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February 18, 2010

Chancellor’s teaching, research, service winners named

Twelve faculty members have been honored as winners of the 2010 chancellor’s awards for distinguished teaching, research and public service.

Distinguished teaching award winners are:

Carl Bodenschatz, Department of Statistics;

Robert J. Gilbert, Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration;

Anthony C. Infanti, School of Law;

Shalini Puri, Department of English, and

Bill J. Yates, School of Medicine.

Distinguished research award winners in the senior scholar category are:

Susan Amara, School of Medicine;

Thomas C. Hales, Department of Mathematics, and

Colin MacCabe, Department of English.

Distinguished research award winners in the junior scholar category are:

Elodie Ghedin, School of Medicine, and

Laura J. Niedernhofer, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).

Distinguished public service award winners are:

Linda Rose Frank, Graduate School of Public Health, and

Lawrence A. Frolik, School of Law.

Each awardee will receive a $2,000 cash prize and a $3,000 grant for the support of his or her teaching or research activities. The awardees will be recognized Feb. 26 during Pitt’s 34th annual honors convocation. Their names also will be inscribed on plaques in the William Pitt Union.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award


A selection committee, chaired by Patricia Beeson, vice provost for Graduate Studies and Undergraduate Studies, recommended the winners after reviewing supporting materials. Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg sent congratulatory letters to the winners, citing some of their accomplishments.

Carl Bodenschatz, senior lecturer in the Department of Statistics and director of the undergraduate statistics program, was honored for his ability to teach and to lead by personal example, both inside and outside the classroom. He has taught statistics at Pitt for almost 10 years and, prior to joining the University, taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Nordenberg commended Bodenschatz for engaging students by posing “real-world” statistical problems. The chancellor also praised him for taking time to mentor students, advising them on issues ranging from professionalism and service to dedication and personal responsibility.

“The impact of your efforts is reflected in the sentiments of the 3,562 students whom you have taught during your teaching career, many of whom consider you to be the best instructor they have had,” wrote Nordenberg.

The chancellor noted in his letter that the number of undergraduate statistics majors has tripled since Bodenschatz became director of the program.

Bodenschatz also is a 2007 Tina and David Bellet Arts and Sciences Teaching Excellence Award winner. (See March 22, 2007, University Times.) In 2006 he was recognized as one of the best instructors at Pitt with the Award of Excellence from the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

Bodenschatz told the University Times he felt privileged to have won the chancellor’s award. “I felt very honored because I know that there are many great teachers here at the University of Pittsburgh. The recognition is nice, but I don’t teach the way I do to try to win awards. I just try to utilize the talents I have to the best of my ability.”

He learned to teach in the U.S. Air Force.

“As I advanced in academic and military rank, I had increasing responsibility in observing, critiquing, evaluating and supervising other faculty members. It is uplifting to be around others who are committed to continual improvement with the goal of excellence in service to others,” Bodenschatz said.

“I try to help students wherever they are academically. I try to use what they already know and build on it. Maintaining high standards and helping students achieve success over difficult topics is very rewarding. When students reflect on a challenging climb from a landing part way up a mountain, they can see that it was worth the effort expended. This can develop self-confidence and inspire students to want to climb higher.”

Robert Gilbert, clinical associate professor of business administration in the Katz school and the College of Business Administration, was recognized for his passion for teaching, his innovative approach in the classroom and his consistently high ratings on student evaluations.

Nordenberg praised Gilbert for his course development innovations, which, the chancellor said, have drawn national attention to Pitt’s undergraduate business program.

Gilbert teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in marketing, marketing management and advertising and promotions, and consults with firms across a number of industries both domestically and internationally.

“Your Projects in Marketing class has afforded students the opportunity to develop a marketing campaign for world-class firms such as Honda, Nissan, Recording Industry Association of America and Goal Financial,” Nordenberg wrote.

Gilbert told the University Times, “When I first heard of [winning] the award, I was very pleased on behalf of the Katz Graduate School of Business and the College of Business Administration. Our school has many outstanding teachers, and I am proud to be counted among them.”

Gilbert entered academia after a 15-year career in the telecommunications industry. “A very rewarding experience at an executive education program I attended at a leading business school started me thinking about a career change,” he said. “I decided to pursue a doctorate in order to teach at a high-caliber university. The University of Pittsburgh has been just that — a great school with outstanding students who challenge me every day. I’ve never regretted my career change, and I can’t imagine having a job that I would enjoy more than what I’m doing now.”

In addition to subject matter expertise and preparation, Gilbert said, “Good teaching is mostly about attitude. What I feel separates very good teachers from their peers is their attitude and passion for their craft. I love to teach. I love to see students engaged in topics that interest them. One of my greatest fulfillments is when former students contact me in appreciation of how I may have helped prepare them for their careers.”

Teaching should never become a routine obligation, he added. “I hope — and believe — that my students sense this passion for what I’m doing. Students are perceptive — they can easily and clearly sense when an instructor is going through the motions. I never want any student to have that sense about me.”

Law professor Anthony Infanti’s primary area of expertise is taxation, and most of his courses at Pitt have focused on the tax arena, including federal income tax, as well as corporate, international and estate and gift taxes.

Nordenberg said Infanti’s selection recognized his “exceptional commitment” to preparing his students for the practice of law and his innovation in developing teaching methods appropriate to different course contexts and aligned with the professional goals of the students.

“Your dedication is also evident in the work that you do beyond the formal curriculum, including coaching student teams in tax moot court competitions and serving as chief faculty editor of the student-run journal, the Pittsburgh Tax Review,” the chancellor wrote.

Infanti told the University Times he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in teaching. “In college I was a foreign language major, and I had a professor in French literature who was so enthusiastic about the subject matter that she made learning contagious. I admired what she did so much, I wanted to go out and read everything I could get my hands on.”

Infanti said he tries to carry that type of enthusiasm to his tax law courses. “Students come in worried about tax law, which they think is rather arcane and that there’s a lot of math involved, something not usually in their background. I try to make them realize it’s actually interesting.”

Infanti said that teaching in a professional school requires turning theory into practice, to prepare students for the real world. “So I rely heavily on a problem approach, which is atypical for law school. I also teach students how to use both electronic resources and hard copy resources for research and show them how some are more efficient that others.”

Infanti said he learned a lot while assembling his dossier for the teaching award.

“I’m in my 10th year at Pitt, and that process made me step back and reflect on my teaching. I believe teaching is an evolution. I like to try new, different things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I learn from that as I look back at where I’ve come from and where I am now and try to improve,” Infanti said.

“For example, I used to have one big assignment due at the end of the semester, but that didn’t work so well. So now I ask students to write a lot of memos and I give them quite a bit of feedback on those so they learn as they go. That works well. By the end of the semester, they actually turn in some pretty good writing.”

Shalini Puri, associate professor in the Department of English, joined Pitt’s faculty in 1994 and was charged with globalizing the University’s curricular offerings in English.

Her teaching focuses on postcolonial theory and cultural studies of the global south with an emphasis on the Caribbean, particularly researching the cultural practices, conflicts and solidarities that have arisen out of the overlapping diasporas set in motion by slavery and indentureship.

Puri also directs the English literature program, which has allowed her to help shape the department’s teaching agenda, Nordenberg noted in his letter.

The award “recognizes your impact on the teaching mission of the Department of English in expanding the horizons of your students through novel interdisciplinary and cross-programmatic methods,” he wrote.

“Your classroom teaching has been inspiring, challenging and continuously successful, as evidenced by the high marks on student evaluation of teaching that you have received,” the chancellor added.

“I remember going through school and university vowing ‘If I ever become a teacher, I’ll never do that!’ or ‘That’s inspired! If I become a teacher, I have to try that.’ But I didn’t plan to be a teacher,” Puri told the University Times. “But since I love literature, conversation and analysis, I have rather a good time teaching.”

She said her teaching goals include helping students be moved by literature and its portrayal of the human condition, and helping them to develop analytical skills that will serve them in all of life’s endeavors.

“I often think that successful teaching is not primarily about guiding students toward finding answers; it is even more about guiding them in how to develop rich and generative questions,” she said. “Students sometimes think that the best route to an A is to agree with the professor. But I want to try to persuade them that our field moves forward and is enriched by disagreement and debate.”

In his letter notifying the medical school’s Bill Yates of his award, Nordenberg wrote, “This honor recognizes your dedication to undergraduate research, your sustained commitment as a mentor to your students and your progressive teaching style.”

Nordenberg noted that Yates, professor of otolaryngology and neuroscience whose main responsibility is running a laboratory, is not required to teach. However, Yates chose to do so by seeking a secondary appointment in the School of Arts and Sciences Department of Neuroscience.

“Your forward-thinking teaching style is evident in the way that you challenge your students to question scientific ‘facts’ and really ingrain in them the understanding that science is dynamic,” Nordenberg wrote.

Yates works with an average of seven undergraduate students a term in his lab; he has co-authored journal articles with 34 undergrads and consistently has awarded his students the privilege and responsibility of lead authorship, the chancellor noted.

Yates told the University Times he was delighted to have won the teaching award, “and a little bit surprised,” having been nominated twice previously.

“No matter the discipline, and I work primarily in the lab, teaching is everyone’s responsibility,” said Yates, who in addition to teaching graduate and medical students, teaches a course in physiology in the University Honors College. “I enjoy doing it, it’s a very useful thing and, quite frankly, one of the few places where you get immediate feedback, particularly from undergraduates. I like to see the improvement my students make and I’ve had the pleasure of teaching many outstanding students.”

Teaching comes naturally, Yates said. “I do a good job in relaying information to others and I enjoy doing it — it’s as simple as that. I particularly enjoy working with students in the lab and engaging them in problem-solving skills that students lack since it’s not much emphasized in their lower levels of schooling. I believe experiential learning of the kind the lab affords is important in all aspects of life.”

Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award


A selection committee, chaired by George Klinzing, vice provost for Research, recommended the senior and junior scholar winners after reviewing supporting materials.

The senior scholar category recognizes “an outstanding and continuing record of research and scholarly activity.”

Nordenberg praised senior scholar Susan Amara, Detre Professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology, for having achieved international eminence as a researcher. Her research focuses on the molecular and cellular biology of neurotransmitter transporters.

“The [nominating] committee noted that your groundbreaking research on alternative gene splicing of mRNAs was conducted while you were still a graduate student,” Nordenberg wrote. In addition, Amara is credited with using the gene expression techniques she developed to become the first to clone members of two major classes of transporters, which are the molecular machines essential for the inactivation of synaptic transmission, the chancellor noted.

Nordenberg wrote that Amara’s research efforts have been recognized through several prestigious appointments, including service as a Howard Hughes investigator, receipt of an NIH Merit Award, election both to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as a recent appointment as president-elect of the Society for Neuroscience.

The chancellor also cited comments from Amara’s colleagues, who described her as “a phenomenal thinker, researcher, scholar, person and role model” and as “one of the top neuroscience researchers and best thinkers in the country.”

Amara told the University Times that receiving this award “is a great honor, especially to be recognized by my home institution, which has been really supportive in my six years here.”

Amara gravitated toward research at a young age. “But I didn’t realize in those earlier stages that you can build a career studying the way things work in the natural world — and have such fun at the same time.”

She added that research is a team effort and that credit for the research award also belongs to her mentors, trainers and students at Pitt, especially in the biomedical sciences. “Pitt also has a great and deserved reputation for community outreach, especially the Center for Neuroscience,” with which she is affiliated, Amara said.

Nordenberg praised Mellon Professor of Mathematics and senior scholar Thomas Hales for seminal contributions to a broad range of mathematics areas, including discrete geometry, algebra and formal theorem proving.

“You are internationally recognized for solving a number of mathematical problems that have stymied scientists for decades, if not centuries,” the chancellor wrote. “You solved the oldest and most difficult open problem in discrete geometry, Kepler’s Conjecture from 1611, settled the ancient Honeycomb Conjecture and supervised the solution to the challenging Dodecahedral Conjecture. The proofs of these three conjectures are considered to be among the most significant breakthroughs in discrete geometry in the 20th century.”

Nordenberg cited Hales as a pioneer in formal theorem proving, “which will revolutionize the way mathematical proofs are created and verified, and [you] have made significant breakthroughs in group representation theory.”

Hales is widely published in mathematical journals and has received numerous awards including the Chauvenet Prize, the Moore Prize, the 2007 David P. Robbins Prize and the 2009 Fulkerson Prize.

Hales told the University Times, “This award is particularly meaningful to me because it comes from the University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is home to me. Recognition like this at home is much more deeply felt than an award from the outside.”

Hales said going into research was a natural path for him. “There are a number of research scientists in my extended family. My heroes of early childhood were people like Thomas Edison, Robert Millikan and Philo Farnsworth. I have been directed toward research in math and science ever since I was in high school,” right up to today, he said.

“I was awake at 4:35 a.m. [one recent] morning with an idea for my current project. Thinking about mathematics does not turn on and off like a light switch. Mathematicians can become quite obsessed with the problems they work on,” Hales said.

Film producer, critic and scholar Colin MacCabe, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of English, is considered the world’s foremost authority on the life and work of French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, the chancellor wrote of the senior scholar research award winner.

“In addition, you are a major figure in the British independent cinema movement of the late ’80s and ’90s, an extraordinary period of cinematic experimentation and productivity, during which time you produced critically acclaimed films and television documentaries and served as head of production at the British Film Institute between 1985 and 1989 and as head of research from 1989 to 1998,” Nordenberg wrote.

MacCabe’s films have won several international awards, including the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear Award, the San Sebastian Film Festival’s Golden Sea Shell Award and the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Nordenberg noted, adding that MacCabe has been a juror at the Cannes and Vancouver film festivals.

At Pitt, MacCabe has played a central role in interdisciplinary initiatives, including the development of the cultural studies program and bringing leading artists and intellectuals to campus, the chancellor wrote. “You continue to publish widely, authoring 12 books, editing 14 collections and publishing more than 100 essays, chapters, prefaces and introductions. The selection committee was particularly impressed by the broad reach and impact of your scholarly work.”

MacCabe told the University Times that he was very pleased and proud of his role at the University, “which has been my academic base for 25 years. And to be recognized in your home base is truly an honor.”

His interest in film and its interrelationship with politics and society dates to his undergraduate days.

“In 1967-68, my first year at University, in Cambridge, I began to see how my research was linked to an overall political projection of emancipation, my own and others’, and particularly in relation to Ireland, which is why my PhD dissertation is on [James] Joyce,” the London native said.

“Later, in more contemporary times, I found Godard as the most important artist in this movement, that is, how democratic processes are furthered in film more so than even novels because film opens it up to greater audiences,” MacCabe said.

“My intellectual projects then brought me to a desire to produce films myself, and Pitt enabled me and encouraged me in that dual career, including researching practical film production: how films worked, which led to my second book on Godard. So it’s been a long and fruitful academic journey, for which I am very grateful to Pitt.”

The junior scholar research category recognizes those “whose exceptional early contributions have demonstrated great potential and have already produced a measure of international standing.”

Nordenberg cited junior scholar Elodie Ghedin, assistant professor in the Department of Computational Biology and the Center for Vaccine Research, “as an exceptional scientist with unique skills that have allowed you to make a significant impact in infectious disease research.”

The underlying theme in Ghedin’s research is the genomics of infectious diseases, which, Nordenberg noted, “combines comparative genomics, bioinformatics analyses and functional assays to study both the viral and parasitic pathogens. In the future, your research may allow for the prediction of viruses that may emerge in future populations, where such emergence is most likely to occur and which species are most likely to act as reservoirs.”

Nordenberg further noted Ghedin’s dedication to the study of neglected and underfunded infectious diseases such as African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, cutaneous and visceral leishmaniases and lymphatic filariasis.

“Your research has been published in prominent journals including Science, Nature, PloS Pathogens and PloS Biology, and you are considered to be ‘one of the leading thinkers in the area of microbial genomics,’ and ‘the absolute authority when it comes to RNA viruses,’” Nordenberg wrote.

Ghedin said she was thrilled to have won the research award. “I have quite a few colleagues who are also junior faculty and who do exciting work. It is very flattering to be chosen among a group like that,” she told the University Times.

“I started doing research first and then moved into academia. After [earning] my PhD in Canada, I did a post-doctorate fellowship at the NIH, then worked for six years at the Institute for Genomic Research in Maryland. While at that institute, I collaborated extensively with academic labs. I felt that it was time to get into academia because of the diversity of research and colleagues I would find.”

Ghendin said the overall process of research is shared and highly satisfying. “While finally getting to the solution ofa problem is very exciting, it is the journey that ends up being the most rewarding. Most of my research is highly collaborative so it involves many discussions with colleagues. Trying to devise a strategy as a group, coming up with hypotheses, interpreting the data — it’s all very exciting,” she said.

UPCI’s Laura Niedernhofer, assistant professor in the molecular and cellular oncology program, was recognized in the junior scholar category for her impact on the field of DNA repair. “Indeed,” Nordenberg wrote, “in a letter supporting your nomination, you were described as ‘an emerging superstar in the field of DNA repair, which is arguably one of the most rapidly advancing areas in biomedical research and is of increasing importance to our understanding of mechanisms of carcinogenesis and aging.’”

The chancellor further cited Niedernhofer’s research for yielding definitive experimental evidence that DNA damage promotes aging in mammals and induces a systemic endocrine response that extends across the lifespan.

“You are using the models you developed to test the hypothesis that diverse age-related diseases may be caused by a common mechanism,” Nordenberg wrote. “Moreover, you have applied your insights to the human condition and discovered a new form of progeria — the rare, fatal genetic condition characterized by an appearance of accelerated aging in children.”

Niedernhofer said, “My initial reaction to winning this award, honestly, was disbelief. There are so many talented scientists on campus, I never would have guessed that I would win. My research is a labor of love, so recognition really comes as a surprise.”

She said on standardized tests she always scored better in math and science than in language skills. “So my teachers and parents steered me toward science from an early age. But I strained against the pure disciplines, having a much stronger interest in learning how the human body works and leaning toward disciplines where it is possible to make a contribution to human health.

“I can’t imagine a career that is more fun — with freedom to pursue your passion, always surrounded by smart people that continuously challenge you and most importantly to be working as part of a team. The most productive research stems from collaborative efforts. So I am extremely grateful to my students and colleagues who have contributed substantially to my research,” Niedernhofer said.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Awards

public service

A selection committee, chaired by Andrew Blair, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, recommended the winners after reviewing supporting materials.

In a letter congratulating Linda Rose Frank, associate professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Nordenberg wrote that “the selection committee was particularly impressed by your many public service contributions that have increased general knowledge and awareness of HIV/AIDS, diminished the stigma associated with the disease and reduced disparities with regard to patient access among minorities and other underserved populations.”

Frank, who also is director of the master of public health program in community and behavioral interventions for infectious diseases, has served on numerous committees, organizations, initiatives and regional boards, the chancellor noted, including the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force and AIDS Action, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group that engages legislators, government officials and others in efforts to ensure that HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment receive a high funding priority.

“You have appeared before Congress to provide testimony regarding developing new directions, policies and initiatives with regard to this major national and world problem,” Nordenberg wrote. “Your experience and expertise in advocacy and knowledge of the legislative process have carried over into your teaching and created opportunities to encourage students in the Graduate School of Public Health to engage in public health advocacy.”

Nordenberg added that Frank has been funded at major levels by federal and state agencies to launch training and technical assistance programs and demonstration projects, including multiyear federal funding to serve as the principal investigator and executive director of the Pennsylvania/Mid-Atlantic AIDS Education and Training Center, headquartered at Pitt.

Frank told the University Times that the center builds clinical capacity for HIV treatment and aims to reduce barriers to care by improving the knowledge and skills of clinical providers through education, consultation and technical assistance. The program targets health professionals, including physicians, dentists, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists and other members of the HIV treatment team, she said.

Frank noted that her public service efforts stem from her training in several fields. “I started in the School of Nursing and began a career as a nurse, where my work was to take care of people that other people did not want to care for,” Frank said. “Then I went into clinical work in psychiatric and mental health nursing working with mentally ill and disturbed children. In the ’80s, as HIV unfolded at time when we didn’t know very much about it and there was a lot of misinformation, it was a natural fit for my interests and training, but I had no idea that 20 years later I’d still be doing that — although we’re nowhere near where we need to be. My public health background affects many aspects of HIV and the management skills in psychiatry also have helped.”

Frank said most of her current work is field work outside the public health school. “I had to learn how government works and learn advocacy skills for HIV programs, as well as for human rights, in order to testify before Congress and the federal and state governments. We’re lucky in Pennsylvania, because there are a number of legislators who are supportive of the AIDS portfolio,” she said.

In his letter to Larry Frolik, Nordenberg noted that the law professor is known as one of the founders of the field of elder law.

Frolik’s scholarly work in the areas of establishing trusts by parents of adult children with disabilities and treating aspects of guardianship has resulted in several appointments, the chancellor noted, including an academic membership on the Special Needs Trust Alliance and appointment to a special committee of the Pennsylvania State Government Commission charged with considering changes to the state’s guardianship law.

“You have made a significant impact on the quality of life for older adults in our state and our nation,” which have flowed from your teaching and scholarship, Nordenberg wrote.

“As one of the first members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, you became a nationally recognized advocate for older adults and have been widely cited in the media,” the chancellor wrote.

“As a member of the Executive Council of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons, you played a pivotal role in shaping AARP’s position on various components of long-term care, provided guidance and direction on elder-abuse issues and worked to ensure the well-being and protection of older adults,” the chancellor added.

Frolik told the University Times, “I’ve very grateful for the award as a validation of my efforts over the years, which I see as at the intersection of law and public policy,” Frolik said.

“As faculty members in a professional school, we have the obligation to train our students for the profession, to teach them in terms of legal issues that are real, that affect people,” he said.

“Teaching law can be fairly theoretical, but then you see the application of the law to older people and persons with disabilities and the law can become very rewarding and stimulating. It’s very gratifying work.”

—Peter Hart

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