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The University of Alabama

Premier Awards for Scholarship, Leadership Announced at UA

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Recipients of the 2013 Premier Awards – the top individual honors for scholarship, leadership and service at The University of Alabama – were announced at a recent presentation dinner.

Recipients include, from left: Dr. Debra Nelson-Gardell, Michael Forst, Joshua White, Sarah Johnson, Christine Evans, Koushik Kasanagottu, and Dr. Mark Nelson. UA President Judy Bonner is far right.

Recipients include, from left: Dr. Debra Nelson-Gardell, Michael Forst, Joshua White, Sarah Johnson, Christine Evans, Koushik Kasanagottu and Dr. Mark Nelson. UA President Judy Bonner stands at the far right. Not pictured: Samuel Hand.

The 2013 UA Premier Award recipients will also be recognized at UA during Honors Week. They are:

The William P. Bloom Scholarship Award – Koushik Kasanagottu

The William P. Bloom Scholarship Award honors a junior who has improved intergroup relations within the University community; this year’s recipient is Koushik Kasanagottu of Birmingham.

Kasanagottu leads University efforts to fight diabetes in Alabama’s rural areas. He devotes many hours to the University’s Project Diabetes Intensive Education Team under Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster. He was responsible for organizing seminars for students by experts in the field of diabetes, nutrition, exercise and stress management, as well as scheduling diabetes educational sessions in Greene, Hale, Perry and Pickens counties. He also hosted the University’s first World Diabetes Day. Kasanagottu’s leadership in the Alpha Epsilon Delta premedical honor society helped the group connect with like-minded organizations throughout the campus.

The John Fraser Ramsey Award – Samuel Hand

The John Fraser Ramsey Award recognizes in a junior the versatility of gifts and attainments, as well as the breadth of excellence in mind and character that have traditionally been the goals of a liberal education. The recipient of the Ramsey Award is Samuel Hand of Bessemer.

Hand has distinguished himself both in UA laboratories and out in the field, pursuing his passion for healing by going on numerous medical mission trips, including Kenya and the Philippines. The junior biology and French major has volunteered at a free medical clinic in West Alabama. Hand’s passion is leading him to a career as a physician in Francophone Africa, but, while on campus, he’s become an outstanding student of genetics while working in Dr. Jeffrey Lozier’s laboratory.

The Morris Lehman Mayer Award – Dr. Debra Nelson-Gardell and Michael Forst

The Morris Lehman Mayer Award recognizes one graduating senior and one member of the teaching faculty who exemplify integrity, selfless service and leadership at UA and in the community, and who have made significant contributions to student life. Dr. Debra Nelson-Gardell is the faculty recipient, and Michael Forst, of Prattville, is the student recipient.

Michael Forst – Michael Forst, a senior economics major, has led UA’s Honors College Assembly, establishing a strong foundation for the assembly, an organization that serves nearly 6,000 students. Michael also leads the SOURCE, UA’s coordinating body for student organizations. With the SOURCE, he helped make organizations more effective and encourage student participation. His reach extends beyond the campus as well – co-founding the Alabama Books for the Black Belt Student Initiative.

Dr. Debra Nelson-Gardell — As associate professor of social work, Dr. Debra Nelson-Gardell devotes many hours to the School of Social Work’s Youth Services Institute as well as the University Medical Center Family Therapy Clinic. She served as chair of the MSW program for four years, and she strives to work with all students, from freshmen to doctoral candidates. She has contributed extensively to the UA community through service on several programs, including the presidency of the Alabama chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and her oversight of an ongoing program evaluation conducted by UA of The Alabama Children’s Fund. She also forged a partnership between social work programs at UA and Shu Yan University in Hong Kong. In addition, she worked with UA counsel and others to develop a statement of expectations and policy to distribute to all UA personnel who work with children younger than 18.

The Catherine Johnson Randall Award – Sarah Johnson

The Catherine Johnson Randall Award recognizes the most outstanding graduating senior at UA, based on GPA, rigor of course study and extraordinary scholarly or creative endeavor. Sarah Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, is this year’s recipient.

With Dr. Marcus Ashford, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Sarah Johnson has explored how to improve alcohol-based engine fuels in terms of efficiency and emissions, with an emphasis on their behavior in engine cold starts. With Dr. Leila Ladani, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, she investigated the dynamic testing of biological specimens using piezoelectric materials – things that accumulate charges when mechanically stressed. The senior mechanical engineering major has participated in UA’s Computer-Based Honors Program and has served as president of the UA American Society of Mechanical Engineers, secretary of the UA Society of Woman Engineers and chief justice of the College of Engineering Academic Honor Council. She also earned a NOAA Hollings Scholarship.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award – Christine Evans, Joshua White and Dr. Mark Nelson

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recognizes excellence of character and service to humanity. The award honors one man and one woman of the graduating class and one non-student who has been helpful to and associated with the University. Student winners of this year’s Sullivan Award are Joshua White of Trussville and Christine Evans of Madison. The non-student award goes to Dr. Mark Nelson, vice president for student affairs and vice provost.

Joshua White — As a Black Belt Intern — a part of the University Fellows Experience — Joshua White, a senior economics and finance major, directed efforts to help devastated areas of Tuscaloosa, particularly Holt Elementary School, after the April 27, 2011, tornado. White also has served as chair of the Blackburn Institute, through which he developed an Honors College class titled “Engaging in Education through the Arts,” which sought to expand the work he had done for the community. In high school, he started an event called “Turn Trussville Pink,” which continues to raise money for cancer research. He also founded the Audie and Kathy White Foundation, a volunteer organization in partnership with the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center; the foundation honors his father, Audie White, who died of cancer in 2009.

Christine Evans — As an intern with Africa Exchange, a nonprofit organization in Kenya, Christine Evans built and installed bio-sand water filters in 25 homes, assisted in the construction of a suspended footbridge over the Wei Wei River and built gunny sack gardens. The senior mechanical engineering major often puts her skills to the use of her community and her world. In her senior year as project head, she and her colleagues are redesigning a Universal Hanger Machine, which makes wire clothes hangers for M&B Hangers in Leeds. As president of the Alabama Beta Chapter of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, she contributes to the UA community by organizing service projects, professional development sessions and social events. She also was a co-op student at the U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Research, Development & Engineering Center in Huntsville. Christine also plays the mellophone in the Million Dollar Band..

Dr. Mark Nelson — Dr. Mark Nelson has devoted more than two decades to education at UA, most recently as  vice president for student affairs, vice provost and professor of communication studies. His responsibilities are wide and varied, including planning improvements in academic affairs and student life for the more than 33,000 students at the University. As an administrator, he’s known as someone who puts education first – education of students and faculty as well. One faculty member says he teaches everyone with whom he comes into contact, and his actions are focused squarely on building the UA community. He helped to found UA’s Academic Honor Council, which works to uphold the Capstone Creed. Nelson joined UA in 1991 as a faculty member in the communication studies department of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. He served as assistant dean and then associate dean for undergraduate studies in C&IS from 1996 to 2006. Nelson was named vice president for student affairs and vice provost in November 2008. He has served on more than 50 University committees covering areas from academic performance to the honors curriculum. Recognized as an outstanding professor, Nelson received the National Alumni Association’s Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award in 2006, the University’s highest honor for teaching excellence.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Richard LeComte, media relations,, 205/348-3782
  • SOURCE: Cathy Andreen, media relations