With over 29,000 students, it’s a daunting task to meet each one. Auburn University President Steven Leath was determined to meet as many as he could during his first year as president.
“I’m pretty accessible,” Leath said. “Anytime students see me, whether it’s eating in Foy or walking across campus or anything like that, they should always feel free to stop me and let me know what’s on their mind.”
He said he has a vision for Auburn, and his vision became public knowledge in March.
Leath said his biggest priority is to continue to improve the student experience, which includes meeting with students to learn what they want.
Students have made it clear they want more dining options, he said. Leath was happy to work with Tiger Dining to bring students exactly what they wanted and is excited for students to see it this fall.
“We’re renovating Foy right now,” Leath said. “Whether it’s names they know like Panera like in Mell or a whole new look in Foy, I think they’re going to see some really neat things student experience-wise.”
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Leath said his next plans are to renovate and build new housing. Those plans are being developed now as he works with students and Student Affairs, which recently took University Housing under its umbrella as part of Leath's restructuring plan. He is excited to unveil those plans this fall, he said.
“Student’s are going to have a big role in what this all looks like,” Leath said. “That’s going to be something you only do every so often. So it’s going to have a huge impact on student life if we overhaul dining like we just did and then overhaul the residence halls.”
Improving the student experience isn’t all he wants to accomplish this year. Leath laid out an entire plan to “inspire, transform and innovate” Auburn during his installation. He also announced plans to improve Auburn research facilities and the amount of research.
By the beginning of the fall semester, 71 tenure-track faculty members in a wide range of departments will begin their careers at Auburn. The amount of time each of these faculty members will devote to research varies.
Seven non-tenure track assistant research professors have also been hired since January. They focus all of their time to research.
“We wanted to grow research and impact and solve more problems,” Leath said. “We didn’t want to in any way decrease the undergraduate experience. So how can you have more faculty doing research without taking them out of the classroom? The answer to that is you need more faculty.”
As Leath increases the research base of the University, he said he wants to form partnerships with well-known companies.
Leath's prime example is the University’s recent partnership with Boeing. This summer, Auburn students interned for Boeing at Auburn’s research center in Huntsville, Alabama.
“Boeing is providing money to Auburn, and we’re hiring interns,” Leath said. “Auburn students are getting paid by Auburn, but they’re interning at Boeing. The neat part of that is when they finish this summer and come back to campus they can continue to work on those projects even while they’re here.”
Leath wants to bring more visibility to Auburn. He said he thinks these partnerships will help do just that because as Auburn gains partnerships, it gains visibility, which brings more partnerships.
The increased visibility and the prestige that would come along with it would benefit not only current students but graduates who already hold a degree, as well.
“It makes degrees for our students more valuable,” Leath said. “The more people know about Auburn — its programs, its students — the more inclined they are to hire them. I want, when you finish, somebody will go, ‘They went to Auburn, that’s a big plus.’”
Best first moments
Leath said it was a tough choice to come to Auburn, leaving behind many friends, but he is grateful for the opportunity and is loving every minute of it.
A smile beams from his face any time he gets to brag about Auburn. He is most proud of the Critical Conversations speaker series.
“We actually went out and proactively did something positive and useful,” Leath said. “It was really well-received, well-attended.”
His favorite moment from his first year was the Women’s Equestrian National Championship win.
Leath was on the road quite often the past year with visits to donors and Auburn clubs throughout the nation. It was a year of many firsts, but Leath said he is excited to get the next semester started and kick off his second year as president.
It was a year of many firsts, but Leath said he is excited to get the next semester started and kick-off his second year as president.
“I’m thrilled at Auburn,” Leath said. “Absolutely no regrets. It’s super exciting.”
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