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A spirit that is not afraid

What Auburn means to President Christopher B. Roberts

<p>Aubie the Tiger celebrating with Christopher Roberts and Tracy Roberts after putting a hole-in-one at Pizza &amp; Popsicles with the President on Sept. 13, 2023.</p>

Aubie the Tiger celebrating with Christopher Roberts and Tracy Roberts after putting a hole-in-one at Pizza & Popsicles with the President on Sept. 13, 2023.

Auburn means the world to many students, alumni and others living in the small college town. To Auburn University President Christopher B. Roberts, it means everything.

Roberts has been a part of Auburn University for much longer than his 16 months of presidency. After growing up in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, attending college at the University of Missouri and completing his master’s and doctorate at The University of Notre Dame, he made Auburn home.

Originally, his heart lay in chemical engineering where he became an assistant professor at Auburn in 1994 and department chair in 2003. In 2012, Roberts became the Dean of the College of Engineering, and then president of Auburn University in May 2022.

When asked about his typical day as president, Roberts claimed he loved the variety and opportunities each day brings. 

“Every day is different,” Roberts said. “That’s the most beautiful part of this job. Every day is different, and it’s filled with opportunities to engage with the Auburn family.”

He gave an example of the day before; he was in a meeting in Washington D.C. with the legislative delegation in order to thank them for their assistance and share with them what was happening on campus.

A tidbit about Roberts that many do not know is that he loves to play and collect guitars, especially electric ones. He grew up in his dad’s music store, so music quickly became one of his passions. Though he found other passions in college, music remains a driving force in his life.

“One of the things that I really think is great about Auburn is that if you’re an engineer on this campus, you can experience the arts,” Roberts said. “You can experience theater. You can experience a lot of different things, and if you’re a student in the arts, you get to [interact] with people that are working in other disciplines.”

He continued to explain at Auburn, there are no limits to the different passions students can have as they learn and find out who they are.

“I love the fact that at Auburn we have pockets of excellence in all of our colleges that allow our student bodies to really get a well-rounded education both inside their major and outside their major, based on the people they interface [interact] with,” Roberts said. 

However, it is not all about the time in the classroom and merely interacting with one’s major that Roberts believes is important; he believes that a good education encompasses a variety of things.

Roberts explained how education occurs just as much in the community as it does on campus or inside the classroom itself.

When taking a step back to look at all of Roberts’ years as a part of Auburn, he explained that while some things about Auburn have changed, there are certain aspects that have remained consistent and fundamental.

“I love the fact that we remain very rooted and true to the values that are expressed in the Auburn Creed…The passion that Auburn people have for their university has remained very, very true to me through all of these years that I’ve been here at Auburn,” Roberts said. “The sense of community and family – the Auburn family – means everything to me. That has all been very consistent throughout the years I’ve been here at Auburn.”

However, he has also witnessed Auburn change during his time here on the Plains through various avenues of growth.

“I’ve also seen Auburn evolve over this timeframe into a powerhouse of an institution...we’ve done that by staying true to our values but working hard on the things that improve people’s lives, drive our economy and advance our society and providing exceptional experiences to our students in order to be able to do those things,” Roberts said.

He believes it is important to remain true to the values and beliefs that make Auburn unique, but also understands that Auburn can and will always aim to grow and improve for the greater good of the community and its people.

Throughout his time at Auburn, Roberts has watched different programs of research and academia grow along with the now-diverse student body. He believes Auburn has found the balance of staying true to who it is while still learning to evolve to become a stronger institution that impacts people for the better.

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“Through the years that I’ve been at Auburn, I’ve really learned about three things that I believe to be fundamental, and I share them with just about anybody I can,” Roberts said.

His first goal is to make sure that Auburn provides exceptional experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. This enables students to transform academic success into lifelong success. That lifelong success can then be used to advocate for and help the people around them.

His second goal is to ensure that all scholarly work done through Auburn is done with a spirit that is advancing and impactful. 

Lastly, Roberts explained the importance of exhibiting a culture of excellence and innovation throughout all of these things.

Speaking to the student body, Roberts said, “Spend time with us. We’ve worked really hard on this campus to put programs in place to provide support and to provide encouragement and to enable students to be successful. But, many of those programs are only impactful if you’re engaged.”

The engagement of students is one of Roberts’ passions.

“One thing that I’ve learned is that people don’t do what they don’t want to do, and they do amazing things when they’re motivated,” he said. “I wish to engage our students so that they can be motivated about their education and about their ability to affect other people’s lives.”

Roberts wants people to discover their passions and focus on them to advance both their education and character.

“I like to tell people that both passion and focus are superpowers,” Roberts said.

Involving Auburn’s well-known campus traditions, Roberts said that his favorite is the value and immutability of the Auburn Creed. In fact, the Creed is really what convinced him to choose Auburn.

“The department chair during my interview handed me a piece of paper and said, ‘This document is very important to Auburn people.’ I read it that evening, and I fell in love with Auburn,” Roberts said.

All of these traditions, values and the community that Auburn encompasses are what make Auburn special to Auburn men and women. 

“Auburn family: it means everything,” Roberts said.

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