Over the past 30-plus years, Mark Berry, Ph.D., has been no stranger to the faculty, staff, and alumni of the UAB School of Engineering. This year, however, he has been getting to know a different group of SOE stakeholders—undergraduate students.

Berry, who earned three degrees from UAB between 1997 and 2012, has been a frequent presence on campus through his roles as a student, advisory board member, guest speaker, and participant at alumni events. Starting last fall, Berry joined the School of Engineering in a new role as an adjunct professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering where he teaches thermodynamics.

Considered by many to be one of the more difficult engineering courses, thermodynamics isn’t typically taught by part-time instructors. But with more than 30 years’ experience in the industry, Berry isn’t a typical adjunct.

“I come from a family of educators, so I have always had that desire to give back and to use my experience to help the next generation,” Berry said. “Thermodynamics was my favorite class as an undergraduate, and that was an area where I felt like I could really contribute as a professor.”

Berry, who currently works as Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Southern Company Services, pitched his idea in 2022 to School of Engineering Dean Jeff Holmes, M.D., Ph.D. He told him he was willing to commute to Birmingham from his home in Atlanta two days per week to teach the class, but there was one complication. Mechanical Engineering Professor Pasquale “PC” Cinnella, Ph.D., was already assigned to thermodynamics. Not only did Cinnella agree to turn his course over to an adjunct, Berry says Cinnella became an invaluable resource to him over these first two semesters.

“I consider PC to be my informal mentor,” Berry said. “He graciously allowed me to take on the class, but he has also been the person I go to for advice or with questions.”

Berry also credits Dean Holmes and Associate Dean Gregg Janowksi, Ph.D., for assisting with some of the administrative or technical issues of the day-to-day challenges of teaching. “It’s a lot more challenging than some might think,” said Berry. “From the outside looking in, I knew I had the experience and the qualifications to apply to this topic in a meaningful way. But putting together the presentations and using Canvas (the classroom software), and things like that are things I have had to learn. There is a lot more to it than just understanding the material.”

Indeed, according to Holmes, there were never questions about Berry’s mastery of the material or his leadership skills. “Mark has been a tremendous mentor to many younger engineers throughout his career. The chance for our students to learn from such an accomplished and passionate engineering leader – and a UAB alum to boot – is an extraordinary opportunity we could not pass up,” said Holmes.  A quick glance at Berry’s resume shows that, In addition to his academic degrees, he has a number of professional licenses and certificates earned over decades in various leadership positions at Southern Company Services, Georgia Power, and Southern Research, to name just a few. He also served in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant while on active duty and later serving as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserves.

With all his success in the field, Berry says his desire to teach wasn’t a drastic shift in his focus. Rather, it stemmed from the examples set for him in his earliest memories. “My dad was one of six children, and four of them went on to become educators,” he said. “My aunt was the first to graduate college in the family. Then my dad started as a boy’s counselor at Phillips High School in Birmingham and went on to become superintendent of Fairfield City Schools. Even after he retired, he was an assistant instructor at Miles College. So I learned at an early age to value education.”

Those family values took Berry initially to Alabama A&M University, where he earned a B.S. in mathematics in 1991. Following his active-duty stint in the Navy, Berry enrolled at UAB, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1997 and an M.S. in 2000. He would add a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary engineering in 2012.

Looking back at his days as a student, Berry says the 21st-century classroom has a different culture than he remembers. “Students today are definitely not the same as my generation,” he said. “I have had to adjust my approach, understanding that a lot of my students are very outcome-focused. My goal is to help them achieve those outcomes while also understanding the underlying concepts. We want them to understand why things happen the way they do in the physical world, versus getting an answer that checks a box.” This difference caused Berry to adjust his approach early on. “I told them that this is not a math class,” he said. “Engineers may use math to solve problems, but math itself doesn’t solve problems. You may understand all the math, but you have to comprehend the engineering concepts before you can apply that math to solve the problems.”

Berry’s adjusted approach involves providing additional context so that students can see practical outcomes in academic exercises. In doing so, Berry says he believes he is appealing to their best instincts. “This generation wants to have an impact on the world. They don’t want to work 20 years to figure it out; they want to know that the work they’re doing is making a difference. As an instructor, I believe that they can, and it’s my job to show them how they can do it.”

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Co-op program creates a pipeline into a growing industry

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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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