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March 3, 2011

Chancellor’s staff awards announced

Nine staff members have been awarded 2011 chancellor’s awards for excellence in service to the community and service to the University.

Receiving the 2011 Chancellor’s Awards for Staff for Excellence in Service to the University are:

• Kazi Islam, manager of the Peptide Synthesis Core;

• Officer David W. Nanz of the University of Pittsburgh Police Department;

• Laurie A. Sallows, office administrator in the Office of General Counsel;

• Dorothy Shallenberger, department administrator in the Department of Music;

• Kathleen Sidorovich, financial research administrator in the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences.

Receiving the 2011 Chancellor’s Awards for Staff for Excellence in Service to the Community are:

• James P. Gallagher, research systems manager in the School of Dental Medicine;

• Christine E. Miller, an administrator in the Department of Health and Physical Activity, School of Education;

• Bryan M. Valentine, director of Student Life at Pitt-Johnstown;

• Cricket Wencil-Tracey, assistant to the executive director of Enrollment Management at Pitt-Titusville.

Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the University

Five staff members have received the 2011 Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the University. The University service award recognizes staff members “whose performance not only exceeds the standards and expectations of their position but who also make a significant impact on the University through their commitment and performance.”

A selection committee chaired by Jane W. Thompson, associate vice chancellor, Planning and Analysis, reviewed the staff nominations. The awards, open to employees who have been at Pitt at least five years, are the highest honor the University bestows upon staff. Honorees receive a $2,500 prize and have their names added to a plaque on display at the William Pitt Union. They also were recognized at the Feb. 25 honors convocation and will be honored at a reception later this year.

Kazi Islam, who has been involved with Pitt’s Peptide Synthesis Core since its inception in 1991, consults one-on-one with investigators to produce custom peptides at a reasonable cost. (Shorter than a protein, peptides are compounds formed by linking amino acids together.) His team has produced numerous conventional and custom peptides, including some used for potentially therapeutic cancer vaccines. Islam’s three-person team serves 50-70 investigators at the University who use peptides in research. The core supports Pitt investigators and collaborators first, but also may accept outside work if resources permit, he said.

staff awardIn his congratulatory letter, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg noted that the award selection committee was impressed with Islam’s contributions to Pitt’s research mission, particularly in the development of cancer vaccines. “Your nomination package included letters of support from a number of our internationally recognized researchers, all of whom praised the impact you have made to the development of pioneering peptide production techniques,” the chancellor wrote. “Moreover, you developed quality control standards that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration uses for approval of peptides for use in human clinical trials of cancer vaccines. As Paul Wood, assistant director of Genomics and Proteomics Core Laboratories, relates, such peptides are extremely expensive in the commercial market, costing ‘… on the order of $150,000 for a batch for a single trial. Kazi worked directly with the FDA to develop an FDA-compliant scheme for the synthesis of these peptides. … Not only did he succeed in developing a protocol and convincing the FDA that his system was valid, the FDA adopted his system as its standard for certified peptides. … He was able to save investigators on the order of $100,000 on every peptide taken to clinical trial.’” The chancellor also cited praise from Ronald C. Montelaro, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Research, who wrote, “It is not an overstatement to say that Kazi has during the past 20 years been the primary driver in bringing state-of-the-art synthetic peptide technologies to the Pitt research community.”

Islam said, “I feel deeply honored to receive this award,” adding, “It was a very pleasant surprise. I’m thrilled.” He said he has not fully decided on what to do with the prize money, but plans to donate a portion to a good cause.

Islam expressed thanks to his supervisor Montelaro, the many investigators who supported his nomination and his colleagues at the facility. “They do excellent work and I count on them every day,” he said.

David W. Nanz, the Pitt police department’s K-9 officer, was commended for his role in using CPR to save the lives of two people last year.

In the span of less than two months, Nanz responded to two calls in which victims had stopped breathing. Sociology lecturer Mike Epitropoulos collapsed while on a treadmill at the University Club April 15; a campus Sodexo employee was stricken June 2 in the Eureka Building. (See June 10 University Times.) Both victims have recovered. Pitt police are trained in CPR and carry automated external defibrillators on all calls for medical assistance.

Nanz, who also received an award from the American Heart Association, said he and Epitropoulos have developed a friendship since the incident. He also had the opportunity to meet the Sodexo employee whose life he saved when she delivered cookies to the police department over the holidays.

Nanz learned he had been selected for the chancellor’s award when he received a call during K-9 training from Chief Tim Delaney. “I was ecstatic,” Nanz said, expressing appreciation for those who recommended him. “It’s a very great honor.”

Along with Epitropoulos, Pitt police colleagues and staff in the Office of General Counsel and Athletics also submitted letters of support for Nanz’s nomination.

Nanz also received support from beyond the University for his role in assisting in the investigation of bomb threats and explosives sweeps.

He and Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office K-9 officer Maria Watts provide backup for each other on an on-call basis, Nanz said. The chancellor cited a letter from Watts, who stated, “Since 2007, Officer Nanz is my first call to help me with a bomb threat. … Each time that I called Officer Nanz for help, it was before his shift, and he was still at home. However each time, without hesitation, Officer Nanz has responded to the Downtown area to help with the explosive sweep.”

Nanz said he has not settled on a plan for the award money, although he is considering a vacation and some home remodeling.

In his letter, the chancellor noted that Laurie A. Sallows, office administrator and a paralegal professional in the Office of General Counsel, was promoted from her initial position as a receptionist in that office. “You are known for your grace under pressure — despite the contentious nature of many matters you handle,” the chancellor wrote. “In writing in support of your nomination, Yvonne Keafer, director of Risk Management and Insurance, noted, ‘Among the attributes that set Laurie apart and make for truly excellent service to the University is that she sees no boundaries to her work.  Anyone needing help is treated just the same — she does everything in her power to find a solution to their problem.’”

Sallows said she joined the University staff in 1993 as a part-time transcriptionist in the Learning Research and Development Center, then began seeking a full-time position four years later when her oldest son was a senior in high school.

She soon got a call from the Office of General Counsel’s office manager. They needed a receptionist. “I could type 100 words per minute, but I had no law background,” she said. “They wanted someone comfortable with transcription so I got that job.”

Within a matter of months a litigator in the office needed a new secretary. Again, her lack of a legal background didn’t matter, Sallows said. Credited with being friendly and smart, she got the job and learned by doing. When Alan Garfinkel was named general counsel in 1999, she began working for him. In addition to providing him direct support, “The bigger part is keeping everyone here happy, keeping the technical stuff running and making sure everyone has what they need to do their job,” she said.

A large part of her work involves directing callers to the right person in the department. Unlike other areas where a single contact person can be called upon, areas of legal expertise differ, so the attorney who was able to help with one question isn’t necessarily the right person to approach with another issue.

“A lot of what it is is problem-solving — trying to figure out the right person to go to,” she said.

She quipped that what started as a way to help her son attend college has turned into a satisfying career. The third of her four boys will graduate from Pitt this spring.

The award “was really a great surprise,” she said, adding that she has a definite plan for the prize money. It will go toward replacing her 10-year-old car. The vehicle has 150,000 miles on it and she needed to get by with it until her son finished school.

“This will make a nice down payment,” she said. “The timing was perfect.”

Dorothy Shallenberger was praised for going the extra mile for faculty, staff and students in the Department of Music. The chancellor cited Shallenberger’s role in establishing a piano replacement project in which she “almost singlehandedly” raised the money needed to purchase numerous baby grand and upright pianos for the department. “You wrote grants, designed a brochure for the campaign, developed mailing lists and personally met with patrons. You also established a working relationship with Trombino Pianos that has resulted in many low-cost piano purchases for the department,” the chancellor wrote.

Nordenberg also commended Shallenberger’s creation of the Love Award, to recognize those who have provided excellent service to the music department. “Over the years, those fortunate individuals — which include a number of computer technicians, building engineers, electricians and piano tuners — have received certificates and cakes as a way of saying ‘thank you for a job well done,’” the chancellor wrote.

Shallenberger, who has worked in the music department since 1996, said the Love awards “let people know we appreciate everything they do for us. So many people don’t get enough thanks.” The awards are a surprise for the recipients. “They come in and we’re waiting for them,” she said.

As for her own award, she said, “I am shocked and totally honored. It’s an amazing thing.” Noting that she was born in the year of the rabbit and that it again is the year of the rabbit, she said, “I guess this is my lucky year.” Shallenberger credited “great staff,” her department chair and the Arts and Sciences dean’s office for their support of her work in the department. “I’m lucky I have wonderful people around me. I’m ever grateful to be in the music department,” she said.

She plans to use the award money to vacation in a favorite spot on the Outer Banks.

Kathleen Sidorovich, recipient of a chancellor’s staff award for service to the University in 2000, has continued to make extraordinary contributions to the University, Nordenberg’s congratulatory letter stated.

“In making this award, the committee noted that it would take a truly exceptional individual to be found deserving of this recognition twice. However, after reviewing supporting materials for all nominated staff members, the selection committee felt that since joining the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences, you have continued to build a record of exceptional service to the University. The committee noted your willingness to share your expertise in research compliance and grant administration with anyone in the University community.  In addition to serving on numerous committees, task forces and working groups, you are also known as the person to see for questions regarding new and existing regulatory puzzles and complications,” the chancellor wrote.

He cited praise from Chief Financial Officer Arthur Ramicone, who stated that Sidorovich “is always at the forefront of emerging issues that affect the day-to-day grant operations of the University on an operating and financial basis and she leads any required process change implementation,” and from Arthur Levine, senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, who praised her as a “critical resource for the entire University community.”

He wrote, “The great dedication, professionalism and collegiality with which she approaches every facet of her very demanding position are recognized by everyone with whom she interacts.”

Sidorovich expressed surprise at winning the service award a second time. “But it’s a great opportunity. I’m very happy,” she said. Sidorovich said she had not decided on a plan for the prize money.

Although her position is in the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences, Sidorovich said she has been assisting with University-wide initiatives including coordinating and developing a way of tracking economic stimulus grants as well as working with the Office of Research Compliance on new initiatives for electronic effort reporting.

Over the course of nearly 40 years, Sidorovich said most of her career has been directly related to research, covering all phases from basic data entry to departmental administration functions. That scope in addition to her long tenure at the University have made her a go-to source for many people. “Given the experience I have, I can answer questions, or provide insight into the answers to the questions,” she said.

Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to  the Community

Four staff members have received the 2011 Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the Community. The community service award recognizes staff  “whose work in the community surpasses the expectation of the organizations they serve and whose commitment and effort have made a significant impact on the community.”

A selection committee chaired by Jane W. Thompson, associate vice chancellor, Planning and Analysis, reviewed the staff nominations. The awards, open to employees who have been at Pitt at least five years, are the highest honor the University bestows upon staff. Honorees receive a $2,500 prize and have their names added to a plaque on display at the William Pitt Union. They also were recognized at the Feb. 25 honors convocation and will be honored at a reception later this year.

James P. Gallagher was recognized for his dedication to the Boy Scouts of America and to Troop 296.

“The committee noted that it is not just what you give to the Scouts, but the ways in which you inspire these young men to serve others through programs such as the Special Olympics and the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank,” Nordenberg stated.

“In addition to the time you devote to weekly troop meetings, weekend activities and a two-week summer camping trip, you also serve on the Steel City district training committee and are actively involved in mentoring Scout leaders. Moreover, while leading weekly meetings, planning weekend activities and summer camping trips and helping the Scouts of Troop 296 earn their own merit badges, you found the time to complete Scouting’s premier training course and earned the Wood Badge. However, perhaps your greatest impact has been the work you have done that has helped more than 300 young men achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.”

staff awardcommunityGallagher, 33, said he has been involved with scouting almost continuously since he joined the Cub Scouts in the second grade.

He has been active with Brentwood-based Troop 296 since the fifth grade. “It started as something different to do,” he said. “I liked the outdoor aspects.”  Gallagher said he made many friends through scouting and continued through the program to become an Eagle Scout himself.

He was an assistant scoutmaster during his college years, then after a period of inactivity reconnected with his home troop in 2004, taking it upon himself to build up the membership from five — the minimum number required to maintain a troop — to its current group of about 20 boys.

His own troop has produced 32 Eagle Scouts, he said, adding that he has been involved indirectly with helping others in the Pittsburgh council attain the rank as well. He serves as a merit badge counselor for some of the scouts and participates in district activities and adult training.

Gallagher said he tries to ensure boys will remain active in the troop, particularly because young scouts look up to the older boys. Recognizing that many teens take on other responsibilities and develop other interests as they get older, he encourages them to complete as much of their scouting work as possible before their first day of high school. “I’m still not that much older than them, so I can sound like a big brother, not like their dad talking.”

Gallagher said he was “totally shocked” to discover he was among the award winners. “I don’t do this for me, I do it for the kids,” he said. “Still, it’s nice to get the ‘attaboy’ pat on the back every once in awhile.”

Gallagher said he hasn’t settled on what to do with the prize money, but may use it for some home maintenance projects.

Christine E. Miller was recognized for her work with the Crescent Hills Civic Association and her dedication to local and statewide anti-litter campaigns.

The chancellor wrote, “As you know, we at Pitt take great pride in saying that the city is our campus, and we demonstrate that through the community outreach efforts of our students. Certainly, then, I was very glad to know that you successfully lobbied to have Penn Hills included as one of the communities visited by our students on Pitt Make a Difference Day, and that you actively participate alongside them. In addition to your service to your own community, you are also a dedicated member of our Volunteer Pool, including your work with our Day of Caring and Christmas Day at Pitt.”

Miller said she’s been involved with the anti-litter efforts for five or six years. After her children were grown, Miller said she prayed about finding a passion. “I saw my neighborhood getting messy,” she said, and realized, “I can do something about it.”

She admits that people do ask how she can be so passionate about litter.  It’s more about a passion for the planet, she said. “You don’t want to see it littered. You want to see people respect it.”

She not only works alongside Pitt students on Make a Difference Day cleanup projects, she also participates in Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and city Redd-Up events. In addition, the civic association has adopted a road in Penn Hills and sections of two other larger roads, which they clean up several times a year. Miller multiplies her own efforts by coordinating other volunteers through an email list.

She’s also become involved with a new community development corporation that was established recently in Penn Hills.

Miller, who has been employed at Pitt for 15 years, said, “It’s a nice honor more for the School of Education, and Health and Physical Activity than just for me.” She plans to donate the prize money to church and local causes.

Bryan M. Valentine, who received a chancellor’s award for service to the University in 2005, was recognized this year for his continued contributions to Pitt and to the Johnstown community, particularly in his dedication to Habitat for Humanity.

“Committee members were particularly impressed by your personal involvement in not only building houses, but also in recruiting and coordinating volunteers — including staff and faculty, as well as students,” the chancellor wrote.

Valentine first learned about Habitat’s efforts to eliminate poverty housing when, as a Pitt-Greensburg staff member, he became involved in accompanying students on an alternative spring break trip to build with a Habitat affiliate in Florida. The experience piqued his interest and when he returned, he became active in a local Habitat affiliate. “Once I realized what Habitat was, it became my passion,” he said.

Valentine said he has been involved with Habitat for eight years. A past president of the Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity affiliate, he recently resigned from the board to concentrate on his doctoral studies in the School of Education.

Valentine was a staff member at Pitt-Greensburg for 10 years before leaving the University briefly for a position at another university. He joined the Pitt-Johnstown staff in 2007.

There he assisted in establishing a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity that has become one of the nation’s most active campus Habitat groups. “I’m blessed to be with the right students,” he said. “Things clicked and have really taken off.”

Valentine, who is preparing to leave this weekend for a spring break work project in the Florida panhandle, said that working side by side with Habitat partner families is a powerfully emotional experience that students will never forget. “That makes it all worthwhile,” he said.

In addition to continuing the annual alternative spring break trips, last August Valentine accompanied students to work in partnership with a Concordia University Habitat affiliate in Montreal. That relationship will continue with an exchange program in which a Canadian team will visit Pennsylvania this summer while Valentine leads his group’s work in Canada.

“We want students to get as many different experiences as possible,” Valentine explained, noting that the trip enables students to experience a different culture. He hopes to make the exchange an annual event.

Valentine is counting his remaining vacation days with an eye toward using his prize money to go on an international Habitat build. He’s found an opportunity in Poland this May that has space available and that would cost just a little more than the prize amount.

“It makes sense to use it for something like that,” he said. His participation would qualify him to lead a future trip, he said, viewing it as a way he could further broaden options for students.

Cricket Wencil-Tracey was recognized for a long record of community service that includes serving the March of Dimes.

“I was personally moved when I learned that it was not winning the award that was important to you, but, rather, you hoped that your story would inspire others to service, just as you have inspired your own children to give back to their community,” Nordenberg wrote.

Wencil-Tracey said she has read about past years’ winners and their service and never imagined that she would one day be among the honorees.

Her passion for community service took hold more than two decades ago, when her son was born prematurely and required a blood transfusion. Despite a fear of donating, she worked up her courage at a campus blood drive to repay the selfless act. When  she learned that the Red Cross couldn’t use her blood, she sought other ways to give back, initially walking in the March of Dimes March for Babies on campus and later taking on leadership roles and organizing events.

Last year, the March of Dimes consolidated walks as a cost-cutting measure, moving the local walk to Oil City. The move resulted in reduced participation from the Titusville community, so she and others were determined to re-establish the walk on the UPT campus this year, volunteering to organize it so there would be no expense to the March of Dimes. The event is set for April 23.

She lends her energies to other campus projects including the annual Christmas project that provides gifts and food for needy families from the community and the Titusville Love INC program that feeds needy school children by filling backpacks with a weekend’s worth of food each Friday. She’s also helping re-establish a faculty and staff team to participate in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

“It builds better relationships and people work together better when they get to know each other personally like this,” she maintains.

Citing the close-knit nature of the small UPT campus, “I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my fellow co-workers who volunteer their time and who donate to our causes,” she said.

“It’s not always my ideas,” she added. “They come up with fun and different things to raise money and I try to implement them.”

Wencil-Tracey also took action last year to ensure that her daughter, who was born with developmental delays, and classmates from the Riverview Intermediate Unit life skills classroom had the opportunity to participate in prom night.

“The kids in her class don’t typically go,” she said. Wencil-Tracey came up with the notion that the classmates could attend as a group. Dinner and a limousine were arranged and parents and classroom aides accompanied the group.

“I was in tears to see them that night,” Wencil-Tracey said.  The school plans to make it an annual event, she said.

Wencil-Tracey has some definite plans for the award money. She plans to donate a portion to her church and use some to buy high school yearbooks for students graduating from the life skills classroom who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Some also will go toward a house she and her husband are building.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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