UAB Magazine Online Features
New UAB Program Trains Artist-Engineers for the 3-D Future
By Caperton Gillett
Bharat Soni, left, and Christopher Lowther are trying to build a bridge between their respective scientific and artistic disciplines in order to develop students "equally at home in the left and right brain."
Artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci never had access to three-dimensional modeling software or advanced computer simulation suites. That’s a shame, because with the help of a new UAB graduate program that bears his name, he might have managed to get his human-powered ornithopter and other futuristic visions off the ground.
The Leonardo Art & Engineering Certificate Program—affectionately known as “Leonardo” to developers Bharat Soni, Ph.D., and Christopher Lowther, marries the concrete aspects of engineering (Soni) with the creative aspects of art (Lowther). The program, which begins this fall, aims to mold students into well-rounded “Renaissance kind of people” capable of taking advantages of the many opportunities in a hot new field, Lowther says.
UAB faculty already have extensive expertise in designing and building immersive virtual-reality environments, says Soni, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the UAB School of Engineering. The school’s summer institute for high-school students has given faculty experience in teaching computer simulation techniques to the mathematically disinclined. And Lowther’s time-based media class in the Department of Art and Art History, which makes heavy use of 3-D modeling and animation software, presented a near-perfect bridge between the two disciplines.
Help and Hope in the Tornadoes’ Wake
Although UAB’s Southside campus was spared, the deadly outbreak of tornadoes on April 27 touched lives across the UAB community. As that Wednesday evening progressed, victims poured into the emergency department at UAB Hospital. In all, 134 patients were treated, including 40 with major trauma injuries and 23 who were admitted to the intensive-care unit. Staff added 14 beds to manage the influx by creating an auxiliary ICU.
“The injuries were remarkable,” said Loring Rue, M.D., chief of trauma surgery at UAB Hospital. Debris tossed through the air by the devastating winds created wounds consistent with high-speed car crashes, Rue explained. But despite the severity of the injuries, there were no fatalities among patients transported to UAB. (Rue discusses UAB Hospital’s response to the tornado disaster in this live interview with CNN.)
Other UAB medical personnel were at work out in the field. Emergency medicine physician Sarah Nafziger, M.D., headed for Birmingham’s shattered Pratt City neighborhood as soon as the tornadoes passed through. Joining first responders from around the region, she worked all night to triage patients. Nafziger, who trains UAB medical students in emergency medicine and is the medical director for several EMS units in Birmingham, was amazed at the “widespread destruction” she saw. She told the Wall Street Journal that it reminded her of her experiences in New York City on September 11, 2001.
While Nafziger looked for victims on city streets, UAB faculty and staff were racing to track down students and colleagues to make sure they were safe. The UAB School of Medicine, which has campuses in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville in addition to Birmingham, was particularly vulnerable. There was no major property damage at any of those locations and no serious injuries among the school’s hundreds of students. But the Medical Student Services group, led by Laura Kezar, M.D., quickly identified several students who lost homes, vehicles, and other significant items. As School of Medicine dean Ray L. Watts, M.D., explains in a recent blog post, those students will receive emergency financial help from the existing Medical Student Assistance Fund of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.
Artist Inspires Students to Become Poets
By Glenny Brock
Sharrif Simmons (right) developed "Poet's Corner" to encourage students to find their voices and express their ideas to their peers and their communities. Photo courtesy ArtPlay.
For the past five years, Birmingham-based spoken-word artist Sharrif Simmons has run a program called “Poet’s Corner” in which he has gone into a dozen local public and private schools and convinced hundreds of students to write thousands of rhymes—and yet he will tell you he doesn’t really teach poetry.
“I create the condition for poetry to exist and be performed,” Simmons says. “I believe I succeed by using encouragement as my primary tool.”
Simmons is a teaching artist for ArtPlay, a new education and outreach initiative of UAB’s Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center, and the complete title of his program is “The Poet’s Corner: Going from the Page to the Stage.” Designed for students in grades 5-12, “Poet’s Corner” is a six-week workshop that introduces participants to the rich history of oral tradition and the intersecting lines that connect it to contemporary forms of expression such as hip-hop, rap, and rhythm & blues. Simmons’s students listen and learn and then write their own rhymes and dare to speak out loud. In other words, they become poets.
“There are, of course, universal challenges and insecurities innate to a project like this,” Simmons says. “But I’ve found that students who are more extraverted inspire the introverts, allowing them to overcome any stage fright and fully participate.”
To prepare students for these creative endeavors, Simmons performs his own music and spoken-word poetry in the classroom, and has students read and listen to works by historic and contemporary poets. To date, he has taken “Poet’s Corner” to Barrett, Hemphill, Simmons, Lewis, and EPIC elementary schools; West End, Wenonah, Huffman, and Homewood high schools; and the Cornerstone Schools.
Helping Teens Take over Diabetes Care
By Cary Estes
Carol Dashiff, right, is testing a new form of group support and education to help teens with diabetes take responsibility for their own care and to help their parents cope with the anxiety surrounding this difficult transition period.
The stretch of road where adolescence merges into young adulthood is one of the most awkward intersections along life’s highway. For teens, this transition period involves countless lessons to learn and, undoubtedly, mistakes to make. Parents are also in for an education—they must master the difficult art of letting go.
This process can be especially difficult for families dealing with chronic diseases such as type 1 diabetes. Parents accustomed to managing or monitoring insulin injections and regulating diet have to trust their increasingly independent teens to manage more on their own. And since teens with diabetes are just as likely to be forgetful and overconfident as any other adolescent, their parents tend to be especially anxious. This in turn can lead to tension and turmoil during the teen years—especially the middle years, when teens are more and more away from home.
UAB School of Nursing professor Carol Dashiff, Ph.D., hopes to help teens and their families better cope with this difficult process through a new form of group support and education. In a pilot study, she is working with teens age 15 to 17 and their parents in a multifamily format with twin goals: helping adolescents improve their ability to manage their diabetes and helping their parents become less anxious and offer non-obtrusive support.