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Three women were honored at the Campus Y Thursday afternoon (March 20) with the University Award for the Advancement of Women for their commitment to the empowerment of women.

The awards, created in 2006, honor individuals who have mentored or supported women on campus, elevated the status of women or improved campus policies for them, promoted women’s recruitment and retention, or promoted professional development for women.

The three winners – one faculty member, one staff member and one student, graduate student or postdoctoral scholar are eligible – receive a monetary award ($5,000 for the faculty and staff winners, $2,500 for the student scholar).

This year’s honorees are Audrey Verde, a graduate student in the neuroscience curriculum in the School of Medicine; Donna M. Bickford, associate director of the Office for Undergraduate Research in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Karen Booth, a professor in the women’s and gender studies department in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Audrey Verde

One nominator called Verde a natural fit for the award, a strong role model for women graduate students who has created her own path and paved the way for future women.

In the neuroscience program, Verde designed a course of study that provided exposure to a broad range of neurology rather than the traditional path of job-shadowing a physician.

She was selected as leader two years in a row for a team of about 20 students. Verde is a peer mentor for her team and arranges visits for interviewing students, taking special care to match women applicants with women host students. Her efforts have led to several of the interviewing students joining the program.

“Her enthusiasm and joy in being a scientist, making new and pivotal discoveries that help patients, is the best role model and inspiration we can get to accelerate the trajectory of women in science training,” said a nominator.

A natural problem solver, Verde created the student organization Advocates for M.D.-Ph.D. Women in Science to help fill a gap she saw in the career development for women students at Carolina in the translational sciences. The group meets monthly for discussions, panel presentations, book/journal clubs and leadership training sessions.

To help attract younger women into science, Verde leads a group that works with children at Briar Creek Elementary School on their science fair projects.

Donna M. Bickford

Bickford is no stranger to advocacy for gender issues and the empowerment of women. Since her tenure at Carolina began, she has worked with the UNC community and beyond to respond to the needs of women.

Bickford formerly was director of the Carolina Women’s Center, where she worked to improve campus policies affecting women staff, faculty and students. While in this role, she raised awareness about the prevalence of illegal human trafficking in North Carolina, worked closely with the Employee Forum to raise awareness about domestic violence and its impacts on the lives of women on campus and in the community, and worked on the “safe classrooms” initiative to ensure that women at Carolina enjoy a comfortable, safe experience both inside and outside the classroom.

Currently, Bickford serves on the Faculty Welfare Committee, where she is working on salary equity, retention and child-care matters that have long been areas of focus for her.

“Without question, Dr. Bickford is dedicated to the recruitment, retention and upward mobility of women on this campus,” a nominator said.

She also works with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities-sponsored Alt-Ac Working Group Initiative, which focuses on re-examining graduate student training to consider the changing job market and to create additional professional and leadership opportunities for women in higher education.

Karen Booth

Booth’s influence on campus is not limited to her teaching and research in women’s and gender studies. She serves as the faculty adviser for Students United for Reproductive Justice and for Choice USA, a campus group focused on reproductive rights at UNC and in the community.

She also is a member of the University’s Title IX Task Force, which is working to improve Carolina’s sexual assault policies. “Karen’s knowledge about the social and institutional influences on the incidence of sexual assault proved invaluable in guiding the committee,” a nominator said.

In her role as director of undergraduate studies, Booth works closely with students to mentor them both professionally and personally.

“For many years, Professor Booth has mentored, taught and advised our women students in crucial ways, but I want to call attention to one way in particular—her involvement in and devotion to LGBTQ students and especially young lesbian women,” a nominator said.

Booth has been commended for her work with other professors to create the Provost’s Committee for LGBTQ Life and the Sexuality Studies Program. She still serves on the Sexuality Studies Committee and continues to teach classes on feminist theory, LGBTQ politics and reproductive health.

Booth has given presentations and facilitated discussion for World AIDS Day workshops, LGBTQ Unity Conference panels, Race Awareness Week, and events focusing on sexuality and body image.

By Francesca Braaten

Published March 20, 2014.