UA Announces 2014 Premier Awards for Scholarship, Leadership

Permier Award winners are, from left: Brian McWilliams, Joshua Moon, Mary Sellers Shaw, Margaret Garner, Caroline Fulmer, David Phelps, Kirkland Back and Al-Karim Gilani.
Permier Award winners are, from left: Brian McWilliams, Joshua Moon, Mary Sellers Shaw, Margaret Garner, Caroline Fulmer, David Phelps, Kirkland Back and Al-Karim Gilani.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Recipients of the 2014 Premier Awards – the top individual honors for scholarship, leadership and service at The University of Alabama – were announced at a recent presentation dinner.

The 2014 UA Premier Award recipients will also be recognized at UA during Honors Week. They are:

The William P. Bloom Scholarship Award –  Al-Karim Gilani 

The William P. Bloom Scholarship Award honors a junior who has improved intergroup relations within the University community; this year’s recipient is Al-Karim Gilani of Flower Mound, Texas.

Rather than living with the “differences” he found among members of UA’s diverse student body, Gilani decided early in his student career to help bridge them. Gilani, a junior chemical engineering major, served in his sophomore year as director of the Diversity Branch of the Honors College Assembly. In that capacity, he and his fellow students created Diverse Desserts, a late-night meet-and-greet in different campus locations.

The desserts encourage students from all areas of University life to get together “in a fun, human-loving manner.” He also works with Honors Year One mentoring, in which he supported freshmen on their road to academic success, and he serves as a resident adviser. Later in 2014, Gilani will be among the first students to take advantage of the Serbia Fellowship Experience, which he co-founded.

The John Fraser Ramsey Award –  Brian McWilliams

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 winner is Brian McWilliams of Wexford, Pa.

Gathering surplus medical supplies in Alabama to ship to Third World countries – it’s a need that cried out to McWilliams, a junior biology major. He is co-president in charge of logistical decisions for Alabama Advocates for World Health. The group is building a framework to match local hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to schedule pick-ups of surplus, usable supplies that have fallen beyond Food and Drug Administration standards but haven’t yet expired.

The group stores and ships the material to national collection centers for Advocates for World Health in Tampa, Fla., which sends them directly to groups working in such nations as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. McWilliams has long held a keen interest in health – in high school, he founded the Team Alex Fund, a nonprofit organization that funds therapy and mobility equipment for children affected by spinal cord illnesses and injuries.

The Morris Lehman Mayer Award –  Mary Sellers Shaw and Caroline Fulmer

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. The student winner is Mary Sellers Shaw of Birmingham. The faculty winner is Caroline Fulmer.

Shaw found UA’s Documenting Justice class, which creates a documentary each year, an eye-opening experience. The documentary she worked on looked at undocumented immigrants; she interviewed them about their life stories and how Alabama’s immigration law affected them. Her work on the documentary has led her to a variety of ways to engage the UA community in civic causes as well as interfaith and cross-cultural activities.

Those activities include organizing “Dwell Better Together,” a Crossroads Community Center panel that looked at homelessness and poverty through an interfaith lens. In addition, Shaw, a senior majoring in communications studies and New College civic engagement, co-founded Blend, a student group that brings people together across ethnic and cultural lines.

Fulmer, assistant professor of consumer sciences in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, has trumpeted the cause of personal financial planning and management among her students. She has taught for more than 20 years at UA, first as an adjunct and for the past six as a full-time faculty member. Her teaching evaluations frequently suggest her classes are her students’ favorites. She teaches classes in retirement, leadership and managing in high-performance organizations, drawing from her experiences in the corporate world.

She also has worked with medical residents in the College of Community Health Sciences, and students from other colleges seek out her classes. She also is involved deeply in aiding the Alpha Chi Omega sorority as a financial adviser, mentor and friend.

The Catherine Johnson Randall Award –  Joshua Moon

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. The winner is Joshua Moon of Arlintgon, Tenn.

Moon is testing the boundaries of computational chemistry in UA labs and through the Computer-Based Honors Program. He is involved in the use of supercomputers, ultimately looking for a hybrid of the computational and the experimental methods of study in chemistry and chemical engineering. In his career at UA, Moon, a senior chemical and biological engineering major, has worked on the design of new “synthons,” or functional groups, for inorganic materials – research into the “lowest energy structures, acidities and solubility properties of these materials,” which may help in the field of energy technologies. He worked with Dr. David Dixon, Robert Ramsay chair in chemistry.

He later studied the molecular mechanisms of reactions of CO2 gas with water and mineral phrases, in an attempt to measure the long-term storage capacity of geological formations. This research potentially could contribute to the effort to reduce greenhouse gases.  He is a 2013 Barry Goldwater Scholar, and he received the 2013-2014 Tau Beta Pi Scholarship, 2013 Central Alabama Section for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Outstanding Junior (Chilton) Award, the 2013 Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award and the Rapone Engineering Scholarship.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award – David Phelps, Kirkland Back and Margaret P. Garner. 

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. This year’s student recipients are David Phelps of New Orleans and Kirkland Back of Gadsden. The faculty recipient is Margaret P. Garner.

Phelps, a senior civil engineering major, began the Tide Talks program to help student speakers spread ideas through the campus community. Each month, more than 200 students in person join many more viewers on the Internet to hear their peers discuss a range of topics, including social trends and the future. Phelps also has served as a leader in the SOURCE, an effort to unite more than 350 student organizations through his workshops, on-line teaching videos and strategies for building community. He also co-founded unlockED, a group that seeks to bring students up-to-date on efforts to bring education to all. In the wake of the 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa, Phelps helped to organized the Tuscaloosa Area Volunteer Reception Center.

A senior English major, Back has served as the Honors College Assembly president and the Faculty Senate Task Force undergraduate representative and Kappa Delta rush chairman. As a writer, she has worked as an intern for W magazine in New York, had poems published in The Rectangle and served as a feature columnist for The Gadsden Times. She also has contributed to the life of UA through organizing a Sustained Dialogue class for sorority women as well as participating as an SGA senator for The College of Arts and Sciences, an intern at Creative Campus and a member of the Druid City Arts Festival executive board. Her volunteer activities include working with international students in UA’s English Language Institute’s Critically Speaking program and the RISE center.

Garner is associate professor, director of the department of health promotion and wellness, and assistant dean for health, education and outreach in UA’s College of Community Health Sciences. In addition, she is serving as interim director of Student Health Services. She is a highly respected and accomplished registered dietitian. She has worked throughout her career to promote health on the campus, community, state and national levels. Throughout her career, she has sought to translate clinical research focused on health promotion, disease prevention and intervention for a general audience.

At UA, she led a campus-wide strategic planning process for health issues, which led to a group of seven health teams that cut across disciplines and include faculty and staff. The teams focus on alcohol and substance misuse; tobacco; mental health; financial health; eating disorders; nutrition; and healthy relationships. She also has collaborated with the Office of Student Conduct to aid students whose academic careers are at risk. She has served on a host of UA and UA System committees, including the University Club advisory board, the Campus Safety and Security report committee, the UA Assessment Council and the UA Faculty Senate liaison to the legislative agenda committee. She also director at large on the board of directors for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


Richard LeComte, media relations,, 205/348-3782,