The Auburn Tigers’ great basketball season — culminating with a trip to the Final Four — drew much national attention to Auburn and the state of Alabama, as the team touched the hearts of countless fans, old and new, and became the state’s first school to reach that milestone.
It’s an excitement Auburn and our state should reflect off the court as well, as we partner to move the state forward and build a solid foundation for our great future. But, like on the court, we must have the determination to win by overcoming challenges, such as competition from faster-growing states and poor rankings. The state has historically not performed well in a number of national surveys, such as U.S. News’ rankings of the best states in which to live. However, we are currently experiencing economic growth and we continue to progress as a state.
Auburn, as a land-grant university, is poised to lead. Land-grant institutions give citizens access to a practical education that not only benefits the students, but strengthens communities and boosts economic opportunities. As an Auburn alumnus, I was already familiar with many university endeavors, but I learned even more when I served as chair of the Auburn University Foundation. Let’s look at facts you may not know.
Auburn educates more students from Alabama each year than any other institution, creates an annual economic impact of $5.4 billion, provides an eight to one return on every dollar invested in Auburn and makes immeasurable research advancements for our state and nation. Auburn’s impact affects our citizens from Huntsville to the Gulf Coast.
For example, many Alabamians earn their living through poultry. Auburn research is helping meet new consumer demands, leading the fight against diseases and providing food for a growing global population. Poultry accounts for 65.6% of annual farming revenue in Alabama and it employs more than 86,000 workers. It is just one of the many industries intertwined with Auburn.
University research is the key to developing industry partnerships, nurturing entrepreneurs and attracting new companies. The Auburn Research Park is a leading destination for business and industry looking to locate or expand in Alabama, and it is home to the Tiger Cage Accelerator and Incubator that helps student entrepreneurs fine-tune their business ideas and attract investors.
Another area in which Auburn leads the way is additive manufacturing. One alliance in this growing field is the university’s work with NASA to develop additive manufacturing techniques for improving the performance of liquid rocket engines. This is the latest expansion of a longstanding partnership involving Marshall Space Flight Center, Auburn’s Huntsville Research Center and Auburn’s main campus.
Auburn also provides advanced technology and training with Delta Air Lines to develop the next generation of pilots in the university’s new Delta Air Lines Aviation Education Building and through Delta’s Propel Pilot Career Path Program.
Research and technology have more than economic benefits, though. The College of Veterinary Medicine, which most likely taught your veterinarian, constantly makes breakthroughs to benefit pets and people. One area that comes to mind is the Auburn-developed Vapor Wake training for detector dogs, which keep our nation safe.
Still focusing on safety, Auburn has devoted tremendous resources to become a national leader in cybersecurity, led by its Charles D. McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security. Students graduate prepared to protect the country, like recent cyber-engineering graduate Matthew Rogers who was named a Rhodes scholar.
In Birmingham, students at Auburn’s Urban Studio design neighborhood masterplans and create designs for public-use buildings in areas with potential for significant urban impact. In west Alabama, the 20K Initiative through the Rural Studio in Hale County is another great example. The initiative is a collaboration with Fannie Mae to develop quality, sustainable houses that give financially vulnerable citizens the ability to own a home.
Along the coast, the Auburn University Educational Complex at Gulf Shores offers veterinary care, aviation instruction and Alabama Cooperative Extension System programs. Throughout the state, Alabama Extension searches for ways to serve our citizens. For example, more people are interested in becoming farmers, so Alabama Extension offers a free, online Farming Basics course to help them get started.
In east Alabama, a new partnership between Auburn and Southern Union State Community College makes Auburn accessible and affordable to two-year college students who transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree. Auburn plans to expand this program to other community colleges, as nearly 900 students from two-year institutions transfer to Auburn annually.
It’s an exciting time for Auburn as a key institution that inspires students, strengthens communities and boosts economic opportunities — all advancing the state of Alabama.
Jeff Stone is executive vice president of Brasfield & Gorrie in Birmingham, an Auburn alumnus and past chair of the Auburn University Foundation.