Alumni Couple Hosts Prospective Students in Houston

John Cleveland is a civil engineering alumnus and ExxonMobil employee

John and Beth Cleveland (center) welcome UM staff and Houston, Texas, area high school students into their home for conversation and treats. Submitted photo

A University of Mississippi alumni couple recently welcomed a group of high school students and their families into their home to provide information about the university. 

John and Beth Cleveland hosted the group in Houston, Texas, with a team of Ole Miss representatives. John Cleveland (BSCE 87) is the central region and national oil & gas manager for ExxonMobil’s U.S. lubricants business unit and is an annual guest lecturer in ENGR 400: Leadership & Professionalism in Engineering. He is also a member of the UM Engineering Advisory Board.

He and Beth Cleveland (BAEd 87) both hail from Fulton, and with three Ole Miss Rebel daughters, they have been tremendous supporters of the schools of Engineering and Education, and the university as a whole.

“Ole Miss provided a foundation of opportunity for our family, and we believe it our duty to help others as they seek their path in life, knowing that Ole Miss can be their launching pad too,” John Cleveland said.

“The recruiting event, complete with Grove-style food and atmosphere, was delightful for us and very beneficial for the high school prospects, having a great opportunity for casual conversations with Ole Miss representatives,” said Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for academics in the School of Engineering. “We are most appreciative to the Clevelands for hosting such a wonderful event.”

Thomas Werfel Joins Biomedical Engineering Faculty

Assistant professor brings research experience, scholarship to position

Thomas A. Werfel is an assistant professor in the University of Mississippi’s new biomedical engineering program. Submitted photo

Recognizing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to be involved with something “very special,” Thomas Werfel has joined the faculty of the newly launched biomedical engineering program at the University of Mississippi.

“I was excited to come here and help build the new program in biomedical engineering because I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than looking back 30 years from now and being able to reflect on the immense impact this program will have for students, industry partners and the University of Mississippi,” said the new assistant professor of chemical engineering.

“I was also drawn to the University of Mississippi because of the university’s emphasis on strong undergraduate education and reputation as a liberal arts college. I think studying engineering at a liberal arts institution generates a unique student compared to graduates from engineering and technology schools.”

Werfel said he wants his students to excel in reading, writing, communication and creativity.

“I am convinced that those who do so will differentiate themselves from their peers and find rapid career advancement,” he said. “Thus, I felt that the strengths of UM aligned well with my teaching philosophy.”

Werfel is a welcome addition to the biomedical engineering program, said John O’Haver, chair and professor of chemical engineering.

“Dr. Werfel brings some exciting research, which dovetails nicely with that done by Dr. Adam Smith (associate professor of chemical engineering),” O’Haver said. “Their collaborations should prove very productive and raise the national visibility of them both.”

Werfel teaches Biomaterials, Immunoengineering, and Drug and Gene Delivery. He said he hopes to develop more electives for upperclassmen and graduate students over the next few years.

“I perceived that my research program would benefit by synergizing with existing strengths here in the School of Pharmacy, departments of Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the National Center for Physical Acoustics and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” Werfel said, adding that his experience at UM has been excellent so far.

“The staff here are (second) to none and have been so helpful for helping me get oriented,” he said. “The other faculty are very welcoming and collegial. The students are positive and hardworking. And there are ample opportunities to collaborate in research.”

Werfel said his short-term goals are to make his research lab fully functional, recruit graduate students, secure independent research funding, develop the courses mentioned above, and identify opportunities to serve at UM, in Oxford and with professional organizations.

His long-term goals are to maintain an independently funded, highly active research lab, publish primary research articles in highly visible journals, teach exciting and interactive courses, contribute to the growth of the biomedical engineering program and become a leader at UM.

“I have created a career development plan that focuses on growth in teaching, research, service and leadership to achieve my short- and long-term goals,” Werfel said. “Through my career development plan, I identified where I want to be five years from now and created a ‘roadmap’ to get there.”

Werfel said a fulfilling professional achievement was being awarded an F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health on his first try.

“Receiving the award was really a culmination of all the hard work I put in as a graduate student and was a strong validation that pursuing a career in research and academics was the right choice for me,” he said.

Werfel earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Murray State University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, both from Vanderbilt University. He and his wife, Ashton, have a daughter, Finley Beth. The family loves to spend time exploring the Square, playing in Avent Park or having a picnic in the Grove.

“I spend a lot of time cooking,” Werfel said. “I also love to be outdoors, whether it be walking, hiking, camping or gardening.”


An Era Passes

Eassons retire aprons after two-decade tailgate service to UM engineering family

Greg and Darlene Easson have cooked out at School of Engineering tailgates for 20 years. Photo by Bill Dabney

Time is money.

If the adage is accurate, Greg and Darlene Easson have, by now, made a major gift to the University of Mississippi School of Engineering.

For the past 20 years, the Oxford couple has spent football-weekend Friday nights shopping and cooking, preparing to serve the next day’s breakfast and lunch in the Circle, pre- and postgame, to hundreds of members of the School of Engineering’s extended family.

“When we started out, we were just cooking about three-dozen burgers for a few friends on a Weber grill that we carried up here. Then it got bigger and bigger,” said Greg Easson, the school’s associate dean for research and graduate programs, director of the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute, and professor of geology and geological engineering.

“On a normal weekend, when we have a pregame in the afternoon, we don’t count people but we look at the number of plates. So we start out with a package of 250 plates, and we’ll go through two of those.”

That’s a lot of breakfast burritos, bratwurst and burgers. The Eassons also serve up two kinds of wings, pulled pork and a variety of sliders. Not to mention the sides: coleslaw, mac and cheese and more – all of which they assemble from scratch at home on those football Friday nights.

For an 11 a.m. game, they arrive before sunrise, light their Sterno warmers and begin serving a piping-hot breakfast cafeteria-style. The location is always the same, strategically located between Brevard Hall and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence – both of which house engineering classes. Crowds return to the tent week after week, year after year.

It’s good for business, Dean David Puleo said.

“School of Engineering tailgating has been an outstanding event, where we have a mix of future students, current students, faculty, staff and alumni who come back and engage in conversations,” he said. “It’s the past, present and future meeting together to enjoy a social activity and to get to know one another and ultimately enjoy a good football game.”

Puleo said the tailgate often serves as prospective students’ introduction to campus, one that frequently results in their ultimate enrollment at Ole Miss.

It’s not only the food that welcomes visitors but the atmosphere as well. The School of Engineering tent is well-appointed with big-screen televisions and comfortable seating, where Rebel fans and visitors alike share a tailgating experience like no other.

“When TVs in the Grove were a novelty, we would get huge crowds around the tent, and both teams would be cheering or booing or whatever,” Darlene Easson said. “It’s always been a really good atmosphere. We’ve always been the place where both students and families know they can gather on game days.”

Rain or shine. For 20 years. This year, however, the Eassons will hang up their aprons. They’re ready to take a turn on the receiving end of those serving spoons.

“It’s great to see somebody like him do what he’s done, and I don’t know what they’re going to do because he’s going to retire after this year,” said Tom Riddell of Madison, a neighboring tailgater who has supported the School of Engineering tent with monetary gifts for years. “Who’s going to take his place?

“He’s doing God’s work, in my opinion, and that’s the reason I support him and the engineering group so much, because this tailgate is open to anybody.”

A pin Darlene Easson wears seems to capture the essence of the couple’s philosophy.

It simply says, “Kind.”