Arts & Sciences Magazine

Fall 2018

  • Fall 2018: Letter from Robert E. Palazzo, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences

    If you haven't been to campus lately, I can't stress enough how different the environment is from what you may remember from your student days.

    As always, fall is a busy time here in the College of Arts and Sciences. With enrollments continuing to grow, it seems that students are everywhere—in the hallways, on the sidewalks, and crossing the Green and Mini Park. Across University Boulevard from our offices here in Heritage Hall, I've enjoyed seeing students taking advantage of the wonderful indoor and outdoor facilities at the Hill Student Center: enjoying concerts, working with clubs and organizations, and socializing at festivals and food events.

    If you haven't been to campus lately, I can't stress enough how different the environment is from what you may remember from your student days. Our new Arts & Sciences academic building is an important addition to the increasingly sophisticated and attractive campus that UAB is creating. When our building opens next fall, it will be home to seven of our 19 academic departments, complete with offices, conference and meeting rooms, classrooms, and a 300-seat auditorium, all equipped with the latest technology and equipment to ensure the best possible research and instruction for our faculty and students.

    But we know the building will also be another one of the popular gathering spaces for our growing student body. There will be bright, well-furnished indoor spaces where they can relax, study, or spend time with friends. The outside terrace, with its view of the Green, Dining Commons, residence halls, and Recreation Center, will become one of the best spots on campus to see and be seen. And with its location on the corner of 10th Avenue South and 14th Street South, it will provide an important anchor to this side of campus, and a gateway to the buildings nearby.

    Help us build a legacy by supporting our new building project. Learn more about naming opportunities.

    We look forward to seeing you on campus this fall.

    Go Blazers!
    R.E. Palazzo, Dean

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  • Spring 2018 events in the College of Arts & Sciences

    Catch up with some of the big events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, from Spring Flings to an exhibit at AEIVA.

    Spring Flings

    Perhaps there's no better way to end a semester than by honoring both our students who receive valuable scholarships and the donors who so generously support them. Our Scholarship and Awards Luncheon is always a special event and is a chance for students and their donors to meet and learn more about each other. This year, in addition to three student speakers, we were also inspired by a performance by the Carlos Pino UAB Jazz Combo.

    We also enjoyed several fun alumni gatherings, including a party at Regions Field when the UAB Baseball team played the Birmingham Barons. And alumnus Alexander Shunnarah graciously hosted us at his office overlooking Sloss Furnaces, where faculty and alumni enjoyed an evening together.

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    Ireland Award and AEIVA

    We were honored to present the Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar Award to Andrew Solomon, a prolific and award-winning writer and activist. Solomon's work touches on a wide range of interests, from psychology and mental health to politics and the arts, and his lecture focused on parent-child relationships and LGBTQ-related health and family issues, which were the subjects of his 2012 book, ”Far from the Tree.” AEIVA also hosted a number of successful exhibitions, including Carlos Rolon's ”Boxed,” and ”Focus III: I'll See it When I Believe It,” from the collection of Jack and Rebecca Drake.

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  • Alumni honored at the 2018 UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 event

    We are proud to announce that eight College of Arts and Sciences alumni were honored as members of the 2018 class of the UAB Excellence in Business Top 25.

    We are proud to announce that eight College of Arts and Sciences alumni were honored as members of the 2018 class of the UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 on Friday, June 21, at the UAB National Alumni Society House.

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

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

    1. The company must be owned, managed or founded by a UAB graduate (or group of graduates) who meets one of the following:
      • Owned 50 percent or more of the company during the most recent eligible period.
      • Served on the most senior/division leadership team (chairman, CEO, president, partner, vice president, broker, etc.) during the eligible period.
    2. The company has been in operation for a minimum of three years prior to December 31, 2017.
    3. The company has verifiable revenues of at least $150,000 for its most recent 12-month reporting period.

    Congratulations to our deserving graduates!

    ADAM ALDRICH

    Aldrich is the President and Co-Founder of Airship, a software development firm in Birmingham. Airship deploys a wide array of technologies to service clients in 11 states and across a range of industries, including healthcare, construction, retail, insurance, real estate, non-profit, and fitness. Aldrich graduated with a bachelor's in computer and information sciences in 2008.

    DR. CHARLES D. BISHOP

    Dr. Bishop is the owner of Metroplex Endodontics & Microsurgery in Dallas, Texas, where he is in practice with his wife. He graduated in 1991 with an M.S. in biology and in 1998 with a Ph.D. in biology, before receiving his D.M.D. from the Baylor College of Dentistry.


    JOHN BURDETT

    Burdett is the CEO of Fast Slow Motion, a Birmingham-based firm that provides support for companies and organizations using Salesforce, a cloud computing firm specializing in customer relationship management. Burdett graduated with a bachelor's in computer and information sciences in 2000.

    CINDY IRWIN

    Irwin is the Human Resources Director for Kelley & Mullis Wealth Management, based in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. The independent investment firm was founded more than 25 years ago; as HR director, Irwin directs human resources as well as support services and public relations/marketing. She graduated in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in psychology.


    DR. MARY DICKERSON LEE

    Franklin Primary Health Center, Inc. is a Mobile-based community health clinic founded in 1975 with a goal to provide quality healthcare to underserved communities. Dr. Lee is the Chief Dental Director at the clinic and graduated with a B.A. in natural science in 1989 and a D.M.D. from the UAB School of Dentistry in 1992.

    JOE MALUFF

    Maluff and his brother David bought the original Full Moon Bar-B-Que restaurant in 1997 and have been growing the business steadily ever since. Full Moon now has 14 locations across the state with ideas on expansion to other states in the future. Maluff graduated in 1996 with a B.S. in psychology.


    BLAKE PRIME AND LANCE RHODES

    Prime, who graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2006 with a B.S. in biology and in 2011 with an M.B.A. from the Collat School of Business, is the director of adult fitness at Godspeed Elite Sports Academy in Hoover. Rhodes, a 2008 graduate with a B.A. in history, is the owner of Godspeed and the director of athletic performance.

     



    In addition to our eight honorees, two alumni won top honors in Fastest Growing Companies with annual revenues under $10 Million: Adam Aldrich, CEO of Airship, 75 percent growth; and John Burdett, CEO of Fast Slow Motion, 71 percent growth.

    And in the Fastest Growing Companies with annual revenues over $10 million, the top winner was alumnus Joe Maluff of Full Moon Bar-B-Que with 35 percent growth over the previous year.

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  • Award winning: What it takes for students to win major scholarships and awards

    The number of College of Arts and Sciences students who win major national and international scholarships and fellowships grows every year. What does it take to win one of these major prizes?

    The number of College of Arts and Sciences students who win major national and international scholarships and fellowships grows every year. What does it take to win one of these major prizes? And what does the achievement mean for our students as they pursue their goals?

    Sarah Faulkner, a 2017 graduate with bachelor’s degrees in art with a concentration in art history and sociology.

    When chemistry major Gunnar Eastep fell asleep early after his last final in fall of 2017, he never dreamed that he’d wake up to a nomination for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. “When I woke up, I saw the nomination and was pretty ecstatic about it,” he says. “All-around, it was a very surreal experience, especially since I had no clue what to expect.”

    He had turned in the application about a month before he found out. “I spent a week writing terrible drafts and deleting them the next day,” he says. “I found it challenging to write a succinct and interesting personal statement without sounding overly clichéd.”

    But this portion of the application wasn’t the only part that challenged Eastep. Outside of the personal statement and description of future goals, the application also requires students to write a research proposal detailing the work they’ve already accomplished as well as discussing what comes next. However, unlike most scientific journals, this proposal has to be written in the first person.

    For Eastep, this portion meant detailing the research he’d pursued under Dr. Jamil Saad, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, who has a secondary appointment in the Department of Chemistry. Here, he’d studied the role of a particular protein in certain portions of retrovirus replication. Before last summer, his work had focused on the protein’s role in replicating the avian sarcoma virus.

    Eastep says the support he received from faculty was critical to his completion of the application, and his success in winning the Goldwater. “Without Dr. Saad and the experiences I’ve had doing research in his lab, winning the Goldwater scholarship wouldn’t have been possible,” he says. “It certainly gives me a lot of confidence moving forward.

    ”Dr. Gray in the chemistry department has been a great help for me, too,” Eastep adds. ”He was the professor for several of my chemistry courses and wrote one of my recommendations for the scholarship. Although he didn't mentor my research, he was so helpful in giving career advice and has undoubtedly been my favorite professor.”

    OPTIONS

    The science-focused Goldwater Scholarship is only one of the many prestigious scholarships and fellowships that College of Arts and Sciences students can apply for. These programs range widely from scholarships for students in specific disciples to fellowships, which provide short-term learning opportunities. These experiences also vary: some support research projects at specific universities, while others are aimed at developing independent research projects on a myriad of subjects.

    Sources of funding for these programs are just as diverse as the offerings themselves. Some, like the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, are sponsored by federal government agencies to bolster international relationships. Other governmental agencies fund scholarships aimed at ensuring future public servants speak languages critical to international diplomacy.

    From left to right: Anthonia Carter, Gunnar Eastep, and Ayla McCay

    These few programs are only the tip of the iceberg. Yet other programs are financed by private trusts to encourage traditionally marginalized groups to participate in specific fields, and others include on-campus research programs sponsored by multiple organizations from various backgrounds.

    In addition to strengthening recipients’ resumes, many of these programs also connect participants with their alumni networks, adding an additional level of value with professional connections.

    Depending on a student’s major and interests, one or several of these programs may be a fit. But one thing is consistent across all of these offerings: the application process is rigorous. Writing essays, securing recommendation letters, and, if necessary, preparing for interviews is time-consuming, and requires long-term hard work and focus. Although the payoff is great, there is a significant time commitment involved in getting there.

    RESEARCH

    Recipients of the Goldwater Scholarship like Eastep receive a set amount of money each year to put towards books, living expenses, tuition, and other fees. Although Eastep believes he would be pursuing a very similar course of study and research if he had not been chosen, he calls the scholarship a big confidence boost. “Being awarded the Goldwater scholarship has been immensely gratifying considering how long I’ve been working as a student researcher,” he says. “It’s definitely a massive boon to my career prospects, and particularly graduate applications.”

    Senior neuroscience student Jasmin Revanna

    Other students benefit from the research opportunities afforded by fellowships rather than scholarships. One such program is the Amgen Scholars U.S. Program, which provides summer research opportunities at one of 10 universities around the country. Funded by the Amgen Foundation, this program connects participants from all over the world while also allowing them to undertake a rigorous research program under different faculty. Senior neuroscience student Jasmin Revanna attended the 2017 session at Caltech, and used her time in the fellowship to optimize a genetic editing tool to activate and deactivate targeted genes in nematodes.

    Each of the Amgen schools has an individual application process. In addition to the traditional personal statements, transcripts, and letters of recommendation, Caltech also requires applicants to identify a researcher and work with them to write a research proposal for their time in the program, says Revanna. “This takes a lot of communicating back and forth, so starting early is always recommended.”

    To continue her 2017 research, she applied to the 2018 WAVE Fellows Program at Caltech. This fellowship is designed to open the school’s research resources to demographics that are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, and Revanna applied in hopes of returning to the same lab to test the system she’d built the summer before.

    Though her research focus ended up being different—there, she built more than 100 tools for the public to use to study the role of specific neurotransmitters in nematodes—she feels that both experiences were extremely valuable.

    “These fellowships helped me discover what I want to do after graduation, which is go to graduate school,” she says. Revanna continues that these two fellowships have given her the confidence to apply to high caliber graduate programs to further her studies. But she’s not limiting herself to only one possibility: Revanna is also currently applying for a Fulbright fellowship to do research abroad.

    INTERNATIONAL/GLOBAL

    The Fulbright fellowship is arguably one of the most recognizable fellowship programs in the world. They award approximately 1,900 grants annually to students and recent graduates who want to do projects to study culture or science or to teach abroad. In 2018, six UAB students received the honor. Sarah Faulkner, who graduated in 2017 with bachelor’s degrees in art with a concentration in art history and sociology, applied to the program to study the textile art of the Lepcha, a cultural group indigenous to Sikkim, India.

    During her time abroad, Faulkner will research and compile a record of the Lepcha’s crafts, study the local language, and begin studying local Buddhist art. “Due to both their integration with daily life and the history associated with them, Lepcha textiles represent a vibrant, fundamental facet of Lepcha heritage,” she says. “I aim to highlight both Lepcha culture and their arts, which go hand-in-hand. I hope to also learn more about the Lepcha’s folklore, performative arts, and language, which is an essential factor of the Lepcha identity.”

    WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

    CATCHING UP WITH A FEW ALUMS

    MUNA AL-SAFARJALANI

    Class of 2017

    Muna Al-Safarjalani graduated in 2017 with a degree in chemistry. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy.

    REBECCA EGELAND

    Class of 2015

    After graduating with a degree in communication studies in 2015, Rebecca Egeland joined the Southern Company as a research communication specialist on the Research and Development Team. She also has a budding music career. In her free time, she’s a singer-songwriter, and can often be found at an open mic or playing a local venue with a ukulele in hand.

    BRENDAN RICE

    Class of 2012

    Brendan Rice graduated with a degree in international studies in 2012 and he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable international agriculture at the University of Göttingen (Germany) as a Fulbright Scholar. Prior to this, Rice worked for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Sierra Leone and Italy. He also worked in Uganda with smallholder farmers to promote food security.

    ALI MASSOUD

    Class of 2017

    Massoud graduated in 2017 with a degree in international studies. He currently works with CAIR Alabama (Council on American-Islamic Relations) as a government affairs coordinator, where he is charged with educating and engaging voters for increased civic participation.

    Faulkner says she worked on her application every day for about four months. Though the process was rigorous, it was made easier because she had a clear idea of what she wanted to do. “Even so, I must have gone through at least three dozen drafts of my essays, which included a personal statement and a rather detailed outline of my research objectives and methods,” she says.

    “You have to think in concrete terms and explain your plan and purpose unambiguously,” she continues. “The only advice I have for that is just to be well-read on the area you plan to stay in and culture you intend to study, your research, and other similar projects that could serve as guides for your own. I personally took inspiration from the work already being done by various government-sponsored institutes across India to preserve the country’s traditional arts and the methodology of the cataloging work that I had done in the past as an undergraduate.”

    Another federally funded program open to about 600 students each year is the Critical Language Scholarship Program. Students who receive this scholarship undergo an eight-week language immersion in a language important to national security and economic prosperity. At the same time, students are also learning about and living in the culture they’ve studied to enhance their understanding.

    For UAB Honors College Global Community Leadership program student Ayla McCay, the scholarship enabled her to study Korean as part of her goal to work in international human rights.

    The application process, she says, was straightforward, but the impact the program had on her future plans was unexpected. “As a student from a low-income background, I never thought that studying abroad would be an option,” she says. “Because of CLS and the help of our fellowship office, my life is going in a direction I never thought would be possible.”

    All of the students are shepherded through the application and selection process by Ashley Floyd Kuntz, Ph.D., fellowships director and assistant professor in the UAB Honors College. Dr. Kuntz says that all of the students applying for fellowships and scholarships, regardless of whether they are members of the Honors College or not, have a tremendous support system around them—one that goes all the way to the top. "We are fortunate to have the strong support of President Watts," she says. "Dr. Watts makes time each fall to meet with nominees and learn about the projects they’re proposing. He advises students to be themselves, even when facing intimidating interview panels, and he encourages students to believe in their potential to compete at the highest levels. Few university presidents take such a sincere interest in getting to know students and celebrating their successes."

    POST-GRADUATE

    Some of these programs support recent grads’ graduate studies. Anthonia Carter, who graduated with degrees in mathematics and art, applied for and received the Fulbright Study/Research grant to pursue a degree in multidisciplinary innovation at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. The application process was pretty standard, she says. “I chose to pursue this because I come from a multidisciplinary background of mathematics and art. I’m passionate about giving back and teaching kids that anyone is capable of learning and giving them the confidence to learn.”

    The hardest part, she continues, was opening up to write her personal statement. “The easiest thing to do is to talk about my academic background. It was harder to open up and let them see what motivates me—to tell them that I was raised by a single mom who said that if I didn’t do well, she wouldn’t pay for college.”

    During her time in the program, she has learned a lot about identifying and solving organizational, systemic, and creative problems in many industries. All of this, she says, is in preparation to get her Ph.D., and to one day open a youth-focused community center.

    CHANGED LIVES

    For some of these students, the award has only solidified their future plans. But for a few of them, this experience has completely changed the trajectory of their lives. “My time in Korea has definitely changed my plans for the future,” McCay says. “[While] applying for CLS, I thought that Korean language and culture would only be a small part of my career going forward with international human rights. Now, I cannot see a future that does not involve going back to Korea.”

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  • The science and philosophy of Aquaman

    With the latest Justice League movie coming to theaters this Christmas, we ask: what does Aquaman represent? And could he really talk to sea creatures?

    With the latest Justice League movie coming to theaters this Christmas, we ask: what does Aquaman represent? And could he really talk to sea creatures? Faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences weigh in.

    by Julie Keith


    Half-human, half-Atlantean, Aquaman has never been as famous or beloved as his fellow DC Justice Leaguers Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. His powers never seemed as impressive as theirs, and for a few decades, he was hard to take seriously, thanks to his presence on 1970s television shows, ”Superfriends,” and ”Man from Atlantis,” where Patrick Duffy's performance inspired little more than a new, funny way for kids to swim at the neighborhood pool. But a new, big budget movie will be in theaters this Christmas, capitalizing on the Marvel/DC superhero zeitgeist and aspiring to elevate Aquaman to the realm of the truly heroic.

    While the Comic-Con crowd is carefully watching every trailer—and posting their criticisms and enthusiasms online—faculty members in the College are examining ideas and theories that connect to Aquaman's story in fascinating ways. Why do we remain so interested in these superhero stories? What is it that ensures their popularity 70 years after they first appeared in WWII-era comic books? What does science tell us about underwater communication and navigation? Can we ever learn to ”talk” to whales and dolphins?

    An Ear for It

    Dr. Winston Lancaster, assistant professor in the Department of Biology.While Aquaman can communicate with all manner of marine life, Dr. Winston Lancaster, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, says the reality is much more complex. ”First of all, things sound very differently underwater,” he says. ”Sound travels more than three times faster in water, and that speed makes it very hard to know where sounds are coming from.”

    ”Think about being at the lake, how you can hear boats underwater even if you can't see them on the surface,” he explains. ”But under the surface you can't tell where they are or if they're coming toward you or away from you. Directionality is very different underwater, and that's because the sound travels so much faster.”

    Lancaster, whose degrees are in zoology, geology, and human anatomy, studies the structure and function of the ears of marine mammals. A teaching faculty member at UAB responsible for all sections of human anatomy (a course taken by more than 900 students each year, he points out), Lancaster pursues his research curiosities via the lab of a former colleague who studies calling and hearing in dolphins. ”It's hard enough to study small marine mammals that can be moved to a tank, much less large ones,” he says. ”It's virtually impossible, in fact. So, we're applying an engineering technique called finite element analysis to build a model of how we think these animals hear.”

    Among marine mammals, the larger whales are sensitive to low frequencies, Lancaster says. They can hear over very long distances, because low-frequency sound waves travel farther than high-frequency ones. ”These frequencies are lower than 25 hertz, which is about the same as the lowest A on a piano keyboard,” he says. ”What's fascinating is those sound waves are so low that they're actually three times longer than the length of the entire body of a blue whale. The question is, if the ear is small and located just up at the whale's head, how can it hear that entire sound wave?”

    Conversely, smaller marine mammals hear high-frequency sounds, which they also use to echolocate. ”They emit sounds and then listen to the bounce-back,” Lancaster says. ”That's really good for directionality, but those higher-frequency waves can only travel over short distances.” Big whales, on the other hand, cannot echolocate at all.

    Regardless of the type of hearing these marine animals use, Lancaster says, ”They live in a world of sound. Visual orientation is severely limited, since below about 200 feet there is almost no light at all.”

    ”The whale ear is basically unchanged since these mammals returned to the sea 40 million years ago,” he continues, pointing out that different marine mammals have different ear structures. If you look at high-resolution scans of whales, the ear bones are very easy to see because they're so dense. But the soft tissues of muscle, fat, and cartilage are much harder to see on the scans. Dolphins' inner ears are suspended in these fatty, fleshy tissues and are not connected to the skull by other bones. That isolation cuts down on sound vibration in their heads, which improves their sense of directionality. Whereas large whales' inner ears are connected bone-to-bone, useful for an animal using low frequency sounds and no echolocation.

    Which brings us back to Aquaman.

    ”How would he communicate?” Lancaster asks, genuinely puzzling over the question. ”He would need to be able to hear the lower frequencies so he could talk to the big whales. But he'd also need the ears of smaller whales so he could echolocate with them, which is a completely different anatomy. I'm not saying it's not possible, it's just curious to think about.”

    I Need a Hero

    Meanwhile, Dr. Matt King, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, teaches smaller classes of students who sign up for his ”Philosophy and Superheroes” course. It's a class he invented at UAB and will be teaching for the third time this fall.

    ”Philosophy is considered a 'discovery major,' meaning students' first exposure is in college,” King explains. ”And since there's no accurate representation of philosophy in popular culture, this seemed like a good way to teach it. Superheroes are ubiquitous, and the worlds they inhabit are easy to co-opt as a familiar context and use to teach an unfamiliar discipline. It's simply a framework for discussing philosophical ideas.”

    Matt King, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy.Unlike Lancaster's course, a prerequisite for all pre-health majors, King's is a special topics class and is open to anyone. (”It requires no pre-requisites either way, neither superheroes nor philosophy,” he says.) The course has clearly established pedagogical goals: to get students excited about philosophy, and to teach the fundamentals of the discipline.

    ”I update the course each time, engaging with more recent movies,” he says. ”But it always starts with moral philosophy and expands from there. We're looking at the decisions these superheroes make and their rationale for it. And these thought experiments are fairly easy to do with comic book characters. They've been tweaked so many times, yet it doesn't confuse the myth or undermine the character in any fundamental way. Which in itself is an interesting question of fictional truths.”

    For example, King's students examine the role of state authority, public accountability, and the obligations we have as individuals to serve our own interests versus others' via the 2016 film, "Captain America: Civil War."

    In the Spider-Man myth, teenager Peter Parker initially hesitates to use his new superpowers to help others. That resistance ultimately contributes to the death of Parker's beloved Uncle Ben. Parker, consumed with guilt, adopts the mantra, ”with great power comes great responsibility,” and assumes the role of Spider-Man. ”Philosophy has a similar principle,” King says. ”'If you can help, you should help.' But you can see the complications that suggests. Take Superman: he doesn't have to eat or sleep, so he's always available to anyone who needs help, all over the world. So, can Superman have friends? Is this obligation to help fair to Spider-Man and Superman?”

    Additionally, the Superman story allows students to consider the idea of how names and identity are connected—or aren't—a philosophy explored in depth by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century. Mill considered the two names the ancient Greeks had for the planet Venus: the god Phosphorus (the Morning Star), and the god Hesperus (the Evening Star). Can we use two names for the same thing?

    ”Think about it this way: Lois Lane would never want to have lunch with Clark Kent, but she would love to go to dinner with Superman,” King says. ”We can understand that. But aren't they just two names for the same person? What is it about one that is different from the other? How can we hold these different identities in our minds while still understanding they are one and the same person?”

    While King mostly teaches ethics courses, "Philosophy and Superheroes" allows him to explore many philosophical ideas, such as our sense of self. ”We really think about ourselves as having two identities: the psychological and the physical,” he says. ”We know we can change physical things about a person without changing who they are, while psychological changes are more fundamental to a person's identity. What we call dementia today is often presented as body-switching in fiction. And these kinds of schisms between the mind and body in superheroes are interesting to explore.”

    ”In the Wolverine story, he has his memory wiped more than once over his long lifespan,” King says. ”That makes his psychology different. So I ask my students, 'Should Wolverine feel guilt about the bad things he did in the past but he doesn't remember doing?'”

    When it comes to Aquaman, King refers to another classic philosophical text, ”What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” written in the 1970s by Thomas Nagel. ”The article examines the idea that we can't really know what it's like to be a bat, because we can't echolocate,” King says. ”There's been some recent pushback on that—some science has shown that humans can do a sort of proto-location. But the question remains as to whether we can really understand it or represent it and other powers and experiences in film or comic books. Daredevil is blind but can echolocate. How do you depict this from a viewer's standpoint? It's not like dogs and bees, which have eyes but see differently from humans. How does Ant-Man control ants? How does Aquaman talk to fish and whales? Can they really have the same thoughts?”

    (Not Entirely) Suspending Disbelief

    But "Aquaman" is just a movie, right? A bit of escapist fun that allows us to enter a fictional world that's radically different from our own—a story chock-full of bad guys, big climactic battles, and the charismatic, heroic figure (and his or her sidekick) that saves humanity at the end.

    It is that. It's why we'll pay too much for the tickets and the concessions and participate in the cultural moment. But maybe in the car on the way home, or in the days after you see the movie, think about our research areas, and how our faculty are using these contemporary myths to teach in innovative ways. It's the interdisciplinary strength of the College of Arts and Sciences, where the empirical science of whale ears lives right alongside the mind/body divide symbolized by The Hulk.

    How can we accept this tattooed, long-haired, Polynesian-version of the superhero as ”real” when there have been so many other versions before? Can Aquaman really communicate with marine life? And what does it say about us that we, for a few hours anyway, believe that he can?

    Worth pondering at your local multiplex this December.

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  • Common threads: The value of interdisciplinary partnerships

    Our university enables faculty to make connections across various disciplines, schools, and centers, and being a part of the College of Arts and Sciences provides my colleagues and me with a broad platform to support this kind of effective interdisciplinary work.

    Our university enables faculty to make connections across various disciplines, schools, and centers, and being a part of the College of Arts and Sciences provides my colleagues and me with a broad platform to support this kind of effective interdisciplinary work. Even in the short time I've been at UAB, I have developed three interdisciplinary courses that have service learning goals and ongoing research endeavors.

    By working with willing faculty members from the Departments of History and Art and Art History, we developed a "Birmingham Neighborhood Studies" course that involves student examination of four specific Birmingham Neighborhoods from a historical perspective, a contemporary perspective, and an artistic perspective. In that course, students complete a project-based final portfolio. Their projects range from architectural histories of places to walking tours of women buried in Oak Hill cemetery.

    This year, in a joint effort between the Departments of Social Work and Criminal Justice, we have enhanced an existing "Community-Based Corrections" course—making it interdisciplinary and including both team-based learning and service learning elements. Students in the course participate in re-entry simulations in which they experience what it is like to be a person returning to the community after a period of incarceration. The U.S. Attorney’s office developed this curriculum and the Department of Social Work has taken a lead role in bringing the simulations to our campus. Last year, we received a Quality Enhancement Plan grant to continue the simulations and to conduct research around their effectiveness. Students also work with women incarcerated at Tutwiler Prison and Birmingham Work Release to produce holiday greeting videos for their families, as well as with Jefferson County Veterans Court to recruit veteran volunteers to support court efforts.

    Last year, I developed a study abroad course that examines women’s rights and health in Kenya. This year, the social work course will be team-taught with Dr. Tina Kempin-Reuter, director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights, and will involve international service learning in which students create health-based lesson plans and assemble reusable feminine hygiene supplies that they deliver in rural Kenya. Since last year’s successful trip with 12 students, we have written a grant to support the continuation of the women’s hygiene project and the addition of a micro-business sewing initiative. All of these efforts will be evaluated through community partners in Kenya.

    The common thread through all of these courses are that they all involve social work principles that advance human rights as well as social, economic, and environmental justice. And they are all led by female faculty and directors from across the College.

    As service learning is considered a high-impact learning tool, these courses are expected to strengthen student learning and engagement in multiple ways outside of the course content. And just as women are leading the efforts to craft these high-impact courses, women are benefitting from them as participants—as student and as community collaborators.

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  • The Life-Long Learning Endowed Scholarship Honoring Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin

    The Life-Long Learning Endowed Scholarship Honoring Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin has been established in the departments of English and Foreign Languages and Literatures that will support deserving students and relieve them of their financial pressures.

    Honoring literacy advocate Ruth J. Colvin and her husband Robert

    The Life-Long Learning Endowed Scholarship Honoring Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin has been established in the departments of English and Foreign Languages and Literatures that will support deserving students and relieve them of their financial pressures. The scholarship is named in honor of Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin to recognize their commitment to education and their impact on improving communication and understanding among people worldwide.

    Ruth J. Colvin was born in Chicago in 1916 and earned her associate’s degree from Thornton Junior College in Harvey, Illinois, before obtaining her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University. After reading census reports in 1961, Colvin learned about the serious illiteracy problem across the country, including in Syracuse. Catalyzed into action, Colvin began an effort to transform education and its impact on literacy for adults.

    With an innovative focus on community networks that empowered adult learners in new ways, Colvin founded and served as the first president and life board member of Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. (LVA), an organization that trained and developed volunteers to teach basic adult literacy and English to speakers of other languages through one-on-one interactions or small groups.

    In 2002, LVA and Laubauch Literacy International merged to form what is formally known as ProLiteracy, a nonprofit organization that supports programs that help adults learn to read and write. Over the decades, Colvin, along with her husband Robert, visited and worked in more than 60 countries. She has received numerous honors and awards including the U.S.A. President’s Volunteer Action Award in 1987, induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006.

    Hodges' scholarship will ensure that the Colvins' impact on education continues, as it will ensure financial security for College of Arts and Sciences students pursuing degrees in English and foreign languages.

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  • Computer science meets the biological sciences in the new bioinformatics program

    New degrees in the College prepare students for emerging fields of personalized medicine, advanced manufacturing, and more.

    New degrees in the College prepare students for emerging fields of personalized medicine, advanced manufacturing, and more.

    By Cary Estes


    It is an image that goes along with almost any story about the history of the computer. One or two people are in front of this clunky-looking machine that is as big as a suitcase (or a refrigerator, depending upon the decade). As the processing gears slowly dribble out the data, the person dutifully records the information using the ultimate low-tech device: pen and paper.

    This, in essence, was data gathering at the dawn of the computer age. All you needed was a notebook, and maybe a calculator when things got complex. The information superhighway was still merely a footpath, and everything moved at a moderate pace.

    Obviously, that no longer is the case. We don’t have a river of data these days. We have Niagara Falls, constantly drenching us with bits and bytes and more knowledge than we’ve ever had. And in many ways, more than we can handle.

    Yuliang Zheng, chair, Department of Computer Science.Computer Science Meets the Biological Sciences

    “Everything is centered around data now,” says Yuliang Zheng. Ph.D., chair of the Department of Computer Science. “What is the best way to collect data? How do you organize it? How do you analyze it? How do you make sense of it? Then, how do you turn that data into something useful, whether that means making money or saving lives? There are skills that are required to go through all these different steps.”

    The College of Arts and Sciences is helping students learn these steps with the introduction of a new undergraduate degree in bioinformatics, which focuses on complex biological data such as genetic codes. The new program is a result of a collaboration between the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Biology and the UAB School of Medicine, and is the first of its kind in the state of Alabama. In addition, the Department of Computer Science has also introduced a new master’s in data science, which is designed to prepare students with skills they can apply to careers in big data, including machine learning; modeling, analysis, and management of data sets; and efficient, algorithmic-based problem solving.

    For undergraduates, the focus is on the intersection of computer science and the biological sciences. “The idea is that all the new genomics and proteomics—basically the new form of medicine that is going to take over in the next 20 years—is going to be hugely data-intensive,” says Steven Austad, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biology. “Everybody is going to have their genome on file. It’s going to be a massive data organization and analysis.

    “This degree is designed to get people trained in biology to be able to recognize the data, trained in computer science to be able to write software to evaluate the data, and then trained in bioinformatics to organize the data. So this is going to train people in a lot of things that are going to be incredibly useful.”

    It is a rigorous curriculum, with multiple class requirements involving mathematics, computer science, biology, chemistry, genetics, and engineering. The end result will be graduates who are well-positioned for careers in the emerging data-based workforce in medicine and other fields.

    John Johnstone, co-director of the bioinformatics program.“Science in general is becoming team-oriented and interdisciplinary. This is a great example of that, with so many different disciplines involved,” says John Johnstone, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and co-director of the bioinformatics program. “It’s an elite program for an elite student. It’s challenging, but there are a lot of opportunities for a person who can do it right. There is a lot of demand for this, and not enough people who understand it.”

    Data collection and analysis already is widely used in everyday life, from genetic testing companies such as 23andMe, to the cameras and other electronic devices in new cars, to the responses generated by virtual assistants Siri and Alexa. Much of the interest at UAB likely will involve the medical field, including the use of data in creating disease treatment options specifically tailored for individual patients.

    “Bioinformatics is the same as working with any huge data set, except now the data set is the human genome,” Johnstone says. “You are gleaning information computationally from that data, and you can tune your medical treatment based on this analysis. It’s a very exciting, cutting-edge direction.”

    The Future of Healthcare

    The university took an initial step in that direction in 2017 with the hiring of computer scientist Matt Might, Ph.D., as the inaugural director of the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute. Simply put, the goal is to create personalized medical diagnosis and treatments based on the genomic data derived from each individual patient, which is analyzed by data scientists.

    Steven Austad, chair, Department of Biology.“Right now, we sort of treat everybody the same. You get a certain diagnosis, and a certain treatment for that diagnosis,” Austad says. “That is about to change, and the reason is there’s this data that’s going to be available. That’s what this is all ultimately about, understanding what makes you an individual and how medical diagnosis and treatment will work on you as opposed to somebody else.

    “This can be done because your doctor is going to have access to your entire genome. The problem is, your doctor is probably not going to understand what it means. So they are going to need people who do understand it and can produce it in some sort of interpretable fashion. That’s where bioinformatics comes in. It’s not enough just to know all the computer stuff. You also need to know all the underlying biology.”

    That is exactly what the College's new bioinformatics degree will provide. Computer science students have been learning how to use computation-thinking techniques to gather data for years, and medical students obviously have long had an understanding of human biology. The bioinformatics program will combine those two skill sets.

    “Having that cross-disciplinary training is going to create people who can straddle the fence and have one foot in the biology and the medical aspects of the problem being addressed, and the other foot in the analytic techniques that can be applied to that,” says James Cimino, M.D., director of the Informatics Institute in the School of Medicine.

    “We have a lot of medical researchers who have data, and they’re at a loss as to what to do with it. They know the biology, and suddenly they have a new way to collect biological data, but they have not been trained on how to interpret this data. So there’s a big demand for people to work in either a support role or a collaborative role to do that. There’s not nearly enough trained people right now to meet the demand.”

    Elliot Leftkovitz, co-director of the bioinformatics program.Graduates of the UAB bioinformatics program will have the skills needed for a variety of academic research positions, as well as government jobs involving epidemiology (through the Centers for Disease Control) and drug development (through the Food and Drug Administration). Pharmaceutical companies also need employees who are capable of analyzing data to identify genetic targets that can help in drug development.

    “For example, say you find that a particular genetic variant keeps popping up in one individual gene in patients' associated with a specific disease. Now you have a gene that might be targeted by a therapeutic drug based upon the discovery,” says Elliot Lefkowitz, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Microbiology and co-director of the bioinformatics program. “That discovery is derived from the massive amounts of data that clinical studies have provided, and companies need bioinformaticians to help them sort through that data.”

    College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., who is also a cell biologist, elaborates. “Imagine that an analysis of a simple blood sample indicates that a specific profile of tumor enzymes not normally found in the blood stream are elevated,“ he says. “After a series of tests and biopsies, scientists can sequence the gene—highlighting a new, never-before-seen protein mutation that is leading to the tumor growth. Since the patient is the first with such a mutation, no information is available on potential drug treatments. Bioinformatics helps to identify a specific target site on the protein for the generation of novel drugs to create a totally new approach. All of this, and much more, is possible through the application of bioinformatics' computational and analytical technologies.“

    Attracting Students

    Austad says he received a “tremendous amount of interest” in the program when he talked with prospective students this past summer. He noted that since today’s college-bound medical students grew up with computers as part of their daily life, the concept of bioinformatics does not seem as daunting to many of them.

    “Students who might be interested in medical school but are also interested in computers, suddenly they realize that their two passions can be combined into a single major,” Austad says. “We think this is going to be a great recruiting tool to bring some really top students to UAB. This major is going to be so sellable because of the huge demand in the industry. Our graduates will walk out of here and into some really high-paying jobs.”

    Jobs that will not necessarily be in the medical field. Because as Zheng points out, “Things are changing so fast, there will soon be opportunities in jobs that haven’t even been created yet. The future will be driven by data in every field. It’s all about the data.”


    Read More: UAB launches new master’s in data science program

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  • Dr. Mike Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg Endowed Award

    Friends, family, colleagues, and admirers of Dr. Michele “Mike” Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg have made generous gifts to create an endowed award in the Department of Sociology.

    Friends, family, colleagues, and admirers of Dr. Michele “Mike” Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg have made generous gifts to create an endowed award in the Department of Sociology. The scholarship will be used to provide financial assistance to students in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. The endowment honors Dr. Mike Wilson and commemorates Professor Becky Trigg for their dedication and commitment to improve the lives of women.

    Dr. Wilson was born in Puerto Rico in 1942 and earned her doctoral degree from the University of Connecticut in 1978. Ms. Trigg was born in Hueytown, Alabama in 1955, and received her master’s degree from The University of Alabama in 1983. Both women were members of the Southern Sociological Society and were dedicated and committed in working toward women's equality.

    Dr. Wilson and Professor Trigg have received various honors and awards throughout their careers including the 2006 President’s Diversity Award from the UAB Women’s Studies Program, given to Dr. Wilson, and the 2007 IMPACT award from Sociology students honoring her for her teaching and mentoring activities, given to Professor Trigg.

    Trigg passed away November 2, 2010, and is remembered for the courage of her convictions and her integrity, empathy, fairness, and motivation of others to be their best. This scholarship memorializes her contributions and will support the Women’s and Gender Studies Program as it continues to mentor undergraduate and graduate students, and inspire students to apply their knowledge to improve the lives of others.

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  • The Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship: A Blazing the Way Scholarship

    Johnny “Rusty” Edward Bates, M.D. has established the Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship in the Department of Mathematics—one of UAB's new Blazing the Way Scholarships.

    Johnny “Rusty” Edward Bates, M.D. has established the Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship in the Department of Mathematics—one of UAB's new Blazing the Way Scholarships.

    Dr. Bates received his B.S. in mathematics from UAB in 1979 and his M.D. from the UAB School of Medicine in 1983. He is the founder, president and CEO of Quality Correctional Healthcare and is a member of the College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Board, the UAB National Alumni Society Board of Directors, and has been a two-time recipient of the Excellence in Business Top 25 Awards in 2016 and 2017.

    The Blazing the Way program is an initiative by which UAB provides a 1:1 match for annual scholarships. Scholarships are automatically renewable for three additional years as long as the recipients remain in good standing.

    The Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship has been awarded to Grace Lewis, a first-time freshman from Hoover High School. In addition to majoring in math at UAB, Grace is also a member of the UAB Teach program and has a goal to be a math teacher after graduation, ideally teaching internationally.

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  • A servant's heart: Social Work alumna Jeanne Welch gives back to UAB

    Jeanne Welch never really saw herself as college material. But a desire to help others, and an interest in mental health technology, helped her find her way to UAB.

    Jeanne Welch never really saw herself as college material.

    Growing up in an Air Force family, she moved a lot growing up. While she learned to be outgoing and adaptable, she never expected to go to college. But a desire to help others, and an interest in mental health technology, helped her find her way to UAB.

    WORK FIRST, THEN SCHOOL

    After graduating from high school, Welch first pursued a general studies degree and completed a year of coursework at a community college. Then she completed some additional mental health training, always with the drive to serve those in need. ”I was interested in helping people achieve their life goals,” she says.

    She was hired as a houseparent with what was then UAB's transitional home for individuals leaving state mental hospitals, a job she says was a good fit.” I was working in my area of interest and my area of education,” she says. ”But I still wasn't thinking about college.”

    But a conversation with a work acquaintance changed her thinking and helped her connect the dots. ”She was a Bachelor of Social Work student at UAB, and she pointed out to me that what I was already doing in my job was social work,” Welch says. ”So I decided to learn more about the program and see if I could strengthen my education and training.”

    A CRITICAL CONVERSATION

    Welch made an appointment with Dr. Norman Eggleston, then-chair of the Department of Social Work, and his advice proved to be transformative.

    ”Originally my idea was a two-year degree,” Welch says, ”but Dr. Eggleston convinced me that a four-year degree would give me more independence and flexibility.”

    Welch had a firm timeline in mind: She had to graduate in the spring of 1980 while still working fulltime. But with the help of Dr. Eggleston and Welch's faculty advisor Dr. Gail Wykle, she was able to find a way. ”I mapped out the whole plan based on what classes were taught in the daytime or at night,” she says.

    With a plan in place and a deadline looming, Welch jumped into her classes with energy and enthusiasm. ”Being able to stop by and meet with faculty after classes was so helpful,” Welch says. ”The investment they made in me was significant and meaningful; they would ask me how things were going, and they wanted to know not just in my classes, but in my job, too.”

    "Knowing that you know how to help someone and how to provide services to them is so rewarding."

    NEXT STEPS

    With Dr. Eggleston's encouragement, Welch once again expanded her educational expectations and decided to apply for graduate school. ”I thought I was done at the four-year degree, but Dr. Eggleston started planting seeds that I could and should continue my education and training,” she says. ”I still have the recommendation letters from Dr. Eggleston, Tom Kemp, and Gail Wykle. They could see the potential in me, even when I didn't see it in myself.”

    With the department fully behind her, Welch applied and was accepted to the graduate social work program at Virginia Commonwealth University. ”It was a one-year advanced-standing program,” she says. ”Most students had to have good grades and work experience. But when I graduated with my BSW, I couldn't [walk at commencement] because I had less than 24 hours to get to graduate school!”

    A MEANINGFUL CAREER

    After graduating in June 1981, Welch started her first job as a social worker. After a year working with developmentally disabled adults, she landed at one of Virginia's Community Services Boards, which provides community mental health therapy to outpatients. ”That was the beginning of a 15-year career with the Service Boards,” Welch says. ”As a licensed clinical social worker, I gained both clinical and administrative experience as we counseled patients dealing with depression, sexual abuse, relationship problems, and more.”

    She admits that while her role was often emotionally and psychologically challenging, she was able to stave off burnout by relying on her training and focusing on the positive outcomes. ”Knowing that you know how to help someone and how to provide services to them is so rewarding,” she says. ”And seeing them progress as a result of your help is so gratifying and satisfying. You know you're making a difference.

    ”You have to know which challenges are worth investing in and which ones to leave alone,” she adds. ”You have to know what you can control. You can focus on what's tough, or you can decide to go into that room with that person and offer the best you have, knowing that this will pass. And it always did.”

    Welch, who just recently retired, spent the last 11 years of her career as a clinical social worker at the Salem VA Medical Center in Salem, Virginia. ”Being raised in an Air Force family, I knew the sacrifices that the veterans and their families had made. That was something I brought to the table. Veterans like being treated by people who can relate to them—they like that feeling of kinship. I felt like my life had come full circle.”

    MAKE A PLANNED GIFT

    Jeanne Welch and Jay Rule endowed their scholarship by way of a planned gift—a very flexible and popular choice for donors. There are many ways to make a planned gift, including legacy gifts (wills, trusts, real estate, and more); gifts that generate income (charitable gift annuities); stock transfers; and other options. To learn more about how you can contribute from your estate, contact:


    Kimberley S. Coppock, J.D.

    Director of Development
    Office of Planned Giving
    kcoppock@uab.edu
    (205) 975-5970

    STILL HELPING OTHERS

    Welch found herself thinking of UAB and Dr. Eggleston when she and her husband Jay Rule, a mechanical engineer, were preparing a will several years ago. ”We were thinking a lot about what has impacted our lives the most, and how to give back. And I immediately thought of UAB.”

    Welch says that her connection to Dr. Eggleston went beyond his academic and professional advice. ”He was the only person I knew in Birmingham who was from Virginia, like I was,” she says. ”And as I learned a little about his life history—how he was raised in foster care and how social workers had such a positive impact on him—it motivated me to continue my social work training.

    ”Dr. Eggleston told me I could achieve anything I put my mind to,” she continues. ”I didn't enroll at UAB with that in my mind, but that gave me that confidence. So when Jay and I were ready to make a gift—and I couldn't do any of this without Jay—I had the opportunity to finish funding the scholarship that had already been established in Dr. Eggleston's name.”

    Welch says in hindsight, she can see how events worked in her favor. “If I hadn't met the social work student, I would've never considered a social work degree,” she says. ”If I hadn't met Dr. Eggleston, I wouldn't have pursued my undergraduate and graduate degrees. And if not for those conversations, I wouldn't be in a position to give back today. I also received some financial assistance when I was a student. I want to do what I can to help today's students discover their own untapped, unrealized potential.”

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  • Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship

    The Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship was established to recognize Dr. Krannich's decades of distinguished service to UAB and to provide opportunities for young scientists to gain valuable experience in the research environment.

    The Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship was established to recognize Dr. Krannich's decades of distinguished service to UAB and to provide opportunities for young scientists to gain valuable experience in the research environment.

    Dr. Larry Krannich was chair of the UAB Department of Chemistry from 1976- 2003. By emphasizing the first two years of instruction, he established a tradition of engaging students in the classroom and the laboratory. As many former students and colleagues have attested, he brought active learning strategies into the classroom, which in turn led to a significant increase in the number of students majoring in chemistry.

    ”Dr. Larry Krannich was an outstanding chair of the UAB Chemistry Department for 27 years,” says Charles L. Watkins, Ph.D., retired professor of chemistry and associate dean of the former School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. ”During his tenure, he catalyzed the growth and development of the department through strategic planning and implementation of critical initiatives, always with faculty involvement. Under his leadership, the department became nationally recognized.”

    Today, Dr. Krannich's teaching model has resulted in tremendous student success, with chemistry majors earning national recognition from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the DAAD Research Internships in Science and Engineering (DAAD-RISE), Amgen Scholars, and the American Chemical Society Scholars Program.

    You have an opportunity to support the Department of Chemistry with a gift to the Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship. Your support will provide the department an opportunity to build on the extraordinary foundation Dr. Krannich has helped to create. We are already well on our way to our goal of $25,000 thanks to a generous gift that allows the Department of Chemistry to double your investment with a 1:1 match up to $15,000.

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