Celebrating the 2020 Board Award Winners

On Thursday, December 10th, the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences’ Board of Directors hosted its fifth annual Board of Directors Excellence Awards ceremony. Award recipients are nominated by their peers and students as role models of the University. Each of them, in their unique way, plays an integral part of our students’ journey, in making their dreams a reality, and in transforming health sciences higher education in our country.

This years’ awards recognized a stellar group of 12 faculty and staff who are dedicated to the University’s mission, core values, and service to our students. This year saw an unprecedented number of nominees – 235 in all, with 169 of those coming from students in our “Student First” award categories.

Award recipients are nominated by their peers and students as role models of the University and they have each been endorsed for their exceptional contribution by the University Executive Team. Each of them, in their unique way, plays an integral part of our students’ journey, in making their dreams a reality, and in transforming health sciences higher education in our country.

Award categories include:

  • The Student First Awards are student-nominated and presented to both faculty and staff recipients. This award recognizes faculty and staff members who demonstrate commitment to the University values with an emphasis on student first, through mentoring and dedication to preparing students to be leaders in their fields.
  • The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes the accomplishments of two USAHS alumni whose success exemplifies the spirit and vision of the University.
  • The Excellence in Teaching Award honors a faculty member who demonstrates the University’s core values and promotes the science and art of teaching and learning. The winner is chosen for their demonstrated focus on teaching excellence.
  • The Excellence in Scholarship Award is presented to core faculty members who adds to the body of knowledge in their field of practice and advances the University’s reputation as the leader in health sciences through research and/or the publication of scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.
  • The One-University Collaboration Award honors a full-time staff member who actively contributes to the advancement of a one-university culture through a demonstrated commitment to cross-functional or cross-campus collaboration.
  • The Excellence in Innovation Awards recognize two faculty members and a staff member who show outstanding creativity when confronted with challenges, issues or a need or desire for improvement.

Student First Award — Faculty

Dr. Miguel Garcia
Assistant Professor, Doctor of Physical Therapy Program
Miami, FL

Dr. Miguel Garcia is an assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences Miami campus. Dr. Garcia leads the various neuromuscular courses within the DPT program as well as a community-based Falls Prevention program for individuals with neurological conditions.

Since entering the profession, Dr. Garcia has primarily worked with patients who have neurological disease in the inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and home health settings with an interest in patients who have suffered a stroke. During his career, Dr. Garcia has also served in various leadership positions, most recently serving as the director of rehabilitation at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital where he oversaw daily operations for the therapy and case management departments and overall program development. He has served as a neuro instructor for both HealthSouth and Select Medical, providing extensive continuing education courses. He has spoken at local, state, and national conferences. Beyond his work for the university and the rehabilitation hospital, he also serves as a program surveyor for CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities).

Student First Award — Faculty

Dr. Meghan Savage
Associate Professor, Master of Speech Language Pathology Program
Austin, TX

Dr. Meghan Savage is the acting assistant program director and associate professor in the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) program. She joined the university in June 2018 as an inaugural core faculty member in the MS-SLP program.

Dr. Savage has been instrumental in the development of the SLP program. She teaches adult neurogenic communication disorders, motor speech and cognitive communication disorders and integrated knowledge and skills in speech-language pathology. Dr. Savage has helped spearhead interprofessional education and collaborative practice experiences with OT, PT, and SLP students and colleagues on the Austin campus. She has served as the faculty liaison for the student speech language pathology student organization. She has practiced as a speech-language pathologist since 2007 and has worked with pediatric and adult populations.

Dr. Savage actively participates in service to the University. She is the chair of the Communications Committee for the Academy of Neurological Communication Disorders & Sciences (ANCDS) and has recently been elected to the Executive Board for ANCDS.

Student First Award — Staff

Kailynn Cannata
Academic and Student Success Advisor
Austin, TX

Kailynn Cannata is highly motivated, organized, and enjoys engaging with students and colleagues. She started at USAHS in June 2017 after previously serving as a Regional Center Director for Sylvan Learning Centers. Kailynn knows every student on the Austin campus and singlehandedly runs a large, robust tutoring program that students rave about. She works closely with faculty to ensure the best student experience and helps guide admitted students to success. Kailynn understands students’ educational needs and helps to provide the tools they need to become the best healthcare professionals. She approaches her work with integrity, respect, and a level head.

Kailynn has MS Ed. in Higher Education with an emphasis in Leadership in Student Success from Walden University, and a BA in English from Texas State University.

Excellence in Teaching Award

Dr. Kayla Smith
Associate Professor, Doctor of Physical Therapy Program
San Marcos, CA

Dr. Smith completed her manual therapy certification through the North American Institute on Manual Therapy in 2004. She completed her certification in manipulative therapy in 2005, and later that year obtained board certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in Orthopaedics. Dr. Smith is a member of the APTA, AAOMPT, and COMPTSIG.

Dr. Smith has worked as an orthopaedic physical therapist in the San Diego area for the past 25 years. She is a full-time Associate Professor at the University of St. Augustine, San Marcos campus instructing orthopaedic musculoskeletal courses. Dr. Smith believes best learning is through active learning and encourages student involvement and interaction.  “Teaching is leading students into a situation in which they can only escape by thinking.”—Spencer Benson

Excellence in Scholarship Award

Dr. Lori Kupczynski
Professor, Doctor of Education Program
Virtual Campus

Dr. Lori Kupczynski serves as Professor at USAHS in the Doctor of Education program, Chair of the Texas IRB and member of the University Research Committee as well as active participation in other University committees. Prior to beginning this position full time in 2019, she served over 20 years in higher education in the areas of English, Communication, Adult Education, Higher Education and Educational Leadership.

In recognition of her work, Lori was the Recipient of the 2012 United States Distance Learning Association’s Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the Field of Distance Learning Award and both the 2012 Distinguished Researcher Award and the 2017 Outstanding Senior Faculty Award at TAMUK. Her presentation, “What’s in Your Tool Box? Tools to Optimize Social Presence and Student Engagement in an eLearning Environment,” was selected as the recipient of the “Best-in-Track” award in the Learning Effectiveness track for the OLC Accelerate 2018 conference. In addition, Lori recently led her team to win the Effective Practice Award at OLC Accelerate 2019 for the Concierge Support Model: Promoting Doctoral Student Efficacy, Persistence, and Matriculation in an Online Program.

Excellence in Scholarship Award

Dr. Evan Pucillo
Assistant Professor, Doctor of Physical Therapy Program
St. Augustine, FL

Dr. Evan M. Pucillo joined the faculty at the University of Saint Augustine for Health Sciences in 2017.  Prior to joining USAHS, Dr. Pucillo served as a research associate and outpatient neuromuscular therapist for the Utah Program for Inherited Neuromuscular Disorders at the University of Utah’s Department of Neurology in Salt Lake City, UT.  Dr. Pucillo earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC.  Prior to completing his professional education, he served in the US Navy and went on to complete his Bachelor’s in Biology at the College of Charleston, in Charleston, SC.  More recently, he completed his Doctor of Education (EdD) program at Liberty University and is disseminating his work in professional journals.

Dr. Pucillo has published numerous peer-reviewed research articles in various scholarly journals.  His prior research involved the examination of locomotion, balance, and functional outcomes for persons with neuromuscular and movement disorders in clinical trials.  However, Dr. Pucillo is now refocusing his priorities to better understand factors related to success and/or difficulty in Physical Therapist education.  His recent work included examining the learning strategies able to accurately predict success in online learning.  His teaching interests involve clinical neuroscience and evidence-based practice.  He is an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and the APTA’s Education, Research, and Health Policy & Administration sections.

Excellence in Innovation Award — Faculty

Dr. Kaitlyn Cremer
Assistant Professor, Master of Occupational Therapy and Doctorate of Occupational Therapy Programs
St. Augustine, FL

Dr. Kaitlyn Cremer earned her Master of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Occupational Therapy from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. During her doctorate work, she became a certified caregiver trainer for families caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, and she partnered with St. John’s county to provide services to families in need. In her 10 years of clinical experience, Dr. Cremer has worked in a variety of settings including geriatrics, pediatrics, acute-care, acute-rehabilitation and the emerging practice area of low vision, as well as injury and prevention including workplace wellness and ergonomics. She is an onsite prevention specialist which allows opportunities for worksite analysis, ergonomics and body mechanic training, and functional capacity evaluations to encourage a well workforce.

In 2019, Dr. Cremer was acknowledged by AOTA for her achievement in obtaining a Specialty Certification in Low Vision. It is a distinction that has been accomplished by less than 1% of all occupational therapists nationally. Her experience in two niche areas of occupational therapy supports her most recent designation as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist which allows her to work on a team with general contractors and architects to create accessible housing for all populations. Dr. Cremer is currently a consultant for a community-based long-term support and service agency for adults with intellectual and developmental disability advocating for occupational therapy’s role as well as clients’ quality of life and employee support. She serves on the Board of Directors for The Arc of Putnam to further advocate for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She allows OT students the experience of working with this population within their didactic curriculum as well as advanced fieldwork placement opportunities in this non-traditional setting.

Excellence in Innovation Award — Faculty

Dr. Deborah Ruediger
Assistant Professor, Master of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Occupational Therapy Programs
St. Augustine, FL

Dr. Ruediger graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy in 2001.  She graduated from Rocky Mountain University of Health Sciences in 2017 with a Post-Professional Doctorate and a specialty in Administration and Practice Management.  She has 18 years of clinical experience in inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient therapy, skilled nursing care, home health, hand therapy, and as a director of rehabilitation.  Dr. Ruediger is Certified in Hand Therapy in the United Kingdom.  She previously assisted Saginaw Valley State University in 2017-2018 as an adjunct professor prior to joining the university in August 2018 as an Instructor for the occupational therapy program.  In 2020 she completed her Certification to be a Certified Healthcare Simulation Educator (CHSE). Dr. Ruediger is also pursuing a PhD in Education Technology and Design at Walden University.  Her primary teaching responsibilities are OT Methods I: Assistive Technology on Campus, and OT Methods II: Orthotics, Prosthetics, and Modalities, and Clinical Applications in Adulthood.

One University Collaboration Award

Dr. Mariesol Wallace
Director of Clinical Services

Dr. Mariesol Wallace joined USAHS in December 2017 as an academic coordinator of clinical education. Prior to joining the University, she was the program director for a physical therapy assistant program and a practicing clinician in the home care setting.

During her 20-year career, she has worked in the following practice settings: hospitals, outpatient clinics (both corporately and privately owned), skilled nursing facilities, and home health. Her work in a variety of practice settings has provided her with diverse experiences that enhance the educational experience of her students. Her experience in administration, fiscal management, and human resource management in skilled nursing facilities and outpatient clinics has allowed her to understand both the clinical, financial, and management aspects of a physical therapy department.

To serve the profession, she has become an item writer for the NPTE. She has participated in several item writer workshops, and the faculty workshop hosted by FSBPT. She is also a member of the American Physical Therapy Association and the Florida Physical Therapy Association.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Gabe Somarriba
DPT Graduate
St. Augustine, FL

Dr. Gabriel Somarriba joined the faculty in 2009 as an adjunct professor on the St. Augustine campus. His area of clinical specialization is pediatrics, with a focus on Cerebral Palsy.  Dr. Somarriba has more than 10 years of clinical experience: As an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, he launched an outpatient Pediatric clinic that served a dual role of patient care and clinical research. He’s served as a physical therapist at Holtz Children’s Hospital working with pediatric neurologists on innovative approaches for the management of Spastic Cerebral Palsy.

Dr. Somarriba’s work in the community includes roles such as exercise physiologist and physical therapist for the Miami-Dade County Parks and Open Spaces where he developed community-based physical activity programming for children. He is also a Clinical Director for the Special Olympics, FunFitness program.

He is a licensed physical therapist and a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Pediatric Section. Dr. Somarriba is published in peer-reviewed journals in various topics including spinal cord injuries, congenital heart disease, HIV, cancer survivors and other neurological conditions. He also serves as a reviewer for the various peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Somarriba’s current scholarly agenda focuses on assessment and interventions to improve function for individuals with neurological conditions.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Dawn Andalon
DPT Graduate
St. Augustine, FL

Dr. Dawn Andalon is a physical therapist, educator, author, and co-founder of LEVEL4 PT & Wellness. She is a leading spine and postpartum women’s health specialist in the San Diego area. Prior to living in Carlsbad, CA, she worked at Nike WHQ in Portland, OR, as a physical therapist and consultant. She has always enjoyed fitness and working with the active population as she was a former dancer and gymnast. Dawn completed certification through Polestar Pilates after graduating with her Doctor of Physical Therapy from University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in 2003. She has implemented Pilates-based rehab with elite and Olympic athletes, surfers, golf pros, and the weekend warrior to enhance their chosen sport and to rehab spinal injuries. She is highly trained in pelvic floor rehab, holds a manual therapy certification from USAHS and has special training with the female athlete population. She enjoys treating spine, hip, and pelvic issues. Dawn has a passion for postnatal care, finding there was such a lack of guidance for new moms with childbirth related injuries; this led her to write a best-selling book in 2019 called, Beyond Nine Months, available on Amazon.

During the COVID quarantine this year, she released her second book, Thrive, Not Survive Over 40, co-authored with her husband, Oscar (a USA grad as well!), to help men and women over 40 navigate the challenges of aging. Realizing that people need long-term management of chronic aches and pains–not just a PT plan of care–their wellness center in Encinitas, CA, opened four years ago. Now with a team of seven, the center offers physical therapy, Pilates, Yoga, massage, and acupuncture to help people 40 and beyond enjoy their active lifestyles. Dawn is also a mom to two young daughters and loves living by the beach in southern CA.

Excellence in Innovation – Staff

Bill Ganza
Director of Faculty Development

In the 90s, Bill was naturally an advocate for distance education and online learning when a need for an online Child Development Associate (CDA) credential was discovered. Bill became a pioneer of online education and development, a man truly ahead of his time. As a believer in volunteerism and giving back to his community, Bill served as the Florida Association for the Education of Young Children (FLAEYC) president where he used his leadership skills to advocate for the professional development of early childhood professionals. Bill credits his biggest accomplishment in this capacity in the reorganization creating state affiliates to increase the organization‘s functionality. Although Bill remained a fervent advocate, he transitioned back to higher education in 2005 when he accepted a position at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) as the Director of Faculty Development. In 2015, he accepted a position at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) as Director of Faculty Development. The impact Bill left on faculty, staff, students, and the entire community at his positions at FSCJ, USAHS, FLAEYC, and the numerous boards and committees he served on will never be forgotten.

The board is deeply saddened by the loss of an incredible member of the University community.  Dr. Ganza’s nominations depict what a truly cherished colleague he was. It is with great appreciation to Dr. Ganza that this recognition will be shared with his family in commemoration of his many valuable contributions to the University.

Congratulations to all who were nominated and to this group of outstanding recipients. Your dedicated service to students and the University is an inspiration and we thank you for all you do.

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