Work at UAB and have a child ready for college?

Here’s what fellow employees — and their children — had to say about UAB’s top draws.

For UAB employees with children of a certain age, one of the institution’s leading benefits is the 50 percent savings on in-state tuition for undergraduate coursework. Half-off UAB’s world-class education is obviously a big deal, and it is not the only financial incentive available to parents of prospective Blazers. The Refer a Future Blazer Program, launched in 2021, encourages employees to refer relatives (and friends) to UAB admissions staff. This allows the students to make key connections and set up a UAB visit, while employees get to share their UAB pride and Blazer spirit. Students who enroll at UAB for the fall 2024 semester get a $250 scholarship.

Meet the Families

“UAB provided me with some of the best moments of my life.”

Thor Christianson, 2012 graduate (political science)

Financial considerations were not the primary attraction for children of UAB employees, according to interviews with students and alumni. Although their interests varied from theatre to medicine to law, over and over these Blazers returned to similar themes. What sets UAB apart, they say, is its genuine friendliness, commitment to diversity, supportive faculty and integration into the life of the surrounding city.

Here, in their own words, are the qualities that convinced current students and alumni to choose UAB.

1 (Meaningful) things to do

The most frequently mentioned draw for students? UAB is a place where you can find your place.

Norah Madden-Lunsford, daughter of Kerry Madden-Lunsford, associate professor in the Department of English, graduated in spring 2021 with an undergraduate degree in public health and is now working toward a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in health behavior at UAB. “My heart is in somehow combining public health and storytelling,” she said.

She was interested in UAB for the opportunities in the University Honors Program and the dual bachelor’s/master’s program in public health, but Norah Madden-Lunsford wanted to take advantage of arts opportunities as well, she said, including acting in the play “The Wolves” with Theatre UAB and taking courses in painting, poetry and drawing. She also found new ways to combine her interests. “In 2019, I went to Kenya with the UAB Institute for Human Rights for 10 days to teach girls to sew reusable menstrual pads, so they could stay in school,” she said.

“My mom was extremely transparent about all of the opportunities available for growth and development at UAB,” said Reagan Bright, who graduated in spring 2021 with a degree in human resource management and now works as an academic programs specialist in the Office of the Registrar. (She is the daughter of Cindy Bright, an executive assistant in the Office of the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management.) Reagan Bright certainly took advantage of those opportunities. “I was very involved on campus with Greek Life, Promoters of Wellness, Orientation Leader, the Collat School of Business Honors Program, Business Peer Mentors, the Green Team and more,” she said. “I also was able to take advantage of student jobs through the Campus Visit Center, Engineering dean’s office and Disability Support Services.”

“I had teachers even when I was in high school [at Birmingham’s Altamont School] tell me about the great opportunities I could have at UAB,” said Thor Christianson, son of Holly Richter, M.D., professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Christianson, who graduated in 2012 with a degree in political science, already was leaning to a career in law. (He is now an attorney based in Washington, D.C., where he works at a firm specializing in ethics and compliance law and previously was a political appointee at the White House and worked at the Department of Agriculture and Department of Education.) He had been a member of the debate team at Altamont. “I got recruited to join the Mock Trial team at UAB,” he said. The team was nationally ranked during his years at UAB and routinely succeeded in major tournaments.

2 World-class faculty (who care)

Christianson cites another UAB distinctive that contributed to an experience that he describes as “some of the best moments of my life”: faculty with a genuine interest in their students’ success. “Coming from a small high school, I was used to teachers really taking an interest in their students,” Christianson said. “When you go to a university, the scale changes dramatically. I wasn’t expecting that to continue, but I found that faculty at UAB gave students the same type of attention. That goes for the advisors as well. They were always receptive and happy to talk about academics but also anything else that was going on in your life.”

 

“I was surprised by how inviting the faculty are and how eager they are to see you succeed. The research being done here is incredible and there are few places where faculty are so welcoming to undergraduates.”

Karim Mikhail, a freshman who is a member of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program and Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP)

“I was surprised by how inviting the faculty are and how eager they are to see you succeed,” said Karim Mikhail, a freshman from Hoover who is a member of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program and Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP). (His father, Fady Mikhail, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Genetics and co-director of the department’s Cytogenetics Laboratory.) “I was drawn to the medical school,” Karim Mikhail said. “I grew up in Hoover, and in Hoover you are hearing about UAB Medicine all the time. The research being done here is incredible and there are few places where faculty are so welcoming to undergraduates.” Last summer, before his freshman year, Mikhail was hoping to shadow a UAB physician or take part in research. He sent out emails to professors at UAB, “and Dr. Markus Bredel, a world-class researcher and physician, an M.D./Ph.D. and an incredibly busy man, allowed me to shadow him virtually through Zoom, then had me come into his lab in the summer and learn techniques, including tests with proteins and RNA. That solidified my interest in basic science.”

3 Welcoming atmosphere and student support

Lucina Chapman, daughter of Alison Chapman, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of English, echoed a similar sentiment, mentioning the “friendly reputation” of UAB students. That was no surprise when she got to campus, Chapman said. “Most of what sets UAB apart is something you can tell by walking around and going to a handful of classes,” she said.

What may not be immediately obvious, however, are the extensive resources available to students, Chapman said, including “resources for people with disabilities” and “people to talk to for help.” “That was a great reassurance to me and others,” she said.

 

“I think the resources that are available to students surprised me the most. There are counseling services, hotlines, tutoring, health services. The writing center here at UAB is incredible.”

Grace Earwood, a senior majoring in communications with a concentration in public relations and a minor in business administration

Grace Earwood, a senior majoring in communications with a concentration in public relations and a minor in business administration, agreed. “I think the resources that are available to students surprised me the most,” she said. “There are counseling services, hotlines, tutoring, health services. The writing center here at UAB is incredible.” Earwood, who is the daughter of Martha Earwood, teaching assistant professor and internship coordinator in the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice. “My mom is constantly talking about the value of internships, and it’s true,” Grace Earwood said. She interned at a local event company, “which gave me real-life experience, helped diversify my resume and gave me great new skills,” she said.

It’s very opposite to the typical weed-out culture you hear about in science,” Karim Mikhail said. “There are so many support resources for students to be successful academically, including a full-time staff member [Michelle Cook, Ph.D., director of Scholarships and Fellowships] who can help students find and apply for scholarships. That explains why so many UAB students are successful in applying for prestigious awards.”

4 Meaningful diversity

“UAB is way more diverse than anywhere else I considered,” said Scout Moellering, a freshman who is the daughter of Douglas Moellering, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences. “One of my dad’s former colleagues is from India and they invited us to some of their cultural activities and broadened our horizons. The Diwali festival that UAB hosts was an experience I shared as a kid, and I absolutely loved it. Now I get to go as a student and take my friends. I love that I can have these experiences.”

 

Jeane and Doug Moellering

Jeane and Doug Moellering

“UAB is way more diverse than anywhere else I considered. The Diwali festival that UAB hosts was an experience I shared as a kid, and I absolutely loved it. Now I get to go as a student and take my friends. I love that I can have these experiences.”

Freshman Scout Moellering

“Diversity is important,” Karim Mikhail said. “We had that in my high school as well, but UAB makes it a point to celebrate diversity, with a lot of organizations and events.”

“I loved expanding my knowledge at a university that values diversity and inclusion,” said Reagan Bright, who graduated in spring 2021 with a degree in human resources and is the daughter of Cindy Bright, an executive assistant in the Office of the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management.

5 Location in the heart of the city

When Marika Austad, daughter of Department of Biology Chair Steven Austad, Ph.D., decided to transfer to UAB, she was attracted by the university’s reputation in the sciences, particularly the “outstanding biology program.” Its location was also a major selling point. “I love that UAB is in the heart of Birmingham,” she said. “You can walk to Regions Field, Railroad Park and all the great restaurants nearby. My previous college was isolated from the main city and could only be reached by a decent drive. I loved being able to walk around UAB’s campus and be a part of the city.” Birmingham’s amenities were appealing — so was UAB’s commitment to the surrounding community, Austad said, including an extensive list of summer camps hosted on campus, collaborations with the McWane Science Center and the Live HealthSmart Alabama initiative, which aims to raise health rankings across the state. “UAB is such a large part of Birmingham, and it is involved in an extensive list of community programs,” she said. “It surprised me how many programs UAB sponsors throughout the city and how involved the university is in ensuring the well-being of the local community. I also didn’t realize the leadership roles UAB takes on at the state level.”

 

Steve and Marika Austad

Steve and Marika Austad

“I love that UAB is in the heart of Birmingham. You can walk to Regions Field, Railroad Park and all the great restaurants nearby. My previous college was isolated from the main city and could only be reached by a decent drive. I loved being able to walk around UAB’s campus and be a part of the city.”

Marika Austad, alumna and teaching assistant in the Department of Biology

While students spoke most frequently about UAB’s opportunities and atmosphere, parents were most likely to highlight the financial benefits, but also point out the many other positives about having their child on campus.

1 Tuition discount spells relief

“Having 50% of undergraduate tuition paid for dependent children is a huge perk, especially when you have more than one child,” said Cindy Bright, an executive assistant in the Office of the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, mother of spring 2021 graduate Reagan Bright and herself a 1997 UAB graduate and daughter of a longtime UAB employee, Gredda Bailey.

The 50% tuition assistance can be combined with other scholarships to reduce costs even further, said Martha Earwood, teaching assistant professor and internship coordinator in the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice. Earwood has had three children at UAB: Grace is majoring in communications and graduating in fall 2021; Elizabeth graduated in 2017 with a degree in political science and Matthew graduated in 2019 with a degree in criminal justice. “All our kids had pretty much minimal tuition obligations, so it was easier for us to be able to help them,” Earwood said.

“Of course, the financial aspect was very important,” said Fady Mikhail, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Genetics and co-director of the department’s Cytogenetics Laboratory. His son, Karim, is a freshman in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program and Early Medical School Acceptance Program. “We are talking about eight years of studying, at the least, between undergraduate and medical school,” Mikhail said. “With the tuition assistance and the scholarships he received at UAB for the first four years means we can help him more with the second four years.”

“Our two older kids went to UC Santa Barbara and Sarah Lawrence — they both received a lot of aid, but my husband and I will be done paying off our Parent-Plus loans when we are around age 75,” said Kerry Madden-Lunsford, associate professor in the Department of English, whose daughter, Norah, was an undergraduate at UAB and is now in the graduate program at the School of Public Health. “Norah graduated debt-free, and so did we, so honestly that was so huge and such a relief,” Madden-Lunsford said. “And she loved her professors and has made friends for life. I adore her friends who are already doing such wonderful things, and I am so grateful to UAB.”

2 Close is nice — eventually

Having kids so close can feel awkward for both children and parents at first, Earwood said. “There is that inherent parental reservation about being a helicopter parent or having manipulated your kids to go to UAB. We wanted them to have independence and freedom. But this campus is large enough that we have our own space. Our older two kids lived on campus the whole time, and I think especially when our first daughter was here, they could see I was willing to let go of the reins. I said, ‘Just because I know where you live, I’m not going to knock on the door at Blazer Hall or get in your space.’ I would go weeks without seeing them unless they would initiate something. But if they did want to talk, we could easily get together.”

“I honestly didn’t think she would want to come to UAB because of the closeness, but she did,” said Douglas Moellering, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, of his daughter, Scout, who enrolled as a freshman in fall 2021. “She’s in Gold Hall and I’m in the Webb Building, and she can come down and have lunch with me. There are times when we’re not really interacting, but we’re spending time with each other.”

3 This is UAB’s time

“Another benefit I saw coming was all of the new construction” that has taken place over the past several years on campus, said Cindy Bright. “With new construction, you get state-of-the-art facilities with updated technology and resources for both staff and students,” she said.

“UAB has a world-class medical school and can offer incredible options to undergraduates like my son who are interested in research,” said Fady Mikhail. “I have worked here for 17 years, so I know what UAB has to offer. And what eventually sealed the deal for him was being accepted in the EMSAP program. That’s what made him say, ‘I will withdraw all my applications from elsewhere,’ to have a spot in the medical school that was at the top of his priority list.”

 

Fady and Karim Mikhail

Fady and Karim Mikhail

“UAB has a world-class medical school and can offer incredible options to undergraduates like my son who are interested in research.”

Fady Mikhail, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Genetics and co-director of the Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory

“The main benefit is that I knew she was getting an outstanding education,” said Department of Biology Chair Steven Austad, Ph.D., about his daughter, Marika’s, decision to transfer to UAB. “There was a downside, though. As chair of the department in which she was majoring, I felt that I had to minimize my parental involvement in her studies. She, in fact, tried (usually unsuccessfully) to keep her professors from discovering that she was my daughter.”

4 A place to fit in

“There are other good schools where the students are put under pressure to compete,” Mikhail said. “There is a healthy kind of competition where you can find out what you like and grow as a student as a professional, and that’s what we see here. UAB is an excellent place to work, especially for people who are first-generation immigrants like my wife and me. The amount of collaboration and respect that everyone gets has been a real pleasure.”

“That’s the number-one commented reason why many students chose UAB — the genuine diversity they find here,” said Moellering, who serves on several committees focused on recruitment and retention of students. He also sees how intentional the team in Student Affairs is in working toward student success. “UAB puts resources and time and effort into facilitating that transition to college,” he said. “For many students, this is the first time they have been alone. The Student Affairs team knows what students are looking for and what their needs are, down to specific touchpoints in the first two weeks, the first month and so on.”

“We wanted UAB to be on their list of options and encouraged them to look at UAB, but they made up their own minds,” Earwood said of her children. “I have taught here for a long time and bought in. Knowing what their interests were and the advantages UAB has to offer, I was sure it would be a good fit, and it has been.”

 

Martha and Grace Earwood

Martha and Grace Earwood

“Knowing what their interests were and the advantages UAB has to offer, I was sure it would be a good fit, and it has been.”

Martha Earwood, teaching assistant professor and internship coordinator in the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice, who has two children who have graduated from UAB and a daughter who will graduate this year

5 A lifetime bond in green and gold

Having a child attend UAB brings another tie, Moellering added. “We’re both going to be alumni,” he said. He started as a graduate student at UAB in 1991, then ran a lab for six years, then went back for his doctorate and has now spent 30 years at the university. “That’s a good bond to have,” he said. “When I was a postdoc and junior faculty member my kids would regularly come to my office in Volker Hall. They’ve seen this campus transform in the same way I have. They know where the old wooden Blaze used to sit, for example.”

“Having your whole family wearing green and gold — going to basketball, football and baseball games — also builds in another sense of camaraderie as your kids get older,” Earwood said. “That is something that we rally around together and it’s fun.”

 

“Having your whole family wearing green and gold — going to basketball, football and baseball games — also builds in another sense of camaraderie as your kids get older. That is something that we rally around together and it’s fun.”

Martha Earwood

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*Note: Current funding supports a one-time $250 scholarship for students enrolling at UAB for the Fall 2023 semester.