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Five faculty were honored with the 2024 UAB Graduate Dean’s Excellence in Mentorship Award April 22 at the UAB National Alumni Society House. The annual award recognizes five full-time regular UAB faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments as mentors of graduate students and/or postdoctoral fellows.

The first Dean’s Excellence in Mentorship Awards were presented in 2008. Since its inception, more than 200 recipients’ campus-wide have received this honor. The process starts in the fall when a call for nominations is sent out to graduate students, postdocs and department chairs. To be eligible, the nominee must have at least three years as UAB faculty and a minimum of five nomination letters. Past recipients are not eligible for re-nomination for five years.

The selection committee received 29 nominations for this year’s award. Only five are chosen for this prestigious award. The committee looked at several key characteristics that are found in great mentors while making their final decision.

“The individuals honored this year embody the very essence of mentorship. I was pleased to review the nomination letters and was moved by the impact that these mentors have had on the lives of their mentees. Our awardees this year are truly inspirational. They elevate our institution and their units,” said Shadi S. Martin, PhD, Vice Provost for Graduate and International Education, Dean of Graduate School & Chief International Officer. 

“Mentorship is a two-way street, mentees are not the only ones who gain from the mentorship experience, so do the mentors. This was evident at our award ceremony this year," she added. 

Award winners received a handcrafted medallion, as well as a certificate and a copy of the letters their mentees and colleagues wrote to nominate them for the honor.

The 2024 Dean’s Excellence in Mentorship Award recipients are:

Alan Tita – Heersink School of Medicine

Alan Tita – Heersink School of Medicine

Dr. Tita is Mary Heersink Endowed Chair of Global Health, Director of the Mary Heersink Institute of Global Health and Associate Dean for Global and Women’s Health at the Heersink School of Medicine.

As OBGYN Professor and Senior Vice-Chair for Research and Innovation, he also leads the university-wide Center for Women’s Reproductive Health. Since his background is in Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Perinatal Epidemiology and Global Health, Dr. Tita is dedicated to improving maternal and infant health outcomes. He has led collaborative obstetric/perinatal clinical trials and observational studies across multiple and single sites, influencing practice and policy globally. He co-leads the Cameroon Health Initiative, a multidisciplinary collaboration by UAB and Cameroon partners to improve health care. Dr. Tita has served as consultant editor for Obstetrics and Gynecology and consultant for the World Health Organization, NIH (including NICHD National Advisory Council), CDC and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He was elected to the National Academies of Medicine and to the Association of American Physicians.

One of his nominators said, “I think that Dr. Tita has accomplished Steven Spielberg’s definition of mentorship. Spielberg explains that the delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves. Dr. Tita looks for those moments to amplify his mentees and help them shine as themselves.”

Elizabeth Brown – Heersink School of Medicine

Elizabeth Brown – Heersink School of Medicine

Dr. Brown is an Endowed Professor of Cancer Pathobiology in the Heersink School of Medicine, Department of Pathology. She is an epidemiologist with expertise in genetics, immunoepidemiology and cancer health disparities. She obtained her PhD from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and subsequently completed two fellowships at the NCI; the first in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics and the second, in the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, Section of Immunogenetics and Molecular Epidemiology.

Dr. Brown joined the faculty at UAB in 2006 and served as an Adjunct Scientist at NCI from 2006 to 2010. She became Co-Leader of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program, and currently serves as Associate Director for Population Science at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Brown is a founding member of the International Myeloma Consortium and continues to serve in a leadership capacity in the International Lymphoma and Epidemiology Consortium, which is central to setting research priorities to advance myeloma and lymphoma research. Her research is primarily focused on health disparities of multiple myeloma, lymphoma and systemic lupus erythematosus. Her multidisciplinary studies in etiology, natural history, pathogenesis and outcomes enable the discovery of blood-based biomarkers for disease susceptibility, progression and clinical management as well as the identification of new therapeutic targets.

One of her nominators said, “Dr. Elizabeth Brown has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to fostering the growth and development of aspiring scientists under her guidance. As a mentor, she has consistently gone above and beyond to create a supportive and enriching environment for my learning. Her dedication to instilling a passion for scientific inquiry has had a profound impact on the next generation of scientists, specifically on my decision to pursue a PhD in the scientific field of biomedical sciences.”

Bunyamin Ozaydin – School of Health Professions

Bunyamin Ozaydin – School of Health Professions

Dr. Ozaydin is an Associate Professor of Health Informatics at the Department of Health Services Administration in the School of Health Professions, and is a Scientist at the Heersink School of Medicine, Informatics Institute. He holds a Master's in Electrical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering.

With a decade of experience in ophthalmology and anesthesiology departments, his experience in health informatics reflects a comprehensive blend of academia and practice. His academic and professional background encompasses the fields of information systems, data infrastructure, decision support systems, system analysis and design, and data and text mining, enriching his expertise in predictive analytics and business intelligence, all within the healthcare domain. His contributions are evident in his numerous publications, internally and externally funded research projects, center appointments, and roles in both academic and clinical settings. A testament to his influence is his mentorship of graduate students and post-docs in health informatics. His research interests include data infrastructures that enable data mining and analytics for health-related research, and the application of machine learning techniques as decision support systems in healthcare.

One of his nominators said, “His length and breadth of experience, both in and out of the health and university systems gives him insight as to the best routes to pursue research, sponsorship, and strengthening our grant applications. His intellectual rigor and unflappable curiosity encourage an atmosphere of collaboration all around him. Although he is humble and egalitarian in his demeanor, he leads by example with his generous spirit, experience, and formidable intellect.”

Robert Sorge – College of Arts and Sciences

Robert Sorge – College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Sorge is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Director of INSPIRE Lab, and co-Director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program in the College of Arts and Sciences. Born in a little hamlet in rural Canada, he has spent most of his life in the north. He completed a Bachelor’s degree in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 2000 under the supervision of Dr. Geoff Galef (environmental enrichment), a Master’s degree from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada under Dr. Linda Parker (THC and nausea, 2001) and a PhD from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2006 under Dr. Jane Stewart (heroin and cocaine addiction). Continuing his love for Montreal, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University under Dr. Paul Clarke (nicotine addiction, 2009) and under Dr. Jeff Mogil (genetics and pain, 2012).

Dr. Sorge started at UAB in the Department of Psychology in the summer of 2012 and has been here ever since. He is currently enjoying Alabama with his family and returns to Canada in the warmer months of the year to avoid the snow.

One of his nominators said, “Dr. Sorge possesses a gentle and empathetic way with others that sets him apart as a mentor. His approach is characterized by kindness, patience, and a genuine concern for the well-being of his mentees. When having conversations with his students, it is apparent that Dr. Sorge creates a safe and supportive space where mentees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and aspirations. This gentle demeanor not only encourages open communication but also contributes to a positive and nurturing mentoring relationship and results in strong academic success of each member of his lab.”

Nicole Wright – School of Public Health

Nicole Wright – School of Public Health

Dr. Wright is a tenured Associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health. She earned her Master of Public Health (MPH) in 2005 and her Doctorate in Epidemiology in 2010 from the University of Arizona.

Her research focuses on musculoskeletal aging epidemiology, including osteoporosis outcomes research, and racial disparities in osteoporosis and its management. She has been an investigator on numerus federal and industry supported research projects, including her most recent project that is evaluating the role of cardiometabolic disease on bone health in a cohort of racially diverse adults. Her research has led to many local and national presentations, and leadership positions in her professional societies. In addition, Dr. Wright is the course master for applied epidemiology courses for MPH and Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) students. Her self-described “casual yet challenging” teaching aids in students leaving her course more competent and confident of their skills to be successful in their future academic and/or professional careers. Her passion for training has led to her role as the Vice Chair of Academic Affairs and Director of the MPH program for the department.

One of her nominators said, “Her impact on my academic and personal development is deeply personal and transformative. Under her guidance, I discovered a love for epidemiology that has now become the cornerstone of my career aspirations. Her mentorship is not just a chapter in my academic journey; it is a personal and lifelong influence that has shaped who I am becoming.”

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