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2007.03.07> For Immediate Release
contact: Becky Bohan Brown - University Affairs
phone: 402.554.2243 - e-mail:

Six UNO Women of Color Award Recipients Honored at Fifth Annual Luncheon

Omaha - University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and luncheon participants congratulated the 2007 nominees and recipients of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Women of Color (WOC) Awards at the fifth annual luncheon.  Today's event, sponsored by UNO, State Farm Insurance and a grant by the Nebraska Humanities Council, was held at the DC Centre.  Alabama physician Regina Benjamin presented the 2007 luncheon address, titled "Healthy Women."

The awards acknowledge outstanding contributions and leadership by women of color in the Omaha area. Organizations and individuals were asked to nominate women of color for the awards in six categories: arts and humanities, business/entrepreneurship, community service, education, science and technology, and youth leadership.

"Strength, diversity, leadership and community involvement embody the spirit of each honoree," said Sharon Ulmar, chairperson of the UNO WOC Awards Recognition Planning Committee and assistant to the chancellor in the UNO Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity. "We are proud to recognize the achievements of this diverse group of women for their selfless contributions.  Hopefully, with this annual event, we will encourage the continued and future involvement of women of color in our community."

The 2007 award winners are as follows:

Arts and Humanities - Llana M. Smith
Smith is the drama ministry director at Salem Baptist Church.  She is a multi-talented drama coach, playwright and director, and her plays have been performed at The Rose and Orpheum Theatres.  Under her leadership at the church, dance troupes have expanded to include a variety of age groups, and young people are learning set design, script writing, stage lighting and acting.  Smith has been a mentor and an inspiration to many young performing artists.  Several of her students have gone on to professional careers in the performing arts, performing with world-renowned artists such as the late Gregory Hines and Gladys Knight.

Business/Entrepreneurship - Cynthia R. Swoopes
Swoopes is regional emerging markets manager at Wells Fargo Bank.  Although currently working in the private sector, she is well known in the non-profit sector as a champion of affordable housing and economic development for underserved segments of the community.  Her passion has always been helping others to achieve their dreams.  This is evidenced by her creating policy and programs at the Fanny Mae Foundation, developing financial education programs and leading Omaha 100 to help low-income families become first-time homeowners.  Swoopes' accomplishments include spearheading an Anti-Predatory Lending initiative to expose predatory lending; coordinating a Wealth Building Conference; and developing REACH, a homebuyer education program.  She is also the recipient of a Fair Housing Award from the city of Omaha.

Community Service - Maria Valentín
Valentín is manager of community relations at ConAgra Foods.  Ask anyone who knows her, and they will tell you that Valentín's community service goes far beyond her job duties.  She is one of the co-founders and the president of the Heartland Latino Leadership Conference (HLLC), created to foster the development of the skills and knowledge necessary to build leadership capacity among Latinos.  In addition, Valentín coordinates partnerships with the HLLC and the National Council of La Raza, Catholic Charities and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.  As a result of this collaboration, a legal immigration forum was held in Omaha in 2006.  She is a member and past president of the South Omaha Community Care Council of UNMC.  Valentín spearheaded a Partnership for Community Wellness Program between ConAgra Foods and UNMC.  Through this partnership, ConAgra Foods offers its employees free health screenings.

Education - Cristina Fernandez, M.D.
Dr. Fernandez is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Creighton University Medical Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Pediatric Residency Program, and a practicing physician.  Residents in the pediatric program describe her as an extraordinary mentor and teacher.  She has been known to say: "Call me anytime if you need help - even in the middle of the night."  Her innovative ideas for the residency program include a monthly Breakfast with the Experts, where leaders in the medical profession network and share information with pediatricians in training.  She also introduced weekly teaching rounds.  Dr. Fernandez was given the HLLC Health and Human Service Award in recognition of her development of the Healthy Families Program, a program to fight childhood obesity that includes community education in nutrition and exercise classes.  In 2006, Dr. Fernandez received the UNMC medical residents' Outstanding Academic Faculty Member Teaching Award.

Science and Technology - Huiling Pang, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Pang is a professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at UNMC.  She is a practitioner, lecturer and researcher in her field.  Dr. Pang also serves as the advisor for exchange students who are studying anesthesiology in a collaboration between UNMC and overseas medical schools.  She has lectured on a variety of topics, including Laryngoscopes, Compressed Gases and Gas Laws, Latex Allergies and Anaphylactic Reaction and Anesthesia Considerations for Thyroid Dysfunction.  Dr. Pang is also involved in the supervision, teaching and evaluation of medical students and students in other health care professions involved with anesthesia.  Her current research project is "Comparison of efficacy, cost-effectiveness and patient satisfaction of ondansetron or granesetron plusdexamethasone or dexamethasone alone in preventing PONV (post operative nausea and vomiting)."  Dr. Pang is active in the local Chinese church and in providing health care education to the local Chinese community.

Youth Leadership - Francesca Hannah
Hannah is a senior at Central High School, where she has taken on many leadership roles, including Sergeant-at-Arms in the Latin Club and in instrumental music.  She is a percussionist in the marching band, a participant in the pit orchestra and a volunteer for school musical events.  Hannah is being recognized as a role model for younger students of color at Central.  Her teachers praise her nurturing and caring attitude and describe her as "an awesome role model for everyone in our community."  She is a motivator and mentor for younger girls in the music ensemble, instilling confidence in their abilities to perform.  She has been active in Boys and Girls Club and as a volunteer for the Special Olympics.

Keynote Speaker - Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., is founder and CEO of the Bayou Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala.  Named by Time magazine as one of the "Nation's 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under," her many accomplishments include a Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights, and election to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees - making her the first physician under age 40, and the first African-American woman, to be elected to the board.  Dr. Benjamin was also elected president of the Medical Association of the state of Alabama, making her the first African-American female to be elected president of a state medical society in the United States.

For more information, visit the Web at or call (402) 554-2243.


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