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2021 Women’s History Month Honorees

Women's History Month 2021

Sponsored by LIFE@UCF

Each March, Faculty Excellence honors 31 women for their impact on students and UCF’s campus community. This year, as we continue to charge on during a pandemic, our women faculty have not wavered in their commitments as mentors, role models, friends, researchers and teachers.

This blog post will be updated daily during the month of March to feature each woman and her accomplishments. LIFE@UCF generously sponsored this years’ award. Each woman received a Barnes and Noble gift card.

The 2021 honorees are:


Raheleh Ahangari

Raheleh Ahangari

Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine

Raheleh Ahangari has developed and improved courses in the College of Medicine, but also invests in her students. As a graduate faculty scholar, she has directed several independent studies in endocrine and metabolic disorders and chaired a number of honors in major thesis works along with master’s capstone projects at UCF. Her research and scholarly activities are focused on trigeminal neuralgia, headache and inflammation. She has 15 publications, 25 abstracts, and is the coauthor of one book and two book chapters and has over 700 citations. Her students have presented their work in various conferences in recent years. She says she strives for success for her students, and in addition to teach and research, tries to be available to her students as an advisor, mentor and friend.   


Mindi Anderson

Mindi Anderson

Nursing Practice, College of Nursing 

Mindi Anderson came to UCF to expand the College of Nursing’s simulation program — achieving national accreditation — and developed the College of Nursing’s interdisciplinary Healthcare Simulation Program Certificate. Anderson is known as a mentor among her peers and students. Not only is she an awesome instructor, but her nominator also says she openly shares her steps to achieve accomplishments, including the challenges. Anderson is known to always take a team approach to solve problems and is a source of encouragement for our students and fellow faculty members. Anderson credits her success to her family, friends, colleagues, students and faith.  


Reshawna Chapple

School of Social Work, College of Health Professions and Sciences  

Reshawna Chapple

Reshawna Chapple, is a critical race and social justice scholar whose areas of clinical practice and research include intersectional identity, mental health disparities and access to culturally responsive services for Black women, Deaf women, and other marginalized communities. Her nominator says she is an amazing colleague and mentor and that she supports her students in tackling current issues on race and marginalization of groups across the U.S. Chapple values first-generation students and students of color and supports them in their academic journey at UCF. Her advice for other women: “Believe in yourself, take time to celebrate the small victories and find people who will support you without question. Do not waste your time with people who are not in your corner.” 


Alicja Copik

Alicja Copik

Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine

Alicja Copik specializes in innate immunity with emphasis on cell biology of Natural Killer (NK) cells in the context of immunotherapy for treatment of cancer. Copik has diverse expertise from chemical engineering, medicinal organic chemistry, enzymology, biomolecular interactions, molecular and cell biology and she worked in academia, hospital and industrial settings. Her nominator describes her as a dedicated scientist focused on life-saving research and supporting her fellow colleagues along the way. Copik is an excellent mentor that has culminated in the success of her students earning awards such as OUR Student Research Grant, Honors in Major Scholarship and some being inducted into the Order of Pegasus. Copik is truly dedicated to sharing her talents and supporting those of others and has made a transformative difference in the UCF community. 


Kaitlyn Crawford

Kaitlyn Crawford

Materials Science and Engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Kaitlyn Crawford has contributed to at least 17 peer-reviewed research articles and has received several awards for her excellence in research and teaching. Crawford’s nominator says she is an advocate for young women in STEM and has been vital to the development of the bachelor of science materials science and engineering program at UCF. She has also helped increase the number of young women in STEM research and her students have gone on to win various prestigious awards within the world of science. Crawford says passion, curiosity, resilience, innovation and gratitude are the words that inspire her to strive for success. She also reminds students that life is like a canvas, and to paint it with purpose.  


Elena Flitsiyan

Elena Flitsiyan

Physics, College of Sciences

Elena Flitsiyan is the current Undergraduate Program Director for the department of physics at UCF. She is also a panelist for NSF Divisions, as well as a reviewer for the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, Georgia Science Foundation and the Journal of Nuclear Instruments and Methods among many others. Flitsiyan’s nominator says she is a tireless advocate for undergraduate students in physics. Under Flitsiyan, the department of physics has seen tremendous growth in the number of graduates. She has a large workload yet continues to publish peer-reviewed articles and has championed women in physics by founding the Women in Physics Society. She says her dad influenced her life in a significant way, by instilling in her strong morals, a love for science and a work ethic. Throughout her life, his words of encouragement have guided her.  


Amanda Groff

groff (002)

Anthropology, College of Sciences

Amanda Groff specializes in archaeology and bioarcheology. Groff has participated in many archaeological investigations, including work in Australia, Belize, Egypt, Italy, Turkey and Florida. Her nominator says she has been a great mentor to women by helping them advance in their careers. Groff says she was inspired by her first archaeology class as an undergraduate student at UCF because it was taught by a woman. It set her on a path to becoming an archaeologist herself. Her advice is: embrace your ambition and don’t let fear or failure stand in your way. She strives to be a role model for her female students who never knew they could pursue a career in archaeology.  


Alicia Hawthorne

Alicia Hawthorne

Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine

Alicia Hawthorne teaches rigorous undergraduate courses like neurobiology, biomedical sciences careers and molecular biology. But despite the course’s difficult nature, Hawthorne has helped her students succeed and won the College of Medicine’s 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Educator Award and 2021 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. She also coordinates the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences Clinical Internship Program and is a NACE Competency Faculty Champion to prepare students for their careers. Being nominated meant a lot to Hawthorne. “I put a lot of development and effort into teaching, striving to not only help students learn the material but also to develop their skills necessary for career success,” she says. “My advice to them is to be courageous and live the life that you want. Work/life balance is not always easy, but it is always important. Take time for self-care.” 


Elizabeth Hoffman

Elizabeth Hoffman

School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education

Elizabeth Hoffman teaches a variety of courses in the Elementary Education program and advises and mentors the program’s teacher candidates. Her passion is helping future teachers learn how to effectively engage their students in learning, especially through the use of quality children’s literature. Her nominator says she is one of the most dedicated faculty members she has crossed paths with. Hoffman always puts her students first and has an obvious passion for knowledge and education. “The better I am able to do my job as a teacher educator, the more effective our teacher candidates will be and ultimately the more our K-6 students will be positively impacted,” Hoffman says.  


Elizabeth Horn

elizabeth horn

School of Performing Arts, College of Arts and Humanities

Elizabeth Brendel Horn has creative interests in classic drama literature and the young actor. She over 30 credits as a director, applied theatre artist, teaching artist, and facilitator of devised theatre. Horn’s nominator says that Horn has not only been a leader and a role model for her students but also an invaluable colleague. She is always supportive and her professionalism and passion as an artist inspire and challenge her colleagues each and every day. Horn says she feels fortunate to work in theater or young audiences as her two children enjoy her successes. Her advice for other women is to say yes selectively and say no with joy.  


Richelle Joe

Richelle Joe

Counselor Education, College of Community Innovation and Education

In addition to teaching graduate counseling education courses, Richelle Joe focuses on culturally responsive services for underserved and marginalized clients and communities, with an emphasis on the experiences of individuals of color and the mental health needs of individuals and families affected by HIV. At UCF she leads HEART, the HIV Education, Awareness, and Research Team, which collaborates with university and community organizations to raise HIV awareness and share information about HIV prevention and treatment. Joe’s nominator says she has done a tremendous job in working on the mental health needs of individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS and providing culturally responsive counseling services to diverse and underserved populations. Joe has a fierce ambition, passion and optimism for the work she does. Her grandparents and great grandparents, who were unable to advance their education, inspire her. 


Catherine Kaukinen

catherine kaukinen

Criminal Justice, College of Community Innovation and Education

Catherine Kaukinen’s 20-plus year career has examined all aspects of violence against women.  She has received many awards from her national disciplinary organization including the 2020 Coramae Richey Mann Leadership Award from the Minorities and Women Section of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Her nominator says that diversity, inclusion, equity and globalization are central to her scholarship, teaching, service and community engagement. She is committed to creating an environment that fosters academic excellence and innovative scholarship to support faculty and improve student learning opportunities. Kaukinen says her research and academic work energizes her to pursue her goals. She also says to surround yourself with a good group of mentors.  


Annette Khaled

annette khaled

Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine

Annette Khaled was recruited to UCF to join the newly formed Biomolecular Science Center, which later grew into the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Medicine. She has over 100 research abstracts and papers and developed medicine for the treatment of metastic cancers, that target specific areas in the body. The medicine she has helped create is patented and licensed for commercialization. “While as women we may face discrimination and be undervalued for our work, I never have thought of myself in those terms,” she says. “My advice to women as they pursue their goals is the only one that can limit you is yourself. So set your goals as high as you think and then go above and beyond that!”


Sherron Killingsworth Roberts

Sherron Killingsworth Roberts

School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education

Sherron Killingsworth Roberts is a professor of Language Arts and Literacy. Her research considers literacy as social practice, content analyses of children’s literature and innovative pedagogy in teacher education. Roberts has won four UCF Teaching Incentive Awards, one Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award, and one Research Incentive Award as well the first UCF Women Faculty Excellence Award in Academic Partnerships for her 19 years of embedded university coursework at an elementary school. Her nominator says she has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of students, faculty and the general community. She has a deep, personal commitment to excellence in research, teaching, and serving others and a positive and lasting impact on the lives of so many women. Killingsworth Roberts says her advice is: Bad things happen, but the best revenge in life is to be happy…. so if we can, find a thread of happiness to spread along life’s way. 


Brigitte Kovacevich

Brigitte Kovacevich

Anthropology, College of Sciences

Brigitte Kovacevich is an archaeologist, and her areas of focus are lithic (or stone tool) technology and household archaeology among the Maya. Kovacevich primarily focuses on the rise of social inequality and how people play a role in the everchanging economic and political landscapes. Her work has been funded by the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation and the American Philosophical Society, among others. Brigitte’s nominator, which happens to be her spouse, says that Kovacevich broke gender barriers in archaeology and proved that women can accomplish feats in a male-dominated field. Kovacevich is also a great mentor to young women in the archaeology field as well as her undergraduate students. Kovacevich says she was inspired by her mother, who had an adventurous spirit, to accomplish her dream of becoming an archaeologist.  


Kristy Lewis

Kristy Lewis

Biology, College of Sciences

Kristy Lewis, a first-generation college student, is a marine ecologist aiming to understand how natural and anthropogenic disturbances in marine ecosystems impact fish communities and how humans interact with these changes. She has a passion for elevating the next generation of women scientists, as displayed in her lab of four women graduate students and a woman research assistant. Her dedication to equity was recently highlighted in a co-authored piece in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science outlining the differential impacts of COVID-19 on women faculty. Her nominator says she is an inspirational mentor, an active advocate and a champion for equitable representation of all groups of people, especially women in STEM. “Building on the backbone of my parents’ support, my drive for success is fueled by my hope to make the path easier for those who come after me,” Lewis says. “I want the students I interact with to understand their future options and to learn skills they can use across multiple careers in a lifetime.” 


Amelia Lyons

Amelia Lyons

History, College of Arts and Humanities

Amelia Lyons’ research focuses on the origins of Algerian migration to France, the War for Algerian Independence and the historical process of decolonization. She has already written one book and is in the early stages of her next book, which both focus on Algerian families and the country’s history. Her nominator says Lyons helped her find her footing in life and discover her calling. She was described as a fierce advocate and mentor for students and instills a hard and rewarding work ethic in everyone she comes across and works with. She is the prime example of what a faculty member should look like. Lyons says her advice is based on her grandfather’s motto: Get at it and get it done. “I am committed to equipping students with a range of tools they know how use and how to transfer to careers,” she says. “The history classroom is an ideal place for this kind of learning.” 


Marisa Macy

Marisa Macy

School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education

Marisa Macy’s research interests include authentic assessment of young children with delays/disabilities, developmental screening, play and personnel preparation. Her nominator says her effectiveness as an instructor is well above average. Macy has won awards for her partnerships in the community, and a High Impact Practice peer coaching award, showing her success in and outside of the classroom. Her teaching and mentoring of UCF students is of excellent value to UCF. Macy says she is inspired by her daughter, and that taking time for self-care is not selfish. “Taking time to do something enjoyable can be healthy and for me, it is reading. People need support now more than ever,” she says. “Balancing work and life during the pandemic may be difficult. This time we are living in will go down in history. Be gentle on yourselves.”  


Sheila Moore

Sheila Moore

Educational Leadership, College of Community Innovation and Education

As a former teacher and school leader, Sheila Moore has served the profession through many professional boards and organizations. Moore’s research interests include high poverty- high-achieving schools, leadership preparation programs and clinical practices, forming collaborative partnerships for student success and social justice in school leadership with an emphasis on educational ecosystems and female leadership in urban school settings. Moore has been recognized and is the recipient of teaching, research and mentoring awards. Her nominator says she is an excellent faculty member that epitomizes dedication and excellence. She is also described as an energetic storyteller whose authenticity and compassion encourages her students to think critically and develop a sense of individualism. “I am inspired to strive for success by embracing that you are remembered not for the knowledge that you impart but for the way you encourage and lift others and the important skills of living a fulfilling life,” she says. “These skills include happiness, inspiration, compassion, curiosity and resilience.” 


Karen Mottarella

Karen Mottarella

Psychology, College of Sciences

Karen Mottarella teaches clinical psychology and career readiness. She also created and coordinates the Behavioral Forensics Certificate. Her nominator says she has significant impact on all psychology majors and has been an innovator in creating an online, customized psychology career-development course platform. Her innovation and strong support of her undergraduate program has allowed her students to continue to grow and succeed. Mottarella says she is one of the lucky people who loves their job and goes to work happy. “My advice for other women as they purse their goals is to build a support system that includes other professional women who they can turn to for perspective, advice, and support,” she says. 


Donna Neff

Donna Neff

Nursing Systems, College of Nursing

Donna Neff’s research focuses on understanding the determinants of patient health outcomes and improving the care they receive. Her nominator says Neff serves a critical role in mentoring new faculty and doctoral students in research. She provides great advice to her colleagues in terms of research. In addition, Neff is described as a perpetual cheerleader due to her positive attitude and her energetic support of others. As a first-generation student, Neff was inspired by her mother who told her to spread her wings. “This was amazing from a woman who grew up in a generation where women didn’t work outside the home, didn’t drive and who was very much a traditional wife – someone who didn’t have the opportunities to fly,” she says. “Once I had my three daughters, I was inspired to set examples for them as a student, a mom and in my career so they would see the world as their unlimited flightpath.” 


Bendegul Okumus

Bendegul Okumus

Foodservice and Lodging Management, Rosen College of Hospitality Management

Bendegul Okumus has worked in the hospitality industry including food preparation, food services, and event management areas before coming to UCF. 
Her research focuses on food safety, eating behavior and eating habits, food and culinary tourism, food waste and health and wellness in hospitality and tourism. Her nominator says she is a prolific researcher and that she has demonstrated her teaching skills and compassion for her students. She has published 30 research articles since arriving at UCF and has served on various committees. Okumus is described as a wonderful person who exemplifies the essence of hospitality in her daily life. “My advice for women as they pursue their goals is to continue improving their knowledge and skill and not to give up when facing challenges,” she says. 


Elsie Olan

Elsie Olan

School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education

Elsie Olan researches the role of language and writing, literacy, literature and diversity in learning and teaching. Her work has been published in many journals, her current research on teacher education, leadership and diversity is also shared in a co-edited book series. Her nominator says she is a recognized and respected leader in the field of English language arts. She has received many awards such as the NCTE Council of English Leadership Innovative Leadership Award and has guided her students’ growth and development into outstanding teachers both nationally and internationally. “Celebrate small victories, take care of yourself, and be confident. Welcome new challenges that go beyond your comfort zone,” she recommends.  “Create short and long-term goals. Be inquisitive and assertive while being an engaged and supportive colleague that cultivates a culture of collaboration within your work and community.” 


Noemi Pinilla-Alonso

noemi pinilla alonso

Florida Space Institute and Arecibo Observatory, College of Sciences

Noemi Pinilla-Alonso joined the Florida Space Institute of the University of Central Florida as a visiting scientist before becoming as an associate researcher in Planetary Science in 2016. Her work focuses on the study of the surface properties of small bodies in the Solar System. She is also the Deputy Principal Scientist of the Arecibo Observatory and acts as the Science Manager since December 2018. Her nominator says she is an exceptional researcher as well as an excellent student mentor. Pinilla-Alonso is unique in her ability to lead groups to success and her genuine talent for promoting her postdocs to assure they excel in their respective fields. She says she is inspired by the people around her and by people who don’t work in science. “Reach out for advice, do your best every day, and allow yourself to fail because failure will give you the greatest growth,” she says. “Look up, dream big, reach far, and surround yourself with kindness, love and fun.” 


Kerry Purmensky

kerry purmensky

Modern Languages and Literatures, College of Arts and Humanities

Kerry Purmensky’s research interests are focused on service-learning and training the teachers of tomorrow. She has received numerous grants, including two federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education. Purmensky is committed to being a female mentor to her colleagues and students as she works in the TESOL (Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages) field. As a woman scholar, Purmensky wants to work towards a more inclusive community, ensuring that future generations of women have even more opportunities going forward. She admires her student’s perseverance as they work several jobs, navigate a pandemic and balance life. Her advice for other women is to find their voice and use it. “Your experiences, your background, and your work are valuable, so never hesitate to share that understanding of the world to create change and growth,” she says. “Use your voice so that other women can find their own voices.” 


Lisa Roney

Lisa Roney

English, College of Arts and Humanities

Lisa Roney teaches creative writing as a professor of English. She is the author of Sweet Invisible Body: Reflections on a Life with Diabetes, The Best Possible Bad Luck, and Serious Daring: Creative Writing in Four Genres. She just completed five years as editor-in-chief and director of UCF’s national/international literary magazine, The Florida Review, and was also editor-in-chief of Aquifer: The Florida Review Online, an interdisciplinary arts journal, since she founded it in 2017. Her nominator says she has provided a voice and opportunities for writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers and disabled writers. Roney’s concern for and attention to the status of and opportunities for women and other overlooked groups in the academy and in society has been a constant theme of her time at UCF. Her support of women in the academy dovetails with her work on disability, chronic illness and the medical humanities. “The person who has inspired me the most in this regard is my mother, who was a professional woman and a supporter of diversity long before those things were common,” she says.     


Audra Skukauskaitė

audra skukauskaite

Learning Sciences and Educational Research, College of Community Innovation and Education

Audra Skukauskaite collaborates with colleagues across disciplines at UCF, nationally and in Lithuania. Her scholarly interests focus on teaching and learning of research methodology within and beyond doctoral programs, transparency in ethnographic and qualitative research design and publishing, invention education, and learning and access to research. Her nominator says she has worked to demystify educational systems, mentor new scholars and emphasize the need for multiple perspectives, creativity, and innovation to understand and address the many complex social and educational problems. “I love working with diverse students whose interests and ideas span the world,” she says. “They keep me learning and humble; they inspire new ideas. I appreciate their openness and willingness to share their lives and stories with me as together we engage in learning and re-envisioning possibilities for ways of thinking, living, and researching.”


Trudian Trail-Constant

Trudy Trail-Constant

Center for Distributed Learning

Trudian Trail-Constant joined the instructional design team at CDL in 2018. Her research interests include online faculty development and usability and her expertise in the field has allowed her to publish multiple peer-reviewed journal articles, online articles and present at numerous conferences at the local, national, and international levels. Trudian even helped a team develop the new Essentials of Online Teaching (EOT) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her nominator says her passion for her work shines at every opportunity, and her dedication is unmatched. She is inspired by her parents, who were immigrants. “I witnessed the impact of their 60 years of combined service and dedication as educators,” she said. “As a result, I’ve learned that if I can impact the lives of just a fraction of the people my parents touched by helping to improve access to quality and effective instruction, then my career will have been a success.” 


Shane Trenta

shane trenta

School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education

Shane Trenta is a three-time UCF graduate who has taught at UCF for the past 16 years. She first started teaching in OCPS as an elementary school teacher. Trenta is also involved with many projects at UCF and has helped provide students with resources geared toward academic success in education and service-learning opportunities to assist in fulfilling course requirements. Trenta shines in all ways as a faculty member. Teaching outsized classes, volunteering as a faculty advisor for student groups, and in general improving the education and training of future teachers. She is an asset to the school, the college, the university, and women everywhere who strive to meet challenges with intelligence, grace, and dedication. “My advice to others as they pursue their goals is to always stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish,” she says. “Do not let obstacles in life discourage you but rather use them to become stronger and more driven.”    


Marcy Verduin

Marcy Verduin

Dean’s Office, College of Medicine

Marcy Verduin is the Associate Dean for Students and a Professor of Psychiatry at the College of Medicine. Her clinical work is currently based at UCF Health, where she provides consultative services on an outpatient basis. In 2007, Dr. Verduin became the first psychiatry faculty member at UCF’s new medical school, where she played an integral role in developing the overarching undergraduate medical education curriculum, establishing policies and procedures, hiring faculty and staff, and securing LCME accreditation. Her nominator says she admires Verduin’s dedication to her college and has worked tirelessly to make sure her students are always able to succeed by advising them every step of the way and ensuring she is on the cutting edge of the latest medical education. “Be proactive about seeking mentorship from a variety of individuals both inside and outside your institution,” Verduin says. “Make the most of the mentorship relationship – be intentional about scheduling regular meetings, asking questions, and listening to the stories of your mentors’ career choices and challenges – not only can these meetings provide support to you, but they can also challenge you and stretch you to grow in ways you didn’t know were possible.” 


Pamela Wisniewski

Pamela Wisniewski

Computer Science, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Pamela Wisniewski researches human-computer interaction, which intersects with social computing and privacy. She is an expert in the interplay between social media, privacy, and online safety for adolescents. She has authored over 80 peer-reviewed publications, and has been awarded $3 million in external grant funding. Her research has been featured by popular news media outlets, including ABC News, NPR, Psychology Today, and U.S. News and World Report. Her nominator says she is a strong advocate for women and minorities and is dedicated to mentoring UCF graduate students. Wisniewski puts her students before herself and instills the necessary confidence and knowledge in them in order to overcome adversity both in life and within the computer science field. Her six-year-old daughter inspires her to strive for success every day. “It is my job to model for her that as a woman, she can do anything she sets her mind to, even if that involves succeeding in a male-dominant field,” Wisniewski said. “Young girls need to see strong female leaders, so that they know that they can do hard things and overcome obstacles to achieve their dreams.”