Grad Tales is Back!

Interviewed by Kim Davis (BA 2003), Jennifer Alfano Nelson (BA 2007) was the Department’s guest at the first Grad Tales of the new year, held in the Ferguson Student Union last night. Now hosted by the Department’s recently-formed Alumni Liaison Committee (of which both Jennifer and Kim are members), Grad Tales is an ongoing series that dates to 2013-14 when alums were first invited back, to meet with current students and to discuss their careers and how, in hindsight, they now saw their time at UA — the courses they took, the choices they made, and the relevance of it all now that they’re out in the so-called real world. Continue reading

Grad Tales is Back

Back in the 2013-14 school year we started a new series, Grad Tales, aimed to bring REL grads back to campus to meet with current students — likely students in our 100-level courses who major in everything from engineering and business to social work and nursing. Knowing how many students aren’t sure what they’re going to do in their lives, what major to declare, and how a career will or won’t develop after they graduate, our goal was to invite back a variety of grads who have done a variety of things, hoping to convey the message that an undergrad degree opens the doors onto all sorts of different futures. While we know that some of our students are pretty interested in the study of religion itself, we find that even our majors and minors end up doing lots of different things (as our guests at Grad Tales make plain), so we hoped that members of our student association would come too. Always scheduled in the evening, a faculty member sat up front (like Prof. Ramey, above, with Ben Simmons [BA 2009], back in February of 2014; Ben’s the VP of Engineering for Sworkit, a fitness app), interviewed them and then directed traffic once the questions began.

And, sure, we also served cookies and some pretty good punch.

Since inventing this series, which has so far mostly hosted nearby alums, we’ve had 14 grads come back to campus, people who are now working in business, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, researchers, etc. And our 15th — Jennifer Alfano Nelson — is this coming Wednesday night (7 pm, in the Ferg’s Anderson Room). Graduating as an English/Religious Studies double major, she left working a middle school English teacher after 7 years and learned to code, now working in Birmingham as a software developer. So we’re looking forward to what she can tell us about everything from declaring majors to changing careers and hitting the books again long after graduation.

Something new about Grad Tales this year is that our recently formed Alum Liaison Committee has gotten involved — so we’re really happy to report that, from here on out, they’re our hosts, helping us to identify our guests and interview them. So Kim Davis (BA 2003, REL and French), who is a French teacher at Tuscaloosa County High School and who was also our first Grad Tales guest, will be our host Wednesday night. And, working with Prof. Vaia Touna, they’re already planning the Spring event.

And yes, there will be cookies and punch.

There and Back Again: A Grad’s Tale

What can you do with a degree in Religious Studies or the humanities? Have questions about what happens after graduation? Come find out from a successful REL graduate. Join us on Wednesday, September 26 for our Grad Tales event! Jennifer Alfano Nelson is a Religious Studies graduate who will be discussing her undergraduate degrees (English and Religious Studies) earned from UA in 2007.

 

Jennifer went on to earn a M.A. in Education at UAB and taught middle school English from 2010-2017, and she is now a member of the Alum Liaison Committee. During this time, she developed an interest in educational technology and software development and decided to learn to code, receiving a scholarship to Flatiron School’s Web Developer program from Women Who Code. She is now a software developer at Quantalytix, Inc. in Birmingham, AL. She also gets to combine her passion for education and technology as a Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) volunteer, co-teaching an introduction to computer science course at Tarrant High School.

Meet Jennifer…

 

Jennifer’s host in the event will be Kim Davis also an REL grad and member of the Alum Liaison Committee.

6 Questions with Joe Kimbrough

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you here & what did you graduate with?

I arrived in September or October 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. I graduated in May 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies with a minor in Philosophy.

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

I planned a seminary trip to become a pastor.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

“Without incriminating anyone,” huh? You’re not making things easy, Dr. McCutcheon. This could take a minute…. All right, I recall a meeting with Dr. Tim Murphy. Dr. Murphy led my independent study at the time. He wanted an update after Spring Break. I reached the door at the same time as my buddy, Zach Day. Murphy told us both to come in and see what happens. Dr. Murphy, Zach, and I had one of the best brainstorm sessions. Everyone tossed theorists about. We each shared a perspective based on our current project. Plus, we dreamed of where our individual projects could lead us. Oh sure, the goals were reached. The three of us came away with a touch of clarity and a dozen new rabbit trails. I enjoyed the simple exploration of it all.

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

The best description I have: I daylight as a tobacconist and moonlight starting up a ministry project. I worked a number of odd jobs after graduation. I, even, returned to Bama to get a master’s degree. In 2015, I landed as store manager for The Briary in Homewood, AL. Also, I write stories, perform in churches, and promote artists through the Storytelling Apologetics Project. So I control inventory and plan stories. Meanwhile, I sell pipes, tobacco, and cigars and rehearse for storytelling performances. Plus, I play webmaster for both positions. Never thought I would end up here, but my career path is a fun ride.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you?

Absolutely, not only is it fair but also completely accurate. I talk daily about Derrida, Plato, and Chesterton with customers. I might even suggest that sales are like adapting to different professors. Plus, I find the same rules for editing papers apply to editing stories .I could go on, but suffice it to say: my time in Manly definitely benefits me daily.

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

Look down the course list, and take that one class simply because it looks interesting. Yeah, I know it doesn’t fit with anything else at the moment. However, that class will have the most fascinating benefits one day.

That’s Joe, above, pictured with his wife Jessica.

6 Questions with Kristi Crowell

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you enrolled at UA and what major(s) and minor(s) did you graduate with?

I have a Bachelors of Arts majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in Advertising (2007). I was slated to double major, however, in my final semester I discovered that I needed extra, unplanned classes for the Advertising major so I decided to drop it to a minor.

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

I wasn’t really certain what I wanted to do, only that I wanted to attend UA. I knew that I didn’t want to be one of the standards: lawyer, doctor, teacher or engineer. The mother of one of my friends suggested Public Relations so that’s what I originally declared. After my first semester, I switched to Advertising.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

I took REL 220 Survey of Asian Religions in my second semester. I won’t name the professor but that class was messy and all over the place and I loved it. I was hooked and declared REL as a second major. I learned that everything that I thought could be clearly defined was much more subjective. It was truly eye opening when I sat in a certain someone’s class and we discussed things like soil and dirt. It was also extremely fun! The department as a whole was small and close.

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

When I graduated in 2007, I became a restaurant manager for Logan’s Roadhouse. I opened and operated locations in the Birmingham and Huntsville areas. In 2013, I joined the Waffle House team as the Area People Director. I supported 28 restaurants across North Alabama and Northeast Mississippi. I joined Edward Jones Investments in January 2018.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you? If so, do you have any examples?

My REL background has been instrumental in my success. I use things that I learned in my REL classes daily. Not only did it teach me how to think critically, it also helped me hone my communication skills.

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

Don’t let others discourage you from your choice of major. Careers as a whole are much more fluid and there are humanities graduates that are very successful. A business degree isn’t your only option if you don’t want a career in one of the standards: law, medicine, education, or engineering. 

6 Questions with Chris Scott

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you enrolled at UA and what major(s) and minor(s) did you graduate with?

I was at UA from 2007-11 and graduated with a major in Religious Studies and minor in Philosophy.

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

I thought that I would go on to law school or academia of one kind or another.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

My favorite courses were those where the professor was able to incorporate all of the different backgrounds and academic interests that students bring to an REL class in order to facilitate an in-depth engagement with theory. My first semester at UA, I took a one-hour book seminar with Prof. Murphy on Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy which showed me what that could look like and convinced me to join the department. Prof. Simmon’s gender theory course was another memorable example.

In addition to the strong teaching in the department, I think the sense of community around Manly Hall made people feel comfortable engaging in classroom discussions. The support that faculty and staff gave to RSSA, as well as the natural community that the Manly Hall balconies lent themselves to, were an important part of the REL experience.

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

Between REL and where I am now, I graduated with an MA in Arab Studies from Georgetown University worked at the Institute of International Education, first supporting Iraqi scholars through IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund and later with the KAUST Gifted Student Program. Working for a large, international organization gave me exposure to finance and operations on a scale that I might not have had elsewhere. It turns out that I enjoyed that sort of work and pivoted in that direction.

Several jobs and more school later, I’m now a CPA and work as an accountant at Raffa, a financial services firm in DC that primarily serves non-profit organizations. Outside of work, I’m on a bike as much as I can be and also volunteer as treasurer for the Washington Area TESOL Association.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you? If so, do you have any examples?

It sounds like a cliché after so many articles about what you can do with a liberal arts degree, but having some training in writing about complex ideas in a clear and concise manner is valuable.

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

Take advantage of office hours.

6 Questions with Andie Alexander

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you enrolled at UA and what major(s) and minor(s) did you graduate with?

I was a Religious Studies and History double major and Italian minor and graduated in 2012.

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

I wanted to be a high school history teacher. I was actually offered that job shortly before graduating but had already decided to continue on to grad school in Religious Studies.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

I have countless memories of the few wonderful years I spent in Manly Hall. Though, I do recall a handful of us—no I won’t name names—starting a mustache movement in Prof. Trost’s English Bible as Literature class that was misinterpreted as poking fun at Prof. Ramey, so then we (maybe me and one or two others) just kind’a ran with it. Rumor has it, students are continuing the tradition of teasing Prof. Ramey to this day… (Photo courtesy of Anna Davis.)

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

I’m currently working on my PhD in American Religious Cultures in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University. While this was not my plan going into college, I happened to find my way into Prof. Merinda Simmons’ REL 105: Honors Intro to Religious Studies class in my freshman year. I was hooked on day one with her question “What is ‘religion?’” The rest, as they say, is history.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you? If so, do you have any examples?

Oh, absolutely, but not necessarily in the way one might expect. Of course, the critical thinking, analytical, reading, and writing skills are absolutely useful considering the work I’m doing in my PhD program. But the skills I learned in REL have proved to extend far beyond the classroom. My time in REL has certainly shaped my own work in Religious Studies, but the skills I learned in the classroom and as an office worker have also taught me how to successfully navigate new schools, academic departments, and jobs as well. I’m still amazed by how much I rely on the skills I learned in Manly Hall.

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

Just go ahead and major in REL. It’ll be worth it. REL is where it’s at—you’re surrounded by an amazing group of people, so dive in, follow your passion, and keep reading and learning!

6 Questions with Marianne Case

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you enrolled at UA and what major(s) and minor(s) did you graduate with?

I graduated with a BA in Psychology and Religious Studies (double major) in… (a long time ago).

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

Having graduated from the law magnet program at my high school, I thought for sure I’d be a political science major, go to law school, and practice law like my dad.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

I mainly remember how much fun it was working in the department as a TA and office aide. Betty set the bar way too high for any future bosses I’ve had!  I’ll also never forget the last office hours I had before I graduated when it felt like 50 REL 100 students tried to cram into the lounge for help and pretty much none of them had read any of the materials…

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

Currently, I run the marketing team for Alpha Testing® (Alpha), a soils engineering firm based out of Dallas, TX. I ended up at Alpha somewhat by chance (I coached cross country for the son of my now boss), and have been here since January 2008. 

My team is primarily responsible for preparing qualifications packages to win contracts with school districts, municipalities, colleges and universities, and private development clients. In addition, I am responsible for Alpha’s social media presence, including our website, blog (www.whereitallbegins83.com), Facebook, and LinkedIn.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you? If so, do you have any examples?

Definitely! My job is all about critical thinking – trying to figure out what our clients’ concerns are, why those concerns are important, and how my company can best address them. The questions our clients ask may seem random, but they are all rooted in some issue that needs to be solved. Being able to read critically and decipher the meaning of vague texts comes in handy almost every day.  The question I ask my team more than anything is, “WHY is that important to your client?”

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

The classes and tasks that are the most challenging are the ones that will be most valuable. Don’t underestimate the value of having a “safe space” to discuss ideas, and take advantage of it while you can. And never pass up a movie night with pizza and Jones Soda.

And yes, that’s Marianne with her son, Tommy.

6 Questions with Susanna Dunlap

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you enrolled at UA and what major(s) and minor(s) did you graduate with?

I was enrolled from 2008-2013 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

I had no clue what career I wanted to pursue! I decided to attend UA based on my acceptance into the Million Dollar Band and to fulfill my college marching band dreams. I entered as a journalism major and even considered pursuing elementary education based on aptitude surveys and volunteer experiences.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

I credit my Intro to Religious Studies class in ten Hoor Hall with securing my decision to pursue other REL classes in Manly Hall. I took Women and Religion as well as English Bible as Literature in Manly Hall. These two classes really stand out in my memory. Not only did I enjoy the thought-provoking dialogue with classmates and faculty, but I also developed the ability to critically appraise and discuss scholarly discourse. We laughed so much and really got along well, making for an excellent classroom environment. My classmates and faculty felt like family! We spent lecture breaks feeding Basil, the resident squirrel at Manly Hall, and eating snacks from the lounge—all very good memories!

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

I practiced as a registered nurse in emergency-trauma medicine in Huntsville, Alabama immediately following graduation. I am currently pursuing full time MSN studies at Vanderbilt University for triple-certification as an Adult-Gerontological Acute Care/Family Nurse Practitioner and Emergency Nurse Practitioner. My decision to pursue emergency nursing was secured in 2011 when I volunteered in Tuscaloosa as a first-aid assistant immediately following the tornado. Working with individuals facing emergent and urgent health crises really became my main focus—and thus, I ended up working in emergency-trauma medicine.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you? If so, do you have any examples?

My REL education equipped me with complex tools to evaluate, compare, and appreciate culture and human behavior. For instance, as a nurse working in a high-stress, fast-paced environment where emotions are labile and a human life potentially hangs in the balance, there is a subtle finesse required to navigate cultural or religious differences that significantly affect the patient and the treatment plan. Additionally, providers must be able to safely and efficaciously apply scientific rationale and evidenced-based practice with regard to these cultural and religious intricacies that are embedded into this particular human experience. There is no exact instruction manual for these skills but having the aforementioned tools from my REL education certainly help promote a positive outcome in what are often grueling circumstances.

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

I suppose I would tell myself to go to Sitar more often. I really enjoyed their food! On a more serious note (not that Sitar isn’t serious!), I would tell myself to read more of the recommended readings rather than just focusing on the required readings. I’ve practiced this in my graduate career and found that the recommended readings offer just as much insight and learning opportunity as the required readings. This means more work, but the pay-off can be immeasurable!