By Christina Crowe
Andrew Pollard, Ph.D., a longtime professor in the UAB Biomedical Engineering, has announced his retirement effective June 1, 2021, after 25 years with the department.

Andrew Pollard hPollard, who calls himself a “working-man scientist,” says he has always enjoyed his time in time in the lab, and plans to continue working in his research lab conducting collaborative research on cardiac conduction with Jianyi Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., T. Michael and Gillian Goodrich Endowed Chair of Engineering Leadership, UAB Biomedical Engineering.

“We are very grateful to Dr. Pollard for the work he has done in our department, both in education and research,” says Zhang. “He excels in both areas and served as both a scientific collaborator and as a mentor to many. His impact on the study of cardia conduction has been immense, as has his leadership as a teacher.”

Pollard received his doctor of philosophy in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University; in fact all of his college and graduate degrees came from the same institution.

 “I grew up in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, and made jokes about applying early to get in to Duke—which I did,” he says. “I ended up staying nine years.”

Colleagues and friends know Pollard as a serious researcher, teacher and mentor, who in his off time is very active in hobbies outdoors. This love of nature and sports influenced his choice of jobs and continues to shape his life as he moves into retirement.

As an undergraduate, Pollard worked with a faculty advisor who did computer modeling, and piqued his interest in that area of biomedical engineering. That professor, Roger Barr, still works on faculty at Duke and has been a collaborator on several NIH-sponsored grants with Pollard.

After completing his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Duke, Pollard headed from the east coast out west to Utah, where he took a Research Associate position in the Nora Eccles Harrison Cardiovascular Research and Training Institute at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City.

“I was always intrigued by Utah because I was a skier, and so I ended up taking a postdoctoral position out there,” Pollard says. “It turned out to be an incredible place, both for skiing and for my career.”

Pollard worked with mentors Mary Jo Burgess, M.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Medicine and Kenneth Spitzer, Ph.D., Professor of internal Medicine and Director of the Nora Eccles Harrison Cardiovascular Research and Training Institute, and was able to conduct modeling and participate in open chest heart surgery on canines.

From there, Pollard sought a tenure-track position and secured an assistant professorship with the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tulane University, where, during his four-year tenure there, he secured National Science Foundation and NIH grants. After four years, in 1996, he was offered an associate professorship in UAB’s growing Department of Biomedical Engineering, where three new faculty slots had been created. Two of his former colleagues from Duke University joined him.

“It just worked out really well, with great animal resources in the lab—it was a really heady time those first five years,” he recalls.

At UAB, Pollard was able to build on his prior relationships to bring students from Tulane, and maintain research collaborations from his time at Utah. His lab moved into a second phase as the PI on one project from a large program project grant. At the same time, BME’s undergraduate program was getting started, and Pollard has taught many of its courses throughout his career. In 2004 Pollard secured an R21 to study novel methods for cardiac micro-impedance measurements, which expanded into an R01 and ran through 2016.

During those years, he took on more teaching and service responsibilities. Pollard served as Graduate program director for the department from 2001 to 2005. The department had a new chair, Zhang, and Pollard began working on research with him, which features electrode systems that allow interrogation of preparations to assess whether electrical gap junctions are forming as the tissue patches grow in culture. He plans to continue to work on those projects with Zhang following retirement.

“Over the years it has been great to work on projects with other faculty,” he says. “I was really pleased to learn I will still be able to do so.”

Pollard credits his mentors for helping him achieve success in his career, and as a mentor himself.

“The turtle on top of the post didn’t get there by itself,” he says. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship in 2013, and the President’s Award for Teaching in 2009.

Pollard says some of his mentors as a young faculty member taught him how faculty positions work, teaching versus research tracks, and other issues that arise in academic careers. He credits William Smith, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at UAB who retired in 2007, with helping him flesh out ideas. “He was well-schooled in getting NIH and other grants and was valuable in teaching how study sections work, and how to navigate those dynamics,” he says. “He gave me a blueprint of things to avoid.”

In retirement, Pollard has plans to visit his adult daughter and son who live in Boston and Montana, respectively, with his wife, who is a college counselor at The Altamont School. Other plans include windsurfing, a sport he picked up during his time at Duke, where he would surf the Outer Banks. He is also looking forward to continuing the electrical characterization studies with Zhang.

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BioHorizons is a Birmingham company whose history is rooted in UAB. Today, thanks to a growing and successful co-op program, it appears that BioHorizons and UAB will continue to be linked far into the future.

The dental-implant company, which started as a spinoff of research from the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry, has hired more than a dozen UAB alumni and students over the past 28 years. More recently, though, its co-op program has begun to bring in current engineering undergraduates—creating a talent pipeline for students to get a head start in a growing industry.

“Hands-on experience has always been a key element of engineering education,” said Neil Adams, director of the Engineering Career Center. “The success of our program depends on strong co-op and intern partners, like BioHorizons, who offer quality experiences to our students so that they apply their engineering knowledge while also learning how to be a contributing part of a professional organization. We are proud of this continued partnership and look forward to supporting Blazer engineering co-ops at BioHorizons for many years to come.”

A Blazer Legacy

BioHorizons was started in 1995 by the late Martha Bidez, Ph.D., then a faculty member in the School of Engineering who would serve as the company’s first CEO before selling the company and returning to UAB in 2009. Over the years, the company has hired a number of UAB alumni, including several members of its leadership team (see sidebar).

In 2016, however, the company’s ties to UAB got a little closer when Ashley Boggs became the first UAB undergraduate to join the BioHorizons co-op program—a program that provides students the opportunity to work full-time at the company for three semesters, alternating with school. The experience is paid, and students work alongside engineers throughout their time at the company.

Boggs extended her co-op by working part-time at the company until she was hired full time after she graduated in 2018. Today, she is a Digital Dentistry Engineering Manager, and she credits her co-op experience for opening her eyes to possibilities she had never previously considered.

“I had a vague idea that I wanted to work with implants—like hips, knees, ankles—but I didn’t know anything about the dental-implant industry at all,” said Boggs. “During my sophomore year, I went to the Engineering Career Center and told them that I couldn’t keep sitting in class doing problems from a book. They told me about a local company called BioHorizons that was doing on-campus interviews.”

The interview changed Boggs’s personal career trajectory, but her story is not an unusual one. While the engineering curriculum prepares students for a wide variety of careers, it’s often that first on-the-job experience that opens eyes and doors to career opportunities in fields students may have never been aware of.

That was the case for UAB graduate Jonathan Gordon, another former co-op participant who now works as a packaging engineer for BioHorizons. “I started out on a pre-med track, but coming from a very small town to UAB was a big transition,” Gordon said. “I dropped the pre-med route pretty quickly and started looking for other options.”

Like Boggs, the Engineering Career Center helped connect Gordon with a co-op position at BioHorizons, and that, in turn, led to full-time employment. “I realized pretty quickly that I love this industry. It’s exciting to be a part of this.”

An Undergraduate Pipeline

Although Boggs was the first UAB student hired into BioHorizons' co-op program, she soon had company. Three other Blazers followed her into the program (Josh Moore, Karly Casey and Gordon), and all four stayed on to work full-time. That kind of retention is notable for an undergraduate experience that by its nature is often exploratory. 

“Since we started the co-op program about 10 years ago, we have had about 17-18 engineering students in our program—two of which have been in our regulatory department and the rest in research and development,” said Tom Lewis, BioHorizons manager of product engineering. “We feel that it has been very successful, and to date we have hired five as full-time employees.”

That transition from co-op to full-time employee makes sense when you consider the investment BioHorizons makes in students over a three-semester co-op. Each student must learn Quality System processes before getting down to work with tasks, such as design control, drawing release, and CAD modeling. “Each student is trained, but it takes hands-on involvement to learn all of these processes,” Lewis said. “It’s also helpful for students to experience how different departments work together for a common goal.”

In addition, students must learn industry standards and technologies in the medical device industry. “This takes longer,” Lewis said, “but over time they begin to understand the ‘whys’ behind the design of dental implants, restorative components and instruments. Although we have the expectation that co-ops produce for us, my hope is that when they look back they realize the value of their experience here, and as they move into their careers they have a head start in their understanding of engineering organizations."

“Co-op is both an investment by the company and a commitment by the student,” added Adams. “The depth of experience pays dividends in that co-op students are ready to contribute immediately at an organization after graduation.”


“I have been part of teams in which we have drawn and developed state of the art dental surgery kits that are slated to hit the market this year; I have managed drafting and conducting test plans to research the durability of implant designs; and, most importantly, I have been able to teach incoming co-ops the ins and outs of the company and guide them as they grow from a college student into true engineers.”
—Benjamin Pody, mechanical engineering student and 2nd-year co-op


Homegrown Talent

Lewis says the co-op program historically has drawn from several area universities, but he admits UAB students have one obvious advantage. “Since they are local, they already have living arrangements,” he said. “After completing the three co-op terms, students return to school to finish up and graduate.  With UAB being in town, when the opportunity was available several UAB students have stayed on and worked part-time until graduation.  The company knowledge they have has allowed them to be productive even on a part-time basis.”

While the growth of BioHorizons’ co-op program is exciting for current and future engineering students, UAB School of Engineering Dean Jeff Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., says that is just one of the reasons UAB engineers should look at the BioHorizons story with pride.

“It’s not unusual for a promising startup to spin off from university research—in this case, arising from research in the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry,” said Holmes. “We often comment that these startups have the potential to revolutionize an industry. But in the case of BioHorizons, it has actually done that, and it continues to innovate and to grow. I am tremendously excited that our students are able to be a part of that continuing UAB success story.”

“At BioHorizons, we look forward to continuing our work with UAB in the future,” agreed Lewis. “We appreciate the relationship we have developed with the university that has served us well over the years.”


BioHorizons Senior Leadership

A glance at the BioHorizons team shows a number of UAB graduates among the senior leadership.

R. Steve Boggan, President and CEO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

J. Todd Strong, Executive VP and COO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Mike Mills, Executive VP and CFO

  •   B.S. from UAB Collat School of Business

Andrew Baroody, VP of Sales Operations

  •   B.A. in English from UAB

Juan Jaramillo, VP of Global Business Support

  •   UAB Graduate

Fred J. Molz, IV, VP of Research and Development

  •   M.S. and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Elbert Jenkins II, VP of Information Technology

  •   MEng in Information Engineering Management from UAB
  •   MBA from the UAB Collat School of Business

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