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2019 President’s Scholar Awards: Four scholars receive UTHealth’s most distinguished award

Image of the 2019 awardees (from left to right) Bela Patel, MD; Belinda M. Reininger, DrPH; Patricia M. Butler, MD; and Maureen D. Mayes, MD, MPH. (Photo by UTHealth)
The 2019 President Scholar Awardees are (from left to right): Bela Patel, MD; Belinda M. Reininger, DrPH; Patricia M. Butler, MD; and Maureen D. Mayes, MD, MPH. (Photo by UTHealth)

Four distinguished scholars who demonstrate a longstanding excellence in the areas of teaching, research, and clinical care have received the top honor awarded by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) President Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair.

Recipients of the 2019 President’s Scholar Awards are:

  • Research: Maureen D. Mayes, MD, MPH
  • Teaching: Patricia M. Butler, MD, and Belinda M. Reininger, DrPH
  • Clinical Service: Bela Patel, MD

Each award, given to deserving individuals nominated by their peers, carries with it the honorary title of President’s Scholar.

Historically, recipients have been honored during a luncheon in the spring to recognize outstanding achievements, but this year, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the cancellation of the event.

“These four distinguished individuals have contributed greatly to the university’s mission to advance research, offer the best in patient care, and educate the health care leaders of tomorrow,” Colasurdo said. “We congratulate them on being among the select few who are President’s Scholars, and we thank them for their service, leadership, and commitment.”

Kevin A. Morano, PhD, associate vice president for Faculty Affairs and Development, the Roger J. Bulger, MD, Distinguished Professor at UTHealth, and Distinguished Teaching Professor of The University of Texas System (UT System), congratulated the recipients.

“The selection criteria for the awards are rigorous, requiring evidence of innovation, recognition, and exemplary service to faculty, students, and patients, while working to elevate the stature of UTHealth among our peers in Texas, the nation, and across the world,” Morano said.

The awards acknowledge contributions of outstanding scholars and emphasize the fundamental importance of research, teaching, and clinical excellence to the mission of UTHealth.

2019 President’s Scholar Award for Excellence in Research
Maureen D. Mayes, MD, MPH
Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunogenetics
Elizabeth Bidgood Chair in Rheumatology
Director, Scleroderma Clinic
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth

“It’s inspiring to find Dr. Mayes has published over 240 research articles and been continuously federally funded for her work for 22 years,” Morano said. “This is consistent with a statement from one of her support letters, that said ‘(she is) among the top clinical and translational scleroderma researchers in the world.’”

Mayes was acknowledged for her prolific research in the field of autoimmune disease genetics, her commitment to improving outcomes for patients with scleroderma, and her overall contributions to research excellence at UTHealth. 

“I am pleased and honored to accept the President’s Scholar Award for Excellence in Research,” Mayes said. “My research and clinical career has focused on developing a better understanding of the autoimmune disease scleroderma with an emphasis on finding better therapies. With the support of UTHealth, my colleagues and I have established a scleroderma research and treatment program, the only one in Texas and the entire region, to bring our findings to the scleroderma patient community.”

2019 President’s Scholar Award for Excellence in Teaching
Patricia M. Butler, MD
Vice Dean, Educational Programs
Professor, Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
McGovern Medical School

“A case can be made that the institution was overdue in honoring Dr. Butler for her many contributions, as suggested by a statement in her nomination letter,” Morano said. “…I am, honestly, quite surprised that Dr. Butler has not already received this award, as she seems the obvious choice.”

Butler was acknowledged for her dedication to guiding and advancing innovative educational programs for tens of thousands of students, residents, and educators at McGovern Medical School. 

“I am very grateful to Dr. Jair Soares, chair of the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, for nominating me for this award,” Butler said. “I have been very fortunate to have worked throughout my career at McGovern Medical School with outstanding faculty educators and staff, and with amazingly talented students.”

2019 President’s Scholar Award for Excellence in Teaching
Belinda M. Reininger, DrPH
Regional Dean, Brownsville campus
Professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences
UTHealth School of Public Health
Distinguished Teaching Professor of UT System

“Her service to the School of Public Health has been exemplary,” Morano said. “Perhaps most relevant to her appointment at the Brownsville campus, she was described as having ‘unfailing dedication to filling educational gaps with hands-on community-based experiences.’”

Reininger was honored for her contributions to the education of our graduate students, first-generation college-bound students, and the community at large.

“I am grateful to Dr. Colasurdo for the recognition as a President’s Scholar for Teaching,” Reininger said. “I have been fortunate to work with many excellent teachers at UTHealth and I want to take this opportunity to recognize them and thank them for inspiring me as a teacher. I also am thankful to the students at UTHealth School of Public Health. Their enthusiasm for solving today’s complex health issues challenges me in the classroom and motivates me to develop rich field experiences. It has been my privilege to introduce students to the career possibilities found in public health.”

2019 President’s Scholar Award for Excellence in Clinical Service
Bela Patel, MD
Vice Dean, Healthcare Quality
Director, Division Director of Critical Care Medicine
Division Director, ad interim, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine
Professor, Department of Internal Medicine
Graham Distinguished University Chair
McGovern Medical School
Distinguished Teaching Professor of UT System
Regional Chief Medical Officer, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center

“Dr. Patel is one of our own, going back to the early 1990s when she graduated from our medical school,” Morano said. “I was struck by the list of superlatives used to describe her in her nomination packet including, ‘amazing, charismatic, dynamic, outstanding, incredible, wise and caring,’ and, tellingly, ‘best CMO I’ve ever worked with.’”

Patel was honored for her dedication to patients, her commitment to innovation in practice, the development of new and unique clinical programs, impactful outreach and service to the lay community, and more.

“Having the ability to work where I started my journey as a physician has been a rare and wonderful opportunity,” Patel said. “Thanks to the leadership of our institution for presenting me with this award. I’m humbled by those who thought to nominate me, and am honored to serve alongside them.”

Michael Blackburn, PhD, executive vice president and chief academic officer at UTHealth, praised the awardees for their commitment to students, coworkers, and the community they serve.

“Being able to recognize those who have earned the merit of being a President’s Scholar is an honor,” Blackburn said. “This year’s awardees have shown immense dedication to our students, faculty, and patients in an ever-changing landscape. Their hard work demonstrates how UTHealth rises to current challenges and turns them in to remarkable opportunities.”

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