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 being creative.

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.



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.”

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.




Geologists Attempt to Determine When Mississippi River Changed Direction

Thomas Varner and Jennifer Gifford conduct study with Undergraduate Summer Research grant

Thomas Varner takes soil samples from an embankment along the Mississippi River as part of his senior undergraduate research project. Submitted photo by Jennifer Gifford

Did the ancient Mississippi River ever flow in a different direction?

That and other questions about what Native Americans named the “Father of Waters” may soon be answered, thanks to new research being conducted by scientists at the University of Mississippi.

Thomas Varner, a senior geology and geological engineering major from South Bend, Indiana, and Jennifer Gifford, assistant professor of geology and geological engineering, are studying zircons (extremely durable heavy minerals often found as detrital grains in sedimentary rocks) to determine the river’s age and tectonic environment of origin. The project, funded by an internal UM Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship Track 1 grant, uses detrital zircon age patterns as a tracer of sediment source.

“Through analysis of a zircon’s uranium and lead isotopic composition, it is possible to age-date and correlate the grains back to their original source locality,” Varner said. “Using that information, we can infer a piece of the depositional history of the zircon’s most recent unit. Through analyzing the age spectra of the zircons from the McNairy Sandstone to infer the depositional history of the Late Cretaceous, the goal of this project is to determine when the Mississippi River began flowing in its current north-to-south orientation.”

Before applying for the Undergraduate Summer Research grant, Varner and Gifford collected samples of the target unit, the McNairy Sandstone, from northeastern Mississippi and south central Tennessee. Two gallon-sized bags of samples were collected at each of 10 sites, predetermined outcrops of the McNairy formation. Notes about the specific location, sample lithology and details of the outcrop at each site were recorded.

Throughout the spring 2018 semester and through the summer, the pair continued to work on the project.

“After I collected the zircons from each sample, they were mounted in epoxy and then polished to expose the center of the grains,” Varner said. “I used a scanning electron microscope at another location to image the grains to be able to interpret their morphology. Once the zircons (were) imaged, analysis required travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to use an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer.”

The ICP-MS ionized a portion of the individual zircon grains, which was then analyzed for uranium and lead isotopes to calculate an age for each grain. Now that the age spectra for each sample have been obtained, Varner is working on interpreting the provenance of this section of the McNairy sandstone in comparison to that which is exposed in the Illinois Basin. He will present the findings of their study at the annual Geological Society of America scientific conference in Indianapolis in October.

“Northern Mississippi contains many Cretaceous units, some of which spread through Tennessee and Kentucky, and only three of which are present in southern Illinois, where they are thin and discontinuous,” Gifford said. “These deposits accumulated at the end of the Mesozoic because subsidence along the late Proterozoic-early Paleozoic Reelfoot Rift system created a topographic low known as the Mississippi Embayment.”

One previous detrital zircon study of Maastrichtian sandstones in the Mississippi Embayment provides important insight into the nature of depositional systems along the southern margin of Appalachia during latest Cretaceous time following the closure of the Western Interior Seaway. This project furthers another geographical study in which a major change in the dominant drainage trajectory of the ancient Mississippi River in the late Cretaceous, from west-flowing across the continent to south-flowing to the Mississippi Embayment, was observed.

“This successfully narrowed down the time span of the formation of the Mississippi River to more than 40 Ma (million years ago),” Gifford said. “Further studies support these Early Cretaceous paleogeographic interpretations.”

By analyzing further detrital zircons along the trend of the Mississippi Embayment through Mississippi, Tennessee and possibly Kentucky, Gifford and Varner hope to determine exactly when the Maastrichtian sediments were deposited during one (or more) of these transgressive cycles.

“Further data will allow for a more robust insight into the depositional patterns along the southern margin of Appalachia within the Mississippi Embayment during the Late Cretaceous, as well as the evolution of the Mississippi River into its current form and setting up the template for sediment transport that persists today,” Gifford said. “This will, in turn, allow for a better interpretation of when the Mississippi River began running north to south in its current orientation.”

For more information about the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, visit https://engineering.olemiss.edu/gge/




Mechanical Engineering Student Completes Co-Op in Germany

Matthew Wirt spent the summer working at Fraunhofer ICT

Matthew Wirt, a senior mechanical engineering major in the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, spent a summer as a co-op intern at Fraunhofer ICT in Germany. Submitted photo

Many engineering students seek cooperative education opportunities to gain real-world experience. Matthew Wirt, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Mississippi, decided to obtain his real-world experience in another country.

The Madisonville, Louisiana, native recently completed a co-op experience with Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Germany. According to its website, the company is Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization. Its research is geared to people’s needs: health, security, communication, energy and the environment.

Wirt sought this opportunity after learning that a previous UM mechanical engineering student earned a Fulbright scholarship to Germany. He also received guidance from Ellen Lackey, UM professor of mechanical engineering.

A student in the university’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, Wirt spent a year completing the co-op experience under Lackey’s supervision. He worked with the polymer engineering department and collaborated closely with Ph.D. students and project leaders to complete experimental trials for manufacturing fiber-reinforced plastic parts. Many of these parts were being made for automobile manufacturers.

Wirt said his experiences at CME prepared him for the work with Fraunhofer. Although he enjoyed his experience, it also presented challenges.

“The language barrier was probably the most apparent difference to working abroad compared to being in the United States,” Wirt said. “It affects everything from how you interact with your co-workers to how you are able to present ideas and how you live outside of work.”

Wirt also identified many cultural differences that required him to adjust to life and work in a foreign country. He learned that bikes are generally used to go everywhere with many people traveling cross-country by bike due to the supporting infrastructure. He also found that public transportation is more abundant and reliance on cars is less prevalent than in the U.S.

Overall, Wirt found the experience as a co-op student abroad helpful as he has recently graduated and considers his opportunities.

“I have learned what direction I want to go with my career,” he said. “I enjoyed gaining research experience as well as valuable skills related to my field that you just cannot get in the classroom.”

Wirt encourages other engineering students to pursue the co-op experience because it allows them to try out different functional areas where they may be thinking they would like to pursue full-time work.

“The co-op experience provides a way to connect what you do in the classroom to what you will be doing as a full-time engineer,” Wirt said. “It is worth putting off graduation for a semester or two to gain this experience.”

Wirt enjoyed his time abroad so much that he is planning to travel abroad again. He would like to go to Madrid to teach English for a year and then apply to graduate school as well as pursue a full-time position in engineering, using the skills he gained from his undergraduate education and his co-op experience.



Undergraduate Students Conduct Summer Data Science Research

Students use data science to combat sexual harassment and make complex data easier to consume

Undergraduate students involved in the Mississippi Experimental Research Laboratory have been using the summer to hone their research skills. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Thanks to an internal grant to the University of Mississippi’s Department of Computer and Information Science, five computer science majors are conducting paid, faculty-mentored projects as part of the new Ole Miss Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

Each student is spending 10 weeks conducting a data science-themed research project. By the end of the summer, all of the students should be able to describe the fundamental concepts and techniques of data science, analyze real-world problems and model them for application of data science techniques, and document and effectively communicate methodology, results and observations of the project.

Naeemul Hassan, UM assistant professor of computer and information science, wrote the grant proposal that led to the funding, and is serving as the mentor for one of the student projects. Hassan and Amrit Poudel, a junior from Nepal, are developing tools to identify online cries for help from those who may have experienced sexual harassment or mistreatment.

The duo has collected more than a million sexual harassment-related tweets from Twitter. Using natural language processing techniques, they have identified 15,000 of the tweets as sexual harassment outcries.

“The problem is the current design of the social network systems does not have any mechanism to bring these harassment reports to the attention of authorities or support service providers,” Hassan said. “We are working on developing tools to make social media a more supportive place for victims to talk about what they have experienced.”

Four other students are conducting separate mentored research projects under the summer data science program. Under the mentorship of professor Conrad Cunningham, Hao Zhou, a junior from China, is developing a tool that can take a common input format and create documents in multiple output formats that are accessible to a wide range of readers – including those with disabilities.

Under the guidance of professor and chair Dawn Wilkins and professor Yixin Chen, seniors Garrett McClure of Madison, Mississippi, and Abigail Garrett, of Birmingham, Alabama, are evaluating and developing tools to reduce the size of large unwieldy datasets to just the most essential features needed for the task at hand. And senior Khoa Anh Tran of Vietnam is doing research toward the development of virtual reality visualization tools for three-dimensional data; this project is being mentored by assistant professor Adam Jones.

Naeemul Hassan, assistant professor of computer and information science, is directing student Amrit Poudel as part of an Undergraduate Summer Research Grant he received for his Data Exploration and Research Laboratory. Photo by Marlee Crawford/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The mentors have a diverse set of data science expertise including machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, software architecture, data mining and virtual reality,” Hassan said.

“As artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality are being incorporated in an increasing number of knowledge domains and practical applications, we can only imagine the demand of data science increasing in the foreseeable future.”

Indeed, for the third year in a row, data scientist has been named the best job in America, based on earning potential, job satisfaction and the number of job openings. according to Glassdoor’s 50 Best Jobs in America for 2018 list.

The funding for this summer’s program was in the form of a competitive internal seed grant, with initial monies coming from the Provost’s Office and matching funds provided by the School of Engineering and the CIS department.

“We believe that the sooner we can expose students to the research and applications in their chosen fields, the more likely they are to continue research in graduate school,” said Greg Easson, UM professor of geology and geological engineering and associate dean for research and graduate programs for the School of Engineering.

“The Department of Computer and Information Science was early into undergraduate research, having already developed the C-REX (Computer science Research Experience) program last year. With this support from the Provost’s Office, they have been able to do even more with students.”

To extend the data science program for future summers and students, Hassan and his collaborators in the department have their eyes on several external funding opportunities, including the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

Meanwhile, the next steps will be guiding this summer’s students in writing and disseminating their discoveries and prototypes through poster presentations, conference presentations or peer-reviewed journal articles. Look for more on these students and their project outcomes in future editions of this newsletter.








UM Geologists Study Impact of Bonnet Carré Spillway on Mississippi Sound

Research findings offer insights into new water levels' effects on oyster production along Gulf Coast

Jarett Barnett, a UM geology and geological engineering graduate assistant, retrieves sensory landers from the Mississippi Sound as part of a study being conducted. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi scientists who are studying the Mississippi River’s ebbs and flows are trying to find out how changing water levels in the river can affect fishing and seafood industries in Mississippi.

With the rising water levels in the lower Mississippi River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway west of Lake Pontchartrain in early March. As the flooding continued, more bays of the spillway were opened and remained open through the month. The spillway is designed to channel water into Lake Pontchartrain and through the Rigolets Pass into Lake Borgne and ultimately into the Mississippi Sound.

“The opening of the spillway lowers the water levels flowing through the New Orleans area and lessens the pressure on the levees, pumps and other flood control structures,” said Greg Easson, UM director of the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute, professor of geology and geological engineering, and a co-principal investigator on the study. “As part of the Mississippi Based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence, we are supporting the redevelopment and restoration of the Mississippi oyster resources as a key action in the restoration of the Gulf Coast.

“Understanding the impact of the opening of the spillway on the water properties in the Mississippi Sound is an important component.”

Easson and Jarett Bell, a UM geological engineering graduate student from Bay St. Louis, have been collaborating on the project since before the student graduated from the university with his undergraduate degree last spring. Sensors are used to gather data about dissolved oxygen, conductivity, temperature and light from the water. Bell’s responsibilities include preparing, launching and recovering the sensor programs, offloading and interpreting the data.

“Another preparation is that we use hidden buoys so that our platforms stay out of sight for at least a week,” Bell said. “Once the buoys sit for the allotted time, we retrieve the landers, offload the data, return them back to Oxford and clean all the components.”

Preliminary graphs of dissolved oxygen and conductivity show the influence of a large freshwater influx and subsequent recovery.

“This information generated will have significant implications for oyster reef restoration and resilience on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Easson said. “It will provide critical knowledge related to acceptable sites for future oyster reefs that will support sustainable and productive oyster fisheries.”

The results of the study will be shared with MBRACE partners from Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi and Jackson State University. It will also be the subject of Bell’s master’s thesis in 2019, and an eventual journal article.

This project was paid for [in part] with federal funding provided through the University of Southern Mississippi under the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality by the Department of the Treasury under the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act). The statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Southern Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality or the Department of the Treasury.


Army ROTC Cadet, Engineering Senior Receives National Recognition

UM student Donald Lorbecke selected for Society of American Military Engineers Award of Merit

Army ROTC Cadet Donald Lorbecke (right), receives the Society of American Military Engineers Award of Merit presented by Lt. Com. Joshua Taylor. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Most military personnel are honored after having engaged in active combat, but one University of Mississippi Army ROTC cadet is being nationally recognized before even being commissioned.

CDT Donald Lorbecke, a fifth-year senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in military science from Madison, Alabama, has been selected to receive the Society of American Military Engineers ROTC Award of Merit.

Awardees must be in the top 25 percent of their engineering class and in the top 25 percent of their Reserve Officers’ Training Corps class. Recipients are selected through a central military service board for the Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs.

“It is a fairly select award that is competitive among all service branches commissioning programs,” said Lt. Commander Joshua Taylor, chair of the university’s Army ROTC and professor of military science. “With over 5,000 cadets per cohort nationwide in Army ROTC alone, it is quite an honor for him.”

Lorbecke, who receives his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering Saturday at Commencement, will be commissioned in the Mississippi Army National Guard as a 2nd Lieutenant Engineer Officer. He said he is humbled by his recognition.

“I was very honored to learn the selection process for this award,” he said. “Sometimes, I forget that I am doing more than people expect. I think it is because I am doing what I love: military and engineering.”

Taylor said Lorbecke is “unmatched by his peers in terms of his character, competence and commitment to duty.”

“I have watched Cadet Lorbecke grow as a leader and embrace a sense of stewardship for the profession,” he said. “He is completely selfless in all actions and commits more time toward giving back to our program.

“He is a genuine leader and will excel in all that he does. It was a privilege to have him in our program.”

Lorbecke and his sister, Margo Lorbecke, were raised by their aunt and uncle, Jean and Jeff Downs of Madison. The Downs, both Ole Miss alumni, influenced Lorbecke’s decision to attend the university.

“My aunt did 20 years in the Army and my uncle is a mechanical engineer,” he said. “One cousin is also a mechanical engineer. Another one is a geological engineer and served in the Army as well.”

Lorbecke said he is grateful for professors in both the mechanical engineering department and Army ROTC program.

Donald Lorbecke speaks during the recent Cadet ‘Change of Command’ ceremony. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“Dr. (Erik) Hurlen (instructional assistant professor of mechanical engineering) and Dr. Raj (Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering) are very smart and supportive professors,” he said. “Both these men should never leave this university because of the impact they make here.”

As for his ROTC instructors, Lorbecke lists Capt. Joseph Gooch, operations officer and MS III instructor, and Maj. Ronald Rogers, MSARNG recruiting BN, Program XO and MS I instructor, as having been his most influential.

“They showed you how a great leader should act and take care of soldiers,” he said. “Capt. Gooch prepared us for our advanced camp summer evaluations last year. Without him, I would not have received the Distinguished Military Graduate Award.

“Maj. Rogers was the assistant professor of military science and the National Guard Simultaneous Membership Program instructor. His presence would give you this feeling that he truly did care for the development in others and the program.”

Rajendran commended Lorbecke upon his recognition.

“I’ve always admired Don’s attitude and demeanor towards all activities during throughout his undergraduate education here at the Ole Miss,” he said.

Army ROTC Lt. Com. Joshua Taylor (left) and Marni Kendricks, assistant dean of engineering, congratulate Donald Lorbecke for winning the Society of American Military Engineers Award of Merit. Submitted photo

Rajendran interacted with Lorbecke during the 2018 American Society of Mechanical Engineers robot design competition. Lorbecke was a member on one of the two teams that participated in the competitions at Pennsylvania State University at State College, Pennsylvania.

“Don and his team designed the robot with enormous passion and hard work,” Rajendran said. “He has been a rising star as an ROTC cadet. Winning the SAME award further confirms Dons’ well-rounded accomplishments.”

Engineering school Dean Alex Cheng agreed.

“Donald is a remarkable young man with excellent leadership, strong determination and true integrity,” Cheng said. “He is well-deserving of this award and I believe he will soon distinguish himself in his very promising military and engineering career. We are proud to claim him as an Ole Miss engineering alum.”

The SAME Award of Merit, a bronze medal with bronze key replica, was authorized in 1948 to be awarded annually to outstanding junior and senior engineering students in the ROTC program. A central military service board selects outstanding students for the awards from nominations submitted by the professors of military science and technology, naval science and aerospace studies.

Electrical Engineering Senior Soars to Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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