Auburn Alumni Engineering Council honors seven alumni

Published: Sep 19, 2017 12:00:00 AM
Media Contact: Austin Phillips,, 334-844-2444

Auburn Alumni Engineering Council award winners

From left: Steve Manown, Outstanding Young Auburn Engineer;Jan Davis,
Distinguished Auburn Engineer; Linda Figg,  Distinguished Auburn Engineer;
Cindy Green, Distinguished Auburn Engineer; Ralph Zee, Superior Service;
John Chambliss, Distinguished Auburn Engineer; and Tom Walter, Distinguished
Auburn Engineer.

Seven outstanding alumni and ambassadors of Auburn University and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering were honored Friday by the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council. These alumni included five who were recognized as Distinguished Auburn Engineers, one as an Outstanding Young Auburn Engineer and one for Superior Service to the college. For the first time in the history of the DAE award, more women were represented than men.

Distinguished Auburn Engineers

John Chambliss, ’75 Mechanical Engineering

Chambliss is a 1975 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in construction engineering. He began his career in heavy construction in 1969 and has worked all across the country on various highway, bridge, power, dam, marine and civil projects. Chambliss served as chief engineer at Brasfield & Gorrie for the past 19 years and retired in July. In this role, he led construction, engineering and budget development from the preliminary stages through complete construction drawings. During his career, he has been involved in many notable engineering projects, including the Galveston Causeway Vertical Lift Railroad Bridge, ALDOT I-65 Emergency Bridge Replacement, the Savannah Coal Port and the Smithsonian Institution South Quadrangle. Chambliss became a professional engineer in 1983 and was one of the first professional engineers to ever work at Brasfield & Gorrie. Since 2002, his mentorship has helped more than 35 Brasfield & Gorrie employees attain their P.E. licenses.

Chambliss is a member of the Pi Tau Sigma mechanical engineering honor society, the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society. Chambliss is a donor and volunteer with the United Way of Central Alabama and Down Syndrome Alabama. He also serves on the City of Homewood’s Board of Zoning Adjustment and is a deacon at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

Jan Davis, ’77 Mechanical Engineering

Davis is a 1977 mechanical engineering graduate who enjoyed a distinguished career at NASA as an engineer, astronaut and executive and now serves as a leader in private industry. Before coming to Auburn, Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in applied biology from Georgia Tech. Following her undergraduate studies, she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1983 and 1985, respectively. 

After beginning her career at Texaco, Davis joined NASA as an aerospace engineer in 1979. After the Challenger accident, Davis made a lasting impact on the Space Shuttle design by leading a multi-center team for the redesign of the Solid Rocket Booster Aft External Tank Attach Ring. From 1987-98, she was an astronaut mission specialist, serving on three space flights and logging over 673 hours in space. Later in her career at NASA, Davis served as director of the Flight Projects Directorate from 2001-03 and as director of the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate from 2003-05. From 2005-17, she was a vice president at Jacobs Engineering. Davis now serves as a technical expert for Bastion Technologies Inc.

In addition to her many awards from NASA and other professional organizations, Davis is a member of the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame and the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame. Davis is also a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She received the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Senior Executive in 2002.

Cindy Green, ’79 Chemical Engineering

Green is a 1979 chemical engineering graduate who spent her entire 32-year career with the chemical company DuPont. She began her tenure with DuPont as a process engineer, working her way up to positions such as business director and president of the Global Business Unit at DuPont Fluoroproducts. She retired in 2011 as DuPont’s chief marketing officer.

During her tenure at DuPont, Green was one of only three women to run one of DuPont’s core businesses, managing a $2 billion business as president of DuPont Fluoroproducts. As chief marketing officer, she negotiated and supported DuPont’s long-term sponsorship deal with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and the Rick Hendrick Motorsports team. Additionally, she was named one of the Best of 2010 by BtoB Magazine for her work as chief marketing officer. Some of her other accomplishments at DuPont include establishing one of the first U.S. chemical plants in China to produce fluoropolymer products, leading efforts to reinvent Teflon and other non-stick chemicals, and spearheading initiatives to reduce the company’s environmental footprint.

Green has also been a staunch supporter of the College of Engineering. In addition to her service on the Auburn Engineering Alumni Council, Green is a leading member of both 100+ Women Strong and the Chemical Engineering Alumni Council. Green and her husband established the Dr. Larry S. Monroe and Cynthia Green Endowed Chair to strengthen and enhance the chemical engineering program.

Linda Figg, ’81 Civil Engineering

Figg is a 1981 civil engineering graduate who has spent her career building bridges around the world with her company FIGG. Upon graduating from Auburn, she joined FIGG, the company her father started in 1978. After taking over from her father in 2002, Figg has continued the tradition of building sustainable, world-class bridges that are cost effective and sensitive to the environment yet continue to set new industry standards in design, technology, materials, and efficiency. As president and CEO of FIGG, Figg is ultimately responsible for bridges in 42 states and six countries, totaling $14 billion in revenue.

During her tenure at FIGG, Figg has won more than 374 design awards, including three Presidential awards, was named one of top 22 newsmakers by Engineering News-Record, and has testified before Congress on regulatory impediments in the construction industry. FIGG bridges have been featured on front pages of USA Today, in five “Modern Marvel documentaries on the History Channel and in PBS’s “Nova’s Super Bridge.” Figg also authored a book chapter on bridge aesthetics in 2009. For her engineering achievements, she was inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2010.

In addition to her service on the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council, Figg is a member of 100+ Women Strong and a life member of the Auburn Alumni Association. She received the Engineering Achievement Award from Auburn University in 2006 and was the Outstanding Civil Engineering Alumnus in 2010.

Thomas Walter, ’55 Engineering Physics

Walter is a 1955 engineering physics graduate who built a successful career at the intersection of business and technology. After graduating from Auburn on a Naval ROTC scholarship, Walter served for four years aboard an Atlantic Fleet destroyer and with the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. During this time, he was introduced to Ross Perot. Working together, they developed respect for each other’s skills and capacity for hard work, and a loyal friendship developed.

Following his military service, Walter began his career as a circuit design engineer at Texas Instruments and later went to work for IBM as a systems engineer. In 1962, Perot founded a computer service company, Electronic Data Systems, and asked Walter to join him. Working alongside Perot, Walter helped shape Electronic Data Systems into an industry leader, with more than 100,000 employees and serving a range of U.S. and foreign companies. In 1984, General Motors purchased EDS for $2.5 billion. He remained a close associate of Perot and, in later years, was a consultant to Perot Investments.

In 1989, Perot honored his friend and business associate by granting $2.6 million to Auburn University to build the Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management. Walter played a prominent role in the formation of the center’s business-engineering-technology, or BET, minor, which has produced more than 250 graduates. In 2016, Walter increased his support to expand the BET program and to assist in the development of a new Master of Engineering Management program, which is pending approval.

In addition to his loyal support of Auburn, Walter was recognized for his engineering pedigree with a place in the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2003.

Together, Walter and his wife, Jean, have demonstrated a strong commitment to the university. They are life members of the Auburn Alumni Association, and they have provided scholarship support within engineering, science and math, and agriculture, including the James H. Hall Scholarship in honor of Jean’s father. They have also provided a number of professorships, chairs and endowments. Thank you for your steadfast support of our university.

Outstanding Young Auburn Engineer

Steve Manown, ’01 Civil Engineering

Manown is a 2001 civil engineering graduate who has spent the entirety of his career at Brasfield & Gorrie, advancing from estimator to vice president and division manager. In his current role, Manown is responsible for overseeing all business development, preconstruction, and project operation functions for the industrial division of Brasfield & Gorrie’s Birmingham office. Under his leadership, the division has secured prominent new clients, completed award-winning projects, and overcome significant challenges.

Manown’s accomplishments include leading the $7.5 million construction of Railroad Park in Birmingham. Completed in 2010, this project spurred revitalization in downtown Birmingham and earned numerous accolades, including an Excellence in Construction Award from ABC of Alabama. During his tenure as construction manager, Manown led work on the $32.5 million Auburn University Student Center, which opened in 2008. As a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Manown managed the first LEED Gold-certified project in Alabama – the M. Miller Gorrie Center at Auburn University.

Manown was a member of the 2014 class of the Alabama Leadership Initiative and the 2013 class of Leadership Vestavia Hills. He was recognized in the Top 40 Under 40 by the Birmingham Business Journal and in the Top 20 Under 40 by Engineering News-Record Southeast, both in 2015.

Manown’s community involvement includes six years as a youth baseball and soccer coach and volunteer service with Habitat for Humanity and Magic Moments, an organization that fulfills the non-medical wishes of chronically ill Alabama children.

Superior Service

Ralph Zee, Former Associate Dean for Research

After joining the Auburn Engineering faculty in 1986, Zee spent 30 years in service to Auburn, helping advance research initiatives at the college and university levels.

Zee completed his graduate education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in materials science in addition to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics.

From 2001-16, Zee served as associate dean for research, revitalizing the college’s research programs, guiding Auburn into the top 50 of engineering research institutions nationally, and increasing research funding by tens of millions of dollars. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Auburn University Huntsville Research Center and the recruitment of Rodney Robertson as executive director, opening access to millions of research dollars from Redstone Arsenal. While juggling his duties as associate dean for research, Zee also served as Auburn University’s acting associate provost and vice president for research from 2007 until 2009. 

In addition to his diligent work on behalf of Auburn Engineering’s research programs, Zee was also recognized for his leading performance in the classroom. He was a four-time recipient of the Outstanding Materials Engineering Faculty Award. He also received the 1990 Ralph R. Teetor Award sponsored by the Society for Automotive Engineers and Auburn Engineering’s 1995 Birdsong Teaching Merit Award.