Fall/Winter 2023

Our newest issue of UAB Magazine closes out the year with fascinating profiles of UAB employees, students and alumni, as well as features on an innovative grant improving health outcomes in Alabama's Black Belt region, the achievements of some of our graduate student leaders, what it's really like behind the scenes at UAB, and how an English instructor documented her float trip along the Cahaba River.

Ever Faithful, Ever Loyal

Ever Faithful, Ever Loyal

Highlighting alumni achievement.
Story by Emma Lang
Photo: Allison Crandle

Ever Faithful, Ever Loyal

Highlighting alumni achievement.
Story by Emma Lang

The Advocate

From hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to the streets of Baltimore, Allison Crandle has used her empathy and UAB education to support victims and witnesses of crime.

The courtroom is silent but for the pair of shuffling feet as the young woman takes the stand to testify before the jury.
The stress feels palpable—the emotional weight of the trial cracking down like the gavel. If not for Allison Crandle, the victim might have felt helpless and unprepared. But long before the victim put her hand on the Bible to swear an oath before the court, Crandle guided her through the process to come.
Crandle serves as a victim witness coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Texas. She became interested in criminology and forensics while studying at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2004 with a degree in criminal justice.
The young woman, a survivor of human trafficking, trembles before getting on the stand to testify.
At 16 years old, she was targeted through social media by a deceptively kind man. After encouraging her to smoke a fake joint, he provided her with a second—this one laced with heavy drugs.
She awoke in a hotel room to a man who abused her.
By the time she was rescued and the case went to trial, she was petrified to relive the story. Amid her fear and anxiety, Crandle was there to soften the process.
“She told me her hands were nervous, so I gave her a pop socket to fidget with. Halfway through her testimony, the judge asked what the popping noise was,” Crandle said.
Crandle’s thoughtfulness is one reason she’s so impactful. Former colleague Frank Burch remembers that trait well.
“She’s able to stay calm really well because of the experience she’s had dealing with victims of trauma and abuse,” Burch said. “Anytime a victim was crying over the phone or in court, she settled them down.”
For Crandle, the ability to soothe a survivor in crisis came from years of practice. Interning for the Department of Justice US Probation and Pretrial Services System during her senior year gave her the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the justice system.
“UAB gave me the tools that I needed to be successful,” Crandle said, crediting her education with teaching her “how to network and … land internships before I graduated so that I would have some type of experience under my belt.”
Crandle’s empathy and logistical skills have always put her face-to-face with survivors. After graduating from school, Crandle served victims of natural disasters with the Small Business Administration.
“Hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, flooding—I was all over the country, going everywhere,” Crandle said. “I enjoyed helping people get back to where they were before the disaster.”
Crandle stayed busy in those first years after school with Hurricane Katrina. Once recovery was underway several years later, Crandle knew it was time to go back to the Department of Justice.
Crandle started as a victim witness assistant in Baltimore, Maryland, before eventually becoming a victim witness coordinator in Dallas, Texas. Through these positions, Crandle helps victims and witnesses of crimes navigate through the judicial process.
“My job is to prep them for trial,” Crandle said. “If they’re going to have to get on the stand, I show them the courtroom and make them feel comfortable.”
She not only helps ease the emotional stress of her clients, but also prepares them for what to expect once they’re in front of the judge.

“UAB gave me the tools that I needed to be successful,” Crandle said, crediting her education with teaching her “how to network and…land internships before I graduated so that I would have some type of experience under my belt.”

—Allison Crandle

“We meet with the attorney and address the questions that the defense might ask just so they’re not caught off-guard,” Crandle said. “I always tell them if they need a focal point, they can look at me because the defendant will be looking their way.”
She also manages the necessary logistics to move her clients through the process. Crandle operates a Victim Notification System that sends letters and emails to each victim with an update on the status of their case. She also books hotels for victims for their court appearances and ensures their expenses are reimbursed.
In Baltimore, Crandle oversaw an Emergency Witness Assistance Program to assist witnesses who were impacted by the city’s wide-spread gang-related violence with relocation.
“If there are witnesses in the case, they might be getting threats not to testify,” Crandle said. “I would temporarily move them to a hotel, but we also have resources to permanently relocate them as well. We always want to make sure all witnesses are kept safe.”
Although Crandle mostly serves victims of white-collar crimes in Dallas, she also helps survivors of human trafficking and child exploitation.
“There’s a lot of business headquarters in Dallas, so fraud and embezzlement are prevalent here,” Crandle said.
Before, during, and after the trial, Crandle serves victims and their families by helping them locate resources to get back to a normal life.
“Being able to offer others support in navigating through a difficult chapter of their life, by informing them of their rights, assisting with resources, and just being a consistent face during the process is why my job is meaningful and fulfilling to me,” Crandle said.

2023 Alumni Rising Stars

The National Alumni Society established the Rising Star Awards in 2017 to honor five young alumni who excel personally and professionally while serving the university and community. Meet the winners who are blazing a path for future generations of UAB graduates.

Graphic: Brittany DionneBrittany Dionne

Brittany Dionne

Brittany Dionne has been a voice for her community for more than a decade. Since graduating from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences in 2011, she has served as a journalist and spokesperson for the residents of Birmingham.

In August 2023, after four years working as a reporter and weekend anchor for WBRC in Birmingham, Dionne was promoted to weekday evening anchor.

Dionne isn’t just concerned with her own career growth; she advocates for her team, facilitating training workshops to help improve content development execution. She has also successfully implemented digital marketing strategies to grow social media platforms that have exceeded company goals.

Dionne is a Birmingham native and former member of the Marching Blazers. She received an ABBY award in 2021, was nominated for an EMMY in 2022, and won the award for Best Anchor from the Alabama Broadcasters Association earlier this year. Dionne is currently pursuing an MBA from the UAB Collat School of Business.

Graphic: Valencia Wells, O.D.Valencia Wells, O.D.

Valencia Wells, O.D.

If there’s one thing Valencia Wells, O.D., has, it’s vision. She’s known since she was in eighth grade that she wanted to pursue optometry as a career. She not only achieved that goal, graduating from the UAB School of Optometry in 2009, but also has owned and operated her own comprehensive eyecare clinic, Morris Avenue Eyecare, since 2013.

Shortly after becoming an optometrist, Wells put her knowledge to the test by traveling to Belize, where she and the optometry team treated approximately 800 residents. She’s carried that commitment to service with her ever since.

Wells also shares her expertise and works to increase public awareness of several optometric issues. She has been featured on Good Day Alabama, CBS 12 News, and Talk of Alabama to promote Children’s Eye Health Month, Glaucoma Awareness Month, and Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Each summer, she promotes science, technology, engineering, and math to young minority women by organizing hands-on optometry workshops through the Girls Impact STEM program. She also hosts a Birmingham Promise apprentice and Summer Kids intern.

Wells was selected as a 2021 Top 40 under 40 and Woman to Watch by the Birmingham Business Journal.

Graphic: Jose O. Maximo, Ph.D.Jose O. Maximo, Ph.D.

Jose O. Maximo, Ph.D.

Apart from the everyday research Jose O. Maximo, Ph.D. conducts, he commits his time to helping others.

While pursuing a doctorate in lifespan and developmental psychology in 2018 at UAB, Maximo worked in a lab dedicated to the study of autism spectrum disorders. He now works in a lab that researches the use of multimodal brain imaging techniques to study the neuropathology of psychosis spectrum disorders, like schizophrenia, and how psychotropic drugs affect the brain.

His care for others doesn’t stop there. He has an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion, working as a career coach for the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholar Program, which he was enrolled in as a student. Through this position, he mentors underrepresented graduate student trainees to ensure their success.

Maximo juggles these positions well with 27 peer-reviewed publications, 66 research presentations, and 21 awards over the course of his college and professional career. He also teaches part-time at Jefferson State Community College, where he serves as co-advisor for the Latino Student Association.

Graphic: Davina PattersonDavina Patterson

Davina Patterson

Davina Patterson chose UAB because she was interested in dentistry. She also wanted to honor her twin sisters, who aspired to attend UAB before their death from cancer at age 17. After one year of school, Patterson’s interests changed from dentistry to healthcare management, with a specific passion for healthcare advocacy on behalf of rural and minority populations.

Since graduating from the UAB School of Health Professions in 2009, Patterson has taken seriously the task of impacting others. She serves as the executive director of the Disability Resource Network, where her career is centered on helping people with significant disabilities live independent lives.

In an article for Authority Magazine, Patterson said, “I work for Disability Resource Network because I wanted to be a part of an organization that empowers people with disabilities. Disability is diversity and people with disability should receive reasonable accommodations.”

Patterson’s role made history. She not only works at the first center for independent living in north Alabama, but also serves as the first female dirctor of an independent living facility in the entire state.

Patterson received the 2023 Huntsville Business Journal Inaugural Top 40 Under 40 and 2020 40 Under 40 Honoree for 256 Magazine.

Graphic: Valentine NwachukwuValentine Nwachukwu

Valentine Nwachukwu

Valentine Nwachukwu taught himself to code at age 12. Through his curiosity, drive, and determination, Nwachukwu grew to become a computer scientist and visionary business leader.

After holding positions at Boeing, Amazon, and Northrop Grumman, Nwachukwu now impacts the technology industry as CEO and president of Zaden Technologies.

“His unique combination of deep technical expertise and business acumen has driven the development of pioneering solutions that are reshaping how software development teams operate, particularly within the defense sector,” Zaden Technologies COO Jason West said.

At Zaden Technologies, Nwachukwu offers DevSecOps Infrastructure-as-a-Service—a process that automates the integration of security at every phase of the software development lifecycle. This allows him to facilitate speed and quality that elevates the success of various defense contractors and numerous industries.

But his achievements go beyond his professional life. Nwachukwu is the founder of Zedge Records, a record label focused on promoting African artists. As a first-generation Nigerian immigrant, Nwachukwu invests 10 percent of Zedge Records’ profits to help bridge the wealth gap in African communities.

Nwachukwu graduated from the UAB School of Engineering and Honors College in 2014 and was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2022.

Graphic: Valentine Nwachukwu, Valencia Wells, O.D., Brittany Dionne, Davina Patterson and Jose O. Maximo, Ph.D. at the Alumni Awards Dinner ceremony. Valentine Nwachukwu, Valencia Wells, O.D., Brittany Dionne, Davina Patterson and Jose O. Maximo, Ph.D. at the Alumni Awards Dinner ceremony.