Creative mentorship award highlights unique student-faculty partnership

Published: May 05, 2022

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When Auburn University student Neil Hudson changed his major from aerospace to industrial and systems engineering, he had a 1.97 GPA. He was beginning to wonder if he was meant to be an engineer.

“My biggest fear became the possibility of messing up again and preventing myself from recovering from academic probation,” Hudson said. “Despite these fears, Auburn University provided me yet another chance – setting me up on a course to overcome these challenges and continue on my path to an engineering degree.”

Richard Sesek, the Tim Cook Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, had Hudson in his Occupational Safety and Ergonomics class during his first semester as an ISE student. When Sesek learned of Hudson’s home project of rebuilding an old tractor, the two began having lengthy discussions after class. Sesek recognized Hudson’s potential.

“These after-class discussions became a regular occurrence,” Sesek said. “Finally, I asked if he would be interested in pursuing research related to a stalled project of mine. He seemed shocked that I would ask him. At the time, I did not realize that he was on academic probation and having doubts about his ability to complete his engineering degree. I told him that regardless of grades, he was smart enough and capable and that I actually wanted to work with him more to prove the haters wrong and help him succeed in school.”

The two resurrected Sesek’s EZ-Stick™ project. The adjustable elbow stick was created and submitted to Technology Commercialization at Auburn University in 2019 but was not pursued by the university. The initial design was intended to help companies determine the safe reaching range for employees at various factory jobs. Hudson and Sesek worked on ways to improve it, garner interest amongst companies and finally bring the project to fruition.

The collaboration between the two recently earned them the Mark A. Spencer Creative Mentorship Award from the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. The monetary award encourages and recognizes the efforts of engineering faculty who take an interest in the personal and professional development of students through a mentoring relationship, and rewards both faculty members and students for creative collaboration.

In the nomination packet for the award, Sesek wrote that he is proud of Hudson’s achievements and is excited for the potential that Hudson is beginning to realize.

“Neil may have the lowest GPA of all of the applicants for this prestigious grant, but I believe that he is worthy of recognition and that his recent efforts more accurately reflect his potential,” Sesek wrote. “Please help me recognize this young man’s transformation from a self-doubting ‘C’ student to the clever engineer that he was meant to be.”

Hudson added that Sesek’s mentorship has meant more than he can put into words.

“One of the reasons Dr. Sesek became so invested in raising my GPA and keeping me at Auburn University is that he saw potential in me that I did not see in myself,” he said. “Words fail me when I attempt to describe how much his leadership, mentorship and guidance mean to me and how moved I am by his actions.”

Submitted by: Carla Nelson