University of Southern Mississippi Associate Professor Jeffrey Wiggins, inventor of a football helmet cushioning system, has been named the new director of the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials.
For the past year Wiggins has served as the school’s interim director, filling a void left by longtime director Dr. Robert Lochhead, who relinquished the title to spend more time in the classroom and laboratory.
Wiggins has been a member of the Southern Miss polymer science faculty since 2005. “I am particularly humbled by the confidence provided to me from my colleagues, students and the University administration.”
Wiggins’ research and teaching efforts have produced impressive results, including:
>>>Developing a high performance football helmet cushioning system implemented by chool of Polymers and High Performance Materials.
>>>Working closely with colleagues to create a partnership between the University and GE Aviation, which opened a new production plant in Ellisville last spring.
>>>Establishing an advanced next generation aerospace materials development infrastructure at Southern Miss from which five doctoral candidates have graduated through his personal mentorship.
“His leadership qualities and organizational skills make him an ideal fit for the position,” said Dr. Patricia Biesiot, interim dean of the College of Science and Technology. “I look forward to working with Dr. Wiggins in his new role. He will help develop the next generation of exceptional faculty that continue the tradition of excellence in research and teaching we expect from the School.”
Wiggins takes particular pride in the success rate polymer students have enjoyed in finding employment after graduation. Nearly 100 percent of undergraduates in the program find high-paying jobs immediately, while 100 percent of the graduate students have jobs waiting on them.
“Polymer Science offers a lifelong career and opportunity to truly make a difference in the world,” said Wiggins. “Our students are hired by the world’s leading corporations.”
Wiggins had the idea for the advanced cushioning helmet when he approached Rawlings executives in August of 2008. At that point, Rawlings had not produced a football helmet in 20 years, and was only willing to attempt the project if it could produce one that stood out from the competition.
The Rawlings Neuro Responsive Gear (NRG) helmet includes dual protection inside the helmet combining a layer of foam reinforced by pneumatic cushioning made of pressurized “air bladders” that takes over and absorbs the energy from high-velocity contact, protecting the athlete.
Last April GE Aviation opened its new facility at the Howard Technology Park in Ellisville. Wiggins is leading teams of researchers currently working in polymer science labs at Southern Miss to create composite materials such as fan blades for the global marketplace.
These advanced materials are lightweight and durable which translates to fuel savings, lower energy costs and reduced maintenance for sophisticated jet engines. GE Aviation has committed to hiring 250 employees and investing more than $50 million by 2017 at the 340,000-square-foot plant.
Wiggins lists among his primary goals as the school’s new director to “hire and develop the next generation of polymer science faculty” and “assure a rewarding ‘student experience’ for all students in polymer science.”
“You get out of your education what you put into it,” said Wiggins. “If you join polymer science at Southern Miss, we are going to facilitate your journey, push your mind into places you do not understand you can reach, assure you a meaningful career, and help you achieve whatever it is you want in your professional life.”