I graduated from high school in Smyrna, Ga. in 1970, where I had gone to school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and I was accepted to Auburn University in Fall 1970 to study civil engineering. Throughout my academic life I made A’s and B’s by simply paying attention in class and doing my homework (which was minimal in retrospect); I seldom had to study, and I frankly thought that was the case because I believed I was smarter than the average kid (though certainly not the smartest kid in the room.) I made straight A’s during my senior year in high school, and headed out to Auburn prepared to get my engineering degree and enjoy the college scene.
In my first quarter at Auburn, and throughout my freshman year, several subjects I was required to take proved to be quite difficult for me because I came from a school system that allowed me to essentially memorize answers instead of teaching me how to study and truly learn the material. Auburn also exposed me to large classrooms for the first time, where one- on-one instruction during class was virtually impossible. As a result, my weaknesses in the classroom became all too obvious in the pre-engineering preparatory courses like chemistry, calculus, physics, etc. I will never forget struggling mightily in studying for my first calculus and chemistry tests (both in the same week early in my first quarter), and getting my test papers back with scores of 62 and 65, respectively. Never before had I even studied much to make A’s and B’s, and suddenly I had worked as hard as I knew how and ended up essentially failing two different tests. I had a sinking feeling in my gut that I would flunk out of college by the end of my freshman year and perhaps sooner, and suddenly the college scene was no longer fun.
Out of desperation, for the next week or so I went to see my professors for each of my problem subjects after each class , and while they were helpful as to specific questions I had, my lack of a sufficient academic background continued to plague me and destroy what little confidence I had remaining. Finally (probably to get me off his back), one of my professors suggested that I sign up for the tutorial program that was available to pre-engineering students. I was directed to the west end of Ramsay Hall on the first floor to sign up for a tutor in each problem subject, and I initially signed up for one hour of tutoring (by a graduate student or upperclassman) for each hour of class. Much to my relief the program was funded by an annual donation from an Auburn University graduate and therefore it was free to kids like me who were going through school on a shoestring and a prayer.
The one-on-one instruction I received during these sessions allowed me to learn how to think like a problem solver, how to reason through the solutions to a problem, how to study the available material efficiently, and essentially gave me confidence in myself again through the immediate feedback that I could get from the tutor. While it continued to be a struggle for me through the first two quarters at Auburn, I no longer needed the tutors by the end of the second quarter, and I ended up with a GPA of 3.5 or better in both quarters. Ultimately I graduated with high honors with an overall GPA of 3.78 four years later, well ahead of many of the students who had seemingly thought that tutors were for the dummies in the class.
Since graduating from Auburn, I worked four years with Exxon Company, USA in New Orleans, and then for seven years with a small independent oil company where I became the executive vice president and chief operating officer. In 1985 I started my first oil and gas company at the age of 32, and since then I have initiated a total of six different companies that were all ultimately sold off at a profit to larger industry competitors who liked the niche’s we were pursuing.
I reside today in Tulsa, Okla. where I have been for the last 29 years, and I am on the Auburn Engineering Advisory Council (who graciously honored me with the Engineering Achievement Award in 2004). I currently serve on nine different company or charitable boards, and my wife Becky and I have four kids (three of whom have degrees from Auburn).
In retrospect, if it hadn’t been for the engineering tutorial program at Auburn in 1970, I feel certain that I would not have been able to pull myself out of the tailspin I was in during my first few months on campus. I would likely have changed to a different major and perhaps even gone to a smaller college or dropped out altogether. There is no doubt Auburn changed my life forever, and therefore the tutorial program that saved me allowed me to become the person I am today, and to experience the success I have been fortunate enough to enjoy.
With this background, it is important for me to give back to Auburn and to perhaps provide a similar life raft for those students who like me are not initially prepared for the rigors of an engineering degree. My wife and I are very proud to be able to fund the Warnock Family Tutorial Fund for Excellence, an endowment that will help pay for this program.