UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on UAB Alumni
UAB Alumna and Genetics Pioneer Dies at 82
By Bob Shepard
UAB professor emerita Sara Will Crews Finley, M.D., passed away on February 20, 2013. Finley, along with her husband, Wayne H. Finley, M.D., Ph.D., co-founded the first medical genetics program in the southeastern United States at UAB. She was co-director of the Laboratory of Medical Genetics for 30 years.
Finley held the Wayne H. and Sara Crews Finley Chair in Medical Genetics at the time of her retirement from UAB in 1996. The Finleys founded the first chromosome laboratory in the Southeast and began what was to become one of the country’s largest university prenatal genetics laboratories.
“Sara Finley was a true pioneer in medicine,” says Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., chair of UAB’s Department of Genetics and current holder of the Finley Chair in Medical Genetics. “She and her husband, Wayne, were among the first physicians to recognize the importance of the new field of medical genetics, and they were among the first to implement new technologies for culturing cells and analyzing chromosomes. These technologies helped untold numbers of families by providing new approaches to the diagnosis and classification of birth defects and genetic disorders, as well as enabling genetic counseling for families.”
Born February 26, 1930, Finley was the daughter of Jessie Mathews Crews and J.B. Crews of Lineville, Alabama. She graduated from Lineville High School, the University of Alabama, and the Medical College of Alabama. Her postgraduate training included an internship at Lloyd Noland Hospital, a three-year pediatric research fellowship at the Medical College of Alabama, and a traineeship at the Institute for Medical Genetics at the University of Uppsala, Sweden.
Alumnus Boosts Nation’s Drug Defenses
By Matt Windsor
If there is trouble somewhere in the world, Michael V. Callahan, M.D., DTM&H, M.S.P.H., probably isn’t far away. For three months every year, Callahan, a 1991 graduate of the UAB School of Public Health and 1995 graduate of the UAB School of Medicine, works in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. The rest of his time is spent on the move.
Callahan has been on the scene at some of the world’s most famous—and dangerous—virus outbreaks, including H5N1 avian flu in Hong Kong in 1999 and 2001, SARS in Hong Kong in 2003, Marburg in Angola in 2004, and so on. He also has responded to recent Ebola virus outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lassa fever in Nigeria, and controversial laboratory accidents resulting in the infection of scientists at foreign biohazard laboratories.
But Callahan’s most enduring contribution to health care may come from the lab rather than the field. Since 2005, he has been a program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the secretive R&D center of the American military. Callahan was recruited to DARPA “to work on fast-paced solutions to health threats,” he says. His biggest mission: Create a government-funded drug research and production capability focused strictly on national priorities, such as defense and pandemic preparedness, rather than profits. “The Department of Defense had no idea how to make drugs, and neither did I,” Callahan recalls. But they knew they needed to learn how.
Checking in With UAB’s First Rhodes Scholar
When UAB engineering student Neelaksh “Neel” Varshney won the university’s first Rhodes scholarship in 2000, his goal was to become a neuroscientist. But as he studied neuroscience and mathematical modeling at Oxford University, and then went on to medical school at Harvard and MIT, Varshney found himself attracted to a problem every bit as intriguing as the mind: the modern health-care system.
“I got curious about how the whole system works,” says Varshney, who today works in Chicago at Linden Capital Partners, a private equity firm focused on health care. I was interested in broad questions about health care—for example, how medical devices are designed, manufactured, and then adopted by physicians and patients. I wanted to understand and influence how health-care services are delivered—in other words, the whole value chain of health care.”
So after graduating from Harvard Medical School and finishing his internal medicine internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Varshney made the move to the business side of health care. He took a position at consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he worked with international health-care companies and policy makers, “helping them solve their core business and organizational problems,” he says.
Now, at Linden, Varshney’s focus is investing in and guiding small- to mid-size health-care companies to growth—including health-care providers, device manufacturers, and more. “We buy the companies, work closely with their leadership teams, and help support their growth as contributors to the health-care system,” he says.
Varshney, a Huntsville native, says the “deep technical expertise” he acquired during his Rhodes years is useful in his current position, but “what I got from the experience was much deeper,” starting with the opportunity to live abroad. “The most engaging aspect was being with a diverse group of people with diverse talents,” he says. “It was enriching to share this experience with people whose future impact will be in politics, medicine, research, business, or otherwise—my fellow Rhodes scholars from the United States and elsewhere, and also the other students at Oxford.”
In his two years at Oxford, Varshney was also able to make trips around Europe, to North Africa, and to Asia that also expanded his horizons, he says. The Rhodes experience taught him to “appreciate the people who have created great opportunities for me,” Varshney says.
His advice to any UAB undergraduates considering the Rhodes? “Just go for it,” he says. “It’s all upside. Applying for these fellowships makes you reflect deeply on your UAB experience, and how you plan to achieve your life goals, though they may change. Whether you ultimately win or not, the applications themselves will help shape your story and the impact you have. And you will find encouragement along the way. UAB is a place that supports your aspirations at all levels. That was certainly true in my case.”
UAB Basketball Enters a New Era
By Grant Martin
After spending more than 15 years on the coaching staffs of two of college basketball’s winningest programs, Jerod Haase is putting his stamp on the program Gene Bartow built as the fifth head basketball coach in UAB history.
Haase played and coached at the University of Kansas before spending the past nine seasons on the staff at the University of North Carolina, where he helped lead the Tar Heels to national championships in 2005 and 2009.
Haase says he expects to bring that same winning tradition to his first job as a head coach. “This job has everything I could hope for,” Haase said when he was introduced to a room full of Blazer supporters last spring. “This is an ideal situation for me personally and professionally. UAB is a place where I can recruit at a high level, and this is a fantastic place for me to raise a family and be a part of the community.”
A native of Lake Tahoe, California, Haase played one year at the University of California before transferring to Kansas. He started 99 of 101 games with the Jayhawks, finishing his career with more than 1,200 points and ranked in the top 10 among school leaders in assists, three-point field goals, and steals. He was a two-time Academic All-American and was the Kansas Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1997.
“Winning is in his DNA,” says UAB athletic director Brian Mackin of Haase. “He is a great person and will be a great coach for UAB.”
Haase is taking over a Blazer team that has experienced success in the recent past, having won the Conference USA regular season title as recently as 2011. But with only three starters returning, Haase will face the challenge of finding new on-court leadership as he introduces the team to his aggressive style of play.
Haase recently sat down with UAB Magazine to discuss his move to Birmingham and his expectations for the upcoming season.
UAB Magazine: If people were looking for you to bring something different and exciting to UAB basketball, they didn’t have to wait long. Tell us about “Hoops on the Haasephalt.”
Haase: I have been a part of some big preseason events at Kansas and North Carolina, so I wanted to do something here around the start of practice to introduce the team and the coaching staff and to get the fans involved and excited for the coming season. I wanted to do something unique, so we decided we would build an outdoor court and bleachers on 14th Street near the Campus Green.
We had free food and a lot of activities for the kids, and then the men’s and women’s teams both came out and put on a show for everyone with slam-dunk and three-point shooting competitions.
We had a great turnout, the players had a good time, and I hope it’s something our students and fans will remember for a long, long time.
(See a slideshow of "Hoops on the Haasephalt" below. Story continues beneath slideshow.)
UAB Magazine: You played and coached under Roy Williams at Kansas, then followed him to North Carolina. How much of his coaching style should we expect to see implemented at UAB?
Haase: Quite a bit. I believe pretty strongly in the way we did things, so fans can expect to see an up-tempo, exciting style of play. It will be the players’ jobs to raise their intensity to my level. We are going to pressure people defensively, deny passes, hopefully rebound the basketball well, and force turnovers so we can get our secondary break and primary break. We’re going to run the basketball and try to score it quickly—but that doesn’t mean taking rushed or bad shots. I think the guys understand that how the team does is more important than how each individual does. It is amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.
UAB Magazine: You’ve been a part of two historically great programs in Kansas and North Carolina. What kind of steps have you taken to form a connection to this program’s history beyond your current team?
The Haase File
Jerod Haase is one of five brothers and sisters to play intercollegiate sports. He is married to the former Mindy Meidinger of Lenexa, Kansas. The couple has two sons, Gavin (five) and Garrett (two), and a daughter, Gabrielle, born earlier this year.
In addition to his coaching resume, Haase also co-authored the book Floor Burns, chronicling the 1996-97 season at Kansas. The title refers to a statistic the Kansas stat crew created in honor of Haase, who had 165 “floor burns”—abrasions from diving for loose balls—as a junior.
Haase: Well, you can’t really talk about any specific college basketball team without looking at it in the context of the overall program, and there wouldn’t be a program here without Gene Bartow. Although I never had the chance to meet him, I am certainly familiar with Coach Bartow and what he built here. One of the things that was very important to me when I took this job was that I reach out to the Bartow family and to all the former players who had a part in building this program to what it is today.
I had lunch with [Bartow’s widow] Ruth Bartow over the summer and got to know her a little bit. I wanted her to understand that this will always be his program; I’m just the guy who happens to be sitting in his office right now. I wanted her and all of the former players to continue to feel at home here and know that they’re still a big part of what we’re doing.
UAB Magazine: You have some experience returning on this year’s team, but there are some big holes to fill, particularly the loss of leading scorer and rebounder Cameron Moore. How do you see this year’s team shaping up?
Haase: The guys we have returning are a fantastic group who have produced at this level, so they are going to be the core. Then we’ve added some new players, some of whom have a lot of experience and should be able to help us right away.
We don’t have a lot of depth up front, but we have flexibility with several guys who can play multiple positions, and that kind of plays into what we want to do with an up-tempo style of play.
UAB Magazine: One of the highlights of the non-conference schedule is a game against your mentor, Roy Williams, at North Carolina. Can we expect more marquee games like that in the future?
Haase: The North Carolina game is part of a three-year deal. We will play there twice, and they will play us at Bartow Arena next year. It’s a big deal for us to be able to play them, but in the future we plan to play home and away games against the best teams we can find. We’re going to welcome those challenges and build our program so that we can compete at an extremely high level.
Alumnus Aims to Keep Mars Rover Safe
By Matt Windsor
merica’s latest Mars probe is called Curiosity, but as the car-size spaceship hurtled toward the Red Planet on August 5, Luther Beegle’s 10-year-old son, Ryan, was experiencing a different emotion: anxiety.
Beegle, who holds a master’s degree in physics and a doctorate in astrophysics from UAB, was a little antsy himself. A safe touchdown meant he would finally get a shot at a mission after more than a decade as a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It would also be a neat follow-up to the Mars rover missions undertaken by his UAB mentor, Thomas Wdowiak, Ph.D., in the mid-2000s.
The Big Dig
“Five minutes before the rover landed, my son came up to me and said he was really nervous,” Beegle says. “He and my daughter, Abigail, have been to the lab many times and saw the rover being made, but it didn’t become real to them until the landing. I gave him a hug and said it would be OK.”
It was. Curiosity landed safely, drawing cheers from the crowd. In a conversation a month later, Beegle was still elated, even though the pressure has, if anything, intensified.
Beegle’s role on this mission is to be something of an interplanetary safety inspector. “I am one of three surface sampling systems scientists,” he says. “We’re in charge of Curiosity’s drill and scoop”—which are crucial to the mission goal of “finding traces of organics and understanding the habitability potential of Mars,” Beegle says. “It’s our job to let the engineers know if it’s safe to drill into something. If the drill fails, then the two analytical instruments can’t work, so we’re very conservative in what targets we choose.”
For the first 90 days of the Curiosity mission, Beegle and the entire team are working on Mars Time. Since a day (or “sol”) on Mars lasts 24 hours and 39 minutes, that means his shift begins roughly 40 minutes later each day. (Beegle and most other team members track the shifting clock using a NASA smartphone app, which has largely replaced the “Mars watches” used by earlier crews.) After three months, “we go to a more reasonable 8:00-to-6:00, seven-day-a-week schedule,” Beegle says. “It sounds horrible, but it’s really not; I’m doing such interesting work.”