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Auburn alumni leading natural resources programs at major universities

By January 24, 2024February 23rd, 2024No Comments

CFWE alumni in leadership at top natural resources institutions discuss how the Auburn experience fostered career success.

The College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment (CFWE) has a well-deserved reputation of hands-on learning that helps mold industry leaders. The college’s rigorous research programs and outstanding mentors also nurture academic leaders who go on to mold not only their students but institutions of higher learning.  

“The college’s mission is to create tomorrow’s professionals and thought leaders; develop new knowledge and science-based solutions to emerging and complex natural resource issues; and improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of citizens in Alabama and beyond,” said the Emmett F. Thompson Dean Janaki Alavalapati.  

CFWE alumni Terrell “Red” Baker, Dale Greene, Bill Retzlaff and Hans Williams launched academic careers at Auburn that have led to leadership roles in universities across the country.  

Terrell “Red” Baker
PhD, Forest Biology, 1998
Director of the School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences
University of Florida (UF)

It’s impossible to pin down a single experience to define his time at Auburn University says Terrell “Red” Baker.  

“More memorable are the relationships I was privileged to build with faculty, student colleagues, and administrators.” His time at Auburn was so meaningful that he can remember lessons soaked up from interactions with not only his advisor, Graeme Lockaby, but with so many others around him.

Terrell "Red" Baker

Auburn alumnus Terrell “Red” Baker, director of University of Florida’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences (FFGS), delivers a lecture.

Baker particularly paid attention to the leadership of the college under Dean Emmett Thompson and Associate Dean George Bengston. “They were different but shared a purpose and complemented each other,” he said. “I observed how different administrative approaches yield different results, and I learned how important it is to assemble the best team possible.” He delicately notes that faculty had a variety of viewpoints, but the lesson he took away was that diverse opinions can be a strength and often produce better results.  

Leading up to his current role at UF, Baker was a professor and riparian extension specialist with New Mexico State University, where he served as coordinator of the Range Improvement Task Force, and a professor and department chair in the Department of Forestry (now Department of Forestry and Natural Resources) at the University of Kentucky. 

“I will always be grateful for the chance to be part of the fabric that was the Auburn University School of Forestry at that time,” he said. 

Dale Greene
PhD, Forestry, 1986
(Retired) Dean of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, 2015-2024
University of Georgia (UGA)

“I initially had zero plans for an academic career,” said Dale Greene. However, under the influence of a lovely poultry science graduate who had accepted an offer at Auburn University, he finished his master’s degree at Virginia Tech and began a doctoral program at Auburn in 1983. He retired in 2024 after 38 years at the University of Georgia—and his wife, Jeanne, will soon join him in retirement after her own distinguished career at UGA.  

Dale Greene

Auburn alumnus Dale Greene (left), recent retired dean of University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, speaks with a UGA student.

Greene credits his major professor, Bob Lanford, with changing the course of his career. “Looking back, the research he encouraged me to do simply launched my career,” Greene said. “I can never thank him enough for the perspectives he shared after working in the forest industry before coming to Auburn.” Greene and Lanford remained close friends, sharing a joint family deer hunt each year with other Auburn alumni until 2020.  

Greene, like many leaders, made a habit of learning from all of his experiences. However, one piece of Auburn history has always held a place of honor. “One thing that has always hung in our home is a framed copy of the Auburn Creed,” he said. “Therefore I believe in work — hard work.” The two lines ending with this phrase echoed the values Greene was raised with and were comforting proof that Auburn University was the right campus.  

William (Bill) Retzlaff
BS, forest management, 1981; MS, forestry, 1984
Interim Vice Chancellor for Administration
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) 

William Retzlaff is a co-founder and co-director of the Living Architecture Regional Center of Excellence at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), one of only three regional centers in North America. He was named interim vice chancellor for administration after serving four years as the chair of the department of biological sciences and 12 years as associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Bill Retzlaff

Auburn alumnus Bill Retzlaff is a distinguished research professor and interim vice chancellor for administration at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

With research expertise in green infrastructure solutions, such as green roof and wall systems, Retzlaff has been able to use his time in university administration to help guide important building projects at SIUE.  

“Daily I employ leadership skills I gained as an Auburn student,” said Retzlaff. “My background in academics and also administration provides a unique perspective to management of resources and personnel.” He has just begun working with a newly funded health sciences building project intended to house his university’s School of Nursing and School of Pharmacy.  

In addition to his appointment as vice chancellor, Greene earned his university’s highest academic honor by being named Distinguished Research Professor in biological and environmental sciences.  

“The opportunity to conduct forest nursery research as an undergraduate and graduate student at Auburn shaped my research career,” said Greene. 

Hans Williams
PhD, forestry, 1989
Dean and Rockwell Professor of Forestry for the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture
Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) 

As a doctoral student, Hans Williams had the opportunity to work as a research technician with CFWE’s Southern Forest Nursery Management Cooperative for two years. One of the things he remembers most is the quality of people he met at Auburn. 

Hans Williams

Auburn alumnus Hans Williams is dean and Rockwell Professor of Forestry at the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University.

“The living and learning environment at Auburn was second to none,” Williams said. “I worked with a fantastic group of forestry faculty, staff and graduate students—especially my advisor, David South.” 

He adds that his greatest experience was meeting his wife, Jessica (Roth) Williams, who worked at the silviculture cooperative. “Whatever success I have achieved can be credited to Jessica, and I give Auburn all the credit for our meeting.”  

Williams joined Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas in 1993 and served as associate dean in the College of Forestry and Agriculture before his appointment to dean seven years ago. The one word he says summarizes his experience at Auburn is integrity.  

“The uncompromising integrity of the forestry program leadership, faculty and staff left an enduring impression that has undoubtedly influenced my career,” said Williams. “That is how I try to accomplish my professional and personal endeavors every day.”  

(Written by Amy Burtch and Jessica Nelson)

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