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.

2 years ago

USA leads $1.3M fight against opioid addiction

(University of South Alabama/Contributed)

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die every day after overdosing on opioids. This national crisis includes the Gulf Coast, but a new program at the University of South Alabama will help address this problem.

USA’s College of Nursing has received a $1.3 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to recruit and train psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, students, nurse professionals and other professionals. It will focus on opioid and substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services in high-need areas in this region.


“We are in the process of creating the program, which will include three interdisciplinary online courses and stipends to start in January 2020,” said Dr. Kimberly Williams, associate professor of nursing and project director for the grant. “We have created an interdisciplinary team to support this program, which will help underserved and rural communities.”

Overdose deaths more than doubled between 2016 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 19.7 million people who are age 12 or older had a substance abuse disorder in 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“The students and professionals will have a better understanding of opioid and substance use disorders care involving integrated behavioral health settings through this experience,” Williams said. “By positioning psychiatric providers such as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners within these medical facilities working alongside medical providers, it allows direct access to mental health services that may not otherwise be available. The direct service can reduce morbidity and mortality associated with illness through timely referrals, assessments and treatments.”

Dr. Heather Hall, dean of USA’s College of Nursing, said the award provides nursing faculty the opportunity to advance nursing education and practice. “The grant team will serve in key roles to expand the Gulf Coast region’s opioid workforce and substance use disorder workforce serving children/adolescents in areas with high mortality rates and high mental health provider shortage. We are proud to have an interprofessional team of faculty and health care providers collaborating to provide additional education and training to develop opioid and substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery specialty courses.”

The USA interdisciplinary team is also planning to connect with Project ECHO, the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, which is part of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Project ECHO is considered a collaborative model connecting healthcare professionals to discuss complex conditions and issues via video conferencing.

“Project ECHO encourages connections of interest through building ECHO hubs throughout the country and the world.  Williams said, “According to Project ECHO, this is a lifelong learning and guided practice model with an aim of strengthening local resources to provide evidence-based care for underserved patients within the U.S. and worldwide.”

The USA interdisciplinary team is also planning to connect with Project ECHO by creating their own ECHO hub. “We will recruit healthcare professionals from the three targeted areas to join our ECHO hub,” Williams said. “The use of this model will enhance prevention, treatment and recovery for persons with substance abuse disorders and other complex conditions.”

The team members for this grant along with Williams are:

  • Dr. Casey Elkins, co-project director, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Candice Selwyn, co-project director, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Kirsten Pancione, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Melanie Baker, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Brandon Browning, department of professional studies, clinical and mental health counseling, College of Education and Professional Studies
  • Dr. Stephen Young, department of social work, College of Arts and Sciences

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

2 years ago

Nursing instructor’s wristband research recognized


University of South Alabama College of Nursing instructor Tyler Sturdivant was recently recognized by the Nephrology Nursing Journal for his research into the use of color-coded wristbands for patients.

Sturdivant, a USA nurse who also has a bachelor’s and master’s in nursing from South, is working on his doctor of nursing practice degree. “I was given a task to determine a project that would help improve the health care setting and provide a safe experience for patients in our hospitals,” Sturdivant said. “As the co-chair of University Hospital’s Nursing Practice Congress, I was responsible for forming an interdisciplinary team to look at the literature to see what the hospitals needed. We decided to use a pink alert wristband for dialysis and mastectomy patients in addition to other medical alert wristbands.”


The color-coded wristband initiatives have been adopted by the majority of state hospitals and the American Hospital Association, Sturdivant explained. “They are highly visible and improve patient safety and communication. They inform the bedside or frontline nurses and other health care providers about the hospitalized patient’s circumstances, especially when blood pressure needs to be taken, or IV sticks need to be avoided. If a mistake is made, it could cause the patient’s lifeline to malfunction.”

Sturdivant has been a nurse for six years. He worked at USA Health University Hospital for three years and has been on faculty in nursing for three years teaching and coordinating training for nursing students.

“He was hired in the position where he would work as a staff nurse and teach,” said Lisa Mestas, chief nursing officer and associate system administrator for USA Health. “The beauty of this is he teaches students who practice in the University Hospital and Children’s and Women’s Hospital. He still supports our evidence-based practice committee where he shares best practices that are proven by research. He also is active in the local executive nursing organization. This is awesome. He is giving back.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

2 years ago

University of South Alabama students meet patients where they are, even in Peru

(Courtesy of University of South Alabama)

Cole Stephens left Anniston, Ala., to enroll in the physician assistant program at the University of South Alabama. This spring he found himself in Peru, with his classmates, treating patients at risk for cervical cancer.

“We serviced 237 women patient by doing Pap smears for about three hours,” Stephens said. “We were worn out by the end of our shift, but it was very rewarding.” The physician assistant graduate students work six days a week for three weeks at a time at the clinic in Cusco, Peru, a country that has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the world.

Cervical cancer affects nearly every family in Cusco. Fourteen physician assistant, or PA, graduate students from South Alabama traveled to the CerviCusco clinic, which is managed by a medical organization founded in 2008.


Stephens didn’t have big expectations when he agreed to go on this global medical rotation.

“I just wanted to go and learn,” he noted. “But, this experience was much more than what I had anticipated. I am so happy that I had this opportunity to use what I have learned in class in a real-life situation.”

Dr. Gregory Frazer, dean of the Pat Capps Covey College of Allied Health Professions at South Alabama, said this global clinical rotation is an opportunity for PA students to serve a community and get much-needed training and experience.

“We are always pursuing opportunities to enhance the learning and clinical experience for our students,” Frazer said. “Patients in Peru travel a full day to come to the market area to receive the Pap test or treatment at the portable satellite clinics. Our students are able to touch and help save lives and in one day they see more cases in Peru than they would see in one entire clinical rotation here in Mobile. Our students learned the importance of being culturally sensitive to better care for the patients. This is an international partnership that’s working for South’s PA students and the Peruvian people.”

Twenty-two PA students from South will go to Peru in the 2019-2020 academic year, and Frazer and the faculty are working to expand the clinical rotations to include students from all of the programs in the College.

“We are really pleased that our PA graduate students have this unique opportunity to travel abroad and get much-needed medical experience and help save lives,” said Stephanie McGilvray, USA’s physician assistant program director. “This is the first international rotation for South’s PA students, and South Alabama is the first university in the state to participate in an international PA rotation.”

It’s not mandatory that the students do the medical rotation in Peru, but for those who are interested, they can fundraise to pay for their airfare, room, board, food and expenses.

“We got to meet the local people where they were,” PA student Adam Simpson said. “We set up little clinics all over town where people could come and get good health care. The people were so appreciative of our work. They were always friendly and smiling.”

As McGilvray researched a women’s health rotation opportunity for the PA students, she was surprised to receive a random email from the founder of CerviCusco, Dr. Daron G. Ferris, a professor of family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology at Augusta University. The goal of the unique program that’s been helping the Peruvian people for 11 years is to provide free medical services to prevent, detect and treat cervical cancer. Ferris extended an invitation to McGilvray to have the University consider sending PA students to Peru.

She set up a Skype call with Frazer and Ferris. McGilvray and Frazer then traveled to visit and evaluate the facility and program in Peru this past January before sending students.

“We were very impressed with the five-story facility, which has the clinic on one floor, and sleeping and living areas for the students on the second floor. Offices, an auditorium and classrooms are on the remaining floors of the building,” she said.

“We would go with students from other universities on what they called ‘campaigns’ to the market areas. They would set up tents and performed around 160 Pap smears during the morning hours. The women lined up and waited patiently for the Pap test. Then the women would follow up several weeks later to get the results of the Pap test to see if they are at risk or have cervical cancer. Many of them have been touched by the death or sickness of a friend or family member who had cervical cancer.”

McGilvray said the pharmaceutical company Merck has donated the HPV vaccine, so they have given 30,000 injections and she said they have seen a decrease in cervical cancer.

(Courtesy of University of South Alabama)

2 years ago

‘Resistance, Resilience and Survival’, University of South Alabama community reflects on Clotilda’s discovery

A mural of the Clotilda is painted along Bay Bridge Road in Mobile's Africatown community.

The University of South Alabama community reflects with joy, sadness, optimism and apprehension on the discovery of the Clotilda in the Mobile Delta.

The remains of the Clotilda were recently found by marine archaeologists in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near the Plateau/Africatown area of Mobile. The Alabama Historical Commission unveiled the discovery to descendants of the 110 Africans exported on the vessel.


“From 1801 to 1866, an estimated 3,873,600 Africans were exchanged for gold, guns and other European and American merchandise. Of that number, approximately 444,700 were deported from the Bight of Benin, Africa. During the period from 1851 to 1860, approximately 22,500 Africans were exported. And of that number, 110 were taken aboard the Clotilda at Ouidah.”
– “Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’” by Zora Neale Hurston, novelist, folklorist and anthropologist.

University of South Alabama faculty are collaborating with Ryan Noble, assistant professor at Spring Hill College and filmmaker, and Gloria Wilson, visiting professor of art education at Virginia Commonwealth University and a South alumna, on a project to honor the heroic and inspirational legacy of the 110. Lewis Billingsley, Jackson, Wilson and others were asked to share their thoughts about the discovery of the remains of the Clotilda.

Dr. Kern Jackson, Director
African American Studies, College of Arts and Sciences

It is a proud day to be a Jaguar and a member of the broader Mobile community. So many descendants who are alumni have matriculated through our university. The African American Studies program of the University of South Alabama, initially under the direction of Dr. Jean McIver, retired, is particularly blessed and favored to have, in a small and humble way, participated in the pursuit of and now founding of the Clotilde.

It is important to recognize the importance of this moment in American History. The ship is a symbol of African American resistance, resilience and survival.  There is an old saying, “you can break my bones, but you can’t break my spirit.” Indeed, this is the legacy of those Clotilde Africans and their many, many generations of descendants. My hope is for continued conversations about enslavement, secession, and reparations. I look forward to the economic and cultural development that will follow this historical moment in Plateau/Magazine Point/Africatown, USA, Alabama.

Dr. Joel’ Lewis Billingsley
Associate Professor, College of Education and Professional Studies

I understand why some people are overjoyed because the ship has been found. This discovery provides evidence to confirm what many knew to be true. Considered a myth for many years, the physical, geographical history has been destroyed, overlooked, and disregarded. Artifact or not, the story is in the hearts of many across the world. I also understand why some people are heartbroken because the ship has been found. This horrific tragedy represents pain, anger, and mistrust.

Although more heartbroken than overjoyed, I hope that forgiveness and peace will assist Project 110 in educating the next generation and providing a safe space for our community to discuss this important part of our history. Conversations, processes, and decisions associated with the discovery of the ship must honor the 110 and foster unity. Otherwise, they should leave the ship in the water. Now more than ever, how we share this history, by artifact and speech, must pay homage to the Africans who survived and persevered.

Dr. Gloria J. Wilson
Assistant Professor, University of Arizona and South Alumna

I have on-going mixed reactions. I am both hopeful and fearful of the long-term effects of such a discovery and its impact on the Black communities of Mobile in general, and on the economic, psychological and emotional well-being of the Africatown descendants of those enslaved and transported on the Clotilda. My first thought was, why did this take so long? Historical accounts of the Clotilda, and how it was disposed of have been stored for quite some time. For example, in the book, “Dreams of Africa in Alabama,” Sylviane A. Diouf shares details of the arrival of the Clotilda and the extreme measures that were taken to “reinvent” the ship, so that all traces of its illicit voyage would be masked or wiped away.

As I reflect on my time living in Richmond, Va., I cannot help but pause to think about how the story of enslaved Africans has been bookended for me. I have now lived in a place (Virginia) where the first enslaved African captives were brought and also a place (Mobile, Ala.) where the last ones were brought. It gave me chills when I first thought of it more than a year ago. For many Mobilians in general, and Africatown residents specifically, the Clotilda holds an historical memory. It is part of the American lexicon and history and part of the broader global narratives of human trade capital. Any denial of the long-range impacts of the systemic atrocities of the captivity that took place within the hold of the Clotilda (and of any slave ship), is akin to an anesthetic —something to help numb a feeling and connectedness to the story of human nature. I realize that numbing is also a coping strategy for many. It is important though to acknowledge that we, as Americans, cannot escape our direct connection to this history.

Kimberly Williams Pettway
Instructor, Social Work, College of Arts and Sciences

When I first learned of the possible finding, I immediately thought of the conversation I had in Ouidah, Benin with the High Priest of Vondoon, Houna Daagbohounon, in 2017. I had taken my first group of students to Ghana and wanted to extend the trip to Benin. After my students left, I found an interpreter and went to Benin. I was connected with a Rasta elder, Mere Jah, and we were invited to come to the high priest’s home. He was informed that I was from the United States and interested in the Clotilda. He stated that his father had once traveled to Prichard to meet with then-Mayor John Smith but the work they had done was unfinished. He stated that my presence was an indication that it was “time for the work to begin again.”

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in the natural law of fate and consequences. When I heard that the Clotilda was found, I knew that it was driven by the unknown (at the time) desire for the work to begin again to connect African Americans. This is what drives my desire to get students to Africa. For me, it was the dream of a confirmation that had come true. I’m excited that Houna Daagbohounon will visit in June.

For some, the presence of the Clotilda in our waters was a folk tale. Now we have actual evidence. Our ancestors were spread throughout the world. It is rare that we find African Americans who know exactly from whom they descended. In Africatown, we have a community of descendants who know their history. The importance of ancestry and of us taking an active role in honoring their voyage, deaths, and slavery through the development of a vibrant community, a mutual exchange between African Americans and Africans leads to addressing accountability.

Frye Gaillard
Writer-in-Residence, College of Arts and Sciences, and Author

The discovery of the Clotilda is a grim reminder of a history filled with suffering and shame. In the words of the old African American hymn, “sometimes it causes me to tremble.” But we are reminded also of the heroism of the survivors — and the need for honest conversation about the tragic roots of our current troubles.


More on the Clotilda:

(University of South Alabama Department of Public Relations)

2 years ago

South Alabama graduates first class of PASSAGE USA

(University of South Alabama/YouTube)

Everyone wants to be valued and contribute to society in some way, and graduates of the inaugural class of the University of South Alabama’s PASSAGE USA program have completed the two-year requirements and are ready to start their next journey filled with education and improved technology, social and work skills.

The first student to be accepted into the PASSAGE USA program in spring semester 2017 was Benjamin Pelham, now age 24, of Mobile. He was the first to complete the non-degree program in December 2018, and was one of six students to graduate and receive his certificate during USA’s May 4 spring commencement ceremony held at the Mitchell Center.


PASSAGE USA, which stands for Preparing All Students Socially and Academically for Gainful Employment, is for entering students ages 19-25 who have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability, meaning an IQ of 70 or below.

“When we first announced this program, we shared our philosophy, ‘College is Possible,’” said Dr. Abigail Baxter, project director and professor of special education in USA’s College of Education and Professional Studies. “And now with our first graduating class, we have created a program that has strengthened each student’s independent living, technology, social and job-readiness skills. And we have proven that there are no limits for these students. We know that the research shows students do better when they’re with their typical peers, and many of those peers are studying at colleges and universities.”

Prior to PASSAGE USA, Benjamin’s parents, Lisa and Marc Pelham, reached out to Baxter and Dr. Dennis Campbell, associate professor of education, about the possibility of a college program at South Alabama, and now their son is a member of the historic first graduating class. When Benjamin started the program, he worked in the campus Registrar’s Office. After commencement, he will continue working at his dream job at the USA Bookstore on campus. And, he will continue working at Tropical Smoothie, serving the smoothies and cleaning when needed. He hopes to become a manager.

“I have had a fun and enjoyable experience at the University of South Alabama,” Pelham said. “I have learned how to use my smart phone, ride the JagTran and walk safely across campus. I went to all my classes. I love my job at the campus bookstore. I help with folding and hanging up the clothes, along with putting out other merchandise.”

Pelham has found many friendships and, perhaps, love at South. He and his fellow graduate, Kaylee Walker, are now dating.

Alexandra Chanto-Wetter is the assistant director of the PASSAGE USA program. She left the Mobile County Public School System as a special education teacher to join the PASSAGE USA team.

“These young adults have their own feelings, emotions, needs, ideas and dreams,” said Chanto-Wetter. “I have been very honored to work in this field, and I was under the assumption that most of these students were participating in some type of program following high school. But it does not happen. After high school, many of them are isolated and sitting at home. But once they enter the PASSAGE USA program, it will be the first time many of them will think on their own, make decisions and mistakes. They also learn that they are similar to other college freshmen on campus.”

Chanto-Wetter said it’s been amazing to see how they have grown over time as students at South Alabama.

“It was great to see them build confidence and learn how to introduce themselves in a classroom,” she said. “They were shy at first, but working with their student peer mentors helped them blossom. It’s like watching a beautiful garden grow. They are now able to leave campus with their unique personality and skills. They are now employees and community volunteers. It’s amazing. We have awakened that persona that’s always been there. We have given them the opportunity to walk outside of boundaries. They are ordering food by themselves and they have even applied for their library cards.”

Graduate Keith Griffith, 21, came into the program with a big video announcement on Facebook that went viral, where his mother read his acceptance letter. He garnered a large following after the post. Since being in the program, he has worked for Mobile Popcorn, where he washed dishes and bagged popcorn. He will continue to work for Ruby Tuesday in Saraland, where he serves as host and greets customers.

“I am excited about this program,” he said. “I am so excited to graduate. Everyone was helpful. I love my mama and friends. I was able to greet customers by myself at Ruby Tuesday. I work a couple of nights per week.”

Keith’s mom, Heather Griffith, said the experience was more than what she expected. USA kept them informed in advance, and she has seen an improvement in her son. “Keith was able to spend his first check buying lunch at the Hard Rock Café in Biloxi in celebration of his birthday last year. This July for his birthday, he plans to see his favorite country artist, Josh Turner,” Griffith said.

Kathryn McMaken is the mother of recent graduate Michelle McMaken, 27. She was hesitant about letting her daughter participate in the PASSAGE USA program, and didn’t think Michelle would even qualify. But a friend encouraged her to let Michelle interview for the program, and she is so grateful she did.

“We never allowed Michelle to be independent,” McMaken said. “Me and my late husband were very protective of her. The interview was the first step, and I was shocked when I was told she interviewed beautifully. After much trepidation, we decided to let her participate for one semester. But it was obvious that she was going to do the entire program. She loved the teachers, student peer mentors and the work. She loved the technology, like cell phones, iPad and laptop computers, and she enjoys her job at MOD Pizza, where she folds pizza boxes and greets customers.”

Michelle has also enjoyed being a member of the South Alabama cheerleaders when she was a student. “I am so happy my daughter was asked to cheer for the Jaguars,” McMaken said. “She had a uniform, and Michelle cheered at the home football, basketball and softball games. They welcomed her with open arms, and I just love how they included my daughter and allowed her to live out one of her dreams.”

South Alabama student Payton Parnell, a junior majoring in elementary education and sociology, has worked as Michelle’s peer mentor. She said her life has changed because of this experience, and she has many great memories of sweet friends.

“Peer mentoring gave me friendships, laughter, love and most importantly, a way to show acceptance in a meaningful way,” Parnell said. “Through the eyes of PASSAGE students, they love life. Me and Michelle spent quality time together and became friends. Michelle and I were football game and cheerleading friends. We had numerous lunch dates and study sessions. Michelle and the other PASSAGE students have given me passion and happiness. I hope I have given them empowerment. In my eyes, the PASSAGE students helped me more than I helped them.”

John Heinl is the transition coordinator. And, Lauren Perry is the student employment coordinator. She works to secure job placements for the PASSAGE USA students.

“My goal is to make sure they are placed on a job they are interested in,” Perry said. “When they graduate and leave PASSAGE, we want to make sure that they are independent and using the natural support at their job site. We want them happy, content and supported by their work family and local businesses. To see the growth of this class brings tears to my eyes. They are successful members of society.”

To support PASSAGE USA, get information about the Gaillard-Neville Reynolds Scholarship.

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)