Seven honored as Outstanding Women for 2015

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group2Seven local women were honored as the UAB Outstanding Women for 2015 during a ceremony March 19.

The UAB Commission on the Status of Women presents 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 to achieve a goal.

Candidates for the award are nominated by UAB faculty, staff and students, Birmingham residents, mentors and others from around the country and are selected by a committee of university and community women.

The 2015 winners who were honored:

  • Becky Trigg Outstanding Woman UAB Faculty Member – Lisa Schwiebert, Ph.D.
  • Susan D. Marchase Outstanding Woman Administrator Award – Lisa Higginbotham
  • Outstanding Woman Staff Member Award – Rebecca Freeman
  • Outstanding Woman Undergraduate Student Award – Yoonhee Ryder
  • Outstanding Woman in the Community Award – Nancy Goedecke
  • Outstanding Woman in the Community Award – Sherri Van Pelt
  • Lifetime of Service to Women at UAB and in the Community Award – Caroline West


Becky Trigg Outstanding Woman UAB Faculty Member

Lisa Schwiebert sizedLisa Schwiebert, associate dean for postdoctoral education and professor of cell, developmental and integrative biology, has made it easier for women to achieve by fighting for postdoctoral benefits, including paid maternity leave.

Schwiebert joined the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in 1997 as an assistant professor, was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2003 and professor in 2013. In 2007, she was appointed associate dean for postdoctoral education. Since that time, Schwiebert helped create the Office of Postdoctoral Education, which provides postdoctoral students career advice and support.

“She isn’t afraid to tackle the hard questions about pay inequality, life as a mother in science and working within a male dominated field,” said Theresa Ramos, a postdoctoral fellow in microbiology.

Schwiebert has negotiated benefits, vacation, minimum salary and maternity and paternity leave for postdoctoral students.

“She also lobbied for trainees to have health insurance and accrue retirement benefits while completing their postdoc,” said Jami Armbrester, associate director of career services in the Office of Postdoctoral Education. “Lisa is truly ahead of the curve of higher education.”

Susan D. Marchase Outstanding Woman Administrator Award

lisa higginbotham sizedLisa Higginbotham, program manager for the UAB Benevolent Fund, has provided a significant service to women by redirecting the employee emergency assistance program from a financial Band-Aid for employees to a program that can help with longer-term issues by encouraging applicants to go through financial counseling.

“Because of her efforts, the EEAP is no longer just a financial crutch, but a potential portal to a better quality of life for the women, and men, who seek this assistance,” said Melissa Justice, a business officer in the Office of Financial Affairs and Administration.

Higginbotham also was instrumental in raising $50,000 for the first UAB Habitat for Humanity house. The house was completed in November by UAB employees, who donated money and time. Latasha Willis and her two daughters now have a home of their home.

“Not only did Lisa help a family of women purchase their first home, but she also engaged dozens of female volunteers to come together to help construct the home, empowering them along the way,” said Sabrina Balch, development manager at the Greater Birmingham Habitat for Humanity.

Outstanding Woman Staff Member Award

Rebecca Freeman sizedRebecca Freeman, program coordinator and adviser in the UAB Honors College's University Honors Program (UHP), is respected by co-workers and students for her hard work, knowledge and patience.

“In the University Honors Program, Rebecca is the mother figure we all have away from home, the one who takes care of us and is willing to do what we need to be successful,” said Rachael Rainey, an honors student in chemistry and neuroscience.

Freeman advises all students in the UHP, more than 200 students total, and makes herself available for questions, even answering emails on the weekends. Her students say she is nurturing but tough, always wanting the best for them. Additionally, Freeman teaches honors seminars in archaeology and cultural anthropology.

“As a professional woman, who juggles family and career, Rebecca serves as a role model and great source of advice and encouragement to our young female students,” said Mike Sloane, Ph.D., director of the University Honors Program. “Students invariably rate Rebecca’s performance and contributions as one of the highest items on our annual program surveys and alumni keep in touch with her for advice long after they graduate.”

Outstanding Woman Undergraduate Student Award

Yoonhee Ryder sizedYoonhee Ryder, an honors student and a senior in biology and anthropology, has made a name for herself at UAB as a determined high-achiever who has a passion for social justice issues. She has been the only female institutional nominee for the Marshall and Rhodes scholarships since 2008. When she graduates in April, Ryder will have amassed a large resume, including international experience focused on creating educational opportunities.

“Yoonhee has been spectacularly successful in her academic work, undergraduate research and community engagement,” Sloane said. “Her independence and resourcefulness in all three domains has set a high standard for any undergraduate at UAB, regardless of gender.”

Ryder has been awarded several prestigious scholarships and educational opportunities, including the Clinton Scholarship to study in the Middle East and the U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Institute to further study Korean. Her interest in social justice issues and her heritage as a Korean-American lead her to establish the Liberty in North Korea chapter at UAB to raise awareness for the North Korean human-rights crisis and to raise money to rescue refugees.

“Yoonhee understands, perhaps more clearly than most students her age, that leadership involves a commitment to service and a genuine care for those she leads,” said Libba Vaughan, coordinator of service-learning. “She is an excellent role model to other students, both male and female.”

Outstanding Woman in the Community Award

nancy goedecke sizedNancy Goedecke, CEO of Mayer Electric Supply Company, has been involved with volunteer service and philanthropy for more than 20 years. She has worked with more than 25 nonprofit and civic groups, many of which are solely devoted to helping women in the community.

“Through her leadership, she encourages young women to finish their education, develop their potential and give back to the community,” said Shirley Salloway Kahn, Ph.D., senior vice president for Development, Alumni and External Relations. “Nancy is aware of the privilege to represent so many women in Alabama, and she continues to make meaningful contributions to their businesses, their families and their community every day.”

Goedecke uses her role as a community leader to work on behalf of women for social and economic change in Alabama. At UAB, she supports the Collat School of Business and contributed to the building of the Women and Infants Center. She has also been involved with the local YWCA, Girls Scouts of North-Central Alabama and Pathways of Birmingham, among other nonprofit organizations.

“Despite the many demands of her daily responsibilities as CEO of Mayer Electric, Nancy routinely invests an inordinate amount of time in service to our Birmingham community, as well as in the other 13 states and communities where the company is growing,” said Eric Jack, Ph.D, dean of the School of Business. “In fact, under her leadership, an important part of Mayer Electric’s strategy is its key role in seeking to better the communities where employees live and work.”

Outstanding Woman in the Community Award

sherri van pelt sizedSherri Van Pelt, ambassador for Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center, holds three degrees from UAB and has used her career to touch the lives of women in Birmingham. She recently retired as vice president for development and communications at Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center to focus on her glass art.

“Those of us who know her are quite sure that her spare time will continue to be minimum, as she focuses on her artistic expression and continues to provide leadership, love and support to the community,” said Jan Hofman, program director in electrical and computer engineering.

Van Pelt is known for mentoring young women throughout her career, taking them under her wing and teaching the how to make a difference in people’s lives.

“I know of no one else that excels in being outstanding in her profession, creative and successful in her artistic endeavors, while also being devoted to her family, friends and our community,” said Jim Prestwood, manager of general services at Alabama Power. “Sherri Van Pelt is not just an extraordinary woman; she is an extraordinary person that goes to incredible lengths to make a difference in the lives of people in our community.”

Lifetime of Service to Women at UAB and in the Community Award

Caroline West sizedCaroline West, a counselor in Student Health Services, has helped many students during her 20-plus years at UAB. She has worked to create safe and equal spaces for women through her work on committees and programming efforts on campus.

“Caroline’s passion for the advancement of women is quiet, understated, but consistent, determined, passionate and solid,” said Angela Stowe, Ph.D., director of student counseling services.

Stowe said West’s biggest impact has been in the therapy room where she has touched the lives of hundreds of women, often during some of the hardest times in their lives.

“Her expert, yet kind, empathic and compassionate response to women who have experienced rape, sexual assault and other violence has brought great healing during the adjustment to life after a trauma,” Stowe said. “Her skilled and experienced work with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia has given so many women the opportunity to learn about how to have healthy bodies, healthier habits and healthier self-image.”