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June 12, 2003

Chancellor’s affirmative action award announced

In nominating Paula K. Davis for the 2003 Chancellor’s Affirmative Action Award, third-year medical student Leon McCrea called the School of Medicine’s assistant dean for student affairs and minority programs “an adviser, mentor, friend and confidante” to minority students.

“Dean Davis has created a space within the hallowed halls of the medical school where it feels like home,” McCray wrote.

For those and other accomplishments, Davis this week became the first individual to win the chancellor’s award, which includes a $2,500 prize. In previous years, the award went to programs rather than specific Pitt employees.

Davis’s colleagues praised her for:

• Leading the medical school’s efforts to enroll under-represented minorities (African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Pacific islanders and native Alaskans). About 13 percent of Pitt medical students belong to those groups, up by 30 percent since Davis took office in November 1994. This year, 21 of 145 students in the school’s first-year class are under-represented minorities.

• Placing minority high school students in a summer program through which they work in Pitt clinics and labs, shadowing physicians and scientists.

• Helping to create a program that teaches second-year medical students about issues facing patients from diverse cultures, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations.

• Helping to gain national recognition for Pitt’s chapter of the Student National Medical Association.

Edward Curtiss, associate dean of admissions and a professor in the medical school, credited Davis with forging links between the school and community physicians who work with minority patients.

“She has an unwavering commitment to ensuring that the medical field is populated by diverse and culturally competent physicians,” said Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, in announcing the award at the June 9 Senate Council meeting. “Her efforts have been recognized by her election as the director of the northeast region of the National Association of Medical Educators for 2004-2005.”

Davis told Council members: “In a time when the Supreme Court is considering very serious challenges to affirmative action, [the award] makes me want to push even harder for what I do on a daily basis by way of recruiting, and working with the dean to retain, under-represented medical students.”

She thanked medical Dean Arthur S. Levine, who also is senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, for “continued and unwavering support in a time when dollars are tight and some medical schools have actually done away with their minority affairs programs.”

Stingy state funding for medical education remains a nagging problem, Davis said after the meeting. Pitt ranks 72nd among 76 public medical schools nationwide in the amount of state assistance it receives. “As the costs of medical education escalate,” Davis said, “students increasingly are being forced to decide where they would like to get their educations based on finances rather than on the curriculum and environment that best fit them.”

Pitt’s medical school established its office of student affairs and minority programs in 1979. “According to the dossier that was submitted [nominating Davis for the affirmative action award], initially the office was successful,” Chancellor Nordenberg said. “But when Dean Davis joined it in November 1994, she inherited a program that was perceived as inaccessible by the students it was created to serve.”

Within five months of taking office, Davis “formed a bond with minority student leaders and hosted the first minority weekend at the medical school,” Nordenberg said. “That weekend has led to a series of programs instrumental in encouraging under-represented minority students to enroll at the University of Pittsburgh.”

In accepting her award, Davis thanked colleagues from her office (assistant Carol Blackman, outreach coordinator Robert Connamacher and assistant director Franki Williams), mentors (Pitt admissions and financial aid director Betsy Porter and her predecessor, Joe Merante, as well as former associate director William Nunn), and academic advisers who served as role models (the English department’s Fiore Pugliano, the late Fred Koloc of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Randy Williams of communications).

Davis also thanked family members “who spend a lot of hours without me while I take care of other people,” and who attended the Senate Council meeting: husband Eric Davis and children Kathryn and Jason; sisters Lisa Wilds, Christina Wilds and Anita Socci; and uncle John Wilds, director of Community and Governmental Relations.

— Bruce Steele

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