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.

Green & Gold Moments

Green & Gold Moments

Celebrating transformative support.
Stories by Walt Lewellyn and Emma Lang
Photo: Provost Pam Benoit, Dean Jeffrey Holmes and the Gorrie family at the groundbreaking.

Green & Gold Moments

Celebrating transformative support.
Stories by Walt Lewellyn and Emma Lang

A new home for UAB Engineering

As faculty leaders envision the transformative impact of a new facility, others see opportunities to honor individuals who made this era possible.
This July, half a century after engineering students first began taking classes at what was then known as the Birmingham Extension Center, the UAB School of Engineering held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new home: Frances and Miller Gorrie Hall.
After years of being housed in different buildings across campus, the school’s various departments will be centrally located in this 116,000-square-foot facility near University Boulevard and the Campus Green. Gorrie Hall’s construction represents the second phase of the university’s new Science and Engineering Complex, with completion currently expected in 2025.
“Gorrie Hall will bring the bulk of our engineering research and academic programs together under one roof and dramatically advance education, research, and innovation,” UAB Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Pam Benoit, Ph.D., said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “It will foster collaboration campus- and community-wide like never before, as we train future engineers, entrepreneurs and a 21st-century workforce for our state.”
As faculty leaders envision the transformative impacts that Gorrie Hall will have in the years to come—significantly enhancing the student experience, spurring faculty recruitment, catalyzing innovation, and preparing the next generation of leaders in engineering—community partners and alumni alike see a chance to honor the individuals who made this next chapter of UAB Engineering possible.

An “exciting time” for the School of Engineering

With state-of-the-art teaching labs and research suites, as well as modern common areas designed with students’ needs in mind, Gorrie Hall will offer dynamic new opportunities to students, faculty, staff, and the greater Birmingham community.
“This is an exciting time for the school,” said Jeffrey Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the School of Engineering. “Truly transformational research often happens at the interfaces between disciplines, and UAB Engineering is uniquely positioned to pursue such interdisciplinary research.”
Holmes, whose own interdisciplinary research focuses primarily on cardiovascular biomedical engineering, is eager to see the collaborations that Gorrie Hall will promote.
“We are building creative, innovative programs at those interfaces, in areas like tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, neuroengineering, built environment and health, and advanced materials,” Holmes said. “Frances and Miller Gorrie Hall will accelerate those efforts by bringing the majority of our people together in one place—adjacent to collaborators in math, computing, and the sciences—where hallway conversations with colleagues from many different disciplines can seed the next great discoveries.”
Much of that collaborative innovation will take place in “showpiece” labs located throughout the facility, including a 2,000-square-foot testing lab that will house the equipment needed to conduct compression, bending, tensile, and impact testing on materials ranging from concrete and steel to gels and foams—and the Design and Rapid Prototyping Lab, where current and prospective students alike will design and build prototypes to solve problems for industry clients.
Gorrie Hall’s “showpiece” spaces also include multiple resources dedicated to students’ academic success, career preparation, and college experience. A student success center, located in the heart of the facility, will offer individualized peer tutoring, mentoring, and internship counseling to students, while across the hall, the study commons will provide a bright, supportive environment for completing coursework, collaborating on group projects, and more.
“UAB Engineering prides itself on providing a high-quality, hands-on education that prepares students for careers as engineers who build and shape the world around us,” Holmes said. “The new building will transform the engineering student experience by providing high-tech facilities where our students can bring their ideas to life and student-focused spaces that support student success through advising, tutoring, mentoring, career counseling, and participation in our guaranteed internship program.”

Honoring a proud history

School alumni, the Birmingham community, and the local engineering industry have rallied behind Gorrie Hall to make this $84 million project a reality. Along the way, they’ve paid tribute to some of the civic and faculty leaders who made the school what it is today, beginning with the facility’s namesakes: Frances and Miller Gorrie.
After decades at the helm of Brasfield & Gorrie, one of the nation’s largest privately held construction firms, the Gorrie family’s legacy is built into Birmingham’s foundations. It’s in the steel and glass of the Regions Center, the limestone of the Hugo Black United States Federal Courthouse, and the brick and concrete of many buildings across UAB’s more than 100-square-block campus, including the Collat School of Business, the Women & Infants Clinic, and Kirklin Clinic.
“UAB is the lifeblood of Birmingham,” Miller Gorrie—who has also volunteered his time with the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering’s Board of Advisors, as well as many other leadership committees at UAB—said at the hall’s groundbreaking ceremony. “I can’t even imagine a Birmingham without UAB.”
In addition to the Gorrie family and Brasfield & Gorrie, other vital industry partners have joined in the campaign to support Gorrie Hall, including Alabama Power, which employs the greatest number of SOE graduates, and Vulcan Materials Company, which supported the original Engineering Building fundraising campaign back in 1961.
With dozens of classrooms, laboratories, suites, offices, and more spaces yet to be named, Gorrie Hall has also provided alumni and other supporters with opportunities to recognize the “founding faculty” who shaped the school into what it is today, as well as a chance to make school history themselves.

“UAB is the lifeblood of Birmingham. I can’t imagine a Birmingham without UAB.”

—Miller Gorrie

Grateful alumni have driven fundraising campaigns to honor the legacies of beloved professors like Jack Lemons, Ph.D., who served as the linchpin of the Department of Biomedical Engineering for more than half a century, and Dale Feldman, Ph.D., who recently retired after nearly 40 years of service to UAB.
“Dale’s soft-spoken demeanor, combined with his fresh approaches and unflinching scientific ambition, fostered an idyllic atmosphere for young biomedical engineering graduate students to flourish,” remembers Ken Solovay (’91), one of Feldman’s former students. “I loved every minute of my time at UAB, with Dale lighting a fire in those of us that were looking for a spark.”

Graphic: UAB Rendering Gorrie HallUAB Rendering Gorrie Hall

Paying it forward

Other graduates, like identical twins Melody and Mellany George, have made commitments to name spaces in Gorrie Hall as a way to give back and commemorate their time at their alma mater.
“If I can help anybody, even just a little bit, have a positive college career and help them stay in school and stay focused, that would accomplish my goals,” said Mellany, who has enjoyed significant career success alongside her sister since earning their Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering degrees.

“UAB is the only engineering school in Alabama to guarantee internships for students ”

“Even after we’re gone, this is something that’s going to still be around for a long time. My daughter can know that their family has something to do with preserving and continuing education.”
After decades of changing the lives of individual students like the George twins and advancing technological progress through partnerships with organizations like NASA, UAB Engineering is on the cusp of a new era.
Thanks to the support of alumni and community partners, Dean Holmes and other faculty leaders are looking forward to seeing the lasting impact that Gorrie Hall will have on UAB, Alabama, and the local engineering industry.
“The new building will help us honor our commitment to the UAB and Birmingham communities,” Holmes said, “providing space to host workshops and summer camps, build prototypes and devices for UAB researchers and local companies, and assist in improving the lives of our neighbors as part of the UAB Grand Challenge.”

Showcasing History

Graphic: London Dome Ear Trumpet, c.1880London Dome Ear Trumpet, c.1880
UAB’s libraries are home to rich historical collections, such as letters from Florence Nightingale, medical instruments, and documents that trace the history of Heersink School of Medicine. Under the direction of Dean Kasia Gonnerman, UAB Libraries are creating a permanent exhibition area on the second floor of Lister Hill Library.
“We envision that we will offer guided tours, podcasts, audio guides,” Gonnerman said. “We are planning to provide an immersive experience to the gallery visitors.”
This initiative has received a transformative investment from Drs. Dennis G. Pappas Sr. and Jr., a father-and-son physician duo who both specialize in otolaryngology. Pappas Sr. has long been an avid student of medical history, exploring the development of the profession and amassing an enormous and varied collection of otolaryngological artifacts during his 60-year career.
“It’s important to preserve medical history because it teaches what has been done and what the future is going to be like,” Pappas said. “It’s important to know what has happened so you don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”
In recognition of the Pappas’ generosity, the new space will be named the Dennis G. Pappas Historical Collections Gallery.

Honoring a Trailblazer

In February 2021, one of UAB’s most outstanding leaders, Chief Human Resource Officer Alesia Jones, officially retired.
Graphic: Alesia JonesAlesia Jones
Jones spent most of her more than 30-year career in HR at UAB, overseeing initiatives that still affect countless employees across campus, such as the creation of the OneCard and UAB becoming the first state institution to implement paid parental leave.
In addition to changing employees’ lives for the better and offering her mentorship to young professionals in Birmingham, Jones also made the lead gift to establish the HR Endowed Scholarship in the Collat School of Business (CSOB). “I wanted to find a way to give back because of the career and the field that had been so special to me…and provided the opportunities to work with all of these amazing leaders at UAB,” Jones said.
In 2023, two years after Jones’ retirement, UAB and the CSOB honored Jones’ pioneering achievements and selfless generosity by renaming the scholarship to the Alesia M. Jones HR Endowed Scholarship.
Jones made the initial gift, continues to support it annually, and left a bequest in her will. She also contacted her peers for support, and many helped to ensure the scholarship was quickly endowed.

Rising to the Occasion

Vestavia Hills High School’s Rebels Impact through Service (RISE) program is a semester-long initiative dedicated to fostering service leadership among students. Since the program’s founding in 2018, VHHS students have rallied the community around worthy causes such as UAB’s Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology and Oncofertility Program, raising more than $1 million over the past five years, including $230,023 in 2022-2023 alone.

Graphic: Vestavia Hills High School students in the RISE program celebrate their fundraising achievement.Vestavia Hills High School students in the RISE program celebrate their fundraising achievement.

For Dr. Julie Anna Wolfson, director of the AYA Oncology and Oncofertility Program, it’s the RISE program’s vision that sets it apart.
“Their interest in all that we did at the Cancer Center and their quick understanding of the plight amongst adolescents and young adults with cancer was remarkable,” Wolfson said. “Their insightful questions have always shown clearly that they understand and believe in our mission. They selflessly take that understanding and compassion and work tirelessly to support us to fix these disparities and seek solutions to these problems. Our program wouldn’t exist without them.”

Award-Winning Innovation

This spring, a team from the Department of Computer Science won the Radiance Technologies Innovation Bowl. Competitors tackled the question, “How can geospatial intelligence data be used to monitor, assess, and predict the impact of climate change?”
The UAB team was led by Ph.D. student Saugat Adhikari and assistant professor Da Yan, Ph.D. and the climate change prompt was already related to the team’s ongoing research. Using a combination of satellite imagery, 3D elevation mapping, and artificial intelligence, the team developed a predictive tool for assessing the likelihood and probable extent of flooding in a given area.
“Our model will be much more accurate and minimize incorrect predictions,” Adhikari said. “This is important for resource-stringent disaster response, where rescue needs to be sent to the truly disaster-impacted areas. The expected social benefit is huge, since fast and accurate flood extent mapping immediately after a disaster can save a lot of lives.”
The UAB team will use their $25,000 grand prize to attend scientific conferences and visit research institutions, fostering innovative collaborations and using advanced technology to further develop their flood mapping tool.