Ben Farrow, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and International Programs in Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction, has an impressive academic pedigree, including engineering degrees from Duke University and the University of Texas at Austin, along with an MBA from Vanderbilt University. Now the Alexander City native has added another achievement to his impressive resume – a doctorate from the College of Education.
Also earning a doctorate in Adult Education was Paul Holley, Wilborn Professor in the McWhorter School of Building Science. After graduating from Auburn, Holley spent 14 years in the institutional and commercial construction industry in a variety of management roles building acute care hospitals, coastal high-rises, and many other types of construction in several states across the Southeast. During this time Holley earned an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1996. By 2002 he had reconnected with a former BCI faculty member who asked if he’d be interested in teaching. Holley has been back ever since, and said the change has been great.
“Teaching in a professional program like Building Science is very rewarding, and also a great opportunity for me to give back to the industry,” he said. “I enjoy working with young people who will shape the future of the built environment, as well as the latitude to conduct research based on current interests and potential innovation. And after a professional career that was somewhat nomadic, settling back into a college town has been a great experience.”
Unlike many academic fields, the doctorate is still unique in the area of design and construction.
“In Building Science, the Master’s has historically been the terminal degree,” Farrow explained. “But education is an ever-evolving process, and more and more schools are moving toward emphasizing the Ph.D., especially in the administrative ranks. So that led me to consider how a doctorate might complement my personal and professional life and work.”
Auburn has for years been among the top Building Science programs in the country. It has always relied on recruiting its professors from industry. The School benefits from the wealth of hard-won experience these professionals bring to the classroom. This tradition goes all the way back to Paul Brandt, who became the first Building Science department head in 1968, and includes Farrow and Holley, who spent a combined 30 years in the field before coming home to Auburn. But field experience doesn’t necessarily translate directly to the classroom.
“Our close ties within the construction and engineering industries are a great strength, but often our professors have no real background in education,” Farrow said. “So I looked at the Adult Education program and saw a unique opportunity to combine practical experience with sound educational foundations. It has worked out very well for me.”
“As Ben mentioned, since the Master’s is generally recognized as the terminal degree for certain professional programs, there is a wide pool of faculty with strong practical industry experience. These academic disciplines are overtly preparing students for a professional career, but as research needs and administrative structures all evolve, I decided that having a better understanding of longer term research would be beneficial. My instructional endeavors now include not just mainstream Auburn undergraduate students, but a variety of adult learners over several construction-related programs both on and off campus. The Ph.D. program in Adult Education presented a great fit and an opportunity to better understand the differences between andragogy and pedagogy.”
In addition to what he called a “warm welcome and open-door policy” from professors like Jim and Maria Witte and Leslie Cordie, along with convenient night classes and topics relevant to his area of research, Farrow said there was a more important benefit to the program.
“The Adult Education program exposed me to more formal approaches to education than I had ever had before,” he said. “These experiences made me re-think how I was teaching, so really it impacted me in the classroom more than anything. Also, the program is amazingly diverse, with people from different countries and all walks of life and academic backgrounds coming together. So seeing up-close how another program handled students from so many different areas showed me ways we could benefit from the diversity in our own programs.”
Farrow also learned ways to emphasize his program’s traditional strengths.
“In particular, Leslie Cordie emphasized active workforce engagement,” he said. “So being able to learn a more formal approach and see how other companies and industries were able to train adult workers, is closely related to our own industry partners. Our Building Science program really feeds the commercial construction industry in the Southeast, and I feel that the principles learned in the Adult Education program give us the opportunity to take what we do here beyond Auburn. And of course earning the doctorate opened the door for me to enter administration, which in itself has been a great learning experience.”
Holley again emphasized the many ways the Adult Ed program complemented his work preparing students to succeed in industry.
“I enjoyed the coursework as well as the research and dissertation process,” he said. “Both have already begun to translate into benefits for my own College, in the classroom as well as on the administrative front. Perhaps most importantly, the program was a vehicle in which to engage with very knowledgeable colleagues across campus in the College of Education, including Drs. Maria and Jim Witte, Leslie Cordie, Jane Teel, and others.”
Both Farrow and Holley, long recognized for their professional, academic, and administrative strengths, agree that expanding their academic horizons ended up being extremely beneficial.
“Coming home to Auburn was a great thing for both Paul and for me,” Farrow concluded. “I know I’m fortunate to be here, and I want to do all I can to help our program keep moving forward. My experiences in Adult Education will definitely help me do that.”