Nerds in Engineering? Not on this Campus

The stereotype of engineering students as bookworms who spend all of their time in labs or studying has been inaccurate for years. Today, at Auburn, it has never been farther from the truth.  Our students are involved in a variety of other activities throughout campus, often accepting leadership roles in the organizations to which they belong. They, perhaps more than most, have the discipline it takes to balance busy schedules and challenging coursework to enjoy a well-rounded college experience.

Engineering the Band

Musicians are left brain people; engineers, right brain … and never the twain shall meet. Well, not always, and definitely not in the case of Auburn University Marching Band members. In fact, engineering students account for a third of the 2010 marching band.

“This year’s numbers are pretty typical,” says Corey Spurlin, associate director of bands and assistant professor of music. “It is not uncommon for the percentage of engineering band students to be almost double their representation in the general student body.”

It seems as if music and engineering have more in common than you might think. Being successful in band and in engineering require more than just showing up. Both require concentration, hard work and precision. When you play a note, it is either right or wrong, much in the same way an answer to a math problem is right or wrong.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned as a band member is teamwork,” says civil engineering junior and trombone section leader Will Childs. “This carries over to engineering where so many projects are team-based. In both cases, your work is part of something greater. If you mess up, you impact the group.”

So how do students with two time-consuming commitments – a tough engineering course load and an extracurricular activity that requires hours of practice – pull it off each week? Some say it takes dedication; some say time management. Others say it requires thinking and working ahead. But most agree that no matter how tough the juggling act, in the end, it is worth it.

According to Spurlin, engineering students are often eager to take on demanding leadership positions within the band. This includes serving as drum majors, section leaders and as Rookie Auburn Tigers (RAT) leaders, who work closely with freshman band members to help them learn the ropes and balance the workload.

“Engineering students are typically talented musicians and are often awarded important positions within the bands,” says Spurlin. “They exhibit concern for the good of the overall group, work hard and manage their time well.”

As one of four RAT leaders, mechanical engineering senior Greg Abernathy helps freshman band members make the transition from high school to college a smooth one. In addition to playing trumpet in the marching band, Abernathy is also a member of the basketball pep band.

“I made it a point early in my college career to keep track of my band commitments in the same way I kept track of tests and due dates for classroom projects,” he says. “This allows me to look a few weeks ahead and plan study or practice, which opens up free time to take on a leadership role in band, which I really enjoy.”

Spurlin also explains that the band works hand-in-hand with campus recruiters to identify new members. Campus recruiters often hear that a prospective engineering student has narrowed the choice to two schools based on academics and plans to make a final choice based on which school has the best band. “Music and band have been a big part of life for many of these students,” he says. “They want to make sure that it will remain so as they begin their college careers. I’m pleased that many of the students that are initially undecided commit to Auburn after visiting the College of Engineering and with the band.”

Such was the case for Matt Cancilla, a junior in mechanical engineering. “The quality of the Auburn University Marching Band definitely had an impact on my college decision. I considered other really good engineering schools such as Georgia Tech, but I knew I wanted to do more in college than just study,” he says. “Because I had played trombone for such a long time, I knew the Auburn band would be a great fit for me.”

Sure, band is a lot of work, but it also creates a camaraderie that is hard to match. For Childs, it doesn’t get much better than pregame shows, Tiger Walk and, best of all, that feeling when the music stops and you know that you’ve nailed the performance in front of a full house.

She’s Got Poise

Emilee Williams, a junior in civil engineering, is a band member whose musical roots are firmly grounded in her family. In addition to playing oboe in the symphonic band, Williams also adds flash to the marching band as a majorette, and most recently to campus as the 2011 Miss Auburn University.

Williams took home the crown and scholarship from the Miss Auburn University Scholarship Pageant in January – the first time she had ever competed in a pageant. She was one of 22 contestants competing in a pre-pageant interview, a talent competition, an on-stage question and answer session, as well as evening wear and swimsuit competitions. Williams will make nearly 100 appearances throughout her year-long reign and will participate in the 2011 Miss Alabama Pageant in Birmingham in June.

After graduation, Williams plans to use her civil engineering degree in a municipal government setting where she can apply her minor in hunger studies. “I hope to make a difference and contribute to society using my talents and my academic strengths. That is what makes civil engineering a perfect outlet for me,” she says. “The Miss America organization is very supportive of the passion and education of young women. I appreciate the support I have received toward my platform, domestic hunger awareness, and toward my engineering degree here at Auburn.”
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