Board of Trustees leader reflects on impact of Auburn faculty

Published: June 21, 2019
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A large, orange physics book, “Fundamentals of Physics,” sits on a shelf in Mike DeMaioribus’ office. It’s from a course he took during his sophomore year at Auburn in the ’70s. That book—and the professors who taught from it—played a major role in DeMaioribus’ journey from college life to the workforce to now, a member of Auburn University’s Board of Trustees.

Ray Askew, a distinguished researcher, long-time head of Auburn’s Department of Physics and professor emeritus, is one of the professors who taught from that physics book that DeMaioribus still has all these years later, but it isn’t just the material in the book that matters—it is the way Askew taught from it.

“Dr. Askew was not the easiest teacher,” DeMaioribus said. “In fact, he was one of the most challenging. He would challenge us to the limit and you had to keep up with him. Once you hit the ground, you better keep running because he was going to keep moving and keep challenging you. But he was one of the best teachers I ever had.”

DeMaioribus says it was classes like that of Askew and Donald G. Thaxton, the other influential physics professor for DeMaioribus, that gave him the solid foundation he needed to complete his education in engineering and begin his career.

“Dr. Thaxton taught my very first physics class at Auburn and then Dr. Askew taught the next two of the fundamental physics classes in the curriculum. These three outstanding educational experiences were pivotally important to my entire career.” 

Thaxton has passed away, but DeMaioribus credits him and Askew not just for what they taught him about science but also about how to make a significant difference in the lives of young people.

At the June 8 ribbon cutting for Auburn’s Leach Science Center, DeMaioribus thanked Askew for the impact he had on his life and said he regretted that Thaxton could not be there as well. The ribbon cutting served as one of DeMaioribus’ final official duties in his role as President Pro Tem of the Board of Trustees, though he will continue to serve as a member of the board.

Looking back, DeMaioribus said it was the three required physics courses he took at Auburn that formed the basis for everything he did in engineering for the rest of his college career and in the 39-year professional career that followed.

“At the end of one of our quarters, Dr. Askew told us our exam would be from 9 to 11:30 in the morning, two and a half hours. Dr. Askew said ‘I’ll be here at 8, and I’m leaving at 12.’” I thought to myself, ‘You don’t need to say any more to me,’” DeMaioribus said.

At the ribbon cutting, DeMaioribus recalled that day with Askew.

“Mike said he was there when the door opened and remained until he completed the exam and felt confident in his work,” Askew said. “He said that exam was a lesson in always taking full advantage of every opportunity.”

While DeMaioribus first interacted with Auburn’s faculty members as a student, he now works more closely with them as a member of the Board of Trustees. One of the most rewarding parts of his service on the board, he said, is getting to see everything happening across Auburn’s campus—from research to student experiences and working alongside faculty members.

“We get opportunities to see faculty efforts in their research areas and teaching awards that are given,” he said. “I enjoy every opportunity I get to interact with a faculty member.”

Annually, each member of the board is assigned two colleges or schools to work with. When DeMaioribus receives his assignments, he sets up meetings with the deans, which gives him an opportunity to tour the facilities of each college, visit students, meet the faculty and learn more about their teaching and research. Those interactions, he said, are the most rewarding part of serving on the Board of Trustees.

“Here I am, getting a chance to go back to Auburn and give back,” he said. “I do it because I’m an Auburn man and I’m glad to give back. It’s challenging, it’s interesting and it’s time consuming, but it’s so gratifying to be able to do this and see Auburn continue to move forward and do great things.”

DeMaioribus earned two degrees from Auburn—a bachelor’s degree in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1977, both in electrical engineering. In 2016, after 39 years, he retired as executive vice president from Dynetics Inc., a private defense and aerospace company headquartered in Huntsville. He now consults through DeMaioribus Technologies.

DeMaioribus is past chair of both the Auburn Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Industrial Advisory Board and the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council. Dave Irwin, professor and head emeritus of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, founded the Industrial Advisory Board to help guide in the development of the department.

“I chose Mike DeMaioribus as a member because he always showed a genuine interest in helping with whatever we were doing,” Irwin said. “As a VP at Dynetics, he did what he could to help us in Huntsville, from finding researching opportunities and equipment to helping students with interviews.”

Irwin said DeMaioribus has been a great contributor to the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, including financially. An archway in the Shelby Center has the DeMaioribus name on it as a result of a gift he and his wife, Leta, gave the college.

In 2008, DeMaioribus was recognized as an Auburn Distinguished Engineer and in 2015, he was inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame.

While he is active in the Auburn community, he is also involved in his home community of Huntsville. There, he serves on the Greater Huntsville Community Foundation Board of Directors, previously served on the Huntsville Botanical Garden board and is past chair of the United Way of Madison County.

DeMaioribus credits his love for serving to his incredible experience as an Auburn student, the friends he met here and the outstanding faculty who shaped him.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.