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Biology professor wins 2017 national STEM award from magazine

Biology professor wins 2017 STEM award from national magazine
University of North Georgia (UNG) biology professor Miriam Segura-Totten recently won a national award: The Inspiring Leaders in STEM award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. She earned the award as a tribute for her inspiring work as a professional from an underrepresented group in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. She will be featured along with 40 other recipients in the magazine's September issue, which will publish online and in print Aug. 22.

University of North Georgia (UNG) biology professor Miriam Segura-Totten said she felt flattered when she won a national award: The Inspiring Leaders in STEM award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

"I was incredulous," said Segura-Totten, UNG's Harry B. Forester Eminent Scholars chair and a native of Puerto Rico. "I couldn't believe I received this national award. I wasn't just surprised. I was super honored."

This is the second award Segura-Totten has received this year. She is one of the recipients of the University System of Georgia's (USG) most prestigious teaching award, the Regent's Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Segura-Totten, 40, earned the INSIGHT award as a tribute for her inspiring work as a professional from an underrepresented group in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. She will be featured along with 40 other recipients in the magazine's September issue, which will publish online and in print Aug. 22.

Inspiring Leaders in STEM Award recipients were nominated by a colleague and selected by INSIGHT Into Diversity based on their efforts to inspire and encourage a new generation of young people to consider careers in STEM through mentoring, teaching, research, and successful programs and initiatives.

Andy Novobilski, associate provost for research and engagement and chief research officer at UNG, said Segura-Totten embodied those qualities and more.

"When you look at the description, they wanted someone who not only was successful in their career but a strong mentor," he said. "Her work with students is to lead where it counts, an example we value because Miriam puts students first."

UNG graduate Josh McCausland agrees.

"(Dr. Segura-Totten's) class was structured not just as a lecture but as a discussion," said McCausland, who took her advanced cell biology class. "She was getting us to critically think about where modern science is going and what real scientists are publishing today."

McCausland, who graduated in 2015 with a bachelor's of science in biology, said her classroom approach has helped him with his current career path. He won a scholarship to work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And he is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, which is where Segura-Totten did her graduate work, too.

"She trained me for what I was going to do," McCausland said. "It's not enough to sit back and listen to her like a standard biology lecture. She encouraged students to come up with questions and look for new ideas."

Segura-Totten was also willing to be his mentor, which she feels is an important component to a student's success.

The Cumming resident credits her mother as her first mentor. Segura-Totten said her mother pushed her to join the math club at her high school and made her apply to schools in the United States. That led Segura-Totten to being accepted and enrolling at Princeton. As a college student, she received a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, which aims to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning by motivating outstanding undergraduates from minority backgrounds to pursue graduate programs.

"That was a pivotal moment, when a seven-person faculty panel saw the potential in me to attend graduate school," Segura-Totten said. "And I thought 'I can do this.'"

She now wants to share that same kind of experience with her students.

"Mentoring students is having those conversations … about finding their passions and pursuing them," she said.

That kind of attitude is what made Segura-Totten ideal for the Inspiring Leaders in STEM award, Novobilski said.

"There is a sense that she wants to give back, out of gratitude for all she has received," he said. "Anyone like her could be making three times as much money in the private sector, but she is here because she wants to give back."

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