Three Selected for 2021 UM Engineering Alumni Awards

William Baker Jr., David Dykes, Clay McLeod honored for career achievements, service, leadership

Clay McLeod received the School of Engineering’s Distinguished Young Alumnus Award. Submitted photo

Three University of Mississippi engineering alumni were recently honored with annual awards for their respective career achievements, service and leadership.

The Engineer of Distinction Award recipient is William “Bill” Baker Jr. (BSME 63) of Santa Fe, New Mexico. David A. Dykes (BSChE 86) of Madison, Alabama, was chosen to receive the Engineer of Service Award. The Distinguished Young Alumnus Award went to Clay McLeod (BSEE 14, MS 16) of Memphis.

“Each of these recipients has an outstanding stand-alone story,” said Dave Puleo, dean of the School of Engineering. “It is our pleasure to recognize them and to share the impressive accomplishments of three generations of Ole Miss engineering alumni.”

Baker’s Career Marked by Variety

Baker’s almost 50-year career includes stellar military service, significant contributions to the computer, aerospace and defense industries, and foundational support for NASA’s space program.

“This was (a) great honor, all based on my training and experiences during my four years at Ole Miss,” Baker said.

William ‘Bill’ Baker was recognized with the Engineer of Distinction Award. Submitted photo

A native of Jackson, Baker earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC as a second lieutenant in 1963. His Air Force job was launching satellites and evaluating rocket engine performance at Vandenberg Air Force Base from 1963 to 1967 during the Cold War.

“From my Ole Miss engineering education, I learned a lot about leadership and completing projects on time,” said Baker, who was elected to Campus Senate and received ROTC awards from the Air Force, Arnold Air Society, and Scabbard and Blade honor society.

Following an honorable discharge, Baker moved to Plano, Texas, where he spent several years working for Texas Instruments and, later, Raytheon. He also earned his MBA from Southern Methodist University in 1973, and joined the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.

While volunteering at AME, Baker led several conferences with over 2,000 attendees, evaluated organizations applying for the AME Excellence Award and was editor-in chief of AME’s Target magazine. He was later presented AME’s Mac McCulloch Lifetime Achievement Award.

During employment at the University of Texas at Dallas, Baker was the manufacturing manager on the mass spectrometer experiments for NASA’s Apollo 15, 16 and 17 space flights. During the Apollo 17 mission, the device was placed on the lunar surface to measure ions in the atmosphere.

Baker and his wife, Martha Rea Baker, reside in Santa Fe. The couple has three sons: William Baker of Dallas, Texas; Mark Baker of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and David Baker of Silver City, New Mexico.

Dykes Known for Meritorious Service

A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Dykes is a senior program manager for Science Applications International Corp., supporting customers in the U.S. Department of Defense. Before the pandemic, he visited campus frequently to speak with engineering students, faculty and staff.

David Dykes earned the Engineer of Service Award. Submitted photo

“I am honored to receive the Engineer of Service Award,” he said. “I feel fortunate to be able to give back to Ole Miss with some of my time and energy. I do enjoy talking with the engineering students. The fact that it is two-way communication means I also learn from them.”

Dykes came to Ole Miss based on a recommendation from a family friend.

“I liked the size of the school as opposed to the large size of the other schools I applied to,” Dykes said. “I also liked the small-town atmosphere of Oxford.”

Dykes said his Ole Miss engineering degree has been helpful during his career.

“I have had a varied career, including being an Army officer and pilot, engineer, research analyst, project and program manager,” he said. “My education taught me (to) think analytically through problems.”

Dykes and his wife, Pat (BAccy 83), met at the Ole Miss Baptist Student Union. The couple has two adult children: Danielle Dykes (BS 13) and Dustin Dykes (BSME 17 and a Taylor medalist).

McLeod Seen as Rising Star in Field

“I am truly honored to have been chosen by my alma mater to receive the Distinguished Young Alumnus Award,” said McLeod, manager of bioinformatics software development at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “The knowledge and experience I gained while at the University of Mississippi proved invaluable in my current role, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.”

McLeod joined St. Jude in 2016, seeking a role where he could be innovative, make significant contributions and develop his career. He’s done that and more, creating next-generation sequencing pipelines and helping to launch the revolutionary data-sharing tool St. Jude Cloud.

“I’ve always enjoyed working on things that have the potential to make a significant impact,” McLeod said. “In my job interview, I expressed that I wanted to work on the front lines and be on the cutting edge.”

As a senior software engineer in computational biology, McLeod was initially hired to write or build pipelines to analyze the clinical genomics data of eligible St. Jude cancer patients. St. Jude performs whole-genome, whole-exome and RNA sequencing to assess patients’ complete molecular profiles.

After working for more than a year on the clinical genomics project, McLeod moved into a lead engineering role building St. Jude Cloud. A partnership with Microsoft and DNAnexus, St. Jude Cloud is believed to be the world’s largest public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data. Researchers worldwide can access genomic data, genomic analysis tools and interactive visualizations.

McLeod served as the primary project manager from the St. Jude side, coordinating a wide range of tasks from software development to outreach strategy to video production. He worked with a multidisciplinary team to guide the project to a successful launch in April 2018, while coordinating a major transition in the internal cloud-based analysis platform.

Since that time, St. Jude has deposited more than 12,500 whole-genome, 8,000 whole-exome and 3,200 RNA sequencing samples from more than 15,000 pediatric cancer patients and survivors.

Seeing the Cloud project from concept through development and into implementation has been most rewarding for McLeod.

“Being on the forefront of this technology and helping to move the world forward is both rewarding and challenging,” said McLeod, who received the 2018 Amos Jacobs Award, the hospital’s top employee honor.

“My work gets me excited every day when I wake up,” he said. “This was exactly what I was looking for – a chance to come in and help shape the future of how St. Jude shares its data with the world.”