4 months ago

Hyundai donates $250,000 to Montgomery Public Schools for STEM education

Hyundai Motor America made a $250,000 donation Tuesday to Montgomery Public Schools for its science, technology, engineering and math programs.

The donation stems from Hyundai’s ST Math Initiative, which was developed by the Mind Research Institute.

Montgomery officials say the donation will benefit over 3,000 students from five public elementary schools in the MPS system including Catoma, T.S. Morris, Morningview, Seth Johnson and Brewbaker Elementary.

A check was presented Tuesday afternoon in the Catoma Elementary School Library where Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, Montgomery Commission Chairman Elton Dean, MPS Superintendent Dr. Ann Roy Moore, Montgomery School Board President Clare Weil, Zafar Brooks of Hyundai, Jim Sidick of the Mind Research Institute and other Hyundai executives were in attendance.

“Our goal here is to be a trusted partner in this community and other communities around the nation,” said Zafar Brooks, Hyundai’s director of corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion.

He added, “This nation depends on a skilled labor force, and research shows that when a child has access to STEM education, we will have a stronger student, and it will contribute to a life-long love of learning.”

The visual program is designed to assist the school’s core curriculum.

“It is going to support teachers and their understanding and help children learn mathematics in a conceptual way,” said Jim Sidick, Mind Research Institute’s regional vice president of partnerships.

Through the program, teachers will also receive professional feedback to personalize learning for the students.

MPS science specialist Kristy Hatch stated that she hopes to see more schools with access to STEM in the future.

Hatch said the ST Math program “fits wonderfully as a first step to introduce this and establish some relationships.”

“We are honored by Hyundai’s tremendous support and commitment to the students of MPS,” said Superintendent of Montgomery Public Schools Ann Roy Moore in a statement. “This program will aid educators and equip students with advanced technology and resources to develop interest and increase proficiency in STEM subjects.”

“The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce commends our industry partners at Hyundai Motor America for this generous gift to the Montgomery Public School system. Partnership means preparing to succeed together, and the ST Math Initiative will provide a tremendous value as Montgomery focuses on preparing a workforce for a higher wage, skilled work environment in a diverse, innovative, tech-driven economy,” said Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman Willie Durham.

Hyundai has partnered with the Mind Research Institute since 2011. Together, they have committed nearly $2 million in the implementation of the ST Math program in almost 80 schools.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

2 hours ago

Discovery of an endangered species in a well-known cave raises questions

You’d think there’d be no way someone could newly discover an endangered species hanging out in Fern Cave in the Paint Rock River valley of Jackson County, so close to Huntsville, home to thousands of spelunkers exploring every cave, nook and cranny.

But Matthew Niemiller and colleagues did.

In a discovery documented in a paper in the journal “Subterranean Biology,” Dr. Niemiller, an assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), found a specimen of the Alabama Cave Shrimp Palaemonias alabamae while doing a biological survey of Fern Cave in summer 2018 as part of a team of four.

The endangered shrimp had previously only been discovered in six caves in four cave systems in Madison County.

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“Fern Cave is the longest cave in Alabama, with at least 15 miles of mapped passage and five to seven distinct levels,” Dr. Niemiller says. The cave features a 437-foot deep pit and exploring most of its lower levels is reserved only for the very fittest, since the trip involves an arduous journey including drops to be rappelled.

Dr. Niemiller and team’s route to their discovery was no easy feat, either. The team entered the cave’s bottom level via the Davidson Entrance at the base of Nat Mountain on the Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge. The section of Fern Cave is only dry enough for exploration without scuba gear at the height of summer. Otherwise, it takes a dive to explore its flooded passages.

“You go in that entrance, and immediately you are in water up to your chin,” Dr. Niemiller says. From there, the journey twists and turns through tight spots and chambers, and the team sloshed through plenty of water at times.

The biological surveys of Fern Cave are part of a two-year project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that has involved over 20 biologists, hydrogeologists, and cavers to date from several organizations, including USFWS, UAH, U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc., Kentucky Geological Survey, Huntsville Grotto and Birmingham Grotto.

The scientists relied on the knowledge and expertise of Steve Pitts who has mapped much of Fern Cave and is its guardian for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. “He has visited the cave more than any person alive, more than 450 times. Without Steve, this project wouldn’t be possible,” Niemiller says.

“We went there to look for everything,” Dr. Niemiller says. “It’s the biggest cave in Alabama, but really, we didn’t know much about it from a biological perspective.”

The cave houses the largest winter colony of federally endangered gray bats (Myotis grisescens), and there are other commonly found cave dwellers, like salamanders and millipedes.

“We were working on documenting any life we could see,” Dr. Niemiller says. “We’re looking at the ceiling, in the water and on the floor to see what we could find. We’re looking under rocks and into crevices, as well – every nook and cranny.”

Team members meticulously documented their findings in notebooks and took photos of specimens. In cases where the species was not readily identifiable, they collected voucher specimens for later study.

“We came up on this passage where we could see there was a muddy bank, a place that maybe at other times of the year you didn’t want to be, an area that was clearly underwater for most of the year,” Dr. Niemiller says.

At this spot there were vestigial pools, left when the water receded in the dry summertime. Dr. Niemiller peered into one.

“We are finding cave crayfish, cavefish and sculpin in this pool. Then I looked down and saw this weird thing, this little white crustacean swimming toward me, and I said, ‘That’s a cave shrimp!’”

The team collected a live sample because at the time it was unsure if the specimen was actually the endangered shrimp or possible a new undescribed species. After leaving the cave, Dr. Niemiller called USFWS and got permission to retain the specimen, which is now housed in the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.

But there’s more. The team found three other cave shrimp on that day in August 2018 and observed another two on a return trip in July of this year. The little animals pose some interesting questions for science.

First of all, there’s the Fern Cave location, in the Paint Rock River watershed, which led Niemiller to wonder if the shrimp was an undescribed species. However, the shrimp found at Fern Cave have been morphologically and genetically linked to those found in Madison County, a different watershed area.

“Fern Cave is in a different county and a different location than the other caves where this species has been found,” Dr. Niemiller says. How did the Alabama Cave Shrimp make it there?

Little is known about the shrimp’s ecology. How does it breed, what is its lifespan, how does it survive and what foods does it eat? And why and when did the shrimp lose its eyesight and live in caves?

“Does this species represent something that went underground a million years ago? Two million? Five million?” Dr. Niemiller asks.

What are its closest relatives? “We need to explore the genetics of the species in more detail to find that out.”

Perhaps the most interesting question is, what is the actual range of the shrimp, since it was newly found in a distinct watershed.

“We have to get a better understanding of the distribution of the shrimp,” Dr. Niemiller said. “We’re hoping to get additional funding to survey other sites in Alabama for the presence of the cave shrimp and other cave species of conservation concern.”

After all, perhaps the Alabama Cave Shrimp is doing better than scientists think, even though a population has disappeared in one cave in Huntsville where it was seen in the early 1970s.

Caves in this region of the country are far more extensive than they are amenable to human exploration, and here the tiny shrimp has had scientific impact. Dr. Niemiller’s team has developed a genetic assay that uses the shrimp’s environmental DNA. Shed in the normal course of living, this DNA could be detected in water samples taken from caves and springs by the assay, allowing science to peer into inaccessible areas in search of Palaemonias alabamae.

In northern Alabama and southern Tennessee, cave systems often are so extensive that anyone could be standing atop a habitat for the Alabama Cave Shrimp and not even know it.

“It could be right under your feet,” Dr. Niemiller says. “It could be in a cavity, a well or a cave system underground.”

Tiny cave passages too small to explore link together with underground gravel deposits flowing with water to offer lots of species habitats and opportunity for dispersal, and most of them science as-yet knows nothing about. In this respect, biological cave exploration is much like exploring the deepest recesses of the oceans.

“That’s what draws me to it,” Dr. Niemiller says. “Every cave is different, and differently populated. We’re making many new discoveries.”

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville)

3 hours ago

USA leads $1.3M fight against opioid addiction

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.

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“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)

4 hours ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Supporting STEM education

Did you know that four billion people on the planet use a mobile phone? Over the past two years alone, 90 percent of all the world’s data has been generated. NASA plans to put man on Mars within the next 20 years, and self-driving cars are being tested around the world.

Right now, we are living in the “future” we’ve talked about for generations, and our modern world requires a workforce educated in science, technology, engineering, and math, commonly known as STEM.

Between the years 2000 and 2010, STEM-related jobs grew at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs. But, at the end of 2018, nearly 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled, because STEM education is not readily available for many students, especially in rural areas of our country. This is a critical problem, and I will briefly share some numbers to demonstrate just how important it is that we fix it.

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The number of STEM jobs is projected to increase by 13 percent by 2027, compared to nine percent for non-STEM jobs. Opportunities in computing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing will lead. The average median hourly wage for STEM jobs is $38.85, while the median earning for all other types of jobs in the United States is $19.30. The national average for STEM job annual salaries is $87,570, whereas the national average for non-STEM occupations is $45,700 – roughly half.

The STEM fields provide fantastic career opportunities, but according to the National Math and Science Initiative, only 36 percent of all American high school graduates are ready to take a collegiate science course. According to the Department of Labor, universities in the United States are only expected to produce 29 percent of the number of graduates necessary to fill the 1.4 million vacant computer specialist job openings.

The demand isn’t going to disappear, so it is our responsibility to expose the next generation of workers to STEM education so they will be equipped to fill these important jobs that will lead us further into the future we envision.

I recently participated in a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on STEM engagement, during which I had the opportunity to speak directly with experts from NASA and the National Science Foundation. Since we are experiencing such a severe workforce shortage, I brought up the issue of how we can generate increased interest in STEM-based jobs for the next generation. I also asked for an update about the programs currently in place to target underrepresented, rural areas across our country. I appreciated their time and thoughtful responses to my questions, and I was encouraged by what I learned.

In Congress, I have and will continue to support strong funding for STEM education opportunities. We must do all we can to expose more young people to these increasingly important fields so that today’s workforce is ready for tomorrow’s jobs.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

Big fish, happy grandson help Selma fisherman win Best Black Belt Fish Photo Contest

Rickie Knight fishes a lot – in tournaments all over the country and for fun near home in Alabama’s Black Belt. One particular fishing/camping trip near his home in Selma paid off with some big smiles and a win in the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association Best Black Belt Fish Photo Contest.

Knight and his wife, Carol, were spending some quality time close to home on Chilatchee Creek with family when he hauled in a nice bass with one of his grandsons, Gauge Knight. A photo snapped on the boat and entered in the ALBBAA contest picked up the most votes on the not-for-profit’s website and won a half-day guided fishing trip at Lake Eufaula led by expert Tony Adams and a night at beautiful Lakepoint State Park.

“We love Lake Eufaula, so we’re very excited to win this contest,” Knight said.

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Pam Swanner, Director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, called this year’s Best Black Belt Fish Photo Contest a great success. “We are extremely pleased with the response we had to this year’s contest,” she said. “All of our photo contests attract pictures of families involved in the outdoors in the Black Belt, and we take pride in knowing the lessons being both taught and learned in the outdoors will also foster lifelong memories.

“Our contests are meant to educate the public on the abundance of natural resources found in Alabama’s Black Belt, and this time we were happy to see almost three dozen entries, coming from 13 of our 23 Black Belt counties.”

Knight said he enjoyed time on the water with his family, which includes two sons, their wives and five grandchildren. Grandson Gauge, the son of Chase and Brandi Knight and brother of Jayden, Paisley and Spur, takes center stage with the nice Chilatchee Creek bass in the winning photo. The rest of the fishing Knight family includes Jake and Cameron Knight and their son, Foster.

“Rickie has fished all over the country in different levels of tournaments and has lots of fishing friends,” said Carol, the winner’s wife. “We asked our families and friends to vote for his photograph, too.”

The prize package for this year’s contest is valued at $430.

ALBBAA promotes and encourages ethical hunting and fishing practices. The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association is committed to promoting and enhancing outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its people. For information, go to www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

19 hours ago

Wolf Bay Restaurant Bar and Boutique is an Alabama Gulf Coast tradition

Charlie and Sandra Wrape served 27 dinners on their first day of business. The year was 1973, and they had just opened a restaurant in a former bait shop on the shores of Wolf Bay in the tiny Baldwin County community of Miflin.

“Business just blossomed from there,” said the Wrapes’ daughter and the current owner and president, Charlene Haber.

Forty-six years later, Haber operates three Wolf Bay restaurants, two in Alabama and one in Florida.

“We are doing more than 3,000 dinners a day in our peak season” at the Foley, Orange Beach and Pensacola locations, said Haber, who politely, but firmly, asks to be called Char. “Everybody calls me Char. Nobody calls me Charlene.”

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Haber’s Navy Dad and nurse Mom lived in Pensacola when they decided to retire and open a restaurant in Alabama. Last year, Haber decided to return to the family hometown and open the third Wolf Bay Restaurant, Bar & Boutique in that Florida city.

“The Pensacola community has embraced us with open arms,” Haber said. “We have really enjoyed getting to know the military personnel who live nearby. Wolf Bay is committed to giving back, and it has really warmed our hearts being able to support even more nonprofit organizations and schools.”

Through loss of founders, flood and fire, restaurant endures

The road to success hasn’t been easy for Haber or the restaurant.

“My mother passed away in 1994, then Hurricane Ivan came in ’04, which sunk us about six feet under water, then the fire destroyed us in 2008,” Haber said. Her father died in 2014.

The family business – previously known as Wolf Bay Lodge, though it has never offered lodging – expanded several times in its original location. After experiencing flood and fire in a four-year span, the business relocated and reopened in 2009 on Perdido Beach Boulevard in Orange Beach. In 2010, its original customer base rejoiced when Wolf Bay opened a restaurant on Miflin Road in Foley. The Pensacola location opened Oct. 1, 2018.

Besides adding the new location last year, the regional seafood restaurant chain in recent years has rebranded, renovated, redesigned menus, added software analytics, hired a catering and events director, increased outdoor seating and implemented a silent paging system.

Any hardships along the way don’t show, said Orange Beach Councilman Jerry Johnson. Wolf Bay Restaurant is “a destination for our city’s out-of-town guests from every region of the country. Their seafood is always fresh, the service is always exceptional and the atmosphere is pure Coastal Alabama.”

A team that interacts like family

“I think the most valuable thing that my mother and father ever told me was … get in there with your employees, work hard with them and they will always give you 200 percent,” Haber said. “I couldn’t do any of this by myself. We are a team, and I have developed a family here.” Some of her employees have been working for the restaurant since the 1970s.

There’s Ma Belle, Miss Nadine, Karen, Jerry and Al, who retired last year after giving a two-year notice.

At Wolf Bay Restaurant, which is known for its fresh Gulf seafood prepared using community recipes handed down through the years, they peel, devein and butterfly every shrimp by hand. Even their salad dressings are made by hand.

“These people look out for me as well as I look out for them,” Haber said. “I want everyone to know how lucky we are for the staff we have. We just need more of them.” Wolf Bay employs 350 at the height of the Gulf Coast tourist season.

The customers also consider Haber and her team family.

Donna Watts, chief executive officer and president of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce who frequents the Foley location, said, “I sometimes eat here three times a day. I know most of the staff. When I walk in, they all say, ‘Hey, Miss Donna.’ I love it. It feels like home, and I think that is why everybody comes here, because it feels like home.”

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retailer, a publication of the Alabama Retail Association.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)