Stacey S. Cofield, PhD’03 (BIOS), used her own teaching award to establish a scholarship to honor her mentor, associate professor Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS).
“Stop. Think. Tell the story.”
Stacey S. Cofield, PhD’03 (BIOS), proudly displays these words in her office at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. An associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics, she draws inspiration every day from the advice given her by her mentor, Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS), more than 15 years ago.
“He was very clear in his approach in the classroom,” Cofield says. “He always believed in telling the story – in showing students why the data matters in the real world.”
Her students approve. Cofield was awarded the 2018 UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for the School of Public Health at UAB in April. The award recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.
“One of the reasons that I have this honor is because of Dr. Best,” Cofield says. “He taught me so much. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
To honor the influence he had on her life, Cofield is using her teaching award as an opportunity to establish a scholarship in Best’s name. The Dr. Al M. Best Biostatistics Teaching Award will support a biostatistics student interested in teaching. The annual award will provide about $1,500 toward books, tuition and travel for conferences. Some of those funds were raised when Cofield auctioned off the parking spot she won as part of the President’s award.
“On the face of it, it’s astonishing that a biostatistics professor would receive a teaching award because of the reputation biostatistics has as dry and boring,” says Best, VCU’s director of Faculty Research Development in the School of Dentistry and affiliate professor in the medical school’s Department of Biostatistics. “That Stacey would pull this off, however, is not. She connects with students in real ways.”
Cofield, who grew up in Minnesota, graduated from Washington and Lee in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences and mathematics. She enrolled in VCU’s certificate program in statistics, then moved into the master’s program. Before she completed it, she went all in by transferring into the doctorate program in biostatistics.
Associate professor Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS)
“I liked him immediately,” she says. “Instead of just teaching statistics, which can be very unexciting, he applied it to everyday life. We were in the classroom solving problems.”
She served as Best’s teaching assistant for three years and watched in amazement as he helped shape students.
“I remember watching these students go from resenting the fact that they had to be there to engaging in the problem at hand,” Cofield says. “It changed my trajectory.”
Instead of pursuing a career as a research biostatistician in sports medicine as she had planned, she joined the UAB faculty. She also has been involved in numerous research projects, focusing on combination therapies for multiple sclerosis and clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis. She is currently involved in a study examining whether people taking certain medications are more prone to developing shingles after receiving the shingles vaccine.
“I absolutely love what I do,” Cofield says. “Whether it’s working in research or with my students, I enjoy helping people define what it is they need to know and using biostatistics to help them reach their goals.”
By Janet Showalter