Professor of the Month teaches life lessons as well as chemical engineering

March 2012 By

With a loose open-door policy and a passion for maintaining positive relationships with his students, John O'Haver is a popular choice for Professor of the Month for the School of Engineering.

A professor of chemical engineering and associate dean of engineering, O'Haver teaches courses to engineering students of all classifications. He also supervises outreach to middle school and high school students as director of the UM Center for Math and Science Education.

"Dr. O'Haver is such an outstanding teacher and scholar that he has won the University of Mississippi Faculty Achievement Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship twice, once in 2000 and the second time in 2011," said Alex Cheng, dean of the engineering school. "Although I don't have the full record, I suspect that Dr. O'Haver is one of the few, if not the only one, who has such [an] honor."

O'Haver's open-door policy is obvious to anyone who visits - students frequently drop by with questions not limited to his courses or even to the field of engineering.

"Upon my first encounter with him, I thought to myself, 'This man is going to play a significant role in shaping my college experience,'" said Ramsey McNeil, recent graduate of the chemical engineering department. "Never could I have conceived such an understatement. Since then, he has served as my academic adviser and has taught four of my core chemical engineering classes. Dr. 'O' has been a phenomenal professor, a wonderful mentor and a father away from home for me."

O'Haver's success at those professor-student relationships is a source of immense satisfaction.

"These students arguably have one of the hardest majors on campus," he said. "They need relationships and open ears to be efficient. One of the things that attracted me to Ole Miss was that I felt that the university understood balance. I could be who I wanted to be, succeed as a professor but have time for the students, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

He has received many invitations to students' graduations, weddings and even childbirths. One of his fondest memories is a trip to a student's wedding in Malaysia, where he gave the "father speech" in the place of the student's deceased father.

"Whether mentor or father - whatever you choose to call it - I'll gladly play either role," he said. "It's about creating life moments and teaching life lessons to my students."

O'Haver earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in secondary education from the University of Oklahoma, then taught mathematics for 12 years at his alma mater, Del City High School. After this "first career," O'Haver returned to the University of Oklahoma and completed his doctorate in chemical engineering. He then taught at Oklahoma for a year before coming to Ole Miss.

"I knew I wanted to end up as a Chem E faculty member," he said. "I knew I needed to teach."

O'Haver's teaching style promotes problem-based learning and theory. During the recent winter intersession, he taught Physical Chemistry of Surfaces at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

He looks forward to one of the newest projects from the Center for Math and Science Education, an inflatable planetarium for outreach to middle school and high school students.

Away from campus, O'Haver enjoys cooking, herb and vegetable gardening, reading his Bible and studying theology. He and his wife, Kevie, have two children, Maren and Hudson. His household also includes three horses, two dogs, four cats and two goats.

Wherever he is, O'Haver strives to give his all to his students, fellow employees and family.

"When I die, if all I have are publications, my life would have been a failure," O'Haver said. "It's bigger than I am. I want to do a good job; I want to serve."