Persistence – the phenomenon of overcoming repeated odds to succeed – is oft studied by educational researchers. This spring, they would have to look no further than the most recent doctoral hooding ceremony at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to find a rich case study.
Her name is Dr. Bridgett Hill Kennedy, and she is 41, having just earned her doctorate in lifespan developmental psychology in December. Her story is an inspiration to anyone who has ever started down a difficult road, lost the way, and found it again, thanks to self-determination and the faith others have in you.
On the Monday after her graduation, she reminisced about her journey. “I remember once, as a child, when I told my mother that I wanted to be a nurse like her, she said, ‘Bridgett, you’re going to be a doctor.’”
Bridgett Hill grew up in southwest Birmingham, Ala., with good, hard-working parents, a strong maternal grandmother, and paternal grandparents who were successful entrepreneurs in the nursing home business. She was also smart, as evidenced by her high test scores and good grades in school, and everyone expected her to go to college.
Doors began to open for her early. In the eighth grade, Bridgett was one of a half a dozen gifted students in her neighborhood to receive a letter of invitation to come to a newly organized high school, Jones Valley Comprehensive Magnet High School. “My mother knew what the letter meant. She said ‘this is an opportunity.’ She encouraged me to go.” Bridgett was the only one of those who received the letters to leave the neighborhood school.
In the stimulating environment of the magnet school, Bridgett took Advanced Placement courses and flourished. Teachers urged her to aim high, and her senior year, she applied to about a dozen colleges and universities. She got accepted to almost every one.
She was debating her options when, suddenly, her world crashed in. Her maternal grandmother, who had also been an important source of support, died in January. Her mother, who had fought a brain tumor for years, died in April. Her paternal grandmother died in July. Her father, a house painter, struggled with the losses.
“It was a nightmare,” she recalls, now. “I felt like I was sleepwalking through life. I was 17. I didn’t know what else to do but go to work. Literally, we needed money to keep the heat on in the house. My high school counselor never mentioned financial aid or scholarships for school, so I never knew that I might qualify for help. As I saw it, there was no choice. I gave up on college and got a job.”
While her words are matter-of-fact, her voice catches when she talks about this point in her life. Then she flashes forward to about 10 years later, when she was working as a secretary for a team of surgeons at a Birmingham hospital. “I had a house payment and a car payment, and I was barely making ends meet. I looked at the salary schedule, and I knew that I had maxed out.”
Small events are often pivotal, i.e., the straw that breaks the camel’s back. One day, when a surgeon talked to her disrespectfully, she also realized that she wanted the professional respect that she was due in life. “I complained, and he apologized, but knew that I had to do something differently. I woke up one morning, and I said to myself, ‘You’ve got to get into college.’ I got the phone book by my bed and started calling admissions’ offices to set up interviews.”
Initially, she had dreams of attending a nearby elite, private religious college, but when an admissions officer not-so-tactfully discouraged her, she decided to “start small”. She began attending Jefferson State Community College, where her mother had studied to be among the first African-American nurses to graduate from their program. Bridgett studied part-time, while continuing to work full-time as a secretary, learning to juggle work and study schedules.
At Jeff State, she fell in love with psychology and knew that she wanted to make a career out of it. She also met a biology teacher, Becky Gargus, who told her about the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program. Under the auspices of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health, this Bridges program helps students from underrepresented groups transfer from two-year institutions to four-year colleges to complete their degrees in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.
When she got accepted into the Bridges program, however, Bridgett soon faced a tough decision. The program calls for undergraduate research, and soon, she had an internship in the Department of Behavioral Medicine at UAB, working as a clinic interviewer under Dr. Polly Kratt. Until that point, her workplace had been supportive of her education, but suddenly, her boss refused to give her the scheduling flexibility that she needed to do undergraduate research. She knew that she would not be able to keep her secretarial job if she wanted to keep studying.
But she was not going to sacrifice her future again.
“I resigned my secretarial job within 30 minutes. I knew it would be tight. There were times, when I barely made it.” These were the days of stretching the last dollar and borrowing gas money from friends. Within months, however, Bridgett’s performance as a student researcher earned her a part-time position as a research specialist under Dr. Michael Windle in the Department of Psychology at UAB making almost as much money as she had been making full-time as a secretary.
Another lucky break came in 2004 when Bridgett was ready to graduate from UAB with her undergraduate degree in psychology. Wanda Jordan, who works at the UAB Graduate School and coordinated both the Bridges program and the Ronald E. McNair Scholar’s Program, began calling Bridgett to encourage her to apply for the McNair program, which offered her training and preparation for graduate school.
Soon, thanks to Wanda’s insistence, Bridgett became a McNair Scholar, completing that program, earning her bachelor’s degree, and moving on to graduate school at UAB. Bridgett earned both a master’s degree and doctorate in lifespan developmental psychology, with research interests in gerontology, cognition, and successful aging. Her dissertation research involved examining reasons for the racial disparity in rates of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), such as assessment bias, level and quality of education, and prevalence of vascular disease.
Looking back, she laughs softly when she talks about how long it took her – just over six years -- to get her PhD. “I should have gone faster, but I have a secret love – Sacred Harp singing – that helps to keep me happy and balanced. I found that I could not give that up. “I would spend weekends singing to keep me sane.”
Sacred Harp singing, an American spiritual musical tradition that dates back to Colonial times, had other benefits, too. In 2005, she met another singer from Salem, Ore. His name was Scott Kennedy, a retired school teacher. After a long-distance courtship, they are now married and continue to sing and support the Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association (at www.fasola.org). The term “Sacred Harp” refers to the human voice — that is, the musical instrument that we are all born with. “You don’t have to have a great voice, you just need to hold a tune in a bucket,” she says, with a soft laugh.
Today, Bridgett teaches psychology part-time at UAB and works under Dr. Karlene K. Ball, Chairman of the Psychology Department and Director of the UAB Edward R. Roybal Center for Research on Applied Gerontology. She also serves as a summer mentor for other McNair Scholars. Teaching and mentoring are new passions for her, she says.
“I had so many great teachers who said to me: ‘I see something in you. You should go further. You’ve got potential.’ I want to be one of those kind of teachers... It may sound cliché, but giving back is its own reward. My mentors were always there for me, helping to light the way as examples of what I could achieve and offer assistance. I hope to follow in their footsteps.”
If you think that she is done with learning curves, think again. She recently decided to enroll in UAB as an undergraduate to take one more course and finish a certificate in gerontology. What’s more, her husband gave her a guitar for Christmas, and she is learning to play, training her fingers to bend and press in new ways. “That is my next best thing,” she says, beaming.
Persist on, Bridgett. Sing on. Play on.
Each spring semester, the Graduate School hosts its annual Graduate Student Research Days competition in which eligible UAB graduate students present their research in an open forum judged by UAB faculty members. Any graduate student who is interested in participating should read the competition rules located at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/groups/researchday/7361/ and complete the abstract form and submit it online. Deadline dates for the competition are listed below.
January 27, 2012, 12:00 Noon: Deadline for Abstracts
February 22: GSRD Competition for Master's students, HUC Great Hall
February 23 & 24: GSRD Competition for Doctoral students, HUC Great Hall
March 2, 2012 at Noon: Awards Luncheon, HUC Great Hall
To ensure a diverse judging panel, graduate students are asked to encourage the faculty from their departments to serve as judges in the competition.
For more information regarding the event, visit www.uab.edu/graduate/researchday
Two graduate students from the doctoral program in Chemistry are featured in the Graduate Student Spotlight. Bryan Cox’s research focuses on a class of proteins called “nuclear receptors” which are responsible for regulating gene expression by controlling transcription. Bryan advises other graduate students to “always read the literature! Read at least two scientific articles a day. They don’t even have to be relevant to your field. But, reading the literature will help you become well-versed in your specific field or area of interest. It will also save you time in the long run.”
Keith Veronese chose UAB for graduate studies after taking part in a summer undergraduate program (REU) in chemistry here at UAB, stating, “It was a great experience, with it culminating in us presenting the research at the 2003 American Chemical Society National Convention. The people I met and experiences I had during my REU were the defining reason I chose UAB and the Department of Chemistry.”
For more information about Bryan and Keith or to access other students who have been featured in the Spotlight, visit the Graduate School’s homepage at www.uab.edu/graduate.
When a candidate is near graduation, she or he must pay close attention to Graduate School deadlines, which are posted online at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/deadlines/. Important dates include the following Fall and Spring semester deadlines:
Spring 2012 deadlines
- Application for Degree January 27, 2012
- Defense Deadline March 30, 2012
- Admission to Candidacy January 6, 2012
- Change of Residency January 6, 2012
Summer 2012 Deadlines
- Application for Degree June 1, 2012
- Defense Deadline July 6, 2012
- Admission to Candidacy May 11* & June 1*
- Change of Residency May 11, 2012
* Different departments follow different summer schedules. Check with your department to confirm which date applies.
Detailed information regarding Completing a Graduate Degree is also available at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/7287/. Completing all paper work and final payments by the posted deadlines will help to ensure that a candidate will graduate by the expected date.
The graduates of UAB's Graduate School take part in two ceremonies: The Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and the Commencement are held each May and December. August graduates may attend the December commencement. The Doctoral Hooding Ceremony is the commencement for doctoral candidates receiving PhD, DrPH, and EdD degrees. Both ceremonies will take place on Saturday, May 12. All other doctoral candidates should check with your program or school for graduation ceremony information.
If you are a receiving a PhD, DrPH, or EdD in May 2012, you must fill out the commencement form by April 27 located at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/students/current/graduation/7329/ in order to participate in this ceremony. Simply showing up for the ceremony is not an option. The Doctoral Hooding Ceremony will be held in the Alys Stephens Center at 12:00 p.m.
The commencement ceremonies for master's, Ed.S. and undergraduate students will be held in Bartow Arena at 9:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., according to school. Commencement information for all non-doctoral graduates is located at http://www.uab.edu/commencement/
Polishing your professional image, dissertation workshops, journal article preparation, online primers in writing for publication – these are the topics for new workshops and courses offered this Spring by the Professional Development Program at the UAB Graduate School. Graduate students who are already admitted and enrolled for this spring still have time to late register on BlazerNet until Jan. 23. All are pass/no pass graduate electives.
Professional Image: Be Your Own Coach
In today’s hotly competitive job market, graduate students know that they must project a consistently professional image to compete and succeed. Yet the transition from grad student to career professional is not as simple as trading in T-shirts for a navy blazer, or Steve Jobs-style black turtleneck, says Alan D. Corbin, who will teach the new course Jan. 23 to April 2 on Monday nights from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. GRD 730—Developing Your Professional Image, is a multi-theme elective that offers students a chance to become aware of the image they project in a professional setting. Through a series of guided discussions, readings, interactive classroom activities, and off-campus events, students will learn to analyze how others perceive them. This analysis will help them develop and polish their professional image accordingly, from how they dress, to how they communicate with others (spoken and written, formally and informally), to how they conduct themselves. Finally, they will learn to take control of their image and to protect it in a rapidly changing world of new opportunities and potential pitfalls, such as social networking and virtual office solutions. There is no prerequisite. GRD 730 is open to all graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and employees. For more information, contact Alan Corbin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Writing Workshops & Courses: Get on Track to Finish Projects
Two Saturday writing workshops are offered to meet the wide-ranging needs of UAB graduate students and researchers. The first, GRD 736—Dissertation Strategies, Saturday, Jan. 21, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is designed to get doctoral students ready for this lengthy, high-stakes writing task. Usually taught as a series of four seminars, GRD 736 is being offered in this new 1-day workshop format, which offers dissertation writers the chance to complete all of the strategic preparation in one day. Students will organize research and writing projects, set goals and a timeline, analyze a model dissertation in field, and evaluate their own writing strengths and challenges. The workshop includes lunch. GRD 736 is a pre-requisite for GRD 737—Successful Dissertation Writing, which is also offered this Spring. For information, contact Dr. Susan Olmstead-Wang, Ph.D. at email@example.com.
Graduate students and researchers can update their professional writing skills, acquire new writing and editing techniques, and learn the “ins and outs” of publishing in a one day, 1 credit-hour workshop, GRD 708—Writing Successfully, Saturday, Feb. 11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students will practice strategies for curing writer’s block, learn to see hidden templates in the most common types of articles, acquire a versatile writing structure that works in any professional environment, explore ethics for authors, and practice thinking like an editor—on their own work. The workshop includes interactive sessions as well as discussions with professional writers, along with lunch. To register for GRD 728 or GRD 708, contact Jennifer L. Greer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A 3-credit hour course, GRD 729—Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, runs from Jan. 23 to April 16 and is designed for students and scholars with a working paper to revise and target for publication. This hands-on course offers a new approach to jumpstarting the academic writing and, more importantly, the revising processes to produce publications that are essential to success for career professionals. The first week, students review the many papers they have already written—essays, conference presentations, rejected articles, dissertation chapters, etc.—to find one that they wish to convert into an article for publication. Each week thereafter, they learn a different aspect of successful published articles in their fields and “revise up” to meet the standards of their target journals. Students must have a latent paper to use in the course—GRD 729 is not for individuals who are at initial writing stages. GRD 729 is interdisciplinary, 3 credit hours, and pass/no pass. Questions? Contact Jennifer L. Greer at email@example.com.
For students who want the convenience of a virtual classroom, another popular academic writing course, GRD 728—Research Writing and Publishing, is being offered online this Spring. GRD 728 QL begins Tuesday, Jan. 24, and runs through Monday, April 9. GRD 728 features guided instruction and practice in all aspects of research and professional writing—from project planning to manuscript submission. In addition to the basics of conference abstracts and empirical research articles, the course also addresses writing for the public, writing review articles, writing opinion pieces, and research writing style. GRD 728 is interdisciplinary, 3 credit hours, and pass/no pass. Questions? Contact Jennifer L. Greer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), Tuskegee University (TU), and University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Cancer Partnership invites graduate students to participate in its eight-week Summer Cancer Research Training Program (SCRTP), which takes place in June and July 2012.
Eligible Applicants: We are accepting applications for these paid internships from graduate students currently enrolled in a masters or doctoral program at MSM, TU or UAB. Students will receive a stipend for 15 to 20 hours a week.
The overall goal of the MSM/ TU/ UAB Cancer Partnership SCRTP is to establish a program that will encourage interest and facilitate student training in cancer research. Through attendance and participation in designated seminars and workshops, research students will be able to enhance their knowledge, scientific techniques and expertise in cancer and cancer research. Participants in these activities will become stronger candidates to continue for advanced degrees in the field of cancer research and to progress to be independent investigators.
The Summer Cancer Research Training Program begins the first week of June and ends the last week of July, and includes course work, practical/ field training, seminars and the Summer institute.
We encourage qualified graduate students of all majors to apply. All students are required to submit an application form, essay, undergraduate and graduate transcripts, and reference letters.
To be considered for this program, students must adhere to the procedures outlined in the application which can be accessed at www.uabmhrc.org under Training.