Gayla Watt just can’t help herself. “I’m a mother hen,” she admits. “There, I said it.”

With more than 100 students counting on Watt to advise them on academic requirements and internship opportunities, it’s not atypical to see a line forming just outside her door in the School of Public Health.

The program coordinator in the department of epidemiology, she recruits students, reviews applications, advises students on academic and personal matters and works very closely with the faculty regarding curriculum. However, it’s the caring and supportive nature she shows her students that brings her the highest of accolades and helped earn her the distinction of being named July’s Employee of the Month.

In her position, Watt always is interacting with domestic and international students. It’s not uncommon for Watt to pick up students from the airport when they are arriving in the country for the first time. She wants to make sure they get off to a positive start upon their arrival.

“I say I have hundreds of children because I’ve adopted all of them,” Watt says. “When they first get here I bring them to my office and tell them ‘You can e-mail or call your mom and tell her you now have an American mom. And tell her I’ll let her know if you act up.’”

“Gayla has a constant stream of students coming to her for advice, counseling, mothering and caring,” says Joyce Fields, program coordinator in epidemiology. “She goes above and beyond the duties of her position to ensure that each student has everything (courses, advisors, forms, application dates, etc.) in order for their graduate program and also for their lives outside of school.”

Magdalene Tukov, an MPH second-year student, says she calls Watt “Mama.”

“She provides a shoulder on which to lean when homesickness and loneliness set in,” Tukov says. “She knows what it means for a student to be away from home.”

Gary Daigle, a student in epidemiology, says he and his wife were immediately taken in by Watt upon their arrival in the United States two years ago. The Daigles had no method of transportation. Watt, on her own time, drove them around Birmingham, looking for apartments within walking distance of UAB. Within two days the Daigles had their apartment – and leads on where to buy furniture from students who were leaving.

“Gayla’s friendly and positive attitude and her knowledgeable and supportive guidance gave us a very positive impression of UAB and influenced our decisions to come here,” Daigle says.

Watt’s dedication to her job, her fellow employees and her students is appreciated by everyone, says Kim McCain, program coordinator in epidemiology.

“From shuttling prospective students and their families to and from the airport, to tours of Birmingham, even babysitting while a faculty member looked for a home to settle in, her dedication is truly unbelievable,” McCain says. “She is always genuine in her concern for everyone she comes in contact with.

“Bottom line: Gayla is the spark plug that ignites the department of epidemiology.”

Watt appreciates the kind words of her peers and students, but emphasizes it’s a team effort in the School of Public Health in all departments.

“UAB is a great place to work and learn,” Watt says. “I’m privileged to have the opportunity to interact and work with so many wonderful people every day.”