1 month ago

UAH alumna Dr. Kimberly Robinson named U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, an alumna of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of The University of Alabama System, has been named Executive Director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC). The hiring was announced by the Alabama Space Science Exhibition Commission, which oversees the operation of the center.

Dr. Robinson earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from UAH in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and is a 31-year veteran of NASA. She is also the recipient of numerous NASA performance awards, including an Exceptional Achievement Medal and the Silver Snoopy.

She began her career at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in 1989 as a Project Engineer in the Propulsion Laboratory, became an astronaut trainer, served as an Executive Intern to the Center Director, was the Project Integration Manager for the Ares 1-X test flight, served as the Payload Mission Manager for Artemis 1 (the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft) and most recently led Utilization for all Artemis missions for NASA HQs/Advanced Exploration Systems.

Needless to say, the decision to make such a pivotal move at this time in her career is an intriguing one, fraught with change and challenges. “This was a major change to my life plan,” she says, smiling. “I had never planned to leave NASA prior to retirement and wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do while I was still building my NASA career. But now that it’s happened, it totally makes sense to me.”

One only needs to spend a few minutes with Dr. Robinson to feel the energy, enthusiasm and drive she is ready to throw at any obstacle in her way. “I know that I have a lot to learn, and I’m very upfront about that,” she says. “It goes beyond STEM education and space exploration. There are other roles that come along with this position: we run a museum, gift shop, restaurants and a large number of camp programs under Space Camp. Those areas are all new for me, and it’s fun for me to learn.”

Dr. Robinson’s background makes her particularly well-suited for her new role in ways beyond her technical qualifications. The alumna is fully versed in sharing the future of human space exploration with the public through her work in various NASA posts, such as SLS Strategic Communications Manager at MSFC.

“You have to be able to communicate, talk to the public and your team, explain where we are going, and how we will get there,” she says.

It doesn’t take complicated analysis to determine the source of many of the challenges she is facing. “The Center came to a screeching halt due to the pandemic,” notes Pat Ammons, the Senior Director of Communications at USSRC. But Dr. Robinson is walking into this job with her eyes wide open and a finely honed sense of how to help an organization surmount the difficulties it is facing to get back on track.

The most pressing need to be addressed would almost certainly be the financial impact brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

“It would have been easier to step into this role had the Rocket Center been in a better financial situation rather than in a recovery mode after the pandemic,” the new CEO says. “But it wouldn’t have appealed to the part of me that enjoys the challenge. I had a mentor at NASA who said if you want to be valuable to an organization, you go to where they need you. You don’t go where you want to go or go for the best pay or the best title; you go where someone needs you, and do the best job that you can – that’s how you prove your value.”

Officially on the job since February 15, Dr. Robinson has hit the ground running, anxious to put her personal philosophy to work reshaping USSRC operations.

“At NASA I learned important lessons, like how to manage risk and how to make decisions with people’s lives depending on it. Here we are having to adjust and adapt and assess as the situations unfold. For example, we made a decision that we would only operate Space Camp at 50% capacity this summer to safely maintain distance and follow the health guidelines. We had to make that decision early on in order to stabilize our planning. To try to switch on a dime would not provide the quality experience that we want to give our visitors here.”

Dr. Robinson is quick to point out that one of the most important factors in supporting her vision for the Center is the people behind it all. “It’s mostly about team building. That’s what I enjoy, and what I did at NASA – developing a plan, executing the plan, keeping the team safe and secure, motivated and challenged. I believe I can do almost anything with the right motivated team, solve any problem, move any mountain. That’s how we landed on the Moon!”

One important part of leading is helping the team define and share a vision. To this end, Dr. Robinson is working with the Executive Team to develop a Strategic Plan for the Space & Rocket Center to outline the strategic goals of the Center for the next three to five years.

Originally from Birmingham, Dr. Robinson has always been fascinated by the space program. “I loved the space program, airplanes and space ships – but I never knew that was anything I could be a part of. That was for test pilots and German rocket scientists. It wasn’t until I received an award from the Society of Women Engineers presented to me by a female NASA astronaut that I learned it was something I could do too. It felt like the world opened up to me.”

In what has become a kind of lifelong modus operandi for the UAH alumna, it soon became evident, however, that she would have to knock down quite a few barriers to accomplish her goals.

“From that time on, I wanted to work at NASA, wanted to be an engineer and preferably an astronaut. I was a senior in high school, and I started interviewing everywhere for scholarships. I sometimes had people say, ‘You’re a woman, you won’t last as an engineer!’ One interviewer questioned why I deserved a scholarship, when I would probably just get married and leave school after the first year! Well, I stayed with it and now I have a real passion for encouraging women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I want them to know that if it interests you, don’t let anyone tell you you don’t belong.”

The choice to come to UAH to further her education was an easy one. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Robinson moved to Huntsville to work at NASA while pursuing an advanced degree at night. “I took one class at UAH, loved it, and said this is the place for me! It’s a wonderful university,” she says.

Now that she has had time to settle in, how does she feel about her first six weeks as head of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center?

The alumna grins. “I must look like a drowned rat, because it’s like drinking from a firehose! But just coming in the door, it was love at first sight. The team is wonderful, the mission is solid and appealing, and everything about it has felt right. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, challenging and exhausting, all at the same time.”

Lastly, Dr. Robinson fully understands the importance of helping this cherished Huntsville landmark thrive once more.

“It is a solemn responsibility that I take seriously. It is human nature to explore the unknown and push the boundaries, and space exploration is one way we have done that to a magnificent degree. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center showcases those human achievements that have expanded technologies, opened new frontiers and discovered new worlds. The story itself is the compelling narrative, and we’re here to make sure it shines in a way that connects to each visitor who walks in the door.”

(Courtesy of The University of Alabama in Huntsville)

1 hour ago

Lakepoint Community Archery Park opens June 24

Alabama’s newest community archery park will hold its grand opening at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 24, 2021, at Lakepoint State Park, 104 Old Highway 165, in Eufaula, Alabama. The Lakepoint Community Archery Park is located near the park’s campground and day use area. The public and media are invited to attend the grand opening ceremony.

The archery park will be open year-round during normal park hours for recreational shooting, competitive tournaments and outdoor educational programming. The facility features an eight-target adult range from 15 to 50 yards and a four-target youth range of 5 to 20 yards.

Use of the archery park is free for those under 16 years of age or over 65. Lakepoint entry fees still apply. Alabamians ages 16 to 64 must have a hunting license, Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license, or Wildlife Heritage license to use the range. For non-residents, an annual WMA license or non-resident hunting license is required. Licenses are available from various local retailers or online at outdooralabama.com.

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Lakepoint joins several other community archery parks currently in operation throughout the state. These facilities are one component of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) effort to increase awareness and participation in the life skill of archery. To find a community archery park nearest you, visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/archery-parks.

The new archery park was made possible by the following agencies and organizations: Alabama State Parks, the Archery Trade Association, and ADCNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with funding through license sales and federally matched Pittman-Robertson Act funding.

Additional recreational opportunities available at Lakepoint State Park include fishing, boating, swimming, wildlife and bird watching, camping, dining, picnic areas and playgrounds. The Park also features a Resort Lodge and Convention Center. In addition to the lodge, Lakepoint offers 29 cabins and 10 lakeside cottages. Handicap-accessible and dog-friendly units are available.

For more information about the Lakepoint Community Archery Park, call the park office at (334) 687-8011. For more information about Lakepoint State Park, visit www.alapark.com/parks/lakepoint-state-park.

16 hours ago

Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrates phase one improvements in Kingston

Live HealthSmart Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham initiative, celebrated phase one improvements in the Kingston community at Stockham Park. These improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve the community’s infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant street ramps, trees and flowers in Stockham Park, painted murals, new bus shelters, improved lighting in hard-to-see areas, and more.

“Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. “To help achieve these aims, we started by making community improvements. This was especially evident in the built environment. We’re excited to show everyone what has been accomplished.”

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To reenergize the community and encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama – in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston – knew sidewalks in Kingston needed to be either repaved or built from scratch. To contribute toward this initiative, Kirkpatrick Concrete donated all the concrete used to make these improvements.

Other partners that contributed to the accomplishments in Kingston include O’Neal SteelCoca-Cola United, the city of BirminghamAlabama PowerSteward MachineBirmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAXGoodwyn Mills CawoodBlank Space BhamNAFCOBirmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

“It has been a great and rewarding experience working with the city of Birmingham and Alabama corporations to accomplish the built environment improvements in Kingston,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., director of the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center. “I believe these strong partnerships between academia and industry are built to last forever.”

Food deserts: A mobile solution

While each community’s needs are unique, a consistent issue Live HealthSmart Alabama has found in underserved areas is that these neighborhoods fall within areas that either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where one-third of residents live more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. Using this definition and census tracts, the USDA estimates that roughly 19 million people (or 6.2 percent of the U.S. population) live in a food desert.

To bring healthy and affordable food to Birmingham residents, Live HealthSmart Alabama introduced its new Mobile Market at the Kingston ribbon-cutting – which will run in partnership with Promoting Empowerment and Enrichment Resources (P.E.E.R.) and East Lake Market. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with their demonstration areas (Kingston, East Lake, Bush Hills and Titusville). Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT or Double-Up Bucks.

“Currently, Alabama has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation,” said Mona Fouad. “The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move our state out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings. To do this, community members have to have access to healthy food options and the tools to be successful. The Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market helps to provide that.”

In addition to its weekly route, the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market will also host monthly evening events in June and July where community members can shop and watch chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club conduct a demonstration using food pulled directly from the market.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, UAB President Ray L. Watts, Myla Calhoun of Alabama Power and other UAB and community leaders also attended the event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

20 hours ago

Birmingham Black Barons among Negro League teams getting more play in online stats

Barbershop banter about the greatest baseball players ever has more ammunition after Baseball-Reference.com, a Sports Reference website, dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.

Following the website’s launch on June 15, Major Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 – including the Birmingham Black Barons – are listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.

“Our view is that these players always were major league players, and it was an oversight on our part that we did not list them as major league players,” said Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference. “Such was the quality of play in the Negro Leagues. Just saying the term major league, we’re implying that they’re at the top league, in the top echelon of baseball being played. Certainly counting Willie Mays and Satchel Paige among your alumni for (the Birmingham Black Barons) lends it a certain level of quality.”

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Paige is No. 2 on the website’s list of all-time Birmingham Black Barons, behind Sam Streeter. Following Paige are Harry Salmon, Ray Parnell, Poindexter Williams, Artie Wilson, Piper Davis, Robert Poindexter, Ed Steele, Tommy Sampson, Sandy Thompson and Bill Powell.

A release on the website said Baseball Reference is “not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

The website acknowledges the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, Kevin Johnson and Larry Lester on the Seamheads Negro League Database, where the data was acquired. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its members were credited with being instrumental in researching and publishing the history of the Negro Leagues.

Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee, said adding Negro Leaguers to the lists of statistics isn’t going to change the leaderboard of baseball greats because Negro Leaguers played fewer career games.

“But we can still quantify their greatness by showing that Satchel Paige struck out almost one batter every inning, which is very close to what Nolan Ryan and other ballplayers have done,” Lester said. “We can show that Josh Gibson hit a home run every 13 or 14 times at bat, which is right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Across the board, we can take statistics and show how great these Black players were.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 hours ago

Why Peach Park in Clanton is a must-stop on summer road trips

It’s that time of the year, again, when beach vacationers traveling on Interstate 65 stop for peaches in Clanton.

For nearly 40 years, the farm stand, restaurants, and gift shop at Peach Park have been prime destinations for travelers wanting to take a break with some peach ice cream, possibly buy a jar of peach butter to enjoy back home, and certainly pick up a basket of Chilton County’s much-loved fuzzy fruit.

Some of those freshly-picked, perfectly-ripe peaches will stay in the state. But a fair amount wind up in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana—states further north on I-65, which bisects Alabama.

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Alabama’s peach season, which basically runs from May through Labor Day, is just starting to hit its peak. Over the summer, Peach Park will sell more than 70 varieties that ripen at different times, guaranteeing a steady supply.

More than two-thirds of the peaches grown in Alabama come from Chilton County. The 74-year-old annual Peach Festival—which includes a pageant, music, fun run, art, and parades—is set for June 19-26 in Clanton.

Like Durbin Farms, its older competitor across I-65 at Exit 205, Peach Park started as a farm stand. Gene and Frances Gray opened it in 1984 to sell fruit from their own orchards and become an outlet for other area fruit and vegetable farmers.

Frances created the recipe for the much-loved peach ice cream, which premiered in 1988. She still helps make the frozen treat, some of the 10,000 gallons per year produced at Peach Park.

The family-owned business now is run by a second generation, the founders’ son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Robin Gray.

Peach Park’s seven-acre footprint boasts a barbecue restaurant (“Peach Pit Bar-B-Que”), meat-and-three, bakery, clothing boutique, playground, gardens, RV park, rental space for events, and other amenities.

Peach Park is generally open from mid-February until Christmas, operating seven days a week.

But during the summer it’s famous in tourist guides as a one-stop shop for all things peach. Ice cream flavors include peach caramel and peach cheesecake, along with straight-up peach (it graces a frozen yogurt there, too). You can order a scoop to top a piece of the peach cobbler made in the bakery.

The bakery also uses peaches in bread and cakes, and to fill its legendary fried pies—one of the state Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat and Alabama.” You can buy jars of peach preserves to take home, or order some congealed peach salad to eat there.

Don’t forget to get snaps by the giant peach replica out back, a smaller cousin to the peach-shaped water towers that mark prime producing areas in the Southeast, including Chilton County (that water tower is off Exit 112 on I-65).

Of course, we Alabamians don’t need a beach trip as an excuse to drop in to Peach Park. But with Sunday the busiest day; a weekday is the best time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch at Peach Park, working on an ice-cream cone or fried pie, and then pick up a basket of fruit for home.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

22 hours ago

Birmingham leaders launch new Prosper collaborative

Birmingham-area leaders on Monday announced the launch of Prosper, an initiative focused on creating a more prosperous and equitable Birmingham by investing in opportunities that grow the area’s economy in an inclusive way.

Prosper intends to be the table where everybody has a seat, setting regional priorities for job growth and retention, job access and job training.

Its mission statement reads: “Prosper is a coalition of community, civic and business leaders committed to creating a more productive economy that is inclusive of all races and genders.”

The launch, which opened with a speech by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, included the introduction of Prosper’s board of directors and its CEO J.W. Carpenter, who most recently was executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation.

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Birmingham leaders launch Prosper initiative from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“On the heels of a recession, a worldwide pandemic and a social justice movement, we hope to do something transformative in Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham,” Carpenter said. “We will bring together business, educational, civic and entrepreneurial interests to create and grow economic opportunities for all, focusing specifically on our Black community and women.”

A recent Brookings Institution study reveals that the Birmingham area is creating fewer quality jobs and less access to economic resources than its peer cities. Those findings are a driving force for Prosper.

“This region can do better in providing opportunities to its residents, especially the Black community,” said Alabama Power President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, who is chairman of the Prosper board. “Prosper will work to align key priorities: growing quality jobs, preparing workers and investing in communities. We know that – together – our impact can be exponentially greater.”

Prosper is committed to helping transform the way Birmingham and Jefferson County create jobs in the innovation economy and the way the region prepares its people of color to thrive in those jobs, with a focus on ensuring that all residents, regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, have access to those jobs and can fully contribute.

Prosper will concentrate on four initiatives: Health Tech Industry; Business Advisory Services; Birmingham Promise; and Black-owned Business Acceleration.

In addition to Crosswhite and Carpenter, Prosper stakeholders – including Mike Kemp of Kemp Management Solutions, Rachel Harmon at Birmingham Promise and Tiffany Whitlow at Acclinate Inc. – discussed their support for the initiative and the need for inclusive economic growth in Birmingham.

“Elevating our city’s Black- and women-owned businesses while increasing job access for Black and women residents will ultimately lift all of Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “We must remain vigilant in eliminating any obstacles to inclusive growth in our city.”

Carpenter said he will seek input from Prosper partners, stakeholders and its board of directors.

“Prosper must be collaborative, bringing a diverse group of people to the table to solve problems,” he said. “I don’t want to dictate a path forward. I want to absorb the best ideas from the brightest and most passionate minds around lifting Birmingham in a way that’s equitable and inclusive.”

The highlight of the event may have been a passionate speech by 20-year-old Jarvis Prewitt, one of the first students to intern as a Birmingham Promise student. He credited that internship at BBVA with giving him the financial literacy that opened the door to his pursuit of a college degree. He’s now a rising junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Alabama A&M with a 3.91 GPA.

“Why not Prosper? Why not the Magic City?” Prewitt said, pointing out that when he earns his degree, he plans to come back home to Birmingham. “Not Texas. Not Atlanta. I want to give back to the people and the community that has given so much to me.”

For more information, including a list of board members, visit the Prosper website. For all media inquiries, contact Jasmine Phillips at jphillips@lrymediagroup.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)