Auburn Engineering unveils the Center for Inclusive Engineering Excellence

Published: May 19, 2022 3:00 PM

By Cassie Montgomery

Auburn Engineering wrapped up its year-long 25th anniversary campaign celebration of the Engineering Academic Excellence Program (AEP) – formerly known as the Minority Engineering Program – with a gala reception and dinner held at the Hotel at Auburn University in April. In front of an audience of more than 150 guests, a new name was unveiled - the Center for Inclusive Engineering Excellence - as the evening recognized the impact of the program’s founding director, Dr. Dennis Weatherby, and the three other program directors – Shirley Scott-Harris, Cheryl Seals and the current director, Cordelia Brown – as well as the donors and friends without whose support, the program would not be the success story it is today.

“This program, which started as the Minority Introduction to Engineering Program, grew into the Minority Engineering Program in 1996 and has evolved into the Academic Excellence Program, is poised to reach new heights and touch even more underrepresented engineering students through your generosity and commitment to its success,” said Steve Taylor, interim dean of engineering.

New heights, indeed.

At the outset of the anniversary year, a new giving society – the Weatherby Society – was established to provide programmatic and scholarship support to AEP. A fundraising goal of $2.5 million was set and the plan for the funding, according to AEP Director Brown, was to expand staffing and student support to serve even more students “as we strive to reach our recruitment, retention, impact and graduation goals.” Over the course of the year, the program outpaced the original fundraising goal for a total of more than $3.4 million.  

More than 250 individual donors gave to AEP over the 2021-22 academic year and of that total, 57 were inducted into the Weatherby Society. But throughout the program’s history, corporate sponsors have played an important role, especially Alabama Power Company, which has been the program’s title sponsor for the past 12 years.

Auburn Engineering alums Zeke Smith, ’82 industrial engineering, Auburn University trustee and executive vice president of external affairs at Alabama Power, and Jim Heilbron, ’94 and ’96 civil engineering and senior vice president and senior production officer also at Alabama Power, paid tribute to the past and current corporate philanthropic supporters to the program over the years starting with the program’s original sponsors, BellSouth Corporation and AT&T; American Cast Iron Pipe Company; Brasfield and Gorrie; Hoar Program Management; Georgia Power Foundation; Chevron; CGI Group Inc.; Lockheed Martin; Intradiem; Westrock; Trane; Volkert; Amazon Web Services and Robins & Morton. But they didn’t stop there.

“It’s really a part of our DNA at Alabama Power – that diversity matters and providing opportunities for all is just imperative,” Smith said. “We believe in AEP. We believe in our students and we celebrate them tonight. We know that when they leave the program, they are prepared to go out into the world to solve problems and make a difference. 

“Just like we’ve enjoyed witnessing the success of AEP over the past 25 years, we are excited to announce tonight that we’re making a new significant gift on behalf of Alabama Power Company to continue our legacy of giving to this program for the next 25 years,” he added.

Heilbron underscored the announcement of Alabama Power’s impactful gift by unveiling the Auburn University Center for Inclusive Engineering Excellence – the program’s name going forward.

“We feel that this new name truly speaks to the important focus of this program, which is ultimately giving opportunities to diverse and underrepresented students coming to this school to pursue an engineering degree. We believe The Center for Inclusive Engineering Excellence is more representative of the broader support and expanded mission and will bring a new level of prominence to the program we all know and love,” Heilbron said.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery,, 334.844.3668
Auburn Engineering alumni Beverly Banister, '83 chemical engineering, and K-Rob Thomas, '01 civil engineering, address the crowd at the 25 Years of Excellence gala Saturday.

Auburn Engineering alumni Beverly Banister, '83 chemical engineering, and K-Rob Thomas, '01 civil engineering, address the crowd at the 25 Years of Excellence gala Saturday.

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