By Wendy Sarubbi | September 17, 2012 2:12 pm

Dr. Cristina Fernandez-Valle, a newly promoted professor at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, recently received UCF and national recognition for the mentoring of young scientists.

Dr. Fernandez-Valle, a specialist in neurodegenerative diseases, was one of three UCF faculty members to be honored with the Women’s Research Center’s inaugural 2012 Women of Distinction: Excellence in Mentoring Award. The new award is designed to recognize women faculty who are excellent mentors of their colleagues, students and community. The other honorees were Dr. Joo Kim, associate professor, School of Visual Arts and Design, and Dr. Parveen Wahid, professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

In addition to the UCF award, Dr. Fernandez-Valle recently was named a National Role Model, by Minority Access, an organization that seeks to improve diversity in education, employment and research nationwide. She will be honored at the organization’s national meeting in Orlando September 28-30.

“UCF stands for opportunity,” Dr. Fernandez-Valle said of her recent accomplishments. “I was given opportunity by my past mentors. Now it’s up to me to give opportunity and keep opening doors. It’s my job to help students be successful, to be a positive influence in their lives.”

Dr. Richard Peppler, interim director of the Burnett school and associate dean for faculty and academic affairs at the UCF College of Medicine, noted that Dr. Fernandez-Valle has directly mentored more than 70 students and post-doctoral fellows and that more than 60 percent of them have been underrepresented minorities in the field of science. “Cristina has been a strong advocate for female and minority science students in her lab and in the classroom,” Dr. Peppler said. “As the sole instructor for 30 undergraduate and graduate semester-long courses, she consistently receives strong ratings despite the high standards she sets for her students. It is a pleasure to see her honored for all of her accomplishments the past 15 years at UCF.”

As the first minority scientist hired at the Burnett school, Dr. Fernandez-Valle says she understands the challenges of minority students seeking to enter the field. While the community has an increasing number Hispanic physicians, she said, Hispanic Ph.D. faculty members are still rare. “All kinds of people can contribute to science,” she said. “Succeeding in science requires a lot of hard work, students who love research, who are always at the lab bench, are always trying to learn. These are the students who make it. My job is to open the doors and give them every opportunity.”

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