To help other prospective engineering students afford college, Mike and Emily Williams, both of whom earned bachelor's degrees in chemical engineering in 2001, have donated $25,000 to establish the Mike E. and Emily N. Williams Engineering Scholarship.
"I can't remember the amount of the scholarships I received, but I do know the amount led to my decision to attend Ole Miss instead of LSU," said Mike Williams, a native of New Iberia, La. "I'll forever be grateful for that. It was really down to Ole Miss and LSU by the time I was a high school senior, but once I visited Ole Miss, I fell in love with the small-town atmosphere. Ole Miss felt more like home. I knew at that point I wanted to attend Ole Miss."
An engineer at XTO Energy in Fort Worth, Texas, he tells everyone he meets that he made the right decision.
"We don't have the largest engineering school, but because of its size you'll get more one-on-one time with the professors," he said. "And based on my life, you'll be just as successful. I put my education up against anybody, any day."
Emily Williams agreed.
"When I took the PSATs and scored high, Ole Miss offered me one of the (Sally McDonnell Barksdale) Honors College scholarships," said Emily, who was also a National Merit Scholar and received scholarships from the School of Engineering.
"Once I came to Ole Miss, I realized I had made the right decision," she said. "I wanted to be at a place where I would be successful. Everyone at Ole Miss seemed to take an interest in my journey. It really meant a lot."
While the Williamses found many mentors at Ole Miss, both agreed that John O'Haver, professor of chemical engineering, stood out.
"Dr. O was not only a good mentor to us, but he was a mentor to every student he met," Emily said. "He cares a lot about students, and it shows in how he teaches and how he interacts with the student body."
Mike recalls O'Haver as "tough but fair."
"Dr. O'Haver spent more time getting to know the students on a personal level," he said. "He gave more than just classroom advice. I still keep in touch with him."
O'Haver described the Williamses as very sharp, well-spoken and personable.
"Immediately after graduation, they went to work for ExxonMobil," said O'Haver, also associate dean of academic and student affairs in the School of Engineering and director of the Center for Mathematics and Science Education. "Emily quit to stay home with their two cute little girls. They are the kind of engineers you want to hire. They are hardworking and creative."
Both Mike and Emily said they are happy to be able to give back to Ole Miss at this time in their lives.
"I've been pretty fortunate in my career and have done well so far," Mike said. "Emily and I always wanted to give back to the university that gave so much to us. We wanted to provide the same scholarship opportunities that were available to us to other students."
The Williamsess reside in Fort Worth, Texas, and are the parents of Samantha, 5, and Annie, 3.
For more information on contributing to scholarship programs for the School of Engineering, go to http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.