Extra Credit

Extra Credit

From painting orcs to racing dirt bikes, Auburn professors have hobbies as varied as their areas of expertise

It’s nothing fancy. Nothing too involved. It’s not like she has an elaborate dedicated studio. When Lindsay Tan needs to, she throws some newspaper down on the kitchen table and breaks out the Minotaur Maroon and Fairy Fuchsia, grabs the brushes and unwinds. That thing she does? It’s just a pastime.

Peter Stanwick, on the other hand? Pastime doesn’t do it justice. Heck, after 54 years, calling his colossal collection a passion probably doesn’t even cover it. (His wife might go with “plague.”)

Kevin Smith’s students don’t even know about his weekend double life. Maybe they have noticed some extra muscle tone lately, but he’s mostly managed to keep his recent adrenaline addiction under wraps.

But practically the entire neighborhood knows what David Timm’s up to out there on clear nights.

Here’s a look at four Auburn professors who, as it turns out, are people with pastimes and passions like the rest of us. Pastimes and passions pursued entirely outside the classroom. Pastimes and passions that, given their day jobs and expertise, might come as a surprise.


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

In 1969, an 8-year-old Peter Stanwick went to a store in his hometown of Toronto and bought his first vinyl record: the Beatles White Album. That was 12,000 records ago, give or take a few hundred. But mostly give. Because Peter Stanwick can’t stop buying them. Or spinning them.

In March, Stanwick, a professor in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business since 1993, celebrated the 20th anniversary of his Auburn campus radio show on WEGL, “’80s Rewind.” The kids these days download the songs they want to play and then upload them into a digital audio library. Not Stanwick. He puts his back into it. He still lugs his weekly playlist in the doors in crates. Could anyone tell if he just popped in a thumb drive? Maybe. Maybe not. But Peter could. It is, he says, the principle of the thing.

Google around about the recent resurgence in vinyl records, and you’ll see audiophiles pretending that music sounds better on vinyl, sure. But most folks just credit it to something they call the connection. Maybe it’s the work that goes into it—the best practices of careful storage, of avoiding scratches, the magical sonic surgery of pulling songs from polyvinyl chloride with a needle. Maybe it’s the sense that watching a record spin is kind of like its own little performance. But vinyl, so the theory goes—and so Stanwick swears—allows music lovers to–somehow, some way–feel connected to the music they love more than any other medium.

Yes, he pays for a streaming music subscription. But only the family uses it, not him. It’s just not his style. Spotify doesn’t give you liner notes, it doesn’t show you what’s on the back cover, or what color the vinyl is. For Stanwick, music isn’t something to enjoy just with your ears. You do it with your ears and your eyes and your hands and your mind. And your wallet. And your basement.

“We made custom shelving for the records, for the music room. But we’re almost at full capacity with those shelves,” Stanwick said. “I don’t really know what Plan B is. I also have 5,000 CDs.”


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

For a guy who’s made a career of studying stuff on the ground, David Timm sure does look up a lot. So up that the neighbors ask questions. The most common is the obvious: “What are you looking at?” Timm will tell them and offer them a look and they’ll ooh and ahh, and then the next time they drive by and see the pavements and materials professor out at night with one or more of his four telescopes, Timm says some of the nicer ones will even help him out.

“They’ll dim their headlights for me to help maintain the dark sky.”

And dark skies are important for astrophotography. Which is exactly what it sounds like. And thanks to the astronomical advances in technology over the last decade or so, this type of dark-sky photography has become very popular.

Timm’s been at it for a decade and he and his scopes and digital cameras are slowly working their way through the Messier Catalog, a 250-year-old list of 110 cosmos Kodak moments. At last count, Timm has logged 70, some multiple times, like the Orion Nebula, his favorite.

Producing stunning images of the night sky and all its nearby nebulae has never been easier. Still, if you’re serious about it, it’s not exactly the simplest hobby. First you must align the telescopes and camera mounts to the celestial pole to counter the earth’s rotation. Then, collect the raw images—the deep sky objects sometimes in exposures as long as five minutes, the solar system stuff sometimes at 80 frames per second—and then stack and process the heck out of them with various astro-friendly apps. It all takes a lot of time. But he does it as often as life and work and clear skies will allow. The finished product? Always worth it.

“There’s just so much beauty to be found out there,” Timm said. “Most of which is invisible to us without a telescope.”


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

Maybe it was because her dad was into model trains when she was growing up. Maybe it was just something to do to pass the pandemic. Maybe it just caught her eye on Pinterest one day. Interior design professor and program coordinator Lindsay Tan can’t really pinpoint why exactly she got into it, or where she even got the idea. She just knows it works. Painting miniature, custom-designed, 3D-printed Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) figurines at her kitchen table does exactly what a hobby is supposed to do: take your mind off things.

“My job is really intellectually challenging, and I find myself constantly thinking about the problems I’m working on,” she said. “But this—this is something with straightforward parameters. I can just immerse myself mentally with this one thing.”

And, yes, it is a thing. “Miniature painting”—that’s how the bloggers who write about it and the companies who produce branded paints for it refer to the activity. Be it by simple base coating and highlighting, or more advanced stuff like layering, blending and wet blending, Tan uses tiny brushes with “Silver Dragon” or “Merfolk Turquoise” or “Fire Newt Orange” paint colors and paints tiny orcs, dwarves and dragons. Or whatever other fantasy archetypes populate tabletop roleplaying lore. The painting has practically become a pursuit in itself, separate from the games, which Tan has only now gotten into because of the painting.

“D&D was always on the periphery of my life, and a lot of my friends play,” Tan said. “I had done a few one-off (games) without getting too heavily into it. But then I was reminded that this figure painting component existed. I was invited to a group and joined a campaign, but I wasn’t cool enough to play D&D growing up.”

But she’s determined her kids will be. “I’m creating a campaign for them to do this summer.”

Which means it’s probably time to order more elven armor.


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

You’ve probably caught it on ESPN when they’re showing X-Games kind of stuff. People striving against all odds to race dirt bikes through the woods, up and down rugged inclines, over open terrain and rocks, through mud, through pain, through everything, in a set time limit. Sometimes it’s several hours. Sometimes it’s multiple days. It requires strength, strategy, smarts and stamina. And its name is enduro racing. And, Kevin Smith, mild-mannered media studies professor, is pretty darn good at it.

Second place is good right? That’s what he got in the Southern Off-Road Championship Series. There were around 20 entrants in his division and he and the Wombat—that’s what he and his wife call his bike just because it sounds cool—beat out 18 of them.

He started riding never intending to race. He’d gotten a motorcycle for his campus commute a few years back, and he’d done some dirt biking with friends out in Colorado. Then one day he decided to combine the experience. He pulled the trigger on a dirt bike and found some folks to ride with.

“I was kind of looking for something more,” he said. He wasn’t alone. And from a Church of the Highlands small group of thrill seekers sprang a local community of riders who joyfully spend their weekends straining muscles they didn’t know they had on a five-mile trail on a member’s nearby piece of property. Or, nowadays, at an officially sanctioned race.

Smith has done a few races. He has also once placed third. But we won’t talk much about what happened in February in muddy Mississippi.

“It rained seven inches the night before and there was this giant, muddy rut that just ate my bike,” Smith said. “The mud was so thick that the back end was straight up. That was a first.”

He was stranded for a little while, he says. But at least he wasn’t bored.

Read More Alumni Stories

Home Renovations

Home Renovations

Josh Williams ’18 was born—and almost died—in Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. He just returned to help build its newest addition.

Josh Williams in front of Piedmont Hospital

It’s a story that never gets old, even as he does.

Joshua Williams’ near-death experience before he was born. A month in the NICU of Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, fighting for survival, before finally entering the outside world a healthy, growing boy in 1996. That’s how the story ended for two decades, right until Williams returned to Piedmont as a project manager with Meadows & Ohly and helped build its newly opened Marcus Tower.

It’s surreal to give back to the place that gave him life. “That’s home for me,” Williams said of Piedmont. “My mom used to work for Piedmont and I have other family in Atlanta who work at Piedmont. Even the floor I helped build at Marcus Tower is for the department a [friend] works in. It all comes back to that human-centric connection—that is the most fulfilling part to me. Being able to do that at home, there’s no better feeling.”

During the construction of Marcus Tower in 2020, the whole world stopped as the coronavirus spread, and the importance of hospitals grew by the minute. Sure, Meadows & Ohly—and by extension, Williams—had a duty to help build this new, hi-tech extension of a hospital that had nearly 267,000 patient cases in 2021. But suddenly their work took on global significance, he says. Whether directly or indirectly, they were helping to save lives.

“I feel responsible and obligated to do my part to make sure I can help these doctors. Being in this position to directly effect change in the world, there is no kind of tangible award or feeling that I could get from doing anything else.”

Williams left Auburn’s architecture program after his sophomore year for environmental design, a switch he credits with informing his sense of human-centric construction. Adding a master’s in building construction as well, he tries to approach projects as if he were a patient. Everything, from how the beds are situated, to the minute detail of how lighting can assist stroke patients’ healing process, are things his team considers for every new facility.

“We do it for that first patient,” said Williams. “We are trying to do whatever we can to make sure they get the most efficient care and services to help save lives.”

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Saving the Skyline: Kelli Crabtree ’17

Saving the Skyline: Kelli Crabtree ’17

Every day is a learning experience when you restore buildings in New York City

Kelli Crabtree

Kelli Crabtree ’17 had always heard stories about Auburn from her mom, an Auburn graduate, but she knew it was the place for her the second she stepped on campus her senior year of high school. “I thought it was so beautiful,” she said.

“It’s just something about Auburn — you can feel it when you get there, it’s so special.”

Now living in New York City as Project Manager for Scott Henson Architect, Crabtree looks back on her time at Auburn and how her college experience prepared her for the fast-paced lifestyle of an architect in New York. “Auburn is really good about preparing their students in architecture for the practical aspects of the job, as well as the creative side.”

The aspiring architect travelled to Rome for the International Studies Program, exploring the city and learning new sketching techniques. Crabtree later participated in Auburn’s Urban Studio Thesis Program in Birmingham, where she ultimately got the idea to consider New York. An Auburn career service specialist, Crystal Jalil, gave Crabtree some advice to book a trip, stay with friends that lived there and tell the architectural firms she applied to that she would be in town, in case they wanted to interview her. Taking her advice, Crabtree got three interviews and landed a job at Scott Henson Architect in New York.

The fast pace of New York didn’t phase this small-town Auburn graduate, either. “Even though it is hard, the clients are straight to the point, and you have to be quick on your feet, it’s made me a better architect,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree’s love for old buildings stemmed from an early age, going to look at old houses with her mom throughout her childhood. Today she enjoys working on projects involving the historical preservation and renovation of old buildings in New York.

“There’s a real purpose behind preserving the history of the city and the special buildings that they just don’t make as detailed and beautiful anymore.”

One project Crabtree is working on is Passive House, a full-gut renovation of a three-story townhome in a very small historic district in Long Island, New York.

“We’re completely gutting the inside, redoing the whole structure and doing all the interior design,” she said.

Although she loves her big city life and job, Auburn is not forgotten to Crabtree. She regularly reminisces over times in the studio at lunch alongside a close friend and former classmate, Chloe Deutschman, who works just a block away.

The options for Crabtree’s future in architecture are endless, but she and a friend she met in New York have come up with one ambitious idea. “Eventually I would love to be able to start my own business, so we’ll just see,” she laughed.

“I’m really glad that I’m getting this experience, I wouldn’t get it anywhere else.”


“I’m really glad that I’m getting this experience, I wouldn’t get it anywhere else.”