honors college | Spring 2017
Celebrating our differences in identity, thought, culture and lifestyle
a letter from the editor SPRING 2017
Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Elkin Creative Director Maria Oswalt Photo Editor Nicole Rodriguez Managing Editor Matthew Wilson Freelance Editor Drew Pendleton Web Design Editor Brian Ogden Assistant Web Editor Amelia Neumeister Social Media Editor Gabby Jones Writers Maddie Hirschfield, Mackenzie McClintock, Margo Wieschhaus, Rebecca Rakowitz, Audrey Watford, Elizabeth Thiel, Meg McGuire, Sim Mahbubani, Grace Dickerson, Laura Testino Photographers Claire Dickson, Kinsey Stanley, Sim Mahbubani, Donna Xia, Ashley Adams, Noah Sutton, Mackenzie McClintock, Sam Sparkman, Kylie Cowden Designers Emeline Earman, Elizabeth Selmarten, Audrey Watford, Kylie Cowden, Emily Sturgeon, Sam Wilke, Lauren Williams, Rachel Berry, Grace Dickerson, Meaghan Fortney Advisers Instructor Dr. Henry John Latta Editorial Mark Mayfield Design/Art Laura Lineberry Photography/Video Julio Larramendi Online/Social Media Patty Pohuski MOSAIC.UA.EDU
Note: There may be staff members listed multiple times under different roles in the masthead. This is due to the interdisciplinary nature of Mosaic; we encourage students to expand their creative horizons by taking on roles they have never taken on before. Hence, many photographers are also designers, many designers are also writers, etc. Mosaic is published by the Honors College at The University of Alabama. All content and design are produced by students in consultation with professional staff advisers. All material contained herein, except advertising or where indicated otherwise, is copyrighted © 2017 by Mosaic Magazine. Material herein may not be reprinted without the expressed, written permission of Mosaic Magazine.
Cover and Table of Contents photography by Noah Sutton
Ever since I was young, I’ve loved words. My first word was kitty. One day, I pointed at my cat and said, “Kitty.” My parents tell me I haven’t stopped talking since. When I was 3 or 4, I would stare at books, willing the words to make sense. Even before I could read, I was fascinated by the written word, by text on a page. It was fitting, then, that I would someday join The University of Alabama’s Honors College and become a journalist. Since then, I have listened to students on this campus speak billions of words. Whenever someone walks by me, and I hear a snippet of their conversation, I listen for those words, whether they are eloquent or crass; each word spoken is beautiful to me. This love of words and the stories they form is what drove me to join the Mosaic staff. I wanted to tell the stories of those who surrounded me daily, and I wanted to write about the Honors College that had provided me with a home here in Alabama. I began my term as editor-in-chief with two lofty goals in mind: I wanted to move Mosaic to a new, user-friendly website, and I wanted to print two magazines. Mosaic has never printed two magazines in one year. With a new staff every semester comprised mostly of people who have never worked in the journalism world or on a magazine’s staff, it can be difficult to finish one magazine in a year, let alone two. That is one of our goals: to educate students of all backgrounds multimedia skills. The job as editor and the job of the Mosaic class is to push my staff to improve, to find new creative heights and to make this organization incredible. I believe we have done that this year. At the start of the semester, I was struck by the diversity of my staff. We have students from all different backgrounds, states and majors. The Mosaic staff really is a mosaic; we bring all our skills and our ideas together to create something beautiful. And if our small staff is like a small mosaic, what about the rest of the Honors College? We are a college of students from across the nation. We are students from different backgrounds, ethnicities and life situations, with different [The Honors College] is goals. Yet we come together to form a place where every one of the most prestigious and student can feel at home, close-knit honors colleges in without exception. the country. The Honors College is a place of growth and change. It is a place where every student can feel at home, without exception. And that is what we wanted to convey with this magazine. Mosaic is ever-changing, and I am thrilled to be editor at a time where we have so much we can do and so many incredible stories to tell. I hope this edition introduces you to things you’ve never thought about, things you didn’t even know the Honors College had to offer. When the first Mosaic staff sat down to decide on a name for the magazine, they wanted it to be a publication for everyone in the Honors College. That’s where the name Mosaic stems from: all the diverse pieces of the college coming together to create something beautiful.
contents culture The Elephant in the Classroom Alabama Wheelchair Basketball Means Serious Business Dance Alabama Itâ€™s a Crimson Country Arts Nâ€™ Autism A Journey Through Flavor
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Cover and Table of Contents photography by Noah Sutton
service Living Among the Plumes 24 What the Honors College Means to Me 28 UA in Oxford 30 features shadows along the bosphorus filmmaking in tuscaloosa colors to a blind man second to nun front porch sessions stem path to mba goes to india
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academics A Day in the Life 60 Electrical Engineering Then and Now 62
In 2016, Mosaic took Big Al out for a day at the zoo (learn more about that by reading our story “Saving Big Al” in the January 2016 issue online). Now, we’re taking a closer look at the person behind our favorite playful pachyderm!
The game has just begun, and Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium towers above in orange glory as the Tennessee crowd roars. Alabama students are confident about the match-up, but the opposing noise is overpowering as the Crimson Tide makes its second drive down the football field. Between each play, Dakota Williams silently leads every chant with the Alabama cheerleaders. On the eighth play of the drive, Alabama’s quarterback Jalen Hurts completes a 36-yard touchdown pass to his receiver ArDarius Stewart. Alabama fans go wild and sing “Yea Alabama” at Williams’ direction. They don’t know him as Dakota, they know him as Big Al. “I have always loved being the someone else of Big Al,” Williams, an Honors College senior majoring in biology and marine science from Macon, Georgia, said. “It’s incredible how I have seen people’s lives change.”
That exact thing happened when Williams and another Big Al traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to meet a 2-year-old girl named Brynn Clark. She had suffered from a brain injury called an epidural hematoma when she fell and hit her head on a tile floor in a café. “Big Al is taught to lead a selfless life from a different perspective,” Williams said. “I’ve seen people struggling with illnesses and their faces light up when they see him.” Her parents feared for her survival as she immediately underwent brain surgery to relieve the blood clot in her brain. Clark not only survived, but she continued to improve. The doctors had warned her parents of the obstacles she would face during recovery, one of them being speech development. She recovered speech and other motor skills at a miraculous rate, and her first words were, “Me Roll Tide.”
lephant in the By Audrey Watford
events and traveling with the cheerleaders. “I have known Dakota since my very first year,” said Millery Null, a junior co-ed cheerleader from Meridian, Mississippi. “He was there with us as we ran the team out to play in the national championship in Phoenix.” Null said that they work hand-in-hand with Big Al for most appearances and events. She and other cheerleaders stand as the go-between when fans talk to Big Al, since he is unable to speak. They talk to Big Al through the eyehole in the costume and fix his outfit if there is ever a wardrobe malfunction. “Big Al seems to be the fans’ favorite to interact with,” Null said. “I believe it’s because he is the mascot of our huge university, and when
It’s inc seen pe
Design by Emily Sturgeon // Photography by Kinsey Stanley
When Williams heard about this remarkable little girl, he knew he had to meet her in character. “We can’t talk at all in costume,” Williams said. “So it was even more humbling to meet her and receive so many ‘thank-yous’ and not be able to say anything in return.” Williams has been the famous pachyderm for three years. He was the bulldog mascot at his high school, and once he achieved his dream of coming to The University of Alabama, he knew he could not miss such an opportunity. This year, he is one of four men donning the costume, and it is the first of many years that there was not a woman on the spirit squad. He and the other Big Als do most
incredible how I have people’s lives change. your football team does as well as ours, this is super important.” Null said the spirit coordinators are very selective on who becomes Big Al. They have to have charisma with or without the suit on. “We are not very secretive about who is Big Al,” Williams said. “I know Auburn’s Aubie is kept top-secret, but we don’t believe in all that.” Big Al makes around 400 appearances a year, and Williams himself has made around 375. Williams said being Big Al is much more than being at football games, although that is the most exciting part. The squad makes volunteer-based appearances at fall festivals, elementary schools, charity events, Bama Bound and more. They are paid to attend birthday parties, and the university receives $400 for every wedding and business event they attend. The Big Als and their sponsor, Jennifer Thrasher, have meetings every week to decide who will take what event. The silence aspect of being Big Al was one of the most difficult things for Williams to master. He struggled at his first few appearances not to talk, but he got the hang of it with the help of one of his best friends who was Big Al before him. That friend is now a mascot for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, and his success has Williams thinking about a career as a professional mascot. “Since seventh grade, I have wanted to be a radiologist,” Williams said. “I have a thing for X-Rays, and I love helping people.” Williams said that is also why he loves Big Al, because he gets to individually help people like Brynn Clark. One of the reasons being Big Al was so appealing was it helped so much with involvement on his medical school application, but now he says it may be an alternate career path.
He has applied to be Viktor, the mascot of the Minnesota Vikings, an NFL team. Williams said he would prefer to work in major league baseball, but he will go wherever a job opens. Juggling this big life decision has become second-nature to Williams, and he is not worried about the future in the present. “I am staying on top of my classes, and I’ve still applied to multiple medical schools,” Williams said. “I am going to be wherever I am supposed to be.” Williams said the opportunities the university has given him as Big Al are worth a lifetime. Some of his best memories are getting to meet Robin Thicke and Josh Duhamel to film the college football playoff commercial last year, racing the Fighting Duck of The University of Oregon in a commercial for ESPN and AT&T, and meeting Marcus Spears on the sideline in Tennessee. He and a few other Big Als were almost allowed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, and put on the suit when it was airdropped from a helicopter at the summit, but the university decided it was too much of a liability. In January 2016 when the Crimson Tide won its 16th national championship in Phoenix, Arizona, Williams was live streamed on Good Morning America as Big Al three days in a row. “Big Al is a little kid in a big kid’s body, along with being a lady’s man as well,” Williams said. Williams’ goal as Big Al is to try to keep the character the same as it always has been. He said he wants to come back in 20 years and see Big Al acting the same as the one he portrayed during his time at UA.
Design by Emily Sturgeon // Photography by Kinsey Stanley
Big Al is a little kid in a big kid’s body.
Dakota Williams enjoys the time he’s spent as Big Al.
Big Al joins in with the cheerleaders at an Alabama football game.
SERIOUS BUSINESS By Mackenzie McClintock
Honors student Abraham Hausman-Weiss waits patiently inside an empty court for practice to start. It is 6:30 a.m., and he will begin his long day by pushing himself to the point of exhaustion. Most students his age dread waking up so early, but this is his only option. Two and a half hours later, dripping sweat and now in need of another night’s rest, he heads out of the gym and says goodbye to his teammates. Hausman-Weiss’ body is tired, but he feels more alive than ever, having just played a sport that has given him a chance to
fit in, a chance to find another family. As an athlete, he is subject to a demanding schedule, but nothing compares to the challenges he has already overcome to be playing in that gym before 7 a.m. Hausman-Weiss, a freshman member of the men’s wheelchair basketball team at The University of Alabama, fell in love with the sport while watching a game in first grade. He has been playing ever since through the LakeShore Foundation in Birmingham. He dreams of being a statistician after college, as well as winning a national title with his teammates. These high goals come at the price of balancing a taxing class schedule with his practices, weightlifting sessions and games.
“Wheelchair basketball is kind of a set of metaphors for your life,” Hausmann-Weiss said. “There are things that happen on the court that definitely should translate to what you do in your everyday life. “I think when you want to prove somebody wrong, you do it with your actions and not your words. You do it by showing them what you can do. In sports, if you’re trying too hard to prove yourself, you’re not going to do well, but if you just don’t worry about anything else and play your game on the court, it translates to being yourself in the regular world.” The University of Alabama’s Adapted Athletics program is home to elite athletes in the sports of wheelchair basketball and
Design by Meaghan Fortney // Photography by Kinsey Stanley
ALABAMA WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL MEANS
Design by Meaghan Fortney // Photography by Kinsey Stanley
wheelchair tennis. Their national titles come from their dedication and hard work. Rashad Bennett, a sophomore computer science major from Birmingham, is part of the men’s team as well. He has hopes of winning the national title this season and beating a rival team, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “We got really close [to winning it all] last year,” Bennett said. “We finished second, but we added missing pieces that we needed from last year, so we should go in and rock it this year. [Beating Whitewater] is the number one goal right now. We haven’t beat Whitewater in four years.” Bennett has grown close to Hausman-Weiss as well as his other teammates through their tough training and off-court time together. The men’s team has a “brother up” program where a younger and older player get together and hang out at least once a week, which is helpful for freshmen like Hausman-Weiss to get to know his teammates. “It’s like a big family here,” Bennett said. “We have people from all over the world on the men and women’s teams, but we all get along very well. Nobody takes anything personally, and we actually all play together really well. I love playing here.” Basketball has also given Ryan Jansen an outlet to prove that doctors were wrong when they told him he would not be able to play sports. Jansen, a freshman journalism major from Green Bay, Wisconsin, knew he would not be exactly like the “able-bodied athletes,” but with hard work and focusing on his studies, he could still live the life of a college basketball player. “There’s a lot of things that if you have a disability you don’t have to be motivated for, so people don’t expect you to do much,” Jansen said. “So that was kind of something that opened my eyes [in wheelchair basketball] in that you’re expected to do stuff. You can be accounted for if you play.” The men and women’s wheelchair basketball teams practice and train in the University’s Student Recreation Center, where many others also go to exercise or play various sports. The courts inside are open to the public, which forces the two teams to practice at early-morning hours, with hopes that pickup games and other gym-goers will not interfere. Fortunately, their time in the SRC is
[WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL] HAS TAUGHT ME THAT THERE’S ALWAYS A DOOR THAT WILL OPEN FOR YOU IN LIFE.” almost up. Earlier this year, the university’s System Board of Trustees approved a $10 million budget for the Adapted Athletics program to build a new facility. It will be completely wheelchair-accessible and the first of its kind in collegiate adapted athletics programs. Hausman-Weiss, Jansen and Bennett are thrilled about the new gym the program is receiving. Jansen said the construction of an adapted athletics facility “flexes Alabama’s muscles” since no other university has a facility dedicated to wheelchair athletes. “I’m really excited about it,” Hausman-Weiss said. “The main thing I’m excited about is the publicity. We’re going to have our own stadium, and it’s going to legitimize our sport a lot more and hopefully it will generate a lot more exposure. In the long run too, on a larger scale, if one of the [top] 10 [wheelchair basketball] colleges in the U.S. is doing this, maybe other colleges will start doing this, and it will continue to promote the legitimacy of wheelchair sports in the entire country.” The new facility will double as a stadium for home wheelchair basketball games and will be accessible to everyone, not just the adapted athletics teams. Construction at the SRC is underway and should take more than a year, but the teams will have a lot to focus on before the completion of their new facility. The women’s team’s assistant coaches Megan Musselman and Adam Kramer share the same enthusiasm for the new facility as the athletes. Both see it as a way for them to improve on the court and for the program to get more recognition. “It’s going to be great for our athletes just to have their own space to work,”
Musselman said. “We’re always trying to put our athletes at the same standard as our able-bodied athletes so this is just one more thing to help us be on an equal level with them.” Freshman women’s team member Sarah Maynard did not want to play wheelchair basketball in college at first. When she got into her senior season in high school, she realized she would miss it, and Alabama’s coaches reached out to her soon after that. Once she saw how supportive the program was at the university, she wanted to be a part of it.
THERE ARE THINGS THAT HAPPEN ON THE COURT THAT DEFINITELY SHOULD TRANSLATE TO WHAT YOU DO IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE.” “I’ve learned so much about other people and about pushing your limits, teamwork [and] taking care of each other,” Maynard said. “I have been able to meet so many people that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t gone here and played basketball.” As much as the wheelchair basketball teams are like a family, they are also highly competitive and produce Paralympic Games-level talent. In the 2016 Paralympics, former and current students as well as a coach in the Alabama Adapted Athletics program made the trip to Rio to compete. Team USA’s women and men’s wheelchair basketball teams won the gold, which featured past Alabama student athletes Stephanie Wheeler, Mackenzie Soldan and Desi Miller on the women’s side and Jared Arambula for the men. Current Alabama
student Babsi Grossi won a silver medal in women’s wheelchair basketball while representing Germany. Many of the university’s other representatives in the Paralympics were on Team Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball team, who came away from Rio with a fifth place finish. Coach Musselman said the members of the wheelchair basketball program who did not go to Rio met up to watch the Paralympics and have continued to work hard at the university while their teammates are abroad. “It’s nice to have that camaraderie,” Musselman said. “I’m a big believer that the bonding that you want to see occur on the court occurs off the court. Being able to have them bond off the court and away from bas-
ketball is only going to bring them closer.” The strong bond of the wheelchair basketball teams not only comes from hard work, but also from the adversity the athletes must overcome to play at the Division I level. The players and coaches deal with any given disability or setback with as much positivity as they can, using them as motivation to defy all odds. “[Wheelchair basketball] has taught me that there’s always a door that will open for you in life,” Bennett said. “[My disability] shut the door on able-bodied sports, but it opened a door to get a scholarship to college, to get a Paralympic opportunity when I’m older, to go overseas and play professionally. [Being disabled] opens up a lot more doors than you think it would.”
Creative Campus @creativecampus creativecampus.ua.edu
Creative Campus is a collaborative environment where students turn ideas into action.
Photos by Noah Sutton // Narrative by Sam Wilke Sutton and Wilke are both junior Honors students
I bought a black leotard, pink tights and ballet shoes at Wal-Mart the night before I attended my first dance class at 8 years old. After my mother dropped me off for my first class, I knew this was the start of a passion that I would carry with me throughout my life. When I graduated high school, I wasn’t ready to give it up. Dance was something that I could not part with. When I started looking at colleges, Alabama’s dance program stuck out to me the most. What separates UA from the rest is the atmosphere. The dance program is not just a group of dancers, but a support system focused on helping our peers fulfill their artistic visions. Dance for me is not only a hobby, but an emotional outlet. Dance poses as the perfect platform to express any emotions or social conflict through the art of movement and choreography. The student-choreographed show, Dance Alabama! allows students like myself to let their artistic voices be heard at a pre-professional level. DA! consists of a diverse group of genres, from jazz, tap, modern, contemporary and more. All of the pieces pose open-ended concepts or questions about social or emotional conflict present in the world today. The piece I danced in, “You Don’t Have To,” choreographed by Cate Kroehnke, proposes themes of coming of age and self-acceptance. Audience members were able to take away bits and pieces of the dance’s message and apply it to their lives in their own personal way. Being a dance major and Honors student at UA has allowed me to help create meaningful art and hopefully touch others in an expressive way.
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Design by Kylie Cowden // Photography by Ashley Adams
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By Maddie Hirschfield organ DeWitt grew up in Tuscaloosa, seven minutes away from The University of Alabama’s campus. She learned the ins and outs of the city, what her favorite restaurants were and exactly how to get to Target before she became a college student. Even though she considered going elsewhere at first, UA was the most obvious option. And despite knowing she wouldn’t get the experience of being surrounded in a new environment for college, she still chose to come to UA. “The scholarships here and the opportuni-
ties here were just unparalleled,” DeWitt said. “I can say this with my entire heart and soul; the staff here literally wants the absolute best for every single one of their students. All of that put together just makes this school so absurdly cool and different. So, I [stayed] here. I do not regret that one bit.” For DeWitt, the choice could be viewed as easy because she practically grew up in the shadow of Bryant-Denny Stadium. But for out-of-state students like Lucy Hollander, a New Jersey resident, The University of Alabama came across her mind in an unexpected
way as she was searching for other schools to apply to. “I watched Forrest Gump, and I was like ‘Oh, cool, Alabama,’” Hollander said. “I came to tour kind of on a whim, and it’s beautiful here. Everyone’s really happy to be here. You won’t find anyone that says that they hate this campus.” According to UA’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, in 2007, out-ofstate students comprised just 24 percent of the undergraduate population. In 2014, that percentage increased to about 47 percent. Now,
It just seems like every year we’re bringing in a record-breaking class with what they’re accomplishing in high school.
in 2016, a slight majority—55 percent—of the university’s undergraduate students come from outside the state. That rapid increase is due to the efforts of Robert Witt, former president and chancellor of the university, who started work in spring 2003. “When I was recruited, one of the goals that the trustees had in mind was that they wanted to see The University of Alabama as respected academically as it was athletically,” Witt said. “Our goal was also to grow the enrollment of the university.” Witt explained that with flat high school graduation rates and the average ACT being in the 21-plus range in Alabama high schools at the time, the pool of students that the university would define as motivated in-state students was limited. For that reason, they began to look outside the state. Witt’s plan started out initially targeting Texas, Georgia and Florida, but then expanded to recruiting throughout the country. However, as he encountered further areas and states, the task became more challenging. To be able to dedicate more time to recruitment, Witt restructured the university’s administrative structure. The only people he had working directly under him were the provost, the vice president for fi-
nance, the vice president for advancement and the athletic director. That made him available to be able to spend a lot of time on the road at recruiting receptions and high school visits. “With the vision that we articulated for The University of Alabama to become a university of choice for the best and brightest, that was going to be a challenging task,” Witt said. “Alabama has a history, if you go back far enough, that does not necessarily help us. Considering a university that probably years ago wasn’t one of the ones that was on your initial list [is difficult]. I felt to have an effective recruiting program, I had to be able to devote a very high percentage of my time to that recruiting effort.” On top of recruiting, Witt wanted to explore why students who were accepted into the university ultimately chose not to attend. Based on specific responses of parents and students, the Honors College was formed. According to Witt, the Honors College was created so that highly motivated students at the university could complete their entire core with other students similar to them, and so students could experience something beyond traditional education. The concept of the Honors
“[The Honors College] creates engagement and enrichment opportunities that can literally have a transformational effect on the students that are here,” Witt said. “If you bring outstanding students to your campus, to an Honors College, and they don’t encounter an outstanding classroom experience, you’re going to fail. We were able to create that outstanding classroom experience.” However, Witt wanted to grow with “balanced excellence,” which meant that the physical campus appearance needed to reflect the advanced academics and opportunities that the university offered. A very aggressive building plan was put in place, resulting in the university opening a new building on campus roughly every 90 days for about nine and a half years starting in the fall of 2003. “We put a concerted effort behind having our grounds make this one of the most beautiful campuses in the country because there are studies that indicate that when a student is visiting one of the universities on his or her list, usually within their first 20 minutes on campus, they make a decision regarding whether that university is going to stay on the list,” Witt said. “We knew we had to be
Alabama was able to offer the whole package. College worked by attracting the best professors who wanted to be in front of the brightest students, similar to how the best high school teachers want to teach AP classes.
able to make a really strong first impression by having a beautiful campus. I think with the Honors College, the focus on the best and brightest, significant scholarship support,
wonderful facilities, beautiful grounds, for people looking for a traditional university experience, the largest Greek system in the country, and a very strong intercollegiate athletics program, Alabama was able to offer the entire package.” While heavily recruiting out-of-state students, it was important for Witt that the university continued to maintain its dedication to Alabama residents. If residents ever questioned whether or not they were the ones with the best interest in mind, it could have ended up becoming a huge issue and halting the entire process. Since recruiting started, the university has been able to say that there is a place here for every Alabama resident that is qualified. In fact, out-of-state students can even make it easier for some in-state residents to attend. “[The out-of-state student population]
makes it economically easier for an Alabama resident to come to The University of Alabama,” Witt said. “One of the ways we can make this point very effectively to the citizens of Alabama and to the legislature of Alabama is [to] take this year’s fall semester enrollment, eliminate every non-resident student, replace every one of them with a resident student and see what the resident students would have to be paying to make up for the loss of non-resident tuition. That becomes a very powerful economic argument.” It’s clear that UA has been shaped by the recent change in ratio of out-of-state students. The university has improved in academic standing, risen in national rankings and has appeared on the radars of prospective students who may have never considered the school before. With about 67 percent of the Fall 2016 freshman class coming from states other than Alabama, it is also clear that the university will continue to change with it in the future. “I feel like we’re in the golden age at UA,” said Susan Dendy, Honors College recruitment and student engagement coordinator.
“It just seems like every year we’re bringing in a record-breaking class with what they’re accomplishing in high school, the statistics that they bring, but most importantly, the talent and the ideas that they bring. UA is only continuing to get better. As a university, we are really firing on all cylinders - in academics, in athletics, in student life. It’s just a really exciting time to be a part of UA.” Although in-state students are no longer the majority at UA, many of them like DeWitt recognize that out-of-state students have brought positive changes to the university both academically and culturally. DeWitt said that out-of-state students have helped her step out of the southern mindset that she has been living around her whole life. In fact, one thing that attracted her to the university was that she would be able to meet a very diverse crowd of students from around the country. “The United States is so enormous and so diverse, and there’s so many perspectives and cultures that exist just even within our nation’s borders that I think having people from all over come and express themselves and make a difference here with their new ideas is an unparalleled opportunity,” DeWitt said. “I can’t think of anything negative about having out-of-state students here because you bring all of these young people who have these incredible different perspectives, opinions and insights on things at an age where they want to work, make a difference, do services and change things in a place where things have been traditional for a long time.”
Design by Emeline Earman // Photography by Claire Dickson
By Margo Wieschhaus
Design by Emeline Earman // Photography by Claire Dickson
ust a few blocks off the Black Warrior River in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a new playground, complete with a basketball court, a tire swing and things to climb, among others, sits unmoving. School has been in session for a little more than a month, and it is that time in September when the weather is just barely starting to cool down in the South. Essentially, this setting is ideal for a child with some pent-up energy from a long day at school. But, the students for whom this playground was created are not on the monkey bars, swings, teeter-totter, or any part of the playground, for that matter. Instead, they’re off to the side, sitting crosslegged near the boundary line of their new basketball court, not talking. Why aren’t they running around and playing, or at the very least, chatting? One word: doughnuts. Inside the nearby building, which houses many of their peers, the scene is different. There are so many activities going on simultaneously. Down the hall from the main foyer, an elementary schooler ducks under a sensei’s jabbing glove, his face in glee all the while. This kid is into it, but the sensei actively engages the students who were not. He says to the class, “I tell all my groups I don’t have pacifiers and milk — y’all gotta pay attention.”
Upstairs, students draw pictures as a sensory outlet. Some are energetic; some are focused; but, all are respectful. Throughout the rest of this refurbished home in which they spend their time after school, there’s laughter, chatter and a general feeling of community, and the best part is that it will all happen again the next day. On any given Monday through Thursday afternoon during the school year between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m., a multitude of students with autism who have not yet graduated from high school can be found there at Arts ‘N Autism in Tuscaloosa. Arts ‘N Autism is a non-profit organization that serves primarily as an after-school program for students with autism. Activities such as art
lessons, Lego-building and karate allow the students to decompress from school. They also serve to improve sensory integration, as most students with autism struggle with those functions. There is a separate, smaller program called Learning is Fundamental for Education and Employment that serves students who have graduated from high school. In LIFEE, participants learn vocational skills and participate in supervised employment in the community. What began as a pilot program in 2004 with six students has now grown to a full-fledged operation serving over 85 children. Jan Sikes, a founder and director of Arts ‘N Autism, fielded concerns from parents about childcare while working as a special
education teacher at a Tuscaloosa city school in the 90s and early 2000s. “Parents would often come in to [Individualized Education Program] meetings or after school ... and just say how they felt so bad that their child wasn’t getting to do things their siblings were getting to do, or they wished they had childcare,” Sikes said. The need for an after-school program for this population was obvious — the standard programs were not meeting the needs of children with autism. Sikes said that their students have “unique behavioral needs” that prevent them from participating in mainstream after-school programs. Some of them tend to wander off, for example, and many are allergic to foods and environmental allergens that must be closely monitored. Typical programs do not usually regulate these things as well as is necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of a student with autism. Josh Lane, a senior majoring in psychology at The University of Alabama and an Arts ‘N Autism staff member, said the program provides structure not just for the child but
also for the entire family. “They can have a life that works better for them,” Lane said. “If the parents aren’t able to have a full-time job that’s 9-5, then the kids aren’t going to have the structure they need from their parents, because the parents can’t provide as much. So, it all centers around that.” One such parent is Alperlonia Wilson, who has an 8-yearold son in the program. Wilson, who is also the office manager, said the program provides the children with a lot of support.The activities scheduled are engineered to help with specific problems a student might be having such as sensory or behavioral issues. “I miss [the students] when they’re not here, [because] I believe a lot in empathy,” Wilson said. “Once you put yourself in their position and you try to understand what it’s like, it opens you up to explore their personality and just have a good time.” People from various walks of life fill the roles necessary to make the operation succeed. A sensei gives of his time, encouraging each and every student whose class participates in karate lessons there. Certain LIFEE program participants are employed there and perform needed tasks around the building. Parents help out by running errands and working at fundraisers that Arts ‘N Autism holds. Students from the university make time in their busy schedules to serve as mentors to the kids. No two roles are exactly alike. Mae Crumbley, a sophomore Honors student majoring in biology at the university, volunteers alongside Lane on Monday afternoons. She helps out in the same classroom each week by providing the teacher
with support and by interacting with the kids on a one-on-one basis. She started serving there at the beginning of the fall semester of her freshman year and hasn’t looked back. “Honestly, first semester, I was trying to transition into college, and I had a good time, but I was really lacking [since I only saw] kids the same age, so getting to come volunteer with the little ones ... it’s the happy part of my week where I get to hang out and see how they’re doing,” Crumbley said. “I tried out some different volunteer programs through the Honors College, and I think this is a really neat component in Tuscaloosa.” Crumbley said her time volunteering is academically stimulating, as well, as she is a pre-med student considering a career in pediatrics. “You get to see how they do certain things, like this [one] kid’s really good at building helicopters — you’d be amazed. They’re so much better than I am at Legos,” Crumbley said. “You get to see that interplay of the interactions between the different kids and how they interact with us. You really get that sustained interaction, rather than just going every now and then, [so] building those relationships has been really cool.” Crumbley helps in Lauren Ellis’ classroom. Ellis, a full-time teacher, said that volunteers are essential to the proper functioning of the program. Without them, students would not receive nearly as much individualized instruction. “In my classroom, [the volunteers] work so hard — some of them come in early, and they help me sit with the early arrivals, and they help me prepare lessons,” Ellis said. “They’re a huge, huge asset and a valued part of our daily life.” Not all volunteers are university students.
Some got involved first, which will include interaction with second-grader, said the adults there “teached through other avenues. children with autism. Any interaction she has [him] how to draw and play music.” The Eunie Park, a graduate of UA with children will be useful. workers and volunteers attempted to provide with a psychology degree, is invested “After that, I’m also thinking of doing social an atmosphere for students to thrive in. If because of personal experience — she was not work at a school for children with specials they did so, they had done their job; it’s all diagnosed with autism until about the kids. age 25, so working with this “During the year and a population is special for her. half that I’ve been here, I’ve nce you put yourself in their She previously worked at a seen so many of them grow children’s center in position and you try to understand what it’s so much and get better and the autism unit, but, try new things, which is like, it opens you up to explore their when funding was cut, she always a big deal for all of decided to volunteer at them,” Morgan said. “One personality and just have a good time.” Arts ‘N Autism. of the little girls here — she “My parents weren’t given didn’t used to speak — and this opportunity. This wasn’t out there,” needs; I didn’t have any inclination of working during the time that I’ve been here, she started Park said. “I want to serve as an advocate — I to speak, so that was really, really cool. We’ve in a school before I started interacting with know how these kids feel, and I remember. got all kinds of fun people. This place is just these kids,” Morgan said. This is a wonderful program.” full of happiness.” Students at Arts ‘N Autism said they liked Some volunteers progress to paid a lot of activities they did there. Many of positions, though these are not easy to them echoed the same sentiment — they liked come by. Personnel decisions are integral to playing outside on the playground. Isaiah, a the proper function of the program, so, almost always, paid positions are only offered to volunteers. Alex Morgan, a junior UA Honors student majoring in social work, met the criteria for a staff spot: worked well with kids and stood out as a volunteer. Morgan began volunteering at Arts ‘N Autism during the second semester of her freshman year because a class required volunteer work, but she loved it so much that she stayed. Now, she teaches a Legos class and is a teacher’s assistant during the rest of her time there. Morgan said that her experience added a new dynamic to her future career plans. She hopes to go into child protective services
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A JOURNEY THROUGH FLAVOR By Kinsey M. Stanley
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Stanley is a sophomore Honors student majoring in accounting
I have always been most inspired when in the kitchen, surrounded by fragrant spices and fresh herbs. To me, the most remarkable part of cooking is the social aspect. Food brings people together in a way that nothing else can and, at its core, cooking is a form of identity. Through food, I have been able to experience cultures that I otherwise would not have been able to, and I have found a unique form of expression. With this photo essay, I wanted to portray the beauty of the cooking process and encourage others to look at food with a new perspective.
Design by Emeline Earman // Photography by Nicole Rodriguez
By Matthew Wilson
Design by Emeline Earman // Photography by Nicole Rodriguez
t was a gradual process — a beer here, a joint there — that seemed to spiral out of control, and before he could even comprehend what happened, narcotics agents were busting down the door of his apartment and dragging him off to jail. “For a year, I thought I was the man, and I was completely delusional,” said Robert Smith, an Honors College student whose name has been changed to protect his employment. “Once I got arrested, I got sent back to reality.” Today, Robert credits The University of Alabama’s MPACT recovery program with saving his college career, and maybe his life. Nevertheless, it has been a long grind. To him, the past five years seemed a blaze, not unlike the cherry embers of a marijuana cigarette. It all started in ninth grade as a casual hobby, but in his senior year of high school, it became a habitual everyday thing. The drinking, the drugs, they became a lifestyle that he chose. He was not alone. About 17 percent of American high school students are smoking, drinking or doing some other type of drug during the school day, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Robert started selling marijuana in high school. He wanted to help out his friends, but more importantly, he wanted to be able to smoke for free. After graduating high school, he chose to attend UA. College would be an oasis for him, a zion of boozing, partying and trying to pick up women. That’s what his idea of a big name university was. “That’s a stigma that goes around with big named schools,” Robert said. “It took me getting sober to realize there’s something more to school besides drinking.” For a time, that lifestyle sustained him. He maintained his school work, but he went to college for the night life. Without his parents there to watch out for him, he was free to do whatever he wanted. About 1,825 college students die from alcohol related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle accidents, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Robert met people at parties, and they went out and smoked weed. He figured if he could find a drug dealer with “really good” weed, he could monopolize a section of the market. In a study by The University of Michigan, 5.9 percent of college students in 2014 reported daily or near-daily marijuana use. He went in with that motivation, and it just seemed to grow bigger and bigger. For a time, he thought he was invincible
and untouchable. He didn’t think about the consequences or risks. He seemed balanced precariously on the plumes of smoke, adrift in some altered state of reality, but the knock on his door broke through the illusions of grandeur. The day previous he had sold to a friend of a friend. He knew that West Alabama Narcotics operated heavily in the area, but at the time, that didn’t seem to register. As the officers put him in handcuffs, his only thoughts were that his life was over. He could kiss his career goodbye. He had gambled his future and lost. “Distribution sounds worse than what I was selling,” he said. “I sold an eighth, $60 worth of weed. I never really thought through my decisions in the past heavily.” Robert immediately got a lawyer and managed to get his charges reduced to youthful offender. With his case sealed and closed, he still faced a semester’s suspension for breaking student conduct. He was given two options: take the suspension or join MPACT.
like Bradford. “I think most of us have our own experience with it or someone we’re close with,” she said. “Students are trying to figure out where they want to go with their lives, and it’s hard to stay motivated to do well if you don’t have something you’re working towards.” For the past few months, John Lovett has been working as interim administrator while they find a replacement for Downs, who left in May. Lovett, who’s also the assistant director of Student Conduct, has worked with the program since its inception. For Lovett, it’s been his passion for six years. He had been working in the conduct office for two months when he interacted with a student who had an opiate addiction. At the time, the substance abuse services on campus were limited. The director of the Student Health Center
Making A Change Started by a UA instructor, Adam Downs, MPACT is a diversion and recovery program designed to educate students about substance abuse and to show them how to live a better, more fulfilling life. In MPACT, there are five programs, ranging from brief two-session counseling interventions to the drug CORE (Comprehensive Offender Rehabilitation and Education) program. Not everyone in MPACT are addicts. Some just made a mistake; others come voluntarily because they feel they need the help. Kelly Miller, one of the MPACT counselors, joined the program three years ago. Miller, who previously worked at Bradford Health Services, pursued a profession in substance abuse because of family and friends having been affected by it. She sees the program as secondary intervention, the opportunity to deter students before they get to a point where they have to go to a rehab program
helped manage long-term recovery services, but there was no formal service. Lovett managed to contact the director and get the student the treatment they needed. From that point, he was assigned more of those types of cases, and over the years, the case load has increased. While working as interim administrator, Lovett said he keeps up the same amount of case work as before. He’s glad the program exists because it gives students an outlet to get the help they need. He said he wonders sometimes how many students didn’t get the help they needed or possibly died before the program was created. “Many universities are afraid to admit this exists,” he said. “Every college or university has issues with substance abuse, but most aren’t willing to host such programs because they believe that it introduces the stigma that we’re admitting we’re having a problem. That’s not the case. This is a resource for our students. We want them to live happy successful lives and be able to obtain a degree.” Miller said the program is designed to help them realize their goals and potential, but it can be difficult sometimes because some students don’t think they have a problem. They’re still functioning at a normal level.
“It’s harder to [tell] a student who’s functioning at a student level still that they have a problem because it’s so culturally acceptable in college across the country, you’re supposed to act this way in college then grow out of it,” she said. Her goal is to keep students in school. When she was in college, she had friends who dropped out because they couldn’t maintain the grades. That being said, sometimes if the student is having problems, they’ll go to an outpatient treatment program. MPACT arranges that with the university so the student isn’t penalized for getting the help they need. They keep an eye out for students who aren’t showing up to group sessions or whose failing drug tests. They try to address the problem with the student first before going to student conduct: discuss things clinically, make them go to extra Alcohol Anonymous meetings or write a paper on the dangers of alcohol. Sometimes, it may be that a particular student isn’t compatible with a therapist. Miller and counselor Jaime Garza try to be aware of that. What’s really tough for Miller is the students who choose to drop out of the program and who don’t go to an outpatient facility. “The ones that really get me is, when you’re
dismissed from the university, you’re always given the option of treatment, but some of them don’t want to go to treatment because they don’t think they have a problem,” she said. “They’ll literally choose to walk out of school and leave instead of going to get treatment. Those are the ones that hurt my heart more because I want them to have a better life.”
Gradual Impact At first, Robert hated the drug CORE program. He was angry and sad and didn’t understand what happened. How had he gone from being “the man” on campus to being in a diversion program. The thought of going an entire year without drinking or smoking seemed torturous and unreachable. Every week, he’d go to group counseling and individual sessions in Russell Hall. He’d go to AA meetings and to study hall. He’d go to case managing sessions and take Career Center assessments. In a program with 20 students, he’d do team building exercises like scavenger hunts across campus or building and climbing through cubes. For two or three months, he wasn’t excited about the program. A part of him resisted even though he knew he was lucky he wasn’t kicked
out of school. Gradually, that part of himself started to shrink. For the first time in years, he felt clear headed. He could see his future, the dreams he always wanted to accomplish but that fell by the wayside. He wants to go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. It was like a cloud of smoke had been cleared, awakening from a five-year haze. It didn’t come all at once. There wasn’t a eureka moment of epiphany, but like the alcohol and the drugs, day by day, reality settled in. “Over time, I gave in,” he said. “I’m going to be in it and make the best of it.” This was his second chance. At a different university, he would have been kicked out or suspended. Though the urge to drink and smoke never went away, it never overrode his ability to resist it. MPACT taught him to consider long-term consequences versus short term gratification. Since December 2015, Robert has been sober. Even months later, the pressure to drink is still there whether it be celebrating someone’s 21st birthday or football on game days. “Having good people around you that also don’t drink so you don’t feel isolated and alone,” he said. “The reason why I drank in the first place was to rid myself of that. Temptation is going away a little bit. I have to constantly remind myself that I’ve been given a second change and what’s important.” After he was arrested, his friend group changed completely. When he was selling, all his friends were there for the drugs, and after he got arrested, they all abandoned him. It caused him to reevaluate who his real friends were. He’s made friends that accept him for who he is. He’s become close with people in group. Now, he has quality relationships. He’s started reading again for the first time in years. Right now, he’s rereading books he last read in high school. His favorite genre is early 1900s dystopian novels. Looking at students just joining the program can be like looking in a mirror. Robert sees the person he used to be and how far he’s changed over his time in the program. He can sympathize with them because he was at that point himself not too long ago. “Through MPACT and being sober for an extended period of time, I realize there’s other avenues to life,” he said. “My morals and values have changed. I don’t seek going out and getting drunk as a form of enjoyment. It’s not as appealing to me. I don’t romanticize the idea.”
By Dr. Brad Tuggle, UA Honors College email@example.com 28
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Dr. Brad Tuggle believes Honors classes create the leaders of tomorrow.
Design by Maria Oswalt
hen I was 4 years old, long before the Honors College at The University of Alabama existed, I sat in Bryant-Denny Stadium and watched one of its two namesake coaches lead the Crimson Tide to a victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats. When I was a little older, I watched on television as Van Tiffin kicked a game-winning field goal against Auburn. And when I applied for college, I only applied to one school. Like roughly half of native Alabamians, I was attached to the university from birth, and Tuscaloosa always had a mystical presence in my life. Though I had never actually lived there, it was home. It has been wonderful getting to know this place from the inside out again and to have a home base on the third floor of Nott Hall. Here is something of what I have learned. Let me focus on the 15-person interdisciplinary seminars taught by our core faculty. The Honors College is a place where exciting things happen in these classrooms, not only because our classrooms are filled with the best and brightest students on campus (though that helps tremendously), but also because the seminar is a pedagogical laboratory. Each Honors core faculty member pushes the limits of what our students can accomplish by experimenting and taking risks in these classrooms. An Honors course in Nott is an intellectual workshop. This means that the professor does not simply make an argument or give facts for students to learn. Instead, we build arguments with students. We are in the room not to tell students what to believe or think, but to help them hone their intellectual awareness and abilities. A life without thinking is a life with less purpose and meaning. Hopefully, my students come to understand that the life of the mind is an everywhere, everyday way of being in the world. Every day during which an educable person avoids thinking is a day wasted. It is a day that weakens rather than strengthens some of the most important capacities he or she will ever possess. Sometimes college students do not even realize that they are not using their minds in daily life. Or they think they are using their minds fully, when they are only using them in a diminished way. It’s as if they own a Ferrari, and never experience
what 200 mph feels like. Or they own a Mack truck (every mind is different, after all) and never haul anything substantial. I hope the classroom experiences I share with students convince them that they are the owners of a powerful machine that must be diligently maintained and also occasionally pushed to its limits in order not to be wasted. Another analogy for an Honors classroom would be a musical band. Many of our students are excellent solo musicians, so to speak -- they play their instruments with a high level of competence and even virtuosity. But in the classroom, they learn to be in a band. In the seminar setting, we take turns soloing sometimes. But, like the great ensembles of the Miles Davis Quintet or the Grateful Dead, the music is the best when we are all improvising at the same time, and doing so while listening intently and respectfully to one another. The notion of bandleader disappears. We are all leaders leading one another into terrain we can explore together. Personally, I teach a lot of poetry and drama. Students sign up for my courses because they want to read Shakespeare or Milton, but they leave my classes with a new perspective on their own lives. This is because approaching a poem, or any other complex literary text, is an imitation of ethical action. The literature classroom is a place to help undergraduates learn to explore their own ethical stances and to evaluate the ethical stances of others. Literary texts, used aright, are ethical workbooks toward proper relations with others. Horatio says, regarding the moaning instructions of the Ghost at the end of Act 1 of Hamlet, “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!” If this expresses something like an undergraduate engineer’s or nurse’s initial response to a complicated poem like The Faerie Queene, then Hamlet’s response to Horatio is apt: “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.” Avital Ronell, in a special issue of Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, “On Poetry,” writes of the necessity of allowing any poem to ‘greet’ us. This means attempting to meet the poem on its own terms and to listen attentively to what it
might be trying to tell us, rather than imposing our own interpretive will upon it. And this relation to poetry has obvious implications for our relations to other humans, and even our supposed knowledge of ourselves. “Who’s there?” is the opening line of Hamlet, and also the play’s most important question. Confrontations with poetry, then, can be seen as a training ground for the ethical life. Erich Auerbach writes, “There is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own self.” In his biography of Milton, William Riley Parker writes, “We read great poetry not to agree or disagree, but to grow.” I try to urge students to be aware of this process and of how poems can help facilitate or complicate it. When Honors students take their own growth seriously, they can then begin to better foster the growth of others. This is why Honors seminars are so important for the diverse group of students we teach. Engineers, nurses, businesswomen, journalists, lawyers and doctors alike become better at what they do by being the ethically aware, intellectually curious and aesthetically enriched persons that the seminars encourage them to be.
When Honors students take their own growth seriously, they can then begin to foster the growth of others. An Honors degree is a value-added degree. We don’t teach our students how to build rocket engines, or how to cure cancer. We help them find the drive, the confidence and the courage to do those things as well as they can do them and to keep looking for ways to do them even better. We help create leaders who can fight the world’s fight and win. By teaching them to use their intellect beyond our classroom, I hope to instill a mode of awareness that will keep undergraduates learning and developing far beyond my classroom, and far beyond the four years they have at The University of Alabama. In this and other ways, I hope to help produce graduates who can serve the university, the community, the state, the nation and the world in ways that I myself can only vaguely imagine.
Finding Oxford By Dr. Paul Phelps, UA Honors College firstname.lastname@example.org
hen I try to talk with others about Oxford, I generally reflect on the conversations as ineffective. It’s not that the place is difficult to categorize. According to the Times Higher Education, the world’s best university is there. And the town is lovely too, adding to the 8,500 or so university students an additional 150,000 Oxonians. The difficulty arises from the fact that the magic of the place is not containable in any sort of category. As a colleague said to me this past summer, somewhat in a moment of awe, “one learns so much here.” It’s this awe and learning (and awe as learning) that the faculty of the “UA in Oxford” program try to capture and transact to our summer students. In some ways, this awe is easy to induce. Students who enroll in the “UA in Oxford” program are treated to five weeks of residency in what by all accounts is premier Oxford real estate. The campus of Worcester College not only includes a lake, an orchard
and a dedicated cricket pitch (all exceptions by Oxford standards); it also has a gorgeous Georgian library, one of Oxford’s finest cooking staffs and a set of medieval cottages— which are important mainly because they add some quaintness to the eighteenth-century avant-gardism of the college’s other structures. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and media mogul Rupert Murdoch are both graduates of Worcester. As is Emma Watson, and if you ask kindly enough, the college porters will treat you to set of stories about her Oxford escapes—including stories about the various “disguises” she took on while at Worcester to avoid the paparazzi. It’s also easy to impress summer abroad students with Oxford history. Americans, for example, are intrigued to learn that a dispute over the quality of the beer at a 12th century tavern set in motion the series of events that, 100 years later, resulted in the construction of the university. And the
possibilities for engagement with British royal family history (of which Americans have an odd and inauthentic obsession) are also vast in Oxford. Henry II’s mistress Rosamund Clifford, for example, grew up in an Oxfordshire nunnery and was hiding there, so the story goes, when Henry’s wife, Eleanor, found her and forced her to drink from a bowl of poison (in a more symbolic but spurious version, Eleanor stabs Rosamund in the heart). Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s daughter, Mary 1st, upon her ascension to the throne in 1553, tried and convicted of heresy the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Along with two other Protestant reformers, Cranmer was burned alive on March 2, 1556, and the exact site of the burning is memorialized by a subtle cobbling of bricks at the narrow end of what is now a prominent Oxford street (but what was then the area just beyond the town wall). The effect of spending the afternoon at
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Dr. Paul Phelps sees Oxford as a place of culture and learning.
Rosamund’s nunnery or placing one’s feet on the site where an Archbishop was burned alive is quite visceral, an authentic engagement with the past, though if the game in traveling to Oxford is to substantiate certain fantasies about the British royalty, students can also have toast and tea at The Grand Cafe on High Street—an establishment that, dubiously in my opinion, claims Elizabeth 1st lodged there in 1556. What’s harder to capture in a conversation about Oxford is the spirit of the place, its personality. It doesn’t bustle like London, but it’s almost certainly more cosmopolitan (a difficult fact to imagine, I’m sure); and it doesn’t tick like many U.S. cities; in fact, its sense of time, and timing, is pleasantly obscure (“in due course” is the Britishism for “whenever we feel like it”). And while from afar the university might seem like a bastion of pretension, it’s genuinely one of the least pretentious places I’ve lived. In fact, a regular meal during term time in Oxford is an exercise in global community. There may be, for example, a biochemist seated to your left, and, on your right—stick your hand in the Oxford sorting hat—an anthropologist. In front of you is a barrister (aka, a lawyer), and to the left and right of the barrister other individuals with other ideas, pursuing other degrees. But that’s not all. The biochemist is a New Zealander and an agnostic. The anthropologist is from Brunei and is a Sufi Muslim. And the lawyer (despite being a lawyer, which might preclude other categories of classification) is Lebanese, a gifted Dabkhe dancer, and trilingual. What’s more? After dinner, during the basically mandatory post-dinner drinks, you and the Kiwi and the lawyer learn from the anthropologist how to sing Quawwali at the same time you enjoy your pints of ale. This is not an aberrant scene in Oxford, and
recreating these scenes constitutes a large part of the work that the “UA in Oxford” faculty put into the program. The courses on offer for the program attempt to engender this community with the university and the city. This past summer, for example, we were able to hire a local Oxford poet and professor to teach one of the English literature courses; we offered (with John Beeler in UA’s history department) a course on Beatle-mania and on rock n’ roll in general—the history of which has broad and surprising tendrils in the Oxford club scene. And my course, on Oxford literature, culture and history, came with two, inflexible rules. Rule one: there would be no lecturing, none whatsoever. Rule two: there would be no sitting in desks in classrooms. Really, there would be very little sitting. I wanted my students to live in the city, to interact with the city, to spend time (at both the top and the bottom) of Bodleian library, to experience the artistry of the crucifixes in the Holywell cemetery, to watch water drain off the side of a Norman church—and be awed by the prescience of the 10th century architecture. From night to night, the location of office hours changed. One night I’d sit in an historic pub; the next night in a minimalist coffee shop (part of Oxford’s serious and, in my opinion, effective response to the hipster movement); the third night underneath a tree in the University Parks, the one favored by J.R.R. Tolkien when he was imagining the Lord of the Rings. The goal was not confusion but immersion, to compress as much of the place as possible into a five week trip. The most veritable remnant of Oxford as place from the past summer, however, came from the exam labors of a small group of my students. Tasked with finding, researching and presenting an aspect of Oxford not covered
by my syllabus, these three students pursued a cryptic remark by a townie to the existence of medieval tunnels connecting a network of colleges and chapels clustered in the city center. According to the townie, the tunnels had served originally as conduits through which 10th century monks exchanged prized religious artifacts, later, in the 17th century, as refuge for subjugated Jewish individuals, and finally, in the 19th century, as the housing for “market boys” who didn’t meet the age requirement for labor required by British law. But my students couldn’t find the medieval tunnels; they couldn’t even find reference to the tunnels, as a complex network, in the vast collection of primary sources on record in Oxford (of which digitization has made searching significantly easier). In fact, after dozens of emails, a handful of interviews, a brief road trip to the Oxford history center in Headington, the group failed to find anyone who could talk about the tunnels in a knowledgeable, cohesive, less-than cryptic way. “The mystery continues,” so they concluded at the end of their presentation. I’m not sure I agree. My students may not have found the tunnels (they probably don’t exist), but in collecting a seemingly anomalous series of data, and in pursuing the mystery as far it would take them, they did find Oxford, the place itself, the thing that only becomes clear to you once you spend time being charmed by its magic—and its lack of clarity. For me, Oxford is something like the metropolitan and collegiate equivalent of an electron. Its history is so vast, so coded, so stratified, its present so serious, so multivalent, so forward looking that the essence of the place is always there and not there, always part of the fabric of what’s happening but always just beyond your capacities of apprehension.
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F e at u r e s
Shadows Along the Bosphorus | 34 Filmmaking in Tuscaloosa | 39 Colors to a Blind Man | 43 Second to Nun | 48 Front Porch Sessions | 53 STEM Path to MBA Goes to India | 56
Design by Kylie Cowden// Photography submitted by Ilham Ali
By Matthew Wilson
Design by Kylie Cowden// Photography submitted by Ilham Ali
First Days in Istanbul Ilham Ali sits watching the churning water of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait that divides the city of Istanbul into two halves and two continents. Istanbul is a city of two minds: Domes, arches and columns of the ancient Ottoman Empire stand among modern flats. It was the architecture that brought her halfway across the world to study — a living, breathing textbook. More than 17 million people from across the globe go about their way in this sprawling city, but it can be peaceful and serene near the water’s edge. Often, Istanbul seems like the safest place in the world, a city where people invite you back to their homes for dinner or a cup of tea. People are friendly and hospitable especially to foreigners, but there are signs of turbulence too. The faces of the dead, black and white profiles surrounded by a bouquet of red roses, sit on a table in front of a flag at the Atatürk International airport. Ali, a sophomore architectural engineering major and Honors College student, decided to study abroad in the summer of 2016 for the same reason a lot of college students do: It offered her the chance to immerse herself in another culture. She had always wanted to go to Istanbul and jumped on the chance to fulfill her dream. “It’s a city of its own,” Ali said. “That’s why it has been such an important place historically throughout empires and even modernly today. It seems like everyday I was there, it got bigger.” During her stay, she wanted to become a part of Turkey, to embrace their customs and ways of life. She spent three months learning
Ilham Ali spent a summer in Turkey, where she volunteered at a center that helped Syrian refugees.
conversational Turkish from the internet, practicing with her Turkish friend and watching Turkish television shows. When she arrived at the Atatürk airport, she even had a conversation with customs in Turkish. “Learning the language is a big part of the culture,” Ali said. “There are some things that are
lost in translation. Once you start to speak the language, you really start to know the intimate thinking of the language.” One of five students in Istanbul under the American Institute For Foreign Study study abroad program, Ali enrolled in Bogazici University, one of the top colleges in Istanbul. She was enrolled with Turkish students taking summer classes and made friends with other students from Morocco, Mexico, Europe and China. The first two or three weeks went by fast. She would go to class in the morning, have tea in cafés with friends and explore the city at night. There were street vendors, musicians playing and local shops. She’d stay up late at night in one of her friend’s apartments, just talking, before making her way back to her dorm. In June 2016, the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, was being practiced. At sundown, Ali and her friends would get together for Iftar, the breaking of the fast. “It’s great to be around people from different
cultures and to be exposed to all of that,” she said. “It was great to get a deeper understanding of Turkish culture while I was there.” When she wasn’t in school or exploring, she’d spend two or three times a week at the community center for refugees where she would work with children and women Syrian refugees. According to the London-based The Guardian newspaper, there are 20 million refugees worldwide and 2 million in Turkey, more than all of Europe. At the center, Ali would translate Arabic to English and Turkish and helped teach classes. Ali started a photography class, which she really enjoyed, where they would go around the neighborhood taking photos. The center had opened a month before she arrived, started by four volunteers who saw a need in the neighborhood. They originally worked out of one of the volunteers’ basement before the center was opened. Ali said it was sad seeing these people who had been ravaged by war, whose cities had been seized, and who went through starvation, missiles and bombs so stoically. There’s a lost generation of Syria, whose education is in limbo. The center enrolled 40 children in school. “The problem is once they get to Turkey, there is a shortage of work for them,” Ali said.
“If they are employed, they’ll be employed at half the rate of a Turkish worker. They are vulnerable and desperate to work to provide for their families. They also struggle with the language because Arabic and Turkish is so different.”
Airport Bombing On June 28, around 3 p.m., one of Burcu Ozturk’s professors told her the Atatürk Airport had been attacked. Having failed to get past security, three gunmen, with automatic weapons and explosive belts, opened fire and dispersed throughout the airport where they detonated their explosives. There were conflicting reports of how many people had been killed, but the number would soon rise to 45 plus the gunmen. Ozturk, a doctoral student at The University of Alabama, had grown up in Turkey before coming to the United States to continue her studies. Her family, so large she spent her Christmas vacations shuffling between all of them, was still in Turkey. Feeling her heart drop, she quickly reached out to her sister to make sure she was alright. Her sister had been at the airport only hours before. This wasn’t the Turkey Ozturk she knew or the place that she grew up. The airport was another in a line of attacks, at least eight terrorist attacks already that year against the Turkish people. The terrorist organization, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, would claim responsibility for the airport bombing. “Turkish people are strong and resilient,” she said. Ozturk, who plans on returning to her home country in two to three years to be a professor, hates seeing how Turkey is portrayed in the news. The country she grew up in values other
religions and cultures. She said when a church was turned into a mosque, they kept the religious symbols in the building like the cross. Before ISIL, Turkey was a peaceful place. She said the terrorist organization is a problem for all countries and nationalities and doesn’t agree with how they label themselves. “Why would an Islamic terrorist group attack a country that’s 90 percent Muslim?” she said. Ali heard about the attacks on the news that night. She had planned to travel to see family members in Sudan for a few days, her plane scheduled to leave three days after the attack. She didn’t let the attack scare her because she didn’t want to give the terrorists the power to control her life. Attacks like that were committed to incite fear. The day after the attack, there was a different atmosphere about the city. People were more solemn and somber, and that’s all anyone wanted to talk about. People on the metro were more apprehensive, looking around and wondering if there would be any more attacks. There were funeral services for those who died. As someone of Islamic faith, Ali condemned the terrorist organization for using Islam as as a front for their attacks. “They are terrorists,” she said. “They use Islam as a guise. It’s the quickest way to political power for them. They hide under the mask of returning to an Islamic golden age when everything they do is against the idea of Islam.”
The atmosphere in the weeks after the bombing didn’t seem that different to Ali. The Turkish people were steadfast in their belief that they shouldn’t dwell on the terrorist attacks or let ISIL scare them. Ali returned from her brief visit with her family to continue her
study abroad trip. She had about a month left before she would return to Alabama to start the first semester of her sophomore year. On July 15, Ali attended a party her friends were having in Levent, one of Istanbul’s older districts. Around 7 p.m., they gathered in the flat to eat food and play games, and around 10:30 p.m. they moved down to the street to say their goodbyes. Ali was headed to her dorm when her phone rumbled. It was one of her Turkish friends. They were supposed to be meeting tomorrow around noon. It was probably just to confirm their plans. There’s police and military on both bridges. I’m not sure what’s going on, but be careful and stay inside. That’s interesting, Ali thought as she boarded the metro. Her mind immediately went back to the airport bombing. It was probably a bomb threat on both of the bridges, another threat of attack. That’s why they brought out the full police and military force. Getting off the train, her phone rang. “Where are you?” a different friend asked. “Headed to the dorm,” she said. “Good. I’m in the library,” her friend told her, before adding, “Stay safe.” What was with the bizarre phone call, she wondered. What was going on? Typing Istanbul on her phone, breaking news alerts popped up of a coup under way in Turkey. A faction within the Turkish Armed Forces, called the Peace at Home Council were attempting to seize power from the Turkish president. That wasn’t good, she thought as she went to the dorm to charge her phone and turn on the news. There was a crowd of Turkish students watching the news in the lobby. They chattered anxiously. There would be martial law soon. What did this mean for their country? People flooded the grocery stores and withdrew money from the ATMs. They were preparing for
the worst, a possible civil war in Turkey. The bloody coup attempt of 1980 was still fresh in some of their minds. Some of Ali’s friends were supposed to leave in three days, but at the moment, the Atatürk airport was seized by coup sympathizers. The sonic boom of F-16 bombers rattled the building, shattering the glass roof tops of certain places. When the first two bombers flew overhead, Ali felt her heart seize in her chest, but she tried to stay calm. Watching the news as it unfolded, she was doing better than some of the others, who were in a panic. Around midnight, Erdogan came on television addressing the country as the whole. He urged citizens loyal to Turkey and democracy to go out to the streets in protest. “It was really bizarre,” Ali said. “It was like a last cry for whatever at that point. Some of the media had been taken over by coup people. There was no communication really coming from the government.” A world away, Ozturk watched the events unfold with her sister, who was visiting, and other Turkish UA students. She didn’t understand why the coup was happening. Crying, she called her mother in Izmir. Her mother was safe, the area relatively calm in comparison to other areas like Istanbul, but people had flocked outside to support democracy. Ozturk said she heard reports of soldiers abandoning the coup. Not everyone involved were aware of what was happening. Some soldiers were 19 and 20 year olds, afraid to go against the orders of their superiors. There were stories of soldiers running away. Despite there being martial law, many people went out to the bridges and to the airport. It was one of the things that altered the course of the night. Ali believed that the coup plotters were in more control than the government wanted to admit.
Turkey pushed back against the coup, and due to disorganization, it started to fall apart. The plotters failed to capture the president or any of the elected officials in power. After Turkey took back the airport from the coup plotters, Erdogan landed in the city. By the morning, around 240 people were dead including a friend of a friend for Ali, caught like other civilians in the crossfire. In Turkish politics, Ali said, there’s before and after the coup. “It was kind of an event you look back on in the history books, a turning point,” she said. By the morning, shops and restaurants were open, but there was an odd mood in the streets. That night had accomplished what the past terrorist attacks couldn’t. It made the Turkish people question what their future was and whether anything else tragic would happen. In the days following the coup, Ali was determined to finish her study abroad experience, reassuring her family that she would be fine. Some foreign students did leave, going back home. Day by day, life seemed to return to some state of semi-normal. There was still a lot of unrest and uncertainty. How would the government react? What did it mean for everyday life? Some students were forced to vacate their subsidized housing because it was believed to be connected to a coup sympathizer. People were arrested in the thousands or asked to step down from their jobs. Professors and deans lost their positions, including the dean at Ali’s university. Ali hopes those who suffered because of the coup might be reinstated one day. “Turkey is bitterly polarized when it comes to the government and the ruling party,” she said. “But even those on both sides of the spectrum, no one wants to see democracy go away.”
The Bosphorus It’s been months since Ali returned home. Istanbul lingers in her mind, popping up at the strangest times. She could be on the Crimson Ride buses, and her mind would snap to the Turkish transportation system: buses that showed their final destination and origin, ferries along The Bosphorus. She’s joined the Turkish Student Association, an on-campus group co-led by Ozturk, as an honorary member. The two met after Ali went to the Critical Languages Center looking to take a class to improve her Turkish. With around a hundred members in the group, it can feel at times like she never left Turkey. Well, that’s not necessarily true. They take picnics out to Manderson Landing or Lake Lurleen versus exploring ancient Ottoman mosques. On some nights, they’ll invite everyone to a family member’s house where they’d have dinner. There’s talks of politics, of what the coup meant, and of how the country is rebuilding. For the hundred or so UA students like Ozturk, home is a world’s away. “These are current events in their country,” Ali said. “Just because you immigrate to another country doesn’t mean you cut ties to your home country. Most of these people have family there, friends there, history there. Everything that happens there still affects them. It’s very relevant in their life.” Burcu said the coup attempt made them all value democracy more. A flawed democracy was better than a military controlled state. “After the coup attempt, people supported democracy more,” she said. “We realized only democracy could protect the country.” Sometimes, Ali will load up the tripod and camera and just drive looking for moments,
stories to capture in film, and she’ll think about the refugee center where she worked and the Syrian refugees she befriended. They were scared in the days after the coup, terrified of a fractured peace. In Syria, every time a plane flew by, it was followed by the sound of a bomb falling and ruins: ruins of the hospital, of the school, of neighboring houses, of their homes. They had came to Turkey for stability, and now that was threatened. Ali interviewed one of the refugee women she knew at the center. Since coming home, she’s been cutting and placing, transcribing and translating the 30-minute interview till it forms a natural flowing story. She’s making a documentary of sorts, planning to fill in the gaps visually with an actor and scenes filmed around the Tuscaloosa waterside. It’s her goal to enter it into the student-run Black Warrior Film Festival, but she’d settle for putting it online for everyone to see. On days, she feels an immense guilt that she can’t really explain. When she sees a plane flying overhead, she feels ashamed because she’s not afraid, because she knows the plane isn’t a threat to her life and that she lives in a relatively safe place. Even as recent as a year ago, Turkey used to be like that. It’s a silly thing, really, to feel guilty because she knows in an ideal world, everyone would feel safe to walk the streets. Along the shore of the Bosphorus, the water gurgles on a calm day in the middle of July. For a moment, a mackerel and bonito briefly swim across the surface, casting two dark shadows among the blue.
By Laura Testino 39
“At a school that’s so focused on achievement, whether that’s in academics or sports, there’s also a huge focus on achievement in arts, and creating impactful, moving short films,” said Becca Murdoch, a co-director of BWFF. Murdoch, a junior telecommunication and film major, works with co-director and Trent Carlson, a senior political science and journalism major. Both Honors College students have been involved with the festival for the past three years, and continue to integrate networking opportunities into the weekend-long event, occurring this spring on March 24 and 25. Some past featured filmmakers have included: Tom Heller, producer of Precious and 127 Hours; Mitch Levine, the founder of The Film Festival Group, a festival consulting firm and Ava DuVernay, award-winning director of both Selma and 13th. Nick Corrao, an assistant professor in the Journalism and Creative Media Department, has been involved with the festival every year as a jury member, panel speaker or facilitator for the featured filmmakers. He is a new faculty adviser, working with previous and current adviser Rachel Raimist. The BWFF speakers are often based upon connections other faculty members have in the industry, which speaks to the importance of the festival, Corrao said. He took a trip last fall to Los Angeles, where he was a Television Academy Faculty Fellow, and one of the seminars stressed the importance of the truth within the clichéd “it’s who you know.” “The evidence couldn’t be more clear based on the testimonials I heard from some of the industry’s top talent,” Corrao said. “They all had a story about that one person that gave them a break, offering entry into
Design by Emeline Earman // Photography by Donna Xia
aybe it was in high school when those Flip camcorders were all the rage. It was easy: press the red button, catch a friend running down the street toward you, press stop. Stay in the same place, press the red button again, get the empty street. Flip open the side of the camcorder, jam the USB into a computer, throw everything into that early version of iMovie or the infamous Windows Movie Maker, edit the two clips together. Suddenly the friend disappeared, and a cinematic star was born. Hollywood wasn’t ready. Maybe that was the moment film became interesting, accessible, possible. Or maybe it was having an iPhone: being able to film and share instantly, in some cases in real time, or being able to pull up a feature film in the palm of your hands. Maybe it was just Netflix. Or maybe, it was seeing your own work on a screen, instead of someone else’s. A plausible achievement, particularly for a filmmaker at The University of Alabama, where Black Warrior Film Festival screens top student films from the university and the rest of the nation. Maybe that was it. The student film festival was inspired by a 2013 trip to Sundance, one of the largest film festivals in the United States, and notable for introducing films like Garden State, Little Miss Sunshine, (500) Days of Summer, and more recently, Whiplash. The first Black Warrior Film Festival was held months later and will be back on campus for its fifth year this spring.
Design by Emeline Earman // Photography by Donna Xia
the industry. And most talked about how this connection came from their university experience.” Hunter Barcroft, a graduate of the telecommunication and film department (now part of journalism and creative media), was a founding member of BWFF. He currently works in Atlanta with AMC’s The Walking Dead, a job he attributes to connections fostered through the festival. Barcroft broke into the industry after speaking with featured filmmaker DuVernay, who offered him a position to work on her feature film, Selma. “As far as the networking, and actually getting to talk to someone that’s done the things you want to do in your life, [BWFF] really helps a lot,” Barcroft said, regarding the feature filmmakers he met and the friends he made. “That’s the golden part I think about what they do, is that they’re able to get those people in there that can really help you, or give your guidance.” While at Alabama, Barcroft focused on producing student films as
projects for BWFF or for Campus Movie Fest, a collegiate film festival that goes to universities around the world and provides students with one week and all the equipment necessary to make a short five-minute film. During the awards ceremony of CMF, BWFF gives their own Warrior Award, and that film is given is a spot in the festival. The selection process for BWFF begins with students submitting works, and, as of last year, also supplying a small entry fee, which is typical for most film festivals. The films are then vetted by a selection committee compiled by Murdoch and Carlson. The process takes at least two full days (there were nearly 65 films submitted last year), and each person on the 10- or 15-person selection committee discusses the film and fills out a document to score it. The number of films selected is determined by the length of the films (most are usually less than 20 minutes) and the spaces BWFF reserves. Last year, they settled on 26 films. In previous years, the festival has used campus buildings and the theater in the Ferguson Student Center, but has also held events in off-campus locations including the Bama Theatre, Dinah Washington Cultural
“They all had a story about that one person that gave them a break, offering entry into the industry. And most talked about how this connection came from their university experience.”
heightened the buzz and anticipation surrounding BWFF, in turn, Arts Center and Black Warrior Brewing Company. The locations and influencing the caliber of work produced within the university’s schedule for the 2017 festival will be released closer to the festival filmmaking program. weekend in March. “As with any hometown film festival, you want to be a part of it,” Carlson is interested in arts advocacy, and has been pleasantly Corrao said. “I know my students are thinking about it at the beginning surprised with the level of involvement with the film community here. of the fall semester, plotting and “I’m just impressed,” Carlson said. “I planning the project that they will try didn’t expect to find what I’ve found here, to have completed for submission in the in Tuscaloosa, especially.” spring.” Films in the festival are also eligible to BWFF engages the community win a handful of awards, which include “Black Warrior Film through their partnerships and the typical “bests” for story, sound design, Festival has helped sponsorships as well, which have performance, editing, directing and included the likes of UA Honors cinematography. There’s also an audience cultivate passions I College, the College of Communication award and a few others, recognizing didn’t know I had.” and Information Sciences, New narrative and documentary works. College, Creative Campus, the But the top prize, recently added to the Telecommunication and Film festival last year, is the Holle Award for Department, Steel City Pops and Glory Excellence in Filmmaking. The prize – a Bound Gyro Co., amongst others. healthy $10,000 – is part of the group Although Carlson doesn’t consider of Holle Awards for Excellence and himself a filmmaker, he hopes to work Creativity in Communication presented within arts advocacy. by the College of Communication & Information Sciences. It is selected “[BWFF has] helped cultivate passions I didn’t know I had,” Carlson by a separate panel of professors and industry professionals. Last year, the winner was Julius Damenz, a senior at Lindenwood said. “I hope that I’m helping bringing something to the campus and the University in St. Charles, Missouri, who submitted the short film, community that is needed.” Infinite. An award of this size, rivaling those at other festivals, has
to a blind man an exploration in asexuality By Matthew Wilson
The Ace Brigade
Elspeth Pierce or Ellie, as she liked to be known, is going to save the world. She cares about the environment, about the endangered species like the freshwater mussels in Alabama. A senior biology major and Honors College student, conservation biology is her thing, how humans are affecting the ecosystem. If a frog went extinct in Atlanta, she would know about it.
She’s involved in research with a couple of her professors, going out to the freshwater streams to gather data about the aforementioned freshwater mussels. “Alabama is one of the highest biodiversities of freshwater mussels in the world,” she said matter-of-factly. When she’s not busy investigating changes in ecosystems, she tries her hand at cooking (she’s getting pretty good at making Chinese steam dumplings), draws and sketches in notebooks, and plays video games. Her favorites are Japanese role playing games like Final Fantasy (she’s created her own costume to cosplay at conventions) or Nintendo games. It was actually through video games that she ended up where she did. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Alabama seemed a long way away. In high school, she wasn’t very social. On most days, she drifted the halls like a ghost, not on anyone’s radar. She would wear a shirt with a quote from Hamlet, “Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither,” as an inside joke that no one but she understood. She has known she was asexual since she was 16, a sophomore in high school, but maybe, she had known for longer than that, since 12 or 13, but didn’t have the right words to express it. “It feels weird because that was only six years ago, but six years feel too short of a time to say that,” she said. “It feels like it has been longer.” When she first came out to her parents in her senior year of high school, they were hostile to the idea. Pierce said she knows people who were threatened with being thrown out of the house, but she didn’t think her parents would ever do that. They said a lot of hurtful things at first, and then, they decided to just ignore it. “I talked to some of my cousins about it because we’re close,” she said. “I haven’t explicitly said it to my grandparents or aunts and uncles. I’m not hiding it. It just doesn’t really come up.” Like McMillian, the internet played a part
Design by Kylie Cowden // Photography by Ashley Adams
Rumors in The Halls
Growing up in Jasper, Alabama, the rumors never seemed to escape Faith McMillian. In her junior and senior year of high school, most of her friends had boyfriends. She almost always broke off any relationship she ever had before they even started. She tried dating, but it was complicated. She couldn’t explain her feelings or the lack of them. Maybe she was a late bloomer, she considered. That was the only reason she could think as to why she didn’t feel compelled to date anyone. In the halls, there was a murmuring that she might be gay. That seemed to be the way of the people in her slice of the South. Most, especially those of the older generation, married young, and that was the expectation, the pressure especially as she got older. Growing up a Southern Baptist, McMillian, a junior MIS major, said there always seemed to be talk among parts of her family about which members were in the closet. “You’ll find someone,” people would tell her. “You’ll figure it out.” When she told her parents she wasn’t attracted to boys, wasn’t attracted to anyone really, at least not sexually, they thought something was wrong with her. They took her to doctors, more appointments than she could count, but all the doctors came to the same consensus, there wasn’t anything medically wrong with her. Doing research online, she found forums and articles that talked about asexuality, and the more she read, the more she could relate aspects to her own life. Though there is no conclusive study, it has been estimated that at least one percent of the world’s population is asexual. At 17, she was uncomfortable with the idea at first. What did that mean? How could she be asexual? But, the more she thought about it, the more she began to embrace it. “Whenever I try to apply any other label to myself that doesn’t make sense, and that’s not
me,” she said. “The realization for me is I have the least sexual attraction to any gender.This is something that makes me special and who I am, and I can’t imagine myself without it.” Her parents were lukewarm on the idea. They thought it was a phase she was going through, and that given enough time, she’d outgrow it. In high school, McMillian decided to tell a few of her close friends. They didn’t understand what asexuality was, but she did her best to explain to them. McMillian also kept up the facade that she had a boyfriend, a nice pretend one that maybe lived outside of Jasper. It wasn’t until she came to college that she felt she could be free and not have to pretend. Going to an open poetry reading, she saw lesbian couples holding hands in public. That seemed so foreign to her, and for maybe the first time, she found a place where she could be accepted. “Maybe one day, [my parents will] come around,” she said. “Maybe, they won’t. I accept myself, and that’s all I can ask for.” McMillian met other students who identified as asexual such as Ellie Pierce, and the group began to expand from a couple of friends to 10 people, to 15 people, to 20 people. They called themselves the UA Ace Brigade. McMillian found a community of people with similar experiences as hers, and with that, the strength and courage to be who she really was.
Design by Kylie Cowden // Photography by Ashley Adams
in Pierce coming to terms with her identity. She frequented the online forums looking for people with similar situations, but the first time she met someone who was openly identifying was on the online blog site, Tumblr, by happenstance. Pierce had been doing a live reaction blog to a video game, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, when a girl named Marina commented on her post. The two started talking. They liked a lot of the same video games. Marina was a student at the university and suggested Pierce apply for school in the South. When Pierce decided to go school at UA, the two met at Starbucks and started hanging out. Through Marina, Pierce met McMillian, and they formed the UA Ace Brigade. The Facebook group started as a joke among them, but the more Pierce thought about it, the more it started to seem appropriate. “We all met each other here and thought it was fun that we happened to be ‘ace,’” she said. “We made these jokes about how we were going to make T-shirts and everything.” They actually ended up making those T-shirts, Pierce admits with a laugh. The Ace Brigade is an informal group on campus, made up of over 20 asexual students, but they’d like to make it official through Spectrum. Right now, it’s less of a group and more of a community outreach of voices. Pierce said they try to meet once a month and get dinner, and they tried to raise awareness by handing out pamphlets on the quad. “One of the goals for me and what I want the group to be about is dismantling that social expectation that everyone is supposed to want this sort of relationship, that you do these things, and if you’re dating someone, you have to be sexually attracted to them,” she said.
Alanna Fagan is constantly moving. Juggling a dual degree of theatre and economics can be a balancing act. A senior and Honors College student, she’s taken on average 20 hours a semester since her freshman year, and senior year has been especially stressful. There’s figuring out a career in acting. The economic degree was just to please her mother after all. Theatre is her real passion, and between auditioning to go to regional theatre conferences, working behind the scenes on productions and writing her adaptation of a Jane Austen work, it’s hard to find time to breathe, much less date someone. She manages though. She’s currently dating a guy, which seems to fly in the face of what outsiders consider asexuality to be. Fagan, as well as Pierce and McMillian, are well aware of the stereotypes associated with their sexuality. There’s the ice queen, the cold frigid person who lacks emotions, or the shy introvert who has no interest in dating. Such stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth, McMillian said. Though there are asexual people out there who don’t want to date or who don’t have romantic feelings, asexuality is a broad spectrum, and there are people like them that do. Separating romantic feelings from sexual urges can be difficult to explain. “Aces” get married, and some are sexually active, for many stemming from closeness to their partners. Pierce described it using the analogy of a hunger. While they make lack the urge or desire, that doesn’t mean they’re not capable. “A lot of people assume if you have romantic feelings, you must also have sexual feelings,” she said. “For me personally, I talked to a lot of people about it. It’s difficult to figure out what do romantic feelings mean.” For Fagan, there’s the hurtful things whispered behind her back. Fagan was dating a guy last summer, and the relationship ended poorly. She said there was an animosity toward her from his group of friends. At a party she
wasn’t present for, they started talking about her sexuality. Fagan felt violated. She had explained to her partner when they had started dating that she fell somewhere on the spectrum. Having people she didn’t even know take something so personal and turn it into the butt of a joke was very disrespectful. At Guerrilla Theatre, a variety show and creative outlet hosted by the national theatre honor society Alpha Psi Omega, Fagan performed a spoken word piece about asexuality and how labels shouldn’t matter as long as you have conveyed yourself to your partner and came to a mutual understanding. “Sexuality and identity are never easy,” she said. “With asexuals, it’s trying to figure out how you identify with something you don’t experience. I would ask my friends who I knew were sexual or heterosexual in someway, what does sexual attraction feel like?” The best way she would describe it is as if trying to describe colors to a blind man. Everyone experiences colors differently, which is similar to sexuality, and trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t have anything to compare it to is almost impossible.
A Flag of Purple, Black, Grey and White
Pierce said she doesn’t have a lot of romantic feelings. For the past two and half years, she’s been in a nonstandard online relationship with someone from the Philippines. She’s excited because they’ll soon be face to face for the first time since they started dating. She’s already planning what they’re going to do, debating what is quintessentially American. “Some people act really weird about online relationships so I don’t really bring it up that much,” she said. “I get nervous because some
people say dumb things about it.” When it comes to acceptance, Pierce said a lot of people misunderstand the reactions “aces” get from religious organizations. “Some people will be happy that you’re not having sex at the moment, but if you tell them, you’re never going to be attracted to anyone in that way and you’re never going to have that sort of relationship, that’s a different sort of thing,” she said. “It’s kind of bizarre how many people get upset that you’re not going to eventually find someone and have sex with them.” The pressure to get married and start a family is ever mounting for McMillian. The notion of a 22-year-old woman not married yet goes against the small town sensibilities of some of her family members. The plan right now for her future is to move somewhere like Atlanta or Birmingham and contract different programs for different companies. McMillian wants a career involving computers because they offer a steady job, and she can’t depend on an eventual spouse financially. She isn’t defined by her sexuality, but she’s a hardworking person, who happens to identify as asexual. “It’s weird when your sexuality becomes almost political,” she said. Sometimes when Fagan will audition for a play, she won’t get the part because even though the casting director thought she was great, she didn’t click with the rest of the cast. Sometimes, asexuality can be like that. It doesn’t fit a traditional mold or outlook and in some cases even defies definition itself. However, in Tuscaloosa, the middle of the Heart of Dixie, three strangers from different corners of the world could forge a community that accepts them for who they are.
Faith McMillian feels like she can be herself since coming to The University of Alabama.
oNun By Rebecca Rakowitz
“...God writes straight
with crooked lines.”
sake,” Aucoin said. The goal can range from working on socialization and behavior skills to regaining speech after loss from a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Aucoin said that people who lose their ability to speak are sometimes still able to sing. “Nothing activates the brain like music does,” she said. Her childhood is filled with fond memories of crawfishing in Louisiana with her Cajun grandfather, affectionately known as PawPaw, but there were struggles in her childhood as well — though Aucoin doesn’t see it that way. When Aucoin was 7 years old, she walked into school with her mom one day — “we were walking in late ... of course” — and her school secretary noticed how pale she looked. The secretary suggested Aucoin’s mother take her to the doctor. It was then that she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. “I was this little 7-year-old who had never been in the hospital in my life for anything,” Aucoin said. “Then, all of a sudden, they were like, ‘Oh, you have cancer. You’re going to have to go all the time now. You’re going to have to have chemo and take pills at home.’” Looking back, Aucoin sees her two and a half years of chemotherapy very positively. “I had grown up on Pollyanna, and so the whole time I was thinking about finding the silver lining in everything and playing the glad game,” Aucoin said, recalling a favorite childhood movie and a game which teaches children to be positive. “I also genuinely loved the hospital.” Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is committed to providing fun activities for their patients and to making sure they get to be kids. Whether they’re playing outside or in the
playroom, nurses will come find their patient and give them their medicine wherever they are — doing their best not to disrupt their play. “I think something that I learned — especially with my experience with cancer — is that God writes straight with crooked lines,” Aucoin said. Though she grew up in the predominantly Protestant Bible Belt, Aucoin was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and thereby lives by a different set of Christian tenants than most of her southern peers. She was always a practicing Catholic, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school, when she was preparing for her Confirmation, a Catholic rite of passage, that she really started to find her faith. That’s when she feels that St. Mary Magdalene “chose her.” “I really believe that [Mary Magdalene’s] story is all of our stories. She lived a life of sin and then turned her entire life around to
“...I started to realize I had to own [my faith] for myself and I couldn’t just do it because my parents wanted me to anymore.” follow Christ,” Aucoin said. “We are all sinners who need Christ in order to be what we were created to be.” While preparing for her Confirmation, Aucoin discovered some things. She realized that by accepting the Sacrament of Confirmation she would be deciding that Catholicism is what she believes in and that she would be agreeing to the evangelization mission of the Church. Aucoin took those things very seriously. “That’s when I started to realize I had to own [my faith] for myself and that I couldn’t just
Design by Emily Sturgeon // Photography by Nicole Rodriguez
ome people have a word. A word that fits them. A word that is them. A word that encompasses who they are so perfectly that it is a wonder that it ever existed without them. Genevieve Aucoin has a word. In fact, from her bubbly and genuine laughter, to the light and excitement in her eyes, to the smile that seems to be an ever-growing and permanent fixture on her face, she seems to be the living embodiment of her word. Genevieve Aucoin is joyful. And that’s not a bad thing when you’re considering becoming a nun. “That’s one of those things I never really planned,” Aucoin said. Aucoin, a senior in the Honors College, came to college confident that she was going to complete a degree in music therapy, and then spend her life working in the field, much like many college students expect. But her path is changing — no longer being guided by just parents and advisors, but by a higher power as well. Aucoin grew up in a suburb of Atlanta with her two parents, both of whom were music teachers. At a young age, they started her off with piano lessons, but Aucoin and piano failed to mix. “I got kicked out of lessons because I was terrible,” she said. At age 9, she picked up the violin and instantly fell in love, fondly remembering how the violin inspired her passion for music. From that love came her interest in studying music therapy. “It is different from music lessons, in that the point is not the music, but whatever the goal is ... It’s more than just music for music’s
is not what many people may expect. “Modern nuns are not like Sister Act,” Altman said. Though Sister Act-type nuns, who are cloistered in a convent praying all day, still exist, most modern-day nuns are not contemplative and cloistered in the convent forever. They also don’t all wear the big black and white habits that are shown in Sister Act. Modern nuns have varying styles of dress. “Not all nuns are penguins,” Altman said.
Design by Emily Sturgeon // Photography by Nicole Rodriguez
Genevieve Aucoin studies scripture.
do it because my parents wanted me to do it anymore,” Aucoin said. “And then when I came to college I found myself growing even deeper because I really had to own it for myself.” One fateful night freshman year, Aucoin found a video online called Light of Love that explained the lives of modern nuns, showing how they fit into the world today. By breaking down misconceptions that she had about nuns, this video opened her eyes to seeing the sisterhood as a real and viable profession. She saw that modern nuns weren’t what she thought they were, and it was then that she realized that joining a sisterhood was something she could consider doing. She said it “sparked a mini crisis” within her. “Basically that night I just broke down crying and started freaking out, but over time I made more peace with [the idea of becoming a nun],” Aucoin said. “... I was so glad my roommate wasn’t there that night, because that would have been [embarrassing]!” Since that night Aucoin has spoken with different communities of Sisters and shared the idea with her family and friends. “All of the nuns that I’ve ever met are so joyful,” Aucoin said. “They’re so happy to share that life they have with others.”
If she does decide to become a religious sister, Aucoin doesn’t know exactly what work she would like to do. She is interested in the Sisters of Life in New York, a community that helps mothers in crisis pregnancies and their babies. Aucoin has been considering communities in France as well. “I think France is an important battle
ground right now, to win it back for Christ,” Aucoin said. “To teach people there how to live more authentic Christian lives.” There are opportunities for Aucoin to combine her love for music therapy with her possible desire to be a nun as well. In fact, she has met music therapy nuns in the past.
“All the nuns that I’ve ever met are so joyful. They’re so happy to share that life they have with others.” “Of course I went up to her and was like, ‘Oh my gosh you’re amazing, teach me to be like you,’” Aucoin said. Aucoin’s new life plan has received generally positive reactions. She said her family would be supportive if that was what she was called to do and her friends have been open minded too. “I live my life in a way that [this news] didn’t really surprise anybody,” Aucoin said. “And the ones that it did [surprise], it only did so for like a minute and then they were like, ‘Yeah I can totally see that.’” There have been different levels of understanding from people she has told. “I’ve had everything from, ‘Wait there are still nuns?’ to, ‘Wait you mean you’re never going to laugh again?’” Aucoin said. “You get a lot of weird reactions.” Aucoin said the reactions have to do with stereotypes that surround the profession, such as the image of an angry nun teacher with a ruler — an image that Aucoin said is completely inaccurate. Michael Altman, an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the university, agreed that modern day sisterhood
Aucoin still isn’t positive that becoming a sister is her calling. She wonders if she may be called to be something else. While it may seem to be in contrast with her possible desire to be a nun, Aucoin wonders if she is called to be a mom. Though as a religious sister Aucoin would have to take a vow of chastity, she explained that it is still possible to be a mother through what is known as “spiritual motherhood.” “Basically spiritual motherhood is any time you take a soul into your care in that special maternal feminine way,” Aucoin said. “The best thing about it is that you don’t have to be a nun to be a spiritual mother.” Aucoin feels that spiritual motherhood is similar to physical motherhood and tries to be a spiritual mother even now.
Aucoin shows off her musical skills as she plays the piano.
“Whether it’s just having people that you pray for everyday or even having underclassmen that you help out with things,” Aucoin said. “[Spiritual motherhood] can manifest itself in many ways.” As for relationships, Aucoin thinks a lot of people have the misconception that it is women who can’t get married who decide to become nuns. One reaction that especially bothered Aucoin was that from an old family friend. When the friend asked Aucoin if she was still interested in becoming a nun and Aucoin said yes, the friend commented that that makes her so sad. “And I’m just like ‘Why? It doesn’t make me sad,’” Aucoin said, her smile ever-present. “And she was like, ‘I mean there’s a guy out there for you somewhere!’...This is not because I can’t find a boyfriend.” Aucoin feels that all women have the desire to be married and have children and said that they don’t join orders because they can’t or don’t want to be in relationships. Instead, she said she is doing this because if this is what she’s called to do then she believes a higher power is calling her to do so, and who is she to say no to that? “Besides, it’s kind of like you’re marrying God so good luck competing with that, right?” Aucoin said with a smile and a laugh. The process to nunhood is a long one.
“It’s kind of like you’re marrying God, so good luck competing with that, right?” It begins, she said, with the phase she is in right now, which is discernment inside the world. Discernment is basically the process by which Aucoin will find out if this is something she is “called to do.” Altman said that the role of most nuns today has shifted. They have become socially active in a much more public and in more diverse ways. While nuns have always done a lot of work publicly in education and medicine, Altman said nuns are now doing more social justice work, environmental work, work to combat poverty and working in various other social work-type fields as well. Because of this shift, a college degree is becoming more and more beneficial. Altman said that a college degree prepares future nuns by expanding their perspective and worldview, and feels that the kind of education offered in the Honors College is especially good at accomplishing this. “I think for a nun, the kind of electives one takes in the Honors College, with the smaller classes and the critical thinking skills that they work on, I think that totally prepares someone for ... that kind of social work,” Altman said. “[It gives students] a broader view of difference: of different sorts of people and different sorts of situations.” Aucoin said that most communities today require women to have a college degree before they can enter. “They want you to see a little bit of the world, know what you’re committing to before you do it,” Aucoin said. “They want you to experience life and to be skilled so that those skills can be put to use once you’re there.” Then there is a time when she would get to know a community of sisters that she was interested in joining. She would do this while living in the world and would just visit a few times. After finding a community that’s a good fit, Aucoin said she would enter there as what is called a “postulant.” “During that time [for six to nine months] you live with the sisters and follow their daily life, but you’re free to go whenever you want,” Aucoin said. “So if you get in there, do a month or two [and then] realize it’s not what you’re supposed to be doing with your life, you can leave the community with no issues.” There is then the period of temporary vows, which could span several years, which are followed by the final vows, whereby Aucoin would commit to this new life and officially become a religious sister. “There are several years involved in the process,” Aucoin said. “No one becomes a nun by accident.”
Sessions By Margo Wieschhaus
University Fellows Develop Podcast, Relationships in Black Belt Community
Why a Podcast?
Design by Elizabeth Selmarten
The goal of Front Porch Sessions is to highlight the voices of community members in Marion and Perry County. The history, culture and stories contained in each interview help illustrate the strengths and challenges of rural and small town communities. FPS creates a visual and auditory storytelling experience through the documentation and publication of interviews that allows the people of Alabamaâ€™s Black Belt to reflect on the past and share hopes for the future of their region.
A resident of Marion relaxes on her porch while Cole Jones and Abby Kappelman ask her about Marionâ€™s impact on her life.
they started talking. Soon, their opinions of him changed; he started to speak about his passion for the youth of the city and the community as a whole. He had done much to serve it in his life thus far — he had run for city council and was a deacon at his church, among other things. “Immediately, as much as I’d already thought to myself, ‘Oh, I don’t judge people ahead of time — I’m pretty good about that,’ I found myself doing that, and it was really our first interview, so it was really a great check on our first day,” Jones said.
t was an ordinary day in Marion, Alabama when Abby Kappelman and Cole Jones showed up. The town’s main street looked like it always did: glass-front shops, a grand courthouse, an old-fashioned city hall and, as always, a population just over 3,500 going about their business, as usual. On Washington Street, a man in his mid-60s prepared for the day inside As Time Goes By, a bookstore and coffeeshop he owned and ran on the weekends. He hung a sign on the front window for the upcoming “Friday Night Jam Session” he had scheduled, and he sliced pies and cheesecake. Residents had come to know and love the simple fun that his operation stood for. Indeed, “nostalgia never gets old,” as the sign outside his store declared. Down the street, patrons dined on classic southern food at Lottie’s Restaurant. Guests checked into the cozy, one-suite Amenities Bed and Breakfast. Customers purchased sunscreen and bug spray nearby at Fred’s Pharmacy — it was hot in Alabama in May, of course. It really was just another day in the Black Belt, and that’s exactly what Kappelman and Jones wanted. Kappelman and Jones, second-year Honors students at The University of Alabama, spent three weeks in May in Marion creating a multimedia documentary called Front Porch Sessions. This project paired a podcast with portrait photography featuring Marion residents of various backgrounds. Equipped with nothing more than backpacks filled with gear, a plan and snippets of information here and there, they set out on a mission. They had a few leads, but no real contacts. Someone had told them of a man that might be of interest who would arrive at work at 9 a.m. Great — they would try there. Stories of days gone by lived within the minds of the residents of Marion, and the pair had one task: to find them. “When we told [Honors College administrators] about our project, they were like, ‘This is going to work because people in Marion are going to be willing to talk to you,’” Kappelman said. They continued walking out of the city square and passed a bar with a man sitting out front. His legs were crossed; he was leaning back with only a Coke in hand. Jones said they thought he was loitering. Jones asked the man if he could photograph him. He obliged, and
We're not going in there as saviors on a white horse. We don't want to say, 'This is what you need.' We want to say, 'What do you need? Let us help you do that.' Just that morning, they had set out in search of genuine conversations with the people of Marion, and they had surely found one. Kappelman and Jones are members of the University Fellows Program. The program, which tasked its first-year students with the creation of an action plan to be implemented in Marion in May, emphasized social entrepreneurship and civic engagement. “[Front Porch Sessions] seeks to understand the stories of the residents of Marion and the people of the Black Belt and also takes a look at what the future of their city looks like, what the future of their area looks like and how they think they want to get to those goals,” Jones said. Before they connected with residents, though, students visited Marion in the semester prior to project implementation in order to gain an understanding of the community. “The Fellows program focuses so much on how ridiculous it would be to try to address a need in a city you don’t understand,” Jones said. “We’re not going in there as saviors on a white horse. We don’t want to say, ‘This is what you need.’ We want to say, ‘What do you need? Let us help you do that.’” The pair chose the name Front Porch Sessions because they aimed to conduct the podcast interviews in their sources’ home environment. They wanted the residents to be in a comfortable setting. “I think a lot of times, putting ourselves in the right place provided ourselves with a lot of the questions that we needed to ask,” Kappelman said. “A lot of the questions we were asking were very probing, and it’s such a small town that it can get very political very quickly, and so I think there were a lot of people who were hesitant to address issues that we wanted to bring up simply because they didn’t want that being associated with them, but that was very minor.” The Black Belt region of Alabama spans 19 counties. According to the Honors College website, challenges such as “economic stagnation, population flight and geographic isolation” have placed stressors on the people and communities of the Black Belt. Davis Jackson, the instructor
for the second-semester Fellows course, recognized the issues facing Marion, including the loss of agricultural jobs, voluntary relocation of residents and a lingering tenseness from civil rights history. “A lot of big civil rights events started in Marion ... [like the] Selma to Montgomery march,” Jackson said. “Finding ways to reconcile that history and think about what the future of a small town in the U.S. looks like at the same time is pretty challenging.” Marion, though, is so much more than “just a small town,” according to Jackson. He said its uniqueness has provided Honors College students with an opportunity to rethink how they view life in a small town. “They have all these preconceived notions about what a small town is like, and then [they discover] new relationships and new stories that convince us otherwise,” Jackson said. Kappelman and Jones are no exception — their perspective of Marion changed greatly in those three weeks. Kappelman said their surprise revolved less around the issues that exist and more around the common strengths Marion shared with other small towns. Those places have simply not yet been recognized. Their project sought to address all that Marion had going for it. Previous interview-based projects about the town focused on the history alone, Kappelman said, but they endeavored to take it a step further by showing how the residents are responding to the past. “I think [Marion] has a really strong community, and I think the people there care about the town a lot, and that caring is not something that should be overlooked,” Kappelman said. “I think there are a lot of people from Marion who want to stay there and want to see it succeed, and I think that’s really valuable.” Emotions during interviews often ran high, and Jones credited the residents’ passion for Marion as the driving force for this. One man they interviewed said, “If the grass seems greener on the other side, then water the grass where you are.” Jones said that was significant to him. “In this life, nothing we have is ever enough, ever,” Jones said. “We go around and we want more, more, more — we want more success; we work towards goals and nothing’s ever enough. [In] a city that is told
that they could be so much more, and that maybe they should just move to Birmingham or something, this guy said, ‘Water the grass where you are and invest where you are,’ and that really stuck with me in every aspect of life.” While they were ultimately changed in the three short weeks spent in Marion, the pair said their project exists to serve not themselves, but others. “We want to create that sense of pride in the city, and additionally, we had to realize that not every effort you make is going to be an immediate change,” Jones said. “We want that instant gratification, but some things are meant to help in the long term, so we do hope that it boosts tourism in Marion. We do hope that it gives Marion inhabitants a sense of pride, and we do hope to help people understand what a small town in Alabama looks like and how beautiful it is.” For Kappelman and Jones, involvement with the project concludes at the end of the semester. But, the town that they came to cherish is still there, just a mere 57 miles down the road from the university. The stories told in the podcasts are not allegorical, but real, raw tales of life in a small town. The people they met are still there, and life goes on. Kappelman and Jones haven’t forgotten the focal point of their project — the people. “It’s kind of natural to go back down,” Jones said. “We formed incredible relationships with more than just the people we interviewed. Wherever they are in life, they’re incredible people, and they want great things for that city and they are going to do that, whether it’s through activism, whether it’s through prayer, whether it’s through community engagement. They want that improvement, and that’s what they have going for them. That’s because it’s so small and so close-knit. “The people are incredible — they’re beautiful inside and out, and it is just so cool to see how much they care and how much it means to them.”
“If the grass seems greener on the other side, then water the grass where you are.”
One interviewee that stood out to the duo talked about making the grass greener in his own community instead of elsewhere.
Design by Maria Oswalt // Photography by Claire Dickson
STEM Path to MBA goes to
By Sim Mahbubani
Alabama student Ruth Bishop interacts with the local citizens.
Design by Maria Oswalt // Photography by Claire Dickson
ubbish litters the streets of Chennai, India, where putrid smells and incessant honking of cars racing dangerously close to pedestrians underscore the city’s inability to handle a massive population. It is in this refuse that an elderly man sleeps, his head and shoulders protruding out into the road, and it is through these streets that Jake Green and Ben Guera walk back to their hotel with the rest of their group. The young men stare at the elder in a small horror as they passed, his tattered and dirtied clothing blending in with the rubbish underneath him, stirred only by cars speeding much too close. Not wanting to part with the group, Green and Guera keep walking. They awkwardly look to their friends, though none of them seem to have noticed. The men feel a weight tied to their feet, each step becoming more difficult than the last. Almost of their own accord, their feet spin around, and Green and Guera head back. The man lay soundly sleeping, his head still precariously close to the cars whizzing past. Louder and louder, they call out to him, but he does not respond; even when they shake him, he does not stir. On the other side of the street, another man catches sight of their efforts and comes to their aid. Unable to communicate with Green and Guera, he delivers the sleeping man a tight smack to the back, causing the young men to wince in sympathy for the elder, who finally opens his eyes, initially wide with surprise but now trained upon his assailant. The sleeping man bows in thanks, aware that the hit had been for his own good, before wandering off to find a safer spot to sleep.
“I realized that this might be the most kindness this man ever receives, and it comes in the form of a smack, in a blow,” Green said. “What a sad life that is. People are left to themselves, and no one gives a care, and, even if they do, it comes in pain.” Green, an MBA student who graduated from The University of Alabama Honors College with a mechanical engineering degree, was one of a dozen STEM Path to the MBA students that went to India this summer. Green and the other students were looking for ways to improve the lives of Indians through reverse innovation, which caters to the vast population of the impoverished, selling them simple and inexpensive necessities such as water filters or inexpensive light bulbs, which generates a profit for producers and cheap solutions to everyday problems for consumers. Reverse Innovation, a term coined by Dr. Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, is more sustainable than charity, since it is a form of business. Before the students could get to work designing products, however, they had to first immerse themselves in the Indian culture and find out what it means to be Indian. From seeing train cars specifically marketed as “Air-Conditioned” to experiencing a 85-degree temperatures at 1 a.m., to finding caste-specified matrimonial ads in the newspapers, Green and Guera quickly realized that they were far from home. “It’s awesome to see the number of different colors women would wear,” said Ruth Bishop, current MBA student and former UA Honors student, who graduated with biology and Spanish degrees.
Bishop actually got to don traditional Indian garb for part of the trip due to the modesty standards in place for women. “It was fun to have an excuse to wear Indian clothes,” Bishop said. “So I didn’t really mind. I thought they were beautiful in their own way.” The students would also go blazing down the streets at breakneck speeds, amid unrelenting honking, ramming into each other as their driver swerved into oncoming traffic in order to pass a rickety vegetable truck. Sometimes the driver slammed on the breaks in the middle of the street in order to figure out directions, causing enraged Indians to fly around them, beeping their horns in protest. “If you don’t honk, if you don’t have a horn, it’s almost like you’re driving with three wheels,” Green said. “You need that horn because it’s communicative. It tells where you are and what you’re going to do.”
Poverty Green and the rest of the students walk home from dinner through the Indian city streets, practically deserted save for the trash blowing in the wind. Green caught a whiff of something and instantly scrunched his nose; although unpleasant smells are not uncommon in India, this was particularly pungent. Green tries not to think of the curry he just ate, instead focusing on the small, still frame and the larger one behind it standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of them. As they get closer, they make out that the figures are a child and a middle-aged policeman and begin to hear small cries coming from the child. The girl, barely even 2 years old, stares up at them. Green’s heart splintering, he realizes that the little girl is standing in her own diarrhea. The group immediately starts questioning the policeman, but he will have nothing to do with them. Determined, Green sets out down the street and into a coffee shop, questioning anyone who will listen about the sick child. Eventually, a woman walks in, hunched over, thin and her clothing dirtied and torn: a
lot, and they didn’t seem very unhappy about their situation,” Carrasquilla said. “That was very shocking to me, it really made me wonder why we value wealth so much, and I’m trying to picture myself in that situation, how would I respond?”
Light Bulb Indian residents gather together in a square.
beggar. Green tries to explain to her that her child was sick, motioning towards the girl, who still stares wide-eyed at them both. However, the woman does not seem to care. “We tried to tell her, ‘She’s very sick, I don’t know if you’ve seen,’” Green said. “But she just looked at us, and she said, ‘Baby makes money,’ and that’s all that she said.” Extreme poverty is something many Indians face. Just in 2011, according to the World Bank, 21.2 percent of India’s population was below the poverty line, meaning 268 million Indians live on less than $1.90 every day. In a migrant village on the outskirts of Delhi, a little girl leads Juan Carrasquilla, a mechanical engineering senior in UA’s Honors College, to her home to interview her family. Surrounded by used wrappers and containers, her house is about the size of a bedroom, with a small fan and a few lightbulbs, from which crude wiring spew, strung onto the tarp walls and sheet metal ceiling. A bed frame with twine braided end to end serves as the family’s bed, and a small jar containing a few gently folded bills sits beside it. The girl’s parents greet Carrasquilla, smiling and willing to share about their lives with him. Carrasquilla can tell this family makes about 2,000 rupees a month, which is $1 per day. When Carrasquilla asks the girl’s parents what they would do if they had more money, they laugh, “How can we know if we do not have it?” “The family joked a lot, and they laughed a
Fueled by their experiences, the STEM students were ready to start the intensive part of their trip. For the last week, the students met with villagers to discuss their needs and limitations, hoping to find ways to better the lives of the Indian people. The students divided into groups that each addressed certain problems such as the amount of trash on the streets, lack of proper lighting in houses, a failing education system and bacteria infested water. Bishop and Carrasquilla worked to improve the Liter of Light model, which involves filling a plastic bottle with water and a tiny amount of bleach, which, when hung from a hole in the roof, refracts sunlight through the room, acting as a light bulb during the day. Bishop and Carrasquilla are presently figuring out how to store the sunlight gathered during the day in order to use it at night. This light bulb, while a life-changing invention in India, could become a science project in the United States. Bishop and Carrasquilla are also working with Crimson Startup to market the bleach-bulb in the United States as a science project to supplement children’s education of recycling and renewable energy.
Education School children crowd around Green, who questions them about their classes to further his research on education. His eye is drawn to a pale, lumpy scar on the arm of one of the girls. Green opens his mouth to ask her about it but closes it. The children’s principal, however, does not hesitate to question her about it. “I had jaundice when I was a kid,” she replies, causing Green to raise an eyebrow. He could
not understand the correlation. Later, once the children resumed their playing, the principal explains to Green that many conventional Indians treat jaundice by burning the child with either a metal rod or an assortment of herbs. “It burns them,” Green said. “It doesn’t do anything good for the health, but it’s a tradition that they have, and it’s one of many examples that reflect how there is a lack of education of what truly works in health.” Green, who worked on ways to further education in India, encountered some serious results stemming from a failing education system, where, according India’s Bureau of Planning, Monitoring and Statistics, only 69.3 percent of Indian adults were literate in 2011. “When you go over, you would make assumptions that Indians are so well-educated because a lot of them are,” said Green, who is currently meeting with investors about his education project. “But there are also a lot of those who are more rural and don’t have the opportunity to, or maybe just don’t have the desire to pursue further education. So they are just sort of gridlocked in just a system that doesn’t work.”
Ending While the students went to India with the mindset of enhancing the lives of Indians, they found that some Indian characteristics needed no improvements. “The Indian people that we met were probably the nicest people I’d ever meet,” Green said. “People who were in such tight circumstances were just so welcoming of us and offered us so many things.” Bishop agreed. “Coming from a very materialistic culture to India, one of the most spiritual nations in terms of overarching cultural themes of being non-materialistic, was a positive experience,” Bishop said. “I wish we were like that in that way.”
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Design by Grace Dickerson // Photography by Mackenzie McClintock
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Q: Why did you want to be a par ors College?
d to challenge A: Growing up, I have always like ically. dem aca myself, both physically and the me nts gra Being in the Honors College my and exp and opportunity to push myself st mo the of one is horizons, which I believe . ege coll of important aspects
e of A Day in the Lif , Evan Heldman llege o C s r o n o H n a Athlete
Design by Grace Dickerson // Photography by Mackenzie McClintock
Name: Evan Heldman ut being a Q: What is your favorite part abo bama? student at The University of Ala ool and the A: I love the atmosphere of the sch r or see the “A.” feeling of pride I get when I wea ays say “Roll Even back home, people will alw t of that group Tide” and I love feeling like a par and community.
olina Hometown: Davidson, North Car Major: Biology Grade: Sophomore n’s 200 and Competes in: Mid Distance- Me ter individual me 500 meter freestyle and 400 medley
rt with being Q: How do you balance your spo ? an Honors College student e to be time A: The biggest challenge would hav after es tim ny ma management. There are I know but p, slee just er class when I would rath e som out ck kno I have to buckle down and . des gra my in inta ma of my work if I want to and g yin stud of nce Finding the correct bala it is one that training is never an easy task, but of both my top on is required if I want to stay ies. swimming and my stud
to be handed in at the beginning of class tomorrow. So Beyerle sharpens his pencil and starts again. No sooner than he had copied down the problem again did choppy guitar strumming flow into his room from across the hall. Sighing, Beyerle slides off his bed and slams the door shut before turning the volume up on the small radio set in the corner in order to drown out the boysâ€™ shouts. Now all he could hear was the muffled echoes of the basketball being bounced against the ground and the crackling voices of sports news castors permeating the small room; Beyerle turns back to his problem. He briefly considers going upstairs to the fifth floor where there is electrical engineering tutoring,
but he waits. He wants to solve this himself. Twenty-eight years later, Brian Beyerle sits before his computer in Anniston, Alabama, creating a program by clicking and dragging various symbols into a sequence. If done correctly, this program should connect the GPS to the rest of the local transit busâ€™ electrical system. By the time Beyerle finishes the program, hours have passed; he leaves his office and heads to the bus, holding all of his hard work in his hand. If his program does not work, he will have to start again. The program loads, and Beyerle wrings his hands while he waits. Finally, the GPS blinks on, and Beyerle sighs in relief. Later, Beyerle pours over wiring schematics,
Design by Emily Sturgeon // Photography by Noah Sutton
rian Beyerle sits hunched on his bed, squinting back and forth from his scribbled notes to his book. The year is 1988. Even from the third floor of Paty Hall, Beyerle could hear other residents shouting and playing on the basketball courts down below. He enters numbers into his calculator, attempting to ignore their shouts of glee as someone sinks a shot. Realizing he made a mistake, Beyerle rips the page from his notebook and balls it in his fist, chucking it into the waste bin amid its predecessors. He would much rather go to his friendâ€™s room to play Commodore 64 or even downstairs to play pool, but this homework needs
inserting various marks with red pen among the symbols, which explain the electrical aspects of different car parts. After he corrects a schematic, Beyerle gives it to an associate, who will then draw up a new one and present it to Beyerle to check again, along with a harness. The harness, which is the physical aspect of the wiring, shows the size of connectors and terminals and the distances between them. Because of the new advances in technology, these processes have to be redone in order to keep up with new advancements, each time an improvement from the last. “Of course, as it’s gone on, it has gotten way more complicated,” said Beyerle, a former University of Alabama student who is now an electrical engineer for a transit bus manufac-
turer and manager of his department. “When I first started, the engines had five electrical circuits, and now they have 50, 70, 100 and so on,” Beyerle said. “And we’ve added things like camera systems. The radio system is much more complicated, and we use GPS on vehicles that monitor the buses’ location and communicate back to the base station.”
Making an Impact
Although Electrical Engineering is becoming more complicated, electrical appliances are also becoming an important part of Western society. Electrical engineers have not only helped raise the standards of modern society, they have also secured jobs for themselves
Electrical Engineering – In the Labs
Design by Emily Sturgeon // Photography by Noah Sutton
Electrical engineering and computer engineering work together to study and research technologies and systems. Here are some of the many topics of focus coming out of the department’s laboratories:
Devices and Materials Research
Nanosensing & biophotonics, electroplating, electronic materials and devices, magnetic materials and devices, sensor electronics
Electromechanical Systems Research
Motion control and electromechanical systems, energy systems and power electronics, renewable energy systems (especially wind and solar)
Embedded Systems Research
Ambient and wearable systems (i.e. biometrics, wireless sensor and body networks), embedded systems and image processing, real-time image processing, network engineering design and behavioral biometrics
because now everything runs on electricity. “The conventional transportation system is under a big change with electric vehicles and the different types of alternative fuels that are currently being investigated,” said Mithat Kisacikoglu, an assistant professor at UA. Kisacikoglu specializes in electric vehicles, power electronics, renewable energy systems, the microgrid and smart grid. “Our energy needs are increasing, as well as the electrification of everything,” Kisacikoglu said. “If you compare everything with electrical engineering in the 1970s or the 1980s, the mechanical side of things were more common. If you look at the single car for example, the mechanical parts and the electrical parts of the car are heavily increasing as we electrify the controls within a car.” Beyerle agreed. “My job is more complicated because sometimes it’s a little harder to figure things out because it’s just data,” Beyerle said. “It’s two wires that are used to do the job of 30. It’s a little harder to work on. It’s a little harder to figure out, harder to troubleshoot when there is a problem. From a work standpoint, when they are able to fit more things in a smaller space, that’s just more things to work on.” Moreover, the nation has become aware of the negative results of our energy consumption methods, leaving electrical engineers with the task of turning fuel-run objects into electronic devices, something they have been hard at work at.
“Over the years I have worked on hybrid vehicles and healthy integration of fuel cell vehicles, and I’ve worked on buses that were mostly dual battery,” Beyerle said. The number of hybrid cars produced Honors College student Joe Nichols says that his work in electrical domestically (including engineering, generating power, is his way of giving to his community. Canada and Mexico) has risen from zero in 1999 of technology, they are sometimes lacking in to a little over 206,000 in 2014, according to common sense, completely blanking on things the U. S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. they should know. “Right now, we can go and buy different However, some felt as that knowing how a kinds of electric vehicles if you want to; in the socket worked does not accurately assess one’s past you didn’t have those options,” Kisacikoknowledge of electrical engineering. glu said. “I wouldn’t understand how a socket works In light of these changes, many people beunless I worked with a company that produced lieve that the electrical engineering major has sockets; then I would have to do the calculaevolved significantly in the past 20 years. tions for what size metal components and “The spectrum of what you can work with as what kind of wires would be connected,” said an electrical engineer has broadened a lot,” said Will Hagar, a UA Honors student and electriJoe Nichols, an electrical engineering major cal engineering major. “Electrical engineering and Honors student at UA. “It was definitely is more of how electricity works and less more hands on then. It’s definitely more thehow things utilize electricity. There’s a lot of oretical now. What I’ve heard from employers understanding how computers work and less is that they love our knowledge, but they don’t individual electrical components.” understand our application because they’ll get Kisacikoglu also disputed the necessity of people right off the desk. knowing how a socket works. “I would not ask how a socket works, but I would suggest people look into very basic definitions of how electricity is generated,” Kisacikoglu said. “I would suggest people read the biography of Nicola Tesla. I wouldn’t simplify it to how an outlet works, but how energy is produced. Learn about the profession and why these things are important.” “They’ll know all these things about electricity, its properties, how it works and what you need to do for this big, complex circuit to work, but they couldn’t explain to you how a socket works.” The question of the socket has proved somewhat controversial among the electrical engineering community at the university. “So while I agree that there is more theoretical now, I would say the problem now is that most of the students you meet that do theoretical and get a job I have, they had trouble because they struggle with the handson part, and you have to have some of that,” Beyerle said. Sushma Kotru, associate professor at the university also backed this, asserting that, while students are advancing in the realms
“The spectrum of what you can work with as an electrical engineer has broadened a lot.”
Beginning from back left: Gabby Jones, social media editor; Brian Ogden, web editor; Matthew Wilson, managing editor; Elizabeth Elkin, editor in chief; Maria Oswalt, creative director; Drew Pendleton, freelance editor; Noah Sutton, Kylie Cowden, Mackenzie McClintock, Meaghan Fortney, Sami Harb, Tyler Waldrep, Amelia Neumeister, Lauren Williams, Sam Sparkman, Rachel Berry, Audrey Watford, Claire Dickson, Sim Mahbubani, Emily Sturgeon, Rebecca Rakowitz, Sam Wilke, Grace Dickerson, Emeline Earman, Meg McGuire, Donna Xia, Kinsey Stanley, Maddie Hirschfield, Ashley Adams, Margo Wieschhaus, Elizabeth Thiel Photo by Nicole Rodriguez, photo editor
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