UAB honors Outstanding Women

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Six local women were honored as the UAB Outstanding Women for 2012 during a ceremony Thursday, March 8 in the Green and Gold Room in Bartow Arena.

The 2012 UAB Outstanding Women award winners are (from left): Joycelyn Biggs-Smith, UAB Undergraduate Student; Alison Barnard, UAB Graduate Student; Lynda Law Wilson, Becky Trigg Outstanding Woman Faculty Member; Jeannie C. Burton, Outstanding Woman in the Community; Melanie Talbot Montgomery, Susan D. Marchase Outstanding Woman Administrator; and Jamika Kirk, UAB Staff Member.

The UAB Women’s Center and Women’s Studies Program 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.

Candidates for the award are nominated by Birmingham residents and selected by a committee of university women.

The 2012 winners are: Becky Trigg Outstanding Woman Faculty Member Lynda Law Wilson, Ph.D.; Outstanding Woman UAB Staff Member Jamika Kirk; Susan D. Marchase Outstanding Woman Administrator Melanie Talbot Montgomery; Outstanding Woman UAB Graduate Student Alison Barnard; Outstanding Woman UAB Undergraduate Student Joycelyn Biggs-Smith; Outstanding Woman in the Community Jeannie C. Burton.

Wilson, the assistant dean for International Affairs and the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Center for International Nursing in the School of Nursing, is an innovative teacher who is focused on improving health care for women and children through education and professional nursing development. Her work touches the lives of nurses, a predominantly female profession, who in turn improve the health outcomes of women and children worldwide.

Wilson has been a driving force in development of programs in global communities for the School of Nursing, including initiating a study-away program in Guatemala. She also has built collaborative relationships with nurses and health-care professionals in Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras, Zambia and other countries.

“She embodies the leadership needed to further students’ education by traveling abroad — taking them to areas that are remote and very different from the types of learning situations that they would experience in the United States,” says Doreen Harper, Ph.D., dean of the School of Nursing. “Initiating these types of programs takes an enormous amount of courage. Dr. Wilson leads students and faculty to be innovative in providing care and education in these under-served and remote areas to improve the quality of health for women and children. She broadens students’ scope of the world and encourages them to find ways to impact others, engaging these students in true global leadership.”

Wilson also has worked within the UAB community and throughout the world as a leader in pioneering nursing education to a wide range of women nursing students, colleagues and scholars.

Her research focuses on improving the health of children and families and specifically, HIV care for mothers and children in under-served communities.

“I feel privileged to be in a profession that offers so many opportunities to serve both at home and abroad,” Wilson says. “I think my drive for global work stems from my interest in different cultural perspectives and the many ways that we can all learn from one another by sharing perspectives and experiences. I want our students to gain this global perspective because I think that the solutions to our many global problems will come from partnering and learning different ways of seeing the world and different ways of addressing the common issues that we all face.”

Kirk, the alumni affairs specialist for the College of Arts & Sciences, has accomplished much in her blossoming professional career and is an example of professional success and achievement to those she interacts with on a daily basis — especially other aspiring young women.

Kirk has been instrumental in engaging the college’s more than 40,000 alumni and developing and executing strategic alumni relations program — a tall task for one person. But Kirk has proven to be an effective one-person shop and is making great progress in building the college’s alumni outreach and development programs in tandem with the development team.

Kirk has raised nearly $50,000 in philanthropic funds from alumni for the CAS annual fund through her work with the UAB National Alumni Society. The funding is crucial to furthering CAS programs as it seeks to provide transformative learning experiences to students and support the innovation and excellence of its faculty.

Kirk also is an outstanding example of a young woman committed to improving a city and community through all aspects of her life. She is the president of the YWCA Junior Board of Directors where she has worked tirelessly in the community promote the YWCA’s two hallmark initiatives: eliminating racism and empowering women. Kirk also is a member of the Junior League of Birmingham and chair-elect for The Market fund-raiser, which supports one group’s service areas of education, health, safety and crisis intervention and financial stability. She also is on the boards of directors of the UAB Minority Health Research Center Young Professionals Board, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and Bare Hands, Inc., which provide opportunities and environments for community involvement in the creative process and cultural dialogue.

Kirk says she learned how to give back to others as a young child by watching her grandmother volunteer her time at her church and the American Red Cross in Walker County.

“Seeing her in action taught me what an impact her time and talent gave those being served,” Kirk says. “My involvement with the YWCA of Central Alabama, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, UAB Minority Health Research Center and the Junior League of Birmingham goes beyond just what they do for others. In some cases, I have had friends and family members use their services. You never know when you yourself will need the assistance of these organizations, so why not serve and give?”

Montgomery, assistant dean for administration for the School of Health Professions, has gone through tremendous personal turmoil and now helps women discover community and encouragement — all while controlling the finances for the burgeoning School of Health Professions.

Montgomery lost her 11-year-old daughter Virginia to a brain aneurism in 2004 and has used that experience to help others. In 2009, Montgomery bared her soul in a book published by Margaret McSweeney called Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experience Grace. Through this collection, readers are encouraged by heartfelt writings that deal with loss and hardship in a real an honest way. She reminded women that they are not alone in any situation.

“After losing my daughter, I was given so much love, support and encouragement that it helped me to continue,” Montgomery says. “Other mothers who had lost children were especially helpful as they understood the true depth of the loss of a child and knew the challenges that I would be facing. Unfortunately, I have had too many people I know also lose children suddenly and unexpectedly, and I want them to know there is a support network out there and that they are not alone.”

Friends of Melanie and Virginia also set up several awards in Virginia’s memory in Vestavia Hills, including the Virginia Markle Cheerleading Spirit Award, and Melanie worked to create the Virginia Markle Adventure Village located ay YMCA-Camp Cosby — one of Virginia’s favorite places.

At UAB, Montgomery manages the finances for the School of Health Professions. The school was facing a $1 million shortfall in the state budget when she arrived in 2001. She worked with the then new Dean Harold Jones, Ph.D. — before he arrived on campus — to balance the budget, and still maintain the level of programs and services provided. The finances for the school have improved immensely, as shown by the recent expansion project that began at the school.

“I was truly honored and humbled to learn my co-workers had nominated me for this award,” Montgomery says. “However, winning wouldn’t have been possible without the people I work with. They are great co-workers who are committed to excellence in everything they do, and it makes all of us want to do our best.”

Barnard, a student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the School of Health Professions, has worked diligently to encourage young women to pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering and math — especially if they are areas of strengths.

“When I realized that some girls who enjoy and show promise in STEM subjects were losing confidence in their abilities and believed that boys were better at STEM subjects, I wanted to do something,” Barnard says.

After researching some ideas, Barnard found a program called Women in Science that had been successful at Ohio State University and put together the event UAB Girls in Science and Engineering Day based on its principles. Barnard enlisted the help of UAB professors and students with many different departments to create hands-on workshops in subjects such as neuroscience, materials engineering and reptilian biology. They also found internal and external sponsors for the event and welcomed 75 middle-school girls from the Birmingham metro area. Another event is in the works for 2012.

Barnard also has volunteered her time to help teach a dance class to young girls with Down syndrome and autism.

“It is fun to be able to give these kids a chance to do typical girl activities like dance class,” Barnard says.

Biggs-Smith has dedicated her time to many women attending UAB. She has motivated and inspired women as a peer mentor for TRIO Academic Services for three years. And as a non-traditional student, Biggs-Smith has been an example for every other non-traditional student in the TRIO program.

One of the women Biggs-Smith has helped the most is her daughter Ne’Kayla. Biggs-Smith joined the U.S. Army in 1991 and didn’t attend college. When Ne’Kayla said she didn’t want to go to college — in large part because Biggs-Smith never attended college — she knew she had to act.

Biggs-Smith made a deal with her daughter that she would go back to school and get her degree if her daughter would do the same. So in August 2007, at age 39, Biggs-Smith enrolled at UAB and her daughter enrolled at Montevallo. Biggs-Smith excelled at UAB, graduating in December 2011 with a 3.11 grade-point average and a degree in mass communications. Ne’Kayla will complete her degree in speech pathology in May.

Biggs-Smith accomplished this feat despite being diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis and osteoporosis during her time in school.

“Joycelyn has seen many obstacles and trials in her life, none of which she let defeat her or keep her down,” says Lisa Madison, office manager in TRIO. “Although she is often in severe pain, she is always encouraging others. A smile is always on her face and a positive word is always on her lips. The students in our program look to her often for advice or encouragement.”

Burton, a church member at South Highland Presbyterian Church, has helped many women who have come to the church asking for assistance as part of its pocket-change ministry.

Burton, a retired social worker, is now serving 25-30 homeless and needy people each week and is particularly devoted to the single mothers who have sought help from the ministry. Instead of just handing out material goods, Burton helps these mothers make life changes. She counsels them on completing their GED, college work or craft training to help them provide a better life for their children.