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BME alumni get in touch with their pasts while making a gift for the future

""David Wilson and Ken Solovay weren't far removed from their graduate school days in this photo of them with their wives. They are, from left, Amy Wilson, David Wilson, Lisa Solovay and Ken Solovay.David Wilson’s first contact with UAB came when he called the chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering from a pay phone at a truck stop.

When Ken Solovay was nearing his graduation from UAB, he spent hours stuffing resumes in envelopes addressed to medical-device companies he found in a bulky reference book.

Needless to say, a lot has changed at UAB since the days of pay phones and snail-mail job searches. But on a recent visit to Birmingham, both Wilson and Solovay said they were pleased to see how much about UAB remains unchanged since their time as graduate students in the early 1990s.

“When Ken and I were in graduate school, our classrooms and labs were essentially off campus. It’s exciting to see the new BME footprint within the heart of the UAB medical complex. I do think, however, that the underlying fabric and culture have not changed. That is great to see. Even as the program has obviously grown, we still felt a strong, personal connection to the faculty members who helped us when we were students.”

Because of those personal connections, the former classmates recently made a gift of $25,000 to establish the David Wilson/Ken Solovay Endowment for Biomedical Engineering.

“UAB provided me a unique opportunity to do things you don’t get to do in a lot of programs, and the skills I learned there have been incredibly valuable to me in my career,” Wilson said. “I felt like the program uniquely prepared me and others to make an impact. I’m at a point now where I’d like to re-engage with UAB and give back, not only financially, but to come back to campus and engage with current students as well.”

This past summer, Wilson and Solovay did just that. During their visit to campus, they visited a BME class taught by Alan Eberhardt, Ph.D.  “That was a little different from what we remembered of our experience, because there was no undergraduate program in BME when we were here,” said Solovay. “A lot of the students we met were interested in going to medical school, but after the class presentation we met with a smaller group that was interested in talking about job opportunities. The commonality I felt with them was remembering the anxiety of being about to graduate from UAB and wondering how to find jobs. How do we take this great field of knowledge and then use it to support ourselves financially, further our careers, and continue to grow and learn?”

David Wilson: "It is an honor to be able to give back and contribute in some small way to the success of UAB and to the benefit of future generations of BME students."When Solovay was in that situation as a student, his initial strategy for finding opportunities was to blindly send resumes to every medical device company in the book. “Predictably, nothing much came of that,” he said. “But then Linda Lucas connected me with the head of research and development at what was then Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Orthopedics, and UAB’s status within the Biomaterials Society helped me garner an opportunity at C.R. Bard developing bioresorbable cardiovascular implants.”

Although Solovay accepted the Bard offer for his first job after UAB, years later he found himself employed by J&J after they acquired Cordis Corporation in 1996. Wilson joined Solovay at J&J after he graduated from UAB and worked for more than 20 years with the company’s research and development enterprises.

Today Wilson works in Massachusetts, where he is President of Global Plasma at Haemonetics. Solovay is Chief Operating Officer of ILiAD Biotechnologies in Florida. But even though their career paths diverged over the years, Wilson and Solovay maintained a close friendship based in large part on their shared time at UAB.

“UAB gave us a lot of freedom and access to learn,” Wilson said. “The faculty got to know the students as individuals. Faculty members like Linda Lucas, Dale Feldman, and others took a personal interest in us that lasted long after we were gone from UAB. I think it’s an honor to be able to give back and contribute in some small way to the success of UAB and to the benefit of future generations of BME students.”