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September 16, 2010

Senate Matters: A different freshman class

From James Stewart’s first-term congressman in the 1939 Frank Capra classic, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” to the newcomers behind Newt Gingrich in the 104th Congress, the freshman representative has been a familiar figure in American political life.

This year, three freshman Faculty Assembly representatives graciously have agreed to let Senate Matters tag along with them as they start their terms:

• Colleen Culley, associate professor, Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy;

• William Elliot III, assistant professor, School of Social Work, and

• Kevin Kearns, professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA).

Since coming to Pitt in 2000, Culley has served on school and department committees for accreditation self-study, curriculum and admissions, but this will be her first service at the University level. She views it as an active, hands-on opportunity to participate in University life. Elliott has been at the University since 2008. He sees Faculty Assembly as a way to be involved in the University beyond his school and expects participation to be a positive learning experience. Kearns, a faculty member since 1987, says he is coming into the experience with an open mind and no particular expectations. He hopes that his experiences as a faculty member and an administrator will help him make a meaningful contribution to Assembly’s deliberations.

Our freshman volunteers are a diverse group.

Culley is a clinical pharmacy specialist in the drug use and disease state management program at UPMC Presbyterian. In both her school and clinical settings, she teaches and facilitates development of students’ component skills for safe, cost-effective and evidence-based use of medications.

Originally from Massachusetts, she received her bachelor’s and PharmD degrees from Butler University and completed a residency in drug information at the University of Kansas Medical Center and Hoechst Marion Roussel. She is on the editorial boards of Clin-Alert and the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.

Elliott teaches both undergraduate and graduate students, with a focus on MSW and PhD students’ research projects. He sits on the Journal of Children and Poverty’s editorial board and spends much of his time writing and doing research on the role of assets in reducing educational disparities and on the relationship between children’s savings and their success in college. In addition to work on projects of national scope, he has done research for the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Pittsburgh Promise program.

Elliott’s path to higher education was less than traditional. He dropped out of high school in his senior year, earned a GED, worked in a mission, then went to Geneva College in Beaver Falls. He ran out of money after a year of law school, joined the army and discovered, as a military prison counselor at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, that he liked social work. He met his wife at his next post, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After leaving the military, he earned his MSW and PhD at Washington University in St. Louis, where the couple’s three children were born.

Kearns, who received a BS at the University of Dayton and MPA and PhD degrees at Pitt, teaches at the master’s level — primarily advanced courses in strategic management and nonprofit organization, but also a capstone seminar and an introductory course in public management. He is director of both GSPIA’s doctoral program and its Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership, and a board member of local, national and international nonprofit organizations. His research and publications are on topics of interest to nonprofit managers: accountability, strategic planning, board development and general management.

Kearns describes himself as “profoundly interested in good teaching.” He received a Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005 and has served on the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence and in other initiatives to advance the quality of teaching on campus. He says he learns a great deal from these activities. He also has served on and chaired various governance committees in GSPIA and the University, was GSPIA faculty president and has held school administrative posts including associate dean.

As I write this, the first Faculty Assembly meeting of the year, scheduled for Sept. 7, has yet to occur. So it’s too soon to tell whether our freshman reps will fulfill the stereotype by being fiery, plucky, zealous or tireless. Far more important is the fact that they will somehow be fitting time for their colleagues and the University into already-full schedules of teaching, research and other service commitments. I look forward to keeping in touch with them and reporting on their impressions and experiences with Faculty Assembly.

Senate Matters is the University Senate’s op-ed column. Topics range from the University budget and scholarly publishing to sustainability and breastfeeding on campus. If you’re interested in writing a column this year, I hope to hear from you at

Patricia Weiss is vice president of the University Senate.

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