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January 11, 2007


Thomas C. Hales, Pitt Mellon Professor of Mathematics, won the David P. Robbins Award from the American Mathematics Society (AMS) during the society’s joint mathematics meeting in New Orleans Jan. 6.

The Robbins Award recognizes Hales’s work on the Kepler conjecture, a posit that spheres can be packed most efficiently in a pyramid shape. Kepler, a German astronomer and mathematician, could not prove his idea when he published it in 1611. Several mathematicians had attempted throughout the centuries to prove Kepler correct, but never completed the task.

Hales shook the math world when he offered the long-elusive proof in 1998. In 2005, the journal Annals of Mathematics published a short version of his work titled “A Proof of the Kepler Conjecture,” with the caveat that reviewers were only 99 percent certain that his proof was correct. Hales seeks to prove his proof through what he calls the Flyspeck Project, a computer-based analysis that could take up to 20 years.

The AMS award honors Hales’s 2005 article. He shares the award with Samuel P. Ferguson of the National Security Agency, who co-authored part of the paper. Hales and Ferguson are the first recipients of the award, which was established in 2005 to recognize fresh research in algebra, discrete math and other types of math. The $5,000 prize will be awarded every three years.

In recognizing Hales and Ferguson, the AMS said: “The cited paper elegantly describes the main theoretical structure of the proof … [and] presents an extensive road map of this proof.”

Established more than 200 years ago, the AMS has approximately 30,000 members and promotes mathematics by highlighting its relevance to other fields.


Louise Comfort, professor of public and urban affairs at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), has been named as a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. NAPA is an independent, non-partisan organization chartered by Congress to assist federal, state and local governments in improving their effectiveness, efficiency and accountability.

The academy’s 550 fellows include current and former Cabinet officers, members of Congress, governors, mayors, state legislators, diplomats, business executives, local public managers, foundation executives and scholars.

Comfort also serves as director of the Division of Public and Urban Affairs at GSPIA. Her areas of teaching and research interest include organizational theory, innovation and behavior; complex adaptive systems; policy analysis, design and program implementation; information technology policy and management, and disaster response management.


Professor of sociology Kathleen Blee, one of the country’s leading experts on gender, race and hate groups, was named Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences, effective Jan. 1. The new title recognizes Blee’s extraordinary scholarly attainment in her field.

Blee, who joined the Pitt faculty in 1996, has spent much of her life’s work researching racist movements and hate groups. Her latest book, “Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement,” was based on lengthy interviews with 34 unidentified women from racist and anti-Semitic groups in the United States. The book revealed that many women who joined racist groups were educated, did not grow up poor, had not suffered childhood abuse and initially were not deeply racist. The New York Times Book Review called the work “a meticulous job of historical sleuthing.”

Blee also is the author of “Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; co-author of “The Road to Poverty: The Making of Wealth and Hardship in Appalachia,” and editor of “No Middle Ground: Women and Radical Protest” and “Feminism and Antiracism: International Struggles for Justice.”

She has published articles on topics as varied as racial violence and managing emotion in the study of right-wing extremism, and has been invited to speak at conferences around the world.

Blee received the 2004 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award for a senior scholar and the YWCA Pittsburgh Racial Justice Award. She has been elected to the governing council of the American Sociological Association for four consecutive years. She served as the director of Pitt’s women’s studies program from 1996 to 2001.


John O’Donnell, director of the nurse anesthesia program at the School of Nursing, was named Program Director of the Year by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

The award was established in 1991 to recognize a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) who has made a significant contribution to the educational process of student nurse anesthetists while serving as director of a nurse anesthesia educational program.

Currently, there are 96 nurse anesthesia programs and more than 1,300 affiliated clinical sites in the United States. Nurse anesthesia programs are completed within 24-36 months, and students graduate with a master’s degree with specialization in nurse anesthesia.

O’Donnell has been program director at the nursing school since 1994. In addition, he is the associate director for nursing simulation education at the University’s Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation, Education and Research.

O’Donnell has worked to incorporate state-of-the-art simulation education throughout the nurse anesthesia program curriculum as well as throughout the entire School of Nursing. In addition, he has been involved in multiple research projects evaluating outcomes associated with simulation education.

Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences faculty members Susan J. Skledar, Joanne Kowiatek, and Robert J. Weber, along with Richard Simmons of the School of Medicine, won a Cheers Award from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP). The ISMP Medication Safety Alert! Subscriber Award recognizes UPMC’s sustained, long-term initiative to integrate recommendations from the ISMP Medication Safety Alert! Newsletter into the work of internal patient safety committees.

The ISMP Medical Alert Subscriber Award honors health care organizations that have demonstrated widespread use of the newsletter to educate staff and reduce the potential for errors.


Ken Sochats, director of the Visual Information Systems Center at the School of Information Sciences, has been appointed director of the geographic information systems and visual analytics program at the University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR).

UCSUR promotes a research agenda focused on the social and economic issues most relevant to society, regional economic analysis and forecasting, the psychosocial impacts of adult development and aging, and environmental resource management.

Sochats’ appointment allows UCSUR to take advantage of research technologies and techniques developed at the Visual Information Systems Center, which he has directed since 1999.

Sochats also teaches courses in management information systems, network design and interactive graphics. His research interests include simulation, artificial intelligence, management information systems, systems analysis and design, software engineering, network design and graphics.


Martin B. H. Weiss, associate dean for academic affairs and research and associate professor at the School of Information Sciences, is serving on a Transportation Research Board sponsored by the National Academy of Science.

The board, consisting of 12 members with expertise in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) development and deployment as well as standards development and public policy, will research the ITS standards development process and make recommendations on how to expedite the development of such standards. In addition, the board will recommend the role that the U.S. Department of Transportation should play in the development and deployment of such standards.

Weiss was selected to participate on the board because of his interest in the means by which competing companies can cooperate to develop standards in the communications sector. The study committee will examine options for developing and deploying standards that are outside or complementary to the American National Standards Institute and to consider experiences from the communications field.


Wolfgang Schlör has been named interim director of Pitt’s University Center of International Studies (UCIS), effective Dec. 31. Schlör was serving as the associate director of UCIS, where he was providing strategic and policy advice and was managing a range of research and fellowship programs.

Schlör has played a significant role in the development of a number of international programs and initiatives at Pitt. In addition, he has been instrumental in the development of policies and procedures for the faculty development scholarship competition, the international studies fund, the Global Academic Partnership and the research abroad program — all of which provide funding for international research. Schlör also has led the communications efforts at the center.

Schlör came to Pitt in 1992 as a research associate at the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies. He has written and managed a number of grants from such agencies as the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and Pew Charitable Trusts.

He was an adjunct faculty member in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the director and principal investigator of the international affairs network for the University’s International Management Development Institute.

Prior to his appointment at Pitt, Schlör was a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and a postdoctoral research fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

A search committee chaired by Vice Provost George E. Klinzing hopes to identify a new UCIS director by August.


Among those faculty and staff at Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences whose work recently has been acknowledged with awards or accolades are the following:

• Michael Boninger, professor and vice chair for research in the School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, has been inducted into the National Spinal Cord Injury Association’s Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Boninger, who also is associate dean for medical student research, has done extensive research on the prevention of pain and injury in wheelchair users. He was selected for this honor based on his contributions to enhancing the quality of life of individuals with spinal cord injuries.

• Roberta Ness has been awarded the American College of Physicians’ Pennsylvania chapter’s Laureate Award. Ness, who is the chair of the epidemiology department in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, was recognized for her contributions to women’s health as well as work related to women internists.

The award honors college masters, fellows and members who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in medical care, education and research, or who have provided service to their communities, chapters and the college.

• Marina Posvar, coordinator of the patient navigator program at the Hillman Cancer Center, received a Cancer Control Merit Award from the American Cancer Society (ACS) for her efforts to advocate for continued funding for cancer research, mammography screening and clinical breast exams for low income and uninsured women.

Posvar served as an ambassador for the ACS, working with elected officials to advocate for cancer survivors. She received the ACS award in addition to a Bronze Cancer Control Impact Award for Improving Quality of Life at the 18th annual cancer survivors conference.

• Thomas Kleyman, chief of the renal-electrolyte division and professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology at the School of Medicine, has been selected as the next editor of the American Journal of Physiology: Renal Physiology.

Kleyman will take over the editor post for a three-year term that begins July 1.


Engineering professor Radisav Vidic has been named chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Vidic, who also is a William Kepler Whiteford faculty fellow, has been a faculty member at the School of Engineering since 1992 and has developed a scholarly reputation in environmental engineering. Vidic’s teaching interests include water chemistry and physical/chemical processes in natural and engineered systems.

His primary research interests are in the area of surface science and physical/chemical processes for water, wastewater, hazardous waste and air treatment.

His recent work has focused on fundamental studies of molecular interactions on carbonaceous surfaces, control of mercury emissions from combustion processes by adsorption-based technologies, development of novel sorbents for elemental mercury uptake through industrial ecology, phytoremediation of arsenic-contaminated waters, novel disinfection methods for the control of pathogens in water distribution systems and membrane filtration for water purification.


The WISE (Web-based Information Science Education) Consortium will present its WISE 2006 Excellence in Online Teaching Award to Elizabeth T. Mahoney, head of Pitt’s Information Sciences Library, at the Association for Library and Information Science Education meeting this month.

The award recognizes excellence in quality in online education. Mahoney teaches “Reference, Resources and Services” and “History of Children’s Literature.”


Denise Chisholm, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was awarded the 2006 Academic Educator Award by the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association.

This award is given to an occupational therapy educator who has consistently provided high-quality education to occupational therapy and/or occupational therapy assistant students.


Kelly Otter has been named associate dean in the College of General Studies (CGS).

In her new position, Otter will work with senior administrators throughout the Pitt community to fulfill the CGS institutional mission of providing nontraditional students throughout western Pennsylvania with full access to Pitt’s resources. She will provide the day-to-day leadership and overall management of CGS, including oversight of all programs, curricular matters, enrollment, advising and retention. She also will oversee the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers noncredit courses to senior citizens, and the McCarl Center for Nontraditional Students, a clearinghouse of resources for adult students making the transition to college, located on the fourth floor of the Cathedral of Learning.

Since joining CGS as assistant dean of academic programs in 2003, Otter has played an integral role in planning, developing and delivering the CGS degree programs. She has identified new program opportunities and fostered internal and external relationships leading to new curricula. In addition, she has provided vision and oversight for PittOnline, the CGS distance education venture.

Otter’s experience includes positions as assistant dean in the School of Arts and Sciences at the College of New Rochelle, and as associate director in the Department of Film, Video and Broadcasting, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, New York University (NYU).

She holds a B.A. in communications from the University of Michigan, an M.A. in communications from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. in arts and humanities education from The Steinhardt School of Education at NYU.


Jerry Samples, vice president for academic and student affairs at Pitt-Johnstown, has been elected a distinguished fellow of the International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning (ISETL).

To be recognized as a distinguished fellow, Samples demonstrated a record of significant contributions in three areas: scholarship related to teaching and learning in higher education as evidenced by peer-reviewed publications and/or funded grants; teaching in higher education, including the implementation, evaluation, development and/or improvement of effective teaching strategies, and service to the institution of higher education, including active participation in and contribution to ISETL for several years.

ISETL is an academically diverse group of faculty that focuses on exploring and sharing the nuances of teaching. The society structure provides the framework for the annual ISETL conference, the new International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the ISETL web site that contains both society information and general higher education teaching and learning resources.


Thad Zaleskiewicz, an emeritus professor of physics at Pitt-Greensburg, has been elected as a fellow of the American Physical Society.

The APS fellowship program was created to recognize members who have made advances in knowledge through original research and publication, or made significant innovative contributions in the application of physics to science and technology. They also may have made significant contributions to the teaching of physics or service and participation in the activities of the society. Each year, no more than one half of 1 percent of the APS members are elected to the status of fellow.

According to the APS citation, Zaleskiewicz was elected a fellow for “contributions to the education of teachers in contemporary physics through continuous sustained activity in the Contemporary Physics Education Project.” CPEP is a non-profit organization of teachers, educators and physicists working to create educational materials on contemporary physics topics for use in introductory physics classes.

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