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Displaying items by tag: Department of Anthropology

Lisa Gezon, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the Department of Anthropology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Kacey Keith often encounters conflict when addressing structural and cultural harm through her work as a consultant, and she has an appreciation for people who are willing and prepared to face disputes head-on.

Charles Scribner exemplifies school pride when he reflects on his time at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Pursuing what you love doing can lead you in unlikely directions in your career.

For Rosie O’Beirne, her background in anthropology informs her work as University of Alabama at Birmingham’s chief digital strategy and marketing officer every day—a somewhat surprising (and valuable) connection.

When speaking with Joshua L. Baker, Principal Owner and Managing Director of Baker Camp Arnold Capital Management, you cannot overlook his passion for history. In fact, most of the artifacts and framed items on his office walls are testaments to his deep interest in the discipline.

While growing up in Birmingham, Katie Fagan lived a few blocks away from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Although both of her parents graduated from UAB’s School of Medicine, attending the university was not part of Fagan’s long-term plan. At least not at first.

The UAB Graduate Dean's Excellence in Mentorship Award recognizes full-time regular UAB faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments as mentors of graduate students and/or postdoctoral fellows.

Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, launches GlobalXplorer, a project funded by her $1 million 2016 TED Prize.
GlobalXplorer is a citizen science archaeology platform that's "Indiana Jones meets Google Earth." The platform was created in collaboration with the National Geographic Society and DigitalGlobe.
Sarah Parcak, Ph.D., has been named to the list for her innovations in the area of satellite archaeology.
Everyone’s looking for a little peace — and students have found it in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, a growing hub for the study of peaceful societies, human rights, nonviolent conflict resolution, and related topics. Discover useful tips for defusing friction with family and neighbors, and learn more about the practical lessons of peace
The American Ingenuity Award is the highest honor given by Smithsonian Magazine to recognize innovation in American culture.
UAB Department of Anthropology research assistant and alumnus Benjamin Maddox made a public presentation on peace systems at a Sustainable Peace workshop at the Columbia University Law School in New York City earlier this month.
The new program, only the second of its kind in anthropology in the US, focuses on peace as behavioral process at multiple levels including at the level of individuals, families, groups, communities, cultures and nations.
The Peaceful Societies website, hosted by the UAB Department of Anthropology, has created a section dedicated to videos representing many of the peaceful societies included in the encyclopedia page.
Parcak will enlist the help of citizens from around the world to search for hidden civilizations through an online platform called GlobalXplorer.
Satellite, drone images and ground surveys led to the discovery of a massive man-made platform hidden under sand in the ancient city of Petra.
UAB researcher Sarah Parcak, Ph.D., has already shown the world how to find ancient sites from space. Now her graduate student is using remote sensing data to find a different kind of hidden treasure: uranium.
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  • Read the 2022 issue of Arts & Sciences magazine

    Read the 2022 issue of Arts & Sciences magazine featuring stories on the UAB TRIP Lab, Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones, plus updates from the 2021-2022 academic year.

    Read the 2022 issue of Arts & Sciences magazine featuring stories on the UAB TRIP Lab, Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones, plus updates from the 2021-2022 academic year.

    Read more...
  • Undergraduate programs in immunology and cancer biology offer innovative, one-of-a-kind degrees

    Undergraduate programs in immunology and cancer biology are offering students one-of-a-kind educational experiences.

    Over the past 12 years, the UAB College of Arts and Sciences and the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine established five interdisciplinary undergraduate programs to promote STEM and biomedical majors and increase the future pipeline of highly skilled workers. The shared programs include: neuroscience, bioinformatics, genetics and genomic sciences, immunology, and cancer biology.

    “The founding goal of these programs was to bring innovative majors to Alabama’s brightest students to build the next generation of the biomedical workforce,” said Cristin Gavin, Ph.D., assistant dean for the Undergraduate Biomedical Programs in the Heersink School of Medicine and co-director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program. “UAB’s intensive research environment spans both schools and provides the perfect ecosystem for high-impact practices such as undergraduate research and collaborative learning.”

    Immunology

    History

    The Undergraduate Immunology Program was approved in 2016 and offered its first round of classes in 2017. It is an interdisciplinary program between the Department of Microbiology in the Heersink School of Medicine and the Department of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Prior to launching the undergraduate program, UAB only offered graduate-level degrees in immunology.

    “It made sense to extend our reach to undergraduates and build grassroots-level knowledge of immunology,” said Undergraduate Immunology Program Director Louis Justement, Ph.D.

    Significance

    Immunology is the study of the immune system, which protects the human body against pathogens and toxins. However, “the immune system can kill you any day if it is dysregulated,” said Justement. Therefore, understanding how the immune system works and its potential impact on the human body is crucial.

    After two years of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance and life-saving potential of studying the immune system has been significantly amplified. “Vaccines are a great example of immunologic success,” said Justement. “If that isn’t impactful, it’s hard to say what truly is.” Along with vaccines, immunology can also support early detection and treatment of cancer.

    Curriculum

    Immunology is interdisciplinary by nature and has direct ties with the fields of biochemistry, cell biology, cancer biology, infectious diseases, neurobiology, endocrinology, and cardiology. “All of these topics are woven into the immunology curriculum,” said Rueben Burch, an alumnus of the immunology program who currently works at a biotechnology company in Seattle. The program’s curriculum is a sequenced path consisting of seven courses and research opportunities. Some of the required courses include "Introduction to Immune System," "Immunologically-Mediated Diseases," and "Microbial Pathogen-Immune System Interaction." Students are also required to participate in undergraduate research to help them acquire knowledge and skills in experimental design, data analysis, scientific writing, and oral presentation.

    Heather Bruns, Ph.D., co-director of the program, worked alongside Justement to build a four-year comprehensive undergraduate curriculum. “As we identified the knowledge and competencies that we wanted our students to possess, it was also important to us to include appropriate assessments in the curriculum to ensure that the program was providing an effective learning environment,” said Bruns.

    Since it is a relatively small program, students receive quality, hands-on mentorship from faculty. Kristine Farag, an alumnus of the program who is now enrolled at the Indiana University School of Medicine, sought and found valuable mentorship from Bruns.

    “Immunology program directors truly want to see their students succeed in every capacity, and they put in the time and effort to make that happen,” said Farag.

    Careers

    Studying the immune system can be a valuable option for those who have an interest in health professions and biomedical research. Graduates of the program may go on to pursue a variety of careers, including research, medicine, science policy, science communication, and medical technology.

    Hollis Graffeo, a current immunology major, chose immunology because she is interested in becoming a physician, and the same is true for many of her fellow classmates. Additionally, the sheer uniqueness of the program was attractive to her.

    “UAB is the only school in the country that offers the immunology [undergraduate] major, and [I think] this will make me stand out greatly as an applicant when I apply to medical school,” said Graffeo.

    Learn more about the immunology major at UAB.

    Cancer Biology

    History

    The Bachelor of Science in Cancer Biology at UAB officially launched in Fall 2020. The program is an interdisciplinary partnership between the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology in the Heersink School of Medicine. These two departments initiated the cancer biology program because, “chemistry and cancer pair nicely together given the importance of chemical structure and drug discovery,” said Sadanandan Velu, Ph.D., co-director of the Undergraduate Cancer Biology Program.

    “Starting a program during the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly not ideal and unanticipated,” said Braden McFarland, Ph.D., co-director of the program. “However, everyone was on their computers and social media during that time, and the word spread about our program through cyberspace very quickly.”

    The program started with 13 students in Fall 2020 and has grown significantly. Currently, the directors anticipate 90 students in Fall 2022.

    Significance

    Cancer biology focuses on the mechanisms underlying fundamental processes such as cell growth, the transformation of normal cells to cancer cells, and their spread.

    Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, so its reach and impact is profound. “No matter the health profession, one will encounter cancer in their profession and their personal life,” said McFarland.

    Therefore, understanding the risks, early detection, and development of new therapies to combat cancer deaths is vital. Through the cancer biology program, students gain foundational knowledge of what cancer biology is and its application to cure and advance cancer research.

    Curriculum

    The program provides a strong educational and research background. Velu explains that the academic training in this program is reinforced with a required research component, which provides students with early exposure to cancer research.

    Cancer biology majors participate in investigator-led programs in high-profile cancer research labs, the majority of which are in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center—the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in Alabama.

    Students can participate in research in any lab on campus with a focus on cancer. This includes basic or clinical research, as well as cancer nutrition or epidemiology. “Our current students have a palpable energy to learn everything about cancer, which is usually due to personal or family experiences with cancer,” said McFarland.

    Careers

    The UAB Undergraduate Cancer Biology program prepares students for academic and industrial career opportunities in cancer biology and life sciences, and it is a launch pad for students who want to research, treat, and fight cancer.

    Specifically, the program prepares students to excel in a variety of medical fields such as medicine, dentistry, optometry, physician training, and physician assistance. After completing the program, students might also pursue careers in biomedical research, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, veterinary sciences, medical technology, and public health policy.

    “Excellent faculty mentoring and career counseling are provided to students to identify graduate and professional programs or job opportunities most suited to their interests,” said Velu.

    Some students choose cancer biology for reasons beyond professional success. For example, Neeral Patel, one of the first cancer biology students at UAB, chose cancer biology because he watched his mother battle both ovarian and breast cancer growing up.

    “Birmingham became a second home to me, as our family would frequent UAB for my mom’s appointments and treatments. My mom’s battle is what initially sparked my interest in the medical field,” said Patel. “Although it is extremely early to know, this program has prepared me well in all things cancer. I look forward to exploring different specialties, while carrying all of the academic and non-academic skills this program and its faculty have taught me.”

    Learn more about the cancer biology major at UAB.

    Read more...
  • Transforming Lives: The Chapman Family Endowed Scholarship

    The Chapman family has long believed that education transforms lives, and they are particularly committed to students who struggle with the costs of higher education.

    Alison and Karen Chapman.The Chapman family has long believed that education transforms lives, and they are particularly committed to students who struggle with the costs of higher education. To help provide these students with a path to an undergraduate degree, Alison Chapman, Ph.D., and her mother, Karen Chapman, have established the Chapman Family Endowed Scholarship in the Department of English. The endowment will serve as a lasting tribute to the Chapman family, including Alison’s late father, Lee Barton Chapman, M.D.

    A native of Birmingham, Alison Chapman joined UAB in 2000 where she currently serves as professor and chair of the Department of English. Alison graduated magna cum laude from Davidson College and earned her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in English Renaissance literature, including Shakespeare and Milton. She is known for her vibrant and accessible teaching, and she especially enjoys working with students on their writing skills.

    Alison’s father, Lee Barton Chapman, was a graduate of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine and went on to become a beloved Birmingham-area surgeon. He was delighted to have his daughter join the UAB faculty and to watch the university become an ever more robust center of undergraduate learning. A lifetime intellectual and reader, Lee thought of himself as a ‘closet English major’ and usually had a stack of classic works on his bedside. He spent many of his vacations volunteering in medical clinics in developing countries, and, in his retirement, he was a tireless literacy tutor. Though Lee passed away in 2008, the family says he would be honored to support UAB students as they achieve their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.

    Scholarship support ensures that students can set aside their financial concerns as they focus on their studies, empowering them to make a difference in their careers and communities. Generous gifts to the Chapman Family Endowed Scholarship will not only assist students who might not otherwise be able to attend UAB, but also pay tribute to the university that has been an important part of the Chapmans’ lives.

    Give to the Chapman Family Endowed Scholarship.

    Lee Barton Chapman.

    Karen and Lee Barton Chapman.

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  • Brasfields invest in the future of the Department of Computer Science

    For David and Phyllis Brasfield, Birmingham represents opportunity and growth. And, according to both Brasfields, UAB is at the heart of it all.

    Photo by Shannon RobinsonFor David and Phyllis Brasfield, Birmingham represents opportunity and growth. And, according to both Brasfields, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is at the heart of it all.

    “I think UAB is a hidden gem,” said Phyllis. “I just think it’s a wonderful university.”

    “For me, and for our companies, having access to all the talent that comes out of UAB has been one of the biggest benefits for me, personally,” added David, founder and CEO of NXTsoft, a secure data solutions software platform.

    The Brasfields’ relationship with UAB—and each other—began in the early 1980s. After graduating from high school, Phyllis was interested in a college that was both affordable and close to her hometown of Birmingham. David, on the other hand, wanted access to a first-class medical school. They explored their options and, eventually, both selected UAB.

    After arriving on campus, David pivoted from pre-med to computer science, and Phyllis pursued occupational therapy. Eventually, they crossed paths for the first time in a biology lab. The rest, as they say, is history.

    “We met and two years later we got married,” said David. “We lived on campus in Denman Hall.”

    The Brasfields finished their degrees and began building a life together in Birmingham. They raised four children—three of whom attended UAB—and David founded NXTsoft, which he still runs today.

    Although they graduated from UAB nearly 40 years ago, both Brasfields have stayed connected to the campus. Specifically, David has served on the Department of Computer Science Industrial Advisory Board, and, through that work, he has seen the department’s extraordinary growth in recent years.

    “Computer science, in general, is a great area to be in,” said David. “We have record enrollment.”

    Given their collective passion for both Birmingham and UAB, David and Phyllis were determined to find a way to support both faculty and students at the institution. In Spring 2022, they identified a clear area of need in the Department of Computer Science and, soon after, established the Phyllis and David Brasfield Endowed Faculty Scholar in Computer Science.

    “It was good to pour back into the school that’s been good to us and three of our kids,” said Phyllis.

    The generous gift will support the research efforts of a faculty member in the department. By doing so, the Brasfields hope to support recruitment and retainment efforts and, over time, attract innovative faculty members to UAB.

    “To help bring more kids to the university, we’ve got to have professors that want to teach here,” said David. “We want [the department] to have the ability to hire more professors, continue to grow, and handle the enrollment levels they’ve got. Also, the more students that come out of that program, the more opportunities there are for technology companies in Birmingham.”

    The College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Computer Science are grateful to the Brasfields for their gift and commitment to UAB.

    Read more...
  • Mutually Beneficial: Mentorship in UAB’s award-winning PR program

    This spring, public relations students from UAB took home an astounding number of awards at the annual conference for the Public Relations Council of Alabama.

    Jacquelyn S. Shaia and Tehreem Khan. Photos by Studio Moderne.This spring, public relations students from UAB took home an astounding number of awards at the annual conference for the Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA)—the state’s largest organization for public relations practitioners. Students in the UAB Public Relations Council of Alabama/Public Relations Student Society of America (PRCA/PRSSA) won 46 individual awards and the UAB chapter was awarded the Bettie W. Hudgens Student Chapter of the Year Award. Senior Tehreem Khan was also named Student of the Year, an award that recognizes academic achievement in the field of public relations as well as leadership on campus and in the community.

    The UAB PRCA/PRSSA is a student-led organization open to students across campus who are interested in public relations. The organization conducts workshops, hosts networking events and guest speakers, and offers service-based learning in the community. The student group is a valuable extension of the public relations academic program in the Department of Communication Studies, where students take what they’re learning in the classroom and put it into practice.

    In 2016, Jacquelyn S. Shaia, J.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and faculty advisor for the chapter, took a small but successful PRCA/PRSSA program and brought it to the national level. The student chapter received its first national recognition in 2020, earning the prestigious PRSSA Star Chapter of the Year award for the first time in the program’s history. Despite its small size—around 60 students and only one full-time faculty member—the UAB PR program has earned the reputation of being one of the finest in the country.

    Arts & Sciences magazine sat down with Shaia and Khan to learn more about the program and their collaborative mentoring relationship. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


    A&S Magazine: Let's start with each of you telling me about yourself and how you ended up at UAB.

    Tehreem Khan: My name is Tehreem Khan. I am a communication studies major with a concentration in mass communications with a focus in public relations. I moved to Birmingham in 2016 [and attended] two years of high school here, and I knew that I was going to stay with my family. So, I was looking around at my local [higher education] options. My sister was already enrolled at UAB, and she said, “You need to go to UAB because that’s the best place Birmingham has.” So, she gave me a tour, and when I toured this campus, I fell in love with it.

    Jacquelyn Shaia: Mine’s a little longer... When I graduated from high school, I went to work the next day for a law firm in Montgomery. I always wanted to go to college, but I had no money to go to college. One of our clients was Dr. James Hicks, and he was the chair of the Division of Otolaryngology in the UAB School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. I came to know Dr. Hicks when he was coming in and out of the office, and he said, “Well, if you want to go to college you should come to UAB.” So, I started working for Dr. Hicks at UAB while attending school. After I graduated from UAB, I got a scholarship to law school and went on to practice law for years in corporate at BellSouth where public relations was one of my clients. I later worked for the Business Council of Alabama as the head of strategic planning and fundraising. Then I was hired by Alabama Power [to serve as] the President and CEO of the Alabama Power Foundation as well as Senior Vice President of Public Relations, Economic Development, and Corporate Services. I also served as President and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, recruiting industry to this state. It seemed like every job I had involved public relations in some capacity. Public relations is many things: it’s vitally strategic, it's relationship building, it's getting to know people, it's certainly getting to know your audience. It's tailoring your message to the audience so they can understand it. And, most importantly, it has to be ‘mutually beneficial’ for both parties—where both parties feel successful—in order to be effective.

    I had always wanted to get a Ph.D. I thought it would be fun—and it really was. [In 2002,] I started the Ph.D. program at the University of Alabama [in Tuscaloosa]. I started teaching media law and taught the entire time I worked on my Ph.D. After I received my doctorate, I really had no intention of working full-time teaching, but then I got a call from UAB. I taught media law and crisis management classes in UAB’s outstanding Honors College and now work with remarkable faculty in the Department of Communication Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

    A&S: Tehreem, how did you become interested in PR?

    TK: As a child, I was involved in school debating competitions in both English and Urdu (Pakistan’s national language). Most of my family belongs to the education sector in Pakistan. My dad is a professor, and he always encouraged academic excellence, leadership, and public speaking. When I would go on the stage as a host or as a debater, his eyes would light up and that meant the world to me. [Also,] I would sit with him and watch news shows. It was very cool that when the [news] anchors were talking, [my family] would pause and listen; their opinion really mattered. And I thought that if they were changing the opinions of people who lived in my household, it meant they were changing the opinions of society at large. That was very inspiring to me, and I knew that I wanted a career in mass communication. The power of the pen and the power of voice really resonated with me ever since I was a child. When I got into UAB, I knew I wanted to do mass communication, [but] I didn't even know what PR was at that time. So, when I was taking an “Ethics and Leadership” [course] with Dr. Shaia, I gave a presentation, and then after the presentation, [Dr. Shaia] pulled me aside and said, “Tehreem, I want you in my program.” As a foreigner, especially, it meant a lot to me that someone in the U.S. is telling me, “Hey, I'll mentor you… I will lead you. I will support you. I will expose you to these opportunities.” So I consulted with my father, and he said, “You should definitely do this.” The next semester, I enrolled in all the PR classes.

    A&S: Dr. Shaia, what was your vision for the PRCA/PRSSA student chapter in relation to the public relations academic program?

    JS: The public relations student chapter was successful on its own when I took it on. It received Chapter of the Year from the Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA) for many years. But all the emphasis was on that Chapter of the Year [award], not on the individual development, and I wanted both. I also wanted to start extending nationally. We had absolutely no national involvement at all when I came in. So, the first year, off the bat, we had students who served on committees on the national Public Relations Student Society of America. Within a couple of years, we applied for Star Chapter (a national award), and we got it—and that had never been done before at UAB. We've been able to get that award every successive year since then.

    When I first came here, leadership and ethics was not a required part of the public relations [curriculum], and I truly believed it needed to be. So, we changed the catalog. We made “Ethics and Leadership” a required course in the public relations [academic program] because you cannot be a true professional without honesty and integrity and a firm understanding of how to apply those values in the workplace. Throughout the program, and particularly with the chapter work, I try to give [students] a heavy dose of what to expect in the professional world and a solid understanding of all the soft skills that they're going to need. I try to bring a perspective of experience on how it really works in the real world. The whole idea is to make our students as competitive as they can be when they graduate with all the skills they need to be successful.

    A&S: Tehreem, how has being in the student chapter set you up for success throughout your undergraduate career?

    TK: I think it has been critical… I think being part of the student chapter teaches skills that books cannot teach. Books can’t teach you [how to work with] people, and [being part of the chapter] helps you learn how to deal with different personalities. Some people want to be micromanaged, and some people want to work independently. Figuring out how everyone wants to work and [developing] your leadership strategy according to that [is important]. I also think becoming a part of the student organization is important because, as a student, you need reassurance that what you’re doing is worth it and to have [those] opportunities for recognition. [Also], I didn’t have the resources that [allowed me] to pay for my education in the United States on my own. But, as part of the student chapter, I was exposed to a lot of scholarship opportunities, which helped me pay for what I'm doing.

    "I literally walked into this program as a student, and I am proud to say that I'm leaving as a professional." — Tehreem Khan

    Simply put—[and] this might sound like a cliche statement—but I literally walked into this program as a student, and I am proud to say that I'm leaving as a professional.

    A&S: Tell me about the community engagement aspect of the program.

    JS: Oh, I love this. I love the community and our state and am extremely grateful to the strong practicing professionals we have in this field in the Southeast. I was adamant that [students] start working with practitioners and expand their networks. Professionals in the Southeast volunteer their time to critique our students’ work. More importantly, students get another set of eyes on their work. We also select small groups of students and then pair them with nonprofits based on each group's interest to create and deliver real public relations campaigns. There’s no shortage, as I tell the students, of noble causes in the state. There are opportunities everywhere, and we just have to look for them. These small nonprofits don't have any public relations support and are just so grateful for our help. The last class in the program is our capstone class, and we conclude with a competition. I bring in four PR practitioners from across the state who serve as judges and hear presentations on the campaigns from each of the student groups. After deliberation, they decide which campaign was the best and offer very valuable feedback on ways each of the campaigns can be improved. This is tremendously helpful to the students, and they graduate having strategically developed—and delivered—a very extensive campaign for a struggling nonprofit which badly needs help.

    TK: I think working with nonprofit organizations gives purpose. The other thing is the nonprofit organizations that we work with at UAB are pretty small. In a bigger organization, you [might] have a photographer, videographer, social media person, media relations person. But when working with a small nonprofit organization—and we are working for them pro bono—we are the photographer, we are the videographer, we are the social media person, and we are their media relations person. We are their PR person… so it not only helps them but builds our professional skills. It is an opportunity to do things out of our comfort zone.

    A&S: How does the mentor/mentee relationship between students and faculty lend itself to the program’s success?

    TK: [To some], it may be considered a weakness that it's a small program but, to me, it's a strength. We have a small group of [students] and one faculty member, which helps us build connections amongst ourselves and with Dr. Shaia.

    I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “You’re doing a great job!” You [also] need a person who is really honest with you, and with a mentor like [Dr. Shaia], you're going to know… So having those people who are not just appreciative of your good work, but also can tell you, “Here's what you're doing wrong,” so that you don't make those mistakes in a high-stakes situation… This is what mentorship is.

    JS: The thing I keep in mind on mentoring is students need to always trust you and know that when you give them positive [feedback], it's positive. And when you give them things that need to be improved upon, they can trust you. Suggestions for improvement must be delivered in a way in which the student understands it is for their own benefit.

    I'm a big believer in giving big jobs to people who maybe have never done them before. I expect them to succeed, and they do. They [succeed] because they realize that if they just pull from within, they can do this… And I'm going to be there to help them if they need help. They're able to build their confidence up.

    There's nothing more gratifying than to see a young person come in with talent, even though the talent is not fully developed. I have always believed you hire for attitude and train for skills, and I still believe that. Hire for attitude, train for skills every time. A mentor or leader cannot micromanage an individual and expect them to succeed and learn. People perform best when they have a strong understanding of the organizational framework—and can use their own talent and creativity to solve the problem. And so, I work with each student to be sure that we go where that student is—not where we think that student ought to be in relation to everybody else… And [I also ask myself] what do I need to do or change in order to develop that student to get them to where they need to be?

    TK: Dr. Shaia always says that everyone handles success well, but how you handle failure speaks to who you are as a person. And her statement helps me reflect and humbles me. She shares a lot of life advice in her classes, which I love about her—that’s part of her mentorship to every student.

    Learn more about the public relations program at UAB.

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  • Computer science achieves record enrollment growth

    Dr. Yuliang Zheng shares impressive updates about the Department of Computer Science.

    The UAB Department of Computer Science has grown significantly in the past few years—both in the breadth of our academic program offerings and in our enrollment numbers. Currently, we offer four undergraduate programs, three master's programs, and a Ph.D. program. The combined number of majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels reached 920 in Spring 2022, representing a 318 percent increase from six years back. According to UAB’s most recent survey on first destinations of employment, 97 percent of our graduates found their first jobs within six months of graduating. Our graduates are highly sought-after by both industries and government agencies as cyber security specialists, software engineers, data scientists, IT system administrators, and application developers.

    Also, many of our students have turned into successful entrepreneurs, often starting their own companies in cutting-edge technology sectors. Our faculty are proud to be able to prepare the future workforce and support economic development priorities in Alabama and beyond. The success of the department can be attributed to multiple factors, the most important of which being the dedication of our faculty and staff to their jobs. The people within our department have exercised both bravery and adaptiveness in the rapidly evolving computing discipline and its associated industries, and I am proud of them for doing so. The second contributing factor is our ability to identify and establish degrees collaboratively in high-demand fields, including cyber security, bioinformatics, and data science. The third factor is our commitment to continuously improving curricula to respond to the fast-changing computing profession, often by taking advice from industry advisors of the department. Further, the department has invested heavily in keeping computing labs up to date with the latest hardware and software required by the curricula.

    The Department of Computer Science has also enjoyed fruitful collaborations with INTO UAB, an initiative that aims to increase the global diversity of the university’s student body. The department and INTO UAB have worked together to attract international students into our graduate programs. The collaboration has been a primary contributor to the phenomenal growth in enrollment numbers of the programs from 45 to 352 students in the past six years. To maintain our competitive edge, the department has focused our scholarly research in cyber security, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), biomedical applications, and high-performance computing. Our faculty conduct world class research in those areas, successively winning competitive research grants from federal, state, and industry funding programs. With the support and encouragement of stakeholders—including the newly established Phyllis and David Brasfield Endowed Faculty Scholar in Computer Science—the department plans to aggressively recruit multiple new faculty members of the highest caliber to support our growing academic programs and scholarly endeavors.

    Going forward, we are excited to work with the Department of Mathematics in proposing a new B.S. in Data Science degree with the goal of producing graduates with in-demand skills in AI and data analytics. We are also working on new courses to be included in the Blazer Core Curriculum to ensure future students from all disciplines develop critical data analytical skills and build the knowledge necessary to practice safe and effective digital lives.

    Read More: Computer science enrollment soars, powered by hot job market

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  • UAB’s TRIP Lab studies driver safety from a psychological point of view

    The UAB Department of Psychology is behind the wheel of an innovative research program designed to study driver behavior.

    Photos by Steve Wood.A driver fails to notice a stop sign and collides with another vehicle. While this type of scenario is all too common, it is possible that such a crash could be prevented in advance by consulting with a driving instructor or traffic engineer or…a psychologist?

    Yes, the UAB Department of Psychology is behind the wheel of an innovative research program designed to study driver behavior—especially among high school students—and use the gathered data to improve safety.

    The UAB Translational Research for Injury Prevention Laboratory, or TRIP Lab, was founded in 2009 by Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology. With the help of UAB student assistants, as well as an immersive SUV driving simulator acquired in 2016, the lab delves deep into the actions of distracted drivers. The goal is to find behavioral patterns that can be altered in order to make potential accidents less likely to occur.

    “I’ve always been interested in cognition and brain processees surrounding decision making and attention,” said Stavrinos. “When you think about those basic psychological processees, they develop over childhood into early adulthood. So, how do those things apply to a real-world context like driving? I’m a very applied researcher, and much of the work we do at UAB is addressing real-world problems.”

    “The UAB TRIP Lab aids in creating safer and more educated communities.” — Arlene Lester, State Farm

    At first glance, automotive safety might seem to be an area of research more suited to engineering than psychology. But as TRIP Lab assistant director Benjamin McManus, Ph.D., notes, “It’s still humans who are driving the car.”

    “Almost all crashes are due to some sort of human error that was preventable, and the number one contributor to that human error is some sort of inattention,” said McManus. “Psychologists are trained on cognition and attention development. So, this lab looks at motor vehicle collisions through the lens of psychology, focusing on attention development and human limitations as it relates to cognition.”

    The origin of TRIP Lab dates back to Stavrinos’ work in the mid-2000s with Department of Psychology University Professor David Schwebel, Ph.D., focusing on injury prevention among children as pedestrians crossing the street. Stavrinos also conducted postdoctoral work at UAB’s Injury Control Research Center (ICRC) with Russ Fine, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Medicine in the Heersink School of Medicine, where she founded the TRIP Lab.

    Professor Despina Stavrinos“My early work was looking at attention development—how we make decisions in real time—and applying it to things like how little kids cross the street,” said Stavrinos. “I translated that into driving. Because those same kids grow up, and now they’re behind the wheel…still with an immature brain that is continuing to develop. I was intrigued to learn how immature brain processes put these kids at risk, and what can we do to increase that learning to save lives.”

    Simulated Driving in a Real SUV

    The ability of TRIP Lab to gather such data has accelerated tremendously over the years. When the lab began, the driving simulator was a simpler desktop computer with integrated steering wheel, brake, and accelerator—cutting edge at the time. As a result, the lab was limited in the type and amount of data it could gather, and many of the research opportunities were small, single-year projects.

    That changed dramatically in 2016 when Honda Manufacturing of Alabama gave the lab a new Pilot SUV that had been built at its production facility in Lincoln, and the Alabama Department of Transportation provided funding for the creation of a fully immersive driving simulator with video screens on all sides of the vehicle. Future projects led to the addition of integrated eye tracking equipment. It is the only such simulator in the state of Alabama, and remains the only known SUV simulator in operation anywhere.

    Sitting in an actual vehicle with visuals all around provides an element of realism that substantially increases the lab’s data-gathering capabilities. This is especially important since the primary focus of the lab’s studies involves teenagers born in the 21st century who have grown up on technology that is both realistic and immersive.

    “With this simulator, when our participants get in it, they treat it seriously,” said Stavrinos. “So, we’re able to get a really good estimate of their real-world driving behavior.”

    This enhanced ability enabled TRIP Lab to quickly secure a multi-million dollar, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the changes that take place in teenage drivers in the months immediately after obtaining their license.

    “The most dangerous thing you’ll do in your lifetime is independent driving during those first months after getting your license,” said Stavrinos. “People teach teens how to drive in an empty parking lot, or have them drive a familiar route during the day in ideal conditions. Then they get their license and it’s like, ‘Here are the keys. Go.’”

    Benjamin McManus meets with the TRIP Lab team.“We want to know what teens learn during those first months of independent driving, and how they acquire improved skills. That way, we can find some training targets to accelerate that learning, so we can then reduce the amount of time when they’re at their highest risk.”

    Working with schools in the Greater Birmingham area, TRIP Lab brought in nearly 200 teenagers over the past five years to participate in the study. Once they become familiar with how to operate the simulator, the students take a few uneventful drives so researchers can establish a baseline of their ability.

    After that, things start to get a little chaotic. Cars may suddenly brake in front of them. A cell phone rings. A text comes in. Pedestrians nearly step into the roadway.

    “We can make the scenery look like a specific area, then program all these different customized scenarios for a variety of conditions,” said McManus. “We can get really detailed, including how many drops of rain per minute and how big are the droplets.”

    All along, data constantly are being gathered about how the driver reacts to these distractions, and where their eye focus is in the moments immediately before an incident occurs.

    “We record all their behaviors,” said Stavrinos. “When a hazard appears, how long does it take to respond? How do they maneuver around it? Do they brake? Do they swerve? What were their steering behaviors like? Their speed? Lane position? It’s a very powerful system where we get fine-grain information about their behavior.”

    “Then with the eye-tracking, we’re also able to see their visual reaction. Did they even see the hazard? Were they scanning for it? People sometimes have this tunneling effect during their first months of driving, so they just stare at the car in front of them. How many times did they glance around to notice what else is out there?”

    Stavrinos says the goal of the study is to shed some light on exactly how and when those improvements take place, providing specific suggestions on ways to better train students while they still have their learner's permit before becoming independent drivers.

    A Safe Place to Learn

    Braxton Wade, State Farm Sales Leader, and Arlene Lester, State Farm Corporate Responsibility Analyst, present a generous donation to the TRIP Lab.In addition to providing valuable research data, the simulator also enables teenagers to experience dangerous driving situations while operating in a secure environment, rather than out on the open road. In an attempt to reach as many high schoolers as possible, the TRIP Lab regularly takes a portable simulator to the Birmingham City Schools and works with students in driver’s ed classes.

    “It has helped the students feel more confident about driving,” said Sherri Huff, program specialist in physical education, health, and driver’s ed for Birmingham City Schools. “I hear comments all the time from students that they are apprehensive about getting their license. But if they can get some experience through the simulator, they feel less threatened about driving a motor vehicle.”

    “It’s fantastic that they have this opportunity to work with UAB to learn better driving skills and be more equipped with safety measures. I’m very grateful that we have this partnership. It’s made a world of difference for students who don’t feel as confident about driving. It’s helped them tremendously.”

    When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person interaction with the schools, the TRIP Lab team created a virtual version of the program for young drivers available through Zoom sessions and YouTube videos. The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) supported that program through a generous grant.

    Now, State Farm has joined RPCGB in helping to expand the distracted driving outreach program with a new grant that will enable the TRIP Lab to take the portable simulator to high schools throughout the state.

    “Helping people recover from the unexpected and realize their dreams is a part of our daily mission,” said Arlene Lester, corporate responsibility analyst at State Farm. “However, preventing the unexpected through education is also at the forefront of our mind. The UAB TRIP Lab aids in creating safer and more educated communities.”

    “I am impressed at the level of detail displayed in their research, and how they bring the research alive through their interaction with the students. The program emboldens students to listen, and then moves them to action as they learn about ways to engage on the road. They have made a remarkable difference in how teens accept their responsibility while driving, or even as a passenger. It is our honor to provide resources to promote their work across Alabama.”

    Research Opportunities for UAB Students

    But it is not only high school students who are benefitting from the TRIP Lab. Stavrinos says more than 150 UAB students have worked in the lab as research assistants over the years.

    “From the beginning we’ve prioritized having students in the lab, and we allow them to really get involved,” said Stavrinos. “Students come in and engage in research depending upon where we are in our project. They develop protocols, work on data collection and data analysis. They can jump in at any stage of research. We want them to be integrated into the lab as fully as possible and have an opportunity to learn firsthand how research happens.”

    “I’m a very applied researcher, and much of the work we do at UAB is addressing real-world problems.” — Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D.

    “Oftentimes this is the first place they’ve ever participated in research. I had the opportunity to do that as an undergrad, and that’s what made me realize I wanted to do this as a career. So, I want to give undergrads that same opportunity to get into a lab and actually help design and run studies, analyze findings, and translate that to the community in terms of safety.”

    While the majority of the research assistants have come from the Department of Psychology, Stavrinos says the lab has welcomed students from a wide variety of disciplines, including engineering, nursing, medicine, public health, and education. “Transportation is a complex issue, so there are a lot of different perspectives on it,” said Stavrinos.

    Rachael George, a junior majoring in public health, began working in the TRIP Lab last year. She admits she was a bit hesitant at first since the lab operates under the umbrella of psychology.

    Ramsay High School students participating in TRIP Lab's distracted driving outreach program."When I first heard about the TRIP Lab, I thought it was kind of strange that they were studying cars in a psychology lab,” said George. “But I talked with some people who recommended it, and then heard a lecture from (Stavrinos) that made me interested in applying.”

    “It’s the right fit for me because it not only has the dedication to research, it also has the strong dedication to the translation aspect of going back into the community. I also really liked seeing some of the computer science stuff that happens. It’s just been a really great chance to get involved in research on campus, and to do more than just one thing at a research lab.”

    One way George has assisted with TRIP Lab’s outreach is by working to bulk up the lab’s various social media platforms. Over the past year, she says the lab’s follower count has doubled on both Instagram and Facebook—also, the lab recently established a new presence on TikTok.

    “I wanted to try to turn our social media into a way to reach students and other people who may be able to participate in the studies we’re running,” said George. “A lot of people are getting a chance to see the research process for the first time, and they didn’t realize how accessible it can be if they want to participate in a research lab or a study.”

    The Road Ahead

    Moving forward, Stavrinos expects the TRIP Lab to do more research work in areas beyond teenage driving. She said that has already happened, as the lab has been approached by several other schools and departments throughout UAB.

    “Because we can customize our simulator scenarios, it has opened up so many research opportunities,” said Stavrinos. “The scientific community at UAB is asking about it. It’s branched into work involving medical patients. Clinicians want to know, ‘Can my patient drive safely with a certain condition, or after a certain medical procedure?’ So, we’ve branched out beyond just teen driver work, because we’re realizing that there are so many applications.”

    For example, the TRIP Lab has started a new project in collaboration with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University involving patients who are recovering from brain injuries, including concussions.

    “There are currently no guidelines on when somebody can return to driving after a concussion,” said Stavrinos. “Doctors base it on how you feel, but they’d rather have some objective data. Here, the simulator plays a really important role. The sim offers a very controlled, safe way to test what their capabilities look like.”

    Other research possibilities include changes in vision for night-time driving, the ability to drive following a hip procedure or leg/angle fracture, and returning to driving after a stroke. The SUV simulator even was utilized by a graduate student conducting a project involving parents properly using booster seats for infants. “The scenarios can be customized around the fundamental research question,” said Stavrinos.

    Those questions and scenarios likely will continue to change right along with technology. McManus points out that when the lab first started, the primary cause of driver distraction was texting on a cell phone. Now, new technologies have created new distractions—such as people using smart watches while driving.

    “The technology keeps changing, so the research has to keep moving with it,” said McManus. “That’s one of the things this lab has been able to do, is see the challenges in the future and move with them, both with our technology but also through research, education, and community engagement through outreach.”

    “That’s one of the strengths of the lab. We are able to adapt and keep moving.” As a result, drivers are able to keep moving as well. And to do so more safely.

    Read more...
  • Space to Create: Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones envisions a creative Alabama

    Creative people often seek out safe spaces where they can express themselves and connect with others.

    Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones. Photos by Miyako StudiosCreative people often seek out safe spaces where they can express themselves and connect with others. These spaces can take many different forms: nature, studios, classrooms. For Ashley M. Jones—UAB alumna and Alabama’s 13th Poet Laureate—engaging with and advocating for access to such spaces is an essential part of her story and her vision for the state of Alabama.

    Creativity at Home

    Jones’ creative journey began at home, in Birmingham, when she was a toddler. Whether she was singing, painting, or watching public television (especially “Lambchop’s Play-Along” and “The Lawrence Welk Show”), she constantly found opportunities to exercise her creative voice.

    “I’ve been creative for as long as I’ve been alive,” said Jones. “A lot of that has to do with my family—my parents were very focused on making sure we were educated well and that we had time and space to be creative.”

    Throughout her childhood, she had access to hands-on learning experiences at home. She and her three siblings participated in daily lessons designed by their mother, which included unconventional toys ranging from a box with shoelaces to homemade Play-Doh.

    “There was an air of learning in our house,” said Jones. “From that early age, I was content to create things out of my own mind. I also loved reading books—I’d reread the same book over and over sometimes.”

    An EPIC Next Step

    Her creativity and love for reading proved to be sources of strength as she later navigated two of Birmingham’s most dynamic schools: EPIC Elementary and the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

    While attending EPIC, Jones witnessed the power of creativity in a truly inclusive space. “It taught me that differences are useful and that they are to be celebrated,” said Jones. “It was a very inclusive and supportive environment, and it was very focused on creation.”

    That focus on creation prompted Jones and her classmates to collectively explore their interests and talents. Through that exploration, Jones found herself drawn to creative writing and making books.

    “I remember in first and second grade we were making books,” said Jones. “I really have been focused on creation from an early age. I learned that I wanted to write by making those books at school… I decided early on, ‘Okay, I’m going to be a writer. I’m going to write novels.’”

    EPIC was located next door to an institution that would later play a significant role in Jones’ life: the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As an elementary school student, Jones never explored UAB’s campus, though.

    That changed when she enrolled in the creative writing program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA), a tuition-free arts and sciences school in downtown Birmingham that serves grades 7-12. At ASFA, she continued learning and writing in a supportive environment, and, in her junior year, one of her teachers took her on a tour of UAB.

    “We toured the University Honors Program (UHP). I remember that piquing my interest,” said Jones. “I wasn’t aware that there was this enclave where I could seamlessly transition from ASFA to another small, specialized program.”

    Finding Her Place at UAB

    Jones saw UAB as both a large, public institution and a place where students could feel at home. That combination was attractive to her. In addition, her older sister was already attending the university, and Jones knew she could look to her for support and guidance. So, after careful deliberation and consideration, Jones made the leap and enrolled at UAB. The minute she stepped foot on campus as a student, she knew she’d made the right decision.

    “I felt like I fit immediately,” said Jones.

    She was quick to seek out opportunities and spaces to exercise her creative talents, while developing new skills that she could leverage after graduation. She participated in the Multicultural Scholars Program—an academic program designed to support the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students—and served as an editor for Aura Literary Arts Review, a literary magazine published by UAB Student Media. Also, she was a member of the UHP. Through UHP, she found a close-knit community and a group of caring mentors—including Mike Sloane, Ph.D., the director of UHP and an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

    “Ashley was a multi-talented undergraduate who excelled academically but was also immersed in extracurricular activities both within UHP and at UAB in general,” said Sloane. “She held some high-profile leadership roles in UHP and at UAB. Her maturity, dedication, and singularity of purpose were simply infectious. She was a true servant-leader.”

    “I’ve been creative for as long as I’ve been alive.” — Ashley M. Jones

    Along with her many affiliations and extracurricular activities, Jones was also a stellar English major. Through the Department of English, Jones participated in creative writing workshops where she continued to nurture her talent for crafting poems. Within no time, Jones was publishing her writing in Aura and Sanctuary—the honors program’s literary and arts journal—and receiving formal recognition for her work. In 2009, she earned First Place in Original Poetry at the Mersmann Awards, and, in 2011, she received the Gloria Goldstein Howton Creative Writing Scholarship.

    Along the way, she received significant support and mentorship from one faculty member in particular: James Braziel, associate professor in the Department of English.

    “When [James] came to UAB, I found somebody who I could depend on, who believed in my work,” said Jones. “He made room for me. He allowed me to explore creatively in whatever way I needed to. He’s still a very close friend of mine today.”

    James was not the only Braziel with whom Jones connected. She also worked alongside Tina Braziel, James’ spouse and director of UAB’s Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop.

    The Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop is sponsored by the Department of English and consists of a multi-week creative writing experience where high school students get to work closely with well-known authors. While working with Tina on the workshop, Jones learned how to manage and direct an arts-focused program, a skill that would prove to be valuable years later when Jones founded the Magic City Poetry Festival. According to Tina, throughout Jones’ experience with Ada Long, she embraced opportunities for young people to express themselves creatively.

    “As a volunteer and, later, as a coordinator for the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop for high school students, Ashley took great care to help our students express what they intended clearly without imposing her ideas into their work,” said Tina.

    Connecting with Sonia Sanchez

    In addition to expressing herself creatively and empowering young people to do the same, Jones was discovering scholarly research for the first time through UAB’s Ronald McNair Scholars Program, a program that aims to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by students from underrepresented communities. Specifically, Jones—who was one of the only English majors in the program—worked on a research project with Jacqueline Wood, Ph.D., former associate professor in the Department of English, that exposed her to a groundbreaking and world-renowned writer who served (and continues to serve) as a major source of inspiration: Sonia Sanchez.

    Sanchez was born in Birmingham and has published numerous books, plays, and volumes of poetry, including Homegirls and Handgrenades, which won an American Book Award. Through her research, Jones dove deep into Sanchez’s life and work, collecting over 1,000 articles about her. The project would come full circle several years later with Jones meeting and befriending Sanchez. The two met because Sanchez selected Jones for the 2019 Lucille Clifton Legacy Award from St. Mary's College of Maryland—it was an experience and honor that Jones could barely fathom during her undergraduate years.

    “I never imagined sitting in the library at UAB, collecting all of these articles…that I would get to meet her,” said Jones. “To know that I’m in community with her, I never would've imagined that could happen. In my mind, that first [research] experience at UAB kind of opened me up and set me up for a future I didn’t know existed.”

    While learning about Sanchez and looking to the future, Jones’ love for poetry continued to flourish. And, in turn, poetry began to reveal things to Jones. As she puts it, “Poetry has a unique ability to force us to see ourselves.”

    The Power of Poetry

    Jones describes her poetry in terms that are both powerful and personal. When she writes a poem, she “sees a part of my own humanity that maybe I haven’t seen before,” said Jones. “I think there’s a lot of empathy that can be created through reading and writing poetry and even self-love can be created.”

    Poetry gives us space to reflect and play, says Jones. “It gives you a chance to process something you haven’t been able to process before.”

    Given her deep connection to and love for poetry, it’s no surprise that Jones pivoted her long-term goal from writing novels to writing collections of poetry. With that in mind, after graduating from UAB in 2012, she enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Florida International University (FIU).

    Jones thrived at FIU. She received recognition for her work from groups like the Academy of American Poets and served as a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellow. Although she appreciated her time at FIU, she often thought about Birmingham. She wanted to use her talents to make a positive impact back home in her community. After graduating in 2015, she found an opportunity to return to her hometown. The opportunity? Teaching creative writing at ASFA.

    When she returned to Birmingham to teach, she was determined to continue writing and sharing her poetry while also advocating for access to art in both the classroom and the community.

    “I really, really believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to create art or to have access to art and to not be judged for their art,” said Jones.

    Becoming Poet Laureate

    Now, she is prepared to take that vision a step further in her role as Alabama’s newest Poet Laureate (2022-2026). According to the online Encyclopedia of Alabama, Alabama’s Poet Laureate “serves as the public face of poetry for the state,” often sharing poems in public spaces ranging from classrooms to libraries.

    The position was created in 1930 and, for the past 90 years, the governor has commissioned each Poet Laureate.

    Jones is the first Black person to serve in the role and the youngest Poet Laureate in the state’s history. Given her impressive creative output and accolades in recent years, the prestigious designation come as no surprise.

    Over the past decade, she published three poetry collections—Magic City Gospel, dark//thing, and REPARATIONS NOW!—and received numerous awards, including the 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the 2018 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry from Pleiades Press. Her work has been featured on CNN, in the Academy of American Poets, and in POETRY. According to Jones, being Poet Laureate is about more than publishing and sharing her work, though. She wants to turn attention to other artists across the state, while advocating for more access to creative spaces and opportunities in every corner of Alabama.

    “I want to create space for those who maybe haven’t stepped out yet who are working in secret… to come out into the light and see that there's a supportive community around them,” said Jones. “I am really committed to bringing resources to all communities in our state. Organizing a community around poetry can be hard.”

    Engaging Communities

    She plans to accomplish her goal by distributing arts funding to five regions evenly divided across Alabama. That said, she does not plan to stipulate how the grants will be spent—instead, she wants local communities to make decisions about how to invest the money.

    “I want the funds to be there for their use and not dictated by me,” said Jones. “I think this is a service position. It’s my job to promote poetry, yes, but also to serve the community. They already have agency and power and knowledge of themselves.”

    Jones has found several additional ways to promote poetry and creativity alongside her role as Poet Laureate. She co-directs the Birmingham Chapter of PEN America, a nonprofit organization that “works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.” Also, she regularly tours the state (and country) sharing her poems, and she is the founder and executive director of the Magic City Poetry Festival—a Birmingham-based celebration that highlights poetry, history, nonprofits, and culture workers. And she still teaches at her alma mater, ASFA—the position that brought her back to Birmingham.

    In the Classroom

    Through her role as a teacher, Jones believes she is in a position to offer the same life-changing educational and creative experiences that were so valuable to her as a young person. Given that significant responsibility, she is committed to using inclusive curriculum while creating space for students to express themselves creatively.

    “It's important for me that my students see themselves reflected in the curriculum,” said Jones. Specifically, she wants her students to see examples of writers that look like them, so they can open up and be more vulnerable.

    And, of course, Jones herself serves as a profound example for her students.

    She notes that, early on, she avoided disclosing much about her work outside of the classroom. Then, she quickly realized that young people are very adept at conducting research online.

    “They find out everything,” said Jones.

    Now, she embraces their collective awareness of her role as Poet Laureate. “You cannot get anything past them,” said Jones with a smile. “They said, ‘We want to celebrate! We want to be proud [of you].’ I've learned from them that it is important for me to be myself—the author, the Poet Laureate, the human—alongside my students so they can see that it’s possible.”

    And that’s exactly what she’s doing—showing her students and the people of Alabama what is possible when you share your creative voice openly with others.

    “GOD MADE MY WHOLE BODY”

    and the way it moves, and the way it shakes and jiggles and plops, and
    God made my smile and the thousand tears that fall from my eyes, God
    made the sun and the moon and the leaf held loosely in my godson’s
    perfect little hand, and God made the summer breeze and the guitar
    Ron Isley crooned over, and God made the grass and the bugs and the
    dogs and the trees, and God made all of our bodies to make waste, and
    God made even the waste that lives in us, and God made the way the
    world spins and the way it will shake us right off if we don’t act right,
    and God made the rivers which make it possible for us to drink, and
    God made the clouds which hold the rain, and God made the birds
    which fly and the wolves that howl. God made the folds of my brain
    and the thoughts that burrow there. God made my belly, my uterus and
    all the little eggs which might become children—God made the doubt
    that rests there, like bubbling gas. God made the silence I wrap around
    myself some nights, alone. God made the music we sing and the music
    we hate. God made the ears which help us stay balanced, help us to
    hear what people say behind our backs and in front of them. God made
    sweet potato pie and aunties and mamas who know how to add
    just enough nutmeg. God made my whole body. And God made my
    grandma and her gold tooth, and God made my grandma and her curly
    wig, and God made my grandma I didn’t know, and God made my
    grandpa who was a ghost, and my grandpa who was a terror. God made
    fear and the way it slices us up thin and flimsy, God made the way a
    hand quivers before it strikes. God made pain. God made the blood
    which runs and keeps us running. God made an everlasting red.

    By Ashley M. Jones
    From Reparations Now! Hub City Press, 2021

    Read more...
  • Liber offers expertise on the crisis in Ukraine

    Throughout the spring, George Liber served as UAB's expert on the war in Ukraine.

    Professor Emeritus George Liber. Photo by Steve Wood.On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched an unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, igniting the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War. As the United States, the European Union, and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) impose paralyzing sanctions on Russia and seek to supply Ukraine with the necessary weapons to stop Russia—without provoking a Russian response against Ukraine’s NATO neighbors—this war is generating a series of crises in the international energy and food supply chains. These crises are sparking sharp increases in worldwide inflation and generating food insecurity for tens of millions across the world.

    Given the global impact of the war in Ukraine, UAB immediately sought out an expert who could offer insights about the crisis to the general public. Thankfully, George Liber, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus from the Department of History, offered to share his knowledge, so people across Alabama (and the country) could better understand the invasion.

    “Almost everyone outside of Ukraine expected the government under President Volodymyr Zelensky to collapse within days of the invasion, but the citizens of Ukraine rallied behind their charismatic leader and slowed the Russian advance,” said Liber. “Unarmed civilians are the primary victims of this war.”

    Liber’s connection to Ukraine is deep and personal. He grew up in Gary, Indiana, in the 1960s, and his parents were Ukrainian refugees. He visited Ukraine for the first time in 1970 when he was a senior in high school, providing him an opportunity to explore the country his parents once called home. He, along with a group of fellow students, traveled Europe and the U.S.S.R., visiting numerous cities along the way including Kyiv, Lviv, Moscow, and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). The experience had a profound impact on him.

    “As my first overseas trip, this exploration showed me the differences between my life in the United States and of those who lived in other countries, especially communist countries,” said Liber.

    Soon after returning from the trip, Liber graduated from high school and enrolled at Indiana University. While at IU, he majored in history and refined his scholarly interests within the discipline.

    “At first, I imagined that I would become a historian of the United States. Later, I chose to study the history of Eastern Europe, concentrating on Poland,” said Liber.

    He earned his bachelor’s degree, then went on to pursue an M.A. in History from Harvard University, hoping to study with Orest Subtelny, the first faculty member with a Ph.D. in Ukrainian Studies. According to Liber, Subtelny taught the history of Ukraine from a transnational and inter-imperial perspective, especially when he centered Ukraine within the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. Subtelny made his specialty a part of global history and ensured his teaching was both accessible and interesting to a broader audience. This approach influenced Liber’s own teaching throughout his academic career.

    After completing his M.A. at Harvard, Liber continued his academic journey and earned a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. And, beginning in the early 1980s, he found numerous opportunities to revisit (and briefly live in) both the U.S.S.R. and independent Ukraine—continuing the journey he began as a high school senior. Along with visiting, exploring, and studying the country, Liber also served in valuable roles for several of Ukraine’s elections.

    “I became a Short-Term Election Observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2010 and 2019, and for the parliamentary elections there in October 2012,” said Liber.

    While Liber was deepening his connection to Ukraine, he was also building a career at UAB. He arrived on campus in 1987 and, throughout his tenure, published three monographs on the history of Ukraine in the 20th century. He often taught “Western Civilization (1500-present),” as well as, “The World Since 1945.” According to Liber, these courses provided him with opportunities to engage new students in lectures and coursework that would help them expand their perspectives of the world. It also challenged him to think about his research.

    “Teaching introductory courses helps those engaged in complex research projects to prepare to answer the fundamental questions all audiences want to know: ‘Why is this important? How does it affect me? My family?’” Liber explained.

    When teaching his intro courses, Liber often presented a nuanced view of history. Specifically, Liber wanted his students to understand the fragility of our modern world and the stakes the global community faces.

    “My mission—as I understood it—was to explain why the modern world works the way it works and how, over the course of centuries, our current rules-based world order and economic prosperity developed,” said Liber. “We think that this rules-based order is a permanent feature of our lives, but as Russia’s war against Ukraine has clearly demonstrated, this order is fracturable and in danger of collapsing.”

    In February 2022, Russia, the largest country in the world, attacked Ukraine, the largest country wholly within Europe.

    Given his expertise on Russia and Ukraine—as well as his ability to share complex historical information with non-historians—Liber was recruited by UAB’s University Relations team to serve as an expert media source on the crisis in Ukraine in February 2022. The media team soon discovered an interesting fact when they reached out to Liber: he’d just retired from UAB. His retirement did not stop him from sharing his insights, though. Quite the opposite. Soon after agreeing to serve as an expert source, Liber participated in numerous interviews with broadcast stations, including CBS 42 and WBRC FOX6 in Birmingham, and joined a series of virtual and in-person panels.

    “Although I had previously appeared in the local media during various crises in my 34 years at UAB, I had never received as many requests in so short a time,” said Liber. “I accepted every one. As I spoke to the media, I felt very self-conscious, as if I were participating in a reality TV show.”

    It was a valuable experience, but it was also difficult and painful for Liber to talk about the war. As he shared his knowledge with Alabamians, he often saw footage and photos of the destruction of cities, streets, and monuments he’d come to know over the past 40 years. What his parents and their generation experienced eight decades ago exploded in full force across television screens on a daily basis in the spring of 2022. Their past became a visual reality in the present.

    “History is a rational study of a very confusing and very emotional past, but when we live in the present—even if we are committed to a rational assessment of the world—events produce emotional impacts,” said Liber. “Historical tsunamis generate emotional consequences not only among the millions in their path, but also among those who report and analyze these current political and historical events from afar.”

    Liber sees this work as important—even if he was asked to do it during the first couple months of his retirement. Specifically, he thinks there is great value in scholars sharing their research with the public so people can better understand events that might impact their lives. He believes UAB faculty set a strong example of bringing scholarly research to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Just as UAB’s medical spokesmen and spokeswomen provided excellent television presentations (even if in 30-second sound bites!) about the spread of COVID-19 and the measures necessary to prevent vulnerable populations from infection, all scholars—especially historians and social scientists—need to learn to communicate to broader audiences the significance of what they do,” said Liber.

    It is a goal that ensures the public is well-informed and, in some cases, better prepared for world-changing moments and crises.

    Read more...
  • Read the 2021 issue of Arts & Sciences magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The past year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Lessons learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Beyond the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Career development and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Looking ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Keeping human rights relevant during the pandemic

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

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

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

    IHR Blog 

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

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

    IHR Guest Speaker Events  

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

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

    Social Justice Café  

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

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


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

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  • Read the Spring 2020 Arts & Sciences Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    We look forward to seeing you on campus this fall.

    Go Blazers!
    R.E. Palazzo, Dean

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  • Spring 2018 events in the College of Arts & Sciences

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

    Spring Flings

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

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

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

    Ireland Award and AEIVA

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

    [widgetkit id="39" name="MAGAZINE - Fall 2018 - Events - Ireland Award and AEIVA"]

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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.


    Vintage Nautical Illustrations copyright Anja Kaiser via Creative Market

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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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