Pull Up a Chair

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

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

Photos by Nik Layman

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

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

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

Lauren Lake: Same exact reason.

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

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

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

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

[Everyone agrees.]

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

Doug Fry: And who will work together doing it.

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

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

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

DP: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JK:Is that unique in your experience?

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

JK:What are some of the challenges you see?

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

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

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

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

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

LL: No one’s told the story well yet.

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

LL: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA: It’s part of the ethos.
  • 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.
    posted a while back 941 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 886 views
  • 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. 

    posted a while back 1013 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 1391 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 1548 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 1507 views
  • New Degrees, New Department Names

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

    posted a while back 1159 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 1374 views
  • Remarkable Generosity

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

    posted a while back 1048 views
  • Personal History

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

    posted a while back 1665 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 1791 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 4365 views
  • 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.

    posted a while back 1266 views
  • Message from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Right now is such an exciting time on campus, and not just because the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. With the approval of our new Arts & Sciences building, scheduled to be open in Fall 2019, we are embarking on an exciting journey to construct a stunning space for our faculty and students.
    posted a while back 3560 views
  • A Vibrant Fall Semester
    There was an explosion of creativity and celebration last fall with AEIVA and the Institute of Human Rights kickoff event at the Alys Stephens Center.
    posted a while back 3532 views
  • Senior Wins Gilman Scholarship
    Jane Murphy, a student in foreign languages with a concentration in French, has been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad.
    posted a while back 3950 views
  • Dean's Award Winners
    Congratulations to these deserving undergraduate and graduate students, who were nominated by their professors for this prestigious recognition.
    posted a while back 3204 views
  • Neuroscience Major a Finalist for Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    Hriday Bhambhvani, a double major in mathematics and neuroscience, was named a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    posted a while back 4629 views
  • Lamario Williams Wins Scholarship and Travel Award
    Physics major Lamario Williams received a PhysCon MSI/HBCU Travel Award to attend PhysCon 2016 in San Francisco.
    posted a while back 3354 views
  • Students, Faculty and Alumni Win Big at 2017 ADDY Awards
    Students, faculty, and alumni from the College of Arts and Sciences make a strong showing at the ADDY Awards.
    posted a while back 4020 views
  • New Degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology and Genetics and Genomics Sciences
    The College of Arts and Sciences is proud to offer new degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences.
    posted a while back 4901 views
  • Public Relations Certificate First in State
    Majors in public relations and other communication studies will now have the opportunity to boost their resumes with the addition of the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations.
    posted a while back 3848 views
  • Dr. David Schwebel Receives Multiple Honors
    Dr. David Schwebel, professor in the Department of Psychology and associate dean for research in the sciences, receives multiple honors.
    posted a while back 3663 views
  • Dr. Christopher Lawson Named Chair of National Research Nonprofit
    Dr. Christopher Lawson, professor in the Department of Physics, has been elected board chair of a national nonprofit coalition.
    posted a while back 3499 views
  • Dr. Sarah Parcak Launches TED Wish, Receives Additional Recognition
    Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, launches GlobalXplorer, a project funded by her $1 million 2016 TED Prize.
    posted a while back 3793 views
  • Dr. Shahid Muhktar Receives Large NSF Grant
    Dr. Shahid Mukhtar, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has been selected to receive a three-year $800,000 grant for his research from the National Science Foundation.
    posted a while back 3708 views
  • Two Biology Faculty Members Elected as Fellows in American Association of Advancement of Science
    Department of Biology faculty members Dr. Charles Amsler, professor, and Dr. Steven Austad, distinguished professor and department chair, have been elected fellows of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.
    posted a while back 3557 views
  • Psychology Professors Part of New Alabama Regional Autism Network
    Dr. Fred Biasini and Dr. Sarah O’Kelley, professors in the Department of Psychology, are part of a new Alabama regional autism network.
    posted a while back 4074 views
  • Dr. Melissa Harris Receives Award from PanAmerican Society
    Dr. Melissa Harris, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has received the 2016 PanAmerican Society for Pigment Cell Research (PASPCR) Medrano Award.
    posted a while back 3512 views
  • Dr. Margaret Johnson Awarded NIH Funding
    The Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a five-year MIRA R35 grant to Dr. Margaret Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.
    posted a while back 3896 views
  • NSF Grant Funds New CyberCorps Scholarship Program
    After years of collaboration between the Departments of Criminal Justice and Computer Science, The National Science Foundation has awarded a $2.1 million Scholarship for Service grant to address cybersecurity challenges.
    posted a while back 3625 views
  • One for the Books
    Congratulations to our 20 faculty members who published 21 books in 2016.
    posted a while back 3759 views
  • 2017 Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction Dr. Heith Copes, Department of Criminal Justice
    Dr. Heith Copes, professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, has been named the 2017 winner of the Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction.
    posted a while back 4023 views
  • 2016 Alumni Awards
    Our 2016 Alumni Award winners represent another outstanding class of graduates who have made—and continue to make—a tremendous impact in their respective fields and in the larger community. This year’s winners graduated with degrees in Computer and Information Sciences, Political Science, History, Physics, and Public Administration, reflecting the breadth of scholarship and study in the College.
    posted a while back 3055 views
  • Class Notes
    We want you to share your accomplishments! Update your alumni information.
    posted a while back 3103 views
  • The Power of Two
    Couples Jim Sokol and Lydia Cheney, Lee and Brenda Baumann, and Jane and Jim Ed Mulkin discuss their strong ties to UAB.
    posted a while back 6846 views
  • Write On
    Tucked into Sterne Library is one of UAB’s best kept—and most powerful—secrets: the University Writing Center.
    posted a while back 3747 views
  • Body and Mind
    College of Arts and Sciences researchers investigate what actually happens when we age—from our cells to our cognition—in the hopes of prolonging high-quality life.
    posted a while back 9554 views
Back to Top