Distinguished Alumni | Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
TTUHSC students walking through Lubbock campus courtyard.

Alumni Awards

In 1999, the Office of Alumni Relations began recognizing our alumni to honor their accomplishments and contributions and to serve as an inspiration to their colleagues and future alumni. Awards are presented to those alumni who have achieved a high level of success in their chosen fields or whose efforts have made a positive impact on community or humanity, bringing distinction to themselves and to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. We encourage alumni, faculty, staff and friends to nominate deserving alumni for these awards.

Nominate Deserving Alumni

2019-2020 Presidential Distinguished Alumni Award

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) introduced the Presidential Distinguished Alumni Award In 2015. This is the highest honor bestowed by the university, recognizing and honoring alumni who have made significant contributions to the health care profession. Eligiblity for this award is based on individuals that have earned a degree or completed a residency at TTUHSC, as well as demonstrated service to the community, profession and this institution. The awardee will be a person that faculty, staff, students and alumni take pride in and are inspired by his/her accomplishments and endeavors.

Image of Sixtus Atabong, PA-C, MS

Sixtus Atabong, PA-C, M.S., '05, '02

Practice Manager, Physician Assistant
Grace Clinic Spine Care Center, Lubbock, Texas
Founder, CEO

Purpose Medical Mission, Lubbock, Texas 

Sixtus Atabong was born and raised in Muyuka, a town in the Fako division of Cameroon, Africa. He migrated to the United States in 1995, where he faced many challenges but eventually obtained a bachelor's degree in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and a master's degree in Physician Assistant Studies, both from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

In 2007, he founded Purpose Medical Mission. The nonprofit organization's main objective is to develop a bridge of medical assistance to severely medically underserved regions around the world with an emphasis on achieving long-term, self-sustaining healthy communities. Purpose Medical Mission has helped build clinics, churches and hospitals in Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicaragua and Guatemala. MORE

2019-2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Image of Kenneth Cole, PhD
Distinguished Alumni Award

Kenneth D. Cole, Ph.D., '81

Group Leader, Biomarker and Genomic Sciences
Biosystems and Biomaterials Division
National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland

Kenneth Cole's graduate education started at the newly formed Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in the biochemistry department, working with Gwynne Little, Ph.D., on the developmental biology of bilirubin metabolism. In addition to receiving a great education in biochemistry, Cole met his future wife, Beth, who worked as a technician in the Ophthalmology Department. After graduation, Cole wanted to expand his education to work on DNA and RNA; at that time, molecular biology was rapidly developing methods to clone and sequence large genes from higher organisms. He joined the lab of Stephen Kistler, Ph.D., at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, studying the changes in DNA-binding proteins during mammalian spermatogenesis. They determined the protein sequences and isolated the genes for a number of proteins important for the formation of mammalian sperm. MORE

School of Health Professions

Image of Sam Haddas
Department of Rehabilitation Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award

Ram Haddas, Ph.D., '13

Program Director
Texas Back Institute Spine Biomechanics Laboratory, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

Ram Haddas was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel. He moved to Bloomington, Indiana, for his master's degree in biomechanics, eventually finding his way to Lubbock and the School of Health Professions Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Science Program. Haddas was the first student to graduate from this program, and he now serves as program director of the Texas Back Institute Spine Biomechanics Laboratory. MORE

Image of Courtney Sherman
Department of Healthcare Management and Leadership Distinguished Alumni Award
Courtney Sherman, DNP, MPH, MHA, APRN, WHNP-BC, CPH
Health Professions '17, Nursing '15

Nurse Practitioner
The Resource Center, Dallas, Texas 

Courtney Sherman started the first public health PrEP program in Texas and has since assisted with developing 15 other programs in the state and nine programs nationwide. She was appointed the nursing representative to the Statewide Health Coordinating Council and co-chair of the Advisory Committee for the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies. She has served on the North Central Texas HIV Planning Council and as the Comprehensive Planning Committee's co-chair. Sherman is a member of the HIV Care Services Clinical Panel, the Dallas HIV Taskforce and the PrEP Technical Assistance Panel. She works as a nurse practitioner and public health liaison for Nurx, a telemedicine service for contraception and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis. MORE

Image of Bobbie Kay Turkett
Department of Speech-Language and Hearing Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award

Bobbie Kay Turkett, M.S., CCC-SLP, '05, '03

Speech-Language Pathologist, Clinical Educator
University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, Austin, Texas 

Bobbie Kay Turkett earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication Disorders from Texas Tech University in 2003 and a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in 2005. Turkett has worked with adults who need assessment and/or treatment in language, speech, cognition, voice and swallowing. She worked in skilled nursing facilities for about four years and then 13 years in a clinic specializing in modified barium swallow studies. Turkett also worked in a hospital setting for 10 years and adult home health for 14 years. MORE

School of Medicine

Image of Ryan Balko
Distinguished Alumni Award

Ryan Balko, M.D., '17

Chief Medical Resident
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Maryland

Ryan Balko graduated from the School of Medicine in 2017. He then completed his internal medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Maryland. Balko, a Lubbock native, was an active member of his community, volunteering with a number of organizations. During his time at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, he was known as a hard-working student. Balko's commitment to his patients and his academic endeavors afforded him distinctions such as the Gold Headed Cane Award, the Dean's Highest Academic Achievement Award, and memberships in Alpha Omega Alpha and Gold Humanism Honor Society. MORE

Image of Justin Berk
Distinguished Alumni Award

Justin Berk, M.D., MPH, MBA, '15

Assistant Professor
The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Medical Director
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations Department of Corrections 

Justin Berk graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with a distinction in Health Politics and Policy. He obtained a Masters in Public Health from the Yale School Public Health in 2001. He then came to Lubbock to receive his Master's in Business Administration from Texas Tech Rawls College of Business in 2013 and Doctor of Medicine from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine in 2015. His passion for medicine is evident in the many accolades he has received, with the most recent being the Adolescent Hero Award from Johns Hopkins Children's Center and The Jerimiah Barondess Fellowship in the Clinical Transaction Award in 2019. MORE

Image of Ebestam Attaya Islam
Distinguished Alumni Award

Ebtesam Attaya Islam, M.D., Ph.D., ’09, ’05

Assistant Professor
Department of Internal Medicine, Lubbock, Texas

Ebtesam Attaya Islam graduated from the School of Medicine in 2009, after receiving her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2005. She completed a pulmonary critical care fellowship and a residency in internal medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Islam's passion for medicine and academic achievements inspire students and faculty. As a faculty member of TTUSHC, she was selected to be a Dean's Scholar and received a master's degree in medical education at Johns Hopkins University in 2020. More

School of Nursing

Debra Danforth, DNP, APRN, ANP, FAANP
Excellence in Clinical Care Distinguished Alumni Award
Debra Danforth, DNP, APRN, ANP, FAANP, '19

Associate Professor, Director of Clinical Learning Center,
Florida State University College of Medicine
Adult nurse practitioner, adjunct associate professor
Florida A&M University, College of Pharmacy
Tallahassee, Florida

Debra Danforth started her nursing career over 30 years ago and has been involved with simulation for 25 years. She currently serves as president/CEO of the American Nurse Practitioners Foundation and president of the Florida Geriatric Society. Additionally, Danforth is actively involved with the Florida Nurse Practitioner Network. She has presented regionally, nationally and internationally on topics related to OSCEs (objective structured clinical examinations), including program evaluation, telehealth, interprofessional education, disaster preparedness and TeamSTEPPS. MORE

Christa de la Garza
Community Advocacy Distinguished Alumni Award

Christa de la Garza, MSN, R.N., CNML, TCRN, ’19, ’16

Administrative Director of Nursing for Emergency Services
CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital, New Braunfels, Texas

After obtaining her associate's degree in nursing in 2007, Christa de la Garza furthered her education by obtaining a bachelor's in nursing in 2016 from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing. With her love for emergency medicine, de la Garza has been appointed to various roles throughout her nursing career, including residency preceptor, service line leader, charge nurse and trauma program manager. MORE

Image of Tanna Nelson
Leadership in Health Care Distinguished Alumni Award

Tanna Nelson, MSN, R.N.-BC, '15

Informatics Nurse Specialist
Texas Health Resources, Arlington, Texas 

Tanna Nelson is a Lubbock native who began her nursing career 23 years ago as a graduate of Methodist Hospital School of Nursing, now Covenant School of Nursing. She later earned her bachelor's ( 2012) and master's (2015) degrees in nursing. Nelson was part of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing's inaugural graduating cohort of master's prepared informatics nurses. She is now pursuing her Ph.D. in nursing and expects to graduate in spring 2021. MORE 

School of Pharmacy

Image of P. Race Dulin
Distinguished Alumni Award

P. Race Dulin, PharmD, MBA, BCPS, '07

Pharmacy Officer
U.S. Army Medical Material Center Europe, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

P. Race Dulin began his career in the U.S. Army upon graduating from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in 2007. Over the past 13 years, he has served in various roles as a pharmacy officer, including administrative, inpatient, outpatient, clinical and medical logistics. His preferred areas of focus include closing the gap between the battlefield and the fixed hospital environments, commonly referred to as "Medical Planning," which involves analyzing a potential environment and addressing gaps in medical care. MORE