Commencement Award Winners
The Guy Stevenson Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies
Sarah LeAnn Price
Ph.D. Microbiology and Immunology
Mentor: Associate Professor Matthew Lawrenz
The Guy Stevenson Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies honors a former dean of the Graduate School and is presented to an outstanding doctoral degree recipient who has demonstrated excellence in both scholarship and leadership within the discipline and has made significant contributions to teaching and/or service. Sarah LeAnn Price is the recipient of this year’s Stevenson award and, as such, serves as the Graduate School’s outstanding student, carries our banner for the Hooding and Commencement ceremonies, and delivers the student speech for the Hooding ceremony.
During her childhood in rural Tennessee, Sarah Price’s initial love for science was driven by calculating race car velocities at the NASCAR track and completing simple experiments in her garden with plants. For her undergraduate studies, Sarah attended the University of Tennessee, where she received her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology and her first research experience. After graduation, Sarah worked as a research technician at John’s Hopkins School of Medicine before beginning her graduate school training at the University of Louisville in 2016. Shortly after, Sarah joined Matt Lawrenz’ lab in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
Early in her graduate career, Sarah was awarded an NIH T32 training award to support her research. In 2019, Sarah successfully competed for her own funding through an NIH F31 fellowship, the second such fellowship received by a UofL student. This fellowship funded her research to study a conceptionally novel mechanism for Yersinia pestis, the bacteria responsible for the disease known as plague, to acquire zinc. Sarah’s research has led to significant discoveries that have impacted the field of microbial pathogenesis and furthered our knowledge of how microbes compete for nutrients within the host. Sarah has contributed to six publications, with three first author publications, and she has been invited to present at six regional and international conferences.
During her time as a graduate student, Sarah has excelled not only as a researcher, but also as a mentor and leader in the science community. In 2018, Sarah took over the leadership of Louisville Science Pathways (LSP), a science outreach program that provides summer research opportunities to Jefferson County high school students. Sarah worked directly with JCPS to learn how LSP could support JCPS students, and she initiated a partnership with a local foundation, SummerWorks, to integrate LSP into their active portfolio of programs that provide Louisville area youth new career opportunities. Through these partnerships, Sarah crafted program to align with the needs of JCPS students. More recently, Sarah developed a seminar series for high school students to learn about applying to college, applying to medical school, and scientific careers. Overall, Sarah’s work with LSP has generated a self-supported summer research opportunity for JCPS students, which will foster the next generation of scientists here at UofL and beyond.
Sarah’s experiences have led her to aspire to lead her own research program at an academic institution; she will continue her training as a postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University and will continue to use her education and experiences to promote equity in STEM to ensure opportunities for science education are accessible to all students.
The John Richard Binford Memorial Award
Kylea Rose Garces
Mentor: Professor Sarah Emery
Kylea Rose Garces is the recipient of the John Richard Binford Memorial Award, which honors a former chairman of the Department of Psychology. This award recognizes a doctoral degree recipient who excels in scholarship and has contributed to other areas within the discipline such as leadership, teaching, or service.
As a first-generation college student whose parents are farmers and Filipino immigrants, becoming a scientist was not an obvious career trajectory for Kylea. She began her academic career at her local community college in Santa Rosa, California and later transferred to the University of Oregon, where she earned her B.S. from the University of Oregon in 2018. Kylea began her Ph.D. at the University of Louisville with Dr. Sarah Emery, researching fungal responses to global change within the sand dunes of Lake Michigan. She has secured $150,000 funding for research and professional development while at UofL, and her research was instrumental in obtaining a recently awarded National Science Foundation grant to collaborators and mentors Dr. Sarah Emery and Dr. Natalie Christian for over $1,000,000.
Kylea has worked diligently to be an excellent is an award-winning teacher, researcher, and mentor. Within her first years, she received a “faculty-favorite” nomination, the Furnish Teaching Award in Biology, and a grant to create new labs at UofL. Through these early teaching experiences as well as a fellowship to the Climate Engagement Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she realized the importance of strong science communication skills. Kylea continued pursuing science communication experiences, including participating in a workshop with the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing where she published a news article titled, “Journalists and researchers share challenge of spotlighting connections between health and racism”. She also has co-authored an article with the Ecological Society of America’s Inclusive Ecology Section, highlighting the importance of equity and how to make the future of ecology a more just space. Kylea used the difficulties of virtual teaching during Covid as a springboard to conduct research to best inform future pedagogy. Her research on student engagement with different modalities won multiple awards, including best graduate student education research at the National Association of Biology Teachers Conference.
Her philosophy centers education as a form of empowerment and the classroom as a space for excitement. She continues to stay true to her values rooted in critical, engaged, and feminist pedagogy theories inspired by Kentucky’s own, bell hooks. Kylea’s overarching goal is to be a representative for others and shift the narrative around what a scientist looks like.
The John M. Houchens Prize for Outstanding Dissertation
Mohamed Tarek Mohamed Ali
Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Studies, specialization in Translational Bioengineering
Mentor: Professor Ayman El-Baz
Mohamed Tarek Ali completed his MSc. in Systems and Biomedical Engineering at Cairo University in 2017. After graduation Mohamed cofounded and worked as an R&D engineer at DilenyTech LLC, earning recognition for outstanding performance and a U.S. patent. His dissertation focuses on developing a computer aided framework for the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using brain imaging. He integrated multimodal neuroimaging data—structural MRI, resting state function MRI, and behavioral data in order to develop biomarkers for subcategories (endophenotypes) of ASD, resulting in a comprehensive computer assisted diagnostic (CAD) system that characterizes ASD multifactorially, rather than along a one-dimensional spectrum.
Over the course of his PhD work, Mohamed has helped many students learn how to apply machine learning techniques in biomedical imaging, as well as principals of medical image computing. In 2022, Mohamed had his internship at Cognex Corporation, where he assisted in building cutting-edge technologies by developing sandbox software using C++, Python, OpenCV to provide an easier way to test different algorithms in less time. Mohamed has six published journal articles in addition to four conference papers, two book chapters and a patent application, and his research has received several awards while in graduate school.
The John M. Houchens Prize for Outstanding Dissertation
Emily Michelle Kempfer
Mentor: Assistant Professor Lee Thompson
Emily Michelle Kempfer is the winner of the John M. Houchens Prize, which honors a former registrar of the university and is awarded to the doctoral student who presents the most meritorious dissertation for the current commencement
Dr. Emily M. Kempfer (aka Kempfer-Robertson) received her B.S. in Chemistry in 2017 from Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. She joined the lab of Professor Lee Thompson at the University of Louisville in August, 2018 and completed her Ph.D. in Chemistry by successfully defending her dissertation in Spring of 2023. For her doctoral research she worked on the development and application of new excited state methodologies for studying multistate systems. While each chapter of her dissertation has significant impact, her mentor notes that the broader impacts of the work are that it will enable faster and more accurate quantum mechanical simulations, and therefore improve fundamental knowledge in any field in which electronic structure governs the observed behavior – biology, chemistry, materials, medicine to name just a few.
During her Ph.D. studies she has been published as first author five times and has a total of seven publications. She has also been an excellent mentor to five undergraduate students during her time as a graduate student at University of Louisville, and all five undergraduates have been featured on at least one publication. During her graduate career, she has received several awards, including the University Fellowship (2018), Arno Spatola Fellowship (2022), and Student Champion (2022). She also has served as Vice-President for the Chemistry Graduate Student Association (2021-2022) and as a regular volunteer at the St. Joseph’s Childrens home on Wednesdays during art night (2019-2022).
Her nominator ends his letter this way: “I hope I have sufficiently articulated above, not only the significance and impact of her thesis work, but also the immense intellectual creativity and drive required to execute the projects. Emily’s ability is further emphasized by the fact that she had postdoctoral research offers from groups at Rice University, Michigan Institute of Technology, University of Sydney, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but has opted to continue her career at the Max Planck Institute with Frank Neese, who is a leading researcher in the field.”
The Alice Eaves Barns Award Outstanding Achievement in Master’s Program
Randall Eric Cole
M.S.S.W. Social Work
Co-Mentors: Professor Anita Barbee and Lecturer Lori Paris
The Alice Eaves Barns Award is named in honor of a Graduate School staff member’s many years of outstanding service as a staff member of the Graduate School. This award recognizes a student who has displayed tenacity in the face of adversity while attaining excellence in both the classroom and outside endeavors and is given in recognition of outstanding achievement in a master’s program. Randall Eric Cole is one of this year’s recipients of the Barns award.
Randall Cole is in his final semester of the M.S.S.W. program at the Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work and Family Science at the University of Louisville.During his time at the Kent School, he completed a double practicum with the Council on Developmental Disabilities where he began a successful after-school communication and social skills-building program for neurodiverse youth, with a particular outreach to BIPOC adolescents on the autism spectrum and their families. Randall recently helped write a successful grant application which will bring in $100,000 to the Council to continue and expand the program.
According to one of his mentors, Randall has maintained a high GPA and served as an advocate for those with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, all the while being a single father to two sons who have such challenges. She notes, “he has a high GPA and has made a profound impact on his fellow students and the faculty who taught him. I will always remember Randall as a leader, a social justice warrior, and a fiercely loving parent who is a role model for managing adversity while also grappling with academic material and applying it to his practice in the field of social work.”
Randall was a first-generation college student in his extended family. In 1992, he received his bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude from Wabash College, which included a year abroad program at the University of Dakar in Senegal, West Africa. After receiving his degree, Randall lived and worked in Germany for three years before relocating to New York to begin his career in public relations. Prior to moving to Louisville in 2020, Randall spent more than 20 years as a public relations professional in New York, San Francisco, and London.
He will graduate from the Kent School with his MSSW, after which time he intends to sit for his CSW exam and pursue a career working with and on behalf of neurodiverse individuals and their families. He currently lives in Louisville with his partner Wyatt, their sons Benjamin and Samuel, and their beloved dogs Popcorn and Tater tot.