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Announcements Chris McCauley October 26, 2022

Niki Ookeditse and Joe Maluff standing in front of a large Full Moon logo mural (moon with a smiling face).Niki Ookeditse sits at a small table near the front of Full Moon Bar-B-Que on 25th Street South in Birmingham. It’s a bustling community restaurant near the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) campus that features dozens of photos on the walls, delicious food, and a welcoming atmosphere. Ookeditse, a sophomore majoring in psychology and minoring in neuroscience at UAB, is visiting the restaurant for the first time and there’s a sparkle in her eye.

“My family loves Full Moon,” says Ookeditse. “I had no idea the original store was [located] here.”

She turns and sees Joe Maluff, co-owner of Full Moon, approaching the table.

“What can I get for you?” asks Maluff. “Chicken, pork, turkey?”

Ookeditse looks over the menu and decides to order a plate of riblets. Maluff’s smile grows as he makes his way to the back of the restaurant. Within a few minutes, Maluff comes back to the table with a plate stacked high with smoked ribs and a pile of French fries. As he delivers the food, Maluff settles in across from Ookeditse and begins to learn more about her life and her time at UAB.

This is a significant moment for both of them because Ookeditse is the first recipient of the Brooke and Joe Maluff Family Endowed Scholarship in Psychology, which is also the first endowed, undergraduate scholarship in the history of the Department of Psychology. Maluff, a psychology major who graduated from UAB in 1996, established the scholarship because he loved his experience at the university and wanted to find an opportunity to give back.

“I try to give back what UAB did for me, my business, and my family,” says Maluff. “UAB is my heart and soul—it’s in my backyard. I lived right there in Southside. So, I knew nothing but UAB.”

As a restaurant owner—with 17 locations across the Southeast—Maluff values his background in psychology. He is fascinated with people and the way they think, and he views the restaurant business as an ideal field to apply that fascination. Ookeditse is also drawn to the human mind.

“Psychology is very interesting,” says Ookeditse. “I love anything that has to do with the brain and behavior. Learning, in general, is fun to me.”

She grew up in Hoover and attended John Carroll High School. While in high school, she took her first psychology class and saw a future in the discipline. She later moved to Roebuck and started considering UAB after a campus visit.

“When I saw the campus for the first time, I was surprised,” says Ookeditse. “It looked really nice—I saw the dorms, and I [thought], ‘I definitely need to go here.’”

Along with her appreciation for the campus and the dorms, Ookeditse also has a longstanding family connection to institution. Her mother worked at UAB and also studied both psychology and computer science at the university.

Maluff leans forward as Ookeditse shares her story and nods as she details her future plans.

“I’m considering Physicians Assistant (P.A.) School,” says Ookeditse. “I will just keep going until I can get my doctorate and become a psychologist or psychiatrist. Anything in the field. As long as I can do something I love, I’m content.”

The two continue to chat about UAB and finish up lunch. As the plates clear and the lunch rush begins to file into the restaurant, Ookeditse looks over at Maluff and takes a moment to share the importance of the scholarship that bears his name.

“When I got the email [about receiving the scholarship], I immediately ran downstairs and told my grandparents. They were so happy. My grandaddy said, ‘See, I knew you could do it,’” says Ookeditse.

Maluff smiles again and stands up and walks over to the counter, grabbing a bag of Half Moon Cookies. He walks back to the table, hands the cookies to Ookeditse, and lets her know that he is excited about her future and happy to meet her.

“I wish you all the luck in the world,” says Maluff.

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