Matt O’Keefe: memorable mentor

Walk into Straumanis-James Hall and the building’s relaxed atmosphere may be the first thing you notice. The building is home to the Materials Research Center and its director, Matt O’Keefe, MetE’85.

O’Keefe, who is known for his friendliness and accessibility, will tell you he didn’t set the building’s tone — that he’s just trying to maintain what Bill James (professor emeritus of chemistry and a namesake of the building) created when he started the MRC back in 1964. James, who turned 90 in September, still has an office down the hall from O’Keefe’s.

But O’Keefe’s influence is undeniable. He’s been a popular professor at S&T since 1999, receiving several teaching awards along the way. He has a genuine concern for his students’ success, both in his department and in the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, where he serves as faculty advisor.

Rick Szevery, MetE’02, a senior engineer with ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, is grateful for O’Keefe’s mentorship.

“Dr. O’Keefe’s conversational teaching style and quirky sense of humor made his classes very enjoyable and memorable,” Szevery says. “He organized the course information in a way that made it easier to comprehend than in my other courses. And he was always positive and helpful. I really valued his advice and our conversations.”

O’Keefe was born and reared in Rolla, the son of the late Thomas J. O’Keefe, Curators’ Professor emeritus of metallurgical engineering. The younger O’Keefe took graduate courses while working for AT&T Bell Laboratories in Allentown, Pa., and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while working for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Although he’s laid back, he’s no pushover and is honest with students. “Students don’t always appreciate or like what I have to say,” he says. “But sometimes it’s what they need to hear.”

Margaret Olcott and Family: building a legacy

During the final weeks of his life, Eugene L. Olcott, MetE’40, decided he wanted to give something back to the school that had prepared him for a successful career. “He wanted to give something tangible that would carry his name and be of use to the students,” says his widow, Margaret Olcott.

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Meet John Eash

John F. Eash, AE’79, MS EMgt’90, director of F/A-18 production operations for the Boeing Co. in St. Louis, began his two-year term as president of the Miner Alumni Association in October. Missouri S&T Magazine staff sat down with him to ask a few questions.

What is your vision for the association?
The Miner Alumni Association will continue to be a growing, thriving organization that is positioned well to support alumni, students, faculty and staff, and the Rolla community.

What do you hope to accomplish during your presidency?
It’s really all about what our association will accomplish. We aligned our committee structure to support our strategic priorities, with great committee leaders and members assigned to each. Over the next two years, they will accomplish great things — increasing our financial giving, strengthening our alumni sections, and improving communications with campus organizations and other constituents. I also look forward to increasing the number of active Miner Alumni Association members and the completion of the Hasselmann Alumni House.

What do you feel is the most important part of the alumni-university relationship?
The most important aspect of our alumni-university relationship is the shared responsibility of helping our students succeed during their college careers and beyond through financial assistance, career counseling, recruiting, mentorship and academic tutoring, just to name a few. When our students succeed in college and in business, it strengthens our reputation as a premier technological research university we can all be proud of.

Why should young alumni get involved with the association?
The ability to stay connected with old friends and make new ones, build professional networks with fellow alumni, and feel the pride that comes with giving back financially or through volunteering time to an organization that has helped many students — some that otherwise may not have graduated from S&T.

Magnus named executive director of AIAA

On Oct. 22, 2012, former NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, Phys’86, MS EE’90, became executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. AIAA is a 35,000-member technical society focused on the global aerospace profession.

Magnus, who lived aboard the International Space Station for four months, was one of four astronauts to fly on the space shuttle program’s final flight aboard Atlantis in July 2012.

Marriage proposal makes national news

Two former S&T cheerleaders made the national news last fall thanks to a Homecoming marriage proposal caught on video that went viral.

Band members, who traditionally call out requests of the cheer squad, yelled to the group of alumni on the sidelines, “Hey cheerleaders, we want to see a marriage proposal.” The cheerleaders holding Tara Biggers, Phys’09, aloft spun her around to face her boyfriend of six years Chris Balven, BAdm’07, who was also held aloft, on bended knee. She accepted the proposal to the marching band strains of “Hey Baby.”

Erica Long, CE’03, a senior academic advisor in mechanical and aerospace engineering and S&T cheer and dance coach, filmed the proposal and posted the video to YouTube. By Thanksgiving, the video had been viewed more than 13,000 times.

Late in October, a cable news program called Right This Minute picked up the story. The video aired along with an interview with Biggers and Balven. But the story grew. It aired on the ABC Television program Good Morning America on Nov. 19, and later that week, was picked up by CNN.

Balven said proposing to Biggers during the football game, while cheering, seemed natural.

“That’s how we met,” Balven told Right This Minute. “I thought it would be kind of a cool idea to get the engagement to happen there.” The cheerleaders who assisted with the proposal are all alumni the couple cheered with in college.

Alumni-founded gaming startup gets support

The founders of IDC Projects, a gaming company started by three S&T alumni, stepped up their game last fall by getting an infusion of capital from two St. Louis investors. The firm was one of 15 St. Louis-area startup companies to win $50,000 from Arch Grants to further develop the business. Arch Grants also provides free legal and accounting help, plus access to angel investors.

IDC raised another $50,000 from Capital Innovators, a technology accelerator fund based in downtown St. Louis.

IDC Projects is a gaming and mobile app firm founded in 2008 by then-Missouri S&T students Michael Orlando, IDE’09, EE’10, MS EMgt’12, R.J. Miller, IDE’10, and Colby Hall, EMgt’09, MBA’10. The firm released its latest mobile game, Motocross Sniper, a virtual paintball app, last fall. The company’s first product was a free iPhone app that counts down the number of days until the next Best Ever St. Pat’s celebration. That app was created in 2008, in time for the 100th anniversary of St. Pat’s.

For more information about the company, visit idcprojects.com.

Historian wins state book award

Petra DeWitt, Hist’96, an assistant teaching professor in history and political science at Missouri S&T, received the 2012 Missouri History Book Award from the State Historical Society of Missouri in November for her book Degrees of Allegiance: Harassment and Loyalty in Missouri’s German-American Community During World War I. The book was published by Ohio University Press in April 2012.

Like father, like son

Trevor Wiggins, ME’96, switched from professional racing to drag racing so he could bring his wife and kids along and get them involved in the sport.

Featured in the July 2012 issue of Drag Illustrated magazine, Wiggins says the people who participate in motorsports are the type of people — smart, hardworking and ethical — that he wanted his kids to be raised around.

Wiggins’ son, 6-year-old Grady, proved he’s got his dad’s racing gene in October when he made his driving debut at the Music City Quarter Midget Racing Association track in Nashville, Tenn. Grady set a new track record for the fastest lap by a novice and, after missing the start, came from the back of the pack to win the main race.

S&T women honored

Karlynn Sievers, LSci’96, Engl’96, assistant clinical professor at University of Wyoming-Casper Family Medicine, received the 2012 Missouri S&T Alumna of the Year Gold Award.

Rachel (Mace) Morris, AMth’96, assistant to the vice provost for undergraduate studies at Missouri S&T, received the 2012 Missouri S&T Alumna of the Year Silver Award.

Amber Julien, a junior in psychological science from Waynesville, Mo., received the 2012 Woman Student of the Year Gold Award.

Brittney Abel, a junior in psychological science from Republic, Mo., received the 2012 Woman Student of the Year Silver Award.

The Alumna and Woman Student of the Year Award endowment was created by three named female professors at Missouri S&T: Mariesa Crow, F. Finley Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering; Dee Haemmerlie Montgomery, Curators’ Teaching Professor of psychology; and the late Ann Miller, former Cynthia Tang (Econ’85) Missouri Distinguished Professor of Computer Science. The awards are given to alumnae who are dedicated to enhancing the lives
of women and committed to diversity.

A curiously successful business

John Seaber, EE’09, started his business, JDS Labs Inc., as a part-time venture. Two years ago he quit his day job to give his full-time attention to the business and hire a few employees. Since then, he says revenues have grown at more than 300 percent each year and the company has been profitable every quarter. “We’re doing very well,” he says.

The company, located in Glen Carbon, Ill., makes customized, high-performance headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters (DACs). One of its products, the cMoyBB V2.03, is cased inside a new Altoids tin, which protects the circuit board from some forms of electromagnetic or radio frequency interference.

JDS Labs used to outsource its custom aluminum end plates, but now owns a milling machine. “We had absolutely no machining experience, but this was the best way for us to improve our designs and control production,” says Seaber. “Our cases are of noticeably higher quality than those machined by outside shops.” Check out the company at jdslabs.com.