Feature captures the international makeup of UAB’s faculty

otmjUpdated Jan. 26

UAB’s commitment to diversity is evidenced by its faculty and students, which hail from 110 countries, and the recruitment of top minds enriches Birmingham and surrounding areas.

Five diverse UAB families were featured in the Over the Mountain Journal, a newspaper written specifically for readers in Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Hoover and North Shelby County. The paper is delivered to 40,000 homes every other week.

Employees featured include Carmel McNicholas-Bevensee, of Manchester, England;Yakov Kasman, of Moscow, Russia;Beena Thannickal, of Kerala, India; Victor Thannickal, of Bangalore, India; Jie “Sophie” Zhang, of Kunming, China; Shia Kent, of San Jose, California; and Palaniappan Sethu, of Salem, India.

Carmel McNicolas-Bevensee, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell, developmental and integrative biology, came to UAB in 2000, after completing her postdoctoral work at Yale University and running a cardiovascular drug-discovery lab at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Princeton, New Jersey. Her work focuses on ion channels — molecular gates that let ions flow into or out of a cell — related to heart and lung disease, including cystic fibrosis. She and her two children live in the Russet Woods neighborhood of Hoover.

Yakov Kasman, DMA, professor of piano and artist-in-residence, didn’t imagine he and his family would make Alabama home. After all, they’ve travelled the world extensively for piano competitions and performances. But things changed when their second daughter was born in Huntsville, giving the family roots in Alabama. When the position opened at UAB, Kasman applied and the family has been in Birmingham for 13 years. Yakov, his wife Tatiana and daughters, Aleksandra and Dina, live in Vestavia Hills.

Beena Thannickal, media relations specialist for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, moved to the United States with her family from the state of Kerala, India, when she was 5. She learned English with the help of an English-as-a-second-language teacher and by watching television. Beena met and married Victor Thannickal, M.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, all in four months. Victor grew up in Kerala and Bangalore, India, and also speaks Beena’s native Malayalam language. The family spent time in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Boston and Ann Arbor, Michigan, before Victor was recruited to head the division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at UAB. When they moved, they wanted a sense of community, and chose Brook Highlands in North Shelby County.

Jie “Sophie” Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Public Health, grew up in Kunming, China, with Mandarin as her first language. She met her husband, Shia Kent, Ph.D., a post-doctoral trainee in the School of Public Health, while they were both graduate students at UAB. Kent is from San Jose, California. The couple lived in Southside until they had their daughter Inara, and then they moved to Homewood’s Mayfair neighborhood.

Palaniappan Sethu, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and biomedical engineering, and his wife Solachi are from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The family moved to Birmingham from Louisville, Kentucky, when Palaniappan was recruited by UAB. He followed the path of his Louisville colleague Sumanth Prabhu, who is now director of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease at UAB. Palaniappan’s research also focuses on cardiovascular disease.


UAB’s commitment to diversity is evidenced by its faculty and students, which hail from 110 countries, and the recruitment of top minds enriches Birmingham and surrounding areas.

Five diverse UAB families were featured in the Over the Mountain Journal, a newspaper written specifically for readers in Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Hoover and North Shelby County. The paper is delivered to 40,000 homes every other week.

Employees featured include Carmel McNicholas-Bevensee, of Manchester, England; Yakov Kasman, of Moscow, Russia; Beena Thannickal, of Kerala, India; Victor Thannickal, of Bangalore, India; Jie “Sophie” Zhang, of Kunming, China; Shia Kent, of San Jose, California; and Palaniappan Sethu, of Salem, India.