COSAM graduate and energy division chief gives back through programs to low income communities
After more than three decades, College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) alumna Maureen Neighbors still remembers the lessons learned while at Auburn, and the professors who greatly influenced both her career and her life.
A 1988 graduate with a degree in geography, Neighbors has gone on to work in federal grant programs, and is now the Energy Division Chief at the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).
Neighbors did not begin her college experience at Auburn; she transferred in early on from a different institution. However, once on The Plains, she discovered many of the courses she completed at her previous institution could count towards a degree in geography, so she switched majors.
“Once in the program, Dr. Icenogle and Dr. Dawsey showed me the world of geography – pun intended – and I was hooked. Dr. Icenogle even convinced me to help him bring Gamma Theta Upsilon (International Geographic Honor Society) to Auburn and serve as its first president,” Neighbors said.
To this day, Neighbors credits the Geography Department’s excellent education, recommendations, and friendship for opening the door to graduate programs, assistantships, and internships that ultimately led her to where she is today.
“I started working in federal grant programs as an intern. The main criterion was I had to be able to read a map. Dr. Dawsey, Dr. Icenogle, and Mr. Bagwell made sure I knew how to do that. As the internship evolved into a career path, my ability to analyze demographic data, particularly Census data, use maps, create maps, and develop projects based on location data all served me well in landing in the position I hold now. I learned all those skills in Haley Center,” Neighbors said.
As Energy Division Chief for the ADECA, Neighbors is responsible for about 20 employees, and for numerous state and federal programs. Neighbors works with lawmakers to develop well-rounded programs and guidelines. Some of her many programs include:
According to Neighbors, no two days are the same, and each day presents new challenges, the greatest being the overwhelming need for programs.
Many of Neighbors’ programs reach Alabama’s urban areas, yet most of what her team does is based in rural, low-income communities.
“Hearing the many challenges faced by our low-income residents, and not always having the funds available to help them is very frustrating. I try to handle the challenge by being honest with the people who reach out to us for assistance. If I don’t have a program that can help them, I tell them. I also take our reporting very seriously. If I can report a need that far outpaces our ability to address the need and show that we have deployed our limited funds effectively, that’s how we get additional funding,” she said.
Looking back, Neighbors’ career never followed the path she originally thought it would. Her advice to current COSAM students is to be open to the possibilities as they present themselves – just as she did.
“Goals are important, but use them as tools, not as excuses not to take advantage of opportunities and experiences that cross your path,” Neighbors said.