An Open Letter to My Freshman Self: The View’s Great

Friends at football game

Dear freshman self,

Hi! You did it. You’re officially an Auburn student. I write to you as senior nearing the end of my journey at Auburn. How bittersweet it is to write that sentence. Your time here will challenge you, transform you and prepare you to enter the real world.

It brings tears to my eyes to think of all the things you’ll see and experience in the coming years. God’s plans are truly greater than you can imagine and He will use you in ways you never expected.

I know you are full of excitement and a little afraid, but here are a few surprises and words of wisdom for your time in the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

1. You will never feel more lonely than you feel right now

You are so brave. You moved 14 hours away from all that you’ve ever known to an unfamiliar place full of new faces. The first few weeks (months at that!) of freshman year are awkward, there’s just no way around it. Make the most of it.

Get lunch with strangers. Smile at everyone you see. Talk to the people in your classes. Odds are, they feel just as awkward as you do.

Don’t be intimidated by sororities just because you chose not to join one. Be so happy for the girls you meet who are bubbling with excitement over their sorority functions but don’t ever doubt your decision. Be true to yourself and don’t be afraid to make friends with sorority girls. Many of them will end up being your dearest friends.

Relish this alone time. You’re going to learn so much about yourself and develop healthy habits that will stick with you for life. Enjoy your own company and don’t feel uncomfortable when you are alone in public. Embrace it.

Roommates2. Relationships require effort in college

With 24,000 students on campus, you’re going to have to make a conscious effort to make friends and keep up with them. When you make plans with people, keep them. Follow up with new friends you make in passing.

Oddly enough, some of the friends you make freshman year will be lifelong friends, and others will become people you smile at in passing, it’s just the way college goes. Spoiler: you won’t be best friends with your freshman roommate, but that’s perfectly ok. Treat every person with all the kindness you want to be treated with.

Halloween with Luke

Second spoiler: you never saw this coming nor thought you wanted this now, but you’re going to fall in love in a few weeks. This handsome, God-fearing man will bless you in more ways than you can imagine, and your relationship with him is even better than you’ve ever dreamed it could be. It will require effort and grace, but you will learn how to truly love and be loved. The best part? He’s your best friend.

In your time at Auburn, you will find the friends you’ve been praying for, and they will love you every ounce you love them (and then some). Your days will be filled with joy and sweet memories with them, and your weekends will have plenty of road trip adventures. Go ahead, text that girl Katie Gentry you met recently and ask her to hang out. You can thank me later.

3. Work hard, but stop and smell the roses

This isn’t exactly a spoiler, but you’re going to work just as hard as you did in high school in college. You may end up changing your major a few times here and there, but you’re going to graduate in three years believe it or not! That means that you’re going to have heavy course loads and some stressful nights, but don’t let this be your only focus.

You’ll learn the balance between excelling in school and being purposeful with your time. You work so very hard, but you’re not going to score perfectly on everything–it’s nearly impossible to. “Work heartily as unto the Lord,” but most importantly, make time for the Lord. Set aside quiet time to study and pray. Go to that bible study over studying. Prioritize spiritual things always.

Don’t be too social when you need to study, but make time for your friends. These three years are precious and go by so quickly. Never again will you have your best friends right down the hall from you, so take advantage of it. You’ll remember those nights far more easily than the time you spent studying. Out to dinner

Go on trips and do cheesy-Auburn-things, like sitting on Samford Lawn with your girlfriends on a beautiful spring afternoon or screaming your lungs out at every football game. You will smile every time you think back to these moments.

Finally, have courage, dear girl. Life is messy and difficult, but so lovely and reflective of God’s love at the same time. Do your best and love with everything you have. Never be afraid, “for He who is in you is greater.”

XO,

Your senior self

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Ready to Graduate and Take Auburn With Me

Fall in Love

Auburn University is a special place. Anyone who knows Auburn loves Auburn, so it only makes sense why I get funny looks when they hear I will graduate early.

Auburn University sign

No one has been as excited to come to Auburn as I was. As a freshman in high school, I visited my older brother at Auburn for a football game. It was love at first sight.

I dreamed of being a student here for the rest of high school, and Auburn was the only college I applied to senior year. When I came and moved into my freshman dorm, it felt surreal. To this day I walk around campus and think, “I can’t believe I go here.”

My time here has far exceeded my expectations. The past three years are full of memories, personal growth and people who have touched my life forever. These have truly been the best years of my life.

Prepare For Life

But somehow, I’m ready to leave Auburn. I graduate in May, a whole calendar year early, but I feel prepared to move on.

That’s the beauty of Auburn. While it is a family and feels like home, it’s not necessarily where everyone should stay after they graduate. It’s a training ground to teach us not only how to succeed in our future careers, but how to live as Auburn men and women out in the world.

When I first heard the Auburn Creed, I thought it was compelling and a nice gesture on the university’s part. As a student, I realized just how closely George Petrie’s words from 1943 are followed by the school today.

Grow Here

Auburn is a place where smiling, greeting and helping strangers is perfectly natural. Taking hours out of the week to serve the community is typical. I am reminded every day in Auburn that kindness is free and ours give to the world.

The university challenges us to strive for greatness and reach our full potential. The faculty and staff believe in you and make every effort to open doors for you. It’s a place where greatness can look different for every person, whether it means getting a perfect score on an exam, winning a campus election or nailing the last note in a song.

Hayley and friendsAuburn is a place where you learn to embrace who you are. In comparison to my freshman self, I am so much more comfortable in my own skin. I haven’t changed myself to fit the status quo; I have learned to appreciate my imperfections and work on myself for God’s glory.

On my lowest and highest days, I’ve seen what a blessing a group of supportive people can be. I’ve seen how lovely friendships can be when you lift each other up and want the best for the other person most of all.

Auburn has taught me the value of making time to take care of my mind, body and soul. I have learned how important balancing time on my own and time pouring into other people is.

Experiences I’ve had at Auburn have taught me to have the courage to explore. Auburn teaches us to be life-long learners. We take steps, or even leaps, outside our comfort zones and try new things.

Go Forth

Because Auburn has taught me these things, I feel prepared to graduate. Furthermore, I feel it is our duty as Auburn men and women to share what we have learned with the world. I owe so much to Auburn University and hope that I leave this campus a better place because I am certainly leaving as a better person.

Strengthening Bodies and Lives Through Group Fitness

Invigorating the Group Fitness Program

Students leave Christina Coleman’s group fitness classes not only sweat-drenched and physically exhausted but invigorated and cared for.

Sarah Goodwin, Christina Coleman and Lisa Padgett at a group fitness event
Coleman (center) works with Sarah Goodwin, group fitness coordinator (left) and Lisa Padgett, assistant director of group fitness (right) to run the program at Auburn. They put on special events like Move on the Green, picture.

Coleman, a life-long fitness enthusiast and assistant director of the group fitness program at the Auburn University Campus Recreation Center, worked alongside her co-worker Pam Wiggins to build the program from the ground up in 2012.

The two combined their experiences teaching different formats and Coleman’s interest in fitness expos to create the numerous class styles. Members can choose from a wide variety of formats and times with the purchase of an unlimited class pass for $50 a semester.

A Mentor for Student Instructors

As assistant director of group fitness, Coleman oversees 70-90 student instructors every semester. Each fall, Coleman and her team host a training program to teach the new instructors the different class formats.

“My very favorite part is working with the students, teaching them to be an instructor and fueling the passion they already have,” Coleman said. “To watch a group of untrained students suddenly become competent instructors is huge. I’m thrilled every single time.”

Coleman teaching a class
Coleman teaches her own classes and trains instructors in a variety of formats.

Coleman said that working as an instructor gives students skills that are “transferable” to any career field. Instructors can also take on responsibility as a program assistant or squad leader.

“I get to see them grow from someone who may have rough skills in communication, time management and giving feedback, to someone who is more polished and prepared to go into another job,” Coleman said.

Laini Vermillion, a group fitness instructor and senior in nursing, said Coleman serves as a mentor to her.

“She taught me how to be a great motivator and friend to my participants,” Vermillion said. “I only hope that I can be half the instructor she is one day.”

Benefits of Sweating It Out Together

Group fitness helps students to reduce stress, build community, be a better student and take care of themselves.

“If I came and worked out on my own, I’d be highly likely to cheat and give up,” she said. “The culture mentality of group fitness is that I’m a part of something. I’m in a group that cares, I want encouragement and I want to hear that I can do it. That extra push might be what I need to accomplish something I didn’t think I could do.”

Students can gain motivation for long-term fitness goals from Coleman and other faculty and staff members that attend the classes.

“Students think, ‘She’s my mom’s age and she’s out here doing air jacks.'” she said. “So if I can be an inspiration to young people to just stay with it, that’s what I would like to do.”

Making a difference
Coleman at a yoga event
Coleman inspires students to work towards their life-long fitness goals.

Coleman’s class is sure to be a fun, energizing workout, according to Holly McDaniel, senior in horticulture.

“Since she’s always in such a great mood, it never ceases to rub off on everyone in the class,” McDaniel said. “One of the best things about her classes is that she chooses a word at the beginning, such as ‘awesome’ or ‘fantastic.’ She’ll ask us how we’re feeling throughout the workout, and we’ll all shout that word.”

Coleman sees her job as an opportunity to share her passion and give to others.

“My life has more purpose because I’m able to have a meaningful conversation with a student,” she said. “Moreover, I realize I have an opportunity to share what I love, encourage people and give them skills. I can’t always see the impact I’m having on others’ lives. To me, that’s impactful.”

Building Community and Breaking Down Barriers at Rural Studio

An Unexpected Find

Junior Livia Barrett has found new passion and perception through her work at the Auburn University Rural Studio. Livia Barrett working on-site

Barrett grew up in Hoover, Alabama. She calls herself a “hippy child,” and said she always felt uncomfortable living in the South.

“I felt like I saw a lot of cruelty and injustice when I was little,” Barrett said. “People didn’t respect each other, and I saw a lot of that. I always thought I wanted to get out of the South.”

As she researched options for career paths, she realized that architecture married her love for physics and art perfectly. Auburn’s ranking as Design Intelligence’s eighth in the country for undergraduate architecture was hard for Barrett to resist.

Courses in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture focus on sustainable design, the history of architecture, building science and studio drawing.

Service Learning

Third years in the school, like Barrett, have the opportunity to work at one of the two design-build practice studios the university works with, Urban Studio in Birmingham or Rural Studio in Hale County.

Rural Studio, founded by Auburn professors Dennis K. Ruth and Samuel Mockbee, is a space for students to practice their skills while serving the community members of the second poorest county in the state.

Students are challenged to break traditional opinions of materials and design–even using old tires or stacks or carpet samples–and open their minds to a human-centered design approach.

A bulldozer clears space for a new 20k HomeThe studio began researching in 2005 how to build beautiful, affordable, durable homes known as “the 20k Home” product line. The goal is to design a home that appreciates in value for residents who are unable to qualify for credit. Contractors can build the product line houses for the amount of money a government loan allows.

Barrett’s team of third-year students are working on a version 10 20k Home for a woman named Ree, who has lived in a trailer home for 44 years

Barrett and her peers started by diagraming several home designs to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. They interviewed Ree and documented how she lives.

A New Perspective

Working with Ree at the Rural Studio is more than a school project to Barrett.

“It’s a really humbling environment in general,” she said. “Rural Studio showed me there’s so much good going on right here in the state and so much to do to help rural Alabama.”

Design-build architecture works closely with the design and on-site work. Helping through design is a major focus of the field, which Barrett has fallen in love with.Livia Barrett works with the team of third-year students

“You just see how some people live and how they deserve more,” Barrett said. “They’re poor, or may have fallen into hard times, but they still deserve a lot. It’s so eye-opening.”

A New Dream

Barrett hopes to work for or start her own design-build firm in rural Mississippi. Her dream is to help improve the conditions in Pass Christian, a coastal town working to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

“These poor, rural communities are going to come under a lot of stress as people move towards cities,” she said. “There are whole industries that support the people down here. This is where the truck drivers live that bring us materials we need. I had no idea there were such great people who came from here.”

Barrett recommends having “confidence and exploring,” to anyone interested in architecture.

“We’re definitely a tight-knit group,” she said. “We really support each other and the professors become your pals. They’re people I can go and talk to about anything. I’m just so glad this is my life.”

For a Student Pilot, the Sky’s the Limit at Auburn University

Looking to the Sky

“You’ve got to be highly motivated. There is always going to be someone who tells you it’s great and someone who tells you it’s terrible. You’ve got to know what you want and go for it. Work hard at it,” said pilot David McIlwain.

David McIlwain in front of a jet airplane

McIlwain, a senior at Auburn University from Helena, Alabama, knows firsthand that the sky’s the limit when you put in work to get there, and he has 1,300 hours of flight time to prove it.

His fascination with flying began when he was a wide-eyed child watching air shows. When he met a group of pilots through his dad’s job, he thought they were the “coolest people on earth.”

Years of begging paid off on McIlwain’s 17th birthday when his parents let him take his first flying lesson.

“When we landed, the instructor asked if I was going to come back, and I asked him if he was available tomorrow,” McIlwain said. “I came back the next day and have been hooked ever since.”

Putting in the Time

In high school, McIlwain took every opportunity to work near airplanes and save money for flight lessons. He was a plane washer and a runway worker at Shelby County Airport before he became a flight instructor for two years.

At age 20, McIlwain flew his first jet through a corporate contract. He now flies light twin-engined planes for several corporations based in Birmingham during the week. He flies skydivers up to jump with Skydive Atlanta on the weekends in order to get more flight time logged.

Life Above the Clouds

As a pilot, he has flown across the country and traveled more than ever before.

“I’ve been really fortunate to have these experiences and go to these places,” he said. “I feel like it’s hard to find that in another job.”

Aerial view of Mt. RainierMcIlwain said his favorite trip was a two-day job from Seattle, Washington, to Birmingham.

“We went over the Cascades and the Rockies, and through the valleys in May. There were still snow caps everywhere,” he said. “It reminded me after everything had felt like work for so long, why I love flying.”

McIlwain said the best part of flying is that it gives him a “new appreciation for life” and puts everything into perspective.

“It’s an escape from all the world’s problems,” McIlwain said. “I say I’m going to work, but it doesn’t feel like a job.”

Taking Flight at Auburn

When he came to Auburn, McIlwain chose to major in psychology with a minor in aviation management. The combination has equipped him to be a pilot by understanding social situations and the workings of the aviation industry.

“Psychology has definitely helped firm up social skills and working with a group on projects,” he said. “Aviation management instructors either have airline or military experience and share their stories with you. I learn new things from people I meet because they may have done something I haven’t done, and I think Auburn has been a great place for that.”

After graduation in May, McIlwain hopes to start off with a regional airline before working as a commercial airline pilot.

McIlwain flying a twin-engined plane

“I definitely have more to learn, but I feel comfortable that I know enough to break into it,” he said. “Any of the major commercial airlines–Delta, United, American Airlines–are all excellent companies to work for and all treat their pilots great.”

McIlwain encourages students considering careers that require intensive work outside the classroom to do what it takes to reach their dreams.

“Careers like this aren’t for everyone, but I’ve never heard of someone wanting to quit,” he said.

Child Life: Making a Difference One Smile at a Time

Kelli Huggins and sick children enjoying a fun-filled week at Camp Smile-a-Mile

Helping those who need it most

It takes a special heart to want to work with families and children in their darkest days, and Auburn University students are studying to do just that as Child Life specialists.

The Child Life concentration in the College of Human Sciences prepares students with the tools they need to work with vulnerable children in need of comfort and normalization.

Specialists support children affected by an illness, a disability, an experience with tragedy or violence, the death of a loved one or low socio-economic class. No matter the severity of the situation, specialists are there to serve.

A Servant’s Heart

Amanda Butler, an Auburn graduate and the director of Auburn University’s Child Life program, said the most important qualities a Child Life Specialist should have are flexibility and people skills.

“I never know what my day is going to look like,” Butler said. “The ability to assess a room quickly, read people and use empathy skills to respond is what flexibility looks like in the child life world.

People skills are important, and to some degree, those can’t be taught; it’s innate. Being able to meet with somebody who’s having the most stressful day of their life and be able to talk in a way that they can hear you and connect with you, that is a difficult thing to teach.”

Child Life is as much a hospital staff support function as it is a child support function, according to Butler.

“Ideally, when Child Life is used well, it should feel mandatory for the staff to do their job,” she said. “We’re usually very short-staffed in hospitals and find ourselves wearing many hats and being anywhere anyone needs us.”

A Lifelong learning experience

Butler has transformed the program during her five years at Auburn by connecting the solid theoretical curriculum taught in the classroom with real-life experience. She assists students in finding practicums and internships and encourages them to shift their perspectives.

“My goal is to make our students have a diverse experience so that they can work with any child that hasn’t had that perfect, picturesque lifestyle,” Butler said. “The main goal of child life is changing the perspective of ‘what my life is like is a reflection of what everyone else’s life has been.'”

Kelli Huggins is a senior in the Child Life program and intern at Children’s of Alabama. The memories she has of working with her patients have made her outlook on life “sweeter,” she said.

“Every patient I meet helps put my life and my ‘trials’ in perspective,” Huggins said. “One of my favorite lessons that a nine-year-old girl taught me is to be proud of who you are. It doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you own it. She only has one leg and was diagnosed with cancer. But, she believes in living every day to the fullest and dancing, lots of dancing.”

A Meaningful Career

Butler and Huggins said Child Life “checked so many boxes” for them. It fuses their interests in the medical field, child development and tender, loving care.

“I can make even just one child smile or laugh, I can say I did my job,” Huggins said. “There hasn’t been a day when I’ve doubted my decision to choose this career.”

International Student Finds His Place on the Plains

First impressions

International student Wayne Wang explores the heart of Auburn's campus, Samford Lawn.

The international student’s mind raced with panic. “What should I do? What should I do?”

Wayne arrived in the U.S. alone, without a phone and without confidence in his English skills. After missing his bus to Auburn, he didn’t know where to turn for help.

He saw a man outside the airport wearing an Auburn t-shirt. At that time he found it difficult to speak a full sentence in English, but he approached the man anyway.

“Me going to Auburn, can you help me with that?” Wayne asked.

Without hesitation, he helped Wayne find his bus and lent him his phone to call the office and reschedule his reservation. Wayne thought to himself, “this is amazing.”

The man’s warm reception and selfless assistance was Wayne’s first glimpse of the Auburn Family.

Wanyi Wang, or Wayne, left his home in Shenzhen, China, a large metropolitan area outside of Hong Kong, to come to Auburn University in January.

Culture shock

Wayne studied English since he was 6, so he had a baseline knowledge of the language. He spent a year of high school as an exchange student in a German village. Despite experience with Western culture, he faced challenges in Auburn as an international student.

“The language and culture barrier was difficult,” Wayne said. “It was hard for me when they spoke so fast in my classes. It’s kind of embarrassing for us because we’d have to ask ‘what’d you say?’ You have to be very positive and engaged.”

Making connections

He spent his first two semesters in classes with Auburn Global, a success program for international students. Wayne quickly befriended his peers and the global guides who helped them transition. Owen Chandler, a global guide from Vestavia, made a strong connection with Wayne.

“We started out as acquaintances, but once we started hanging out, he felt more like just a normal friend,” Owen said. “We have spent so much time with each other that we can just be real with one another.”

Wayne and Owen quickly made a lasting bond through the Auburn Global program.

Wayne was growing his friend base in Auburn Global and with Owen’s friends, but he said he felt slightly “isolated” from the rest of the campus because he didn’t have classes with American students. He questioned if he belonged here.

After his second semester came to a close, Wayne decided to branch out. In the fall, he enrolled in classes outside of Auburn Global and started on some of his core classes in pre-public relations.

“It’s getting better and better,” he said. “I’ve made American friends and they’re pretty funny, I like that.”

A new life

An aspect of American culture unknown to Wayne was religion. Before coming to Auburn, he didn’t believe in God. Wayne watched how Owen lived his life as a Christian, and wanted to know more.

“They [Christians] are so nice to me all the time,” he said. “I wanted to learn about Jesus and I asked Owen if he could read the Bible with me.”

Owen described studying with Wayne as “inexplicably humbling.” Owen baptized Wayne for remission of his sins at Auburn Church of Christ. Wayne now has a community with the church there and is excited to be “the hands of Jesus to help people,” according to Owen.

“I only knew about the U.S. from movies. When I’m here, I get to actually know the people and see that people live their lives differently.”

Wayne’s favorite part of Auburn? The people, or as we like to call them, members of the Auburn Family.