COSAM News Articles 2020 August How the Auburn family works together to make a difference

How the Auburn family works together to make a difference

Published: 08/18/2020

By: Maria Gebhardt

“The most enjoyable human characteristic is the desire to help other people,” said James Hairston, a professor emeritus of water resources in the Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture.

For more than three decades, Hairston and his wife Ruth have been helping international students by welcoming them into their homes and into their lives.

“One night, I was leaving Extension Hall where my office is located,” he explained. “I saw a student, Hui Xu, pushing a cart of flasks that needed to be sterilized. I held the door for her and that simple task was the stepping stone that connected us.”

Hairston and his wife not only help students with academic-related needs, but act as the student’s Auburn family while they are here. 

“I invite the student to visit our home and I let it start from there,” Ruth Hairston shared. “James and I have helped many international students who were alone in this country. They have earned their doctorate degrees and found rewarding careers in science.”

Xu, who earned her Ph.D. in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry, worked in Doug Goodwin’s lab in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. Goodwin is the chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. 

Hairston and Goodwin worked together to hold a private hooding ceremony for Xu on Sunday, August 9, in front of the Department of Chemistry building, which proudly brought all of the families together. 

Hairston and his wife, Goodwin and his wife plus their two children, and members of the Goodwin lab celebrated Xu being hooded by Goodwin, her doctorate advisor. 

“Doug Goodwin never gives up on his students,” Xu said. “Goodwin is patient and caring, and he has made a huge impact on me.” 

Jessica Krewall, a graduate student also working in Goodwin’s lab, has worked with Xu for more than five years and attended the special ceremony. 

“I am impressed with the amount of determination and perseverance she has demonstrated in the lab,” Krewall said. “She is going to go on to great success.” 

Xu has already secured a post-doc position at the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

“I am so blessed to have the unconditional support of James and Ruth as my American parents,” Xu explained. “They are altruistic and derive happiness by helping others.”

Goodwin and Hairston are examples of how faculty can truly elevate the Auburn experience for students. 

“Even the tie I am wearing for the ceremony was sent by Xu’s mother,” Hairston added. “It shows how much of a family we really are—even if we are 7,500 miles apart.”

Xu’s career goal is to become a professor of chemistry like her mentor Goodwin. 

“As much we are helping to make a difference in the lives of international students, they are really the ones giving back to us,” Hairston said. 

Latest Headlines
Select a year below.

Stay Connected