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Clint Williford Says Goodbye to Faculty Life

Clint Williford
Clint Williford, chair and professor of chemical engineering, has retired after 33 years at Ole Miss. Photo courtesy UM Communications

When Clint W. Williford Jr. joined the University of Mississippi School of Engineering faculty more than 33 years ago, he had no idea his academic career would culminate in such a long list of achievements.

During his tenure, Williford served as an associate professor and professor before becoming chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering eight years ago. He also served on the Faculty Senate and several committees, including selection of Taylor Medalists. After more than three decades of dedicated service, Williford retired June 30.
“While I had the opportunity to continue in industrial R&D, I was more motivated to teach and have the flexibility to work on projects of my own,” he said. “My association with the university has been a deeply enjoyable one. I hope to continue some engagement.”

Williford said he has found Ole Miss chemical engineering students to be among the strongest academically and has derived great satisfaction in helping them learn and mature.

“They are multidimensional – pursuing Chinese, building a school in Africa and enthusiastically competing in soccer and volleyball,” he said. “On a personal level, they are so positive, friendly and appreciative. It was just fun spending my summers working with students in the lab. And they have gone on to productive careers, contributing to society as professionals, citizens and caring people.”

Over the past three decades, Williford has taught almost all courses in UM’s chemical engineering curriculum, including those on thermodynamics, transport phenomena, reaction kinetics/reactor design, unit operations, numerical methods, process control, technical communications and laboratory instruction. He also developed and taught courses in environmental remediation and bioprocessing at the graduate level.

Outside the university, Williford taught a short course to personnel at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and to students through the graduate institute with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I particularly enjoyed this work, and they expressed appreciation for what I did for them,” he said.

Williford has been engaged in many projects, including coal conversion, environmental studies and biofuels. He has performed and managed research projects for multiple funding agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy. Williford also served as the coordinating PI on a multi-institution grant on biomass conversion.
“Our component focused on microbial conditioning and pretreatment as they affected glucose/xylose liberation and lignin properties (as potential co-products),” he said. “Previously, I served as a PI and UM lead investigator for our DOE-EPSCoR biomass conversion project.”

Williford earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Christian Brothers College in Memphis, Tennessee. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Tulane University. He joined UM as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1982, after working as a visiting assistant professor of chemical engineering at Louisiana State University and a research engineer at Exxon R&D Labs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
His sabbatical and summer appointments included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station, Environmental Laboratory and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab.

“My experience with statistical methods includes research, instruction and contractual sample analysis,” Williford said. “I have performed site investigations and experiments, made depositions to opposing attorneys and have testified in court. This has been one of the more interesting aspects of my career.”

While recognition from the university, the School of Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering have been rewarding, Williford said his family is the most fulfilling part of his life.

“As a retired home health and hospice nurse, my wife, Sharyn, brought such comfort, guidance and healing to so many in our community,” he said. “Our older son, Josh, joined an organization providing wilderness therapy for troubled youth. Our younger son, Jake, served in the Navy for six years, attended a community college in San Diego studying criminal justice and will happily will continue this fall at Ole Miss. And my dad, Clint Sr., just turned 93 and drives a mean mowing machine.”

John O’Haver, newly-appointed chair and professor of chemical engineering, commended Willford’s service to the university.

“Clint did a nice job as department head, helping us during a very difficult time of growth and through one accreditation cycle,” O’Haver said. “During his tenure as chair, we grew from approximately 70 to 220 undergrads, earned a six-year (the maximum) reaccreditation, helped increase the average ACT score of our students, represented the department’s needs and increased the number of faculty from six to eight, negotiated much-needed increases in departmental research space and helped navigate us through all of this growth in a time of near-flat departmental budgets.”

Williford’s leisure activities include carpentry, gardening and walking the family dog. And while he recently completed an eLearning course for creating online courses, his post-retirement plans are most inclusive.

“My bucket list is long and includes travel, photography and scuba diving,” he said. “My advice is don’t wait to retire to start doing these.”

Written by Edwin Smith

Story and photo courtesy UM Communications

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