University of Nebraska Medical Center

Current Award Recipients

Distinguished Alumnus Award

Headshot of Peter Iwen.

Peter C. Iwen, MS'82, PhD'01, D(ABMM), F(AAM)

Peter Iwen has been on the frontline of research and diagnostic testing for some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens of the past 20 years. In 1978, shortly after graduating from North Dakota State University, Peter started his career at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) as a research scientist to study human fungal pathogens. While working at the UNMC, he continued his education and earned his Master of Science (1982) and Ph.D (2001) degrees.  

Upon completing his Ph.D., Peter became the assistant director for the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) and the first UNMC biosafety officer where he was responsible for developing biosafety and biosecurity programs for researchers. He also oversaw the high-level containment laboratories on campus and today, continues to participate in research on biological agents that pose a severe threat to public health and safety such as the pathogens that cause mpox, tularemia, and COVID-19.  

Peter’s laboratory became active in COVID-19 testing in late-February 2020. Under his direction, the NPHL was among the first laboratories in the nation to successfully utilize the CDC’s test early in the pandemic to manage patients. Additionally, he and his team developed a highly accurate method of group testing of pooled specimens to conserve on a critical shortage of laboratory reagents, the chemical substances needed to perform COVID-19 tests during an early phase of the pandemic. Group testing has now become a standardized method approved by the FDA that is used by multiple laboratories to meet the need for high-volume testing of specimens for COVID-19.  

Today, Peter continues as the senior biosafety officer for the UNMC, a professor of microbiology in the College of Medicine, and the director of the NPHL. 

Mid-Career Achievement Award

Headshot of Jodi Kreiling.

Jodi Kreiling, PhD'05

Dr. Jodi Kreiling is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). She began her career at UNO in 2005 after receiving her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center that same year.  

Throughout her career, Dr. Kreiling has been passionate about education and mentoring the next generation. She has advised 23 undergraduate students in their work on research projects and honors theses and co-authored published research manuscripts and presentations. She has served as a supervisory committee member for a Ph.D. dissertation, 8 honors projects and theses, and 11 master's theses, and she developed two courses at UNO. Dr. Kreiling has received five teaching awards, including the UNO Excellence in Teaching Award and the UNO Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award. 

Dr. Kreiling's impact extends beyond the classroom, and she has contributed significantly to scientific literature with numerous research publications. In collaboration with her colleagues, she has successfully secured nearly $700,000 in pedagogical and research grant awards, serving various roles such as Lead, Principal Investigator (PI), Co-PI, and Support. Additionally, Dr. Kreiling actively serves her profession, community, University, Department and College. Notably, she has reviewed textbooks and lab materials, provided presentations to students interested in STEM at local high schools, and served on department and university committees including Faculty Senate. 

Early Career Achievement Award

Headshot of Lisa Bilek.

Lisa Bilek, PhD'13

Lisa Bilek received her doctorate in Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in 2013.  Her research focused on the immunology of neurodegenerative diseasein the lab of Dr. Howard Gendelman.  Since earning her degree, she has worked in medical affairs with the pharmaceutical industry, most recently accepting a position with the Sanofi Neurology team in 2015.  Lisa’s work with Sanofi has allowed her to share her passion for neuroimmunology with the MS community through education and building research and scientific partnerships.  She is also a co-creator and mentor for Sanofi’s first ever postdoc program for PhD’s in medical affairs.

Outside of her career, Lisa enjoys engaging with her community: she has served as member and president of the UNMC Graduate Studies Alumni Engagement Council, has been a speaker for BioNebraksa Women in STEM seminar series, and co-founded a non-profit, LOLA, that seeks to create professional development and mentoring opportunities for women in the Omaha metro area.  She has been married to her husband, Tony, for 10 years and they have two kids, Benny (4) and Nora (2). 

Honorary Alumnus Award

Headshot of Athena Ramos.

Athena K. Ramos, PhD, MBA, MS, CPM

Dr. Athena Ramos is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Promotion and is affiliated with the Center for Reducing Health Disparities, the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH), and the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, Nebraska. She leads an outreach and engagement team and serves as principal investigator for multiple community-based health and social research initiatives in such areas as occupational health and safety within the agrifood system, immigrant integration, and community well-being. She is an experienced administrator, program manager, and researcher with proven ability to develop and implement health, social, and human service programs with culturally diverse populations. She has over 20 years of experience in health promotion, community development, public engagement, and strategy design.

Ramos has a PhD in International Family & Community Studies from Clemson University and two Master’s degrees – one in Business Administration (MBA) and one in Urban Studies (MS) from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Dr. Ramos is member of the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America (ASHCA), AgriSafe Network, National Alliance for Hispanic Health, Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice, the National Hispanic Network to Reduce Tobacco-Related and Cancer Health Disparities, and Welcoming America. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the International Society for Agricultural Safety & Health (ISASH), the Omaha Community Foundation, and Spark Community Development.

Dr. Ramos continuously strives to bring a sense of hope and vitality to the work that she does both professionally and personally. She has been honored numerous times for her commitment and dedication to making Omaha and Nebraska a healthier, more inclusive, and vibrant place to live, work, and play. She was recognized as one of the “40 Under 40” by the Midlands Business Journal, one of the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans, the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Volunteer of the Year, the Nebraska Latino American Commission’s Inspiration Award recipient, and a WCA Tribute to Women Honoree. Recently, she was awarded the Carruth J. Wagner Faculty Prize in Public Health from the UNMC College of Public Health and named a “Science Defender” for her work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Ramos is married and is the mother of four children.