J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice

  • Departments offering events during Social Work Month

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work will present a collaborative event series from March 22-28 for Social Work Month.

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work will present a collaborative event series from March 22-28 for Social Work Month. The series—titled “Reclaiming Humanity in Alabama Prisons”—is co-sponsored by the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice, the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, and the Institute for Human Rights.

    “The theme for Social Work Month 2023 is ‘Social Work Breaks Barriers,’” said Ronald O. Pitner, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Social Work. “The events hosted by our Department of Social Work and partners will provide our social work community and stakeholders an opportunity to learn more about criminal justice and mental health, criminal justice and human rights, and the barriers that social workers need to break in order for this community to thrive.”

    The events include:

    • Criminal Justice Reform and Human Rights in Alabama: During this event, Lisa Borden (Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy with the Southern Poverty Law Center) will lead a discussion on criminal justice reform and human rights. The Institute for Human Rights will host the event, which will take place on Wednesday, March 22 from 4:00 - 5:00 p.m. in University Hall, Room 1005. It will also be available via Zoom. Registration required.
    • Movie Screening of 188 Years: Attend a screening of “188 Years: Life After Life Without Parole,” a documentary film directed by Michele Forman, director of UAB’s Media Studies Program. A panel discussion with some of the men appearing in the film will be held immediately after the film. The event will take place on Thursday, March 23 at 3:00 p.m. in the Alumni Theatre in the Hill Student Center. No registration is required.
    • Re-Entry Simulation: This is a large-scale simulation designed to highlight unnecessary barriers to successful re-entry to society following incarceration. The simulation is two hours long, and no previous experience is required to attend. The United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Alabama will facilitate this event, and attendees can obtain free social work CEUs. The simulation will take place on Friday, March 24 from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at Center Court at the UAB Campus Recreation Center. Registration required.
    • Webinar on Deliberate Indifference Podcast: Join Mary Scott Hodgin, host and journalist behind the podcast “Deliberate Indifference,” as she discusses her reporting on Alabama's prison system. Attendees can obtain free social work CEUs. The webinar will take place on Tuesday, March 28 from 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. Registration required.

    If you have questions about the events, please send them to socialwork@uab.edu.

  • 4 appointed to endowed positions

    The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees voted to appoint one chair and three professors to endowed positions during its Feb. 3 meeting. Those honored are Jeffery Walker, Lewis Shi, Farah Lubin and Brant Wagener.

  • Earwood selected to sit on Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Criminal Justice Executives Association

    Earwood will serve on Metropolitan Criminal Justice Executives Association Board of Directors.

  • Copes combines criminology and photography

    As a qualitative researcher, Heith Copes, Ph.D., interviews and observes people to learn about and better understand the nuances of their lives and communities. He first developed an interest in this form of research during his time as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee.

    Heith Copes, Ph.D.As a qualitative researcher, Heith Copes, Ph.D., interviews and observes people to learn about and better understand the nuances of their lives and communities. He first developed an interest in this form of research during his time as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee.

    “Tennessee had a sociology/criminology program, so I went there,” said Copes a professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice. “I worked with a Neal Shover. He was one of the big qualitative criminologists at the time. So that… got me interested in doing qualitative research.”

    At first, Copes’ thesis focused on mapping auto theft. Given his proximity to Shover, he pivoted away from studying the broader trends related to theft and, instead, worked to better understanding the people who were committing the acts.

    “For my dissertation, I started interviewing people who steal cars,” said Copes. “This methodology is more of how I see the world as compared to quantitative research. I’ve stuck with qualitative [research] since then.”

    Copes finished his Ph.D. in 2001 and, soon after, accepted a faculty position in the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice (which was known as the “Department of Justice Sciences” at the time). When he arrived at UAB, Copes continued to conduct qualitative research with a focus on decision making among those who commit crime. He notes that his approach shifted after an eye-opening interview with a person who had stolen a car.

    The topic of drug use emerged during the conversation, and the interviewee was quick to let Copes know that there are important distinctions and nuances embedded in the language others use to describe their lives and experiences.

    “Insiders make important distinctions among themselves that outsiders may not recognize at first,” said Copes. “I’m interested in the symbolic boundaries that people make among each other to define themselves in positive ways.”

    Copes carried this question with him as he continued to interview people about their lives and behavior for over a decade, and, by 2015, he decided to explore something new. While editing a book on qualitative criminology, he discovered a chapter on visual criminology. The method felt exciting and different to him — in addition, Copes is a self-described fan of “street photography,” so he saw an opportunity to connect that passion with his work. He decided to channel his excitement into a new research project that combined documentary photography and qualitative criminology (also known as “photo-ethnography”).

    Since Copes is not a photographer, he invited Jared Ragland—a professional photographer and former staff member in the UAB Department of Art and Art History—to work with him on a photo-ethnography focused on people who use methamphetamines.

     “It’s a method that’s not very common in criminology... I would do interviews, and Jared would take documentary photography,” said Copes. “When we started, the goal [was] to act as a counter-visual and a counter-narrative to what most people think of people who use meth — [we want] to show the humanity and complexity and nuance of these people’s lives,” said Copes.

    Throughout their partnership, Copes and Ragland have been intentional about reflecting on and amending their approach to photo-ethnography, ensuring that participants have voice and agency in the research. With that in mind, Copes invites the participants to review and comment on the photos and also share their own images.

    “They get to direct the nature of the research in some way,” said Copes. “We don’t want to romanticize them, but we also want to portray them with some humanity. That’s the balance we’re trying to strike.”

    Using the photographs and qualitative data from the project, Copes published the first-ever photo-ethnography in his discipline’s premiere journal, Criminology.

    “People are really interested in the photo-ethnography,” said Copes. “Mainstream criminology is becoming increasingly detached from those who engage in crime and those who are victimized by it. The photographs pull you in. It’s hard to escape them. It reduces the detachment.”

    In addition, Copes published an innovative video (accompanied by an essay) in the Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology. Another first in his field.

    And, clearly, his work is making an impact. So much so, that the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences awarded Copes and his colleagues (Jacob Erickson and Andy Hochstetler) “Paper of the Year” in 2021. They received the award for a paper they published in Justice Quarterly titled, “Meth Cooking as a Job: Identity and Dirty Work.” It was the first qualitative paper to receive the award.

    After completing his project on people who use methamphetamines, Copes shifted the focus of his research. Specifically, he and Ragland have spent the past two years interviewing and photographing people who use peyote in religious ceremonies. Much like his past work, he developed relationships with the participants and created space for them to open up about their lives. He hopes to publish the research in the near future.

    Moving forward, Copes plans to continue iterating on his approach to photo-ethnography. He and Ragland are interested in equipping future participants with technical skills and cameras so they can photograph moments in their lives, then, hopefully, display their work in a public setting. For Copes, it’s a way to create opportunities for the participants to further shape the work and the narrative.

    “The bigger method is about giving back to participants, empowering the participants to shape the direction of the research,” said Copes.

  • UAB’s master’s in cybersecurity named best in the country by Fortune

    UAB’s cybersecurity program prepares graduates for careers in the high-demand field.

  • 2022 in review: Onward and upward

    The university achieved innumerable accomplishments this year, including two program 50th anniversaries, a milestone gift to the College of Arts and Sciences, and the announcement of a new conference for UAB Athletics.

  • James C. Hurt honors his mother’s passion for education

    While serving in the United States Army for 21 years, James C. Hurt got the chance to see and experience the world.

    While serving in the United States Army for 21 years, James C. Hurt got the chance to see and experience the world.

    Throughout his travels, he always found opportunities to continue learning, often enrolling in courses at local community colleges and universities. According to Hurt, his love for education came directly from his mother, Ollie Mae Hurt.

    “My mother stressed education quite a bit,” said Hurt. “Wherever I was stationed, I continued to go to school.”

    Hurt and his eight brothers and sisters grew up in Union Springs, Alabama, which is in Bullock County. He notes that Bullock County is a part of the “Black Belt” region, a collection of rural counties and cities mostly located in the western part of Alabama. While attending Bullock High School, Hurt often received encouragement from his mother to pursue college—specifically, she wanted him to earn a bachelor’s degree.

    “My mother was an amazing person. She would always say that when your body puts you down, you [still] have your mind,” said Hurt. “She stressed that education was the most important thing you could do with your life…. she stressed it, she stressed it, she stressed it.”

    So, when Hurt graduated from high school and joined the Army, he kept his mother’s words top of mind. He started his career with basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina; then moved to Fort Riley in Junction City, Kansas; then made his way across the world to Camp Hovey in Seoul, South Korea. His military journey continued with multiple stops across the U.S., including Colorado, California, Alaska, and Michigan. Each new location presented him with new educational opportunities. He enrolled in classes at Kansas State University, Los Angeles Community College (South Korea), UC Santa Barbara, and many others. Then, as his retirement date closed-in, he was given the chance to pick his final assignment.

    “After 15 years in the U.S. Army, [they try] to send you to your preferred assignment before retirement,” said Hurt. “I requested to come back to Alabama.”

    The Army honored his request and sent him to Birmingham and with his new home came another opportunity to enroll in a local university. This time was different, though. This time, he wanted to complete his bachelor’s degree and prepare for a career after the armed forces. So, he met with an advisor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and identified a course load that would allow him to earn a degree and fulfill his mother’s dreams.

    “I found UAB to be an amazing opportunity for the adult student like myself. [It’s] the best institution of higher education I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few,” said Hurt. “I was in the U.S. Army full-time, and I was a full-time student at UAB… They found a way to keep me in school and on schedule.”

    Hurt majored in criminal justice and minored in political science, and, by June 1998, he earned enough credits to graduate with his bachelor’s degree. It was a powerful moment for Hurt and his family.

    Soon after graduating, Hurt’s mother encouraged him to move back to Bullock County and become the local sheriff, he says with a smile. He decided to take a different path and, instead, pursued a career in financial advising with Morgan Stanley.

    “When I went in for the interview [with Morgan Stanley], they said ‘Hey, we looked at your resume and the fact that you graduated from UAB, that’s why we brought you in,’” said Hurt. “It’s been wonderful for me.”

    Sadly, his mother passed away in 2001—just three years after he graduated from UAB. Her inspiring words and love for education remained with Hurt, so he chose to honor her by establishing the Ollie Mae Hurt Intellect-Pay (I-Pay) Endowed Scholarship.

    “When she passed, we were trying to figure out a way to honor [her commitment to education] and create a scholarship,” said Hurt. “The whole idea [with the scholarship] is to give those kids in the Black Belt communities another option—just another option.”

    The scholarship is for undergraduate freshmen in the College of Arts and Sciences with preference given to students from the Black Belt region. Through the scholarship, Hurt wants students to nurture their intellect and develop global perspectives at UAB—in addition, he hopes they will find opportunities to give back to their hometowns and the Black Belt region.

    As he looks to the future, he is optimistic the Ollie Mae Hurt I-Pay Endowed Scholarship will expand its reach and make a generational impact.

    “We would like to be able to grow it. This is something that can live forever,” said Hurt.

    Learn more and give to the Ollie Mae Hurt I-Pay Endowed Scholarship.

  • Faculty and students bring home accolades from regional conference

    Three Blazers received honors during the 2022 SCJA conference that was held in Asheville, North Carolina.

  • Barefield makes transformative $10 million gift to UAB to bridge criminal justice, entrepreneurship for a better Birmingham

    A transformative gift to UAB from J. Frank Barefield, Jr. will help shape a more prosperous future for Birmingham and beyond.

  • UAB students selected for prestigious Gilman International Scholarship and Freeman-ASIA award

    Nine students were awarded a Gilman International Scholarship — the largest cohort from UAB.

  • UAB’s Pre-Law Program making an impact outside of the classroom

    Students who participate in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Pre-Law Program in the Department of Criminal Justice have access to pre-law advising, an academic minor, and activities designed to build pre-professional competencies, including legal research and critical thinking.

    Students who participate in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Pre-Law Program in the Department of Criminal Justice have access to pre-law advising, an academic minor, and activities designed to build pre-professional competencies, including legal research and critical thinking.

    UAB’s Pre-Law Program partnered with Redemption Earned, Inc. for the new Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Pre-Law Student Initiative. Clockwise from top left: Brandon Blankenship, Paul Littlejohn, Martha Earwood, Darrius Culpepper, Shae Thomas, Sue Bell Cobb.According to Brandon Blankenship, J.D., assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and director of the Pre-Law Program, these skills—along with many others—consistently prove to be valuable when practicing law or working in careers in law. In addition to the core competencies, Blankenship also emphasizes community engagement and restorative leadership with his pre-law students.

    “[We’re] proactively building community,” said Blankenship.

    Engaging Students

    For Blankenship, community-building often begins with engaging middle and high school students in hands-on learning experiences.

    One of the longest-standing experiences available through the Pre-Law Program is Journey to Attorney, an innovative summer camp for rising high school juniors and seniors that includes mock mediation and mock trials. During the camp, UAB pre-law students support camp participants as they retry a historic case (the last camp focused on the Scottsboro Nine case). Attendees dig into the facts of the case and aim to achieve a just result—an effort that often requires 12-hour days and intensive preparation.

    As the students retry the case, they also examine ways in which they can restore justice in the community. The experience builds knowledge, relationships, and empathy, and, often, inspires participants to become life-long learners. Although the camp will not take place in Summer 2022, it will reemerge in Summer 2023.

    Along with engaging high school students in hands-on summer learning experiences, Blankenship and his team also find opportunities to reach students in classrooms. Megan Edwards, an AmeriCorps VISTA with the program, recently helped coordinate and facilitate a digital learning experience for middle school students in Shelby County for Law Day 2022.

    The American Bar Association (ABA) annually sponsors Law Day on May 1. According to the ABA, the program aims to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession. To support the mission of Law Day 2022, Edwards recruited judges and district attorneys from across the state of Alabama to record engaging video presentations for Shelby County students based on the following theme: “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change.” Edwards also made the videos available to the Alabama State Bar, so the organization could share the content with schools outside of Shelby County.

    According to Blankenship, Judge Bill Bostick—the presiding judge on the Circuit 18 court in Shelby County—delivered one of the most compelling video presentations. Bostick shared insights with the students and also gave them a virtual tour of his courtroom. For Blankenship, this kind of exposure to the legal profession is a driving force behind the community engagement work of the pre-law program. And, based on the feedback he received from one of the teachers who shared the video presentation with her class, it’s working.

    "My 7th- and 8th-grade students thoroughly enjoyed the Law Day 2022 experience. The program was well produced and offered such a variety of speakers,” said Julie P. Kennedy, social studies teacher at Oak Mountain Middle School. “It was intriguing to hear from our county and state judges, attorneys, and state representative and the impact they have on the lives of our community. Hopefully, their words inspired my students to give back to their communities when they are older."


    Exposure can take other forms too. In the case of the newly-established Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Pre-Law Student Initiative, UAB students get the opportunity to develop competencies that will help them in law school, while also supporting community organizations and attorneys that have limited resources and staff. Blankenship developed the service-learning program in partnership with Brandon Wolfe, former Assistant Vice President for Campus and Community Engagement in UAB’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The program is now managed by an undergraduate student, Parth Sharma, who is majoring in criminal justice and mathematics and serving a Fellowship in Restorative Justice and Leadership. The fellowship was made possible by the LifeCrafter Foundation, a strategic partner of the Pre-Law program that provides substantial support in the form of scholarships and AmeriCorps VISTAs.

    This past academic year, the JEDI program created an opportunity for Eshandae (“Shae”) Thomas—a pre-law student who is majoring in criminal justice and minoring in legal affairs—to work alongside Redemption Earned, Inc., a nonprofit organization that identifies, assists, and represents incarcerated individuals worthy of parole or work release. Sue Bell Cobb, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, serves as the executive director of Redemption Earned, Inc. and sought out meaningful opportunities for Thomas to support the organization’s work.

    “All of us were so excited when Professors Brandon Blankenship and Martha Earwood informed us that Redemption Earned, Inc. would be given the opportunity to work with a UAB pre-law intern,” said Cobb. “Shae Thomas was simply extraordinary and completely dedicated to our efforts to assist worthy ‘aged and infirmed’ incarcerated individuals with gaining parole. Shae helped us synthesize and manage reams of data from the Alabama Department of Corrections. She provided valuable insight as we developed processes to be able to chart a new path to fill this huge gap in the criminal justice system. Her help was invaluable.”

    Thomas conducted research and developed a system to identify potential clients for Redemption Earned, Inc. Along the way, Thomas also received mentorship and guidance from Darrius Culpepper, a law fellow at Redemption Earned, Inc., and Paul Littlejohn, a subject matter expert who experienced incarceration for 35 years.

    “My time with Redemption Earned has shown me how time can change people,” said Thomas. “It's something we hear all the time, but I got to experience it firsthand.”

    That experience led her to present at UAB’s Service Learning and Undergraduate Research Expo. Thomas created a poster highlighting her research and work with Redemption Earned, Inc., and she went on to win first place in the Social and Behavioral Sciences for Online Poster Presentations.

    Moving Forward

    As Blankenship reflects on Thomas’ research and accomplishments, he acknowledges the value of students “building a body of work” and doing work that energizes them. Now, Blankenship’s vision for experiential learning has uncovered a new priority for future community engagement efforts within the program. Moving forward, Blankenship and his team plan to focus their attention on ensuring that students in Alabama are reading on grade-level by the fourth grade. At first, some may wonder how literacy fits into the community work of the Pre-Law Program—for Blankenship, the answer is clear.

    “I see pre-law as cradle to grave. I really think our pre-law journey, as far as UAB’s concerned, really starts with elementary-level reading,” said Blankenship. “If our [pre-law] students can participate in helping students be on grade-level with their reading by fourth grade, then those fourth graders have an opportunity to one day practice law… if that’s what they want to do.”

    And, perhaps, that is the overarching goal of the UAB Pre-Law program. Connecting students of all ages with learning experiences and community partners to ensure anyone who wishes to pursue a career in law can do so. Thankfully, the program is getting closer to achieving that goal each day.

  • Kerley selected to lead Department of Criminal Justice

    Kent R. Kerley, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the Department of Criminal Justice in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    Kent R. Kerley, Ph.D.Kent R. Kerley, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the Department of Criminal Justice in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    Dr. Kerley received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from East Tennessee State University and a Ph.D. in Sociology/Criminology from the University of Tennessee.

    Since 2015, Dr. Kerley served as professor and chair in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at Arlington. He also served as a faculty member at UAB for ten years (2005-2015) and at Mississippi State University (2001-2005).

    “I am honored to return to UAB in this new role as chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. UAB was my home for ten great years early in my academic career, and I am thrilled to come back,” said Dr. Kerley. “I want to thank my department colleagues, search committee members, and Dean Kecia M. Thomas for this amazing opportunity to serve. I support fully the dean’s vision for increasing Inclusive Excellence in CAS and look forward to working with my new colleagues in support of that vision.”

    Dr. Kerley’s primary research interests include corrections, religiosity, and drug careers. His research has appeared in top journals such as Aggression and Violent Behavior, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Justice Quarterly, Social Forces, and Social Problems. He is author of Religious Faith in Correctional Contexts (2014), Current Studies in the Sociology of Religion (2015), Finding Freedom in Confinement: The Role of Religion in Prison Life (2018), and Religion and Crime: Theory, Research, and Practice (2018).

    “The College of Arts and Sciences is excited to welcome Dr. Kent Kerley back to Birmingham,” said Dean Thomas. “Dr. Kerley is an outstanding and engaged scholar and funded researcher who will help to elevate the continuing success of the Department of Criminal Justice. I am happy to have him as a new leader and a partner in the College’s mission related to Inclusive Excellence.”

    Dr. Kerley was Principal Investigator for two National Science Foundation grants used to create a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at UAB called Using the Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Mathematics to Study Crime. He has also received research funding from Google and the Religious Research Association.

    Dr. Kerley currently serves as the vice president for the Southern Criminal Justice Association and will become SCJA President in September 2022. He and his wife, Lori Hill Kerley, met at the University of Tennessee and have two kids, eight grandkids, and one dog.

    “Our Department of Criminal Justice is interdisciplinary and unique in that our faculty excel in three areas: forensic science, digital forensics, and criminal justice. Dr. Kerley is committed to the success of all three areas, and I’m looking forward to all the ways in which the department will continue to flourish under his leadership,” said Dean Thomas.

    “I’m also very grateful for the leadership of Dr. Jeff Walker, outgoing chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and our College’s newest University Professor. I look forward to the continued impact he will have on our campus and in the community,” said Dean Thomas.

  • More faculty share the stories behind their development grants

    Plant-based diets, biased language in the courts and the trouble with night lights: Recipients of 2022 Faculty Development Grant Program awards explain how they will use their funds.

  • Welcoming Dr. Ellen Mwenesongole to UAB

    Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, moved to Birmingham in January 2022.

    Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D.,Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D. associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, moved to Birmingham in January 2022. Prior to coming to UAB, Mwenesongole studied and worked at universities in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Botswana.

    Burel Goodin, Ph.D., associate professor in UAB’s Department of Psychology, wanted to learn more about Mwenesongole’s journey to UAB and her scholarly work, so he recently conducted a digital interview with her. Below is an edited summary of their conversation.

    Goodin: What brings you to UAB and how has the transition been? 

    Mwenesongole: I chose to come to UAB due to its reputation as a research-intensive university and because it has one of the few accredited master’s in forensic science degree programs in the U.S. The opportunities offered to faculty for career development, research, and teaching also attracted me to UAB, as did its genuine approach and effort towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. After being appointed by UAB, I initially started teaching online while based in Botswana, which was not easy with the time difference. Now, it is so much better being in the same country while teaching. It’s been a few months since I arrived in Birmingham, so I’m still in the transition period, but I realize that there are more similarities than differences from previous universities I’ve worked at. 

    Goodin: You seem to have a varied education and work experience, tell us more about that. 

    Mwenesongole: My venture into further education actually started at Procter & Gamble in South Africa where I worked as a senior scientist after obtaining my bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I wanted to be part of the research and  development team, but, at that time, most of my workmates in that section had master’s or Ph.D. degrees. Therefore, I took time out to get a master’s degree with the intention of returning to the corporate world as a research and development scientist. I guess the study-bug bit, and I ended up with chemistry and forensic science master’s degrees from University of Pretoria and University of Strathclyde, respectively, and a Ph.D. in Forensic Science from Anglia Ruskin University. I interspaced my studies with working at a pharmaceutical company in Scotland and a doping control laboratory in South Africa before venturing into academia to lead the development of forensic science programs at universities in South Africa and Botswana. 

    Goodin: How did you end up in forensic science? 

    Mwenesongole: My interest in science was ignited when I was in junior high school—from that point forward, I knew I’d end up as some sort of scientist. Also, my interest in mystery crime novels and movies fuelled my passion to contribute to using science to aid in investigating criminal incidents.

    Goodin: What are your current research interests? 

    Mwenesongole: My key focus area of research is in analyzing drugs of abuse (illicit and pharmaceutical) from different matrices such as blood, urine, and wastewater. Analysis of wastewater provides a quick snapshot of what drugs a particular community is using and can help with developing appropriate intervention measures from a law enforcement, health, or education perspective. It’s research that I have conducted in the U.K. and Botswana and plan to continue in the U.S. In recent years, I’ve also been involved in the chemical profiling of illicit drugs for intelligence purposes. 

    Goodin: What is your thought on collaborations—are you open to collaborations? 

    Mwenesongole: Once you realize that no one person, department, university, organization, or other entity holds the key to solving any problem, you start appreciating that answers to problems can come about much quicker when you collaborate with others. I’ve collaborated with universities in the U.K., Botswana, and South Africa and hope to extend that into U.S. universities as well as other departments at UAB. The most effective collaborations are those in which every team member’s voice is heard and their competence and experience in a particular area is harnessed for the good of the overall research project. Collaborations that fizzle out within a short time are those where a few team members think they know best and impose ideas onto others rather than incorporating various ideas and ways of doing things to arrive at the best outcome.

    Goodin: What would you like to see changed or improved in your area of teaching or research? 

    Mwenesongole: Forensic science still has many unchartered areas of research both on a local and global scale. I’d like to see more collaboration with various departments—such as engineering and the legal department—to develop relevant and unique products that can be used in teaching and research. More work also needs to be done to collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including various law enforcement agencies and forensic labs nationally and internationally. Also, we must find opportunities to collaborate with other forensic programs. There is so much one can learn from interacting with a diverse portfolio of collaborators.

    Goodin: What are your expectations from UAB and what do you hope to achieve? 

    Mwenesongole: My expectations of UAB are tied to what attracted me to the university in the first place. I expect to be given the space to use the opportunities at hand to grow my teaching and research portfolio. We must avoid saying, “We have always done things this way,” because that mindset can become a hindrance to teaching and research. I look forward to freely contributing to the growth of the department, college, and university.

  • 8 faculty elevated to Distinguished, University professorships

    The UA System Board of Trustees awarded the rank of Distinguished Professor to Khurram Bashir, Aurelio Galli, Eugenia Kharlampieva, Bruce R. Korf and Jan Novak and the rank of University Professor to W. Timothy Garvey, Linda D. Moneyham and Jeffery T. Walker during its April 8 meeting.

  • College student defies all odds to graduate at UAB’s spring commencement

    Matthew Leong will graduate in the spring undergraduate commencement ceremony April 30 in Bartow Arena.

  • 22 faculty receive grants to fund developmental projects at UAB

    The grant program funds early-career faculty to advance their skills and careers across campus and beyond.

  • 22 faculty receive grants to fund developmental projects

    The UAB Faculty Development Grant Program supports junior faculty with funding to pursue research, creative works and scholarly activity.

  • Celebrate 15 books authored by CAS faculty in 2021

    Writing a book isn’t easy, but faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences produced more than a dozen in 2021. Thirteen faculty from eight departments wrote books on rhetoric and the Dead Sea Scrolls, pandemic bioethics, medical epigenetics, world politics and more.

  • Employees recognized at 2021 UAB Service Awards

    Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022.

    Dean Kecia M. Thomas with Kim Hazelwood at the UAB Service Awards reception.Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022. These dedicated colleagues were honored for their number of years of employment at UAB as of December 31, 2021.


    The UAB Service Awards are given to active employees beginning at five years of employment and at each five-year milestone. Employees who reach 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45 years of service are invited to a reception on behalf of UAB President Ray L. Watts and presented with a service award pin, certificate, and a gift of gratitude.


    This year, Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology and co-director of the Undergraduate Immunology Program, was honored for 50 years of service to UAB. Dr. Gregory Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy and director of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program, was honored for 45 years of service. Congratulations to all our colleagues for their dedication and commitment to the University’s mission and vision.

    50-Year Recipient: Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology

    20-Year Recipients

    • Kimberly H. Hazelwood, College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office
    • Erin Wright, Art and Art History
    • Tanja Matthews, Chemistry
    • Dr. Jacqueline Nikles, Chemistry
    • Daniel L. Butcher, English
    • Dr. Gale M. Temple, English
    • Dr. Lourdes M. Sanchez-Lopez, Foreign Languages and Literatures
    • Dr. Stephen J. Miller, History
    • Dr. John Heith Copes, Criminal Justice
    • Dr. Reinhard E. Fambrough, Music
    • Dr. Gitendra Uswatte, Psychology
    45-Year Recipient: Dr. Gregory E. Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy

    25-Year Recipients

    • James R. Grimes, Advising
    • Margaret Amsler, Biology
    • Leslie C. Hendon, Biology
    • Adriana S. Addison, Psychology
    • Dr. Karlene K. Ball, Psychology
    • Wanda R. Fisher, Psychology
    • Pamela Y. Robinson, Psychology

    30-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Tracy P. Hamilton, Chemistry
    • Dr. Kathryn D. Morgan, Criminal Justice and African American Studies
    • Kimberly A. Schnormeier, Theatre

    35-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Edwin W. Cook III, Psychology
    • Dr. Edward Taub, Psychology

    40-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Howard L. Irving, Music
    • Dr. Franklin R. Amthor, Psychology

    45-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Gregory E. Pence, Philosophy

    50-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, Biology