8 honored as UAB’s Outstanding Women for 2016

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Eight local women were honored as the UAB Outstanding Women for 2015 during a ceremony March 17.

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 2016 winners who were honored:

  • Julie Locher, Ph.D., Becky Trigg Outstanding Woman UAB Faculty Member
  • Penelope Jester, Susan D. Marchase Outstanding Woman Administrator
  • Demetria Scott, Outstanding Woman Staff Member
  • Daniella Chusyd, Outstanding Woman Graduate Student
  • Melodi Stone, Outstanding Woman Undergraduate Student
  • Rebecca Cantu, M.D., Outstanding Woman Postdoc
  • Christy Swaid, Outstanding Woman in the Community
  • Michele Kong, M.D., Outstanding Woman in the Community

julie locherJulie Locher

Locher has greatly aided the scientific careers of many women from diverse disciplines in her 24-year career at UAB. Her generosity is evident in her willingness to mentor trainees whose primary affiliations are not within her own department, and she is an influential bridge-builder across campus — promoting interdisciplinary collaborations and science without any thought toward earning points for herself, her colleagues say.

Locher’s protégés now are faculty at UAB, University of Alabama, Tuskegee University and Brown University and in leadership positions at private research organizations and practices within the community. “More than 75 percent of Dr. Locher's mentees have been women, and close to one-third have been from minorities under-represented in science,” said Amy Ellis, Ph.D. assistant professor of nutrition sciences at UA. '"Her leadership by example has positively impacted me personally and professionally, and I aspire to emulate many of the qualities she exemplifies.”

Says another colleague: “Dr. Locher has left a lasting imprint on all with whom she teaches, works and mentors, and she truly leads by example. In every aspect of her work, she models excellence and then freely shares the necessary skills and knowledge to achieve that excellence with her students, colleagues and mentees.”

penelope jesterPenny Jester

For the past 18 years, Jester has been a primary leader in education on clinical research at UAB — first in the General Clinical Research Center and now in the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and Clinical Trials Office.

Jester has organized and implemented courses for research nurses and coordinators to improve their skills and educational and support services for clinical trials, even when resources were limited, and her colleagues note that she has tremendous skill for identifying and nurturing talent. Since its beginning in 2006, the six-week Research Coordinator Training Program has trained more than 745 (mostly women) researchers.

She subsequently accepted the challenge to direct the design and implementation of the universitywide clinical research support program to provide services to physician investigators and direct the Clinical Trial Office, and her enthusiasm, expertise and persistence resulted in the successful establishment of the program that now helps support more than 50 clinical trials a year.

Jester is “recognized as both an excellent teacher and facilitator who consistently nurtures and motivates those around her to grow both as an individual and as a professional,” says her supervisor Richard Whitley, M.D.

demetria scottDemetria Scott

Scott, a project manager in Supplier Diversity, developed and implemented new vendor-recruitment programs to attract emerging, diverse suppliers to UAB that included educational programs to help them navigate the university system.

The programs have helped attract women-owned businesses to UAB tradeshows, educational sessions and business resource fairs.

“Ms. Scott has worked vigorously to ensure that minority-owned businesses, which include women, are part of UAB's fabric,” said her colleague Mona B. Jackson. “She makes sure that women are well represented.”

daniella chusyd 2Daniella Chusyd

Chusyd credits her mother for teaching her that a woman can do anything a man can do and her mentor for modeling to her what it takes to be a woman in science.

With that inspiration, the doctoral student in nutrition sciences embarked on research project outside the UAB norm — into the body composition of elephants — and sought and obtained input from an outside expert and secured funding in an area that none existed.

Along the way, she reached out to teach urban middle- and high-school girls about science in the hopes that those individuals who identify with her — either by race, sex, religion or sexual orientation — may use her success to fuel their own and push the boundaries.

“It is important we look toward future generations and break down gender barriers,” Chusyd said. "I was not afraid to pursue an idea that most thought was ridiculous and did not support, and now I am paving the way for other women to follow their dreams, to go against the norms and create their own niche.”

melodi stoneMelodi Stone

Those who know Stone say the senior has a passion for women's rights, reproductive rights and gender/sexuality equity that is apparent the first time you meet. She has worked tirelessly for gender and sexuality equity — both in her public health studies and as a volunteer.

Stone is on the national public policy committee for the American Association of University Women and spearheaded several statewide and national coalitions for its policy priorities.

Additionally, she is the founder of the Women's Rights Coalition at UAB, a registered student organization, executive board member of the Gender & Sexuality Union and a student leader in Student Multicultural & Diversity Programs.

Stone is a SafeZone peer educator and has helped organize and develop gender- and sexuality-based programs such as Coming Out on the Green, Poetic Justice, the No More campaign, Take Back the Night and more.

rebecca cantuRebecca Cantu

Dr. Cantu, a post-doctoral fellow in pediatric hospital medicine, is an outstanding physician and clinical scientist who has initiated a Dr. Milk lactation program at UAB that helps physicians with infants reconcile professional demands with motherhood. In doing so, Cantu helped place UAB among the nation’s few hospitals that provide this support to physicians who are breastfeeding.

As leader of this group and founder of the UAB chapter, she also schedules the monthly meetings and speakers who educate the physician-moms, and they in turn are better qualified to assist their patients who are nursing mothers.

Cantu also has spent considerable effort to improve the care provided to non-English speaking pediatric patients and their families for whom poor communication often results in worse outcomes. “Her efforts span the mundane — having a child's menu translated to an appropriate language — to critical — reinforcing the use of interpretative services at all family interactions including rounds and informed consent discussions,” said division Director Robert Pass, M.D. “With every change, she has bettered the care all families have experienced.”

christy swaidChristy Swaid

Swaid has a passion for health and fitness that served her as a competitor and a performer and now serves the children of the Alabama.

A six-time world champion professional watercraft racer hailed as one of the fittest women in America, the former Christy Carlson also was a stunt double before marriage and motherhood led her to Alabama and a new arena: childhood obesity.

Here, Swaid founded the HEAL® (Healthy Eating Active Living) program, and with the help of health-education professionals she designed a curriculum that was implemented in 10 pilot schools in 2007. Today, HEAL serves students in grades 2-5 grade in 100 Alabama schools — about 17,000 children — who learn about disease prevention and health benefits through healthy lifestyle behaviors, and the health improvements are widely documented.

“The investment they make in physical activity drives them to make other healthy choices, such as making better food choices, drinking more water and getting more rest. They take this enthusiasm home to their family and are rewarded for supporting their peers," Swaid said.

“With more than 100 schools on a waiting list and a nationwide rollout plan, HEAL might just put Alabama at the top of the list for designing the most comprehensive solution to our nation's most threatening epidemic,” said obesity researcher David Allison, Ph.D.

michelle kongMichele Kong

Dr. Kong, associate professor of pediatric critical care, NIH-funded physician-scientist and mother to a   special-needs child, has a unique perspective of the demands placed on working mothers.

The co-founder of KultureCity has used her experience to help children with autism and their families better integrate into our community and cope with the issues that commonly mark their lives. To date, the non-profit organization she founded with her husband has helped more than 15,200 individuals with toy and tablet programs and the lifeBOKS initiative that helps prevent wandering and related accidents/deaths among children with autism.

Kong has played an instrumental role in development of many of these initiatives, including programs that focus on the health and well being of the family unit as a whole. In less than two years, KultureCity has become recognized as a top national nonprofit by Microsoft’s #UpgradeYourWorld campaign and is top-rated by GreatNonprofits, which bases its selections on feedback from those who have experienced the work of the organization.