Almost everyone had left the pregame tailgate in the Jordan Courtyard of the Shelby Center when I noticed a solitary figure seated on one of the back benches, arms stretched out on the rails . . . just looking. I wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but then again I was. I asked him if he was an engineering grad, and he said yes, class of ’87. In the few seconds it took to take in the arc of his view, he said, "This is so amazing . . . none of this was here when I was here. Thinking back, engineering here seemed so very different, and nothing like this."
In a way, this is true. The first phase of Shelby Center is the culmination of a new presence for Auburn Engineering. It has redefined the northern perimeter of campus. The construction of Phase II is on schedule, with the new advanced research building and Wiggins Mechanical Engineering Hall set for completion about this time next year. What a difference all of this has made.
I told someone recently that it made me think back to my own undergraduate days in the ’60s as a civil engineering student in Ramsay Hall. It then had high ceilings and transom windows over plank and batten doors, and you had to position your paper and hold your hand just right to keep the sweat from dripping down on your class work.
We look back to those days and wonder how we did it. As you will read in this issue’s installment of the college’s history, we faced other difficulties as well, including a lapse in accreditation in the late ’50s that resulted in large part from a lack of proper facilities. While it truly represents the flip side of the coin from the renaissance in engineering we are now experiencing, our graduates have always pushed hard and excelled, no matter what.
For example, T.K. Mattingly — an aerospace graduate and astronaut whose work in NASA’s Houston-based flight simulator led to the spectacular rescue of the Apollo XIII capsule and the crew’s safe return to Earth — was right in the middle of his undergraduate years. The same could be said for Sam Ginn, an industrial engineering graduate and telecommunications pioneer who is now the namesake for the college.
Finally, there is Dwight Wiggins, a mechanical engineering graduate who remembers sweating in the not-quite-code attic of Ross Hall, the only place he could find to run his experiments as a graduate student. When mechanical engineering’s new home is finished, the Wiggins name will be on the building as a tribute to his father, who instilled in him the values that made his education, and his dreams, a reality. The dreams of an Auburn man — like those he followed, and who follow him now.