Passion for Auburn Engineering, communications inspires retired director to give back

Published: Jul 1, 2020 11:02 AM

By Lauren Winton

A spark of creativity, a dose of imagination – these are the qualities that make an engineer an engineer, according to Jim Killian. Killian – or JK as he is affectionately known to students, colleagues and friends – is the retired director for the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Office of Communications and Marketing. And he isn’t kidding about engineering. The distinct nature of the Auburn Engineering community is what kept him writing for the college for the majority of his illustrious career.

“I enjoy working with engineers and engineering faculty. I relate to them, even though I’m not an engineer. I’m a writer. But I like the atmosphere,” Killian said.

It’s a familiar atmosphere for Killian – whose father was a 1948 Auburn Engineering graduate – one that he describes as “coming back to my roots.” And though many view engineering and the arts as opposites, Killian sees the intersections.

“Some people say that in my world – the communication world – that we’re creative. But I think engineers are just as creative. Maybe in different ways, but certainly no less,” he said.

The engineering community at Auburn, Killian said, “is a caring community.” Through his years working with Auburn Engineering, Killian has seen cohorts of students come through, find mentors in the field, graduate and continue to elevate the Auburn name while staying grounded.

“Auburn Engineering students are driven. They’re purpose-oriented,” Killian said.

And like many alumni and friends of the college, Killian agrees there’s just something different about Auburn Engineers.

Perhaps the source of the something different is the sense of community found in the Auburn Family. Or maybe it’s the Auburn Creed, or the mission or the values students and alumni share when they pass through The Plains.

Whatever it is, that distinct Auburn Engineering difference has driven Killian to not only spend his career with engineers, but mentor them through the Cupola Engineering Ambassadors program. In fact, in retirement, he has come back to serve as advisor to the program and plans for the future of engineering through philanthropy.

“I wanted to be able to fund a full scholarship, when the time came,” Killian said. “I believe in Auburn. I believe in Auburn Engineering.”

Before retiring, Killian knew he wanted to establish a scholarship. He and his wife, Karen, decided together that it was the right time to document their desires to make a planned gift.

“Because of my long and close relationship with students here, I want that (philanthropic) support to come in the form of scholarship,” Killian said. “Karen is entirely supportive of that decision. The scholarship is in both our names, as an indicator of her support.”

While the Jim and Karen Killian Cupola Engineering Ambassador Endowed Scholarship in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering will not be funded during their lifetimes, their planned gift offers inspiration to current engineering students. Especially those Cupola students who worked with Killian during his time at Auburn Engineering.

“The impact JK (Killian) had as advisor to Cupola is far reaching – in my life personally and also to the other members of Cupola. JK taught me through example how to make people feel important and well cared for,” said Sarah Bacon, executive chair of the Cupola Engineering Ambassadors. “JK did not just see us as members of an organization, but he was, and still is, fully invested in our lives and wants to see us succeed. Cupola – both the members and the organization – would not be what they are today without JK’s dedication, support and wisdom.”

Killian’s dedication to Auburn Engineering has been impactful and will continue to influence the lives of students for years to come. His passion for Auburn, and for engineering, shines through his legacy of work and his philanthropic support.

“I think that Auburn’s really an integral part of what the state of Alabama needs,” Killian said. “And I think Auburn Engineering graduates are among the best.”

And the creative, driven Auburn Cupola Engineering Ambassador students think Killian is “among the best” as well.

Media Contact: Lauren Winton,, 334.844.5519
Jim and Karen Killian

Jim and Karen Killian

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