Arts & Sciences Magazine

Fall 2017

  • Remarkable Generosity

    Donors establish five new endowments in the College—the most ever received in one year.

    The William Oversteegen Bond Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics

    Simon Harris, a senior mathematics major and member of the SciTech Honors Program in the UAB Honors College, is the first recipient of the William Oversteegen Bond Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics.

    The scholarship was established by Meredith J. Bond and Dr. lex G. Oversteegen, together with Dr. Jeanne S. Hutchison. and Dr. john C. Mayer, to honor the late William Oversteegen Bond, a strong mathematics student, gifted mathematics teacher, and son of Bond and Oversteegen.

    William Oversteegen Bond attended Auburn University before transferring to UAB, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math in 2007 and 2009. He taught at Birmingham-Southern College, UAB, and had just begun teaching AP mathematics classes at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) when he passed away in August 2016.

    Dr. Lex Oversteegen is a longtime faculty member and former chair of the Department of Mathematics. Out of their love for William, fellow mathematics faculty members Dr. Jeanne Hutchinson and Dr. John Mayer joined Oversteegen and Bond in establishing the endowment. Dr. Mayer was particularly close to William and collaborated with him on several projects and lectures while he was a student.

    With their gift, the donors have chosen to support students like Harris in the department’s Math Fast Track Program, which allows students to attain both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in five years or less. Dr. Oversteegen is one of the co-directors of the program.

    “William was well on his way to becoming an outstanding mathematics teachers at ASFA,” Dr. Mayer says. “His loss was keenly felt by his students there and by his former teachers, like me, in the Department of Mathematics. I could not think of any better way to keep his memory alive than to have it associated with the Fast-Track Program in Mathematics.”

    Harris says he’s grateful for the financial and academic support he’s received from the department. “It was an honor to receive the Oversteegen Bond scholarship,” he says. “It alleviated some of the financial burdens I was facing, allowing me to better focus on my studies. In addition, working with Dr. Mayer has given me numerous opportunities to grow as a math major, including attending conferences to present the work I've done with him. His encouragement has led me to make worthwhile friendships with people in the math department who have pushed me to work harder.”

    Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas

    Dr. Catherine Daniélou, Senior Associate Dean, has endowed a prize designed to enable faculty scholarship, recognize their achievements, and enable them to grow as educators and thinkers. Her endowment will provide a cash prize and award for an outstanding and unique scholarly essay in the history of ideas written by any member of the UAB faculty.

    The award is named in honor of the great humanist writer Michel de Montaigne, whose pioneering achievements in Western philosophy and his portrayal of the human condition are inspirations to Dr. Danielou.

    Dr. Danielou was born and educated in France. She was selected by the French government to serve as a teaching assistant at Michigan State University, where she subsequently stayed to receive her master’s and doctoral degrees. She was recruited to UAB, where she has taught for nearly 30 years and now serves as Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

    Her generous gift will enhance the lives of those who teach in the College and throughout UAB, and will be of significant and enduring value to all of those whose knowledge will be enriched by the work of the prizewinners.

    Dr. James C. McCroskey Endowed Graduate Student Support Fund in Communication Studies

    An endowed support fund has been established in the Department of Communication Studies with a goal to assist in recruiting students to the M.A. in Communication Management Graduate Program. Focus will be given to undergraduate students in the Department who rely on additional financial support to continue their educational careers at UAB.

    The endowment is named for Dr. James C. McCroskey, a pioneer in the field of communication studies. After a long academic career at a number of leading U.S. universities, he joined the UAB faculty as a scholar-in-residence in 2006, when his partner in life, Dr. Virginia Peck Richmond, accepted the chair position in the Department of Communication Studies. The Endowed Graduate Support Fund honors

    Dr. McCroskey’s years of devoted service to the university, his contributions to the field of communication studies, and his longtime goal of mentoring new generations of students.

    Dr. McCroskey passed away on December 27, 2012, and is survived by Dr. Richmond and their six children, as well as the countless students and colleagues for whom Dr. McCroskey was a mentor and inspiration.

    The James McClintock Endowed Scholarship in Polar and Marine Biology

    David and Kathleen Hollows have created an endowed scholarship to be used to provide financial assistance to deserving students in the Department of Biology.

    The scholarship is named for Dr. James McClintock to honor and pay tribute to his achievements as an expert in Antarctic marine biology and climate change science, as well as for his dedicated service to UAB.

    Dr. McClintock earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz and his master’s in zoology and his doctorate in biology at the University of South Florida. He joined the UAB faculty in 1997 and is currently the University Endowed Professor of Polar and Marine Biology.

    Over the course of his 30 years at UAB, Dr. McClintock has established himself as a global leader in the study of marine invertebrate nutrition and reproduction. Over the past decade, he has expanded his research to encompass studies of the impacts of rapid climate change and ocean acidification on Antarctic marine algae and invertebrates. He has been honored with numerous awards and currently serves as a Trustee of The Nature Conservancy and as an Advisory Board Member for the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.

    Dr. McClintock met the Mr. and Mrs. Hollows on an expedition cruise to Antarctica in January 2017. David Hollows is a native of Cheshire, England and received a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, which he used to build a successful career in the brewery business at Whitbread Co. Ltd. and Anheuser-Busch, Inc. He also led a Best Practice Exchange program at Tsingtao Co. in China Kathy, a Pennsylvania native earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and nursing and worked for many years as a rehabilitation nurse.

    During their travels together, Dr. McClintock and the Hollowses bonded over their shared belief that humans can influence the rate of climate change. It is the couple’s desire that this scholarship honor Dr. McClintock’s continuing legacy by assisting worthy students as they develop the skills they need to become experts in climate change science who can present their findings to the greater public.

  • New Building Groundbreaking

    Dean Palazzo, along with President Ray Watts and Provost Pam Benoit, joined several invited guests to celebrate the groundbreaking for our new arts and sciences academic building on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

    Dean Palazzo, along with President Ray Watts and Provost Pam Benoit, joined several invited guests to celebrate the groundbreaking for our new arts and sciences academic building on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. Members of the UAB Pep Band welcomed attendees, including UAB senior administrators, representatives from UAB Facilities, deans, department chairs, faculty, staff, and students. Special guests included employees of contractor M.J. Harris, architecture firm Goodwin | Mills | Cawood, and the first donors to the building: Philosophy faculty members Dr. Greg Pence, chair, and Dr. Ted Benditt and his wife Anne. After President Watts, Provost Benoit, and Dean Palazzo gave their enthusiastic remarks, they joined the groundbreaking ceremony with fellow shovelers Wes Calhoun, College Alumni Board President; Mike Rodgers, UA System Vice Chancellor for Construction Management; Allen Bolton, UAB Vice President of Finance; Bob McMains, UAB Chief Facilities Officer; Mugdha Mokashi, President of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, and Amy Evans, Executive Director of Operations for the College.

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  • New Degrees, New Department Names

    At recent Board of Trustees meetings, two new degrees and two new department names were approved.

    The College now offers two new degrees to undergraduate and graduate students, both of which were approved at recent Board of Trustees meetings.

    The new Bachelor of Science in Medical Sociology will be a part of the slate of degrees currently offered by the Department of Sociology, including the Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, the Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (Social Psychology concentration), the Master of Arts in Applied Sociology, and the Doctorate in Medical Sociology.

    The new Master of Arts in Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights is a new graduate degree in the Department of Anthropology. The program focuses on peace as behavioral process among individuals, families, groups, communities, cultures and nations. The new degree complements the educational and outreach activities of the recently established UAB Institute for Human Rights.

    Also approved at recent Board of Trustees meetings are the new names for two departments: Criminal Justice (formerly Justice Sciences) and Computer Science (formerly Computer and Information Sciences).

    For more information on our programs and departments, visit

  • Nine Departments Welcome New Faculty Members

    This fall, new faculty members join the Department of Communication Studies, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Department of English, the Department of Music, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Theatre.

    Communication Studies

    Computer Science

    Criminal Justice




    Social Work



    • Dr. Roy Lightner, Assistant Professor

  • New Chairs, New Faculty Join the College

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

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

    Verna Keith Named Chair of Sociology

    Dr. Verna Keith will begin her new position as chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology on January 1, 2018. Dr. Keith comes to UAB from the Department of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University, where she has been a professor and director of the Race and Ethnic Studies Institute (RESI). She received her B.S. in sociology in 1974 from the State College of Arkansas, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Kentucky in 1979 and 1982.

    Dr. Keith has held an affiliated faculty position in the School of Public Health at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and was associate head of the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M. Prior to that, she was professor in the Department of Sociology and Center for Demography and Population Health at Florida State University; chair of the Department of Sociology at Arizona State University, and a research fellow in the Institute of Gerontology and in the School of Public Health, both at the University of Michigan.

    Dr. Keith’s research interests include the social demography of health, particularly gender, race, and class disparities. In the interim, the department will be led by associate professor Dr. Patricia Drentea.

    Jessica Dallow Named Interim Chair of Art and Art History

    Dr. Jessica Dallow, associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History, has been named interim chair of the department for a two-year period.

    Dr. Dallow received her B.A. in art history and criticism from the University of California, San Diego and then her M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She joined the UAB Department of Art and Art History faculty as an assistant professor in 2002 and was promoted to associate professor in 2008. She has served as associate chair from 2007-2011 and again in 2015. She was also acting chair of the department in 2012, and directed the master’s program in art history from 2013-2015.

    Dr. Dallow’s specializations are Modern and Contemporary American Art, African American Art, Animals in Art, and Human-Animal Relations. She teaches contemporary art history, modern architecture, art criticism and theory, race and representation, and American art to 1900, among other courses. In recent years, she has worked closely with her students to develop a digital archive documenting the history of Birmingham artists and arts workers.

    Dr. Sylvie Mrug Named Interim Chair of Psychology

    Dr. Sylvie Mrug, professor in the Department of Psychology, has been named interim chair of the department.

    Dr. Mrug has been at UAB since 2004, when she began a year-long internship in Child Clinical/Pediatric Psychology. Following that internship, she was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. She was named associate professor in 2010 and full professor in 2015. In addition, she serves as a center scientist in the Center for the Study of Community Health in the School of Public Health, a position she has held since 2008. She’s also affiliated with the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC), the UAB Center for Educational Accountability and the UAB Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center.

    Dr. Mrug is a native of the Czech Republic and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Charles University in Prague. She received additional master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology and Applied Statistics at Purdue University, before completing her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Purdue in 2005.

    Dr. Mrug’s work focuses on behavioral and emotional problems in adolescents and how young people’s exposure to violence and their relationship to their peers can influence the development of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and anti-social behavior.

  • Faculty Receive University Awards

    Renato Camata, Roger Gilchrist, Samiksha Raut, and Nitesh Saxena were all recognized this year for their excellence in teaching, mentorship and advising.

    Renato Camata, Ph.D., associate professor and undergraduate program director in the Department of Physics, has been named as a recipient of a 2017 UAB Outstanding Academic Advising Award. Camata was recognized at the annual Outstanding Advising Awards ceremony in April, where he was honored by the UAB National Alumni Society and the Committee on Academic Advising. The Committee is comprised of winners from the previous year, as well as selected faculty and staff, who choose a professor who dedicates a significant portion of his time to the advising and mentorship of undergraduate students.

    Roger Gilchrist, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biology, received the 2017 President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, which honors those who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

    During his two decades at UAB, Gilchrist has earned a reputation for being a patient, accessible and exemplary professor. He chairs the CAS Curriculum and Education Policy committee and also developed and continues to teach BY 216, Introduction to Human Pathophysiology, which is unique to UAB.

    Samiksha Raut, Ph.D., received the DSS Outstanding Faculty Award in Spring 2017 from the UAB Disability Support Services. Raut, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, is the advisor for a new disability advocacy group on campus. Her student nominators remarked on her commitment to serving their needs and providing flexibility, consideration, and understanding. The office of DSS selects faculty members to honor after each spring semester. The winners are selected or nominated by students who have had these educators in class and feel they have made accommodations to meet the needs of their students.

    Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., associate professor and research director in the Department of Computer Science, was named a recipient of the Dean’s Excellence in Mentorship Award from the UAB Graduate School. These awards recognize full-time regular UAB faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments as mentors of graduate students and/or postdoctoral fellows.

    Additional faculty awards from the President's and Provost's Offices will be announced in the Spring issue.

  • College Alumni Community

    Our former graduates have had a great year of events and celebrations, all organized by our Alumni Board led by president Wes Calhoun. 

    The year kicked off with a Business at the Brewery reception at Cahaba Brewing, hosted by alumnus and brewery owner Eric Meyer. We celebrated our Class of 2017 Excellence in Business Award winners and got a tour of Cahaba’s expansive space in Avondale. In the spring, the Board organized a night at Regions Field to watch UAB Baseball play the University of Alabama. Our guests included several families who brought their children to enjoy the festivities. Then, we followed with the first of our regular monthly Alumni Chapter Meet Ups at Cahaba Brewing.

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  • Finishing Strong

    We finished the academic year with a major exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts and celebrated another joyful, thrilling commencement ceremony, at which more than 2,000 UAB students graduated.

    Once again, we finished the academic year with a major exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, this time showcasing the work of UAB art alumnus David Sandlin. The Irish-born painter's show, “76 Manifestations of American Destiny,” opened on June 2 and featured two major series of his large-scale works that highlighted themes of morality, redemption, and American exceptionalism.

    Our spring semester concluded with another joyful, thrilling commencement ceremony, at which more than 2,000 UAB students graduated. Charles Coleman, who received his bachelor’s degree in international studies and who recently received the Fulbright Scholarship, was the undergraduate speaker. Dr. Heith Copes from the Department of Criminal Justice, was the mace carrier at the summer ceremony.

    With each passing term, the College continues to add to its growing list of achievements. We are proud of our talented alumni—both senior and recent—and look forward to many more opportunities to highlight their accomplishments.

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  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

    Our fall semester is in full swing and the momentum is building in the College and across the university.

    Our fall semester is in full swing and the momentum is building in the College and across the university. Of course UAB Football is back—with over 44,000 people attending first game—and the Marching Blazers, led by our new director, Dr. Sean Murray, look fantastic in their new uniforms. Read more about Sean.

    Our students continue to excel, winning major national and international awards and scholarships. And our faculty and our professional advising team are starting to see the fruits of their advisory efforts, as our student retention in the College is now almost 90% and climbing. These successes improve our overall reputation and rankings and make us a competitive, attractive place for prospective students and faculty.

    Also worth celebrating: Women are accelerating the pace as students, faculty, and alumnae. In this issue, you’ll see several stories on many of our successful female graduates, new department chairs, and faculty and students. We are lucky to have such strong and accomplished women in the College family. 

    We celebrated alumnus David Sandlin's increcible show at Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (with some of the highest attendance we've ever had for an AEIVA exhibit), and we hosted the long-awaited groundbreaking for our new academic building, which we plan to enter for the fall 2019 semester. Along with the AEIVA, this is our second building in the past five years, and discussions are already underway for the next project.

    Undergirding all of this is our strong College community— a group of people who love UAB and love and respect each other. Perhaps there’s no better example of that than Sol Kimerling and his late wife Rita. You can read more about their relationship and their generosity. They are shining examples for all of us.

    Come home to campus, we will be here to greet you. We would love to see you during Homecoming Week, October 1-7—or anytime.

    Thank you for all you do for the College, and Go Blazers!           
    R.E. Palazzo, Dean

  • Personal History

    Love and learning are the two recurring themes of Sol and Rita Kimerling’s incredible story.

    Photos by Nik Layman

    Love and learning are the two recurring themes of Sol and Rita Kimerling’s incredible story.

    A Love for Rita

    Sol Kimerling was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama in the mid-1950s with plans to take his physics final, until a certain dark-haired co-ed from Montgomery named Rita Capouya invited him to a picnic. “Needless to say I never made it to my final,” he laughs.

    Sixty-five years ago, Rita and Sol Kimerling’s first date laid the cornerstone for a lifetime of love and learning that continues today. Although Rita’s long battle with cancer ended in 2010, Sol still speaks about his wife with devotion. “She was the brightest, most beautiful person you’ve ever met,” he says. “She made Phi Beta Kappa as a sophomore. She came from a Sephardic Jewish family and spoke their language, which is a combination of Spanish and Hebrew. She also spoke Spanish and French. I tell my kids, ‘You got your Mama’s looks and your Mama’s brains, but you got my luck.’”

    The couple married and Sol started law school at the University of Alabama, but was asked to come home and help in the family business before he was able to complete his degree. Not long after that, Sol—who had been an Air Force ROTC cadet at Alabama—found himself called for duty during the Korean War. “I worked at the smelter for a while, but once you’re out of school, they call you up,” he says.

    The Kimerlings, now with daughter Elise in tow, were stationed in France during the war. After Sol finished his service, the family returned to Birmingham, where their second daughter Judith was born just a few months after their arrival. With little time to settle in, the young father and veteran was charged with the responsibility of running Alabama Oxygen Company, the business his father had spun off from his grandfather’s scrap metal business.

    A Love for Birmingham

    Kimerling took the helm of Alabama Oxygen Company as racial tensions in Birmingham were exploding into violence. He saw firsthand how African Americans were treated by Bull Connor and the police department as well as the Ku Klux Klan—treatment that was familiar to him as a Jew. “I was called terrible names when I was at Ramsay High School,” he says. “We had a swastika painted in front of our house when I was a child.” There was also an attempted bombing of the Kimerlings’ synagogue, Temple Beth-El, which happened at roughly the same time as the bombing of the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s Bethel Baptist Church—two incidents that were deeply rattling to the Birmingham Jewish community since they evoked memories of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany.

    Sol shows off a photo of him with his brother and cousins at his grandparents' house for Sabbath-day lessons.

    In one memorable incident, Sol saw his grandfather physically confront Klan members at their business on 28th St. N. But he was not surprised by his grandfather's bravery. “The Klan had been protesting at the company because we'd hired black employees to be foremen and to drive the equipment,” Kimerling says. “My grandfather threw them out for that. And they came back and sued him. But he didn’t care. He was vindicated when a federal judge here in Birmingham threw out the case.”

    Kimerling’s grandfather had long been a seminal figure in his life. Every Saturday, after Sol, his brother, and his cousins left services at Temple Beth-El, they went to their grandparents’ house on Southside for additional studies. The boys sat around the dining room table, carefully laid with a white lace tablecloth by his grandmother, and listened to their grandfather teach history, government, economics, philosophy, business, and many other subjects. Kimerling says those Saturday afternoons instilled in him self-discipline, hard work, and education that he has carried throughout his life.

    A Love for Learning

    Kimerling’s famous luck spared him a failing grade on the physics exam he skipped in order to picnic with Rita (“The professor was a romantic; he let me take it the next day,” he says). But his spontaneous decision to miss the test was in no way representative of how he felt about education. His years of being encouraged and driven by his parents and grandparents—not to mention his marriage to a brilliant woman—meant that those same values were passed down to Sol and Rita’s four children.

    Elise, Judith, Michael and Leslie are so accomplished that it’s almost unfathomable. Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed her Ph.D. at Columbia University. Today she is a professor at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona—with many books to her name—and is one of the country leading authorities on Russian history. “She’s the real deal,” Kimerling says.

    Judith went to the University of Michigan and Yale Law School and teaches Environmental Law and Policy at Queens College in New York. She is an awarded environmental litigator and indigenous rights activist who endeavors to protect the isolated native peoples in the Amazon rainforest. Her work has led to landmark class action lawsuits against the petrochemical industry and New York Times best-selling books about the environmental degradation of the Amazon basin.

    Michael also went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his M.D. from the UAB School of Medicine and his M.P.H. from the UAB School of Public Health; he completed his residency at the University of Minnesota. After several years of practice in Birmingham, he began working with Doctors Without Borders, the Gates Foundation, and other international aid organizations. Today, he lives in the Netherlands and works with KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, where he participates in a global effort to combat the disease.

    Leslie graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received her MBA from Stanford University. Today she is a highly successful entrepreneur with years of experience growing and launching young companies. Her current endeavor is Double Helix, a 3D nano-imaging system, which can image a single molecule inside individual cells and that has already won numerous start-up awards.

    A Love for UAB

    Sol and the children weren’t the only busy people in the Kimerling family. Rita made a name for herself, too, as a talented artist and as a pioneering civic leader. She served as the first female president of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, she co-founded Jewish Family Services, and she was a leading supporter of The Red Mountain School.

    Over the years, the Kimerlings also found numerous ways to be a part of UAB: Sol as an adjunct professor in the School of Business; Rita as a charter member of what is now the Advisory Board of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her work with the Cancer Center included establishing a patient support program, advocating for patients and their family members, and holding numerous board offices. She was honored with the American Cancer Society’s Life Inspiration Award in 2005.

    One of Rita's many paintings that hang throughout the Kimerling home. This one is entitled, "Children at Play" and is Sol's favorite.

    Alongside her official charitable and volunteer work, Rita also developed a number of interfaith programs that helped educate and build bridges throughout Birmingham. Pamela Sterne King, assistant professor of history at UAB and a good friend of Sol’s, says that Dr. Jim Tent, former chair of the Department of History, met the Kimerlings when he was invited to speak on German history to an ecumenical group of Jews and Catholics that Rita had organized. Dr. Tent became good friends with the couple, and years later told Pam that Rita Kimerling was the smartest person he'd ever met. “That was incredible to me,” King recalls. “Jim Tent was an accomplished scholar. He got his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin and was a highly regarded historian. He had met a lot of smart people in his day, and it just struck me for him to say that. He could’ve said that about a lot of his fellow academicians, but he said it about Rita.”

    Dr. Tent introduced Sol and King when Kimerling was looking for a faculty member who would know about Birmingham history. King is a public historian and former historic preservationist for the City of Birmingham, and she says she immediately struck up a friendship with Sol that continues today. “Sol’s abiding interest is Birmingham history,” King says. “He wants to make sure all of the pertinent stories get told: Jewish history, Civil Rights history. We can talk about this stuff for hours.”

    The pair decided to put their knowledge and common interests to paper in a series of articles they wrote for WELD newspaper called “No More Bull!” which explored the era when Bull Connor was Birmingham’s notorious, racist police commissioner. They timed the 12-part series to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church: September 13, 2013. “He did half, and I did half,” King says. “I had a great time. I think we learned a lot from each other.”

    In recent years, King says her long conversations with Sol began to delve into ways that the UAB academic community could be more involved in the larger civic community. “Since I’m interested in public history, I thought I could create a lasting program in the department, and I thought Sol would be interested. Rita had died, but he was still madly in love with her, so he named it for her. Our goal was to do something that would get the community involved.”

    Sol established The Rita C. Kimerling Public History Endowment to honor his wife and to provide a support fund for programming in the Department of History. With the endowment, King has already organized a lecture series called “Telling Difficult Histories” that explores how different communities confront and share stories of their painful pasts. The first event featured Vanderbilt’s Stephanie Downing’s work on how Belfast, Ireland documents the Troubles alongside plans for the upcoming Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, presented by Evan McMullin of Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative.

    “Sol has so many of his own stories to tell,” King says. “He sees too many divisions in society. He feels strongly that there’s not enough emphasis on the roles of public education, public institutions. He believes in religious values of any kind; he believes in community. He wants to help achieve excellence for everybody, because he’s lived that. I know he feels very blessed, and I know he credits Rita for his worldview. He will tell you that without her, he wouldn’t be who he is—that she was better and smarter than him. Together they pursued a life of love and learning, and I’m so proud that we get to honor them both with our work in the department.”

  • Strike Up the Band!

    Under the leadership of new director of bands Dr. Sean Murray, the marching blazers are ready to retake the field this fall.

    Under the leadership of new director of bands Dr. Sean Murray, the marching blazers are ready to retake the field this fall

    Photos by Bruce Southerland

    Sean Murray knows he landed in a good place. Band director positions at the college level are scare, especially at the better programs. That’s why, when Murray saw the posting for the Director of Bands at UAB, he knew that it was something he should pursue. “When it posted, I remember thinking, ‘That would be a great job,’” he says.

    An associate director of bands and associate director of music at Florida Atlantic University since 2006, Murray says he was ready to move into the director’s role. “As you progress in any job, there comes a time you want to grow and you want to go somewhere to be the decision maker on things,” he says. “With bands, there are only one or two spots at each school, and there’s so much competition for them. If you get a phone interview for a university bands job, you should count yourself lucky.”

    Luck or not, Murray found himself progressing through the phone interview stage at UAB to a campus visit, and his once he got to campus, his hunch that the job would be a good one was confirmed. “You’re interviewing each other at that point,” he says. “You’re getting the feeling of the place, the vibe—while they’re assessing you at the same time. During my interview, I got to work with the band members and saw that they were playing at a very high level; they were really working at it. I also had been following the football story and knew the band had stayed together and had continued to rehearse, travel and perform without UAB Football. They had decided, ‘We’ll just keep doing our thing.’ That said a lot about the culture here.”

    Traditions Old and New

    The Marching Blazers aren’t the only band at UAB. Students can participate in these additional bands and ensembles:

    • Wind Symphony
    • Symphony Band
    • Blazer Band
    • Jazz Ensemble Big Band
    • Jazz Combos
    • Brass Quartets
    • Woodwind Quintets
    • Flute Choir
    • Clarinet Choir
    • Trumpet Ensemble
    • Horn Choir
    • Trombone Choir
    • Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble
    • Percussion Ensemble

    As UAB approaches its 50th anniversary in 2019, the university’s once-nascent school spirit rituals are evolving into deeply held traditions. And Murray, who also has a faculty position as an associate professor in the Department of Music, has no plans to change that. “I respect tradition more than anything,” he says. “In my experience, there’s usually a good reason for doing things. I think a successful director goes in and assesses the situation before he or she decides to change things.”

    “Traditions are really fascinating to me,” Murray continues. “You never know what will stick. Why do people learn the lyrics to one song and not another? But you have to respect what’s already there, even if no one can explain why they do it the way they do. Alumni want to come back to games and feel comforted. They want to hear the fight song thy way they remember hearing it when they were students.”

    Yet at the same time, Murray says, UAB has an opportunity to develop and instill new traditions that will be cherished over the next 50 years. “As you’re making plans, you have to think, ‘We have to put the traditions in,’” he says. “You have to keep at it. You have to be persistent, and play a new song over and over again until it clicks.”

    Relevant Experience

    Murray understands the challenges in developing a marching band around a new (or returning) football program. He arrived at Florida Atlantic in only the second year of their football program, and that was a big motivator for him. “I wanted to be a part of building something, and I wanted to stay to give the programs—both the band and the team—a good shot.”

    That experience is what makes him such an asset for the UAB Marching Blazers. “The nice thing about this position is that the interim directors Gene Fambrough and Cara Morantz were both here before the football program was eliminated, so they can explain everything the band did before, and since,” he says. “And I’ve come from a place where we had to almost start from the beginning, so I can bring that to the table. It’s really a great place to be: You have this history and institutional knowledge, and then you have new ideas and a background in building or rebuilding a program. I’m excited about what we’re going to accomplish together.”


    Uniform Excellence

    The Marching Blazers are wearing new uniforms this fall, thanks in large part to the generosity of donors, who have contributed more than $65,000 through a crowdfunding campaign. Donors will receive one of the older band uniform jackets as a keepsake and gift of appreciation for their support.

    The new uniforms are inspired by Blaze, UAB’s beloved mascot. Dragon flames on the jacket front—and Blaze emblems and orange and red colors on the shoulders and sleeves—add pop to the classic black, white and green ensemble. Even a touch of Blaze’s dragon scales are evident.

    “Uniforms always have a shelf life of 10-12 years if you’re lucky,” says UAB Bands Director Sean Murray. “It was time for UAB to upgrade the uniforms anyway, so it was just perfect timing that we get the new ones right as the football program returned. The uniforms are going to add a new look and feel to our field show, and I'm really excited about that."

    Murray says the fall show the Marching Blazers will perform is going to be fun to watch, not in small part due to the brand-new uniforms the band will be wearing. “Uniforms have a shelf life of 10-12 years, if you’re lucky,” he says. “It was time to upgrade ours and get new ones, and it just so happened doing so coincided with the return of football. So it’s going to add a new element of excitement to the whole experience.” (For more on the new uniform, see sidebar.)

    Other changes will be evident before and during the games, too. “We’re developing a new march version of the alma mater to the pregame show to add some pep to that. It’s just another way to perform a song that people are accustomed to singing slowly at the end of commencement or other celebrations. This will be upbeat and inspiring to the fans and alumni.”

    All of this takes many hours behind the scenes, by the band faculty, staff, and students. “When you get 200-plus people together to play a 10-minute show, it doesn’t just happen,” Murray says. “You have to get a good sound out of everyone, but you also have to work on marching carriage and stature. It takes constant upkeep. You don’t just learn the show and then stop. You have to keep working at it all semester long. What happens on the field—the football team, the Blazerettes, the color guard, the majorettes, and the instrumentalists—represents hours and hours of rehearsal. The team has their two-a-days; we have our 10-day camp in August. And many of the students have been working ahead of that. The camp alone is easily 90-100 hours of practice by the band. It’s just a tremendous amount of work for a three-hour game.”

    Assistant director of bands Cara Morantz, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Music, says that the grueling August camp went very well. She credits Murray with making the experience as good as it was. “I think all of our students are really enjoying Dr. Murray’s presence in rehearsals, as well as the many extra events associated with band,” she says. “He brings so much positive energy to each meeting. He is genuinely interested in hearing from all staff and students.”  

    Morantz, along with fellow assistant director Gene Fambrough, did the hard work of maintaining the program while the College searched for a fulltime director. While it was a challenge, she says the payoff is starting to be realized. “Keeping the program going and maintaining our numbers was of the utmost importance in the absence of football,” she says. “Now that’s it’s back, we are thrilled to have Sean’s enthusiasm leading our program.”

    Fambrough, an associate professor of percussion, agrees. “It’s been great working with Sean. He arrived on campus mid-May and has been working tirelessly ever since to make sure we had a successful year. Running the program during in the interim was surprisingly smooth, and that’s ultimately a testament to the students and their willingness to work hard.”

    Morantz says the entire band family has high hopes for the future. “We hope to see our band program, Department of Music, and university continue to grow in these next few years. It’s a very exciting time to be a Blazer.”


    In the midst of the excitement and preparation for the fall football season, Murray says his priority remains the students. “For me, as a teacher, I want to make it a great experience for the students. I want to push them,” he says. “Students who play music at the college level have been playing an instrument for a minimum of four years, probably more. But even the best student musicians can be better. Our job is to coach them up—taking what they can do and making sure they can do it even better.”

    “I think a lot of people don’t realize that 80 percent of our Marching Blazers are not music majors,” Murray says. “They are biomedical engineering majors and chemistry majors and English majors, and music is and has been an outlet for them since middle school. But at the same time, we are here to create art. People don’t necessarily see the artistic element in a marching band, but it’s there. The artistic expression sometimes gets lost and people think of what we do as only entertainment, but we are creating fine art and performing art. It’s at the foundation of everything we’re doing.”

    Regardless of what the students are studying, Murray says band members are always high-achievers and hard workers. “Smart kids do band,” he says. “They just do. It just fits naturally with their other academic pursuits. For those marching band students who are not music majors—who will end up being doctors or lawyers or engineers or computer scientists—they will become our future patrons, because they will always value the experience they had in this community, playing music and performing for the fans. It will always be a part of who they are.”

    [widgetkit id="14" name="MAGAZINE - Fall 2017 - Strike Up the Band"]

  • Risk Takers

    From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student experiences–and future careers.

    Photos by: Nik Layman

    From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student–and future careers.

    Lance Rhodes

    B.A. History, 2006
    UAB Football, 2000-2004
    Founder and Co-owner, Godspeed Gym

    As a teenager, Lance Rhodes was a football star in Birmingham’s renowned Hoover High School program. Named high school player of the year by in 2000, the receiver had an offer from UAB but signed with Arizona State instead. But Birmingham called him back. “[Tempe] was so far away,” he said. “I missed my family, and I knew I would move back to the South eventually anyway. I was close to [then-UAB assistant coach] Pat Sullivan, and UAB football had a lot of energy back then, so I decided to come home.”

    The new Blazer initially chose to major in biology, but soon switched to history because he liked it so much. Despite the demands of playing D1 football as a receiver, punt returner, and second-string quarterback, Rhodes was such a curious student, he racked up more than 200 credit hours by the time he graduated in 2006. “I ended up with an accidental minor in Exercise Science [in the School of Education],” he says. “I had always been into how the body changes, and I always wanted to be a better athlete. I tore stuff out of magazines about nutrition, fitness, kinesiology, that kind of thing. My junior year I took a class with Dr. Gary Hunter [in the School of Medicine] and just asked tons of questions. And Dr. Jane Roy, too. I just fell in love with it.”

    The spring of his senior year, Rhodes was working out with Chase Prime, the brother of Rhodes’ longtime friend and teammate Blake Prime. “Pretty soon we had all of these other guys coming to my mom and dad’s house to work out with us,” he recalls. In time, their reputation spread throughout the Hoover and Spain Park high school football programs, and Lance realized there was a business opportunity in what they were doing.

    Today, the gym and training program serves professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLB, soccer, and weightlifting, plus high school and college athletes, amateurs, and regular folks who want to get fit and live a life of wellness. Rhodes focuses on the athletes, while co-owner Blake focuses on everyone else. Rhodes says that their personalities and even college majors come into play every day in the gym. “I think that’s why we work so well together,” he says. “Blake majored in biology, and he’s good at discipline, working toward a single goal, the customer’s physical form. I’m liberal arts—more big-picture. I’m restless, I can’t stay in the same spot for long.”

    As Godspeed has grown, Rhodes and his fellow owners have plans to expand the training program via apps and licenses. But fundamentally, Rhodes sees Godspeed as more than a profession. “Our goal is meeting people where they are, and building them up in all aspects of their lives. We are servants.”

    Blake Prime

    B.S., Biology, 2006
    MBA, UAB Collat School of Business, 2009
    UAB Football, 2000-2005
    Co-owner, Godspeed Gym

    Blake Prime committed to UAB as a high school football senior at Hoover. A safety/outside linebacker and biology major, he had dreams of becoming a dentist after graduation. But the demands of football meant that important academic benchmarks sometimes had to be delayed. “It was tough, playing football while pursuing a degree in biology,” he says. “It teaches you a lot about discipline, your work ethic, and figuring out what you need to do to succeed. During the season, it got really hard to balance the schedule. To fit in all of the practices, meetings, weight training and workouts, I had to be finished with my classes by 11:00 a.m. and I couldn’t start back until after 6:00 p.m. So I missed a big window during the day when other people were taking their classes and labs.”

    He also missed the professional shadowing that freshmen and sophomores in pre-health are required to do before matriculating. “There wasn’t a lot of time to do that while I was playing football, so I had to wait until my senior year to shadow a dentist. And that’s when I discovered I really didn’t like the human mouth at all,” he says, laughing. “I was a little late realizing that dentistry wasn’t for me.”

    After graduation, Prime soon joined his brother Chase and their friend Lance Rhodes in their workouts, and before long was training high school athletes who were coming in for guidance. His ability to focus on each athlete and move them toward their individual goals quickly made him a sought-after advisor. “Here at Godspeed, we try to be welcoming, not intimidating,” he says. “We try to take what we call the ‘everyday athlete’ and guide them to better health from top to bottom: nutrition, fitness, everything. No matter your skill set or level, we’ll love on you, we’ll help you, and we’ll support you. This is like a family, and we want to help you wherever you are.”

    Prime says that that feeling of family is something he looks forward to re-establishing with the returning UAB football program. “We played for Coach Clark in high school, and we love him. We look forward to building that relationship with the team in the coming years.”

    Prime also looks forward to more growth and energy on campus, something he says was lacking when he and Rhodes were student-athletes. “That undergraduate experience wasn’t as strong back then. It’s a totally different feeling now. For years, I think people would drive along University Boulevard and look up and realize, ‘I think we just drove through UAB.’ It’s not like that anymore. There’s a buzz about it, and I’m so excited to see what the team and the university can accomplish. It’s vital that the city continues to move as UAB moves.”

    Dr. Brandi Bonner-Cooke Patton

    B.A., French, 1998
    M.D., UAB School of Medicine, 2002
    Color Guard (’94-’95), Majorette (’95-’96), Blazerette (’97-’98)
    Psychiatrist, Birmingham VA Medical Center
    Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, UAB School of Medicine

    It’s not always common to meet a French major who goes on to medical school, but it’s not unheard of, either. Especially not at UAB, where, as Dr. Brandi Patton points out, “You can study anything you want and come out on top.”

    Patton, a Hueytown native who attended the demanding Resource Learning Center (RLC) high school (now the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate school), was a high-achieving, ambitious student. She applied to several select schools—and was accepted to Yale—before her dad shared some words of wisdom that cut through the noise of her college search.

    “My dad didn’t go to college—he worked at U.S. Steel for decades, and I was really independent so he didn’t really tell me what he thought about my decisions very often. But there were two times he put his foot down. One time was going to RLC—he said, ‘No, you’re going to at least try it. If you hate it, you can come back to Hueytown.’ And the other time, when I found out I made it into the Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP) at UAB and I wasn’t sure if it was right, he said, ‘You need to do this. You shouldn’t let this pass by.’ It was the 11th hour and I finally said, ‘Okay, I need to seize on this opportunity.’”

    Patton says she chose French as her major because, “I loved the humanities, and I couldn’t give it up. I knew I was going to be doing years of science in medical school and my residency, and I didn’t want to burn out. I had advisors encouraging me, and even had faculty teach me one-on-one in my 400-level classes to make sure I matriculated on time and finished with my EMSAP group. I had a lot of support, particularly from Dr. Catherine Daniélou and Dr. Serge Bokobza in the French department, and Dr. Greg Pence, who directs the EMSAP program.”

    With a chemistry minor preparing her for the science demands of medical school, Patton says her French major was useful, too—in sometimes surprising ways. “I think my French helped me keep my perspective. It reminded me that no matter how narrow my focus became, the world was a bigger place. It helped me stay centered and gave me a global perspective. And it helped me with medical terminology, since Latin is the root of French.”

    Patton was a high school majorette and even in her college search, looked for band programs that fielded majorettes. As a freshman at UAB, she first joined the color guard, which was the same pattern she followed in high school. After two years, she became a majorette, then decided to take a break her junior year. As a senior, she joined the Blazerette dance team. “I really did it all,” she laughs.

    Looking back, Patton says her years in the band auxiliary programs made such a difference in her college experience, and even in her career. “It was exciting, there was a lot of energy,” she says. “There was a lot of support for us: from advisors, from my professors, from my sorority sisters, from my fellow majorettes. In fact, a lot of us went into healthcare: I know of at least two nurses and two doctors from that group.”

    “The truth is, you can’t do anything on your own,” she says. “UAB was a community around me. You can get a first-class education at UAB. It’s as good or better as anywhere in the country.”

    Today, she stays in touch with Stacy Hester Arnold, who coordinates all of the UAB Auxiliary programs. Patton and her family are also football season ticket holders and are excited for the 2017 season. “I can’t wait,” she says. “I can’t wait to see the field show and take in the whole experience again—seeing people tailgating, seeing old friends, seeing your colors. It’s going to be fantastic.”

    Dr. Malinda Blair O’Leary

    B.A., Spanish, 2000
    M.Ed., UAB School of Education, 2002
    Ph.D., University of Alabama, 2008
    Blazerette (’98-‘00)
    Assistant Professor of Spanish, UAB Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

    Like many college students, Malinda Blair O’Leary started with one plan yet ended up following another. The Hoover High School graduate came to UAB with a goal of majoring in physical therapy but found the math and science challenging. Though she had loved studying other languages and cultures since elementary school, “that felt more like a hobby to me,” she says. “I felt like I had to find a major that led to a clear career path.” Eventually, after watching her struggle, her dad stepped in with some fatherly advice. “He said, ‘Why don’t you just study what you like and are good at?’” O’Leary recalls. So she changed her major to Spanish, and has since built a successful career as a Spanish professor.

    O’Leary trained in the Korean martial art of tae kwon do from age six and competed at the national level. In high school, she tried out for the high school dance line but wasn’t selected. She says she didn’t give either activity much thought at UAB until her sophomore year, when one of her sorority sisters said she was going to try out for the Blazerettes and asked her to come along. To O’Leary’s surprise, she made the squad, but her friend did not. “I think the tae kwon do was a big help,” she says. “I could kick really high. And I was relaxed because I wasn’t as invested in it as some of the other girls.”

    O’Leary says that spontaneous tryout transformed her undergraduate experience in ways as profound as her change in major. “I was ecstatic,” she says. “Back in high school, [the dance team members] were the cool kids. The fact that I didn’t make it then but made it at the university level—that was the affirmation I needed.”

    “It was a delightful distraction,” she continues. “It physically gave me something to do that was healthy. And I had always loved marching band, the horns and the drums. Being a Blazerette really completed my UAB experience. As a child, my parents had taken me to Jacksonville State football games and I had watched their incredible band and their kick line of ballerinas. They had also literally carried me—when I was too young to even walk—to UAB basketball games. To be a part of the Blazerettes and the Marching Blazers really brought all of those experiences together for me. It was the cherry on top.”

    O’Leary managed her coursework, a part-time job, and her band practices with supportive faculty, friends, and the auxiliary coordinators. And today, particularly as a college professor watching undergraduates juggling all that they have to manage, she sees the value in her experiences. “My sorority, the band, and my friends in foreign languages—those were all different worlds,” she says. “But the extracurricular activities were the things that got me out of my room and kept me energized. It’s the same with my students today.

    Getting involved means you’re around other people who are also motivated by school. They are the ones who want to be a part of something bigger. And being around them, you end up doing better yourself.”

    O’Leary joined the UAB Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures as an instructor in 2005 while she completed her graduate coursework. Today, she focuses primarily on intermediate and acquisition classes, including courses in the Spanish for Business and Applied Professional Spanish tracks. She’s watched the changes to the football and Marching Blazers program closely over the past few years, and says she’s happy to see the enthusiasm restored to campus.

    “Football creates such a culture around it,” she says. “Basketball is a big part of the UAB experience and has always had a lot of energy, but it can’t do it alone. Football brings some activity and some energy to campus that I think was a little bit missing. When I think about all those times I was on the field looking up at the stands—I was literally in the middle of it—there’s nothing like it. To hear the music blaring all around you, completely surrounding you, and know that you’re a part of making that moment happen for the crowd, it’s exhilarating.”

    Kindall Jones Cornelius

    B.A., English, 2010
    M.Ed., UAB School of Education, 2011
    Cheerleader (’06-’10)
    Ninth-grade English teacher, Helena High School

    From a young age, Kindall Jones Cornelius knew she wanted to be a teacher. And specifically, since she was a cheerleader herself, she wanted to be able to coach cheerleading at the high school level. But she never thought her own cheerleading career would continue past high school until her sister Lindsey intervened.

    “My sister encouraged me to try out,“ Cornelius says. “And when I say encouraged, I mean she strongly encouraged. She told me to use my size to my advantage. She told me that colleges would want someone like me, who was small but skilled. Basically, she forced me to do it,” she laughs.

    So, the petite high school senior, who liked security and predictability more than risk and uncertainty, took one of her first risks: she attended a few cheerleading clinics, then tried out at UAB. And she made the squad. “I tell people that I didn’t choose UAB—UAB chose me,” she says.

    That fateful decision fundamentally changed Cornelius’ life, yet ironically ensured that her dream of teaching and coaching high school cheerleading would come to pass. She decided to major in English after eliminating the STEM subjects and other humanities degrees. She also knew she didn’t want to teach younger children, and high school English seemed like a good goal after having rewarding experiences with her own high school English teachers. After a few composition and literature classes at UAB, she knew she’d made the right decision. “Dr. Miranda Graves was a great mentor to me,” she says. “And

    Dr. Alison Chapman taught me Shakespeare and Milton. They really inspired me.”

    As she progressed through her academic courses, Cornelius also had a full schedule of practices, sporting events, and even a job at Snoozy’s. But she says her natural organizational abilities—and the support she received at UAB—made all the difference. “I have always been very organized,” she says. “I’m good at time management. But I also had coaches who made sure that all of us were able to take the classes we were required to take. Once I got to be a junior and senior, there were classes I had to have to graduate but they would only be offered once a year. The coaches would meet with the squad each semester and find out when we had to be in class, and would adjust our practices accordingly. One year we practiced at 6:00 a.m. just to avoid the academic conflicts.”

    As a freshman and the only newcomer to an established team, Cornelius cheered on the co-ed squad, which was separate from the all-girls squad. The co-ed squad covered home and away football games and men’s basketball games, while the all-girl squad covered women’s basketball and volleyball. By her second year, the squads were combined. “I had incredible experiences as a result of cheering,” she says. “We traveled all over the country, and I got to cheer in SEC stadiums. It was hard to be the youngest, newest team member when I was a freshman, but the upperclassmen welcomed me and taught me so much. It was an amazing experience and the people I cheered with—as well as band members and others—have become my closest friends.”

    Today, in her own ninth-grade English classes at Helena High School, Cornelius is able to share much of what she learned at UAB with her young students. “I tell them UAB would be a great choice because of the rigorous, demanding academics,” she says. “My sister got three degrees from UA, and she will tell you that my course load at UAB was harder than anything she took there.”

    But she also reminds them that college success is about more than academics. “I always tell them, you have to get involved,” she says. “You have to be in a club, be in an organization, work for the magazine or newspaper, be in the band. I taught a cheerleader here at Helena last year who went to an in-state university, and so several of the other cheerleaders followed her there. That’s fine, but I don’t want my students choosing their college based only on what their friends are doing. I tell them, ‘You have to get out of your comfort zone.’”

    “It was hard for me to decide to go to UAB,” she says. “I knew no one there; I had to take a chance. But I did it, and I made friends for a lifetime. All because I took a risk.”

  • Just This Once, A little Health Advice

    Am I the only one who feels bombarded by unwanted health advice? You can’t open a newspaper (remember those?), a magazine, the internet, or turn on the television without stumbling across someone dispensing tips for living a longer, healthier life.

    By Dr. Steven N. Austad

    Am I the only one who feels bombarded by unwanted health advice?   

    You can’t open a newspaper (remember those?), a magazine, the internet, or turn on the television without stumbling across someone dispensing tips for living a longer, healthier life. It could be eating more blueberries, consuming massive amounts of antioxidant vitamins, devouring less red meat, drinking more red wine, sleeping more or sleeping less, activating your hormones, or maybe just balancing them (whatever that means).   

    For someone like myself who studies the biology of aging and works daily to discover ways to keep us healthy longer, it is painful to hear so much worthless advice all in the service of making someone a buck from our insecurities about aging and ill health. Even Hollywood celebrities without a shred of scientific knowledge or medical training feel free to get in on the act. Yes, I’m looking at you, Gwenyth Paltrow.  

    I usually don’t offer health advice myself, but this one time I will make an exception. This advice is specifically for young people. It is scientifically validated in dozens of studies and accepted by all the professional researchers in the field. Here it is: Get a college education.  

    Yes, getting a college education is a miracle drug for health and longevity. In study after study, those with a college degree live 8-10 years longer than those who don’t complete high school and 4-5 years longer than those who do complete high school but go no farther. Beyond that, the longevity of people with a college degree is continuing to increase, whereas the longevity of people with just a high school diploma has been relatively level, and for those without a high school diploma is actually declining.

    The funny thing about this unexpected benefit of a college education is that we don’t really understand what causes it. You might expect that more education would lead to better health habits. That is true. College educated people are far less likely to smoke or be obese than the less well-educated, for instance. However, that only explains a fraction of the longer life. You might expect that more education would lead to greater wealth, hence better access to medical care. That is also true, but again it also only explains part of the longevity difference. In the United Kingdom, where everyone has the same access to medical care, you still find the college health bonus. Education also protects against Alzheimer’s disease. We don’t really understand that either.  

    One attractive, though unproven, idea is that college gives us the lifelong gift of valuing learning. Learning new things keeps us mentally active, keeps us looking into the future. It may be a cliché that a healthy attitude promotes actual health, but clichés often embody truth. Whatever the reason, the fact remains. If you want a long and healthy life, make sure that you get that college degree.  

    Here in the College of Arts and Sciences, my colleagues and I are working to advance our research, but most importantly, we’re working to educate the next generation of students. Doing so guarantees their development as informed global citizens and prepares them for their future professions—but it also just might ensure that they live a longer, healthier life.

    Dr. Steven N. Austad is chair of the Department of Biology and the director of the UAB Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging.