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Viola L. Acoff Accepts Position as UM Engineering Dean

By Erin Garrett

University of Mississippi

Viola L. Acoff. Submitted photo

Award-winning researcher and educator Viola L. Acoff has been named dean of the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, following a national search.

Acoff, who will join the university July 1 pending approval of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, is the school’s first female and first African American to serve in this position. The new dean said she was drawn to the university for many reasons.

“I am most excited about the new opportunities in biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and energy in Mississippi and surrounding areas, which I believe all departments in the School of Engineering can play a role in advancing these emerging technologies,” Acoff said. 

“I am looking forward to working with faculty, students, staff and industry to increase the School of Engineering’s contributions to these and other emerging technologies.”

Acoff comes to Ole Miss from the University of Alabama, where she has served as associate dean for undergraduate and graduate programs since 2014. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in materials engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I am thrilled that Dr. Acoff has agreed to lead our School of Engineering,” said Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “She is a talented faculty member and administrator. 

“The school’s increasing research activity and expanding programs will benefit from her experience and leadership as the school pursues its next level of excellence. I truly look forward to working with her.”

Besides her role of associate dean at the University of Alabama, she has served as a full professor since 2004. She led the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering from 2009 to 2014 and also led the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

She has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers and secured more than $13 million in externally funded grants. She has served as a consultant to industry-leading corporations, in addition to serving on multiple boards and in more than two dozen professional service roles.

Acoff has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in welding metallurgy, physical metallurgy and scanning electron microscopy and has an active research group involving welding metallurgy and characterization of metals.

She is most proud, however, of her more than 25 years’ experience in increasing the number of STEM degrees awarded to students from underrepresented groups. 

“I have served as the project director for the Alabama Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program, which is a statewide program funded by the National Science Foundation,” she said. “In addition, I co-led a program that, in just over a decade, introduced materials science to students at 82 of the nation’s 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

A recipient of numerous national and international awards, Acoff was recognized as one of the Most Influential Black Corporate Directors by Savoy magazine, and as one of the Most Influential Corporate Directors by WomenInc. The Engineering Council of Birmingham named her its educator of the year in 2016.

As dean, Acoff seeks to increase visibility of SOE programs, while recruiting and retaining top scholars.

“I am eager to work with colleagues to develop a vision and plan that will further advance the University of Mississippi’s School of Engineering in becoming the definitive choice for the best and brightest students, faculty and staff,” she said. “I want to continue and advance the university’s goal of keeping talented individuals from leaving the state and at the same time attracting new talent from all over the world.”


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