Auburn University helps California sixth grader win school research project

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All of Auburn University’s 12 colleges this past year participated in a special research project, led by an unusual principal investigator—a sixth grader in Corning, California. Her project? To get as much information about Auburn as possible.

The Auburn Department of Art & Art History received a handwritten letter from the Maywood/Da Vinci Academy of Arts and Sciences student in fall 2021 requesting information so she could complete the research project for school.

“I am interested in receiving information about your department at Auburn University. I would like to know about admission requirements, financial aid, student life at Auburn University, and anything else you could send me,” the letter read. “If I receive more information about your university than any other student writing to other universities, we will decorate our classroom in your school colors and mascot Aubie the Tiger. Thank you for your time. Go Aubie the Tiger!!”

Charmed by the letter and by the student’s interest in Auburn, Art & Art History Administrative Associate and 2021 College of Liberal Arts Staff Employee of the Year Nita Robertson shared the project with every college on campus. And every single college responded, sending boxes of shirts, scarves, buttons, brochures and other swag to be shipped to California.

“I had a very positive response from every college. Whether we won or not, the whole point was to share Auburn with her,” Robertson said. “With her being from California and being from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) school, she reached out to a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) school, so I wanted to show her what Auburn has to offer and what we’re like down here.”

Maywood/Da Vinci Academy of Arts and Sciences teacher Martin Jimenez, who has assigned the project for 14 years, said Auburn’s response was the most overwhelming he’s ever seen. Beyond the 80 pounds of information and swag sent to the school, he said Auburn’s enthusiasm captured the heart of the project.

“Auburn University responded in such a great way,” Jimenez said. “These kids were so excited because they know that somebody is out there, in the world, motivated and excited to give them the opportunity to learn about their school and get them excited about education.”

Each semester, Jimenez assigns the research project to his students so they can engage with universities and colleges around the nation. Corning, California, is a small town that doesn’t host a college, so the purpose of the project is to educate students of the value of higher education and expose them to the various opportunities they have outside of the community.

For Jimenez, who was a first-generation college student himself, the project is important because it sets middle-schoolers up for success in the future.

“I want to help as much as I can, as soon as I can, to guide these kids so they know that there are opportunities out there for them,” Jimenez said. “A lot of classes they take in middle school affect what classes they can take at the high school level, which will have a direct effect on the credits or necessary classes they need to apply to universities. When you let them know that what they do now has a possible impact on their future, it starts to open their eyes.”

To celebrate Auburn’s winning response, students in Jimenez’s class created a mural of the Auburn logo that hangs in the classroom—bringing the interaction full-circle back to the arts, where it started in the Department of Art & Art History.

“We were thrilled that a student at a STEM school contacted the Department of Art & Art History. She understood that the acronym should really be STEAM, with art integrated as a crucial component,” Department Chair Joyce de Vries said. “When we received this letter, we immediately thought it was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate across campus to show this student and her fellow sixth-graders in rural California what Auburn University is about: the generous and enthusiastic advancement of knowledge.”

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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, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation 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.