Displaying items by tag: department of biology alumni news

April 03, 2018

Paying it Forward

Alumna Dr. Ana Maria Crawford has created an endowed scholarship to be used to support deserving students based on merit and financial need.

A Pew Charitable Trusts Fellowship will allow a Ph.D. graduate to continue work to save endangered sea turtles.
October 17, 2017

Risk Takers

From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student experiences–and future careers.

Chang, who was named a 2015 Fulbright Scholar in 2015, is this year one of 57 Phi Kappa Phi fellows selected nationwide.
Peter Hardin, J.D., received the Department of Biology's inaugural Distinguished Alumnus Award during the department's Spring 2016 Awards Ceremony and Luncheon.
University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate Michael Longmire is spending four months working at the world’s largest chemical company as part of an internship granted to him by the German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD.
Julie Price, inaugural sustainability coordinator and UAB alumna, is out to prove that sustainability is more than recycling or switching off lights when you leave a room, and that the benefits go far beyond the bottom line and good public relations.
For 24-year-old filmmaker Ingrid Pfau, UAB was a place of firsts. It was the place where the Birmingham native first became a filmmaker and where she was first diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • One for the Books: 22 College of Arts and Sciences faculty members published or edited books in 2022

    In 2022, 22 faculty members published or edited 20 books across the Arts and Humanities, Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics.


    In 2022, 22 faculty members published or edited 20 books across the Arts and Humanities, Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics. With scholarship ranging from aging to communication in political campaigns to poetry, faculty authors contributed valuable research, insights, and creative activities to their respective disciplines.

    On April 10, 2023, the College hosted an event at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts to celebrate the faculty authors and also acknowledge the winners of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 2023 Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas.

    Congratulations to the following faculty members for publishing or editing a book in 2022.


    [widgetkit id="87" name="2022 Books by CAS Faculty"]

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  • Learning Together: Connecting anthropology and criminal justice in the classroom

    Interdisciplinary collaborations are heavily promoted and extolled within academia, but, sometimes, there are challenges in realizing them. This is even more true for seemingly unrelated disciplines. As a forensic chemist and a cultural anthropologist, we are excited to share a collaborative and fruitful exercise we recently pursued based on different disciplinary approaches to the study of drugs.

    Drs. Gezon and Mwenesongole bring their classes together for the first timeInterdisciplinary collaborations are heavily promoted and extolled within academia, but, sometimes, there are challenges in realizing them. This is even more true for seemingly unrelated disciplines. As a forensic chemist and a cultural anthropologist, we are excited to share a collaborative and fruitful exercise we recently pursued based on different disciplinary approaches to the study of drugs.

    We met by chance at a dinner celebrating Dr. Sylvie Mrug, the recipient of the 2021 Ireland Award for Scholarly Distinction. During the event, we started chatting and recognized our different approaches to the study of drugs. Given this discovery and our desire to work together, we developed a plan: we would lecture in each other’s class one time, then host a joint class exercise evaluating a mock scenario of drug overdose.

    We pursued this goal in Spring 2023 with our respective courses: ANTH 428/528 “Drugs & Culture” and FS 673-7P “Forensic Drug Analysis.” During Dr. Mwenesongole’s visit, students in “Drugs and Culture” learned the rudiments of forensic drug analysis — specifically, they learned how drugs are tested for their constitutive components and how this information is used in public health alerts, in the criminal justice system, and to trace the origins and sources of drugs for purposes of law enforcement to help stop the flow of drugs into communities.

    During Dr. Gezon’s visit, students in “Forensic Drug Analysis” learned about cultural contexts of drugs through the concepts of ‘set’ (mindset) and ‘setting’ (physical context) to suggest that cultural understandings about drugs shape experiences with them. Students also learned that those factors set the stage for intervening effectively to make drug experiences safer.

    Through these visits, both classes learned how to understand and mitigate drug experiences from different angles. As the students pointed out, the forensic scientists focus on the ‘what’ (what are the actual substances involved), and the anthropologists focus on the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ (the cultural beliefs, individual behaviors, and social practices surrounding them). Together, these different approaches give a more holistic and realistic picture of how to think about and confront drug problems.

    On March 22, 2023, students from “Drugs & Culture” joined the “Forensic Drug Analysis” regularly scheduled evening class for extra credit. They broke up into four groups of five and discussed a fictionalized case study. In the case study, a college student, Leah, buys Adderall illegally from another student in order to prepare for her exam. Leah ended up passing out and was rushed to the hospital, along with the pills that were not yet consumed. As a result of the forensic toxicological investigation, it was found that the pills were laced with fentanyl, caffeine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

    In a reflection on the experience, one of the anthropology students commented: “I found it incredibly valuable to talk to the forensics students about their area of expertise. I got the chance to ask about some of the technical and procedural aspects of identifying drug substances, which really helps get a more complete picture of the ways in which the legal and medical systems interact with drugs.”

    Dr. Lisa Gezon and Dr. Ellen MwenesongoleThe students also considered the cultural and social contexts surrounding this case. One of the forensics students pointed out perspectives that the anthropology students brought to the table: “I questioned why [Leah] would have done this and thought it was honestly very irresponsible and naive for her to do, but the anthropologist students immediately brought up trust, and how Leah trusted the person who provided her drugs because he was a student and she felt more connected with him.”

    At the end of the joint class, we asked them to reflect together on the value of interdisciplinary team collaboration on confronting a social problem such as this. A forensics student commented: “We give the hard evidence so that people in anthropology and culture-centered areas can explain why these [drug use trends] may be happening in a way that society will understand and maybe learn from.”

    In reflecting on the exercise itself, students found it valuable. One stated: “I really think these exercises, especially the discussion breakouts we had, were important in [getting out of our silos] and expanding both our worldview and knowledge base.”

    On a practical note, one student stated: “I think that the discourse is important in promoting collaboration between the fields in the future in the realm of policy-making. As this, in my opinion, is the only area the two fields can come together to affect change, without compromising the integrity of the scientific investigation that is at the heart of forensics.”

    In the end, we found the exercise not only pedagogically engaging, but also important for training students to see multiple perspectives as they face challenges in understanding and addressing complex issues that span natural science and social science fields. We would like to encourage the development of more interdisciplinary learning opportunities, even thinking outside of the box of traditional models.

    Lisa Gezon, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist and chair of the Department of Anthropology, and Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D., is a forensic chemist and associate professor in the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice.

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  • Zaretsky receives 2023 Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize

    The recipient of the 2023 Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas is Natasha Zaretsky, Ph.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of History. This prestigious academic award acknowledges her notable essay "The War on Fatigue: Women, Work, and Energy in the 1980s." Zaretsky’s UAB colleagues on the selection committee chose her work for this honor.

    Natasha Zaretsky, Ph.D.The recipient of the 2023 Michel de Montaigne Endowed Prize in the History of Ideas is Natasha Zaretsky, Ph.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of History. This prestigious academic award acknowledges her notable essay "The War on Fatigue: Women, Work, and Energy in the 1980s." Zaretsky’s UAB colleagues on the selection committee chose her work for this honor.

    The selection committee remarked that, "We found 'The War on Fatigue' to be a beautifully written essay with a clear intervention in the way 20th century feminist movements can be read. Its intersectional approach worked through evidence against a backdrop of not only gender and race, but also family make up, diet culture, and economics. The argument it makes is profound, and it's argued in a way that resonated with the committee."

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

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  • 2023 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 the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

    2023 winners of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching: John T. Maddox IV, Ph.D., Department of World Languages and Literatures; Lauren Rast, Ph.D., Department of PhysicsThe Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of the 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 and Natural Sciences and Mathematics:

    • Arts and Humanities: John T. Maddox IV, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of World Languages and Literatures. Dr. Maddox is a renowned researcher in Hispanic Caribbean Literature and Culture having published over 20 peer-reviewed articles in top-tier journals. He is a leader in the pedagogy of world languages and literatures at the state, national, and international level and is committed to promoting cultural diversity and inclusiveness both inside and outside the classroom. Dr. Maddox has taught a range of innovative courses for the Department of World Languages and Literatures—such as “Medicine and Literature in the Hispanic World”—and has supported numerous student activities including the Spanish Language Ambassadors program. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Maddox has contributed his expertise and talents to numerous academic efforts and events, including co-organizing the International Colloquium on Black Resistance and Negotiation in Latin America at Vanderbilt University.
    • Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Lauren Rast, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics. Dr. Rast is committed to quality, accessible online instruction and has supported major curricular initiatives in her department. She serves as lead for Project RAISE (which stands for Remotely-Accessible Interdisciplinary STEMM Education), and her efforts and leadership have made both classroom and remote learning more accessible for many students, allowing the department to increase its reach and impact significantly. Her work also contributed to the department receiving the 2023 award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education from the American Physical Society. Her inclusive education practices have enhanced STEMM self-efficacy, data, and digital fluency for high school and college students alike, with programs like the Magic City Data Collective—which she directs—reaching outside of UAB’s walls and into the Birmingham community.

    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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  • Karolina Mukhtar selected to lead UAB Department of Biology

    After a competitive national search, Karolina Mukhtar, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the Department of Biology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    Karolina Mukhtar, Ph.D.After a competitive national search, Karolina Mukhtar, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the Department of Biology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    The Department of Biology is home to the second-largest undergraduate major on UAB’s campus and boasts the top-ranked biological sciences graduate program in the state of Alabama. Within the department, 26 full-time faculty and eight adjunct faculty are dedicated to research and teaching with broad scientific interests ranging from the molecular to the ecological level.

    Mukhtar’s research explores the molecular underpinnings of plant immune systems and cellular responses to climate change-triggered environmental stresses. After earning her Ph.D. at the Max-Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany, she completed post-doctoral training at Duke University and began her faculty position in UAB’s Department of Biology in 2010.

    “Dr. Karolina Mukhtar is a highly accomplished scientist, teacher, and academic leader. She has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles and received national and international recognition for her outstanding work,” said Kecia M. Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    Mukhtar received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2014 and the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers. She was the first UAB faculty member to receive the PECASE distinction.

    She and her students have presented their research at meetings worldwide, including the 2007 XIII International Congress on Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions in Sorrento, Italy; the 2019 International Society of Plant-Microbe Interactions international conference in Glasgow, U.K.; and the 2022 32nd International Conference on Arabidopsis Research ICAR2022 in Belfast, Ireland.

    Mukhtar is a member of the Multinational Arabidopsis Steering Committee (MASC), serving on the “Plant Immunity” subcommittee. In addition, she pursues a very active educational outreach program for K-12 science teachers, and she directs PEER-BUDS, a summer bridge program funded by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

    “Dr. Mukhtar has served in many leadership roles across UAB. She has served as past chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate Caucus, and she has been a member of the UAB Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee, the UAB Commission on the Status of Women, and the Blazer Core Committee,” said Thomas. “Her excellence has been recognized through the 2022 UAB Graduate Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentorship, the 2019 UAB President's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the 2019 CAS Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching.”

    While at UAB, Mukhtar has also served in many roles for the Department of Biology, including Associate Director of Graduate Programs (2017-2018), Associate Department Chair and Undergraduate Program Director (2018-2022), and Interim Department Chair (2022-present).

    “I have been privileged to work alongside the biology faculty, staff, and students at UAB for nearly 13 years. The opportunity to steer my home department into the next chapter of growth is a tremendous honor and responsibility,” said Mukhtar. “Working closely with the leadership of the College of Arts and Sciences, we will build on our academic, research, and outreach excellence to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment for developing the next generation of STEM leaders. Additionally, I look forward to growing the department and building on the culture of diversity, equity, respect, and belonging that we have established.”

    “We are extremely fortunate to have someone of her professional stature and leadership experience leading the Department of Biology into its next era,” said Thomas. “We are also grateful to the search committee and its chair, Dr. Richard Dluhy, for their due diligence.”

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  • College of Arts and Sciences employees recognized at 2022 UAB Service Awards

    Twenty-six College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on March 21, 2023. These dedicated colleagues were honored for their number of years of employment at UAB as of December 31, 2022.

    Twenty-six College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on March 21, 2023. These dedicated colleagues were honored for their number of years of employment at UAB as of December 31, 2022.

    The UAB Service Awards are given to active employees beginning at five years of employment and at each five-year milestone. Employees who reach 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50 years of service are invited to a reception on behalf of UAB President Ray L. Watts.

    This year, Dr. Michael Sloane, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and director of University Honors Program, was honored for 40 years of service to UAB. 

    Congratulations to Dr. Sloane and all of our colleagues for their dedication and commitment to the University’s mission and vision.

    40-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Michael Sloane, Psychology

    35-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Jim McClintock, Biology
    • Dr. Henry Panion III, Music
    • Dr. Stephen Watts, Biology

    30-Year Recipients

    • Kathy Baier, Computer Science
    • Dr. Alexander Blokh, Mathematics
    • Dr. Yogesh Vohra, Physics
    • Dr. Mary Ellen Zvanut, Physics

    25-Year Recipients

    • Denise Joseph, World Languages and Literatures
    • Janet Tatum, Computer Science
    • Dr. Yanni Zeng, Mathematics

    20-Year Recipients

    • Amy Bain, Physics
    • Charita Cadenhead, Physics
    • Dr. Jessica Dallow, Art and Art History
    • Dr. Denise Gainey, Music
    • Talisha Glenn, Center for Community Outreach and Development (CORD)
    • Dr. Yakov Kasman, Music
    • Dr. Yelena Kravchuk, Mathematics
    • Eleanor McFall, Psychology
    • Renee Page-Nash, Music
    • Terri McBride Roberson, Psychology
    • Dr. Daniel Siegel, English
    • Dr. Andrei Stanishevsky, Physics
    • LaTonya Thomas, Psychology
    • Nancy Thomas, Political Science and Public Administration
    • Nora Whitten, Theatre

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  • AI and Data Science in UAB’s Department of Physics

    In the last decade, data science has become truly interdisciplinary, with accelerating applications in many different fields and data scientists coming from diverse disciplines.

    Data science was born centuries ago when vast amounts of astronomical data first became available. To draw actionable conclusions from the information, new approaches for analyzing data had to be invented. Today, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and other data science techniques offer new opportunities for analyzing big data to solve problems impacting society.

    In the last decade, data science has become truly interdisciplinary, with accelerating applications in many different fields and data scientists coming from diverse disciplines. For example, ML and data-driven approaches are used by physicists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to solve challenging science and engineering problems, holding promise to revolutionize current technologies and advance fundamental knowledge that will change our world.

    Specifically, UAB’s Department of Physics is integrating data-enabled materials and photonics research with workforce training to prepare graduates for a data-driven technical market. For example, faculty members Renato Camata, Ph.D., and Cheng-Chien Chen, Ph.D., were part of the “Roadmap on artificial intelligence and big data techniques for superconductivity,” a paper that lays out how AI and big data drive superconductivity research and development (R&D) to spark a tech revolution. This roadmap was published as an invited paper in the Institute of Physics’ journal Superconductor Science and Technology, and it showcases 18 short pieces produced by 40 researchers from 25 institutions around the world. Together, these articles offer a comprehensive guide on how the power of machine learning can help overcome present obstacles that have held back the creation of new technologies built with superconducting components.

    This data-enabled research has also provided new opportunities for UAB students. For example, a recent physics Ph.D. graduate found a job as an R&D associate in AI-enabled synthesis of novel materials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Other graduate students have been using machine learning to visualize and decode complex experimental data acquired with electron microscopy and advanced laser spectroscopy. In addition, physics undergraduate students have been using AI to model financial stress in the banking system and adapt AI codes to analyze hyperspectral data for energy applications.

    The Department of Physics is offering new Blazer Core Curriculum and elective courses for all students. Such courses promoting data fluency and computational modeling instruction include “Understanding the World Through Data,” “Reasoning through Modeling and Simulation of Data,” and “Machine Learning Applications in Physics and Materials Science.” Also, data visualization and analysis tools are now embedded in introductory physics courses that serve many undergraduate majors, such as “General Physics I & II” and “Computation, Theory, and Measurement in Quantum Physics and Relativity.”

    The department is also reaching the community through programs like the Magic City Data Collective (MCDC). The MCDC internship program connects future data professionals with purpose-driven organizations, including many local companies and non-profits. In this innovative data training program, UAB student teams from a wide variety of backgrounds and majors realize the synergistic benefits of their varied disciplinary perspectives by solving problems of civic importance.

    By emphasizing fundamental data science and computational skills together with critical thinking and creativity, the Department of Physics prepares students to tackle real-world, complex problems across a variety of disciplines, including physics, data science, biology, business, and finance. Centuries ago, Copernicus and Kepler were the first “data scientists” who figured out planetary orbits from astronomical data. Now, physicists are using data science to enable the fourth industrial revolution.

    Given the department’s recent national award from the American Physical Society, as well as being named one of the 25 Best Online Accelerated Physics BS/MS degrees, great progress for addressing the challenges and opportunities of today’s knowledge-based economy and society has been made through these efforts.

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  • Browning embraces alternative approaches

    Jillian Marie Browning’s photography is not traditional. In fact, when you see their work on display in a gallery, you might not immediately use the word “photography” to describe it. For Browning, the medium can (and should) be shared in new, alternative ways.

    Jillian Marie Browning’sJillian Marie Browning photography is not traditional. In fact, when you see their work on display in a gallery, you might not immediately use the word “photography” to describe it. For Browning, the medium can (and should) be shared in new, alternative ways.

    “My work is not traditional photography at all,” said Browning, assistant professor of photography in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Art and Art History. “I like to print a lot on fabric or do sculptural installations… There are different ways for photography as a medium to live — I’m really passionate about that.”

    Browning’s passion for photography began in Ocala, Florida, at West Port High School, a magnet school that offers a range of art classes. While at West Port, Browning decided to take photography courses in their junior and senior years, sparking their lifelong interest in the medium. The experience led them to later enroll in a bridge program with Daytona State College and the University of Central Florida. Although the program helped Browning build commercial photography skills, it did not align with their creative vision.

    “[The program] was producing [people] that would go out and get jobs being [commercial] photographers,” said Browning. “I was literally two-and-a-half years into that program, and I was like, ‘I don’t really want to do this.’”

    While in the program, Browning took an alternative process photography class — a welcome departure from the more traditional courses. Through the class, Browning uncovered new methods, like cyanotypes, they could infuse into their artmaking.

    In addition to experimenting with new processes, Browning was also identifying and nurturing new themes within their art.

    “My southern heritage and my experiences as a Black femme-presenting person in the South —that’s a very big part of my art practice,” said Browning

    Browning completed their undergraduate degree in 2012, then went on to pursue their MFA in Studio Art from Florida State University. After earning their MFA, Browning took a job with the photography department at the University of Florida. For nearly four years, they served as a tech for photography, drawing, and painting classes. In 2021, they applied for a faculty position at UAB and, soon after, visited the campus for the first time.

    “When I toured UAB, I really enjoyed how close all the faculty were,” said Browning. “The art program was super impressive. When I was touring, the thesis show was up… and I was like, ‘Oh, this work is really good.’”

    After the tour, Browning accepted a position with the department and started teaching in Fall 2021. After a full year at UAB, they have found common connections with their students.

    “A lot of the students that I reach here are extremely similar to me… I see myself in them,” said Browning. “I really try to make sure that I give them as many influences as possible… stuff that help will influence their conceptual ideas.”

    Beyond the classroom, Browning is engaging with the broader Birmingham community. They have taught workshops with groups like Paperworkers Local and the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop, and, throughout February 2023, they will display their work at the Vulcan Materials Gallery at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA). The show, titled “Figure Grounded,” opened on February 2 and features work from Browning, as well as Amber Quinn, Roscoe Hall, and others.

    Browning is also doing work outside of the city of Birmingham. Earlier this month, they curated an exhibition titled “Threshold: Recontextualizing Self-Portraiture” for the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach. In a way, it serves as both a homecoming and a celebration of their alternative approach to photography and self-portraiture.

    Explore Browning’s work by visiting their website, and learn more about “Figure Grounded” and “Threshold.”

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  • Copes combines criminology and photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • College of Arts and Sciences announces grant recipients

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences offers faculty a range of awards and grant opportunities to advance their research and scholarship and recognize their achievements.

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences offers faculty a range of awards and grant opportunities to advance their research and scholarship and recognize their achievements.

    In 2020, the College announced a new grants program aimed at supporting students’ diversity awareness and building their multicultural competence. Through the program - entitled Building a Multicultural Curriculum - faculty can access grants to develop new courses or revise existing courses. Faculty can use the funds to pay for instructional materials, professional development, student assistants, and salaries. Congratulations to the 2022-2023 grant recipients:

    • Aiqi Liu, Ph.D., Department of History: “Race and Power in U.S-Pacific Relations from 1776 to 1952”
    • Gabe H. Miller, Ph.D., Department of Sociology: “The -Isms and -Phobias: Intersectionality in the Social Sciences”
    • Samiksha Raut, Ph.D., Department of Biology: “Instructional Teaching Practicum BY 488-02A; BY 488- 02B (Honors)”
    • Michelle Wooten, Ph.D., Department of Physics: “Preserving Alabama’s Starry Skies”

    In 2021, the College launched a new grant mechanism -  Mid-Career Pivot Grants - to support tenured faculty seeking to “pivot to a new direction in their research scholarship or creative activity." The individual grants are for a maximum of $10,000 over a two-year period for the disciplinary project proposed by the tenured faculty. After a review conducted by the senior faculty members in CAS, the following three pivot grants were selected for funding for 2022-2023:

    • Aaron Catledge, Ph.D., Department of Physics, “From Super-Hard to High-Entropy:
      A Novel Approach in Materials Development”
    • Stephen Merritt, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, “Social Science Research in Cellular Agriculture”
    • Gregory Mumford, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, “Coring in Lisht’s floodplain to locate the ‘lost’ Middle Kingdom Itj-tawy, Egypt”

    The College organizes monthly innovation forums to focus on some of the world's biggest problems where interdisciplinary innovations could have a significant impact and where UAB has existing strengths/interests.

    In addition to the forums, the College issues an annual call for interdisciplinary team proposals.

    Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biology, was selected for a FY 2023 CAS Interdisciplinary Team Award of $30,000 for his proposal entitled “Alternative antimicrobials and ecology of therapeutic treatment.” This interdisciplinary team award represents a collaboration led by Morris between CAS and the UAB School of Engineering. This interdisciplinary team proposal was selected after an external review of the all the proposals that were submitted to the College in November 2022.

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  • Price thrives on collaboration

    While growing up in Central Alabama, William Price, D.M.A., relished opportunities to collaborate with his fellow students and friends on musical projects.

    While growing up in Central Alabama, William Price, D.M.A., relished opportunities to collaborate with his fellow students and friends on musical projects. From writing percussion parts for the marching band at Jemison High School to playing drums in local bands, Price was constantly making music with other people.

    “It was always a good feeling to be able to contribute to the overall songwriting or composing process,” said Price, now Professor in the UAB Department of Music.

    As a teenager, Price was an avid music listener too, often enjoying genre-defying artists that challenged the ways in which he thought about and wrote music. One artist that profoundly influenced him was Frank Zappa.

    “I started analyzing his music. How does it work? What are the cultural influences within his music?” said Price. “He’s influenced by a lot of different music: rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, early doo wop, and classical—that spoke to me as well.”

    As Price examined these “stylistic dichotomies,” he began to discover other artists who also transcended labels, including the post-modern composer John Zorn and, later in life, Tom Waits.

    Eventually, Price brought his musical talents and scholarly interests to the University of North Alabama where he studied music education. After completing his bachelor’s degree at UNA, Price enrolled in Louisiana State University and pursued his Master of Music in Music Composition. He continued his studies at LSU and eventually earned his Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Composition in 2004.

    After LSU, Price moved back to Alabama and continued composing while also serving as an adjunct instructor at the University of Montevallo. Around this time, he joined the Birmingham Art Music Alliance where he met Mike Angell, former Associate Professor of Music Technology at UAB. Price was familiar with UAB because his father, uncle, and wife all studied at the institution, and, during his conversation with Angell, he learned that a new position was about to open in the Department of Music.

    “[Angell] said, ‘Well, our theory professor is retiring and we’re going to open it up to a visiting professor search, and you should apply for it,’” said Price. “I applied for the job… and it worked out well and they offered me the position. I was a visiting assistant professor for a year. Then, they opened it up to a full-time tenure-earning position. 17 years later, I’ve still been in the position. UAB is a good place to be.”

    During his nearly two-decade career at UAB, Price has taught a range of courses (including music theory, music composition, and orchestration) and actively conducted research. In addition, Price has composed music for several of his colleagues in the Department of Music. His most recent collaborative project is with James Zingara, D.M.A., Associate Professor in the department and a world-class trumpet player.

    “Jim has been a great collaborator,” said Price. “He said, ‘Hey, would you mind writing something for piccolo trumpet and electronics?’”

    Electroacoustic music compositions are often built with a computer and later performed in a concert hall. Price liked the idea of combining live instruments with samples and other pre-recorded elements, so he agreed to compose the piece which is now titled “Hit and Run.” When composing the piece, Price notes that he found inspiration from many different sources, including ambulance sirens.

    “I started incorporating things that sounded a little bit like an ambulance,” said Price. “As the trumpet goes up and then back down, the general contour of the trumpet line alludes to a siren—not a literal representation of the ambulance but something similar to it.”

    Although Price is still tweaking the balance of the live version of “Hit and Run,” he has enjoyed watching Zingara perform the piece recently. Specifically, Zingara shared the composition at the 2021 National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors Conference in Denton, Texas; this year’s Pensacola ComposerFest at Pensacola State College; and at a recent faculty recital in the Hulsey Recital Hall at UAB.

    As Price looks ahead, he sees plenty of opportunities to collaborate with more musicians at UAB and across the country. It is the same spark that brought him to music in the first place. He is currently editing a new piece for solo clarinet with Denise Gainey, D.M.A., Professor of Music and Associate Chair in the Department of Music, and composing a new work for the UAB Chamber Trio.

    “I’ve grown more as a composer and as an artist when I’ve collaborated with other musicians,” said Price. “In the end, I’ve learned more from collaborating with my colleagues at UAB and outside of UAB than anything.”

    Explore the following the videos to hear some of Price’s compositions:

    [widgetkit id="84" name="Price thrives on collaboration - VIDEOS"]

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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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