The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 months ago

University of Alabama to lead project to help reduce infant mortality rates in Alabama

(University of Alabama/Contributed)

University of Alabama School of Social Work researchers will soon expand a statewide drug and mental health screening program to address infant mortality in Alabama.

The School of Social Work’s Vital team, which oversees an $8 million AL-SBIRT contract, recently received $750,000 from the state to begin “Reducing Infant Mortality Through Improved Wellness,” an initiative to address substance use, depression and domestic abuse in women who are pregnant, attempting to conceive or have recently conceived.

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The program will target three counties in Alabama – Montgomery, Macon and Russell, which, combined, had 650 preterm births and 45 infant deaths in 2016, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

From 2014 to 2016, these three counties had an infant mortality rate of 10.1 per 1,000 live births, significantly higher than the state average of 8.7 during that span.

This initiative is part of a state-appropriated $1 million plan to reduce IMR by 20% in these three counties by 2023.

“The IMR is an essential measure of the health of women of child-bearing age within a state, and Alabama, historically, has had a high IMR in comparison to the rest of the United States,” said Dr. David L. Albright, UA professor, Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health Research, and principal investigator for the project. “Health outcomes are molded by the environment in which people are born, live, work, play and age, and not simply by health behaviors of the individual. These factors, which contribute to health outcomes, are formed by the historical, social, political and economic forces in the individual’s environment.”

Leading causes of infant mortality in Alabama include birth defects, preterm births and sleep-related deaths, like accidental suffocation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. There are multiple causes of pre-term births and many known risk factors of birth defects, including genetic, environmental, socioeconomic, demographic and maternal health, among others, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The project’s approach will mirror AL-SBIRT’s model of integrating behavioral health into primary care settings. AL-SBIRT, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, incorporates alcohol and drug screenings, brief interventions and referral to treatment into these settings.

The Vital team will utilize this public health approach in OB-GYN practices in the three counties and will provide referrals to women experiencing substance abuse, domestic violence and/or depression.

The Vital team will spend the next six months cultivating relationships with care providers and building out the training program. Success of the project will hinge greatly on buy-in from OB-GYNs who “champion” the AL-SBIRT screening tools as part of a “continuum of care,” said Shanna McIntosh, vital project director in UA’s School of Social Work.

“As of right now, with our reimbursement structure in the state and how health is viewed as more privatized, it’s important that we’re looking at holistic ways to provide medical care, taking into consideration behavioral and mental health as it relates to depression and substance use,” McIntosh said. “This will have a long-term impact on the way our patients in these areas are receiving care.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

University of Alabama’s CrossingPoints to launch new certificate program

(University of Alabama/Contributed)

The University of Alabama will debut an innovative, year-round academic program for individuals with intellectual disabilities beginning in the fall 2019 semester.

The CrossingPoints Certificate in Occupational Studies is a three-year, non-degree certificate program that will include six students in each annual cohort.

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More information, including admissions requirements, costs and course options can be found on the program’s overview page. Applications for fall admission are due July 17.

The CCOS will add a third tier to UA’s highly influential CrossingPoints, an on-campus postsecondary transition program that helps students with significant disabilities develop skills necessary for successful adult functioning. CrossingPoints launched in 2003 and has since added the annual Summer Bridgeprogram to create a pipeline for the new certificate program.

“Creating this certificate program is a milestone for CrossingPoints and UA, and we applaud those who have worked diligently to make this happen,” said Dr. Kevin Whitaker, executive vice president and provost. “It’s been a collaborative effort with many offices on campus providing input and expertise, and we’re excited to make this new program available.”

The certificate program will include 24 UA course hours, 10 CrossingPoints specialized hours and 54 internship hours. The UA courses will include 12 core hours in various classes, like computer applications, public speaking and English composition, as well as 12 additional hours based on students’ interests, preferences and needs.

The customizable course design is unique from similar programs across the country, said Dr. Amy Williamson, CrossingPoints program coordinator.

“We didn’t want students to come in and take classes we think they should take, but the ones they want that will truly lead to a career,” Williamson said. “That’s what college is for.”

The Summer Bridge program helped CrossingPoints build relationships with faculty members to determine the courses that would be available and the individualized grading mechanisms. Summer Bridge has also provided critical data about the range of campus-wide supports needed for this new population of students.

CrossingPoints launched Summer Bridge in 2016 after the United States Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education awarded UA a grant to create an immersive college experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities who are interested in attending college full-time. Summer Bridge students live on campus, enroll in select courses and participate in leisure activities on and off campus. Summer Bridge has had 51 participants in four years.

CrossingPoints faculty have two primary goals for Summer Bridge: empower students to live independently, even if they decide college isn’t for them; and discover what supports the students would need while on campus, and if those supports would be tenable over a three-year program. The wide spectrum of supports ranges from academics and internships to accessibility and independent living. That data is critical, as there are no existing pathways for this population of students from which to model, said Dr. Kagendo Mutua, director of CrossingPoints.

“Summer Bridge has taught us the lesson that, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve experienced it,’” Mutua said. “We’ve learned that the supports typically available are great, but by and large, they’re intended for students who’ve met the normative requirements to enter the university. In the data we’ve collected, we’ve learned some things that we’d never thought about, like self-care and social reciprocity, that have shaped what our program will look like.

“We’re excited to welcome a new specialized population to the University of Alabama and we’re ready to support them.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

NIH to fund University of Alabama study of student aggression, teacher biases

(David Miller/University of Alabama)

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of Alabama a $2.4 million grant to create interventions to lower aggression in middle-school students and lessen disproportionalities in school discipline.

Dr. Sara McDaniel, UA associate professor of education and director of the Alabama Positive Behavior Support Office, will serve as principal investigator for “Reducing Youth Violence and Racism/Discrimination: The Efficacy of Comprehensive Prevention Strategies (CPS).”

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The study will combine existing elements of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, widely implemented in schools across the country, with Coping Power, an intervention program for children with aggression problems, into a two-tiered program that will address interracial and intraracial youth aggression and implicit biases in teachers that lead to disproportionate rates of exclusionary discipline.

The five-year study will include 20 middle schools in large districts in Alabama. Students from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds will be included.

The first level of the study will add equity and race components to existing PBIS curriculum and will focus on school climate and how teachers can create better understandings of cultural differences between themselves and students.

Ultimately, through yearlong professional development, teachers will begin to “think differently” and beyond their biases for equitable discipline, McDaniel said.

“We can’t change the implicit biases that we develop throughout our lives, but what we can do is get [teachers] to identify that, and in that split-second they have – what we call a ‘vulnerable decision point’ – to respond without applying their biases,” McDaniel said. “This will help students with the cultural climate of the building, and in receiving adequate supports and equitable access.”

McDaniel said her work implementing PBIS in schools in Alabama has informed the need for this study, but that disproportionalities in exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions, exist across the country, particularly in black males. The teaching force nationwide is majority white – 82 percent – which creates a majority culture that differs greatly from the student body. Problems arise when behavior that doesn’t fit with majority culture is judged at a harsher level.

“Because of the race component, this is really important work for Alabama,” McDaniel said. “We’ve already had these discussions in a school district in Alabama, and I’ve heard from parents of black children in the district who’ve said, ‘I can tell teachers are thinking about it; instead of automatically sending my child to the office, I’m getting emails about it, or I’m being asked to come in and talk about it.’ And that’s what we want to happen. We want educators to understand the cultural mismatch and understand the mismatch of their culture and students of different backgrounds.”

The second level of the study that addresses raced-based youth aggression will add racism and discrimination content to Coping Power, a school-based preventative intervention curriculum developed and implemented globally by Dr. John Lochman, UA professor emeritus.

Lochman will serve as co-principal investigator. Co-investigators include: Dr. Daniel Cohen, UA assistant professor, school psychology; Dr. Kent McIntosh, professor, University of Oregon College of Education, and expert in PBIS; and Dr. Tamika La Salle, assistant professor of school psychology, University of Connecticut, and expert in school climate and culturally responsive education practices. Dr. Sterett Mercer, associate professor of special education, University of British Columbia (Canada), will serve as a consultant.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

University of Alabama, AARP partner to study needs of Alabama’s older military veterans

(University of Alabama)

The University of Alabama Office for Military Families and Veterans is partnering with AARP Alabama to assess the needs of the state’s older military veterans in order to develop and deliver outreach and educational interventions.

The survey will focus on AARP members in Alabama who identify as having prior military service. AARP Alabama has more than 440,000 members, many of whom are older adults. Nationwide, approximately 4 million – nearly 10 percent – of AARP members have served in America’s military.

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Results are expected by the end of summer and will help AARP strengthen its ongoing efforts to connect military veterans to various resources and services. AARP expects to share the report later this fall and with partners serving veterans and military families.

AARP also provides relevant news and programming about health care, finances and government benefits to the state’s veteran population.

Dr. David L. Albright, Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health in UA’s School of Social Work and director of the Office for Military Families and Veterans, said the study focuses on behavioral health, caregiving, food insecurity, homelessness and other issues that may emerge.“

“Our older veterans likely experience challenges around multiple domains, including behavioral health – from opioid and other substance misuse to suicide or suicide attempts,” Albright said. “And, yet, often the face of this type of complex problem is a younger face, which is not necessarily consistent with data that shows that Alabama’s veterans are mostly over the age of 50 years.”

Candi Williams, director of AARP Alabama, said the state-focused veterans survey is the first of its kind for the nonprofit organization, which has more than 38 million members nationwide. The data will potentially influence AARP’s ongoing work to support veterans nationwide.

Williams said the disconnect between veterans and resources became increasingly evident in the AARP caregiving classes, where class leaders continue to meet former military service members caring for their spouses or children, or loved ones caring for a military veteran.

Issues facing older veterans go beyond topics that typically affect the entire age spectrum of former military service members, like new scams and frauds that directly target older veterans.

“These data will help us build a plan of education, outreach and advocacy to support our veterans, and is likely the pilot for a national effort,” she said.

Albright previously completed a veterans needs assessment study in South Alabama and Marengo, Dallas and Wilcox counties. And he recently announced a partnership with Vettes 4 Vetsand the United Way to assess veterans’ needs in Jefferson and Shelby counties.

The partnership with AARP is exciting and vital for both the success in identifying the needs of older veterans and helping to translate those findings into meaningful action and potential policies at both the state and federal levels, Albright said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to partner with and support Alabama AARP through the Office for Military Families and Veterans, which continues to be the leader in the state’s postsecondary space in coordinating and facilitating collaborative research, education and outreach across the state of Alabama among military families, veterans and the organizations serving them.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

In the lab: University of Alabama students help inspire next wave of scientists

(University of Alabama)

Akshay Narkhede routinely prepares polymeric biomaterials during lab work in the Science and Engineering Complex at the University of Alabama.

Narkhede, a doctoral student in chemical and biological engineering, uses these hydrogels to mimic the mechanical aspects of human tissue to study how cancer cells behave in human or clinical settings. In Dr. Shreyas Rao’s lab in the SEC, Narkhede uses the hydrogels to investigate how breast cancer cells will behave in distant organ tissues – for instance, brain, lungs, bones or liver – to study the spread of breast cancer to these organs.

Narkhede has other research focal points in Rao’s lab, but on this day, he’s duplicating hydrogels to demonstrate to several young, curious shadows: high school seniors in a daylong immersion of hands-on lab experiments at UA.

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“As a high school student, you have four walls and a classroom,” Narkhede said. “But when you get to come in the lab and actually see that happening, that’s the most aha! moment for them. They get to experience what they’ve been learning theoretically, and now being translated into an actual practice.”

Nine students from five high schools in the Tuscaloosa area participated in Scientist for a Day, an Alabama Science in Motion program designed to inspire upperclassmen to major in a STEM field. In the last five years, 34 high school students have participated in the program.

This year, in addition to Rao’s lab, students conducted experiments in a biology lab in Mary Harmon Bryant Hall and the Caldwell Lab, better known as the “Worm Shack,” in the SEC. There, undergraduate lab assistants demonstrated their many uses of microscopic nematodes (roundworms) to study neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“In here, we use these scopes to transfer worms back and forth for different kinds of experiments, and that’s what [the high school students] were doing,” said Nathan Moniz, third-year biology major.

Moniz has been working in the Caldwell lab since spring semester of his freshman year. He said the experiences gained in the lab have been “very enriching,” as he’d never set foot in a research lab prior to enrolling at UA. Moniz said the high schoolers participating in Scientist for a Day have an opportunity he wasn’t afforded.

“There’s only one college in my hometown, and it’s a liberal arts school,” he said. “I only ever thought I was interested in research by things I saw in movies.”

Moniz said he’s fortunate to get research lab experience as an undergraduate, an opportunity that, while not rare, is more common for graduate students. Northside High School senior and UA Early College student John Ellis Kuykendall was surprised to see undergraduates leading demonstrations at Scientist for a Day.

“I knew I needed to do research because I want to go to medical school, but I didn’t really know what that meant,” Kuykendall said. “I thought undergraduates would just clean dishes in the labs. But [at UA], the undergrads actually get to do stuff.”

Narkhede said he mostly started to develop a broader picture of experimentation once he reached his senior year of undergrad, so he relished the chance to “impart my knowledge and these experiments” at Scientist for a Day.

The event is an extension of ASIM’s mission to provide high-tech lab experiences for students and professional development for teachers. ASIM has 33 branches across the state, including an office at the UA-UWA In-Service Center at UA.

In addition to Rao, participating UA faculty included Drs. Guy Caldwell and Kim Caldwell, Jack Dunkle, Ryan Earley, Kevin Kocot and Ryan Summer.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

University of Alabama to launch state’s first educational neuroscience program

(University of Alabama)

Undergraduate students at the University of Alabama can enroll in the state’s first educational neuroscience program by the fall 2020 semester.

Educational neuroscience is an emerging, multidisciplinary field that connects brain and cognitive science with educational research and practice. For instance, researchers are able to monitor brain development and activity to determine the effects of environmental and teaching influences. The ultimate goal is for educational neuroscience research to eventually shape learning and teaching practices.

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The major will be available through UA’s College of Education and will include new courses on diverse topics such as neural correlates of reading and mathematical cognition, neuroimaging and electrophysiological research methods, among others. An overview of the program can be found here.

Dr. Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of UA’s College of Education, said creating an undergraduate major in educational psychology is a “first important step” in bridging neuroscience data with the tasks of teaching and learning.

“We will now be taking a brain-based look at how we might be able to make improvements on normative undertakings related to the school, such as teaching children how to read, and how to work together and how to acquire and apply knowledge of subject matter in ways that can empower individuals and strengthen society,” Hlebowitsh said. “We believe our program proposes a new pathway for improved teaching-learning engagements and for a more informed perspective on educational policy.”

The curriculum will also include lab practicums students will take each semester after freshman year. Students will assist faculty and graduate students in research but will also work on projects independently in UA labs.

UA added a graduate-level educational neuroscience concentration to its educational psychology program in 2014.

“Through the new major, the undergrads will become part of the ecology we are setting up with graduate students, post-docs and faculty and will complement things we have developed in this initiative,” said Dr. Firat Soylu, UA assistant professor of educational psychology and neuroscience.

“It creates continuity with them engaging in research for three years and will help them immerse in theoretical frameworks and research practices in this new area,” Soylu said. “They’ll be able to sample different labs but also stay in one lab long enough to work on independent projects.”

Program faculty at UA have different research foci and specialized labs that align with their research.

For instance, Soylu, who studies mathematical cognition, conducts research on the relation between the finger sensorimotor system and mathematical development. His Embodied Learning Design and Educational Neuroscience Lab, or ELDEN, at the Tom Barnes Education Building at UA, is outfitted with soundproof rooms and EEG hardware.

The applications for educational neuroscience research are trending upward. For instance, researchers are beginning to pinpoint which neural systems are compromised in children who have dyslexia and autism to create more effective interventions, Soylu said.

Soylu anticipates undergraduates achieving teaching certifications and/or pursuing graduate school. Graduates will develop diverse research skills and acquire different theoretical perspectives that can be put into teaching practice.

“Our graduates who end up working in the field will have a unique foundation to face the hard-to-assess aspects of the science and will be able to rigorously interpret data,” Soylu said.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

University of Alabama’s Chloe West: People with POTS are not alone

(Jeff Hanson/UA Division of Strategic Communications)

People have a reasonable expectation when visiting a physician: a diagnosis.

Then, there’s a prognosis and, hopefully, a plan for recovery.

Two years passed before University of Alabama student Chloe West learned why she’d been experiencing chronic fatigue and foggy brain: dysautonomia, a condition in which the nervous system doesn’t function properly. West was later diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a disease that features dysautonomia and can cause rapid fluctuations of heart rate.

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West’s diagnosis was equal parts relief and frustration.

“I was disappointed that there wasn’t a cure,” West said. “My dad (a family medicine doctor) was ultimately the one that diagnosed me, but he didn’t know what it was. A lot of doctors don’t know what it is.”

West’s condition nixed her childhood dream of being in the FBI, but it provided a new motivation to help fill the void in doctors understanding and treating POTS, and to improve the lives of those living with it. Having graduated with a psychology degree from UA on Saturday, West will begin graduate school at Georgia State University, where she will pursue a doctoral degree in neuroscience and research the causes of POTS. West was also awarded the Second Century Initiative Neuroinflammation and Cardiometabolic Disease Fellowship at GSU.

“POTS is definitely the reason I’m going into neuroscience and a huge determinate in the path I’m taking in life,” West said. “It’s given me a sense of purpose within my diagnosis, and the idea that I can help so many people with this illness drives me every day to learn more about it.”

Early signs

West first began experiencing symptoms of POTS during her freshman year at the University of Georgia. She was “sick all the time,” and she initially attributed the symptoms to depression and anxiety, since symptoms of both anxiety and POTS affect the same hormones and body systems.
West transferred to UA after her freshman year to be closer to her parents; her father, Todd, is medical director of the UA Student Health Center. West then began a strict sleep, medication, diet and exercise plan to help regulate her symptoms and condition her heart.

The last sixth months have been “smooth sailing,” but through numerous support groups and meeting other people on campus who have POTS, West has learned that she’s fortunate to have found her balance.

“It’s definitely been a fear that my symptoms will get out of control at some point in my life,” West said. “But I also see a lot of stories of women – it’s more common in women – who’ve found that perfect regimen and have been able to condition themselves out of it.

“I believe that POTS is caused by epigenetic effects, so it’s something in your life, something above your genome that’s causing this illness to be expressed, and people have found ways to reverse that.”

Affirmation

West added a biology minor prior to beginning her senior year at UA and began researching POTS in hopes of strengthening her resume for graduate programs in psychology and neuroscience. She said she’ll soon begin working with Dr. Javier Stern, a neuroscience researcher at GSU, to study the effects of homeostasis in lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

West credits UA biology professor Dr. Kim Caldwell and psychology professor Dr. Thomas B. Ward with guiding her in her POTS research over the last year.

“In talking to some women who are experts in this field – one at Columbia and one at the University of Washington – I presented them with my hypothesis,” West said. “And to hear them say, ‘you might be on to something … this is good, and you need to get funding for this research,’ that was a huge relief and motivator.

“I want people with POTS to know they’re not alone, and the strength to fight this illness is within them. It’s becoming more and more common, and as doctors learn more about it, more people will be diagnosed.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)