Auburn Faculty Hobbies

Auburn Faculty Hobbies

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

Pannie-George’s Kitchen Gives Back

Pannie-George’s Kitchen Gives Back

What started out as a “plate sale” to fund a family reunion is now Pannie-George’s Kitchen, a family-owned restaurant that serves more than great soul food “I had the notion that I would just do a little catering business out of my house,” said Mary Key ’91, co-owner...

Auburn’s New Game Room

Auburn’s New Game Room

A deck should be written for each Alumni story. Select the preset "Alumni Stories.Deck" under Text Settings In March Auburn plugged in a new state-of-the-art game room inside the Melton Student Center. The facility features more than 40 high-end gaming computers; 35...

Auburn Rugby Club’s Rise to Greatness

Auburn Rugby Club’s Rise to Greatness

For decades, Auburn’s Rugby Club fought for relevance as much as victory. Then they were national champions. They lined up 15 men to a side, each tense with concentration. Over the next 80 minutes the two teams’ fates would be determined through bone-rattling hits,...

We’ll Meet Again

We’ll Meet Again

Thanks to some passionate supporters, a powerful Holocaust play with Auburn ties will extend its run through September Last year when Auburn Men’s Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl accepted an invitation to attend a musical in Opelika, Ala., he and his wife, Brandy, knew...

Auburn Ice Hockey Goes To Nationals

Auburn Ice Hockey Goes To Nationals

The Auburn Ice Hockey Club skates to nationals and hopes to fund its future

Students Ryan Scott, Katey Zencuch (rear), Cam Denk and Jack Sparago of the Auburn Ice Hockey Club.

As members of the Auburn Ice Hockey Club sit down to talk, there is some light moaning and groaning.

“Man, I’m sore,” says Jack Sparago, a junior in business administration.

“So sore,” echoes junior mechanical engineering major Cam Denk. “My feet and ankles hurt.”

For others it’s hips and shoulders. But before anyone continues, Sparago ends the complaining with a common refrain.
“That’s hockey,” he says. That is hockey. Ice hockey at Auburn University.

Fresh off a successful trip to the 2023 nationals and a 13hour return car ride, you’ll forgive if they are moving slowly. What’s not moving slowly, however, is the rise of hockey at Auburn and the club’s success.

The team finished its 2022-23 season 13-9-4 overall and went 2-1 at the Collegiate Hockey Federation’s national championship tournament in West Chester, Penn. Playing three games from March 10-15, the skating Tigers notched upset wins over Ramapo College and Neumann College and lost a close game to the University of Tampa.

“So we sat down at the beginning of the season this year and said, ‘You know, if we make the tournament and we get invited, we’re going to go,’” said Denk, the club’s president-elect and the goalie.

But the hardest part was raising the money to get there. So the team set up a GoFundMe to raise money for road trips, uniforms and all the other necessities of hockey life. They raised almost $8,000.

Harder still were injuries throughout the season, which runs from August to March, that left the team with only 18 skaters at nationals, a small number that limits substitutions in a highly physical sport. The season will still go down as one of the best and one they all hope will be a steppingstone for even greater success.

The team practices and plays their games in Columbus, Ga.

The First Period

The Auburn Ice Hockey Club’s origins can be traced back to 1979. After students from Auburn and the University of Alabama played an exhibition game as a promotion for the World Hockey Association’s Birmingham Bulls, journalism student Emory Stapleton decided he wanted to start a full-time club team. The Tigers played their inaugural season with the Southern Collegiate Hockey Association in 1980-81.

Current Coach Ryan Rutz is a collegiate national champion and is building a winning culture for the team that can consistently compete in the College Hockey South division, where Auburn and 28 other non-varsity SEC and southern schools compete.

Still, getting people to the games can be a challenge. Most people are surprised to learn that Auburn plays ice hockey, despite the team often tabling on the concourse and actively promoting their games on social media.

Katey Zencuch, a junior in exercise science, is on the team’s staff. She says playing in Columbus, Ga. is one of the hardest challenges.

“Whenever we are tabling on the concourse, there are lots of people who are interested in hockey because they’re from the North, or they grew up watching it. And they want to come to games but then realize they must drive 45 minutes. It’s hard.”

The team got a boost earlier this season when President Roberts and the first lady made a trip to the Florida game. Denk says he made a stick save and then experienced one of the highlights of his playing career.

“I looked over and President Roberts was going crazy up against the glass, like he was losing his mind. We really appreciated that.”

For many students who come to Auburn from up north or grew up loving the sport, being able to play hockey at Auburn is a big draw and a great way to meet people. It can be an exhilarating, bone-crushing reminder of home.

Ryan Scott, a senior in finance, defenseman and this year’s team president, grew up in Florida and Birmingham and learned to love the game from his Detroit-born dad.

“I just fell in love with the game and always wanted to play growing up the entire time,” Scott said. “Being a part of something greater than yourself and the relationships you build within this team have been great for me and my college experience.”

But with no local rink or pro shops to provide services like sharpening your skates, every member of the team must truly love the sport to play it. Not only do they have to drive to practice at the Columbus Ice Rink, but they cannot get on the ice until after 10 p.m. And that trip to nationals? That was their spring break. And now there are rumors that Athens is getting an on-campus rink. Still, no one on the team or staff would have it any other way.

“There’s nothing better than putting on your helmet and strapping up with your brothers and going to war against another school,” Sparago said. “It’s just awesome, no matter what happens in the game. You’re skating toward a kid in an Alabama logo, and you just put a shoulder in his chest and knock him f lying into the boards. Nothing beats that.”

Read More Auburn Alumni Stories

Auburn Rugby Club’s Rise to Greatness

Auburn Rugby Club’s Rise to Greatness

For decades, Auburn’s Rugby Club fought for relevance as much as victory. Then they were national champions. They lined up 15 men to a side, each tense with concentration. Over the next 80 minutes the two teams’ fates would be determined through bone-rattling hits,...

We’ll Meet Again

We’ll Meet Again

Thanks to some passionate supporters, a powerful Holocaust play with Auburn ties will extend its run through September Last year when Auburn Men’s Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl accepted an invitation to attend a musical in Opelika, Ala., he and his wife, Brandy, knew...

Auburn Ice Hockey Goes To Nationals

Auburn Ice Hockey Goes To Nationals

The Auburn Ice Hockey Club skates to nationals and hopes to fund its futureStudents Ryan Scott, Katey Zencuch (rear), Cam Denk and Jack Sparago of the Auburn Ice Hockey Club.As members of the Auburn Ice Hockey Club sit down to talk, there is some light moaning and...

Think Outside the Bag: Shelby Taylor ’16

Think Outside the Bag: Shelby Taylor ’16

One alumna turns the fast-food phenomenon into limited-edition luggage

Shelby Taylor with TB CALPAK

It’s a brand that needs no introduction, paired with another almost equally ubiquitous. Taco Bell. CALPAK.

If the crossover-collaboration seems like a stretch, that’s how it felt to Shelby Taylor ’16, design lead at CALPAK production studio in Los Angeles, California. At least until they—unwrapped—the concept.

“You love Taco Bell so much, but it’s not screaming Taco Bell at you,” said Taylor. “We tried to make sure that from the outside, it still looked like a normal piece of luggage, but with just that tiny bit of messaging or that tiny bit of color.”

Taco Bell had just come off the “Taco Bell Hotel,” a pop-up installation in Palm Springs, Calif., complete with a Baja Blast-themed bar and Taco Bell manicures. That unanticipated success opened doors for another concept centered on travel—they just didn’t know what.

When they approached CALPAK about producing a line of luggage, Taylor designed six unique collections that explored vintage western, “after dark” and even Taco Bell’s iconic wrappers as themes.

But it was Taco Bell’s iconic salsa packets that proved the most identifiable. CALPAK and Taylor worked through a series of product designs, discovering along the way that the intensity of the hot sauce determined its “personality.”

Shelby Taylor '16

“That sounds completely insane, but it made the kind of product comparison really easy,” said Taylor. “The fire packet is the most popular sauce packet, it should be the most popular item. How can we kind of take that fire identity and really apply it to the carry-on? And because the hot sauce is the second most popular, we wanted to make the duffel bag bright orange—really cool and ‘street.'”

CALPAK worked with on the design for a year before the finished product was in the warehouse. Unfortunately, that was the same year that the COVID Pandemic put a halt to global travel. CALPAK rebranded itself from world travel to everyday use.

“We were ready to go, and then it felt like the travel world just came to a stop. But that’s not a bad thing—it gave us an opportunity to really look at what the messaging was going to be. I think we really got a chance to formulate a stronger story with Taco Bell—we got to build out the creative in a different way.”

Taylor took her time looking for the right job after graduating from Auburn with an industrial design. She eventually landing a position as designer at CALPAK in 2017 and has remained there ever since, growing her own abilities alongside that of the company’s.

“I really wanted to work for somebody that I can relate to; that made it very difficult to find a job, but I knew that at least when I got there, I was going to be invested in when I was making. Working for CALPAK really gave me an opportunity to be selfish and make what I wanted to make, but also something I genuinely believed in.”

CALPAK wasn’t even hiring a product designer when Taylor applied for a job. They needed a graphic designer, but Taylor said she could do both, and in 2017 joined the team in a dual role. She called the experience “shocking” at the time, but it gave her a crash course on everything from website building to product photography.

Taco Bell CALPAK

Five years later, she now oversees all of the “creative” aspects of the CALPAK team, managing all of their photoshoots, directing graphic designers, and assisting the production team to make sure the tone is cohesive across the brand.

One of the next projects she’s involved with for CALPAK is an outdoor collection made from recycled water bottles, the company’s first “green” initiative that comes as they target hikers, bikers and campers as their next audience.

“It’s really exciting for us because it’s a new material and it’s a new way of travel that we haven’t really explored before. We tried to incorporate a lot of our core functionality, so not only is it a really durable, rugged product great for the outdoor adventure, but the everyday journey as well.”

The renewable initiative, in particular, is a breakthrough for the luggage industry, because reused materials typically are not as strong and durable as pure, virgin plastic, Taylor said.

And while the Taco Bell chapter of CALPAK might be over, for now, lunch for Taylor and her colleagues will never be the same.

“We had so much Taco Bell to eat in the last three years. And we used to say we were doing product research by eating there for lunch, but it was just an excuse to get Taco Bell. It was really, really great.”



Setting the Unexpected

Setting the Unexpected

Theme park designer Brian Morrow ‘97 unleashed his creativity to win HGTV’s “Table Wars”

If you need a dream brought to life, Brian Morrow is your guy. A theme park designer with more than 25 years of experience and owner/creative principal of B Morrow Productions, his job is making awe-inspiring fantasies a reality.

But he was challenged like never before as a contestant on HGTV’s “Table Wars,” where competitors designed immersive ensembles for upscale dinner parties. The show required him to draw on every facet of his career, constantly upping the ante while wowing celebrity judges Martha Stewart and Chris Hessney.

But when the timers stopped and the last fork was laid, Morrow was declared the first-ever “Table Wars” champion. While the title (and the $50,000 prize) are great, it was the experience itself he enjoyed most.

“I went on ‘Table Wars’ to reignite my level of passion for design,” said Morrow from his office in Orlando, Fla. “I’ve had my own business for many years. I’ve been in corporate America and theme parks for many, many years, [but] it’s been a long time since I’ve been challenged in that way. I said in one of the episodes it’s like I reconnected with my 27-year-old self.”

Brian Morrow overseeing construction of Wave Breaker at SeaWorld San Antonio, North America’s only jet-ski style coaster.  

Entrance to Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, designed by B Morrow Productions for SeaWorld Orlando.  

Morrow and a B Morrow Productions team member beside Submarine Quest at SeaWorld San Diego.

Storytelling comes naturally to Morrow. As a kid building model trains in his Tennessee basement, he spent more time designing the surrounding landscape than the trains themselves. Though he now uses industry terms like “environmental design” to describe his methods, back then he already understood how to create an immersive atmosphere. When he eventually coupled that with his engineering background, it became a potent combination.

A mechanical engineering major at Auburn, Morrow wanted to work in the theme park industry despite hearing there were no internships available. He cold-called companies and took alternating school quarters off to get hands-on experience. Days after earning his degree—in civil engineering—he was in Orlando, Fla. looking for work and holding a resume to back it up.

Over the next two decades he would do all manner of theme park engineering, including revamping the legendary “Big Bad Wolf” roller coaster at Busch Gardens Virginia with the first vertical drop in North America—an innovation that required a hair-raising test ride in a German shipyard.

“They didn’t have seatbelts, so they strapped us in with rope tied around our waist,” Morrow laughed. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I was like this thing could all go wrong in a minute, but you know it was really incredible. And, because our ride was inside and in the dark, we blindfolded ourselves and rode it again.”

“I learned that I can really trust my gut on what I’m capable of doing.”

Since 2018, B Morrow Productions has overseen projects for location-based entertainment around the country, including décor and productions for luxury hotels, master planning for theme parks and all types of detailed experiential design.

But when he auditioned for “Table Wars,” Morrow sought a new challenge. Across six episodes, contestants were pushed to create larger, more intricate creations, each with their own unique challenges. They also had to master precise table settings down to the centimeter, a challenge none of them were prepared for.

But while the engineer was up against interior designers, master florists and wedding planners, Morrow was fearless in envisioning—and ultimately executing—concepts that wowed judges and guests.

Morrow explains the details of his ‘80s-themed table setting—a mall’s food court— to host Tamera Mowry Housley (left) and judges Chris Hessney and Martha Stewart.

The setting that won HGTV’s “Table Wars,” a fairytale castle complete with ruins, a CGI dragon and “dragon-egg terrariums” as take-home gifts.

Morrow with the final two contestants of “Table Wars, Jenevieve Penk (center) and Carlton Lee Jr.

“I was one of the leaders of the pack building bigger things, more complicated things, and I’m comfortable doing that because when I was in Auburn, we learned how to hand-draft. I could very quickly create loose construction drawings that the carpenters could then use.”

An undeniable factor in Morrow’s success was his attention to detail. Other contestants struggled to explain their designs, but he focused on ideas that could be understood immediately. Once he figured out where the cameras and judges would view his installation, he learned how to build for maximum visual effect.

For the final challenge, contestants had to create a fantasy-themed dinner for 16 that had to include an interactive feature and take-home gifts for guests. Morrow built massive castle ruins around the dinner table that were painted to look stunningly authentic. A smoke-breathing CGI dragon fluttered outside a gothic-style window and “dragon eggs” inside Mason jar terrariums propelled him to victory.

When he emerged from the show “bubble,” Morrow had a new appreciation—not only for the scope of his chosen profession, but for the talent and experience he grew along the way.

“I think I learned that I can really trust my gut on what I’m capable of doing—I still have those chops to do big, bold things that people might not be expecting me to do,” said Morrow. “It reinvigorated that fire of invention and creativity in me.”

Design your own dinner party

Use what you have at home

“Don’t go buy a bunch of things and put it all together, lay out the stuff you could potentially use and then figure out your visual story.”

Don't get hung up on flatware

“My big trick I do to make life easy is put all the cutlery in the mason jar and let and people take what they want.”

look at what others are doing

“Watch and learn tricks and just copy people, and then get inspiration and do your own thing.”

Read More Auburn Alumni Stories

Alphonso Thomas ’84

Alphonso Thomas ’84

Alphonso Thomas, Director of Engineering and Technical Management, Air Force Sustainment Center

Alphonso Thomas '84

I started Auburn in 1977 as a math major on a Navy ROTC scholarship and marched in the band. I also was with the Auburn Knights Orchestra.

 I dropped out after one quarter and enlisted in the Air Force as a musician (saxophone). After four years, returned to Auburn on an Air Force scholarship and earned my bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering (EE) in 1984 and was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. Left active duty in 1992 and eventually returned to the Air Force as a Civilian in 1996. Earned my Masters in EE in 2004.

Fast forward, now I’m director of engineering for the Air Force Sustainment Center, which includes Robins AFB in Georgia, Tinker AFB in Oklahoma and Hill AFB in Utah. I have lived and worked at Maxwell AFB, Ala; Ramstein AB, Germany; Los Angeles AFB, Calif.; Hanscom AFB (near Boston), Mass.; Robins AFB, Georgia; Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio; Rome, N.Y.; Tinker AFB (near Oklahoma City), Okla.