Three alumni awarded with university’s top honor

Published: Mar 6, 2017 12:00:00 AM

lifetime achievement
Pictured (L-R): Beau Byrd '89, president of the Auburn Alumni Association Board of Directors; 2017 Young Alumni Achievement Award recipient K-Rob Thomas '01; the four 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipients: Nelda Lee '69, Dwight Wiggins '62, Coach Pat Dye, U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Rogers '81, and Gretchen Vanvalkenburg '86, vice president of the Office of Alumni Affairs and executive director of the Auburn Alumni Association.

Three Auburn Engineering alumni were awarded with the university’s top honor for their respective categories during a ceremony March 4 at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.

The Auburn Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipients included Nelda Lee, ’69 aerospace engineering, and Dwight Wiggins, ’62 and ’67 mechanical engineering, while K-Rob Thomas, ’01 civil engineering, was awarded the Young Alumni Achievement Award. Former football coach Pat Dye and Navy Adm. Mike Rogers, ’01 business, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, were also presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lee is a pioneer in women’s aviation history, responsible for flight and ground test engineering for the four military aircraft manufactured by Boeing, including the F-15 Eagle, AV-8 Harrier, T-45 Goshawk and F/A-18 Hornet. She was the level-two manager for test and evaluation personnel located in St. Louis and at the military test sites at China Lake, California; Patuxent River, Maryland; and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Lee was an employee with McDonnell Douglas Corp., now Boeing, for 44 years. A highlight of her career with McDonnell Douglas was being the first woman to log 1.5 hours of flight time in the F-15 Eagle. In addition to her career with Boeing, Lee also enjoys aviation in her free time and is a licensed commercial pilot with instrument, multi-engine and helicopter ratings. She previously served as international president of Whirly-Girls Inc. and was recipient of the 10th-annual Doris Mullen Whirly-Girls Scholarship. Lee is charter member No. 15 of Women in Aviation International and currently serves on the organization’s board of directors. A life member of the Society of Flight Test Engineers and the Auburn Alumni Association, she has served both St. Louis Auburn Alumni Clubs as president. Lee was inducted into the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Half of Fame in 2004, received the Whirly-Girls Livingston Award in 2001 and was awarded the 2010 Katherine and Marjorie Stinson Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association. In 1969, Lee became the second woman to earn an aerospace engineering degree from the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

Wiggins served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1967-93, during which time he held numerous professional and managerial assignments with ExxonMobil. In 1993, he joined Tosco Corp. as president of Bayway Refining, affecting an intense overhaul that boosted productivity and allowed the company to present employees with year-end bonuses for the first time. In 1996 Wiggins became president of Tosco Refining Co. and executive vice president of Tosco Corp. By his retirement in 2001, his responsibilities had expanded to include refining and distribution facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Illinois, California and Washington. Since his retirement, Wiggins has been involved with several financial ventures, including residential construction in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Dwight L. Wiggins Mechanical Engineering Hall was dedicated at Auburn University in April 2012 in memory of Wiggins’ father.

Thomas, transmission construction general manager at Alabama Power Co., is the recipient of the Young Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes extraordinary accomplishments by a member of the Auburn Family age 40 or under. Following graduation from Auburn in 2001, K-Rob Thomas joined Southern Co. as a transmission line maintenance engineer. In a short amount of time he has progressed through many roles within Southern Co. and currently serves as transmission construction general manager for Alabama Power in the company’s Birmingham headquarters. A mentor to students and member of the College of Engineering’s advisory council, Thomas established the Dennis Weatherby Annual Scholarship Award, named for the founding director of Auburn’s Minority Engineering Program, through the Alabama Power Academic Excellence Program.