CHARLENE AUSTIN AND LLOYD AUSTIN
Name: Charlene Austin
Position: Non-profit consultant for military service members and their families at MacDill Air Force Base; member of the Auburn University College of Education National Alumni Council, Internal Relations Committee
Education: B.S. from Fayetteville State University; M.Ed. in Guidance / Counseling from Auburn
Name: General (Ret.) Lloyd Austin
Position: Four-Star General (Ret.) U.S. Army; Commander of U.S. Central Command; member of the Auburn University Board of Trustees
Education: B.S. from United States Military Academy at West Point; M.S. in Counselor Education from Auburn; M.A. in Business Management from Webster University
Since our graduation from the counseling program at Auburn, my wife Charlene and I have pursued careers of service with the United States Army. While my focus was on working with the great men and women in the military to protect our nation, Charlene devoted her time and energy to the care and sustainment of military families.
That service culminated three years ago when I retired as a Four-Star General after 41 years in uniform. My final position was that of the Commander of U.S. Central Command, arguably one of the most challenging and demanding positions in the inventory. In that capacity, I was responsible for U.S. military activities in 20 countries in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, among others. Prior to that, I was the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (2nd highest ranking officer in the Army). I held leadership positions at every level and had the honor of commanding troops, in combat, at the 1-star, 2-star, 3-star and 4-star levels. This was an extraordinary opportunity.
Throughout our journey, Charlene served as both a school counselor and an academic / employment counselor in a number of different positions throughout the country. As a member of the Armed Forces, I was transferred to a different assignment every three years. Charlene faced the challenge common to all military spouses: changing jobs frequently and wrestling with certification at each new stop. Charlene had an additional responsibility of leading family support groups whose ranks were filled with young spouses wrestling with tough issues while their spouses were deployed.
Since we both had considerable experience in the world of work when we enrolled, we viewed our time at Auburn as an excellent opportunity to sharpen our existing skills and to acquire additional skills that could potentially make us better and stronger leaders.
Our experience at Auburn began differently than most. I was a Captain with nine years of service in the Army when Charlene and I enrolled at Auburn as full-time graduate students. My upcoming assignment was to serve on the staff of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where I had gotten my undergraduate degree. In preparation for that assignment, the Army sent me to graduate school at Auburn. My field of study was counseling with a focus on college student development. Charlene also studied counseling. We chose Auburn because it had a great reputation nationally for our fields of study. Since we both had considerable experience in the world of work when we enrolled, we viewed our time at Auburn as an excellent opportunity to sharpen our existing skills and to acquire additional skills that could potentially make us better and stronger leaders.
The experience at Auburn far exceeded our expectations.
At Auburn, we found a healthy environment that stimulated exploration and personal growth. The faculty was caring yet demanding. These were leadership traits that we emulated throughout the remainder of our careers. We honed our ability to be empathetic and understanding with subordinates and peers, while at the same time encouraging them and leading them to excel.
Our experiences at Auburn also helped us develop our critical thinking skills. We learned to evaluate new ideas and ultimately strengthen good ideas or, alternatively, abandon bad ones. These skills would prove invaluable to both of us, whether evaluating school curricula for Charlene or assessing critical operational plans for me.
It was also at Auburn that we both began to embrace the value of committing ourselves to being life-long learners. This trait was modeled by almost every one of our professors at Auburn. No matter how much they knew about a particular subject, they were always willing to work with students to push boundaries and learn something new. This sense of humility is something both Charlene and I emulated in our careers, and it has paid enormous dividends. I can’t begin to count the number of times that as a Senior Officer I have had young officers come and explain concepts that, unknown to them, were conceived by me. But because I had the patience to listen to them explain my own ideas to me, I learned something new almost every time. I developed that patience and that intellectual humility while a student here at Auburn.
There are many other skills Charlene and I sharpened at Auburn that would pay dividends in the years ahead. Skills such as team building and boundary spanning allowed us to add value to a number of organizations in the complex and challenging worlds in which we operated.
If we were to offer advice to future students, we would tell them to remember that you are part of something special. Because of the demanding work, you may not be able to fully appreciate the value of the experience yet, but one day, soon, you will.
Auburn is one of the best academic and developmental environments in the world. You are challenged, yet fully supported. Disciplined, yet encouraged to challenge and push boundaries. Our humble advice is to take full advantage of the opportunity and continue to give yourself in service to others. WAR EAGLE!!!
Name: Jessica Cooper, Ph.D.
Position: Senior analyst in the Policy and Evaluation practice area at Bellwether Education Partners
Education: B.S. in Child Development from the University of Georgia; Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Auburn
Prior to joining Bellwether, I worked as an education evaluator in the Office of Education at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At NOAA, I focused on diversity and inclusion, particularly around access to NOAA’s higher education opportunities. I also facilitated the implementation of the NOAA Monitoring and Evaluation framework with an emphasis on workforce development. My work has primarily included program evaluation and research support across a variety of topics related to education and the impacts of equity and accessibility for marginalized groups.
Before my professional career, however, I was an Educational Psychology doctoral student in the College of Education where I worked on a variety of program evaluation projects including the Alabama statewide evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grants and the NSF-funded Nanobio Intervention. Through these unique experiences, I was able to merge all of my passions: research, education, and helping to make real changes in the lives of students.
I am able to serve others and make real changes for students who were just like me. What better way to share what Auburn made possible? War Eagle!
As a first generation college student, education was always an important part of my life. Although I excelled in elementary and secondary school, I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, which led to me enlisting in the Army during my junior year of high school. I was slated to ship out to basic training one week after graduation, but my uncle encouraged me to first pursue my education. Fortunately, I was accepted to a four-year university and later pursued my doctoral degree here at Auburn. That one decision changed the course of my life and gave me options that I never knew were possible. I believe in education and making sure that marginalized groups are empowered to pursue their dreams, even if they don’t yet know what they are.
At Auburn, I was able to help change the educational and life trajectories of students in Alabama. Working with Christine Groccia and the Truman Pierce Institute, as well as Drs. David Shannon and Joni Lakin, I was introduced to program evaluation which helped me combine my love of research with my life-long passions of education and impacting the lives of students. Also, since evaluation is a newer field, no other place could have taught the practice of evaluation with such a supportive and knowledgeable group of mentors. I was able to secure my jobs at NOAA and Bellwether because of my work at Auburn. Though my career is still in the early stages, I have been able to impact how NOAA evaluates the applications for its most prominent internships by bringing attention to barriers of entry that had gone unnoticed for years.
I am also able to continue this work through my role at Bellwether. There, I work closely with organizations looking to provide high-quality education options to students who have struggled in the traditional education system as well as Native American education organizations looking to broaden awareness and opportunity for Native students.
I am 100% confident that I am in this situation because of the many opportunities I received at Auburn. I am able to serve others and make real changes for students who were just like me. What better way to share what Auburn made possible? War Eagle!
Name: Desmond Delk, Ph.D.
Position: Assistant Professor of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Langston University
Education: B.A. from Morehouse College; M.Ed. from Auburn; Ph.D. in Kinesiology from Auburn
My years in the College of Education taught me much about service to others. I remember my time as a graduate assistant while working on my Master’s degree. I was tasked with instituting a fitness program for faculty and staff of the COE on the first floor of Haley Center. I recall being commended on providing access to a much-needed activity (exercise) at a time that was convenient and in a manner that was skill level appropriate. As a young man from Atlanta, who had recently moved to The Plains, it was refreshing knowing that my efforts were noticed.
Service was also intertwined within my coursework. As a teacher-education student, we were required to complete practicum hours at elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the Auburn-Opelika area. Albeit a requirement of the course, being able to experience teaching allowed me to become an effective educator while granting me the opportunity to help young students establish fundamental motor skills. Along the way, we were also exemplifying acts of service to our students. I eventually graduated and began teaching at Savannah State University. For those two years, I partnered with a colleague on a grant to host health fairs at elementary schools in Savannah. We structured the health fairs in a way where SSU students had service-learning experiences. It was wonderful to see these students teach about nutrition, physical activity, and sports to impressionable elementary students.
Initially, it was a daunting task, but I was placed there to teach, to serve. So, for those three weeks, I connected with the students by bridging my teaching experience with their culture.
I returned to Auburn after those two years to pursue my doctorate in Kinesiology with an emphasis on teaching and research in physical education. Within my first year, I was able to become involved in a project that significantly changed my life’s trajectory. I was able to travel to Lilongwe, Malawi to gain experience teaching in an entirely different culture. Supported by the College of Education, I taught English, social studies, and math to 6th graders whose first language was Chichewa. Initially, it was a daunting task, but I was placed there to teach, to serve. So, for those three weeks, I connected with the students by bridging my teaching experience with their culture. While there, we enjoyed fellowship with the villagers, presented teaching workshops, and I even donated several copies of the children’s book I authored (I Love My SSU!). In fact, my experience in Malawi was the impetus behind my dissertation research. The language barrier in Malawi allowed me to understand what educators face as they teach students whose first language is not English. Therefore, my dissertation sought to examine the experiences of physical educators who teach English Language Learners.
Upon a successful dissertation defense, I graduated and moved out west. I currently serve as an assistant professor of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Langston University in Oklahoma. In this role, I continue to serve my students. My goal is to assist them in establishing a foundation in our field from the vantage point of service. I remain grateful to the Auburn University College of Education for its inherent emphasis on service to others.
Name: Matthew Goodwin, M.D., Ph.D., FACSM
Position: Instructor, Spinal Surgery, Department of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University
Education: Ph.D. in Kinesiology from Auburn; M.D. from Cornell University
I am a surgeon-scientist who operates on the spine and does metabolism research. I am completing a complex Spine Surgery fellowship in the Department of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and starting as Faculty in Orthopedic Spine Surgery at Washington University in St. Louis. There I will split my time between the operating room, focusing on spinal tumors, and working in the lab doing basic science research on metabolism.
There are two important aspects of service in my two jobs. First, in surgery, service takes on the role of doing the right thing for the patient, no matter how hard that is. Often we tell junior staff to “just do the right thing for the patient” when put in difficult positions. This is important to remember because work can be stressful and there are often multiple competing interests. For example, most hospitals are businesses. The hospital may make 7 to 8 times what the surgeon makes for any given procedure. Thus, there can be pressure on surgeons to operate more, and to operate faster, which is not always the right thing. While all surgeons must have excellent skills, the “best” surgeons are not the best because their skills are better. Rather it is their ability to listen and understand their patients that sets them apart. And sometimes that can take time. The best service a surgeon can do for any patient is to listen and then offer their expertise from years of training and experience. Finding ways to boil down years of study and data to a single, clear message is challenging. Sometimes this means the patient does not need surgery. It is a disservice for any surgeon to operate when it is not indicated, even if the patient is initially disappointed to learn there is not a surgical answer for their problem.
In research, service takes a different, less obvious form. What we know in medicine is built on years of scientists trying to understand basic mechanisms of how things work, then trying to convey that message clearly to others. Basic scientists who stay true to their craft are today’s unsung heroes and responsible for the success stories in medicine and surgery. I remember being frustrated once during my Ph.D. years with Dr. Bruce Gladden because I was using two different methods to curve fit a complex data set. I was frustrated because the methods gave me slightly different answers and I felt like I could just pick the method that gave me the “best” results that fit my hypothesis. Dr. Gladden replied to this concern with (paraphrasing), “Of course, you would never do that, because that defeats the whole point of all this. You will analyze which one is most true and use that. If we were just trying to publish a paper or win awards then what would be the point? We are trying to get as close to knowing how things work as possible, no matter what that truth is.” This attitude is what we need in our top scientists, and truly does a lasting service to all future humanity. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer academicians now think this way. It is one of the truly great things about Auburn and the College of Education and its School of Kinesiology.
Auburn is full of great, creative, and really smart people who care about the right things. For example, Dr. Gladden is one of, if not the world-leading authority on lactate metabolism. But what I remember most about my time with him is that he kept a healthy work-life balance that included making time to exercise and be with his family. After Auburn I went to Cornell in New York City for medical school. While I loved my time there, I met and worked with multiple people who lacked this balance. In fact, when I was at Auburn I had an annual meeting with our school director Dr. Mary Rudisill. The topic? What to buy my wife for her birthday. Where else could a doctoral student speak so freely with the director? But again, this comes from feeling like you are family. No one does that better than Auburn. Dr. Gladden and I still talk often both professionally and personally; he even served as the officiant at mine and my wife’s wedding! I have learned to remember that atmosphere and search for it when moving on in training to new jobs.
I did my doctoral work at Auburn. Yet if you ask my friends and family they will mostly say, “He went to Auburn!” This is because I strongly identified with the mission there. It is hard to explain, but I tell people all over the world: “Imagine a place where there are thousands of students, faculty, and staff all focused on wildly different areas, yet they all support each other.” That’s Auburn! Josh Donaldson (AL MVP in 2015) was one of my first students, and my wife and I started going to Auburn baseball games to support him. Could we have spent those hours writing another paper? Maybe. But being part of the Auburn Family includes more than just caring about or promoting yourself. It is about supporting others. When I was there, Pre-health Professional Programs director Beverley Childress worked endless hours to ensure students would be competitive for spots at the world’s best medical schools. This is simply the Auburn way. Service to others.
To this day, despite my hectic schedule of travel and operating, I still shout “War Eagle!” to folks wearing Auburn gear. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, we all share that love and commitment to making this world just a bit better than it was yesterday. I really believe that. War Eagle!
Name: Amy Howard
Position: Operations Fellow and 6th Grade Literacy Teacher at RePublic Schools
Education: B.S. in Elementary Education from Auburn; M.Ed. in International Education Policy and Management from Vanderbilt University
I always assumed I’d be a teacher, but my reasons for teaching have changed since leaving my undergraduate years. After graduating from Auburn, I decided to take a chance with an organization that I knew and loved, so I moved to Kampala, Uganda to work with Soccer Without Borders. I worked for a year with East African refugees, who were coming to Uganda from the DRC, South Sudan, Burundi, and many other countries experiencing conflict. I coached soccer and taught English and life skills classes to students, and formed meaningful relationships with them and their families.
I returned to the States and dove right into my Teach for America placement in Eastern North Carolina, where I had a 3rd grade classroom for two years, again becoming immersed with my students and their families. It was in North Carolina where I first began to understand the incredible inequity that exists in American education, not only in resources and test results, but also in classroom teaching quality. I saw the differences between the mostly white schools in a few nearby towns and the majority black schools in the city where I taught. My “why” for teaching again began to evolve by the sheer revelation that it is fundamentally unfair and that all students do not receive a high-quality education. And not just an education, but one that allows them to have a variety of options after completing high school.
My “why” for teaching again began to evolve by the sheer revelation that it is fundamentally unfair and that all students do not receive a high-quality education.
After two years with TFA, I decided to continue my coursework so I can help change the bigger ideas of American education. I want to see all students — regardless of their zip code, income level, or skin color — receive the quality education they deserve. I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where I pursued a two-year graduate degree in International Education Policy and Management, combining the two areas of my keenest interest. In need of a part-time job, I found myself at a charter school which evolved into the full-time teaching role that I have today.
Now in my 5th year of teaching, with a graduate degree in policy, my reasons for teaching are still changing, but I understand more clearly than ever the reason I must continue to teach.
I continue to teach because kids shouldn’t just have the option to go to college. Kids should have the option to go to any college they choose. This is especially true for students of color in the South, where history and systems fight against them every day. A quality education has never been more important to allow those students to rise. Kids shouldn’t go through the motions at school. They should be challenged and engaged in ways they didn’t think possible. And they shouldn’t be forced to pick up a book. They should love reading, identifying with characters, and talking to their friends and families about the latest stories they’ve read.
Whether in a hillside community center in Uganda, an elementary school in North Carolina, or a charter school in East Nashville, there has never been a more important time to create an educational system — teacher by teacher, school by school — that allows all students, but most importantly our underserved students who are shadowed by a deep history of injustice, to become our country’s leaders of tomorrow. This is the area where I will always seek to serve.
Name: Raven Jemison
Position: Associate Vice President, Team Marketing and Business Operations (TMBO); National Basketball Association (NBA)
Education: B.S. in Health Promotion / Sports Management from Auburn; M.Ed. in Exercise Science from Auburn
The TMBO is a unique in-house consulting group within the NBA league office. We work to drive best / next practices and innovation across the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, and NBA 2K teams. I manage and partner with NBA teams to maximize business potential across all aspects of our operations, including ticket sales and service, sponsorship, marketing, and digital.
Service to others starts by understanding that the world is bigger than what I experience in my daily life. My parents taught me that my contribution to our world must go beyond what I do for a living. It is through their examples that I understood not only the importance of serving others and thinking about someone other than myself, but also how to give without expecting to receive.
Early in my career, I would write a check and count that as “service.” Fortunately, I soon learned that my own life lessons were more valuable to those facing the same challenges I faced. I’ve been blessed to ascend the ranks of a competitive industry, largely because of leaders who invested their time and influence to help me navigate many unique challenges. I believe that time is the most valuable currency, so I attempt to use my time mentoring other women and people of color as they find their voices as leaders.
It is through their examples that I understood not only the importance of serving others and thinking about someone other than myself, but also how to give without expecting to receive.
When I came to Auburn, I was happy just to be there. At the time, there had only been one other person in my family to attend and graduate from a four-year institution, so just being there was an accomplishment. But I quickly realized that I wasn’t prepared to take advantage of all that Auburn had to offer. I felt overwhelmed. Once I stepped out of my comfort zone, I began to build trusted relationships not only with other students, but also with members of my department’s faculty and staff. This led to gaining the confidence that I did belong at Auburn. It also prepared me to face sometimes uncomfortable situations in my career. There are times when I am the only person of color, the only woman, or both, in a given situation, and I still feel fleetingly that I don’t belong. But the confidence I developed at Auburn reminds me that I do.
My professors led by example. During my time at Auburn, Dr. Mary Rudisill inspired me to think beyond what someone pays you to do and instead focus on your contribution to the larger world. Before “diversity and inclusion” were in vogue, she saw a gap in diversity in the School of Kinesiology and invested time and effort developing minority students. With her mentorship and guidance I decided to pursue my graduate degree. Because I remember how it felt to have someone invest their time in me, I try to take her example and do the same for others.
What you do after Auburn will go far beyond the actual “educating” part of your job. You will help others be seen when they feel invisible, be confident when they need a boost, and push through when they need a champion. We are all better as a society because an educator played that role in our lives.
Name: Elizabeth Mellin, Ph.D.
Position: Associate Professor and Director of the Ph.D. program in Community Research and Action at Binghamton University
Education: B.A. in Psychology from Auburn; M.Ed. in Counselor Education from Auburn; Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision from Ohio State
Prior to my faculty positions at Penn State and SUNY Binghamton, I counseled children and adolescents for a large community mental health center in Atlanta. As both a faculty member and counselor, I have looked for opportunities to serve others. To me, service to others means building each other up — whether it is offering resources, encouragement, or listening really closely to others. Service is all about relationships and being kind to one another.
In my daily life and work, I am in service to others when I am helping community partners find resources to improve local schools, encouraging students who are experiencing personal or professional challenges, or taking the time to get under the surface and really hear what a child or friend is telling me.
My degree in Counselor Education (M.Ed.) from the College of Education at Auburn University helped prepare and inspire me to serve others. The faculty in the College helped shape my desire to serve others through coursework, mentoring, and opportunities for engaged learning in the local community. In my coursework, I learned how to build relationships grounded in sharing, support, and understanding to build people up, especially when they feel alone or are facing significant life challenges.
As a mentor and major faculty member in my Master’s degree program, Dr. Jamie Carney inspired me to serve others based on her own passion for building relationships among students, faculty, staff, and the local community. Dr. Carney was always generous in her service to others, readily sharing her skills, knowledge, and resources with others while inspiring all of us to demonstrate respect and kindness for others.
Learning is a relational act, and students earning degrees in education will be in service to others in their work whether as teachers, counselors, or administrators. Building each other up through service is such an important tool for growth.
Throughout both programs, I was also fortunate enough to have opportunities to engage with the local community by volunteering in public schools as well as the Boys and Girls Club. Across these engaged learning experiences, I had the privilege of learning while in service to children, adolescents, and their families. In those relationships, we built each other up and grew together in meaningful ways.
Learning is a relational act, and students earning degrees in education will be in service to others in their work whether as teachers, counselors, or administrators. Building each other up through service is such an important tool for growth. I hope your degree from the College of Education at Auburn University will help prepare and inspire you to build others up and change the world, just as it did me.
Name: Andrew Newby, USMC Veteran
Position: Assistant Director for Veteran and Military Services, Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience at the University of Mississippi
Education: B.A. in Creative Writing from Auburn; M.Ed. in Adult Education from Auburn
In my job, working with student veterans, I try to meet people where they are. I consider service to others to be a pillar of my life, so I try to ensure that my work helps to elevate others. I believe that education provides the ultimate ability to serve others, and that education serves as a form of liberation. By looking outside ourselves, our lives are given meaning. Working with student veterans in higher education allows me to find meaningful ways to make immediate, positive impacts in all aspects of the lives of my students.
There are problems with how the VA cares for our veterans, and I wanted to find a way to allow student veterans to succeed on campus, as opposed to traveling to the VA for their care. To this end, I created the Veterans Treatment Team at the University of Mississippi, which works to connect student veterans to the care they need at home. Here on campus I put together a team of physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, case managers, social workers, and academic support specialists who work to treat the whole person. This model eliminates the burnout of single-provider treatment plans, and opens access to care at the local level. This model is recognized as a Best Practice in Campus Strategies by the Association of Higher Education and Disability.
I also created the Veterans Alumni Gala, which connects alumni from different backgrounds with student veterans. Creating access to successful individuals within the student veteran’s new field after service, the Veterans Alumni Gala offers the opportunity to have an informal relationship-building experience that fosters engagement outside the classroom. The benefits of workforce development are instantly realized because our alumni see the value student veterans bring to any setting, and provide opportunities for employment after graduation.
By preparing me to really investigate things, to question, and to be curious, Auburn has given me my life’s work: serving others.
I believe that making connections for my students is the best thing I can do for them. If that connection is healthcare, employment, success in school, or taking care of their families, that’s what I aim to do. If you can take someone who has trusted you to get them where they want to go, and give them the tools to do it themselves, you are empowering an entire generation of warriors able to change the country and the world.
The Adult Education program at Auburn University prepared me to work. It gave me the ability to look outside myself, and to see the benefit of work for others. By preparing me to really investigate things, to question, and to be curious, Auburn has given me my life’s work: serving others.
Service is a lived trait in the College of Education. The entire college works to show others the value of learning outside the classroom. It shows its students why others matter, what makes us human, the lived experiences people bring with them wherever they go. Through focused work, the college shows students that there is more to life than finding things that make you successful. The gift of education is invaluable, and Auburn is producing individuals who work to understand the things that make life wonderful: others.
Finally, I would encourage those who are considering the College of Education to remember this: it’s not about you. It isn’t about a degree you can hang on your wall. It’s not about the things you can do to make yourself successful. It is about working to create an atmosphere of ideas that shape others. In looking outside yourself, you will find that this place is magical.