The UAB Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) is proud to announce its 2021-2022 student scholarship winners. The following individuals stand out for their commitment to excellence, both in and out of the classroom, and outstanding work ethic and dedication.

Ray L. Watts Endowed Scholarship in Engineering

chloe demellierThe Ray L. Watts Endowed Scholarship in Engineering awards $1,000 to students currently enrolled in or admitted to a degree-granting program in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering. Preference is given to applicants with a 3.0 GPA or above who might otherwise be unable to attend the University due to affordability. This year’s 2021-2022 Watts Scholarship winner is Chloe DeMellier, a BME undergraduate student working toward her bachelor’s degree. Passionate about the field of biomedical engineering, DeMellier says she is empowered by being a woman in a male-dominated industry and desires to further grow and improve her skills. She is a rising junior and is expected to graduate in the spring of 2023.

In her words: "This scholarship has allowed me to focus less on the financial struggles of college and more on leaning into my coursework to become more excited for what is to come. Because of this scholarship, I am able to focus on getting real world experience, like joining research labs or getting internships. College can add a lot of pressure to someone, but being able not to worry about the financial needs of it allows more focus for the things you’re passionate about."

UAB Bond-Haggard Scholarship

murphy rachel2021The Bond-Haggard Endowed Scholarship in Biomedical Engineering is given by Dr. Warren and Mrs. Cindy Haggard in memory of their parents Dr. Dwight and Mrs. Ruth Ann Bond and Mr. Jesse Haggard, and in honor of Mrs. Annie Ruth Haggard for their lifelong support of higher education. This year’s 2021-2022 Bond-Haggard Scholarship winner is Rachel Murphy, a pre-BME undergraduate student working toward her bachelor’s degree with a minor in neuroengineering. Murphy has received a collegial merit scholarship and transfer excellence scholarship. She is a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Phi Theta Kappa, an international collegial honor society. She is a rising junior and is expected to graduate in the spring of 2023.

In her words: "This scholarship is helping me reach my goal of being able to work less through school so that I can fully focus all of my energy on my classes and understanding the material."

Dr. Jack Lemons Endowed Scholarship

The Dr. Jack Lemons Endowed Scholarship in Biomedical Engineering honors Jack Lemons and his contributions to graduate education at UAB. Over his more than 40-year academic career, almost all of it at UAB, Dr. Lemons has been committed to student training and graduate education. This year’s Lemons Endowed Scholarship winners are Kyla Gabriel, Jonathan Gordon, Billie Johnson, Maaike Priest, and Aubrey Wycklendt.

kyla gabrielKyla Gabriel is a UAB BME undergraduate senior. She has gained experience working as a telemetry technician, patient care aide, Keck Graduate Institute medical device intern, and International Atlantis surgical fellow. Gabriel is the founder and president of Volunteers in STEM, Innovation, and Outreach Network and is a Chemistry & Biology Supplemental Instruction Leader. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering at Children’s of Alabama.

In her words: "This scholarship has given me the opportunity to further pursue my goal of being a biomedical engineer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my family and I have been challenged with many hardships. By receiving the Lemons Scholarship, I am able to overcome many of the difficulties I have been facing and continue my undergraduate education."

jonathan gordonJonathan Gordon is a UAB BME undergraduate senior. He is a UAB Engineering Ambassador and has field experience from working in the Research and Development Engineering Co-Op with BioHorizons. Gordon currently serves as an engineering peer mentor and has volunteered with UAB Hospital, UAB Blazer Kitchen, and the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, among other organizations.

In his words: "I am extremely honored to be recognized as a BME scholar. The Lemons Scholarship is one of many amazing opportunities that UAB and the School of Engineering have given me. I appreciate this generous award and will use this as a source of motivation for senior year. Go Blazers!"

Johnson Billie Lauryn copyBillie Lauryn Johnson is a BME undergraduate junior. She is currently an active service member in the Air Force Reserves. Johnson is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Engineering Academic Excellence Program.

In her words: "For me, this scholarship means that I can continue my studies as a biomedical engineering major without having financial stress. I plan to tutor calculus and engineering in my free time for students who can’t afford tutoring because I believe in giving back when things have been given to you. This scholarship is not only helping me pay my way through college to become an engineer, but it’s also providing me with time to help other students."

maaike priestMaaike Priest is a current UAB BME undergraduate senior. She has completed several successful internships at SAIC in Huntsville, Alabama and Research Experiences for Undergraduates at UAB. Priest enjoys volunteering for numerous causes in the Birmingham community in her free time.

In her words: "This scholarship means the world to me as BME is not an easy major to go through, let alone excel in. Being a first-gen college student, as well as a person of color, this scholarship proves to me not only that I am meant to be here, but that others can follow in my footsteps as well."

aubrey wycklendtAubrey Wycklendt is a pre-BME undergraduate sophomore working toward her bachelor’s degree with double minors in African American Studies and STEM Education. She is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, BWomen, and is a board member of the Black Student Union. In addition to the Lemon’s Scholarship, Wycklendt holds the Blazer Distinction Scholarship Award.

In her words: "The Lemons scholarship is allowing me to be one step closer to achieving my long-term goal, after obtaining my future degree(s), which is the establishment of a program for Black Engineers to provide resources for those in the Black community in pursuit of higher education."

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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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