TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama has announced the recipients of the 2018 Premier Awards – the top individual honors for scholarship, leadership and service.
The 2018 UA Premier Awards recipients will be recognized at a dinner Thursday, March 22, as well as during Honors Week.
William P. and Estan J. Bloom Award
- The award honors a student who has improved relations among different groups. Past recipients have been chosen primarily for improving understanding and supporting interaction among groups for a common cause.
Winner: Marissa Navarro, of Grand Rapids, Michigan
When Marissa Navarro arrived at UA, she saw the need for a group that would help bring Hispanic students together to add to UA’s cultural mosaic. She first came to Crossroads Community Engagement Center as an intern, but she sought additional opportunities.
So, she founded the Hispanic-Latino Association, for which she serves as president. She and her group brought more than 600 community members together to celebrate a variety of cultures during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“The Hispanic-Latino Association gave me the leadership tools to confidently enter different spaces and communicate effectively to recruit members and build long-lasting relationships,” said Navarro, an international studies and Spanish major.
Through the association, Navarro also started FamiliaBound to recruit Hispanic students to campus. Her service continues to benefit UA as she promotes understanding among groups of UA stakeholders. Her mother is Celina Navarro.
Judy Bonner Presidential Medallion Prize
- The Bonner Prize recognizes a member of the UA community who has gone above and beyond normal expectations to change the culture or implement new initiatives designed to advance the Alabama experience for all undergraduate students or a segment of the undergraduate population.
Winner: David Blair, director, Veteran and Military Affairs
David Blair embodies UA’s commitment to be a “University of Choice” for student veterans, service members, dependents and survivors. Blair opened the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs in 2012 and has been responsible for the growth of the military-affiliated population.
“David is a relentless advocate for military affiliated students at the Capstone,” said Alexandria Bynum, assistant director for Veteran and Military Affairs. “He understands the holistic needs to the students and ensures they have resources and services that no other population has access to at the University.”
Within the first year, Veteran and Military Affairs identified 2,434 military affiliated students and certified 862 students. In the 2016-2017 academic year, officials identified 3,760 military-affiliated students and certified 1,542 students. In addition, staff increased from one to four certifying officials. As a result, students receive funding more rapidly, ensuring that students can pay for rent and food. Blair’s knowledge of VA resources has ensured that UA students receive free tutoring, textbook rental, student worker positions and free printing. In addition, he has recruited two VA employees to work in the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs.
A native of Columbus, Mississippi, Blair entered the Army after high school and served at duty stations throughout his military career. David retired from the Army in 2007 with just over 25 years of service. Some of his major awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal (fourth award), Army Achievement Medal (eighth award), Army Good Conduct Medal (eighth award), National Defense Service Medal (second award), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
He holds a Bachelor of Science in management and administration form Excelsior College in Albany, New York, and a master’s in public policy and administration from Mississippi State University.
Blair is a member of the Marines Foundation’s executive board and facilitated more than $20,000 in donations to the Veteran Emergency Fund. The Veteran Emergency Fund has supported more than 100 students in tuition, housing and meal expenditures.
Morris L. Mayer Award
The award honors one member of this academic year’s graduating class and one member of the teaching faculty who exemplify the life of Dr. Morris L. Mayer: selfless and significant service and leadership for the UA community and significant contributions to student life and integrity.
Student winner: Maggie Holmes, of Madison, Mississippi
Through a UA Honors College seminar called Art to Life, Maggie Holmes found a surprising connection to a senior citizen attending Caring Days, a day facility for adults who have dementia. The fact that Holmes’ grandmother had late-stage Alzheimer’s helped her make this vitally important connection.
“In that semester, I was partnered with a participant named BJ, a woman who reminded me so much of my grandmother,” said Holmes, a biology major. “During each art therapy session, BJ and I discussed her memories and experiences, in addition to exploring her present self and interests. Our conversations allowed me to understand BJ’s innermost personhood and to learn about the values and memories that were dear to her.”
After she took the class, the teacher, Dr. Daniel Potts, asked her to serve as the student facilitator for the next round. She planned a reception at the end of the class, in which the Caring Days participants shared their life-legacy books with their families, staff and members of the community.
“This event is a community gathering of individuals who have been touched by Alzheimer’s disease and spans multiple generations,” Holmes said. “To see a community unite to validate individuals who would normally be stigmatized by society is a meaningful experience.”
Holmes has served as vice president of the XXXI, UA’s prestigious all-women campus honorary and director of service for Chi Omega. She also was inducted into the Mortar Board Honor Society, ODK Honor Society, Cardinal Key Honor Society and The Anderson Society. Her parents are David and Jacqueline Holmes.
Faculty Winner: Dr. Kristy Reynolds, head of the marketing department and Bruno Professor of Marketing
Dr. Kristy Reynolds has a knack for opening up the world of marketing and retailing to her students, who eagerly learn the basics from her years of expertise.
“I hear comments from students frequently about how ‘great’ Dr. Reynolds is,” said Dr. Kay M. Palan, dean of the Culverhouse College of Commerce. “She does more than just educate students: She listens to them and cares about them, and, consequently, they love her.”
Reynolds earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from UA and joined the faculty in 2005. She became the chair of the marketing department in 2017. She has chaired five dissertation committees and been an active member on eight other dissertation committees. She also has served as a faculty adviser for student organizations.
“She teaches at all levels — undergraduate, masters and doctoral — and exceeds everyone’s expectations in each classroom,” said Dr. Ronald Dulek, John R. Miller Professor of Management. “Her teaching evaluations — amazingly, even in Marketing 300, a mass lecture class with more than 250 students — are at the top of the business school’s chart. Yet she also maintains academic integrity and is known as much for her rigor as she is for her dynamism.”
John F. Ramsey Award
- The award honors students with broad humanistic interests who have exerted a positive influence on his or her contemporaries.
Winner – Asia Hayes, of St. Augustine, Florida
Asia Hayes has spent her time at UA forging her own course of study in “educational justice” — she is examining how different populations in the world regard learning and how intersectionality affects the outcomes of educational systems. Educational justice is the theme of her New College depth study. She focuses on the African American student population and how black identity is formed in an academic setting.
“Education is considered to be a common good, but how we come to agree on how to achieve that common good differs from person to person,” said Hayes, who is an interdisciplinary studies and Spanish major. “In my way of thinking, to make the common good widely available, an interdisciplinary way of thinking must be used. There is no one way to achieve a common goal; it takes understanding different perspectives to work toward the purpose of a common good.”
Her studies have taken her to Cuba and Argentina. Through UA Education Abroad, she researched how women in Havana perceived skin color and esteem and studied U.S.-Cuban relations at the College of Philosophy at the University of Havana. She also participated as an ambassador in the Rotary International Youth Exchange program in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, where she spent a year immersed in the community and volunteered as a fourth-grade English teacher.
“Personal experiences showed me that the road to education and the exposure to quality education presents differently for each population,” she said. “Teaching is universal, there are teachers in nearly every part of the world, and I came to understand that teaching is a skill that could be utilized globally to affect not only local communities but international communities as well.”
Hayes is a student assistant in the UA School of Law and a student in the Blackburn Institute. Her parents are Danette and Allen Hayes.
Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award
- The award honors one man and one woman of this academic year’s graduating class as well as one non-student. The recipients of the award have demonstrated the highest standards of scholarship, leadership and service. The recipients are:
Non-student award — Lamea “Elle” Shaaban-Magaña, director, Women and Gender Resource Center
Dr. Lamea “Elle” Shaaban-Magaña has served UA in the key position of director of the Women and Gender Resource Center for 10 years – a decade spent improving the lives of students and the overall health of the Bama community.
“I have no doubt that the current availability of services to students, faculty and staff are a direct result of her hard work and dedication to ending violence against women,” said Paige Miller, center program coordinator. “She continues to address policy issues, such as the federal Title IX law, with campus stakeholders and encourage a coordinated campus response to violence against women.”
Shaaban-Magaña has sought grants to continue the center’s operation and has made numerous conference presentations and earned the National Women’s Studies Association Women Center Lifetime Achievement Award. During her tenure with the center, she has nurtured a range of groups, including the student chapter of the American Association of University Women, Safe Zone, Iota Iota Iota Women’s Studies Honor Society, the Alliance for Women of Color and the Hispanic-Latino Association.
Her educational background lies in the areas of sociology of education, women’s studies, human development and family studies and communications. She also has received the National Women’s Studies Association Women Center Lifetime Achievement Award, the Zenobia Hikes Memorial Award from NASPA, the Alabama NASPA Spirit of Diversity Award and the Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction Award, among others.
Student winner — Nivory Gordon III, of Furman and Selma
Since coming to UA, Nivory Gordon has taken several leadership roles, even as he pursues the arduous task of earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He sees service as a duty and as an opportunity.
“As a 2014 Gates Millennium Scholar, I am challenged to be a leader on my campus to change the climate of our communities leaving a path for those coming behind to follow,” he said. “However, leadership isn’t great without effective change. Change doesn’t happen without a shift, and a shift is not effective without a plan. I wanted to be a student leader advocating for those who needed help in their classes who faced similar struggles as I did, and I wasn’t afraid of the results that would follow.”
He has served as president of the UA chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers and the 100 Black Men – Collegiate 100. He also established the annual Minority Scholars Academic Competition for Excellence to encourage minority high school students to pursue STEM career pathways. Through the 100 Black Men – Collegiate 100, he’s taken time from his academic pursuits to mentor minority youth in Tuscaloosa’s West End.
“I immersed myself on the West End of Tuscaloosa because I knew it was the area that needed the most help locally,” he said. “These kids needed administrators who cared, community leaders willing to recognize the need at hand for change, and parents willing to invest in their lives and not allow the future of this city be shaped by the neighborhoods in which they reside.”
His parents are Mr. & Mrs. Nivory Gordon Jr.
Student winner – Theresa Stoddard, of Eads, Tennessee
Theresa Stoddard’s academic career at UA is characterized by action – both in Tuscaloosa and beyond Alabama’s borders. Two of her projects involved an internship with the Center for Peace Studies, San José, Costa Rica, and a teaching fellowship at the Breakthrough Collaborative, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In Costa Rica, she implemented workshops advocating for self-esteem, human rights and peaceful solutions to conflicts facing marginalized groups such as at-risk youth, individuals living with HIV in public health centers, recovering addicts and incarcerated persons in federal prisons.
“Both my studies and personal principles require the service and engagement of distinct groups domestically and abroad,” said Stoddard, who’s majoring in interdisciplinary studies (global inequities and human rights), anthropology and Spanish. “Related extra-curricular, academic, and professional involvements became imperative to my practical implementation of theoretical knowledge.”
In addition to her national and international endeavors, Stoddard received the Avanti of the Year Award, served as a Global Leadership Academy Campus Global Leader and works with Alabama Students Without Borders as an English language instructor and teaching assistant. Her parents are Anne and Paul Stoddard.
Dr. Catherine J. Randall Award
- The award recognizes the most outstanding student scholar at UA based on GPA, rigor of course study and extraordinary scholarly or creative endeavor; applicants may come from any academic program of study, as scholarly and creative activities from within all majors will be considered for this award.
Winner: Manoj Sunny, of Des Plaines, Illinois
Manoj Sunny wants finance to work for regular people. He’s focused his studies in the Culverhouse College of Commerce on how lay people and big players decide to invest money.
“The beauty of finance is that it is both a science and an art,” said Sunny, who’s earning a Master of Science in Finance and a Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Business Administration. “It is a science in the fact that quantitative analysis drives the governance of every decision made at both a global level and on an individual level (intuition-based decision-making). It is an art in that when you factor in people’s interactions, numbers no longer do justice to the complexity of human reasoning. While numbers themselves were interesting, the psychological aspect was what made me delve into research.”
As a UA Emerging Scholar, he reached out to Dr. Paul Drnevich, UA associate professor of strategic management, to find ways he could use research to help the layperson. He ended up writing a paper to show how the Retirement System of Alabama could generate millions of dollars by making one investment change. He is first author of a paper included in the 77th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Atlanta, Georgia.
In addition to his studies, Sunny has worked as a public finance intern at Raymond James Financial in Birmingham and Barclays Capital Investment Bank in New York as well as a finance intern at Forza Financial, UA’s student-run microfinancing organization. Throughout his studies, he has sought to find ways to improve the financial health of lay people to improve their emotional and physical well-being. He also serves as treasurer of the Mortar Board Honor Society and is a member of ODK and Blue Key. He also received the Financial Executives International Award. His parents are Mercy Chacko and Sunny Chacko.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.