Dr. Jack Feminella to Retire After 28 Years of Service
After 28 years of ascending the academic ladder at Auburn University, Dr. Jack Feminella is retiring, but it wasn’t a decision that was made lightly.
“The decision of moving out of this position and into retirement was not an easy one,” Dr. Feminella shared. “If you really love your job, you don’t want to give it up. But you want to do other things that job doesn’t let you do, so you slowly close one door to open up another to do other things.”
Dr. Feminella will soon be enjoying his retirement years, along with his wife Kathy, living on the coast in Fairhope, Ala. He plans to fish, travel, and spend more time with his two young grandsons.
A native of Amityville, N.Y., he grew up four houses from where the infamous “Amityville Horror” murders took place, he said he is looking forward to once again living close to water. His childhood home was on the south shore of Long Island. A river ran through his back yard and his father owned a marina.
“I have spent the last 40 years landlocked, so I wanted to go back to living on the coast,” he said. “Alabama has a beautiful coast.”
A first-generation college student, Dr. Feminella first left New York after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in biology from State University of New York College at Oneonta in 1976. His plan was to attend graduate school to pursue field biology and natural history , but he lacked research experience. So, he took a year off from school to work in a pharmaceutical lab performing quality assurance testing. That experience only made him more enthusiastic about going back to school.
“I had a friend pursuing a master’s in wildlife biology at Oregon State University who urged me to come out and gain experience through advanced course work and research,” he said. “So I packed up my ’66 Rambler, drove 3,000 miles across the country, and attended Oregon State for two years.”
At OSU he received funding from the National Science Foundation to join a group of students conducting an interdisciplinary research project in eastern Oregon over one summer. The group worked on an environmental impact study on an area where a transmission wire would be installed.
“It was field work I really enjoyed and it focused my interests in aquatic entomology and ecology,” he said.
He then relocated to the University of North Texas to pursue a master’s in biological sciences. This was where he met his wife, Kathy. The couple married and then relocated to California, where Dr. Feminella earned a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of California, Berkeley. He then accepted a position as a post-doctoral associate in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Utah State University before relocating to Auburn in 1991.
In 1991, Dr. Feminella accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Auburn University Department of Zoology and Wildlife Sciences. He had never even visited Alabama before applying for the position, but was looking for a position in which he could pursue research and teach, and Auburn fit the bill perfectly.
“When I came here I was so impressed with the faculty, facilities, and especially the students,” Dr. Feminella said, adding that he and his family have cherished their time in Alabama. “We’ve raised our three children here, and have always thought of Auburn as our home.”
He said when he first heard the term “Auburn Family,” he was a bit skeptical.
“There really is something to the phrase,” he said. “I’ve heard that from several skeptics about it, and then they start to feel the vibe. It doesn’t happen the first day; it’s acquired. It’s a special feeling that’s difficult to put into words. But the feeling is real, and Auburn’s been a very satisfying place to spend a career.”
Dr. Feminella was promoted to associate professor in the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Sciences in 1997, Graduate Program Officer for the Department of Biological Sciences in 1999, professor in 2007, Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences in 2008, and associate dean of academic affairs in 2015.
Highlights he considers of his career include becoming department chair and helping graduate students achieve their master’s and Ph.D. degrees, and then going on to positions in their chosen field in academia, governmental research and the private sector.
“Watching students developing into scientists, educators, and great people, and being successful beyond graduate school has been especially gratifying,” he said. “Whatever role I played in my students’ success, minor or major, it’s been exciting to witness.”
Over the last four years as associate dean of academic affairs, Dr. Feminella said he has really enjoyed working closely with COSAM administration.
“Beyond the faculty and students, I’ve really gotten to know and appreciate all the professional people in COSAM who work so hard on behalf of our students … the professional staff, the advisors, outreach, HR, and diversity offices, the development officers, the communications department, … it’s wonderful to see how this dedicated and talented team comes together to promote what we have in the college,” he shared.
Beverley Childress, the director of the Pre-Health Professions Program, has gotten to know Dr. Feminella well over the last four years. She described him as a dedicated supervisor who has provided valuable assistance.
“He listened to my ideas patiently, asked questions and challenged my assumptions, which caused me to reexamine the issues and look for alternative solutions on many occasions,” she said.
Dr. Feminella has also served as an advisor to the COSAM Leaders over the last four years. Incoming COSAM Leaders President Wade Jones said he has seen Dr. Feminella’s dedication to the group during the last year.
“Dr. Feminella constantly invested his time and energy into the COSAM Leaders and always made time for us even though he definitely had enough to worry about with his role as associate dean,” Jones said. “He is kind, genuine, and really does a great job of making students feel heard and appreciated.”
Childress added that many COSAM Leaders are also Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED) Officers, a group that she advises, and she has heard similar appreciation of Dr. Feminella from these students.
“I have received positive feedback from them about the time, talent, wisdom and humorous stories Dr. Feminella has shared with them,” she said. “As they applied for professional school programs, internships, jobs, summer research opportunities, etc., he diligently wrote meaningful and useful recommendation letters in support of their applications. He is a strong advocate for students and has a good understanding of their academic and developmental needs.”
Pre-Health Counseling Specialist Katy Crider agreed that Dr. Feminella is strongly dedicated to helping COSAM students succeed.
“Anyone who meets Dr. Feminella can immediately tell how much he genuinely cares for each of his students,” she said. “I have always admired how he would take time out of his busy schedule to speak at freshman and transfer orientations as well as meet with students on an individual basis to listen to them and offer support. Dr. Feminella is also one of the most hospitable individuals I have ever had the pleasure to work with.”
Dr. Robert Boyd has been a colleague of Dr. Feminella’s during his entire tenure at Auburn University. When Dr. Feminella retires at the end of the month, Dr. Boyd will take on his role as associate dean of academic affairs.
As fellow faculty members in the Department of Biological Sciences, Dr. Boyd has worked closely with Dr. Feminella over the years, especially when Dr. Boyd held the interim chair position after Dr. Feminella’s promotion to associate dean of academic affairs.
“It was a steep learning curve and he was very good about helping me learn it,” Dr. Boyd said. “He was very easy to work with and very proactive and calm and organized. That’s great in a leader.”
Dr. Boyd said he has also sought Dr. Feminella’s help through this new transition of taking on the role as associate dean of academic affairs.
“It’s a difficult job and it’s almost scary to be stepping in after him and to hopefully keep moving as smoothly as he did,” Dr. Boyd said, adding that he considers Dr. Feminella a colleague and a friend. “He’s someone whose council I would value, not only professionally, but personally. I think he’s got his act together.”
Although Dr. Feminella is looking forward to retirement, he said he still plans to be an advocate for COSAM and be involved when time allows.
“I’ll definitely miss the great people in COSAM,” he said. “But I plan on staying as active as I can, as long as they’ll have me.”
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