Wednesday, August 7, 2013

OT class given $5, 5 minutes to make a difference in world

By Kevin Storr

The assignment was simple. Okay, maybe not simple, but definitely basic. Students in the UAB School of Health Professions Department of Occupational Therapy class OT 673 were asked to make an assistive device that would help people with an injury or disability.

But there was a catch – the students could only spend five dollars and it had to be constructed from scratch within five minutes. But if the names of their teams were any indication, then The Lollipop Guild, The Pirates of the Health Profession, The Lucky Seven, OTech, WCF+1 and Gandalf’s Gang would find creative ways to beat the clock and potentially help someone beat a challenge they face in life. 

The tone of the day seemed to be sharp cutting objects. Pictured above, right, Lauren Ashley, wearing glasses, and Mandy Owen, UAB Blazers shirt, represented the OTech team in an effort to make flip flops for adults and children using only foam, a pot holder, head bands and ribbon. 

“The flip flops for adults are aimed at disease prevention,” said Owen, a first year student in the occupational therapy program. “The flip flops for children come from a silicon pot holder and it will provide extra traction for toddlers learning to walk and will protect their feet from the heat.”

The two made one adult flip flop within the allotted five minute window. They continued to work after the time ran out to show the class the same simple steps to make the toddler flip flops. 

Gandalf’s Gang created the “Finger Blocker” which only required a glove and a pair of scissors. It took Courtney Barnett, pictured right, all of 15 seconds to make it and model it. However, the simplicity of the design masks the complexity of the problem solved. 

“Clients with disabilities who use tablet technology may have poor finger dexterity, low strength and endurance or tremors which could cause them to trigger applications or hit buttons that they did not intend to activate,” said Barnett, a first year student in the occupational therapy program. “The Finger Blocker only exposes the tip of one finger and increases the chances that the user will only hit the button they want.” 

One of the trickier challenges of the class was an ADL (activities of daily living) cuff designed by The Lollipop Guild. 

“This is for someone who has had a stroke or spinal cord injury or another problem that prohibits them from grasping an eating utensil for self-feeding,” said Laura Nance, a first year occupational therapy student. 

To build the ADL cuff required the MacGyver-esque supplies of a credit card, rubber bands, duct tape and a box cutter. 

Laura Nance, pictured lower right, with a very concerned classmate, Rose Davis, was given the task of cutting a Parisian’s credit card with a box cutter. In about three minutes, Nance cut slits in the credit card, ripped two pieces of duct tape, placed the card on the tape, rubber bands around the card, the tape on top of the rubber band, cut more slits into the tape and then slid a spoon into the slits to be held by the rubber bands. Voila! An ADL cuff. 

Other devices that were created during the class today were a leg lifter made out of coat hangers and duct tape, a straw holder made out of a clothespin and a foam pencil grip and a playing card holder made out of egg carton. 

The class is taught by Deek Cunningham, MS, OTR/L, and Gavin Jenkins, Ph.D., OTR/L, both assistant professors in the Department of Occupational Therapy. According to Cunningham, this element of the course is designed to help students recognize that there are non-conventional ways to make a difference in people’s lives right now: 

“For many clients who receive OT services, waiting for weeks while paperwork for devices is submitted and orders completed is not an option. We are trying to show our students that often we can make a difference in our client’s lives now, using simple or no tools and items we can find lying around our clinics or homes,” said Cunningham. 

To see more photos from the OT 673 class event visit our Flickr page at and check out the Set called “OT’s $5, 5 Minute Challenge.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

Professor spent summer sharing lessons of friendship and tomato sandwiches

Lucy and Kerry Madden-Lunsford
This summer, scores of bright-eyed kids across Alabama were treated to colorful stories of  friendship and tomato sandwiches as professor Kerry Madden-Lunsford and her artist daughter, Lucy, toured the state to tout their new children’s book.

Madden, associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences and author of several children's books, penned “Nothing Fancy About Kathryn and Charlie,” and her daughter illustrated the book published by Alabama-based Mockingbird Publishing. It is the tale of the real-life friendship between the late Kathryn Tucker Windham – a renowned Alabama journalist, author and storyteller – and the self-taught folk artist "Tin Man" Charlie Lucas; both fans of a good tomato sandwich, treasure hunting and comb playing on the lawn. 

Madden and Madden-Lunsford (joined at times by Madden's youngest daughter, Norah, and family dog, Olive) traveled to libraries and book stores from Birmingham to Butler, Fairhope to Selma and many other places in-between. They told children tales of Kathryn and Charlie, then gave the youngsters an opportunity to create their own stories and craft works of art with buttons, balls of string, puzzle pieces and paper bags. 

Along the way, the two visited BBQ joints, Windham's grave and civil rights landmarks. Everything was chronicled in their "Nothing Fancy About a BookTour" blog at

The two plan more stops and several workshops in the fall. The book is available at area bookstores. Proceeds will be donated to Windham's beloved Selma-Dallas County Public Library.

About the blogger: Marie Sutton,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat includes humanities, social sciences, the School of Education and student life. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Film features UAB professor’s prose, voice of Harrison Ford

The plight of the Antarctic-based Adelie penguin reveals much about the future of our planet, according to UAB University Professor Jim McClintock, Ph.D.

The story of the seabird’s struggle to adjust to the warming climate is captured in “Ghost Rookeries,” a four-minute film produced by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation (EOWBF) and narrated by actor Harrison Ford, who is on the EOWBF board of advisers. The journey comes alive through the prose from McClintock’s book, “Lost Antarctica: Climate Change on the Antarctic Peninsula.”

“Ghost Rookeries serves as a wake-up call to jump-start the technological, societal and political paths to a sustainable planet,” according to the EOWBF website. As the temperature on the Antarctic Peninsula increases, the penguins’ ability to preserve the lives of their young is jeopardized. The result is a dramatic decline in the population; only 15 percent of the original 15,000 breeding pairs near U.S. Palmer Station remains today. 

“As the sea is warming, the marine life on the sea floor is susceptive to change,” McClintock said. “With a few degrees increase, we could lose marine life, sponges and corals. They represent millions of years of evolution.”

The UAB/University of South Florida (USF) drug-discovery program found, among the Antarctic marine life, compounds active against melanoma and the H1N1 virus. Effects to those organisms could mean a possible loss in cancer cures, he said.

“This is not something that will happen to your grandchildren,” McClintock said. “It’s right now.

E.O. Wilson, who is a Birmingham-born, famous evolutionary biologist and conservationist, encouraged McClintock to write his book. When McClintock did, EOWBF leadership decided to feature the story in film. Not knowing that Harrison Ford was on board, McClintock offered to narrate the film. Paula Ehrlich, D.VM., Ph.D., who is the foundation’s president and CEO, as well as the director/producer of the film, laughed and told McClintock the job was taken.

Millions of people will see the film, as it will be featured at zoos and aquariums across the country. McClintock said he hopes viewers walk away with a better understand about the significance of climate change and its real-time impact on biodiversity. View the video:

About the blogger: Marie Sutton,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat includes humanities, social sciences, the School of Education and student life. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

A creative costume career takes flight around the world for 2008 UAB grad

Theatre UAB alumna Amanda Mattes is celebrating after completing her master of fine arts (MFA) degree in performance costume design at the University of Edinburgh, College of Art, but this feat is just one part of her substantial oevre.

Mattes, of Birmingham, minored in Japanese language and culture while receiving her bachelor’s degree in theatrical design and technology from UAB in 2008. After graduating, she worked as a costume designer at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., and did various designs in New York City, as well as worked at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. She moved to Scotland in 2011.

For her thesis design, “Imoseyama Onna Teikin,” she translated the script from the original Japanese text, as there wasn’t an English version, and collaborated with a composer to create an original design for an opera.

“Imoseyama Onna Teikin” roughly translates to “An Exemplary Tale of Womanly Virtue,” Mattes said. It is based around 640 CE, the time of the coup d’etat by the Soga clan after which Fujiwara no Kamatari defeated them and restored the kingdom to the true emperor. The work features Shinto and Buddhist symbolism and mythology. Through her design, she focused on the aspect of the feminine within the work, and she related this in the textile work through linear Shibori (similar to tie-dye) textiles, which represent the striated muscles in the birth canal.

“It’s all about female strength and unity in a male-dominated society,” she said.

Mattes recently worked on the world premiere of the stage production of “Princess Mononoke” which went up in London in April and then toured in Japan. This is the only production to be sanctioned by Japanese film director, animator and manga artist Hayao Miyazaki, who produced the 1997 film. Tickets to the London shows sold out in less than five hours, and the production will be re-mounted there June 13-29. She also designed costumes for a short film, “Ilgu,” which is currently being shot in Russia and Edinburgh.

She is now designing a new dance piece, “Colours,” for the Scottish Royal Conservatoire, which will run during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Later this summer, she will begin work as an assistant and costume maker for a feature film, “Legends of the Underground.” It will begin filming in Amsterdam in early 2014. Mattes has also been asked to write lessons and do voice-over for TEDEd for costume design and history education. She will start with “How to Make a Hat” for Hat Day Sept. 15, followed by pieces such as “The History of the Blue Jean” and “Greece and Rome: who wore the toga and why?” She also just started a collaboration with graphic designer Pushpi Bagchi, for which she will create and make masks centering around each of the 22 official languages of India. This project is based upon recent theories of the disappearance of these languages, as more and more people in India speak English, she said. It will be presented at an exhibition in Edinburgh in August.

“I feel very fortunate to be pursuing and living my dream. I know I wouldn't be where I am without the training I received at UAB, and I am very thankful for that. Even the outpouring of support I receive now encourages me to move forward,” Mattes wrote from Scotland.

Her advice for other aspiring young artists at UAB?

“I think the most important thing for any young artist to remember is that if you work hard, you will achieve what you want out of life.”

Shannon Thomason,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat covers the arts at UAB.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

UAB student not afraid to be first; Scriber breaks ground and ice on his way up

By Kevin Storr

Kevin Scriber, a graduate student in the UAB Department of Biology, is a man of firsts. He is the first male in his family to graduate high school and college, and he will be the first to earn a master’s degree come August 2013. Scriber is also the first of his family to live in Alabama; the first time he even visited Alabama was the first day he lived in Birmingham as a UAB student.

“I wanted to apply to a school where I could be around important science, and the world would recognize the validity of what I learned because of the people I am around,” said Scriber. “I found that at UAB, so I didn’t need to see the campus or the city to know this was the best place for me.”

Two years ago Scriber, sold everything he owned and boarded a train in Washington, D.C., bound for Birmingham. He was met at Birmingham’s train station by UAB’s endowed professor of Polar and Marine Biology, James McClintock, Ph.D.

The world-renowned biologist gave Scriber his first tour of UAB and Birmingham. He would also be responsible for Scriber’s first research trip ever, to the Bahamas, and his first trip to another continent, Antarctica, as well as Scriber’s trip later this month to the first home for environmental evolution research, the Galapagos Islands.

“If I don’t go somewhere new or try different things, then I become stagnant,” said Scriber. “UAB has a strong Study Away program, so I am fortunate that the opportunities presented to me for research are amazing locations.”

READ MORE: Scriber’s Blog post “Thoughts on Leaving” Antarctica

Scriber admits he grew up in a tough neighborhood. Academics were his buffer from trouble. He attended Norfolk State University, from which he graduated in 2010, and interned at the National Institute of Health for four years.

As the son and grandson of military veterans, Scriber appreciates discipline, honor and loyalty. He understands being the first is only important if you are not the last. 

“If you have a positive outlook and exude positivity to people, then nothing but a positive result can come out of that,” said Scriber. “I just want to be somewhere where I can make a positive influence on people’s lives and try to help them follow their dreams.”

At UAB, Scriber’s biological research centers on the preferential feeding of freshwater amphipods, Hyalella azteca. He is studying the roles of chemical and structural defenses and nutritional value in their selection of prey. In spring 2013, he was part of the National Science Foundation-funded UAB in Antarctica program. There he learned about ocean acidification and much more.

“Antarctica makes you feel like you are seeing something that nobody else has ever seen, and that it will not be the same the next time you see it,” said Scriber. “It is easy to become a consumer of products and not think about where they come from. If you don’t appreciate the precious bubble that you live in, then at some point, it will collapse because it is not a sustainable system.”

READ MORE: Scriber’s final Antarctica Blog post “Adieu Palmer Station

Friday, May 10, 2013

UAB Gospel Choir group headed to U.S. Virgin Islands for mini-tour

Members of the UAB Gospel Choir are heading to the sun and fun of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, May 16-19, 2013.

The group of 15, mostly singers, will be accompanied by Choir Director Kevin P. Turner, who also will serve as accompanist, with the choir's drummer. For three members, this will be their first international trip. The choir will perform music to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement being commemorated this year, and songs from its new CD "Nu-Soul City."

The choir will perform an evening show on the day of their arrival at Sugar Bay Resort and Spa on the east side of the island. On May 17, at noon, they will present a public performance in Charlotte Amalie. On Sunday, the choir will stretch its musical library with a performance at St. Luke's Episcopal Church for the 9 a.m. worship service.

“This is another international honor for us,” Turner said. "During our tour to England two years ago, we performed at Great Britain’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church Headquarters - the Advent Center. On this trip, we have been invited to perform at one of the area's most influential churches with strong ties with the University of the Virgin Islands. They have welcomed us with open arms.

The group will take tours of the islands by land and sea. They will stay at an all-inclusive hotel to help keep expenses down. The hotel has many free amenities for students to enjoy during the group’s free day on Saturday.

“One of our student singers, Sheena Bussey, is a graduating senior, and I believe that after all the hard work she's put in at UAB, she might be looking forward to just getting on the jet to rest her mind,” Turner said with a smile.

After performing, relaxing and enjoying the island, the group will return to Birmingham and prepare for their next performance, the UAB Gospel Choir Summer concert, to be scheduled for July at UAB's Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.

Shannon Thomason,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat covers the arts at UAB.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

UAB gets creative for “Light Dreams," with giant Pac-Man game, 3-D virtual reality & sounds made by touch

This week UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center (ASC) will present “Lux Somnia: Light Dreams,” a free digital art, light and music festival for the entire community. More than a year and a half in the making, the festival will feature the works of more than two dozen Birmingham artists, with a creative team of nearly 60 people involved from start to finish. Featured are live music, visual art installations, interactive fun and mind-blowing digital projections on the side of the building, plus food trucks, drinks and more.

Light Dreams Promotional Video from AlysStephensPerformingArtsCenter on Vimeo.

This festival is special because it is the first time the ASC has created and curated an arts event featuring only local artists. Plus, amazing artistic works created by teams of UAB students and faculty from across campus will be on show.

Among the amazing digital works of art which will be projected onto the Southern fa├žade of the ASC building is a giant, interactive video game, “Pacman Revisited,” created by students and faculty in UAB’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences. Audience members will get to play the game during the event.

A team of students in UAB’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and  Enabling Technology Laboratory (ETLab) are creating a 3-D virtual-reality “Light Dream,” featuring a jet that will “fly” out of the building and back in (as seen in the promo video above). Established in 2002, the ETLab researches the application of virtual reality technologies to the problems of communication, visualization and training. This research guides development of software for large-scale, immersive virtual reality systems, advanced medical image processing, 3-D image acquisition and high-performance computing.

Festival-goers can play with “Touch Tone,” from the innovative young minds in UAB’s Time Based Media course in the Department of Art and Art History. “Touch Tone” is an interactive musical/visual project that incorporates human touch via the Makey Makey, which is billed as “an invention kit for everyone.” Participants will hold hands or touch to create sounds and projected visuals, centered on the festival’s theme of light. See this video to learn more on Makey Makey.

The festival is set for 7:30 p.m. each night, Thursday May 2, and Friday, May 3, with a rain date of Saturday, May 4. The festival is free and open to everyone. Visit for more details. When the sun goes down, the light dreams begin!

Shannon Thomason,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat covers the arts at UAB.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

UAB students to join student march, reflect on history

Marti Turnipseed

On April 24, a sea of students from UAB, Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), Parker High School, Bush Hills Academy and others will remember and reenact the courageous walk taken by Martha ‘Marti’ Turnipseed in 1963.

Turnipseed, who was a 19-year-old white college student at BSC that year, heard about African-American students staging a sit-in at the Woolworth's department store lunch counter downtown. She walked from her West Birmingham campus to the demonstration and joined them. She was expelled (though later readmitted) for her action.

“Our city's most courageous citizens fought tirelessly to provide a better future for people of all races, and that must not be forgotten,” said UAB SGA President Adrian Jones. “The march will allow the citizens of Birmingham to come together and reflect on our deep heritage.”

Students will gather at Legion Field at 9 a.m. and walk to Kelly Ingram Park, which was the site of many showdowns between protesters and their detractors during the Birmingham movement.
Jones said that he and his fellow students feel it is their duty to join in this reenactment.

“Since UAB is in the heart of downtown Birmingham, I feel that our students should participate in the commemoration of one of the key movements that took place in 1963,” Jones said. “UAB prides itself on diversity and inclusiveness, and I feel that students should always strive to embrace that diversity and understand its significance.”

“When you think of the 50th anniversary, you realize that it really wasn't that long ago,” he said. “It is important to take this time to remember what so many did for us 50 years ago. 50 years from now, the next generations will be able to thank us for continuing to move Birmingham forward.”

You can follow the marchers on Twitter at @UABwalkNmyshoes. 

About the blogger: Marie Sutton,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat includes humanities, social sciences, the School of Education and student life. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

UAB library receives important grant, hosts event

UAB's Mervyn H. Sterne Library was awarded a grant to help educate the community about the people, places, history, faith and culture of Muslims living around the world. 

The “Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys” grant was presented by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association. As part of the grant, the library received a collection of books and videos for exhibition, as well as a one year subscription to the “Oxford Islamic Studies Online” database. All books can be checked out at the circulation desk. 

In addition to providing reading materials about the Muslim culture, the library will also host several events throughout the year. On Wednesday, April 10, some of UAB’s renowned Middle East scholars will converge to discuss “Unity in Diversity? The Muslim Middle East, Then and Now.” The free, public event is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in room 102 of Heritage Hall located at 1401 University Blvd.

Presenters include Nikolaos Zahariadis, Ph.D., professor of government; Lamia Zayzafoon, Ph.D., professor of foreign languages and literatures; Walter Ward, Ph.D., professor of history; Stephen Miller, Ph.D., professor of history; and Gregory Mumford, Ph.D., professor of anthropology.

The event is cosponsored by the Department of Government, UAB Political Science Club, UAB Muslim Student Association and Birmingham Islamic Society. For more information, contact Imelda Vetta at 205-934-6364. 

About the blogger: Marie Sutton,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat includes humanities, social sciences, the School of Education and student life. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

UAB alum's film wins recognition, hearts

For 24-year-old filmmaker Ingrid Pfau, UAB was a place of firsts. It was the place where the Birmingham native first became a filmmaker and where she was first diagnosed with epilepsy.

The 2011 UAB alum who majored in environmental science filmmaking told her story of living with the neurological disorder in a five-minute film that was recently named runner-up at The Neuro Film Festival in San Diego presented by the American Brain Foundation.

“I was honored to be selected,” said Pfau who today is pursuing her master's degree in science and natural history filmmaking at Montana State University. “I learned that the more personal your story, the more global it is.”

While in the second semester of her freshmen year at UAB, Pfau had a seizure that “freaked out” her roommates, she said. They immediately took her to UAB’s emergency department.  

“It was very convenient that there was a world renowned-hospital next to my dormitory,” said Pfau.

While a student, she had to learn how to wade through the world of epilepsy and filmmaking, and faculty like Rosie O’Beirne and Michelle Forman in media studies and Michael Sloane, Ph.D., in the UAB Honors College, were a big help.

“UAB was one of the biggest support systems I have ever had.”

Life as a filmmaker with epilepsy is not easy, Pfau said. She is limited because the medicine she takes makes her sleepy. Plus, she must get a lot of rest, which means she cannot conduct life like a typical graduate student who works into the wee hours of the night.

“That would surely guarantee a seizure,” she said. As a matter of fact, she had two seizures yesterday.  

But, hearing the stories of those who were touched by her film gives her encouragement.

“The most rewarding has been the reaction by people,” she said.

A man from the United Kingdom told Pfau that he cried when he saw her film. He told her that it demonstrated what he had been telling his doctor for years. He shared the video with his physician.

After Pfau graduates in 2014, she would like to create more films, including a 30-minute to one-hour piece on how families deal with epilepsy.

“There are a lot of stories that need to be told.”

About the blogger: Marie Sutton,, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat includes humanities, social sciences, the School of Education and student life.