“I’ve always liked tinkering and building things. Growing up, I played around with remote control cars and motorized or gas-powered bikes.”
So, when it came to college, the inclination for engineering came naturally to Preston McWilliams.
A senior from Ridgeland, MS, Preston chose to major in general engineering because it’s about thinking creatively, and not just straight memorization.
He explained that “engineering really taught me critical thinking. The professor would explain a process and then I’d have to use that knowledge to solve a similar but not identical problem.”
Why Ole Miss
While Preston considered a couple of out-of-state universities, he said the friendly culture at Ole Miss really stood out.
“You can see the social atmosphere when you walk across campus – the vast majority of students are walking and talking with someone else between classes. It’s amazing.”
Also, some of his friends had spoken highly of the Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME). He’s doing a minor in manufacturing and raves about the factory floor at the CME.
He was clear that he appreciated the scholarships Ole Miss offered. He explained that “scholarships gave me the space to pursue the things I enjoy – like certain student organizations and discipleship groups off campus.”
Push for success
At Ole Miss he discovered a supportive engineering network.
“Ole Miss Engineering professors want their students to rise to a challenge, and not just roll over at obstacles. They want us to look for other answers to achieve success.”
He added that this is not just in the classroom. In the spring break of his freshman year , Preston and some of his friends wanted to take a road trip to Zion National Park. They needed a car rack, but its $1,700 price tag was too steep.
So, Preston decided to make his own. He used the CME facilities to design and weld his own rack – with the assistance of the factory floor technician Andy Gossett. They had a great trip and the roof rack survived the 3,000+ mile road trip!
Representing the university
Preston is involved in much more than engineering at Ole Miss.
He’s the president of the Columns Society – a group of fifteen men and fifteen women who serve as the official hosts and hostesses for the University of Mississippi. The group follows the principles of humble service, leadership and integrity.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people who have never had any experience with the University of Mississippi or even the state of Mississippi. I think it’s really important because of the huge impact that you can have on the representation of our state and our university.”
Top honors for his service
In 2023, Preston was inducted into the University of Mississippi’s Hall of Fame.
This is one of the university’s highest honors, with 10 students selected each year. The award goes to students who demonstrate outstanding contributions in all aspects of campus life.
On top of this, Preston – along with six other engineering students – has been named a Taylor Medal recipient. This is the highest academic honor a student can receive at Ole Miss and is given to no more than one percent of the student body.
He was also named one of the Outstanding Senior Leaders in Ole Miss Engineering. This award goes to students based on their academic performance, professional and service activities, and written and oral communication skills.
Preston graduates in May and plans to go to med school in 2024 – after a much-deserved year off.