Evann Fowler and Avonlea Grace Benefield

2022 recipients of the Denise and Larry Pelham Pre-Health Scholarship, (L – R), Evann Fowler and Avonlea Grace Benefield.

Courtesy Evann Fowler and Avonlea Grace Benefield

Seven years ago, when Denise and Larry Pelham established the Denise and Larry Pelham Pre-Health Scholarship at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, they initially did so to honor their children’s success while students at UAH. “I thought, we’re so fortunate and so proud of what they’re doing and the direction they’re going. How can I be thankful for this and give back?” says Mrs. Pelham.

Pelham family group photo on a beach

Denise and Larry Pelham established the Denise and Larry Pelham Pre-Health Scholarship

Courtesy Denise and Larry Pelham

After attending the annual Scholarship Thank You Luncheon where the Pelhams met scholarship recipients, they realized the long-term impacts of philanthropy on UAH and its students. “I appreciated their [the students’] drive and interest. Not all students had the same upbringing [as my children],” says Mrs. Pelham. To this day, they and their scholarship recipients stay in touch through social media.

This year’s recipients of the Denise and Larry Pelham Pre-Health Scholarship are Avonlea Grace Benefield and Evann Fowler. Benefield is a junior and Fowler is a senior, and both are working towards their Bachelor of Science degrees in biological sciences. Both students plan to attend medical school after graduation; Benefield is considering either a trauma or orthopedic specialty, and Fowler plans to focus on family medicine.

The seeds of the Pelham family’s philanthropic journey were first planted when both of her children, Dr. Samantha Rustamov, PharmD, and Dr. Carter Pelham, MD, chose UAH for their undergraduate degrees despite opportunities to enroll elsewhere. Mrs. Pelham remarked that both children were well prepared for the rigors of pharmacy and medical school by their UAH education.

Rustamov started courses while still in high school and initially considered a career in accounting, but after taking classes at UAH she reconsidered. “I realized I wouldn’t have the career satisfaction I desired unless I tried to pursue a pre-health degree and a career as a pharmacist,” says Rustamov. While at UAH, she served as President of Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), was a member of Delta Zeta sorority and participated in the Pre-Professional Careers Club.

Rustamov credits her organic chemistry classes and lab, and working with her Pre-Professional Careers Club mentor, with shaping her future plans to pursue her PharmD. Other seminal UAH experiences for Rustamov included studying abroad in Rome, an organic chemistry trip to Costa Rica and service events with AED.  After completing her degree at UAH, she attended Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy and completed her residency at Piedmont Columbus Regional in Columbus, GA.

When Dr. Pelham graduated from high school, he had already taken dual-enrollment classes at UAH with the intention of being pre-med once fully enrolled at UAH. “My undergrad education uniquely prepared me for the challenges of medical school education,” he explains, specifically citing the rigorous coursework he experienced in his organic chemistry, biochemistry and immunology classes.

Dr. Pelham graduated with a double major in biology and chemistry with a minor in piano, which, he says, provided him a creative outlet through practice, concerts and ensembles. After graduating from UAH, Dr. Pelham attended The University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine. Since then, he has completed his residency in Chattanooga and Memphis, TN, and he also completed a fellowship in neuroradiology in Phoenix, AZ.

Everything came full-circle when Dr. Rustamov and Dr. Pelham returned to Huntsville to work and live. Dr. Rustamov joined Huntsville Hospital as a clinical pharmacist, married, and now has one child.  “Huntsville just kept getting better every year I was away,” she says, noting that Huntsville offers a growing community with impressive medical and pharmacy opportunities.

Despite multiple offers in other cities, Dr. Pelham says Huntsville “would have been a compelling choice even without my family being here.” Currently, he is a partner at Huntsville Radiology. Huntsville, he says, is a great place to live and work, and it offers excellent opportunities for those who want to practice medicine and radiology. He’s recently married, and he and his new wife have just built a house in the same neighborhood where his parents and sister live.

Now, both of the Pelham children are hoping to give back, a plan made all the more significant by their parents’ decision to create a new Pelham Pre-Health Endowed Scholarship.  This gift will continue the Pelham’s legacy in perpetuity and will ensure that pre-health students receive the assistance they need to succeed.

Dr. Rustamov is interested in mentoring pre-pharmacy students by collaborating with the Pre-Professional Careers Club. One day she may want to continue her parents’ legacy of giving to UAH. As a local physician, Dr. Pelham has much to offer the pre-health program both as a lecturer and mentor during job shadowing opportunities. That both children seek to give back to UAH is a testament to their experiences as students and a lesson learned from their parents.

“UAH gave our children the opportunity to stay local and excel,” notes Mrs. Pelham. “They were both very prepared as young adults and as students for the challenges ahead. Why would we not give back?”