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June 26, 2014

People of the Times

Samuel Poloyac has been named director of the Center for Clinical Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of Pharmacy.

Poloyac has been a member of the Pitt faculty since 1999. He earned his Pharm.D. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Kentucky and his B.S. in pharmacy at Pitt.

His research focuses on determining the role of drug-metabolizing enzymes in disease progression and optimizing drug therapy in critically ill patients, particularly those with stroke, cardiac arrest or traumatic brain injury.

He was a winner of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award this year and the Academy of Students of Pharmacy Faculty Member of the Year Award in 2003.

The Center for Clinical Pharmaceutical Sciences is home to 15 faculty members whose work focuses on optimizing drug therapy and developing novel therapeutic interventions in areas that include the neuroscience of stroke and traumatic brain injury, immunology, infectious disease, nephrology, oncology, pharmacokinetics/dynamics and transplantation.


Stacy McLinden has joined the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid as the federal work-study payroll administrator. She earned her undergraduate degree in business at Pitt with a paralegal certification. As an undergraduate, she was a work-study student employee.

After graduation, McLinden worked for various law firms as a paralegal and more recently  as an administrator for Genesis Healthcare.


The Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence has selected 10 teaching proposals to fund under the 2014 innovation in education awards program.

The awards, established in 2000, encourage instructional innovation and teaching excellence. The advisory council seeks to identify high-quality proposals that show promise for introducing innovative, creative approaches to teaching and that can be used in other courses.

Laurie J. Kirsch, Pitt vice provost for faculty development, said, “This year, we had an especially strong set of proposals. The advisory council was pleased to recommend 10 proposals for funding, which is a higher number than in the recent past and which reflects the overall quality of the submissions. Innovation in teaching is certainly flourishing at Pitt.”

Winners of the 2014 awards are:

Jean Ferguson Carr, director; Jennifer Lee, associate director, and Brenda Whitney, lecturer, all of the Department of English’s composition program, for “Seminar in Composition Digital Literacy Initiative.”

This project seeks to integrate digital and writing pedagogy in the University’s required Seminar in Composition course and in the training program for teaching fellows. The course’s revised syllabus will include assignments geared toward increasing students’ fluency in multimedia, such as the ability to compose digital essays to analyze an assigned reading.

The digital composition and literacy course, Carr and Lee write, will allow students to “engage with new media as readers and writers, utilizing digital texts and technologies both as tools for inquiry and as forms of inquiry.” The overall goal, they add, is to make digital literacy a defining component in the University’s literate arts, as it is crucial for undergraduates to be savvy users of multimedia as well as in writing and research.

Philip Empey, Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy, for “Using Personal Genome Testing to Teach Pharmacogenomics in a Large Lecture Course.”

Pharmacists’ primary responsibility is to effectively manage drug therapy, a task that has become increasingly difficult with the rapid proliferation of personalized medicine. This project’s goal is to enhance personalized medicine education so that pharmacy students will enter the field with experiential knowledge of personal genomic testing.

Empey’s project will redesign a large lecture course in the Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum to incorporate optional personal-genomic-testing technology for students and faculty. He will create learning activities to use the testing data and to create a database for analysis and evaluation. The course redesign will give students a new opportunity to experience firsthand how genetic testing is performed, said Empey, allowing students to assess the strengths and limitations of genetic information.

Zsuzsa Horvath, director of faculty development, Office of Faculty Affairs, School of Dental Medicine; Susan M. Meyer, associate dean for education, School of Pharmacy, and Susan A. Albrecht, associate dean for external relations, School of Nursing, for “Learning and Teaching Together to Advance Evidence-Based Clinical Education.”

The project’s goal is to enhance students’ clinical learning experiences in dental medicine, nursing and pharmacy by providing pedagogical training to clinical faculty. The initiative will comprise a faculty seminar, a workshop, a three-day training session (all taught by an outside consultant), and an in-depth, semester-long course on clinical teaching skills.

The project is expected to help a significant number of clinical faculty members at the schools to implement instructional innovations in clinical teaching, which will, in turn, improve student learning and eventually, the future health care workforce.

Gordon R. Mitchell, assistant dean, University Honors College, and Kathleen M. McTigue, director of the clinical scientist track, School of Medicine’s internal medicine residency program, for “Learning Lake Initiative.”

This partnership among Pitt, Pymatuning State Park and the surrounding community envisions the 17,088-acre Pymatuning Reservoir as “a dynamic intellectual ecosystem of interdisciplinary learning and research.” It seeks to create a “curriculum incubator and support infrastructure” that benefits both the University and the community.

Among the initiative’s projects are an online hub (weblog) to maintain a dialogue among students, faculty and community members; a local production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” to spread awareness and leverage the larger goal of collaboration; and a series of curricular innovations, including a stand-alone course, a module in an existing course and a mentored research project.

The Learning Lake Initiative is open to students in many disciplines — from architectural studies to public health — and it encourages inquiry-based learning in applied research projects directly connected to life near the lake.

Andrea Hergenroeder and Victoria Hornyak, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, for “The Use of Assessment Virtual Patients to Examine Clinical Decision Making.”

Currently, there are no adequate methods to assess physical therapy students’ understanding of, or proficiency in, clinical decision making, Hergenroeder and Hornyak write. This project will develop virtual patient cases that incorporate narrative and media and are designed to assess students’ clinical decision-making skills in patient management. This measurement strategy will be implemented in the required Doctor of Physical Therapy curriculum, giving students hands-on experience before they conduct their clinical internships.

Unlike written evaluations, the “assessment virtual patients” are computer-generated simulations that allow students to play the role of health care providers. The project’s goal is to develop and pilot-test this approach to determine if assessment virtual patients are accurate and effective measuring tools for student development.

Elizabeth Bilodeau, Department of Diagnostic Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, for “The Gamification of Oral Diagnosis: Engaging Students in a Large Classroom.”

This project is a web site that features an oral pathology atlas and interactive games, which are intended to help dental students achieve diagnostic competency, a skill that is difficult to teach effectively in large-lecture settings.

“Descriptions of the lesions cannot replace students seeing actual pathology and its associated nuances,” Bilodeau writes. “Practice experiences and training as to how to evaluate these lesions become critical.”

The web site — comprising clinical and radiographic images from decades of visual archives — will allow learners to practice their diagnostic skills, compete in games against their peers and post their scores on Facebook.

John R. Shaffer, Department of Human Genetics, Graduate School of Public Health, for “Online Human Population Genetics Simulator.”

The explosion of technology-driven -omics sciences has spurred unprecedented interest in human genetics, personalized medicine and other fields that have a foundation in population genetics. However, Shaffer writes, that foundation is historically abstract and highly mathematical in nature. This project’s goal is to create an educational tool — namely, an online population genetics simulator — that will “facilitate the comprehension of principles derived from math-heavy course material” and promote genomics literacy across disciplines.

The software will be integrated into the required undergraduate or graduate curriculum, offering hands-on experimentation that focuses on high-level learning, which often is elusive in traditional, lecture-based pedagogy. “For example, this tool could be used for modeling a disease-causing gene and then seeing how evolutionary forces act on that gene,” Shaffer writes.

Denise A. Piechnik, biology, Pitt-Bradford, and Matthew M. Kropf, director of the Energy Institute, Pitt-Bradford, for “STEM-Sense: Students Building and Using Sensors for Classroom Research.”

This is a pilot project designed to enhance student learning in a Pitt-Bradford introductory biology course by using a cross-disciplinary approach in research-based lab exercises. Students will build and use sensor systems in lab exercises and will share their lab data online with students in other disciplines, including chemistry and engineering.

Piechnik and Kropf believe the project can have an impact on as many as 150 students annually, creating early hands-on engagement in STEM disciplines, especially in the natural sciences at Pitt-Bradford.

Daniel S. Lambrecht, Department of Chemistry, for  “Chemistry in the Cloud: Hands-on Experience of Three-Dimensional Molecular Structures Using Mobile Devices in Large Lecture Courses.”

“What if, in a chemistry class of 500, every student could have a 3-D molecular model to experiment with?” Lambrecht asks in his proposal to develop a molecular visualization app for mobile devices (smartphones or tablets).

With more than 70 percent of today’s students owning mobile devices, working in small groups in the classroom will ensure that all have access to what chemists traditionally have displayed with ball-and-stick models.

“Chemistry in the Cloud” will allow students to instantaneously access virtual molecular structures to improve their understanding of concepts such as molecular orbitals, electron densities and charge maps.

The project aims to deepen students’ understanding of 3-D molecular structures across chemistry disciplines, Lambrecht writes, by making “models accessible, interactive and intuitive, particularly in large lecture classes.”

Jeremy C. Justus, English literature, and Marissa Landrigan, English writing, both at Pitt-Johnstown, for “Innovations in Digital Communication Technologies: Reading, Analyzing and Producing Interactive Narratives.”

This project aims to enhance student digital literacy by developing two writing and composition courses focused on interactive narratives, “Contemporary Interactive Narratives” and “Writing Interactive Narratives.” After attending an intensive digital humanities seminar, faculty will develop technology-driven, multidisciplinary courses in the fields of digital humanities and new media studies.

The two courses will challenge students from different disciplines to interact with texts in a digital environment. GPS-informed reality games, visual narratives that rely on user input and social media stories that integrate multiple user streams are some examples of the digital forms students will interpret and construct.

These multidisciplinary interactions, Justus and Landrigan write, will help students develop crucial digital literacy, “positioning [them] to have a greater appeal … in an increasingly interconnected job market.”


Law faculty member Vivian Curran has been awarded the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (The Order of Academic Palms) in recognition of her work stressing the important of teaching foreign languages in a legal context.

L’ordre des Palmes Académiques, instituted in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte, is one of the highest French government honors bestowed upon academics and cultural figures.

Curran has been instrumental in promoting the teaching of law courses in foreign languages. She wrote a book, “Learning French Through the Law” and a Journal of Legal Education article on the topic, and is frequently invited to speak on the importance of teaching foreign languages in legal contexts.

At Pitt, Curran’s class teaching French in a legal context was the first of its kind in the country. She also has founded two related groups for students: Languages for Lawyers, which facilitates communication between American lawyers and their foreign clients, transmitting a sense of foreign legal culture to American practitioners; and English for Lawyers, which provides foreign lawyers the opportunity to study English in a legal context.

For the past eight years, Curran has worked with a group of French and American judges at the Collège de France on the internationalization of law.

In addition to her many English-language publications, Curran publishes frequently in French law journals, work that was recognized with her election to the Société française de législation comparée (French Society of Comparative Legislation).


Rush Miller will retire as director of the University Library System (ULS) and Hillman University Librarian effective Dec. 31.

Miller ushered the ULS — which now includes 15 libraries and holdings of nearly 7 million books — through two decades of change and growth. Under his direction, ULS has embraced new technologies like on-demand book printing, enhanced library resources to students and faculty and has been at the forefront of open access to scholarly publications.

Since Miller took his position in 1994, Pitt library holdings have doubled and now include more than 1 million electronic books and 110,000 journals. ULS publishes numerous scholarly e-journals, free to partners who share its support for open access to research information. It is one of the top publishers of international journals, something Miller calls “an extension of our global outreach as a library system.”

Under Miller’s leadership, Pitt’s libraries have helped to implement an extensive international document delivery service with more than two dozen libraries in China, Taiwan and South Korea.

He developed a staff exchange program with libraries in China, resulting in more than 40 Chinese librarians coming to Pitt for training and 12 Pitt staff members accepting positions in China. In 2012, the Chinese American Librarians Association presented Miller with its Distinguished Service Award.

A search committee will be formed to identify Miller’s successor.


M. Ravi Shankar, faculty member in industrial engineering and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow, has been recognized by the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) with one of its top academic awards.

Shankar received the Dr. Hamed K. Eldin Outstanding Early Career IE in Academia Award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding characteristics in education, leadership, professionalism and potential in industrial engineering. The award also acknowledges engineering contributions in application, design, research or development of IE methods by early career IIE members. Candidates are evaluated on research, scholarship, educational contributions and service to the industrial engineering profession.

Shankar’s primary research interests include synthesis and thermo-mechanical characterization of nanomaterials for structural and biomedical applications, synthesis and characterization of multifunctional polymers and design, modeling of advanced manufacturing processes.

He received his PhD in industrial engineering from Purdue and his BTech in mechanical engineering from Indian Institute of Technology-Madras.


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