UM Students Place in International Robotics Contest

Mechanical engineering teams win second and third prizes

Members of the award-winning UM team are Jonathan Brown (left), Eli Schuette, Turner Wharton and Ryan Steele. Submitted photo by Arunachalam Rajendran.

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi mechanical engineering student teams have brought home top prizes from an international robotics competition in Tampa, Florida.

The 2017 American Society of Mechanical Engineers Student Design Competition (The Robot Pentathlon: Citius, Altius, Ingenious) challenged each team to create a fast, strong and agile robot. Each team was also expected to build a device to remotely control its robot and compete against others in five different events – a robot pentathlon.

This competition is based on design requirements and a set of rules that change annually. This year, the requirement was to design a robot that could accomplish five objectives: a 10-meter sprint, a stair climb, a tennis ball throw, a golf ball hit and a weight lift.

“Ole Miss had two teams that not only won first and second place in the regional competition in Tennessee, but also those teams went on to win second and third place in the finals, which included teams from around the world,” said Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering, who accompanied the teams.

The original regional competition, held at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee, last April, included such universities as Virginia Tech, Clemson University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and several SEC universities. After their victory, the UM students graduated and began their careers. However, the robots they left were eligible to compete in the international competition, held in mid-November.

“After the competition was completed, the first-place award went to the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, second went to the Ole Miss Red team with Ryan Steele of Southaven and Turner Wharton of Fairfax, Virginia, and third went to the Ole Miss Blue team with Jonathan Brown of Ecru and Eli Schuette of Ocean Springs,” Rajendran said. “Overall, the Ole Miss students won $1,500 in prizes, plus an additional $750 to the ASME student group on campus.”

Matt Lowe, machine shop supervisor in UM’s mechanical engineering department, said the teams can be very proud of their placements in the competition.

“They took a cost-effective approach to complete a very engineering-effective design,” Lowe said. “For example, the manufacturing cost for the Ole Miss robot was less than $500, and it outperformed a robot from a rival institution that costs more than 10 times as much to create.”

“We couldn’t have won the top two places without the hard work and dedication of the Machine Shop Supervisor Mr. Matt Lowe,” Rajendran said. “The team members worked very hard under the supervision of Mr. Lowe and utilized all resources in our machine shop for exceptional cost savings. I am so proud of them all.”

Ryan Steele (left) and Turner Wharton pose in front of the ASME official display. Submitted photo by Arunachalam Rajendran.

The ASME competition provides a platform for engineering students to present solutions to design problems ranging from everyday household tasks to groundbreaking space exploration. Each team is required to design, construct and operate a prototype that meets the requirements of an annually determined problem statement.

“This experience not only allowed students to learn more about robotics, design and engineering, but it also showed engineers from around the world the fantastic capabilities that Ole Miss has in engineering,” Rajendran said. “Several hundred schools enter the regional competitions each year, yet Ole Miss teams held two victorious positions. This not only shows the amazing growth and engagement that Ole Miss Engineering has had in recent years, but it is also a testament to the opportunities that are possible with incredible faculty support.”



Matt O’Keefe to Lead Center for Manufacturing Excellence

Expanded undergraduate program, new graduate program among goals for new executive director

Matthew J. O’Keefe has been hired as the executive director of UM’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence. Submitted photo by Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T.

OXFORD, Miss. — With decades of professional and research experience, Matthew J. O’Keefe was named the new executive director of the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi.

A Rolla, Missouri, native, O’Keefe will start at CME Jan. 1. In addition to administrative oversight of personnel, facilities and operations, he is responsible for leading the academic unit of the CME (including curriculum development), providing leadership and strategic guidance for the center, and developing strong relationships within the university and with industry to enhance opportunities for students and faculty.

“I was very honored and grateful for the opportunity to be associated with such an outstanding program and university,” said O’Keefe, who earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees (both in metallurgical engineering) from Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Illinois, respectively.

William Nicholas, UM assistant director of Insight Park, who chaired the search committee, shared how important it was to find someone of O’Keefe’s caliber to lead the CME, which is a recognized asset for the future growth of advanced manufacturing in Mississippi.

“Matt O’Keefe brings exceptional experience and skills to ensure that the CME continues developing synergies with the business community resulting in long-term economic impact,” Nicholas said.

O’Keefe began his career as a manufacturing engineer at AT&T Microelectronics. He transferred to AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he conducted applied research and development for manufacturing locations. O’Keefe earned his Ph.D. while working for the Air Force Research Laboratory and continued in-house research and program management before taking a faculty position at his undergraduate alma mater.

Before joining UM, O’Keefe was an academic department chair, a research center director and assistant vice chancellor supervising the campus distance education program at Missouri S&T.

“In many ways, each of these positions have prepared me to lead CME,” O’Keefe said. “I applied for the position for many reasons, but the main one was that it is a unique program that provides an opportunity for students in accountancy, business and engineering to learn and work together in an area of national need: manufacturing. The curriculum that CME students experience provides a breadth to their major degree program that prepares them to have successful careers and enhance the manufacturing industry.”

O’Keefe’s goals include augmenting the existing program by increasing undergraduate student participation and developing a graduate program focused on helping to develop the local, state and national manufacturing professional workforce.

“People are the most important asset of any organization, and for educational institutions it is the success of students that is paramount,” he said. “To achieve student success and grow the undergraduate program, as well as initiate a graduate program, will take additional staff and faculty along with keeping the facilities state of the art.”

UM administrators are pleased to welcome O’Keefe to the university.

“Dr. O’Keefe is an accomplished engineering faculty member and administrator who brings valuable perspectives to the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We are fortunate to have him as the leader of this center, which has outstanding faculty and staff. We look forward to the CME reaching the next level of success under his leadership.”

“Over the years, the unique CME program has attracted and graduated many outstanding engineering students who are equipped with not only the traditional technical skills, but also the practical manufacturing experiences and business and management knowledge,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the School of Engineering. “It has been one of the most important resources that raised the quality of engineering education at the university. I am pleased that Dr. O’Keefe, a highly experienced educator and administrator, will take the helm of this important organization to further raise its level of success.”

CME was established in June 2008 to provide unique opportunities for students interested in manufacturing. The opportunities developed are considered distinctive to the CME and are not available to undergraduate students at other universities in the United States. The CME is developing interdisciplinary educational opportunities within an innovative academic learning model that provides students with the practical experiences, fundamental knowledge and creative skill sets needed to lead the world of modern manufacturing.

Though he has received many professional honors and awards, O’Keefe said he is most pleased to have received those that were student nominated or selected.

“It is great to be recognized by your peers, professional societies and institution, but student recognition is the most enjoyable and rewarding,” he said.

O’Keefe and his wife, Laura, have two married sons: Patrick (Megan) of Kansas City, Missouri, and Sam (Shelby) of Rolla, Missouri, and two grandchildren: Kennedy and Will. O’Keefe’s hobbies include golf and following sports. He is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals’ fan.


New School of Engineering Recruitment Video on YouTube

Students describe close community, experiential learning

Dear Friends,
Please see below for Ole Miss Engineering’s latest video, which focuses on the school’s unique liberal arts-anchored and experiential-learning-enhanced programs, as described by its students.
If you agree with the school’s education philosophy and like the video, please share it with prospective students and their families by forwarding the link, tweeting and/or posting it on Facebook and other social media.

Please contact Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean, if you have or know of students who are interested in pursuing a degree in engineering here at the university. He can be contacted via phone at 662-915-7007 or email at


Civil Engineering Alumnus Is VP of Sales at Nansemond

Kelly Holloman credits UM education with concrete career

Kelly Holloman (left) discusses work with NPCC founder (and fellow UM alumnus) Doug McConnell. Submitted photo.

Kelly Holloman has served steadily in the construction industry since earning his civil engineering degree from the University of Mississippi in 1994.

Before becoming vice president of sales at Nansemond Pre-Cast Concrete Co. in Suffolk, Virginia, Holloman was a senior project manager for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, a planning and design firm in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas of Virginia for 15 years. There, he mainly specialized in land development engineering, focusing on port-related industrial projects, as well as residential and retail projects.

“While growing up, I had two much-older brothers-in-law that were engineers,” said Holloman, who is originally from Enfield, North Carolina. “They encouraged me to go to engineering school, but I chose to attend East Carolina University and major in economics. I received that degree in 1990.”

Following graduation, the economy experienced a slight downturn, so Holloman decided to return to school and major in civil engineering. He selected UM for its relatively small engineering school and student-to-faculty ratio.

“As a student, one of my favorite classes was Rock Mechanics with Dr. Nolan Aughenbaugh,” he said. “He was a real pleasant guy who loved his subject matter. He was always interjecting his experiences into the lectures. We students kind of viewed him as a James Bond type of character – if James Bond had been an engineer.”

Holloman named several favorite engineering faculty at Ole Miss, including the late Charles Smith Sr., chair emeritus and professor emeritus of electrical engineering, and Kenneth Stead Jr., assistant professor emeritus of civil engineering.

“Unlike other programs, civil engineers at Ole Miss have to take the same Circuits class that the electrical engineers take,” Holloman said. “Dr. Smith was always willing to take the time to make sure us civil majors got it.”

Holloman remembers Stead giving him a solid piece of advice.

“[He] told us, ‘Engineering is like baseball, and at Ole Miss, we’re going to teach you how to throw, hit and catch,” he said. “If you can throw, hit and catch, you can play shortstop today, maybe pitch tomorrow, and outfield if needed.’”

That is exactly what Holloman’s Ole Miss experience provided him, he said.

“It has given me the technical skill set, the ability to think like an engineer and the confidence to complete different types of engineering projects throughout my 23-year career. I believe this is because of my Ole Miss education.”

Holloman said he considers being a licensed professional engineer in both Virginia and North Carolina his most satisfying professional achievement.

“It validates the educational process I had to work hard to complete,” he said. “I am also grateful for being an Eagle Scout.”

Holloman’s family includes his four sisters, four nieces, five nephews and a great-niece. His leisure activities include golfing, fishing, hunting and reading history.

“I enjoy boat building and have built five boats,” Holloman said. “My first boat was the canoe for our ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) student chapter while at Ole Miss.”