Mississippi State alums recognized as 2023 BCoE Distinguished Fellows, Emerging Leader

March 27, 2023

Distinguished Fellows & Emerging Leader 2023

Top Row, Left to Right: Ray Carroll, John Cross MD, William Eric Gross, Karolina Sarnowska-Upton, Wes Shedd.
Bottom Row, Left to Right: Lisa J. Smith, Thomas S. Thornhill, William J. Williford, Mary Alissa Willis, Wil Harris.

Leaders from various industries were among the Mississippi State alumni who were recognized by the Bagley College of Engineering for their accomplishments and commitment to the engineering field at the 2023 Distinguished Engineering Recognition Banquet.

Nine alumni were selected as Distinguished Fellows, while one alumnus was chosen as the fourth recipient of the college’s Emerging Leader award.

“This year’s distinguished fellows class once again illustrates the wide range of opportunities that the Bagley College of Engineering can prepare its graduates for. I especially enjoyed hearing the advice that our fellows gave in a meeting with our current students,” Jason Keith, Dean of the Bagley College of Engineering, said.

Wil Harris, a 2011 mechanical engineering alumnus, was selected as this year’s recipient of the college’s Emerging Leader award. Harris began his engineering career at Chevron Pascagoula Refinery as a mechanical designs engineer in 2012 and is currently an operations assistant at the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery. He is an active member of the Mississippi State University Engineering on the Coast Mentorship Program and is a Pascagoula Boys and Girls Club volunteer, and is involved in numerous other organizations.

The Emerging Leader award was first presented in 2019 and recognizes Bagley alumni who are under 40 but who have already made a tremendous impact in their profession or the community.

The nine alumni selected as 2023 Distinguished Fellows include:

Ray Carroll

A 1987 aerospace engineering graduate, Ray Carroll began his engineering career with the U.S. Army Missile Command. In 1988, he accepted an associate engineer’s position in aircraft engineering with FedEx in Memphis and is currently the Vice President of Aircraft Engineering, overseeing all engineering responsibilities for the trunk and feeder fleets for FedEx Express. During his 34 years at FedEx, he has had the opportunity to work on numerous projects to support the growth and success of FedEx. Carroll is also a five-time recipient of the FedEx Five Star Award. In addition to being active in many organizations, Carroll also serves as a member of the MSU Aerospace Engineering Advisory Board. His wife, Amy, and their two children, Hayden and Hannah, are also MSU graduates.

John Cross, MD

Dr. John L Cross, MD, FACP, received his undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from Mississippi State University. He went on to complete medical school and his residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. A native of Brandon, Mississippi, Dr. Cross is currently Vice President and Medical Director at Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company.

He is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician and remains on the medical staff at Baptist Hospital and Baptist Nutrition and Bariatric Center. Currently, he serves as the 155th President of the Mississippi State Medical Association and serves on the Board of Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi (MACM). He also serves as a volunteer physician at Mission First Medical Clinic. Dr. Cross lives in Flowood with his wife, Catherine Doleac Cross. He has three children, Thomas, Caroline, and Andrew. He is a member of Pinelake Church at the Reservoir.

William Eric Gross

William Eric Gross, known to most folks as Bill, was born in Vicksburg and grew up in Tupelo. He developed an interest in Mississippi State early and remembers attending many Mississippi State football games on campus with his mom and dad. Gross graduated in 1977 with a degree in civil engineering. After a short stint in Louisiana, he and his family moved to Texas in 1981. Gross has spent his entire career in the oil & gas industry working for many companies, including Amoco Production Company and Texas Oil & Gas Corp. He has also had the privilege and honor of working with many talented and distinguished colleagues. He is grateful for his wonderful experiences at Mississippi State and his education there, which laid the groundwork for the many things he has accomplished in his career. Gross is an active member of his local church, and he credits any achievements to God’s abundant grace and mercy upon his life. He is married to his wife of 48 years, Lynn Addison Gross. Together they have three daughters, three wonderful sons, and 15 grandchildren.

Karolina Sarnowska-Upton

A 2006 computer science and mathematics alumni, Karolina Sarnowska-Upton, is a principal software engineering manager at Microsoft and leads engineering teams to design, build, test, ship, and maintain secure, accessible, and world-ready software. In 2008, she completed her master’s and an internship at CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research. After finishing her Ph.D. in 2013, Sarnowska-Upton joined Intentional Software Corporation in Bellevue, Washington. Microsoft acquired the company in 2017 to build the Microsoft Whiteboard product - a collaborative digital canvas enabling teams to work together. She is now managing software engineering efforts to make Microsoft Whiteboard into a web application that runs on Windows and mobile devices and is deeply integrated with Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub. She is married to Daniel Upton. They live in Redmond, WA, with their wonderful five-year-old daughter, Aleksandra.

Wes Shedd

Wes Shedd is the Chief Executive Officer for the oil and gas services firm Scientific Drilling International. Shedd graduated from Mississippi State in the class of 2002, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Throughout college and before transferring to MSU, he worked in the Gulf of Mexico for Marathon in the production group. After graduation, he reentered the oil and gas community with Scientific Drilling International as a field engineer in Lafayette, Louisiana. He has served as a technical planner for several major oil companies in Houston, Texas.

In 2004 as the U.S. Land market was evolving, he led the charge for the turnaround and startup of several key markets both in the Barnett Shale of North Texas and the Eagleford in South Texas. Before being appointed V.P. of W.H. Operations and Sales in 2019, he managed the Gulf Coast region with several dynamic markets from Offshore Drilling to Remote Directional Drilling and everything in between. Shedd married another MSU alum, mechanical engineer Kelly Shedd, and they share a passion for the university and the South. They have one son and are active in their local church, The Woodlands First Baptist Church. Wes also served on the Montgomery Little League board of directors.

Lisa J. Smith

A native of Meridian, Mississippi, Lisa J. Smith earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mississippi State and an MBA from Kennesaw State University. She began her career at Mississippi Power as an engineer in 1993. She relocated to Georgia Power in 1997. As the current Senior Vice President for Region External Affairs and Community Engagement for Georgia Power, Smith leads the statewide external efforts to serve its 2.7 million customers by strategically partnering with local governments, development authorities, chambers of commerce, charitable entities and other stakeholders across Georgia. She also is responsible for leading the company’s employee volunteer and giving efforts and fostering the company’s relationships in historically underserved communities.

She is an active member of numerous organizations, including the American Cancer Society and Georgia Humanities and is an executive champion for Georgia Power’s Alliance of Differently-Abled People. Smith has been named one of Engineering Georgia magazine’s 100 Most Influential Women, Profiles in Diversity Journal’s Women Worth Watching, and The Atlanta Business League’s Top 100 Black Women of Influence. She has been married to Derick for 26 years, and they have one son, Gabriel.

Thomas S. Thornhill

Thomas S. Thornhill graduated from MSU in the summer of 1970 with his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. The Pascagoula native began work at Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of AT&T, in Winston Salem, NC, later that summer. The plant’s main products were used in the AT&T central office switching systems for telephonic transmission. Between 1972 and 1973, Thornhill began to refocus his career from engineering to accounting and finance. An MBA from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in 1975 was the beginning of a 40+ year career in banking and finance. In 2010 Thornhill was named managing director/chief risk officer for healthcare in the corporate and investment bank at SunTrust.

Thornhill is married to Cecelia (a G.A. Bulldog), and they have four grown children and seven grandchildren. They are members of the Ansley Golf Club, where he serves on the Finance Committee, and the Peachtree Presbyterian Church, where they are past Class Co-Presidents. They are involved in several class charitable activities.

William J. Williford

William J. Williford was appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in March 2022. Since joining W&T in 2006, he has served in various positions of increasing responsibility with the company, including reservoir engineer, exploration project manager, general manager deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Vice President and General Manager Gulf of Mexico Shelf and Deepwater, and most recently, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Gulf of Mexico. Williford has over 20 years of oil and gas technical experience with large independents in the Gulf of Mexico and Domestic Onshore. Prior to joining W&T, Williford held positions in reservoir, production, and operations at Kerr-McGee and Oryx Energy. Williford received a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering from Mississippi State University.

Mary Alissa Willis

Dr. Mary Alissa Willis is chair of neurology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. The second-generation Bulldog began her unconventional path to medicine while studying chemical engineering at MSU from 1998-2002. She was fortunate to get to know Hunter Henry and Dave Swalm then. Their generosity and mentorship left a lasting impression though her path migrated from engineering to medicine after her co-op experience. She also counts MSU professors Dr. Atly Jefcoat, Dr. Charles Sparrow and Dr. Hossein Toghiani as some of the most influential mentors of her career. While at MSU, she was recognized as the most outstanding senior in chemical engineering. Dr. Willis recalls Mr. Henry’s investment in the future of Mississippi. He took a personal interest in the lives of his scholars, even when they diverged from a traditional engineering path. This led her to establish the Mary Alissa Willis, MD, Endowed Scholarship to help support future generations of Mississippi students.

She has received numerous teaching awards from Cleveland Clinic, where she served as faculty from 2013-2019. In 2018, her neurology teaching skills were recognized nationally by the American Academy of Neurology. She returned to Mississippi as chair of the neurology department at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2019. She is married with two children, Jillian and Jacob, who also aspire to be Bulldogs. Dr. Willis is active with local advocacy groups, including the National MS Society, the Epilepsy Foundation, the American Heart Association and her children’s Boy and Girl Scout troops. Recently, her department has developed partnerships with MSU engineering students to complete projects that span engineering and medicine.

The Distinguished Fellows program began in 1991 when 100 alumni were honored to celebrate the college’s 100th anniversary. Now, each spring, new alumni fellows are selected to recognize their accomplishments in the field of engineering as well as their service to the community.

You can learn more about the many impressive accomplishments of each of this year’s Distinguished Fellows and Emerging Leader in the awards banquet program.

The Bagley College of Engineering is online at www.bagley.msstate.edu and can be found on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and YouTube at @msuengineering.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

By Camille Carskadon