Maria Mercedes Avila, M.Ed., Ph.D., UVM Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (Photo: COM Design & Photography)
University of Vermont College of Medicine faculty member Maria Mercedes Avila, M.Ed., Ph.D., was recognized as one of four 2015 UVM Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award recipients. These annual awards recognize UVM faculty members for excellent quality of instruction, including learning experiences outside the traditional classroom; their capacity to animate students and engage them in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding; their innovation in teaching methods and/or curriculum development; their demonstrated commitment to cultural diversity; their ability to motivate and challenge students, and for evidence of excellent advising.
An assistant professor of pediatrics, Avila was named co-program director and training director of Vermont Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (NDD) Program (VT LEND) in 2015. She has worked with VT LEND and the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program as an associate training director and program evaluator respectively, among other roles, since 2009. Avila’s work in cultural and linguistic competence led to the development and implementation of UVM’s first Diversity 1 course, which looks at the connection between racism and health disparities in the U.S. According to Avila, in response to student demand, the course transitioned from a Special Topics Elective to a permanent course with two to three sections offered every semester. The course was selected as D1 exemplar by the Diversity Curriculum Review Committee (DCRC) in 2013.
Avila’s award recognizes her teaching in CSD 311– “Racism: Health Disparities & Cultural Competence” – a course that is part one of a graduate level seminar sequence offered through the VT-LEND Program. In one award nomination letter, she is praised for “her passion for the topic, the personal examples, the choice of videos presented, as well as the activities and discussions that engaged each of us in class and had a profound impact on me that lasted beyond the seminar and course completion.”
Since joining VT LEND in 2009, Avila has led a number of programmatic changes that have earned VT LEND national recognition for cultural and linguistic competence (CLC) initiatives. Her work has been credited with increasing awareness about and enhanced systems of care for diverse families, including former refugees and immigrants, with children with neurodevelopmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders. She is currently co-chair of the National Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) Multicultural Council, a member of the AUCD Board of Directors and the Vermont Governor’s Children and Family Council on Prevention Programs. In these roles, she has supported the field of children's behavioral health through research, development and dissemination of critical information on CLC and has provided technical assistance and training to other grantees and system of care communities around the country.
Avila’s work has included involvement in several federal program, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Youth Suicide Prevention program, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Health Careers Opportunity Program, Maternal Child Health Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, and Vermont Department of Health’s State Implementation Grant for Improving Services for Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Developmental Disabilities. In addition, she provides consultation on cultural and linguistic competency to the Department of Mental Health’s Vermont Child Mental Health Initiative, and has trained more than 1,500 providers. She is also an adjunct assistant professor of nursing in UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
Avila is the recipient of the 2014 Edith D. Hendley award, which recognizes demonstrated excellence in research, scholarship and teaching, as well as performance of dedicated service to women and the community. She was also nominated for the 2014 Association of University Centers on Disabilities National Multicultural Council Award for Leadership in Diversity.
About the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Awards
UVM’s Kroepsch-Maurice awards memorialize Robert H. and Ruth M. Kroepsch and her parents, Walter C. and Mary L. Maurice. Robert H. Kroepsch served as registrat and dean of administration at UVM from 1946-56. His wife, Ruth, graduated from UVM in 1938 and her father, Walter Maurice, graduated from UVM in 1909. All four family members were teachers.