Chances for Change

John Chancellor and the Student Alumni Society
By Charles Buchanan • Photo by Steve Wood
Photo of John Chancellor in hammock
John Chancellor and the Student Alumni Society
By Charles Buchanan • Photo by Steve Wood

Once or twice a week, John Chancellor hangs a hammock between trees on the north side of UAB’s Campus Green. It’s the perfect perch to relax, listen to music, and watch the university and city change before his eyes. “I can see the new student center under construction, people walking across the Green, and the Birmingham skyline,” he says. “It’s everything I love about UAB in one view. It’s dynamic and always evolving.”

Chancellor is excited to be part of that change as the newest co-chair of the Student Alumni Society (SAS) and as Mr. UAB 2014. The organization, which helps students build a professional network through the UAB National Alumni Society before they graduate, also helps its 1,300 members forge bonds with each other and contribute to the campus and community. Over the years, the group has gathered supplies to aid recovery efforts from natural disasters, and members volunteer with Birmingham’s Jones Valley Teaching Farm. Last year, the SAS played a key role in bringing the iconic statue of Blaze back to Bartow Arena.

Philanthropy and Fun

“Each SAS member had a green piggy bank to fill with their spare change,” says Chancellor, a junior majoring in neuroscience. “Actually, we had so many piggy banks that we gave them to other students who helped fill them.” The funds went toward the new statue and three scholarships awarded annually to SAS members. “It’s awesome that we can do something impactful,” Chancellor says. “The Blaze statue will be there for many years to come. That leaves our legacy here.”

For its next philanthropic project, the SAS plans to adopt one of UAB’s palliative care units, which help relieve the pain, stress, and symptoms of patients with serious illnesses. Members will serve as volunteers in the units. Giving back and helping people “keeps you humble,” says Chancellor. “It’s important to relate to people at a fundamental level and understand that we’re all human.”

The SAS also bolsters campus spirit through creative activities for students, such as an epic water-balloon battle that took over the Campus Green last fall. “We had to fill 1,000 water balloons, but I think I broke more balloons than I filled,” Chancellor says.

Change on the Brain

UAB’s diversity of people, ideas, and experiences drew Chancellor from his hometown of Enterprise, Alabama—and has given him another outlet for positive change through the undergraduate neuroscience program, the first of its kind in Alabama. “I want to cure bipolar disorder,” says Chancellor, who is considering a career as a psychiatrist. A family member has the disease, he explains, “and I grew up fighting the mental health stigma. It’s something people try to hide, especially in the South, and it’s not fair. Mental health is just as important as physical health.”

Chancellor is conducting research into schizophrenia under UAB psychiatry chair James Meador-Woodruff, M.D. “I’m interested in finding out how the brain works, seeing what’s dysregulated, and learning how to remedy it in a clinical setting—and doing whatever I can to help patients, because mental health problems shouldn’t keep them from a fulfilling life.”

The SAS may help Chancellor reach that goal by linking him and other students with alumni. “Since I’m trying to go into medicine, I don’t know a lot of people in business, which would help me down the line,” he says. “It’s great to have an organization where I can connect with many different areas of expertise.”

Chancellor is eager to see what the future holds, both for himself and for UAB. “It’s still an up-and-coming place,” he says. “I can’t wait to see what UAB will be like in 10 or 20 years.”

• Learn more about the Student Alumni Society and other UAB National Alumni Society programs and events for students.

• Give something and change everything for students by joining the UAB National Alumni Society.

Published April 2015