Bringing a Legacy to Life: Lauren Duke Patterson ’11

Bringing a Legacy to Life: Lauren Duke Patterson ’11

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Lauren Duke Patterson

Auburn women have left their mark across campus in more ways than one. On Sept. 27, 2019, they left a permanent one in the form of a monument commemorating the 125th Anniversary of Auburn Women, a campaign recognizing the first three women students and the legacy women have had on the school.

A gift from alumni Melanie and Paul Barstad to honor Melanie’s parents, James and Juanita Lee Whatley, the design of the statue itself was adapted from the original 125th icon used throughout campus. What initially began as a logo tying the other parts of the 125th Anniversary brand together came to represent the achievements of Auburn women throughout history.

Though plans were in place as early as spring 2017 to dedicate a monument to Auburn women on campus, the design team hired from Advent by the Auburn Alumni Association Office of Development went through dozens of ideas on what it should look like. It wasn’t until Advent Design Director Lauren Duke Patterson ’11 saw the logo on the cover of the Fall 2017 issue of Auburn Magazine that she knew she had found the right inspiration.

“We had been going through three rounds [of designs], we were on our final round with the committee and the timing was perfect — I got the alumni magazine in the mail, and it was exactly what the statue needed to be,” said Patterson. “The elements in the story helped me present the idea back to the committee as a way we could represent all women.”

Patterson’s connections to Auburn run deeper than the monument, though. Her father, Roger Duke, raised her into the Auburn Family as soon as she could walk. “I even had the whole little cheerleader outfit and everything.”

Patterson attended Georgia Tech for her undergrad degree, but came to Auburn to earn her MBA. Besides the thrill of Cam Newton’s journey to the 2010 National Championship, Patterson counts winning the CASE Senior Capstone competition among her favorite Auburn memories.

That, and meeting her husband, Sam Patterson ’12. The two were both completing their masters at the time and went on their first date the night of Super Bowl LXIV. Sam proposed while the two were at Topsail Hill State Park in Florida and the two were married in 2014.

Patterson remained in Auburn after graduating, working for the Auburn Athletic Department and at CopyCat, which is how she first learned about Advent.

“We were printing the boards for the indoor practice facility as they were remodeling it, building and finishing it. I saw Advent’s logo on it, and I found out about them through their renders,” said Patterson.

Her first job with Advent was still in Auburn designing the weight room in the athletic center, followed by the Harbert Family Recruiting Center, the new lobby in the Lowder College of Business and Horton-Hardgrave Hall. Seven years later Patterson is still with Advent, excited to handle whatever challenge walks through their doors. As design director, Patterson leads a team of designers, artists and builders to understand the spirit and character of a client or project, then turn their inspiration into real-life elements.

“You first have to understand the client, understand the story, then do what we call ‘story mining’ — talking, listening and showing empathy for the client,” said Patterson. “We want to hear what the message is, what the issues are with the space or the new space, what they’re trying to achieve, then we take that and strategize through sketches.”

Once they’ve determined the right direction for the client, the Advent team moves into realism-modeling and fabrication.

For the 125th Anniversary of Auburn Women project, Patterson brought on several Auburn alumni to help turn the cover design into the massive six-foot-tall statue and base. They extruded the design in 3D-design software SketchUp to determine the scale. The digital designs were sent to sculptor Chris George founder of Buffalo, Wyoming-based Frontier Iron Works, so that the metal strips could be welded together. Finally, the statue was finished with a dark bronze patina to match with the other sculptures on campus. After walking around campus for so many years, having her own contribution there is still surreal for Patterson.

“It was fun to be at the beginning, and then to see it happen is pretty amazing. It’s pretty awesome because it is a pretty unique piece of art on Auburn’s campus that people will remember and engage with,” she said.

Patterson was unable to attend the monument’s formal dedication ceremony, but for a good reason — her son Duke was born in late July. He already has an Auburn outfit of his own.

“Anytime I get to work on a project for Auburn it means a lot to me, my family and all of our friends from “Section 50” — that’s the seats we had in Jordan-Hare,” said Patterson. “I was happy that we were able to make it work and happy that it looks good, and I think the reactions I’ve heard from the Auburn Family is that they love it.”

Kelsey Davis ’14: Uncovering Corruption, Achieving a Dream

Kelsey Davis ’14: Uncovering Corruption, Achieving a Dream

Holding educators and policy-makers accountable is a lifelong dream come true

Kelsey Davis 14

When Kelsey Davis ’14 was editor of The Plainsman, she and a friend who was the editor at the student newspaper at Ole Miss would talk ad nauseam about how badly Alabama and Mississippi needed a Texas Tribune-like news source to rigorously cover public policy in a way the states needed and deserved.

“At that time, it was a total pie-in-the-sky fantasy,” said Davis.

A few years later, that pie-in-the-sky fantasy became a reality in the form of Mississippi Today. Since joining the non-profit news source, Davis has covered education policy and the severe teacher shortage in the Mississippi Delta, which she likened to the Alabama Black Belt because of its racial and socioeconomic demographics.

“I’m not just saying this because they employ me, it’s really awesome. We don’t have a print product, we’re all online. It’s a huge shift in how journalism has been done and taught because journalism has been so deadline driven, you can become such a deadline junkie.”

Much different than any reporting gig she’s had in the past, Davis has a more flexible schedule to do deeply analytical investigative reporting on the Mississippi education system, including a three-part series on the teacher shortage that took a year to complete. Of course, Davis worked on other stories during that year, but she said it feels extremely fulfilling to shed light on a teacher shortage that left some students without an English teacher for all of high school.

In retrospect, journalism seems to be a natural fit for Davis, but she really didn’t understand what journalism was when she picked a major at Camp War Eagle.

“I remember sitting on the front porch of Cater Hall; they gave everyone a form and told us to check what we wanted our major to be. It was like ‘okay, check the box and decide the trajectory of your life.’”

She had no interest in studying English or going into teaching, so journalism seemed like one of the only ways to turn her passion for writing into a career. But it never really clicked for Davis until she had to write a paper on “The Elements of Journalism.”

“I stayed up all night reading the book and writing the paper, and then I was like, ‘oh, that’s what this is about.’ The whole way it was explained to me made me fall in love with it.”

From there, Davis started working in the intrigue section at The Plainsman, essentially giving her the license to write about whatever “intrigued” her any given week. But when she became editor-in-chief, her interests shifted to hard news and investigative journalism.

“I was like a full-on addict and never really wanted to do anything else. Once I got introduce to it and figured out what it was, it just felt like the right fit for me. Working for and being editor of The Plainsman is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done so far.”

Davis has a great deal of respect for daily reporters, but it’s just not for her. She still can churn out two or three stories a day like she was doing at The Montgomery Advertiser, but her best work comes when she has the time to deeply investigate issues.

The atypical work schedule at Mississippi Today also affords Davis and her reporting partner the time to implement innovative projects, such as “Public Newsroom,” where reporters host members of the public to bring different perspectives to their coverage.

“Journalism has a history of unfairly covering communities, sometimes a very malicious way, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. We have this phrase in journalism that you need to give voice to the voiceless, but the problem is those people were never voiceless, we just quit listening to them. It’s more about us learning to re-listen.”

From discovering her calling to making life-long friends, The Plainsman in many ways defined Davis’ college experience. It was incredibly difficult for her to step away because of how much the student newspaper had become a part of her identity, and the first few years were difficult to find her niche in the field of journalism.But working at Mississippi Today has fed that passion that she developed as a young student journalist.

“I feel like the ideal version of journalism is taught in universities, and we’re pretty close to that here. I’m getting to do the ideal job with journalistic integrity, caliber and quality of work.”

“I feel like the ideal version of journalism is taught in universities, and we’re pretty close to that here. I’m getting to do the ideal job with journalistic integrity, caliber and quality of work.”

Casey Wright ’16: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Casey Wright ’16: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

She’s working to end the violent cycle of poverty in Alabama, one child at a time

Casey Wright

Auburn Magazine: What was your pre-Auburn life like, and why did you pick Auburn?

Casey Wright: My mom is an Alabama alumna, and my dad’s entire family are big Auburn fans. My grandfather, my dad and my aunt all went to Auburn. But I think if you ask anyone either Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Auburn, Alabama, there’s really no comparison. My younger sisters are twins, and they’ll be in the class of 2020 at Auburn, too.

Ultimately, when I got to school, what I wanted to do with my major was just help people. I started out in education and tried to figure out what I wanted to do; eventually it led to the nonprofit sector, working with and helping people that way.

AM: You were able to find your passion in nonprofit work during your time at Auburn?

CW: It’s funny. I started in education and thought I wanted to work with kids and help people that way. Late in my sophomore year, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Life as I knew it kind of fell off, so I moved home and took a little time off. She passed away in 2015; when something like that happens, you realize your priorities. I stepped back from the picture, and while it wasn’t the best circumstances, it did give me time off of school to really evaluate what my priorities were and how I could make that a career.

I had some great advisors and professors who helped me identify different minors and turn that into a major through an interdisciplinary studies degree, which is ultimately what I graduated in. I think it’s one of Auburn’s hidden gems. I was able to get three different minors in three different colleges. I feel like it’s a very diverse major that I made into my own.

AM: What was the transition like when you switched majors?

CW: Birmingham is a very benevolent city, so I was able to get in touch with a few people here, for my capstone project and that turned into an internship with Woodlawn Foundation. Woodlawn Foundation’s mission is to revitalize a very low-income community in Birmingham through housing, education and healthcare, which are three areas of life that vulnerable populations have virtually no access to. Working with Woodlawn Foundation opened my eyes to all the different challenges low-income populations face. I went home everyday and felt like I was making a difference.

After I graduated, I went to work for the Floyd Healthcare Foundation in Rome, Georgia. part of a nonprofit hospital. We were working on how low-income populations could break the cycle of diabetes, or working with people on Medicare and Medicaid and getting them durable medical equipment, like walkers or wheelchairs.

After that, I moved on to Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), which I’ve been at for a little over a month. PARCA is the only free-standing public research institutions in the state of Alabama and they’ve been around for over 30 years. We measure quality of life, education and work-force development, as well as state and local government initiatives. Public education is not great here in the state. You also have prison systems, which could also stand to improve. It’s interesting learning about where Alabama can improve and how those improvements will affect not just low-income small communities, but the state as a whole.

The cycle of poverty is very cruel. It takes a village to get people out of that and show them the potential for what’s there. I’m very grateful that I’ve been led to this area and the path that’s gotten me here. If you look at it in the past 10 years, nonprofits have had a boom.

AM: What does your normal day look like as development coordinator?

CW: Ultimately, development coordinator is a fancy word for fundraising, but here at PARCA, that looks a little different. Part of what I’m doing is working with our researcher and project management, because my goal is to raise money through grants or fundraisers or individual donations. We want to raise more money, so we can conduct research for organization or cities around the state who don’t have the funding or the resources to do figure out how to solve problems. Traditionally, that’s the Black Belt area.

I was familiar with some communities in Alabama, but there have been other areas of the state that I’ve been just blown away with how good they are, and how much they have to offer, and how others around the state could benefit from partnering with them or looking at how they do things.

A few months ago, I was unaware of this organization and all the work they are doing. Now that I’m a part of it, I just want to share it with people, because I think if people aren’t aware that our public schools are failing, they’re not going to improve because no one wants to take action.

AM: What’s been the most rewarding part of the jobs you’ve had?

CW: Connecting people who never knew we had 164 units of affordable housing for homeless women and children right here in Birmingham. It’s been very rewarding to connect to those resources they need to get their lives back on track for themselves, for their children, for their children’s children.

AM: Was there a specific moment in your time since college that you realized you chose the right path?

CW: After my first few weeks with Woodlawn Foundation I was happy, and I was doing what I wanted to do. I felt like I could never get worn out or tired of this.

Jesica Ahlberg ’14: From Miss Alabama to Acting to K-Pop and Back

Jesica Ahlberg ’14: From Miss Alabama to Acting to K-Pop and Back

Actor, model, professional E-Sports gamer — don’t try to define her. 

Jessica Ahlberg

Jesica Ahlberg ’14 is not your typical… well, she’s not your typical anything.

Making her name known by winning Miss Alabama in 2014, Ahlberg built a career in the acting and modeling industries, culminating with a featured role on the hit TV drama “General Hospital,” but she has done anything but fit into the mold of a stereotypical actor and model.

After 17 episodes with the show, she took a break from acting. Now a few years later, Ahlberg is getting back into the industry. However, acting and modeling were never on her radar as a child.

“I was a huge nerd growing up, and I was not considered ‘pretty’, so I didn’t even think it was a possibility for me,” Ahlberg said. The Selma, Alabama, native loved video games as a kid and was savvy on the computer, winning awards in computer graphic competitions at the Alabama Independent School Association state technology fair.

“As I started getting older, when I was a junior in high school, that’s when I started filling out and got into my first pageant.”

Winning Miss Emerald Coast Teen USA, Ahlberg loved pageants because she got to travel and meet girls from all over the state, and she continued competing when she attended Auburn. While in college, the former high school drama club member jumped at the opportunity when a friend mentioned working as an extra in Atlanta.

“The extra casting director really liked me and put me in featured roles. When I was on set, assistant directors liked me and would put me in more prominent places. I kept getting a lot of really good feedback from my work, so it got me fired up to do more and more.”

From on screen to behind the camera to the writers’ room, Ahlberg enjoys every aspect of the industry. She landed roles in USA Today’s “Necessary Roughness” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip,” but she wanted to step away from acting to focus on herself as the extended stay on “General Hospital” became overwhelming.

“It’s so funny because you’re stressed when you’re not working, but when you have a gig and are working, it can be stressful, too, in a totally different way. Doing one show nonstop, it kind of takes up all your time, and it’s very emotional with whatever your character is dealing with and whatever you have to bring to life on screen.”

Toward the end of her time on the show, Ahlberg began taking classes at UCLA in interior design and architecture, which was a longtime passion of hers. She was always her friends’ go-to for design and shopping advice, and she landed jobs under celebrity designers Kelly Wearstler and Nicole Gordon.

What most people don’t know about Ahlberg, however, is that she’s an avid E-sports fan and logs a good amount of hours on “League of Legends” herself. She’s become friends with some of the players, coaches and owners in the E-sports community, and she’ll be attending the League of Legends World Championship Series for the fifth year in a row.

“I think it’s kind of the future, and I just got really into it. I’ve always been a big gamer growing up. I played on the computer by myself most days,” she said with a laugh. “I’m really competitive, too. I love any type of game. And my love for computer games just continued to grow from when I was a kid.”

Jessica Ahlberg

She played around with streaming on Twitch and other popular platforms before, and she’s considering giving it a try again one day.

With more free time away from the screen, Ahlberg became increasingly interested in Korean culture and entertainment. An interest in K-pop led to an interest in Korean TV shows, which led to Ahlberg learning to speak Korean on top of already learning Chinese.

The interest grew so much that she is now in pre-production for a YouTube channel that bridges Americans to Korean entertainment, and it will be released before the end of the summer. Just like E-sports, Ahlberg sees Korean entertainment as the future, even competing with Hollywood in the future.

“The very first show I watched, it was kind of my dream show to act in. I’ve never actually had an audition for a show or movie where I was like, ‘This is exactly the content that I want to create.’ I watched one, and I was like, ‘I’m so jealous. They’re not asking me to take my top off.’ It’s just really good, clean fun. It’s got a touch of fantasy, mystery and drama.”

With an abundance of passions outside of acting, the time away has allowed Ahlberg to rekindle her passion for acting after getting a little burned out.

From acting to computer gaming to Korean entertainment and back again, Ahlberg believes having friend groups in different areas helps her develop as a person. For her, taking a break from acting doesn’t necessarily mean the skills go away.

“I feel way more advanced than I did then. I feel like I’m always growing as a person, and as a character, you can glean that to each of your roles. It’s being more comfortable and accepting of yourself. I’m excited to see what comes of it and what I can bring to my characters now.”

“It’s being more comfortable and accepting of yourself. I’m excited to see what comes of it and what I can bring to my characters now.”

Shannon Ray ’12: Digitizing the World of Life Insurance

Shannon Ray ’12: Digitizing the World of Life Insurance

Making the complicated seem easy is all in a day’s work 

Shannon Ray

Shannon Ray ’12 is serving others by digitizing the outdated world of life insurance as a senior product designer at start-up Bestow Inc. in Dallas, Texas. She gained experience as a design assistant for the Alumni Association before graduating from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. Ray broadened her skillset by working as a designer for various start-up companies throughout her career.

Auburn Magazine: What made you choose Auburn?

Shannon Ray: My parents, one of my siblings and my grandparents went to Auburn. They were big proponents of singing the praises of Auburn and selling me on how great of a community it was. I was looking at graphic design, we had interviewed with the professors there, I was looking to go into the marching band, and Auburn has a great marching band, so all of these boxes kept checking off — it was pretty much a no-brainer for me.

AM: Did you always know you wanted to get into graphic design?

SR: At the time, I had applied to two schools for college. For Auburn, I was going to go into graphic design, and for the other school, I was looking into astronomy or some science field. I had strong leanings toward graphic design and lot of that was based off of a class I took in high school, learning tools on the computer and recognizing that I could do it for hours.

I latched onto the idea of doing art for the purpose of somebody else, as a service to somebody else’s idea or company. You learn about how you can impact something’s importance based on how it’s visually presented. All of those things were leading up to graphic design as a career.

AM: What interested you in product design?

SR: In school, I recognized that I enjoyed interactive design. I had classes where we designed a website, apps and a digital magazine and I got fascinated with the idea that how you present information and lead somebody changes how they perceive it. When I graduated, I had to decide between a branding-focused career versus web design.

I kept exploring and ultimately ended up in product design, because I knew that was an emerging and challenging field. I’m not just designing a website; I’m designing how a user will enroll in a program or engage in a game or something. It’s incredibly fascinating, and I’m so happy I’m in this field.

AM: In what ways did your experience as a design assistant at Auburn Magazine help prepare you for your current position?

SR: Having that opportunity to work in those programs in a real business setting and see how that all comes together was really beneficial. It was a great opportunity to get my toes wet, and it was a really safe environment to get started. The other thing about Auburn Magazine, and Auburn in general, is that everybody is really earnest, good-natured and collaborative. The nature of Auburn and its community is very supportive and that’s a great place to be at the beginning.

AM: In what ways did your experience as a design assistant at Auburn Magazine help prepare you for your current position?

SR: Having that opportunity to work in those programs in a real business setting and see how that all comes together was really beneficial. It was a great opportunity to get my toes wet, and it was a really safe environment to get started. The other thing about Auburn Magazine, and Auburn in general, is that everybody is really earnest, good-natured and collaborative. The nature of Auburn and its community is very supportive and that’s a great place to be at the beginning.

AM: What was your first job after graduation?

SR: My first job after graduation was Carbon House – doing websites for music venues, performing arts centers and any sort of event space. We created “the experience” for people visiting the websites. They had a good setup for a young designer – they had their own product content managing system and website service. They have a huge client list and a hold on that niche market so it was a great opportunity to touch larger brands.

I got that job because one of my cohorts in my graduating class met one of the heads of that company and recognized there was an open position. It wasn’t advertised anywhere, so having this good friend in the same program got me that interview, and my portfolio pushed it over the top and landed me that job. Especially with design, a lot of these fields are about making relationships.

AM: How did you end up working with life insurance for Bestow, Inc.?

SR: A mix of life events. I ended up moving to Dallas to be with my husband and I got the job because I worked hard on my portfolio and tried to make it visually attractive. I interviewed with one company that didn’t have a role for me but knew of another startup in their kind of company. They sent my resume over, I got interviewed and landed that job. Somebody I had interviewed with at the original company split off and started Bestow. When I was ready to leave my previous job, I had an interview with him and they had a great position for me.

AM: What kind of product design do you do?

SR: I’ve worked a lot on startups, especially young startups. If you join a young startup, you have to be able to handle a lot of different areas. I’ve done graphic design, web design, web development, email design and the actual product design. When you only have one or two designers and a lot of needs for the business, you cover everything.

As Bestow and other companies have grown, I’ve been able to focus more on product design. Right now, I’m working on a business-to-consumer product that’s focused on how the everyday person will interact with an application that will complete a task for the business – in this case, selling life insurance. I’m starting to focus on more complex products that will solve bigger issues.

AM: What project are you most proud of?

SR: Working now for Bestow, for sure. The life-insurance world is very archaic; everything’s on paper, you use an agent, there’s a lot of overhead in order to maintain those models. What this startup is trying to do is make it all digital. I like it because it’s a mission-based company, life insurance is a general good for people, that’s attractive to me.

That’s also challenging with regulations and special cases you have to account for. I actually enjoy that – it’s like tackling a challenge and being able to overcome it and start selling policies. It’s been a great experience working here and seeing my work come to life knowing that I had a big hand in it.

AM: Is there anything you’re currently working on that you’re especially excited about?

SR: I have a couple freelance efforts that I do with some friends, one of which is picking up. It sounds kind of crazy, but it involves “World of Warcraft.” I don’t play, but my friend is super into it and built an entire community around stats and ratings. They’ve gotten connections to Blizzard, the producer of the game, and they have special access to some of their data. I’m getting to work with him on some new features. That’s been really good to mix it up a little.

Having those side projects keeps the creative juices flowing. From nonprofits to friends’ projects to illustration, you just keep trying to round out your skills and keep growing.

AM: What’s the number one thing you love about your job?

SR: I really enjoy working with my coworkers. They have a driven, optimistic nature, and I think we really value that here. They’re willing to go that extra mile, which really jives with what I want, too; I want to be able to do really good work with good people. I enjoy that people appreciate that I’m trying to deliver quality and they’re expected to do that, as well. I’ve gotten some really awesome experiences just by being close with my coworkers.

AM: What is one thing you miss about Auburn?

SR: One of the things I obviously miss is the friends that I had there, and so many great people in one place. Auburn is definitely beautiful, but I would say the people I had there during my time. You can’t keep them forever, we’ve all scattered various places, it’s harder to get back together, but I still definitely miss that. I also miss being able to go to Toomer’s Coffee, I don’t even think it’s open anymore, but to work quietly there, drink coffee and walk the campus in the early morning.

AM: Do you have any specific goals for the future?

SR: I’m happy with where I am right now, but of course there’s things I want to grow. I want to be able to have more speaking opportunities within the company or local design community. A big thing people talk about is being prepared for the next exciting opportunity that comes so you’ll be ready to jump on it, maybe that’s in Bestow, maybe that’s a side project. I want to keep building my portfolio because, the more work you do, the more opportunities you’ll have.