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March 6, 2014

Chancellor awards honor staff

The 2014 chancellor’s faculty and staff award-winners were recognized at the 38th annual honors convocation in Carnegie Music Hall Feb. 28. Each of the 21 recipients received a $2,000 prize, while the faculty recipients received an additional $3,000 grant to support their service, teaching or research activities. Winners’ names are listed on a plaque in the William Pitt Union.

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

Donna Alexander2Donna J. Alexander

Letters supporting the nomination of Donna J. Alexander, administrative secretary in marketing and communications in the Office of Institutional Advancement, praise her for her work with Wilkinsburg’s Girl Scout troop, the Ronald McDonald House, the Sickle Cell Society and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Alexander says: “Just to have my co-workers notice and understand how important it is for me to give back to the community is awesome. There is a lot of work to do and I am so happy that I have the time and energy to do it.”

At Pitt, she is involved in Equipoise and the Center for Health Equity’s community research advisory board. In a nomination support letter, the center’s scientific director, Patricia Documet, calls Alexander’s work “instrumental in advising researchers so that they can successfully recruit study participants.”

Alexander thinks as highly of her co-workers as they do of her. “I have been at the University of Pittsburgh since 1995 and have had wonderful opportunities working here in the Office of Institutional Advancement. I have had a chance to work and grow with a great group of people who I not only call my co-workers but also, and more important, friends. They are a group of folks who look for everyone to do well and feel valued as a person.”

In his award letter to Alexander, the chancellor notes that members of his staff who have worked with Alexander often have commented on her professionalism, coupled with her kind and caring manner.

David AtkinsonDavid E. Atkinson

David E. Atkinson, an IT business analyst in Computing Services and Systems Development, says he was “very excited and honored” to be selected for his award after seven years of working at Pitt.

The award letter cites Atkinson’s work as vice president of Highland Park Community Council and his work with Pittsburgh Public Schools. He was appointed to the Obama International Baccalaureate 6-12 site selection committee by the city school board as it studied where to establish what is now Pittsburgh Barack Obama Academy of International Studies, eventually settling on the former Peabody High School at the border of East Liberty and Highland Park.

Atkinson met with many stakeholders concerning the school move, from City Council members to transportation advocacy groups, to devise ways to improve safety at the major intersection at the edge of this magnet school, which now attracts students from all over the city.

“We made a lot of changes to crosswalks and signage,” Atkinson recalls. East Liberty Development, Inc., was developing a Transit Revitalization Investment District at the time, he says, and “because of this work (with city schools) they decided to target this intersection” for improvements.

Today the Obama school is successful, he reports, with its first class last year of 100 seniors all graduating and heading for college, some to Pitt.

A letter supporting Atkinson’s nomination from Dara Ware Allen, a former city school board member, says: “He didn’t just serve on the committee. He took his involvement seriously and showed steady leadership by actively working with community groups, decision-making bodies, elected officials and other individuals in positions of influence to shepherd the ideas all the way through to implementation. … Intractable problems need dedicated volunteers like David who are willing to persevere and commit the time and effort it takes to see solutions take root.”

CatlinFelix Catlin

“I’ve worked at Pitt for a very long time,” says Felix Catlin, a 27-year employee, now a medical translator in the Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics, “and I was very touched” by receipt of the chancellor’s award.

Catlin calls himself “a community gadfly. I’m good at arm-twisting” — at getting people involved in community events. His award recognizes his work leading the Penn Hills Community Development Corp. (PHCDC), which he calls “a nascent organization struggling for identity,” and the older Penn Hebron Garden Club. When the garden group was considering selling its 200-year-old headquarters, a barn in need of revitalization, PHCDC decided to lease and revamp the building as its headquarters.

Now The Barn, as it is known, hosts a coffeehouse on Wednesday nights in the spring and fall, with free acoustic music, coffee and desserts.

“My priority is to maintain the clubhouse in perpetuity,” Catlin says. “I’m actually recruiting younger people in, so when my time is past there will be other people who can care about the building.”

The chancellor’s letter notes that, according to PHCDC membership chair Christine Miller — herself a chancellor’s award recipient in 2011 — Atkinson has recruited a majority of PHCDC’s current membership of 210, “an extraordinary accomplishment for a community organization founded just five years ago.”

In his support letter, Howard Davidson, director of the Penn Hills Department of Planning and Economic Development, writes, “Much has been accomplished over the last few years: our community garden, beautification projects, economic development plans, the Penn Hills Coffeehouse, the shop local program, The Barn and the development of long term relationships. Much of the success of these groups and their various activities are due to the energy and driving force of Felix.”

Adam.CausgroveAdam Causgrove

“That was a pretty exciting email to get out of the blue,” says Adam Causgrove, research grant administrator in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the School of Medicine, about his award. “It was a pretty humbling thing to get. It was definitely an honor.”

Causgrove graduated from Pitt in 2002. “Working for Pitt was a goal I’ve always had,” he says; he realized his dream five years ago. “To get this recognition from the chancellor is the cherry on the top here.”

This is likely the only chancellor’s award letter to mention the awardee’s previous honor as the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year.

“The Goulet award is given to the person who embodies the mustached American lifestyle the most,” explains Causgrove, who sports a waxed handlebar variety. He has since become president of the American Mustache Institute, moving it to Pittsburgh from St. Louis.

As the chancellor’s letter acknowledges, Causgrove actually was given this Goulet award, and chosen by the chancellor, for his charitable work.

He created PAWS for Olympia Park to establish a dog park on Mt. Washington; the “Tail-GREAT” fundraiser for Animal Rescue League and Steps to Independence; and the “Mustache of Mount Washington” social-media contest to raise funds for the Mt. Washington Emerald View 5K and Festival.

Causgrove also co-founded the nonprofit Side Project in August 2012 with a handful of friends, most of them fellow Pitt grads who already were involved in Pittsburgh charitable work on their own.

They pooled their talents, Causgrove says, with “the idea that we would work with different groups in the city, trying to make an impact on their communities.” For nominal fees, Side Project participants perform legal consulting, fundraising, accounting, web development, program evaluation and “anything that helps a small group build sustainability — especially when they are just getting started.”

Erv.DyerErvin E. Dyer

“I thought it was a fantastic honor, and not just for myself,” says Ervin E. Dyer, senior editor of Pitt Magazine, about his chancellor’s award. “I’ve been working with the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation (PBMF) for a long time and we’re a small organization. I really felt it was a validation of the work the media federation has been doing for 40 years.”

The chancellor’s letter praises Dyer’s volunteer work with the PBMF, including serving as its president for the past decade. A support letter from LaMont Jones Jr., past president of the PBMF, reports that “[b]ecause of his voluntary service, scores of talented and promising young people are enjoying successful professional careers in the media and other fields; many veteran journalists have more highly developed skills; the local news industry is more culturally sensitive and diverse, and southwestern Pennsylvanians are the richer for his many contributions to the cause of inclusive storytelling.” Other support letters cite Dyer’s history of The Pittsburgh Courier, which was the basis for a Pitt Black History Month and a local exhibition, and Dyer’s work recognizing the contributions of local Pitt alumnus Charles Florence.

Dyer recalls travelling to Haiti and South Africa in pursuit of what he calls “doing good work through story.” In Haiti he met Rev. Leon Pamphile, who has three Pitt degrees, and then through the PBMF put together a fellowship to bring young people to the island country to help tell its untold stories embodied in the work of Pamphile and others. In South Africa, he teamed with Pitt grad Douglas “Mothusi” Guy to publicize Guy’s efforts to build sustainable housing in the country’s shantytowns.

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

Confer, SheilaSheila Confer

Sheila Confer is assistant director of the academic villages at Pitt-Greensburg, coordinator of the MAP-Works Retention Initiative and an instructor in theatre arts.

The chancellor’s letter says Confer “routinely go[es] above and beyond the parameters of your job description dating back to 1999 when you first joined Pitt-Greensburg as an academic advisor. It was your experience in that position that led you to one of your three current positions, coordinator of MAP-Works Retention Initiative. Since 2009, you have used your creativity and enthusiasm to encourage faculty and staff to participate in this program designed to increase first-year, as well as later-year, retention, which has contributed significantly to maintaining stable enrollment and tuition revenue at Pitt-Greensburg.”

It also cites her community service and work with campus student groups.

Academic villages director Frank Wilson’s nomination support letter states that “… she mentors and inspires students, she is an excellent teacher in the classroom, she represents Pitt-Greensburg in the community in the most positive of ways, and continues to offer ideas and assume additional duties that will help us to ‘seize the moment’ and come out of these uncertain times stronger than ever before.”

“I am very honored and humbled,” says Confer of her chancellor’s award. “I very much enjoy what I do and to receive such an award as validation is really quite remarkable.

“I am most excited about the work I do directly with the students, particularly the Academic Village Senate and the Gay Straight Alliance,” she adds. “I am very lucky that all of the aspects of my job, including teaching, dovetail nicely into an overall goal to improve student experiences and student success.”

HopkinsKristin A. Hopkins

Kristin A. Hopkins is manager of the University Store on Fifth Avenue, which the chancellor’s award letter calls the campus’s “hub, and at times, its heart, and you have been central to its earning a well-deserved reputation well beyond the borders of our neighborhood. In moving your nomination forward, the selection committee noted that your nickname — the ‘Wizard’ — is not only particularly fitting, but also one that you have earned.”

Top among Hopkins’s accomplishments was her integration of the Health Book Center into The Book Center three years ago, the letter says, “which resulted in reduced costs, increased productivity and improved customer service.”

Hopkins recalls the recent remodeling of the store: “We were in a very small store for a year while the remodeling was going on, so that was a challenge. It’s a wonderful staff who works here and they made everything much easier. I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with.”

The award letter also recognizes Hopkins for creating a sales tracking system and implementing the store’s e-commerce procedures. “Every term we’re looking at ways to improve it,” Hopkins says.

The 21-year Pitt veteran adds that “it’s hard to describe” what the award means to her. “It was a shock to be nominated — this alone was a huge honor. It’s great to be appreciated.”

MetilChristine Metil

Christine Metil, administrator for the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and associate director of the Russian and East European Summer Language Institute, remembers being a Pitt student in her department back in 1975, when she received a scholarship to travel to Poland.

“It changed my life,” Metil says, “and when I see students today going through the same thing, I live my youthful happiness all over again.”

This lengthy and productive association with her department prompted Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg to choose Metil for a 2014 award, citing her involvement with the University’s fund-raising initiatives and with five Slovak fraternal organizations and the Slovakian community to establish the Slovak Endowment and the Slovak Heritage Festival, now nearing its 25th year.

“It’s wonderful seeing the local Slovak-Americans come” to the festival, Metil says, “and later I will see their children coming to enroll in classes.”

The chancellor’s letter also says Metil has provided the Summer Language Institute with “momentum that contributed to the dramatic growth of this important learning experience.”

As department chair David Birnbaum writes in his nomination support letter: “Largely as a result of Chris’s efforts, the University of Pittsburgh SLI has become a national leader in Slavic studies, with innovative programs that have been adopted or emulated at other institutions.”

Metil’s reaction to learning of her award? “I was floored, just absolutely amazed,” she says. “Although I knew I was nominated I never expected to be chosen … I was speechless for a couple of days.”

Spittler, HollyHolly Spittler

Holly Spittler is associate dean of student affairs and director of career services for Pitt-Bradford.

While acknowledging Spittler’s leadership roles in a variety of organizations — Bradford Area Public Library, the Futures Rehabilitation Center, Christmas in April/Rebuilding Together, the Domestic Victim’s Resource Center, Girl Scouts of Western PA and Bradford Regional Medical Center School of Radiologic Science — the award letter emphasizes the influence she has had on her students.

The nomination support letter submitted by former Pitt-Bradford student Cheri Thomas-Maxson, notes the chancellor, describes “how your welcoming personality helped her after she enrolled at Pitt-Bradford as a nontraditional student. She credits you with helping her to not only become a member of the Nontraditional Student Association, but to also take on a leadership role with that organization.”

Spittler helped establish Adult Learner on Campus in 1982, when Bradford started its program for nontraditional students. It was formed after a campus conference, which was held in subsequent years at other higher education institutions, through 2004.

She also has worked with a local inmate transition program.

As director of career services since 1981, she works closely with students to help them explore career options, conduct self-assessments, seek internships, develop resumes and practice job interviewing. Spittler also brings alumni to campus to help current students network and develop skills for their first year in college.

As associate dean of student affairs since 1989, she also handles orientations and supervises the director of student activities and the coordinator of community engagement and the Harriett B. Wick Chapel.

Spittler says she feels gratified to be at Bradford “because it’s a place I love coming to work for — the staff is so talented and the students are so fun … and for the most part so engaged in their learning.”

—Marty Levine