Mississippi Universities Provide Key Support for Automotive Industry

UM Center for Manufacturing Excellence praised by automakers for providing skilled graduates

Students in a Manufacturing 254 class present their designs for a class project on the floor of the UM Center for Manufacturing Excellence. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The automotive industry serves as a key driver in the state’s economy. More than 200 automotive manufacturers employ 20,000 workers, with annual vehicle production in the state exceeding 500,000.

Several university programs are helping the industry grow and flourish in the state.

The Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi has partnered with Toyota and other automotive manufacturing companies to develop training programs and provide unique opportunities for students.

The CME offers a unique undergraduate program that allows students to tailor academic experiences to match their career goals and life objectives, incorporating coursework from the schools of Accountancy, Business Administration and Engineering to give graduates a fundamental understanding of all the disciplines involved in modern manufacturing. This multidisciplinary approach has earned praise from several industries, and graduates of the program attract multiple job offers commanding higher pay than their counterparts from other programs.

Twelve Ole Miss students have formed a campus chapter of the Collegiate Automotive Manufacturing Society. The chapter began in fall 2015 as a result of an idea presented by Ryan Miller, programs manager for the CME and the group’s adviser.

A member of the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association board of directors, Miller suggested to the CME students that they found a collegiate engineering-business-accounting honors society with the state group as the parent association, with a goal of connecting automotive manufacturers with millennials and trying to help the manufacturers better understand them through more direct contact.

At Mississippi State University, the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems remains a driving force in the growth and maturity of the U.S. automotive industry, pioneering the use of high-performance materials to design cars that offer a premium driving experience while maximizing travel distance from multiple sources of energy.

MSU researchers are pushing the limits of automotive engineering through the development of a self-driving, all-electric sport utility vehicle.

Engineered by a team at MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, the “Halo Project” supercar is designed to showcase MSU’s expertise in automotive engineering and the latest automotive technology. The supercar utilizes an on-board NVIDIA supercomputer that allows the vehicle to navigate on- and off-road terrain without human intervention.

The new vehicle and accompanying research have the potential to accelerate the societal benefits of autonomous vehicles through the creation of safer roadways and accessibility to independent automotive transportation for people with disabilities.

The project builds on a series of MSU automotive research projects, including the “Car of the Future,” an all-electric hybrid that combines superior efficiency, sporty handling and advanced technological features. MSU student, faculty and staff research teams have long been recognized for excellence in projects like “Car of the Future,” competitions such as EcoCAR, and other initiatives that have pushed innovation.

Besides research and development, MSU’s CAVS Extension works with manufacturers across the state such as Nissan, Toyota and their suppliers to make Mississippi manufacturing stronger and more competitive through technology assistance and professional development in areas such as lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. CAVS-E has been a part of every new model launch at both Nissan in Canton and Toyota in Blue Springs through modeling and simulation.

Clients of CAVS-E have reported nearly $6 billion in economic impact along with more than 4,000 jobs created or retained through CAVS and Mississippi’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program.

UM Professor Leads Dinosaur Track Preservation Project

Findings from discovery and digital reconstruction of trackway site result in journal article

The team preserved the tracks, created by dinosaurs that roamed near an ancient sea, at an Arkansas gypsum quarry. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi geologist’s collaboration with researchers at the University of Arkansas has yielded the discovery and digital preservation of the first tracks of carnivorous dinosaurs ever found in Arkansas.

Brian Platt, assistant professor of geology and geological engineering at UM, was lead author of “LiDAR-based characterization and conservation of the first theropod dinosaur trackways from Arkansas, USA,” an article in the Jan. 2 edition of the journal Public Library of Science ONE. He was contacted by colleagues at UA after miners discovered the large, three-toed prints in a gypsum quarry near Nashville in 2011.

The footprints were preserved in a layer of rock that the mine had been blasting through to reach deposits of gypsum, a widely distributed mineral frequently used as a soil amendment and in making wallboard and plaster of Paris.

“When I first saw the footprints, I could barely contain my excitement – the entire surface of the site was completely trampled by dinosaurs,” Platt said. “I remember trying to follow one of the trackways by stepping in each footprint and I just couldn’t do it because the tracks were too far apart. It is thrilling to me to be able to step in the exact spot that a dinosaur stepped over 100 million years ago.”

The miners generously agreed to delay blasting so the team could examine the site before it was destroyed.

Because time was of the essence, the team applied for a special grant through the National Science Foundation that is designed for time-sensitive projects, called a RAPID grant. The University of Arkansas received RAPID funding for $10,000, and the UA vice provost for research and economic development and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences each provided matching grants, making the combined total funding $30,000.

To preserve the site, colleagues from the UA Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies used a method of laser scanning called LiDAR to create a digital replica of the site. LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, uses a pulsed laser to measure distances to the earth in tiny increments. Researchers used LiDAR because traditional methods would have taken too long.

“Once the site was preserved digitally, I could use the digital data to begin the time-intensive work of drafting a map of the site and taking measurements of the footprints,” Platt said. “I spent a lot of time working on the map during a 2012-13 post-doc, but there was so much LiDAR data to sort through that I needed to spend some time at the University of Arkansas to take precise measurements with the proper computer software.”

Platt’s 2014 travel was funded by a Southeastern Conference Traveling Faculty Grant, which the conference awards each year to enable SEC faculty members to collaborate with peers at other conference institutions. The award, which was supplemented with funds from the UM Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, allowed him to spend a week at UA over spring break to collect the measurements he needed.

Brian Platt, UM assistant professor of geology and geological engineering, displays models he uses in presentations about rare dinosaur tracks he and a University of Arkansas team uncovered and digitally preserved. Submitted photo

The tracks have since been destroyed, but the scans allowed the team of researchers to study the tracks and determine that they were made by Acrocanthosaurus, a large, carnivorous dinosaur. The findings extended the known range of the dinosaur 56 miles east, to what was the western shore of an ancient sea.

“It actually confirms that the main genus of large theropods in North America was Acrocanthosaurus,” said Celina Suarez, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at UA, who was part of the team that documented and studied the tracks. “It now has been found in Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Maryland – a huge range.”

The site had two different sized tracks, suggesting both adult and younger animals lived in the area about 113 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period. It also contained tracks made by sauropods, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs.

“Now we know more about the ancient ecosystem, e.g., both sauropods and theropods lived together in the same environment,” Platt said. “On a broader scale, the rocks that contain the footprints tell us that the environment was once a large tidal flat or evaporative coastal basin that experienced very dry conditions.

“Ancient climatic information like this can be used to help us better understand the impacts of climate change on ecosystems.”

Platt earned a bachelor’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and master’s and doctoral degrees in geology from the University of Kansas. Before coming to Ole Miss, he worked for an environmental consulting firm in New Jersey and as an instructor and lecturer for the geology department at the University of Kansas.

After completing his doctorate, he spent a year working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Kansas Geological Survey. His research integrates sedimentary geology and paleontology.

Researchers also created a detailed, publicly accessible online map of the site and the tracks. The digital reconstruction of the trackway site can be viewed at the website for the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies.

To read the PLOS ONE article, visit http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0190527.

Morgan Tapped as Emerging Philanthropist

Ole Miss Women's Council recognizes a 'legacy that matters'

UM engineering alumnus Markeeva Morgan is the inaugural recipient of the Emerging Philanthropist Award of the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Every morning Markeeva Morgan and his wife, Shaquinta, send their two daughters off to school by emphasizing a message: “Be learners, be leaders and be lights.”

“We feel these attributes form a foundation of humble greatness infused with a central compulsion to give forward,” said Morgan, the inaugural recipient of the Emerging Philanthropist Award of the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. He will be honored April 13 at the University of Mississippi.

The 2001 UM electrical engineering graduate, of Madison, Alabama, is leading a multidisciplinary engineering team to design and develop software for an aerospace vehicle. The 38-year-old avionics; guidance, navigation and control; and software manager for The Boeing Co. previously was NASA’s Space Launch System core stage avionics hardware subsystems manager.

The Emerging Philanthropist Award was founded to illustrate to OMWC scholars and others examples of philanthropic efforts accomplished by a person early in his or her life or career, said Liz Randall of Oxford, the OMWC member who proposed the award’s creation. It complements the OMWC’s Legacy Award, which honors individuals with lifetime resumes of philanthropy and accomplishments.

“Givers in the Ole Miss family are plentiful; many of them inspire me,” Morgan said. “That I would be selected from among them for this honor is quite surprising.

“I am humbled and honored that my family’s attempt to respond to the yearning in our hearts and the calling on our lives to help others would be recognized with such an accolade.”

Morgan said he is not yet able to write “big checks,” so he gives in other ways, such as devoting time to students.

“I consider encouraging the next generation of thought leaders and innovators to be part of my job as a member of the working citizenry in this country,” he said. “In essence, I don’t consider my giving to be something I have to find time to do. It is something that is a part of everything I do.”

The award recognizes Morgan’s significant service to students and organizations, coupled with his demanding, high-pressure career and his dedication to family, said Mary Haskell of Oxford, the OMWC chair. Besides working with Ole Miss students, Morgan, who earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Catholic University of America and who is pursuing a doctorate in systems engineering at George Washington University, teaches at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

“The Emerging Philanthropist Award gives us the opportunity to spotlight someone who, by their philanthropic spirit, is modeling what it means to give back to our community, alma mater and the next generation of leaders – someone well on his or her way to building a legacy that matters,” Haskell said.

Jan Farrington of Jackson, an OMWC founding member and former chair, was among those who nominated Morgan based on her shared experiences with him on the boards of the University of Mississippi Foundation and the Ole Miss Alumni Association. The Young Alumnus of the Year recipient also serves on the advisory boards of the School of Engineering and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence and as an annual guest lecturer for the Chancellor’s Leadership Class.

“Markeeva sets an incredible example for Ole Miss students,” Farrington said. “While continuing to build a very successful career, he manages to take on an array of leadership and service roles, participate in many Ole Miss activities and be a loving dad to his daughters, Mallory and Sydney.

“He finds time to mentor students, encouraging scholarship, leadership and giving back. He and Shaquinta, also an engineering alumna, are both effective and dynamic ambassadors for the University of Mississippi.”

In the Huntsville-area community, Morgan is president of the board of directors for the Christmas Charities Year Around, a nonprofit charitable organization that provides basic necessities to families all year and toys and food during the holiday season to more than 5,000 children and adults.

“My parents instilled in me a deep gratefulness; that is the genesis,” said Morgan, one of 10 children who grew up in Strayhorn. “Then, over the years, so many people have poured into me with no requirement to do so; so many have invested in me with no benefit to be had from the returns; so many have shared their experiences, wisdom and roadmaps; and I have no way to repay them. So, I am compelled to pay their efforts forward.”

Having the time to devote to philanthropic activities comes from combining family time and couple time with helping others, Morgan said.

“I am fortunate to be married to someone who also understands and underscores the importance of giving back,” he said. “Our home is an environment of giving, which not only facilitates a balance among the many demands; it actually integrates them.

“Some of our family time is used to give and serve. Some of my wife’s and my quality time together involves charitable and other giving activities. We teach our children to be grateful for and share blessings, using them to positively impact their world.”

Randall said she hopes by recognizing Morgan and other philanthropists, they can inspire other young people to act.

“Often, young people perceive philanthropy as an activity that occurs later in life as a capstone – that you need to be more seasoned to make meaningful contributions – but that is simply not the case,” Randall said. “There are incredible examples of significant contributions being made by young people, and our goal is to celebrate them.”

In its 18th year, the OMWC has attracted more than $13.1 million for scholarships. The $32,000 named scholarships – $8,000 annually for four years – are among the largest on campus. Thus far, 119 OMWC scholars have benefited from the program, which features mentoring, leadership development and cultural activities.

For more information on the OMWC and its awards, contact Nora Capwell, program coordinator, at 662-915-2384 or ncapwell@olemiss.edu. Information on the Women’s Council can also be found at http://www.omwc.olemiss.edu.

UM Engineers Without Borders Adopting Village in Ecuador

Launching crowdfunding campaign, team advances infrastructure project

Engineers Without Borders-Ole Miss members, from left, Dillon Hall, Vera Gardener, Cris Surbeck, Paul Scovazzo, Paige Lohman, Robert Holt, Timothy Steenwyk and Zach Lepchitz take a break from working with Togo, West Africa, residents. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Entering its seventh year of helping people in developing nations build sound infrastructures, members of the University of Mississippi chapter of Engineers Without Borders are adopting a small village in South America.

After working on two primary projects in Togo, West Africa, as well as several minor projects, the UM chapter has begun the process of adopting 25 de Diciembre in Ecuador. The community is named after a battle fought on the day commonly known as Christmas.

“We decided in May of 2017 that we would be able to take on a new project for the upcoming school year,” said David Thomas, EWB-Ole Miss chapter president. “During the fall semester, we filtered through all of the unassigned projects on the EWB-USA database and found several projects that could benefit from our previous experience that we’ve gained during our Togo projects. These final project prospects were put up to a chapter vote, and the Ecuador project was chosen.”

As with their Togo project, the group will use EWB-USA’s quality project process, which includes project initiation, project adoption, assessment, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and closeout. EWB-USA makes a special point to mandate the use of locally sourced materials and labor. It also requires that the community contributes 10 percent of the project cost. These two criteria result in longer staying power of installed projects due to the community’s established hands-on role, which carries over to infrastructure maintenance.

“We have just wrapped up the project-adoption phase, having been given the official go-ahead from EWB-USA,” Thomas said. “Now we begin the exciting work of organizing an assessment trip.”

The people of 25 de Diciembre are in dire need of a clean water source as well as a sufficient irrigation system. In the assessment phase of the project, EWB will send members of the chapter to the community to speak with governing officials about their specific needs and how best to execute the endeavor.

The total cost for this project will be around $50,000 spent over the five-year duration. These funds will cover travel and food for the members and advisers, local labor and project material expenses. Engineers in Action will be EWB’s contact in Ecuador once the project is approved.

EWB launched a crowdfunding campaign through Ignite Ole Miss in December. With help from donors, the goal is to raise $20,000. Money received will enable members of EWB and School of Engineering faculty members to spend seven days there, planning how to provide clean water to the village.

“We are planning on sending our first team over for an assessment trip this May,” Thomas said. “The travel team will be selected based on specific skill sets needed including Spanish speakers, civil or geological engineers and those who have committed effort to the chapter and to fundraise for the project and advance it forward.

“We also consider class year and graduation dates. We want to incorporate a mix of ages so the project does not get stranded when upperclassmen graduate. Certain faculty advisers with prior experience drilling wells and working on international projects will also be a part of the travel team.”

While the population of 25 de Diciembre is concerned about clean drinking water, it also depends heavily on clean water for a variety of other crucial reasons, said Paul Scovazzo, professor of civil engineering and faculty adviser of EWB-Ole Miss.

“The community is very driven by agriculture, meaning that without clean water and a proper irrigation system, men and women struggle to feed themselves and their children,” Scovazzo said. “In addition to this, a lack of clean water creates troubling sanitation hazards for citizens who struggle to remain healthy and uncontaminated as they bathe.”

For more information about EWB-Ole Miss, visit http://ewb.olemiss.edu/. To make donations through the Ignite Ole Miss website, go to https://ignite.olemiss.edu/project/8862/wall .