Arts & Sciences Magazine

Fall 2014

  • Going Global

    Nowadays, it seems like everybody’s going global. Here in the College of Arts and Sciences, we’re doing our part to cross the continents, too, with faculty and students making their mark in more places than we can mention in a single article.
    By Cynthia Ryan

    Nowadays, it seems like everybody’s going global. Here in the College of Arts and Sciences, we’re doing our part to cross the continents, too, with faculty and students making their mark in more places than we can mention in a single article: Greece, Nigeria, Japan, Belgium, England, Spain, India, the Netherlands, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, The Republic of Korea—the list goes on.

    Whether we travel virtually or touch down on runways thousands of miles away we know that going global requires passion and purpose. In the pages that follow, we’ll introduce you to a smorgasbord of efforts in the College of Arts and Sciences to contribute to the kind of knowledge that’s shaping our world and changing it for the better.

    Hitting the Road

    Andrew Demshuk Perhaps the most conventional sense of going global involves, well, going global in the literal sense. Every year, representatives from The College set their sights on other shores. For many faculty members and graduate students, the goal is to conduct research elsewhere and then deliver their findings to stakeholders situated around the globe.

    Historian Andrew Demshuk is a good example. Demshuk was thrilled to be named a recipient of the coveted Humboldt Foundation Junior Faculty Research Fellowship for 2014-15. The fellowship supports a full year of research on the history of architecture and city planning after World War II in Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig, and Wroclaw—“three war-ravaged cities which were part of united Germany before 1945 and then reconstructed under three differing regime ideologies during the decades thereafter,” according to Demshuk.

    The project will take Demshuk to several research sites, including the national library in Leipzig and the archive of the former East German secret police. It’s an experience that’s a dream come true for this young scholar who published a book called The Lost German East with Cambridge University Press in 2012. But for Demshuk, living and working in Germany is about more than contributing to a scholarly conversation.

    “My most memorable experiences in Germany have involved a plethora of close friends and colleagues who live in beautiful places across the country,” he says. He counts among his dearest friends those who hail from “Berlin in the East, to the Ruhr region in the West, to the countryside around Schwabish Hall in the South, to Oldenburg near the Dutch border,” and says that the conversations and experiences he’s shared with friends have enabled him to “enter diverse world views that continue to enrich [his] own.”

    Demshuk advocates for more overseas interchange and scholarship in the 21st century: “Americans need to learn more languages, meet people from other cultures, exchange ideas, take in alternative methods and outlooks, immerse in the great wealth of foreign research materials, and then carry that new richness back home to share.”

    Coming Together

    Complex global issues require the meeting of many minds. Unsurprisingly, folks in the College of Arts and Sciences are part of numerous conversations about real-world problems, from global warming to human rights to health concerns that affect people just about everywhere.

    Lisa SharlachAs a case in point, Department of Government’s Lisa Sharlach considers the impact of war on women in conflict zones around the globe. Currently, she’s investigating the link between sexual violence in conflict (what’s considered the macro-level) with sexual violence in times of so-called “peace” (the micro-level). “The question I’m asking,” Sharlach says, “is whether the war ends for women when peace comes.”

    Her present project is cross-cultural, focusing on trends across a number of global contexts, while other projects have centered on happenings in particular places. Sharlach says that much of her work addresses women’s victimization in war, but she also looks at “women’s roles as ‘villains,’ or perpetrators of war crimes.” One example is her research on the involvement of ordinary Hutu women in the Rwandan genocide. She’s also engaged in an ongoing analysis of the depiction of women as strong, feminist warriors in propaganda from North Korea and Eritrea—while scratching beneath the surface to uncover a very different message that elevates male dictators.

    Sharlach strives to avoid what she calls “U.S. exceptionalism” in both her teaching and research, the notion that somehow the way we do things in the U.S. is different than anywhere else around the globe. “What happened in our Civil War is really little different than what’s currently going on in the Ukraine, for instance,” she offers as an example.

    Fortunately, Sharlach finds UAB students to be well positioned to learn about international conflict. “We have a very diverse and international population, many of whom come from or have family members living in war-torn parts of the world,” she says. And the number of students who have served or plan to serve in the military makes them innately curious to learn as much as they can about where the U.S. military might be headed next.

    Opening Our Doors

    Throughout the year, CAS hosts a number of experts, artists and notable world leaders. By bringing these global thinkers and doers to us, we connect with people from around the globe without leaving home.

    For example, the Department of Music hosted several lectures and performances by leaders in the music industry, including legendary Beatles recording engineer Ken Scott, blues guitarist Bill Sims, Jr., and world-renowned percussionist Michael Burritt.

    And the Computer Science (CIS) has had their share of visiting scholars, too. “Dr. Marjan Mernik, Professor, University of Maribor is one of many scholars whom we have hosted over the last few years,” says associate professor Dr. Purushotham Bangalore. “Dr. Mernik has taught classes and served as a member of the dissertation committees for several CIS Ph.D. students. He has also co-authored several papers with faculty and students from CIS and served as a co-project investigator on some NSF-funded grants.”

    Cathleen Cummings and Tushar Gandhi Sometimes, faculty meet people on their own professional travels, and those connections lead to a return visit to UAB by the international figure. When Art History’s Cathleen Cummings met Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, during a 2013 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in New Delhi, India, she quickly realized how valuable his perspective might be to folks in Birmingham—especially during the city’s celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement. Tushar spent several days with Cummings’ group, taking them to Birla House, where his great-grandfather was assassinated, and to Raj Ghat, where Gandhiji was cremated and where his ashes are interred.

    “Over lunch one day we talked about what was going on in Birmingham and about Gandhian influences on the Civil Rights Movement,” Cummings says. “Tushar shared a couple of interesting anecdotes about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to India that I had never heard and I began thinking how interesting it would be if he could share them with the community.”

    With the collaboration of many in the College, Tushar’s visit was arranged in early May 2014. During his weeklong visit, Tushar participated in a symposium focusing on Gandhian paths to global progress and gave a public lecture at UAB. He also made presentations at the Rotary Club in Birmingham, visited several local grade schools to engage with area youth, spoke to an audience at Miles College, and recorded an extensive audio piece for the audio archive at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

    In addition to bringing an important figure to our community, Cummings’ invitation resulted in something far more lasting. “His visit helped to keep the momentum going in terms of the commemoration and recognition of Birmingham’s Civil Rights history,” Cummings offered. “Tushar’s perspective helped to renew our focus on important issues into 2014 and served as a kind of bridge between the 2013 events and the Dalai Lama’s upcoming visit in October.”

    Providing a Voice

    Globalization is often about offering perspectives other than the one on the ground. For many faculty, perspective-sharing happens in a unique ways.

    Kieran Quinlin There are those instances when our faculty and students share a global perspective on their particular field of study with folks in Birmingham or other parts of Alabama. Some examples from history include John Van Sant’s presentation on “Protocol in Practice Seminar: Japan” at the Birmingham International Center and Walter Ward’s talks about the Middle East at Avondale Library, several events on UAB’s campus, and for a story about the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza for NBC 13.

    Many times, faculty offer perspectives on the ideas being presented by colleagues around the world. They serve as reviewers for international journals, for example, mathematics’ Mubenga Nkashama’s appointment as an editorial board member for the International Journal of Evolution Equations and African Diaspora Journal of Mathematics, and Marshall Abrams’ position as associate editor of Frontiers in Evolutionary and Populations Genetics. Others occupy important roles in international organizations, like William Cockerham’s appointment to president of the research committee on health sociology for the International Sociological Association, and Akhlaque Haque’s service on the boards of the Bangladesh Development Initiative as well as the Section on Effective Administration of the Middle East for the American Society for Public Administration.

    Then there are individuals like Glenn Feldman, who brings a sense of Birmingham’s history to scholars and media representatives across the globe. Writing about history in the American South, especially during the era of Civil Rights, Feldman has been interviewed about his work for outlets in Canada, England, Scotland, and The Netherlands.

    And English professor Kieran Quinlan’s essay, “Kirwan Street, In Memory,” published in New Hibernia Review, a multidisciplinary journal of Irish studies from the University of St. Thomas, was named one of the Best American Essays in 2013 alongside prose by international literary figures including Jhumpa Lahiri. The essay depicts Quinlan’s experiences growing up on a street situated between a convent and an asylum in Dublin, and his decision to join (and then leave) the Trappist monastery of Mount Melleray. His work offers a commentary on the significance of place and identity that has proven to be relatable to people everywhere.

    Minabere Ibelema When readers of Nigeria’s popular newspaper The Punch open the Sunday edition, they are likely to discover commentary by UAB communications professor Minabere Ibelema. A native of Nigeria, Ibelema had steadily contributed essays to both U.S. and Nigerian papers and magazines when a friend suggested that he try landing a regular column in The Punch, which he did in 2008.

    Over the years, Ibelema has tackled a number of general topics: serendipity and success, the value of the scientific method (in contrast with superstition) in everyday life, risk-taking in child-rearing, and “even the worn topic of adversity and character building,” he says. While issues related to life and society were the focus of many of his early columns, Ibelema admits that he found himself writing about politics more than he initially intended given Nigeria’s “perennial political tension” and a host of world crises affecting the country. The two thrusts of his political columns tend to be “bridging the partisan divide in Nigeria and interpreting Nigerian affairs so that readers see the global dimension” to what they are experiencing.

    Several of Ibelema’s columns have struck a chord with readers. One example was a piece in which he was critical of Nigeria’s now-late literary icon, Chinua Achebe. “His retrospective on the Nigerian civil war, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, set off considerable controversy because of some very divisive and misleading claims,” Ibelema explains. “Though I cut my teeth on literature reading his novels, I weighed in decidedly against Achebe, pointing out historical evidence against his claims.” Ibelema received a good amount of feedback on the column, both supportive and critical, and ended up penning a follow-up to further elaborate on his position.

    Ibelema says that “one of the downsides of living abroad is the feeling that one is not contributing to the civic and political discourse of one’s native country.” Fortunately, writing the column in The Punch has helped to fill this gap—as pointed out to Ibelema by some post-graduate Nigerian students who came to UAB already familiar with Ibelema’s work in their home country.

    Thinking Big

    At the end of the day, everything we do in the name of globalization has a larger purpose—to make a difference in as many places in the world as possible and to encourage the next generation of researchers, teachers, and students to keep their eyes on the world.

    Peggy Biga with some of her students Peggy Biga in Biology is one such case. Working with two researchers from France, Biga is studying the genetic factors that allow for some animals to continually add new muscle fibers throughout their lives, while others (like humans) cannot. To find answers, this international team is looking to what might seem an unlikely source: fish.

    In her lab at UAB, Biga juxtaposes two species of fish that exhibit opposing growth potential to help identify novel targets for growth regulation. During the past year and a half, Biga has collaborated with Jean-Charles Gabillard from the Institut de la Recherche Agronomique, INRA, Rennes, France; and Iban Seiliez from the Institut de la Recherche Agronomique, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, France and their findings have resulted in a number of research articles. In addition to bringing expertise in particular aspects of muscle growth to their investigative work, both Gabillard and Seiliez are also experts in fish muscle biology.

    “For the first time,” Biga says, “we have characterized an epigenetic profile of myogenesis (muscle growth) in vertebrates with no growth plateau growth potential.” Turning their attention to nutrition, the researchers are examining the role specific nutrients play on local muscle regulation through protein:DNA interactions. Their work has implications for a number of fields, including basic biology, agriculture and medicine, and Biga credits the international collaboration she shares with Gabillard and Seiliez for the progress her lab has made in addressing several complicated questions about organismal growth.

    Graduate students working in Biga’s lab, as well as those in her collaborators’ institutions, are also benefiting from the research being conducted. Ph.D. student Jacob M. Froehlich had the opportunity to travel to France for two months to undergo one-on-one training in muscle biology research with Biga’s collaborators, and Biga says there are plans to send others to France in the future. Collaborators’ frequent visits to one another’s labs also expose UAB students to the expertise, and perspectives, of international scientists.

    Biga and many others in the College of Arts and Sciences are at the forefront of globalization efforts, helping their students, their peers, and the larger community reap the benefits of their far-reaching relationships and partnerships with an eye to establishing many more in the future.

    Study Away

    As UAB and its students embrace a more globalized world, the number of College students pursuing study away opportunities is on the rise. In 2013, 509 UAB students studied away.

    UAB students interested in Study Away programs have four options. The first is an exchange program. UAB partners with 10 programs in 10 countries to basically swap a UAB student for a student from one of the partner schools for a semester. This program allows UAB students to pay UAB tuition and fees while having an abroad learning experience. UAB also partners with programs in the United States, Canada and the U.S. Territories to do similar exchanges, although these are domestic in nature. A business major can pay his or her in-state UAB tuition while studying in Calgary, if he or she so desires. Students who can’t find a fit in one of the exchange programs can arrange to study abroad through a third party provider. While this third option is often more expensive, the choices for what and where to study abroad are limitless. Students choose from programs and schools all across the globe.

    The fourth option for students interested in study away programs is the increasingly-popular faculty-led study away. Many UAB professors embrace the opportunity to combine classroom learning with hands-on experience in a foreign country. Often offered on a shorter-term basis, these faculty-led study away programs can be an ideal match for students with work or family commitments that prevent leaving town for an entire semester. For example, a sustainability class explored alternative energy sources in a classroom on campus before heading to the Netherlands and Belgium for a look at wind farms and bike factories in places where earth-friendly practices are world-renowned.

    Dr. Brian Johnson, Director of the Office for Study Away, believes these programs are invaluable to students as they enter an ever-changing world and competitive job market. “Study Away prepares students to succeed in the globalized world,” he says.

    “Students in all fields—from the humanities to the hard sciences—can benefit from spending time in a different culture. Study Away demonstrates cultural competency and that a student can survive independently,” Johnson says. “It shows you can thrive in an environment you’re not completely used to.”

  • Pull Up a Chair

    The College’s four newest departmental leaders discuss their jobs, our campus culture, and the opportunities they see at UAB.

    The College’s four newest departmental leaders discuss their jobs, our campus culture, and the opportunities they see at UAB.

    Photos by Nik Layman

    Dr. David Pollio, Dr. Steve Austad, Dr. Douglas Fry, and Prof. Lauren Lake.While Prof. Lauren Lake, Dr. Steve Austad, Dr. Douglas Fry, and Dr. David Pollio all work in very different fields, they share a common role in the College of Arts and Sciences as the newest chairs of their respective departments. We asked the four of them to sit down and discuss their careers, their decision to come to UAB, and the future they envision.

    Julie Keith: Thank you all for being willing to take some time out of your busy schedules to talk. Let’s just start with what got you here. What about UAB appealed to you, and why did you decide to come here to lead your department?

    Steve Austad: Well, to be honest with you, I had a competing offer of a different nature at the same time I had the opportunity to come here to UAB. The appeal to me was that at UAB I saw the potential to grow and improve something. The prospect of playing a role in that was very exciting to me.

    Lauren Lake: Same exact reason.

    David Pollio: In conversations I’ve had, I think a lot of us are really caught up in the vision of where the College is going. I’ve never been in a department in a large college before. I am intrigued by the vision of really working in all of these different disciplines.

    LL: I would add that I was drawn to the urban context of an art school. The arts and culture in Birmingham really complement that. I’m coming from a College of Fine Arts into a College of Arts and Sciences—it’s refreshing to have colleagues across disciplines.

    SA: I love that. I missed that. Before I came here I was at a standalone medical institution, and I missed having scholarship. At a medical institution, it’s all about research and grant dollars. I love having people from history, anthropology, and social work to talk to. It enriches my life.

    DP: My head spins at times at how we could do things that are really interesting and innovative. This kind of opportunity is rare in academia. I also think what made this a place I wanted to come to is the leadership. I think we have to mention the leadership.

    [Everyone agrees.]

    DP: One of the things that has been frustrating to me over time is leadership that accepts the status quo, and from what I’m hearing we all got the same message: Come in, grow, be creative, be innovative. I think a culture of innovation has to be supported by administration that is willing to take some risks and make some statements. I think if you listen, all four of us have said something about not doing business as usual. The recruitment has shown that they are looking for people who are doing something different.

    Doug Fry: And who will work together doing it.

    LL: I think the Dean sees not only the big picture but the road ahead, and he’s been very supportive and strategic in the moves he’s made. And there’s an expectation that you too will be very supportive and strategic. It’s great when you can make an impact on a community or a city with your work. There’s an expectation and a desire for everyone to make this place something special. It’s really about getting on the ground, doing the hard work, getting your infrastructures in line (and there is a lot of support for that), so you can do your work.

    Doug FryDF: It was a lot of work to set up my program in Finland. Even with the support of the Finnish President, who was also a former Nobel Laureate in Peace, the administration still said no. I get a totally different feeling here at UAB. Even after a couple of months I feel so much support, particularly from Dean Palazzo.

    SA: He’s the reason I’m here. I wouldn’t be here without him.

    DP: Absolutely.

    JK: How do you see the College integrating with the medical side of campus? There’s this natural dichotomy that we have. Do you see that being a challenge? Or an opportunity?

    SA: I spend more of my time on the medical end of campus than on this end, because I think the dichotomy is an artificial one. And I think there are people on the medical side who are interested in History and Art. I think they have felt as isolated from us as we have from them. I think one of the exciting things is the merging of these two sides, on a personal level. I have to say I jumped right into this and I’m teaching in the fall one of these interdisciplinary honors courses. [Looks to Doug.] If you had been here you’d have been in on this one, I’m sure..It’s called War and Peace: Conflict and Cooperation.

    Doug Fry: Yes, Mike [Sloane] asked me to give a couple of lectures.

    SA: Good! Suddenly I have the opportunity to teach a class that has a psychologist, someone from the Department of Government, an English professor, someone from Justice Sciences…me. That’s what universities are all about. I just love it.

    DP: It’s kind of funny being the only professional discipline in the College. Social Work is unique. But it also means we closely connect to Public Health and Medicine. We connect to the VA. Moving down the road from Tuscaloosa, which doesn’t have all of this richness, has been one of the most exciting things. I think it’s an incredibly rich set of opportunities.

    DF: One of the things that has appealed to me is the new Institute for Human Rights starting up (see page 10). People from various fields will participate in different ways and will be working together. That’s also, jumping back to your previous question, that’s one thing that really appealed to me about coming to UAB. I already saw in the strategic plan that there was mention of an Institute for Human Rights as well as what I saw as a lot of sensible, right-thinking values, which appealed to me coming out of a peace program.

    Lauren LakeLL: I agree. When Kay [Dr. Kathryn Morgan] presented [at the chair’s leadership retreat] on the African American Studies Program, it was easy to see how the Department of Art and Art History could fit into many new programs. Like Engineering and CIS wanting to work with us on 3D modeling and fabrication laboratories. For us, art doesn’t exist without context, so our students and faculty should be thriving in this environment.

    JK:How does this trickle down to students? What are the ways you can see students benefiting in visible ways from these interdisciplinary projects in the next year or so?

    SA: We’re going to review our curriculum, and one of the things we’re going to make sure is that students aren’t so overloaded with biology and science questions that they don’t have the opportunity to graduate with a more well-rounded education. That would be catastrophic, to have your students graduate without taking advantage of all these opportunities. [Looks at Lauren.] I mean, I was delighted to discover that we shared a student in Art and Biology last year. That was wonderful to see.

    LL: Yes. We’re also reviewing our curriculum. Through our visiting artists and scholars, through exhibitions and programs collaborating through AEIVA galleries we’re trying to create more opportunities for students. It never was disconnected, it always has been connected, but now through the framework of the college leadership we’re able to contextualize it for everyone else. For us there is no divide.

    DP: We’re looking at what happens to students who are in online versus physical classrooms, trying to look at the concept of community. One of the challenges in the immediate future, as we look online and move out of the traditional academy, is how do we not lose that experience where teachers and students got together and talked and learned from each other. How do we keep education about all of the other things in the midst of this move to individualized online instruction? What makes a university, including a fine public one like this one, a viable part of the future of education?

    LL: I don’t want to leave out that there is a service component to what we do, just naturally. Across departments many of our faculty and students are involved in transforming this community and others across the world, really as just doing what we do. I think that’s really exciting and I think it is a great place to situate that kind of work.

    SA: That makes me very proud to be here, to see that kind of thing going on.

    JK:Is that unique in your experience?

    SA: Yes. Well, it’s kind of a unique situation where you have a decent-sized city with an urban campus and a real goal of the university to integrate with the community. Again, the opportunities here are just unbelievable.

    JK:What are some of the challenges you see?

    LL: People don’t know how really great UAB is.

    David PollioDP: It’s funny, in Medicine and Public Health, going from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, everyone said, “Oh my God, that’s a huge step forward, you’re going to a national- or international-level institution.”

    DF: I think it’s going to be a challenge to take what are four fields in anthropology: archaeology, cultural anthropology, biological anthropology and linguistic anthropology, and transform that to some degree to a specialized focus along these areas of peace and conflict studies. It’s an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. How do we make that transition?

    LL: It’s just within the department. If I have a student who is interested in peace studies and visual arts then those connections are easy for the students in a college like this, and those are the students who we should be attracting and who we can foster while they are here.

    JK:How do you translate all of this to potential students? How do you explain all of this opportunity and interconnectivity to a high school student?

    LL: No one’s told the story well yet.

    DP: It’s an integrated story. People will come for it. [Turns to Doug.] They’ll come for peace studies, I know I would.

    LL: Yes.

    DP: It’s telling the story of the dynamic College.

    LL: It’s a big challenge, nationally and internationally. What is higher ed? I think that’s probably part of your question. The College has this amazing opportunity to draw students who will be the game changers.

    DP: It’s a funny conflict. We need to attract the talented students but we need to also attract students we would not normally look at. It’s looking at the people who will become the best and the brightest.

    Steven AustadSA: You can do this with your admissions policy. But I also think that the challenge once you do that is that you may admit people who discover it’s not the right place for them. You’re going to have to deal with that.

    DP: A major challenge for an institution in a city and state that has so much poverty and disparity is how to use education and admission as a portal to growing the community. This is the intervention that will make a difference.

    SA: It’s one of the things that all of the departments do, to go out in the community and talk to K-12 classes and make it reasonable for kids to think, “I can really do this.” That’s what I like about all the community outreach. It’s an attitude. Nobody’s told me specifically your department needs to do this. Everyone in my department is already doing it.

    LL: It’s different here, more grassroots. That applies to collaboration here, too. It’s just naturally occurring.

    SA: It’s part of the ethos.

  • Horse Power

    Sometimes, inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of places.

    Joy O’Neal turned a love of horses into a equine-therapy organization called The Red Barn.

    Photos courtesy of The Red Barn

    Sometimes, inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of places.

    Joy O'Neal at the barn with Red Flight.That was certainly the case for Joy O’Neal, a 1989 graduate in History from the College of Arts and Sciences, who found herself touring a small horse farm in Leeds, Alabama, back in 1999. O’Neal, who had five children in her blended family with husband Emmet, was looking for something for the his-and-hers brood to do together, and asked her friend and longtime horsewoman Anita Cowart to offer her advice on the land.

    O’Neal knew that Cowart had lost her daughter, Love, in a tragic accident back in the 1960s. She even knew the story of how Cowart had found a quiet spot by the Little Cahaba River to seek guidance on how to move forward after the death of her child. But it wasn’t until the two women walked the property that O’Neal realized that this farm was exactly where Cowart had sought solace so many years before. “When she got here, she said, ‘This is it!’ O’Neal recalls. “So I just turned to Emmet and said, ‘We’ve got to get it.’”

    The O’Neals used the farm for many years until their children grew up and left for college. In 2009, O’Neal wondered what would come next for her—and for the land. “I thought, ‘What about me? What am I going to do with my life? I’m not a room mother anymore, so what can I do?’” she says.

    A return to the College of Arts and Sciences for an M.P.A. in non-profit management helped establish the answer to those questions. O’Neal wanted to share her love for the property, for children, and for Mrs. Cowart with an equine-therapy organization dedicated to supporting children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities, as well as those who were at-risk, disadvantaged, or with special circumstances. She founded The Red Barn in 2012, and today it has 14 horses and a staff of therapists, counselors, and stable hands who see roughly 100 children each week. O’Neal also has dozens of volunteers who help her run the programs and camps that support her vulnerable clients.

    Volunteers with Red Barn clients.Through her four programs, Saddle Up (therapeutic riding lessons for children with disabilities or from special circumstances), Horse Play (inclusive educational activities for children with or without disabilities), Spirit of Hope (counseling and relationship support), and Take the Reins (serving active or inactive military personnel), O’Neal has found a way to integrate horses and people in ways that benefit every creature involved. “We see all kinds of kids. Kids who have cognitive challenges, kids who were abused, kids with eating disorders, kids whose parents are dying or suffering from addictions. These are things you can’t necessarily see from the outside. And we have horses who need to be desensitized or rehabilitated, too. It allows us to say to the kids, ‘We all have something wrong with us,’” she explains.

    O’Neal says her UAB connections have served her well as she’s grown her organization. From the flexibility of the class schedule when she was an undergraduate with a full-time job to the chance to go back for a graduate degree after she raised her own children, UAB fit her needs at each stage of her life. And now she is benefitting from occupational therapy students from the School of Health Professions, who designed the sensory trails that the children ride throughout the property. “I love UAB,” she says. “We have so many connections with the university, which I think is wonderful, because this is really a practical application of a UAB education. For our students and interns, it lets them see how their skills can really be used.”

    Filled with ideas on how to further expand The Red Barn, O’Neal just marvels at her journey. “Never in a million years did I think I would be doing this,” she laughs. “I never even touched a horse until I was 30. God has an amazing sense of humor.”

  • General Wisdom

    Distinguished Alumni Award winner Major General (Ret.) Lee Price says the roots of her successful military career lie in her UAB education.

    Distinguished Alumni Award winner Major General (Ret.) Lee Price says the roots of her successful military career lie in her UAB education.

    Photo by Ty Harris


    The General’s Advice to Students

    1. Where do you want to be in one year, three years or five years? To me, everyone has to have a one-, three-, and five-year plan. Officers would sometimes come up to me and complain that they didn’t get the training they needed for something, and I would say, “Why?” There was no context for their complaint. But if it’s building to something—if you can show me where you want to be—then I can help you.

    2. Get out the door right. When you take that first job, everything is reset. You have one reputation and it’s yours to manage. You need to decide what kind of person you want to be. What are you going to do in your adult life? What is that first one-year goal? Are you just chasing money?

    3. Set your moral compass. Think about your ethics, your values. What do you believe in?

    4. What’s your passion? Your work doesn’t have to be your passion. You can be passionate about the environment, about working at a shelter, volunteering your time at a rehab hospital, but find something you’re passionate about that you can give to.

    5. Build relationships. My one big takeaway from the military is it’s all about relationships. People who decide, ‘I didn’t like the way they did that, so I’m not going to do such and such.’ I’m like, oh my gosh, life is so short! People aren’t disposable.

    6. Don’t be thin-skinned. If somebody gives you correction, the one thing you want to do is take one step closer and ask them for details. “Is that the only thing? Is there something else you need to know?” Don’t be offended!
    When Lee Price graduated from Birmingham’s Shades Valley High School in 1971, she wasn’t sure where she wanted to go to college. “I had a lot of friends who were going to the University of Alabama,” she says. “I was accepted to Alabama and the University of West Georgia, but the friends I was going to go with—those plans fell apart. So I just said, ‘I think I’ll go to UAB.’”

    Lee Price In hindsight, that casually made decision turned out to be fundamental to Price’s success in the Army. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to college, to be honest,” Price admits. “And if you pull my transcripts, my first two years will show that. But during the last two years I worked full-time, and I did a lot better because I was focused. I graduated in Criminal Justice/Corrections, and I’ll tell you that having that background has been so important, along with my Sociology classes and being at a diverse university. Those things set me up for success.”

    A scholarship Price won while she was a student also made a big impact on her life. “I was taking German just for fun, and the professor encouraged me to apply for a scholarship from Austria, so I went to Vienna in 1974 for a six-week session,” she recalls. [“President] Nixon resigned when I was over there, the Greeks and Turks were having a little stir and you had international students from both of those countries. Suddenly you’re confronted with these real-world situations, and you end up being an unintentional ambassador for your country. It was very eye-opening for me. It got me more interested in doing something bigger than myself.” As an undergraduate, Price had plans to become a Birmingham city police officer, but she didn’t pass the vision exam. In time, she rethought her plans and decided to enlist in the Army, but found herself caught between the previous system for female enlistment and the not-yet co-educational academies.

    “I graduated in ‘75, and the military academies opened up in ‘76, so I actually had to go into the Army as enlisted because there wasn’t a commissioning source—UAB had no ROTC,” Price recalls. “They had a program at Fort McClellan in Anniston called Direct Commission and that was the way women used to [become officers], but they were standing that down to integrate the academies, so I kind of got caught between the programs. So I went into the Alabama National Guard, and I was there for six years, both as enlisted and commissioned. I went into active duty in October of 1981.”

    She began her full-time Army career as a communications officer, then filled myriad roles, including several years in the acquisition corps. At age 28, she had 269 direct reports. By the end of her career as a two-star general, she oversaw almost 2,000 people. With so few women in leadership roles in the military, Price was a trailblazer. In fact, she’s only the 21st woman in the Army to make the two-star rank.

    Looking back, Price says that while she wasn’t able to go to West Point, she doesn’t regret her UAB experience in the least. “Nothing against those folks who go to the academies, but they are the elite,” she says. “They are surrounded by people just like themselves: the best scholar-athletes, the best civil servants. And I’ve told them when I speak to those groups as they graduate, ‘You think you’ve learned about teamwork, but your [future] team doesn’t look like this team. It’s not a bunch of intellectual, physically fit folks dedicated to do their best everyday.’ That’s really what the military does really well. You reap so many rewards of seeing people who didn’t have that background…that all of a sudden their viewpoint is so big and they realize they can contribute. You rally around the mission.”

    As for her many postings, Price says the Army sent her to a few places she didn’t want to go, “but I loved every place I went, I really did,” she says. “I loved some more than others, but the experiences were always different. I think it’s a real lesson for people who say, ‘Well, I didn’t get what I want, so I’m just going to be angry.’ It’s like, you know, just go make lemonade.”

    As part of her UAB Distinguished Alumni recognition, the UAB National Honor Society will award $4,000 to the Department of Justice Sciences, home to the criminal justice major that Major General Price received, to fund a scholarship for a student selected by the department.

  • Anchor Away

    Communication Studies alumna Laura Britt is front and center on the 120 Sports network.

    Communication Studies alumna Laura Britt is front and center on the 120 Sports network.

    Photos courtesy of Laura Britt

    Laura BrittIn the world of year-round sports and 24/7 social media commentary, Laura Britt, UAB alum and new member of the online network 120 Sports, sees opportunity.

    120 Sports content partners include equity investor Time Inc. (owner of Sports Illustrated) as well as the NHL, NBA,, NASCAR, the PGA TOUR and leading collegiate conferences via Campus Insiders. The concept for the network—delivering news and commentary in real time alongside legions of fans who are themselves sharing news and commentary—fits Britt’s personality and work style perfectly. “My title is ‘update reporter,’ and I’m on at the top and half-hour of every hour from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” Britt says. “Most broadcast jobs are no more than two hours on the air, but this is eight hours of live video programming. It’s long hours, but it’s such an exciting place to be. I want people to feel like this network is really for them, and we are putting in the time to make that happen.”

    Britt relies on the team in the network’s “social den” who monitor social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to see what people are talking about online. “The latest thing Johnny Manziel is doing, the Donald Sterling developments, anything,” she says. “And then we go on the air and discuss it with our analysts.” Each story is only covered for two minutes—or 120 seconds—hence the network’s name. Since the video programming is available as a free native application for mobile and tablet devices as well as a web experience at, additional information on the subject Laura is covering can be linked, allowing viewers to access more information immediately, rather than have to listen to a longer segment on a traditional television network. The 120 Sports video user experience is complemented by a series of patented, interactive data cards that also allow real-time integration of sponsor messaging . “They appear at the bottom of the viewer’s device,“ Britt says. “We have a second team that is doing the research for that data and they post it the form of stats, videos, that kind of thing. So every two minutes, they have to have a new set of data cards ready to go with the story we’re talking about on the air. You can imagine how hectic it is if we have a breaking story come in.”

    It’s a fluid way of covering a fluid subject, and it takes a lot of preparation, Britt admits. “It’s a lot to know,” she says. “Every day you’re learning something—multiple things. I love my job, because I’m passionate about things that people are passionate about. Sports make people happy. They love it. It’s what they do in their off time. That’s a great job to have.”

    The Newsroom

    While Britt didn’t consider sports reporting as a career when she was in college, it became an option almost immediately after she graduated. She received her B.A. in Communication Studies with a concentration in Mass Communication-Broadcasting, and minored in Communication Management and Spanish. And as a student, she interned at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham and the Fox News Channel in New York City. When she finished school, Britt landed a job as a sports reporter at WDBD Fox 40, the Fox affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi. Although her role was somewhat unusual since not many women worked in sports journalism, Britt threw herself into the job, working in the field (shooting, producing, editing and writing her own spots), filling in as anchor, and hosting a 30-minute high school football show once a week.

    "Laura was a unique blend of intelligence and personality that comes across great on camera. — Dr. Larry Powell, Communication Studies
    In time, she found herself on the station’s morning show—again, launching herself into a challenging situation with confidence and passion. “When my boss announced that they were going to start the morning show, I just asked him if I could be a part of it,” she recalls. “Some days, I would be on in the morning, go home and sleep, then come back at night to cover sports. It was a lot of work, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.”

    At ABC 33/40 and Fox 40, Britt says she learned the fundamentals of how a local affiliate station works. “Local stations and national networks are similar in a lot of ways,” she says. “Until I worked there, I didn’t really know how they operated. The morning meetings, how the stories are identified, how the reporters work in the field, all the basics.”

    But it was her internship at Fox News that really opened her eyes to the possibilities. “I went there the summer just before I graduated in December,” she says. “Fox News Channel really made me dream bigger. I realized how many different opportunities were out there. Producers noticed my hard work as an intern and gave me the chance to host an online show. That was a big moment for me. Being around people at that level made me want to go for it.”

    Good Advice

    Laura and Blaze at the 2008 homecoming game, at which Laura was recognized as a finalist for Ms. UAB.Yet Britt is quick to say that the foundation for all of her opportunities was laid at UAB, thanks in no small part to the guidance she got from one of the advisors. “I was a General Studies major for as long as you possibly could be,” she laughs. “I remember sitting in the advisor’s office holding a sheet of paper with all of the majors—I literally still have it to this day and I’m looking at it right now—we talked through all of the choices and eliminated what didn’t fit. There are Xs over what we rejected and a big circle around Communication Studies.”

    Britt notes that her instructors and professors, namely Chris Pollone, Dr. Larry Powell and Dr. Jean Bodon, were also big influences. “Chris Pollone taught Newswriting for Broadcasting as an adjunct—he was working for NBC 13 in Birmingham—and I learned skills in his class that I still use to this day,” she says. “Dr. Bodon’s Fundamentals of Broadcasting class was also influential.”

    Powell says, “Laura was a great student and is also a great person. She was a unique blend of intelligence and personality that comes across great on camera. Add to that her work ethic and ambition, and it’s no wonder she’s been as successful as she has. I’m very proud of her.” Pollone shares similar sentiments about his former student. “I’m not surprised by anything Laura does,” Pollone says. “Fox News had a campus affiliate program when Laura was at UAB, and they chose two students on college campuses across the country to go out with a microphone and camera and file their own stories that would appear on a national college website. They gave Laura a Fox News mike flag and a camera and off she went. I thought it was impressive for Laura to do something like that on her own. Truth be told, she has tremendous natural ability—some have to work at it. But she was producing things then, even before taking some basic courses, that were extremely good.”

    Pollone says he suspects that it won’t be long before Britt makes another major career leap. “There are a million things that Laura can do,” he says. “From the moment she walked in the door [of my class] until this day, I thought, ‘This girl has star written all over her.’ I hope that she always gets to exercise what she wants to do. I really think she could be a [broadcast]personality, and not everyone has that.”

    An opportunity to build, from scratch, the BlazerTV channel was also a big factor in Britt’s future career. “My graduating class created that,” she says. “Unlike a lot of universities that had stations that were only available to upperclassmen, UAB didn’t have a station, and that really benefitted us. It didn’t exist, so we just did it ourselves, under the direction of Dr. Jean Bodon in Television Production I and II. I learned skills on that project that I still use: I wrote stories, I worked behind the camera, I used the prompter, I was a reporter. Every job in the business—we did it.”

    Bleeding Green and Gold

    As for why she chose UAB, Britt notes that it was almost pre-determined. “UAB is in my blood,” she says. “My dad received a M.S. in Head and Neck Anatomy, finished Dental School and did a periodontal residency all at UAB. My mom has a M.S.N. and Ph.D. from the School of Nursing and is currently on their faculty. My brother has a Master’s degree in Computer Science and will soon complete a Ph.D. from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, and my sister took two years of classes at UAB before going to Wyoming to work.”

    Britt’s future seems bright, but she’s trying to savor each chapter. “I’m just enjoying the moment,” she says. “I’m learning a lot. Michael Kim worked for ESPN for almost 20 years. And Dave Ross, he was so influential in the DC market for 18 years. They are incredibly talented and knowledgeable. Getting to work with people like that, being able to have people like that as mentors—it’s such an amazing opportunity and I love learning from them.”

    “I don’t want to be ‘the next’ someone else. I just want to be the best version of myself.” she says. “I want to keep every door open.”

  • Hellos, Goodbyes, and In Memoriam

    We welcome these newest members of the College family.

    Saying Hello

    We welcome these newest members of the College family.

    Lisa Tamiris BeckerLisa Tamiris Becker has joined the College of Arts and Sciences as the founding Director of the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA).

    Becker comes to UAB from the University of New Mexico (UNM), where she was the director of the university’s art museum and was also an associate professor. Before joining UNM, Lisa served as the director of the CU Art Museum at the University of Colorado, Boulder, a position she held for more than 10 years.

    Becker received her B.A. (magna cum laude) from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Mathematics and Art History. She completed her M.F.A. in Studio Art and Art Theory from the University of Texas at Austin in 1995, with a focus on experimental sculpture, new media, and installation.

    Becker’s scholarship focuses on the intersection of contemporary art, multimedia, and politics in many different cultures, including Korean, Latin American, Scandinavian, Arab, Greek, Jewish, Tibetan, and more. She has published essays in numerous catalogues and edited volumes regularly since 1998.

    In her new role, she will expand AEIVA’s programming and extend the Institute’s influence regionally, nationally, and internationally.

    Dr. Murali VenugopalanDr. Murali Venugopalan has been named Director of the English Language Institute, a professional resource for English language learning and cross-cultural training in the Birmingham metropolitan area.

    Dr. Venugopalan received his B.A. from the University of Illinois, Urbana in Economics and International Relations/Political Science. He completed an M.S. in International Relations from Illinois State University and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in ESL from The University of Kansas. He has been an ESL instructor since 1995, when he taught at the Seojin Language Institute in Seoul, South Korea.

    Dr. Venugopalan was most recently at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he served as the Director of the English Language Program and Assistant Professor in the university’s Global Education Office. His focus areas are assessment, intensive English program development, comparative global education, and U.S. education policy.

    Dr. Venugopalan is a member of The American International Education Association, The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation, and TESOL. His first novel, iKill, was published in November of last year to critical acclaim.

    Saying Goodbye

    We are grateful for the service of these remarkable individuals.

    Three faculty members leave a tremendous impact both in scholarship and as teachers over their long tenures at the university.

    Dr. Raymond Mohl, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of History, received his B.A. from Hamilton College, an M.A. from Yale University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from New York University. After 26 years at Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Mohl came to UAB in 1996.

    His scholarship focused on urban history, specifically poverty, social welfare, race and civil rights. While at UAB, he published numerous articles and taught several courses on the Latino migration to Alabama and the American South. Dr. Mohl testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and contributed to recent efforts to redesign the Interstate 20/59 expressway through downtown Birmingham.

    Department of History Chair Dr. Colin Davis says, “The retirement of Ray Mohl will leave a big hole in the department. Distinguished Professor Mohl has been a mentor to many and his incredible work ethic has been a wonder to witness. His door has always been open for students and young faculty alike.”

    The Department of History is also saying goodbye to Dr. Robert Corley, who has been at UAB since 1993. Dr. Corley received his B.A. from Birmingham-Southern College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. For nine years, he was the Regional Director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. At UAB, he directed the Center for Urban Affairs for 14 years, then served as the founding director of the Global and Community Honors Program from 2007 to 2011. Dr. Corley served two terms on the Birmingham Board of Education. He was a member of the task force that created the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) and was a founding member of the BCRI Board of Directors and its Executive Committee. He has been on the Leadership Birmingham Steering Committee since 1987 and remains a board member today. A board member for the Cahaba River Society since 2004, he was president of the organization from 2004-2010.

    Dr. Corley received the Thomas Jefferson Award from the Jefferson County Historical Commission (1995); the Brotherhood-Sisterhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1998); and the Distinguished Service Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast (2006).

    Dr. Davis says, “Bob Corley has been a fixture at UAB for decades. His leadership of the Urban Studies Center ushered in a period of direct engagement with the Birmingham community. He has influenced countless UAB students in the history of Alabama and Birmingham. His compassion and dry humor has left an indelible mark on students and faculty alike.”

    The English Department bids farewell to Dr. Mary Flowers Braswell. Department of English Chair Dr. Peter Bellis says, “Dr. Flowers Braswell has for many years been one of the department’s leading scholars and teachers. She is an expert in the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and on law and literature in the medieval period, the author or editor of four books and dozens of scholarly articles. Dr. Braswell has also mentored dozens of graduate and honors students, whose work has in turn won national recognition. She has served both the University and the Birmingham community through her work with Sterne Library and in a series of summer workshops for teachers.”

    We wish our colleagues the best in their future endeavors.

    In Memoriam

    Dr. Nikolai ChernovDr. Nikolai Chernov of the Department of Mathematics passed away on August 7, 2014. A member of the College faculty for 20 years, Dr. Chernov was a consistent contributor, successful researcher and much-sought-after adviser and mentor to students.

    His students and friends remember him as a brilliant, humble, and patient mathematician who loved to travel. Dr. Chernov’s immense contributions to the field were recognized by the American Mathematical Society, which will list him as a 2015 fellow posthumously.

  • Physics Opens New Class 7000 Cleanroom Featuring Diamond-Based Sensor

    The Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration, located within the Department of Physics, has a new Class 7000 Cleanroom.
    The Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration, located within the Department of Physics, has a new Class 7000 Cleanroom.

    Cleanrooms, common in manufacturing and scientific research, are environments with a controlled level of contamination that is specified by the number of particles in one cubic foot of air. The cleanroom in the Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration is classified at 7000, a high rating required for fabricating micro-sensors on diamonds, which is the nature of the work being done in the Department of Physics.

    According to Dr. Yogesh Vohra, Professor of Physics and Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, the level can be upgraded at a future date as the Center expands its capabilities.

    Vohra notes that in addition to the room itself, the Center will be using the first-ever electrical micro-circuit fabricated on top of diamond by mask-less lithography. “Our new technology is 3D micro-fabrication of electrical circuits on diamonds, without using any prefabricated masks,” Vohra explains. “This is referred to as ‘mask-less lithography,’ and uses micro-mirrors to direct light to expose the photoresist to draw circuits on top of diamonds. We also encapsulate the micro-circuit in chemical vapor deposited in a single crystal diamond layer to protect the circuit from any environmental degradation and exposure.“

    Vohra adds that immediate application for the sensors is in high-pressure “diamond anvil cell devices,” although he notes that “we are also exploring applications in other extreme environments, like deep well drilling and monitoring in extreme high temperatures.”

  • On Loan

    Students in Government secure coveted spots as United Way loaned executives.

    Students in Government secure coveted spots as United Way loaned executives.

    Every year, the United Way of Central Alabama pursues an ambitious annual campaign, and every year, area companies share their employees, or “loaned executives,” with the organization to help it reach its funding goals. (For some sense of the scale of this undertaking, the United Way’s 2014 goal is $38,250,000.)

    But sometimes, businesses make a donation instead of sharing staff wtih the agency. That leaves spots available for students and others who want to learn the ins and outs of running a major non-profit campaign.

    “We asked faculty for referrals of students from different majors who were really exceptional, and we then asked those students to provide us with a resume and cover letter,” explains Suzanne Scott-Trammell, Executive Director of Career and Professional Development. “The goal was to teach them how to put their best foot forward before we asked the United Way to visit campus.”

    Bakari Miller, who works with United Way’s Loaned Executive program, came to the Edge of Chaos and made a presentation to the interested students. After the presentation, Trammell submitted the improved resumes back to the United Way staff, and three students were selected for the program. The selected students are Ashton Johnson, a recent graduate (B.A., Political Science), and two current Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) students, Jasmine Shaw and Tyler Slaton. Johnson, Shaw, and Slaton began working on August 25 and will continue until November 21.

    “I had just been telling my friends that I was interested in learning more about fundraising,” says Jasmine Shaw. “Since we’ve started with United Way, it’s been a blast. We all feel really supported, really equipped to succeed. The caliber of people who were chosen—it’s challenging and exciting.”

    “This was a very competitive process,” Scott-Trammell says. “The students weren’t guaranteed a spot, and the three who were selected have to be fully committed to their work with the United Way. The pay is good (the internship pays $8,500 for the 13-week period), and they are learning incredible skills, like team building, sales skills, leadership development, effective communication and decision making, and planning and organizing. It also helps UAB meet its Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) goals, which prioritizes team building and critical thinking.”

    “We have systems in place to help students find jobs, like DragonTrail,” Scott-Trammell adds, “but it takes legwork. We get opportunities all the time, but we need to make sure our students are prepared, not just with a cover letter, but pulling information from them about their past experiences, including things they wouldn’t have thought would be relevant to a current job opportunity. It’s so important that we have interaction with the students to help them understand their qualifications.”

    Shaw agrees. “I always thought of myself as a pretty good interviewee, but [the Career Services staff] pointed out things I’d never even thought about before,” she says. “And since my M.P.A .is in non-profit management, working with the United Way agencies just flips on light switches about the things we’re talking about in class.”

  • Institute for Human Rights

    Announced in June, the Institute for Human Rights will feature an interdisciplinary approach to address human rights questions and will utilize one of UAB’s well-known strengths: a highly diverse faculty bringing to bear knowledge and experiences from across multiple geopolitical boundaries.

    The College of Arts and Sciences takes the lead on establishing UAB’s new Institute for Human Rights.

    By Nick Patterson

    Birmingham’s history in the establishment of American civil rights propelled a yearlong commemoration in 2013, and now, UAB wants to take that recognition to a more global level.

    Announced in June, the Institute for Human Rights will feature an interdisciplinary approach to address human rights questions and will utilize one of UAB’s well-known strengths: a highly diverse faculty bringing to bear knowledge and experiences from across multiple geopolitical boundaries.

    As conceived by Dr. Robert Palazzo, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the IHR will view human rights in a way broader than one department at UAB, and broader than people sometimes think of civil and human rights.

    “It deals with the environment, it deals with justice. It deals with equality. It deals with a host of factors,” says Dr. John Sloan, Chair of the Department of Justice Sciences.

    Sloan, along with Dr. Wendy Gunther-Canada, Chair of the Department of Government, developed the proposal for the IHR after being approached by Dean Palazzo in 2013. From there, the proposal had to gain the approval of the Provost, the Vice President for Research, and President Ray Watts. African American Studies Director Dr. Kathryn Morgan reviewed the proposal as did Dr. Douglas Fry, the new chair of the Department of Anthropology, an expert in conflict resolution and peace studies.

    All of those involved in the proposal process agree that the Institute will be a game-changer for UAB and for Birmingham. “The Institute offers the university an opportunity to be become a local, national, and global leader in human rights,” says Dr. Kathryn Morgan. “Both UAB and the City of Birmingham will benefit from the research and teaching at the IHR.”

    Birmingham is already developing a reputation in the field. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BRCI) attracts scholars from around the world who come to the city to participate in programs, pore over the BCRI archives, listen to and watch oral histories of movement members, and more.

    Priscilla Hancock Cooper, the interim President and CEO of the BCRI, says she is genuinely excited about the possibilities posed by the IHR. “Not only are we a cultural heritage destination...but we’re also an educational institution,” Cooper says. “I think in training [K-12] teachers, for example, we greatly multiply the numbers of students that we reach. So we look forward to partnering with UAB. The College of Arts and Sciences has the ability to offer courses and a structured academic learning experience that is different than [what] we offer here and that we feel is complementary.”

    The IHR also will involve students from UAB and elsewhere. UAB students will have internships and study away opportunities through the IHR, and students in other locations will have the chance to come to Birmingham to study.

    Because of its interdisciplinary nature, the IHR will bring together instructors from Anthropology, Sociology, Justice Sciences, Psychology, Public Health, and many other fields. “Faculty across disciplines offer a curriculum focusing on the intersection of civil and human rights within the College of Arts and Sciences,” says Dr. Wendy Gunther-Canada. “The newly founded Institute will expand scholarly collaboration and student engagement through coursework, speakers and colloquia, and partnerships beyond campus.”

    A search for the Institute director is underway. For more information on the Institute’s plans and programs, visit

  • So What?

    Inside the pages of this issue of Arts & Sciences magazine, you’ve been introduced to faculty, students, alums, and partners from around the globe who have made strides that set them apart.

    There are more than a few reasons why our work is important to the community.

    By Cynthia Ryan

    To the passerby cruising through the Illinois farming community where I was raised, one field might appear indistinguishable from every other. Those of us with roots in the region, though, know each plot of land by the family who’s owned and worked the ground, over time passing it down from one generation to the next.

    It’s tempting to reduce a place to its physical features, whether acres of soil, a span of city blocks, structures rising from bricks and mortar. But places are ultimately about people. Cynthia Ryan

    Inside the pages of this issue of Arts & Sciences magazine, you’ve been introduced to faculty, students, alums, and partners from around the globe who have made strides that set them apart. While we academics are often referred to by conventional disciplinary labels—biologist, historian, anthropologist, or in my case, rhetorician—there’s a world of difference in how our work plays out within and beyond the classroom, lab, and studio.

    There’s Communication Studies alum Laura Britt whose training in broadcast journalism led her to pursue an unexpected path for which she was duly prepared. After interning at television stations in Birmingham and New York and then finding work as a sports reporter for a network in Mississippi, Britt landed her current position as an “update reporter” for 120 Sports, an online site offering Britt plenty of on-air time in an innovative media environment. Her story is inspiring to other students who wonder where they’ll land after graduation, proving that there are unimaginable opportunities for finding the perfect career fit. And alums Joy O’Ne/cas/newsal, from History, and Lee Price, from Criminal Justice, carved out spaces that might surprise many. O’Neal and her family turned a passion for horses into a program for assisting children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. Realizing that her preparation in history taught her much, but not everything she needed for running The Red Barn, O’Neal returned to CAS for an M.P.A. to fulfill her growing dreams.

    Price’s career path took her all the way to the top in the armed forces, where she achieved the position of Major General in the U.S. Army. Her passion for exploring the world while serving her country was jumpstarted at UAB, when her coursework in German led her to apply for a scholarship that funded six weeks of study in Austria. Immersion in another culture showed Price that the possibilities that awaited her were greater than she’d ever imagined.

    Four department chairs who recently joined The College of Arts and Sciences share the energy that they’ve experienced since coming to UAB. Their conversation with Julie Keith highlights some of the reasons why those who have moved here from other institutions see UAB as an exciting place where much has been accomplished and much lies ahead. Rounding out this issue is a story about globalization in The College. The sheer number of international destinations touched by our faculty, students and alums speaks once again to the diversity of our efforts. From India to Antarctica to France to Egypt, we’re intent on forging our own paths and ensuring that every endeavor is one of a kind. Like farm families whose histories are embedded in rich, Midwestern soil, we in The College of Arts and Sciences are committed to contributing something extraordinary that will leave a lasting impression at UAB and wherever else our passions lead us. Next time you’re in our neighborhood, we hope you’ll slow down, lower your window, and get to know us a little bit better.

  • Meet the Dean: Robert Palazzo

    It’s often said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But Dean Robert Palazzo’s 1,099-mile journey from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, to UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences actually started with a surf clam.

    Providing Leadership And Direction

    By Dale Short

    It’s often said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But Dean Robert Palazzo’s 1,099-mile journey from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, to UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences actually started with a surf clam.

    His journey to the surf clam began while studying cell biology, when he became intrigued by a cell component known as the centrosome. Not to be confused with its more famous neighbor the nucleus, the centrosome acts as sort of primary organizing center for cell division and had been described and named by German biologist Theodor Boveri in 1888. “Boveri pretty much formulated the chromosomal theory of inheritance,” Palazzo says. “He predicted that chromatic bodies observed by early cytologists were the carriers of genetic information and traits. Then a hundred years passed, which saw the discovery of DNA and a revolution in molecular biology. Yet, when it came to one of the most important organelles in a cell, scientists still had a basic lack of understanding.”

    Palazzo, then a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, set out to help fill that void in knowledge about centrosomes. As it turns out, the eggs of marine organisms are excellent specimens for observing cell division — and the clam maybe best of all. Clam eggs divide rapidly, and their contents show up well under a microscope. Fortunately, the shore near Palazzo’s lab was teeming with excellent clams, so picking up a few bushels of clams a day for scientific use was no problem.

    Research Insights and Rewards

    Fast-forward to the February 1992 issue of the journal Science, which featured Palazzo’s work as its cover story in, Palazzo R.E., E. Viasberg, R.W. Cole, and C.L. Rieder (1992) Centriole duplication in cell-free lysates of Spisula solidissima. Science. 256: 219-221. The scientific world took notice, and in the ensuing years, a series of international conferences brought together some of the leading minds in related fields to exchange ideas on progress in centrosome research.

    One of the leading minds in the field was a cell biologist named William Brinkley, Ph.D., a president of the American Society for Cell Biology, the Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology, and a professor and former chair at UAB School of Medicine. Brinkley connected Palazzo to UAB early in Palazzo’s career.

    A favorite part of Dean Robert Palazzo’s job as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences is interacting with students.Having been recruited as interim dean of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences in October 2012, Palazzo was named dean last June. Although his office, desk, and chair are the same, he says the mindset of dean-versus-interim is very different. “When you’re an interim, you want to do as much as you can,” he says, “but you have to be careful that your decisions don’t have long-term ramifications, because another person will follow you and develop a new relationship with the faculty and others they represent. When the commitment’s made to become dean, you can be more long-term in your thinking and helping to guide things.”

    Birmingham by Way of Italy

    Palazzo’s perspective on that process is shaped by a somewhat unusual upbringing, which he encapsulates as “born in Italy, grew up in the shadow of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, and went on to bask in the light of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia, and along the way somehow became a scientist.” His parents moved to the United States when he was in first grade. From there, he worked his way through Wayne State University in Detroit as the first person in his family to attend college.

    His views were especially shaped by his years at Wayne State, he says, with its “strong liberal arts program, strong sciences, and a terrific art museum on campus. It was a big commuter school. In a lot of ways, it was like UAB, except that we’re more residential here — which is good, because it gives a greater sense of the college experience.

    “At the beginning I thought I might want to teach,” Palazzo says. “I did well in the sciences, and my advisor said that with my good grades in chemistry, I should think about medical school. I started following a science curriculum and had the chance to study with a distinguished biologist and a famous chemist. They suggested I do lab research, and when the projects worked out well, I had the opportunity to stay and work for my Ph.D. with support from their grants.”

    Branches of the Same Tree

    Although his major was in the sciences, Palazzo says, the university’s arts offerings had a lasting impact on his life. “As a child I loved the books by Hendrik Willem van Loon, who wrote a series of histories for young people in the 1930s — everything from biographies to geography to the arts. And I developed a love for the great books, and for mythology, including Sir James George Frazer’s classic, The Golden Bough. Another big influence was historian Daniel J. Boorstin, who wrote the series of books titled The Americans, The Discoverers, The Creators, and The Seekers.”

    Another formative college experience for Palazzo was the university’s filmmaker series, which screened works by major international directors in chronological order. And the museum’s visual arts galleries had significant Asian and Impressionist collections.

    “I feel blessed to have been exposed to such a wealth of material,” he says. “And the most important aspect is that when you look at that vast panorama of intellectual and artistic talent — at the whole ‘long waterfront,’ as I call it — of the arts and sciences, you see that it’s not segmented at all, but simply describes various ways of viewing the world, various approaches in search of fundamental truths about ourselves and our universe. Frankly, my interaction with the faculty at UAB in those different fields has been the most refreshing part of my time here.”

    After earning his Ph.D. at Wayne State in biological sciences, Palazzo served at the University of Kansas as chair of the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology and professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. He also completed a three-year postdoctorate with the biology department at the University of Virginia.

    He was recruited to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2002 to chair its biology department and help create a new center for biotechnology and interdisciplinary studies. Palazzo says he accepted the position in part because of the institute’s reputation. “Rensselaer is actually the oldest science and technology university in the English-speaking world,” Palazzo says. “It was founded in 1824, which preceded the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by some 60 years. Its impact in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation is enormous.”

    Palazzo says he doesn’t buy the conventional idea that the arts and the sciences are by nature competing factions in education. “I think the tension developed in the post-war world, in part a result of heavy funding that was pouring into the sciences, with little investment in the humanities and the arts. This imbalance led to C.P. Snow’s famous book The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, in which he criticized that rift, which to his mind was artificial. “I was taught that the Ph.D. is a philosophy degree,” Palazzo continues, “which means you’re a philosopher in biology, in the sciences, in mathematics. So I’ve always felt well aligned and enjoyed the setting of a college of arts and sciences.”

    As for the narrative of the clam and the centrosome, Palazzo has gradually relinquished his research duties in recent years as his administrative responsibilities have increased. But he believes there’s still much work to be done in the area he began pursuing at Woods Hole decades ago.

    “Even today, you can’t open a scientific journal without seeing a paper or write-up on centrosomes,” Palazzo says. “On the applied side, the question is, is the centrosome involved in root causes of diseases? And it is. I’ve always thought that if tubulin is a target for therapeutics like Taxol and some other treatments, then it’s possible that the centrosome, which serves to organize tubulin, could be an alternative target. I have no doubt that compounds selective for centrosome function would be useful.”

    One Goal, Two Paths

    UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences was created on January 1, 2010, with the merging of the Schools of Arts and Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics — areas of learning representing more than half of UAB’s academic resources, including 22 schools and departments, 300 faculty members, more than 6,500 undergraduates and 500 graduate students from as many as 50 countries, and some 40 different degree options, ranging from baccalaureate to doctoral. An outline of the college’s strategic plan describes it as “a kaleidoscope of intellectual opportunities for learning and the advancement of knowledge.”

    The strategic plan also describes the college as “an immersive educational experience.” The beauty of a university, according to Palazzo, is that it represents “a platform for the collision of ideas.

    “When you arrive at the essence of ‘what is creativity?’ and consider the origins of ideas, new ideas originate at the interface between disciplines,” Palazzo explains. “People are brought together with different perspectives, different experiences, and different views, all honed in their own disciplines, and then those ideas collide. And it’s at those collision points where you fine inspiration and novel perspectives. That’s how we advance knowledge. We can’t do it alone, especially now in the 21st century, with the explosion of information all around us. We’re part of what I call ‘a community of wise and trusted scholars’ who are all active in this pursuit of knowledge—a pursuit that’s as old as mankind, and modern universities are a perpetuation of that quest.”

    When it comes to educating UAB’s students, regardless of their field of study, Palazzo says a top priority should be multiculturalism: “We used to call it ‘cultural tolerance,’ but I much prefer ‘cultural competence.’ As we recognize in our current strategic plan, new students will have to become competent culturally in order to succeed in the academic setting and in the marketplace. That’s true more than ever in the Information Age, and I believe it’s one more reason why a solid grounding in the liberal arts and sciences is critical in the character development and intellectual formation of the next generation of leaders who will be responsible for managing the problems of the world, which certainly aren’t decreasing.”

    Moving forward as dean, Palazzo says he has three main personal goals: “First, I want to see the college—as well as UAB as a whole and the city of Birmingham—take a step forward in showing that it can compete in the international arena. Given the slope of its ascension, this fact hasn’t yet been sufficiently recognized, and I hope I can contribute to achieving that. Second, there are many students here who are, like myself, the first in their families to attend college. I’d like to help solidify that path for them and instill within those students the confidence that they can go out into the world and become national and international thought leaders.

    “Finally, if I can assure an appropriate structure of policies, best practices, and financial management that will sustain the organization long into the future to achieve goals one and two, then my time here will have been worthwhile.”