UA Announces 2017 Premier Awards

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama Division of Student Life has announced the recipients of the 2017 Premier Awards – the top individual honors for scholarship, leadership and service.

The 2017 UA Premier Award recipients will be recognized at a dinner Thursday, March 23, as well as during Honors Week.

They are:

William P. 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.

Recipient: Lillian Roth of Montgomery

“Champions Don’t Hate” became the watchcry for the campus recently thanks to the efforts of Lillian Roth, who served as Student Government Association president in 2016-17. Roth and her communications team in SGA launched a campaign to tone down the discourse over protests and issues on the UA campus – bringing spirit and civility to the campus.

“I viewed this as an opportunity for all of us to be positive participants in campus dialogue rather than mere bystanders,” said Roth, a public relations and political science major. “By embracing diversity online, and working to cultivate a culture of inclusion on our campus, we can underscore that all students have a right to feel welcome at UA — and that includes online spaces where they often interact. The ‘Champions Don’t Hate’ week ended with an opportunity to engage in dialogue and conversation led by Lane McLelland, director of UA Crossroads, to discuss hateful messaging on social media and what we can do to put an end to the negativity.”

In “Champions Don’t Hate” and in many other ways, Roth worked to bring UA students together as an increasingly diverse campus. For example, Roth led an SGA effort to “End the Stigma” over mental illness to promote awareness of campus programs students can turn to for counseling and treatment. She also led an effort to gather a range of student groups once a month to discuss issues affecting the campus.

“On a daily basis — and probably in ways that we will never know — Lillian has fought to tear down barriers to progress and connectivity amongst her fellow students,” said R.B. Walker, director of government relations for The University of Alabama system. “She has appointed and put to work one of the most diverse and qualified cabinets in SGA history, grown the size and reach of student government to make it matter to more people in relevant ways, and has developed programs that connect our growing and diverse student body. Most importantly though, I have seen her serve as an advocate for all students to administrators.”

In addition to serving as UA SGA president, Roth received the Outstanding Freshmen Award and was inducted into the Order of Omega, Cardinal Key Honor Society and Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society. She is a University Fellow, a fellow in the Blackburn Institute and is involved in the Honors College Assembly. Her parents are Toby and Michelle Roth.

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.

Recipient: UA Safe Zone Resource Center

The UA Safe Zone program provides a visible network of allies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and asexual (LGBTQA+) individuals. Safe Zone Allies distribute information regarding sexuality, gender identity, campus and community resources, and methods for reporting harassment or discrimination. The purpose of the Safe Zone program is to foster a climate at the University where everyone is treated with dignity and where all LGBTQA+ identified individuals are free to thrive academically, professionally and personally.

“UA Safe Zone has, in a relatively short time, become an indispensable feature of campus life at UA,” said Joel Brouwer, professor and chair of the UA English department. “The training I and so many others have received as Safe Zone allies has been of incalculable value to our community”

In addition to holding training and hosting events, the UA Safe Zone Program is committed to providing the University community with resources to build an environment based on dignity and respect, in which every student and employee is free to thrive academically, professionally and personally. For example, Safe Zone provides a three-hour training program that allows participants to develop a working knowledge of appropriate and respectful LGBTQA+ terminology, recognize the impact that a negative campus climate has on individuals who identify as LGBTQA+ and identify areas of personal growth as a member of the UA community.  Following the training program, participants are invited to serve as UA Safe Zone Allies.

“I appreciate SafeZone training because it better educated me to help my students who may seek someone to talk to,” said Meredith Cummings, instructor in journalism and creative media and director of the Alabama Scholastic Press Association. “For me, their presence on campus allows me to breathe a sigh of relief that I can pick up the phone and call when I need help for a student, or don’t know exactly what to say or how to approach a problem.”

Safe Zone graduate assistant Lizzie Emerson is the primary recipient of the Judy Bonner Award. The director of the program is Kirk Walter, assistant director of the UA Office of Student Involvement. Members of the advisory board are Alex Davenport, coordinator for academic partnerships and student engagement for UA Housing and Residential Communities; Lauren Bennett, residency coordinator for the UA Office of the University Registrar; and Kati Jane Childs.

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 recipient: Chris Lancaster of Plano, Texas

Business — or at least the desire to spread business fundamentals to the people of Haiti — brought Chris Lancaster to Haiti. Along with his extensive service activities at UA, Lancaster sought through a program led by Lisa McKinney, lecturer in accounting, to improve the lives of Haitians through training in sound business principles. He eventually served as coordinator for the Haitian Economic Research and Development initiative.

“Using my French language skills and business acumen, this was an amazing experience to be able to see first-hand a completely different culture with a group of students from The University of Alabama,” Lancaster said. “This experience, and the ensuing two trips I went on following the initial one in May of 2015, went a long way in solidifying the lasting impact I felt I was able to have as a student at UA.”

Lancaster is an undergraduate business major while also working toward a masters of economics through the University Scholars Program. His activities at UA include serving as president of the Culverhouse Connections Student Leadership Board and vice president of involvement for University Stewards in Undergraduate Admissions. His role as a Parent Ambassador during Freshman Orientation helped him see UA through the eyes of people just arriving on campus and helped him give back to the University through assisting newcomers.

“The connections I formed with incoming students and their parents through this experience were absolutely remarkable,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I was seen as someone whose experiences and input mattered for those coming into an environment that was previously unknown to them.”

His work with the parents of incoming students brought him to the attention of UA faculty, who were grateful for his service.

“Time after time, I received communication from families praising the time he spent with them answering questions, sharing his student experiences and asking questions to learn more about the incoming student and family,” said Jennifer Hayes, program manager for recruiting and marketing at UA Early College. “He truly wanted to meet their individual needs and connect the UA experience in a way that would be personal for each student.”

Among Lancaster’s awards are Most Outstanding Junior at UA; induction into the Anderson Society, where he served as vice president of Senior Honorary; Phi Beta Kappa; Mortar Board National Honor Society; Blue Key Honor Society; and Omicron Delta Kappa. He also received first place in microeconomics and third place in macroeconomics at the 2014 National Leadership Conference of Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda. His parents are Joe and Lisa Lancaster.

Teaching faculty recipient: Dr. Katrina Ramonell, associate professor of biological sciences.

One of the hallmarks of Dr. Katrina Ramonell’s teaching career at UA is her willingness to help undergraduates clear up problems.

“She is often the person on the other end of the phone line when a problem arises with one of the nearly 1,300 undergraduate biology majors, and, accordingly, she is the one responsible for bringing about resolve or remedy in those situations,” said Dr. Robert Hayes, director of external relations for student life at UA. “Over the course of her UA tenure, Dr. Ramonell has been an optimistic leader in the work of student recruitment, retention programming, and has even taught courses in overload to help accommodate the needs of students. For the past six years, she has volunteered as an adviser during Bama Bound Orientation just to make sure that incoming scholars get started on the right foot.”

Ramonell received a doctorate in plant physiology from Louisiana State University in 1999 and completed her postdoctoral research at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. She was appointed assistant professor at the University of Alabama in 2003. Dr. Ramonell has been an associate professor since 2009. Her lab uses the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to study the complex interactions among plants and pathogens in the environment. She serves as associate chair for academics in the department of biological sciences.

 “Her service to faculty and students alike are essential ingredients to this department’s successes in updating our curriculum to give our students the best possible career opportunities as they leave our program,” said Dr. Janis O’Donnell, chair of the biological sciences department. “In that role of preparing our students for the future, Ramonell single-handedly initiated a new Biology Career Fair for our majors to assist them with career planning. The first fair was held March 2016 with a great response from our students and enthusiasm from the various representatives of companies and graduate programs who participated.”

Her backers report that her students have shown their appreciation for her efforts.

“One of her former students who is now in medical school told me that ‘Dr. Ramonell thinks like a scientist, supports you like a coach, and cares for you like a mom,’” Hayes said. “I think these words convey a message that Dr. Mayer would regard as a pinnacle point in the student/faculty relationship.”

John F. Ramsey Award

  • The award honors students with broad humanistic interests who have exerted a positive influence on his or her contemporaries.

Charlotte Watters of Tucson, Arizona

A passion for history infuses Charlotte Watters’ studies at UA. For Watters, a history and political science major, history is a living, vibrant area offering a wealth of intellectual opportunity.

“History is akin to studying a series of winding highway overpasses,” Watters said. “Put your finger on a map, and follow a road. Inevitably, you end mixed up in a series of exits and on-ramps and intersections, all with their own independent piece of the puzzle, but more interesting and significant when assembled together. Simply put: it is impossible to see where you are going without seeing where you came from.”

Her commitment to her studies – particularly in a project involving “the fascinating and paradoxical relationships between the living and the dead, body and spirit in the middle ages” — has deeply impressed the history faculty, said Dr. James D. Mixson, associate professor of history.

“Charlotte has just the kind of intellectual temperament and wide-ranging, humane world-view that John Ramsey dedicated his life to cultivating in our department, and in his students,” Mixson said. “It is not only that her degree and her coursework have her deeply rooted in the traditions of humanist learning and Western Civilization — that in itself is clear enough. Charlotte is also a citizen of the world, comfortable in both Denver and Demopolis, curious about what new ideas, experiences and faces might be over the horizon.

Watters served as a peer mentor for undergraduate history, director of civic engagement for the Honors College Assembly and a DREAM Alabama facilitator. Another area Watters feels passionate about lies in women’s issues. In addition, she has studied in Spain and in UA Honors Study Abroad at Worcester College, Oxford, England. She served as a mentor at Cottondale Elementary School and Hillcrest High School, where her encounters with girls left her with an even deeper appreciation for the struggle toward women’s equality.

“Last semester I had –– by coincidence –– all girls,” Watters said. “While the girls differed widely in background, age and ambition, one day presented a striking parallel: none of the girls wanted to speak up in class. When I asked them why they were afraid to speak, they said they were too nervous or that another member of the class always interrupted. When I asked them why they did not interrupt, they said that their parents taught them this was rude behavior. This was upsetting to me — how many women with great ideas were nervous to speak up just because someone shushed them when they were kids?”

Her mother is Andrea Watters.

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:

Student recipient: Caroline Morrison of Vestavia Hills

A hair salon and a day-care center — Caroline Morrison helped make those small-business dreams come true in Perry County through the University Fellows program and as a loan officer and later chief investment officer for Forza Financial, a UA-student-led microfinance group. They were small startups, but for Morrison, they were a big deal. They symbolize Morrison’s commitment to people who need a leg up.

“I lived in Marion, Alabama, for a summer writing two loans to startup a hair salon and a children’s day care by building deep relationships with the local business owners,” said Morrison, an economics and finance major. “Through business coaching and a sustained relationship with the clients, these two businesses survived Marion’s two-year startup turn overrate.

Morrison consistently faced up to challenges and succeeded in many areas of her life at UA, including serving as president of the XXXI group, an administrator for the Anderson Society, executive treasurer for the UA SGA and as a sustained-dialog moderator for UA Crossroads. Her interests in helping people took her outside the country. She worked in Thailand as an intern for the Joma coffee company, which employs women and transgender individuals rescued out of Thailand’s sex industry.

“Years of being priced and spent led to a loss of identity,” Morrison said. “Yet this experience reminded me the simple truth that the biggest battles do not take place between men, but within them.”

In addition to her work with SGA and other groups, Morrison helped to create professional development courses with Dr. Jacqueline V. Morgan, associate dean of the Honors College.

“Only a year or two older than the students she was teaching, she quickly earned their respect by discussing the challenges their generation faces in thinking creatively and broadly about their life mission and vision,” Morgan said. “Her presence literally changed the trajectory of students’ lives as she patiently and astutely encouraged them to dare greatly. The Honors College now offers four sections of the course she co-developed every semester.”

In addition to being a University Fellow, Morrison also is a fellow in the Blackburn Institute at UA. Her honors include Order of Omega Most Outstanding Freshman of the Greek System, Alpha Gamma Delta Psi Chapter Sisterhood Award and Gene Stallings Outstanding Student Government Executive Award. Her other activities include writing a column for the Crimson White and serving as an Honors College ambassador. Her parents are Bill and Sheri Morrison.

Student recipient: Faulkner Hereford of Birmingham

Faulkner Hereford took his service to UA and the state up a notch. As a University Fellow, Hereford traveled to Marion for a series of Black Belt Experience service projects at the end of his freshman year. He didn’t settle for doing what was expected – he ended up exploring poverty in the area and making a documentary film about it.

“I moved with my Fellows Cohort to Marion to carry out projects including ACT prep and soft skills training for high school students, working with local businesses to assess economic and business development needs and hosting community events to bring those from different socioeconomic backgrounds together,” Hereford said. “While working on these projects, I also produced and filmed a documentary focused on the Civil Rights Movement in Marion – in particular, the events surrounding the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, which led to the march from Selma to Montgomery. This documentary was made to increase education and raise awareness about this history and also let the voices of Marion locals who were present be told to the next generation.”

Hereford has served UA and the community in a range of ways, including participating in Capstone Men and Women – where he was elected vice president of the group – and in the Mortar Board honor society – where he was elected president. He was a member of the Documenting Justice team and served as a mentor in the Honors College’s DREAM project at a middle school in Cottondale. As a political science, economics and history major, Hereford has taken advantage of opportunities for international service and study, including participating in the Cuba Experience, which brought him into contact with that country’s citizenry, and a stint at the London School of Economics studying public finance. He also is working on a master’s degree in applied economics through the University Scholars program.

“Our discussions have revealed that Faulkner is a contemplative young man who seeks to develop a well­ rounded perspective related to individuals and issues in our society by seeking to understand situations from multiple viewpoints,” said Dr. Shane Sharpe, dean of the Honors College. “Over the course of multiple conversations, we have analyzed his assessment of the circumstances related to: a troubled and underperforming seventh grade student; the aspirations of a budding entrepreneur in Cuba; the vision for the state’s economy as espoused by a visiting dignitary at a UA president’s reception; and the hopes of an individual seeking temporary assistance through the services at our local Salvation Army branch.”

In addition to the University Fellows and Mortar Board, Hereford is a member of the Cardinal Key Honor Society, Order of Omega Honor Society, Omicron Delta Kappa Senior Honor Society and Blue Key Honor Society. His parents are Laurie and Will Hereford.

Faculty recipient: Dr. J. Norman Baldwin, professor of political science

Dr. J. Norman Baldwin has been a faculty member at UA since 1988. His service projects at UA include acting as facilitator (chairman) for the Task Force for Excellence in Equity, Inclusion and Citizenship since 2013 and founding the Tornado Disaster Relief Internship Program, which placed more than 155 students in internships and 60 more students in part-time positions helping to rebuild Tuscaloosa and serve tornado victims. The free labor generated by the program is estimated to be a gift of $250,000 to the relief effort, and the program won UA’s Service Project of the Year Award. He has served in the past as director of the Master’s in Public Administration Program, and among his service projects with his students was a 61-page document that explored problems and solutions related to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort – during which UA provided temporary shelter for victims and provided ideas in case UA had to provide shelter again.

“Norman Baldwin is a professor whose contributions include and go beyond the ethereal world of academia,” said Dr. Anne Williamson, associate professor of political science and current director of the MPA program. “He labors to bring about concrete changes in our work environment, community, state and country. Believing most people are fundamentally good, he attempts to effect change through taking principled positions and educating people in a respectful, persistent and non-judgmental manner.”

His awards include the Outstanding Commitment to Students Award from the College of Arts and Sciences; Service Project of the Year Award, a University-wide award for the work of the Disaster Relief Internship Program; the Buford Peace Award, for demonstrating “exceptional levels of involvement in mediating human disputes, helping overcome prejudice, promoting justice, and establishing peace;” and the Morris L. Mayer Award for service and leadership.

In addition to publishing more than 30 scholarly articles, he is the editor and coauthor with 77 college students of “Sand Sure Gets in Funny Places: Ten Lessons and Confessions about College.” The book uses “a combination of humor and serious conversation to provide advice and insight to young women and men preparing for college and to matriculated students struggling to find their way in college or intent on optimizing their college experience,” Williamson said.

Baldwin earned a doctorate from the University of Georgia in 1981.

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.

Recipient: Justin Magrath of  Mandeville, Louisiana

Glioblastoma Multiforme is the most common form of brain tumor. It’s fast growing, and according to the National Institutes of Health, it has no long-term effective treatment. That’s one of the reasons Justin Magrath, as an undergraduate, pursued research related to this form of cancer. He’s spent 15 to 20 hours a week working with Dr. Yonghyun (John) Kim, assistant professor of biological and chemical engineering, exploring the use of the chemotherapy drug salinomycin in combating this form of cancer by attacking Glioblastoma Multiforme’s glioblastoma stem cells.

His work was well received. He presented research at four conferences — most recently at the Biomedical Engineering Society National Conference in Minneapolis — and he placed second for a poster presentation at the 2016 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Southern Region Conference. In addition, he received the Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award and the H. Pettus Randall Jr. Scholarship, given to the junior in the Computer-Based Honors Program with the most outstanding research project.

“In Dr. Kim’s lab, students have their own project and are given the freedom to take it in the direction that most interests them,” said Magrath, a chemical engineering major. “For this project, I have designed and conducted the experiments as well as analyzed the data. This independence has allowed me to take ownership of the project. Through this experience, I have improved my critical thinking and problem-solving skills, both of which will be useful in the future.”

Magrath’s work ethic and independence has taken him beyond Kim’s expectations.

“He has worked on his own to read up-to-date literature and has learned and performed all the necessary experiments toward the goals of his study,” Kim said. “He is now even be able to synthesize his own hypotheses and is teaching me about the intricacies about the drug and its effects.”

In addition to awards through UA’s Computer-Based Honors Program, Magrath has received the Donald F. Othmer Academic Excellence Award and the Outstanding General Chemistry Student Award, and he  is a National Merit Scholar. He said he plans on pursuing an MD/PhD. In summer 2015, he participated in the Tulane National Primate Research Center Undergraduate Fellowship Program where he worked on creating a lentivirus to treat Krabbe disease. He’s also president of the Alabama Kayak Club. His parents are Heidi and Robert Magrath.


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