Anthony Hood leads a class on entrepreneurship at Birmingham's Philips Academy. Anthony Hood leads a class on entrepreneurship at Birmingham's Philips Academy.

Seeing is believing

August 15, 2017
By Matt Windsor
Birmingham Education Foundation and UAB partner for city's youth.

When he was growing up in Ensley — just down the road from downtown Birmingham, but separated from it by a tangle of railroad tracks, smokestacks and interstate highways — Anthony Hood’s head was full of dreams. Becoming a professor was not among them.

“I’m a capitalist,” says Hood, an assistant professor in the UAB Collat School of Business with a Ph.D. in business strategy and entrepreneurship. “I have 100 ideas on how to make money before breakfast, but I didn’t consider becoming a professor until I was 30 years old.” That was when Hood, facing a career decision as an engineer at BellSouth, sought advice from George Munchus, Ph.D., a longtime professor of management at the School of Business. Munchus, who had taught Hood as an undergraduate, suggested he look into academia. “Dr. Munchus was my first African American professor” after majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in mathematics at two other undergraduate institutions, Hood says. “Until I got to UAB, I rarely saw professors who looked like me. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t seem possible to you.”

“Until I got to UAB, I rarely saw professors who looked like me. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t seem possible to you.”

Hood’s academic specialties are business strategy, entrepreneurship, and team dynamics. That’s what he teaches to undergraduates and MBA students in the Collat School of Business, as well as researchers, surgeons and other professionals in seminars for UAB’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science. And every few weeks, as a volunteer with the Birmingham Education Foundation, Hood has taught similar lessons to seventh and eighth graders at Phillips Academy, a K–8 school that is part of the Birmingham City Schools system. “Anyone can learn to think like an entrepreneur, whether they’re working for themselves or for someone else,” Hood says.

Along with equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset, Hood himself is an object lesson for the students. “I was born and raised here,” he says. “I’m a product of the Birmingham City Schools, and so is my wife. Our kids are enrolled in these schools. When the students see me, a kid who grew up in and around Ensley and went to Wylam [K–8 School], and see that I turned out ok, they see that they can, too. Role modeling and identity development are critical.” When he goes to Phillips Academy, Hood heads first for his daughter’s third grade classroom. “I check her out of class and bring her down to shadow me,” he says. “The underrepresentation of women and minorities in leadership roles and STEM fields — girls, especially those of color, being directed away from math, science and positions of power and influence — starts in the third and fourth grades. I want her to see what I’m doing, and to know that she can do it, too.”

Over the past several years, Hood has become increasingly involved with the Birmingham Education Foundation, a nonprofit that works to increase the number of students in the city school system who are, in the words of its mission statement, “on the path to college, career and life readiness.” In addition to volunteering in the classroom, Hood helps the organization plan strategy as a member of its board of directors, works with high schoolers to polish their resumes and interviewing skills, and plays matchmaker to connect parents, teachers, students, and community members around Birmingham City Schools. “Working with an organization like the Birmingham Education Foundation,” Hood says, ”is the reason why I left corporate America to be at UAB."

“Working with an organization like the Birmingham Education Foundation,” Hood says, ”is the reason why I left corporate America to be at UAB."

Making it real

This year, the Birmingham Education Foundation was selected to join more than 130 local nonprofit agencies as a designated recipient for donations to the UAB Benevolent Fund. The employee-run fund received more than $2 million in donation pledges from faculty and staff in 2016.

UAB faculty and staff are already heavily invested in the Birmingham Education Foundation, notes Whitney Williams, the organization’s development manager. “We don’t have a single program that UAB doesn’t touch,” she explains, whether in official partnerships with the university, or through the efforts of volunteers.

Each of these programs, in its own way, is about showing students in Birmingham’s public schools a way forward, through example and experience, Hood explains. Hood, along with other UAB faculty and staff members, including Collat School of Business dean Eric Jack, Ph.D., participate in the Birmingham Education Foundation’s Career Development Conferences, a program that, in the 2016-2017 school year, was available to students in grades 7-12. “Every semester, we take a group of students to the Harbert Center or The Club or another big local venue, and give them experience speaking in front of a group of businesspeople and other community leaders,” Hood says. The students work one-on-one with these professionals, practicing their interview skills, public speaking and elevator pitches.


Starting the day with a handshake and a smile at the Career Development Conference on interviewing this morning.

A post shared by Bham Education Foundation (@iamedbirmingham) on

“Learning how to use these tools, and how to brand yourself, is really essential for success, in college and in the workforce,” says Maria Norena, associate center director for strategy and innovation in the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC) and UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center, and a member of the Birmingham Education Foundation board.

A pipeline to better health

The goals of the Education Foundation align closely with her work at UAB, Norena says. For example, the Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center co-hosted a four-week Summer Enrichment Program for Birmingham City Schools students with the goal of increasing the number of minority researchers and engineers working on transportation-related issues. And the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Youth Champions Program, a set of hands-on lessons in energy conservation, waste minimization, urban gardening and more, was piloted with middle-school students in Birmingham City Schools.

DPP 0013Students in the Sustainable Smart Cities Youth Champions Program, which offers hands-on lessons in energy conservation, waste minimization, urban gardening and more. Image courtesy Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center.

Under the leadership of Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, the director of the MHRC, “our center is conducting innovative research on the social determinants of health,” says Norena. “This research identifies pathways and mechanisms through which social, economic, cultural and environmental factors drive and sustain health disparities in obesity and related chronic diseases across the lifespan. This work considers the social context in which people are born and live, as this context impacts both the physiologic processes and behaviors of individuals.”

Evidence shows that low education levels are linked to poor health, increased stress and reduced life-expectancy, Norena continues. “I believe that education offers the most transformational opportunity to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty affecting inner-city communities, maximize individuals’ potential and improve health,” she says. “Working with the Birmingham Education Foundation, we can align these efforts for that purpose, to have healthier, more prosperous communities and more economic development.”  The range of opportunities offered by the Education Foundation, particularly with the leadership of executive director J.W. Carpenter, are “very encouraging,” Norena adds. 

"Education offers the most transformational opportunity to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty affecting inner-city communities, maximize individuals’ potential and improve health."

Seeing UAB in a new way

One way to help students set their sights on higher education is to help them see “what is in their backyard,” says Tyler Peterson, executive director of Admissions, Financial Aid and Scholarships at UAB. The university’s campus tours attract potential students from around the country, eager to get a glimpse at life in UAB’s residence halls, labs, classrooms and award-winning Rec Center. Through a partnership with the Birmingham Education Foundation, those visitors now include hundreds of freshmen and sophomores at Birmingham City Schools.

In addition to discovering all that UAB has to offer, from facilities to scholarships, the students get to spend time learning more about specific majors that interest them. “The classroom sessions are probably the most popular, as it really gives students a good idea of what they would do within a certain major at UAB,” Peterson says. “They also get to hear from current UAB students, many of whom went to Birmingham City Schools.”

The program, known as College 101, is now in its fourth year. “Most students don’t realize the importance of getting off to a good start in high school,” Peterson explains. “Most colleges and universities do not look at the senior year of high school when making initial admission decisions. This means that a third of their calculated GPA comes as a freshman.” College 101 shows these students what UAB has to offer, and gives them a clear picture of how they can achieve the goal of higher education.

Meanwhile, UAB students have visited Birmingham City Schools to work with high school freshmen who are part of the GEAR UP program, a federally funded initiative, led through UAB, that aims to enhance the pipeline to college for underrepresented youth. “With the support of Dr. Cassandra Ellis [assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of English] and Gareth Jones [assistant director of the UAB Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research], we were able to partner with Dr. Ellis’ freshman honors English students in a collaborative service learning project,” says Victoria Hollis, program director for the Birmingham Education Foundation. “Her students shared their college experience, and they also gave presentations on college terminology, led students in registering for a micro-scholarship program called and helped them set goals and identify a plan of action for reaching those goals.”

Another UAB/Education Foundation partnership, known as Bridging the Gap, focuses on the variety of jobs represented at the university, which is Alabama’s largest single-site employer. On behind-the-scenes tours, sophomores in the health science academies at Carver and Jackson-Olin high schools get the chance to learn about the dozens of careers that make up the UAB Health System, from physicians and nurses to lab technicians, physical therapists, central sterile supply and environmental services. Juniors from the two schools are given opportunities to shadow these professions, while select seniors can progress to paid internships in the hospital. A similar program with UAB’s athletics department introduces students to careers in sports, from coaching to event marketing.

“This partnership gives students the opportunity to see firsthand the diversity of jobs offered in health care, and opens their minds to new career opportunities,” says Jordan DeMoss, senior associate vice president for UAB Hospital. “Our hope is that they will bridge into further academic study or a career field directly from high school that is more focused because of this program.”

mix bef studentJackson-Olin High School student Makahaya Samuel shows off ​a DNA sample that he ​extracted from his saliva while touring the UAB Department of Biology as part of College 101.

Getting plugged in

The interaction of UAB and community partners such as the Birmingham Education Foundation can also generate new jobs. Through a nearly $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, UAB, the Birmingham Education Foundation, and a broad coalition of 13 other public, community, business and education leaders have begun training young adults ages 17–26 in Birmingham for more than 900 high-paying IT jobs in the community. The Innovate Birmingham Regional Workforce Partnership is administered in the UAB Innovation Lab at Innovation Depot. “The Birmingham Education Foundation is identifying students at Birmingham City Schools who are appropriate for this training pipeline, and making sure they get plugged in,” Hood says.

The Birmingham Education Foundation also helps recruit UAB students to teach in Birmingham City Schools, points out Lee Meadows, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Education. Meadows is co-director of the UABTeach program, which trains undergraduate math and science majors to be educators as well as subject matter experts. “We’re out to end the shortage of math and science teachers in Alabama schools,” Meadows says. “J.W. Carpenter [executive director of the Education Foundation] has said, ‘I’m in, I’ll support you in any way I can.’ He wants Birmingham City Schools to be the first choice for our students when they graduate. They were the first system to come to UABTeach to talk to our students and recruit them to come work for Birmingham City Schools, when most of our students were still sophomores. That made a big impression on them.”

The Birmingham Education Foundation can also act as a point of contact for UAB students who are eager to engage with youth in Birmingham, says Norena. She recently began working with freshman Alex Plazas, who launched a Model United Nations chapter at UAB in 2016. “I have participated in Model UN for three years, and have seen the impact it can have on the lives of students,” Plazas says. So has Norena, whose son participated in both high school and college. “It gives students a global perspective — helping them learn about the world, how to debate and how they fit in the international community,” she says.

“Confidence is an issue that most developing teens struggle with,” adds Plazas. “The teaching style and curriculum of Model UN helps students to develop confidence by giving them the opportunities to define their voice. Students are then able to use that voice to effectively communicate ideas and reach others, both of which are hallmarks of future leaders.”

Take part

There are many ways that faculty, staff and students can contribute. For example, every six weeks, the Birmingham Education Foundation hosts Network Nights around the city in schools and community venues. “Students, parents, teachers, community members — we put everyone in a big circle, and let them talk about what they have and what they need,” Hood says. It may be a tutor for calculus, or a ride to school or a teaching assistant. “It’s all about matchmaking,” Hood says. “Particularly for a school like Ramsay [High School], which is practically on our campus, UAB folks have a lot to offer.”

“There is always a need to have volunteers who can help mentor students,” Norena adds. “You can help coach them in public speaking, judge a competition, speak at a career fair. There are so many amazing people at UAB, and if you can just come and tell these kids what you do, especially if it’s something they don’t see in their communities, you can really open their eyes to new opportunities.”