COSAM News Articles 2020 March COSAM to Honor James Barbaree with Endowment Fund

COSAM to Honor James Barbaree with Endowment Fund

Published: 03/24/2020

By: Carla Nelson

Three years ago, a valuable member of the Auburn Family was lost when James Barbaree passed away at the age of 76. Barbaree was an integral part of the Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM), serving as chair of the Department of Biological Sciences from 2002 to 2008 and teaching clinical microbiology and general microbiology for more than 25 years. As a tribute to his dedicated service, an effort is underway to honor his legacy by establishing the Dr. James Barbaree Endowed Fund for Excellence.

By listening to memories and stories about Barbaree, it’s apparent that he had an impact on the lives of former students and colleagues Rebecca Riggs and Scott Miller.

Miller was a student in Barbaree’s clinical microbiology course in 2001, during which time Barbaree was his faculty advisor. Miller said he planned to become a doctor, but with only average grades Barbaree had a serious talk with Miller about his future.

“He was from the generation that if a person cared for you, they were very direct in telling you the things they thought you needed to hear,” said Miller. “Luckily, he was very direct with some things I needed to hear as a young man and it changed my career path for the better.”

After graduation, Miller conducted research at Auburn, then the Department of Energy, and later applied for a job at Auburn for which Barbaree was the head of the hiring committee.

“Things came full-circle,” explained Miller. “He hired me to run the microbiology labs in Biological Sciences. He saw things in me back then that I didn’t see in myself and he saw that I had managed to get out into the real world and take some of his advice.”

Riggs originally planned to pursue a career as a dentist, but then decided against that route and took microbiology courses while determining her next steps. After taking Barbaree’s clinical microbiology course, she was inspired and later pursued her Ph.D. while working in his lab. She joined the lab in 2012 and was the last graduate student to work under Barbaree’s supervision.

Riggs described Barbaree as a family man who was inspirational to his students. She will take over teaching the clinical microbiology course in the fall.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I am going to revamp it, but I hope to be just as inspirational. I saw how he inspired the students. His stories are not my stories, but I could still use his overall experiences because they have really impacted me and my career.”

Graduate student Sarah Martin is one of those students inspired by Barbaree. Before his passing, Barbaree served as her faculty advisor, she was a student on his clinical microbiology course, and she is now a graduate teaching assistant in the course. She described Barbaree as an incredibly passionate professor.

“He continually engaged the classroom in active participation,” she remembered. “Before each exam, he would divide us into teams and we would play a gameshow review that always got everyone very excited about the microorganisms we were learning about in class.”

As her advisor, Barbaree was one of the first to encourage Martin to attend graduate school and pursue research. She added that she and some classmates chose to attend Barbaree’s funeral service because his class and his influence are what led them to the field they are passionate about today.

“Barbaree was very crucial in my degree, and it only felt right to be able to pay my respects to him, as I wouldn’t be where I am without his influence and passion,” said Martin.

Riggs said she believes the fact that current and former students attended the service said a lot about the impact Barbaree had on his students.

“I think it speaks volumes about him and his character that he made that great of a connection with his students,” she said. “It has inspired me to continue teaching.”

Because of the impact Barbaree had on his students, colleagues and COSAM, the goal to fully fund the Dr. James Barbaree Endowed Fund for Excellence would allow his legacy to carry on today. The endowment would benefit the research and development of students pursuing a degree in microbiology.

“We want to do something in his honor because of the impact he had on our lives, all of his contributions to the Department of Biological Sciences and COSAM, and the collaborations he had with so many different people on campus,” Riggs shared. “I think it is something he would be so very supportive of.”

To offer support to the Dr. James Barbaree Endowed Fund for Excellence, visit this page or contact Ashley Underwood, College of Sciences and Mathematics Office of Development, 334.844.2931 or

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