USM names Jeffrey Wiggins to head polymers & materials school

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.

USM's Jeffrey Wiggins has developed a high performance football helmet cushioning system for Rawlings.

USM’s Jeffrey Wiggins has developed a high performance football helmet cushioning system for Rawlings.

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.”


Baptist, Methodist ministers join to decry gay discrimination legislation

gayFive Mississippi Baptist and Methodist pastors have sent a letter to state legislators urging them to keep discriminatory language out of a so-called “Religious Freedom” bill that passed the House in late January and is now before House Judiciary Committee B.

An amended version of the bill, SB2681, cleared the House Judiciary Committee B Tuesday morning. The amendments, as urged by business leaders, are reported to have erased the discriminatory elements, though opponents, including the Human Rights Campaign, argue the bill sent to the committee left room for discrimination against gays, lesbians and trans-gender people on religious grounds.

A provision of the bill that inserts “In God We Trust” onto the state seal is said to have diverted attention from menacing provisions in the bill as it passed through the Senate with unanimous support in late January..

SB2681 has put a national spotlight on Mississippi for joining several other Republican-led states in considering measures that legal experts say would allow businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbians, among others. The bills in Mississippi, Kansas, Arizona, Tennessee and Georgia had provisions allowing business people and others to use religious beliefs as a state-stationed defense in discrimination suits.

The Rev. Rob Hill of Broadmeadow United Methodist Church in Jackson said the discrimination efforts stray from the true message of the gospels.

“Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Hill said in an interview Tuesday morning. “We didn’t feel like this was loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

At the urging of business leaders, the Civil Subcommittee of the judiciary panel last week struck much of the discriminatory elements from SB 2681 as originally that would allow businesses to refuse services to the LGBT community on the basis of religious freedom.

In the letter the pastors emphasize the different between between religious space and commercial space when applying religious freedom.

“When providing a service to the public, businesses cannot pick and choose whom to serve and whom to deny. This is basic discrimination and it has nothing to do with religious freedom,” the letter states.

Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar measure that had passed through that state’s legislature after receiving pressure from a number of prominent Arizonans such as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, as well as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Arizona Tech Council, dozens of faith leaders from across the state, major corporations including AT&T, PetSmart, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Apple, and even the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee and the Arizona Cardinals.

Rev. Hill said the Methodist and Baptist pastors decided to send the open letter after conservations among themselves. “We didn;t want something like this in our state,” Hill said, adding that time constraints prevented getting more faith leaders to sign the letter.

Here is the letter:

“We write this letter in opposition to Senate Bill 2681.  Our opposition rises out of our moral obligation to do what is best for our communities.

As people of faith, we are ardent supporters of religious freedom for all Americans. We know that it is the religious freedom to worship as we choose that makes our country and our state great. Religious organizations have a long established First Amendment ability to operate according to their own beliefs and we as faith leaders hold that right as sacred and will do all in our power to preserve it.

However, we also know that there is a difference between sacred space and commercial space.  When providing a service to the public, businesses cannot pick and choose whom to serve and whom to deny. This is basic discrimination and it has nothing to do with religious freedom.

This legislation will have immense and negative consequences on all communities, including religious communities. First, it sends the message that one’s particular religious interpretation can become the law of the land.  Second, as religious leaders we know that families are harmed when legislation unfairly opens up members of our communities to discrimination. As a state, we know we can do better than that.

As Methodists and Baptists, we may not always agree on all things, but we can agree that this bill goes too far and is unnecessary.  Because we are people who are called to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” we ask Mississippi legislators to reject Senate Bill 2681.

Rev. Rob Hill, Broadmeadow United Methodist Church, Jackson

Rev. Stan Wilson, Northside Baptist Church, Clinton

Rev. Bruce Case, Parkway Hills United Methodist Church, Madison

Rev. Bert Montgomery, University Baptist Church, Starkville

Rev. Rusty Edwards, University Baptist Church, Hattiesburg.



Tupelo: No. 2 micropolitan in industry growth

TupeloBusSignBy Robbie Ward

TUPELO – New and existing industry activity in Tupelo’s micropolitan area in 2013 created more than 900 new jobs and involved more than $78 million in capital improvements, enough to earn the second highest ranking in the nation.

Site Selection magazine released the annual ranking Monday of micropolitans, a list of 576 areas nationwide ranked on new and expanded industry.

A micropolitan area is defined by the U.S. Census as a largely rural economy that includes a city of at least 10,000 people but not more than 50,000 and covers at least one county.

Micropolitan Tupelo had 19 new and expanding projects in 2013. Top projects include Ashley Furniture, General Atomics, Tecumseh, Advanced Innovations and Cooper Tire.

Wooster, Ohio, topped the list with 27 new or expanding existing industries.

David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation, said the high ranking shows Tupelo and Lee County are good places to locate and have jobs.

“It’s an indication of not just one or two companies that expanded but many,” he said.

Rumbarger and CDF Board of Directors chairman Chauncey Godwin celebrated the community achievement by presenting the Lee County Board of Supervisors with a plaque.

Darrell Rankin, president of the county board, said the honor reinforced what he already knew.

“We have jobs available and continue to prosper, thrive and grow,” he said . “It’s a great place to live and prosper.”

Tupelo ranked in the top three in 2008 and 2006.

Site Selection, a 60-year-old Atlanta-based magazine, has provided rankings and awards since 1978 to communities with the most new and expanded corporate facilities. Economic and community developers throughout the nation consider the publication among industry standards for providing analysis of top-achieving communities related to industrial growth.

Mississippi tied with three other states as 10th in the nation with top micropolitans with new or expanding existing industries. With four total, Mississippi’s other micropolitan areas include Natchez with nine and Columbus, Laurel and Meridian with two.

Rumbarger said projects leading to new or expansion of industry involves significant investment of patience and time. A key quality he identified in the Tupelo and Lee County area is strong commitment of business and elected officials to work together on job recruitment.

Project announcements can take from a few months to a year or longer.

“Cooperation is probably the one key ingredient,” Rumbarger said. “Tupelo and Lee County have gotten it right through the years.”

Tourism officials to gather for ‘MTA Day at the Capitol’

The tourism agency will take center stage tomorrow in the Capital City.

The Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division will join the Mississippi Tourism Association for “MTA Day at the Capitol.” Beginning tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the rotunda of the State Capitol Building in Jackson, tourism professionals from around the state will converge to tout the economic impact and importance of the tourism and travel industry to state legislators.

The Mississippi Tourism Association represents all parts of the state and all segments within the hospitality industry. MTA is known statewide as a true voice for the industry and works during each legislative session to ensure the travel and tourism industry receives adequate attention on all legislative matters. For more than 20 years, MTA has represented Mississippi’s tourism industry.

For more information about tourism in the state, visit Mississippi’s official tourism site at or MTA’s official site at