Alabama A&M Partners with Apple’s Innovative Propel Center

Alabama A&M University is partnering with Propel Center, a new global campus headquartered in Atlanta that will support innovative learning and development for Historically Black Colleges and Universities nationwide.
Apple is working with Southern Company and the Ed Farm education non-profit to support the Propel Center. Apple’s $25 million contribution will enable the Propel Center to support HBCU students and faculty through a robust virtual platform, a physical campus in the historic Atlanta University Center, as well as on-campus activations at partner institutions.
Through the Propel Center, Alabama A&M students and faculty will have access to innovative curricula, technology support, career opportunities, and fellowship programs.
“As a Top 3 Minority STEM Producer among HBCUs nationally, Alabama A&M is excited to partner with the Propel Center to provide additional resources and grow the pipeline of students entering these disciplines,” said President Andrew Hugine, Jr.
The Propel Center will offer a wide range of educational tracks, including AI and machine learning, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment arts, app development, augmented reality, design and creative arts, career preparation, and entrepreneurship. Experts from Apple will help develop curricula and provide ongoing mentorship and learning support, along with offering internship opportunities.
Propel Center is part of Apple’s $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative.
“We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world — and these new projects send a clear signal of Apple’s enduring commitment,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We’re launching REJI’s latest initiatives with partners across a broad range of industries and backgrounds — from students to teachers, developers to entrepreneurs, and community organizers to justice advocates — working together to empower communities that have borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long.
“We are honored to help bring this vision to bear, and to match our words and actions to the values of equity and inclusion we have always prized at Apple.”

Dynetics Brings Christmas Cheer to Local Charities

To celebrate the holidays, Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, continued its volunteering and giving traditions during a challenging year.

In light of the highs and lows of 2020, extra holiday cheer felt imperative, the company said. “Dynetics wanted to make a greater community impact to finish-out a year affecting so many.”

As part of “The Twelve Days of Dynetics,” employees chose five charities to support. Each charity received a $10,000 gift totaling $50,000. The five organizations selected are:

  • CASA of Madison County, or the Care Assurance System for Aging and Homebound, an organization enabling the aging and homebound to live at home independently, safely and with dignity.
  • Kids to Love, a group that has touched the lives of more than 250,000 foster children since its incorporation in 2004.
  • Make-a-Wish Alabama, a chapter of the non-profit that grants life-changing wishes to children with critical illnesses.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness – North Alabama, a local organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with mental illnesses, including their families.
  • Still Serving Veterans, a team that serves and honors veterans and their families by making connections that lead to fulfilling careers, benefits and services.

Representatives from the organizations joined Dynetics Group President David King for a socially distanced check presentation outside the Dynetics corporate headquarters in Cummings Research Park.

IronMountain Solutions Employees Award More Than $45,000 to Local Non-Profits

The employee contributors of the IronMountain Solutions Employee Peaks Fund recently awarded $45,860 to 15 local-non profit organizations. This brings the total to nearly $190,000 that IMS employees have given back to community organizations since the fund was founded in 2018.

“In a year like 2020, our non-profit and volunteer community needs us more than ever. We are all adapting to a new way of work and life,” said company President & CEO Hank Isenberg. “In a time that has brought so much change, it is humbling to see that the giving nature of IMS employees remains strong.”

The following charitable organizations received grants for the second half of 2020: 305 8th Street; Huntsville Inner City Learning Center; AGAPE; North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless; Alabama Nonviolent Offenders Association; Safe Harbor; Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Alabama; Second Mile Development; Care Center; Sleep in Heavenly Peace, Inc.; Free2Teach; Stand Down Together Huntsville; Huntsville Assistance Program; Therapy Partners; and Huntsville Hospital Foundation.

The IMS Employee Peaks Fund is entirely run by employees, comprised of a Board of Directors and employee contributors who vote on the applicants that will receive grants each award season. More than 80 percent of the employees contribute through payroll deductions throughout the year.

“I am proud to serve as the chair and proud of the impact we are able to make,” said board Chair Sharon Valavicius. “I have no doubt the grant recipients will put this money to use in making our community even stronger in the year to come.”

The IMS Employee Peaks Fund awards grants to qualified applicants twice a year. Applications will be accepted in the spring. For information, visit

CNI Solutions, United Way Giving Away Hand Sanitizer

CNI Solutions is hosting a drive-thru, hand-sanitizer distribution event with the United Way of Madison County on Thursday at 11 a.m. It will be at CNI Solutions’ facility at 1035 Putman Drive in Huntsville.

CNI Solutions and the United Way will distribute more than 30,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to the 27 local United Way nonprofit partner organizations as well as several other key agencies and churches that serve in the area.

“The world is currently preparing for another phase of this pandemic and our hope is to make sure every member of the community is equipped with the essentials to remain safe during this challenging time,” said CNI Solutions Executive Director Iris P. Frye.

CNI Solutions is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization based in Huntsville to champion the underserved, at-risk, minority, formerly incarcerated, and female populations.

“We at United Way of Madison County are so appreciative and happy to help this huge distribution happen,” said Cathy Miller, Community Impact Director for the United Way. “These generous donations increase the capacity of these organizations to serve.  They can concentrate more of their dollars helping people and less on purchasing personal protective equipment for their staff and clients.

“That means we can help more.”

The Bell Still Rings for Madison Station Polar Express Christmas on Main

MADISON — Yes, the bell still rings for any organization wanting to decorate a Christmas tree for the seventh annual Madison Station Polar Express Christmas on Main, but Friday is the final day to register.

Hosted by the City of Madison and the Madison Station Historic Preservation Society, the event kicks off the holiday season with decorated Christmas trees displayed along Main Street in historic downtown and sponsored by the Madison business community.

Part of the Polar Express Christmas on Main, the trees will be on display Nov. 28-Jan. 2. Trees will be selected for the Mayor’s Choice, Most Creative and Honorable Mention awards to be announced at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting.

Trees are $100 for for-profit organizations and $50 for nonprofit organizations and can be decorated Nov. 20-27.

An official tree lighting will take place virtually Nov.29.

The number of Christmas trees available is limited so register by Friday to ensure your company is part of this annual holiday celebration.

For more information, contact the Madison Chamber of Commerce at 256-325-8317.

HudsonAlpha Scientists Among World’s Most Highly Cited Researchers

It’s becoming a tradition for the ground-breaking HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

The tradition being its scientists are among the world’s most highly cited researchers.

Dr. Jane Grimwood

And, for the seventh straight year, a group of HudsonAlpha scientists were named to the 2020 Highly Cited Researchers 2020 list from Clarivate.

This year, three HudsonAlpha researchers were named to the annual list: Dr. Jane Grimwood, faculty investigator, cross-field; Jeremy Schmutz, faculty investigator, plant and animal science; and Dr. Jerry Jenkins, cross-field.

The list identifies scientists and social scientists who demonstrated significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade. Their names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science citation index.

HudsonAlpha has a strong record of making significant contributions to the research community. This is the seventh year in a row that at least three HudsonAlpha scientists have been named on the Highly Cited Researcher list. This speaks volumes to the expertise and respect that these scientists have in their field of study and beyond.

“HudsonAlpha’s outstanding track record of Highly Cited Researchers is a testament to the impactful foundational research that our Institute prides itself on,” said HudsonAlpha President and Science Director Dr. Rick Myers. “Collaborative research is an important pillar on which the spirit of HudsonAlpha was built, and we are proud that our scientists are able to be active contributors to the open flow of research and information in the genomics field.”

Jeremy Schmutz

HudsonAlpha faculty who had been on the list in previous years include Myers, Grimwood, Schmutz, Dr. Devin Absher and Dr. Greg Cooper.

Grimwood and Schmutz serve as the co-directors of the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center.

Together with their research teams, they have sequenced more than 150 de novo plant genomes, both for their own research projects and collaborative projects. The de novo plant genomes serve as a foundation for genomic and functional plant research, meaning that hundreds of scientists rely on and utilize the reference genomes created by Grimwood and Schmutz’s group.

Because of their expert status in the plant genomics field, Grimwood and Schmutz are no strangers to the Highly Cited Researcher List, both having been named to the list several times. In fact, Schmutz has made the list every year since its inception in 2014.

Dr. Jerry Jenkins

Although Jenkins is a newcomer to the list, he has been a critical part of the Genome Sequencing Center team for nearly a decade. He serves as the Genome Analysis Group Leader and is involved in the generation and improvement of de novo plant genomes.

“Working in the Genome Sequencing Center with Jane and Jeremy over the past decade has given me the opportunity to participate in high-quality research and collaborate with dozens of research groups to help address important questions pertaining to plant science,” he said. “It is rewarding for me personally to see that our peers recognize the impact the group is having in plant genomics, and we plan to continue to make high quality contributions to address questions in plant science.”

Grimwood, Schmutz and Jenkins are three of 6,167 researchers from more than 60 countries and regions recognized this year, 2,650 of which reside in the United States. They are also joined by 26 Nobel Laureates.

“In the race for knowledge, it is human capital that is fundamental and this list identifies and celebrates exceptional individual researchers who are having a great impact on the research community as measured by the rate at which their work is being cited by others,” said David Pendlebury, Senior Citation Analyst at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate.

KTECH Expands Workforce Training Initiative in Partnership with Toyota Plant

It was a matter of seeing is believing for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama.

After company representatives toured the classrooms and labs at Huntsville’s KTECH, the two forged a partnership for KTECH to provide workforce training support and advanced technology capabilities to the Huntsville engine plant’s growing  team.

Launched in 2016, KTECH is a workforce development program created by founder Lee Marshall for her Kids to Love Foundation, targeting young adults who have aged out of the foster care system.

The program also reaches out to anyone in the community, such as veterans, who can use the skills. It focuses on providing certified skills training that will leverage them into good-paying career jobs and, since then, has proven to be a successful workforce training model.

According to Marshall, officials with the engine plant approached in February with a request for customized training. In August, KTECH trained the first Toyota team members.

“Innovation is a key component to the advanced manufacturing industry,” said Marshall. “The ability to train for that industry has been part of KTECH’s strategic plan from the beginning.

“Adding this component positions KTECH to expand our student base beyond those pursuing education alone, and includes students who have careers, but want to hone their expertise.”

Joe Steder, the plant’s maintenance and facilities manager, said after touring the KTECH facility, company leaders saw first-hand the superior caliber of students enrolled and identified KTECH as an opportunity to further support their training needs.

“KTECH developed customized courses that our skilled maintenance technicians can take locally, which provides tremendous benefits to our team,” said Steder.

“The objective of the class is to introduce, familiarize, and build skillsets for using cobot and vision tools,” said Keith Laney, Skilled Maintenance Group leader.  “The top down training approach reflects how technicians actually perform on the job, making it very effective.”

KTECH Workforce Development Director  Dorothy Havens said the organization hones in on the skills companies are seeking.

“Our biggest challenge is filling the number of advanced manufacturing jobs in our community, and connecting with the current workforce so our students have instant industry access. It is a win for everyone,” said Havens.

To date, KTECH has awarded 134 certifications and found graduates jobs at more than 20 local companies.

Ready. Set. Read! New Library Van Connects Communities to Literacy

It’s not just retailers and restaurants that are providing curbside service during the pandemic.

The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Ready Reader program has been providing curbside delivery of its services, as well.

And now, thanks to a funding gift from Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, the library’s outreach services have a new van to make deliveries easier. It will join the Bookmobile in the library’s fleet of vehicles that brings library services to the community.

The new van will be used to support the Ready Reader program, a monthly literacy program the library provides for all three area school systems. It serves about 100 Title 1 Pre-K and Head Start classrooms monthly in Madison County with books, teachers’ kits, and story time; and focuses on pre-literacy skills that help lay the groundwork for  academic success and help foster a lifelong love of learning. 

“The Ready Reader vehicle is a valuable tool to the children and students of our three public school systems to encourage a love of reading, imagination, and creativity,” said Strong. “In today’s unique learning environment at both the school and home, expanding the reach of important educational tools to our children is another way we can invest in their future.”

“In addition to our 11 locations throughout Madison County, the Outreach Department provides crucial library services to many in our community, including seniors and preschoolers,” said Mandy Pinyan, the library’s Outreach Manager. “This program is one of the most important things the Library does because we are reaching children who may not otherwise come into one of our locations. We are essentially a library on wheels, reaching children at an age when they are beginning to develop the literacy skills they need.” 

The new vehicle replaces its 1996 model, which will be used for other library needs. 

The vehicle will also be used to support other programs once the pandemic has ended to include puppet shows, STEM programs and summer reading. 

(Pictured: Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong, HMCPL Interim Executive Director Cindy Hewitt, HMCPL Board Member Carla Clift and students from Blossomwood Elementary)

United Way Making a Virtual ‘Jumpstart’ with Annual Reading Day

The pandemic has altered the way people go about their daily lives and special events.

The United Way of Madison County‘s annual “Jumpstart Read for the Record” is no different.

In past years, volunteers would visit classrooms around the area and read the same book on the same day.

This year, they will still read the same book on Thursday, but – with the aid of Facebook and Zoom – it will be a virtual reading.

“The key focus,” said the agency’s Community Impact Director Cathy Miller, “will be to reach every child in public school ages 3-8 years.  To do so, we’ve enlisted the help of superintendents in Huntsville City, Madison City and Madison County systems. They will be encouraging every PreK-2nd grade class in their school to be open to receiving a free copy of the book, ‘Evelyn Del Ray is Moving Away’ from United Way so teachers can read for the record on Oct. 29 with their class.

Miller said the volunteer readers are posting messages on social media to let the community know how this year’s event will work.

Key support from the Junior League of Huntsville, Hexagon and a team of 10 volunteers is bringing the event to life.  The story is also read at the Huntsville/Madison County Library in its preschool story times.

“During such unprecedented times when our community needs our nonprofit community and its services more than ever, events such as Jumpstart can put our arms around our teachers and our community,” said Clay Vandiver, President and CEO of United Way. “It can draw attention to vital issues and the role of United Way in bringing vital resources and supporting key nonprofits.

“This one-day event is an extension of our year-round work.”


Kailos Genetics Launches COVID-19 Testing Program for Safe Workplaces

Kailos Genetics announces the launch of Assure Sentinel, a first-of-its-kind workplace viral suppression program that tests organizations for COVID-19 on a frequent and recurring basis.

The Assure Sentinel program reduces the challenges of COVID-19 testing in the workplace, according to a statement from Huntsville-based Kailos Genetics.

Samples are acquired using a painless saliva collection system, eliminating the need for nasopharyngeal swabs. Additionally, testing is performed with ViralPatch, the company’s proprietary viral capture and sample pooling methodology, and next generation DNA sequencing to decrease costs and increase testing sensitivity.

“Pooling dozens of samples together has been standard in blood banking for decades,” said Kailos Genetics CEO Brian Pollock. “The Assure Sentinel program is helping to suppress COVID-19 and returning people to the workplace.”

Regular COVID-19 testing can mean a reduction in employee anxiety and a rise in confidence and productivity.

“Safety is, and has always been, our number one priority during the pandemic, and the Assure Sentinel program is helping us continue to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees,” said Julia Michaux-Watkins, Director of Human Resources at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Kailos is offering the workplace testing program to companies, nonprofit organizations and schools directly and via partnerships with healthcare organizations. The first partnerships include Huntingdon College in Montgomery and HudsonAlpha.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Huntingdon College identified access to testing as a key element to our ability to responsibly reopen our campus to our students, faculty and staff for the fall,” said Jay Dorman, Treasurer and Senior Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, Planning and Administration at Huntingdon College. “We have been fortunate to find an Alabama-based partner to provide a reasonably priced, efficient testing option, which has been critical in successfully mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on our campus.”

Founded in 2010 and located at HudsonAlpha, Kailos Genetics is a genetic sequencing company that provides genetic and COVID-19 testing through partnerships with physicians, health systems and employers around the world.