UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on UAB Alumni
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.
Public Health Contest Seeks Powerful PSAs
By Caperton Gillett
Erin Wright's winning poster "Acid Rain" from KoronisFest 2010. Click on the image to see a larger version.
According to myth, Koronis was a Greek princess, consort to the god Apollo and mother of Asclepius, god of medicine, who begat Hygeia, goddess of hygiene. “It occurred to me—she is the grandmother of public health,” says UAB neurologist Steve Rudd, M.D., M.P.H. Rudd chose Koronis as the namesake for his own brainchild: a community competition focused on spreading the word about public health.
The inaugural KoronisFest, held in April 2010, offered awards for the best public service announcements (PSA) in three categories: live action, animation, and posters. The competition attracted submissions from UAB students and faculty, as well as filmmakers and artists in the larger Birmingham community. Entries covered topics from pollution to organ donation, with presentation ranging from the compelling to the entertaining to the bizarre. But they shared one common thread, says School of Public Health dean Max Michael, M.D.: “They’re funky.”
Inspiration for the competition came largely from a course called Narrative Public Health, team-taught by Rudd and Michael, which explores techniques to communicate public health messages to different audiences. The duo brought in Michele Forman, M.A., documentary filmmaker and ethnographic filmmaking instructor at UAB, to teach a session on the rudiments of film production for PSAs. Students responded enthusiastically, and many of their projects became entries in KoronisFest.
Reaching Out to Guatemalan Women
By Jo Lynn Orr
After seeing the needs of Guatemalan women firsthand as a graduate student, Nancee Neel helped start an organization to support women and girls through education, health care, and community building. Photo courtesy Rebecca Daubert
The first time Nancee Neel visited Guatemala, she sensed an immediate connection. “I felt I had come home,” she recalls. It wasn’t the country’s breathtaking landscape of soaring mountains, lush cloud forests, and dazzling coastlines that drew her in; it was the people. “They are just amazing,” she says, “so loving and warm.”
Neel, an alumna of the UAB School of Public Health and former assistant professor in the school’s Department of Maternal and Child Health, first traveled to Guatemala in 1987 with David Coombs, Ph.D. (now professor emeritus of health behavior), to research her thesis for a master’s degree in public health. She returned the next year, and lived in Guatemala for six months while collecting information for her doctoral dissertation. Since then, she has gone back many times to learn more about the country’s culture, visit with friends, and make new ones.
Seeking a way to improve the lives and health of Guatemalan women living in rural areas, Neel began informally working with a local cooperative called Pop Atz’iaq in 2004. She helped establish a microcredit fund for women and an educational scholarship program for girls. Then in 2006, she and some friends in Birmingham started Threads Weaving Dreams, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and support to Guatemalan women and their families through education, health care, and community building.
The Threads group also works with a clinic called Primeros Pasos, which has established the Stairway to Good Health (Escalera a Una Buena Salud) program to improve the health of women through nutrition education and other health-promotion efforts. Another Stairway goal is to improve participating women’s self-esteem and leadership qualities, and to foster community participation and awareness of gender and identity.
“It is an amazing three-year program,” Neel says. “The first year targets health education, including preventive measures and how to recognize different kinds of illnesses, as well as issues that arise at the family and community levels. They really educate the women, many of whom never had the opportunity to attend school. The second year is about empowerment—self-esteem, gender issues, participation in the political process—issues that the women have never had formal instruction in.”
Brian Curtin is a talented video editor, but sometimes there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned stunt work. One sequence from his film Beyond Black Mesa—featuring a massive explosion and a flying Curtin—took him right off his feet.
“Part of it was that we just wanted to use a ripcord, and that was a perfect time to do it,” Curtin recalls. “We hooked a rope to the front of my car and ran it through a carabiner on a metal shed off to the side. I would run about two feet, and then my friend would throw the car in reverse and yank me off the scene. And another friend had a wrestling pad to catch me.
“The first time we did it—which is the take we used—he didn’t catch me. Somebody was taking pictures, and there’s a picture of him laughing as I’m flying by. And then I hit the metal shed.
“On the first take, we said, ‘If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.’ After that, it was more like: ‘Let’s tone it down a bit.’”
UAB Alumnus Is Viral Video Star
By Caperton Gillett
A few million people have seen Brian Curtin get his comeuppance in a UAB parking deck. He hopes that even more will tune in online to watch him get attacked by alien robots outside a Birmingham warehouse.
Bad things have been happening to this UAB graphic design graduate ever since he began making “stupid little short films” (his words) in high school using the video function on his still camera. He kept on making those films—with progressively advancing equipment and techniques—while he was at UAB, but it wasn’t until after he graduated in 2007 that Curtin found his cinematic calling.
As an art director at the Birmingham ad agency Big Communications, Curtin got plenty of experience using film-editing software—experience that spilled over into his own personal projects after work and on the weekends. Inspired by a raft of Star Wars-themed fan videos on YouTube, Curtin and some friends (including fellow UAB alumni Matt Hall and Mat Powell) decided they could make their own sci-fi movie, and make it better.
Following three months of elaborate choreography (it helped that he and another actor were “moderate breakdancers back in the day,” Curtin says), a month of shooting at a parking deck on UAB’s campus (first surreptitiously, later with an official permit), and six to eight months of post-production work on his computer, Curtin unleashed Concrete Hustle on the world.
The nearly four-and-a-half-minute film—a raging lightsaber battle involving three combatants, backflips, flying leaps, several stab wounds, and an apparent high-altitude fall off the parking deck—is a monument to non-stop action. And even though Concrete Hustle has no dialogue, it certainly spoke to its audience: As of November 1, it has been viewed more than 2.7 million times.
Brian Curtin returns to the parking deck to talk about his first million views, the enduring power of lightsabers, and the prospects of a Concrete Hustle 2 in this video. Story continues below video.