UM Engineering Seniors Recognized for Outstanding Service

Kelly Bates presented David Arnold Service Award; Benjamin Koltai received Gregory Gomez IV Humanitarian Service Award

Kelly Bates. Submitted photo

Neither Kelly Bates nor Benjamin Koltai ever expected to be recognized for serving others. When the University of Mississippi engineering seniors received separate prestigious awards for their outstanding volunteer service, the honor took each of them by surprise.

A dual general engineering and secondary mathematics education major from Collinsville, Bates is the 2021 recipient of the David Arnold Service Award. Established in 2002, the award has allowed the School of Engineering to recognize students who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve in the community and lead within the university.

Koltai, a civil engineering major from Oxford, was presented the 2021 Gregory Gomez IV Humanitarian Service Award. The award was created in 2017 to honor the memory of Gomez (BSME 08), who traveled to Peru in summer 2008 to serve with the International Mission Board.

Benjamin Koltai. Submitted photo

He was working to map routes to rural areas when he died in a bus accident. This award honors Gomez’s memory and seeks to identify other members of the Ole Miss engineering family who have demonstrated extraordinary service somewhere in the world.

Bates said receiving the Arnold award was a huge surprise.

“After hearing my peers share their own aspirations and accomplishments, I knew that whoever would receive this award would be more than deserving,” Bates said. “It was a complete surprise to me when I was the one selected to receive it. I am still very humbled, and I am grateful to have been selected alongside such accomplished, kind and loving classmates of mine.”

Koltai said while it is an honor to receive the Gomez award, the relationships he’s built with stakeholders and other project partners have always been his most rewarding recognition.

“Without question, the highlights of my time as a UM student are the projects I have been involved in,” said Koltai, who is originally from upstate New York, but has lived in Oxford with his wife, Lydia, and their four children since 2011. “My proudest accomplishments have been developing these projects from a vision to a reality.”

Bates works as an advocate and team member with Teen Health Mississippi, where her work responsibilities include facilitating training sessions for educators, peer educators and youths. She also collaborates with educators, youths and supervisors while writing legislation advocating for comprehensive health education. Bates is planning and organizing a conference for undergraduate students in Mississippi who are seeking legislative and advocacy experience.

Her other achievements include Who’s Who honoree, UM Truman Scholarship nominee and Brevard Engineering Scholar. During her time as a student, Bates served as an orientation counselor, teaching assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and undergraduate assistant in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education.

Bates assisted with FIRST Robotics competitions, field trips and professional development sessions, all while continuing to grow in her own knowledge and abilities. She is participating in research alongside the CMSE and the Department of Chemical Engineering to improve the School of Engineering’s education outreach plans.

“Following graduation, I plan to move to Auburn, Alabama, to pursue full-time employment in an engineering industry while working towards becoming a certified project manager,” Bates said.

Koltai owns and operates Earthcare Construction LLC, a sustainable design company whose projects have included the learning garden at Bramlett Elementary School in the Oxford School District and UM’s Willie Price Lab School learning garden.

He has led the Sustainable Solutions team for the UM American Society of Civil Engineers and the Local Projects team for UM Engineers Without Borders. Koltai also developed the stormwater project for the UM Office of Sustainability.

Koltai has his permaculture design certification and has worked for almost two decades as a handyman, gardener and builder, starting his career at 19 years old as an AmeriCorps member, building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“Following graduation, I am pursuing my professional engineering license with a focus on land development engineering,” Koltai said. “I have always wanted to build ecovillages.

“After earning my professional engineering license, my long-term plans are to work as a sustainable land developer in the Mississippi Delta, and to build a timber bamboo farm and processing facility to support the growth of the domestic bamboo industry in Mississippi.”