Faculty & Staff
Team Work

We are here to help our students develop into citizen architects and to encourage a healthy, safe, and secure learning environment in which to grow. An environment in which students have the opportunity to succeed and, in some cases, to fail. We may allow students to drive into the ditch, but we don’t let them go off the cliff. Make no mistake, failure is a powerful teacher. The projects belong to the students and are in their hands, we are here as a teammate to provide feedback and to help students take ownership of their projects. We like to think we take the work seriously, but don’t take ourselves too seriously!

Faculty

Andrew Frear

Andrew Freear

Wiatt Professor | Director of Rural Studio

As Director of Rural Studio, Andrew Freear lives full-time in Newbern, west Alabama, where he administers the program and supervises 5th year undergraduate design and build projects. His professional interests include rural community development and design, building technology, and housing. He has been involved in the writing of three books about the Rural Studio and was the co-author of the third, entitled Rural Studio at Twenty: Designing and Building in Hale County Alabama. He loves pouring concrete and installing metal roofs.

Education

BA (Hons), Architecture, University of Westminster
AA Diploma, Architectural Association, London

Rusty Smith

Rusty Smith

Associate Director

Rusty Smith has been on the faculty at Auburn University since 1998. He became the Associate Director of Rural Studio in 2007. He spearheads the Front Porch Initiative (formerly the 20K Initiative), managing a multi-faceted effort to mitigate the rural housing crisis through both affordable, quality home construction and national coalition-building for home procurement. His professional interests include project-based teaching and learning as well as housing affordability.

Education

MFA, Studio, School of The Art Institute of Chicago
BS in Interior Design, Auburn University

Chelsea Elcott

Chelsea Elcott

Instructor

Chelsea Elcott has been an Instructor at Rural Studio since 2019, working with the 3rd-year students. Her professional areas of interest include construction methods exploration, building performance and affordability research, and occupancy and environmental studies. She is an avid member of the Newbern Knitting Club, plays on the Tuscaloosa roller derby team, and is passionate about promoting healthy ecosystems and community wellness.

Education

BArch, Auburn University
BIntArch, Auburn University

Dick Hudgens

Dick Hudgens

Instructor

Dick Hudgens has been working at Auburn University Rural Studio since 1993 and currently teaches a seminar in history and theory. He is the President of Richard B. Hudgens Architects, Inc., in Selma, Alabama and celebrated his 40th year in business in 2019. His professional interests include historic preservation, historic landscapes, and historic interiors. In his spare time, Hudgens collects American decorative arts from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Education

BArch, Auburn University
BS Building Construction, Auburn University

Elena Barthel

Elena Barthel

Adjunct Professor

Elena Barthel has been an Assistant and an Adjunct Professor at Rural Studio since 2008. She has taught a variety of courses, including 3rd-year studio and 5th-year seminars that challenge student’s imagination, drawing, design and building skills. She was the original instigator of the Rural Studio Farm and co-author of the book, Rural Studio at Twenty, Designing and Building in West Alabama. Her professional interest revolves around site specific, design and build community projects. Since 2018, she’s been creating multi-phased urban community projects for the cities of Fiesole and Florence in Italy. The design involves public spaces and features the participation of local citizens in the design. When not designing, Barthel experiments with black ink on letter presses.

Education

PhD, Urban Planning, University of Florence
BArch, University of Florence

Emily McGlohn

Emily McGlohn

Assistant Professor | 3rd Year Teaching Coordinator

Emily McGlohn has been an Assistant Professor at Rural Studio since 2017 and was the Clerk of Works in 2003. She teaches a variety of third-year classes and coordinates third-year teaching. Her varied professional interests including design/build education, building performance, residential design and construction, and affordable housing. Since 2016, McGlohn has partnered with the AIA’s Building Performance Knowledge Community to develop a glossary designed to help architects better understand ambiguous building performance terms, which will be widely available through AIA in 2019. In her spare time, she likes to build desserts out of Jell-O and serve them to unsuspecting friends.

Education

MArch, University of Oregon
BArch, Auburn University

Joe Farruggia

Joe Farruggia

Engineering Consultant | Visiting Assistant Professor

Joe Farruggia is an architect and engineer who practices in Chicago. He has been a consultant for Rural Studio since 2003, and he is a father figure at Rural Studio.

Education

MS, Architecture, University of Illinois
BArch, University of Illinois

Mackenzie Stagg

Mackenzie Stagg

Assistant Research Professor

Mackenzie Stagg has been a project manager for the Front Porch Initiative since 2018, focusing on development of our building products and the drawings needed to communicate our design intent. She previously worked on affordable, multi-family housing with Community Housing Partners in Christiansburg, VA, and at Waggonner & Ball in New Orleans, LA, focusing on urban design projects aimed at increasing resilience in coastal cities. Her research interests include housing affordability and building technology. She digs isometric constructed drawings.

Education

BArch, Auburn University, 2008

Meghan Walsh

Meghan Walsh

Affiliate Professor — Senior Architect, USDA

Meghan Walsh has held a joint appointment with the USDA and Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative since 2019 as part of an Intergovernmental Personnel Act Agreement. An expert in rural housing and mortgages, Walsh will help expand Front Porch’s mission into other rural communities. Her professional interests include public policy, research, and teaching and practice, particularly fine arts and public arts. Her hobbies include playing Capoeira Angola, collecting hammers, and learning to speak Irish (Gaeilge).

Education

BFA – Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
M.Arch – Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
MPRE – (Real Estate Finance) – Georgetown University

Steve Long

Stephen Long

5th-Year Studio Instructor & 3rd-Year Woodshop Instructor | Newbern

Stephen Long has been an Instructor at Rural Studio since 2009. He works alongside Andrew Freear and Xavier Vendrell teaching 5th-year students and helps advise building strategies for all projects at Rural Studio. His interests include woodworking and best practices in building construction.

Education

BArch, Auburn University, 2005

Xavier Vendrell

Xavier Vendrell

Professor | Chair of the Graduate Program

Xavier Vendrell has been a full time faculty member at Rural Studio since 2013, but he’s been a consultant since 2002. He teaches the 5th year Studio course and the graduate Studio course. A practicing architect, Vendrell’s concentration is in public architecture, from public spaces to public buildings to public housing. In his spare time, he enjoys music— insisting on vinyl rather than digital — and he enjoys cooking for and with friends.

Education

Titulo de Arquitecto (Title of Architect), Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura de Barcelona (Barcelona School of Architecture)
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (Polytechnic University of Catalonia)

Staff

Brenda Wilkerson Portrait

Brenda Wilkerson

Account Administrator

Brenda Wilkerson has managed payroll and procurement accounts for Rural Studio since 2001 and enjoys helping students complete the purchasing process when they need materials for projects. Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee was still the Director when she started, and she enjoyed sitting on the porch with him and watching the Newbern Sunshine school parade.

Education

Secretarial Science, The University of Montevallo

Catherine Tabb Portrait

Catherine Tabb

Kitchen Chef

Catherine Tabb has been the Kitchen Chef since 2012, providing delicious, nutritious meals for the Rural Studio community. She holds a ServSafe Certification and is particularly interested in food safety issues. When she’s not in the kitchen, she enjoys reading.

Doris Ward Portrait

Doris Ward

Facilities

Doris Ward, originally from Greensboro, has worked for Rural Studio since 2017. She helps keep Morrisette looking beautiful and clean, which is quite a task with so many people working and living there. She enjoys reading and playing with her grandchildren in her spare time.

Eric Ball Portrait

Eric Ball

Farm Manager

Eric Ball has worked for Rural Studio since 2012 and is the manager of the Rural Studio Farm. Ball also teaches a permaculture seminar and offers mini-lectures on food and food systems while providing hands-on education for students who work on the farm.

Education

BS, Biology, University of Oregon
BS, Philosophy, University of Oregon
Permaculture Design Certificate, Oregon State University

Heather Phillips Portrait

Heather Phillips

Office Assistant

Heather Phillips has been the Office Assistant for Rural Studio since 2018. She enjoys the interesting and challenging work of helping with Rural Studio’s office management. In her spare time, she enjoys painting and refinishing furniture.

Education

BS, Elementary Education, The University of West Alabama

Johnny Parker Portrait

Johnny Parker

Construction Supervisor

Johnny Parker has been on the staff of Rural Studio since 2001. Not only can he build and fix just about anything, but he also helps students learn to problem solve and create sophisticated, complex structures. He is an animal lover whose best buddy is Boo Boo, the dog. Photo by Keith Issacs

Mason Hinton Portrait

Mason Hinton

Maintenance

Mason Hinton has worked as Rural Studio's maintenance technician since 2017. He likes working with students and teaching electrical and building practices. When he’s not fixing the Studio’s facilities or working with students on their job sites, he keeps a cattle farm and enjoys traveling.

Education

Associate Degree in Heating & Air Conditioning, Shelton State Community College
Associate Degree in Electrical, Shelton State Community College

Melissa Foster Denney Portrait

Melissa Foster Denney

Development Officer

Melissa Foster Denney has been the Development Officer for Rural Studio since 2012, having been a Program Assistant since 2001. She promotes and manages gifts, donations, and awards to Rural Studio. An avid fabric collector and quilt maker, Denney owns seven sewing machines, including a 1947 Singer Featherweight 221(Sadie) and a 2019 Bernina 20Q (Bernice).

Education

MPA, Auburn University
BA, Public Relations/Journalism, University of Maryland, University College
Associate in Paralegal Studies, Samford University

Natalie Butts-Ball Portrait

Natalie Butts-Ball

Communications Manager

Auburn University Rural Studio alumna Natalie Butts-Ball began working on staff with the Studio in 2006. She spent two years as an Instructor in the 2nd-Year Studio followed by three years teaching design in public schools in New Orleans, LA. In 2009, Butts-Ball returned to Rural Studio to manage events and communications and to assist fundraising for the Studio’s 20th Anniversary. Since 2014, Natalie has been assisting in the development of the 20K Project and the Front Porch Initiative, including partner development. She also currently manages all public relations, press, communications, marketing, online media, digital archives, and campus and project tours for the Studio.

Education

BArch, Auburn University

Founders

portrait of Sambo Mockbee in chair

Sambo Mockbee

Founder

Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee dedicated his life, as a teacher, an architect and an artist, to the goal of providing "shelter for the soul." His inspirational and authentic architecture served to improve the lives of the most impoverished residents of rural Alabama through his work with Auburn University Rural Studio. In September of 1998, Sambo was diagnosed with leukemia. The illness slowed him down, but he remained committed to the aspirations and ideals of the Studio. In December 2001, he died of complications from the disease. He is survived by his wife Jackie and four children: Margaret, Sarah Ann, Carol and Julius. Despite his renown, Sambo remained modest and resolutely “down-home” until his death. He was a charmer with a quick wit and thick Southern drawl. He cast a spotlight on an aspect of our culture that most avoid while demonstrating that socially responsible architecture can delight the senses, inspire the masses and serve the soul. For his work at Rural Studio, Mockbee received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 2000 and was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 2004.

DK Ruth portrait seated at picnic table

DK Ruth

Founder

Dennis "D.K." Ruth dedicated his life as an educator to promoting context-based, socially conscious design. As department head at Auburn's School of Architecture at the time of Rural Studio's inception, D.K. was instrumental in getting the fledging off-campus program up and running. After his friend and colleague Samuel Mockbee's death in 2001, D.K. helped guide Rural Studio through an emotional and uncertain time.

In Auburn, D.K. took his interest in collaboration and hands-on learning further by pioneering a Design-Build master’s program (now known as a Masters in Integrated Design & Construction.) D.K. remained a devoted teacher up until his passing in 2009. For his academic work both with Rural Studio and Auburn's Integrated Design & Construction master’s program, D.K. received numerous teaching awards. Amongst his honors, he was presented with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan award for service to humanity. D.K. is remembered fondly by his numerous students for his generous and genuine nature. He is survived by his wife Linda and four children: Alex, Philip, Shelley, Jeff.

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