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Nancy McDaniel

Executive Director, Educational Support Services
Office of Undergraduate Studies, Office of the Provost

Auburn University alumna Nancy McDaniel co-chairs Auburn Connects!, Auburn University's common book program. Auburn Connects! is in its second year and McDaniel is working to promote this year's selection, "Mountains Beyond Mountains, The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man who Would Cure the World," by Tracy Kidder. A native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and also an alumna of Kent State University, she came to Auburn University and made the Plains her home, hoping never to live in snow again. But, she says she does miss her big extended family up north. As an educator for more than 30 years, her focus has been on developing programs for undergraduate students. Her "Auburn Family" proudly holds 17 (and a half) Auburn degrees. She loves her horses and dogs and she rides, sails and rides bikes with her husband Randy McDaniel, a professor in the College of Education. Their son, Chris, is a senior in high school. Together as a family they love to travel internationally, having recently completed professional improvement in Geneva, Switzerland, while living in a small French village called Ferney-Voltaire, the last home of Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher.

1. You said you traveled to Geneva, Switzerland for professional development. What is the connection with Auburn Connects!?

Two goals of Auburn Connects! is that the selection should promote service to others and help gain a global perspective. The selection last year, "Three Cups of Tea," sparked an interest of mine to research at the international level how non-profit and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, work to provide support for education and health care in this time of global challenges. It's so interesting that our selection this year focuses on health care in Haiti! I have worked with several non-profit organizations through the years. Currently, I am working with Easter Seals Alabama in their program called "Dogs on Call," a certified therapy dog program with my Golden Retriever Sunny. As for traveling to Geneva, my husband and I had an opportunity for professional improvement and were sponsored in Geneva by a former Auburn University student employed at the United Nations of Geneva, and before that, Bangkok, Thailand. I was able to connect at the Red Cross International, Geneva-based NGOs and the United Nations of Geneva. Our son attended the College du Leman in Versoix, Switzerland. Living, working and going to school is a different experience when, daily, you travel between two different countries, and are absorbed into the culture of a small village and a large multilingual international city. We brought back a global perspective, having become part of a group of friends from all over the world. It is an experience we will never forget.

2. What is this year's common book?

This year's common book is Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains, The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World." This compelling book asks at its most basic level the question, "Can one person make a difference?" Selected on the heels of the earthquake in Haiti, the problems and issues Farmer was facing then are only magnified today, not only in Haiti, but in other parts of the world where his work is being done. Farmer constantly strives for health equity for all of humanity, and through his tireless work, does all that is humanly possible to achieve that goal. Many disciplines in Auburn's curriculum are represented in Farmer's story. It meets the goals the committee developed for book selection: promoting intellectual community; gaining a global perspective; promoting service; emphasizing responsibility and hard work; intellectual engagement; and linking the themes of the book to campus and community programming.

3. What programs does Auburn Connects! offer?

The Auburn Connects! committee has collaborations across campus and the community and has developed a diverse calendar of activities to support "Mountains Beyond Mountains." Our capstone event is the upcoming visit of author Tracy Kidder on April 2 at the Auburn Arena. Weekly, there are Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. "Get Connected" sessions offered by faculty, students and guest presenters, an exhibit of Haitian art and films at the Jule Collins Smith Museum and spotlight events with nationally and internationally acclaimed speakers. Our calendar of events can be found at With an active committee and Student Advisory Committee, work is done throughout the year, and selection of next year's program is under way.

4. What do you like most about Auburn Connects!?

I have enjoyed being on the ground floor as Auburn Connects! has taken shape. Partnerships have developed with the Honors College, Auburn Libraries, the Jule Collins Smith Museum, The Center for Arts and Humanities, Research Week, the Auburn Writers Conference, Student Affairs, Alternative Student Breaks, Outreach, the Office of University Writing, and the Learning Communities to name a few. For example, faculty are using the book in their courses; the Honors College selected it for some of the book clubs; English composition classes and the freshmen seminar classes are discussing the selection; the Office of University Writing sponsors two writing contests each academic year; the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is teaching a six-week course; and the Alumni Online Book Club may consider the book as one of their selections. The common book is no longer being talked about for freshmen, but for the entire campus community and we are only in the second year! I also see the Student Advisory Board becoming very involved. The Auburn Connects! committee has been my all-time favorite committee because the assignment has been to read books and come back and talk about them. It's like belonging to a book club and calling it work!

5. What have you enjoyed most about your work at Auburn?

I have had some fantastic opportunities as a faculty member and administrator. The people I have worked with have been a highlight and Auburn Connects! ranks near the top because it has introduced me to many new students and colleagues. I have enjoyed the many students I have known for more than 30 years. It is always exciting when a student understands something for the first time – maybe it is in class, or a result of a great teacher or advisor, a leadership experience, coming back from a semester abroad, a learning community service experience, or working with a peer mentor – it's that defining moment. And, I am now meeting my students' children as Auburn students, and this is something I never expected! And we can introduce them to Auburn through Auburn Connects! As the Auburn Creed says, "I Believe in Auburn and Love it."

Nov. 7, 2011