2021 Women’s History Month Honorees

Each March, Faculty Excellence honors 31 women for their impact on students and UCF’s campus community. This year, as we continue to charge on during a pandemic, our women faculty have not wavered in their commitments as mentors, role models, friends, researchers and teachers.

This blog post will be updated daily during the month of March to feature each woman and her accomplishments. LIFE@UCF generously sponsored this years’ award. Each woman received a Barnes and Noble gift card. Below you’ll find profiles of the College of Sciences winners, along with the names of all the winners.

The 2021 honorees are:

Elena Flitsiyan


Elena Flitsiyan is the current Undergraduate Program Director for the department of physics at UCF. She is also a panelist for NSF Divisions, as well as a reviewer for the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, Georgia Science Foundation and the Journal of Nuclear Instruments and Methods among many others. Flitsiyan’s nominator says she is a tireless advocate for undergraduate students in physics. Under Flitsiyan, the department of physics has seen tremendous growth in the number of graduates. She has a large workload yet continues to publish peer-reviewed articles and has championed women in physics by founding the Women in Physics Society. She says her dad influenced her life in a significant way, by instilling in her strong morals, a love for science and a work ethic. Throughout her life, his words of encouragement have guided her.

Amanda Groff


Amanda Groff specializes in archaeology and bioarcheology. Groff has participated in many archaeological investigations, including work in Australia, Belize, Egypt, Italy, Turkey and Florida. Her nominator says she has been a great mentor to women by helping them advance in their careers. Groff says she was inspired by her first archaeology class as an undergraduate student at UCF because it was taught by a woman. It set her on a path to becoming an archaeologist herself. Her advice is: embrace your ambition and don’t let fear or failure stand in your way. She strives to be a role model for her female students who never knew they could pursue a career in archaeology.

Noemi Pinilla-Alonso

Florida Space Institute and Robinson Observatory

Noemi Pinilla-Alonso joined the Florida Space Institute of the University of Central Florida as a visiting scientist before becoming as an associate researcher in Planetary Science in 2016. Her work focuses on the study of the surface properties of small bodies in the Solar System. She is also the Deputy Principal Scientist of the Arecibo Observatory and acts as the Science Manager since December 2018. Her nominator says she is an exceptional researcher as well as an excellent student mentor. Pinilla-Alonso is unique in her ability to lead groups to success and her genuine talent for promoting her postdocs to assure they excel in their respective fields. She says she is inspired by the people around her and by people who don’t work in science. “Reach out for advice, do your best every day, and allow yourself to fail because failure will give you the greatest growth,” she says. “Look up, dream big, reach far, and surround yourself with kindness, love and fun.”

Brigitte Kovacevich


Brigitte Kovacevich is an archaeologist, and her areas of focus are lithic (or stone tool) technology and household archaeology among the Maya. Kovacevich primarily focuses on the rise of social inequality and how people play a role in the everchanging economic and political landscapes. Her work has been funded by the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation and the American Philosophical Society, among others. Brigitte’s nominator, which happens to be her spouse, says that Kovacevich broke gender barriers in archaeology and proved that women can accomplish feats in a male-dominated field. Kovacevich is also a great mentor to young women in the archaeology field as well as her undergraduate students. Kovacevich says she was inspired by her mother, who had an adventurous spirit, to accomplish her dream of becoming an archaeologist.

Kristy Lewis


Kristy Lewis, a first-generation college student, is a marine ecologist aiming to understand how natural and anthropogenic disturbances in marine ecosystems impact fish communities and how humans interact with these changes. She has a passion for elevating the next generation of women scientists, as displayed in her lab of four women graduate students and a woman research assistant. Her dedication to equity was recently highlighted in a co-authored piece in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science outlining the differential impacts of COVID-19 on women faculty. Her nominator says she is an inspirational mentor, an active advocate and a champion for equitable representation of all groups of people, especially women in STEM. “Building on the backbone of my parents’ support, my drive for success is fueled by my hope to make the path easier for those who come after me,” Lewis says. “I want the students I interact with to understand their future options and to learn skills they can use across multiple careers in a lifetime.”

Karen Mottarella


Karen Mottarella teaches clinical psychology and career readiness. She also created and coordinates the Behavioral Forensics Certificate. Her nominator says she has significant impact on all psychology majors and has been an innovator in creating an online, customized psychology career-development course platform. Her innovation and strong support of her undergraduate program has allowed her students to continue to grow and succeed. Mottarella says she is one of the lucky people who loves their job and goes to work happy. “My advice for other women as they purse their goals is to build a support system that includes other professional women who they can turn to for perspective, advice, and support,” she says.

Other honorees:

  • Pamela Wisniewski, Computer Science, College of Engineering and Computer Science
  • Elizabeth Horn, School of Performing Arts, College of Arts and Humanities
  • Richelle Joe, Counselor Education, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Catherine Kaukinen, Criminal Justice, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Annette Khaled, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine
  • Sherron Killingsworth Roberts, School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Amelia Lyons, History, College of Arts and Humanities
  • Marisa Macy, School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Sheila Moore, Educational Leadership, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Donna Neff, Nursing Systems, College of Nursing
  • Bendegul Okumus, Foodservice and Lodging Management, Rosen College of Hospitality Management
  • Elsie Olan, School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Kerry Purmensky, Modern Languages and Literatures, College of Arts and Humanities
  • Lisa Roney, English, College of Arts and Humanities
  • Audra Skukauskaite, Learning Sciences and Educational Research, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Trudian Trail-Constant, Center for Distributed Learning
  • Shane Trenta, School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Marcy Verduin, Dean’s Office, College of Medicine
  • Elizabeth Hoffman, School of Teacher Education, College of Community Innovation and Education
  • Raheleh Ahangari, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine
  • Mindi Anderson, Nursing Practice, College of Nursing
  • Reshawna Chapple, School of Social Work, College of Health Professions and Sciences
  • Alicja Copik, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine
  • Kaitlyn Crawford, Materials Science and Engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science
  • Alicia Hawthorne, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine