Overcoming Obstacles, Onward and Upward

Civil engineering alumnus Michael Hobbs defies odds to emerge successful

Michael Hobbs. Submitted photo

Michael Hobbs (BSCE 19) is a shining example of tenacity and triumph.

Faced with seemingly insurmountable problems such as financial obstacles as an undergraduate, the University of Mississippi alumnus overcame all the odds to finish college and build a successful career.

The Clarksdale native decided to attend Ole Miss because the engineering program was well respected in the state, and it allowed him to be closer to home in case of emergencies.

“I had to work two jobs in order to pay for school, books and keep a roof over my head,” Hobbs said. “My jobs included working at Home Depot for two years, the Institution of Child Nutrition as a student worker and at Lowe’s for two years,” he said.

“I had to sit out at least two semesters because I couldn’t afford the tuition. Having to work so much also affected my grades and my performance.”

Mentors Made All the Difference

The difficulties Hobbs faced might have ended his academic pursuits had it not been for the encouragement he received from some caring School of Engineering faculty and staff.

“Dr. Hakan Yasarer became the first favorite because he opened up to me about his struggles as a student,” Hobbs said. “Hearing that really motivated me to work harder.”

Civil engineering professors Ahmed Al-Ostaz, Hunain Alkhateb, Chris Mullen, Jacob Najjar and the late Waheed Uddin all had their own way of teaching, but Hobbs found their compassion for their students was the same.

“Each of them would look out on the best interest of the students,” he said.

For example, when Hobbs took Senior Design he had to present throughout the semester on different topics such as the foundation, structure design and so forth. The night before he was to present the structure design portion of the project, his kitchen went up in flames.

“To make a long story short, my presentation was horrible and I was just a mental wreck,” he said. “I didn’t mention what happened to my group or Hunain until the following week. Hunain showed me so much compassion, and she truly understood how I felt.”

Hobbs credited Cris Surbeck, chair and professor of civil engineering, with challenging his ability and making him think beyond his limits.

“Dr. Surbeck is truly a blessing from God, and I am so thankful for the privilege of having attended her class,” he said.

Surbeck said she knew Hobbs could be successful because he has an incredibly positive and proactive attitude.

“Although he struggled in classes because of his work schedule, he was engaged,” she said. “I met one-on-one with him several times to get him through one of my classes, and I could see that he understood the material if only he had time to study.”

Senior assistant dean Marni Kendricks played a major role in Hobbs’ career choice.

“I went to talk to her after my mom’s house caught a fire back in Clarksdale,” he said. “The Delta flooded really badly that year. I was thinking about changing my major at that point, and Marni told me to take a step back, talk to some people that share the same struggles. That really helped me to refocus and not allow life speed bumps to force me off the path of success.”

Prosperity and Promise Prevail

Hobbs praised the supervisors at his various places of employment.

“They treated me like their own at ICN,” he said. “Jonathan Bishop would call me every week to make (sure) I was studying and encouraging me to finish school whenever I had to take a semester off. 

“Warren Russell at Home Depot would let me take off if needed or show up to work late so I could get my schoolwork completed. Warren’s wife would pack extra food in his lunch box for me. She calls me her son even to this day. These two guys really helped me survive and stay (focused) on graduating.”

Hobbs received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering degree in December 2019. After completing his last final, he went back to work at the ICN and was offered a full-time position. He continued to work his second job at Lowe’s and study for the Fundamentals of Engineering exam on the weekends.

Engineer-in-training Michael Hobbs (left) confers with another MDOT employee at a construction site. Submitted photo

Hobbs received a life-changing email from Surbeck in September 2020.

“I met a retired [Mississippi Department of Transportation] engineer who told me MDOT was looking for engineers to work in the Delta,” Surbeck said. “He also happened to mention that he struggled through school, but that MDOT gave him a chance to grow as an engineer despite his difficulties.

“I told him I might have a recent graduate for him. I got him and Michael connected, and Michael got the job.”

Hobbs left Lowe’s in September 2020 and started at MDOT Oct. 1, 2020.

Before Hobbs left Home Depot, he received the Entrepreneur Driven Award.

“That honor helps me to continue to take pride in my work and always work through God,” he said. “That and studying a chapter of the Bible every morning.”


Today, Hobbs works as an engineer-in-training at MDOT in Leland. There his job duties include inspecting and documenting all project activities and ensuring that all work is being done according to the plans.

“I also ensure that the testing is being collected and documented correctly,” he said. “I prepare monthly estimates and final documents for the Contract Administration Division.”

In his role, Hobbs uses surveying equipment and CADD programs to calculate and document quantities for estimates. These help him to establish good working relationships with contractors and fellow employees.

“I am very proud of Michael’s hard work and willpower to complete his BSCE degree,” said Yacoub “Jacob” Najjar, professor of civil engineering. “He was able to overcome many difficulties during his time at Ole Miss. His intelligence and resilience will serve him well in his professional life.”

Hobbs lives in Clarksdale with his fiancée, Yolanda Curry. The couple has three children: Michael Hobbs Jr., Mi’Kiyah Hobbs and Synia Curry. He enjoys listening to music, playing basketball, exercising, working puzzles of all sorts and spending time with his children.