The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

and 2 months ago

Auburn University nursing researchers use therapy dogs to assist dementia patients

(Auburn University/Contributed)

Researchers in the Auburn University School of Nursing found animal-assisted therapy promotes social engagement among adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments.

Assistant Professor Morgan Yordy and Associate Clinical Professor Stuart Pope studied the possible benefits with the school’s therapy dogs — Miller, Choa and Daisy — at a community respite ministry at Auburn United Methodist Church. REACH, or Refresh, Encourage, Activities, Care, Hope, is for people with early to moderate memory issues.


As the number of older adults rises, so does the prominence of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association reports 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, the association projects the number to rise to nearly 14 million.

Health care professionals and caregivers must be prepared to assist this growing and vulnerable population with activities of daily living. Auburn researchers anticipated animal-assisted therapy would be an effective strategy in promoting communication and social engagement.

Yordy, Pope and Chih-hsuan Wang, an associate professor in Auburn’s College of Education, authored a paper, which was recently published in Nurse Educator, a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal for faculty and administrators in schools of nursing and nurse educators in other settings. The trio also published a paper in the Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, an international peer-reviewed and open-access journal for nursing specialists.

Auburn’s animal-assisted therapy program, CAREing Paws, or Canine Assisting Rehabilitation and Education, is believed to be the only animal-assisted therapy program of its kind in a nursing school setting.

By including the dogs on a clinical site experience, Yordy and Pope observed the engagement between participants with dementia and the animals, as well as student engagement and comfort level when working with such participants and animals together.

They called the project COPE, or Canine Outreach Promoting Engagement, and received funding from a Competitive Outreach Scholarship Grant through Auburn University’s Outreach Office of Faculty Engagement.

“Students were significantly more comfortable and more effective in their communication with participants when the animals were included in the community clinical experience,” Yordy said. “Patients were more engaged in the presence of animals.”

“Individuals who have early dementia, when they participate regularly in a program that focuses on socialization, music therapy, pet therapy, community relationships, typically what we have noticed is that their cognitive decline slows a little bit,” added Christine Browdy, REACH director.

Pope created CAREing Paws in 2010, knowing the empirical benefits therapy dogs have on patients. It has also given nursing students the opportunity to learn about the alternative therapy through classroom teaching and clinical experiences.

The stars of the program are Miller, a 7-year-old golden retriever; Choa, an 8-year-old Labrador retriever golden mix; and Daisy, a 2-year-old Goldendoodle.

“Our nursing students learn that the human-animal bond helps patients heal emotionally, socially, mentally and physically,” said Pope. “Students leave Auburn with a degree in nursing and also the understanding of what animal-assisted therapy can do in diverse health care settings.”

Yordy and Pope began collaborating on animal-assisted therapy research soon after Yordy joined the school’s faculty in 2016. However, she has been a part of animal-assisted therapy teams since 2011.

“I have loved working with animals and people, and I knew this was where I wanted to grow my research,” said Yordy.  “There is little research out there regarding dogs in academics and I would like to further this exploration.”

Currently, Yordy and Pope are the only dog handlers at the School of Nursing, but students who complete the animal-assisted therapy course can handle the dogs.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Auburn University to build world-class culinary center for students, tourism industry

(Auburn University/Contributed)

A culinary science center unlike any other is coming to Auburn University in 2021.

The university’s Board of Trustees took the final steps Feb. 15 to create the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, a transformative complex blending a learning environment with a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant.

“The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center will be an academic learning environment equipped to launch our students into leadership roles in the culinary and hospitality industries,” said Auburn University President Steven Leath. “The campus and community will also reap the benefits of having such a dynamic destination for food, hospitality and instruction so close to home.”

The 142,000-square-foot facility will provide students interested in hospitality and culinary sciences with hands-on learning experiences in a teaching hotel and a teaching restaurant, as well as a range of classrooms and demonstration and food production laboratories.


“Our students will have unparalleled opportunities to learn best practices in the hospitality and culinary sciences within a luxury setting from the best in the industry,” said June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences. “The entire complex will provide guests with an immersion in hospitality that is second to none.”

Auburn University is home to Alabama’s only professionally accredited hospitality program. The new center will be a draw for students currently in top culinary programs in high schools in Alabama and across the nation.

The facility will also become a destination for alumni and new guests alike who enjoy food and beverage tourism.

“The potential impact is enormous. The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is going to be one of the most interesting and exciting culinary education centers in America, if not the world,” said Frank Stitt, owner and executive chef of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham and 2018 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurant.

The Alabama Tourism Department reported an estimated 26.6 million people visited the state in 2017, generating more than $14.3 billion in revenue. One of the primary motivations of tourists in visiting Alabama is the state’s prominent and growing food legacy.

The challenge for Alabama is to maintain the tourism growth while facing a shortage of appropriately qualified employees in culinary and hospitality trades.

“There is an urgent need to rethink Alabama’s current workforce development strategy,” said Martin O’Neill, head of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management in Auburn’s College of Human Sciences. “Auburn University is responding to this challenge with new and revitalized hospitality and culinary sciences curricula and development of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center.”

The plans for such a facility at Auburn started more than a decade ago, when Henton tasked O’Neill and Hans van der Reijden, managing director of The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, to visit globally recognized programs and facilities to benchmark the center’s development.

O’Neill and Van der Reijden visited the best of the best from Singapore to Switzerland and all of Europe, and developed a plan to create an academic resource for Auburn students interested in culinary-focused careers.

Plans received strong support in 2017 when James W. “Jimmy” Rane and the Rane family made a $12 million commitment to the building’s construction. Rane is a 1968 Auburn alumnus, longtime member of the Board of Trustees and chairman, president and chief executive officer of Great Southern Wood Preserving. The board later approved naming the facility in honor of his parents, Tony and Libba Rane.

Gifts to the College of Human Sciences, university general funds and revenue from the hotel, restaurant, a food hall and leased living units will cover the estimated project cost of $95.4 million. The Rane Culinary Science Center will be the first revenue-generating academic building at Auburn. The university seeks to raise an additional $13 million in philanthropic support through various naming opportunities within the building.

Construction at the corner of East Thach Avenue and South College Street will begin after an April groundbreaking ceremony.

The innovative teaching environment of the center will provide an inspiring learning platform for students to plan, market, manage and evaluate a commercial hospitality operation, while at the same time providing them with cutting-edge opportunities to develop technical and leadership skills.

Standing at the intersection of campus and community, the Rane Culinary Science Center will be a gathering place for all to use and enjoy.

Teaching areas of the center include:

The Laurel

The Laurel is the luxury boutique teaching hotel, where hospitality management students will gain hands-on practical experience working in all areas of hotel operations in a luxury 32-room facility. The spa on the sixth floor and the rooftop garden are parts of the Laurel. The garden will provide vegetables and herbs for food production throughout the center. The rooftop space can house small events. The Laurel is one of the center’s many features that can be enjoyed by the Auburn community and visiting guests.


A 40-seat teaching restaurant, 1856 will feature a “Chef in Residence” program, where different nationally acclaimed chefs will provide a chef de cuisine to work hand-in-hand with culinary science instructors and students to create a restaurant of his or her own vision. The practical educational experience for junior-level students will take place during lunch service, while senior-level students will execute dinner service with instructors at their side. The restaurant will be open to the public.

Heyday Market

The 9,000-square-foot food hall will provide a number of food vendors for all to enjoy. A coffee bar will be inside the center with a small operational coffee roastery. Two vendor spaces will be food incubators, providing hospitality management and culinary science graduates the space at a minimal cost to begin and grow their own restaurants before venturing out on their own.

Wine Appreciation Center

On the second floor above 1856, the center will feature a tasting room for 50 students. The instructor will be a Master Sommelier or a Certified Wine Educator who will not only be teaching wine appreciation classes for students in the program and the campus at large, but also allow the community and hotel guests to experience such classes and tastings in the evening.

Distilled Spirits Center

Adjacent to the Wine Appreciation Center on the second floor, the Distilled Spirits Center will feature a micro distillery for the purpose of research as well as showing students the distillation process in an experiential sense. Classes will be open campus-wide and will allow an opportunity for the Auburn community and hotel guests to experience distilled spirit tasting before dinner in the Laurel.

Brewing Science Laboratory

This facility will feature a state-of-the-art, open concept, micro-teaching brewery, tasting room and microbiology laboratory to provide brewing science and hospitality management students with the hands-on education and training necessary for employment in the ever-expanding craft brewing industry. The facility will expose students to all aspects of commercial beer production, such as scientific principles and facility operation, as well as technological innovation and its influence upon production methods, quality control and the sensory profile of all beer produced.

Culinary Exhibition Lab

Up to 80 students can observe demonstrations in the lab from atrium-style seating on the second floor. The design of the lab on the lower level will include non-conventional cooking stations to expose students to various cooking techniques and innovative methods. The space lends itself to commercial cooking demonstrations, not only for Saturday culinary workshops, which are open to the public, but any night of the week for the community and hotel guests.

Food and Beverage Media Studio

Near the line in the exhibition lab, the studio will teach food and beverage photography and videography, helping to prepare future chefs, bar operators and restaurateurs to be media savvy. This media studio will be a unique resource for a hospitality management program in the United States.

Additional features of the center:

Culinary Get-Aways

A rotating roster of celebrity chefs will create weekend workshops using every aspect of the center, with guests staying at the Laurel, enjoying the rooftop gardens, eating in the Heyday Market and 1856, experiencing a cooking demonstration and taking a class in the exhibition kitchen and wine tasting in the wine appreciation center.

The Residences at the Laurel

Only six upper-level residences will be available for long-term leasing. Each 1,650-square-foot unit will have two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen and space for entertaining. Residents will enjoy the rooftop swimming pool and bar, full-service spa and other amenities, as well as concierge services and valet parking from the hotel.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Auburn University’s Kyes Stevens honored for prison education program that changes lives

(Auburn University)

Kyes Stevens has been a part of educating some 5,000 students since 2002, and they’ve all been the epitome of nontraditional.

In fact, they’ve all been prisoners or inmates with the Alabama Department of Corrections.

“Prisons are complicated,” Stevens said. “All kinds of people are there. Whatever their circumstance, I assume they want to learn. They want a better future and have dreams and goals. Their situation doesn’t mean we should stop treating them like human beings.”


Stevens has never asked what her students did to land behind bars. It has never mattered to her and it never will.

“They want to learn. That’s it,” she said.

For her work as founder and director of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project at Auburn University, Stevens was recognized with the Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach at the 2018 Faculty Awards.

Starting from somewhere

It’s a series of fortunate events, really, that led Stevens to prison. That may seem peculiar, but there is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Born and raised in the tiny, rural town of Waverly, Alabama, Stevens was the product of what she calls a “middle-class, nerdy family.” Generations before her put so much stock in education — the family’s connections to Auburn University date back to the early 1900s — it is no surprise that her two grandmothers earned advanced degrees, despite societal expectations that they be nothing more than homemakers.

This “long line of very strong women” and intrinsic value for education prompted the family to send Stevens to Brookstone School, a private college preparatory school in Columbus, Georgia, for two years of high school.

She followed her family line to Auburn before striking out on her own for graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College in New York City, where she earned a master’s in women’s history and a Master of Fine Arts in poetry. Stevens returned to Bronxville last May to deliver the graduate commencement address.

While finishing her time in New York, she realized she “had the perfect mindset to go home and make change.” So with two graduate degrees, tons of student loans and no job, she returned home to Alabama.

Stevens said she worked any job she could find until 2001, when the Talladega Federal Prison received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Justice for someone to teach poetry in prison. But no poet in Alabama wanted to teach in prison.

Except Stevens.

Providing access

Stevens didn’t shy away from the opportunity. She could teach poetry, a medium she loved since she was a “little bitty kid.”

Prison was simply the classroom, a means to encourage creativity through access.

Stevens may have grown up idealistic, but all her years in Alabama and New York exposed some hard truths about the world. There is a disconnection between the poor and the middle class, the haves and the have nots. A lack of access — to jobs, education, assistance and the like — perpetuate this great divide.

Some people struggle to feed their family or pay the power bill. Some will break the law in order to provide basic needs like food, shelter and clothing.

That year in Talladega confirmed to Stevens that inequity exists, particularly between classes and race, and access is a luxury.

“How do you create access to those society doesn’t give access to?” she questioned.

This awakening prompted Stevens to create what would become the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, or APAEP, in 2002.

Initially it was just her, teaching poetry, at Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. APAEP is now in 10 of Alabama’s 18 prisons. Classes in the arts, humanities and STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — are offered.

Since Jan. 1, 2017, students at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County have had the opportunity to take Auburn University credit classes, taught by Auburn faculty. Twenty-five students are enrolled and 15 more will begin classes soon.

Through the Second Chance Pell program, Auburn and other colleges and universities across the country are offering postsecondary educational programs to incarcerated people by providing them access to financial aid. By increasing access to high-quality educational opportunities, the goal is to help these people successfully transition out of prison and back into the classroom or the workforce.

“It’s the responsibility of a university to help people, and not just the easy ones,” Stevens said.

NPR Online and NPR Radio recently shined light on the program as part of its ongoing series, The Changing Face of College.

Stevens is no longer the only teacher. Since its inception, APAEP has used more than 175 faculty members from Auburn, Auburn University Montgomery, the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The faculty and students are part of an educational process that reaches far beyond the confines of each prison. Besides the students themselves, the families are heavily influenced by the program. Stevens said having a parent in school opens doors for the children.

“They talk about math equations over the phone,” she said. “That’s what they talk about with their kids.”

A further example of the reach of APAEP is drawing class. Students started taking drawing in 2004, and by the following year their work was on display at a public art show.

Pieces have been sold every year since and the profits always go back into the program.

“Those students who donate their work are investing in someone else’s ability to have an opportunity,” Stevens said. “That’s pretty powerful.”

Changing lives

The National Endowment for the Arts continues to fund APAEP because the agency recognizes the value art has on people’s lives.

Just look at what art did for Stevens. Her family was the driving force behind her formal and informal education, but she steered her future. Poetry made her a teacher, the kind of teacher who welcomes every student into the classroom and encourages them all to try.

Stevens has used the APAEP model to help build the national Alliance for Higher Education in Prison. She met several times with members of the Obama administration at the White House to discuss the role of higher education in criminal justice reform. This spring, she was invited to a conference at Harvard University to help the administration envision what higher education in prison could look like for the institution.

Back home, Stevens is known for saving animals, primarily cats. She estimates she has rescued more than 150 felines. She recently found two dogs.

“What was I supposed to do?” she asked. “Leave them to be run over on [U.S. Highway] 280? No. I have to try. I cannot not try.”

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Auburn researchers suspect more rules for player safety could decrease college football fandom

(Auburn Football/Facebook)

News of traumatic brain injuries and suicides among professional and college football players has made many question the violent nature of the game. Rule changes, such as the NCAA’s targeting rule, have been imposed to promote player safety, and yet concussions continue to occur.

Using Auburn University’s functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI machine to study the brain functions of college football fans and non-football fans when they were exposed to violent imagery, a team of researchers suspect additional regulations that improve player safety and make the game less violent could affect fandom.


Auburn Associate Professor David Martin in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management posed it as such: “If we have fans who are attracted to the violence aspect of the sport and we start to sanitize it to make it safer for the players, at what point do we start to lose fans?”

The team of researchers in electrical engineering, psychology, psychiatry and hospitality found fans to be less empathic to violence in the game and violence in general than nonfans.

“This finding does not demonstrate that football enthusiasts are more prone to violence or less sensitive to violent imagery, but instead, that violence within the context of football may provide less affective arousal compared to general violence,” the study reads.

While social and behavioral effects of violence in movies and video games have been studied extensively, much less is known about how sports affect perceptions of violence.

Areas of the brain that indicate emotion regulation, perception of others’ pain and the nerve origin of violent behavior were less active in football fans, according to the study, published in Frontiers in Public Health. This decreased empathetic response and perhaps altered behavioral responses in otherwise healthy people are often associated with increased or repeated exposure to violence.

With rising concerns over players’ health — such as the correlation between repetitive brain trauma and incidents of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, depression and suicidal risk — recent rule changes have been imposed to increase player safety. For instance, the NCAA instituted the targeting rule in 2013 that calls for a player to be ejected if he makes contact with a defenseless opponent above the shoulders. The National Football League adopted the NCAA’s rule in 2017.

Brain trauma is an issue for professional athletes, as well as youth football players, who may also be exposed to large numbers of repetitive head collisions. Therefore, concussions and sub-concussive blows to the head commonly found in football can be considered an urgent public health burden that requires a policy response either from the government or the sporting body.

So far, the NCAA targeting rule has been met with marginal resistance from football fans.

However, the research team found previous research that said fans find the most enjoyment in the unscripted, on-the-field violence of college football. Previous studies also indicated violence in sport to have a socio-cultural impact, meaning the exposure to violence and aggression makes sports fans more prone to acts of violence. Their impulsive behaviors may result in destructive acts of violence and their muted perceptions of pain may increase suicidal risk.

Martin’s own research also examines the consumer behavior side of college football.

“This issue of traumatic brain injury has really driven the changes that are happening in the world of sports,” he said. “I’m interested in what happens to Auburn University and the city of Auburn, or any college town, if college football gets regulated away.

“We know that when college football does well, corporate sponsorships increase, undergraduate applications increase and alumni support increases. So the success of football is very much tied to the success of the university as a whole. If football were to go away or if it were to change so dramatically that alumni and fan support is lessened, that has huge economic implications for the university, the city and the country.”

Regulations limiting the game of football may not be far off as researchers across the country are working on a non-evasive way to diagnose CTE. Currently, the only way to detect it is a post-mortem autopsy. Once the new testing method is available, Martin said youth, high school, college and professional football players can be tested and researchers will know, “with a high degree of certainty, what percentage of those players will have permanent brain damage.”

“To me, that will be a very important day,” he said. “I don’t know what the percentage has to be for there to be a major change in football, but it will either regulate the game out of existence or people just won’t play it anymore.”

The study was conducted by Martin, Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Gopi Deshpande and Psychology Professor Jeffrey Katz from Auburn; Psychology Assistant Professor Thomas Daniel from Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts; Kyle M. Townsend, clinical assistant professor of hospitality at Georgia State University in Atlanta; and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Yun Wang at Columbia University in New York.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)