Graduate School News

Discoveries: The sweet science behind mending muscle

IMG 0174Rylie Hightower, a third-year graduate student in the Graduate Biomedial Sciences neuroscience program, studies proteins and other factors that contribute to the progression of muscular dystrophy. 

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Link to Leadership: Dr. Lisa Schwiebert, Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs

GRAD logo without taglineEmbarking on the graduate school journey can be a challenging experience, but it helps if you understand the major players involved in that experience. This new series, "Link to Leadership," features Q&As with UAB's Graduate School leaders and an opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to get to know these leaders on a deeper level.
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Graduate Student Organization Spotlight: Graduate Student Government

Grad Student Organization Spotlight graphicThe University of Alabama at Birmingham offers numerous ways for graduate students to enhance their leadership skills, one of which is joining a student organization. But how do you decide which organization is the right fit for you? This Spotlight series will highlight all of UAB's graduate student organizations, as well as the benefits of joining each one.  Read more ...

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Ozioma Okonkwo, a native of Imo State, Nigeria, is one of many international graduate students who attend UAB. He is currently completing a year of internship in the Dementia Clinical Research program at Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island. He is working on a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Neuropsychology here at UAB. The internship is Ozioma’s final requirement for graduation.

Ozioma studies the process by which neuropathological alterations lead to cognitive impairment which, in turn, leads to restrictions in the ability to perform everyday activities, such as driving and financial management, among persons with mild cognitive impairment, the clinical prodrome for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. He is also interested in understanding the relationship between cardiovascular health and cognition among older adults.

Ozioma put a lot of thought into choosing UAB for his graduate studies. He explains, “When I first began considering a PhD in Clinical Psychology, specializing in Neuropsychology, my primary interest was in working with persons who had experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Tom Novack of the UAB Spain Rehabilitation Center is arguably the foremost TBI neuropsychologist in the country, and I wanted to have the opportunity to work with and learn from the best. In addition, UAB’s Medical/Clinical Psychology program provides opportunities for students to be mentored by faculty in departments as diverse as maternal and child health, neurology, epidemiology, biomedical engineering, nursing, physical medicine, rheumatology, ophthalmology, and biostatistics to mention a few. This multidisciplinary character of the program suited my personality and my vision of/approach to science.”

While at UAB, Ozioma considers his most rewarding experience to be the opportunity to collaborate on a diverse assortment of research projects, ranging from neurometabolic correlates of functional abilities in mild cognitive impairment to quality of life in stroke patients. His influences here at UAB have been numerous, adding, “It is difficult to identify any one person who had the greatest influence on me. A number of individuals influenced me in different ways. To name a few, they include (in alphabetical order) Drs Karlene Ball, James Banos, Paul Blanton, Ed Cook, Elizabeth Griffith, Randall Griffith, Celia Huston, Daniel Marson, Dan Marullo, Tom Novack, David Roth, Hal Thurstin, David Vance, and my esteemed graduate advisor, Virginia Wadley.” (A list of honors and awards Ozioma has received while at UAB is located at the end of this article.)

Motivation and support are key components of academic studies, especially in graduate school. Ozioma’s motivation comes from a desire to seek answers to those questions that are yet to be considered by other scientists, and to find novel ways of addressing those that have been asked. His wife, Renata, and son, Chidubem, have also been very supportive in his academic pursuits.

After his expected graduation in Summer 2009, Ozioma plans to continue refining his research and clinical interests in mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

Ozioma’s Advice to Other Graduate Students:
Be willing to share whatever knowledge you have with your peers. In the process, that knowledge grows exponentially. Do not shrink from asking “difficult” questions. They provide a unique platform for learning. Likewise, do not be deterred by “accusations” (implicit or explicit) of wanting to know too much. There is no such thing!

2008                            Invited attendee, NIH/NIA-sponsored Advanced Psychometric Methods in Cognitive Aging Research workshop, University of California Davis, Davis CA.

2007                            NIH/NINDS Exceptional Summer Student Award.

2007                            NIH/NINDS summer intern, Human Cortical Physiology

2007                            Dean’s award for Excellence in Research by a Graduate Student, UAB School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

2007                            Overall outstanding graduate student, UAB Department of Psychology.

2007                            Outstanding graduate student, UAB Medical/Clinical Psychology program.

2006                            UAB Center for Aging Research Scholarship.

2006                            Merit Fellowship, UAB Medical/Clinical Psychology program.

2006                            2nd place winner, research presentation, UAB Graduate Student
Research Day competition (Social and Behavioral Sciences).

2006                            Runner-up, Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in        
Research by a Graduate Student, UAB Department of Medicine Trainee Research Symposium.

2004                            1st place winner, poster competition, UAB Center for Aging Conference (Social and Behavioral Sciences).

“Accuracy of self-report of functional abilities in mild cognitive impairment: Development and validation of the MILES Self-Report Questionnaire.” Principal investigator. UAB Center for Aging. 2006 2007.

“Impaired awareness of functional deficits in mild cognitive impairment: Relation to cognitive variables and mood.” Principal investigator.  Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama. 2005 – 2006.

“Everyday functional performance in mild cognitive impairment.” Co-investigator (PIs: K. K. Ball & V. G. Wadley). National Institute on Aging. 2004 – 2009.