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Young Alumni ‘Pay It Forward’ with O’Haver Scholarship
John O'Haver (center), a memorable professor, supportive mentor and good friend to Alex and Joanna Harrelson, celebrates the couple's graduation in 2013.

By creating the Dr. John O’Haver Chemical Engineering Scholarship, two University of Mississippi graduates are expressing their appreciation to a beloved professor and the generous donors who provided the financial assistance they were given.

Joanna and Alex Harrelson, 2013 Ole Miss graduates, said the scholarship they established also serves as a way to “pay it forward” for students who need help making their educational dreams a reality.

“Dr. O’Haver was an exceptional teacher for us as students, and he served as a mentor when we were at Ole Miss and since we’ve left the university to begin our professional careers,” Alex Harrelson said. “And, he is also a great friend.”

“We were both tremendously blessed with scholarships provided by the generosity of Ole Miss alums and donors,” Joanna Harrelson said. “We want to do what we can so that current and future students can receive similar blessings.”

For O’Haver, who is affectionately referred to as “Dr. O,” having a scholarship established in his name is “truly humbling.”

“I don’t know what else to say about this unexpected honor,” O’Haver said. “I have never done my job for the recognition, but for the students. I teach because I like to see students learn, and for those who are open to it, we get to be friends. I tell incoming students that we are family in chemical engineering.

“I am thrilled that this scholarship will be there to help future generations of chemical engineering students long after anyone remembers who I am.”

The Harrelsons, who met as freshmen, came to admire their chemical engineering professors and the exceptional quality of the education provided by the School of Engineering.

“During our final year at Ole Miss, we agreed that we wanted to share the blessings we received with future students in the engineering school,” said Alex Harrelson, originally from Tupelo, Mississippi.

Joanna Harrelson, who is from Natchez, Mississippi, added: “Because of the scholarships we received at Ole Miss, we were able to graduate without the financial burden of having to repay several student loans. This allowed us to pay it forward quicker than we had initially anticipated.”

O’Haver Scholarship recipients will preferably be students who need financial assistance in their fourth or fifth year of undergraduate studies, especially if they’ve taken advantage of the cooperative education program offered by the School of Engineering.

The cooperative education program, or co-op, allows students to gain real-life engineering experience. Through this program, students are given the opportunity to take a semester or two break from classes to work full time with seasoned engineers and other professionals.

Shortly after they were introduced, the Harrelsons found themselves in the same study group in O’Haver’s Intro to Chemical Engineering course. Early in their academic careers, the couple were lab partners and in their final year, senior partners. Today, they are life partners, married in 2013, the same year of their graduation.

“We often joke that marriage has been a breeze compared to engineering school,” Joanna said. “Another aspect that Alex and I share in our personal, academic and professional lives is Dr. O’Haver.

“He was a tremendous mentor to both of us, inside and outside of the classroom. He demonstrates genuine care for his students and is a true servant leader. He challenged us to become better versions of ourselves, both personally and professionally. He is bold in sharing his Christian faith and he has inspired us on our own spiritual journeys.”

When it came time for their nuptials, O’Haver served as a member of the wedding party and read a few passages from the Bible during the ceremony.

“Alex and Joanna are among the many wonderful people that I’ve gotten to know while being a teacher, first as a high school teacher in Oklahoma and now as a professor here at Ole Miss,” O’Haver said.

“Some of my students become very good friends. In addition to discussing a variety of chemical engineering topics, Joanna and Alex and I had many long conversations about faith and life’s challenges. I was so thrilled when they asked me to be in their wedding.”

After graduation, the Harrelsons obtained engineering jobs and now live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with their rescue dog, Archie Manning.

Alex Harrelson recently made a career change, moving from being a project engineer to a real estate agent. Joanna Harrelson is a Retail Fuels Territory Manager ExxonMobil. The company matched the couple’s gift creating the O’Haver Scholarship, which will assist students in perpetuity.

“The School of Engineering is fortunate to have alumni and friends who understand the multiplying effects of scholarships,” said David Puleo, the dean of engineering.

“To see young professionals such as Joanna and Alex ‘pay it forward’ so quickly after they graduated from the university is particularly gratifying. This is an outstanding testament about them, Professor O’Haver and the Department of Chemical Engineering.”

Adam Smith, the chair of the chemical engineering department, said O’Haver has touched the lives of generations of UM engineering students and the new scholarship will allow him to continue doing so.

“The generous gift by Alex and Joanna recognizes the extraordinary teaching, mentoring and friendship Dr. O’Haver has provided to so many students over his career,” Smith said. “By setting up the O’Haver Chemical Engineering Scholarship, the Harrelsons have ensured that Dr. O’Haver will continue to impact the lives of students for many years to come.”

To make a gift to the Dr. John O’Haver Chemical Engineering Scholarship, send a check with the scholarship name written in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at For more information on supporting the UM School of Engineering, contact Greg Carter, development director, at or 662-915-1849.

By Jonathan Scott


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.