By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Last year, the Keystone Fellows program was launched by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) to identify scholars interested in solving problems related to diversity, with an emphasis on higher education or local communities.
“We meet with [students] one-on-one and … focus specifically on work-life balance, addressing any concerns and questions about navigating in their [respective] fields as graduate students and as professionals, just taking part in their own professional development,” said Brandon L. Wolfe, PhD, UAB Assistant Vice President for Campus and Community Engagement, who also works with the ODEI. “We try to cover the whole gambit of what it means to become an engaged scholar but … not lose yourself in the process, so [students thrive] ultimately toward success.”
Currently, three Keystone Fellows are enrolled in UAB doctoral programs.
Celine Atkins, a third-year doctoral student and second-year fellow, is studying developmental psychology; some of her
research focuses on topics of popular culture and how they relate to the community at large.
“One of the things I did earlier this year was an event called Superheroes for Social Justice. It was around the time of the ‘Black Panther’ [movie] screening, so we timed it to use superhero, pop-culture narratives to talk about current events and diversity and community,” she said.
Another fellow, Joydan Jones, is a second-year doctoral student in the school of engineering. A first-year fellow studying material science and engineering, her research focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related community outreach, which aims to create pipelines between big universities and STEM programs.
Jessica Valles, a fourth-year medical sociology doctoral student and second-year fellow, is doing research that focuses primarily on health services for immigrant and aging populations, especially in the area of mental health.
“My research ranges,” she said. “I have focused primarily on mental health and health-service use among immigrant … and aging populations. Right now, I’m looking at different immigrant
populations and [their] citizenship status and how mental health varies for those groups. For the community, in particular, I look at under- and unemployed youth and focus on the trajectories they take in terms of employment and sustaining education. [I also work] with recovering addicts at [The Foundry Ministries] in Bessemer.”
Wolfe said, “We try to find students who have a demonstrated interest in developing or implementing sustainable approaches to complex societal issues, especially those affecting historically underserved and marginalized populations. … In addition to them coming on board, we provide education support via scholarships. We also provide programmatic support if they want to develop any particular initiatives. … We tend to focus on [each student’s] holistic development as a professional.”