UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on UAB Alumni
UAB Accounting Graduate Turns IRS Investigator
By Caperton Gillett
Assuming you haven’t recently attempted to defraud the government, you probably would enjoy meeting Donald Smith. The 2006 UAB accounting graduate is a special agent in the Birmingham office of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). But the popular image of the IRS agent in short-sleeved shirt and Coke-bottle glasses, “collecting taxes and maybe harassing a few people,” as Smith says, doesn’t fit this unfailingly polite—and well-dressed—guy.
He may not fit the stereotypes of an IRS agent or a CPA, but Donald Smith uses his accounting degree from UAB to track down money launderers and drug traffickers through his role as an agent in the IRS's Criminal Investigation Division.
His job description isn’t exactly in line with conventional wisdom, either. Although Smith says he draws on his UAB accounting training daily, he spends more time out in the field than hunched over a calculator. And when push comes to shove, he can deploy something more effective than intellectual firepower: a .40 caliber Glock handgun.
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The role of the CID, Smith explains, is to apprehend and prosecute criminals who commit financial fraud. That means he spends much of his time soliciting testimony from witnesses and victims of fraud. “Particularly with victims, I tell them, ‘I’m here as a friend to help you out. All I need is for you to tell me what happened to cause you this kind of distress.’ I try to come across as the nice guy from the IRS.” When he is dealing with criminals—including drug traffickers and money launderers—a different persona emerges, however. “I always talk to people with the utmost respect, but my job is to gather evidence.”
A Math Teacher’s Journey to the Classroom
By Shelley Stewart
Terri Hipps came back to UAB in 2009 to finish her degree in mathematical reasoning—more than two decades after she first started. Now a math teacher at Vincent Middle/High School, Hipps was honored as the Shelby County Board of Education's 2010 First-Year Teacher of the Year.
Terri Hipps has taught school for decades, but it’s only in the last few months that she’s started receiving a paycheck. After home-schooling her own children and tutoring dozens of others, Hipps came back to UAB to finish her degree in 2009—following a 21-year break. Her goal was to put her teaching skills to the test in public-school classrooms. She passed with flying colors: Hipps, who now teaches advanced math courses at Vincent Middle/High School outside Birmingham, was honored as the Shelby County Board of Education’s 2010 First-Year Teacher of the Year.
Teaching was never part of Terri Hipps’s life plan, but somehow it kept coming up. When she first started at UAB in the 1980s, she enrolled in the nursing program. One day a professor took her aside and advised her to consider teaching instead; he had seen how her fellow students improved after Hipps tutored them.
Hipps changed her major to mathematical reasoning, but before she could get her degree, she received a higher calling: As young newlyweds, she and her husband became intent on Christian missionary work. After completing intensive training, they were on the verge of moving to Micronesia, “and the only thing we knew is that we’d need to home-educate any future children because there were no schools where we were going,” Hipps explains.
Meet the Face that Launched Gang Green
By Grant Martin
Jeremiah Haswell is larger than life. He has appeared on T-shirts, billboards, newspaper ads, and stadium scoreboards. With a six-inch green wig, Blazer logos on his cheeks, and a mouth frozen mid-shout, Haswell’s green-tinted visage has been the face of UAB athletics for years. Yet even though the two-time alumnus is a regular at Blazer sports events, few of his fellow fans recognize the icon in their midst—even if they’re wearing his face on their shirts.
Haswell’s spirit-filled image, as captured in a nine-year-old photograph, is the logo of Gang Green, the UAB student organization formed to support Blazer athletics. Haswell was a founding member of the group in 2001 and served as its third president in 2003, in between earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from the university. Yet his most lasting contribution came, unbeknownst to him, when he was just another face in a packed Bartow Arena.
Stately Woodrow Hall in Woodlawn is headquarters to Desert Island Supply Co.
The exterior of the Desert Island Supply Co. headquarters, housed in Woodrow Hall in Woodlawn, is in great shape. The interior, though, is in serious need of refurbishing. And that, organizers figure, will cost at least $20,000.
So they turned to the Internet, to a Web-based fundraising platform for creative projects called Kickstarter, to raise money for their storefront, workshop, and office space. They used social media, too, to help spread the word. “Facebook and Twitter helped us gain momentum,” Hughey says.
There was a kicker, though, to Kickstarter. Each project must be fully funded before its time expires—in Desert Island’s case, $20,000 in three months—or no money changes hands.
“It was kind of hairy because it was all or nothing,” says Desert Island co-founder Elizabeth Hughey. On August 7, the organization reached its goal—and then some. DISCO raised $21,460 through the site, and another roughly $8,500 in checks.
This long-neglected section of Woodrow Hall will soon get some much-needed attention and reopen as Desert Island's storefront home.
The final push for the fundraising project was exciting but nerve-wracking. “We raised $7,000 the last three days,” Hughey says. “People were upping their pledges.”
The organizers were pleasantly surprised to discover that people don’t necessarily have to live in Alabama to care about—and to fund—a program that gives Birmingham-area kids a chance to learn to write. “We had people from all over the country,” Hughey says.
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Alumnus Draws Attention to Neuroscience
By Jo Lynn Orr
UAB alumnus Dwayne Godwin and an artist collaborator explore the inner workings of the brain in a regular comic series in Scientific American Mind. Click on the image above to see their award-winning strip on brain development.
Scientists find science exhilarating. Nonscientists, on the other hand, often fail to appreciate the beauty of new discoveries because they are hidden behind a thicket of jargon.
Dwayne W. Godwin, Ph.D., an Alabama native who earned his doctorate in behavioral neuroscience at UAB in 1992, wanted to change that. So he teamed with illustrator Jorge Cham, Ph.D., to create a brainy comic strip about neuroscience that is now a regular feature in the magazine Scientific American Mind.
The duo have examined everything from the effects of coffee on the brain to artificial intelligence and headaches. “I pick the topic, provide a script, and sometimes sketch out ideas for panels,” Godwin says, “but the finished artwork is done by Jorge.” The results are both entertaining and educational: A strip explaining brain development won an international competition sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Science magazine that challenged entrants to dream up more effective ways of communicating scientific principles to students and the public.