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Photograph by Jeff Etheridge


Fall /Winter 2006

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By David Morrison

Washington role suited retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Leslie Kenne The three silver stars that once adorned her U.S. Air Force uniform do no more to define Leslie Kenne ’70 than lipstick, fingernail polish or feminist platitudes. Peeking behind the official portrait for clues about the former Pentagon deputy chief of staff, however, is daunting. For a woman who frequently describes herself in terms of what she is not, one certainty emerges: Kenne rose through the military ranks on skill, not self-promotion.

A sunny summer morning pinpoints retired Lt. Gen. Leslie Farr Kenne breakfasting quietly at 38°55'55"N x 77°10'14"W—the exact longitude and latitude of The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Tysons Corner, Va. Two weeks earlier, Air Force F-16s—planes she helped develop and integrate into America’s arsenal—had triangulated on coordinates 33°48'02.83"N x 44°30'48.58"E near Baghdad, piercing the sky with two 500-pound laser-guided bombs guided precisely to hit the hideout of Abu Musab alZarqawi, a top al-Qaeda operative in Iraq. “We got him,” Kenne says with poker-faced indifference. “He’s dead.” Her unimpassioned pronouncement reveals not so much a cold-blooded streak as a legato transition from “Gen. Kenne” to just plain Leslie. After 32 years of “never having to decide what to wear to work in the morning,” Kenne hung up her uniforms and now pulls plain-clothes duty as a consultant and board member for three major defense-contracting companies. Her Air Force garb comes off the hangar only occasionally, perhaps for friends’ retirement ceremonies or, she adds wryly, “for when they lay me in a casket.” Kenne works from her home in suburban Virginia and plays golf whenever she can. Putting together weapons systems for chasing foreign terrorists is now “somebody else’s problem,” she says, chuckling at her Auburn Magazine

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own flippancy. “I mean, I’m just an ‘interested observer.’” After three decades of living and working in the worst kind of fishbowl, Kenne today wears her privacy like a burka. Despite the fact that she was the first female ROTC cadet at Auburn University, the first woman to enter the Air Force’s test pilot program, the first woman in charge of purchasing our nation’s major weapons, and, finally, the first female Air Force lieutenant general, the last person who wants to see the word “first” in Kenne’s life story is Kenne herself. Oh, and by the way, she’s also only one of three women in U.S. history ever to have attained the three-star rank in any of the nation’s military branches. You won’t find the adjective “first” in Kenne’s official biography, however, and that’s by design: Throughout her career, she’s aggressively avoided the kind of publicity that would have added the words “media star” to her impressive career accomplishments.

More than 229,000 women actively serve in the nation’s military br anches. About 15 percent of those are officers. “I’m just not a Vanity Fair kind of woman,” Kenne says, flashing a smile. That kind of attitude made Kenne’s PR agent’s job at once easy and very, very difficult. “I think we scheduled one interview the whole time I served with her,” says Lt. Col. Tracy O’Grady-Walsh, Kenne’s former media relations officer. “That’s a shame, because she is so camera-ready—pretty, dynamic, slim, with all those brains on top—the perfect role model. But it’s hard when you’re the first at everything. You just want to do your job.” In fact, Kenne eschews her role as a pioneer and bristles at the notion that her accomplishments are remarkable, particularly as they relate to her gender. “It’s embarrassing to me,” Kenne says. “I know (it’s significant), but I hate that stuff. I always prided myself that I got where I did on my capabilities and not on the accident of my sex. It was not a matter of the year I was born, which I had nothing to do with, or of my gender, which I had nothing to do with. All I did was to go down a path, doing what I liked to do.”

Growing up military Kenne became mindful of those watching her every move as early as the 1960s, when she paved the way for women in Auburn’s ROTC program. Although women’s rights and “new feminism” philosophy were being touted Fall /Winter 2006

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Out of 881 total admir als and gener als in all military br anches, 75 are women.

Photo by Jeff Etheridge

and shouted by activists around the country, AU remained a hotbed of conformity: The campus yearbook disparaged the counterculture aspects of many college campuses with damning headlines; the university’s Air Force ROTC produced more officers than any similar unit in the nation; and women who wanted to get involved in campus life could join an “Angel Flight” auxiliary, where they might offer themselves as prizes in the all-male ROTC “Win a Date with an Angel” fundraiser. At 5-feet 3-inches, the petite Kenne transferred to AU from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., as a sophomore. By 19, she had quietly completed the requirements for a pilot’s license at the local airport and switched her major from physics to aerospace engineering. She had inherited a love of flying from her father, Col. John Wesley Farr, a World War II veteran who had piloted various types of aircraft from C-47 “gooney birds” to Russian aerobatic stunt planes. When the Air Force picked Auburn and three other universities to offer a trial program that would commission female officers through college ROTC units, Kenne jumped at the opportunity. Kenne’s AU days introduced her to the fishbowl of public life— and instilled a lasting reluctance to peel away layers of her personal life for the media. Burned early by a New York Times article that made her appear more concerned with snappy uniforms, lipstick and long fingernails than the historic moment in the evolution of modern women of which she was a part, Kenne focused on personal accomplishment rather than polemics and play. Determined to forge her own path, she skipped an AU Homecoming football game on her 21st birthday to study thermodynamics. Retired four-star Gen. Jimmie Adams ’57 remembers his first encounter with the studious AU coed when, as a major just returned from combat fighter pilot duty in Vietnam, he became her ROTC instructor. He offered her a pass on a term paper topic he thought might have been a bit over her head. “She got right in my face and said, ‘I have an aeronautical engineering degree, a private pilot’s license and a father who’s an Air Force pilot. I think I can handle this subject,’ and she did. She had the best (grade-point) average in the class.” Adams now says Kenne would have made a great military pilot but for the fact that, in 1970, the U.S. military refused to allow women to fly aircraft. Still, she earned her wings—and hours of flight time in birds such as T-38s, F-16s and U-2 spy planes—by parlaying her engineering background into the cockpit seat, helping test military aircraft. Subsequently, Kenne found herself maneuvering around and through Washington’s legendary political mine fields, multibillion-dollar weapons procurements and global media scrutiny. At the apex of her career, she oversaw the vastly complex integration of air-, ground- and space-based weapons and technology systems. “She did a terrific job for this country,” says Gen. Richard B. Myers ’77, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “She kind of broke the mold of the female officer in the military. When she came into the Air Force, a woman’s becoming a ‘three-star’ might have Auburn Magazine

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Photography coutrtesy of Leslie Kenne

In 2004, women composed less than 20 percent of the U.S. Air Force.

As a newly minted lieutenant at her AU graduation, the first ROTC-commissioned female officer followed tradition and paid a silver dollar for her first salute from an enlisted man. As the first woman in U.S. Air Force test pilot training and throughout the rest of her career, Kenne’s goal was to “do a good job and let everything else take care of itself.”

Fall /Winter 2006

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1901 1917 1920 1941 1947 1948 1967 1970 1974 1980 1993 1995 2006

1901 The U.S. Army establishes its permanent nurse corps.

1917 Women begin enlisting in all br anches of the service and are given office work or medical-care duty to free up male soldiers for combat during World War I.

1920 The Army Reorganization Act gr ants officer status to military nurses but sets certain limits on their rights and privileges. 1941 The military begins establishing various

been a faint hope, but she busted through barriers with sheer competence.”

Women in the U.S. Military

Shortly after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon five years ago, the nation’s military leaders discovered that the disparate command-and-control systems integrating all intelligence, weaponry and operations of the United States’ fighting forces didn’t perform well enough to combat imminent threats. To fix the problem, the Air Force created a new Pentagon position dubbed deputy chief of staff for war-fighting integration, and Kenne was first choice for the job. Her mission, she bluntly told defense experts in a 2002 speech, was to shorten the weapons systems’ “kill cycle”—the time between collecting information from battlefield commanders or unmanned Predator aircraft and blowing the target to bits with bombs or cruise missiles. Three years after her retirement, Kenne’s thumbprints remain—particularly in the combined air operations centers, which provide commanders with big-screen views of all tactical initiatives, such as the Zarqawi mission or tracking North Korean missile launches. When Kenne speaks, her nimble hands stay busy. She forms a letter “A” with her index fingers, smoothes the white tablecloth with her palm. Although she insists she’s “not the kind of person who cracks jokes to strangers on an elevator,” she sometimes punctuates her remarks with dry humor. In conversation, Kenne is warmly engaging, but she now guards her private life as zealously as she once used her skills to defend the nation, brooking few inquiries into her existence outside the Pentagon’s five walls. “The best way I can help women who are coming up behind me is to be successful and do a good job. What I tell young women is don’t be so self-conscious about gender. What matters is that your feet are planted, that you do a great job and you are professional. Everything else will take care of itself.”


Lines of defense

women’s auxiliary units.

1947 The Army-Navy Nurse Act makes the

Army Nurse Corps and Women’s Medical Specialist Corps part of the regular Army and gives permanent commissioned officer status to Army and Navy nurses.

1948 The Women’s Armed Services Integr ation Act gr ants women permanent status in the regular and reserve forces of all br anches of the military, including the newly created Air Force. 1967 Congress authorizes women in the military to be promoted to the r ank of gener al or admir al.

1970 Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps, becomes the first female brigadier gener al in U.S. military history.

1974 Both the Navy and Army allow women to tr ain as pilots; the Air Force follows two years later. 1980 The first female cadets gr aduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

1993 Secretary of Defense Les Aspin allows female fliers to join combat missions.

1995 Col. Eileen M. Collins becomes the first woman to pilot a space shuttle mission. 2006 Capt. Nicole Malachowski becomes the first female pilot to join the Air Force’s prestigious Thunderbirds aerobatics unit. Auburn Magazine

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Illustration by Eric Larsen

Fall /winter 2006

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AU alumni divulge weirdest college work experiences Sure, there are college students who live leisurely, even comfortably, on a parental allowance, content to devote their time and attention solely to the pursuit of knowledge, or at least a bachelor’s degree of competence in their chosen fields. And then there are the kids who work menial-but-notterribly-demanding part-time jobs, selling t-shirts and scented bath products at trendy mall stores, waiting tables at the local bar-and-grill or perhaps shelving books at Auburn University’s Draughon Library. Finally, there are the few young people who’ll do just about anything for a buck, and it’s to those kids we owe a debt of gratitude—because somebody’s got to do it, and better them than us. We recently asked AU alumni all over the globe to recall their quirkiest part-time or temporary jobs from their days as students on the Plains. Read on, and if you made minimum wage delivering pizzas, consider yourself lucky.

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Rat race

As a graduate student in zoology in the early 1980s, Jayma A. Moore ’79 taught introductory courses in animal biology that required, among other duties, preparing rat corpses for dissection. “The preserved rats…arrived in 55-gallon drums of cold formalin solution, with greasy fat and other debris floating on top. The rats had to be placed in individual plastic shoe boxes that were then assigned to the students. When the rat supply was getting low in that drum, one had to reach in up to the armpit to fish them out. I don’t recall that any gloves or other personal protective devices were used, which would doubtless be a federal safety violation today. “On the other hand, cleaning up after the plant biology laboratories was a coveted opportunity. At least one lab involved the identification of types of fresh fruit (drupes, pomes, etc.) Leftover fruit, blended with ethanol and ice, made a lovely daiquiri. This abuse may have been what led to the ethanol being laced with the indicator phenolphthalein—a potent laxative. “You may wonder what we got paid for our servitude. My own assistantship paid $3,300 annually, and I had one of the good ones! Some of my colleagues received less than $3,000. Of course, through most of my college career, tuition was $183 per quarter, so perhaps we didn’t do too badly. We certainly had a lot of fun.” Moore, who now lives in Fargo, N.D., stuck with her chosen field and subsequently went on to graduate from the AU College of Veterinary Medicine in 1984.

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When Zach Watson ’02 of Nashville, Tenn., applied for a part-time job delivering telephone books to Auburn residents, he offered to double his workload in return for an easy $500. “Let’s face it, Auburn is not a town just loaded with glamorous jobs for college students,” Watson says. “When the Yellow Pages came to town and told me how much money I could make delivering a few phone books, I thought, ‘Man, this will take no time at all.’ I went to the phone book office and immediately got the job. Now I know why: No one else wanted it. “So I got the lists, then went out back to load phone books in my sport utility vehicle. Little did I know that the books would take up the entire back of my vehicle. Let’s be honest here: The Auburn phone books are about a hundred pages long, so you can imagine how many I had. I thought I would never finish delivering those books. My car had an entirely new scent which stayed there for the next year.”

Inside man

St. Louis resident Randy Asherbranner ’89 spent two summers working as an engineering technician for the U.S. Army Strategic Defense Command in Huntsville in 1987 and 1988. “The division I worked in was called the ‘threat branch.’ The operation was something right out of a Tom Clancy novel, replete with secrecy and foreign intelligence operatives. Our office was charged with evaluating the Soviet nuclear threat to the United States and how the Soviets would likely respond to U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s proposed ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system.  “I was so fascinated by the work that it inspired me to change my major from mathematics to Soviet studies. In light of the current ‘War on Terror,’ looking back on those not-so-long-ago years serves as a stark reminder of just how quickly our list of enemies has changed.”

Weight watcher During her junior and senior years at AU, Elizabeth Johnson ’80 assisted researchers in the College of Agriculture with experiments in nutrition for domestic cattle and

some great folks in those days, and I have some great memories. I even think fondly of the little pans of cow poop! “The real fun happened the day we came in to find that one of the graduate student’s frozen cow-poo samples had been delivered late the previous day and had begun to explode during the night as it thawed! Little cartons had flown around the room, propelled by cow-poo gasses.”

No joke

Tucson, Ariz., resident Stephen J. Newton ’79, who worked two steady jobs as an AU student in order to afford his pair of bachelor’s degrees in microbiology and pharmacy, may win the prize for most aesthetically offensive work: He was an assistant in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s necropsy laboratory.

“They equipped me with white coveralls, rubber boots, thick, latex gloves and a lot of sharp knives. My job was to dissect dead animals, collect tissue samples and prepare the carcasses for incineration. It was a tough job, as I worked with everything from chicks to large bulls (and even a small elephant one time!).

other animals. “I weighed the grass the cows ate, and I weighed what came out afterward. I weighed wet cow pies and then poked them in the big drying ovens to come back later and weigh the dry cow pies. I even got to toss the driedup cow pies in a big grinder, covering myself in a cloud of cow-pie dust and collecting the end product for further experiments. That was not so bad actually—I worked with

“Probably the most memorable part of that job was an incident that occurred one spring day. The necropsy lab had a very large refrigerator with large canisters to deposit the animal carcasses. The necropsy-lab refrigerator had an interior door that was locked at night and an exterior door that remained open all the time so that the local farmers could properly dispose of dead animals. Being of a young, foolish age, I always thought that someone would drop off a human cadaver! The day arrived when, after suiting up, I went to check the refrigerator. I walked in and knew something was astray. Then finally I saw it—there was something propped up against one of the large canisters...

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there was paper covering it, which wasn’t so much of a concern as the human arm I noticed protruding from underneath. “After mustering the courage, I slowly approached the object and gently lifted the paper, only to find a mannequin with an ‘April fools’ sign pinned on its chest.”

Rump roast

Castroville, Texas, veterinarian Luis Arguelles ’93 moved to Auburn in the late ’80s to establish in-state residency and enroll in the College of

Fall /winter 2006

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Veterinary Medicine. “I worked at the North Auburn Beef Unit through the long, hot summer. “Duties included moving hundreds of round hay bales and shredding overgrown brush. One day I clocked 14 hours straight on a tractor. Needless to say, I was saddle sore.”

Pedal pusher

Forestry and wildlife sciences major Richard W. Hall ’95 of Atlanta braved Auburn’s legendary game-day

traffic jams to deliver pizza to customers via bicycle. “It was an amazing job—I did it for three years, every football season. “Unique skill sets that I acquired included dodging oncoming traffic, finding a particular caller with a cell phone in a sea of recreational vehicles and, most importantly, I actually learned how to ride my bicycle up the stairs.”


New Jersey resident Edgar DeGuzman ’86 still thinks fondly of his college job working as a stagehand at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. “I was one of those who set up and tore down the stage after all the shows. My first show was Homecoming 1981, helping set up for Lionel Richie and the Commodores. Just like the song by Jackson Browne, we were the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage. “I think the pinnacle event was a show put on by Pat Benatar. There were about 20 guys on the stage crew list, with myself and my brother Johnny DeGuzman ’84 as the stage-crew managers. We were all excited about working, because we were going to see Pat Benatar up close and personal. When the bus showed up for sound check, we all rushed out back to get a glimpse of her as she got off the bus. Talk about disappointment. She came off the bus and looked nothing like we imagined. We all went back inside with shattered visions of a superstar.”

Feeding the weevils

At age 15, Auburn native Annette Bradford accepted a job as a lab assistant caring for the boll weevil culture in AU’s entomology department.

preserve it and to simulate drilling through a cotton boll. Boll weevils mate once for life, so after six weeks we anesthetized the culture and sexed them. Boll weevils exposed to ether are apparently very stimulated and expose their sex organs (I have thought about this when I had surgery and wondered what I did under the influence of anesthesia). “The food stayed in the weevils’ containers no more than 24 hours, during which they ate the food and laid their eggs. After more than 24 hours, the weevils were in danger of eating the precious eggs that we needed to sustain the culture, so some low-ranking person (usually me) was needed to come in and take care of the culture on weekends and holidays—which is why a townie was so ideal. Boll weevils do not care that it is Christmas. They have to be fed. “I continued to work until I was a sophomore at Auburn. In this time, I cared for the boll weevils but also sectioned tissue with an ultramicrotone for electron microscope slides, set up for embryology labs, learned to print and develop pictures of boll weevil ganglia, germinated cotton seed, and defrosted the refrigerators. Funchess Hall is a creepy place between quarters at night. Pigeons would nest in the sculpted features of the building next door, cooing ominously in the darkness. “My son just got his first job at Domino’s. My first job paid less but was more interesting.”

“I made boll weevil food, which had to include germinated cotton seed washed in sulphuric acid. The food was molded into tubes, cut and then covered in wax to

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Drug Errors: Finding a Cure by David Morrison

When news broke in late September that three babies in an Indianapolis hospital died after nurses accidentally gave them adult doses of a powerful blood thinner, Auburn University researcher Betsy Flynn ’94 experienced a sickening moment of déjà vu. Following similar incidents at the Cleveland, Ohio, hospital where she worked two decades ago, Flynn had resigned her job as a pharmacist and headed to AU, hell-bent on helping repair potentially devastating hairline cracks in America’s healthcare system: medication mistakes.

This year’s Indianapolis infant deaths put a trio of human faces on a problem that rarely generates public alarm despite the fact that drug-dispensing and related errors kill or injure at least 1.5 million Americans each year. A recent Institute of Medicine study documents that a typical hospital patient will be given wrong medicines or incorrect doses each day of his or her stay; health care administrators conservatively spend about $3.5 billion repairing the damage. Those statistics make Flynn and her colleagues sick, and they’re trying to solve the problem using a detailed “medication-error detection system” known as AU MEDS. Developed for hospitals, nursing homes and other extended-care facilities around the United States, AU MEDS now has about 20 clients, including Brigham and Women’s Medical Center in Boston and DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.


AU MEDS tries to eradicate medication errors that range from seemingly benign to deadly serious: doctors prescribing drugs that adversely interact with patients’ other medications; wrong medications or dosages; and nurses missing appointed times for giving pills or injections to patients. Flynn, who serves on an Institute of Medicine group that has studied the problem, estimates the rate for hospital medication errors may be as high as 20 percent. Although the IOM report proposes more extensive automated dispensing as a potential solution, Flynn says health care professionals need to monitor each other personally to reduce human error.

AU researcher Betsy Flynn estimates the rate for hospital medication errors may be as high as 20 percent.

“The United States is technology happy, but automated systems won’t be the cure-all,” she says. “In the United Kingdom, which relies mostly on manual (dispensing) systems, there is a much lower error rate.”

Blotting out blunders According to published reports, the Indianapolis deaths resulted after a nurse stocked the neonatal unit’s medicine cabinets with adult dosages of the blood thinner Heparin, and other nurses who subsequently administered the drugs failed to double-check the labels. During Flynn’s hospital tenure in Cleveland, a pharmacist once mistakenly filled a pediatric prescription with a 250-milligram dose of Primidone, a powerful anti-seizure medicine. Instead of receiving 200 milligrams four times a day, the patient, an epileptic child, ingested 4,000 a day—five times the proper amount. “Things got bad pretty quickly,” says Flynn. “I didn’t enjoy going up to talk to the parents about it.” That and other incidents prompted Flynn’s move to Auburn. Her brother, a nuclear scientist, convinced her that the solution to such problems might be found using engineering ergonomics—and AU’s program in that area, plus the fact that Kenneth Barker, one of the nation’s leading innovators in pharmacy-care systems and medication errors, has worked at AU’s Harrison School of Pharmacy since 1975, inspired Flynn’s choice. “Ken was the Leif Ericson (of medication-error prevention). He was onto this long before anybody else was,” says Flynn, who now lives in Artesia, N.M., but continues to serve on AU’s research faculty. She assists AU MEDS customers in several states. AU MEDS trains nurses as observers who follow other nurses as they work, recording everything they do related to medicating patients. The observers’ notes are entered into a computer database which compares them against other data, including which medications were actually prescribed and dispensed. The computer then generates a report that hospitals can use to diagnose and prevent problems. Barker and Flynn make no claims that AU MEDS can eradicate errors completely, but do promote the system as an auditing tool that can assist hospitals in eliminating error-causing processes and procedures.

A groundbreaking Institute of Medicine study concluded that medication errors are responsible for as many as 98,000 avoidable deaths each year.

The Indianapolis hospital where the three babies died earlier this year declined to spend the $30,000 cost of licensing AU MEDS, notes Barker, whose pioneering 1960s research became the core of the AU MEDS program. The process involves shadowing on-duty nurses, recording their actions and, without ascribing fault, determining the circumstances under which they made mistakes. The first significant IOM study of medication errors in the 1990s, which employed Barker’s methods, concluded that medication errors are responsible for as many as 98,000 avoidable deaths each year. Such data has “brought the issue out of the closet,” says Barker. “We have known for a long time that pharmacists and nurses were making errors, but were not always reporting them. What we didn’t know was the body count.”


“Our personal goal is no errors. We know that’s not possible, but if we don’t make it, we are going to get as close as we can.” Tim Martin ’78 DCH Regional Medical Center Tuscaloosa

On the front lines Joan Armstrong wears a pin on her collar that says “100K Lives,” the slogan for the national Institute of Healthcare Improvement’s campaign to enlist U.S. hospitals in driving avoidable deaths out of the American health care system. Armstrong and her colleagues at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, pharmacy director Tim Martin ’78 and hospitalperformance improvement director Sue Hughes, shadow nurses twice yearly in each of the 600-bed hospital’s 12 medical units, which dispense between 3,500 and 5,000 doses of medicine to patients each day. “We try to be like flies on the wall, as unobtrusive as possible,” says Armstrong. “We want to look at medication delivery from the patient’s point of view.” The hospital just celebrated its third year as an AU MEDS customer. The program, Martin says, “provides a very reliable metric” for managing the facility’s drugdelivery system—the hospital has already met and is now attempting to exceed its initial error-reduction goals. “In the early 1990s, DCH went from the mindset of wanting to be as good as the other hospitals around us to wanting to be as good as, or better than, the top-rated hospitals in the nation,” Hughes explains. “To do that, patient safety is paramount. And medication is a huge part of everything we do.” While much of the AU MEDS value lies in detecting faulty procedures or breakdowns in communication, the system also is useful for evaluating expensive new monitoring equipment designed in part to automate drug delivery to patients. “Our personal goal is no errors,” says Martin. “We know that’s not possible, but if we don’t make it, we are going to get as close as we can.”

AU’s official 2007 calendar features War Eagle VI, known to Auburn fans as Tiger. Tiger: A Tribute, measures 11”x14” and sells for $11.95. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Tiger’s home, the Southeastern Raptor Center. To order, contact AU Photographic Services at 334-844-4560, or “Prowling The Plains” (below) and other photos taken by Photographic Services, a branch of AU’s Office of Communication’s and Marketing, can also be purchased by visiting

Auburn Magazine Fall Winter 2006  

Odd Jobs: AU alumni divulge weirdest college work experiences

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