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Success Stories

Success Stories


Our graduates pursue a wide variety of health related careers and are accepted into professional schools at rates much higher than the national average. For example, nationwide, only 45 percent of applicants get into medical school—but at BSC, 67 percent do. Check it out:

Health Profession School % BSC Applicants Admitted
medical 67
public health 100
dental 68
nursing 81
physician assistant 79
pharmacy 87.5
physical therapy 89
optometry 67
veterinary 92


"As a current graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in physical therapy, I constantly find myself saying a silent "thank you" to my BSC professors for preparing me for the next leg of my academic career. My biology classes at BSC not only gave me a strong base of knowledge from which I’ve been able to build, but they also, and perhaps more importantly, taught me how to be an engaged student—and for that, I am eternally grateful."

Matt Matlock '10 / Biology
Ph. D. Student, Physical Therapy, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Click on the tabs below to to read more about where our alumni end up:


    Julieanna Dufek Brandino, class of 1996

    CSI Birmingham

    Julieanna BrandinoJulieanna Brandino has the important daily task of supervising and participating in crime scene and death investigation information; conducting autopsies; and collecting evidence/specimens for toxicological, histological, radiological, and DNA analysis.

    But despite her job's grim glamour, Brandino delights in using her Birmingham-Southern biology background to help identify those who are nameless and help families find their missing loved ones.

    In 1999, she was appointed to the Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner's Office as the forensic pathology assistant. While the field of pathology is the study of disease, forensic pathologists work with the medicolegal investigation of death and investigate cases with suspicious, unexpected, or undetermined causes of death.

    “Because BSC allows for students to have the opportunity to contract their own class during the January Interim term, I was given the unique opportunity my senior year to gain the much-needed exposure/experience in the specialized field of forensic science,” says Brandino, who is from Birmingham. “This exposure/experience of autopsies and crime scene investigation gave me the edge over other applicants to ‘get my foot in the door' working for the Jefferson County Coroner/ME Office as a morgue technician.”

    Brandino already has compiled quite an impressive résumé from both her undergraduate and professional careers. She has studied rodents in the premontaine rainforest in Costa Rica; attended numerous forensic photography and skeletal remains search/recovery workshops in Miami and New Orleans; and received valuable mass disaster training at several local and state agencies, including the National Emergency Training Center in Anniston.

    “Dr. [Wayne] Shew called me shortly after graduation to inform me of the county job opening,” says Brandino. “This confirmed that I was not just another number … the faculty at BSC were genuinely interested in helping to further my career path.”


    Dr. Justin Cotney, class of 2002

    Painting a better picture of cellular function

    a clearer picture of how human cells function.Using the tools of biochemistry and modern high throughput sequencing techniques, Justin Cotney comes to work each day to help science develop a clearer picture of how human cells function.

    As a post-doctoral associate in the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at Yale University in Connecticut, Cotney is developing a high throughput assay for identifying huge numbers of protein-protein interactions. This work could provide a higher resolution map of protein interactions in the human cell, providing new insight into cellular function and identifying new drug targets for treating disease.

    “The education and training I received in the Biology Department at Birmingham-Southern gave me a distinct advantage when moving on to graduate school at Emory University,” says Cotney, who grew up in Daviston, Ala. “The department focuses not on memorization of facts, but developing thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied to any scientific question.”

    Cotney earned his doctorate in genetics and molecular biology from Emory University in May 2008 studying mechanisms of mitochondrial gene expression and mitochondrial biogenesis. During his graduate career, he served as a visiting associate researcher at Yale University in the laboratory of Dr. Gerald Shadel and co-wrote several articles for scientific journals.

    During his undergraduate career in biology at BSC, Cotney was active in the Sigma Nu fraternity and the Tri-Beta biology honorary. He also co-wrote two journal articles pertaining to molecular biology with BSC Professor of Biology Dr. Leo Pezzementi and others and presented original work at a national conference.

    “In particular, Dr. Pezzementi gave me the opportunity to perform research in his lab outside of my normal coursework,” Cotney reflects. “He taught me many techniques, procedures, and thinking skills that I have continued to use throughout my career. It is personal interactions like these that make a BSC education truly valuable.”


    Dr. Sean Groark, class of 1985

    A heart to give back

    Dr. Sean Groark, class of 1985Dr. Sean Groark's medical career has taken him from Vanderbilt University Medical Center as a cardiology fellow, through executive leadership stints at Huntsville Hospital, to assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

    Having graduated summa cum laude from Birmingham-Southern with a double major in biology and chemistry, followed by a degree from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Groark's heart and mind is now bent on reciprocating the education he received.

    “I recently joined a group of BSC students on their Interim trip to Roatan, where we were deeply immersed in coral reef ecology and Honduran island culture,” says Groark, a Birmingham native. “I had the rare opportunity to be a student again and to interact with BSC students, and hopefully I gave them insight on the value of their liberal arts education at BSC.”

    Groark names Professor Emeritus of Biology Dan Holliman, Professor of Biology Andy Gannon, and Ada Rittenhouse Snavely Professor of Biology Wayne Shew among the many great BSC teachers who helped to prepare him for the challenges of medical school and beyond.

    “Every professor I studied under at BSC took an active interest in me and helped me along the way,” says Groark, who was a biology teaching assistant his senior year. “I not only learned to master the material presented to me, but was also taught to think critically and to apply what I had learned to problem solve.

    “My four years at Birmingham-Southern gave me a firm foundation for lifelong education and service.”


    Allison Hargett, class of 2004

    Passion at the zoo

    Allison Hargett, class of 2004Taking courses like vertebrate anatomy, vertebrate zoology, and animal behavior at Birmingham-Southern have proven to be extremely beneficial for animal lover Allison Hargett in her new career as a zookeeper at the Knoxville (Tenn.) Zoological Gardens.

    Since 2007, Hargett has spent her work days preparing food for the animals at the zoo as well as keeping the animal's cages and environment free from potentially dangerous compounds, items or debris. She also gives guided tours, among her varied duties.

    “Thanks to the BSC Biology Department, I can provide zoo visitors with information on animal life history, taxonomy, and behavior,” says Hargett, a native of Russellville, Ala. “I'm also able to assist with ongoing research projects at the zoo and can make well-informed recommendations to my superiors regarding animal care.”

    During her undergraduate career, Hargett earned membership in several honoraries at BSC, including the Beta Beta Beta Biology Honor Society. Afterward, she attended the University of Nevada in Reno where she received a master's degree in biology with a specialty in animal behavior. As a grad student, Hargett acquired valuable experience as a biology teaching assistant.

    “I know that what I gained from the Biology Department at BSC helped prepare me for graduate school and will continue to serve me throughout my career,” she says. “To all the biology faculty and staff at Birmingham-Southern: Thank you!"


    Dr. James “Scott” McClellan, class of 1997

    A dual role of solving critical problems of health

    Dr. James “Scott” McClellan, class of 1997Inspired by his undergraduate experiences in Dr. Leo Pezzementi's laboratory in the Birmingham-Southern Department of Biology, Scott McClellan followed his heart as well as his mentor's advice and applied for a dual-degree MD/Ph.D. program after graduating from BSC.

    McClellan earned the prestigious degree in 2006 from Washington University School of Medicine with a specialty in virology/immunology. Now he is a resident in internal medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Los Palos, Calif., and a hematology/oncology fellow.

    “Dr. Pezzementi was the first person to suggest that a dual-degree MD/Ph.D program might be a career option for me,” says McClellan, a native of Anniston. “I am thrilled to be in a position to help patients and to pursue scientific questions that impact human health.”

    Prior to becoming a physician/scientist, McClellan graduated Phi Beta Kappa in biology from BSC. As a graduate student at Washington, he earned a fellowship from the Cancer Research Institute of New York City and received a Keystone Symposia Fellowship to conduct biomedical research.

    “I was able to publish a ‘first-author' paper as an undergraduate student at BSC,” notes McClellan. “I realize now what a unique opportunity that was—a rarity at most undergraduate institutions, particularly at schools the size of Birmingham-Southern. I absolutely wouldn't have been able to pursue this dual degree without the help of Dr. Pezzementi and the rest of the biology faculty at Birmingham-Southern.”


    Nikki Rombough, class of 2006

    A job that's no fish tale

    Nikki Rombough, class of 2006Nikki Rombough's career involves a good dose of both wits and fearlessness. As an associate aquarist for Walt Disney Co. in Orlando, she assists with the collection, maintenance, and well being of fish, sharks, turtles, and stingrays in the park's aquarium.

    “I work for Epcot's Living Seas aquarium where I dive twice a day to feed our animals and assess any problems that our population might have,” describes Rombough. “Every few months, I'm sent down to Castaway Cay (Disney's private island in the Bahamas) to take care of our population of Southern stingrays and to help run our guest interaction program on the island.”

    Originally from Hayward, Calif., Rombough reflects on a BSC Interim trip to the Galapagos Islands and her research on animal behavior with Dr. Megan Gibbons, associate professor of biology, as two of the biggest factors that led her to become a zookeeper of fish.

    “The research into animal behavior was a catalyst for getting me interested in how animals learn and how they adapt once learning has taken place,” she says. “That's definitely helped me in my current role since we do a lot of training and husbandry to enrich our animals, make their lives healthier, and make things easier on them and us if we have to handle them for some reason.”

    As a student at Birmingham-Southern, Rombough supplemented her biology studies with a minor in Spanish and was a member of the college's softball team. Her senior year, she turned in a record-setting softball final season and was named a BSC Athlete of the Year.

    When it came to choosing her career, she is grateful for BSC affording her the skills and opportunity to follow her heart.

    The Galapagos Island trip really reestablished my love for the ocean and the creatures in it,” says Rombough. “Being able to dive there (Galapagos) was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that lit a fire for me wanting to dive as much as I could to see as many different creatures as possible.”