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Randell Goodman

Director of the E.W. Shell Fisheries Center
College of Agriculture

Auburn University fisheries alumnus Randell Goodman hasn't set an official date yet, but sometime before year's end, he will retire from more than 36 years as director of Auburn University's E.W. Shell Fisheries Research Center. Throughout those years, Goodman has not only overseen the day-to-day operations of the center that's based on Alabama 147, five miles north of Auburn, but also played a key role in planning, designing, coordinating, maintaining and recording data from hundreds of scientific investigations that have helped make Auburn's fisheries program one of the world's premier. Here, the east Tennessee native reflects on his career at Auburn and, in light of this week's grand opening of the Center for Aquatic Resource Management at the Shell complex, shares his optimistic forecast for the future of the research facility and Auburn fisheries.

1. What led you to pursue a career in fisheries?

I've always felt God's providence had a lot to do with my career, because I didn't know anything about fisheries biology and really and truly never even cared for fishing as a sport. I was doing an undergrad degree at Middle Tennessee State University in biology and secondary education and was planning to teach, but felt I should have a plan B, just in case. I liked hunting and the outdoors so I made an appointment with the chief of wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee in 1970, but he told me there were about 14,000 wildlife graduates that year and only about 3,000 job opportunities. He asked if I had ever considered fisheries. I said no, but he took me down the hall and introduced me to Hudson Nichols, chief for fisheries biology there, and he was very positive and encouraging and suggested I would need a master's degree. I asked, "Where can you get a master's degree in fish?" He said, "Auburn University," and the rest is history.

2. You received your master's degree in June 1973 but didn't start the job at the fisheries unit until June 1975. What were you doing in the interim, and how did you wind up back in Auburn?

Near the completion of my master's, Dr. E. Wayne Shell, who was head of the fisheries department at the time, offered me a job, and I gladly accepted, but before my paperwork went to the dean's office, Dr. Shell told me about a call he received from a catfish farm in the Mississippi Delta. He suggested I call them, and I did and ended up going there instead—much better pay and perks! However, it didn't turn out to be a place I wanted to stay. I liked the work but not the culture, so I took a job teaching back in Tennessee, but after a year there, Dr. Shell called and again offered me a job, and this time, I came.

3. For passersby, those uniform rows of earthen ponds are the most visible part of the E.W. Shell Fisheries Research Center, but just how big is the complex, and how much research is conducted there?

The Shell Center is composed of the North Auburn and the South Auburn units that total about 1,900 acres of land and 344 ponds with 257 surface acres of water. With the new Aquatic Resource Management buildings, we now have more than 80,000 square feet of space under roof, including tractor sheds, shops, labs, classrooms and administrative space.

I truly believe that this large, diverse pond research facility has been the difference between Auburn's fisheries program and others. This year, we had 25 requests from professors for ponds to do funded research projects, and we had 50 graduate students conducting their research at the center. My staff and I provide technical information for the principal investigators. We also provide the fish, chemicals, feed and other supplies they need to do their work, and with the help of a crew of students, we assist in the stocking, harvesting, feeding and data collection on most projects and monitor water chemistry in many ponds. We have a field crew responsible for maintenance, construction and renovations as needed.

4. What excites you most about the new Center for Aquatic Resource Management?

Several things. First, for our faculty and students, it has several wet labs that have complete climate control, which means we can conduct research year-round, and it has classrooms, which we've never had here before, so it will be a big improvement in our teaching capabilities and learning experiences.

But one of the main things is the great potential it represents for meeting the needs of our constituents around the state, the nation and the world and for our outreach efforts. A lot of folks don't realize it, but every year, we have hundreds of visitors. During the past two years, 17 school groups have toured the facility, and we've had visitors from eight different Auburn University departments, 12 states in the U.S. and eight different countries. In the first eight months of 2011, we hosted more than 700 guests at the center. In the coming months, the visitors' area of the new facilities will have kiosks and displays and interactive activities that will be educational and entertaining for visitors of all ages. There's also a large meeting room that will be available to the university community, civic groups and others. It's definitely a big improvement that I believe positions Auburn fisheries for the most significant growth it's ever experienced.

5. In a few weeks, you'll retire from a job you've been at since before some of the scientists conducting research at the Shell center today were even born. In retrospect … ?

I'm so very thankful for the opportunity I've had to work at Auburn University. My wife, Nina, and I, and both my daughters and sons-in-law are Auburn graduates, and my first granddaughter started this fall. I've worked with some outstanding, world-renowned professors and many wonderful co-workers and made many friends from all over the world.  It's been a wonderful journey. Thank you, Lord!

Photos contributed by David Cline

Sept. 6, 2011