22 professors presented Excellence in Mentorship Awards

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Twenty-two UAB professors from 16 departments are recipients of the 2011 Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship.

Nir Menachemi (far right), associate professor of health care organization and policy, talks with students during the 2011 Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship reception April 11. Menachemi was one of 22 mentors honored by current and former students.

The award, now in its fourth year, recognizes exceptional faculty mentorship and demonstrates that UAB is a university that values the commitment to excellence in mentorship that is exhibited by its faculty, says Bryan Noe, Ph.D., dean of The Graduate School and creator of the award.

“This award recognizes faculty members who have been outstanding mentors, advisors and role models to the students and trainees with whom they have worked,” Noe says. “We are particularly pleased to see that faculty from different disciplines and departments across campus were nominated for their dedication to assisting students, postdoctoral fellows and other trainees to realize their career goals.”

These recipients were honored in a ceremony April 11:

Michael Brooks, Ph.D., associate professor of human studies; Steven Carroll, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Division of Neuropathology; Nikolai Chernov, Ph.D., professor of mathematics; Noel K. Childers, D.D.S., professor and chair of Pediatric Dentistry; Loucrecia Collins, Ed.D., associate professor of human studies; John Heith Copes, Ph.D., associate professor of justice sciences; Terje Dokland, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology; Robert Fischer, Ph.D., professor and chair of Biology; Roderick Fullard, O.D., Ph.D., associate professor of vision sciences;  W. Timothy Garvey, M.D., professor and chair of nutrition sciences; Barbara Gower, Ph.D., professor of nutrition sciences; Amjad Javed, Ph.D., associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery; Julie Locher, Ph.D., associate professor of gerontology, geriatrics & palliative care; Lori McMahon, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics; Nir Menachemi, Ph.D., associate professor of health care organization and policy; Linda Moneyham, Ph.D., Rachel Z. Booth Endowed Chair and professor of nursing; Tim R. Nagy, Ph.D., professor of nutrition sciences; Linda Searby, Ph.D., assistant professor of human studies; Rosa Serra, Ph.D., professor of cell biology; John Van Sant, Ph.D., associate professor of history and anthropology; Rosalyn Weller, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology; and Nengjun Yi, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics.

Honorees received an engraved plaque and a bound volume that contains the nomination letters written on their behalf. For faculty to be selected, at least five letters of nomination had to be submitted. The nominators were asked to consider personal characteristics, excellence in teaching and communication and mentoring characteristics in considering whom to recommend for the award.

The faculty receiving the award this year will not be eligible to be nominated again for at least five years. “This will help to ensure that as many deserving faculty as possible from across the university can be recognized for serving as outstanding mentors,” Noe says.

These are excerpts from the nomination letters:

Michael Brooks

“Dr. Brooks has always led from the front. He successfully works to correct existing societal problems on campus and within the greater community. This is exemplified through his work with African-American male students at UAB. He helped develop the Blazer Male Excellence Network mentoring program to create a formal class where at-risk African-American males could receive the fundamentals necessary for success in college. His service to the community is not an act of fleeting altruism. Instead, it exists as a significant component of his life’s mission.”

Steven Carroll

“Dr. Carroll exerts effective leadership at all levels of the Division of Neuropathology, of which he is the director. It encompasses everything from teaching and mentoring of neuropathology fellows and pathology residents and rotating residents from the Division of Neurosurgery and Department of Neurology. He teaches by precept and example, using a scientist/practitioner model. As such, he continually demonstrates the intellectual and moral qualities necessary for the success of our healing endeavors.”

Nikolai Chernov

“I graduated in December 1999 with a doctorate in mathematics under the guidance of Professor Chernov, and I am currently a staff scientist at the Joint Center for Structural Genomics at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Professor Chernov is widely regarded as a leading scholar in ergodic theory and dynamical systems. He carefully balanced guidance and self-discovery, enabling me to pursue my research independently. I benefit from his training every day in my career through a commitment to continuous learning and professional development.”

Noel Childers

“Dr. Childers began serving as my mentor when I was a first-year resident of pediatric dentistry in 2005. Dr. Childers has always been a good listener and gave me his advice to help me achieve my goal. He may not be the mentor who babysits the students all the time, however, he provides students with the resources needed and guides them to the right direction. While I was a graduate student, learning to be independent but still needing someone to give me guidance, the way Dr. Childers mentored was extremely helpful.”

Loucrecia Collins

“I love how Dr. Collins ‘keeps it real’ with her students. She is very straightforward. I truly admire and respect her because she is passionate about education. Dr. Collins possesses a plethora of knowledge pertaining to education. She enjoys people, teaching and traveling. I appreciate how she has taken me under her wing. We talk extensively about the importance of African-American women being in leadership positions. One of the most touching things Dr. Collins told me was that I was going places, and she was going to do all that she could to assist me in getting to those places. Talk about a selfless individual.”

Heith Copes

“Dr. Copes continually challenged me during the research and writing of my thesis. This guidance was an extension of his teaching methods. He always prompted his classes to consider issues from new perspectives and often asked very penetrating and important questions. He chose to take on difficult topics and handled them well. His assignments provoked thought, demanded a certain level of excellence and allowed for independent research, yet remained exciting and fun topics. Dr. Copes is passionate about criminal justice and the academic and personal progress of his students.”

Terje Dokland

“Dr. Dokland’s lab members are generally happy and feel respect and, as a result, are very productive. Regular, casual conversations with his lab of science or nothingness around the daily coffee or snacks allows for the creation of a relaxed environment where students and researchers may flourish. I have already benefitted greatly from my relationship with Dr. Dokland and only see the advantages of such a relationship growing as I move forward in my career.”

Robert (Bud) Fischer

“With his positive and encouraging attitude, Bud has the unique ability to motivate students to work very hard without pressuring them too much, a quality that all advisors and mentors should aspire to. He creates an atmosphere among the graduate students that makes them want to succeed in their research and inspires them to be truly interested in what they are doing. He is passionate about asking good questions in science and he encourages others around him to do the same.”

Roderick Fullard

“From the first day I walked into his lab, Dr. Fullard has been a tremendous asset, helping me to grow as a researcher and prospective optometrist. As an undergraduate student new to research, he taught me a combination of basic science concepts and clinical skills necessary for both research and optometry school. Through Dr. Fullard’s guidance, I gained confidence to accomplish and present my research at the UAB Expo. Throughout my time in his lab, Dr. Fullard has placed me in every role possible to mold me into a well-rounded researcher and has continually thought of new opportunities to enhance my learning.”

Timothy Garvey

“Dr. Garvey has the rare ability to create a collaborative work environment with extreme integrity, ethics and professionalism, which is translated into his high quality of work. He is a role model and a key opinion leader for a life-long commitment in scientific research. Dr. Garvey’s dedication to his students, fellows and team players and the passion and excitement he demonstrates for new knowledge and discovery, has fulfilled all that I have hoped to get from my profession. I know that his support will be available to me in any shape or form as it always has been.”

Barbara Gower

“Dr. Gower has taught me to long for the endless immensity of science. Her passion for rigorous scientific research is contagious and it motivates all of us to do our best work.  Dr. Gower’s guidance has helped me establish a solid foundation for my own career path as a research scientist, and her mentorship is instilling me with skills and confidence to pursue my goals. When I began my doctoral program, someone advised me to ‘select a mentor who you want to become like — because you will.’ Dr. Gower exemplifies many qualities I wish to emulate. She models high standards in her own research, encourages excellent work from her students, and she always treats people with respect.”

Amjad Javed

“Dr. Javed has the attitude and the substance of a genius. He continually and convincingly conveyed a spirit of adventure in regard to research and an excitement in regard to teaching. Without his guidance and persistent help, this dissertation would not have been possible. He gave me assistance and advice and kept me motivated to complete my degree on time. As a person he is kind and was available to a great extent to offer support for my research studies and my career. I can say with pride that I selected one of the best mentors for my study.”

Julie Locher

“Through Dr. Locher’s team meetings, I have learned the importance of collaboration and open communication. She fosters an environment of respect, and as a result, each team member feels valued and free to express concerns and questions. Dr. Locher embodies a unique ability to confront without being confrontational. Her approach challenges groupthink and reminds me of Steven Covey’s advice to ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ Dr. Locher’s guidance helped me develop a strong knowledge base of the topic, and her advocacy gave me confidence to formulate a dissertation proposal that was supported by my committee and funded by the NIH.”

Lori McMahon

“As a student, Dr. McMahon’s infectious enthusiasm for her lab’s work was a significant motivating factor. No matter what obstacles arose, she remained fully optimistic, always confident in our ability to work as a team to solve problems. This was really inspiring during the discouraging times that inevitably occur during the course of a graduate student’s research, and her encouragement got me moving again on numerous occasions. In particular, I’m grateful for the great patience and care she took in working individually with students to foster presentation and public speaking skills. She greatly enriched my educational experience and scientific understanding and also served as a role model for life outside of the laboratory.”

Nir Menachemi

“Dr. Menachemi has a special way of focusing on the truly key aspects of a subject and can communicate in a way that is easy for the students to gain the same understanding. He is always willing to spend extra time with students to discuss and explain issues. Many times, I have met with him outside of class to get extra help, and he demonstrated an uncanny ability to understand where I was having trouble and explain things in a way that made the light bulbs pop on. I returned to school after a successful 32-year career, and Dr. Menachemi’s ability to clearly see the truth of an issue and communicate it clearly to bring understanding is very, very special.”

Linda Moneyham

“Dr. Moneyham makes a point to meet regularly with all of her mentees to discuss their career progress and research and has maintained an open door policy for students and colleagues while somehow still managing her own successful research endeavors. Beyond this, I have been most impressed by Dr. Moneyham’s true desire to see her students excel in their early academic careers. She has spent the past year assisting me with project development and grant preparations for my own NIH independence award funding. This assistance has been through intensive, one-on-one meetings in which every aspect of the project conception has been discussed. I credit her assistance with this process as one of the primary reasons this project was chosen as one of two allowed for submission from UAB to the NIH grant mechanism.”

Tim Nagy

“While transitioning through a number of different projects, I had Dr. Nagy’s support, guidance and a number of great collaborators whom he helped coordinate. I am thankful to him for enabling and encouraging me to work with a range of collaborators from various departments — pathology, cell biology, pharmacology and toxicology, epidemiology, preventive medicine, radiology and the Breast Health Clinic. With his encouragement, I have broadened my educational achievements by taking a number of elective courses. The skills I learned from the courses helped me draft my proposal on soy and breast-cancer prevention, which later was funded by the Sigma Delta Epsilon/Graduate Women in Science Foundation.”

Linda Searby

“Dr. Searby has been instrumental in my entire experience as a graduate student at UAB. She possesses the rare ability to inspire students to pursue their passions through the avenue of research and scholarly publication, while at the same time providing the academic, emotional and cognitive support necessary to mentor students. Dr. Searby steadfastly upholds a high professional ethic with students. Her commitment to positive character is above reproach. On many occasions, Dr. Searby has been willing to listen and provide guidance on multiple career opportunities. On each occasion, her guidance has been both beneficial and extremely astute.”

Rosa Serra

“I truly believe that I would not be where I am today without Rosa’s mentoring. I was fortunate to obtain two first-author publications in Rosa’s laboratory, and I could not have succeeded in these accomplishments without her direction and guidance. Rosa always exhibited an enthusiasm for research and a commitment to her students, fostering both a productive and inviting work environment. She constantly held the best interest of her students in mind. While scientific research is sometimes unpredictable, Rosa’s approachable nature provided me with a sense of reassurance and direction throughout the course of my training. Her example as a scientist, mentor and teacher has given me a continued enthusiasm and appreciation for what I do now as a postdoctoral fellow.”

John Van Sant

“Dr. Van Sant is always willing to go above and beyond to assist students. I have never found him to be too busy to speak with or assist anyone. I highly respect Dr. Van Sant’s attitude and work ethic. He continuously displays great integrity, professionalism and kindness. On a daily basis, he offers a laugh and words of inspiration to many students and co-workers. In addition to all of the help he provides, Dr. Van Sant still finds time to produce amazing work of his own and develop fascinating classes. He never once discouraged me from pursuing my passions. Instead, he provides suggestions and inspires me to accept any new challenges. Honestly, I hope I can provide this kindness to my own students.”

Rosalyn Weller

“Dr. Weller is an insightful and prompt editor whose insights are valued by many students and faculty. Beyond that, she will spend as much time as needed to explain and discuss her corrections and revisions. She has patiently guided many students, including me, through the difficult process of editing and revising our initial papers, proposals and posters. Dr. Weller also has immense honesty and integrity. Her standards are of the highest caliber, and she expects that in others, too. She teaches me by example, and she has shown me in many ways that integrity and honesty are the cardinal values of any true scientist. My life honestly would not be the same if I had not met her.”

Nengjun Yi

“The biggest strength of Dr. Yi as a mentor is his ability to accurately estimate a student’s ability in terms of his or her strengths and weaknesses. Given this extraordinary ability, he adopts a unique approach to mentoring each student — an approach that guarantees a successful and completed end product. He is extremely organized as an instructor and sets clear-cut goals for the class. He left no room for ambiguity about the relevance of the course to one’s individual research interest. He encouraged stimulating discussions, thereby making the classroom a great platform to voice independent thinking. His pedagogical style involves identifying the core message of the course and supplementing it with examples and exercises of varying difficulty levels so as to engage and interest students from a wide range of abilities.”