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.

Robert E. Palazzo.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

  • 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

    Read more...
  • Spring 2018 events in the College of Arts & Sciences

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

    Spring Flings

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

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

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    Ireland Award and AEIVA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Congratulations to our deserving graduates!

    ADAM ALDRICH

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

    DR. CHARLES D. BISHOP

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


    JOHN BURDETT

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

    CINDY IRWIN

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


    DR. MARY DICKERSON LEE

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

    JOE MALUFF

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


    BLAKE PRIME AND LANCE RHODES

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

     



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    OPTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RESEARCH

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

    Senior neuroscience student Jasmin Revanna

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

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

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

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

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

    INTERNATIONAL/GLOBAL

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

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

    WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

    CATCHING UP WITH A FEW ALUMS

    MUNA AL-SAFARJALANI

    Class of 2017

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

    REBECCA EGELAND

    Class of 2015

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

    BRENDAN RICE

    Class of 2012

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

    ALI MASSOUD

    Class of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    POST-GRADUATE

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

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

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

    CHANGED LIVES

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

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  • The science and philosophy of Aquaman

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

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

    by Julie Keith


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

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

    An Ear for It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Which brings us back to Aquaman.

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

    I Need a Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (Not Entirely) Suspending Disbelief

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

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

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

    Worth pondering at your local multiplex this December.

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  • Common threads: The value of interdisciplinary partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Honoring literacy advocate Ruth J. Colvin and her husband Robert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Cary Estes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Future of Healthcare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Attracting Students

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

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

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


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

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  • Dr. Mike Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg Endowed Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jeanne Welch never really saw herself as college material.

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

    WORK FIRST, THEN SCHOOL

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

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

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

    A CRITICAL CONVERSATION

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

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

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

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

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

    NEXT STEPS

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

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

    A MEANINGFUL CAREER

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

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

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

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

    MAKE A PLANNED GIFT

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


    Kimberley S. Coppock, J.D.

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

    STILL HELPING OTHERS

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

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

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

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

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  • Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • 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

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  • 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.

    [widgetkit id="29" name="MAGAZINE - Spring 2018 - Events - Ireland Award and AEIVA"]

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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 uab.edu/cas/home/support.

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  • AEIVA Receives Significant Gift of Works by David Levinthal

    The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) Permanent Art Collection has received a generous donation of a number of works by David Levinthal, one of the most prolific and acclaimed photographers of his generation.

    The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) Permanent Art Collection has received a generous donation of a number of works by David Levinthal, one of the most prolific and acclaimed photographers of his generation.

    The gift includes 59 large-format Polaroids by Levinthal given to AEIVA by an anonymous collector. The donation includes images from several series by the artist spanning multiple decades, including "Barbie", "American Beauties", "Blackface", "Wild West", "Mein Kampf", and "Passion".

    “This is a very significant acquisition for AEIVA,” said AEIVA Curator John Fields. “AEIVA already houses many large-format Polaroids by several notable artists. To be able to add such a sizeable number of works by such an important artist greatly enhances the educational value of our collection. It is a remarkable privilege.”

    Considered one of the first postmodern photographers, Levinthal uses toys and miniature figures as subjects for his images. Much of his work questions the role of photography as a reliable presentation of historical fact through intricately restaging significant moments or cultural milestones throughout history. “As children, so much of our early social development occurs through these little melodramas that we act out with our toys,” says Fields.

    An exhibition titled David Levinthal: Playland ran Jan. 8 – March 10, 2018, featuring a number of the donated works as well as six large-format Polaroids from Levinthal’s Baseball series, on loan from a private collection in Birmingham. Levinthal attended the exhibition’s closing reception on March 2 and lectured about his work.

    [widgetkit id="27" name="MAGAZINE - Spring 2018 - AEIVA Receives Significant Gift"]

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  • A Legacy of Love

    Jeannie Feldman has established both an award and a scholarship in the Department of History to honor her late husband, Dr. Glenn A. Feldman.

    2017 recipients, Katharine Ambrester and Zoe Zaslawsky, with Jeannie Feldman.Jeannie Feldman has established both an award and a scholarship in the Department of History to honor her late husband, Dr. Glenn A. Feldman.

    To say Dr. Glenn Feldman was beloved would be an understatement. Students, colleagues, family members, friends—regardless of whom you ask, they all have something wonderful to say about him. After his death in October, 2015, Dr. Wayne Flynt, Auburn University Professor Emeritus, who mentored Feldman during his doctoral studies, said, “He was enormously generous and kind. He was always promoting younger people’s careers.”

    Feldman, a professor in the Department of History, was also a prolific author and a renowned scholar of contemporary Southern history, with 11 books to his name, including Politics, Society and the Klan in Alabama: 1915-1949, and Nation Within a Nation: The American South and the Federal Government. “Although Glenn was primarily an historian of the South and of American business, he was knowledgeable and curious of what his colleagues were teaching and researching in completely different areas,” says Dr. John Van Sant, chair of the Department of History. “For example, he often stopped me to ask about Japanese history, or about the latest news from Asia. And he always had a positive attitude, whether mentoring undergraduate and graduate students or discussing an agenda item during a faculty meeting. He always exuded positive energy.”

    Feldman’s widow Jeannie, along with their daughters Hallie and Rebecca, decided to honor his legacy of compassion, joy, and scholarship with two annual funds in the Department of History. The Dr. Glenn A. Feldman Memorial Student Writing Award will be used to recognize deserving undergraduate and graduate students. The Dr. Glenn A. Feldman Memorial Graduate Student Scholarship will be used to provide financial assistance to deserving graduate students.

    “Glenn Feldman could not be quiet,”Jeannie says. “He crusaded for those who didn’t know they deserved to be heard. He was humble about his many accomplishments but quite verbose about injustice and oppression. Glenn told me he knew he’d been given the gift of writing, but he said this gift was not to be used for his own gain; it was a true calling. He left an indelible mark on the world in his writing and scholarship. He just wanted to make a difference. The recipients of these awards have the opportunity to continue this legacy, to be a voice for others, and to make their own difference.”

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  • Capturing Success

    Palo Alto Networks' Cyber Competition for High School Students.

    Palo Alto Networks' Cyber Competition for High School Students

    Student support can come in a variety of forms. With a growing vacancy of cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. workforce, Rick Howard, chief security officer at Palo Alto Networks, recognized the need to nurture talent and passion for cybersecurity and digital forensics.

    So, Palo Alto Networks, along with UAB’s Capture the Flag Student Organization in the Department of Criminal Justice, sponsor the annual Blazer42 Capture the Flag Scholarship Competition for qualified high school computer science teams. This year, 10 teams of four 10th-12th grade students participated in a simulated hacking event based on the board game Risk . Individuals in the top three teams were awarded scholarships to attend UAB as freshmen students. The first-place winner of this year’s competition was a team of four students from Tuscaloosa Academy.

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  • Paying it Forward

    Alumna Dr. Ana Maria Crawford has created an endowed scholarship to be used to support deserving students based on merit and financial need.

    The Mickey Smith Endowed Scholarship

    Alumna Dr. Ana Maria Crawford has generously created an endowed scholarship in the College of Arts and Sciences to be used to support deserving students based on merit and financial need. Beginning in Fall 2018, the scholarship will be awarded to one student per academic year with preference for female students pursuing a career in the medical field.

    Dr. Crawford is an anesthesiologist who lives in San Francisco, California. A native of both Southern California and Huntsville, Alabama, she attended UAB where she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1999 and her doctorate in medicine in 2004 from the UAB School of Medicine.

    The scholarship is named for the late Dr. Michael H. “Mickey” Smith, a friend and fellow alumnus from the UAB School of Medicine. Dr. Crawford, who worked several jobs during her time at UAB to pay for tuition and fees, met Dr. Smith at one of those jobs.

    “At a critical time of high academic and financial stress for me, Mickey helped me find scholarship money,” recalls Dr. Crawford. “That assistance was invaluable for me and my career.”

    Years later, Dr. Crawford found out that the scholarship assistance actually came from Dr. Smith and his father. “I have been forever grateful and I always vowed to do the same for another student in need of assistance,” says Dr. Crawford. “It is humbling and an honor for me to give this scholarship his name.”

    Dr. Mickey Smith, a neuroradiologist in Atlanta, Georgia, passed away on January 20, 2018.

    Dr. Crawford is dedicated to helping deserving students at UAB who aspire to serve as healthcare providers and patient advocates. “Assisting those in financial need would be the greatest gift of all,” she says.

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  • They Persisted

    Despite complex social, cultural, and professional trends that keep women from academic careers in the sciences and mathematics, a small percentage of female research faculty stay the course.

    Photos by Steve Wood

    Why do girls lose confidence in their science and math abilities when they reach pre-adolescence? What are the barriers that block women's progress through graduate school? What is it like to be the only woman in your department?

    We asked four of our female faculty members these questions—and more—at a lively and thought-provoking discussion on what it’s like to pursue an academic career in the sciences. Dr. Eugenia Kharlampieva from the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Karolina Mukhtar from the Department of Biology, Dr. Mary Ellen Zvanut from the Department of Physics, and Dr. Tracy Zhang from the Department of Computer Science shared stories of their education, their professional advancement, and their new roles as mentors to female junior faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. They also offered thoughts on what we can do to ensure that more girls prevail in reaching their goals to be scientists.

    A&S Magazine: Why don’t you start by introducing yourselves?

    Tracy Zhang: I’m Tracy Zhang from the Department of Computer Science. I got my Ph.D. from Florida International University and joined UAB as an assistant professor after that in 2004. I’m a full professor and also the graduate program director in the department.

    My research focus is on multimedia databases and data mining. Anything to do with object detection in videos, or image classification in videos; for example, extracting events from surveillance video, or videos from the biomedical field—I can be of help. I’m originally from China.

    Eugenia Kharlampieva: Hi, I’m Eugenia. I’m originally from Russia and I’m an associate professor of chemistry. I do polymer chemistry, so biomedical applications for polymer materials, for drug delivery, or cell transplantation.

    I came to UAB in 2010, but my career path was not traditional. I was trained as a medicinal chemist in Russia and I worked four or five years in the industry. Then I decided to explore a new direction so I got a master’s in linguistics and cultural communications. [As a chemist], I worked in a company and got promoted to a lead scientist in Russia, but I wanted to explore my new potential as a linguist. I was applying to graduate school in linguistics, and then my master supervisor in organic chemistry called and encouraged me to apply to grad schools in the U.S. I said, “No I’m done with chemistry. I’m going to be a big translator,” but then he convinced me that if I got my chemistry Ph.D. in the U.S., I could practice my English and I would be a more successful interpreter and translator. So, I came to the U.S. in 2010 and fell in love with science and the people and realized I was looking for something interdisciplinary. What I do now is a cross between chemistry, biology, medicine, and engineering, while still doing translation every day. [laughs]

    I received my Ph.D. in polymer chemistry/science at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and got my post-doc in biomaterials from Georgia Tech. My initial position at UAB was a little unusual: I was an interdisciplinary faculty member supported by Associate Dean for Research Dr. Yogesh Vohra—I was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for two years. I had multiple offers at the time, but I took this job [because it was] interdisciplinary and because of the facilities at UAB. I was tenured in 2015.

    Karolina Mukhtar: I have also been here since 2010 and was also hired as an assistant professor. I’m from Poland and did all of my education up to my master’s in Poland in biology, all in my hometown. I never had to move away for college; I guess that was in my best interest. That was the first place I got interested in plant science, which is my current research area.

    I was pretty traditional except for one gig. Straight from my master’s, I was offered a job in the same academic unit where I did my master’s, which was a cell biology lab. And these were really coveted, full-time, permanent research positions—there’s not really an equivalent in the U.S. But I hated the job: it wasn’t the right place for me, and I started looking for something else pretty quickly, just within the first few months. I applied for an internship at the Polish Academy of Sciences, which is a really good place. Even though my original intention for that internship was to just get out of where I was, it turned out to be life-changing, because I met great people there who showed me what science could be like and got me excited. While I was there, the head informed me of the Max Planck Research Institute, which was opening a [new location] in Germany, so I applied for their Ph.D. program. I got in, and during the interviews I also met my future husband so that was a really quick fix for my whole life. [laughs] I got my Ph.D. in genetics with a focus on plant diseases. After that [my husband and I] were pretty open to going anywhere for post-doc training. That ended up being Duke University for me, and I did that for a little over four years.

    After I finished my post-doc, I decided to have a trial run [on the job market], and I applied for assistant professor positions at four schools. One of them called me back and that was UAB. I’ve only been to one job interview in my life and I hope it stays that way. [laughs] My lab studies plant immune systems and various types of plant stress responses.

    A&S: And Eugenia and Karolina, you both won the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2014, correct?

    Eugenia: Yes, that’s right.

    Karolina: Yes, with Thamar Solorio and Ragib Hasan.

    Mary Ellen Zvanut: My story's relatively simple. I got my bachelor’s-through-Ph.D. at the same institution up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at Lehigh University, not far from where I grew up. I did a post-doc at UNC Chapel Hill, then moved on the Naval Research Lab [in Washington, D.C.] before moving to UAB as an assistant professor in 1993 and I've been here ever since.

    I research the materials they make your computers, cell phones, and electronic gadgets out of—and these new lights that are based on LEDs. I focus particularly on defects, which are not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, sometimes you need those defects to make devices work. We look at defects directly as well as their interactions with other materials.

    I’m a full professor, associate chair and the graduate program director in the Department of Physics.

    A&S: What are some of the pros and cons of being a woman in your field? Did you have a mentor who supported you? Have any of you had a negative experience? What are some of your stories?

    Tracy: I have many stories. When I was a Ph.D. student at FIU, I remember one time I had to work into the early morning hours. I came back at 6:00 a.m. and one of my roommates, who was a male student, said, “You just came back from doing homework?” And I said, “Yes, I got the last bug fixed, so now I’m turning in the work to earn bonus points.” And he said, “Computer science isn’t for women.” He didn’t think it was an appropriate lifestyle for women, working late like that. Even my husband, who was also doing his Ph.D. during this time, [has had similar opinions]. We got to know each other when I was working late in the lab.

    Karolina: Us too, there is no time for anything else!

    [laughter]

    Tracy: Right. But from the other point of view, I had a male dissertation advisor who was so supportive. He was so strong-minded but in a good way. He never gave up on me, even when I messed up badly, and there was a time early on that I did mess up really badly. He always held the standard high, but he was always extremely supportive. He would always say, “You are capable of doing anything, you can do it.”

    I think the support from your male peers and your male advisors is very important. Because I think oftentimes the things that make girls or women in my field quit is a lack of confidence and support.

    Karolina: I actually had female mentors all along and I just recently realized that. I have to tell you that, when I grew up in Poland I was completely unaware of the concept of gender inequality. My eyes were really opened when I was over 30 [years old] and I was here in the U.S. My boss made a comment, “You as a female may have a better chance of getting a job,” and I honestly had no idea where that was coming from.

    I was always happy being a girl. But I did have an experience in the first lab I worked in, where I got my master’s, being there was a completely different story. Every single person there was female: the boss was female, 100 percent of the lab was female. And this is the other side of the story: Women can be amazing support, but they can also do a lot of damage when they aren’t the role models you need them to be. When I was hired, I was the most junior member of that group. I felt like an outcast, I wasn’t welcome, and they had ways of letting me know that. I was the one teaching late labs or Saturday morning labs because I was single with no children. I was the one going down the street to the deli to get their lunches. And so I realized, this is not the place where I’m getting the support I need, and at this rate it will take me forever to get my Ph.D.

    My Ph.D. boss was female and she was a neutral figure in my life. My post-doc boss was another female and she was definitely a strong supporter and a great role model who helped me navigate through my own personal life choices through my post-doc, so I ended up coming out on the other side without too much damage and building a stronger case for myself. So, I had both: the good, the bad, and the ugly. [laughs]

    We focus on the impact that male advisors have on female students, but being a female advisor is a whole different responsibility that we have toward our female students. Because there was a time in my life I seriously doubted I could stay in [academia] and if it hadn’t been for that internship, I’m not sure I could have stayed much longer.

    Eugenia: Those stories are wonderful! I’ve been lucky. In Russia, we had the same situation as Karolina had, we didn’t feel that gender difference.

    Karolina: It’s cultural.

    Mary Ellen: My impression is there is a big cultural difference in Europe; they don’t have the same kind of social structure we do in this country. My sense always has been, because I’ve interacted with a lot of European men, that it’s very different than with Americans.

    Eugenia: You know, I didn’t think about this. Out of 50 students in my class [in Russia], only three were guys—the rest were girls. And that felt normal because it was chemistry. If you went into physics or computer science, the ratio would be different, but it was never just 5 percent female. By the time we all graduated it was 50/50, male/female across all of the disciplines. But even when I first came to the U.S., I didn’t experience this gender difference because I happened to be in a lab with an assistant professor who was female. In my group, it was five women and only one man. And I was very lucky; she was very supportive. And we are all in that situation now, right? You take students and you are responsible for them. She was supportive at the time and I just thought it was normal.

    When I did my Ph.D. at Georgia Tech, the environment was slightly different. It was engineering and it was more competitive, but again it was 50/50, female/male students.

    When I came to UAB, I was the only female tenure-track professor out of maybe 15 in the department, and then it was an eye-opener. That’s when I realized, “Wow this is different.” But the department was very supportive so I didn’t notice at first; I just was focused on my work, but gradually it dawned on me. And I noticed it with my students. Girls are less confident and that was strange to me; I was always confident. But when I look at my students here, they are more hesitant to make decisions, they are careful in their experiments, they are very critical about what they do—self-critical. It can be a good thing to be careful and critical, but they are often more conservative than the guys. And to me, it seems like when they have a failure, they are much harder on themselves and it’s much harder for them to move on. I just feel like the girls need more encouragement than guys.

    Tracy: I agree. That reminds me of another joke that’s very true and reflective of reality: When you tell a girl she did a good job, she might think, “What did I do wrong?” You should say: You did a great job, not a good job.

    Mary Ellen: It’s interesting listening to the stories because not only are most of them not U.S.-based but they’re also much more recent, so it’s a completely different situation. I had no female mentor, it never occurred to me to have one. In contrast though, the first 12 years of my education my teachers were entirely female: they ran the school, they did everything. So, it didn’t occur to me even when I got to college that [women] couldn’t be in charge of something. Of course you could be in charge of things! Now I went to a heavily male-dominated school, my two best girlfriends were probably “the engineers” as undergraduates…there were probably more, but it was a very, very small percentage. I think out of a class of 100 electrical engineers, maybe five were women. I was a physicist; I may have been the only one, maybe a couple of others.

    It was a very different experience, but I never really had any trouble. But physics is a very different environment: it’s small and maybe more encouraging because we need more physicists and we don’t care if they’re male or female! [laughs] But no, I shouldn’t joke. Women obviously don’t go into physics and there are a lot of stories about women not being encouraged, being told they couldn’t do math or they shouldn’t do math, and those are stories I’ve heard from friends and from students. I never experienced that, but I’m sure it was true and I dare say is probably still true. But I’ve been lucky. My research advisor was a gem to everyone. He had a wife who was a schoolteacher and daughters about my age, so he knew. But there were issues that I didn’t realize as a student, but he took care so that I didn’t realize them. He made sure that I got along.

    A&S: What kinds of issues?

    Mary Ellen: For example, we were going to a conference and remember it so well but I was so oblivious to it at the time. It was driving distance and I was a relatively new student and we were all going as a group. When we got there we had to spend the night, and I appreciate this now: It cost a lot for a hotel room. Should I have one of my own? Because usually everyone shares a room. But apparently this was a big topic of conversation in his house. His wife and daughters were all advocating that I get a separate room even though it cost a lot. But on the other hand, it does mean you’re cut off…a lot happens socially when you’re spending time in situations like that, I probably missed out on some things.

    A&S: Eugenia, you addressed this earlier. What are everyone's perceptions of your female students?

    Mary Ellen: I think the one thing we all have to keep in mind, even about us: we’re here, the graduate students who are here, they are the ones who persisted. Already the female students we see are the people who are willing to go the extra mile and fight the battles. I had a student here, she came from another institution, and she was basically told when you’re married and have kids, you shouldn’t be here. But she continued. It’s probably very challenging to them, but you shouldn’t say those kinds of things to anyone. All the female students I’ve worked with they’re much more aggressive than I would have been.

    Karolina: Biology absolutely doesn’t have a problem with recruitment—more than 50 percent of our graduates are female, which is a national trend. And that’s also true at the master’s level and Ph.D. level, so we have quite a lot of trained female biologists. Our problem is the leaking pipeline. When you move up in the academic setting every step of the way, from post-doc to every level of faculty, we have a huge, precipitous drop in terms of the numbers and we probably get single digits, 10 percent at best, of full professors. So, our challenge isn’t the lack of motivated undergraduates; they start these careers. The problem is the girls flock into biology because they’re told not to go into computer science, chemistry, math, and physics and so biology is the STEM discipline they think they can handle, plus it has the connection to healthcare, which a lot of women would like. So they come to biology and suddenly we are left with this huge population, and they don’t even realize they are bottle-necking by all flocking together. I think biology has a unique problem of being too popular or being seen as easier. I’m an example, because I had to work really, really hard to get my A’s in math and physics, and I did, but it was more effort. I feel like a lot of girls would be like me and go down this path, but not be prepared for when it becomes more difficult down the road.

    What’s also difficult is when these young women enter biology thinking they will go into medicine or nursing or another health profession and they aren’t accepted, then it is often too late for them to adjust into academia, because they don’t have the research experience they need to continue. We could definitely do a better job of mentoring this large female population we have into more diverse careers.

    Eugenia: I feel so jealous of all those students!

    Karolina: Too much is not always a good thing!

    [laughter]

    Eugenia: Of course, there are always exceptions. I’ve been here seven years and I would say yes, female students need more encouragement and more motivation. Their standards are often higher, which can actually have a negative impact. Maybe because I’m a female professor they feel they can't disappoint me more than a male student can? Maybe they’re more sensitive to that? I don’t know, I don’t have a controlled experiment. [laughs] But I agree with Karolina that the retention of female professors in our field is much lower than male professors. In fact, look at our department, we have only two tenured or tenure-track female professors.

    Tracy: I’m the only one in my department.

    Mary Ellen: I’m the only one in mine, too.

    Eugenia: The search committees say, “We need to bring more female [applicants]!” But how are you going to do that when you have out of 100 applications only 10 are female?”

    Tracy: Same here. But I don’t ever feel isolated. They asked me, “Will you have a problem being the only woman in this department?” and I said, “No!”

    A&S: What can UAB do to support you and your students? What do we do well, and what can we do better?

    Karolina: I am a mom of two little daughters so I have that insight and they are both elementary-school age right now. One of them came back home from preschool and said she wished she could be an astronaut, but she couldn’t because she was a girl. And that was the point where I knew I had to do something. Because she’s spending days with people who have told her something like that, because I can assure you she hasn’t heard it at home. We started working hard to find summer camps and after-school activities to immerse them in science and programming and basic engineering. It’s not my interest and it may not be theirs either, but it’s just an alternative to cheerleading and gymnastics. We as a female faculty—we all do outreach activities obviously very heavily—but something UAB could probably do better is programs for younger girls.

    Tracy: Right. Some of our faculty offer the Girls Who Code training camp, but that’s purely on a volunteer basis.

    Karolina: So yes, targeting them earlier, because once we already have them as undergrads the damage is often already done. Research shows that it’s during the preteen years that the whole math/physics thing kicks in that, “This is not for me.”

    It’s so frustrating, I see it among my female mentees, there could be a student that could be doing so well for years and is planning on having an academic career, but in the final year she tells me, “It’s actually going to be really hard.” It breaks my heart but they say, “I’ve been looking at you and it looks so hard and I don’t think I can do it.” And I feel like all that I’ve been trying to do is radiate joy and family/work balance and saying, “Hey, you can do it if you want to, you can. It’s doable and let me show you how.” But there is kind of a consensus that after their degree is complete, they would like a job with defined hours—they are really looking for the structure. These are people who are great thinkers, who are really creative, who have great hands for experiments and they could have a great future. They just can’t make it work.

    Tracy: Let me tell you an encouraging story. My first Ph.D. student was a female student, and she was brilliant. She earned every award and I thought she would have a really promising career in academia, but she decided to follow her husband and work in the industry. But I never gave up trying to talk her into an academic career. I finally convinced her last year and she’s now an assistant professor.

    [cheers]

    Karolina: How many years did it take?

    Tracy: Well, six or seven.

    Karolina: But you persisted.

    A&S: What else needs to happen?

    Eugenia: There are a lot of things happening, we just need to keep doing them. More scholarships and fellowships for females at all levels. Hiring more female professors: It’s not easy, but it’s possible. And mentoring. It’s a good thing, but we don’t see it enough in STEM. Mentoring junior faculty is important, but especially female faculty. Senior faculty should see this as a privilege not a load. There needs to be a way to take some of the [responsibility] off of senior faculty so we can do more of this. Because it’s a huge responsibility—it’s a service. Mentoring would require departmental support.

    Karolina: We have a mentoring program in Biology and we had one when I came in.

    Mary Ellen: We have mentoring for faculty, but it’s less formal. As associate chair I try to work with new faculty we have coming in and try to get them in the swing of things. I think it has to happen at the department level, because we all do such different things and the departments have a better idea of what people need. But it does add a layer of things to do. And for most of us, you don’t get into a faculty position until you’ve done a post-doc; it’s not like you come out with a bachelor’s degree and you can teach. So many of these faculty have some independence and have some idea of what it will take, but for us in the Department of Physics, it’s helping them to learn how to teach properly—physics is notorious for not training graduate students to be effective teachers—and also research, but it’s mostly informal and at the faculty level.

    Karolina: When I first came here I was the only female faculty member with a lab, and I was also the first faculty member to be pregnant on the job in the history of the department! A lot has changed since then, though. We’ve had a huge influx of younger female faculty members.

    A&S: So there are good signs.

    All: Yes.

    Karolina: We just have to keep working at it.

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