The Diversity and Inclusion Award is an acknowledgment bestowed upon an individual who actively promotes inclusive excellence. This person contributes to and enhances the environment of Augusta University and Augusta University Health through a sustained commitment to improve opportunities for the diverse communities we serve.
The Diversity and Inclusion Award recipient demonstrates an exceptional understanding of diversity and inclusiveness beyond the call of duty as represented by the following criteria:
Ijeoma Okoye is a first-generation American born to Nigerian parents and raised for the better part of her life in Fayetteville, GA. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Georgia in 2015, completing a major in biological sciences and a minor in public health. She is in her third year at Augusta University's Medical College of Georgia (MCG) and desires to practice primary care, but she has not yet decided on the right specialty. In addition, Okoye has led the effort for an Ad Hoc Curriculum Committee to be developed at the request of the MCG's Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Paul Wallach.
Dr. Lara M. Stepleman embodies a commitment to diversity and inclusion in everything she does at Augusta University. She is an associate professor and the Director of HIV and MS Psychological Services.
She received her PhD in 2001 from the University of Illinois Urbana‐Campaign in counseling psychology. Within the Psychology Residency, she is the director for the Medical Psychology‐HIV emphasis track. She also teaches seminars in group therapy and behavioral medicine to psychiatry residents, and offers an HIV psychology elective to advanced medical students. Her research interests relate to adaptation to chronic medical illness, especially mental health and sexual functioning concerns. Dr. Stepleman is a member of the American Psychological Association and serves as a reviewer for a number of peer‐reviewed journals.
In addition, Dr. Stepleman volunteers as the Director of Psychological Services at the Equality Clinic of Augusta, a free, student‐run clinic serving the uninsured and under‐insured members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning and others (LGBTQ+) community. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Equality Clinic and works tirelessly to ensure the clinic is meeting the needs of its diverse patients.
With the help of two public health interns, she spearheaded the CSRA’s first LGBTQ+ community health needs assessment – a survey designed to assess the health, behaviors and needs of LGBTQ+ people across the CSRA. The findings will prove to carry implications for more inclusive social policies and healthcare practices in our community.
Dr. Stepleman has been instrumental in motivating students across campus to follow their passions innumerous areas of diversity, as well as serving as a mentor for medical students doing summer research. Beyond her interest in serving students, Dr. Stepleman has served our community through a multitude of grants and continues to apply for others. She secured a $1.6 million federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for a program she launched called SHE PREVAILS (Supporting Health Engagement through Prevention, Recovery and Empowerment Via Access, Intervention, and Linkage Services). The goal of the program is to identify combinations of culturally‐responsive, effective interventions, and best practices that address mental health, trauma and substance use treatment. In achieving these combinations of effective care, SHE PREVAILS hopes tosignificantly reduce deleterious health disparities related to HIV, as experienced by African-American women and their families, as well as other underserved communities.
In summary, Dr. Stepleman is an outstanding humanitarian and academic leader whose efforts will continue to have an impact on our university and throughout our community.