Department of Sociology

  • 1850s horror Twitter, recursive propaganda, mapping mutations: Faculty grants seed new projects and nurture careers

    Projects selected for the UAB Faculty Development Grants Program offer an intriguing look into the creativity and range of research and scholarship on campus.

  • Study links debt with risk of psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure in midlife

    Research on financial stress following the Great Recession finds that people who were in debt at midlife had a 90 percent increase in being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Leigh Willis

    In 1997, Leigh Willis, Ph.D., a rising senior studying sociology at Albion College in Albion, Michigan, encountered a life-changing document. It was an interest form about a graduate program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Leigh Willis, Ph.D.In 1997, Leigh Willis, Ph.D., a rising senior studying sociology at Albion College in Albion, Michigan, encountered a life-changing document. It was an interest form about a graduate program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    "UAB’s Department of Sociology sent the information to my department [at Albion],” said Willis. “I completed the form, and, later that summer, UAB invited me to participate in a 10-week paid internship in Birmingham.”

    Through that program, Willis got the chance to connect with and work alongside faculty and graduate students in the UAB Department of Sociology. He also got the opportunity to participate in an engaged learning experience with the Jefferson County Department of Health.

    “The faculty were nurturing and supportive,” said Willis. “I was interested in patterns of health and illness, and [during the internship] I got the chance to interview people at the Jefferson County Department of Health and collect data.”

    During this experience, his mentors and peers in the department also encouraged him to pursue his Ph.D. at UAB. Willis quickly uncovered his appreciation for the faculty-to-student ratio in the department – he also learned that UAB had one of the few medical sociology graduate programs in the country.

    “I received a fellowship with a stipend from the graduate school and stayed in Birmingham,” said Willis. “I started the graduate program and learned the craft and skills of research. I loved the size of the program, because I had a lot of interaction with the faculty.”

    Willis went on to earn his Master of Arts in Sociology, Master of Public Health, and Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sociology. During his impressive academic career at UAB, Willis developed many valuable skills, including creative problem solving.

    “We were very well-trained,” said Willis. “We could think big and answer hard and difficult questions for the benefit of mankind.”

    After earning his Ph.D., Willis became an assistant professor of sociology and African American Studies at the University of Georgia. Then, in 2009, he was hired to serve as a Behavioral Scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When he arrived at the CDC, he discovered he had something in common with several of his coworkers.

    “There are several UAB alumni at the CDC,” said Willis. “Many of them studied in the College of Arts and Sciences – specifically, the Department of Sociology.”

    Today, Willis is a behavioral scientist at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. He continues to appreciate the value of engaged learning, so he makes an effort to connect current UAB College of Arts and Sciences students with the CDC through internships and research experiences. He also frequently finds opportunities to visit UAB, so he can connect with students and share stories about the impact of his work. He has one career milestone in particular that he enjoys discussing with students.

    “I was one of the leaders of a team that were finalists for a Health and Human Services Innovates Award,” said Willis. “Projects are submitted from all over HHS and voted on by the general public. Through our project, we created a motion comic to educate people about HIV, because parents said it was needed. We went to HHS headquarters and received recognition for our work from the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”

    A short clip from the motion comic is available online, and, in 2018, the journal Health Communication published two articles on the innovative project.

    Willis continues to make a difference through his work, and he encourages current students and recent alumni to do the same. “Continue to work hard. Continue to gather news skills and sharpen existing skills. Don’t be afraid to try and change the world,” said Willis.

  • Michele “Mike” Wilson – In Remembrance

    Dr. Michele “Mike” Wilson passed away May 30, 2021. She retired as associate professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (2008) and continued working for the university for several years afterwards.

    Dr. Michele “Mike” Wilson in 2007 at the UAB Diversity Awards Dinner. Photo by Patricia Drentea. Dr. Michele “Mike” Wilson passed away May 30, 2021. She was born December 8, 1942, in Puerto Rico to a military family. Her parents were also politically active, which is where she inherited her activist genes. Dr. Wilson earned her doctorate degree in sociology from the University of Connecticut in 1978.

    She retired as associate professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (2008) and continued working for the university for several years afterwards. She had a large following of students and won Outstanding Teacher of the Year at UAB. She taught Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, the Sociology of Gender, and Deviance. Dr. Wilson was a scholar/activist, and she started and directed the Women’s Studies Program at UAB. Dr. Wilson’s research was on abortion. She also studied government leaders and activism in government, the civil rights movement, and abortion rights. In 2006, she received the UAB President’s Diversity Champion Award for her tireless work in equality.

    Dr. Wilson was an active member of the Southern Sociological Society and was known to bring groups of undergraduates to the meetings. She also advocated for female graduate students in the 1980s through the 2000s — a period of time during which she went from being the only female professor in the Department of Sociology, to retiring alongside equal numbers of male and female professors in the department.

    She was committed and steadfast in her activism and courageous in her fight for equality for women. She headed the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and escorted women to and from Planned Parenthood and across protest lines. Also, she was instrumental in setting up Birmingham's suicide prevention call center. Together with her beloved husband Jack Zylman (deceased 2013), they worked tirelessly for the civil rights movement and in promoting racial equality in Birmingham. She is survived by her brother Rick Wilson and sister-in-law Hope, of Florida, and cousins, nephews, and nieces. She is also survived by stepdaughter Alicia Di Giovanni and grandchildren of San Antonio, TX.

    The Department of Sociology mourns her death. She was brave and ahead of her time. Those who wish to contribute in her name can give to the Dr. Michele Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg Endowed Award, which gives a scholarship to a deserving undergraduate who is academically successful and dedicated to activism and/or gender equity. In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests any memorial gifts be made to the endowed award. Gifts can be mailed to UAB Gift Records, AB 1230, 1720 2nd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294-0112 or made online at

  • UAB researchers survey support for legalization of medical cannabis among Alabama physicians

    Researchers from the University of Alabama of Birmingham have published results of a survey gauging Alabama physicians’ support of medical cannabis for qualified patients.

  • What 10 mentors learned from teaching graduate students and postdocs

    Ten graduate faculty were honored with the UAB Graduate Dean’s Excellence in Mentorship Award for exceptional work with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

  • Sociology professors and students partner with Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service

    When Battalion Chief Tobias Jones was collecting information for a Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) strategic planning project, he thought of the UAB Department of Sociology.

    When Battalion Chief Tobias Jones was collecting information for a Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) strategic planning project, he thought of the UAB Department of Sociology.

    Jones had once taken the department’s research methodology course when he was a UAB student and knew the Department of Sociology would have the resources to conduct a study that would cost the BFRS thousands of dollars if they hired a commercial firm. So, working with Birmingham Fire Chief Cory D. Moon, they contacted Verna Keith, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Sociology. It was precisely the type of community engagement service the department seeks to provide.

    “I saw Chief Moon’s request as an excellent opportunity to contribute to the community and to expose our students to a collaborative and impactful research experience. That he reached out to the department for this project speaks highly of our faculty and their excellent instruction,” said Dr. Keith.

    Cullen Clark, Ph.D.Soon after, students and professors from two courses had signed on to conduct two studies. Under the supervision of Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Sociology, students in her Research Experience course developed a quantitative survey designed to measure community knowledge and perceptions of BFRS. Additionally, a team of capstone students from the department’s online Master of Arts in Applied Sociology program worked with Cullen Clark, Ph.D., teaching assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, to conduct a series of online focus groups with members of selected neighborhood associations to gather their perceptions and knowledge of BFRS.

    With key support from Chief Moon, Battalion Chief Kenneth Mines, Lieutenant Brian Pernell, Firefighter Jeffrey Hall, the Strategic Plan Committee, and Battalion Chief Jones, the project was an opportunity for students to take the skills they learned in the classroom and put them to work.

    “This project allowed the students to participate firsthand in the research process and provided them with an opportunity to show potential employers the diverse skill set that a degree in sociology can afford,” said Dr. Baker. “At the end of the class, they had produced a report from data derived from a survey they designed, disseminated, and analyzed.”

    Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D.It was a great opportunity for the graduate students as well, recalled Dr. Clark. “We always tell students in our online M.A. program that every sociologist works with a toolkit that consists of social theory, research methodology, and what sociologists call the ‘sociological imagination,’ or the ability to see how broader social and historical forces shape individual lives,” said Dr. Clark. “Projects like this one enable our students to see firsthand just how versatile these tools are and that they can be used to provide insight and information for any organization,” said Dr. Clark.

    Together, the quantitative and qualitative studies provided a greater depth of insight than either could have provided alone. One finding that clearly stood out in both studies was the high esteem in which respondents held BFRS.

    “I don’t think I have ever done focus groups where no one has anything negative to say,” said Dr. Clark.

    Another interesting finding was the extent to which respondents said they had used BFRS emergency medical services at some point. Forty-one percent of the respondents to the quantitative online survey indicated they had used these services. This finding was reiterated by moving personal accounts of focus group members’ interactions with emergency medical services.

    The UAB Department of Sociology is happy to conduct projects like this as resources permit. Community, charitable and civic groups who would like this type of assistance should contact Dr. Verna Keith at

  • Virtual discussion of ideological divides in COVID-19 experiences is March 12

    UAB’s Haddin Forum Lecture series will host a discussion on the effects of people’s beliefs in shaping COVID reactions and experiences in the U.S. and Poland.

  • UAB sociology professor receives 5-year grant to study women’s health disparities

    Mieke Beth Thomeer, Ph.D., has received a nearly $1.3 million grant to study midlife health disparities related to motherhood.

  • Virtual forum on racism-related stress is Feb. 12

    The UAB Haddin Forum Lecture Series will host a discussion on the effects of secondhand discrimination on the well-being of Black adults.

  • Study aims to reduce HPV and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among teens in rural Alabama

    Investigators are developing a telemedicine program to reduce vaccine hesitancy related to HPV and the novel coronavirus for adolescents in rural Alabama.

  • Families contribute to health inequalities during the coronavirus pandemic

    Mieke Beth Thomeer, Ph.D., and Jenjira Yahirun, Ph.D., discuss how families influence health and health disparities throughout life’s course and during COVID-19.

  • Study suggests nation’s health care providers need more education on medical cannabis

    While demand for medical cannabis products grows in the United States, a UAB study suggests health care providers are ill-equipped to provide guidance.

  • Faculty editors share ways their journals are responding to COVID-19

    Scientific journals tackle the tough questions with rigor. Learn the questions consuming these thought leaders in sociology, pathology, civil engineering and surgery.

  • Catch up on your reading with one of these 13 books authored by CAS faculty

    Do you have more time on your hands while social-distancing? Faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences published 13 books in 2019 on subjects ranging from lifestyles and aging to advancements in satellite archaeology.

  • Five sociology faculty members selected to serve on prominent health-related journal boards

    UAB’s Department of Sociology continues to blaze the path forward as leading experts in the field.

  • Nationally ranked program provides a deeper understanding of society

    A degree in sociology builds a foundation of knowledge and understanding of how and why people react in society.

  • Exploring people, behaviors has been passion of Ramsay and soon-to-be UAB graduate

    Medical sociology provides a platform for a UAB graduate to pursue a medical degree while offering insight to the minds of her patients.   

  • UAB’s Verna Keith receives the 2019 James R. Greenley Award

    Keith was recognized for her commitment and work ethic in the field of social inequalities and health.

  • Study: Violent victimization among youths is linked to risky sexual behavior

    For young people, being the victim of violence can lead to risky sexual behavior.