Displaying items by tag: Department of Social Work

Congratulations to Laurel Hitchcock whose article, “Social Work Educators’ Opportunities During COVID-19: A Roadmap for Trauma-Informed Teaching During Crisis,” was chosen as the Journal of Social Work Education (JSWE) Best Conceptual Article of Volume 57.

The Department of Social Work’s graduate program is celebrating a milestone in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. This is the first year the MSW program was eligible to be considered for ranking by its national peers.

The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

After Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work, graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin in 1991, she joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer.

In November 2020, the College of Arts and Sciences awarded “Building a Multicultural Curriculum” grants to eight faculty members for academic year 2020-2021. With the grants, faculty members could develop new courses or revise existing courses to support students’ diversity awareness and build their multicultural competence.

Many Blazers donate to and engage with the Benevolent Fund, a charitable giving campaign that supports health and human service agencies, selected health-related charities, and University of Alabama at Birmingham employees through the Employee Emergency Assistance Program.

Ronald Pitner, Ph.D., ACSW, has been named the chair of the Department of Social Work in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

 

The Office of Student Multicultural & Diversity Programs hosted the fourth annual Lavender Celebration Awards on Wednesday, April 22, 2020

 
 
 

Please take a moment to watch the video of congratulation and well wishes from the Department of Social Work.

 
 
 

On February 29th the Student Social Work Organization (SSWO) members had the opportunity to work with One Roof, located at 1704 5th Avenue North, Birmingham, AL 35203, on the Project Homeless Connect 2020 as Smiling Face Client Guides.

2020 Social Work Outstanding BSW and MSW Award recipients are Reese Joiner and Joseph Abua.

The UAB Department of Social Work celebrated Social Work Month with students and their families, community partners, and faculty members on March 27, 2019.

Over spring break, Stacy Moak, Ph.D., from the Department of Social Work and Tina Reuter, Ph.D., from the Institute of Human Rights led a study abroad trip to Kenya.

The College of Arts and Sciences recognized three notable alumni at the annual Scholarship and Awards Luncheon on March 21, 2019. Our 2018 honorees were recognized for their diverse talents, professional accomplishments, and community service.

As part of this year’s Social Work Month celebration, four BSW students and Dr. Laurel Hitchcock went to Alabama Arise’s Legislative Day on March 19th in Montgomery, AL to learn more about how to advocate for policy change with elected officials.

January 23, 2019

BSW mentor program launches

The first mentor group includes four students paired with four mentors.

The Student Social Work Organization sponsored a 10-year-old girl who loves Disney princesses.

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.

Jeanne Welch never really saw herself as college material. But a desire to help others, and an interest in mental health technology, helped her find her way to UAB.
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  • Welch selected to attend Northeast Workshop to Learn About Multicultural Philosophy

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Brynn Welch, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Philosophy, was selected to attend The Northeast Workshop to Learn About Multicultural Philosophy.

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Brynn Welch, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Philosophy, was selected to attend The Northeast Workshop to Learn About Multicultural Philosophy.

    The annual event is a week long summer institute with the goal of equipping philosophy professors with multicultural competency.

    As one of twenty applicants selected to NEWLAMP, Welch received training from experts on how to build a better curriculum and a broader canon in social and political philosophy, with the hope to increase interest from underrepresented students, impacting inclusiveness and diversity in the field.

    “The workshop changed not only what readings I assign or what topics I cover, but it fundamentally changed how I think about the project of philosophy,” Welch said. “I had to rethink the way I was trained and what I thought it meant to be doing philosophy or to be a philosopher. The entire experience was transformative, and I'm immensely grateful to the three experts who very generously gave of their time, energy, and expertise to make this happen.”

    Each year, the event focuses on a different area, and the Summer 2022 focus was African/Africana philosophy.

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  • Wickman believes math is for everyone

    For Lauren Wickman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, calculus is far more than numbers and equations.

    For Lauren Wickman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, calculus is far more than numbers and equations.

    “What I want to get across to students is that you have to know calculus if you’re going to understand the universe at all,” said Wickman.

    Hence why she is pursuing a mission to make “Calculus I” more accessible for UAB students. Currently, she is working closely with faculty members in the Department of Mathematics to develop and implement new curriculum that ensures more consistency (and engagement) in all “Calculus I” classrooms.

    The new curriculum includes pre-written notes and worksheets. Wickman created these resources so students can engage with their professors and fellow classmates and not focus on copying down comprehensive notes during class. Wickman believes this approach will create more opportunities for “inquiry-based, hands-on learning.”

    “We want to encourage students to see math as this thing that is to be discovered…and that’s it’s still growing,” said Wickman. “The way to learn math is you have to do it—they say math is not a spectator sport.”

    Wickman uncovered her interest in inquiry-based learning during her time with the UFTeach Program at the University Florida. Through UFTeach, Wickman majored in mathematics and minored in education and developed skills that would later help her in the classroom. After completing the program, she taught math in high schools in both Palmetto and Sarasota, Florida, and saw the benefits of creating an engaging classroom environment.

    “[It] helps them discover math the way it’s meant to be,” said Wickman.

    Although she enjoyed teaching high school students, she also wanted to deepen her knowledge of mathematics by pursuing a terminal degree. So, with that in mind, she reenrolled in the University of Florida and earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics.

    “As I was getting my Ph.D., I was really learning more about what it meant to be a real mathematician and how it’s more than just, ‘Here’s the formula plug it in,’” sad Wickman.

    After earning her Ph.D., she explored career opportunities at universities that emphasized both research and teaching. That exploration eventually led her to UAB.

    “The research that they do here—that was the one thing that jumped out to me. I like the community of research that they have,” said Wickman. “I am also really into teaching, and [the department] has a big emphasis on teaching.”

    She arrived at UAB in Fall 2022 and immediately started coordinating the new “Calculus I” curriculum. In addition, she has identified more opportunities to use technology in the classroom—specifically, online graphic calculators. By doing so, Wickman and her fellow faculty members are ensuring students can visualize their work.

    “Calculus is a very visual subject, so you need to see pictures of the graphs at all times to have any idea of what’s going on,” said Wickman. “They’re starting [with a] conceptual understanding before we get into the procedural understanding and notes.”

    As she continues to make “Calculus I” more accessible, she also hopes to build a community for mathematics at UAB. In the future, she is interested in establishing an Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) chapter at UAB. AWM’s mission is to “create a community in which women and girls can thrive in their mathematical endeavors, and to promote equitable opportunity and treatment of women and others of marginalized genders and gender identities across the mathematical sciences.”

    “I hope to create a community… that encourages people to do math without making it seem like it’s just for credit or just for putting on a resume,” said Wickman. “It’s a fun and enriching thing to do. It opens your mind.”

    Although Wickman is still in her first semester at UAB, it’s clear her approach will influence the ways in which students (and faculty) view mathematics—both inside and outside of the classroom.

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  • Social Work faculty member selected for the Best Conceptual Article

    Congratulations to Laurel Hitchcock whose article, “Social Work Educators’ Opportunities During COVID-19: A Roadmap for Trauma-Informed Teaching During Crisis,” was chosen as the Journal of Social Work Education (JSWE) Best Conceptual Article of Volume 57.

    Congratulations to Laurel Hitchcock whose article, “Social Work Educators’ Opportunities During COVID-19: A Roadmap for Trauma-Informed Teaching During Crisis,” was chosen as the Journal of Social Work Education (JSWE) Best Conceptual Article of Volume 57. Her work was chosen from among all articles published in JSWE in 2021. In choosing the Best Conceptual Article, the JSWE Editorial Advisory Board looks for originality of thought, sound and innovative conceptualization of the topic, and conclusions and/or recommendations that add significantly to the professional knowledge base and to social work education. Thank you for authoring an important article for our profession!

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  • Theatre teaches soft skills

    Creative high school students find a home in theatre departments because they feel valued. But we also need to be thinking about the future.

    It’s not easy to convince students and their parents that a degree in theatre will ensure success in life. If I can be totally honest with readers, the majority of students who graduate with degrees related to theatre don’t go on to achieve fame and fortune in a job related to theatre. There… I’ve spilled the beans. This isn’t an industry secret that I have foolishly disclosed. And I suspect this is true for many disciplines. With this in mind, we often ask our students what they will do if they can’t do the thing that drew them to theatre. What is their plan B or the “other” option? Specifically, what will they do to pay their bills so that they can continue acting, designing, or, in some other way, creating theatre?

    A student in my Theatre Cornerstone class last year, I’ll call them Pat, told me, “A plan B is for losers.” A lot of responses rolled through my head, but I settled on, “You go, Pat!” It didn’t seem like the right moment to pull Pat back down to earth. Pat might actually achieve fame and fortune in theatre. They are very talented, focused, and driven. While I admire Pat’s passion and confidence, the reality is different for most of our students. Most of them are starting this journey in a whole different place. For the record, I’ve always had a plan B, so...

    Oddly enough, I believe a theatre education is more valuable for students who do not have Pat’s gifts. Pat is a triple threat who can act, sing, and dance—they are kind of a unicorn, though. So, why do students who might not become professional theatre performers enroll as theatre majors? If you gather 20 of them in a room and ask that question, you’ll get 20 different answers. There will be similarities, but every answer will be nuanced. Some have a true passion for theatre and want to pursue a career as an actor, designer, director, stage manager, or another role required to produce live theatre. It might surprise readers to learn that many students enroll as theatre majors because it’s a community that accepts them the way they are. It’s a safe place. It would require all my fingers and toes to count all the students who have told me that theatre saved their life in high school. Sadly, they are being literal my friends. It’s sad but it’s also gratifying to know that I work in a field that has that power. The theatre community doesn’t just tolerate diversity—we embrace it and celebrate it. Creative high school students find a home in theatre departments because they feel valued. But it’s not enough to feel safe and valued—we also need to be thinking about the future.

    I think graduates from our programs fall into three groups. Group one includes those who find success after graduation in the theatre industry. They are the smallest group. Then, there are those who find success in allied industries like film, dance, music, and opera. Also in this second group are the graduates who pursue careers in industries that value the technical skills our graduates learned studying theatre, including education, event management, fashion design, marketing, content creation, graphic design, public relations, politics, interior design, and many others. There are elements of theatre in all these industries. Students in the third group find work in fields that seem totally unrelated to theatre—the key word is “seem.” Because the thing that contributes more than anything to the success of our graduates in all three groups is the development of soft skills.

    Do a search for “soft skills” on your web browser, and you will find hundreds of lists. Narrow the search to “soft skills employers value,” and you’ll find dozens more. Some of the soft skills that you’ll typically find on these lists are critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, social skills, poise, confidence, communication skills (verbal and written), listening, collaboration/teamwork, resource management, introspection, and adaptability. These are skills and character traits that are important in any setting, and our majors develop these skills and character traits doing theatre. Every play we produce presents a new set of challenges and requires all of us working as a team to create a new world onstage to tell stories that enlighten and entertain our audiences.

    We tell our new students that the jobs they will pursue in four years don’t exist today. So, what are we doing with them for four years? In the Department of Theatre, we are preparing our graduates to be employees who can adapt and learn new things. We are preparing them to be creative thinkers who can work independently and collaborate as a member of a team. We are training them to communicate effectively with the written and spoken word. We are helping them develop the poise, confidence, and introspection required to be effective leaders. And, most important, we provide opportunities to explore the lives of others so that they will be empathetic human beings.

    It may sound like a magic elixir, and in some ways, it is.

    By Kelly Allison, chair of the Department of Theatre

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  • McClintock has a story to tell

    For Jim McClintock, Ph.D., Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology, storytelling may be the key to fighting climate change.

    A compelling story can change the way people think, feel, and act. For Jim McClintock, Ph.D., Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology, storytelling might also be the key to fighting climate change.

    “20 years ago, I decided that I would exploit my love of writing and speaking in order to transcend what most scientists do when it comes to giving a lecture on climate change,” said McClintock. “I want to use storytelling as a tool to get this message out.”

    And that’s exactly what he’s done.

    McClintock—a world-renowned marine biologist, researcher, professor, and author who focuses his work on the ecological impacts of climate change on marine life in Antarctica—has published two books in the past 10 years: Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land and A Naturalist Goes Fishing. Both are nonfiction “trade books” that have reached tens of thousands of people across the world. That said, McClintock wants to further expand his audience and continue to sound the alarm about the implications of climate change. His plan? Write a novel with complex characters set in Antarctica.

    “I plan to use Antarctica as the backdrop,” said McClintock. “It will be built around the kinds of imagery and challenges that only Antarctica could bring to bear—that’s where my expertise comes in... If you can get a novel to take off, you have the potential of getting the narrative of climate change out to many millions of people.”

    And, for McClintock, the message needs to reach people as soon as possible. Earlier in the summer, he was invited to join an Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) cruise through the Arctic. McClintock served as a scholar and lecturer on the ship, commenting on the sights—and changes—the 150 voyagers were witnessing as they navigated Svalbard, Greenland, and Iceland.

    “What’s happening in the Antarctic, like all polar environments, is also happening in the Arctic,” said McClintock. “Polar environments are excessively sensitive to climate warming. A little increase in temperature has a huge impact.”

    In Svalbard, for example, waterfalls stunned the A&K passengers. According to McClintock, when he visited the same site ten years earlier, he saw the beautiful cliffs and sea birds—but not waterfalls. Although the cascading water was impressive, McClintock believes that the new water is the result of melting ice.

    As the cruise continued to Greenland, the passengers soon found themselves navigating a band of nutrient-rich water, which drew an array of marine mammals. “When you come off of the Svalbard Islands, you cross a shelf—this is an underwater platform—and the shelf hits this slope…and it drops steeply about 5,000 feet down to the deep ocean. What happens when you have a steep wall is that the deep nutrient-rich water… hits the slope and comes shooting up and concentrates nutrients in a very narrow band of several miles,” said McClintock.

    “We penetrated that band of rich water and… saw four species of whales all in the same field of vision. We saw humpbacks, minkes, fin, and sei. To top it off, in the midst of all those whales feeding, there was a pod of white-beaked dolphins... Then there was a raft of several hundred Harp seals,” said McClintock. “To see humpback whales combined with three other species of whales and seals and porpoises, was, for me, a first in my life.”

    For over an hour and a half, the voyagers watched the spectacular display. Thinking back to these moments, McClintock lamented: “This vast richness in marine life is now increasingly threatened by climate warming and ocean acidification. Arctic marine mammals are particularly vulnerable because the food they consume, whether plankton or fish, are experiencing declines in abundance with rapid climate change.”

    The next stop on the trip was Greenland. When they arrived, McClintock was pleasantly surprised to see large, healthy polar bears—that said, several of McClintock’s expedition colleagues aboard a past A&K Arctic cruise had witnessed two polar bears foraging among birds’ nests and eating the eggs and chicks rather than hunting for seals.

    “As the sea ice disappears… they’re going to continue to have challenges,” said McClintock. “One small population of polar bears have learned recently that they can hunt on glacial ice—so, instead of hopping from sea ice floe to sea ice floe like they normally do, they’re hopping from floating bits and pieces of glacial ice. It’s an example of adaptation to climate change.”

    Thankfully, McClintock was able to share this insight with the passengers on the cruise in real time. For the general public, witnessing polar bears leaping from one piece of glacial ice to the next might be a treat. During the A&K cruise, people learned that there’s much more to the story.

    And, although the trip is over, the story continues. Whether it’s lectures on Arctic or Antarctic cruises, fictional books set in Antarctica, or visual art, McClintock plans to continue seeking ways to effectively (and creatively) share the story of climate change and prompt real action.

    “When I get a guy coming up and saying, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever heard this stuff and now I really believe it’s happening and I didn’t before,’ that’s huge for me. It may be only one or two people after a talk, but you never know how far that goes,” said McClintock.

    Others are joining his storytelling circle too, including a group of professional theatre actors who recently staged a performance of Ushuaia Blue a play scripted by New York playwright Caridad Svich, loosely based on McClintock’s life and book, Lost Antarctica. The theatrical production was featured at the recent prestigious Contemporary American Theatre Festival at Shephard University in West Virginia, and McClintock made the trip to see it. The performance brought tears to his eyes—and, unsurprisingly, it also prompted meaningful questions from the cast after the show.

    “I met [the actors] after the production… I’ve given them all copies of Lost Antarctica. They wanted to know all about Antarctica; they wanted to know about climate change,” said McClintock.

    Perhaps his strategy is working, one story at a time.

    McClintock leads A&K expedition cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic each year. For more information contact him at mcclinto@uab.edu.

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  • Amsler selected as 2022 Sigma Xi Fellow

    Margaret “Maggie” Amsler, M.S., a polar marine biologist and researcher in the Department of Biology, was recently named a 2022 Sigma Xi Fellow.

    Margaret “Maggie” Amsler, M.S., a polar marine biologist and researcher in the Department of Biology, was recently named a 2022 Sigma Xi Fellow. In total, only ten scientists received this distinction in 2022. The cohort will be recognized during the International Forum on Research Excellence (IFoRE), which will take place in Alexandria, Virginia on November 2-6.

    Sigma Xi is a Scientific Research Honor Society, and it was founded in 1886 at Cornell University. Currently, the honor society has approximately 60,000 members across the world. According to Sigma Xi, “[t]he Fellow of Sigma Xi distinction is awarded on a competitive basis to members who have been recognized by their peers. Fellows must be an active (dues-paying), full member for the last 10 years continuously, or a life member, with distinguished service to Sigma Xi and outstanding contributions to the scientific enterprise.”

    Amsler arrived at UAB in 1996, and she has visited and conducted research in Antarctica for over 30 years. She has researched various subjects during her many visits to Antarctica, ranging from Antarctic krill to deep-sea king crabs. She works alongside her spouse, Charles Amsler, Ph.D., and Jim McClintock, Ph.D., Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology — both faculty members in the Department of Biology. After a brief hiatus from traveling to Antarctica, Amsler will return in December 2022 to further research the impact of ocean acidification on marine organisms.

    According to Sigma Xi, Amsler received the fellow distinction “for distinguished accomplishments and personal rejuvenation of the University of Alabama at Birmingham chapter of Sigma Xi and integral involvement in growth of membership.”

    For Amsler, the distinction is significant. “I am truly honored to be recognized by Sigma Xi for my scientific accomplishments and service to the Society,” said Amsler.

    “I am particularly pleased to be recognized for my scientific contributions. As a career marine biologist with a master’s degree, it is really quite special to be distinguished with a cohort of Ph.D.’s,” said Amsler. “My fellow chapter officers and I strive to support Sigma Xi’s mission by hosting monthly seminars ranging the science and engineering disciplines and encouraging our invited speakers to share the zeal and passion for their research with attendees who include undergraduates to emeriti and members of the general public.”

    Learn more about Amsler’s research.

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  • Doug Barrett is ready for something new

    Doug Barrett, associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History, is not afraid to try something new and different. It’s been a recurring theme throughout both his academic and professional journeys, and, so far, it has served him well.

    Doug Barrett, associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History, is not afraid to try something new and different. It’s been a recurring theme throughout both his academic and professional journeys, and, so far, it has served him well.

    “I was in advertising for 20 years in Orlando, Florida. During the dot-com bubble, when that burst, the company I was working with went out of business,” said Barrett. “I was 42 years old ... and I thought, ‘I probably need to go back to school.’”

    It was a pivot that required a certain level of risk-tolerance—and it paid off. Barrett was accepted into the University of Florida’s Design and Visual Communications MFA program, and he quickly found his rhythm within it. While in the program, Barrett sought (and identified) plenty of opportunities to try new things, mostly because he brought 20 years of experience and talent to the program.

    “I could pretty much do anything that I wanted to do there. [As a graduate student] I got a lot of experience teaching [at UF], and I co-created this ‘UF in Tokyo’ program where we spent several weeks in Tokyo,” said Barrett. “All of those things built a really powerful portfolio for me.”

    After completing his MFA, Barrett accepted a position with UAB’s Department of Art and Art History in 2008. Soon after arriving in Birmingham, Barrett continued to take chances. A strong and impactful example is BLOOM Studio, “a student-run, design studio that focuses on ‘Design for Good’ projects for local non-profits and under-served communities.”

    According to Barrett, BLOOM gives students a chance to create deliverables for real clients with real needs. Projects range from creating tourism branding for Bibb County to designing license plates in partnership with the Cahaba River Society and Alabama Audubon.

    Regardless of the project, Barrett wants to show his students that their work can make an impact. He also wants them to get outside of their comfort zones.

    “If you’re uncomfortable, you’re growing—that’s the thing that I think BLOOM Studio forces students to understand,” said Barrett. “There’s a bigger world out there, and, as a graphic designer, you can help generate economic development or make people’s lives better through design.”

    And growing is a major part of Barrett’s evolving career as both a professor and an artist. In 2021, he applied for and received a Mid-Career Pivot Grant through the College of Arts and Sciences. His goal? Purchase and create art with a Risograph (“RISO”) commercial-quality printer.

    “I feel like I’ve refreshed my practice. RISO is a hybrid between digital arts and the real world,” said Barrett. “I’m using a RISO process called Grain Touch; it creates a pencil texture. I’m really interested in that sharpness and fuzziness—it creates a lot of atmosphere.”

    After receiving the Pivot Grant, Barrett applied for and received a design fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts to further support his new work with the RISO. He’s now exploring a series of pieces that highlight the ways in which both urban and rural cultures intersect in seemingly remote places, such as gas stations and post offices.

    “I’m interested in this duality between rural and urban—I think art has a really powerful way of using vernacular imagery to get people to talk about societal issues and to get people to come to terms with what they’re thinking or feeling,” said Barrett.

    The results are stunning and dream-like. When viewing his new work, it is difficult to offer any comparisons, which harkens back to his ability to try new things and prompt surprising (and powerful) outcomes.[widgetkit id="82" name="Doug Barrett is ready for something new"]

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  • Mayer finds opportunities to innovate

    If you step into a class taught by John Mayer, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Mathematics, you will hear very little lecturing. Instead, you are likely to witness an engaging environment where students do most of the talking.

    John Mayer, Ph.D.If you step into a class taught by John Mayer, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Mathematics, you will hear very little lecturing. Instead, you are likely to witness an engaging environment where students do most of the talking.

    “A 20-minute lecture from me would be a pretty long lecture in a classroom,” said Mayer.

    His passion for cultivating dynamic classrooms emerged during his time as a mathematics Ph.D. student at the University of Florida (UF). His major professor at UF, Beverly Brechner, Ph.D., embraced inquiry-based learning—a pedagogy where students often speak more than their professors. It was a fresh approach that catalyzed his interest in topology.

    “[Topology] is the understanding of place or space. It’s more flexible than geometry,” said Mayer. “I was drawn in by the way in which I learned topology [inquiry-based learning]. It was partly the subject matter… and it was partly the way it was being taught.”

    As Mayer’s knowledge of topology deepened, he sought a future career in higher education where he could work alongside colleagues with similar research interests. Eventually, he gravitated to UAB because he knew Lex Oversteegen, Ph.D., a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics who was also interested in topology. It was a perfect match.

    “I came to UAB for research reasons,” said Mayer. “I thought I’d find a happy research home.”

    When Mayer arrived on campus in 1984, he was a bit surprised by UAB’s class schedule. In the early 1980s, students attended two-hour classes twice a week, resulting in lengthy lectures and, at times, disinterested students. Mayer immediately sought ways to avoid disengagement with his students, so he circled back to inquiry-based learning.

    Through this approach, Mayer limits lectures to a small fraction of his classes. Instead, students spend most of the time learning from each other via group projects and presentations.

    “The idea is to do this in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” said Mayer. “I believe that inquiry-based learning is for everybody… especially for those who are afraid of mathematics. The process—and having a respectful community in which to do it—can help build their confidence.”

    Mayer’s commitment to inquiry-based learning is emblematic of a broader strategy that he embraces: identify effective practices being leveraged elsewhere and collaborate with others to apply them at UAB. Hence his motivation to plan and implement two groundbreaking programs at the university: the Mathematics Fast-Track Program and UABTeach.

    Through the fast-track program, students can earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in an abbreviated time period (often five years or less). In the early 1990s, Mayer had witnessed other schools leveraging the model, so he decided to adapt it for UAB with the goal of retaining strong mathematics undergraduate students. He and his collaborators launched the program in 1993, and, within a couple of years, they received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support and expand the work.

    “I believe the Mathematics Fast-Track Program was the first combined bachelor’s/master’s program [at UAB],” said Mayer.

    In addition to the fast-track program, Mayer collaborated with faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences and the schools of Engineering, Education, and Public Health to conceive of and implement a program to expedite the process by which students become secondary STEM teachers. Again, Mayer looked for examples of effective programs at other institutions and discovered UTeach at the University of Texas at Austin.

    In 2014, Mayer—along with his collaborators—used the UTeach model to develop and launch a program called UABTeach to reduce the course load for students who aspire to become STEM teachers. The goal was to maintain academic rigor without requiring students to earn two majors. It was an innovative strategy that received a $1,450,000 grant from the National Mathematics and Science Initiative, as well as over $2.75 million in local philanthropic support from several local foundations including the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

    “The motivation was to make it easier for students to decide to become teachers,” said Mayer.

    “Apart from the Fast Track program, I’m most proud of getting UABTeach off the ground.”

    Although Mayer celebrates his past accomplishments at UAB, he’s also quick to look forward and seek out new approaches to make mathematics accessible for all students. With that goal in mind, he plans to launch a new course in Fall 2022 entitled, “Linear Algebra: Data and Models.” The course, MA 160, is designed to support students who may face challenges with calculus.

    “Linear algebra makes calculus with several variables much easier,” said Mayer. “Linear algebra can be more widely applied in the age of computers. It has implications in data science and in mathematical modeling. The idea that someone could learn linear algebra without first having taken calculus was attractive to me for the course I’m designing now.”

    Students who are interested in taking the course can learn more via the UAB Course Catalog.

    When asked to describe his approach to innovating in the classroom and on campus, Mayer jokingly says it’s similar to fitting a square peg in a round hole. Thankfully, throughout his time at UAB, he’s never let inflexible shapes and barriers stop him from trying new things that will benefit his students.

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  • What philosophy teaches us

    How do you know you’re awake right now? You’re reading this, so of course you’re awake. Still, though. How do you know you’re not dreaming?

    How do you know you’re awake right now? You’re reading this, so of course you’re awake. Still, though. How do you know you’re not dreaming?

    Philosopher René Descartes posed this challenge back in the 1600s to make sure he had a solid foundation of knowledge and to throw out anything he didn’t know with absolute certainty. But, he wondered, can we even trust our senses? What if we’re just dreaming right now? The catch was clear: there is no test you could devise to prove that you’re not dreaming, because you could always be dreaming that you passed the test.

    I’m an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and this is a fun little game we play in introductory philosophy classes. I use a twist with my students, though. I start by asking them why they believe what I say. “Because you have a Ph.D.!” they reply. “Cool. How do you know?” Eventually, after many false starts, they land somewhere around “Well, UAB hired you, so you must know what you’re doing.” I ask if that’s what they write on every instructor evaluation. (Spoiler: it’s not.)

    My goal in this game is not to undermine their faith in the academic community to which they’ve committed their mind, energy, and finances. Quite the contrary. My goal is to challenge them to engage with that community, to dig in, to get what they came for. It’s like Descartes’ dream trick: I want them to think about what they believe and why they believe it. After a while, students admit they don’t know why they trust me. This might seem worrying, but in fact it’s nothing short of inspiring. See, they don’t know it yet, but they’ve just arrived at the starting point of meaningful conversation. In fact, it’s the required starting point in philosophy. They’ve just said, “I don’t know.”

    Philosophy is an activity, a thing one does, a style of thinking. It takes a ton of practice. As researchers, we’re trying to figure out what we should believe and do. As teachers, we’re trying to help students do the same thing.

    One reason it takes so much practice is that the entire project is fundamentally countercultural. Think about any other type of debate. The goal is to win. You start with your conclusion, you defend it to the bitter end, and you earn bonus points for crushing the other side along the way. In philosophy, the goal is to figure out what is right. We don’t start with the conclusion and plug in reasons until the debate moderator cuts our mic. We start with reasons and see where they lead.

    Rule #1 in philosophy: humility. We want to find the right answer and know we may not already have it, so we have to listen to others. Importantly, we have to try to understand their reasons for disagreeing with us. Rule #2: charity. Our goal is not to prove our own intellectual or moral superiority; it’s just to figure out hard things together. With this shared goal in mind, we work through hard, important questions together.

    Lest any of this seem overly idealistic and ivory-tower-ish, it’s worth noting that a 2020 report from Project Lead the Way and Burning Glass Technologies (pdf) identified the following skills as “most demanded” by employers: problem solving, critical and creative thinking, communication, collaboration, and ethical and moral reasoning. So, contrary to every philosophy joke ever, philosophy cultivates the exact skills the paid labor market wants!

    But it’s so much more than that. Imagine a world where we begin with humility, charity, and a shared goal of figuring it out together, and then–through dialogue, in community with one another–we ask how we should live. Told you: nothing short of inspiring.

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  • Gezon selected to lead 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.

    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.

    Lisa Gezon, Ph.D.Dr. Gezon received a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Albion College and a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

    Dr. Gezon has been a faculty member in the Anthropology Department at the University of West Georgia for 25 years and has served as chair of the department for a total of 13 years.

    Dr. Gezon specializes in cultural anthropology, and her areas of research are in health and environment, with a focus on sustainability and social justice. She has done research in Madagascar, Guatemala, and the United States. Generally, she has been interested in topics related to health and wellness. Theoretically, she has written on political ecology, degrowth, and critical medical anthropology. In her current research and scholarship, she is analyzing local responses to COVID-19, and she plans to return to Madagascar to study pluralistic approaches to health.

    “I am excited about joining the UAB Anthropology Department,” said Gezon. “I look forward to working with faculty and staff in order to promote professional growth and meet ever-changing student needs through innovative programming in an inclusive and collaborative environment.”

    In addition to publishing numerous peer-reviewed articles and edited volumes, Dr. Gezon has published two monographs: Global Visions, Local Landscapes: A Political Ecology of Conservation, Conflict, and Control in Northern Madagascar (AltaMira Press, 2006) and Drug Effects: Khat in Biocultural and Socioeconomic Perspective (Left Coast Press, 2012). She is currently under contract to co-author a book to be called Anthropology of Drugs.

    She has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Fellowship, and the National Geographic Society.

    “We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Gezon to UAB and to Birmingham,” said Kecia M. Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Lisa is an experienced and excellent leader who will support the Department of Anthropology's growth and create new collaborations and partnerships across the campus and community. We are very fortunate to have recruited her.”

    “The College also appreciates Dr. Chris Kyle’s effective leadership during his extended time as interim chair of the department,” said Dean Thomas.

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  • 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.

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  • Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration partners in $20 million statewide effort funded by NSF

    Nine Alabama universities and one private firm are partnered in a new $20 million, five-year effort to develop transformative technologies in plasma science and engineering.

    Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., working with physics graduate student Chris Perreault.Nine Alabama universities and one private firm are partnered in a new $20 million, five-year effort led by the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) to develop transformative technologies in plasma science and engineering (PSE) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

    The grant is entitled “Future Technologies enabled by Plasma Processes” (FTPP) and will be for a five-year duration (2022-2027) to explore plasma synthesized novel materials, surface modified biomaterials, food safety and sterilization, and space weather prediction.

    Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., associate dean for University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and professor university scholar in the Department of Physics, serves as a co-principal investigator and UAB’s Institutional lead for this statewide award. The UAB research team, led by Vohra, includes the following members from the UAB Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration (CNMB), which is based in CAS:

    Scott Snyder, Ph.D., professor in the UAB School of Education, will provide internal evaluation for this grant and will monitor management, statewide workforce issues, and internal projects.

    The grant will support two postdoctoral research scholars at UAB—along with several graduate students—who will work synergistically with other academic institutions and an industrial partner in this consortium. In addition, the grant offers the opportunity for faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars to take the laboratory-based pilot synthesis of novel materials to their full commercial potential.

    “The funding is the result of a team effort from the co-investigators in assembling the group, who generated the concepts and ideas underlying the proposal and executed the plan by writing a successful proposal,” said Gary Zank, Ph.D., FTPP’s principal investigator, director of UAH’s Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research (CSPAR) and the Aerojet Rocketdyne chair of the Department of Space Science.

    Although different in aims, research goals, and scope from a previous $20 million NSF EPSCoR grant awarded in 2017, the new FTPP grant will continue to build plasma expertise, research, and industrial capacity, as well as a highly trained and capable plasma science and engineering workforce, across Alabama.

    Yogesh Vohra. “Plasma is the most abundant form of matter in the observable universe. PSE is a technological and scientific success story, translating advances in fundamental plasma science to technologies that address society’s needs,” said Vohra. “UAB’s role in this consortium is to develop future transformational technologies enabled by PSE including data-driven approaches in plasma synthesized high-entropy and quantum materials.”

    According to Vohra, the research team will employ machine learning techniques to speed up the process for materials discovery and guide the materials synthesis effort using microwave plasma chemical vapor deposition and plasmas generated by high-powered lasers. The plasma synthesized materials will be especially designed for their applicability in extreme environments, including elevated temperatures as well as thin-film superconductors which can be used in quantum information devices. An additional effort is devoted to plasma assisted metal nanoparticle deposition for their antimicrobial properties to be employed in biomedical devices for reduction in infection rates.

    Partnered with UAH and UAB are the University of Alabama (lead: Dr. R. Branam), Auburn University (lead: Dr. E. Thomas), Tuskegee University (lead: Dr. V. Rangari), the University of South Alabama (lead: Dr. E. Spencer), Alabama A&M University (lead: Dr. R. Mentreddy), Alabama State University (lead: Dr. K. Vig), and Oakwood University (lead: Dr. A. Volkov), together with a commercial/industrial partner CFD Research Corporation (lead: Dr. V. Kolobov), that specializes in computational fluid dynamics software and is located in Cummings Research Park.

    In addition, FTPP cooperatively partners with three national laboratories: Los Alamos National Lab, Sandia National Lab, and Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. FTPP will harness and share cooperatively the project team’s collective expertise, resources, and workforce.

    “Not only are the problems to be investigated in the FTPP program among the most challenging intellectually, they have enormous societal benefits and commercial implications,” said Zank.

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  • 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.

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  • Goodin seeks more equity in pain research

    Goodin has identified social determinants that created barriers for minority and minoritized communities seeking continued access to care providers for chronic pain.

    The Journey to Pain Research

    As an undergraduate student at Illinois College, Burel Goodin, Ph.D., was drawn to both biology and psychology. He majored in the former and minored in the latter and, along the way, uncovered fascinating points of intersection between the two disciplines.

    “I started to inquire more about fields of study and potential job opportunities that really brought together biology and psychology,” said Goodin.

    After earning a B.S. in Biology, Goodin sought out graduate programs that would offer him opportunities to research topics that touched both fields of study. Over time, he found his way to pain science and pain research.

    “Ultimately, I landed at mental health with an emphasis on neuroscience… and [eventually] pain. It was a natural fit—I found it fascinating,” said Goodin. “You can’t make pain go away. It serves an adaptive purpose. The chronic aspect—you want to try make that go away or make it more manageable.”

    As he dug deeper into chronic pain, his research uncovered troubling disparities. According to Goodin, “the prevalence rates of developing a chronic pain condition are often equal across racial groups.” That said, often, the burden disproportionality impacts minoritized and minority communities. Goodin was concerned by these findings and was determined to figure out his role as a scientist in the field.

    “I wanted to understand and better characterize how disparities come about and how they manifest,” said Goodin.

    While researching disparities in pain science, Goodin identified a set of concerning findings related to determinants. Specifically, he identified social determinants that created barriers—especially financial barriers—for minority and minoritized communities seeking continued access to care providers for chronic pain. Social issues—particularly racism, sexism, and agism—manifest these treatment disparities, says Goodin.

    Building a Career at UAB

    Goodin continued his pain research through a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Florida and, near the end of that fellowship, he accepted a position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2012.

    “I was impressed… by the vision of the Department of Psychology,” said Goodin. “They were trying to increase their thumbprint with pain science and also moving into the intersection of pain and addiction science.”

    After arriving at UAB, Goodin identified a vast landscape of new interdisciplinary resources and partners across the campus. He embraced these opportunities and, eventually, became the co-director for the Center for Addiction and Pain Prevention and Intervention (CAPPI) alongside Karen Cropsey, Psy.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology in the Heersink School of Medicine.

    A Call to Action

    In recent years, Goodin has turned his attention to the conduct of pain research—specifically, the ways in which language within the field can perpetuate racist ideologies. It’s not enough to be non-racist, says Goodin. Instead, more emphasis needs to be placed on anti-racism.

    “To be anti-racist is it to be actively against racism and trying to do things to draw attention to it and to have difficult conversations [about it]. If it’s making people uncomfortable, then that’s how I know we’re doing it right,” said Goodin.

    His commitment to action is clear in a series of three new papers that the Journal of Pain published earlier this year. The name of the first manuscript communicates a powerful message that reflects Goodin’s priorities: “Confronting Racism in Pain Research: A Call to Action.”

    “The first paper is really a call-to-action—this is what’s been going on, this is why it’s troubling, and we want folks to do better,” said Goodin. “[Also], we want it to be a blueprint for other fields beyond pain.”

    In total, numerous co-authors from across the globe came together to contribute insights and research to the three manuscripts, including two additional faculty members from UAB: Calia Morias, Psy.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, and Edwin Aroke, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Nursing. For Goodin, this interdisciplinary collaboration is essential to the effort of making pain research more equitable.

    When summarizing the research, Goodin seems particularly passionate about the paper entitled, “Confronting Racism in all Forms of Pain Research: A Shared Commitment for Engagement, Diversity, and Dissemination.” Through this paper, Goodin and his co-authors advocate for expanding the number of seats at the table in the field of pain research and inviting more people to that table.

    “How do we engage those in the field, as well as the communities that our field represents and that we care about,” said Goodin. “How do we make it more inclusive?”

    So, moving forward, Goodin and his colleagues plan to prioritize these questions, especially when developing outreach efforts and designing studies (which is the focus of the third paper). Simply stated, representation matters, says Goodin.

    For those who are interested in exploring all three manuscripts, you can access them by visiting the following links:

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  • 2022 Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas

    The Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas was established in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2018 in honor of the 16th-century French essayist.

    Jonathan Wiesen, Ph.D.The recipient of the 2022 Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas is Jonathan Wiesen, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of History. This prestigious academic award acknowledges his notable essay "International Responses to Nazi Race and Jewish Policy, 1933-1939." Dr. Wiesen's UAB colleagues on the selection committee chose his work for this honor.

    The selection committee remarked that "This essay situates the argument clearly within scholarly discourse and cites relevant literature" and went on to describe the piece as "clearly written and organized." Moreover, the members note, "The discussion of the U.S. as a case study for race and how it fed into German policies in the 1930s is both accessibly framed and really a stunning contribution to this area of research."

    The Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas includes a $1,000 award, as well as a plaque to commemorate Dr. Wiesen's achievement.

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  • 2022 winners of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching

    The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

    2022 winners of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching: Ragib Hasan, Ph.D.; Dione King, Ph.D.; and Andrew Baer, Ph.D.The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

    Award winners must have held faculty status at UAB for a minimum of three years and may receive the award only once in any three-year period.

    The CAS Excellence in Teaching Committee selected award recipients for being outstanding representatives of effective teaching and thoughtful pedagogy from the Arts and Humanities, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    • Arts and Humanities: Andrew Baer, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of History
    • Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science
    • Social and Behavioral Sciences: Dione King, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work

    Congratulations to this year’s winners. Also, in the near future, one of these faculty members will be awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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  • UAB Professor Emeritus honored through gifts to his academic department – and one of his favorite pastimes

    The sister of Dr. Edward L. Wills chose to celebrate her brother’s career in physics and his lifetime of trumpet-playing.

    When giving back to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in her brother’s memory, Physics Professor Emeritus Edward L. Wills’ sister Mary Buckman chose both a professional and a personal recipient: Naturally, the Physics department, housed within the College of Arts and Sciences, and the UAB Summer Community Band, which Wills participated in each summer and deeply enjoyed.

    A $100,000 gift to the Department of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences established an endowed scholarship in his name, The Edward L. Wills Endowed Scholarship in Physics. Alongside it, a $50,000 gift was given to the UAB Summer Band, comprised of adult amateur and professional musicians from around the Birmingham metro. The band rehearses Monday nights in June and performs an annual Fourth of July concert on UAB’s campus. Wills played the trumpet in the band while a student at Auburn University (he’d later return annually to Homecoming to play on the field with the Auburn Alumni Band). After retirement, he joined the UAB Summer Community Band, where he formed friendships and continually honed his trumpet-playing skills before his death in September 2020.

    “Ed spent a lot of time in his last years playing the trumpet with the Birmingham Community Concert Band, and also played each Fourth of July with the UAB Summer Band that has always performed before the fireworks show at UAB,” said Todd DeVore, Ph.D., one of Wills’ colleagues in the UAB Department of Physics. “One of his yearly highlights, until his very last years, was playing with the Auburn Alumni Band at the halftime of Auburn’s Homecoming football game. He is missed by friends who knew him from all these activities.”

    Wills’ gift to the Summer Community Band will allow it to grow as an ensemble, said Dr. Sean Murray, Director of Bands at UAB.

    “We will use this support to offer more diverse musical offerings and allow for a more professional presentation at our annual July 4 concert,” he said.

    Wills was born and raised in Birmingham and graduated from Woodlawn High School before heading off to Auburn and, later, the University of Virginia for graduate school and the University of Georgia for a post-doctoral appointment, where he studied nuclear physics.

    “Ed loved Birmingham, so getting hired by UAB Physics in the early days of the department was a good fit for him,” DeVore said. “Ed quietly supported several Birmingham institutions and organizations he cared about over the years. When I attend an event at the Alabama Theatre, I like to sit in the chair with his name on it.”

    Wills was committed to seeing his hometown of Birmingham thrive, DeVore said; he was equally as passionate about UAB. In his later years, Wills–known affectionately as “Doc” to his closest friends at UAB–bought season tickets to UAB football games and, even when he was no longer well enough to attend himself, shared his tickets with others who might enjoy attending. As a professor, students appreciated his down-to-earth nature and sense of humor, DeVore said, and his $100,000 gift to the department will help others appreciate the discipline as much as he did.

    “I would say his gift is important to physics because it helps support scholarships for Alabama students who may follow in his physics footsteps,” DeVore said. “We have many talented high school students in this state, but many do not see regular evidence of STEM opportunities we have here in Alabama and at UAB. Scholarships are an important tool to help students and they help us promote the attractive physics tracks we have to offer.”

    After joining the UAB faculty in 1973, Wills oversaw the undergraduate lab program for many years and was involved in numerous experimental research efforts while at UAB, including blood flow studies with the Department of Neurology. He taught both undergraduate and graduate classes and, when he wasn’t teaching or playing trumpet, was an avid organizer of class reunions for his fellow graduates of Woodlawn High School. He was also a board member of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve and a frequent supporter of Birmingham’s Jimmie Hale Mission.

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  • Sunken ‘Endurance’ is far more than a relic

    My first thought upon learning of the discovery of the Endurance was that despite the constant barrage of gut-wrenching news about the Russian slaughter of Ukrainian civilians and North Korea’s latest intercontinental missile test there is some good news about the human capacity to cooperate and endure.

    My first thought upon learning of the discovery of the Endurance was that despite the constant barrage of gut-wrenching news about the Russian slaughter of Ukrainian civilians and North Korea’s latest intercontinental missile test there is some good news about the human capacity to cooperate and endure. My second thought was “Thank God, I lived to see the day!” Not only one of the most storied shipwrecks of all time, the vessel’s discovery below the diminishing sea ice of the Weddell Sea focuses international attention on a region of our planet undergoing unprecedented climate change.

    James McClintock, Ph.D., photo by Michelle ValbergMarine Archaeologist Mensun Bound, the leader of the international Discovery Expedition that found the shipwreck seemed overwhelmed by the condition of the ship, exclaiming, “Without any exaggeration, this is the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen – by far.” There is an element of poetic justice in the sustainability of the Endurance, its largely intact hulk having rested upon the seafloor for 107 years. Shackleton famously sustained his party of 27 men for a year and a half after sea ice trapped the ship on January 18, 1915. The party endured subsequent hardships beyond imagination.

    Living aboard the stricken ship and then camped on the adjacent sea ice the men watched and listened as the pressure of the ice slowly cracked the hull of the Endurance like a walnut. The ship sank from sight on November 21, 1915. Five months later, the ice supporting the party’s camp broke apart and the men sought refuge in to life boats retrieved earlier from the ship. Negotiating ice and waves that soaked shivering men, the party managed to land on Elephant Island off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here, for the first time in 497 days, the men stood on land.

    Shackleton realized no rescue would happen, and he would need to take a small party and sail 780 nautical miles northeast with the hopes of reaching the whaling station on the island of South Georgia. Through a perilous sea, they sailed, reaching the island only to beach their boats and discover they would have to climb over the island’s central mountains to reach the whaling station. On April 20, 2016, Shackleton and two of his men at last reached the station: unkempt and grime-covered they were unrecognizable. Four and a half months later, on August 30, 1916, Shackleton made it back to Elephant Island to rescue the remainder of his party. In the end, not a single man was lost.

    As if gently placed by hand, the Endurance sits upright at a depth of 10,000 feet. Images taken by a remotely operated vehicle reveal a hull littered with sea anemones, sea cucumbers, starfish, brittle stars, and sponges. The pristine nature of the wreck is not by chance. Here in the icy-cold Southern Ocean, the types of microbes, worms and clams that infest and in some cases, burrow into and consume wood, are absent. Without such vectors of decomposition, the hull and the deck of the ship are beautifully intact.

    Dr. Polly Penhale, Environmental Director for the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, informed me via e-mail that the wreck of the Endurance is already listed as an ‘Historic Site and Monument’ by the Antarctic Treaty. Remarkably, this protective measure had been ratified by the parties of the Antarctic treaty in anticipation of the famous shipwreck’s discovery. Protections include the ship’s hull and fittings and all items of personal possessions left on the ship by the ship’s company at the time.

    In the bigger picture, the Antarctic Treaty does far more that provide a platform to protect historical artifacts. This one-of-a-kind document ensures that the world’s seventh continent, a land mass the size of China and India combined, is devoid of any militarization or exploitation of mineral and oil resources. Even sovereignty land claims go purposefully unrecognized under the treaty. Antarctica remains a continent for science and peace and poignantly illustrates the advantages of international cooperation and collaboration.

    In reverence to Shackleton’s party whose return to England demarcated the end of the heroic era, and whose collective ordeal of survival has come to symbolize attributes of exemplary leadership, collaboration, and the boundaries of the human condition, the designation of the ship as a perpetual monument is well served. The Endurance will remain intact on the polar seafloor for centuries to come, serving as a reminder that, to endure, nations must work in unity to preserve Antarctica and its hidden treasures.

    Dr. James McClintock is Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology in the Department of Biology. He recently returned from his 31st trip to Antarctica, 15 of which were expeditions supported by the National Science Foundation.

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  • Laurel Hitchcock seeks innovative ways to train future social workers

    After Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work, graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin in 1991, she joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer.

    After Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work, graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin in 1991, she joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer. She served two years in Senegal, West Africa, and, when she returned home to the Midwest, she wanted to further expand her knowledge of public health. While exploring graduate school options, she found UAB and developed an interest in the young university.

     

    Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D.“UAB is a top-notch public health program,” said Hitchcock. “I fell in love with the University and the state.”

    Soon after discovering UAB, Hitchcock packed her things and moved to Birmingham. She earned a Master of Public Health from UAB, then continued her academic journey at the University of Alabama where she earned a Master of Social Work and a Ph.D. in Social Work.

    While conducting research for her dissertation at UA, Hitchcock identified areas where both public health and social work intersect.

    “I started off being very interested in historical research—social welfare policies—and the combination between social work and public health,” said Hitchcock.

    This interest prompted a deeper connection to the field of social work. So, as Hitchcock entered the early days of her academic career, her research and teaching interests began to shift.

    “Early on, I really got interested in how we train people to do really difficult helping professions,” said Hitchcock. “My research is about training the best social workers we can. And, additionally, using new tools to do that… doing innovative things like simulations.”

    As she continued to seek out innovative ways to train future social workers, Hitchcock found several opportunities to work with UAB, including as an adjunct instructor and a team member for the Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Through these relationships and experiences, she formed a deep connection to the institution and, eventually, moved into a full-time faculty role with the Department of Social Work in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

    When she arrived at UAB as a faculty member, she brought a valuable partnership with her. Prior to joining the Department of Social Work, Hitchcock frequently worked alongside Alabama Possible, a statewide nonprofit organization that breaks down barriers to prosperity through education, collaboration, and advocacy. Hitchcock was (and continues to be) a strong advocate for the organization’s Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS).

    “They were using poverty simulations to educate professionals in the community,” said Hitchcock. “When I came to UAB… I connected Alabama Possible with my colleagues, and we thought, ‘Let’s do some of these simulations! We should be doing this with students before they become professionals.’”

    The Missouri Community Action Network created CAPS, and Alabama Possible describes the simulation in the following way:

    [A] unique, interactive experience that helps facilitate understanding of the challenges faced by individuals in our community who are living at or below the poverty level. The simulation increases participants’ understanding of hardships and the emotional toll experienced by impoverished members of our society and the work it takes to achieve self-sufficiency.

    During the simulation, participants role-play the lives of families living at or below the poverty level. Participants will experience typical challenges faced by individuals living in the context of constrained financial circumstances including maintaining employment, caring for children or elderly family members, seeking public assistance, and dealing with transportation issues.

    After partnering with Alabama Possible on poverty simulations during her first year at UAB, Hitchcock—and her colleagues from the School of Nursing—decided it would be wise to build internal capacity to facilitate future experiences at the university. Also, they wanted to ensure they were achieving specific learning outcomes for students.

    These goals sparked campus-wide partnerships with the School of Nursing, the Center for Interprofessional Education and Simulation, the School of Dentistry, the Heersink School of Medicine, the School of Optometry, the School of Health Professions, the School of Public Health, the African American Studies Program, and the Department of Criminal Justice. According to Hitchcock, these partners—including students and faculty—came together because they recognized the experience(s) can prompt people to think about poverty as a systematic problem that needs to be addressed by everyone.

    Now, over six years later, hundreds of students participate in the simulations across campus each year. Also, dozens of faculty and staff members volunteer their time to facilitate the experiences and participate in conversations with each other (and students) afterwards. For Hitchcock, the growth has been inspiring and has influenced her scholarly work.

    “It’s a nice trajectory for how an academic can use a community partnership to create a body of peer-reviewed work,” said Hitchcock. “I have six peer-reviewed articles from the work of the poverty simulations—all done, of course, in collaboration with others.”

    These publications examine a number of topics related to the poverty simulations, ranging from the overall of structure of the experiences to the impact on students. Most recently, Hitchcock and several of her colleagues conducted a comprehensive reflection on the simulations, which led to two articles that were published in the Journal of Health Communication in 2021.

    According to Hitchcock, “These two articles are an accumulation of all the work and really help tell the story of why we should do poverty simulations in higher education.”

    Thankfully, Hitchcock and her collaborators identified a way to continue these valuable simulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the experiences are offered virtually through a platform called Spent, which was developed by Urban Ministries of Durham. This pivot embodies Hitchcock’s own teaching philosophy, which is ever evolving and flexible.

    “My teaching philosophy is dynamic—we do have to pivot a lot. Especially given recent events,” said Hitchcock. “My most recent pivot in my teaching philosophy has been around trauma-informed teaching and really trying to bring my understanding that our students are going through traumatic experiences, just like everybody else, so how can we bring that into our teaching with students.”

    It’s an approach that is rooted in active listening, empathy, and, in some instances, service learning—all themes that Hitchcock has embodied throughout her academic career.

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  • 3 things to explore for Black History Month

    Joyce-Zoe Farley, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of African American Studies and Public History at UAB, shares three things to read, watch, and listen to in honor of Black History Month.

    Black History Month (BHM) is the brainchild of late scholar and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The celebration of Black accomplishment and progress started as Black History Week in 1926 and became a month-long observance in the late 1960s. Since its inception, the jubilee celebrates the undeniable legacy and impact of Black culture, genius, and the dark past of the enslaved in the U.S. To see and sample the beauty of Black History Month, support local Black businesses, listen, read, and watch. Here are my three recommendations, plus some extra credit.

    1. Read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.
      The incredible and fascinating read tells the story of the Great Migration of Blacks from the American south to the north in the early years of the 20th century to the 1970s from the perspective of three protagonists.
    2. Watch The Women of Brewster Place.
      It is a film adaptation of Gloria Naylor’s book by the same name and tells the story of several Black women from different generations living in a Chicago tenement and their societal and generational problems.
    3. Listen to "A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina)" by Terence Blanchard.
      Blanchard, a jazz trumpeter and composer, is the writer of the score for Spike Lee’s "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," a documentary about the response and ills of Hurricane Katrina.

    Plus, some extra credit:

    • Listen to At the Close of a Century, the four-disc compilation is a collection of the legendary works of writer, musician, and composer Stevie Wonder. He’s my fave!
    • Watch The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, the PBS documentary film series presented and written by lauded scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., offers a comprehensive view of African American history from the African continent to today.

    In the words of James Weldon Johnson, the author of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Black national anthem: "We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last, where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”

    Black history's future is in its people and will always have a place in American history.

    Joyce-Zoe Farley, Ph.D., is the visiting assistant professor of African American Studies and Public History in the Department of History and African American Studies Program at UAB.

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