International Studies

  • Kacey Keith pursuing justice and peace in her career

    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.

    Photo courtesy of Kacey KeithKacey Keith often encounters conflict when addressing structural and cultural harm through her work as a consultant with Honeycomb Justice Consulting. Given her personal, academic, and professional experiences growing up in the South, she has an appreciation for people who are willing and prepared to face disputes head-on.

    “I don’t think I would understand [how] to approach conflict in a straight-forward way if it wasn’t for being from Alabama,” said Keith. “Conflict lives in unison with peace—so, how do we handle conflict with peaceful solutions?”

    During her early years in Birmingham, Keith developed a deep connection to the city’s civil and human rights history. At the same time, she wanted to learn more about cultures outside of her hometown. This interest prompted her to consider colleges that offered dynamic international studies programs, eventually leading her to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    She enrolled at UAB in 2012 and sought out an array of classes to complement her international studies major. That curiosity steered her to a peace studies course which exposed her to peace on a global scale. The experience inspired her to continue seeking out peace studies courses at UAB, and, eventually, she enrolled in a class with Douglas Fry, Ph.D., former chair of the Department of Anthropology. Fry’s teaching had a profound impact on Keith, influencing her future academic and career pathways.

    “I was hooked,” said Keith. “It was very much in alignment with my world view… So, I applied to the Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights graduate program [at UAB].”

    The Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights (APHR) program is a two-year master’s program focusing on peace as behavioral process at multiple levels including at the level of individuals, families, groups, communities, cultures, and nations.

    Soon after starting the program, Keith met another influential faculty member in the Department of Anthropology: Peter Verbeek, Ph.D. Keith took several of Verbeek’s classes, and, throughout those experiences, she learned that peace ethology is a measurable science with actionable steps.

    “I loved the courses,” said Keith. “They were very influential—specifically in understanding what it takes to make a culture shift for the understanding of peace.”

    Verbeek’s mentorship and scholarly work proved to be valuable to Keith as she concluded her graduate studies and transitioned into her career. Soon after completing the APHR program, Keith started working for the City of Birmingham and was immediately given an opportunity to apply her knowledge of peace and human rights.

    “I was an intern with [Mayor Randall Woodfin’s] social justice transition team,” said Keith. “I helped develop the Office of Peace and Policy and supported the creation of a peace plan for the City of Birmingham.”

    During her time with the city, Keith formed an enduring bond with a co-worker, Jasmyn Story. Together, Keith and Story began working on nonviolence, restorative justice, and reentry-focused programs for Birmingham. Keith connected with the strategic planning side of the work, while Story served as an effective practitioner. For Keith, it was powerful to further apply the knowledge and skills she attained through the APHR program.

    “I’m interested in the neurobiology of empathy,” said Keith. “Understanding that empathy is one of the most powerful tools for peace is what led me to restorative justice.”

    Keith’s interest in restorative justice continued to grow, as did her collaborative relationship with Story. Eventually, they both transitioned into roles with Honeycomb Justice Consulting, a collective of consultants that helps institutions and companies implement restorative justice practices and navigate instances of harm. Honeycomb also supports its clients with strategic planning and training. Keith—who now lives in Denver, Colorado—serves as a core team member for the consultancy and continues to work alongside Story, her long-time collaborator and mentor. As she helps expand the impact of Honeycomb across the country, she looks back on her time at UAB and Birmingham fondly.

    “I’m grateful for UAB, and I’m grateful for [its] international focus,” said Keith. “The wisdom that came from the professors plus the legacy of the city, together, really created the space for the learning that I needed to be able to root myself in this work.”

    Verbeek celebrates Keith’s accomplishments and believes her work will have a lasting impact.

    "During her time in the APHR program, Kacey was both a scholar and practitioner of peace. Her work and insights have benefited APHR as well as our Birmingham community,” said Verbeek. “We will follow Kacey’s career on peace with great interest in the knowledge that she will excel at it.”

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Alex LaGanke

    When Alex LaGanke, staff attorney at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, left her hometown of Cullman to attend UAB, she quickly started to see the world through a new lens.

    Alex LaGanke (left) walking at Railroad Park with Ron McKeithen (right) and University of Alabama Law Intern Allen Slater (center) after filing a petition for a client who was subsequently released in June 2021.When Alex LaGanke, staff attorney at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, left her hometown of Cullman to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she quickly started to see the world through a new lens.

    “I moved to UAB and gained perspective—I was surrounded by… so many different people, perspectives, and conversations,” said LaGanke. “I developed a better understanding for how the world works.”

    As her worldview expanded, she developed a passion for humanitarian work and decided to pursue a B.A. in International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

    As she approached graduation, LaGanke was determined to find a career path where she could help people meet their basic needs. Thankfully, during her final semester at UAB, she got the chance to work on an innovative pilot program with the Alabama Association of Nonprofits (AAN), a membership-based organization that supports Alabama's nonprofit sector.

    During the pilot, AAN matched students with nonprofit organizations that were pursuing the Standards for Excellence endorsement—an endorsement that consists of a series of benchmarks that ensure high ethical standards within organizations. LaGanke was paired with the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA), a program in Jefferson County which trains community volunteers to provide support and advocate for dependent children involved in neglect or abuse cases. Through this experience, she developed a longstanding connection with CASA, a keen understanding of the value of the AAN’s website (specifically, the jobs board), and a newfound interest in public administration.

    “[After graduation] I knew that I wanted to do nonprofit work,” said LaGanke. “I would look on AAN’s jobs site, literally daily. One day, I stumbled across a program coordinator position for M-Power Ministries in Avondale.”

    M-Power is a nonprofit that provides education and health services to people impacted by poverty, and, at the time, the organization needed someone to coordinate direct services for learners participating in the adult basic education program. The organization selected LaGanke for the role, and she quickly learned the value and importance of relationship-building.

    “I processed 160 students throughout my time there. I realized if I’m going to build relationships with these people, I couldn’t just focus on education,” said LaGanke. “I had to connect people with resources so they could be successful in their education.”

    Between LaGanke’s experience with CASA and M-Power, she started to uncover a vision for the future. She knew she wanted to serve the people of Birmingham, and, to do so, she believed she needed to focus on law and policy reform. Her realization led her back to UAB—specifically, the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

     “I’m such a proud UAB alum,” said LaGanke. “I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t want to leave Birmingham.”

    LaGanke enrolled in the Master of Public Administration/Juris Doctorate Dual Degree Program (a partnership between UAB and Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law). While studying in the program, LaGanke learned to analyze and communicate about data—a skillset that serves her well in her current role as a staff attorney with Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit that works to achieve justice and equity for all Alabamians.

    “My work revolves around Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act,” said LaGanke. “Combatting excessively punitive laws in the State of Alabama is challenging, but UAB’s MPA program has provided me with the basic skills and tools necessary to approach complex policy issues effectively and strategically.”

    LaGanke’s casework and research with Alabama Appleseed has sparked life-changing outcomes for four people, including Ronald McKeithen. McKeithen was convicted of first-degree robbery in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison. Through LaGanke’s efforts—and the work and support of many others—McKeithen was released from prison, and, in December 2020, he successfully re-entered the community. Now, he is working with Alabama Appleseed on its re-entry efforts and also creating art, which will be featured in the Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration exhibit at UAB’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts.

    A detailed account of McKeithen’s journey is available here.

    LaGanke also supports community re-entry efforts for people who were formerly incarcerated. Her varied responsibilities include everything from helping people as they get a new Social Security card to replacing a flat tire. In this work, she continues to see the importance of policy reform and the need for additional research and advocacy.

    “I’m really proud that our organization is able to funnel resources and time towards helping our clients be successful beyond our legal representation,” said LaGanke.

    As she looks to the future and seeks systemic change through casework, research, advocacy, and policy reform, she continues to emphasize an essential skill she nurtured during her time at UAB and with M-Power—building relationships.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Jolie Thevenot

    International studies alumna Jolie Thevenot is the executive director of the Japan-America Society of Alabama.

    Like many of her fellow students, Jolie Thevenot fulfilled a curriculum requirement to study a language during her freshman year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. For Thevenot, the experience transcended a curriculum requirement and changed both her life and career trajectory.

    "I'd been interested in Japanese pop culture like anime and manga in high school, so when I was prompted to study a language at UAB, I thought I would just take Japanese 101-102 to enhance my media consumption," she divulged.

    But, as she began studying the language, Thevenot developed meaningful relationships with her professors in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

    "[The professors] showcased the Japanese culture more so than just the language. It made me really excited to study and use it more as a tool and an avenue to communicate than just a class."

    As a student, Thevenot had many interests and often changed her major. She eventually landed in the International Studies program due to its interdisciplinary nature. That degree program, paired with a minor in Japanese, allowed her to explore courses in sociology, history, foreign cultures, political science, and economics.

    She further cemented her interest in Japanese culture through two study abroad opportunities.

    First, Thevenot was selected for a two-week Birmingham's Sister Cities exchange program in Hitachi, Japan the summer after her freshman year. "That wasn't long enough for me, so I wanted to go back and study [in Japan]." Through UAB Study Abroad, Thevenot participated as an exchange student at Nihon University in Tokyo for her junior year.

    When she returned to UAB for her senior year, Thevenot was selected for an internship with the Japan-America Society of Alabama. During her internship, the executive director left the organization, which allowed Thevenot to lean into a role outside of typical intern duties. She worked closely with board members, helped organize events, and learned how to run the organization. Those experiences gave her the confidence to apply for the executive director role when she graduated in 2017—a position she continues to hold today.

    Founded in 1989, the Japan-America Society of Alabama (JASA) is a private nonprofit organization committed to fostering friendship and understanding between Japan and the U.S. As the Executive Director of JASA, Thevenot is focused on community engagement and outreach, a value she says she learned at UAB by taking advantage of the cultural engagement opportunities and events offered across the university.

    After her first year as Executive Director at JASA, Thevenot was named a Next Generation Fellow by the American Friends of the International House of Japan. The Next Generation Fellows Program supports promising young American leaders in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

    Thevenot says UAB gave her the skillset to think critically about the world around her and consider everything from different angles and perspectives. Her interdisciplinary degree, in particular, inspired her to be open to many opportunities. "The international studies field is so broad that it allowed for different connections with different fields of study... [UAB] gave me the confidence in taking something I don't understand and knowing who to reach out to and what questions to ask," she explained.

    Her advice for current students? Use your time at UAB to get comfortable asking questions and take advantage of UAB's events and opportunities. "You never know when one Wednesday night event will completely change your perspective or get you really excited about something you never knew was possible. There are opportunities like that everywhere," said Thevenot.

    Learn about the international studies major at UAB and the minor in Japanese.

  • Alumna Profile: Mariana Rodríguez

    Mariana Rodríguez loved her International Studies (ITS) classes and teachers so much that she went on to receive a PhD in Political Science from Vanderbilt University in 2013.
    Rodríguez, a native Venezuelan, graduated from UAB in 2008 with a BA in International Studies and a minor in Political Science.

    Mariana Rodríguez loved her International Studies (ITS) classes and teachers so much that she went on to receive a PhD in Political Science from Vanderbilt University in 2013. Those classes, especially the advanced ones, were fundamental in preparing her for grad school. “They provided similarly challenging curricula as the graduate level courses I took at Vanderbilt.”

    Mariana was also inspired in her studies by the close mentorship of ITS director Renato Corbetta, who advised her about which classes to take and helped prepare her for the challenges of applying to graduate school.

    The Latin American Public Opinion Project

    Mariana is currently working as a program coordinator for the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University. She coordinates the dissemination efforts of the 2014 AmericasBarometer, the most expansive regional survey project of democratic values and behaviors in the Americas (North, Central, South and the Caribbean). She’s also actively involved in LAPOP’s other ever-expanding projects.

    Her research has focused on voting behavior and democratic attitudes in Latin America, and she has particular expertise in Venezuelan politics and the study of the public opinion of populist regimes. You can reach Mariana by emailing her at

  • Alumna Profile: Tiffany Jolley

    Jolley, now a producer and reporter with Illinois Public Media, said her studies as an International Studies major at UAB "enhanced my ability to analyze cause and effect at a political and a cultural level."
    Jolley graduated UAB with a BA in International Studies. She earned an MS in Broadcast Journalism from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is now a producer and reporter with Illinois Public Media.

    Majoring in International Studies (ITS) enhanced my ability to analyze cause and effect at a political and a cultural level. This has been useful in many ways as a journalist because it helps me draw cultural parallels between international and domestic issues.

    For example, my ITS background helped me accurately explain the socio-economic roots of the Dominican Republic's immigration laws while I was there on assignment. I took great pride in the confidence I gained from those affected by the law who finally felt like their stories were really being told.

    The International Studies Club

    Being the president of the ITS Club was one of the most enduring and rewarding times of my entire collegiate career. Working together with the club really pushed me to address pressing issues by hosting events like “Should Palestine be a State?” and “Is Rape a Form of Terrorism?” Leading the club gave me not only the confidence to ask tough questions, but an intense perspective on some of these issues, which members of the club witnessed first hand in their home countries.

    Life after Graduation

    I've been working at Illinois Public Media (IPM) as a producer and reporter for one year. I started working at IPM as an intern during my last semester of graduate school, and was hired on full-time after I graduated in December 2014. Now, I produce Morning Edition and report on social justice issues. My latest story follows the rise of hate groups across Illinois in the last 10 years.

  • UAB Students to Showcase High-impact Community Projects at Clinton Summit

    Seventeen University of Alabama at Birmingham students have been selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University on March 6-8 at the University of Miami.
    Seventeen University of Alabama at Birmingham students have been selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University on March 6-8 at the University of Miami.

    Founded in 2007 by former President Bill Clinton, CGIU engages the next generation of campus leaders to address global issues in the Initiative’s five focus areas: education, environmental and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.

    “Students from diverse disciplines across our campus have long been involved in international initiatives that stem from our mission of teaching, research and service,” said Suzanne Austin, Ph.D., senior vice provost for Student and Faculty Success. “UAB is proud to work with CGIU to foster students’ ambitious projects that will serve local and international communities. We are very proud of and excited for these 17 outstanding students.”

  • Third UAB student Awarded a Critical Languages Scholarship

    Rebecca Hyde, a freshman majoring in international studies, has received a prestigious Critical Languages Scholarship. She is the third UAB student named this year, joining juniors Leah Berkebile and (Charity) Yoonhee Ryder.
    Rebecca Hyde, a freshman majoring in international studies, has received a prestigious Critical Languages Scholarship. She is the third UAB student named this year, joining juniors Leah Berkebile and (Charity) Yoonhee Ryder.

    The scholarship is a program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

  • CAS Student Featured in New UAB Promos

    Angelica Jaimes, a Sophomore majoring in Spanish and international studies, is one of several UAB students and faculty members featured in the new The Campaign for UAB: Give Something, Change Everything commercials.
    Angelica Jaimes, a Sophomore majoring in Spanish and international studies, is one of several UAB students and faculty members featured in the new The Campaign for UAB: Give Something, Change Everything commercials. Once the cameras finished rolling, UAB Magazine talked with several participants in the new commercials to learn the stories behind their star turns.

    The welcoming atmosphere and diverse student body at UAB attracted Angelica Jaimes, a native of Mexico City who went to high school in Homewood. Her classes, particularly those related to her international studies major, have opened her eyes to the social and economic challenges faced by people around the world, she says. “It is evident that many global problems are too big to solve immediately, but with commitment they can slowly be resolved,” Jaimes says.

    Jaimes isn’t yet sure where her career path will lead, but she does know where she would like to make a difference in the world. “I want to work with a nonprofit organization that helps educate underprivileged children across Latin America, in particular girls,” she says.

  • Standing Up for Social Justice

    UAB alum Brendan Rice: "My interest in social justice is grounded in the profound belief that my generation must and will play a central role in fixing the broken systems of our world."
    By Brendan Rice

    My interest in social justice is grounded in the profound belief that my generation must and will play a central role in fixing the broken systems of our world. For me, this translates to the broken global food system that leaves nearly a billion people without enough to eat. Based on this core value, I have structured my college experience around acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to be a leader in the global effort to eliminate hunger and poverty.

    As a high-school student, I attended a leadership camp through the Alabama Poverty Project, where I learned about social-justice issues affecting Alabama and the nation. After receiving a letter from Dr. Bob Corley, then director of the Global and Community Leadership (GCL) Honors Program, I visited the UAB campus and sat in on a class with Rosie O’Beirne, co-director of the media studies program. At that point, I knew that UAB would be the place where I would have the nurturing support to pursue my goals. I saw the GCL program as a curriculum path for me and other students to develop our desire to make a difference in the world as wellgrounded leaders in our chosen fields. We use the phrase “passion to action” a great deal in the program. This has characterized my time at UAB, as I seek experiences that translate my genuine interest into a well-grounded leadership.

    Huge Energy for Ending Hunger

    Through GCL, I worked on service projects with Jones Valley Urban Farm and Alabama Possible. Service is incredibly important for college students. It helps us meet community needs, and, perhaps even more important, starts to build our framework for understanding complex societal issues.

    When I attended the Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH) summit at Auburn University my freshman year, my interest in food security and previous experience in service suddenly made sense in the larger context of the global phenomenon of hunger, an issue that affects nearly one out of seven people on this planet.

    The UFWH movement now includes more than 300 colleges and universities where students have taken the initiative to make fighting hunger a core value of their institutions. The magnitude and energy of this effort was made real at the summit, where equally passionate students were coalescing around the common goal of ending hunger.

    When I returned to campus, I helped start the UAB chapter of the organization, which is growing in members and visibility. This past year, the group organized a number of events, including a World Food Day potluck conversation and a refugee camp simulation, which shared the stories of the world’s most marginalized in context of UAB. The World Food Day potluck combined a celebration of food with a discussion on our broken global food system—one that allows for hunger in a world of plenty.

    The issue of hunger and the growing movement of people who care about it will be reflected in the work UFWH continues to do on campus. Universities Fighting World Hunger at UAB provides a space for students to see how their stories and interests fit in with the broader narrative of a world moving toward the ability to ensure that everyone has enough to eat.

    In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, if you are a student, I urge you to get involved in this important work and join the UFWH. My story is woven into the work of ensuring that the scourge of hunger does not persist in a world with as much exhilarating possibility as ours. What is your story? My bet is that your narrative, in all of its uniqueness and vitality, is not only compatible with but absolutely essential in the broader work of all of us working together to end hunger.

  • Corbetta Named New Director of International Studies Program

    Renato Corbetta, associate professor of government in the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences, has been named the new director of the International Studies program.
    Renato Corbetta, associate professor of government in the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences, has been named the new director of the International Studies program. The program, which offers a major and a minor, promotes an appreciation of the different values and structures of the world’s diverse societies.

    “International studies is one of our fastest growing majors at UAB,” said Corbetta, who noted that he is thrilled take the helm.

    His goal is to increase the number of majors, raise visibility and encourage greater collaboration among the faculty. Corbetta, who received his PhD from the University of Arizona, has specialties in international affairs and international security. He joined UAB in 2005.