Mark Pepin and Antonio Foles are the recipients of the 2019 UAB Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies.

“The Barker Award,” named for UAB’s first graduate dean, Dr. Samuel Booth Barker, is given each spring to one Ph.D. student and one Master’s student, both of whom expect to receive their degrees within the calendar year. The Barker Awards are given to graduate students who represent the highest level of student achievement in a UAB graduate program.


Pepin, a doctoral student in the Medical Scientist Training Program and Biomedical Engineering program, has demonstrated a true collaborative nature during his time at UAB, which has resulted in nine publications already listed on PubMed with a large number under revision or preparation. These studies include faculty from UAB, Iowa, Germany, Utah and more.

“Mark has contributed to the scientific literature in a manner unique to his collaborative nature, unity of purpose, and this has resulted in positive change,” said Dr. Adam Wende, associate professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology. “Beyond Mark’s published accomplishments, has been his ability to present his work on local, national and international stages.”

Pepin has presented at least 25 abstracts in poster and oral format, earning eight different honors. In addition, he has been instrumental in securing his own funding, most recently with his successful pursuit of an NIH F30.

In addition to his scientific contributions, Pepin has excelled outside of the laboratory. He has continued to help his fellow medical students via tutoring and generating online tools to aid in their training. This has even led to a manuscript describing his approaches. Pepin has also spent more than 500 hours of in-class teaching.

“Beyond all these contributions to UAB and its mission, Mark is a person of strong character,” Wende said. “He has done all of this while becoming a dedicated father to his three children, building an addition on his house and constructing furniture for the MSTP office.”

“Honestly, my first reaction (upon learning of this award) was, ‘Cool!’ quickly followed by, ‘But why me?’,” Pepin said. “The list of accomplishments used as the basis of my nomination required intense effort from so many people that I feel unqualified to receive such a high honor. However, I believe that my receipt of this award underscores the power of team-based science and the collaborative spirit embraced by so many here at UAB (in particular, my thesis mentor, Adam Wende). I am also immensely grateful to my wife for supporting me and our three kids through this whole endeavor.”

Pepin will graduate in April and plans to pursue the ABIM Research Track in Medicine-Cardiology after he completes his remaining two years of medical school.

Antonio FolesFoles, a graduate teaching assistant in the Master of Public Health, Health Behavior program in the School of Public Health, has far exceeded expectations of faculty members even as an undergraduate student at UAB.

“He always offered great insights into the deeply complex and often sensitive topics in class, helping to bridge a connection between the theories and applications in the community,” said Dr. Robin Gaines Lanzi, professor and director of graduate programs in the Department of Public Health. “His character shines through in all that he does.”

Foles has a strong passion for helping those in his community. These outreach efforts began when he was an undergraduate and has continued during his graduate studies. Foles has been able to juggle many work and volunteer activities including those in his area of interest: adolescents and young adults, specifically college students, in supporting and promoting healthy behaviors and reducing risk taking.

Since 2017, he has served as a Junior Board Member with Birmingham AIDS Outreach, where he helps build awareness of services provided by BAO, the Magic City Wellness Center and the Magic City Acceptance Center. He has also served as a This Is Public Health Ambassador with the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health where he helps to recruit future public health students into UAB and other member institutions.

As a graduate student, Foles has continued his commitment to public health as he currently works as a research specialist for the UAB Center for the Study of Community Health. He is assisting in CITY Health II, which is an intervention project aiming to reduce HIV-related risk behaviors and increase HIV testing uptake and protective behaviors among emerging African American adults ages 18-25.

Foles also served as the Public Health Student Association Senator and recently elected the Public Health Student Association President. He also received the Billy Cox Scholarship.

“He is known all across the school and campus as a graduate student who is dedicated to advancing the public health ideals and doing all that he can to improve services and opportunities for those who need it most,” Lanzi said. “Antonio demonstrates the range of emotional intelligence. He is warm and funny, and kind and supportive to his peers. He displays the utmost professionalism, being conscientious and industrious, and trustworthy and reliable. In short, Antonio is the ideal colleague, working tirelessly to promote an environment of inclusiveness and cooperation.”

“I was truly shocked (upon learning of the award),” Foles said. “I couldn’t believe it. I danced around for a solid 5 minutes. It’s an honor within itself to be nominated by my professors, but it’s an even greater honor to be selected for the award and to represent the School of Public Health. I’m still in shock.”

Foles is slated to graduate in August and plans to explore the field of healthcare consulting.

“Our graduate students are truly amazing and the work they are doing will have such an impact on our community, our state and our world,” said Dr. Lori McMahon, Graduate School Dean. “All of the nominees were exceptional, and the selection committee had a very difficult time reaching a decision. I would like to congratulate Mark and Antonio on their outstanding achievements. Their commitment to improving the lives of others and their passion for sharing the knowledge they have gained while graduate students at UAB made them ideal for this award.”

The Graduate School also selected Joshua Justice, a doctoral student in the microbiology theme of the Graduate Biomedical Sciences program, and Mary Phillips, a doctoral student in the neuroscience theme of the Graduate Biomedical Sciences program, to receive the 2019 GBS/JHS Outstanding Student Awards.

These four students, along with countless other high-achieving graduate students, will be recognized at the 2019 UAB Honors Convocation in April.