Earning a master’s degree as a full-time caregiver
Published: April 28, 2023
By: Shannon Thomason
Author Website: Click to Visit
When Curt Anderson, 54, wanted to go back to college after a 30-year break, he had to do something very few people could do.
Anderson is a father of three and a full-time caregiver. His adult son Ty Anderson, 28, has one of the rarest forms of epilepsy known to medicine and is non-verbal. He has been on every family of anti-convulsant medication and at one point was having 30-40 grand mal seizures a day. So, wherever Anderson went, he needed to make sure Ty could come too.
He found a way to do that in a supportive environment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Anderson will graduate April 28 with a Master of Arts degree in communication management from the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Communication Studies.
For the past two years, three or four days a week, Curt Anderson and his son made the 100-mile round-trip journey to class from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. Through their roughly 12-hour days, Ty accompanies Curt Anderson in class, first as a teacher for midday Communication 101, then as a student in the evening. If Ty has a seizure, his father will hold him until it is over. He typically knows when a seizure is coming. At the worst times, Curt Anderson has had to sit in the hall and hold Ty and block the door with his foot, so he could still hear to take notes. Ty attends the classes his dad teaches and takes.
There was no program in place for people in his position; but by working with the department chair, Distinguished Professor Timothy Levine, Ph.D., the unusual arrangement was approved. “UAB is a place of inclusivity,” Levine said, “and everyone has been supportive and with no complaints.” Students even asked about Ty the one day he was not in class.
Ty, who has had more than 12,000 seizures in his lifetime, was one of the original participants of the landmark cannabidiol, or CBD, oil study done at UAB. The study findings showed significant improvements in seizure frequency and other measures of efficacy in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy. Ty started taking CBD oil and this medicine has thankfully cut his seizures in half and given him and his family an opportunity to live more fulfilling lives.
The connection between magic and deception
Anderson’s story began as a child with a keen interest in performing magic arts. He had his first paid role as a magician at age 11 and was performing on the road at age 13. He studied communications in college but dropped out during his junior year to pursue a full-time career as a magician. He is friends with the world’s most famous magicians, and performing and teaching magic sustained him — until the pandemic.
Anderson had been guest lecturing on lying and deception at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. When COVID hit, the professor told him he would be a good teacher and recommended he consider finishing his degree. He helped him get a full scholarship, with a year to earn his undergraduate degree.
During that time, he met Levine, a nationally renowned deception researcher. Curt and Ty Anderson would meet with Levine when they came to Birmingham for Ty’s medical appointments with physicians in UAB Medicine’s Epilepsy Center — Alabama’s only Level IV epilepsy center, the highest designation available from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers and home to some of the nation’s most experienced epilepsy specialists. Levine offered Anderson a scholarship and graduate assistantship if he would come to UAB as a teaching assistant.
Teaching and research
As a teacher, Anderson has received the highest marks for any instructor in the course, and the students like Ty as well as Anderson’s engaging magic tricks. As a student, Anderson has had straight A’s.
Having been a professional stage performer gives him huge credibility on the topic of deception, and he has a promising second career ahead of him in academics, Levine says.
“He has been phenomenally successful teaching for us, and the students not only learn much from him, but also really enjoy his class,” Levine says. “It is absolutely incredible that Curt can manage being a full-time caregiver and a full-time graduate student, teach two classes for us, and make progress on his research, while learning how to do research.”
The department has been happy to support him as they can.
“I think it says so much about the character of UAB faculty and students that they are so supportive about allowing Curt to bring his son with him to class,” Levine says.
Anderson’s goals are to research deception and magic and be a professor who teaches.
“The two worlds see deception very differently, and I feel like there is something to be learned in each area from the other,” Anderson says. “Scientifically, we see that people deceive. How are we going to test this?”
He interviewed several magicians who have headlined their own Las Vegas shows and asked them: When you do a deception, when you make a new trick, when you are fooling an audience, how do you go about doing this?
“If we can find out how people react, we can teach magicians to build better deceptions,” Anderson says. “And if we find out how magicians build deceptions, we can help the scientific community understand how deception is built and make it easier to uncover deception.
Anderson has accepted a place in the Ph.D. program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, starting this fall.
“They are all-in on me and Ty,” Anderson says. “They have been extremely accommodating of Ty. We both feel very welcome, and I believe I can flourish as both a researcher and an instructor there.”