Billy Wilemon (Student)
He’s circled the Egyptian pyramids on a camel and visited England’s renowned Stonehenge prehistoric monument.
Billy B. Wilemon’s career as a chemical engineer has taken him to these and a number of other major world sites. A semi-retired Aberdeen native who received a Mississippi State bachelor’s degree 43 years ago, he’s back at the university to begin new adventures in pursuit of a graduate degree in applied anthropology.
The degree is among academic programs in the anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures department of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Though the initial plan was to return to campus and take “some classes,” Wilemon said now-retired professor Janet Rafferty had “encouraged me to not just take classes. ‘Set a goal for yourself; get your master’s,’ she told me.”
Wilemon’s ties to MSU run deep. In addition to a 1973 undergraduate degree, he and wife Anabess, a 1972 social studies education graduate, were married in the Chapel of Memories, which is constructed with bricks from Old Main dormitory where his father lived when he attended the land-grant institution.
Wilemon is quick to praise MSU faculty members with whom he deals daily this time around.
“They are the best; they’re the greatest, they’re very interested in all of us students,” he says. “They make class interesting. They’re so good about getting us into study abroad, internships or other opportunities. They’re on top of it.”
Wilemon’s thesis research represents a cutting-edge pairing of his past and future MSU degrees. With the help of department head Michael Galaty, he soon will travel to Greece for three weeks of study at Athens’ National Archaeological Museum, followed by a week of excavation work at a site in the country.
For the study-abroad experience, he is taking along the department’s portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy—pXRF, for short. Shaped like a hand-held hair dryer, it will make possible the non-destructive chemical analyses on thousands of 3,000-year-old clay tablets, he explains.
“This kind of work has never been done before, so it’s a great opportunity for me and Mississippi State,” Wilemon emphasizes.
“Archaeology and physics are completely different worlds and I welcome the change,” he observes. “I’m learning so much and couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
Clearly, Billy Wilemon is enjoying his time as a non-traditional student. Smiling broadly as he repeats a quote from one of his professors, he proudly proclaims, “I’m living the dream.”