The Wire

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


    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


    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


    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.

1 year ago

Space Commerce Workshop is an outgrowth of the UAH’s focus on an emerging industry

(Michael Mercier/UAH)

The College of Business at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) will be hosting its second-annual Space Commerce Workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 10, in the Charger Union Theatre on the UAH campus.

“We want to build on the interest and enthusiasm of the 250 or so attendees at last year’s workshop who gathered to discuss doing business related to space,” says Dr. Jason Greene, dean of the College. “This year’s workshop continues the tradition of bringing together established leaders in the space business with those who are leading new enterprises and seeking new opportunities as the marketplace develops.”


The theme of the one-day workshop, held in conjunction with the 2019 Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium, is “Opportunities and Successes in Space Commerce.” It will comprise three panel discussions, with each focusing on a different aspect of this emerging industry:

  • Panel I: Doing Business with Big Aerospace Prime Contractors
    12:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.Representatives of several large aerospace prime contractors, including NASA, ULA, RUAG, and Boeing, will discuss the opportunities that exist for smaller firms to join their long, complex supply chains, as well as the requirements those firms must meet.
  • Panel II: Emerging Companies in Space Commerce
    2:15 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.Representatives of smaller firms such as Representatives of smaller firms such as Stevenson Astrosat, ExoAnalytic Solutions, Rocket Crafters Inc., and Virgin Orbit will share their own success stories in the field and provide an overview of the breadth of space-related products and services, from satellites and solar panels to exotic materials that require a microgravity environment for their development.
  • Panel III: ISS: Springboard to LEO Commercialization
    4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.Representatives from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the ISS National Laboratory, and several other, smaller firms will highlight the latest developments and incentives related to using the space station as a business platform.

The final panel will conclude in time to allow attendees to proceed to UAH’s Student Services Building to enjoy the Symposium’s Opening Reception at 6 p.m.

Now in its second year, the workshop seeks to fulfill in part one of the College’s four main goals as outlined in its 2018-2025 Strategic Plan: to become a recognized leader among business schools in the field of space commerce.

This emphasis is in response to the relatively recent transition of the space industry from the public to the private sector and the increasing demand for professionals with specialized skills and training needed to support this growing industry. Already, commercial enterprise accounts for nearly 80 percent of space activity in a global economy that tops $400 billion; in the U.S. alone, the aerospace industry directly employs more than 500,000 workers and indirectly supports more than 700,000 jobs in related fields.

“We are reaching beyond what has been done before to create, cultivate, and disseminate knowledge and explore new markets,” says Dr. Greene. “So just as the university and community exercise these traits to lead the nation in space exploration, we embrace them as we establish new frontiers in business.”

In keeping with the Strategic Plan, the College is developing its leadership in space commerce across the three pillars of its stated mission: community engagement, research, and educational programs.

Of the first, says Dr. Greene, “we want to build increasingly strong ties to the space community.” He calls the College’s annual Space Commerce Workshop “a critical component” of that effort, while future plans include collecting and disseminating data on the space industry, entering into Memoranda of Understanding to collaborate with organizations that have an interest in space commerce, and hosting visiting scholars or executives in residence. “The community engagement component is the key to our success across the board,” says Dr. Al Wilhite, chair of the Department of Economics, Accounting, and Finance. “The experiences of firms working to enter space commerce will enable us to identify the needed educational programs and research opportunities.”

To facilitate and encourage research in space commerce, the College is planning to offer mini-grants to faculty for space commerce research, in addition to developing workshops, conference sessions, and tracks, and supporting professional development related to space commerce. “Our faculty have actually already begun developing projects to research business problems and solutions unique to space commerce and the development of the space commerce industry,” says Dr. Wilhite. “The first such project is by one of our accounting professors, Dr. Hank Alewine, whose research is providing a framework for addressing accounting challenges in the space economy.”

The final pillar, incorporating space commerce content into academic programs, will be rolled out over the next two years as the College develops and implements a programmatic approach to space commerce education by working closely with the faculty to create space commerce courses or course content. “Space commerce is a natural extension of our existing programs that emphasize product innovation, new venture strategies, and the management of technology,” says Dr. Greene. “So whether it is through new content in current courses, new courses that focus on the challenges in emerging technologies, or new programs that help serve the aerospace industry, space commerce will emerge as a theme in our programs going forward.”

No doubt the College will have its fair share of competition in this endeavor as other business schools seek to capitalize on the transition from state-directed space exploration to private enterprise driven by commerce. But in addition to its reputation of excellence in business education, UAH’s business school has one other advantage: location.

“In many ways the UAH College of Business is uniquely qualified to do this,” says Dr. Greene. “Not only was UAH initially conceived by Dr. Wernher von Braun to serve the space effort and to promote and support the development of industry in this effort, but our community, the Rocket City, has a legitimate claim as the birthplace of the nation’s space program. What we are doing in the College of Business is both preserving that esteemed legacy and carrying it forward into the next era of space exploration.”

The registration fee for this year’s workshop is $30, which can be paid in advance or on the day of the event. Attendance for UAH students is free, but registration in advance is encouraged.

(Courtesy of University of Alabama in Huntsville)

1 year ago

Sensory garden gives students with diverse abilities a place to grow

(Michael Mercier/UAH)

Last year, the Early Learning Center (ELC) unveiled its first sensory room, giving students in its Preschool Autism Language and Social Skills program a calming space of their own to relax and refocus their minds. Now, the community outreach center for the College of Education at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has added yet another resource to meet the needs of children with diverse abilities: a sensory garden complete with mud kitchen, raised planter boxes, and a pond.


“When we moved into the ELC, the garden area was overgrown. But I knew it could be a special place for our children,” says Deana Aumalis, who serves as the center’s director. “So seeing its transformation into a sensory garden that is both safe and enriching for our students is a dream come true.” Credit for that, she adds, goes to ELC budget analyst Alicia Wilkerson. “She took my vision and reached out to several community groups and units within the university to make this a reality for our children.”

Wilkerson has a long history of going above and beyond the call of duty to help the ELC better serve it community of tiny scholars. Not only was she an integral member of the team behind the aforementioned sensory room, but she was also responsible for recruiting a muralist to brighten up the center’s walls. So it was without hesitation that she accepted Aumalis’ invitation to head up the sensory garden project. “It was something that I kind of jumped on because, walking by and seeing it overgrown since I’ve worked here, I could see the potential,” says Wilkerson. “And after hearing Deana’s vision, I could see how it would look – even if I didn’t know where to start!”

Fortunately, finding space for the garden wasn’t an issue thanks to a , pre-existing courtyard beyond the center’s northside wall. But before the courtyard could be considered safe for use, its neglected pond would have to be remediated. Enter Kevin Patterson, a pond and pool expert whom Wilkerson found through a friend of a friend. “He kind of fell in love with our mission here at the ELC,” she says. “So he came out with his church group and they got the pond up and running, and built the right kind of fence so that the kids could see through it but not get too close to the water.”

Next up? Removing the courtyard’s “knee-high weeds,” leveling the ground, and preparing the soil for planting. “Randolph High School had reached out to us in the past about volunteering and this seemed like a perfect opportunity,” says Wilkerson. “They ended up sending about 25 of their students for three days of solid work, in addition to buying and donating the materials they used. They were really excited about the project and passionate about trying to make it safe for the kids.”

As for the final touches, they came courtesy of Daniel Jean and John MacLeod, landscapers with UAH Grounds Management. “They brought in the different types of mulch, they filled the planter boxes with soil and the kitchen with dirt and mud, and they added the bushes,” she says. “They also adjusted the benches to the proper height and leveled the pieces in the mud kitchen to make both areas more accessible.” Even now, she adds, “they still check on us and have really been big supporters.”

Come May the garden was officially ready for planting, a job Wilkerson had reserved for the center’s students. “The kids planted all the vegetables, the herbs, and the flowers, and are now following the full circle of the plants’ lives – tending them, watching them grow, and eating, touching, or smelling them,” she says. “It’s a full sensory experience that brings hands-on learning to them. And everyone takes something different from it depending on their interests.” She definitely has no shortage of helpers when it comes to watering. “I had to buy more watering cans because everyone wanted to water!” she says with a laugh. “Fortunately, we’re blessed to have so much that needs to be watered.”

The mud kitchen has also been a popular addition, and there is hope of adding musical equipment and a learning space in the near future. In the meantime, they’ve been able to purchase wheelbarrows and diggers, among other equipment, with a $2,500 grant the ELC received from Target earlier this year. “We’re so thankful for their support, because of course without funding, none of this would have been possible,” says Wilkerson. “Between them, Randolph, Kevin Patterson and his church group, and UAH Grounds Management, we have really hit the jackpot in terms of support. And seeing how much fun the kids are having has showed me that it was more than worth the time and effort that we all put into this fun and safe new space for them to explore.”

(Courtesy of The University of Alabama in Huntsville)

1 year ago

UAH professor part of San Antonio Zoo’s successful effort to breed enigmatic salamander

(Danté Fenolio/San Antonio Zoo)

Dr. Matthew Niemiller, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), is part of a team that has – for the first time ever – successfully bred the imperiled Georgia blind salamander (Eurycea wallacei) in effort to stem the fragile species’ extinction. The secretive salamander inhabits the Floridian Aquifer, a large body of subterranean water below Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and has been considered for candidacy by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Endangered Species List.

“This is very exciting news, and I am proud to work with such great colleagues and play a minor role in this conservation achievement,” says Dr. Niemiller, an active speleologist who divides his time between the classroom and the field. “This opens new opportunities for research on the development and life history of this enigmatic salamander.”


Dr. Niemiller’s partners in the effort include Dr. Danté Fenolio, vice president of Conservation & Research at San Antonio Zoo and Tim Morrow, president & CEO of San Antonio Zoo, which the 10 newly hatched salamanders call home. Funding for the project was generated by the sale of Conserveza, a beer crafted in collaboration with Freetail Brewing Company to support conservation efforts at San Antonio Zoo.

The initiative kicked off more than a decade ago, when Dr. Fenolio applied for permits with Florida and Georgia to research the Floridan Aquifer’s Georgia blind salamander and its fellow inhabitant, the Dougherty Plain cave crayfish (Cambarus cryptodytes). Once the permits were in hand, he and Dr. Niemiller used a grant from Tree Walkers International to develop captive husbandry and breeding protocols – the same protocols that allowed for the successful breeding of both species at the Center for Conservation & Research earlier this year.

“Our work provides the ‘how to’ guide with regard to keeping and breeding these imperiled groundwater animals,” says Dr. Fenolio. Morrow agrees, adding that the Zoo’s success in this area now allows them to “write the playbook on how to breed these species…that are at risk from disappearing from our planet.” Of course, all three hope that the protocols will never be needed. But if they are, says Dr. Fenolio, “we don’t have to start from scratch if emergency breeding colonies need to be established.”

About San Antonio Zoo

San Antonio Zoo®, operated by San Antonio Zoological Society is a non-profit organization committed to securing a future for wildlife. Through its passion and expertise in animal care, conservation, and education, the zoo’s mission is to inspire its community to love, engage with, act for and protect animals and the places they live.

About Center for Conservation and Research

The Center for Conservation and Research at San Antonio Zoo®, is operated by San Antonio Zoological Society, a non-profit organization committed to securing a future for wildlife through a variety of approaches, including fieldwork, scientific study and husbandry of rare, threatened and endangered species.

(Courtesy the University of Alabama in Huntsville)

1 year ago

Hospital-hosted simulated surgery offers nursing students interprofessional education experience

(Michael Mercier/UAH)

Clinical simulations are an integral part of the curriculum in the College of Nursing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), with most taking place in the College’s Learning and Technology Resource Center (LTRC). This 10,615-square-foot mock hospital includes, among other resources, seven high-fidelity simulation laboratories dedicated to giving nursing students real-world clinical experience long before they begin their professional careers in healthcare. This summer, however, the students in the College’s perioperative elective got the chance to hone their skills at Decatur Morgan Hospital, where they worked alongside retired general surgeon Dr. Kenneth Chandler as he performed an open appendectomy on a SynDaver surgical model.

“Students have incredible experiences in the clinical setting as they work alongside seasoned perioperative nurses, but due to the high-stakes nature of the surgical environment for patients, it is not possible for students to function independently in perioperative nursing roles,” says Dr. Donna Guerra, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing and a former perioperative nurse who teaches the perioperative elective. “But thanks to Dr. Chandler and Decatur Morgan Hospital, this event allowed them to perform their roles in the safe environment of a simulation while immersing them in the most realistic experience we can provide.”


Five nursing majors – Kecia Winkleman, Terra Davis, Rebecca Shores, Morgan White, and Rachel Pierce – participated in the event, with each assuming a role in the various perioperative areas related to the surgery. “Two students cared for the simulated patient in the pre-operative unit, providing nursing care that a typical general surgery patient would require,” says Dr. Guerra. “This included nursing assessments, obtaining a medical and surgical history, starting IV lines, and administering medications.” Two more students filled roles as nurses in the operating room, positioning and prepping the patient, as well as monitoring and maintaining a sterile environment. And the last, she says, “was assigned to the role of the recovery room nurse, monitoring and providing nursing care for the patient emerging from anesthesia and during the immediate post-operative phase.”

In addition to Dr. Chandler, the students also interacted with the hospital’s perioperative nurses and other surgical specialists, as well as members of the pre-operative and post-anesthesia care units, providing them valuable exposure to the teamwork and collaboration required of a surgical procedure. “This inclusion of interprofessional education added another layer to the simulation by giving students insight into the dynamics across disciplines within the same healthcare environment,” says Dr. Guerra, who watched the surgery with her fellow LTRC staffers, a handful of hospital administrators, and Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling. “It allowed them to see firsthand how important it is for everyone to work together to provide comprehensive, patient-centered care while at the same time executing their own assigned tasks.”

As for the students themselves, the experience proved even more indelible than Dr. Guerra could have hoped when first laying the groundwork for this event more than a year ago. “The SynDaver simulation was uncharted territory for everybody, as it’s not every day that you can use an actual hospital for the setting of a simulation,” says Shores. “It was amazing to see how well we all learned throughout our time at Decatur Morgan Hospital and were able to put it into our roles of the simulation.” Davis agrees. “The simulation allowed us to apply the skills and knowledge that we’ve learned while working as a team and providing safe patient care,” she says, noting that she can now “definitely” see herself as an operating nurse once she graduates. As for Winkleman, she considers the simulation “a great learning experience,” adding that she hopes future students “will be able to have the same opportunity.”

She may not have long to wait. Dr. Guerra is already planning to make the event a regular feature of the perioperative elective going forward – and she has the full support of the College’s dean, Dr. Marsha Howell Adams.

“The College of Nursing believes in providing our students with hands-on clinical experiences that connect the dots between classroom and clinical,” says Dr. Adams, a longtime proponent of concept-based learning and interprofessional education. “The perioperative elective, one of the five clinical electives offered each summer, strengthens the students’ knowledge base regarding team-based care and role specialization. These electives set UAH’s College of Nursing a part from other nursing programs.”

(Courtesy of University of Alabama in Huntsville)