CAS News

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BSW Students Caroline Wood and Melody Higgins, along with Dr. Laurel Hitchcock, attended the University of Alabama's School of Social Work DC Fly-In.

Chemistry graduate student Miranda Trentle was awarded the Individual Fellowship Incentive Award from the Graduate School.

Kiera Walker went from a major in Biology to earning a graduate degree in counselor education, all at UAB.

The Graduate and Professional programs within the Departments of Biology and Political Science and Public Administration rank among the nation’s best.

More than 80 works created by University of Alabama at Birmingham students were selected by guest juror Virginia Griswold for the 42nd annual Juried Student Exhibition

Mugdha Mokashi, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

Samantha Thompson, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

Ben Boros, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

Rahul Gaini, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

"Humans will over time become even more vulnerable to such attacks," warns Dr. Nitesh Saxena of UAB's Department of Computer Science.

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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.”

    Read more...
  • 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.

    Read more...
  • 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.”

    Read more...
  • I am Arts and Sciences: Leigh Willis

    In 1997, Leigh Willis, Ph.D., a rising senior studying sociology at Albion College in Albion, Michigan, encountered a life-changing document. It was an interest form about a graduate program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Leigh Willis, Ph.D.In 1997, Leigh Willis, Ph.D., a rising senior studying sociology at Albion College in Albion, Michigan, encountered a life-changing document. It was an interest form about a graduate program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    "UAB’s Department of Sociology sent the information to my department [at Albion],” said Willis. “I completed the form, and, later that summer, UAB invited me to participate in a 10-week paid internship in Birmingham.”

    Through that program, Willis got the chance to connect with and work alongside faculty and graduate students in the UAB Department of Sociology. He also got the opportunity to participate in an engaged learning experience with the Jefferson County Department of Health.

    “The faculty were nurturing and supportive,” said Willis. “I was interested in patterns of health and illness, and [during the internship] I got the chance to interview people at the Jefferson County Department of Health and collect data.”

    During this experience, his mentors and peers in the department also encouraged him to pursue his Ph.D. at UAB. Willis quickly uncovered his appreciation for the faculty-to-student ratio in the department – he also learned that UAB had one of the few medical sociology graduate programs in the country.

    “I received a fellowship with a stipend from the graduate school and stayed in Birmingham,” said Willis. “I started the graduate program and learned the craft and skills of research. I loved the size of the program, because I had a lot of interaction with the faculty.”

    Willis went on to earn his Master of Arts in Sociology, Master of Public Health, and Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sociology. During his impressive academic career at UAB, Willis developed many valuable skills, including creative problem solving.

    “We were very well-trained,” said Willis. “We could think big and answer hard and difficult questions for the benefit of mankind.”

    After earning his Ph.D., Willis became an assistant professor of sociology and African American Studies at the University of Georgia. Then, in 2009, he was hired to serve as a Behavioral Scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When he arrived at the CDC, he discovered he had something in common with several of his coworkers.

    “There are several UAB alumni at the CDC,” said Willis. “Many of them studied in the College of Arts and Sciences – specifically, the Department of Sociology.”

    Today, Willis is a behavioral scientist at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. He continues to appreciate the value of engaged learning, so he makes an effort to connect current UAB College of Arts and Sciences students with the CDC through internships and research experiences. He also frequently finds opportunities to visit UAB, so he can connect with students and share stories about the impact of his work. He has one career milestone in particular that he enjoys discussing with students.

    “I was one of the leaders of a team that were finalists for a Health and Human Services Innovates Award,” said Willis. “Projects are submitted from all over HHS and voted on by the general public. Through our project, we created a motion comic to educate people about HIV, because parents said it was needed. We went to HHS headquarters and received recognition for our work from the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”

    A short clip from the motion comic is available online, and, in 2018, the journal Health Communication published two articles on the innovative project.

    Willis continues to make a difference through his work, and he encourages current students and recent alumni to do the same. “Continue to work hard. Continue to gather news skills and sharpen existing skills. Don’t be afraid to try and change the world,” said Willis.

    Read more...
  • UAB grad and filmmaker reaching bigger audiences

    Anissa Latham nurtured her storytelling and filmmaking skills during her time at University of Alabama at Birmingham — now, with new partners and supporters investing in her work, she’s bringing her creative vision to the world.

    Anissa Latham nurtured her storytelling and filmmaking skills during her time at University of Alabama at Birmingham — now, with new partners and supporters investing in her work, she’s bringing her creative vision to the world.

    Latham earned a B.A. in African American Studies and a B.A. in Cultural Digital Storytelling (an individually designed major) from UAB's College of Arts and Sciences in 2017. She was also a member of the UAB Honors College. As an undergraduate student, Latham found many opportunities to write and share stories across campus and the community. She served as a staff writer for Kaleidoscope — UAB's student-run digital news outlet — and, during her time as an intern and fellow with UAB Digital Media, she wrote content and managed social media for the African American Studies program, giving her a chance to further connect with the program and its director, Kay Morgan, Ph.D.

    Recently, Latham reconnected with Dr. Morgan for a conversation on Juneteenth with UAB School of Medicine Dean Selwyn Vickers, M.D., for his podcast, “The Checkup.” The episode will air on June 18, 2021 and will be available here.

    June will be an exciting month for Latham. She will also premiere her new film “Missing Magic” at the American Film Institute (AFI) DOCS Film Festival, which will take place the week of June 22-27. She directed and co-produced — along with UAB alumna Kelsey Harrison — the film which will be included in the festival’s Spotlight on the Hindsight Project series. "Missing Magic" will be screening free throughout the duration of the AFI DOCS Film Festival, and ticket reservations are available here.

    When asked to summarize the film, Latham offered the following description: “As uprisings spread across the country, a young poet in Birmingham, Alabama, becomes involved in local protests against decades of police brutality. As he tries to reconcile the city’s modern image as a diverse and welcoming metropolis with its violent and complex civil rights history, he suddenly becomes a part of the story when he’s arrested at a demonstration.”

    "Missing Magic'' was one of 77 films selected by the AFI for the 2021 AFI DOCS Film Festival. Latham received support for the film from the Hindsight Project, an initiative that supports Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) filmmakers living in the American South and U.S. Territories. Through the Hindsight Project, six filmmakers — including Latham — received production support from Firelight Media, the Center for Asian American Media, and Reel South.

    Reel South — a documentary series reckoning with the South’s past, present, and future — will also premiere all six Hindsight Project films on its respective public media platforms. “Missing Magic” will be featured on Alabama Public Television (APT).

    Along with support from the Hindsight Project and APT, Latham also received mentorship from celebrated filmmaker and producer Daphne McWilliams.

    Latham lends her talents to other outlets and platforms too. She edits and produces content for Meredith Corporation, creating video content for AllRecipes, Cooking Light, and Southern Living. And she’s a video producer for Red Clay Media, generating content for the "It's a Southern Thing" brand. One of her recent works for “It’s a Southern Thing” connects back to her recent conversation with Dr. Morgan — it’s entitled, Juneteenth: America has Two Independence Day.

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  • I am Arts and Sciences: Jolie Thevenot

    International studies alumna Jolie Thevenot is the executive director of the Japan-America Society of Alabama.

    Like many of her fellow students, Jolie Thevenot fulfilled a curriculum requirement to study a language during her freshman year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. For Thevenot, the experience transcended a curriculum requirement and changed both her life and career trajectory.

    "I'd been interested in Japanese pop culture like anime and manga in high school, so when I was prompted to study a language at UAB, I thought I would just take Japanese 101-102 to enhance my media consumption," she divulged.

    But, as she began studying the language, Thevenot developed meaningful relationships with her professors in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

    "[The professors] showcased the Japanese culture more so than just the language. It made me really excited to study and use it more as a tool and an avenue to communicate than just a class."

    As a student, Thevenot had many interests and often changed her major. She eventually landed in the International Studies program due to its interdisciplinary nature. That degree program, paired with a minor in Japanese, allowed her to explore courses in sociology, history, foreign cultures, political science, and economics.

    She further cemented her interest in Japanese culture through two study abroad opportunities.

    First, Thevenot was selected for a two-week Birmingham's Sister Cities exchange program in Hitachi, Japan the summer after her freshman year. "That wasn't long enough for me, so I wanted to go back and study [in Japan]." Through UAB Study Abroad, Thevenot participated as an exchange student at Nihon University in Tokyo for her junior year.

    When she returned to UAB for her senior year, Thevenot was selected for an internship with the Japan-America Society of Alabama. During her internship, the executive director left the organization, which allowed Thevenot to lean into a role outside of typical intern duties. She worked closely with board members, helped organize events, and learned how to run the organization. Those experiences gave her the confidence to apply for the executive director role when she graduated in 2017—a position she continues to hold today.

    Founded in 1989, the Japan-America Society of Alabama (JASA) is a private nonprofit organization committed to fostering friendship and understanding between Japan and the U.S. As the Executive Director of JASA, Thevenot is focused on community engagement and outreach, a value she says she learned at UAB by taking advantage of the cultural engagement opportunities and events offered across the university.

    After her first year as Executive Director at JASA, Thevenot was named a Next Generation Fellow by the American Friends of the International House of Japan. The Next Generation Fellows Program supports promising young American leaders in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

    Thevenot says UAB gave her the skillset to think critically about the world around her and consider everything from different angles and perspectives. Her interdisciplinary degree, in particular, inspired her to be open to many opportunities. "The international studies field is so broad that it allowed for different connections with different fields of study... [UAB] gave me the confidence in taking something I don't understand and knowing who to reach out to and what questions to ask," she explained.

    Her advice for current students? Use your time at UAB to get comfortable asking questions and take advantage of UAB's events and opportunities. "You never know when one Wednesday night event will completely change your perspective or get you really excited about something you never knew was possible. There are opportunities like that everywhere," said Thevenot.

    Learn about the international studies major at UAB and the minor in Japanese.

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  • I Am Arts and Sciences: Ellyn Grady

    As Ellyn Grady embraces retirement and looks back on her storied career, she does not call attention to her impressive and incomparable fundraising achievements. Instead, she reflects on and celebrates the people with whom she connected, learned from, and worked alongside over the course of her 30 years in Birmingham.

    As Ellyn Grady embraces retirement and looks back on her storied career, she does not call attention to her impressive and incomparable fundraising achievements. Instead, she reflects on and celebrates the people with whom she connected, learned from, and worked alongside over the course of her 30 years in Birmingham.

    Her Birmingham journey began at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Public Administration program in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

    For Grady, the decision to pursue her master's degree emerged after an early career in community education in Fairfax County, Virginia. She learned a lot from her time as an educator, and, during that period, she uncovered a clear passion for the administrative side of the work.

    So, when her husband told her about an opportunity to move to Birmingham, she offered an appropriate caveat. “I said, ‘Look, if I’m going to go to Birmingham, Alabama, I want to get my master's degree,'” said Grady.

    And that’s exactly what she did. After an inspiring conversation with Dr. Mary Ellen Guy (former chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration), Grady decided to earn her MPA. And, as she has done with everything in her life, Grady dove into the experience head first and quickly developed lifelong friendships with her professors and fellow students.

    “Who you meet at UAB inspires you to learn more," said Grady. "I tell my students, ‘It’s the people in these seats who will be your network throughout the rest of your life and career.'"

    Grady earned her MPA in 1992, and, soon after graduation, she was hired to serve as executive director for Girls Inc. of Central Alabama. Girls Inc. is a nonprofit organization that offers programming that equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up healthy, educated, and independent. When Grady started leading the organization, she briefly wondered if she was ready for the responsibility.

    "I realized I was responsible for 2,000 girls and the staff responsible for serving them," said Grady. "I asked myself, ‘Can I do this?’"

    Thankfully, Grady's uncertainty waned quickly, and she began to leverage the critical thinking and problem-solving skills she built during her time in the MPA program. "UAB gave me the starter set. It gave me the confidence to walk through the door and make one decision after another," said Grady.

    She successfully led Girls, Inc. for seven years, then pivoted to a career with the United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA). While serving as Senior Vice President of Agency Impact at the UWCA, Grady brought a transformational mindset to her role in development. She found success by focusing less on the dollars and more on the people.

    "It wasn’t really about raising money," said Grady. "It was about raising awareness and matching donors with community needs, so they could make a difference. I had a front-row seat to the generosity of this community."

    Grady eventually became Senior Vice President of United Way of Central Alabama’s Resource Development Department and retired in 2019. Today, as a practitioner teaching for the MPA program, she continues to impart her knowledge and wisdom on UAB students.

    When mentoring students who are making plans for the future, she offers thoughtful advice that is rooted in service and her love for the City of Birmingham. Regardless of her students' career plans, she encourages all of them to serve on nonprofit boards and advisory boards.

    "The service side of the College of Arts and Sciences is the heart of the university," said Grady.

    Read More: Ellyn Grady awarded the 2020 Alumni Service Award

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  • I Am Arts and Sciences: Vincent Cirel

    Vincent Cirel developed a passion for mathematics in high school and found personal inspiration even earlier in life working with his grandfather as a land surveyor. When it was time to pursue his undergraduate degree, he looked to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    While growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Vincent Cirel developed a passion for mathematics in high school and found personal inspiration even earlier in life working with his grandfather as a land surveyor. When it was time to pursue his undergraduate degree, he looked to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    "I always thought I'd do my undergraduate work at UAB," said Cirel. "It was a part of my hometown."

    During his tenure at UAB, Cirel pursued a major in mathematics and a minor in physics. His talents and interests aligned with the emergence of the Word Wide Web, and, as a result, he applied his valuable knowledge in real-time at UAB's Health Sciences Learning Technologies Lab.

    He became the co-founder and co-chair of the UAB Web Advisory Group, and he navigated the evolution of the web at UAB for seven years. This experience reflects a primary theme in Cirel's life and career—leveraging emerging technologies during pivotal moments within institutions and businesses.

    "I was passionate about science and technology, and I blended it with the business world," said Cirel.

    Cirel continued to build his knowledge and expertise, earning a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from UAB and a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University. By combining his cross-curricular academic interests in mathematics, applied sciences, and business, Cirel successfully co-led Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings through a defining moment in 2013.

    "Norwegian went public in 2013," said Cirel. "It transformed the cruise line industry."

    As Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Cirel spearheaded the expansion of mobile/social to include full customer lifecycle integration and got to stand at the podium when the company was added to the NASDAQ. It was a defining point in his career.

    Throughout his numerous professional milestones, Cirel admits that he never steered far from his early foundations in mathematics and physics. "That foundation is something I rely on and apply everyday," said Cirel.

    Today, Cirel is the executive vice president of Worldstrides, Inc. (in addition to many independent consulting engagements) and, through these roles, he finds ways to leverage emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing. As he continues to blaze ahead, he sees his alma mater as a source of continued pride and inspiration. 

    "It's interesting to watch how UAB has grown in size and impact. It's what you always hope will happen," said Cirel.

    As Cirel's career moves forward, he continues to watch the transformation of the business world, noting that fewer people are focused solely on financial wealth. He sees workplaces emphasizing and elevating personal growth and diversity, equity, and inclusion, which he believes is important and necessary.

    He encourages future UAB graduates to think about both their personal and professional goals as they look ahead. "The most important early-career question to ask is, 'Where does my passion lie?' And do your very best to align your efforts to that answer," said Cirel.

    Read more...
  • Biology alumna helps rescue and release thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles

    Despite all her experience, nothing could have prepared Dr. Amy Bonka for what she has experienced over the past week: the largest sea turtle cold-stunning event ever recorded in Texas.

    A convention center full of cold-stunned sea turtles on South Padre Island Texas. These turtles will be protected, gradually warmed and rehabilitated by Sea Turtle Inc. and eventually released back into the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo Courtesy of Amy Bonka)While earning her doctoral degree in the Department of Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Amy Bonka worked on remote sea turtle nesting beaches ranging from Mexico to Indonesia. Despite all her experience, nothing could have prepared her for what she has experienced over the past week: the largest sea turtle cold-stunning event ever recorded in Texas.

    Dr. Bonka received her Ph.D. from UAB in the summer of 2020 studying two of the most endangered sea turtles in the world. In December 2020, she accepted a position as the Chief Conservation Officer for Sea Turtle Inc., a conservation and education organization that monitors sea turtle nesting, stranding and rehabilitation on South Padre Island, Texas. Dr. Bonka was well aware of the previous cold-stunning events that occurred in south Texas and the possibility that Sea Turtle Inc. may have to handle several hundred sea turtles during those events. However, no one anticipated the magnitude of the cold-stunning event that occurred along the Texas coast last week: the largest ever on record.

    (Photo Courtesy of Amy Bonka)Due to the cold-stunning event, thousands of turtles have been washing up on the shores of Texas and many others have been found floating helplessly at the water’s surface. The majority of these incidents have occurred in south Texas, in particular South Padre Island. According to Sea Turtle Inc., “cold stunning” occurs when sudden drops in air and water temperature cause sea turtles to go into a hypothermic shock. Without assistance from conservationists, many of these turtles would perish. Over the past week, Sea Turtle Inc. has collected between 4,000-5,000 cold-stunned sea turtles, and they have resorted to using the South Padre Island Convention Center to house thousands of turtles. These turtles will be protected – gradually warmed and rehabilitated – and eventually released back into the Gulf of Mexico.

    “Fortunately for these thousands of sea turtles, Dr. Bonka and the full crew of dedicated conservationists from Sea Turtle Inc. are currently working around the clock to ensure these turtles will survive and will be able to resume their long lives in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr. Thane Wibbels, professor in the UAB Department of Biology.



    Dr. Amy Bonka, a recent graduate of UAB Department of Biology who has recently become the Chief Conservation Officer for Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island Texas. She and the dedicated crew of conservationists are working around the clock to save the thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles. (Photo Courtesy of Amy Bonka)

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  • Finding Her Voice: The Megan Louise Montgomery Endowed Memorial Scholarship

    UAB was where communication studies alumna Megan Montgomery found her passion—and herself.

    UAB was where communication studies alumna Megan Montgomery found her passion—and herself. Read the story behind this new scholarship for students in the Department of Communications Studies.

     

    Please join the UAB Department of Communication Studies in honoring Megan Montgomery. Gifts go toward deserving students in the Department of Communication Studies who are involved in the community. Give now at go.uab.edu/MeganMontgomery.

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  • A limitless world

    Makayla Smith wants to use poetry to create spaces of joy and representation for Black, queer audiences.

    Photo of Makayla by Tedric Davenport
    Illustration by Caitlin Du

    Makayla Smith wants to use poetry to create spaces of joy and representation for Black, queer audiences.

    Growing up in the rural South, Smith struggled to find her identity as a writer and as a person. But studying literature, creative writing, and African American Studies at UAB has clarified for Smith what role she wants to play in the world as an academic and creator. Now, as an adult and recent graduate, Smith has a clearer understanding of herself.

    “I feel like there aren’t enough works on the market really exploring that for my age group,” Smith said. “My sexual orientation is such a big part of my writing.”

    Smith also hopes to explore these realities without commodifying Black pain. She worries about the misconception that creating work is only profitable and valuable if the process is painful for the audience and creator.

    “[Writing] does not have to be traumatizing in order for it to sell and it will literally have the same impact,” Smith said. “I want people to feel joy. I want people to feel happy to be themselves and safe.”

    During her final semester at UAB, Smith compiled a poetry manuscript called I don’t believe in mermaids. In the manuscript, she uses her childhood and personal memories as a way to broach the topics of how community, family, and one’s surroundings can affect an individual’s relationship with their sexuality and perception of self. Smith writes about the experience of growing up with her grandparents, particularly her relationship with her grandmother and how that impacted her identity.

    “In poetry, you’re limited in some senses of style and formatting,” Smith said. “It was very meticulous [work] trying to convey a clear picture while also trying to not give it away at the same time, to be metaphorical.”

    Before attending UAB, Smith attended Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery. Smith had the opportunity to write with the Alabama Writers Forum and as a journalist for the Kentuck Festival of the Arts. Writing with and for her community confirmed for Smith that writing was what she wanted to do professionally.

    “Essentially, what I’m trying to teach people is that you don’t have to be in one specific place, like New York or San Francisco, to really learn about yourself or to be proud of your identity,” Smith said. “I want Black, queer people in general to feel proud of themselves.”

    In High School

    In high school, Smith had felt adamant that attending school or living in a major city was necessary to achieve a career in writing. She ultimately chose to attend UAB instead of going out of state since it was the best option financially. Looking back, Smith is grateful for how her time at UAB allowed her to grow as a writer and person.

    “It ended up being a very introspective, very needed last four years,” Smith said. “I didn’t need to go out of state to find all these great things out about myself.”

    Smith is especially appreciative of the relationships she was able to foster with her professors during her time at UAB. She describes the Department of English and the African American Studies Program as a family. Smith hopes to carry that dynamic with her as she continues in academia.

    “It felt safe and like I could show up 100 percent as myself. There was no white gaze to interfere with,” she said. “It feels good knowing that people are going to be there for you and stand up for you.”

    Smith is also thankful for the confidence that her African American Studies minor and literature studies has given her. Before UAB, Smith was unfamiliar with the idea of intersectionality. Exploring that, along with critical race theory, allowed Smith to understand herself better.

    “I was able to really analyze the systemic and historical context of my existence, of Black people’s existence. It makes sense why I am the way I am and now I can work on myself,” Smith said. “That’s the best thing both departments could have ever given me.”

    New Opportunities in New York

    Since graduating from UAB, Smith has flourished professionally and academically. Currently, Smith is attending the New School of New York for her M.A. She is also on staff at the school as a tutor and as an intern for “One Story,” a literary magazine based in Brooklyn. Over the summer, Smith also announced on social media that she won a Gilman Scholarship. The scholarship will cover her travel and living costs while she studies television and film production in London for three weeks.

    “I was with my brother at the time [of receiving the scholarship], screaming at the top of my lungs. I’ve never been overseas a day in my life, owned a passport, or anything like that so I’m just really grateful,” she said.

    However, Smith acknowledges that rejection is a large but often hidden part of the application process. In the same social media caption announcing her Gilman Scholarship, Smith admitted that receiving this award came after multiple rejected scholarship and job applications.

    “There are so many different ways to get to where you want to be,” she said. “That is my healthy way of dealing with being turned down from so many opportunities and scholarships.”

    Currently, Smith is studying children’s literature at the New School and has workshopped several short stories. She hopes to publish more illustrated editions of her work in the future. She hopes that her experiences inspire others to persevere, even through rejection.

    “One person’s no will be another person’s yes. The world is limitless.”


    If I Could Buy Love in the Marketplace

    Grandma used to make tea cookies that left sweet fantasies in the air
    But the texture was brittle and bleak and rock-like as if it had been -
    apart of a canyon
    She used to say, "Do right by me and right shall follow"
    To which I respnded with irate sadness and irate confusion
    How dare she place God where they need not be?
    Between hard boiled cookies and my sweet, little fantasies
    But God was her love for all seasons and her love for all reasons
    And I, too, was fascinated with that idea of unconditional love
    From an unconditional savior like Jesus Christ
    But instead, I was warped with thoughts of buying vases of love
    In its glass cylinder as it refracted the Moon
    Christ had nothing to do with this equation
    And Grandma's tea cookes had left me toothless and heartbroken
    I, too, was to do right by myself
    Amen

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  • Five Questions with Alumni: Shelby Morris

    Shelby Morris earned her B.A. in Professional Writing with a minor in Spanish in 2016 followed by a M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition in 2018.

    Shelby Morris earned her B.A. in Professional Writing with a minor in Spanish in 2016 followed by a M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition in 2018. She is currently attending law school at Samford University, Cumberland School of Law.

    Why did you choose professional writing?

    Originally, I thought I would be going to Dental School and I had always enjoyed English in high school so I decided to major in English. It wasn’t until I took a Document Design class by Dr. Bacha that I realized I really enjoyed professional writing and decided to pursue that instead.

    I definitely get skeptical looks from people who believe you can’t get a job with an English degree, but I constantly look at the market and see how untrue that really is.

    What made you want to attend law school?

    My mother is a lawyer so it was always in the back of my mind as a career path, but it wasn’t until graduate school that I realized this was something I wanted to pursue. I didn’t really feel the part of a teacher and when volunteering at the literacy council, I realized I wanted to help others and advocate for those who couldn’t.

    What do you like best about law school so far?

    I really enjoy all my classes and how logic based everything is. Some very challenging things have been learning how to write in a legal sense. I’ve recently been able to take an intellectual property class and I really feel like this mixes the both of best worlds: creative arts and law. I feel like I’ve been able to apply principles I’ve learned in my professional writing classes to legal concepts I’m learning now.

    What advice would you give to current UAB students?

    Internships. Experience. These are some of the most important things to do before leaving college. Now is the time to find out what you really want to do and internships will really help with that. Experience in the field is necessary, especially when it comes to landing that marketing role. The English faculty is awesome and are there to help you in whatever capacity you need so don’t be afraid to reach out to them!

    What question do you want us to ask our next alumni we interview?

    Have you been able to use your degree or experiences from UAB in an unexpected way?

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  • Alumni Honored as 2020 Rising Stars

    The College of Arts and Sciences is proud that three of the five honorees are our graduates.

    The UAB National Alumni Society celebrated the accomplishments of the 2020 UAB Young Alumni Rising Star Award winners during a special virtual ceremony on Thursday, September 17, 2020. These outstanding young alumni have been deemed rising stars in their careers and are exceptional role models for the students and graduates who follow them.

    The College of Arts and Sciences is proud that three of the five honorees are our graduates.

    Dr. Ameen Barghi, B.S., Neuroscience, 2015

    Barghi was an accomplished undergraduate. He combined a major in neuroscience with a second individually designed major in translational research and worked in the lab of Dr. Edward Taub in the Department of Psychology. In 2013, he was awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a national fellowship for juniors pursuing research-oriented careers in math, the natural sciences, and engineering. A year later, he was selected as the inaugural Summer Research Scholar for the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UAB. In 2015, he was named a Rhodes Scholar, awarded to just 32 American students to pursue fully funded graduate studies at the University of Oxford, England. Barghi was in the Science and Technology Program in the Honors College, was a member of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program and the Collat School of Business Honors Program, and was on the national championship Bioethics Bowl team, housed in the Department of Philosophy.

    He graduated from Harvard Medical School and is currently doing his residency in Orthopedic Surgery at Wake Forest University.

    Barghi is also involved with mentoring UAB students who are applying to competitive national fellowships. He also takes time to mentor pre-med students considering applying for out-of-state medical schools or doing gap years internationally.


    Jessica Lopez, B.S., M.S., Biology, 2015 and 2016

    Jessica is an Associate Athletics Director for Academics at Northern Arizona University, where she is building a department to provide academic support for student athletes. The goal is to achieve the national standards of excellence in NCAA-mandated internal academic services through advising, specialized support for under-prepared students, and interactions with coaches.

    While a student at UAB, Lopez worked as a graduate assistant for the Women’s Basketball and Women’s Soccer programs. She also served as a mentor for the football team and a tutor within the athletics department. From 2012 to 2016, Jessica was a University Academic Success Center Instruction Leader and worked as a biology department representative and Blazing Start co-director.


    Erika Rucker, M.P.A., 2009

    Earlier this year, Erika began her position as 21st Century Community Learning Center Program Coordinator at Auburn University, where she works with grant-funded after-school and summer programs throughout Alabama.

    While pursuing her masters’ in public administration, Erika worked as an after-school teacher for fifth graders in the Birmingham Regional Empowerment and Development Center (BREAD), then called Bethel Community Learning Center. After receiving her MPA, she was promoted to adult education coordinator at BREAD/Bethel.

    In time, she was promoted to Project Director for BREAD, where she provided oversight for three 21st Century Community Learning Center sites, two child nutrition sites, and 12 summer food service program sites.

    She has been a part of the Alabama Community Education Association, Jefferson State College Child Development Program, and Alabama Afterschool Community Network. In 2014, she was named the Extended Day Director of the Year by the Alabama Community Education Association.


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  • Spanish alumna is chief of UAB Hospital Medicine

    Kierstin Cates Kennedy, M.D., chief of UAB Hospital Medicine and clinical associate professor, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish at UAB.

    Kierstin Cates Kennedy, M.D., chief of UAB Hospital Medicine and clinical associate professor, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish at UAB. She says speaking more than one language has been incredibly beneficial, in her ability to both connect with patients and better understand their experience. Having learned as an adult, she says she understands how difficult it is to learn a second language after so many years of speaking only one, and how much effort it takes to master all of the quirks of another language.

    “Imagine being in a country where you don’t speak the native language, or don’t speak it very well, and the discomfort that would bring,” Kennedy said. “Now imagine being sick, in the hospital and literally afraid for your life — you would want to communicate in your native language to be sure that you fully understand and that the care team fully understand you. I would imagine that our being able to speak Spanish helps bring a level of comfort to patients when they could use it most.”

    Speaking English and Spanish has made her more marketable professionally because she has a skill that many other applicants may not. It has also allowed her to participate in mission work with a mentee, in the mentee’s home country of Nicaragua. Personally, she says it has given her an appreciation for other cultures that she did not have before her foreign language studies; it has also been incredibly helpful with travel out of the country, she says.

    UAB Hospital offers dual-handset telephone consoles in patient care areas to reach interpreters, with access to 150 languages, which has been incredibly helpful in caring for patients during hospitalization. But there is still a need for robust resources in Spanish for post-discharge care and follow-up, Kennedy says.

    “We also need more case managers and social workers who speak Spanish to help with care transitions,” Kennedy said.

    Keep Reading: Need for professionals who speak a second language greater than ever

    Learn how you can add language skills to your resume with the UAB Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. 

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  • UAB National Alumni Society Top 25 Excellence in Business Awards

    The 2020 UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 event was a little different this year, but the celebration, held via Zoom on Thursday, June 25, was just as meaningful as previous award ceremonies.

    The 2020 UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 event was a little different this year, but the celebration, held via Zoom on Thursday, June 25, was just as meaningful as previous award ceremonies. Nine College of Arts and Sciences alumni were honored as members of the 2020 class—we are very proud of their achievements.

    These deserving graduates were among 25 UAB alumni recognized for their success at a company they founded, owned, or managed. The UAB National Alumni Society has ranked and verified the nominated companies based on the annual growth rate for the three most recent reporting periods.

    Companies being considered for an Excellence in Business Award must meet the following criteria:

    1. The company must be owned, managed or founded by a UAB graduate (or group of graduates) who meets one of the following:
      • Owned 50 percent or more of the company during the most recent eligible period.
      • Served on the most senior/division leadership team (chairman, CEO, president, partner, vice president, broker, etc.) during the eligible period.
    2. The company has been in operation for a minimum of three years prior to December 31, 2019.
    3. The company has verifiable revenues of at least $150,000 for its most recent 12-month reporting period.

    Congratulations to our deserving graduates!

    ADAM ALDRICH

    Aldrich is the president and co-founder of Airship, a software development firm in Birmingham. Airship deploys a wide array of technologies to service clients in 11 states and across a range of industries, including healthcare, construction, retail, insurance, real estate, non-profit, and fitness. Aldrich graduated with a B.S. in computer and information sciences in 2008.

    JOSHUA BAKER

    Baker is the owner and managing director of Baker Camp Arnold Capital Management, a premier, full-service financial advisory firm located in Hoover, Alabama, with a nationwide presence. The firm offers clients concierge-quality advisory and planning services customized for their individual needs and goals. Its approach is to centralize clients’ diverse financial strategies and life plans to provide a coordinated, efficient, and effective road map for financial security. Baker graduated with a B.A. in history in 2004.


    JOHN BURDETT

    Burdett graduated with a B.S. in computer and information sciences in 2000. Today he is the CEO of Fast Slow Motion, which offers expert Salesforce guidance for growing businesses. The company focuses on implementing Salesforce as a platform to run businesses so companies can focus on growth—not managing technology or worrying about operations. Its team has expertise across a wide range of businesses and industries.

    DAVID FORRESTALL

    Forestall founded SecurIT360 in 2009. The full-service, cybersecurity and compliance consulting firm has grown consistently year after year. With offices in Chicago, Illinois, and Birmingham, SecurIT360 has partnered with hundreds of organizations nationwide and abroad to measure, monitor, and respond to cyber risk. Forrestall graduated with a B.S. in physics in 1996.


    JOE MALUFF

    Maluff graduated with a B.S. in Psychology in 1996. Today, he is an owner of Full Moon Bar-B-Que, one of the Southeast’s most popular restaurants. Joe and his brother David bought the original restaurant and have grown the business while still maintaining the landmark restaurant’s family feel. Full Moon employs 345 people across Alabama.

    BRADY McLAUGHLIN

    McLaughlin is CEO of Trio Safety CPR+AED, a family of four life-saving brands designed to prepare the general public to save lives with AEDs, CPR, first-aid training, and bleeding control kits. They employ 13 team members in Birmingham and have nearly 40 contractors nationwide. McLaughlin graduated in 2009 with a degree in Communication Studies.


    CHRISTINA SMITH

    Smith graduated in 2009 with a Masters in Public Administration, and today she is the owner and principal of Smith Strategies Association Management, which provides resources to help member associations succeed. Smith began in 2016 with the Alabama chapter of the American College of Cardiology. Four years later, the company manages seven membership associations that collectively have more than 3,500 members and a budget of more than $7 million.

    CORY WAGGONER

    Waggoner is CEO of Higher Yields Consulting, a cannabis consulting firm located in Denver, Colorado. Higher Yields provides assistance for businesses seeking guidance and advice in this highly competitive industry. The company provides government support, compliance training, garden management, commercial facility build and design services, branding, and business development services. Waggoner graduated with a B.S. in Justice Sciences in 2009


    JAMES WU

    Wu is Co-Founder and CEO of DeepMap, which has a goal to provide the world’s best HD mapping and localization services for autonomous vehicles and smart cities. Founded in 2016, DeepMap employs about 140 people, including a growing team of experienced engineers and product visionaries. It partners with global companies including Ford, Honda, SAIC Motor, Bosch, Daimler, and Einride. Wu graduated with an M.S. in computer and information sciences in 2001 and a Ph.D. in 2003.

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  • Ellyn Grady: Alumni Service Award 2020

    This award honors alumni who have demonstrated extraordinary service to the local, national, or global community.

    Ellyn Grady: M.P.A., 1992The College of Arts and Sciences annual alumni awards highlight the diverse talents, professional accomplishments, and community service of our alumni. The Alumni Service Award honors alumni who have demonstrated extraordinary service to the local, national, or global community.

    Ellyn Grady has over thirty years of successful experience in public administration, youth development, and community education. Trained in the performing arts, special education, adult instruction, and community planning, she retired from her position as Senior Vice President of Resource Development at the United Way of Central Alabama in 2019.

    While at the United Way, Grady directed the Agency Impact Department and in 2009, was named Senior Vice President overseeing their annual campaign, which raised more than $38 million.

    Prior to 2002, Grady was the Executive Director of Girls Inc. of Central Alabama, a youth development organization that provides programs for more than 7,000 inner-city girls. Before moving to Birmingham in 1989, she managed one of the nation's largest community education programs in Fairfax County, Virginia.

    She holds a degree in drama and speech from Furman University, continuing education course work from George Mason University and the University of South Carolina, and a Master of Public Administration degree from UAB.

    Grady served as a council member of the MPA alumni and president of the United Way Executive Director’s Council. She is also a member and past board member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham, past president of The Women’s Network, and a Paul Harris Fellow.

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  • Amanda Keller: Distinguished Young Alumni Award 2020

    This award honors alumni ages 40 or younger for significant accomplishments in industry and/or their career field or for service in the College.

    Amanda Keller: B.A. Philosophy, 2009The College of Arts and Sciences annual alumni awards highlight the diverse talents, professional accomplishments, and community service of our alumni. The Distinguished Young Alumni Award honors alumni ages 40 or younger for significant accomplishments in industry and/or their career field or for service in the College. In 2020, we recognized two winners in this category: Amanda Keller and Michael Chambers II.

    Amanda Keller is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to Alabama in 2006. She is the Founding Director of the Magic City Acceptance Center (MCAC), a direct-service social supportive space for the LGBTQ community in Birmingham that opened in the spring of 2014. In her five years as director, she has been instrumental in expanding services to over 1,060 local LGBTQ and strongly allied youth, ages 13-24.

    Amanda also manages Family Matters: LGBTQ Youth Perspectives, a photography exhibition by Carolyn Sherer. Family Matters premiered at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in April 2014, and was selected as a Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery finalist in 2016. Prior to MCAC, Amanda served as Finance Director at Birmingham AIDS Outreach.

    Amanda serves on the Board of the Children’s Policy Council, and Mayor Woodfin’s LGBTQ Advisory Board. She was also an honoree of AL.com’s 2017 “Women Who Shape the State”, one of the 2018 Birmingham Business Journal’s “Women to Watch,” and a member of the Leadership Birmingham Class of 2020.

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  • Michael Chambers II: Distinguished Young Alumni Award 2020

    This award honors alumni ages 40 or younger for significant accomplishments in industry and/or their career field or for service in the College.

    Michael Chambers II: B.A. African American Studies, 2007The College of Arts and Sciences annual alumni awards highlight the diverse talents, professional accomplishments, and community service of our alumni. The Distinguished Young Alumni Award honors alumni ages 40 or younger for significant accomplishments in industry and/or their career field or for service in the College. In 2020, we recognized two winners in this category: Michael Chambers II and Amanda Keller.

    A native of Washington, D.C., Michael Chambers II has worked at the local, state, and national level, managing and developing programs across a variety of arts and humanities organizations. He has produced living history vignettes, curated panel discussions, and led cultural youth development programs. In his latest role in the Director's Office at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, he manages board relations, a national philanthropic professional network, and special projects.

    Chambers also leads a cultural consulting practice, Humanities in Public, which uses a humanities lens to foster new ways of thinking, presenting history, and connecting new audiences. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

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  • Christopher Edmonds: Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award 2020

    This is the College’s highest honor, and is awarded to prominent alumni who have achieved distinction through exceptional contributions to their professions.

    Christopher Edmonds: B.A. Political Science, 1992The College of Arts and Sciences annual alumni awards highlight the diverse talents, professional accomplishments, and community service of our alumni. The Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award is the College’s highest honor, and is awarded to prominent alumni who have achieved distinction through exceptional contributions to their professions. This award highlights the diverse talents, notable accomplishments and extraordinary service of our alumni and is reserved for those with a history of excellence in their careers.

    Christopher Edmonds has built an impressive career in the energy, financial, and commodity markets.

    Today, Edmonds is the Global Head of Clearing & Risk at Intercontinental Exchange, known as ICE. In his role, Edmonds provides executive oversight for all six Intercontinental Exchange clearinghouses. These duties include regulatory engagement for clearing-related matters, operational and risk management oversight, and clearing member education.

    Before being named to his current position, Edmonds was Senior Vice President of Financial Markets with responsibility for all client-facing activities for the fixed income, credit and commodities asset classes. Prior to that, Edmonds was President of ICE Clear Credit (formerly known as ICE Trust). Before joining the Trust in December 2009, Edmonds was the Chief Executive Officer of the International Derivatives Exchange Group.

    He has also been the Chief Development Officer for ICAP Energy, where he led the company’s external growth efforts within the energy and commodities space. He also served as ICAP Entergy’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Software Architect, as well as the Chief Executive Officer of ICAP Futures.

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  • Professional Writing alumni profile: Marie Sutton

    Alumna Marie Sutton has worn a lot of hats throughout her educational and professional career.

    Newspaper reporter. Radio show host. Author. Mother. Minister’s wife. Magazine editor. Freelance writer. UAB graduate student. Blogger. Director of Student Media. Alumna Marie Sutton has worn a lot of hats throughout her educational and professional career. Her current one? UAB’s own Director of Marketing and Communication for the Division of Student Affairs. Sutton serves as the head cheerleader for transformative student events, programs, and initiatives.

    “I get to tell the story of how students come to us all wide-eyed and new, and then slowly, but surely experience transformation into leaders, professionals, and community advocates,” said Sutton. “It’s wonderful to watch and to tell the story. I also get to mentor young people, which is a passion of mine.”

    Not only does Sutton use her professional writing skills as a voice for UAB but she has also written books on the African American experience in the south. Her first book, A. G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham: A Civil Rights Landmark, delves into the hazardous traveling conditions African Americans faced in the 1950s. The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham became a refuge for traveling African Americans entertainers, activists, and artists and the headquarters for Birmingham’s civil rights movement.

    “While working for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, I learned about the motel and its significance,” said Sutton. “I was stunned that no one had ever written a history about it. I set out to write it. I pitched it to the publisher and they loved it. They asked me to write it in eight months, which was crazy, but I did it. I turned the manuscript in just shy of my fortieth birthday!”

    Just recently, Sutton signed a contract to write a book on the historic Magic City Classic, the largest historically black college and university (HBCU) event in the country. Alabama A&M University and Alabama State University play in the annual battle that is bookended with a parade, parties, music, and food. This annual game is fast approaching its eightieth year and currently no book-length history exists.

    Sutton believes that it is her English degree and writing ability that has helped move her career forward. Indeed, she calls the degree a “stamp of approval” that shows future employers and graduate schools that you can communicate and write efficiently and effectively. As a first-generation college graduate, Sutton found that her family was unable to help her navigate the world of academia:

    “No one in my family had attended college before me. They didn’t speak the language and could not help me navigate that world or my dreams, which were foreign to them. The process of getting my degree gave me a voice – one that I have used to tell my story and the stories of others.”

    She encourages current students to take advantage of all the resources that UAB offers including access to professors, built-in communities, and regular events to inspire and connect with others.

    “While you are here, create a style of communicating that is signature and set apart,” said Sutton. “Work hard now. Create a brand that is so compelling that people will seek you out. Sleep after graduation (just kidding, but not really). And, good luck!”

    Find out more about Marie Sutton at marieasutton.com.

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