Chairmen of the Boards

Chairmen of the Boards

How TikTok, COVID-19, ESPN and mad bag skills
turned two Tigers into cornhole kings

HE’S WATCHED IT, heck, maybe 10 times now? Maybe 100? Who knows? It’s hard to keep track when people keep posting it on Facebook. If he sees it, then he’s watching it. If it’s on, he’s watching it. He’ll keep watching it as long as ESPN keeps showing it, until it sinks in.

Did they seriously go to Myrtle Beach and do the dang thing? Did he seriously take down Draven Sneed in overtime? Are people actually recognizing him, like, in public?

No joke, the other night at his favorite Mexican place back home in Phenix City, Ala., three people walk over: Aren’t you one of the guys who won the cornhole college championship? Same thing happened at the gym. Four guys go up to him and
ask if he’s Travis Moore.

Heck yeah, he’s Travis Moore.
And now he’s starting to understand how “Cornhole Blaine” feels.

BLAINE ROSIER SMILES AND SHRUGS. He doesn’t understand it, either. “Well, people started calling me Cornhole Blaine and I was
like, maybe I’ll just ride with that,” Rosier said. He’s had to hang on tight.

Cornhole Blaine brought over his custom Cornhole Blaine boards around 2 p.m. When it’s warm, they’re on the green space.
On cold afternoons, they take over the fitness center basketball court at Trav’s place on S. College, crank up the country and go at
it until Moore has to go study for hydrologic analysis, or until the lady at the front desk kicks them out.

Which today might be sooner rather than later. Blaine’s roommate, Sam, another Phenix City guy, came over to watch the show but opened the wrong door. So, today the best college cornhole doubles team in the country is throwing to a portable speaker soundtrack of as-loud-as-it-goes Morgan Wallen synced with a security alarm siren no one knows how to turn off. It’s deafening.

Blaine Rosier—Cornhole Blaine—and Travis Moore—the Travis Moore—don’t even notice. They’re in the zone. Rosier’s bag drops straight in. He tosses another. Same thing.

“I’m more of a push-and-slide guy, but Blaine’s airmail is really good,” Moore shouts. “I’m working on mine. They’re getting better. But that’s Blaine’s specialty.”

A year ago, Cornhole Blaine was just a guy, a junior in wildlife enterprises management stuck at home in Phenix City and going to class on the couch. He was bored. He saw a board. One Gen Z thing led to another.

“Well, I was joking with my sister, saying that I’d have more TikTok followers than her,” Rosier said.

He didn’t have a TikTok account. He’d never played cornhole beyond his backyard. But, hey, families were going viral for fighting COVID cabin fever in the wackiest ways possible. Posting videos of himself tossing one-pound bean bags into a hole? Why not?

His first video went up on April 2, 2020. Shirt off, visor on, tossing a few front-yard trick shots. Nothing special, not in his mind. He hashtagged it #QuarantineLife. He posted some more. Three days later, a clothing company reached out—his first sponsor.

Cornhole Blaine was born.

Nowadays, he just posts clips from practice and people watch. But early on, he’d get fancy. Airmails over the Cam Newton statue. Four-baggers into the bed of a moving pickup. Within a few months, it wasn’t just free T-shirts. Cornhole Blaine wasn’t paying for anything. Not his bags. Not his boards.

Going by followers, he has the second-most popular cornhole account on TikTok. The American Cornhole League (ACL) has
14,000 followers. Cornhole Blaine currently has 240,000. Another smile. Another shrug.

“One video was just us throwing on the green space,” Rosier said. “I posted it that night and woke up and it had, like, 2 million views.”

“Heck, the other day we looked, and it was over 18 million,” Moore shouts. “The caption is ‘College Cornhole Is Where It’s At.’”

Heck, is it ever.

Dazzle your opponent at your next cornhole match with these unofficial terms

When two players or teams cannot agree on the score.

When a cornhole bag lands in front of the hole, blocking the other bags from entering the hole.
When a single player gets four bags in the hole in a single round.
When a player tosses a bag and it goes into the hole without touching the cornhole board.
When a bag is tossed in cornhole and there is no spin or rotation during its flight.

THERE WAS A 19TH CENTURY PARLOR GAME similar to the pregame pastime that’s come to dominate tailgates over the past 20 years, and some websites actually try to trace it to Native Americans. But the best Trey Ryder, media director and color analyst for the ACL, can tell, the game he gave up an engineering career to promote first really bubbled to the surface at fairgrounds and family reunions around Cincinnati in the 1950s. 32 CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARDS Even still, the first actual mention of “cornhole” in the Cincinnati Enquirer didn’t come until a 2001 classified ad for a backyard bean bag game. A year later, there was a full feature on a new Queen City craze. Were bags once just socks filled with corn? Does that explain the name? Who can say?

 

“People are like, ‘why the hell is cornhole on ESPN?’” Ryder, 27, says.

“Then, 20 minutes later, they realize they’re sucked in.”

What Ryder knows for sure is that 2020 was the year of competitive cornhole. Partly because nothing else was on. But also because, man, it’s
kind of addicting. And it’s about time. “People are like, ‘why the hell is cornhole on ESPN?’” Ryder, 27, says. “Then, 20 minutes later, they realize they’re sucked in.” The game had been growing for years, inspiring multiple socalled governing bodies that invoke self-proclaimed sanctioning
powers with varying degrees of seriousness. But in 2015, a tailgate culture impresario named Stacey Moore, commissioner of the North Carolina-based ACL, turned competitive cornhole—first professional, then college—into a well-oiled, broadcast-ready machine complete with proprietary
stat-tracking software, tournament-organizing apps, broadcast rights, pro contracts, and bratwurst-and-baked-bean sponsors. It
was getting big.

Then came COVID. Then, again, came cornhole. Instead of canceling its season, the ACL announced a series of regional qualifiers in a bid to turn 2020’s lemons into lemonade that could—pandemic protocols in place—quench ESPN’s desperate thirst for live competition. It worked. ESPN
started showing live cornhole. Not on some digital streaming thing. Not on ESPN3, but on the flagship station.

The Ringer.com recently wrote a piece on the game’s ascendance, crediting it not only to COVID, but to Ryder’s uncanny telestrator talent for turning cornhole into high drama. And, dang, it doesn’t get much higher than what those boys from Auburn did live on ESPN over New Year’s in the finals of the third annual ACL National College Cornhole Championship.

RYDER EASILY PLACES it in the Top 10 finishes he’s called. Maybe Top 5. The context, the characters, the comeback? Awesome. Rosier and Moore were down 12-1 in Round 10, but then the TikTok wunderkind (whom some even called a one trick-shot pony to his face) delivered a hard push that completely flipped the game.

The noise Ryder made when both bags dropped in was between “wow” and a groan. He hit it from so far down the board!
In Ryder’s mind, it was the throw of the tournament.

Then there was the drama on the other side. King David had his stones. Travis Moore had his bags.

SENIOR YEAR of high school, he beat a pro in a charity tournament. That’s when Moore knew he was good. He found a partner, entered local tournaments and got serious. Civil engineering classes, however, sort of have a way of dominating your calendar. In college, if he got the boards out, it was for kicks, not cash.

But over “Shutdown Summer,” he started throwing again, doing tournaments. Thanks to the free time, the itch was back.
When he saw his old buddy’s videos on TikTok, it turned into full-blown hives. He picked up the phone.

THE DAY BEFORE THEIR DOUBLES MATCH, North Carolina State’s Draven Sneed had won the singles national championship; Travis had tied for 5th. Sneed and partner Alex Lippard seemed primed to sweep it for the Wolfpack: singles and doubles. And maybe they would have.

Had Draven Sneed kept his mouth shut.

Moore starts grinning.

“Heck,” Moore shouts, “he yells down to his partner ‘boardit—let me get it.’”

Now, without getting into cornhole strategy and the fine print of the point system, just know that this was trash talk.
Everyone there knew it. The crowd “ooohed.” Someone shouted,
“I like it.”

It was the final round. Throwing against Lippard, Rosier had brought them back and put them in a position to actually win it in overtime—if it got there. Lippard had one bag left. He could have gone for gold with an airmail. Risky, but doable. The safe bet? Just get it on the board, send it back, and let Sneed claim another crown. Which is what he did. But not before the “Board It” heard ’round the world.

Moore shakes his head. “When he said that, I was just like ‘I can’t let this guy win again, no way.’”

It’s overtime. Moore misses to the right. Sneed misses to the back to Cornhole Blaine for double overtime. At best? War Damn Eagle.

The singles champ starts to sweat. He takes his hat off. He goes for a safe slide to send it back to Lippard.

The bag dips halfway into the hole—and then just hangs there.

Travis Moore—the Travis Moore—nearly bear-hugs Cornhole Blaine to the floor.

Once again, Trey Ryder, the world’s premiere cornhole connoisseur, is nearly speechless.

“What. A. Finish.”

Ref: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_FBvyNJhQo

THE MORGAN WALLEN IS STILL BLASTING. The alarm is still going off. Cornhole Blaine sets up his cell phone anyway. Gotta give the people what they want. They’re both about to graduate. Cornhole Blaine plans to keep riding, become an ACL pro and get paid.

Moore is starting to lean that way, too. There’s a job waiting on him at an engineering firm in Columbus, Ga. that he’s definitely excited about. But engineering jobs typically don’t get you recognized at El Vaquero. They typically don’t get your face on TV. Testing the waters of professional cornhole on the weekends? That just might.

“Heck, I turned on ESPN this morning and there it was. They were playing it again.”

“Did you watch it?” I shout.

He nails an airmail, Cornhole Blaine style.

“Heck, yeah.”

Fearless in Blue

Fearless in Blue

Staring down a lion, falling down a waterfall and barrel rolling in a plane are all in a day’s work for three intrepid alumni

Bennett Smith ’19 can admit it now. He used to be a little afraid of water. “I was always scaring my parents by jumping off tall stuff or doing backflips on the ground, but I was never daring in water,” he says. These days, though, the water can’t be too deep or too tall for the championship kayaker who loves to go over waterfalls.

Smith is the living embodiment of “a spirit that is not afraid,” and he’s far from the only one. Whether it’s on land, in water or high in the air, Auburn grads are filled with adventure.

We caught up with Smith, hiker Jessica “Dixie” Mills ’12 and acrobatic pilot Mac Cook ’20 to talk about their thrilling

BENNET SMITH

Extreme Paddling

Jessica “Dixie” Mills

Walking Tall

Mac Cook

Out of the box

BENNETT SMITH: Extreme paddling

Its official name is a “Blunt to McNasty,” but this is really what you need to know about Bennett Smith’s signature move. “You do a cartwheel in a kayak and a front flip right after it,” he says.

Oh, and one more thing: “I don’t think anyone had ever done it off waterfall, and I nailed it last year.” Smith began kayaking around age 13, intrigued by a friend,
Davis Moers, who was doing tricks in the canoe-like paddle boat. “I thought it looked cool to go off waterfalls,” Smith says. They started posting videos of themselves doing flips in their kayaks on YouTube. Smith was also taking lessons that would eventually lead him to the U.S. freestyle kayaking team.
He has competed in three world championships, including one with a dislocated shoulder.

At the same time, he spends his weekends conquering big rapids and going down tall waterfalls.

“That’s really what went viral—the videos of me doing that,” Smith says. “I’m combining freestyle kayaking with river-running, and that seems to be what’s caught the public’s attention. It’s what I have the most fun doing.” That includes a video of him doing flips and rolls off Little River Falls in northeast Alabama that landed on Fox News in late December 2020.

It’s safer than it looks, Smith says. “A lot of people think it’s crazy, that you could land on a rock or something, but everything is very calculated,” he says.
“Before I go down, I’ve been there in the summer to swim to the bottom to make sure it’s deep enough and safe enough. People are also stationed at the bottom with ropes and safety equipment.”

Smith chose Auburn in large part because of kayaking. “I’ve been an Auburn fan my whole life—both my parents went there—but it’s also very close to some world-class whitewater,” he says. “I could go after class to Columbus, Ga., or to Lake Martin to the Tallapoosa River.”

At 24, Smith says he’s “just getting started” when it comes to kayaking. He has a coach and continues to train for the U.S. freestyle kayak team and tackle waterfalls yet to be conquered. “I’ve been compiling a list of ones that have never been done before and ticking them off,” Smith says. “I find one on Google Earth, walk miles to find it, scout it out, go back with a crew and do it.”

That’s particularly easy to do from Chattanooga, Tenn., where Smith moved after graduating in 2019 and now lives with his wife, Kathleen. He’s a sales rep for a logistics company, but he’s never far from his kayak.

“That’s really one of the main reasons I moved up here,” Smith says of Chattanooga’s proximity to kayaking waters. “It’s a pretty cool city, but I can also sneak away before lunch or after for a quick kayak session.”

‘DIXIE’ MILLS: Walking tall

And then there was the time Jessica Mills tried to fight off a mountain lion with a harmonica.

“For a minute and a half, this mountain lion and I were staring at each other,” says Mills, a 2012 graduate in biosystems engineering. “I thought, what if I can make a noise to let it know I’m not its food. I had this harmonica, so I pulled it out and blew into it. Then I thought, what if this sounds like a dying
bird or something? So, I stopped and stood there a minute, and it went away.”

Such is a day in the life of Mills, who quit her job in 2014 to hit the trail—literally. She started working on her website full time and now gives advice to hikers around the world, all the while chronicling her own hikes with blog posts, photos and videos. Mills, who grew up in and still lives in Opelika, dreamed from about age 5 of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. (Thruhiking means finishing the trail in a 12-month period; section hikers might do it over several years).

“We’d go to North Carolina on a vacation, and I remember seeing a sign saying ‘Appalachian Trail,’” Mills recalls. “I asked my mom about it, and she explained that it was what crazy people walked from Georgia to Maine. I said, ‘Wow, let’s go do that.’ She said, ‘Someday, when you grow up.’”

That day came in 2015, when Mills—given the trail name “Dixie” by those in the hiking community—hiked the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail from March through October. “I didn’t know if I’d do another one, but within two months, the trails were calling again,” she said.

Since then, Mills has completed hiking’s “triple crown” by thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles in 2017) and the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles in 2018).

But there are other hikes to walk, and Mills chronicles all her exploits, from the Camino de Santiago in Europe to the Florida Trail she started in February.

“There is something about walking somewhere that you can’t drive, knowing that the only way you can enjoy something is by walking there,” she says. “Those long hikes take me about six months. I do go slow and smell the roses. If you’re watching my videos, I want you to feel what it’s like on the trail.”

The 34-year-old walks alone and in groups. Aside from an encounter with a black bear and the aforementioned mountain lion, plus some snakes and alligators along the way, she’s remained safe. But it’s still difficult sometimes for Mills to convince people of the allure of hiking.

“A lot of people think you’ve lost your mind,” Mills says. “It’s not that people don’t want to see you chase your dreams— they’re concerned for your safety. So many people have a lot of fear about anything outside of their comfort zone, and they kind of put that on other people.

“But I’m very happy and fulfilled now,” she adds. “You can’t listen to the naysayers.”

MAC COOK: Out of the box

Twenty to 30 degrees nose up or down. Sixty degrees of roll or pitch.

That’s “the box” Mac Cook says private pilots are contained in, unless they take it upon themselves to learn more. “When you’re getting your license and learning how to fly, those are your constraints,” he says. “Anything outside of that is considered aerobatics. They don’t teach you that. It’s not a
required learning experience, but when you do, you begin to see what the plane can do.”

Cook has known for a while what an airplane can do. He grew up in Waverly, outside of Auburn, flying with his father, who is an acrobatic pilot. The younger Cook earned his pilot’s license in high school and graduated with a degree in professional flight management from Auburn last year. He’s now a flight instructor at the Auburn airport, and he likes to get a bit more adventurous on the weekends—doing rolls and other acrobatic moves.

“I’ve always liked doing things that are a little bit more adventurous or a little bit far off for some people, I guess,” says Cook, 22. “I’ve always had that speed and thrill bug inside of me.” That’s what led him to break out of the box of being a pilot and take it a step further to do acrobatics.

“The best way I can explain it is expanding the envelope of what an airplane can do and seeing what I can do,” he says. Cook also teaches others to do just that. On a recent weekend, he took a fellow pilot out to give him “upset recover and prevention training.” “We went through a set list of maneuvers and put him in all sorts of positions he probably had never been in,” Cook says. “He had to figure out how to get out of those situations.”

When he’s flying acrobatically—usually in a Russian trainer plane owned by his father—Cook says he “doesn’t do anything too crazy.”

“It’s big, slow maneuvers, not crazy stuff you see in air shows,” he says. “We do barrel rolls and loops—things that keep the airplane flying instead of it running out of energy. I kind of know my limitations, and people I fly with know their limitations, and we tend to stick to that. We stay pretty safe.” Cook has a younger brother who is following in his and his father’s footsteps, but his older sister is “completely disinterested,” as is his mother.

“My mom doesn’t like it at all,” he says. “She doesn’t try to discourage us, but she won’t partake in the activities…not everyone has the stomach for it. That’s what makes it unique, I guess.”

Flower Power

Flower Power

Whether she’s doing missionary work or extravagant floral
designs for Cardi B, Catherine Wayman ’07 never stops growing

CATHERINE WAYMAN ’07 HAD GIVEN UP ON HER DREAM OF BEING A FLORAL DESIGNER IN ATLANTA.

She had packed up her apartment in a U-Haul and was driving south on I-85 when her phone rang. It was a prominent event producer for whom Wayman had staged a floral photo shoot several months earlier. She had a job for her. A big job.

“I told her I was driving to Auburn, but I didn’t tell her that I had given up on having an Atlanta-based business or that I was returning to Auburn to work full time with my mother in her floral business,” Wayman said.

Instead, Wayman turned the truck around and met the producer at a nearby Chick-fil-A where she laid out the details of the event. She wanted Wayman to design the floral arrangements for the 40th birthday celebration for Kim Zolciak (of the Bravo hit TV show “Real Housewives of Atlanta”).

“She was convinced I was the right designer to pull off the star’s vision,” Wayman said. “I was honored. And confused. And excited. I honestly didn’t know if I could pull off an event of that magnitude, but I decided right then and there that I was going to try.” Raised in Marietta, Ga. by Mike ’76 and Cathy ’75 Wayman, she always knew she would attend Auburn University. Her first letters were A-B-C-D-E-F, then A-U-B-U-R-N. She majored in hotel and restaurant management in the College of Human Sciences and set her sights on a career in hotel management. She landed her first job at Highlands Inn in Carmel, Calif., thanks in part to her uncle, Ed Crovo, a senior vice president
with Hyatt®.

“It was a dream job at first and then it wasn’t,” Wayman said. “The hospitality industry is hard, working nights and weekends and managing unhappy guests and staff.” Even so, Wayman excelled and was offered a resort management position with Hyatt in San Antonio, Texas, quite a change from the idyllic California environment she had become accustomed to. But her heart just wasn’t in it. Even with a promotion, she realized this path was not what she had envisioned. She needed a break.

Over the next three years, Wayman explored several opportunities, spending time in Thailand with a ministry devoted to young girls who had been trafficked, becoming an operations manager for a sales training company in Atlanta and working as an event manager and floral designer in Birmingham, Ala. She took advantage of opportunities to study floral design in New York City, first with famed designer Preston Bailey, followed by time at the Flower School NY. It was those experiences that gave her the confidence to take on the Zolciak party. She was ready.

Jumping into designer mode, Wayman began her preparation. To stay organized, she created large spreadsheets for every design, calculating which florals to order, how many and where they would fit in the designs.

“I would do all this figuring—for instance, this wall will have 400 red roses and we’ll have 200 stems of peonies here and so on,” Wayman said. “It involved a lot of math and I was, like, ‘man, I thought I had gotten away from math!’”

Wayman had to hire, train—and trust—a staff to work together to execute her elaborate designs and do it on a quick deadline. “I can clip a rose, knowing exactly what angle it needs to be placed in the arrangement and intuitively see how colors go together without even thinking about it,” she said. “But where

She was convinced I was the right designer to pull off the star’s vision,” Catherine said. “ I was honored. And confused. And excited. I honestly didn’t know if I could pull off an event of that magnitude, but I decided right then and there that I was going to try.”

I struggle is teaching others how to do that. I really try not to drop people off in the deep end, but technique only takes you so far. There comes a time when you just have to ‘feel it.’ You have to be artistic. You have to be creative. You really cannot overthink design.”

With the help of her whole family and her small staff working out of an Airbnb, C. Wayman Design succeeded in a big way. “It was just gorgeous and I was so proud of everything and everybody who helped me,” Wayman said. “I could not have done it without them.”

Word of Wayman’s magnificent design work spread quickly and soon after that event, she was hired to do the floral designs for rapper Cardi B’s baby shower.

Giraffes, orangutans, trains and other designs—all made from flowers and greenery—were so impressive that Vogue magazine featured some of her pieces in their recap of the party. Almost overnight, Wayman had become the florist to the stars.

In August 2019, she came home to Auburn to design the florals for the grand opening of the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center. Lifesize figures of a ballerina, a violinist and an orchestra conductor, all made from greenery and florals, greeted guests as they arrived. At the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, a floral installation hung from the ceiling was made to look as if music was floating through the air. Each table centerpiece had a different instrument filled and surrounded with flowers. The event really pushed her creativity to new levels.

Life in the floral design business was a dream—and then it wasn’t.

COVID-19 hit. The need for extravagant floral designs abruptly stopped. No celebrity parties, no weddings, no large gatherings of any kind. C. Wayman Design came to a screeching halt. She had to furlough her staff and give up her studio. Depression crept in.

But remember, Catherine Wayman is a creative artist, and the time had come for her biggest challenge of all—to re-create herself. She reached out to an acquaintance who was a photographer in the movie and music video industry in Atlanta and offered to help him with set designs—for no compensation.

He jumped at her offer, but it didn’t take long for industry professionals to see what she could do. Soon she was being hired to create sets for movie scenes and music videos. She separated her floral design business from this new creative outlet, forming C. Wayman Production.

“The experiences I have had since graduating from Auburn have made me who I am today,”

Now that the pandemic is subsiding, Wayman is slowly moving back into the floral design business, being commissioned to do the flowers for rapper Quavo’s 30th birthday party and continuing production design for music videos, commercials, books and album covers.

Even though Wayman has stayed in the creative design business, her career has taken her in a direction she never saw coming. She is grateful for all it has taught her. Along her journey, she said, she has learned much about people, humanity and humility.

“The experiences I have had since graduating from Auburn have made me who I am today,” Wayman said. “They have given me a whole new perspective on people, whether it’s doing floral design for celebrities or designing sets for rap music videos, there is a level of humility in knowing that just because we have different backgrounds, it doesn’t mean we are all that different. In a way, we are all the same. One day you can feel on top of the world, and the next, be burdened with things not turning out as you had envisioned. It is just important to keep moving forward with faith, love and passion for what you do.”

The Great Mind Connector

The Great Mind Connector

The Great Mind Connector

Connecting students to jobs, companies to Auburn and research to real-world problems drove the rebranding of Auburn’s Research Park

DRIVING TOWARD AUBURN UNIVERSITY from I-85, you’ll see many of the usual fast-food restaurants and gas stations along College Street. But just south of campus, you’ve probably noticed a series of large buildings that dot an increasingly busy greenway inside Shug Jordan Parkway. It’s the Auburn Research Park.

The park recently rebranded, changing its name to simply “The Park at Auburn” in part to avoid market confusion with other Auburn entities like City of Auburn’s Technology Park. But the change also reflects a renewed plan to improve research and collaboration at the university, attract companies to Auburn, provide students meaningful internships, and nurture faculty and student startups.

Cary Chandler, senior director of the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation (ARTF, which operates The Park), said the rebranding was about better telling the park’s story. “This place is really a doorway for partnerships and opportunity, because this is where corporate America ought to be meeting with the bright minds evolving from the university, whether those minds are our faculty or students,” Chandler said. Started with a combined $15 million commitment from the state of Alabama and Auburn, the 170-acre research park broke ground on Nov. 17, 2005. Billed as the “front door” to the university, it has easy access to I-85 and is a key link to the evolving technology corridor stretching from Atlanta to Montgomery.

A new strategic plan created by Bill Dean, executive director of the ARTF, outlines the blueprint to fully integrate The Park into the campus and community. Dean, who has successfully run research parks in Huntsville and North Carolina, crafted a plan that stresses interaction and access to resources.

“The new ARTF Strategic Plan provides partnerships, teams and support services through touchpoints within a streamlined and proactive framework to take advantage of research strengths that are totally unique to Auburn University,” said Dean. He noted that the bold plan is built on interdisciplinary team building, commercialization and
entrepreneurship among people and business who desire

“We’re kind of driven to make a difference in the world. And with the support that’s here, you can do that.”

Recent buildings reflect this integration with the main campus and the community. The Research And Innovation Center (RAIC) opened in 2020 and features the New Venture Accelerator, an event center and Amsterdam Café among its amenities. There’s childcare available at the Big Blue Marble Academy, and the under-construction East Alabama Medical Center Health Sciences Facility will feature not only clinical research internships but an emergency room and ambulatory center that will be open to the public. Employees of all businesses in the research park get access to university amenities like the Recreation Center, Tiger Transit and the library.

Jim Weyhenmeyer, vice president for research and economic development, said the timing couldn’t be better, as the 2018 elevation of Auburn as an R1 research university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions has “changed the conversation about Auburn.”

“The Park is quickly becoming a whole ecosystem of innovation, collaboration and business development,” he said. Weyhenmeyer believes The Park can provide meaningful internships for students, as well as a pipeline of tested talent for companies that move here.

“You’ll see more companies moving to this area, because it’s about access,” Weyhenmeyer said.

He also believes The Park will stand out for its investment in early-stage business development.

One of the best examples of this is the New Venture Accelerator—roughly 7,000 square feet of office space within the RAIC staffed with a team of resident experts—which guides startups on how to create business models and pitch to investors. The space is jointly managed by the Harbert College of Business and the ARTF and features 10 current startups, including SwiftSku, which in January finished third in the Amazon Web Services U.S. University Startup Competition.

SwiftSku’s achievement comes just after fellow New Venture Accelerator tenant Zac Young’s first-place finish at the SEC Student Pitch Competition in October 2020. Young, a senior in mechanical engineering and founder of Vulcan Line Tools, created the Wave Timer—a device that measures the sag, tension and temperature of power lines.

Chandler and Weyhenmeyer said that The Park can also be a force for helping to recruit star students and faculty who are looking for a university with a culture of innovation. Faculty like Mark Liles. For Liles, The Park is perfectly set up for the whole lifecycle of research, from discovery to taking a product to market. Liles is a microbiologist who has been trying to solve the problem of a deadly pathogen that has decimated farm-raised catfish in states like Alabama and Mississippi.

The Park provides Liles much-needed office and lab space. More importantly, it offers him the expertise to help turn his research into products that solve real-world problems. Mentors like the staff in the Office of Innovation Advancement & Commercialization helped him navigate the byzantine world of patents, copyrights, licenses and other programs. Liles works with faculty in other disciplines like pharmacy, crop sciences and fisheries, and says this interdisciplinary mindset is baked into The Park.

“It’s been a transformative experience,” Liles said. “Even though we might be in different departments and colleges, a lot of faculty here do very applied research. We’re kind of driven to make a difference in the world. And with the support that’s here, you can do that.”

Talk to anyone associated with The Park and they stress one thing: it’s not about the buildings, but the people. Dean’s slogan of “Connecting great minds” resonates with everyone.

Chandler said The Park’s updated mission is simple. “Everyone we’re talking to—student, faculty or company— we’re asking them the same thing: How can we help you develop the next generation of great?”