Minute with a Member
National Alumni Society Member
Name: J. Thomas Vaughan Jr. "Tommy"
Degree(s) and Graduation Year(s): Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, 1993
Hometown: Auburn, AL
Current town: Stillwater, MN
Current employer and job: University of Minnesota, Professor in Radiology, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering.
What is your favorite UAB memory? Building the world's most powerful MRI system and applying it to biomedical research.
How has UAB impacted your life? My career was launched at UAB. For my accomplishments as a student and staff engineer at UAB, I was recruited to Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital as an Assistant Professor and Director of Engineering respectively. My career at UAB and since has contributed many new technologies and methods used in MRI today.
What made you choose your current profession? I was always interested in both the life and physical sciences. Taking advice from Yogi Berra, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it", I chose to pursue both interests simultaneously through a biomedical engineering degree at UAB. This bridge between the biomedical sciences and engineering innovation applied to the development and application of MRI has been my strength ever since.
What lessons has your professional life taught you? While creativity, wisdom and heart are indispensable allies in life, stubborn persistence gets you to where you want to go.
What would you do if you were given more time in each day? Get some rest.
What invention have you seen in your lifetime that you believe has been the most important? There are quite a few most important inventions in my lifetime. I’m going to plug my field by including “biomedical magnetic resonance” in this list. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) are three applications of this new and evolving field of inventions. MRI allows us to non-invasively observe our anatomy. MRS allows us to noninvasively measure biochemistry or metabolism in the living body. And fMRI gives us a tool to detect the function and connectivity of the human mind, brain and body without invading or interrupting our living system. Collectively, these biomedical magnetic resonance tools, through biomedical research and clinical application are allowing us to better observe, understand and diagnose the human body and mind in health, disease and in therapy.
If you could have three wishes, what would they be? With each wish, I wish I could have ten more wishes each. OK, OK, I'll try to answer it this way. When I vote for a president, I look for a candidate who will best keep the environment, who will best keep the prosperity, and who will best keep the peace. These would be among my top three wishes of anyone for everyone.
If you could go back to any age, which age would it be and why? Being a sentimental sort, I’d go back to the beginning so that I could live it all over again. As much as I love to look toward the future, it’s hard for me to lose the past. Yes I want it both ways again, Mr. Berra.
Which historical figure do you most identify with and why? Other than Yogi Berra? - my father, Dr. J. T. Vaughan Sr., Dean Emeritus of Auburn's College of Veterinary Medicine and namesake of the college's Large Animal Teaching Hospital. I was born and reared by my father (and mother, Ethel) sharing many interests and outlooks on life, all surely shaped by him. And while I have not consciously thus planned, my life and career have followed his model.
If you had the power to solve one, and only one, problem in the world…what would it be and why? Of course my idealistic answers might sound like everyone else's, "world peace" and the like. But thinking more practically to a problem that I can solve… According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 95% of the world's people do not have access to one of our most valuable medical imaging tools, MRI. With the newest imaging physics, magnet technology, computers, miniaturized electronics, and NIH funding, my colleagues and I have the tools in hand to build an affordable, portable and field supportable MRI system that can be delivered to and used safely and effectively, anywhere and everywhere in the world. Toward this goal, I'm meeting with WHO representatives in Tanzania later this month.
What trait(s) do you most value in your friends? Selfless helpfulness. Dr. Linda Lucas, former Dean of Engineering and now Provost at UAB exemplifies this trait. When I was a graduate student (aka charity case) and was in Germany building a high field MRI system for UAB, Professor Lucas would stand in line with the students to register me for classes at UAB every semester. She was not my advisor. Helping me only cost her time and trouble. I am still looking for a way to return her favor.
Who would you want to portray you in a film about your life and why? Tom Hanks I suppose. I always wanted to be an astronaut, hence my first job with NASA.
What is your motto? La vida es corta pero ancha.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? If you don't fall down, you're not trying hard enough. This has applied to learning how to ride a bicycle, to skating and skiing, to marriage and children, and certainly to advancing my career and to helping others.
What is something you are proud of and why? Riding my bicycle around the world, through 57 countries. I was blessed with the realization when I was a student that although I had no money for such a journey, I had infinite youth, energy, time and freedom that I would never have again. So I saw the world before I "settled down." While no degrees were awarded, this trip proved to be my best education and helped to set the foundation for the rest of my life.
What things do you not like to do? I don't like staying inside on a nice day. I don't like too much work and too little play…though I do that a lot.
Where would you go in a time machine and why? To the beginning of time to see which came first, chicken or egg. And then I would go to the end of time, to see what comes next…
What 3 items would you take to a deserted island other than food and water? My wife, Renata, sun protection and a boat. I know, the complete works of William Shakespeare, etc. are among the usual answers…but not much use after a rain storm.
Student Alumni Society Member
Name: T. Alinea Esensoy
Graduation Year: 2017
Major: Biomedical Engineering, pre-medicine track
Hometown: Huntsville, AL
Why did you choose to attend UAB? I have known that I wanted to have a career in the medical profession from a very young age, so that was a key factor in my university decision. I also wanted to stay close to home because of my close ties with my family, namely my younger sister. Those weren't my deciding factors. I chose UAB because I didn't get the "at-home felling" at any other university. UAB is a unique campus - it has a unique student body, undergraduate student life, and course of study. I was pretty much sold after my first visit. To sum it up, UAB was the perfect mix of academics, medical prestige, and inimitable undergraduate student life.
Who is the best professor that you have had at UAB so far and why? The best professor that I’ve had at UAB is Dr. Anne Cusic. She has a way of commanding a room and making you care, which is something I’ve always respected and looked up too. Also, Dr. Cusic was the first person to redefine what success means to me. As many people here at UAB know, preparing oneself for the medical field is very competitive, and with all the pre-med majors here and the very limited number of spots in the medical school, it’s very easy to get caught up in the competition. I myself have felt this way before, when it seemed like any mistakes in my classes could be the death of my dreams in the medical field. Dr. Cusic, who I assume has a great degree of experience with stressed out pre-med students, noticed my unhealthy mindset, and talked me through not one, but two very stressful semesters. I know that I can go to her anytime at all, even though I no longer have her as a professor.
What is your favorite UAB memory? My favorite UAB memory occurred during the winter storm my freshman year, for two different reasons. Anyone who attended UAB at the time remembers how many student, faculty, and staff members ended up being stranded at UAB. While that was a very unfortunate event, the outpouring support and selflessness was truly astonishing. I remember hearing from a few of my sorority sisters that they were bringing blankets to the REC center for those who had to end up staying on campus, so a large group of my friends gathered every blanket we could spare and carried them down there. The second reason why it is my favorite memory was that campus froze for a second (literally and figuratively). Everyone just relaxed and spent time getting to know one another better. The very last day of bad weather we had, a large group of us dared to wander off campus to get food because we had grown tired of what we had to eat. We all piled into three or so cars and let our Northern, more experienced friends drive our cars. Times like that remind me why I’m proud to be a student at this diverse and supportive university.
How as UAB impacted your life? Before I came to UAB I thought I was pretty much grown up. It sounds odd, but I thought I had reached my maximum level of maturity and that everything moving forward was going to be pretty static. However, UAB has grown me as a person. Whether it be through classes, relationships, or involvement on campus I can confidently say that I’m a well-rounded person because of this university and that I feel more prepared for the real world.
What is your current state of mind? My current state of mind is pretty frazzled, to be honest. We’re in the middle of USGA elections and all of the winter-weather days really set class and campus life back, so we’re playing the catch-up game in every aspect of undergraduate life.
What do you do for fun? Watching a good movie is one of my favorite ways to relax and have a little fun – it doesn’t matter whether it is at home or in the theatre as long as the popcorn is from the theatre. I also do graphic-design as a hobby. I picked up the hobby when I was about thirteen years old and somehow never stopped. It’s often nice just to sit down and design something that I’m not required to do.
Who are your heroes in real life? I have two heroes in my life – my mom and my younger sister. They are the most selfless and strong people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of having in my life. I have learned many lessons from them and I probably would not be where I am without their support.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? If I could have any superpower, I would like to be able to read peoples’ minds. A large portion of my days are spent communicating with others and communication would be ten-fold more efficient if I already knew what someone was trying to say to me.
What is the best invention of your lifetime and why? The best invention of my lifetime would probably be one of my app ideas. I have a couple of important people in my life that don’t enjoy getting up and often have trouble getting up. One day, after calling said individual for 30 minutes on repeat, I had a great idea. I could make an app that would allow me to alarm one's cell-phone even if all settings were on silent. Basically, one would be able to sound an alarm on only those phones for which it had a password, just to make sure such an app wouldn’t be abused. Admittedly, said individual was not very enthusiastic about the app idea.
What is your future goal? My current short-term goal is to win the 2015-2016 USGA election for Vice President of Communications. My current position is Publicity Coordinator and it is the role I serve in almost every organization that I am currently involved in. After serving on the executive branch for a year, I feel like I have the experience and a lot of good ideas to improve the undergraduate experience for all students. My long-term goal is to get into UAB Medical School and to go on to become an immunologist, while still being able to give back to my community in a non-medical aspect.
What would be your ultimate dream job? My ultimate dream-job would be working as an immunologist at my own, established practice or making large strides in the tissue regeneration field. Tissue regeneration was the reason I was initially attracted to Biomedical Engineering, so being able to work in such an up and coming field would be surreal.
What three items would you take to a deserted island other than food and water? I would bring a large sketch pad and a pen, so that I could entertain myself by writing or drawing. The entertainment from that would only go on for so long however, so my third item would be a motor-boat so that I could leave the deserted island at my leisure.
If you had the power to solve one, and only one, problem in the world...what would it be and why? I would solve the search for a clean, cheap, renewable energy source, as I believe that dependence on fossil fuels and the associated carbon dioxide emissions are the most prominent long term threat to humanity right now.
If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fiction, with whom would it be? I would trade places with Paul McCartney. It would be an incredible experience to travel the world for a week and interact with so many different people, and to experience what it would be like to be one of the most famous people in the world. I just feel that, during the 60s, his life experiences were so unlike anyone else’s, that it would be a truly unique opportunity to witness firsthand.
What's the best advice you ever received? The best advice I’ve ever received is to do always do your best, not anyone else’s, just your own. I think at the end of the day if you’ve given one-hundred percent in everything that you’ve done, you’re doing pretty good.