20 honored for elevating UAB’s shared values

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Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Twenty faculty and staff have been selected to receive the inaugural President’s Award for Excellence in Shared Values, which this year honors Blazers who demonstrated one or more of UAB’s shared values in the course of their work during the extraordinary times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 2021 recipients represent five schools and six institutional units; President Ray Watts recorded a special message for recipients to celebrate the honor.

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Brenda Bertrand

School of Health Professions
Brenda Bertrand, Ph.D., professor and director of the master’s program in nutrition sciences, embodies the shared values of integrity, respect and diversity and inclusiveness. In addition to her instructional roles, Bertrand chairs the school’s Faculty Affairs Committee and works with Dean Andrew Butler to develop and implement new initiatives to support junior faculty and cultivate collaboration among departments — work that is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, a nominator wrote.

“I’ve seen firsthand her integrity of character, respect for others and inclusiveness of individuals with differences in opinions,” the nominator said.

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Josh Carter, Ph.D.

Office of the President
Josh Carter, Ph.D., administrative director in the Office of the President, personifies the shared value of collaboration, nominators say. His role requires him to work across disciplines and with all academic and administrative departments across the UAB enterprise.

One nominator cites two specific examples of Carter’s collaborative spirit: He was instrumental in coordinating listening sessions across campus during planning for Forging the Future, UAB’s strategic plan, and also chaired the 50th anniversary celebration, bringing together two years of ideas and work into a year-long celebration of UAB’s history.

“People trusted him to share their vision for what UAB could be,” the nominator wrote. “He also brought together two years’ worth of widely varying ideas and a plethora of possible events into a cohesive yearlong celebration worthy of our fine institution.”

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Anthony Cunningham

School of Health Professions
Anthony “Deek” Cunningham, assistant professor of occupational therapy and academic fieldwork coordinator for the master’s in occupational therapy program, epitomizes the shared values of respect, diversity and inclusiveness and excellence and achievement. He is well-known at UAB for going above and beyond his duties, nominators say.

Cunningham works closely with students, advocating for new and unique fieldwork opportunities that best prepare them for success. He factors in each student’s unique set of needs, interests and skills when helping them find placement, a nominator says; even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic he was able to place all students into fieldwork. His work with students has earned Cunningham spots on numerous committees and special projects, and he often encourages students to attend national professional events.

“There is a constant line outside of his door, with students — with and without appointments — waiting to meet with him about their needs and preferences for fieldwork placements,” the nominator said.

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Catherine Danielou

College of Arts and Sciences
Catherine Danielou, Ph.D., associate professor of French and senior associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, exemplifies the shared values of respect, diversity and inclusiveness, collaboration and accountability. All UAB undergraduates pass through the College of Arts and Sciences, and one nominator believes few others on campus understand as fully the breadth of the UAB undergraduate experience.

Danielou is known for putting the needs of the university before her own self-interest, the nominator says; additionally, she is passionate about seeing students succeed and works hard to ensure all students do, especially those from minority backgrounds or ones who have special circumstances, such as student athletes.

“The picture of a UAB Blazer is diverse and varied, but Dr. Catherine Danielou may come as close as any to the prototype,” a nominator says. “She is forever loyal, dedicated foremost to the success and happiness of our students and a true pleasure to have as a colleague and friend.”

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Zachary Scott Fewell

Office of the Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration
Zachary “Zach” Scott Fewell, purchasing specialist for Financial Affairs, exhibits the shared values of collaboration, excellence and achievement and accountability. Colleagues say he is known across campus as someone who knows or can find the answers — a “go-to resource,” one nominator says.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Fewell developed internal processes and procedures that helped the PPE Sourcing Team manage campus demands in addition to his everyday responsibilities. His work was instrumental in securing the PPE required for some campus units to reopen on schedule.

“Zac is one of the silent heroes,” a nominator says. “His commitment to UAB as evidenced by his proactive approach in procuring PPE supplies critical during this period of crisis in our country is most deserving of this honor.”

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Jennifer Griffin

Student Affairs
Jennifer Griffin, director of Student Involvement and Leadership, demonstrates the shared values of respect, collaboration, excellence and achievement, stewardship and accountability. Colleagues note that despite budget cuts in her area during the COVID-19 pandemic, Griffin assisted her team in assessing ways to provide effective programs and services with fewer resources and found creative ways for team members to continue their professional development through monthly staff trainings and participation in free webinars.

Griffin also got creative, brainstorming ways to use social media and YouTube to deliver valuable content to students virtually throughout the fall 2020 semester.

“Jennifer models excellence and achievement in everything she does,” a nominator says. “She is an innovator and has challenged not only herself, but also her team, to push through the pandemic and make every effort to provide exemplary service to our students.”

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Cynthia Joiner

School of Medicine
Cynthia Joiner, Ph.D., assistant professor of cardiovascular disease and associate vice chair in the Department of Medicine, personifies the shared values of integrity, respect, collaboration, excellence and achievement and accountability. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Joiner played a crucial role in getting operations up and running in the “new normal,” nominators say.

She worked with department leadership to form plans that enabled research teams to return to labs safely and collaborated with university leadership, the School of Medicine, UAB Facilities and the UAB Health System to establish a new ambulatory research clinic to meet the demand for dedicated space for COVID-19 outpatient research. She also implemented a unique schedule in her own research unit to enable employees to remain successful while caring for their families and keeping research projects moving.

“Using her research, nursing and public health backgrounds and her leadership skills and collaborative nature, Dr. Joiner has accomplished great things under trying circumstances,” a nominator says.

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Kathy King

School of Medicine
Kathy King, lab supervisor in preventive medicine, epitomizes the shared values of integrity, respect, collaboration and accountability.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, King ensured UAB had the appropriate testing supplies and staff at each mobile community COVID-19 testing site — even volunteering to drive the equipment van daily and loading and unloading supplies at each site. King also is part of the team that calls patients who test positive, ensures each one receives accurate information about their results and answers questions about their diagnosis.

“Kathy always goes above and beyond to ensure that she is doing what is best for the university, division, her peer managers and the team she manages,” a nominator says. “She is kind to others and is authentic in her interactions with UAB staff, patients and study participants.”

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Rachelle Lawhorn

School of Health Professions
Rachelle Lawhorn, administrative supervisor in the Department of Health Services Administration (HSA) exemplifies the shared values of collaboration, excellence and achievement and stewardship. HSA is a large and complex department, a nominator says, and amid the uncertainty and stress experienced as faculty moved courses online, internships were changed or canceled and employees transitioned to remote work, Lawhorn organized weekly huddles, check-ins and other routine communications.

A multitude of additional tasks added to Lawhorn’s plate during the pandemic, yet she did not drop the ball or miss a single deadline.

“As a result, our already trusting, positive climate remained that way,” nominators said. “Rachelle showed a true commitment to excellence and achievement.”

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Perng-Ru Liu

School of Dentistry
Perng-Ru Liu, D.D.S., D.M.D., professor and associate dean of Clinical Affairs in the School of Dentistry, exhibits the shared value of excellence and achievement. During the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions about Dentistry’s activities required critical thinking, problem-solving and quick turnarounds, a nominator wrote. Liu championed appropriate use of PPE and worked tirelessly to determine the safest way to reopen and operate clinics.

On behalf of the School of Dentistry, Liu donated a significant portion of the school’s PPE stockpile to UAB Hospital to equip front-line health care workers when PPE was hard to obtain; later, when the school and clinics reopened, Liu secured and distributed N95 facemasks, face shields and reusable gowns to workers to help them and their patients feel safe.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a long season of trials, but the resilience of our society and the efforts of many leaders has allowed us to rise above the obstacles,” a nominator wrote. “Dr. Liu is one of those leaders who leads by example, and his charisma motivates others to excellence.”

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Jeanne Marrazzo

School of Medicine
Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, demonstrates all seven shared values of integrity, respect, diversity and inclusiveness, collaboration, excellence and achievement, stewardship and accountability. Marrazzo is an accomplished physician scientist and is known to her colleagues as collaborative and to her students as a good mentor who values the importance of diverse and representative voices in her division.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been a leader in communicating directly to local and national audiences about science and public health, becoming one of the go-to COVID-19 experts in the United States and raising the profile of UAB through national and international media interviews.

“She has taught us all about the importance of stewardship and accountability and has been transparent and communicative every step of the way,” a nominator says. “At the same time, she has shown us it’s OK to feel vulnerable and scared, even when we are the vanguard to this response.”


Kelly Mayer

Human Resources
Kelly Mayer, director of Employee Relations, embodies the shared value of excellence and achievement and collaboration. Mayer and her team played a significant role in ensuring furloughed employees received weekly unemployment benefits from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and Mayer was the direct point of contact for questions or concerns and spent many days working with the DOL to resolve issues.

In one instance, a clerical issue prevented a UAB employee from receiving unemployment benefits for multiple weeks; once the error was discovered, Mayer offered to drive to the DOL offices in Montgomery to retrieve the employee’s payment and eliminate mail times.

“Kelly is truly an unsung hero,” a nominator says. “She works tirelessly and has been doing so since the beginning of the pandemic. She embodies the purpose of this award.”

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Ian McKeag

School of Medicine
Ian McKeag, M.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine and director of the Family and Community Medicine Sports and Exercise Medicine Fellowship, personifies the shared values of integrity, collaboration and excellence and achievement. Colleagues say he maintained “immense integrity” while volunteering at the COVID-19 Respiratory Clinic during the pandemic.

McKeag served his patients in a high-risk environment with compassion and excellence, despite having a newborn at home, a nominator says, which demonstrates his “above-and-beyond commitment to work and professional excellence.” He also worked with clinicians in other units to continue providing essential care to the community.

“His humility in serving and putting others before his interests outside of his required duties further proves McKeag’s integrity as a physician and person,” a nominator said.

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Greg Parsons

UAB Facilities
Greg Parsons, associate vice president and Chief Facilities Officer, epitomizes the shared values of excellence and achievement and stewardship. Under Parson’s leadership, UAB is transforming into a beautiful and sustainable urban campus, a nominator writes.

Parsons has worked to push for LEED certification for newly constructed buildings, innovations in water reserves and capture and erosion-control, which have helped UAB achieve national recognition and create a physical environment of excellence, a nominator says. Parson’s efforts also have saved UAB millions of dollars, which, during unprecedented times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have been diverted to technological upgrades to deliver health care and education.

“His last name is much aligned with his character,” a nominator said. “Like a parson, a pastor or vicar, he is a servant leader.”

Rajesh Pillai

Rajesh Pillai

UAB Information Technology
Rajesh Pillai, director of Identity and Access Management and Integrations Enterprise, exemplifies all seven shared values of integrity, respect, diversity and inclusiveness, collaboration, excellence and achievement, stewardship and accountability. Pillai was crucial in building the GuideSafe™ notification app. He led a team effort to design and implement a COVID-19 positive test-verification system, and his code has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is being adopted by other state public health agencies.

Pillai also has worked on other emerging projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic and each time, he remains innovative and provides cutting-edge solutions and excellent customer service, a nominator says.

“Rajesh’s word is his bond,” they continued. “He innovates at the speed of trust and has a well-earned reputation at UAB.”

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Angela Rembert

School of Dentistry
Angela Rembert, administrative assistant in the Office of the Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs, exhibits all seven shared values of integrity, respect, diversity and inclusiveness, collaboration, excellence and achievement, stewardship and accountability. Colleagues on the Staff Council say her impact extends beyond the walls of her office as she reached across department lines to support the school throughout the pandemic.

Rembert came into the office on a limited basis during the early days of the pandemic and ordered as much PPE as possible on behalf of each of the school’s departments, a nominator says, which ultimately allowed Dentistry to donate PPE to UAB Hospital to help care for COVID-19 patients.

“She did not complain about having to physically come into the office, because she knew what she was doing was going to help everyone,” a nominator said. “She removed self and thought of others. Angela is known throughout the School of Dentistry and respected by everyone she comes in contact with.”


Jennifer Spears

School of Medicine
Jennifer Spears, program manager in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, demonstrates all seven shared values of integrity, respect, diversity and inclusiveness, collaboration, excellence and achievement, stewardship and accountability. She is known to colleagues as being dependable, reliable and positive despite the number of hats she wears as a program manager, and she always is willing to share her institutional knowledge with others in a respectful, kind manner.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Spears stepped up to take on additional duties while some of her colleagues were furloughed, a nominator writes. Despite the added pull on her time, Spears continued to ensure everyone received her full attention and felt they mattered and were respected.

“She works in collaboration with a range of faculty and staff, from research to clinic, and is the partner you want to have on your project,” a nominator said. “She works tirelessly without complaint and is always ready to lend a hand to the mission.”

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Penni Watts

School of Nursing
Penni Watts, Ph.D., associate professor of acute, chronic and continuing care, director of Clinical Simulation and assistant director of the Office of Interprofessional Curriculum for the Center for Interprofessional Education and Simulation (CIPES), embodies the shared values of collaboration, excellence and achievement and accountability. During the pandemic, Watts served on the Jefferson County EMA United Command COVID-19 Task Force as a member of the medical logistics section.

Watts led the team that developed alternate clinical experiences for students using simulations of actual clinical cases, which she accomplished through innovation and creativity, a nominator says. Simulations were livestreamed to students who could not have in-person experiences.

“She was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done, including packaging and distribution of PPE supplies, sometimes making trips to the post office to mail kits to students at a distance,” a nominator said.

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Jessica Hillman Williams

School of Health Professions
Jessica Hillman Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of health services administration, exemplifies the shared value of diversity and inclusiveness. During the pandemic and periods of civil unrest in the country, Williams facilitated conversations about diversity with students and helped Master of Science in Health Administration students form a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council to ensure future cohorts remain committed to fostering inclusive environments among students.

Williams also volunteered to facilitated DEI discussions among students in the Department of Physical Therapy, which was outside of both her academic and research responsibilities, a nominator wrote.

“Dr. Jessica Williams has risen above the challenge of this year to help countless members of our community cope and thrive, to become better leaders and community members, to learn how to truly behave and believe that everybody counts every day,” the nominator said. “She is creating a community in which we actively seek varied perspectives in our decision-making.”

Susan Cecelia Hutto

School of Medicine
Susan Cecelia Hutto, M.D., professor of pediatrics, embodies the shared values of integrity, respect, collaboration and diversity and inclusiveness. In addition to her work in the Department of Pediatrics, Hutto has a clinical appointment at Children’s of Alabama (COA), heads the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and is the director of Infection Control at COA. A colleague wrote that “we cannot think of anyone else who could have served more effectively in that role over these past pandemic months.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hutto helped position COA for success, working to implement universal masking, designate entrance points, test admitted patients, designate COVID-19 floors and train employees on proper PPE use.

“Cecilia is the kindest pediatrician that we know,” a nominator says. “She sees things simultaneously at the individual level and at the systems level, ensuring that the latter always serves to improve the former.”