Displaying items by tag: arts and sciences magazine spring 2015

April 13, 2015

The March Quilts

The Department of Art and Art History celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March on March 25 by partnering with Birmingham’s Bib & Tucker Sew-Op —along with community partners — to create The March Quilts: A Community Project.
Warhol: Fabricated, featuring 150+ works by the late pop artist, opened at the new visual arts institute AEIVA in January. Already the highest-attended visual arts exhibition in the university’s history, Warhol: Fabricated attracted almost 2,700 visitors during its run.
April 13, 2015


Each day at UAB marks a different experience for me, connecting with our students, faculty, staff, and alumni and learning something new about them.
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  • Renita Lewis keeps taking steps forward

    When Renita Lewis enrolled in college in 2008, she was focused on two things: playing basketball and studying nursing. So, it might be a surprise to learn that she is now an accomplished actor earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in Drama at The Julliard School and starring in a play at Lincoln Center in New York City. For Lewis, the pivot into the arts began with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Theatre.

    Renita Lewis (Photo Credit: Roger Neve)When Renita Lewis enrolled in college in 2008, she was focused on two things: playing basketball and studying nursing. So, it might be a surprise to learn that she is now an accomplished actor earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in Drama at The Julliard School and starring in a play at Lincoln Center in New York City. For Lewis, the pivot into the arts began with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Theatre.

    “It’s all the department—UAB theatre changed my life,” said Lewis, a UAB theatre alumna who graduated in 2014. “What a blessing that I was able to walk through the doors [of the department].”

    Lewis’ academic career at UAB did not begin immediately after high school graduation, though.

    While in high school in Alabaster, Alabama, Lewis earned a basketball scholarship from the University of Alabama at Huntsville. She was eager to move away from her hometown and experience new things, so she jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Huntsville, play basketball at the collegiate level, and earn a degree in nursing. Those plans changed after she arrived on campus.

    “I got placed in a hospice facility during our [nursing] training, and I quickly learned that I was feeling things way too deeply,” said Lewis. “I reached out for support… The advice I received was, ‘You have to get more distance [from] this,’ but I had no tools to really do that.”

    At the same time, the basketball program was undergoing personnel changes, and, as a result, Lewis lost her scholarship. Suddenly, she was no longer playing college basketball and feeling distant from her intended career path.

    “I wanted to stay in the [health] field, and I ended up switching to health care management,” said Lewis. “I transferred to UAB to be closer to home.”

    While at UAB, Lewis started reexamining her interests. Thankfully, during this period of reflection, she enrolled in an acting class with Dennis McLernon, Head of Performance and Professor in the Department of Theatre. The class prompted a moment of discovery for Lewis.

    “I thought, ‘These are my people, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” said Lewis. “With Dennis, there was a freedom to explore the imagination and explore given circumstances. Dennis taught us that acting was the study of the human condition. Personally, [he] was giving me tools to handle some real things in my life.”

    Soon after taking McLernon’s class, Lewis decided to declare a major in theatre and immediately formed deep bonds with several faculty members, including Karla Koskinen, Cliff Simon, and Marlene Johnson. Through these mentors, Lewis learned about theatre, as well as life.

    “I was learning more about myself and people and why I feel the way I feel. The training I received felt so holistic,” said Lewis. “The things I learned in that program, I’m learning now [at Julliard] by the way… I’m just going deeper now.”

    That training led her to perform in several memorable productions during her time at UAB, including “Big Love” in 2013 and “Rabbit Hole” in 2014.

    One of her most impactful moments at UAB did not focus on theatre, movement, or voice, though. Instead, it was an insight shared by Marlene Johnson soon after she received a difficult health diagnosis.

    “She had just received her diagnosis, and she shared it with [my class]. I was distraught,” said Lewis. “I was like, ‘How do you just switch like that [and continue teaching]?’ And [Marlene said], ‘Well, that was one step. We have to move to the next step or else we’re just stuck in the chaos. That’s momentum. However that step looks, you just are there. Then you take another step, and you’re somewhere else.’ That has brought me through many a dark day.”

    Sadly, Johnson passed away on November 2, 2020. Her positive impact on students is undeniable, and her legacy continues to live on at UAB and the Department of Theatre. According to Lewis, Johnson’s powerful words continue to guide her, and she wants to share that same wisdom with future theatre graduates.

    “Accept that life is going to happen and that it's leading somewhere, just trust that there is something [ahead],” said Lewis. “Keep going. Take another step.”

    And Lewis is still taking steps. After graduating from UAB, she moved to New York City, and, for the past seven years, she has starred in off-Broadway productions, commercials, and scripted podcasts. In addition, she teaches theatre and acting in schools across all five boroughs through The Leadership Program. And, on July 20, she will fulfill a lifelong dream when “FLEX” opens at Lincoln Center.

    For Lewis, starring in “FLEX” is a full circle moment, because the play (which was written by Chandrice Jones) is about a group of basketball players in the South who aspire to make it to the WNBA—a subject that is close to Lewis’ own experience.

    “The show is about these girls trying to get recruited right out of high school in a small southern town… and how big basketball is to these girls and [it connects with] how big [basketball] was for me. All of it is so specific,” said Lewis, as she reflected on the parallels with her own life.

    As she looks to the future and continues to prepare for more “steps,” UAB’s Department of Theatre is never far from her heart or mind. “None of this happens without the training I got at UAB. None of it happens,” said Lewis.

  • The Odaibos are ready to give back

    Drs. Stephen and Lisa Odaibo have dedicated their lives to medicine and helping others. They are also passionate about education—perhaps that’s why they have a combined six college degrees between the two of them.

    Drs. Stephen and Lisa Odaibo Drs. Stephen and Lisa Odaibo have dedicated their lives to medicine and helping others. They are also passionate about education—perhaps that’s why they have a combined six college degrees between the two of them.

    Stephen earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, then went on to earn a master’s in computer science and an M.D. from Duke University. Lisa received her bachelor’s in sociology from Harvard University, then earned her M.D. from the University of North Carolina.

    Lisa did her pediatrics residency at Georgetown University, while Stephen completed his internal medicine preliminary year residency at Duke University and ophthalmology residency at Howard University. He then went on to a Medical Retina Fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

    Through their experiences in higher education, both Odaibos developed an appreciation for the value of mathematics, computer science, and the natural sciences.

    “I was committed to using mathematics in medicine to change people’s lives—to improve lives around the world,” said Stephen, CEO, founder, and chief data engineer for RETINA-AI Health, Inc. “[In addition], computer science was important because I knew very early that you need a computer to scale solutions globally.”

    “I believe that medicine, specifically pediatrics, has a wonderful mix of learning about kids [and] learning about science,” said Lisa, a practicing pediatrician.

    For Stephen, UAB was the ideal institution to nurture and develop the knowledge he would need to be successful in medical school. In addition, he uncovered valuable skills he would later leverage when founding RETINA-AI Health, Inc., an innovative company that has built an autonomous AI system for diabetic retinopathy screening in primary care.

    “[UAB] has been life-changing, without a doubt,” said Stephen. “The things I learned at UAB are absolutely foundational. Ninety-five percent of my professional time is spent in the software world… writing code, training machine learning models, and talking about things like derivatives. For me, it’s just a matter of fact that UAB—where I learned math and calculus and I got great mentoring—was truly foundational.”

    Although Lisa did not attend UAB, she has been able to visit the campus alongside Stephen several times in recent years. During these visits, she developed her own insights about the university.

    “What really strikes me is the quality of the mentorship,” said Lisa. “I know the names of the people who mentored Stephen. It’s not just a professional relationship—there’s also a personal interest in the student’s being successful. You don’t see that everywhere.”

    Now, the Odaibos are ready to invest in the next generation and create opportunities for more students to receive that same guidance and mentorship. Last year, they created the Stephen and Lisa Odaibo Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics to support students who major in mathematics at UAB. It was an investment they wanted to make sooner rather than later.

    “We’re entering a new phase of life,” said Lisa. “It’s not just about our growth. It’s also about thinking about the next generation… What better time than now?”

    For Stephen, it is an investment in the future—an investment that might lead to the next amazing discovery in mathematics.

    “I hope that this money will land in the hands of someone who will go out and do great things and help a lot of people and change the world,” said Stephen. “[I hope] they see the example that I’ve been fortunate to be able set, coming from UAB. I’ve had opportunities that are unique in my career.”

    Given that Stephen is a practicing ophthalmologist, a successful entrepreneur, and serves on multiple boards—including the Data Science Network—it is safe to say that he is setting a great example for future scholarship recipients.

    And Lisa has some advice for students who might one day receive the scholarship and graduate from UAB.

    “Pause and think about what your unique gifts and talents are and what your unique contribution should be to the world,” said Lisa.

    The College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Mathematics thank both Stephen and Lisa Odaibo for their generous gift.

  • Alumni prepare for new careers in public relations

    Two award-winning graduates of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s public relations (PR) program are getting ready to apply their skills and knowledge in the real world.

    Two award-winning graduates of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s public relations (PR) program are getting ready to apply their skills and knowledge in the real world.

    Samuel J. Adams, III and Isabel Chimento—communication studies majors with concentrations in mass communications and specializations in PR—earned their bachelor’s degrees in December 2022. Now, just a few weeks after crossing the commencement stage, they are both starting new careers with companies in Greater Birmingham.

    “I will be working with Etheridge HVAC Company—I’ll be doing their marketing, their advertising, their PR, their general external communications, and their social media,” said Chimento. “It will be me… a one woman show. In the next year, I want to grow in this company.”

    “I actually received an offer for a job… the day before we graduated. That felt so good,” said Adams excitedly. “I got a job with o2ideas [an advertising agency in Birmingham]. I will be an assistant account executive. I really love their organization, and I could tell that we have similar thoughts based on their campaigns from the past. I’m very excited to work with them.”

    Both graduates share a deep appreciation for the PR program and its director, assistant professor Jacquelyn S. Shaia, J.D., Ph.D. According to Adams and Chimento, the program equipped them with everything they need to be successful as they start their careers.

    “The PR program is perfect in the way that it’s laid out. It all makes sense and it all builds,” said Chimento. “[Dr. Shaia] teaches you so much more than PR. She teaches you… about life and about being a good person.”

    “The degree is absolutely amazing,” said Adams. “I like how it’s structured — every course that Dr. Shaia [offers] is a way to fully understand what public relations is all about.”

    For Adams, the journey to the PR program began after he completed four years of service in the U.S. Navy. As he left the military and contemplated his next steps, he considered pursuing a career in electrical engineering but quickly realized the field was not aligned with his passions.

    “I love media, I love creating videos, I love being creative, I love to talk a lot. So, I knew that I had to choose something where… I could be surrounded by the things I love to do,” said Adams.

    With that in mind, Adams started researching communication studies programs and, eventually, found Shaia’s name and contact information. He reached out to her and inquired about the PR program.

    “I called Dr. Shaia… and we had a 45-minute conversation about what public relations [is],” said Adams. “She hit all the right notes with me. Without talking to her, I would not have gone into public relations.”

    Chimento’s path to UAB and the PR program was significantly different. She grew up in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, and after graduating high school, she attended a community college for a year. At the time, Birmingham was not on her radar.

    “I grew up on the beach,” said Chimento. “It was unlike any other place to grow up. It was almost a utopia.” While contemplating her future in Santa Rosa Beach, Chimento learned that her father needed a kidney transplant and would receive care at UAB Hospital. Chimento followed her father to Birmingham and, soon after arriving, fell in the love with the city and explored UAB’s campus for the first time.

    “Ultimately, these people [at UAB] saved my father’s life,” said Chimento, “That’s when I first saw the campus, when I was coming up with my dad for doctor’s visits. And I just thought, ‘This is unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s a college campus… it’s spread out through a diverse, growing downtown environment.’”

    Chimento decided she would enroll at UAB, which prompted her to evaluate prospective majors. Prior to leaving Florida, she supported a local fine jewelry store with its social media campaigns, so she decided communication studies and PR might be a good long-term fit.

    “[While running the store’s social media] I found a passion for helping people turn their visions into creative, physical results. That’s why I thought, ‘Okay, communication, PR, this is what I’m going to do,’” said Chimento.

    While studying PR at UAB, both Chimento and Adams found a supportive community through the UAB chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama/Public Relations Student Society of America (PRCA/PRSSA), a student-led organization open to students across campus who are interested in public relations. Shaia serves as the advisor for UAB PRCA/PRSSA which conducts workshops, hosts networking events and guest speakers, and offers service-based learning in the community. Chimento served as Vice President of Programs for PRCA/PRSSA, and Adams served as Vice President of Membership and Chair of STAR Chapter Awards.

    At the PRCA/PRSSA 2022 Annual Banquet, Adams and Chimento received the Most Outstanding Campaign Award. Both students, along with their fellow classmate Katlynn Mitchell, received the award for an innovative PR campaign they developed for Hand in Paw, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that offers animal assisted therapy. The students collaboratively worked on the campaign for several months and leveraged the knowledge and skills they developed throughout their time in the PR program.

    As Chimento reflects on the award, she notes that her relationship with Adams helped drive the work. “We emphasized being friends before being classmates, and I think that’s what made us stand out as a team,” said Chimento.

    Adams—who won the prestigious PR Strategist Award from the Alabama Public Relations Society of America—also acknowledges the ways in which he and Chimento learned to support one another throughout the project. “We took time to recognize our own weaknesses. And, once we did that, we literally took [our] strengths and then put those where each other’s weaknesses were,” said Adams.

    Now, both Adams and Chimento are bringing their award-winning instincts and talents to the workforce, while still fondly reflecting on their time at UAB and with PRCA/PRSSA. “The UAB PR program and PRCA/PRSSA impacted my life in ways that I couldn’t have even imagined,” said Chimento.

    For Shaia, it’s clear that both graduates have bright futures ahead of them.

    "Working with Sam and Isabel has been a joy," said Shaia. "They worked hard in every class, were focused on their goals, and took every opportunity UAB offered them to ensure their education prepared them for success upon graduation. That attention to detail is critical in the public relations field and made both of them the kind of employees an organization wants to hire. I am so proud of these young professionals who will use their skills and strong ethical standards to make our community—and world—a better place."

  • James C. Hurt honors his mother’s passion for education

    While serving in the United States Army for 21 years, James C. Hurt got the chance to see and experience the world.

    While serving in the United States Army for 21 years, James C. Hurt got the chance to see and experience the world.

    Throughout his travels, he always found opportunities to continue learning, often enrolling in courses at local community colleges and universities. According to Hurt, his love for education came directly from his mother, Ollie Mae Hurt.

    “My mother stressed education quite a bit,” said Hurt. “Wherever I was stationed, I continued to go to school.”

    Hurt and his eight brothers and sisters grew up in Union Springs, Alabama, which is in Bullock County. He notes that Bullock County is a part of the “Black Belt” region, a collection of rural counties and cities mostly located in the western part of Alabama. While attending Bullock High School, Hurt often received encouragement from his mother to pursue college—specifically, she wanted him to earn a bachelor’s degree.

    “My mother was an amazing person. She would always say that when your body puts you down, you [still] have your mind,” said Hurt. “She stressed that education was the most important thing you could do with your life…. she stressed it, she stressed it, she stressed it.”

    So, when Hurt graduated from high school and joined the Army, he kept his mother’s words top of mind. He started his career with basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina; then moved to Fort Riley in Junction City, Kansas; then made his way across the world to Camp Hovey in Seoul, South Korea. His military journey continued with multiple stops across the U.S., including Colorado, California, Alaska, and Michigan. Each new location presented him with new educational opportunities. He enrolled in classes at Kansas State University, Los Angeles Community College (South Korea), UC Santa Barbara, and many others. Then, as his retirement date closed-in, he was given the chance to pick his final assignment.

    “After 15 years in the U.S. Army, [they try] to send you to your preferred assignment before retirement,” said Hurt. “I requested to come back to Alabama.”

    The Army honored his request and sent him to Birmingham and with his new home came another opportunity to enroll in a local university. This time was different, though. This time, he wanted to complete his bachelor’s degree and prepare for a career after the armed forces. So, he met with an advisor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and identified a course load that would allow him to earn a degree and fulfill his mother’s dreams.

    “I found UAB to be an amazing opportunity for the adult student like myself. [It’s] the best institution of higher education I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few,” said Hurt. “I was in the U.S. Army full-time, and I was a full-time student at UAB… They found a way to keep me in school and on schedule.”

    Hurt majored in criminal justice and minored in political science, and, by June 1998, he earned enough credits to graduate with his bachelor’s degree. It was a powerful moment for Hurt and his family.

    Soon after graduating, Hurt’s mother encouraged him to move back to Bullock County and become the local sheriff, he says with a smile. He decided to take a different path and, instead, pursued a career in financial advising with Morgan Stanley.

    “When I went in for the interview [with Morgan Stanley], they said ‘Hey, we looked at your resume and the fact that you graduated from UAB, that’s why we brought you in,’” said Hurt. “It’s been wonderful for me.”

    Sadly, his mother passed away in 2001—just three years after he graduated from UAB. Her inspiring words and love for education remained with Hurt, so he chose to honor her by establishing the Ollie Mae Hurt Intellect-Pay (I-Pay) Endowed Scholarship.

    “When she passed, we were trying to figure out a way to honor [her commitment to education] and create a scholarship,” said Hurt. “The whole idea [with the scholarship] is to give those kids in the Black Belt communities another option—just another option.”

    The scholarship is for undergraduate freshmen in the College of Arts and Sciences with preference given to students from the Black Belt region. Through the scholarship, Hurt wants students to nurture their intellect and develop global perspectives at UAB—in addition, he hopes they will find opportunities to give back to their hometowns and the Black Belt region.

    As he looks to the future, he is optimistic the Ollie Mae Hurt I-Pay Endowed Scholarship will expand its reach and make a generational impact.

    “We would like to be able to grow it. This is something that can live forever,” said Hurt.

    Learn more and give to the Ollie Mae Hurt I-Pay Endowed Scholarship.

  • College of Arts and Sciences alumni receive NAS awards

    The UAB National Alumni Society hosted its annual meeting honoring the recipients of the 2022 Alumni Awards and the UAB Young Alumni Rising Star Awards.

    On Friday, September 23, 2022, the UAB National Alumni Society (NAS) hosted its annual meeting and awards dinner honoring the recipients of both the 2022 Alumni Awards and the UAB Young Alumni Rising Star Awards. This was the first time that recipients for both awards were be acknowledged at the same event.

    In total, the NAS distributed five Alumni Awards at the event, including: Honorary Life Membership Award, Honorary Alumni Award, Distinguished Alumni Award, Outstanding Young Alumni Award, and Volunteer of the Year Award.

    Along with the Alumni Awards, the NAS honored recipients of the UAB Young Alumni Rising Stars Award. This award was established to recognize young alumni who have “demonstrated an ability to excel personally and professionally while committing time and energy in service to the University and local community.” In total, five alumni received the UAB Young Alumni Rising Star Awards at the September 23 event.

    The College of Arts and Sciences would like to acknowledge and celebrate six stellar alumni from the College who were honored at the event.

    Congratulations to the following two alumni for winning Alumni Awards:

    Distinguished Alumni Award

    Dr. Kierstin Cates Kennedy, World Languages and Literatures with a concentration in Spanish, 2002

    Kierstin Cates Kennedy, M.D., is Chief of Hospital Medicine and Clinical Associate Professor at UAB Medicine. The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to a UAB graduate whose professional and community accomplishments are outstanding. The recipient must be one who is distinguished in his/her profession or other worthy endeavors, has demonstrated a continual interest in UAB, and who is a member in good standing of the UAB National Alumni Society.

    Volunteer of the Year Award

    Adam Roderick, Psychology, 2009

    Adam Roderick is the Manager of Learning and Development at Milo's Tea Company. The Volunteer of the Year Award is given to an individual who has dedicated their time and effort to improving the University through volunteerism.

    UAB Young Alumni Rising Stars Awards

    Also, congratulations to the following four alumni for winning UAB Young Alumni Rising Stars Awards:

    • Briana Bryant (Communication Studies, 2018) – Southern Research
    • Dr. Bliss Chang (Biology, 2015) – Columbia University
    • Dr. Zachary “Kane” Jones (Psychology, 2012) – United States Air Force
    • Hernandez Stroud (History, 2010) – Brennan Center for Justice

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Elizabeth Hendrix

    Elizabeth Hendrix earned a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration in 2016.

    Elizabeth Hendrix earned a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration in 2016. She went on to a successful career with the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service, and she was recently selected for the prestigious Commissioner’s Award for Values in May 2022. The College of Arts and Sciences interviewed Hendrix to learn more about her time at UAB, her current career, and her award.

    ARTS AND SCIENCES: Why did you choose your UAB major(s)?

    HENDRIX: After earning my PhD in Instructional Leadership at the University of Alabama in 2007, I became an assistant professor in Missouri. After four years of outstanding evaluations in every area on my yearly evaluations and a work schedule that did not leave me with work/life balance at all, I decided that I had to do something else that paid more and gave me a much better quality of life. I was accepted into law school, but soon I discovered that my law school peers who were passing the bar exam were struggling to find good jobs with good pay too.

    As I shadowed my second cousin, Cynthia Lee Almond, in Tuscaloosa City Council meetings to decide whether I wanted to run for elected office in Alabama and to determine how I might use my law degree, I met Walt Maddox, the Mayor of Tuscaloosa. I discussed the career issues facing students who complete their PhDs and/or JDs with him and Cynthia. Walt recommended the MPA program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He said that degree and skillset really helped him. He also noted that it was nationally ranked and accredited too (unlike some other MPA programs in the state). After that, I started studying jobs available for people with administration degrees, and there seemed to be more of those jobs available and with higher pay too. Afterwards, I chose to apply for the UAB MPA program and stop my law classes. I am so happy that I did! I made the right decision then. I am truly grateful for that advice I received from Walt and Cynthia and for my UAB MPA. That decision, based on their advice, led me to a much better career and life.

    ARTS AND SCIENCES: What does being a UAB alumna mean to you?

    HENDRIX: My MPA degree increased the quality of my life dramatically. One of the UAB taglines (when I was in school there) was, “Knowledge that will change your world.” My experiences at UAB and with my MPA changed my entire world and helped me create a far better future than I could have even imagined. As a small child, teen, or even young adult, if you asked me what my dream was, I never would have responded with working for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. However, it really is my dream job and career. I love it! It is the best job that I have ever had. Being a UAB alumna makes me feel honored and humbled simultaneously to be a part of a remarkable group that truly is making a difference and who are change catalysts creating a better world (whether it is through improving health care services, creating better policies, or leading where others would only follow).

    ARTS AND SCIENCES: How has the knowledge and skills you attained at UAB/CAS helped you in your career?

    HENDRIX: Before the MPA program, I had never heard of the prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) program. My UAB thesis chair, Dr. Akhlaque Haque, encouraged me to apply for it. Without his encouragement, I never would have become a PMF. The knowledge and skills that I attained at UAB/CAS helped me make the cut from over 6,000 Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) applicants to approximately one of 200 who became a PMF alumna in the Class of 2016. My MPA and my work experience serving as the program manager of UAB Health Services Administration’s Doctoral Programs helped me start my dream job, improve my work/life balance, and almost double my salary in less than four years. It gave me the skills I needed to succeed in my new career. After my first year in the PMF program, I earned a promotion. Then just two years later, I earned a competitive promotion as well. Without the MPA classes at UAB, I would not have been able to get my federal job as a PMF nor succeed in it. My life would be far worse without a good work/life balance and financial struggles. UAB/CAS helped me find my dream job, better financial stability, and even my bliss.

    ARTS AND SCIENCES: Is there a professional accomplishment you would like to highlight/share?

    HENDRIX: In May 2022, I earned the prestigious Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s Commissioner’s Award for Values. This award is only offered once a year, and many lifelong federal employees never earn an award like it. Winners must be nominated for it by their peers and/or senior leaders, and there is a cash prize for it. Thus, it is highly competitive. This special act award is intended to recognize employees who consistently exceed expectations and have made a significant contribution towards achieving/supporting the Bureau of the Fiscal Service (FS) strategic goals or values, ultimately improving the functions, operations, and services.

    I won the Commissioner’s Award for outstanding support of the FS values for creating a more equitable and safer FS.

    ARTS AND SCIENCES: Is there any advice that you would like to offer to students as they plan for life after graduating from UAB?

    HENDRIX: My advice as students plan for life after UAB graduation is to get out of their comfort zones. This may include leaving their hometowns or developing entirely new skillsets. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, to listen to the UAB professors and advisors, and to be honest about needs and weaknesses. This is how one can truly obtain the necessary help to shoot for the stars and launch their journey towards their dreams. Also, study job descriptions carefully to ensure that you develop the necessary skills and experiences to set yourself up successfully in your career. Practice saying “yes” to as many opportunities as possible while you are a student. Find a problem to fix in the community, culture, processes, operations, or policies. Take advantage of the UAB Career Center too. They can help you find a job or internship as well as help coach you through that process. They helped me practice mock interviews and polish my resume. Each day as you work on developing yourself, remain hopeful and grateful. When you are really struggling, find one thing each day that you are grateful for, one thing that you are hopeful for, and strive to find joy in your storms. You can conquer any challenge, and you can find a career that is fulfilling for you and your family. Stay tenacious in your pursuit of your dreams!

  • In Remembrance: Ricardo Tapilatu

    The environment and conservation recently lost a major warrior. University of Alabama at Birmingham alumnus Ricardo Tapilatu (Ph.D., 2014, Department of Biology) tragically passed in Indonesia during a scuba expedition with students while trying to preserve some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.

    The environment and conservation recently lost a major warrior. University of Alabama at Birmingham alumnus Ricardo Tapilatu (Ph.D., 2014, Department of Biology) tragically passed in Indonesia during a scuba expedition with students while trying to preserve some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.

    Ricardo Tapilatu, Ph.D., UAB biology alumnus, tagging a female leatherback sea turtle.Ricardo was world-renowned for several decades of his work trying to save the most endangered population of sea turtle in the world, the giant Pacific leatherback sea turtle. Ricardo documented the long-term decline of this species which helped energize the international conservation program to prevent it’s extinction. He and his students also protected the most important nesting beach for this species in the western Pacific Ocean. Further, he helped document this species unique and amazing biology, including its 6,000-mile-plus trans-Pacific migrations from the nesting beaches in Indonesia to foraging grounds along the Pacific coast of the U.S.  

    But Ricardo’s impact and legacy extends well beyond his dedication toward the stewardship of the environment. Ricardo was a scholar, a dedicated mentor of students, a colleague, and to those who knew him, friend and family.  Ricardo’s unique, natural, and “down to earth” personality was contagious. That is what makes “leaders” and that epitomized Ricardo. 

    I continually think about his vibrant personality and laugh, and his ability to positively affect others, including here at UAB. Ricardo’s passing is a tragedy but his life is a classic example of how individuals can have a significant and lasting impact on the environment and the future of society.

    By Thane Wibbels, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biology

  • Kacey Keith pursuing justice and peace in her career

    Kacey Keith often encounters conflict when addressing structural and cultural harm through her work as a consultant, and she has an appreciation for people who are willing and prepared to face disputes head-on.

    Photo courtesy of Kacey KeithKacey Keith often encounters conflict when addressing structural and cultural harm through her work as a consultant with Honeycomb Justice Consulting. Given her personal, academic, and professional experiences growing up in the South, she has an appreciation for people who are willing and prepared to face disputes head-on.

    “I don’t think I would understand [how] to approach conflict in a straight-forward way if it wasn’t for being from Alabama,” said Keith. “Conflict lives in unison with peace—so, how do we handle conflict with peaceful solutions?”

    During her early years in Birmingham, Keith developed a deep connection to the city’s civil and human rights history. At the same time, she wanted to learn more about cultures outside of her hometown. This interest prompted her to consider colleges that offered dynamic international studies programs, eventually leading her to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    She enrolled at UAB in 2012 and sought out an array of classes to complement her international studies major. That curiosity steered her to a peace studies course which exposed her to peace on a global scale. The experience inspired her to continue seeking out peace studies courses at UAB, and, eventually, she enrolled in a class with Douglas Fry, Ph.D., former chair of the Department of Anthropology. Fry’s teaching had a profound impact on Keith, influencing her future academic and career pathways.

    “I was hooked,” said Keith. “It was very much in alignment with my world view… So, I applied to the Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights graduate program [at UAB].”

    The Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights (APHR) program is a two-year master’s program focusing on peace as behavioral process at multiple levels including at the level of individuals, families, groups, communities, cultures, and nations.

    Soon after starting the program, Keith met another influential faculty member in the Department of Anthropology: Peter Verbeek, Ph.D. Keith took several of Verbeek’s classes, and, throughout those experiences, she learned that peace ethology is a measurable science with actionable steps.

    “I loved the courses,” said Keith. “They were very influential—specifically in understanding what it takes to make a culture shift for the understanding of peace.”

    Verbeek’s mentorship and scholarly work proved to be valuable to Keith as she concluded her graduate studies and transitioned into her career. Soon after completing the APHR program, Keith started working for the City of Birmingham and was immediately given an opportunity to apply her knowledge of peace and human rights.

    “I was an intern with [Mayor Randall Woodfin’s] social justice transition team,” said Keith. “I helped develop the Office of Peace and Policy and supported the creation of a peace plan for the City of Birmingham.”

    During her time with the city, Keith formed an enduring bond with a co-worker, Jasmyn Story. Together, Keith and Story began working on nonviolence, restorative justice, and reentry-focused programs for Birmingham. Keith connected with the strategic planning side of the work, while Story served as an effective practitioner. For Keith, it was powerful to further apply the knowledge and skills she attained through the APHR program.

    “I’m interested in the neurobiology of empathy,” said Keith. “Understanding that empathy is one of the most powerful tools for peace is what led me to restorative justice.”

    Keith’s interest in restorative justice continued to grow, as did her collaborative relationship with Story. Eventually, they both transitioned into roles with Honeycomb Justice Consulting, a collective of consultants that helps institutions and companies implement restorative justice practices and navigate instances of harm. Honeycomb also supports its clients with strategic planning and training. Keith—who now lives in Denver, Colorado—serves as a core team member for the consultancy and continues to work alongside Story, her long-time collaborator and mentor. As she helps expand the impact of Honeycomb across the country, she looks back on her time at UAB and Birmingham fondly.

    “I’m grateful for UAB, and I’m grateful for [its] international focus,” said Keith. “The wisdom that came from the professors plus the legacy of the city, together, really created the space for the learning that I needed to be able to root myself in this work.”

    Verbeek celebrates Keith’s accomplishments and believes her work will have a lasting impact.

    "During her time in the APHR program, Kacey was both a scholar and practitioner of peace. Her work and insights have benefited APHR as well as our Birmingham community,” said Verbeek. “We will follow Kacey’s career on peace with great interest in the knowledge that she will excel at it.”

  • An Impeccable Person

    Minal Hollowell, M.D., ’99, ’03, was the type of person we’d all like to know. The type of person who cared deeply about people, said her husband, Matt Hollowell, ’99; compassionate, intelligent, loving, kind, trusting. “She was all of those things,” he said. “She was an impeccable person.” Read more on UAB Advancement.

  • MPA alumnus wins award for nonprofit work

    Trey Gordon is passionate about his community and aims to do everything in his power to serve the people within it.

    Trey Gordon, co-founder of Adjacent SpaceTrey Gordon is passionate about his community and aims to do everything in his power to serve the people within it. So much so, he co-founded Adjacent Space, a nonprofit that is committed to advancing public spaces into more visual-tactile accessible and equitable places for Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and Deafblind communities. 

    Now, Gordon—an Alabama native who self-identifies as fully Deaf—is receiving public recognition for his impactful work with Adjacent Space. In February, the Birmingham Business Journal honored him as a 2022 Leader in Diversity, an achievement that further elevates his work and leadership.

    Gordon is an alumnus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Public Administration program, and he views the skills and knowledge he developed in the program as vital to his growth as a nonprofit leader.

    “My professors loved and cultivated the idea of Adjacent Space, and the support was incredible and propelled me and my team to go for it,” said Gordon. “Their understanding and advice created a path I could walk through.”

    Gordon discovered the MPA program while living in New Delhi, India. “I was… working for a Deaf-led nonprofit organization focusing on empowering Deaf Indians in learning basic English and job skills, connecting with Deaf leaders, and teaching Deaf culture,” he said. That passion prompted him to research MPA programs with course offerings on nonprofit management, which led him to UAB’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

    “I saw that UAB had a great fit for my interest,” said Gordon. “And UAB is such a lovely university located in a vibrant, growing city in Birmingham.”

    Gordon excelled in the program, and he remains proud of his experience at UAB.

    “I feel like I'm an ambassador for UAB when working with people, and a lot of lessons I learned in classes really came through during my work around the community, so I'm a grateful Blazer,” said Gordon.

    Gordon often sought advice from his faculty mentors while at UAB, so, now, he finds opportunities to share his wisdom with students who are currently preparing for the future. In Gordon’s opinion, it’s important to be present and focus on the moment at hand.

    “[I]t’s really important for me to not think too much about what I should be doing,” said Gordon. “Just be—you’re more than enough…things will come.”

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Charles Scribner

    Charles Scribner exemplifies school pride when he reflects on his time at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Charles Scribner addresses the crowd at a Black Warrior Riverkeeper event.Charles Scribner exemplifies school pride when he reflects on his time at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    “UAB is very important to me and my family,” said Scribner. “I’m proud that UAB is such an engine for the state [of Alabama].”

    Scribner, born and raised in New York City, credits his wife and his career for bringing him to Birmingham. While earning his Bachelor of Arts in History and a Certificate in Environmental Studies at Princeton University, Scribner met his future wife Elizabeth Yates—a native of Birmingham and UAB Mathematics Ph.D. now named Dr. Elizabeth Scribner—who envisioned returning home after Princeton. As their relationship flourished, Scribner was also developing a passion for the international Waterkeeper movement and authoring a 100-page senior thesis about the history and effectiveness of Waterkeeper Alliance. Through his research, he met the team at the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a Birmingham-based nonprofit that is “dedicated to promoting clean water for the sake of public health, recreation, and wildlife habitat throughout [its] patrol area, the Black Warrior River watershed.”

    “I interviewed the staff, and, in the process, they offered me the job of director of development,” said Scribner.

    So, after graduating in 2005, Scribner—and Elizabeth—moved to Birmingham, and he began his journey with the Black Warrior Riverkeeper. According to Scribner, it is especially exciting and important to support the waterkeeper effort in Alabama.

    “We’re number one in freshwater biodiversity,” said Scribner. “And, beyond that, we have a very… outdoorsy population that loves to cool off in our rivers and lakes and go fishing—it’s a great American tradition, particularly a great Alabama tradition.”

    After working in his role as director of development for a few years, Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors promoted Scribner to executive director. Scribner was determined to build new skills and knowledge so he could further support the mission of the organization. He researched programs that focused on nonprofit leadership and management and found a graduate certificate program available through UAB’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration. When he reviewed the course offerings, he discovered that every course was applicable to his work at the Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

    “I realized a background in environmental studies and a great passion for protecting the environment are not the same as being trained to run an organization,” said Scribner. “I knew what I wanted to do, and I wanted to do it better.”

    Scribner enrolled in UAB’s Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management program in 2010, and, soon after completing it, he decided to pursue his Master of Public Administration.

    During Scribner’s time in graduate school, he uncovered opportunities to apply his new knowledge at Black Warrior Riverkeeper. As the organization celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Scribner acknowledges the numerous legal and advocacy victories his team has achieved along the way. That said, he is particularly energized about an emerging volunteer cleanup program. The program is prompting meaningful, hands-on participation from the public, and, to top it off, the outreach coordinator who is facilitating the effort, Katie Fagan, is an alumna of UAB’s Department of Anthropology. This enduring UAB connection—and many others—is particularly important to Scribner (Learn more about Fagan and her journey at UAB).

    “The networking that takes place [at UAB] creates incredible connections that have been as valuable to my career as the classes I took in the MPA program,” said Scribner.

    Although he finished his graduate degree in 2015, Scribner still finds plenty of opportunities to stay connected to UAB and the MPA program. In 2017, he won the College’s Alumni Service Award, and, in 2018, he became president of the UAB National Alumni Society’s MPA Chapter.

    “I really enjoyed the process of working with other board members to turn the alumni society into something really organized and impactful,” said Scribner. “That’s easy to do when you’re working with other MPAs.”

    As he looks to the future, it’s clear that he will continue to find ways to collaborate with his fellow UAB alumni and give back to the MPA program. Also, if you attend a UAB football game at Protective Stadium, you’re likely to see Scribner with his wife and four children cheering on his beloved Blazers.

  • Johnny Bates honors his father with an endowed scholarship in mathematics

    When Johnny Edward “Rusty” Bates, M.D., was growing up in Sipsey, Alabama, he viewed his father, a draftsman and engineer, as one of the smartest people he knew.

    When Johnny Edward “Rusty” Bates, M.D., was growing up in Sipsey, Alabama, he viewed his father, a draftsman and engineer, as one of the smartest people he knew.

    “My father was an inspiration,” said Bates.

    Although his father, Henry E. Bates Jr., was both skillful and knowledgeable, he was limited in his ability to advance in his career due to his academic credentials. According to Bates, “He always felt that not having his degree impeded his ability to move up the ranks.”

    Johnny Edward “Rusty” Bates, M.D.For Bates, this observation about his father serves as an enduring source of inspiration, both in his academic journey and his professional career.

    While in middle and high school, Bates excelled in mathematics and learned from nurturing teachers who helped him establish a strong foundation in the discipline. As he looked to his future, he decided to pursue a degree in mathematics, while also working full-time. He briefly attended Birmingham-Southern College, then enrolled at Walker College to earn his associate degree.

    He envisioned attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham after Walker College, but he faced a financial barrier. “I didn’t come from a wealthy family,” said Bates. Thankfully, he received a generous scholarship, which helped him scale the barrier. That scholarship, which came from a wealthy businessman, set him on a new academic trajectory.

    He enrolled at UAB and earned a B.S. in Mathematics and a minor in art history. During his time as an undergraduate at UAB, he saw and appreciated the level of care and excellence his professors brought to the classroom each day.

    “I had a great experience with great educators,” said Bates. “They loved teaching. [My professors] took an interest in me as a student. They wrote letters for me when I applied to medical school.”

    After completing his undergraduate degree, Bates was accepted into the Heersink School of Medicine. He earned an M.D. in 1982, then completed his residency at University of Texas in Galveston.

    Through his studies and training, Bates became deeply interested taking care of populations of patients, rather than focusing on individual patients. He decided he wanted to become a leader in correctional care, so he started his own company, Quality Correctional Healthcare (QCHC).

    While Bates studied mathematics and medicine at UAB, he enjoyed solving problems and making decisions that would improve outcomes. Nowadays, he applies those same skills at QCHC. “I’m going to use those techniques to improve our overall services. We’re going to need to find smarter and better ways of doing things,” said Bates.

    He has continued his academic journey to support these goals too. He earned a Master of Medical Management for Physicians from Carnegie Mellon University, and, recently, he started taking courses in artificial intelligence and machine learning from the University of Texas at Austin and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

    Bates still looks back on the scholarship that helped him establish his academic foundation at UAB with gratitude, while also considering the obstacles his father faced. Moving forward, he wants to support future students as they pursue degrees in mathematics and honor his father at the same time. Given these priorities, Bates recently established the Henry E. Bates Jr. Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics, which will benefit undergraduate mathematics students who demonstrate strong academic promise.

    “I think everybody who desires an education should be able to get an education,” said Bates. “I want to be able to benefit someone who has that desire but may not have the resources to get the degree.”

    Clearly, Bates’s generosity and admiration for his father are reflected in this endowed scholarship in the Department of Mathematics.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Rosie O’Beirne

    Pursuing what you love doing can lead you in unlikely directions in your career.

    For Rosie O’Beirne, her background in anthropology informs her work as University of Alabama at Birmingham’s chief digital strategy and marketing officer every day—a somewhat surprising (and valuable) connection.

    Pursuing what you love doing can lead you in unlikely directions in your career.

    For Rosie O’Beirne, her background in anthropology informs her work as University of Alabama at Birmingham’s chief digital strategy and marketing officer every day—a somewhat surprising (and valuable) connection.

    Rosie O’BeirneO’Beirne always knew she would go to college. According to O’Beirne, coming from a multicultural household—her parents are from Japan and Southern America—higher education was not a question. “Culturally, education is… so important in Japanese culture, so all my life I knew I was going to go to college,” said O’Beirne. She describes UAB as a place where “you could work and hold a job. Scrappy people came to UAB.” She wanted to be a part of this environment of like-minded individuals and get her foot in the door—that said, she had no idea what she was going to study.

    When O’Beirne was sitting in one of her first college classrooms listening to Dr. Bruce Wheatley—a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the time—discuss his discipline, everything clicked. “Everything this professor is talking about relates to my upbringing, to growing up in a multicultural household,” said O’Beirne. “Everything, suddenly, about me growing up in this home, made sense sitting in the Intro to Cultural Anthropology class.”

    That moment inspired O’Beirne to declare anthropology as her major, and she went on to earn both her B.A. and M.A. (through a joint program with UAB and the University of Alabama) in the discipline.

    She still uses the skills she honed and developed in the College of Arts and Sciences—including a keen understanding of cultural relativism—in her current role. “I am an anthropologist by training and a marketer by trade,” says O’Beirne. “In my job as a marketer, I use the anthropology toolkit every day… seeing the world through other people’s eyes or walking the world in someone else’s shoes. [U]nderstanding the diversity of [UAB’s] student body and the diversity of needs is critical.”

    After receiving her M.A., O’Beirne worked as the co-director of the Media Studies Program at UAB, alongside colleague Michele Forman. The duo created the Media Lab, which gave students access to professional-grade technology to create media. Through the lab, O’Beirne also created the innovative Digital Media Fellows program. The program acted as a creative agency staffed by 12 UAB students who created original digital storytelling content for clients ranging from UAB academic departments to nonprofits in the Birmingham community. Media Fellows gave students work experience before graduating, which allowed most of the students to be hired soon after their graduation.

    “This program acted almost as an apprenticeship where we were able to pay students and give them work. These students were getting hired right out of the gate… there were employers that wanted them,” said O’Beirne.

    After directing the Digital Media Fellows Program for three years, O’Beirne received an unexpected invitation to join UAB's central marketing team, which eventually led to the role of chief digital strategy and marketing officer.

    “Long-story short, I’m running marketing for the university. Many of the thoughts and skills I learned as an anthropology student are translatable to the marketing industry. It is also why I enjoy promoting the value of a liberal arts education. A good college education prepares you to think—no matter the industry. And that’s what I received at UAB,” said O’Beirne.

    She views her career path as atypical, and, as a result, she encourages students to explore their options during their college career. “What do you love doing? [I]f you can figure out how to tap into things you love doing and translate that over into a career, then you win. The best is when you like what you’re doing,” said O’Beirne.

  • MPA graduates participate in prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program

    The U.S. Office of Personnel Management facilitates a valuable leadership development experience known as the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF).

    The U.S. Office of Personnel Management facilitates a valuable leadership development experience known as the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF).

    Through the prestigious and competitive PMF program, graduate students who aim to pursue careers in government participate in a two-year appointment with a government agency. During the appointment, participants receive leadership training, full salary and benefits, and active mentorship.

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration (PSPA) has an impressive record with the PMF program. As of January 2022, eight of the department’s MPA alumni have served (or will serve) as PMFs:

    • Mason Beale
    • Rachel Hicks Shabani
    • Tiffany Brown
    • Misha Manzy
    • Elizabeth Hendrix
    • Amy O’Dell
    • Kaia Greene
    • Ollie Davison

    In December 2021, Davison received a notification from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management letting him know that he was selected for the program. It proved to be a life-changing moment.

    “As a boy from Prichard, Alabama, I never would have imagined my journey would include becoming a Presidential Management Fellow,” said Davison. “I am so grateful to represent UAB and the MPA program during this prestigious fellowship. I cannot wait to show Washington D.C. what a boy from Prichard, Alabama can do to make a tangible difference for all Americans."

    According to Rob Blanton, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, the PMF program is a substantial achievement worthy of celebration.

    “The Presidential Management Fellowship provides an invaluable experience to students in that it includes employment at a federal agency as well as multiple opportunities for future professional development and growth. It is a very prestigious and competitive program, the number of applicants is generally over 10,000 and only five percent are accepted,” said Blanton. “We are very proud to have such a high number of Presidential Management Fellows, as it attests to the ability of our students, as well as to the quality of the educational experience and mentoring that our students receive.”

    You can learn more about the department’s MPA program by visiting the Master of Public Administration webpage.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Joshua L. Baker

    When speaking with Joshua L. Baker, Principal Owner and Managing Director of Baker Camp Arnold Capital Management, you cannot overlook his passion for history. In fact, most of the artifacts and framed items on his office walls are testaments to his deep interest in the discipline.

    When speaking with Joshua L. Baker, Principal Owner and Managing Director of Baker Camp Arnold Capital Management, you cannot overlook his passion for history. In fact, most of the artifacts and framed items on his office walls are testaments to his deep interest in the discipline.

    “I think history is well-rounded,” said Baker. “It gives us a different lens to look through.”

    The term “well-rounded” also applies nicely to Baker—a historian, former international soccer player, collegiate baseball player, and successful entrepreneur.

    Baker grew up in Cropwell, Alabama. As a young and talented multi-sport athlete, he sought opportunities to further develop his skills on the field, eventually leading him to Coosa Valley Academy his junior year of high school to play baseball, then to Bullock Memorial School his senior year after a family move to south Alabama. After graduation, he earned a slot as a designated hitter on the Huntingdon College baseball team.

    At Huntingdon, Baker studied history and met his future wife, Audrey. After getting engaged, they decided to relocate to Birmingham so she could pursue a career in the medical field. Determined to continue his academic journey, Baker looked to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    “UAB covers the whole gamut… I had a different professor for every single discipline,” said Baker. “It allowed for a more creative focus on the subject matter.”

    While at UAB, Baker decided to major in history with a minor in anthropology and archaeology. Also, he participated in the United States Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program. Between his studies and ROTC, Baker’s vision for his future began to materialize.

    “I knew I was good with numbers... I realized quickly that I didn’t want to work for anyone [though],” said Baker.

    By studying history, Baker believes he further developed his analytical mindset, which, in his opinion, complements his inherent talent with numbers. Through this intersection, Baker uncovered a key differentiator for his future business in financial services and capital management—specifically, to analyze every client’s unique situation and “connect every piece of the puzzle” in a consultative manner.

    The road to owning his own business was long, though. After graduating from UAB, Baker worked for several banks, then explored a career with a captive broker-dealer. Those experiences proved to be challenging (and occasionally disappointing), but his passion for financial services and capital management while helping people achieve their goals remained firm. Eventually, he knew he needed to build his own business to fully realize his vision.

    “We started with zero,” said Baker. “I cast a vision and figured it out.”

    Baker took the leap in May of 2017—“after incessantly looking at the pros and cons and praying over the decision for over two years prior to that,” he says—and launched Baker Camp Arnold Capital Management, a full-service financial advisory firm located in Hoover, Alabama. In less than five years, the company has grown substantially and received numerous acknowledgements and awards, including:

    Along with growing his business and team, Baker and his wife Audrey also find many ways to give back to the community—including a newly-established endowed scholarship for the UAB Department of History.

    “We wanted to focus on something very specific,” said Baker. “We’re the first to establish an endowed scholarship for graduate students [in the Department of History].

    The Joshua L. and Audrey D. Baker Endowed Scholarship will help future graduate students in history overcome financial barriers, so they can focus on their studies. Baker’s appreciation for graduate studies is a personal commitment too—one day, he hopes to earn his master’s degree in the discipline of military history. In the meantime, between reading several World War II books a month and traveling the country to watch his kids play hockey and hunting whatever is in season, Baker is finding plenty of opportunities to stay busy outside of the office.


  • I am Arts and Sciences: Lisa Higginbotham

    Many Blazers donate to and engage with the Benevolent Fund, a charitable giving campaign that supports health and human service agencies, selected health-related charities, and University of Alabama at Birmingham employees through the Employee Emergency Assistance Program.

    Lisa HigginbothamMany Blazers donate to and engage with the Benevolent Fund, a charitable giving campaign that supports health and human service agencies, selected health-related charities, and University of Alabama at Birmingham employees through the Employee Emergency Assistance Program. Through the Benevolent Fund, UAB has distributed over $43 million to local nonprofit organizations and to UAB employees. The work changes lives, and it is a model of charitable excellence.

    One of the key people behind the Benevolent Fund is Lisa Higginbotham, a two-time graduate of UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences. Higginbotham earned both her Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Public Administration in the early 1990s, and, afterwards, she navigated a prolific career in nonprofit management across Alabama.

    “I fondly reflect on my time in CAS,” said Higginbotham. “From the friends I made who are now colleagues to working alongside Dr. Norm Eggleston researching discrimination in the workplace against people living with HIV or exploring ethical decision making with Dr. Mary Guy, it was all instrumental in me becoming the person I am today.”

    During her time in the nonprofit sector, Higginbotham worked for Childcare Resources; Girls, Inc.; and the Children’s Trust Fund. Often, she improved processes and structures to ensure the organizations and institutions could do their best work and maximize impact—a skillset she gleaned from her time in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

    When it came time to expand her family, Higginbotham decided to seek a part-time position, so she could achieve her desired work-life balance. Thankfully, at that time, UAB needed a new team member to support the Employee Emergency Assistance program—a perfect fit for Higginbotham.

    Higginbotham accepted the role, and, eventually, she became the fund manager for the Benevolent Fund. She deployed a systems leadership approach to her work and uncovered opportunities to do more than provide funding to local nonprofits. For example, under Higginbotham’s leadership, the Benevolent Fund expanded service-learning opportunities for UAB students, developed new systems for Employee Emergency Assistance, and launched Blazer Kitchen (UAB’s campus food pantry which has provided 400,000 meals in just over four years).

    “I launched Blazer Kitchen with a lot of help and support from our council and the UAB administration,” said Higginbotham. “We knew there were employees who needed help through our Employee Emergency Assistance program… and they could [also] benefit from access to healthy food.”

    Every step of the way, Higginbotham has leveraged data, best practices, and her past experiences and knowledge to ensure her work is people-focused and impact-driven.

    Over the past two years, the pandemic created numerous challenges for the Benevolent Fund, including limitations on grant-making and a pause on house builds with Habitat for Humanity, a long-standing nonprofit partner. That said, Higginbotham still encounters individual stories that illustrate the impact of her work—even during the pandemic. Recently, she worked closely with a UAB employee who experienced trauma and loss due to COVID-19. By highlighting UAB’s sick leave bank and counseling services offered by local nonprofits, Higginbotham was able to support the employee and help them navigate a heart wrenching moment.

    As Higginbotham reflects on her experiences during her 18 years at UAB, she notes her passion for connecting employees to resources in the community.

    “When I listen to nonprofits talk about the programs they have in the community, I think, ‘How can this help our UAB employees,’” said Higginbotham.

    Now that she is back on campus (and in a new building), she sees endless opportunities to continue pursuing that passion and to deepen partnerships with nonprofit organizations. She also aims to expand Blazer Kitchen’s operating hours and further engage with the Department of Social Work and its students. Moving forward, the horizon is bright as the Benevolent Fund steers through the pandemic and continues its life-changing work.

    “I encourage everyone—students, alumni, and employees—to reflect on where you are today, thank those who have helped you achieve your success, offer mentorship to the next generation of leaders, engage with your community to contribute to the public good, and stay connected to UAB,” said Higginbotham.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Kristine Farag

    Being the first to do something can be challenging—thankfully, when you have a mentor by your side, the experience can be enjoyable and empowering.

    Kristine FaragBeing the first to do something can be challenging—thankfully, when you have a mentor by your side, the experience can be enjoyable and empowering.

    For Kristine Farag, one of the first students to graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Undergraduate Immunology Program, she sought and found mentorship from Heather Bruns, Ph.D., the co-director of the innovative new program.

    “We were the first class to graduate [in Spring 2021]. We were a really small class, so it was nice to have good relationships with our mentors,” said Farag. “I found a lot of mentors, including Dr. Bruns. We have a unique relationship.”

    “Kristine is an engaging, kind, and compassionate individual,” said Bruns.

    Farag came to UAB from Carmel, Indiana, with a strong science background. While studying anatomy and working in a research lab in high school, she learned about immunology—the study of the structure and function of the immune system—for the first time. The field intrigued her, so, when it was time to declare a major, she decided to join the first cohort of the Undergraduate Immunology Program, an interdisciplinary partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Heersink School of Medicine.

    The program—which launched in 2017—offers the only undergraduate major in immunology in the U.S. with coursework that focuses on topics including the innate immune system and microbial pathogen-immune system interactions. Through the program, students conduct hands-on research and prepare for careers in medicine, biomedical research, health-related professions, and/or science-related professions.

    “The newness was really interesting. It feels like the up-and-coming thing,” said Farag. “I would learn something new every day. [The faculty] would always bring in different clinical correlations.”

    Those correlations were valuable to Farag because she came to UAB with a conditional acceptance to the Heersink School of Medicine through the Early Medical School Acceptance Program. Now, Farag, in Indianapolis, is pursuing her M.D. at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Bruns is proud to see Farag applying her knowledge in medical school.

    “Kristine is a highly accomplished individual in both academics and research,” said Bruns. “She exemplifies the attributes we desire all of graduates from the Undergraduate Immunology Program, and we are so proud that she is an alumna of our major.”

    While at UAB, Farag also contributed her time and talent to the UAB Dance Marathon, a fundraiser that benefits Children’s of Alabama. Farag is passionate about the student-led program—which is also a part of the Children’s Miracle Network—and found an opportunity to include Bruns.

    “I asked her to be our faculty sponsor for Dance Marathon because we needed someone from the school to be a part of it,” said Farag.

    Throughout this experience, Farag and Bruns continued to collaborate and work together. By her third year with the Dance Marathon, Farag became the president and, in turn, nurtured valuable leadership skills.

    “I have seen first-hand her passion and compassion for others and her ability to be a strong leader to accomplish goals that benefit others,” said Bruns.

    Now, in medical school, Farag reflects fondly on her time at UAB and offers appreciation for the strong foundation she built during her time in the burgeoning immunology program. She also acknowledges that the program’s curriculum was particularly important during a global pandemic.

    “With COVID-19, it’s a very interesting time to have this knowledge,” said Farag. “My past year-and-a-half of being an undergrad was absorbed by COVID-19—that made those classes more interesting.”

    When asked to offer a piece of advice to her peers who will graduate in December, she pauses for a moment and smiles. “Treasure the next few months—it’s a really special time,” said Farag.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Taylor Byas

    Through language, poets help us better understand and navigate life. However, the journey to a career in poetry is not always clear (or easy).

    Taylor ByasThrough language, poets help us better understand and navigate life. However, the journey to a career in poetry is not always clear (or easy).

    For Taylor Byas, a renowned poet who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati, her dream of becoming a writer emerged when she was a child.

    “I’ve been a bookworm since I can remember,” said Byas. “I think I always knew that I wanted to pursue English and to pursue something that has to do with language.”

    Although English was her first passion, she found herself on the pre-medicine track when she arrived at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2013. She chose this path because her mother was a successful doctor, and because several people questioned her future career prospects if she focused on English solely.

    “Along the way, I let people discourage me… I let them ask ‘What are you going to do with an English degree?’” said Byas.

    She stuck with pre-med for a year, but, deep down, she felt out-of-sync with the coursework. Eventually, after receiving support and encouragement from her emerging network of friends and mentors, she pivoted back into the English program.

    “I stepped into the confidence to be fully myself,” said Byas. “UAB created a culture of perseverance. It also instilled a mindset in me—of not being afraid to fail and believing in my ideas.”

    As her confidence grew, so did her talent. While pursuing her B.A. in the Department of English, Byas’ creative voice shined, and, before she knew it, she was considering the department’s graduate program. Immediately after earning her bachelor’s degree in 2017, she matriculated into the M.A. program with a focus on creative writing.

    “My master’s degree, specifically, is where I found my voice in writing,” said Byas. “It was the support of that wonderful department… I was loved and believed in—well before I found it for myself. That support system was so crucial.”

    Along with finding her voice, Byas also benefited from the overall rigor of the program.

    “I think we never really know…how rigorous something is until we step out of it and apply those things,” said Byas. “When I arrived at my Ph.D. program, I found myself not struggling. I really have had a fairly smooth time in my doctorate degree.”

    Her smooth transition into her doctoral program also allowed her the space and time to launch a fruitful career as a poet and writer. Over the past year, she secured a literary agent, released her first chapbook of poetry, sold her first full-length book manuscript to Soft Skull Press, and won the Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize—a series of significant milestones for a young poet.

    “This last year has been incredibly busy and also life-changing in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated,” said Byas.

    Byas maintains a down-to-earth and welcoming demeanor amidst her noteworthy achievements. Although she recognizes her talents and creative voice brought her to this moment, she also credits much of her success to her network—her community.

    “We aren’t designed to do this life alone. Finding your people, finding your community, is one of the most meaningful and important things you can do for yourself,” said Byas. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the community I found and created.”

  • Neuroscience alumna publishes in major journal

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences and Heersink School of Medicine offer five unique interdisciplinary programs that prepare students for the career fields of the future.

    Shreya MalhotraThe University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences and Heersink School of Medicine offer five unique interdisciplinary programs that prepare students for the career fields of the future. Although these programs are relatively new, several cohorts of students have already attained their degrees. As students continue to graduate from these innovative programs, the College of Arts and Sciences will highlight their achievements and next steps.

    Shreya Malhotra is a Spring 2020 graduate of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program. The program allows students to build knowledge and prepare for medical school. It also provides students with laboratory- and literature-based research experiences. Malhotra excelled in the program, and, during her senior year, she published her research in the Journal of Neuroscience, a top-tier journal in the field of neuroscience. Malhotra was the first author on the paper which is entitled, “Climbing Fiber-Mediated Spillover Transmission to Interneurons Is Regulated by EAAT4.” The co-authors on the paper include Gokulakrishna Banumurthy, Reagan L. Pennock, Jada H. Vaden, Izumi Sugihara, Linda Overstreet-Wadiche and Jacques I. Wadiche.

    Malhotra and her faculty advisor Jacques Wadiche, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurobiology in the Heersink School of Medicine, recently crafted a significance statement on the research. According to Malhotra and Wadiche, “Although the cerebellum appears to be a uniform structured region, it exhibits a striped pattern of gene expression aptly named after a protein called Zebrin. These stripes may delineate different connectivity with the rest of the brain allowing the cerebellum to act beyond its designated role in motor control. Here we find that the protein levels of EAAT4, a glutamate transporter, follow the Zebrin pattern to cause differences in glutamate signaling across stripes. These results show a new functional difference in cerebellar information processing between stripes and may have implications for understanding the role of the cerebellum in motor control and cognition.”

    Malhotra is now pursuing her M.D./Ph.D. at Stanford’s School of Medicine.

    “To publish a first author paper as an undergraduate is a notable achievement, but Shreya’s accomplishment is even more significant considering her work was published in one of the top journals in our field,” said Cristin Gavin, Ph.D., co-director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program. “This indicates not only the high quality of the science, but also the impact of the intellectual advance.”

    You can access the paper here.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Karla Khodanian

    Inspiration can strike when you least expect it—even while waiting in line for a coffee.

    Karla KhodanianInspiration can strike when you least expect it—even while waiting in line for a coffee.

    “I was 14 years old in line at a Starbucks, and I overheard the girl in front of me tell her friend that she was going to major in public relations,” said Karla Khodanian, managing partner at the Birmingham Business Alliance. “I went home that night, and I Googled public relations and landed on the Wikipedia page for it. I thought it sounded amazing.”

    Although high school students often change their minds about college majors, Khodanian never wavered from her newfound passion for PR and storytelling.

    “Every campus tour, everything I did after that, I was looking at schools’ communications departments,” said Khodanian. “I never had a moment of doubt… I knew it, stuck with it, and I loved it.”

    Khodanian grew up in Madison, Alabama, and, while exploring college options, she sought out a change of scenery. After spending years in a suburb of Huntsville, she was ready to be in a city rich with culture, energy, and opportunity. Thankfully, during her numerous campus visits, she included the University of Alabama at Birmingham on her list. Once she arrived in Birmingham, her next step was clear.

    “I chose UAB very early in my senior year of high school because I loved the campus—I loved the energy of being in a city,” said Khodanian.

    She started at UAB in 2010 and thrived in the Department of Communication Studies. She also worked with several other units and groups across campus, including Blaze Productions and UAB Digital Media. At the same time, she embraced opportunities to get to know her new city and build a network of like-minded colleagues, mentors, and friends. This commitment to community led her to intern with American Idol star Ruben Studdard, the legendary music venue Bottletree Cafe in Avondale, and the Woodlawn Foundation.

    “It got me outside of the campus bubble and into the community,” said Khodanian. “I learned a lot of practical applications for how to be a strong communicator. The sharpest tool in my toolkit is knowing how to communicate broadly to a big audience.”

    Khodanian went on to graduate with a B.A. in Communication Studies with a Public Relations Specialization in 2014. She also earned minors in sociology and marketing. Soon after graduation, Khodanian decided to stay in Birmingham and start her career in PR.

    “I chose to stay in Birmingham because I knew it would be a phenomenal place to build my career,” said Khodanian. “I didn’t want to lose the valuable relationships I built as an undergrad.”

    Seven years later, she’s found a way to successfully meld her love for community with her knack for storytelling, relationship-building, and brand development. As a managing partner at the Birmingham Business Alliance—the lead economic development organization for the Birmingham seven-county region—Khodanian currently focuses on investor relations and member engagement. Through this work, she connects businesses to the Alliance’s mission of growing more and better jobs in the region. 

    When Khodanian first arrived at the Alliance in 2019, she was responsible for attracting talented people to live and work in Birmingham. Her efforts culminated in a milestone project entitled OnBoard Birmingham.

    “It’s really cool to have a job that helps me build the city that helped build me. I’m really proud of OnBoard Birmingham, which is the talent brand [of the Alliance],” said Khodanian. “I got to be a part of concepting and developing the project. It was something I started as a consultant and freelancer, then carried it into full-time work. I got the opportunity because of my depth of knowledge of the community and my passion for bringing more people into the community.”

    In a way, the website for OnBoard Birmingham is the perfect distillation of Khodanian’s journey. It is a celebration of all things Birmingham, and it’s a digital space where people can start building their own networks and relationships—something Khodanian encourages current CAS students to prioritize.

    “Take the time to build relationships with everyone,” said Khodanian. “Whether it’s your advisor, professor, peer, or someone in the community, those relationships are gold.”