than what I had in mind.”

Farzbod, whose research area is mainly actuator design and novel acoustic devices, has taught Dynamics and Mechatronics. He will teach Engineering Systems Analysis and Design and Linear Control next semester.

“My background is in different areas, from laser ultrasound and bio acoustics to mechatronics and sensor design,” Farzbod said. “Currently, I am pursuing a subset of these.”

Farzbod is a welcome addition to the ME department, said Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering.

“Dr. Farzbod brings incredible multidisciplinary characteristics and capability through his work experience with the Google Inc. and research work at the Idaho National Laboratory,” he said. “The use of micro-electro mechanical systems in mechanical/electronics components and all types of sensors necessitates a need for teaching mechatronics to our students.

“With faculty like Dr. Farzbod, the mechanical engineering department has now positioned itself to further modernize its curriculum so that our students could find better opportunity in the global market.”

After earning his Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology, Farzbod took a postdoc at Idaho National Laboratory. He was a research engineer at Google [x] Lab before coming to UM.

Farzbod’s most fulfilling professional achievement thus far is his second patent, which he filed while employed at Google.

“It is about using nose vibration to pick up speech signal,” Farzbod said. “I think it is really useful for wearable computers and it helps to personalize communication with wearable devices without much sacrifice for the power and the price.”

Although Farzbod enjoyed his time at Google, he found himself drawn to life in a college town more than the big city. “Those years of living in the South, with its green nature, warm weather and nice people made my best memories,” he said.

The new faculty member has already set short- and long-term goals for himself.

“My short-term goal is to bring outside research money to the department to provide for graduate student stipend, experimental setups and possibly some summer hours for undergrads,” he said.

“One of my long term goal is to reach out beyond Ole Miss and serve the state of Mississippi. Another long-term goal is to be somewhat well known in my area of research, to have a lab with state-of-the-art facilities to serve both my research and teaching activities.”

The most gratifying part of the job for Farzbod is working with students.

“I am still on a learning curve about the level of students here,” he said. “Some of them definitely beat my expectations. But I have to find the average, to adjust my gears.”

Farzbod and his wife, Rozita, enjoy hiking and playing cards with friends. He looks forward to serving the campus community and beyond.

“I remember that when I was working at Google, we were encouraged to go out couple of days a year and tutor high school students in underprivileged schools in the Bay Area,” Farzbod said. “I think Mississippi, among all places, needs our help. The late Jim Chambers – God bless his soul – was active in this.”

For more info, visit http://mechanical.olemiss.edu/~farzbod.

Earl Fyke Finds, Shares Fortunes

Electrical engineering alumnus is successful cardiologist, gives back to alma mater

Earl Fyke

Earl Fyke

Dr. Frazier Earl Fyke III truly believes it is better to give than to receive.

As a long-standing member of the Woods Order, the electrical engineering graduate contributes regularly and generously to the University of Mississippi School of Engineering. A staff cardiologist at Baptist Heart in Jackson, Fyke readily acknowledges his alma mater laid the foundation for his professional success.

“I got a wonderful education under some really wonderful mentors in the engineering program at Ole Miss that prepared me well for 10 years of medical training and for life,” Fyke said.

“On several occasions I have been fortunate enough to hear Dr. Fyke share his belief that an engineering degree from Ole Miss is one of the most valuable degrees you can earn, from its rigorous preparation to its long-term career potential,” said Kevin Gardner, development officer for the engineering school. “Dr. Fyke’s confidence in our degree programs is reflected in his support to strengthen our engineering scholarship program, helping to recruit and retain outstanding students. We are extremely grateful for his and Nancy’s continued support.”

After earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering, Fyke chose to pursue a professional career in medicine. His decision led him to Mayo Medical School, where he earned his M.D. He completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases at Mayo.

Over the years, Fyke has worked as a staff cardiologist at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, Rankin Medical Center and Rivers Oak Hospital. In 1991, he served as chief of cardiology at MBMC and nine years later was chief of medicine there.

Since then, he has served as director of Baptist’s Echocardiography Laboratory, Cardiovascular Associates Echocardiography Laboratory and University Heart Select Specialty Echocardiography Laboratory. He has held national certifications in adult echocardiography, cardiac pacemakers and implantable defibrillators, and interventional cardiology.

Fyke became a professor of clinical medicine in cardiology at the UM Medical Center in 2008, then returned to private practice as a staff cardiologist at Jackson Heart Clinic before assuming his present position with Baptist. He reflected upon his two most gratifying professional achievements.

“Early in my career, I was invited to serve on the national examination writing committee for the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology (now Heart Rhythm Society) and did so for a decade,” Fyke said. “I think I was the only private practice physician on this board of celebrities in that field. What a thrill to meet annually with them in Philadelphia and work throughout the year preparing this certifying examination.”

A member of the board of trustees of Belhaven University for more than 20 years, he chairs its academic affairs committee.

“To work with the faculty and administration to promote academic goodness as well as thoughtful application of the university’s commitment to teach each discipline in Christian perspective has been a privilege,” he said.

Fyke is a fellow in the American College of Physicians, American College of Cardiology and the Society of Cardiac Angiography and Interventions. He also has memberships in the Heart Rhythm Society, American Society of Echocardiography and American Heart Association.

A prolific author, he has published 17 peer-reviewed journal articles, six abstracts, two book chapters, two editorials, two letters to the editor and a book review. He has also been a reviewer for Heart Rhythm Journal and Catheterization and Cardiovascular Interventions.

He is married to the former Nancy Jean Johnson, and they have three children: Frazier Earl Fyke IV, Thomas Joel Rutherford Fyke and Georgia Katherine Fyke.

Fyke jokes that he is deferring leisure time until retirement. He enjoys reading and spending time with family.

“Right now, I am still overly busy in my practice just taking care of patients,” he said. “Thankfully, I love medicine and especially cardiology. I lecture fairly frequently, which requires a good bit of outside-of-work preparation.”

Family Supports Engineering Scholars

Planned gift encourages students to stay in state, earn engineering degrees

School of Engineering Dean Alex Cheng (left) and Marni Kendricks, assistant dean (right), greet Nancy and Earl Fyke. Nancy Fyke's father, Otho Johnson, established a scholarship that will provide financial assistance to full-time undergraduate students pursuing an engineering degree.

School of Engineering Dean Alex Cheng (left) and Marni Kendricks, assistant dean (right), greet Nancy and Earl Fyke. Nancy Fyke’s father, Otho Johnson, established a scholarship that will provide financial assistance to full-time undergraduate students pursuing an engineering degree.

Otho Johnson was a University of Mississippi varsity cheerleader and even in death, he continues to cheer for the university, having established a scholarship that he hoped would encourage students to remain in Mississippi to earn their undergraduate degrees.

“The enthusiasm with which he cheered for the Rebels carried over to his support for our children all the way through their school years and beyond,” said Earl Fyke of wife Nancy Johnson Fyke’s father.

The Otho Johnson Engineering Scholarship Endowment, funded by the Dorothy Day Johnson Living Trust, will provide financial assistance to full-time undergraduate students pursuing a degree in the School of Engineering.

“My father was an ardent Ole Miss supporter. Both he and my mother (Dorothy ‘Dot’ Day Johnson) went to school here,” Nancy Fyke said. “My father was in the entering class of 1941, so the war interrupted his education. He was in civil engineering when he started, and he came back after the war to complete his degree.

“In his will, he designated three places to receive charitable donations. The School of Engineering was one of those, along with Reformed Theological Seminary and First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.”

The Fykes said the gift is a natural extension of Otho Johnson’s personality.

“I think he wanted to establish the scholarship as an encouragement for students to go into engineering, which he always felt provided a solid foundation for his own career, and he wanted to do something special for Ole Miss and specifically for the engineering school,” Nancy Fyke said.

“We know from experience with our own children’s classes that a lot of talented students leave the state. Scholarships, as well as the Honors College, were powerful encouragements for our children to come to the University of Mississippi instead of accepting appointments out of state.”

First preference for the award will be given to students participating in the Belhaven University 2+2 or 2+3 program, honoring Dot Johnson, who attended Belhaven before transferring to UM after her freshman year.

The partnership between Belhaven and the UM School of Engineering was established in 2015 as an incentive for students who want to attend both universities. Students in the 2+2 or 2+3 program complete core classes in two years at Belhaven and then finish their degree at UM, which specializes in the course of study they want to pursue. Students will earn two degrees, one in the original discipline at Belhaven and one in engineering at Ole Miss.

“We expect this partnership to ultimately be a win-win strategy,” said Kevin Gardner, development officer for the School of Engineering. “It affords Belhaven students the opportunity to receive financial assistance while also keeping them in-state to receive their degrees, which is good for Ole Miss.”

Secondary preference for the Otho Johnson Engineering Scholarship will go to students from Jackson Preparatory School who want to major in engineering.

“That relationship seemed natural as all of our children attended Prep,” said Earl Fyke, a Jackson, cardiologist and UM engineering graduate. He and Nancy, who also graduated from Ole Miss with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in home economics, have three children, all of whom attended UM.

“Otho was probably their greatest fan and greatest cheerleader going through school and rarely missed any of their activities at Jackson Prep. The thinking was that because this is a very good preparatory school, many of those kids have opportunities to study out of state. We would love to encourage them to come here, as did Otho.”

Engineering Dean Alex Cheng said Johnson’s generosity will benefit students for generations to come.

“Mr. Johnson had the foresight to provide significant support for students in a way that will encourage more students to choose the University of Mississippi for their engineering degree,” Cheng said.

Born in Jackson, Johnson attended the Jackson public schools and was a member of the Central High School Class of 1941. During World War II, he served as a pilot with the Eighth Air Force flying B-24 bombers in combat over Germany. Following the war, he graduated in engineering from Ole Miss, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

After graduate study in ceramic engineering at the University of Illinois, Johnson returned briefly to Jackson, joining his father as a ceramics engineer at the Johnson-Cone Brick Co. He married Dot Day of Inverness in 1947 and moved his family in 1949 to the Starkville area, where he managed four counties for the Southern Bell Telephone Co.

In 1952, Johnson joined Lamar Life Insurance Co. in Jackson, beginning a successful 50-year career with the company as an agent. He became a general agent in 1954 and earned the Chartered Life Underwriter and the Chartered Financial Counselor designations. He was a life member of the Million Dollar Round Table and served as president of the Jackson and the Mississippi Associations of Life Underwriters and the Mississippi Chapter of Chartered Life Underwriters.

Johnson served the community of Jackson in numerous roles, including director in the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, president of the Rotary Club of Jackson, president of the Northside and the Metropolitan Jackson YMCAs, president of the Mississippi Genealogical Society, president of the Jackson Camellia Society and organizer of the Family Research Association of Mississippi. He provided leadership as a deacon in Central Presbyterian Church, the church of his childhood, and later as deacon and elder at Trinity, Covenant and First Presbyterian churches in Jackson. Until his death, he remained an elder emeritus at First Presbyterian Church.

“Otho was one of those people who would want neither credit nor accolades for any of this,” Earl Fyke said. “He was such an unselfish people person. Everybody loved him, and everybody trusted him.”

“Throughout his life, he was very much a promoter of Ole Miss,” Nancy Fyke added, recalling the many times her father brought her and her siblings, Dr. Camille Johnson Jeffcoat and David Otho Johnson, to Oxford for ballgames. Both Jeffcoat and Johnson also attended Ole Miss.

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to the Otho Johnson Engineering Scholarship Endowment by mailing a check with the designation noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift or contacting Kevin Gardner, development officer, at 662-915-7601 or kevin@olemiss.edu.

UM Recognized Among Country’s Elite Research Universities

Carnegie Classification recognizes R&D investment, doctoral degrees granted and faculty achievement

Caleb Ezell (left) and Eleanor Anthony, both students in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, work with English professor Gregory Heyworth to examine a 15th century Italian manuscript for Oberlin College. The work is part of the Lazarus Project, which uses multispectral imaging technology to analyze old and/or damaged documents and recover faded or erased text. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Caleb Ezell (left) and Eleanor Anthony, both students in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, work with English professor Gregory Heyworth to examine a 15th century Italian manuscript for Oberlin College. The work is part of the Lazarus Project, which uses multispectral imaging technology to analyze old and/or damaged documents and recover faded or erased text. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is included in the elite group of R-1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the definitive list for the top doctoral research universities in the United States.

UM is among a distinguished group of 115 institutions including Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins in the “highest research,” or R-1 category. This group represents the top 2.5 percent of institutions of higher education.

The Carnegie Classification analyzes Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, data from all U.S. post-secondary institutions and evaluates measures of research activity for doctoral universities in making its assessments, which are released every five years.

“As a flagship university, the University of Mississippi is determined to play a key role in the cycle of research and discovery that drives and sustains our community and world,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “This ranking was achieved thanks to our outstanding faculty and their dedication to research and education.”

The Carnegie Classification’s assignment to categories of highest, higher and moderate research activity is based on research and development expenditures, science and engineering research staff including post-doctoral candidates and non-faculty staff members with doctorates, and doctoral conferrals in humanities and social sciences fields, in STEM fields and in other areas such as business, education, public policy and social work.

Dr. Wael ElShamy, director of the UMMC Cancer Institute’s Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Program, has received a patent on a method to diagnose and treat several cancer types and subtypes. The method may lead to the first targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer and add to therapies for other cancers.

Dr. Wael ElShamy, director of the UMMC Cancer Institute’s Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Program, has received a patent on a method to diagnose and treat several cancer types and subtypes. The method may lead to the first targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer and add to therapies for other cancers.

Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, applauded the university’s new classification and affirmed the vital economic role that a world-class research institution plays in the state and region.

“Attaining the Carnegie ‘highest research activity’ classification is historic for our university,” Clark said. “It illustrates the value we place on scholarly inquiry and the application of our expertise to understanding and improving our world and educating future leaders. Our faculty, staff and students deserve this recognition of their efforts to create and innovate.”

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at the UM Medical Center, was elated at the Carnegie distinction.

“We are very pleased and proud to be a part of a university where research and scholarly activity are highly valued,” she said. “From internationally renowned basic science research in physiology to large population studies being conducted through the MIND Center and the Jackson Heart Study, UMMC is leading the way in research on the diseases that impact Mississippians most.”

The university received more than $117 million in sponsored awards, with more than $105 million in research and development expenditures, during fiscal year 2015. Of that total, more than $77 million was in federal grants, more than $16 million was from foundations, about $11 million came from the state of Mississippi, approximately $8 million was from industry and roughly $4 million came from other sources.

UM researchers submitted 876 proposals and 546 research projects were funded in the last fiscal year.

Among the university’s most prestigious and longstanding research projects is the Jackson Heart Study. UMMC researchers are collaborating with Tougaloo College and Jackson State University on the world’s largest long-term study of cardiovascular risk factors in African-Americans.

In 2013, the university joined the American Heart Association and Boston University for “Heart Studies v2.0,” which will expand upon the landmark Framingham and Jackson studies to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular ailments.

The population study has followed the health of 5,000 participants, producing data that continues to yield insights into the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. In 2013, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, each a part of the National Institutes of Health, announced renewed funding for the JHS.

Other long-term prestigious projects are the marijuana research project conducted by the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research, jet noise reduction studies at the National Center for Physical Acoustics, known as NCPA, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory collaboration through the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Faculty and postdoctoral researchers in the physics department played major roles in the search and discovery of the Higgs boson, the subatomic particle thought to be responsible for all mass in the universe. The discovery was announced July 2012 by scientists at CERN, a multinational research center headquartered in Geneva.

Most recently, two faculty members within the physics department and NCPA received a $3 million Department of Energy grant to study nuclear fuel storage safety and stability.

Three Ole Miss professors received Faculty Early Career Development Awards from the National Science Foundation within the past eight months. Patrick Curtis, assistant professor of biology, is the seventh CAREER award recipient at the university in the last eight years. Sarah Liljegren, associate professor of biology, received the award last November and Jared Delcamp, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, earned a similar award in June 2015. This marks the first time three UM faculty members were selected in the same academic year.

From its first class of 80 students in 1848, UM has grown to a doctoral degree-granting university with 15 academic divisions and more than 23,800 students. Located on its main campus in Oxford are the College of Liberal Arts; the schools of Accountancy, Applied Sciences, Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Journalism and New Media, Pharmacy and Law; and the Graduate School. The Medical Center in Jackson trains professionals in its schools of Medicine, Nursing, Health Related Professions, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Graduate Studies.

In all, more than 100 programs of study offer superior academic experiences that provide each graduate with the background necessary for a lifetime of scholastic, social and professional growth. Strengthening and expanding the academic experience are the acclaimed Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Croft Institute for International Studies and Lott Leadership Institute.

For more information about research at UM, visit http://research.olemiss.edu/.

Engineers Without Borders Returns to Togo

Following successful crowd-funding campaign, team advances infrastructure project

Dr. Bob Holt (left) explains to Paige Lohman and Vera Gardner how to classify soil cuttings from the drilling operation. A worker places a sample of soil cuttings on the ground for Holt to log.

Bob Holt (left) explains to UM students Paige Lohman and Vera Gardner how to classify soil cuttings from the drilling operation. A worker places a sample of soil cuttings on the ground for Holt to log.

Entering its fourth year of helping the people of a few villages in the West African nation of Togo build a sound infrastructure, members of the Ole Miss chapter of Engineers Without Borders recently returned there to assist in the planning stages for a deep-water well installation.

The group left for the impoverished country Jan. 12, a month after launching a highly successful crowd-fundraising campaign through Ignite.OleMiss.edu With help from more than 100 donors, the amount raised easily surpassed the $20,000 goal.

The contributions received enabled members of EWB and School of Engineering faculty members to spend seven days there planning how to provide clean water to a children’s hospital in the rural village of Akoumape. They also made a followup visit to the school building built by EWB in 2014.

“One good thing we didn’t expect to happen is that we had time and an available rig to drill a shallow irrigation well,” said Cris Surbeck, associate professor of civil engineering and faculty adviser of Ole Miss-EWB. “Due to equipment issues, we weren’t able to complete the project, but Dr. (Bob) Holt (geology and geological engineering professor) taught the people there how to finish it after our departure.”

Other team members included Paul Scovazzo, chemical engineering professor and construction guru; Vera Gardner, junior mechanical engineering major; Timothy Steenwyk, junior mechanical engineering major and chapter vice president for outreach; Zach Lepchitz, graduate student in geological engineering; Paige Lohman, sophomore mechanical engineering major and team health and safety officer; and Dillon Hall, sophomore mechanical engineering major, with expertise in building and manufacturing.

Two of the most enjoyable aspects of the trip were meetings UM team members had with the geology faculty and students at the University of Lomė, as well as the governor of the Vo prefecture (similar to a county).

“The Lomė university group provided very helpful information that proved useful to us as our own project got underway,” Surbeck said. “Our students enjoyed fellowshipping with the Lomé students as well.”

The UM team met with the governor, who went with them to the school. He introduced them to the Togo students and gave them his overwhelming support. More than 100 children attend the school Mondays through Fridays.

“My most memorable experience on this trip would have to be when we visited the school that the UM-EWB team completed in January 2014,” said Gardner, a Memphis, Tennessee native who originally visited the country as a freshman two years ago. “When we saw the students attending classes and learning in their new schoolhouse, it showed that the community’s efforts and the UM-EWB chapter’s work was being used for its intended use and a good cause. Everyone’s hard work paid off.”

Steenwyk has been involved in the organization for three years, but this was his first time to visit Togo.

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

“The most memorable part of the trip for me would be our visit to the school that we had built,” the Ocean Springs native said. “It was amazing to see how the engineering drawings that we worked on in Oxford became a usable facility for children on the other side of the world. I hope we will see the same results for the well we are planning.”

First-time travelers to Togo found it an amazing, eye-opening seven days.

“My most memorable experience was spending time with the local children,” said Lohman of Moline, Illinois. “I befriended a 12-year-old boy named Voku, and we played catch and talked about his school. When I was at the local church, a little girl walked up to me and waited until I picked her up and set her on my lap, where she stayed the rest of the church service. It was very difficult for me to imagine growing up with a lifestyle similar to theirs. Seeing the poverty firsthand really made me thank my lucky stars to have the life I live.”

Hall said attending the service opened his eyes to the real needs of the people and also how much the children of the area aspire to great things.

“It was baffling to hear from these kids that they wanted to aspire to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and congressmen when it seemed like they hardly had the resources to finish grade school,” the Saltillo native said. “Their will to achieve something greater in their lives convinced me to not take for granted the opportunities that I have to achieve my career goals.”

During the service, Hall also had an opportunity to translate Ewe readings from Scripture to English.

“I had thought to bring a pocket-sized New Testament along, so it was pretty cool to be able to connect with the members of the church despite a significant language barrier,” he said.

As on previous excursions to Togo, there were unexpected challenges as well. One such case involved the temporary incapacitation of one of the motor vehicles the group used.

“The roads are so rough that they often cause cars to break down,” Surbeck said.

However, by the end of the trip, the mission of planning the digging of a deep water later this year was completed. The well will provide drinking water to a children’s hospital, which is being built by a nonprofit organization. EWB-Ole Miss is committed to drill a well and install a distribution pipe and a public tap stand.

“It’s going to be an expensive effort requiring professional construction crews and electricians,” Surbeck said. “Several Rotary Clubs in Mississippi and Tennessee are raising $100,000 for this particular project’s expenses.”

 The EWB-Ole Miss team made a long-term commitment in 2012 to work with rural villages in Togo to improve community infrastructure and health care. With four productive trips completed since that time, the EWB-Ole Miss team has built a school that provides a safe setting for dozens of children to benefit from educational opportunities.

“All of these travelers, and countless other chapter members, have invested time, money and deeply committed efforts to this project through to completion,” Surbeck said. “Faculty members donate all of their travel time without compensation. Participants are passionate about seeing this children’s hospital have clean water, which, in turn, will help health care workers care for sick children.”

All the students said if they have the opportunity to return with EWB to Togo for future trips, they would do so without a second thought.

“There is so much information and resources that America can provide for these people that I would hate to see go to waste,” Dillon said.

From the Library Stacks

Electronic kits available for use to all library users

Engineering Librarian Bryan Young shows students how to use the banana piano in the Grove.

Engineering Librarian Bryan Young shows students how to use the banana piano in the Grove.

The University of Mississippi Libraries has purchased electronic kits – Raspberry Pis and Makey Makeys – with grant funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Mississippi Library Commission. The grant supports library initiatives that result in campus partnerships and outreach to external groups.

Raspberry Pis are low-cost computers about the size of a credit card originally designed for classroom use to help students learn programming and other computing principles. They can also interact with the outside world with the addition of sensors and other electrical components. Makey Makeys are electronic devices that computers interpret as keyboards. Using basic circuit principles, users can create interactive projects.

At home football games during the 2015 season, librarians tailgated in front of Carrier Hall and demonstrated Makey Makeys by creating a banana piano powered by one of the devices. Using Scratch, a free drag-and-drop software program, and a Makey Makey, people were able to play a piano with bananas instead of ivory keys.

Not only did participants have fun, many wanted to understand the science and engineering, including repeat visitors who would often explain to others.

Melissa Dennis, head of the library’s research and instruction services, helped secure the grant and brought her family to tailgating events.

“The banana piano works on so many levels for library outreach,” Dennis said. “My 7- and 11-year-old sons loved it and would attract other kids to stop and play, which led to their parents talking to the librarians. If a few people stopped, then others on the sidewalk would turn and watch.

“The piano created a great opportunity to remind everyone that our libraries provide more than just books!”

Academically speaking, the library is seeking partnerships with instructors and departments to integrate the electronic kits into their classes. Libraries from other schools have partnered with communications and music classes to integrate multimodal approaches into otherwise nontechnical courses.

At Ole Miss, students have used the kits to prototype ideas for a business entrepreneurship competition and provide an alternative to controlling presentation slides (by placing electro-conductive tape to a plastic toy gun trigger and programming the Makey Makey to communicate a space bar command to the computer). The School of Engineering has used them during outreach events at local schools.

The library hopes to continue to build partnerships and encourage students from both STEM and nonSTEM disciplines to use the electronic kits. Libraries have always fostered inquiry and aided in knowledge production. While the philosophical mission for libraries has not changed, electronic kits and other technology broadens the methods we use to fulfill that mission.

‘Tailgating with the Dean’ Was a Top Draw

Engineering tent attracted, served record number of patrons during 2015 home football games

Ole Miss Engineering served record numbers of food during tailgating at fall football games

Ole Miss Engineering served record numbers of food during tailgating at
fall football games.

For years, the School of Engineering has served University of Mississippi alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends tailgating in the Grove with food and beverages during home football games. But the 2015 season saw patronage at the tent reach record numbers.

As engineers are numbers people, here are some statistics to illustrate the 2015 tailgating season:

Over the course of seven home games, some 620 hamburgers, 385 bratwurst, 180 pounds of pulled pork, 150 pounds of smoked chicken, 200 pounds of Magic wings, and – with the two morning games – 24 dozen breakfast burritos were served. The burritos required 24 dozen eggs, 20 pounds of bacon, 16 pounds of sausage and lots of shredded cheese.

These numbers are approximate and do not include any side dishes, the uncounted numbers of bags of chips, sodas, water, sweet tea and assorted food provided by student groups, guests and visitors.

“Our crew wishes to express thanks to Ryan Upshaw and all the student groups that helped out this year and to all who attended ‘Tailgating with the Dean’ and made it a fun experience,” said Greg Easson, director of the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute and geology and geological engineering professor. “As you can see from these numbers, y’all can eat.”

Easson, who served as primary grill master/coordinator, was assisted by Jeremy Dew, Scotty Polston and Justin Coker.

“Without these three able-bodied and good-natured grill masters, helpers and hosts, tailgating would not be possible,” Easson said. “I would also like to thank and publicly acknowledge the constant help and support from my wife, Darlene. She made every hamburger by hand, prepared the bratwurst every week, baked a tray of brownies each week and made 24 dozen breakfast burritos.

“In addition, she put up with the messes made in our kitchen and the complete lack of refrigerator space on the days leading up to each game.”

Easson also acknowledged the office of Dean Alex Cheng, without whose support none of this would have been possible.

Upshaw, assistant dean for student service, said he was surprised by Easson’s figures and grateful for his volunteer services.

“That’s a lot of food,” he said. “I hope that we can keep Greg on retainer as long as possible. I’m already looking forward to 2016 tailgating!”

UM engineering organizations that sponsored a tent during the season included Tau Beta Pi honor society, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, American Society for Civil Engineering, American Society for Mechanical Engineering, Engineers Without Borders, Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering and the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council. Guardian Manufacturing, owned by UM alumni and brothers Chuck and Steve Smith, also sponsored one game.

Passing on Her Passion

Dawn Blackledge makes her mark in industry; giving back to her alma mater

Dawn Blackledge

Dawn Blackledge

Thirty-three years ago, K. Dawn Blackledge was just another new University of Mississippi graduate looking for employment. Today, the geology and geological engineering alumna is the founder-CEO of the Blackledge Group and a major donor to her alma mater.

Blackledge has given $110,000 gift to Ole Miss, including $60,000 to endow a School of Engineering scholarship to help students in the geological engineering program offset tuition costs and promote participation in the Society of Women Engineers. An additional $50,000 donation to the Triplett Alumni Center is earmarked to sponsor a suite in the Inn at Ole Miss.

“I feel strongly that science and engineering should continue to flourish at Ole Miss, and I want to help deserving students pursue their passion of becoming an engineer,” said the Laurel native who resides in Jacksonville, Florida. “The GE program offers graduates so many opportunities and so many choices of industries for career opportunities.”

After earning her “dirty boots” in the Gulf Coast petroleum industry, Blackledge relocated to Jacksonville, where she entered public service with the city’s new Department of Environmental Resources. After 10 years of private and public experience, Blackledge founded Aerostar Environmental Services Inc., a full-service environmental engineering and remediation firm, in 1992. Under her leadership, the company grew to a business of more than 80 employees with 12 offices throughout eight states. She sold the company in 2012.

The Blackledge Group provides technical expertise to public and private clients in the areas of water resources, environmental compliance, energy and sustainability.

“I strongly believe that entrepreneurship provides the best opportunity to influence business philosophies and promote positive changes in policies and practices as the world continues to move at a lightning pace,” Blackledge said. “Also, women are still underrepresented in engineering. I feel it’s important to demonstrate that the engineering field can provide women with the opportunity to not only achieve their dreams but also the opportunity to create their own dreams.”

Blackledge said she grew up with a love for the university, where she was active in the Delta Delta Delta sorority.

“My best memories are the friends I made while at Ole Miss,” she said. “I lived in the Tri Delt house and had a blast attending football games and swaps, playing intramural sports and hanging out in the Grove.”

Blackledge joins the School of Engineering Advisory Board in 2016. Her generosity is noted and appreciated by faculty in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering.

“Dawn has been an exemplary alumnus, one who has excelled professionally and invested back into the program both financially and with her time,” said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor of geology and geological engineering. “The Blackledge Scholarship is one of the more coveted awards we make each year, and we are privileged to have her serving as a departmental representative on the school’s engineering advisory board.”

Blackledge is a well-respected environmental professional and business owner. She was appointed by the governor of Florida to the State of Florida Board of Professional Geologists in 2000 and served as board chairman during her second term, ending in 2007.

The UM grad also serves on the board of directors for the Society of American Military Engineers Jacksonville Post. She is an appointed member of the University of North Florida’s Dean Advisory Board, a graduate of Leadership Jacksonville, a founding associate of the First Coast Manufacturers Association and mentor to new women-owned businesses.

Blackledge is a certified construction quality manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Navy. At the state level, she is an expert at storm water permitting and has taught classes throughout the state.

A longtime runner, she is working on one her “bucket list” items. “When I was at Ole Miss, I ran from one end of the town to the other,” she said. “My new goal is to run at least one 10-K in every state. So far, I’ve run in 10 states.”

Blackledge said she will always continue to support Ole Miss engineering.

“I was so impressed with the changes on the campus that I wanted to be a part of the university’s continuing growth,” she said. “I am very proud of my alma mater and feel blessed to be a part of the Ole Miss tradition of ‘giving back.’ I hope many students will be able to be blessed as I have been blessed.”