‘Science mom,’ ‘superb mentor,’ Alexander secures ace educator award
Published on Monday, May 22, 2023
By: Gary Pettus, firstname.lastname@example.org
For her first job at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Barbara Alexander made $3.19 an hour.
Last week, it took her that long to make $10,000.
During a 60-minute celebration in the Sanderson Tower Community Room, the professor of physiology and biophysics at UMMC learned she is the 2023 recipient of the Regions TEACH Prize.
Offered for the first time a decade ago, the Toward Educational Advancement in Care and Health honor has recognized annually the “single educator who represents the very pinnacle of Medical Center teaching,” said Dr. Rob Rockhold, professor emeritus of pharmacology/toxicology, who announced this year’s winner of the five-figure prize.
After the ceremony, Alexander, a Rankin County Reservoir resident who’s a classic car enthusiast in her own right, said: “My husband has probably already spent every penny of it on antique spare car parts.”
But it was enthusiasm for teaching that shaped the proceedings, wherein UMMC and Regions Bank awarded the TEACH Prize in conjunction with the annual induction ceremony for the Nelson Order.
A group of exemplary educators from all seven campus schools, the order is named for Dr. Norman C. Nelson, a predecessor of Dr. LouAnn Woodward. The current vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, Woodward was on hand to acknowledge the inductees who were selected by students and recommended by each school’s dean.
Nominated by the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, Alexander is the fourth SGSHS contender in the last six years to take home the top honor.
Her impact, Rockhold said, is captured in this quote from Dr. William Osler, a founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital: “‘No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer than that blown by the successful teacher.’”
Alexander comes by her talent honestly. Many of her family members were teachers in the town where she grew up, Starkville, home of Mississippi State University. Among others, her parents and her mother’s mother – only the third female faculty member hired there – taught at MSU, where Alexander earned her BS in zoology in 1979. That was also the year she arrived at UMMC, as a research assistant making three bucks and change.
She has remained at the Medical Center throughout her career, earning her PhD in biochemistry at age 40 and completing a post-doctoral fellowship in physiology.
Since high school, she has wanted to be a scientist. Many of her numerous career accolades are tributes to her ability as a researcher, including the American Heart Association’s Harriet Dustan Award which recognizes female investigators for their contributions in the field of hypertension. Alexander has helped connect the dots between birth weight and blood pressure.
In 2015, she received the platinum medallion, the Medical Center’s highest honor recognizing extramural research funding. She was also the SGSHS 2019 Distinguished Alum and, two years later, was named a Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor, another nod to her scholarship.
But, Alexander said, she has come to realize that “my legacy is not going to be my research; it’s going to be my trainees. I think of myself not only as a researcher, but also as a mentor.”
Dr. John Henry Dasinger can vouch for that. Now a postdoctoral fellow in physiology at the Medical College of Georgia, he penned a letter of support to the Nelson Order on behalf of his “science mom” who once brought a beach ball and candy to the classroom to lighten the load that is cardiovascular physiology.
“She makes the investment in you as a scientist, but even more so as a person,” Dasinger wrote. “These are the intangibles that make Dr. Alexander the superb mentor she is. I can only hope that I am able to be as generous and attentive to my future trainees as Dr. Alexander is with hers.”
Another of her former trainees, Dr. Norma Ojeda, described how Alexander helped mold her academic life and her life beyond the lab in the 19 years since she arrived in the United States from Paraguay.
“She includes me, even until today, in her family holiday parties, and other family events such as weddings, birthdays, or just to feast on the chicken fajitas prepared with the famous secret sauce by her husband, Mike,” wrote Ojeda, professor and chair of advanced biomedical education at UMMC.
“She is also the primary reason why I decided to become a U.S. citizen and move permanently to Mississippi.”
Also weighing in with his own letter was Dr. Joey Granger, associate vice chancellor for research and dean of the SGSHS: “[Alexander’s] lectures related to grant writing and the job portfolio that includes teaching and research statements are some of the highest rated lectures within the SGSHS.
“Clearly, Barbara has contributed extensively to the educational and mentoring goals of our trainees at all levels through her many contributions related to education, mentoring, and teaching.”
For her part, Alexander said that she has profited from the wisdom of her own mentors, including Granger. “He always said, ‘Never compare yourself to anyone else, always put your best foot forward, work as hard as you can and show a passion for your work.’
“That’s what I want to pass on to my trainees. I believe that if you have a passion for teaching, it comes through to the students. So, have that passion, and just care.”
2023 Regions Nelson Order Inductees
*Denotes the school’s Regions TEACH Prize nominee
School of Dentistry
Dr. Michael D. Fast, assistant professor of care planning and restorative sciences
Dr. Angelia D. Garner, associate professor of dental hygiene
*Dr. James R. Lott, associate professor of care planning and restorative sciences
Dr. Stephen Stray, associate professor of cell and molecular biology
School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences
*Dr. Barbara Alexander, professor of physiology and biophysics
School of Health Related Professions
*Dr. Michael Brown, assistant professor of physical therapy
Zack T. Gray, assistant professor of radiologic sciences
Dr. Lorraine Street, professor of occupational therapy
Dr. Stacy H. Vance, professor of medical laboratory science
School of Medicine
*Dr. William P. Daley, professor of pathology
Dr. Joshua B. Jeter, associate professor of medicine
Dr. Paul H. Moore III, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology
Dr. Hess M. Robertson, associate professor of anesthesiology
Dr. Stanley V. Smith, professor of pharmacology and toxicology
Dr. Gongchao Yang, professor of advanced biomedical education, and academic information services
School of Nursing
*Dr. M. Jeanne Calcote, assistant professor of nursing
Marlie Farrar, assistant professor of nursing
Dr. Leigh Holley, associate professor of nursing
Monica White, assistant professor of nursing
School of Pharmacy
*Dr. Daniel M. Riche, professor of pharmacy practice
John D. Bower School of Population Health
*Dr. Mary Currier, professor of preventive medicine