The University of Alabama

UA Leads Nation With Six Students Named to USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Team

USA Today All-USA College Academic Team Honorees (L-R): Taylor Nichols, Katie Boyd, Aundrea Lollar, Matthew Fitzgerald, Joan Garrett, Cody Locke

USA Today All-USA College Academic Team Honorees (L-R): Taylor Nichols, Katie Boyd, Aundrea Lollar, Matthew Fitzgerald, Joan Garrett, Cody Locke

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Six students from The University of Alabama have been named to this year’s USA Today All-USA College Academic Team – the most of any school in the nation.

The team includes First Team member, Cody Locke, who has the rare distinction of being named to the USA Today Academic Team for three consecutive years. The senior biology major from Boaz was named to the Second Team in both 2004 and 2005.

This year’s team brings UA’s total for the last four years to 20, a figure that also tops all other colleges and universities. UA had the most students on the list in 2005 with five and in 2003, also with five. In 2004, with four students on the team, UA came in second only to Harvard.

A total of 83 students nationwide were selected from more than 600 nominees for the 2006 team. Yale, Duke and Northwestern Universities each had three students on the team, the second highest total.

In addition to Locke, UA students named to the team were Matthew Fitzgerald, a senior mechanical engineering major from Bay Minette, who is on the Third Team, and Honorable Mentions Jennie “Katie” Boyd, a junior dance and communicative disorders major from Pelham; Vivian “Joan” Garrett, a senior journalism major from Pelham; Aundrea Lollar, a senior chemical and biological engineering major from Northport, and Taylor Nichols, a senior economics major from Northport.

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Cody Locke, USA Today All USA College Academic First Team member
Hometown: Boaz
Major: Biology
Career Goal: Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Named to the USA Today All-USA College Academic Second Team in 2004 and 2005, Cody Locke researches the molecular basis for epilepsy in the lab of Drs. Guy and Kim Caldwell, biology professors, and the Photosystem I protein in the lab of Dr. Kevin Redding, associate professor of chemistry, in the UA College of Arts and Sciences.

Locke has been the lead author of research presented at two major scientific conferences: the American Society for Cell Biology’s annual meeting, the world’s largest conference in the cellular biology field, in 2004; and the Biennial International C. elegans Research Conference, the premier conference on the world’s most studied animal model for understanding human biology, in 2005.

In 2003, the work he co-authored was selected from the American Society for Cell Biology’s annual meeting of over 10,000 cell biologists as one of 15 works highlighted in the society’s international Press Book for media release and for use in high school education nationwide.

Locke’s primary research, which involves the development of an animal model system – a microscopic worm called C. elegans – for epilepsy, has been published in a top human disease journal, Human Molecular Genetics. More than 50 percent of all human hereditary diseases have been linked to genetic components also found in the worm.

For the scientific paper, Locke performed convulsion analysis on the worm, recorded time-lapse videos of seizure-like activity in the worm, and manipulated those videos with the aid of computer scripts he wrote.

Locke also employs new tools for computational chemistry to develop a theoretical molecular dynamics of Photosystem I, a massive protein complex involved in photosynthesis.

In 2003, Locke was one of only four students nationwide selected to receive the Benjamin Cummings Biology Prize, a scholarship awarded annually by the Benjamin Cummings Co., a division of a biology textbook publisher. He also was awarded a National Society of Collegiate Scholars Merit Award, a national scholarship awarded to 50 new members of this honor society that has chapters at more than 170 campuses.

For his Computer-Based Honors project, Locke used information from the human genome project to design and build a novel bioinformatics database. It integrates Internet-based computational resources directly with laboratory experiments involving a method for genetic analysis called RNA interference. The database, at www.carpedb.ua.edu, is
included in the National Center for Biotechnology Information Molecular Biology Database Collection, published by the journal Nucleic Acids Research. Summaries of the article have been in Science Magazine, BioTechniques and Inside Higher Ed, bringing international recognition to CarpeDB, making it the world’s most comprehensive resource for epilepsy researchers.

In a letter of recommendation, one of Locke’s nominators, UA biology professor Guy Caldwell, called inviting Locke to join his lab “one of the finest decisions of my career.” Caldwell wrote, “I remain in awe of Cody for the maturity and resolve he bestows at such an early stage in his academic career and life. Cody simply defines ‘the best and the brightest.’”

Active in campus organizations, Locke is editor in chief of the Journal of Science & Health at The University of Alabama, president of Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and student organizer of Alabama Lectures on Life’s Evolution (ALLELE).

A first generation college student, Locke is the son of Mickey and Patsy Locke.

Matthew Fitzgerald, USA Today All USA College Academic Third Team member
Hometown: Bay Minette
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Career Goal: Research and Design Engineer

Matthew Fitzgerald has built and designed a car, a robot and a rocket, all while an undergraduate in UA’s College of Engineering.

As a research intern at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Fitzgerald researched advanced propulsion concepts, specifically plasma propulsion, and constructed a large-scale test platform for thrust diagnostics. He then authored a section on the project for the Center’s Annual Technical Report Collection. Dr. Beth Todd, associate professor of mechanical engineering, wrote in a nomination letter for the USA Today award, that his work on the project “could well contribute to the realization of a human walking on another planet for the first time.”

Fitzgerald also has worked on a project with three UA faculty members to investigate the safety of hydrogen fuel cells. The project, made possible by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant, explores ways fuel cells act in an automobile accident.

He also served as an engineering intern for the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant near Dothan. There, he was a member of a development team that designed new structural platforms, and he created a troubleshooting database to maintain optimal HVAC environments in temperature sensitive lab areas.

Fitzgerald is an American Society of Mechanical Engineers American Electric Power Scholar, one of ASME’s highest academic awards given to members on the basis of scholarship and potential contribution to mechanical engineering. He is also a NASA Space Grant Scholar and a National Academy of Nuclear Training Scholar.

“Whether it is designing the new Formula SAE car, building an experimental rocket or excelling in the classroom, Matt is a leader who has the respect of the students and the faculty. You will not find a better student than Matt,” Dr. John Baker, associate professor of mechanical engineering, wrote in a nomination letter.

Fitzgerald is the son of Bruce and Nancy Fitzgerald.

Jennie “Katie” Boyd, USA Today All USA College Academic Team, Honorable Mention
Hometown: Pelham
Major: Dance/Communicative Disorders
Career Goal: Pharmacist

As the 2004 Miss University of Alabama, Jennie “Katie” Boyd’s platform was “Take 5-Educational Program for the Awareness of Peer Pressure in Middle School,” an anti-smoking program for fifth graders. Her work with that program, which she created, didn’t stop when she passed on her crown.

Boyd created the campaign after visiting an elementary school where she discovered that half of the students had been offered a cigarette by fifth grade. She challenges fifth grade students to take five minutes to learn the dangers of tobacco and to focus on a healthy lifestyle.

The sophomore produced and directed a video promoting a tobacco-free lifestyle, the first and only educational video targeted to all fifth grade students in Alabama. She then distributed it to every public and private school system in the state, and included colored wristbands for children to wear as a reminder of the dangers of smoking.

“As a dancer, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but Ms. Boyd has taken this to the next level in encouraging children to remain tobacco free,” wrote Cornelius Carter, associate professor of dance at UA, in a nomination letter. “Ms. Boyd dedicates hours of her personal time to ensure that a bright future is in store for the children of the state of Alabama.”

Boyd plays an active role on campus as well. She is a Capstone Scholar and recipient of the Alumni Honors Scholarship and a member of Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, Student Government Association, Emerging Leaders, Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre and Dance Alabama! She serves as a spokesperson and artist in UA’s Creative Campus program, an initiative that seeks to promote arts and cultural events on campus and in the community.

As Miss UA, Boyd participated in the Miss Alabama pageant and was named a top ten and community service finalist. Boyd is the daughter of Danny and Laura Boyd.

Vivian “Joan” Garrett, USA Today All USA College Academic Team, Honorable Mention
Hometown: Pelham
Major: Journalism
Career Goal: Print Journalist

Vivian “Joan” Garrett saw the need for encouragement and more personalized instruction for writers in UA’s fast-growing College of Communication & Information Sciences. She created the Media Writing Center for tutoring freshman and sophomore students as they navigate through entry-level writing courses.

She recruited tutors and developed a comprehensive manual detailing the center’s teaching methods and organization. Through her efforts and the collaboration of C&IS faculty and administration, the center is providing tutoring for students who need guidance in journalism, public relations and broadcasting writing classes. Garrett is working to establish the Media Writing Center as a permanent fixture by expanding the staff and applying for grants.

“Joan has what I call an ethic of action,” wrote Dr. Mark Nelson, associate dean of C&IS, in a nomination letter. “Instead of volunteering for, Joan becomes responsible for. Instead of asking, ‘what can we do,’ Joan says, ‘we can do something.’ And she has proven herself over and over again.”

Garrett has established a tradition of helping students at UA become better writers. As a senior staff reporter for The Crimson White, UA’s student newspaper, she saw the need for a staff member solely devoted to helping new reporters develop their writing abilities. She now holds the new position of training and recruitment director, where, in addition to training and recruiting, she conducts weekly readership polls which are used to enhance the quality of the newspaper.

“Joan not only wants to make a difference, she demands to make a difference in every aspect of her involvement – and she does!” Nelson wrote.

Her commitment to journalism has been rewarded, as she is the recipient of the H. Shelton Prince Jr. Memorial Scholarship and the Wilfred Galbraith Endowed Scholarship, both given to outstanding students in journalism at UA.

Garrett is the daughter of Bill and Vivian Garrett.

Aundrea Lollar, USA Today All USA College Academic Team, Honorable Mention
Hometown: Northport
Major: Chemical and Biological Engineering
Career Goal: Medicine, Environmental Research

For three semesters as a full-time employee of Southern Company, Aundrea Lollar has researched mercury control in coal-fire utilities. She used her time there to create groundbreaking techniques in making previously unnoticed correlations between mercury control, behavior and site-specific characteristics that could save billions in technology costs and provide a cleaner environment.

Mercury exposure and consumption can severely damage the body’s vital systems and cause devastating neurological effects in fetuses and children. The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued the Clean Air Mercury Rule to reduce mercury emissions.

The data and methods Lollar helped collect and create are being used across the nation to make mercury control decisions that will impact industry and the environment. “Those analyses will be used by environmental (and) chemical engineers across the power industry to make technology selections to meet impending mercury regulations,” Mark Simpson Berry, principal research engineer at the Southern Company, wrote in a nomination letter.

Currently, Lollar is investigating heat transfer of medical saline fluids in operating room settings. Saline is used in surgeries for irrigation and has a narrow safe use temperature range. Lollar developed a computer model to predict the temperature profile of heated saline solution, and profiled the loss of heat through the surfaces of saline basins in an effort to target the area with the most heat loss. Her research could be used to save money in saline costs and lower the risk of surgery.

Lollar serves as president of the UA chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and represents the chemical and biological engineering department for UA’s E-Day, a College of Engineering information fair for high school students. In addition to her valuable research and campus activities, Lollar battles for municipal water service to rural Alabama and tutors high school and college students in math and science.

“It is my sincere belief that one day Aundrea will make significant contributions to the scientific communities,” Berry wrote.

Lollar is the daughter of Sherman and Sondra Lollar.

Taylor Nichols, USA Today All USA College Academic Team, Honorable Mention
Hometown: Northport
Major: Economics
Career Goal: Policymaking

With a goal of offering real, bipartisan and non-partisan solutions to Alabama government, Taylor Nichols helped established Voice of the Educated Student (VOTES) Coalition. The coalition is a student-led group that coordinates information sharing between student political groups and works to bring voter awareness through debates, forums and conferences.

Nichols worked with leaders from the UA College Democrats and Republicans to write the coalition’s constitution, and he was subsequently elected executive director.

While discussing Alabama politics with a fellow UA student studying at Oxford University, Nichols deduced that there was no event where future policymakers could discuss Alabama issues without outside influence. He created the Alabama Collegiate Summit as a solution, to provide a forum for a new generation of leaders to discuss their ideas and opinions on how to solve problems that face the state of Alabama.

Representatives from all four-year postsecondary educational institutions in the state were invited. Eighteen universities sent about 120 students to the conference, where the participants were divided into commissions and wrote policy proposals that were given to the Alabama legislature and governor for review.

Nichols is active in the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a grassroots campaign that advocates the reform of Alabama’s constitution, which is the longest in the world. He serves as president of UA’s student chapter, the Alabama Students for Constitutional Reform.

“Taylor is truly one of the most outstanding student leaders I have worked with throughout a long career,” UA President Robert E. Witt wrote in a nomination letter.

A member of the UA Honors College, Nichols received the William P. Bloom Scholarship Award in 2005. One of UA’s premier awards, the Bloom Award is given to a junior who has worked to improve intergroup relations within the University community. He is also chair of the Blackburn Institute, an elite public policy leadership training program.

Nichols, the son of Dennis and Jo Nichols, interned with Gov. Bob Riley in the department of industrial relations, labor market information division, as part of UA’s Montgomery Experience.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.