Displaying items by tag: department of sociology faculty news

Dr. Magdalena Szaflarski has written the cover story in the December issue of HIV Specialist.

This fall, we welcomed several new faculty members, a new chair for the Department of Sociology, and three interim chairs. We are proud to have all of them in leadership and academic positions and are excited to see what they accomplish at UAB.

Dr. Verna Keith has been named the new chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology.
October 07, 2016

Social Skills

Here in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Sociology is focused on providing our undergraduate and graduate students with the skills they need in their careers as well as in graduate and professional schools.
Bill Cockerham's book Social Causes of Health and Disease, 2nd ed. (Polity, 2013) was listed as one of the key books in medical sociology in the 21st Century in a review essay by Graham (Contemporary Sociology, March 2014).
Sociology Professor Magda Szaflarski has been selected as one of three new fellows in the Studying Congregations Engaged Scholars Fellowship program sponsored by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research with funding from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
Kristi L. Stringer, a doctoral candidate in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Sociology, has been awarded the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship grant through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which enables promising predoctoral students to obtain individualized research training while conducting their dissertation research.
Five college faculty members have been chosen as Edge of Chaos Scholars along with 21 other UAB faculty and staff members. In their new role, they will be making presentations throughout the coming academic year on the problems our society has struggled to solve.
A collaborative effort among UAB faculty has produced the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary and international reference work on all aspects of the social scientific study of health and illness.
The first paper associated with UAB’s walking bus project was published in the Open Journal of Preventive Medicine. Co-authors Adrienne Milner, Ph.D., teaching assistant professor of sociology, and her colleague Assistant Professor Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D., led the campus effort.
  • 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

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  • 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.”

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  • 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.

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  • 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.”

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

    CRN202412-1428634

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.”

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  • 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.

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  • 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.”

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  • An interview with Ashley M. Jones, the next Alabama Poet Laureate

    Ashley M. Jones, an alumna of the UAB Department of English, was recently appointed to serve as the next Poet Laureate of Alabama.

    Ashley M. Jones, an alumna of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of English, was recently appointed to serve as the next Poet Laureate of Alabama. She holds an MFA from Florida International University and currently lives in Birmingham, where she teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. She also co-directs PEN Birmingham , is the founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival , is part of the Core Faculty of the Converse College Low Residency MFA Program, and recently served as guest editor for Poetry Magazine . Her collections include Magic City Gospel, dark // thing, and Reparations Now! 

    Ashley M. Jones, Poet Laureate of AlabamaSo, how does it feel to be the next Alabama Poet Laureate?

    Jones: It feels really amazing. I'm very grateful that people trust me to do the job, you know. And I'm obviously very proud to be a Black woman doing the job. I'm the first person of color ever to hold the position in the history of our state, which is something that we need to definitely contend with…I'm just very excited to serve and to represent this really amazing community of writers…I want our state to be a premier literary destination. 

    If you want to elaborate on this, what does it mean to be the first Black woman to hold this position?

    Jones: It means a lot. It's not lost on me that is taken 91 years for this to occur… Thinking back to being a young person and looking for those role models who looked like me—that was so important to see, you know. I will always remember my first-grade teacher, Ms. Hafeezah Abdur-Rasheed at EPIC elementary school, because she just was so incredible, and for me to see a Black woman who was so smart, so just on point, always…And of course, having my mom be an example to me—those things matter, you know. To have someone who looks like you, who shares your experience, doing the things that you dream of doing… So, I'm hoping that by me existing, as whatever it is that I am, and holding whatever title that I hold, maybe that can help someone else to feel more possible.

    What are your thoughts on representation in literature in society? 

    Jones: Yeah, I think representation is so very important… For me reading a poem or a novel about Black people by a Black person means more, perhaps…Makes you feel that you can actually tell your own story. If we think back to the slave narratives…sometimes there had to be a preface written by their white benefactor, to say that this is all good; I signed off on it. That does something to a Black reader—and as a White reader actually—you’re being sent the message that this person's voice is only valid because somebody else said it is. But if instead the book is written by the person and we believe it just because they have written it, that says a lot as well…I'd like to walk into the mirror of literature and see myself reflected back.

    Do you have any thoughts on or suggestions for how we answer the deep issues in our state and country’s history? 

    Jones: I've always been so focused on pointing out what actually happened and on operating in truths only, not in your imagined history…[The system] was made to hurt people—So, with something like this, you know, 91 years of poets laureate and now the first non-white person holding it, I think if we all kind of sit with that for a moment…And then, engaging the full community, instead of staying in your little silo…I think work like that is what can help, because obviously we can't fix the century it took to have somebody hold this position, but we can move forward in a meaningful way.

    Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

    Jones: Yes. I consider myself to be a feminist in the lineage of people like Audre Lorde or bell hooks, which is very important to say…Feminism has also struggled with its ties to the white patriarchy. So, I follow an intersectional of feminist model, which allows me to celebrate the issues of my people within the framework of feminism… We have to celebrate those differences that we have, and not play into those structures that oppress in the first place.

    What advice would you give to young poets?

    Jones: First of all, you're already a poet. Even if you just wrote one poem, you're a poet already. There's not an application process…I also tell students “Your work is already complete.” When you write it, no matter what draft it is, it's complete. So, if we're workshopping it, we're not trying to fix it or make it complete. We're just refining what's already there… So, I would just tell them to learn to value themselves, because that's the thing is going to carry them through. If I had not realized that being Ashley Jones was enough, I would not be sitting here as Poet Laureate of Alabama.

    How do you feel that relates to something like publishing? 

    Jones: I'll start by saying, the reason I'm able to even think of it that way, I think it's because I teach from a feminist perspective. Because this idea that we are having to work enough or work to a certain level: that's a patriarchal idea. It's not serving any of us well, you know… And as far as submitting to journals, I mean, that's such a subjective process. You just don't know…I encourage the students to submit any place they want to do. But I also try to be realistic with them as well. Like if you're looking to build up your publication history, try smaller journals first. They have less submissions to go through, so they might actually see your work and be able to actually spend time with it. And if they’re submitting to a journal and they're like, “oh, but I'm just in high school. Should I let them know that's where I am?” I say, “well first of all, it doesn't matter where you are: if a poem’s good, a poem’s good.” If they're really doing their job like they’re supposed to, they're not going to be looking at what age you are.

    Who have been some of your main influences?

    Jones: I always loved listening to my family speak. Like, I mentioned earlier, if you speak Southern, that's poetry. So like hearing grandmothers, aunts, uncles, mom, dad, whatever, speaking; that's always been amazing to me. As far as poets go, you know, Eloise Greenfield was my entry into poetry, then Rita Dove and Lucile Clifton. Kevin Young was huge for me in college… And now it's a lot of my peers and colleagues, who inspire me a lot. And Jacqueline Trimble, who is in Montgomery, Alabama; she is a huge inspiration to me…And then my students inspire me all the time. They are just so creative. When the student is allowed to truly explore and to feel safe in that exploration, they are going to create some of the most incredible, innovative, thought-provoking, emotional pieces that anyone's ever seen. 

    How are you feeling about the release of your third collection?

    Jones: I feel so excited. I love all my book children equally, but this book, I think, is truly the one where I feel the most myself. And I felt that I didn't have to prove anything anymore. I'm just writing as me…I feel like I'm my most self-actualized in life, so in this book I am also my most self-actualized on the page.

    What are some of the projects you're working on right now? 

    Jones: Well, I am releasing my book [Reparations Now!]…I'm also trying to move into the prose space. I'm trying to write a memoir. I have a few essays out from that already…I'm thinking of doing some [essays] that are partially personal essay and partially critical essay. 

    The Magic City Poetry Festival slogan this year was “poetry is for everybody” and you mentioned bell hooks earlier, so I wanted to know, what do you mean by “poetry is for everybody?”

    Jones: Well, I mean exactly what it says: poetry is for every single person. There is a belief, I think, that poems have to be super hard to understand and they're just for the learned of us. But that's not true. Everybody interacts with poetry on a daily basis, you know…For me and for the MCPF, we are trying to make sure that everybody knows they have access to this art form and that it can be helpful to them… That's what I love about some of my poetry heroes, like sister Sonia [Sanchez], who I met. She made me a cup of tea—like if you understand what this woman has done in life…all the gifts she has bestowed upon the world. She deserves all the respect ever—The fact that she made little old me, little Ashley from Alabama, a cup of tea, with her own hands? Okay. That to me is the spirit of “poetry is for everybody,” you know…And that's the kind of thing that I want to spread everywhere. I want us to feel like we're all fighting the same fight. We're all here together. 

    What are some of your favorite moments from your writing career so far?

    The first one deals with my dad. He passed this year, which still seems very not real…When he was still alive, I was commissioned to write a poem for the Southern Foodways Alliance, because they were having their annual meeting here in Birmingham. So, I decided I was going to write about my dad's gardening. So, I interviewed him, and he told me all these stories about gardening as a child and how they did it out of necessity back then…We’ve always had a garden in our backyard and eaten all these amazing vegetables and fruits that my dad has grown. So, I wrote this poem about him, called “Photosynthesis,” and I invited my parents to come…he had never heard it. And it was like right after his birthday too, so I was sneaky…So, I do my last poem, which is the poem for him—and in this poem, I talked about gardening and how he has taken care of us—and is still taking care of us. I mean, we ate his harvest after he passed away…There are so many ways that he planted things for us to reap forever. At the time I didn't know that. I was just writing a poem…So, I read the poem. And I looked out to the audience—and my dad was not a man who cried very often, at least not in front of us. I maybe saw him cry like one time in life, maybe like one and a half—but I looked up and my dad was wiping his eyes, and my mom was like ‘he was crying. He was crying!” and I felt so proud. I was like wow, first of all, I got him [laughs]. But, also, I'm so glad I was able to. There's this phrase “give people their flowers while they yet live.” I could give him flowers, right in front of him. I could tell this group of people, “My dad's awesome. Here is why.” I could tell my dad, “You're awesome, Here is why,” you know. And all of that just from writing a poem.

    This article is based on an interview conducted by Ash Tippit for 100 Days in Appalachia, a nonprofit, collaborative newsroom telling the complex stories of the region that deserve to be heard. Read the original story here and sign up for their weekly newsletter here.

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  • I am Arts and Sciences: Alex LaGanke

    When Alex LaGanke, staff attorney at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, left her hometown of Cullman to attend UAB, she quickly started to see the world through a new lens.

    Alex LaGanke (left) walking at Railroad Park with Ron McKeithen (right) and University of Alabama Law Intern Allen Slater (center) after filing a petition for a client who was subsequently released in June 2021.When Alex LaGanke, staff attorney at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, left her hometown of Cullman to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she quickly started to see the world through a new lens.

    “I moved to UAB and gained perspective—I was surrounded by… so many different people, perspectives, and conversations,” said LaGanke. “I developed a better understanding for how the world works.”

    As her worldview expanded, she developed a passion for humanitarian work and decided to pursue a B.A. in International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

    As she approached graduation, LaGanke was determined to find a career path where she could help people meet their basic needs. Thankfully, during her final semester at UAB, she got the chance to work on an innovative pilot program with the Alabama Association of Nonprofits (AAN), a membership-based organization that supports Alabama's nonprofit sector.

    During the pilot, AAN matched students with nonprofit organizations that were pursuing the Standards for Excellence endorsement—an endorsement that consists of a series of benchmarks that ensure high ethical standards within organizations. LaGanke was paired with the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA), a program in Jefferson County which trains community volunteers to provide support and advocate for dependent children involved in neglect or abuse cases. Through this experience, she developed a longstanding connection with CASA, a keen understanding of the value of the AAN’s website (specifically, the jobs board), and a newfound interest in public administration.

    “[After graduation] I knew that I wanted to do nonprofit work,” said LaGanke. “I would look on AAN’s jobs site, literally daily. One day, I stumbled across a program coordinator position for M-Power Ministries in Avondale.”

    M-Power is a nonprofit that provides education and health services to people impacted by poverty, and, at the time, the organization needed someone to coordinate direct services for learners participating in the adult basic education program. The organization selected LaGanke for the role, and she quickly learned the value and importance of relationship-building.

    “I processed 160 students throughout my time there. I realized if I’m going to build relationships with these people, I couldn’t just focus on education,” said LaGanke. “I had to connect people with resources so they could be successful in their education.”

    Between LaGanke’s experience with CASA and M-Power, she started to uncover a vision for the future. She knew she wanted to serve the people of Birmingham, and, to do so, she believed she needed to focus on law and policy reform. Her realization led her back to UAB—specifically, the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

     “I’m such a proud UAB alum,” said LaGanke. “I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t want to leave Birmingham.”

    LaGanke enrolled in the Master of Public Administration/Juris Doctorate Dual Degree Program (a partnership between UAB and Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law). While studying in the program, LaGanke learned to analyze and communicate about data—a skillset that serves her well in her current role as a staff attorney with Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit that works to achieve justice and equity for all Alabamians.

    “My work revolves around Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act,” said LaGanke. “Combatting excessively punitive laws in the State of Alabama is challenging, but UAB’s MPA program has provided me with the basic skills and tools necessary to approach complex policy issues effectively and strategically.”

    LaGanke’s casework and research with Alabama Appleseed has sparked life-changing outcomes for four people, including Ronald McKeithen. McKeithen was convicted of first-degree robbery in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison. Through LaGanke’s efforts—and the work and support of many others—McKeithen was released from prison, and, in December 2020, he successfully re-entered the community. Now, he is working with Alabama Appleseed on its re-entry efforts and also creating art, which will be featured in the Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration exhibit at UAB’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts.

    A detailed account of McKeithen’s journey is available here.

    LaGanke also supports community re-entry efforts for people who were formerly incarcerated. Her varied responsibilities include everything from helping people as they get a new Social Security card to replacing a flat tire. In this work, she continues to see the importance of policy reform and the need for additional research and advocacy.

    “I’m really proud that our organization is able to funnel resources and time towards helping our clients be successful beyond our legal representation,” said LaGanke.

    As she looks to the future and seeks systemic change through casework, research, advocacy, and policy reform, she continues to emphasize an essential skill she nurtured during her time at UAB and with M-Power—building relationships.

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  • I am Arts and Sciences: Angelo Della Manna

    When building something from the ground up, it’s valuable for the builder to be detail-oriented and driven. For Angelo Della Manna, Director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, both skills came into focus during his time studying in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice.

    When building something from the ground up, it’s valuable for the builder to be detail-oriented and driven. For Angelo Della Manna, Director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, both skills came into focus during his time studying in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice.

    “Having attention to detail is an extremely important skill in Forensic Science,” said Della Manna. “That is one of the best things I learned at UAB.”

    Della Manna’s journey to UAB set the tone for his future professional endeavors. In 1991, during his senior year studying chemistry at the University of Toronto, he purchased a plane ticket and traveled from Canada to the United States to attend the American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference. At that conference, he scheduled a meeting with faculty members from UAB’s Department of Criminal Justice.

    “I wanted to see, as an international student, if it was possible for me to come [to UAB],” said Della Manna.

    Della Manna met with Fred Smith, Ph.D., and Ray Liu, Ph.D. Both former faculty members were impressed with the young, analytical chemist’s drive and willingness to travel to the conference on his own dime. During the conversation, they encouraged Della Manna to take the GRE and asked him to share his transcripts.

    Soon after his journey to the conference, Della Manna was accepted into the forensic science graduate program at UAB. At the time, it was one of the few programs of its kind in the country. Della Manna took advantage of the burgeoning field of study and sought out an internship to obtain practical experience and work alongside forensic scientists.

    “You’ve got to be deliberate and intentional,” said Della Manna. “Having that internship was very valuable to me and helped teach me that skill.”

    At the time, Della Manna was also nurturing a long-distance relationship with his future wife, Debbie, who he met in Canada. Little did he know, she would later move to Birmingham to pursue her master’s in basic medical sciences, and, eventually, become a cancer researcher in the School of Medicine’s Department of Radiation Oncology.

    “Just having her in the same zip code was a win,” said Della Manna.

    After earning his M.S. in Forensic Science, Della Manna started his career as an hourly laborer position with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (ADFS), the second oldest crime lab system in the country. With a deep interest in forensic biology and a background in DNA techniques from UAB, he found an opportunity to build something within the ADFS.

    “I was fortunate that I had that background,” said Della Manna. “It was a technology that was just starting here in Alabama… We saw early on that DNA could be revolutionary in forensic science.”

    And it was. Through his tireless efforts, Della Manna and others built a DNA program within the ADFS, and, in turn, put Alabama on the map. In May 1994, the Alabama legislature took notice of the importance of forensic DNA testing and passed the Alabama DNA Database Law, which allowed Della Manna to move faster and help ADFS develop a national reputation.

    “The application of new technology has always been fascinating to me,” said Della Manna. “It allowed Alabama to be at the forefront, on the cutting-edge, of DNA technology.”

    Nearly 30 years later, Della Manna now serves as the Director of the ADFS and has helped build the only internationally accredited provider of forensic laboratory services in the state. Along the way, other agencies and organizations have taken notice of his knowledge and talents — including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

    “I was appointed by the FBI to the Executive Board on DNA Analysis Methods,” said Della Manna. “We helped set the national standard for forensic science.”

    The FBI also encouraged CBS’s 60 Minutes to film a segment about the ADFS’ work, an experience that Della Manna cherishes.

    Given some of ADFS’ recent statistics and outcomes, it’s no surprise why the agency values Della Manna’s expertise. Last year, his lab helped solve 806 cold cases, leading the country in the number of cases solved per capita.

    Now, Della Manna is ready to support and train the next generation of forensic scientists. He strongly advocates for work-based learning experiences and internships, and he is quick to offer advice to students who work in his office.

    “Always look for opportunities to give back,” Della Manna often tells students and interns. “As you look for your own career path, be patient. Let the body of your work develop your reputation.”

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  • I am Arts and Sciences: Kristin Powell

    Sometimes, people find themselves pursuing unexpected career pathways. According to Kristin Powell, Ph.D., organizational consultant for Blankenship & Seay Consulting Group, the knowledge and skills she attained while studying in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Psychology prepared her for any career — regardless of the field or subject matter. 

    Sometimes, people find themselves pursuing unexpected career pathways. According to Kristin Powell, Ph.D., organizational consultant for Blankenship & Seay Consulting Group, the knowledge and skills she attained while studying in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Psychology prepared her for any career — regardless of the field or subject matter. 

    “I got my foundation at UAB,” said Powell. “I have the basic skills that I needed to be successful in any role. That can give you a lot of confidence.”

    Powell began building her skills (and confidence) in her hometown, Montgomery, Alabama. After graduating from St. Jude Educational Institute, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s in psychology at Auburn University at Montgomery and earned her degree in 2000. Throughout her formative years, Powell nurtured a connection with the city of Birmingham and, subsequently, UAB.  

    “Growing up in Montgomery, coming to Birmingham was like coming to the big city,” said Powell. “When I became older, I learned more about the training that goes on at UAB and the medical community, which is a large part of the university... Also, my father received medical treatment at the Kirklin Clinic.”

    Kristin Powell, Ph.D.Powell witnessed the extraordinary care her father received at The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, which inspired her to consider pursuing her doctorate in psychology at UAB. Through the university’s Department of Psychology, she saw an opportunity to nurture a research foundation while also attaining a clinical education.

    “I was interested in learning about… the health psychology aspect of mental health,” said Powell.

    Although she applied for numerous graduate programs across the country, UAB was at the top of her list. Soon after applying to UAB, Powell was accepted into the Ph.D. program, and she received a Comprehensive Minority Faculty and Student Development Fellowship. According to Powell, the fellowship was a game-changer.

    “It afforded me the opportunity to study without having the financial worries of how I was going to fund my doctoral education,” said Powell.

    She thrived in the program and was mentored by Jesse B. Milby, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the Department of Psychology. “I always felt very welcomed by him,” said Powell.

    After she earned her Ph.D. in Clinical/Medical Psychology from UAB in 2006, Powell moved to Boston and participated in a year-long post-doctoral fellowship with the National Center for PTSD. After completing her fellowship and working in Boston for three years, Powell started a position with the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center where she worked in a training director and PTSD team lead role and later transferred to the Birmingham VA Medical Center. Powell spent the last four years of her 14-year VA career as a national program manager, responsible for leading a team that developed and implemented programs and initiatives supported by VA Central Office. 

    “I helped lead and coordinate a national evidence-based mental health training program for the entire VA,” said Powell. “It really extended my reach. People would come back to me and say, ‘What your training program taught me to do helped me to make a difference in someone else’s life.’”

    Powell made a profound impact during her time at the VA — that said, after a decade-and-a-half in her role, she decided to make a significant career pivot. She leaned on her transportable skills — specifically in assessment, communication, relationship-building, and problem-solving — and moved to a role in the private sector with Blankenship & Seay Consulting Group, a consultancy that delivers assessment-based psychological consulting services to companies. 

    Powell is enjoying her new career as an organizational consultant, through which she helps employees and leaders develop their essential skills. Moving forward, she aims to encourage future alumni of the College of Arts and Sciences to celebrate opportunities to pursue unexpected career pathways and leverage their talents across sectors. “Don’t let anything limit you,” said Powell. “Don’t let anything box you in.”

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  • Uncovering the power of human rights

    While growing up in Birmingham, Katie Fagan lived a few blocks away from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Although both of her parents graduated from UAB’s School of Medicine, attending the university was not part of Fagan’s long-term plan. At least not at first.

    While growing up in Birmingham, Katie Fagan lived a few blocks away from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Although both of her parents graduated from UAB’s School of Medicine, attending the university was not part of Fagan’s long-term plan. At least not at first.

    “I wanted a bit more distance,” said Fagan, AmeriCorps VISTA and volunteer engagement member for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting clean water for the sake of public health, recreation, and wildlife habitat throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.

    Fagan’s academic journey helped her achieve that desired distance. After studying sociology at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, she made her way across the Atlantic Ocean to the University of Manchester where she earned her Master of Science in Environmental Governance. That’s also where she met Elliot Nicholson-Cox.

    Fagan and Nicholson-Cox connected quickly and uncovered a shared interest in human rights and peace studies. Nicholson-Cox, an alumnus of the University of Bradford’s Peace and Development Studies program, was teaching full-time and planning his next academic step. While crafting his vision for the future and exploring his evolving interest in anthropology, he decided to visit Fagan while she was back in Birmingham spending time with her family.

    During his trip to Birmingham, Nicholson-Cox was determined to meet Douglas P. Fry, Ph.D., a prominent anthropologist and former chair of the UAB Department of Anthropology.

    “Dr. Fry was instrumental in establishing the Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights program [at UAB],” said Nicholson-Cox. “We chatted and stayed in touch, and he invited me to apply for the program.”

    Nicholson-Cox followed Fry’s recommendation and was accepted into the graduate program. Fagan also started exploring the possibility of returning home, given her burgeoning relationship with Nicholson-Cox and deepening interest in peace studies.

    “All of my research led me to focus on issues of justice and environmental justice,” said Fagan. “I had been around Elliot and his friends who had all done peace studies in undergrad and had been immersed in it. I thought it [UAB’s Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights graduate program] was another master’s that would really help push my research.”

    Within a year, both Nicholson-Cox and Fagan had moved from England to Alabama and enrolled in the APHR program. Although they shared several foundational classes, they uncovered their own specific interests within the program.

    Fagan embraced her return to Alabama and sought opportunities to ground her research and work in her home state through interdisciplinary courses in public policy and public health and internship opportunities with the Jefferson County Memorial Project and the Institute for Human Rights. As Fagan developed her Birmingham network and continued to refine her focus on public participation in environmental justice cases (with a focus on clean water issues in North Birmingham), Nicholson-Cox found ways to pursue his specific interest in the ways education systems work in relation to peace and conflict in local communities.

    “Katie was able to spend lots of time doing research that was specific to Birmingham,” said Nicholson-Cox. “While I was doing more classically academic work.”

    Both Nicholson-Cox and Fagan graduated from the APHR program in 2020, and, now, their specific interests are informing their respective post-graduation paths. At the moment, Nicholson-Cox is exploring Ph.D. programs that will allow him to further build on his master’s thesis, which focuses on the way education was used as a tool of colonial Spain in Mexico from the 16th century up to today. He will also teach the Intro to Peace Studies course at UAB in Fall 2021.

    Fagan, on the other hand, is working with the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and serving on junior boards for both the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Throughout her daily work and volunteer activities, Fagan draws on her knowledge and skills from the APHR program, including conflict resolution and conflict transformation.

    “I’m still using all of my research. [The APHR program] is very multidisciplinary,” said Fagan. “I’m currently on junior boards for the Botanical Gardens and the Alabama Rivers Alliance and discussions about equity and justice are definitely a part of that work. I’ve been able to bring a lot of theories from the program out to these groups, which has really helped me.”

    According to Peter Verbeek, Ph.D., associate professor and program director in the Department of Anthropology, both students made a lasting impact on the APHR program. “Access to a healthy and sustainable environment and to age-appropriate education are not privileges but rights that are integral to the basic human rights framework that much of the world has pledged to uphold,” said Verbeek. “Katie Fagan and Elliott Nicholson-Cox, two distinguished alumni of the APHR program, have dedicated much of their work in APHR on studying these basic rights and how working to advance them equals working for positive peace. Their contributions to APHR have been multifold and much appreciated, and all of us in the UAB Department of Anthropology have great expectations for their future careers as scholars and activists of peace.”

    It’s clear that both Fagan and Nicholson-Cox will carry their knowledge and networks with them throughout their careers and future academic pursuits. It’s also clear that the APHR program profoundly influenced the ways in which both alumni see the world.

    When prompted to reflect on and consider the importance of the APHR program and human rights education more broadly, Nicholson-Cox offered a powerful insight: “Rather than talking about abstract political ideas… using human rights as a frame grounds everything in human needs that just makes sense to people. We all have a right to a safe and clean house, good food, drinking water, to have our voice heard when we choose to speak. These are all very common-sense ideas that people have for what would make a just and peaceful society.”

    Fagan agrees. “It’s collaborative. Peace is a lot more holistic and something to reach for than I think people realize. It impacts everything. There’s nothing outside of the discussion of peace and human rights,” said Fagan.

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  • I am Arts and Sciences: Eric Teoh

    For students who study math in college, the notion of saving lives with their knowledge may seem distant — maybe even far-fetched. For Eric Teoh, director of statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the connection between math and lifesaving work is crystal clear.

    For students who study math in college, the notion of saving lives with their knowledge may seem distant — maybe even far-fetched. For Eric Teoh, director of statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the connection between math and lifesaving work is crystal clear.

    That was not always the case, though. In high school, Teoh had a complicated relationship with mathematics.

    Eric Teoh “I wasn’t very good at math until I got to college,” said Teoh. “I let it intimidate me.”

    Teoh admits that he did not have a positive attitude about the discipline prior to college. However, when the time came to declare a major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he unexpectedly selected the subject that posed numerous challenges for him in high school.

    “At the time, I thought to myself, ‘I can do anything — I’ll major in math,’” said Teoh.

    This new outlook on life (and education) prompted a different mindset for Teoh. Instead of allowing math to get the best of him, he found himself working harder and challenging himself to master the discipline. And that’s exactly what happened.

    “The faculty in the Department of Mathematics took a chance on me,” said Teoh. “Between them taking a chance on me and a shift in my attitude, I made it work.”

    Right after being accepted to UAB, Teoh was also accepted into the Mathematics Fast Track Program. Through the program, Teoh earned both a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics in only four years. Along the way, he also took a few extra courses in a variety of subjects, including more than were required for him to earn a minor in chemistry. All in a day’s work for Teoh.

    “I think UAB was an excellent place to learn,” said Teoh. “We learned a lot of important skills for work and life in general. We learned to think independently.”

    After graduating from UAB, Teoh enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to pursue a Ph.D. in Biostatistics. Although the program was engaging, Teoh started reevaluating his future with a new focus on starting a career that would allow him to save lives. His reflective mindset motivated him to leave Chapel Hill and accept a role as a data analyst with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). According to Teoh, IIHS — an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries, and property damage from motor vehicle crashes — aligned with his vision, values, and talents.

    Now, 15 years after taking the job with IIHS, Teoh has a clear perspective on the transportable skills he developed while at UAB and the ways in which his work improves the world.

    “I’ve learned the value of simplicity,” said Teoh. “We try to use the simplest scientifically sound analysis methods so everyone can understand our work and use it to make better decisions.”

    When Teoh reflects on his professional accomplishments, he immediately circles back to the values that drove him to leave Chapel Hill and start his job with IIHS: saving lives and reducing harm.

    “There are no panaceas or silver bullets in this field, so every effective countermeasure is important,” said Teoh. “Some of the biggest ones from my research studies include antilock braking systems on motorcycles, front crash prevention technology on large trucks, graduated driver licensing laws for teenage drivers, and vehicle roof strength in rollover crashes.”

    Teoh’s journey is full of valuable lessons — that said, there is one theme in particular that he emphasizes when speaking with students who are crafting their visions for the future.

    “Do not be afraid of changing your mind on future plans,” said Teoh. “[If you do change your mind] do so in a way that builds off of what you’ve already accomplished. I changed my mind substantially at least a couple times and, looking back, I’m glad I did each time.”

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