More faculty share the stories behind their development grants

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This is the second in a two-part series on 2022 Faculty Development Grant Program winners. Read the first part here.

FDGP imageOn April 25, the recipients of the 2022 Faculty Development Grant Program were announced. The annual program awards approximately $100,000 in seed money to early career faculty to pursue research, scholarly works and creative activity. “Funding faculty in this way enables them to build new skills to enhance peer recognition across campus and beyond UAB,” noted Pam Benoit, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

The funded projects are a cross-section of efforts across campus and a window into the creativity of early career faculty. We asked three grant recipients to share some insight into their projects.

Sowing the seeds of change

Ksenia Blinnikova, M.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine

Ksenia Blinnikova, M.D.There are nearly 1.5 million obese adults in Alabama — and seemingly just as many diet plans and other strategies for weight loss. “High-protein, low-carbohydrate and intermittent fasting approaches are among the most popular diets promoting weight loss,” Blinnikova observed in her project abstract. “However, success is best predicted by adherence to diet, rather than the type of diet.”

Blinnikova’s project will focus on adherence “by implementing a two-week jumpstart intervention to educate participants on low-cost, plant-based healthy dietary modifications for sustained health benefits,” she said. Plant-based diets are low in disease-promoting substances and high in protective dietary factors, she points out, and they improve cardiometabolic health in addition to promoting weight loss.

The jumpstart that Blinnikova proposed includes two sessions that will include a dietitian and psychologist, as well as a physician. This interdisciplinary collaboration is “aimed at ensuring a meaningful and sustained impact,” she said. After these sessions, participants will receive low-cost, plant-based recipes to follow. Blinnikova will evaluate outcomes and adherence to the diet in participants after two weeks and again at three months. “We expect participants to have a positive experience with dietary modification and to appreciate the ease and affordability of provided recipes,” she said. “We anticipate positive and measurable outcomes after the jumpstart program, which may motivate participants to continue with plant-based dietary choices.”

If the jumpstart intervention proves to be beneficial, it can be offered on an ongoing basis in the UAB Highlands Family Medicine Clinic, where Blinnikova works, she adds.

Calling out “badges of bias” in court

Brandon Blankenship, J.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Criminal Justice

Brandon Blankenship, Ph.D.The American legal system is based on the primacy of evidence; but case law is replete with charged phrases such as “bad boy,” “unemployed,” “deadbeat,” “dangerous” and racial slurs, Blankenship notes. In the 2021 trial of Kyle Rittenhouse over the shootings of three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “the judge instructed that the word ‘victim’ could not be used in court to refer to the people who were shot by Rittenhouse, which highlights the impact that labels or badges may have in judicial proceedings,” Blankenship said.

With his Faculty Development Program Award, Blankenship and his students will analyze U.S. legal cases through mixed-method analysis “to study what impact badging has in the judicial process,” he said. They also will “operationalize a response that restores justice and impartiality to the courtroom.” The analysis will lead to a research paper containing “a list of words and phrases that encapsulate the concept of ‘badges of bias,’ along with descriptions of their historical use,” Blankenship said. “Using established principles of restorative justice and leadership, students will create guidelines that can be used in courts to neutralize bias in the judicial process.”

Blankenship, who is the director of UAB’s Pre-Law Program, says many of the students involved in the project intend to pursue careers in law. “Whether in courts or society at large, a restorative response to bias will better equip them to weigh evidence over any other criteria, helping restore the impartial image of the courts, and perhaps society, to where it could be.”

Seeing stars, making change

Michelle Wooten, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Physics

Michelle Wooten, Ph.D.For many Americans, even outside major cities, visibility of most stars, including the Milky Way, have been obscured by misdirected artificial light at night. “Today, most Alabamians live under light-polluted skies,” Wooten said. That robs many people of the kind of experience that first drew Wooten’s attention to the stars. “I still remember the late summer’s evening when walking home from my friend’s house at the age of 13,” she recalls on her faculty page. “I looked up at the night sky and was simply in awe.”

But dark skies matter to everyone, not just stargazers. “Estimates from satellite data suggest somewhere between $4 billion and $7 billion is spent annually on light pointed up and out, instead of targeted at the ground where it is needed most for supporting our awareness of our surroundings,” Wooten said. Excess artificial light means wasted energy, and it adversely affects human circadian rhythms, as well as those of migratory birds, fireflies and sea turtles.

With her FDGP funding, Wooten will educate astronomy students at UAB on ways to reduce light pollution — including using shielded light fixtures and dimmable LEDs rated with a temperature under 3000K — ”while at the same time positioning them as agents of change toward addressing lighting in their communities,” Wooten said. As a part of the project, Wooten’s students will gather data on light pollution and light fixtures at UAB, analyze that data “according to guidelines expressed by the International Dark Skies Association” [Wooten is a delegate for the association at UAB] and make recommendations on potential changes that could improve views of the night sky and lighting on campus, as well as reduce costs.

Hear more from FDGP recipients

rep fdgp videos 588pxFind out how to apply for the next round of Faculty Development Program Grants and watch faculty selected for grants last year (2021) discuss their projects on the UAB Faculty site.