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Auburn leadership visit the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center to engage with stakeholders, user groups and staff

By February 23, 2024No Comments

Auburn University President Chris Roberts, accompanied by his wife Tracy, Senior Vice President for Advancement Rob Wellbaum, and Rob’s wife, Christine, recently traveled alongside Dean Janaki Alavalapati to the expansive campus of the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center in Andalusia, Ala.

Situated beside the scenic Conecuh River, the education center was founded in 1978 through a transformative donation from Solon and Martha Dixon to Auburn University. Today, the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center spans over 5,400 acres and serves as an educational hub for experiential learning in forestry, wildlife and natural resources management within the southeastern U.S.

Dixon Center Director Joel Martin talks to group

Dixon Center Director Joel Martin provides Auburn University leadership with an overview of the Dixon Center campus.

Located only hours from numerous major cities, the all-inclusive learning center includes the 6,500-square-foot Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation Learning Center, a state-of-the-art auditorium, classroom and conference room. There are also two large bunkhouses, five semi-private dormitory buildings, a rec center, an administrative building, a classroom and computer lab building and a cafeteria.

As part of their visit, the Auburn leaders visited with the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation board. Among the discussion topics, the conversation delved into the foundation’s current priorities and the future vision for the Dixon Center, focusing on an upcoming project centered around replacing two dormitory buildings, which are crucial for accommodating user groups and Auburn’s summer practicum students.

The Dixon Foundation, which has a long history of philanthropic support of the Dixon Center since 1980, has fostered its continual growth and expansion, enabling the facility to become one of the nation’s finest field stations. More recently, the foundation’s contributions have supported the construction of new faculty dorms, a state-of-the-art learning center and upgrades to its full-service kitchen and cafeteria.

President Chris Roberts talks with Dixon Foundation board members

President Chris Roberts speaks with Dixon Foundation board members and staff.

At the conclusion of the visit with the board, President and Mrs. Roberts presented each board member with an Auburn Oak tree cookie as a token of gratitude in recognition of the foundation’s loyal support of the Dixon Center and continued engagement with Auburn University.

Following lunch, the group spoke with staff and representatives of the center’s present user group, the National Wildland Firefighters Apprenticeship Program (WFAP), to learn about their training regime and use of the facility.

Historically taught in Sacramento, California, the U.S. Forest Service chose the Dixon Center as an East Coast satellite location for the WFAP in 2018. In its second, five-year contract with the USFS, the Dixon Center provides food, lodging, classrooms and some field instruction for the training for 10 to 12 weeks per year.

President Chris Roberts addresses a group

President Chris Roberts addresses participants of the National Wildland Firefigher Apprenticeship Program.

The unique combination of classroom and hands-on field training at the residential facility enables the apprentices to learn about fire behavior, fire suppression tactics, weather, safety, leadership, risk management and tactical decision-making. Upon graduation, the firefighters are dispatched to fight wildfires in national forests across the country, including Alabama’s four national forests—Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee.

Auburn and CFWE leadership, Dixon Foundation members, and center staff gather for a photo.

Auburn and CFWE leadership and Dixon Foundation members gather for photos outside the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation Learning Center.

As the visit ended, Dean Janaki Alavalapati extended a heartfelt gesture by presenting President and Mrs. Roberts with a handwoven longleaf pine needle basket, a symbol of the importance of the longleaf ecosystem to the region.

“This gift serves as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the college, its faculty, students, alumni and industry stakeholders,” said Dean Alavalapati. “We sincerely appreciate the university’s commitment to advancing the Dixon Center’s mission to provide invaluable educational opportunities for academic institutions, nonprofit organizations and government agencies alike.”

To learn more about the Dixon Center and opportunities to contribute to the upcoming dormitory project, please contact Heather Crozier, director of development in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment, at vannhea@auburn.edu.

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