Seven to be honored as Outstanding Women for 2014

Outstanding Women sizedFrom left: Stephanie Meadows, Emily Dhurandhar, Connie Bonds and Aisha Regan. Seven local women will be honored as the UAB Outstanding Women for 2014 during a ceremony 4:30-5:30 p.m. March 13 in the UAB Alumni House.

The UAB Women’s Center, UAB Women’s and Gender Studies and the Commission on the Status of Women present the awards annually during Women’s History Month to honor women in the UAB and Birmingham communities who have mentored or served other women, taken a courageous stance or overcome adversity to achieve a goal.

Candidates for the award are nominated by Birmingham residents, mentors and others from around the country and are selected by a committee of university and community women.

The 2014 winners to be honored:

  • Becky Trigg Outstanding Woman UAB Faculty Member – Julia S. Austin, Ph.D.
  • Susan D. Marchase Outstanding Woman Administrator Award – Stephanie Meadows
  • Outstanding Woman Staff Member Award – Connie Bonds
  • Outstanding Woman Undergraduate Student Award – Aisha B. Regan
  • Outstanding Woman Postdoctoral Fellow Award – Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D.
  • Outstanding Woman in the Community Award – Pamela Wray Biron
  • Lifetime of Service to Women and the Community Award – Kate Nielsen

Becky Trigg Outstanding Woman UAB Faculty Member

Julia Austin sizedJulia S. Austin: Austin, assistant professor in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and director of Education Services in the UAB Graduate School, has consistently encouraged women scholars to develop their teaching, research and communication abilities and supported them in their goals.

Austin joined the Department of English in 1989 and has worked with undergraduate students in the McNair scholars program, graduate students in the School of Education and throughout the Graduate School’s interdisciplinary Professional Development Program and postdoctoral fellows in the MERIT scholars program. She also has worked with fellow professors taking her “Excellence in Teaching” seminars for new faculty.

“Formally and informally, she provides mentoring and coaching support for faculty and students on a variety of second language, communication, teaching and career-development issues,” said Susan K. Spezzini, Ph.D., associate professor and program coordinator for the Master's Program for Teaching ESL. “Many of her contributions are behind the scenes, such as her pivotal leadership in the founding of UAB’s English Learning Institute, now housed in the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Austin said the most satisfying part of her job is working with graduate students who are so committed to reaching their goals.

“I feel so fortunate because it’s a very focused group of students,” Austin said. “To watch them turn into professionals in that period is just so rewarding to me.”

Although Austin is does not have a science background, she has spent a majority of her career working with students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. She said encouraging women to pursue those fields is important to her.

“I think because there are fewer women in STEM they sometimes need a little extra encouragement,” Austin said. “Not that they aren’t qualified to be there, but they just sometimes need somebody to remind them they belong and to help them to see a path.”

Susan D. Marchase Outstanding Woman Administrator Award

Stephanie Meadows: Meadows, chief financial officer and assistant dean for Resource Management in the School of Medicine, makes it easier for other women to achieve because she takes every opportunity to highlight others’ accomplishments.

“Stephanie provides service to women by serving as a fantastic role model,” said Pam Bounelis, Ph.D., assistant dean for Biomedical Research in the School of Medicine, who nominated Meadows for the award.  “She works hard, enjoys her family, gives to others and champions the underdog. She’s fair-minded, unbiased and always makes her solid-gold heart and platinum brain available to serve and support others.”

Meadows began her 24-year tenure at UAB in the university’s general accounting office in 1990 after earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Auburn University. She worked as a financial officer in the offices of the Associate Vice President for Financial Affairs, the Provost and the Department of Pediatrics before she was named assistant dean for Resource Management.

She earned a master’s degree in business administration from UAB in 1992 while working full-time. She serves on the financial committee for the Valley Foundation, the practice plan for the School of Medicine regional campus in Huntsville and is a member of the Group on Business Affairs for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“It’s truly humbling to be named the recipient of this award, and it’s an absolute honor because the award is named after someone who, as a young professional, I always looked to as a role model,” Meadows says of Marchase, who is highly regarded for her work to recruit and retain women for leadership positions throughout the university.

Outstanding Woman UAB Staff Member Award

Connie Bonds: Bonds, an administrative supervisor and human relations officer for the Department of Nutrition Sciences, helps women by teaching them to protect themselves through pistol safety.

“I was not surprised to learn that Connie also provides a unique service to women in the community outside of UAB,” said Paula Chandler-Laney, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences. “Although I have not personally experienced Connie’s lessons, I have no doubt that she brings the same professionalism, efficiency and caring nature to this volunteer work that she displays around the department.”

Bonds is known around the department as the glue that keeps everything together and running smoothly. Her co-workers describe her as the type of person who always has an open door and is ready with an answer.

“The nutrition department depends a lot on Connie, and she always comes through,” said Sarah Peek, program coordinator for the Nutrition Obesity Research Center. “She has in the past been Employee of the Quarter, Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year. That alone says great things about Connie.”

Bonds said the best part of her job is working with her co-workers.

“You’re only as good as the people you work with,” Bonds said. “It’s not just the Department of Nutrition Sciences, but it’s also the School of Health Professions. There’s some pretty awesome people over here. I just enjoy working with them.”

Outstanding Woman UAB Undergraduate Student Award

Aisha B. Regan: Regan, a junior pursuing a degree in health-care management and a minor in Spanish, was nominated by advisors who say she is a positive influence and role model to her peers.

“Her nature to exceed expectations is noticed by other students, which inspires other women to want to achieve at a high level like Aisha,” Rachel Burchfield and Hannah Davis wrote in their recommendation letter. “She is a leader in the UAB community, where she plans and implements programs that enable students to further grow and develop.”

Regan, a first-generation college student, is co-director of signature service for the Leadership and Service Council and is an UAB Emerging Leader. 

“When I decided to pursue my dream of attending school, there were two goals — make my parents proud and leave my mark on campus,” Regan said. “So, I think getting involved is the best way to do that.”

Regan said she is humbled by the award and the nomination. She said she enjoys being able to create opportunities for other students, the same opportunities that were created for her.

“It’s beautiful that they would acknowledge and appreciate my efforts,” Regan said.

Outstanding Woman UAB Postdoctoral Fellow Award

Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D.: Dhurandhar, a postdoctoral scholar in UAB’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center and assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior in the School of Public Health, helps other women succeed through mentoring.

Dhurandhar mentors female undergraduate summer interns from Puerto Rico through a National Science Foundation program in which the Section on Statistical Genetics participates.

“She has been instrumental in helping these young women gain the necessary skills and the empowering confidence that are crucial to gaining acceptance to graduate school,” said David Allison, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center. “Participation in the program and the ability to impact the lives and careers of future scientists have been particularly rewarding to her, so she continues to look for occasions to mentor young women interested in science and provide them with as many opportunities as possible.”

Dhurandhar’s research focuses on the cause of obesity in relation to human behavior. Allison notes Dhurandhar challenges the accepted stance that obesity is easily explained away by too much food and not enough exercise and believes the oversimplification encourages discrimination and deters individuals from seeking treatment, while also affecting professional treatment and the allocation of research dollars to study obesity.

Dhurandhar said she chose UAB because of its status as one of the top research universities in the nation, and she’s glad she did.

“The Nutrition Obesity Research Center really provides me with the resources and collaborators that I need to do meaningful research in obesity,” Dhurandhar said. “UAB does a great job of fostering young scientists, and I’m just really thankful to be here.”

Outstanding Woman in the Community Award

Pamela Wray Biron: Biron, executive director and founder of The Lighthouse for Recovery Ministries, is an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. She helps victims of domestic violence find shelter and helps guide abused women and children through the court system.

The Lighthouse for Recovery Ministries provides resource-management services to social service agencies and transitional resettlement services for people who are homeless, substance abusers, domestic violence victims and veterans.

“She truly believes that a person should always do right, even if they stand alone in the fight for social justice,” said Timothy Biron, Pamela’s husband and nominator.

Pamela Wray Biron was a commanding officer with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command from 1979-85. She is the state coordinator for the Marine Family Foundation’s Operation Santa USMC, which sends Christmas stockings to troops overseas. She teaches classes and conducts workshops for women on financial stability, safety and welfare, educational opportunities, basic life skills and psychological issues.

“She is a fighter and survivor who has won numerous awards for her social, professional and volunteer work,” Timothy Biron said. “She believes that adversity is a thing to overcome, and she is a shining example of this philosophy.”

Lifetime of Service to Women and the Community Award

Kate Nielsen sizedKate Nielsen: Nielsen, former president of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham (CFGB), has served women in the community through the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.

“Today, the fund works to empower women to break the cycle of poverty, promote equality, combat domestic violence and the commercial sexual exploitation of children and champion the cause of women’s economic security,” said Shirley Salloway Kahn, Ph.D., vice president for Development, Alumni and External Relations.

Nielsen, who was president of the CFGB for 13 years, said she loved her job because she got to see the best of mankind every day. She said she worked with people who gave financially and of their time to make the community better.

“When I hear negative people or whining, I’m just mystified by that, because there is good work and generosity going on every day,” Nielsen said. “I was so blessed to be able to see that.”

Nielsen helped spearhead the Three Parks Initiative, which created Railroad Park and Red Mountain Park and also expanded the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve.

“Through her extraordinary involvement in the community, Kate has both elevated the role of women and clearly demonstrated what one committed person can accomplish,” Kahn said. “I consider working with her a privilege, not only on projects that have benefitted the university, but also those that have made the entire city a better place for women to live and work.”