Auburn research

Dr. Amal Kaddoumi, left, a professor in Auburn University’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development, works in a lab with graduate research assistant Sweilem Al Rihani. Kaddoumi is leading a multi-disciplinary team in an investigation of oleocanthal, a molecule that appears naturally in extra-virgin olive oil, as a novel preventative treatment for such diseases as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Auburn University reached an important status recently when the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education named Auburn to its category reserved for doctoral universities with the highest level of research activity.

“With this designation, we are now among the nation’s top 100 research universities,” said Jennifer Kerpelman, interim vice president for research at Auburn. “And I would say it also validates that Auburn is a global thought leader, and it’s moving toward groundbreaking discoveries and life-changing breakthroughs.”

The price of not being on this list is a lack of recognition that matters greatly to academia, in a variety of ways. Competition for top-tier faculty talent and the most promising students is fierce, and several other southeastern universities already dot the Carnegie roster of top schools.

Sports fans who follow Auburn might equate it to trying to land a 4- or 5-star recruit. It’s the same level of rivalry and competition among universities when it comes to smart, ambitious and curious faculty and students.

Getting this latest type of recognition, therefore, was important and likely long overdue for Auburn. But it is where the promising future lies that stands out more.

Auburn University President Steven Leath has proclaimed since Day 1 when he landed the job in 2017 that Auburn would climb the ranks of notoriety when it comes to research and development, and it would seem steps in that climb are beginning to be taken.

Leath launched the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research at Auburn, a $5 million investment in work by faculty researchers.

One team of Auburn faculty researchers is exploring how extra-virgin olive oil may be a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Another team is developing and testing new therapeutic strategies for treating infectious disease.

A third is looking at unlocking home affordability in rural America.

Additionally with steadfast administrative and loyal donor support, impressive hires were made and new buildings constructed in 2018 to lead Auburn’s research and influence in fields such as cybersecurity, aerospace studies, and business, while longtime mainstays such as veterinary medicine, agriculture and engineering continue to thrive and prosper.

Faculty buy-in combined with a diverse recruiting effort are important components.

Auburn’s student enrollment of nearly 30,000, meanwhile, includes not just students of potential but students of impressive production. Meaning, they’re already making things happen, and they and the university are getting noticed for it.

“When they know that you’re one of the top 100 research universities, that’s attractive to top researchers and to students who want to be trained by some of the best researchers,” Kerpelman said of Auburn’s elevated research status. “So we should attract stronger undergraduate and graduate students to Auburn.”

The Carnegie listing is important for Auburn, but look for more such impressive recognition to come.

Furthermore, each academic victory is just as deserving of celebration as any touchdown, three-pointer or home run.

Actually, more so.

Congratulations, Auburn University, and stay the course.

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