After a few months waitressing in Montgomery in 2004, I decided I should probably go to grad school. I found an intriguing program called “Rural Sociology” at Auburn University, and reached out to the department chair to inquire about it. This one e-mail sparked a love of Auburn that I will take to my grave. I was encouraged to come to campus to visit, and in no time, I had crammed for the GRE, received a Graduate Research Assistantship, and was set to start classes in two months. Auburn University gave me a free ride to graduate school. I had never even heard of such a thing.
I was new to Alabama, and as an Auburn student, I was pushed to explore the history and culture of my adopted state in all kinds of ways. I read books, but I also attended community meetings, joined local coalitions, and sought out conferences and trainings. I discovered I had no fear of cold calls, and thus interviewed all kinds of fascinating people. It was at Auburn that I truly fell in love with Alabama, in part because I had the freedom to direct my studies and use an interdisciplinary approach. I wrote a thesis on art as a vehicle for economic development in the Black Belt. All of it was brand new to me, and I was thrilled.
Following graduation, I was fortunate to work for Auburn’s Economic & Community Development Institute, where I continued my Alabama studies, which now included things like SWOT analyses and heritage tourism. Part of my research at ECDI became The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods, a book on the history and culture of Alabama told through the lens of its food traditions, forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press.
Most recently, I reached out to Auburn about my new middle grade novel, Once You Know This, out from Random House/Delacorte Press in September. The College of Liberal Arts not only immediately offered to host an author event at Auburn University, but pulled in the Auburn Public Library and the Auburn Public School system as well. And Auburn Magazine was happy to feature the book in its upcoming issue. At Auburn, every door is open, always.
I am consistently floored by Auburn University’s absolute love of and dedication to its students. Auburn has not only given me a graduate degree and meaningful employment, it has built my confidence, inspired me to study in unconventional ways, launched me in new directions, and celebrated my achievements. I was a waitress, and Auburn saw potential in me. Every time I say War Eagle (and I say it often), this is what I mean.