David Mines, a summer 2016 Ph.D. graduate from the College of Education, followed an unlikely path to Auburn. Growing up in Uniontown, a small Perry County community in the heart of the Alabama Black Belt, Mines met an inspiring Extension Agent, Richard Smith, who got the inquisitive fourth grader involved in 4H, with an emphasis on leadership and public speaking.
“I was so fortunate to grow up in a community that really cared,” Mines said. “In addition to Richard Smith, my teachers and school principals were so supportive. So was my church family at the First Missionary Baptist Church. The community support and love I felt growing up made it possible for me to be where I am today. As a result, I am now motivated to help others in the same way that I was helped.”
Mines is in a unique position to share that feeling of outreach and support. He serves as Auburn’s Senior Associate Athletics Director for Internal Operations and Inclusion.
“Auburn is making a real push to increase diversity and ensure that everyone is welcome,” Mines said. “People often ask me how I would define these concepts, and I like to borrow an analogy from a friend of mine: diversity means asking a lot of people to your party, but inclusion means playing music they all like dancing to!”
“I came here in 1991 and didn’t necessarily see a lot of people who looked like me, plus coming from Uniontown to this huge campus was also a real change,” Mines recalled. “I thought I wanted to be an attorney so I majored in Political Science. I was friends with one of the student trainers, Jeremy Roberts, and he got me started in athletic training. I later met Jay Jacobs, who at the time was an Associate AD. He, too, took an interest in me and asked if I was interested in working in athletics from the administrative/event operations side of things. Brad Davis, another old Auburn guy and Associate Commissioner who ran the SEC Basketball Tournament, invited me to work my first SEC Championship in Memphis at the Pyramid. So I was super fortunate to have a bunch of good people reach out and help me get involved in things on many different levels.”
“People often ask me how I define (diversity and inclusion), and I like to borrow an analogy from a friend: diversity means asking a lot of people to your party, but inclusion means playing music they all like dancing to!”
“Again, I was fortunate in my graduate work to have professors who cared about me not only as a student, but as a person,” Mines said. “There were so many of them: Maria Witte, Ellen Reams, David DiRamio, Jim Witte, Ivan Watts, Marie Kraska, and Olin Adams, to name just a few. In my work with the Athletics Department, I apply the principles I learned in those classes every day. I feel that I have a clear understanding of how a university system works, the role of different departments and financial issues, and especially how you evaluate the efficiency of different programs. And sometimes those evaluations lead to some tough decisions, so collegiate administration has challenges every day.”
Mines has recently been charged to develop a strategic plan for inclusion in the Athletics Department.
“In athletics we are by nature focused on the concept of team and the object is to win,” he said. “That makes our work as administrators inherently about inclusion. You really don’t think about someone’s color when you pass him or her the ball, or there is a project that needs to be completed. You just want to have success. I think we have a great community here, and obviously the teamwork concept is a big part of that.”
The strategic plan has three parts. The first goal is to continue to foster a culture of inclusion for Auburn athletes so no matter where they come from, they feel a part of the Auburn experience. The plan also includes providing professional development opportunities for all staff members to continue growing the leadership base. The goal is for every employee to feel a part of this process, and have opportunities to contribute to the department’s success.
“In addition to these two, we also want to continue our commitment to serving the community,” he said. “Having an opportunity to interact with a staff member or student-athlete might be just the thing that saves a kid, or gives him or her some direction. I mean, that’s what happened with me in 4H. I don’t know where I’d be without that.”
Mines said the biggest barrier facing Auburn’s student-athletes is time.
“At the end of the day they have classes and need to study like all other students, but they also must practice and compete at a high level. Finding time in their schedules to fit in all the things we ask of them along with the things they have interests in is difficult at times. We are all very proud of them though, because whatever we ask they always seem to rise to the challenge.”
“There is no doubt that Auburn is a very special place, and I’m where I am because so many mentors took a special interest in me, even if they didn’t look like me all the time. We not only have an opportunity, but really an obligation to do the same for others. I want every person who is part of Auburn and our athletic program to feel like they are on the team. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone and have conversations that might be uncomfortable. But when these conversations are had in good faith, and people are able to say what they really think, walls come down. I see it every day.”