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Biology Department alumni have become successful professionals across the United States and throughout the world. No matter where you now live though, we hope very much that you will stay in touch. One way to do so is by filling out the Update Your Information form. This will help us keep you informed of department news and upcoming events.

We’d like to hear what you are doing now. We pride ourselves on providing training that can lead to success in any profession. So, what’s your story? Could it be an inspiration to a current biology major? Might we feature your story in a future newsletter? In any event, check in on us occasionally to see what is happening in the Department. And if you’re in the neighborhood, drop by. We’re still on the top floor of Campbell Hall, overlooking Bartow Arena.

UAB Department of Biology Annual Alumni Award

  • Heidi Umphrey

    Dr. Heidi Umphrey got her start in research while working in Dr. Doug Watson’s laboratory as an undergraduate student. Continuing on for a master’s degree in the Watson Lab, her research on anti-molting hormones in crabs awakened an interest in human biology, and soon afterwards she set her sights on medical school. After completing medical school, Dr. Umphrey stayed at UAB for residency training in radiology and fellowship training in neuropathology. She developed particular interest in the areas of breast MRIs and improved breast cancer detection. After completing her training, she accepted a position at UAB as an assistant professor of radiology and was later named the Chief of the Breast Imaging Section in UAB Radiology. In 2017, Dr. Umphrey moved to the Memphis area to join a team of radiologists at MidSouth Imaging. Dr. Umphrey says that the best part of her job is working with her patients – particularly helping strong women through difficult times.

    Throughout the years, Dr. Umphrey has remained a avid supporter of the UAB Biology Department. When her father, who had a farm and a pond, needed something to keep him busy after retirement, she consulted with Professor Steve Watts, who suggested farming tilapia. Both Dr. Umphrey and her father ended up raising tilapia for a while. During her time as a faculty member at UAB, she participated in Biology Department events, contributed to scholarships for undergraduate students, and helped out in many other ways. Asked about her favorite college course, Dr. Umphrey says, “Of course, Dr. Watson’s endocrinology course. It changed my life.”

  • Martin Nowak

    Martin Nowak took as circuitous a route to UAB Biology Department. Born in Germany where he lived until the age of 13, Martin and his parents moved to Tennessee and then Colorado, where his interest in herpetology blossomed. As a 16 year old, he turned a hobby of collecting and breeding snakes into a business and that business helped put him through college. In our Biology Department he fell under the mentorship of Dr. Ken Marion, a like-minded herpetologist, where they spent many hours and days in the field and lab together.

    Between his freshman and sophomore years, Martin took a job at East End Hospital (now St. Vincent’s East) Hospital working in the surgery and emergency departments. Upon graduation, he surveyed the job prospects for academic herpetologists, ultimately deciding to pursue an M.S. in Healthcare Administration as it seemed to promise a more secure future. It turns out that he had a flair for hospital administration to match his flair for breeding snakes. He rose quickly through the ranks, heading up a series of hospitals, before eventually returning to UAB, where he became CEO of UAB hospital.

    Martin emphasizes that Dr. Marion’s mentorship taught him three important lessons. First, he learned the value of formal research and how that could be used to answer specific questions whether in biology or in hospital administration. Second, he learned the value of field research. Even in the hospital setting, he thought of the whole hospital as his field site which he needed to constantly monitor and interact with in person. Third, he learned the art of mentoring, something that is not only useful but necessary to be a successful leader.

    Having now evolved out of hospital administration to become President of his own healthcare and consulting firm, Martin’s snake breeding hobby and business is still going strong. Once a biologist, always a biologist.

  • Brian Sims

    Dr. Brian Sims’ life is the quintessential “local boy makes good” story. Recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Alumni Award, Brian was born in Birmingham, where he attended Ramsay High School just up the hill from UAB.

    Working toward a biology degree (Class of ’91) as a gateway to medical school just seemed like an obvious life path to him. But with interests in both research and clinical practice, he enrolled in UAB’s especially taxing M.D., Ph.D. program, with a research focus on neurobiology and cell biology. His Ph.D. research in Dr. Anne Thiebert’s laboratory tracked specific chemical changes in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. He received his Ph.D. in 1999 and his M.D. one year later.

    A one year Clinic Research Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis took Dr. Sims away from Birmingham briefly, but at the same time awakened his continuing interest in brain functioning at the other end of life, in extremely prematurely-born babies. Birmingham called though. At the end of his fellowship, he returned to UAB joining the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics, where he has remained ever since.

    His memories of the Biology Department include the classes he took from Dr. Watts, the very special personal interest Dr. McClintock took in his success, and most memorable of all, he met his future wife, Dr. Janene Sims, now UAB Professor of Optometry, when they were both UAB biology undergraduates.

    Even as a very busy physician, Brian has continued to help out the Biology Department by serving on several search committees for new faculty. We are grateful for his help and proud to have helped launch his outstanding career.

  • Peter Hardin

    The Department of Biology hosted our Spring 2016 Awards Ceremony and Luncheon at the UAB Alumni House on Monday, April 11, 2016. This event is hosted bi-annually and celebrates the accomplishments of the department's best and brightest students. This year, the department awarded an inaugural Distinguished Alumnus Award, which is given to an alum for their exemplary leadership and remarkable professional achievement. This year’s inaugural award was presented to Peter Hardin, JD.

    Peter received his undergraduate degree in 1993 and went on to receive his JD from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in 1998. Currently Peter is an attorney at Sirote & Permutt, where he regularly represents companies in connection with both public and private securities offerings, mergers, acquisitions, and financings, as well as businesses in all stages of development that are engaged in a wide variety of industries, such as pharmaceutical, biotechnology, telecommunications, software, computer hardware, Internet, health care, and banking industries.

    Peter is an active volunteer for Saint Anne’s Home, the oldest women’s residential facility in the South for women overcoming addiction. He served as President of the Board of Directors of Saint Anne’s Home in 2015. Peter met his wife Lynn Beasley Hardin while studying at UAB, and they currently reside in Hoover, Alabama.