Apr 21 2008

New technology center heralds new age of engineering at Auburn

Opelika-Auburn

By Amy Weaver


Auburn University sophomore Kelsi Williams doesn’t know if she will take any classes in the new Shelby Center for Engineering Technology or not.

On Friday afternoon, the electrical engineering major from Huntsville was just happy to be in the new 185,000-square foot building on Magnolia Avenue with fellow members of the Cupola Engineering Society, providing tours to guests invited for the facility’s official dedication.

Even if all of Williams’ classes are in Braun Hall, seeing the investment made to engineering at Auburn proved to her she made the right choice.

“I think a lot more students will be attracted to Auburn and the (Samuel Ginn) College of Engineering now,” she said. “I think it will have more of an impact on high school students, and even graduate students.”

Seth Curl will earn his aerospace engineering degree in three weeks so he will miss the benefits the new facility will provide students and faculty alike, but he agrees it will make recruiting much, much easier. Cupola members like Curl and Williams serve as ambassadors for the college.

Fortunately, that’s the idea.

Engineering Dean Dr. Larry Benefield said it was seven years ago when college officials decided that to be among the top engineering schools in the nation, Auburn needed money for professorships and scholarships and facilities to attract and retain professors and students.

“I assure you a major, major step has been taken today to meet our vision,” he said.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, for whom the building is named, didn’t hold anything back to the standing-room only crowd, gathered in the Tom and Bettye Lowe Grand Foyer. He said he expects to see much out of the building, including improving the economy of Alabama.

“It’s not about who it’s named for or how it’s built, but what comes out of it,” Shelby said.

Congressman Bud Cramer represents Alabama’s 5th District in Northern Alabama, but he has an interest in the Shelby Center, not just because of its potential impact on the state, but because Bob Jones High School in his district is the largest feeder school to Auburn’s college of engineering.

He joked that he didn’t care if those students came down to Auburn or stayed near home and went to Alabama’s Huntsville campus, but “as long as they get an education in the state and stay in the state, new industry will come.”

It seems like an unfathomable task for one college to handle, but Benefield said it can be done. The Shelby Center, which was completed last fall, has already been used as a selling point for the college, he said. Benefield admitted it could be too early to tell if the new building had anything to do with having an incoming freshman class of more than 800 students with an average ACT score of 27.5 or not.

“It helps to have a facility like this when you have students like that,” he said.

BY THE NUMBERS

Shelby Center for Engineering Technology

Phase I
August 2005- November 2007
$54 million for 185,000-square feet
Classes could start as early as fall 2008
Houses industry and systems engineering, computer science and software engineering, administration and an advanced lab for aerospace engineering

Phase II
Hope to break ground in September 2008
$50 million-$51 million for 160,000-square feet
Will house mechanical engineering, advanced research lab for all disciplines and a clean room for nanotechnology