Four female faculty members in the Department of Psychology study and treat Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Four female faculty members in the Department of Psychology study and treat Autism Spectrum Disorder

Photos by Steve Wood.

Doctors Kristi Guest, Laura Stopplebein, Sarah O'Kelley, and Maria Hopkins.Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the term that is used to describe a wide range of developmental disorders, now including Autistic Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome, and diagnosis rates have risen steadily in the U.S. since researchers first began monitoring ASD nearly 20 years ago.

In their 2014 report, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have autism, with a gender breakdown of 1 in 42 for boys and 1 in 189 for girls—or about five boys for every girl. That is a 30 percent increase over the prior report from 2008 and more than double the 2000 rate of 1 in 150.

Although many people worry about an “epidemic” of autism, the increase in rates may be attributed to our growing awareness of autism as well as changes to the criteria used to diagnose ASD. Regardless, it is a reality for many Alabama families who are motivated to find the right care for their children.

Several faculty members in the Department of Psychology study child and adolescent developmental disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder. And four of those faculty members happen to be female: Dr. Kristi Guest, Dr. Maria Hopkins, Dr. Sarah O’Kelley, and Dr. Laura Stoppelbein. While they all have different concentrations, they have many years of experience in the field. Their profiles offer fascinating insights into their work, the ASD interdisciplinary research platform at UAB, and what they have learned about the disorder over the course of their careers.

Dr. Sarah O'Kelley, Assistant Professor

  • Director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) clinic at UAB Civitan-Sparks Clinics
  • Training Director of UAB Maternal and Child Health Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND)
  • Associate Director for Training for the UAB University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD)
  • Secondary appointment, Department of Pediatrics, UAB School of Medicine
Dr. Sarah O'Kelley.

When and why did you come to UAB?

I came to UAB in Fall 2005 after matching as a clinical psychology predoctoral intern in the UAB Psychology Internship Consortium, and my primary placement was at Civitan-Sparks Clinics. This internship was my top choice because of the unique exposure to broad clinical services with individuals with developmental disabilities, as well as a strong program in Autism Spectrum Disorders. I stayed at Sparks for my postdoctoral fellowship and then was hired as a clinical psychologist in 2009. My faculty appointment in the Department of Psychology came in 2011.

What kind of research do you do, and how does your research impact our understanding/ treatment of ASD?

I have nearly 20 years of research and clinical experience with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. My research interests and areas of expertise include cognitive and behavioral characteristics of individuals with ASD (previous collaborative and independent studies have included evaluating implicit learning, central coherence, and theory-of-mind paradigms), screening and early identification (i.e., evaluating validity of screening tools), sibling and family functioning (i.e., the broader autism characteristics and behavioral difficulties in siblings of children with ASD), group social skills interventions, and issues across the lifespan for individuals with ASD. I actively collaborate with investigators on campus and across the country on funded research projects and co-direct an ASD research group at UAB that involves multiple studies evaluating clinical data on children referred for ASD assessment.

Do you see patients/work in a clinical setting? If so, what is the purpose of those interactions/ assessments and treatments?

I am a licensed clinical psychologist in Alabama. My clinical responsibilities are within two separate ASD-focused clinics at Civitan-Sparks Clinics, where I complete an average of 75 evaluations per year and supervise or provide services to approximately 15 therapy patients per year (long term, individual or group) in addition to school consultations and technical assistance. I have been specifically requested by families and/or schools to provide independent evaluations and behavioral consultations for children in the public schools. I also established a social skills program utilizing the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) at Civitan-Sparks Clinics, which was developed at UCLA.

Most of the children and teens I see for evaluation are suspected of having ASD so I, along with our interdisciplinary team, conduct the gold- standard assessments to guide this diagnosis. We provide feedback and recommendations to the family to help them obtain services and identify resources in their home communities, which will support improved skills and behaviors and independence as they grow. Most of the families come from all over the state (and surrounding states), so it is not practical for them to return to us for treatment.

I do work with and supervise trainees providing individual therapy, usually to address anxiety and other emotion regulation and to understand how their symptoms of ASD may be supported best in the home, school, and community settings. The PEERS® program is a group intervention for teens or young adults focused on building and developing social interaction skills that promote closer relationships with same-aged peers and increase the time spent with friends.

Over the years that you have been researching ASD, what have you learned about the nature of these disorders?

Through my research and clinical work, my understanding of ASD has changed significantly. ASD presents in so many different ways and changes throughout a person’s lifespan. Although there can be some symptoms that are very limiting (e.g., never developing speech in some individuals, significant self-injurious behaviors or significant adaptive skills delays), I have come to view ASD as another aspect of diversity, specifically neurodiversity. While there are some things we often identify or describe as “deficits” in ASD, there are many ways that individuals with ASD have advantages over those of us without ASD. This has absolutely changed my approach to working with families over the years.

"I have come to view ASD as another aspect of neurodiversity. While there are some things we often identify or describe as “deficits” in ASD, there are many ways that individuals with ASD have advantages over those of us without ASD."

What is happening developmentally in the brain to a child who has a spectrum disorder? Can you describe how their brains may work differently than those of us who don’t have an ASD diagnosis?

I often explain to families that the brains of individuals with ASD aren’t wrong, they are just wired differently, which leads to the different ways of interpreting and responding to the world. For example, they may use a different area of the brain to think about a specific problem or challenge, and this may take some longer than people without ASD, but the end result is similar or sometimes superior (or faster). Much of the research on brain development suggest a different course and pattern of development that may begin prenatally, that sometimes results in too many or too few neurons in certain parts of the brain, which leads to different functioning.

What role do stress and anxiety play in the individuals with ASD? What about the impact of stress on families?

Anxiety is a common co-occurrence in individuals with ASD. Some of the repetitive or ritualistic behaviors may have an underlying anxious component, and anxiety has been implicated in many of the difficulties that individuals with ASD experience (e.g., feeding, toileting in young children, social difficulties). In addition, many individuals with ASD also having symptoms that result in a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder (e.g., generalized anxiety, social phobia, specific phobia).

Research has also suggested that families of individuals with ASD experience significant and unique stress, even in comparison to families of individuals with other significant, chronic illnesses. Much of this is due to the misunderstanding of the diagnosis and lack of support and resources for families. There is often a significant financial burden to families, which is compounded when one of the parents feels they have to stop working to provide the care and/or transportation to services their child needs. This is one of the things that the Alabama Regional Autism Networks (RAN), including the one at UAB housed at Civitan-Sparks, is trying to improve for families.

What do you anticipate for the future of research and treatment for ASD?

Research will continue to focus on contributions to the development of ASD (e.g., genetics) and how it presents differently across individuals. My hope is that intervention research will continue to identify evidence-based practice for individuals across the lifespan and the full range of the autism spectrum. I do think that this will lead to better acceptance and understanding. Autism awareness has come a long way in the last 10 years or so, but there is still much to do in terms of fully including and accepting individuals with ASD in their home communities, and particularly as they exit school-based services, enter the workforce, and seek to live independently.

How is UAB uniquely positioned to advance our understanding and treatment of ASD?

UAB has an incredible core of researchers and clinicians who are not only uniquely trained and knowledgeable about the diagnosis but also who are extremely passionate about the population they work with. UAB has great community and state connections that have potential to impact individuals, families, and systems important to improved support, understanding, independence, and satisfaction for all involved.

Dr. Maria Hopkins, Associate Professor

  • Director of Undergraduate Programs, Department of Psychology
  • Faculty Advisor, Psi Chi Psychology Honor Society
Dr. Maria Hopkins.

When and why did you come to UAB?

I have been a faculty member in the department since 2007, although I originally came to UAB as an international exchange student. As one of the largest research institutions in the southeast, UAB was in my list of top schools when I was in Sweden and was exploring colleges in the U.S. UAB provides a world- class education and opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations not found elsewhere in the state.

What kind of research do you do? How does your research impact our understanding/ treatment of ASD?

My research is focused on social development in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I am particularly interested in issues of emotion recognition and social cognition, as well as technologies designed to assist children with these difficulties. My early research directly addressed emotional development in children with ASD and other developmental disorders. These projects found that ASD children had difficulties recognizing emotions in others, particularly from the eye region of the face. Given these findings, I collaborated with Drs. Frank Amthor and Fred Biasini in the Department of Psychology and developed a computerized gaming platform designed to teach specific skills such as joint attention, face processing, and facial recognition. We documented the effectiveness of this computer-based intervention for ASD children in a series of studies.

My most recent work involves a social robot for children with autism. The robot, Socially Animated Machine (SAM), is designed to teach social skills such as emotion recognition and identification. Our lab research shows that children with ASD enjoy and are motivated by interventions using technology. This is particularly important for children with ASD who often have difficulty with attention and motivation.

Over the years that you have been researching ASD, what have you learned about the nature of these disorders?

The increase in reported prevalence and overall awareness has brought about a significant expansion in the field of autism research. We are starting to get a much better picture of what this disorder is and the extent of its complexity. We now know there is not one autism but rather a spectrum of disorders that have different causes and different manifestations.

What is happening developmentally in the brain to a child who has a spectrum disorder? Can you describe how their brains may work differently than those of us who don’t have an ASD diagnosis?

We know that autism is a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder. But while research is focusing very heavily on the genetic basis for autism, we have not yet identified either the specific genetic sites or the mechanisms of effect. Imaging studies of people with ASD have found differences in the development of several regions of the brain. Studies suggest that ASD could be a result of disruptions in normal brain growth very early in development. These disruptions may be the result of defects in genes that control brain development and regulate how brain cells communicate with each other.

"Just two decades ago, autism was a mysterious and somewhat obscure disorder, commonly associated with savants. Today, thanks to awareness and advocacy efforts, people have a much better understanding of autism."

What role do stress and anxiety play in individuals with ASD? What about the impact of stress on families?

Parents of children with ASD score higher on levels of stress than other groups of parents. The daily challenges of caring for the child are endless and affect all aspects of the family’s mental health and ability to manage the needs of the child.

What do you anticipate for the future of research and treatment for ASD?

The past few years have witnessed breakthroughs in the understanding of ASD. However, the increase in reported prevalence highlight the need for continued efforts to translate research discoveries into effective interventions. Much treatment research is now heading toward understanding the variables that affect treatment response and predictors of treatment outcome, and using this information to help tailor treatments for individual children. This should lead to an overall higher positive treatment response across all children with autism.

Just two decades ago, autism was a mysterious and somewhat obscure disorder, commonly associated with savants. Today, thanks to awareness and advocacy efforts, people have a much better understanding of autism. However, many people still conceptualize autism as a disorder where the child sits in a corner rocking or banging his head. I think recognition and appreciation of the much more common lesser forms of the disorder is still lacking.

There is a need to provide support for individuals with ASD to successfully transition into adulthood and become valued and valuable members of their communities, such as increased vocational and post-secondary educational support for young adults with autism and expanding job opportunities.

How is UAB uniquely positioned to advance our understanding and treatment of ASD?

As a world-renowned research institution, UAB allows for multidisciplinary collaborations to further enhance our understanding of ASD. In order to understand this multifaceted disorder, we need to engage people across disciplines such as geneticists, molecular scientists, child psychologists, neuroscientists, and brain imaging researchers. We need a comprehensive approach in understanding the complexity of the disorder. There is a remarkable amount of expertise here, which makes UAB uniquely positioned to advance our understanding and treatment of ASD.

Dr. Kristi Guest, Assistant Professor

  • Disabilities Services Coordinator for the UAB Early Head Start Program
  • Research Coordinator for the UAB Civitan-Sparks Clinics and the UAB Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND)
  • Executive Board Member, Central Alabama Early Intervention Council
  • Secondary Appointment, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology, UAB School of Medicine
Dr. Kristi Guest.

When and why did you come to UAB?

I received my Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with a minor in chemistry from UAB, and I remained here to complete my Ph.D. in developmental psychology. My doctoral work involved three years of a psychology trainee fellowship through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) with concentration in the areas of cognitive, adaptive, and behavioral assessments of children. A post-doctoral fellowship at the Civitan International Research Center, Sparks Center for Learning and Developmental Disabilities completed my training.

After a few years as a coordinator and program administrator, I was promoted to assistant professor appointment in the Department of Neurobiology in the School of Medicine in 2003 and then joined the faculty in the Department of Psychology as an assistant professor in 2007.

What kind of research do you do? How does your research impact our understanding/treatment of ASD?

Throughout my career as a developmental psychologist, I have worked as a Co-Investigator on federally-funded projects focused on providing clinical services to multiple vulnerable populations of children, including children and their families living in poverty, children with disabilities, children at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), children at risk for abuse and neglect, and children of adolescent mothers. Overall, the themes of my research within these at-risk populations have been to explore the clinical presentation of children referred for an ASD assessment at the UAB Civitan-Sparks Clinics/LEND program, the effectiveness of screening measures in discerning ASD from other developmental delays or disorders, and the behavioral characteristics and development of individuals with the rare genetic syndrome Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome (PTHS), to differentiate the clinical presentation from that of other developmental disabilities. Research to better understand the clinical presentations and development of individuals with ASD or similar symptoms is important to guide more informed recommendations for needed services and intervention.

"The collaboration among researchers, clinicians, and educators across disciplines, departments, and schools is what uniquely positions UAB to advance our understanding of ASD."

Do you see patients/work in a clinical setting? If so, what is the purpose of those interactions/ assessments and treatments?

My career passion has been to serve children with disabilities and their families, to form partnerships with families and children to enhance developmental outcomes for children, and to promote the well-being of children and families. My education as a developmental psychologist and my clinical expertise has allowed me to fulfill this aspiration for the last 18 years.

As a clinician, my service is concentrated in providing intensive intervention services for young children and their families who are low-income and service coordination for children with disabilities through the UAB Early Head Start Program as well as providing diagnostic evaluations of children presenting with symptoms of ASD with the UAB Civitan-Sparks Clinics. Civitan- Sparks Clinics are a fundamental part of the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) programs. Within these programs, my clinical responsibilities include providing intensive and comprehensive intervention services for young children, disability services management, comprehensive health services, program management, clinical diagnostic evaluations, and clinical training and mentorship.

In my clinical roles, ultimately I strive to improve developmental trajectories for children; to increase family knowledge about child development, diagnoses, and recommendations for services for children with disabilities; and to enhance the quality of life of children and families while concurrently providing clinical training for future leaders specializing in serving individuals with disabilities.

How is UAB uniquely positioned to advance our understanding and treatment of ASD?

The UAB Civitan-Sparks Clinics really exemplify how UAB is positioned to advance the treatment of ASD. Since the UAB Civitan-Sparks Clinics are home to the UCEDD and LEND training programs, a core responsibility that faculty provide through clinic activities is instructing and guiding graduate students and interns in the area of neurodevelopmental disabilities to become future leaders in the field. Our Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s LEND role is to impart knowledge in the field of development and disabilities through exemplary clinical service and education. Our clinical mentoring of graduate students on evaluation and diagnosis of ASD as well as research on developmental disabilities through the LEND training program at UAB have the ultimate outcome of building service delivery systems for individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities by equipping new leaders with clinical competency and leadership abilities. UAB is a comprehensive university that is nationally and internationally respected in regard to our research, education, and clinical programs. UAB consistently ranks in the top 25 nationally with regards to funding from the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, UAB is regularly ranked as one of the best medical schools in the U.S. Within the College of Arts and Sciences in the Department of Psychology, we offer graduate training programs in the areas of Lifespan Developmental Psychology, Medical/Clinical Psychology, and Behavioral Neuroscience; a prominent strength of UAB programs is that they are interdisciplinary and collaborative across departments and schools. This collaboration among researchers, clinicians, and educators across disciplines, departments, and schools is what uniquely positions UAB to advance our understanding of ASD.

UAB Study of Individuals with Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome (PTHS)

Limited clinical studies of individuals with PTHS have shown most display severe intellectual and developmental disabilities, motor and communication delays, restricted and repetitive movements, and characteristics that appear similar to autism. Due to the overlap in symptoms of individuals with PTHS and those with ASD, and because of UAB's expertise in the clinical diagnosis of individuals with ASD, Drs. O’Kelley and Guest partnered with Drs. Elizabeth Rahn, Andrew Kennedy, and David Sweatt in the School of Medicine to conduct a research study focusing to describe the social, communication, adaptive, developmental, and repetitive behaviors of individuals with PTHS. Currently, 26 families have enrolled in the study and data collection is ongoing. Since PTHS is so rare, it is vitally important that researchers and clinicians understand the behavioral characteristics and development of individuals with this syndrome in order to differentiate from other developmental disabilities and to guide recommendations for intervention. Study data was presented at the Civitan International/Simpson Ramsey Neurodevelopment Symposium and at the International Society for Autism Research conference.

Dr. Laura Stoppelbein, Professor

  • Clinical Psychologis
  • Director of Outpatient Services, Glenwood, Inc.
Dr. Laura Stopplebein.

When and why did you come to UAB?

I chose to come to UAB for both professional and personal reasons. Professionally, the Department of Psychology has an excellent reputation. It has both distinguished researchers and attracts undergraduate and graduate students who are high quality and are interested in psychology. On a more personal note, I grew up in Birmingham and was interested and happy to get back home and be close to family.

What kind of research do you do? How does your research impact our understanding/ treatment of ASD?

My research focuses on stress/coping within families and factors that influence stress/coping as well as the outcomes of ongoing stress. Within the area of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), our recent research has focused on how family functioning, such as parental adjustment and parenting styles, impact children with ASD. It seems that specific types of parenting may have an important role in helping to mitigate the potential anxiety and depression that children and adolescent with ASD often experience. Thus, treatment approaches could help focus on building these parenting strengths.

Do you see patients/work in a clinical setting? If so, what is the purpose of those interactions/ assessments and treatments?

I see children and adolescents at Glenwood, which is a non-profit organization that provides behavioral health care and educational services for individuals with ASD and severe emotional disturbances. At Glenwood, my role is largely administrative as I oversee the outpatient programming which includes psychologists, nurse practitioners, and master's-level therapists. As a clinician, my primary clinical functions are in the area of early identification and assessment of ASD among children and adolescents.

Over the years that you have been researching ASD, what have you learned about the nature of these disorders?

Although there are common themes that you see across individuals with ASD (e.g., certain types of symptoms), each person is very unique. If you have seen one kid with ASD, you have only seen one kid with ASD. You can not necessarily generalize the experience of one child or family to another.

What role do stress and anxiety play in individuals with ASD? What about the impact of stress on families?

Stress/anxiety always tend to exacerbate symptoms. They are more than likely not causal, but can cause significant increase in symptoms when they are present within a child with ASD or within the family. Oftentimes, families of children with ASD feel isolated and lack social support because they have limited resources for assistance. Additionally, the stress of having a child also has indirect impacts on things such as a family’s ability to attend church, or their ability to maintain gainful full time employment (if they are frequently being called to come get their child from school or daycare).

What do you anticipate for the future of research and treatment for ASD?

I think that we are making great strides in our understanding of ASD, but we still have a long way to go. We know that there are a multitude of factors that contribute to ASD, and I believe that our continued research will help us sort out which of these factors are most influential. Within society, I think education and understanding are important. Having opportunities for families of typically developing children to help support the family who has a child with ASD would be a great start. That would provide others with both direct experience to the challenges associated with having a child with ASD and offer the families a chance to bond and feel supported.

How is UAB uniquely positioned to advance our understanding and treatment of ASD?

We have a number of excellent researchers and clinicians in the area of ASD who are employed at UAB. This is true across the basic sciences, applied/social sciences, as well as in the area of clinical practice. I think supporting a collaborative effort across all three areas is a strength that UAB could capitalize on to help us further our knowledge in this area.

Service & Outreach

Our Psychology faculty members also work for and serve on the boards of a number of leading organizations and associations across the state.

Kristi Guest

State Committees
  • Alabama Early Intervention District Coordinating Council
  • Alabama Early Intervention District Coordinating Council Training Subcommittee
  • Alabama Early Intervention & Preschool Conference Planning Committee
  • Alabama Department of Human Resources Stakeholders for Foster Children Committee
  • Jefferson County Department of Human Resources Medical Community Board
Advisory Councils
  • Parents as Teachers Advisory Council with United Ability
  • UAB Early Head Start Health Services Advisory Council
  • Birth to Five Statewide Initiative with Childcare Resources

Maria Hopkins

  • Civitan International Research Center
Research Partnerships
  • Exceptional Foundation
  • Mitchell’s Place
  • Glenwood, Inc.

Sarah O'Kelley

State Organizations
  • Alabama Interagency Autism Coordinating Council
  • Alabama Autism Providers Network
  • Alabama Autism Conference
  • University of Alabama ASD College Transition and Support Program Advisory Board
  • Autism Society of Alabama

Laura Stopplebein

  • Glenwood, Inc.
  • Read the 2021 issue of Arts & Sciences magazine

    After an unprecedented academic year, the College of Arts and Sciences community takes a moment to highlight the profound achievements of our faculty, students, alumni, and staff.

    After an unprecedented academic year, the UAB College of Arts and Sciences community takes a moment to highlight the profound achievements of our faculty, students, alumni, and staff. Although the pandemic prompted pivots and presented challenges, the people of the College exercised a determined and resilient spirit, and, now, we look to the future with optimism and hope.

  • A New Day: Navigating a pandemic and looking to the future

    Arts and Sciences faculty gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic.

    From left to right, Shahid Mukhtar, Kecia M. Thomas, Verna Keith, Rich Gere, Lauren Rast, and David Chan. Photo by Nik Layman.There is an ebb and flow to the world that stretches across the centuries. Breakdowns are followed by breakthroughs. Desolation sparks inspiration. Harsh reality is softened by imaginative artistry.  And so, the plague of the 14th century led to the revival of the Renaissance. The flu pandemic of 1918-19 was followed by the Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties. And the horrors of World War II were replaced by an outpouring of aesthetic creativity and scientific advancement. 

    The world stands at the edge of another historic transition, as we emerge slowly from the COVID-19 pandemic. As difficult as the past 18 months have been (and the immediate future still appears to be), this is not unprecedented territory. There have always been challenging events to endure. And yet, the world somehow has always recovered, usually with a big assist from the arts and sciences. 

    “The humanities are going to be needed when the pandemic is over,” said David Chan, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy. “One of the things you’re finding nowadays is that people need to find meaning… because it all seems so random. That’s where literature, art, philosophy all come in. They help people cope with change and disasters.” 

    “How do you tell a story about all this so it helps [people] find meaning? These are questions that are being addressed in every branch of the humanities, and that’s where [the College of Arts and Sciences] brings something,” said Chan. 

    Or as Rich Gere, MFA, professor and chair of the Department of Art and Art History, says, “Historically, if you look at resilience within community, after every major disaster, [society] looks to the arts to bring it back. Right after the first responders, the second responders are artists.” 

    It is a daunting task, but one that the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is ready to handle. In August 2021, Dean Kecia M. Thomas, brought together five members of the College to discuss the challenges of the previous year, and the opportunities that are on the horizon. 

    Even this roundtable was affected by the ongoing pandemic, as the late-summer surge in COVID-19 cases led to the scheduled in-person gathering being changed to a Zoom meeting. Still, the participants expressed optimism about the future and acknowledged the way CAS has handled things so far.

    From left to right: David Chan, Rich Gere, and Verna Keith

    The past year

    Thomas took over as dean on Aug. 1, 2020. Not only did it mark a dramatic change in her life after spending the previous 27 years at the University of Georgia, but the move occurred in the midst of the pandemic.

    “This has been a really eventful year, and it’s not over,” Thomas said. “I’ve had to learn to give myself a little patience and grace as I’ve learned this new role in this new place in this new city.” 

    Of course, life changed for everybody last year in some way, and the key was to adapt to the situation. For CAS faculty, that included suddenly being required to teach students through remote learning. 

    “We had to learn the technology very quickly,” said Shahid Mukhtar, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biology. “CAS Information Technology helped us tremendously.” 

    “It actually made us better teachers in the classroom, because now we know how we can effectively communicate with our students even when we’re not present in the same place. And when we come back to campus, we can utilize some of those newly acquired skills.” 

    Indeed, the entire interaction between faculty and students has changed since the start of the pandemic. And, in an odd way, being apart actually helped bring both parties closer together. 

    “One of the things that I learned was how to talk to students on a different kind of level,” said Verna Keith, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Sociology. “Since I’m the chair, they’re expecting a certain kind of interaction. But when I had to call them at home and check on them during this pandemic because we hadn’t heard from them, it generated a totally different kind of conversation.” 

    “I realized that the position of chair when you’re in an office creates one kind of dynamic, but when you’re talking with somebody on the phone it created a different dynamic. They saw me in a different light, so we had a different kind of conversation.” 

    This, in turn, created a different kind of relationship. One in which the teachers also depended upon the students for their own grounding. 

    “I realized I get a sense of purpose from helping my students,” said Lauren Rast, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Physics. “Teaching them in ways that help their future and their careers. … It’s vital, not just for them but also for my own ability to maintain resilience.” 

    From left to right: Shahid Mukhtar, Lauren Rast, and Kecia Thomas

    Lessons learned

    One aspect of the Zoom experience that Dean Thomas enjoyed was the opportunity to see students and professional colleagues in a more relaxed atmosphere. 

    “So many people have apologized during Zoom meetings when a toddler or a cat walked through the background,” Thomas said. “But I love it, because we don’t often get the opportunity to remind each other of our humanity. That we are full, whole people beyond these very limited roles that we occupy. … That we have rich lives outside of work. That’s what I’m going to hold onto coming out of this pandemic.” 

    There also were professional positives to emerge from the remote approach. And in time, Gere said many of the early skeptics came to understand and appreciate those benefits. 

    “I had people who self-proclaimed that they are not technology people and can’t teach online,” Gere said. “About halfway through the semester last fall they said, ‘Thank you for forcing me to do this.’ … Some faculty thought it was going to be a train wreck of a semester, but they did really well.” 

    “One of the things I’ve also noticed is that everybody is always on time to a Zoom meeting. Thirty years in academia, I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

    In addition, the acceptance of remote learning has opened up a wider array of guest lecturers. Keith pointed out that it is much easier for somebody to devote 90 minutes of time to talking with a class through a Zoom meeting, as opposed to traveling to Birmingham and speaking in person. 

    “Zoom opened up a lot of avenues, because now we can expose our students to people all over the United States and internationally,” Keith said. “People have been generous about accepting engagements on Zoom. We’ve been able to bring some fairly prominent folks to talk to our students, and that’s probably going to continue.” 

    Despite the heavier reliance on technology, there remained opportunities to inject a human element into the teaching. Rast said she began opening every remote class by simply asking the students if they were doing OK. 

    Students in facemasks paint an outdoor mural at the UAB Solar House.

    “If you can humanize yourself, that helps you to connect,” said Rast. “It helps them to learn, but also to feel supported in the learning environment. I definitely plan to continue that.” 

    Beyond the pandemic

    While the response to COVID-19 dominated 2020, there were other important topics, including issues involving social justice and voting rights.  

    “Certainly, health and the pandemic are the biggest things on everyone’s mind,” Thomas said. “But there are also the issues of race and social justice, and what people are calling ‘the national reckoning.’” 

    “As we think about health, emerging technologies, and how we engage society—this issue of trying to establish an inclusive community and eradicate the injustices and inequities and disparities—how do the arts and sciences fit in with those [topics]? I think there is space for our disciplines to connect to all those areas.” 

    Keith said one element of community engagement already underway in Birmingham is the Live HealthSmart Alabama project, which was the winner of the inaugural UAB Grand Challenge. The goal of the project is to dramatically improve the state of Alabama’s health rankings by the year 2030. 

    Initially, the project consists of four demonstration communities, including one on the UAB campus. The UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center will work with the communities to promote nutrition, physical activity, and preventive wellness. 

    “This offers a lot of opportunities for different aspects of CAS to be involved,” Keith said. “Some of us are involved in the research side, but you can also be involved as a faculty member or a student. This is one of those things where we can build community engagement into our classes and also involve students in this worthwhile project.” 

    As for the overall social issues, Chan said the pandemic put a spotlight on the ways injustices and inequalities affect communities, providing relevant cases that can be used in coursework. 

    “One of my colleagues teaches a class in Family and Philosophy. She deals with issues about families and raising children,” Chan said. “We have students who are working mothers, and they can have problems taking classes. She found that the pandemic gave her examples she could use in class that students could relate to, because they were actually experiencing that in their lives.” 

    Career development and more

    While one of the primary purposes of higher education is to prepare students for a career, it also is a place where students learn about life itself.  

    “I do believe, of course, that our students should be prepared to pursue a career when they graduate. But I also think that our mission is a little bit broader, and we need to serve the whole person,” Thomas said.  

    The answer, once again, could involve community engagement. Mukhtar said he would like to see even more programs and workshops that showcase the engagement opportunities CAS has to offer, in order to help students determine the career path that might be best for them. 

    “Some kids are first-generation college students. Who can guide them? Where is the information? What are their (career) paths?” Mukhtar said. “We need ... to educate students from the ground up.” 

    One area of opportunity is in the field of data management. According to analysis by the Birmingham Business Alliance, data scientist jobs in the Birmingham region have increased by more than 45 percent over the past five years, and these positions on average pay 65 percent more (approximately $26,000 more annually) than jobs not requiring analysis skills. UAB is engaging in this growing field through the Magic City Data Collective, a partnership with the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Birmingham Education Foundation, with funding help through a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The goal is to bring local students, researchers, and data experts together to work on projects, enabling students to improve their analytics and computational skills. 

    “We recruited a really diverse student population, and in an interdisciplinary hands-on way these students were empowered to come up with results that were relevant to the city of Birmingham and will help make data-driven decisions for our community,” said Rast, who serves as the learning manager for the project. “When we have this information and locals are able to use data to make decisions and impact their community, that’s a positive thing we can do at the College of Arts and Sciences. It was my favorite thing that I’ve done all year.” 

    Looking ahead

    Dean Thomas wrapped up the hour-long discussion by asking each participant for a parting thought. Their messages indicated that despite all the difficulties of the past 18 months (and counting), their outlook remains optimistic, propelled in part by the determination of CAS and UAB as a whole to work together for a better future.  

    CHAN: “My message would be to build connections while you’re here, and stay connected after you leave. See what you can build here and then continue the relationships. This isn’t just some phase in a life—it is something that will be with you all your life.” 

    RAST: “I’d love to engage with my fellow UAB faculty and staff and students across disciplines in ways that break silos. Because of the diversity of our UAB community and our background interests, there is a lot of opportunity for creativity and ideas that benefit our community.” 

    MUKHTAR: “We are a UAB family. And one of the things we learned during this pandemic is that life is so fragile. Today we are together and the next day we are not. We’ve known this, but when you see it firsthand, then you really feel it and it touches you deeply inside. Today at the College of Arts and Sciences, we are closer to each other than we were two years ago. That affects all of us… So my message would be just to be together as a UAB family and be more productive as a member of the family.” 

    KEITH: “I’d like to give a shout-out to the entire faculty in CAS… Our faculty are the people who are creative, who make discoveries, who produce knowledge. Rather than just being people who pass knowledge on, they are doing that work themselves. So students who come to UAB are lucky that they’re exposed to that. It’s something that will last them for a lifetime.”

    GERE: “I’d like to speak on behalf of my colleagues in theatre and dance and music. Because the last 18 months have been a reminder that the arts help pull everybody together… These are great and strong programs, and they attract top-notch students from Alabama and beyond.”

  • Keeping human rights relevant during the pandemic

    Nothing brings human rights into focus quite like a global pandemic.

    Nothing brings human rights into focus quite like a global pandemic. At the UAB Institute for Human Rights (IHR), we knew from the beginning that no matter what adjustments we needed to make in our programming or day-to-day operations, we had important work to do bringing attention to the disparities and devastations that COVID-19 would invariably wreak on the world. While we were grappling with how the pandemic would impact our own lives, it became the focus and mission of the IHR to provide information and insight into the perspectives and experiences of people whose lives were impacted in vastly different (and often more devastating) ways. Our interns got to work researching and posting about the horrors of COVID-19 for the most vulnerable among us, focusing on how the pandemic was exposing and exacerbating human rights violations for People of Color in the United States, refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East, women, persons with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S. and around the world.

    In March 2020, we had to cancel the remainder of our guest lecture series, but by fall, we had pivoted to hosting our events in the virtual space. In some ways, it opened up opportunities for us to invite international speakers we would have otherwise had a hard time hosting. With the murder of George Floyd and the insurgence of protests in support of Black Lives Matter over the summer, we decided to focus our fall programming around the duel pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice, considering how they were interconnected and how dealing with one required dealing with the other as well. Of course, all of this was happening during one of the most contentious election seasons in recent history. Here are some highlights from the past year.

    IHR Blog 

    In March 2020, as the United States was just beginning to grapple with the virus, I wrote about how public health policy and legislation in response to COVID-19 would have significant consequences on human rights, and how states and public health agencies should be intentional about protecting human rights as they develop and implement policies aimed at abating the spread of the virus. IHR Blog intern Carmen Ross wrote about the intersections of the coronavirus and racism, discussing how the rise in hate speech, violence, and discrimination against people of Asian descent fit into the historical pattern of unfairly blaming a particular group of people for the outbreak of a disease. Our guest blogger, Grace Ndanu, who lives in Kenya, enlightened our readership on how the pandemic was playing out in her country and the disparities she was noticing along the fissures of the rural/urban divide.

    We also invited middle school students from Birmingham City Schools to write about their perspectives and experiences. They wrote about the difficulties transitioning to an online learning environment and how they hoped the Black Lives Matter protests would inspire real and lasting change in the way our institutions regard the value of Black people. 

    IHR Guest Speaker Events  

    In the Spring of 2020, we started a series of virtual events called Human Rights in Times of COVID-19. For each event, we invited a panel of experts to discuss different issues related to a human rights approach to managing a global pandemic. We began with a discussion of public safety versus individual liberty, talking about how to navigate the tension created by the authority of governments to impede on individual rights in times of public emergencies such as pandemics and the implications for human rights and people’s lives in the U.S. and elsewhere. Leading up to the fall semester, we invited education experts to discuss how the response to COVID-19 affected the right to education for students in situations of more or less privilege and access.

    We also hosted an event with the Offender Alumni Association, which works to assist formerly incarcerated people to re-enter the job market, find affordable housing, and achieve success and well-being in their lives after prison. In addition, we hosted a panel discussion on voting as a human right that featured local activists, civil rights foot soldiers, and political scientists. One of the opportunities that came with the virtual format was the ability to invite international scholars and human rights advocates from all around the world to give us perspectives on human rights and human rights violations in places such as Turkey, Greece, the Palestinian territories, the U.K., and Cuba, among others.   

    Social Justice Café  

    With quarantine and working from home, along with heightened political tensions pervading the national discourse, we recognized the need for people to engage with one another and discuss everything going on. This prompted us to start the Social Justice Café, a virtual space to come together and have these discussions. This space is welcoming and inclusive; it is built around civil discourse and meaningful connection. Over the course of the spring semester, we met to discuss the Biden administration’s approach to human rights, Dr. King’s notion of equity and how to carry that forward in the 21st century, the rise in anti-Asian violence and discrimination, the insurrection, extremism and transitional justice, and the crisis at the U.S./Mexico border.

    We plan to continue our virtual programming, and we encourage you to join us!

    Find upcoming events for the Institute for Human Rights and subscribe to their newsletter.

  • Read the Spring 2020 Arts & Sciences Magazine

    We are proud to mark the College’s 10th anniversary with this special issue.

    We are proud to mark the College’s 10th anniversary with this special issue. Our campus operations are currently suspended for public health reasons, but we’re happy to share our Spring 2020 issue with you digitally. Print copies will be distributed as soon as UAB Print/Mail returns to their normal business functions.

  • Read the 2019 issue of Arts & Sciences magazine: 50th Anniversary Commemoration

    The UAB College of Arts and Sciences commemorates UAB's 50th Anniversary with a special issue of Arts & Sciences magazine.

    The UAB College of Arts and Sciences commemorates UAB's 50th Anniversary with a special issue of Arts & Sciences magazine.

  • 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

  • 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.

    [widgetkit id="40" name="MAGAZINE - Fall 2018 - Spring Flings"]

    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!


    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. 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.

  • 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.”


    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.


    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.


    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.”




    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.


    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.


    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.


    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."


    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.


    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.”

  • 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.

    Vintage Nautical Illustrations copyright Anja Kaiser via Creative Market

  • 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.

  • 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 World 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 World 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.

    This 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 world languages.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


    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.”


    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."


    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!”


    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.”


    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
    (205) 975-5970


    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.”

  • 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.

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

    While we have any number of outstanding male faculty members, students, and alumni who deserve recognition and are included, by and large this issue is about the women of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    When I was reading the Fall 2017 issue of our Arts & Sciences magazine, I was struck by how many successful women we had featured in news stories, alumni profiles, and longer features. But honestly, I wasn’t surprised. Since setting a goal in our Strategic Plan to increase the percentage of women faculty we recruit—as well as our commitment to attracting the very best students to our campus and better engaging with our accomplished alumni—I knew that adding more women to our College would result in more achievement.

    So, I asked Julie Keith, our Director of Communications and editor of the magazine, to focus this Spring 2018 magazine entirely on women. While we have any number of outstanding male faculty members, students, and alumni who deserve recognition and are included, by and large this issue is about the women of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    From student scholarship winners, to alumnae who have excelled in their fields, to women faculty members who have built outstanding academic careers in departments and disciplines that have historically been shaped by men, this issue is filled with an array of talented and successful women. As Julie pointed out, we would have to double or triple the number of pages to truly capture all of the stories of the exceptional contributions and leadership of our women colleagues, but this issue provides a window into the much wider world of the achievements of the women of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    I am very proud of what we are doing at UAB, and I attribute a great deal of our success to the talent and dedication of our women colleagues—including our staff. I hope you enjoy this issue and I am confident that you will share my pride in the many contributions of the women of the College of Arts and Sciences at UAB.

    R.E. Palazzo, Dean

  • Events

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

    A Festive Fall and a Warm Winter

    Our Fall semester was as busy as ever and was capped off by two signature events: Homecoming Week, and the UAB Marching Blazers trip to the Bahamas Bowl to play alongside the UAB Blazers Football team.

    In the midst of the hectic fall schedule, it's always a joy to be able to come together as a College community to have fun and celebrate another successful semester. And to end the return of the football season with a bowl game—where so many of our students participated as athletes, musicians, auxiliary, and spirit teams—sent us into the holiday season with hearts bursting with pride.

    The 2017 Homecoming theme was Blazers United, and the College had great fun decorating the float and Heritage Hall Building, featuring Senior Associate Dean Dr. Catherine Daniélou as Lady Liberty, and mathematics major Mary Allison Caufield as Uncle Sam. In Nassau, Blaze and the Marching Blazers entertained bowl game attendees.

    In early 2018, we recognized our 17 faculty members who published 18 books in 2017 at the annual One for the Books celebration, where we also honored our three first-ever winners of the Dean's Awards for Excellence in Teaching. It was another outstanding achievement by arts and sciences faculty.

    Faculty authors honored at the One for the Books faculty book party included Dr. Alison Chapman, chair of the Department of English, Dr. Da Yan, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, Dr. Rebecca Bach, professor in the Department of English, and Dr. Kevin McCain, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy. Dr. Sami Raut, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, was one of the first winners of the Dean's Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

    Go Blazers!

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    Ireland Award and AEIVA

    Professor Heith Copes from the Department of Criminal Justice was named the winner of the 2017 Ireland Award for Scholarly Distinction. We celebrated his recognition at a dinner at The Club, where President and Mrs. Watts, along with Dean Palazzo and Mrs. Caroline Ireland, who established the award endowment with her late husband Charles, joined Dr. Copes' colleagues and special guests. The Fall semester also meant the opening of Misremembered, the installation by artist Titus Kaphar, along with Jordan Eagles' Blood Equality exhibit, which also included pieces at the Birmingham Museum of Art and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

    Dr. Copes' work focuses on individuals who engage in both crime and drug use. Specifically, his research centers on criminal decision-making and narrative sense-making. As the Ireland selection committee noted, he is a leader in the field of narrative criminology.

    Kaphar appropriates different styles and techniques from past periods of art history to create reconstructive historical narratives that address issues of race throughout history. A large part of his AEIVA exhibit featured The Vesper Project, a life-sized, two-room house constructed inside the main gallery.

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  • Building a Legacy

    When UAB broke ground on the new Arts & Sciences Building in September 2017, the excitement was palpable. “There is no doubt that this new building will provide our campus community with a state-of-the-art facility in which they can work and learn,” said Dean Palazzo.

    When UAB broke ground on the new Arts & Sciences Building in September 2017, the excitement was palpable. President Watts, along with the Provost, Vice Presidents, and a number of deans and leadership from UAB Facilities, gathered with College faculty, alumni, and students to celebrate the construction of our newest and most modern campus building. “There is no doubt that this new building will provide our campus community with a state-of-the-art facility in which they can work and learn,” said Dean Palazzo.

    Today, construction is progressing on schedule and on budget, and the L-shaped structure, which will complete the quadrant of academic, recreational, housing, and dining buildings around The Green, is now reaching its second floor. But we need your help to complete the project.

    Your gift to the College of Arts & Sciences Building Fund will help us ensure that we are able to continue to deliver the very best programs to our students, as well as provide the facilities that will attract the very best faculty to UAB.

    As Dean Palazzo has also said, “No public or private university in this day and age could possibly function, let alone thrive, without philanthropic support. For us to provide the quality education and opportunities that we provide for our students, we must have support of donors.”

    We invite you to partner with us. There are a number of naming opportunities within the new College of Arts and Sciences Building to recognize or pay tribute to individuals or companies. In fact, we are proud that some of the earliest gifts to the building have been made by current or retired faculty members, who recognize the value of the project and want to be a part of the legacy of the College.

    In the College of Arts and Sciences, we are proud to tell our prospective and current students that, “Your Place is Here.” And we feel the same way about our alumni and donors, who are so vital to our continued success.

    Be a part of our place-making.

    Find out how you can participate in this landmark building project by visiting