Jim Killian poses on the campus of Auburn University.

My Back Pages

So, this is something a little different for me — a goodbye note that’s more than a few words long. I am leaving Auburn Engineering at the end of July after more than three decades in a career that has been challenging, rewarding, often joyful, and yes, sometimes very difficult. There’s some stuff I am going to miss and things I won’t remember, so I ask your forgiveness now.

If you haven’t been on campus for some time, you will be amazed at the way we look today. We have gone through a series of building and renovation phases that has done a lot to change the face of Auburn Engineering — indeed, the engineering quad has grown into a very collegiate look that is still continuing with the construction of the Brown-Kopel Engineering Student Achievement Center. It stands where the old L-Building was crumbling away, and I still can’t get used to the amazing difference. 

It’s not hard to be proud of where we stand now. But to me it’s not all about the buildings, it’s about the people behind them. John and Rosemary Brown. Walt and Ginger Woltosz. Charles Gavin and Dwight Wiggins. Charlotte and Buddy Davis. It has been my pleasure not only to know them, but to call them my friends. And I can tell you this — all of them are down to earth Auburn people who are as kind as the day is long. I can say the same for Sam and Ann Ginn, who have been such a pleasure to work with over the years.

Lucky, lucky to know them. I can say the same for my many friends on the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council. And while there is a danger in naming just a few of the many, I can think of folks like Art Edge, Jim Roy and Charlie Jager who welcomed me into the council years ago, to folks like Amy Dobbs, Bill McNair, Brooks Moore, Dale York, Jeff Stone, Kenneth Kelly and Maury Gaston. I can’t call everybody out!  But I have to mention Melissa Herkt, who accompanied me twice to Bolivia on Engineers Without Borders trips. And I have to mention my friend K-Rob Thomas, who rolls onto the council as I roll off.

I have worked for and with three amazing deans over my career: Bill Walker, Larry Benefield and Chris Roberts. Bill changed the way Auburn Engineering did business, building a faculty that focused on research as well as teaching, while quietly insisting on making students his first priority. And our first priority. The same could be said of Larry Benefield, who worked closely with Bill and carried many of his goals forward while introducing his own brand of leadership. At a time when Auburn Engineering needed a leader who would speak to our needs, our goals and our mission, Larry was a champion who fought tough and fought hard to carry us forward. Chris Roberts continues to build on the record of these amazing leaders, bringing Auburn Engineering to new heights.

I have been lucky as well in the people who work most closely with me, including a marketing and communications staff second to none. They include Austin Phillips, who is editing this magazine; Danny Doyle, who joined us not too long ago and is doing a great job on our graphic design; writers Chris Anthony, Christine Hall and Jeremy Henderson; Tyler Patterson, our IT guy; videographer Marcus Kluttz; and art designer Aileen Broaddus, a friend who has been with me the longest. There have been others in the past, who married and moved, retired, found new careers, and probably a couple who got mad at me and left. 

I have been hugely affected by the people around me — the story of Auburn Engineering is the story of its people, pure and simple.

I can’t name all of the faculty I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with through the years, but I can tell you that Auburn Engineering is nothing, nothing at all, without them and their hard work. I can say the same for the engineering staff I have been involved with over the years — people like Joanne Tolbert, who came to work every day with a plan to make her job better. 

It has been my pleasure as well to work with our students down through the years, particularly our Cupola Engineering Ambassadors, who I have served as advisor. If there is anything I will remember about my years at Auburn, it will be working with this group of bright and energetic leaders whose boundless enthusiasm is already making a difference in our world. I can’t name them all, but I am pleased that the current chair, Sarah Bacon, is already doing a wonderful job of moving the group forward with her exec committee of Cam McLean, Kareem El-Kattan, Kate Kinney, Ryan McGill, Tatum Connell and Zach Wenzel.

There are so many good things happening in Auburn Engineering now, that I feel it’s a hard time to leave — so much excitement as we look ahead. I hope that I have made a contribution to the face of engineering at Auburn, to the place it is today. I definitely feel that we are on an upward trajectory, and that we are moving to a higher level as we look ahead. There are so many who have contributed more than me, who have made Auburn what it is today, that I feel humbled by their accomplishments. 

I am sure that I will revisit many of these friends in the future, whether at a tailgate or some other engineering function. For now, I am looking forward to some more time with my wife Karen, who has been my greatest supporter over the years. We’re going to travel, do some of things we have always kicked down the road, and who knows what. One thing I will always take with me — my years at Auburn Engineering, and all that they mean to me. It’s been a great ride!