A University of Central Florida professor who has mentored young scientists for more than a decade while looking for cures to neurodegenerative diseases will be honored this week with a National Role Model award.

Minority Access, an organization that seeks to improve diversity in education, employment and research nationwide, is recognizing Cristina Fernandez-Valle at its annual conference at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando Sept. 28-30.

Fernandez-Valle has been teaching and conducting research about neurodegenerative diseases for 15 years at UCF’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. During her tenure, she has directly mentored more than 70 students and post-doctoral fellows, and more than 60 percent of them have been underrepresented minorities.

“I was given opportunity by my past mentors,” Fernandez-Valle said. “Now it’s up to me to give opportunity and keep opening doors. It’s my job to help students be successful, to be a positive influence in their lives.”

Richard Peppler, the interim director of the Burnett school and associate dean for faculty and academic affairs at the UCF College of Medicine, said Fernandez-Valle is “a strong advocate for female and minority science students in her lab and in the classroom.”

“She consistently receives strong ratings despite the high standards she sets for her students,” Peppler said. “It is a pleasure to see her honored for all of her accomplishments.”

Fernandez-Valle’s research is supported by the National Institutes of Health among other agencies. She also donates her time to national Children’s Tumor Foundation. She also has coordinated three regional medical symposia each year in Florida to give families information about the latest research and to provide children opportunities to have fun.

“All kinds of people can contribute to science,” said Fernandez-Valle, who is Cuban-American. “Succeeding in science requires a lot of hard work. Students who love research, who are always at the lab bench and who are always trying to learn are the students who make it.”

The UCF’s Women’s Research Center also recognized her contributions. She was one of three awarded the inaugural 2012 Women of Distinction: Excellence in Mentoring Award.  The award recognizes female faculty members who are excellent mentors of their colleagues, students and community.

Joo Kim, an associate professor in the School of Visual Arts and Design, and Parveen Wahid, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,   also were recipients of the award.