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From a competitive pool of nominees, three graduate students have been selected to receive the prestigious UAB National Alumni Society Dean’s Scholarship for 2023.

“It was an honor for me to review these nominations as we had an incredibly impressive group–every one of them truly deserving of recognition.” said Shadi Martin, PhD, Graduate School dean and vice provost for Graduate and International Education. “This year's recipients demonstrated both academic excellence and commitment to serving the greater global good.”

Jiacheng SunJiacheng “Jason” SunJiacheng “Jason” Sun will receive first prize—a $2,500 scholarship.

Sun is a graduate research assistant in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and is pursuing his PhD. He has a medical degree from Dallan Medical University, in China.

Sun has published 17 peer-reviewed manuscripts in prestigious journals such as Circulation (2022), Journal of Extracell Vesicles (2022), Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology (2022), Pharmacology & Therapeutics (2021), Theranostics (2020), and International Journal of Nanomedicine (2020). He has also given lectures at conferences including the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago, IL, and the NIH NHLBI Celebration of Progenitor Cell Research and Translation Meeting 2023 in Bethesda, MD. The American Heart Association awarded Sun a predoctoral fellowship in early 2023.

Sun joined the laboratory of Jianyi “Jay” Zhang, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, in January 2020, and Zhang gave Sun his “highest endorsement” for the scholarship. Zhang is also the T. Michael and Gillian Goodrich Endowed Chair of Engineering.

“Jiacheng is always willing to work collaboratively and provide support to his colleagues,” Jianyi Zhang, MD, PhD, wrote in his nomination letter about Sun. “He also voluntarily teaches and trains fresh graduate and undergraduate students with laboratory techniques and skills, and has even helped them to develop their degree plans and research thesis. Furthermore, he has formed a small team of graduate students, undergraduate students, and lab technician to collaborate on various research projects. He has been instrumental in fostering a positive and productive team environment, encouraging his team members to share ideas and work together towards a common goal.”

Yang Zhou, PhD, and assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, said he has no doubt Sun will make continue to make significant contributions to UAB and the scientific community.

“His commitment, creativity, and motivation make him an exceptional young scientist,” Zhou wrote. “His demonstrated ability to tackle complex scientific problems with ingenuity and rigor is a testament to his potential for future success.”

Caroline DaviesHunter Caroline DaviesSecond prize of $1,500 is awarded to Hunter Caroline Davies, who is working toward her Master of Science in Anatomical Sciences.

Davies is a graduate student researcher in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine. She is a member of Alpha Eta Honors Society, awarded to the top 10 percent of graduate students in the School of Health Professions/Joint Sciences.

In addition to academic achievements including publication in the Journal of Surgical Research and numerous presentations, Davies has a lengthy resume of service, including her work with Equal Access Birmingham, Gracehouse Ministries Junior Board Volunteer Committee Chair, and Firehouse Ministries.

Davies is currently lead mentor for the Summer Health Profession Education Program, a program designed to increase diversity in health professions by providing support for underrepresented minority and disadvantaged undergraduate students. She is working with her mentor, Inga Kadish, PhD, associate professor in the Dept. of Cell, Development, and Integrative Biology, on a UAB Virtual Anatomy website and a new neuroanatomy study tool that will launch in July.

“She is without a doubt the most outstanding student that the program has graduated to date,” said Catherine M. Fuller, PhD, professor and vice-chair in the Department of Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology. “Were her heart not set on going to medical school, I would actively encourage her to pursue a Ph.D., as I think she has both intellectual capacity and the ‘hands’ to do very well in that environment.”

UAB Heersink School of Medicine has accepted Davies for admission.

Kadish also had high praise for Davies: “I strongly believe that Caroline has everything what it takes to excel in her future medical school training and to become an excellent physician who has not only knowledge in her field but has empathy and passion towards others.”

Chadra PittmanChadra Dalan PittmanThird prize of $1,000 will go to Chadra Dalan Pittman, a student in the Department of Anthropology’s MA Program Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights (APHR).

Pittman is a nontraditional student with a well-established career, which makes her an asset to the program, said Tina Kempin Reuter, director of the Institute for Human Rights (IHR) and associate professor of human rights, peace studies, and international politics. “She excels on so many levels—in the classroom, in independent work, and as the leader of social justice initiatives for IHR. Her love of learning, her curiosity, and her desire to go above and beyond what is expected of her really make her stand out.”

Pittman’s professional efforts have focused on creating educational and cultural programs, and working to eradicate sexual violence across the globe, with special focus on women, girls, the deaf, and LGBTQIA+ communities. As an Intersectional, Anti-Colonial Feminist, Pittman is the founder and executive director of The Sankofa Projects & 4 E.V.E.R. (End Violence End Rape). Among her many projects, she was the educator and public relations coordinator for the 17th-century New York African Burial Ground Project and creator of Sankofa’s International Day of Remembrance, a spiritual ceremony now in its 13th year that honors the African men, women, and children who died during the Middle Passage of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Pittman's work centers honoring Ancestors, giving voice to the untold history of the famous and the forgotten and ensuring that the historical record reflects the contributions of all. Her research and writing focus on critical time periods in history and she acknowledges sacred sites which hold memory of what happened there. She has worked with luminaries such as NASA Pioneer Dr. Katherine G. Johnson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Nikole Hannah Jones, and most recently Rev. Dr. Bernice King. A follower of the tradition of the Great Law of the Iroquois, Pittman is committed to the sustainability of the Earth, protecting its creatures and works diligently advocating for human rights for all. She is the proud mother of two incredible sons. 

Reuter said Pittman’s involvement with the International Peace Conference at UAB in May 2023 was exceptional, cementing her reputation as an enthusiastic collaborator and responsible leader and as someone with valuable insight and perspective.

“As her impressive curriculum vitae shows, Chadra already accomplished much on behalf of peace and human rights prior to joining APHR. I would be hard pressed to single out any of these accomplishments as, in my opinion, all of them are significant and complementary contributions to building and sustaining peace and to protecting and promoting human rights,” said Peter Verbeek, PhD, associate professor and APHR graduate program director.

The UAB National Alumni Society Dean's Scholarships are awarded annually based on stellar academic performance and leadership qualities, as demonstrated through two letters of recommendation and the student’s resume or CV.

Each year, the UAB National Alumni Society partners with the university’s schools and colleges to raise millions of dollars from alumni donors for student scholarships. Thanks to continued support from sponsors and attendees of NAS events, NAS increased the Graduate School Dean’s Scholarship amount for 2023 by $500, providing a total of $5,000 for this year’s recipients.

Scholarship recipients will be honored at the 2023 National Alumni Society Scholarship Reception in October.


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