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July 10, 2014

People of the Times

Law faculty member David Harris has been named to the 10-member screening committee that will help to choose Pittsburgh’s next chief of police.

Invited to participate by City of Pittsburgh public safety director Stephen A. Bucar, Harris and the other members of the screening committee will attend six community meetings, to be held in each of the city’s police zones, and screen all applicants for the position prior to candidate interviews.

“I think it’s the most important appointment Mayor Peduto and Director Bucar will make, and it’s a crucial chance to change the relationship between the police department and the African-American community in our city,” Harris said. “Having a strong relationship in which the police department and the African-American community trust each other, and work as partners, is absolutely critical for improving public safety.”

The community meetings are intended to gather information on the qualities and experience Pittsburgh neighborhood communities would like in the city’s next chief of police.

The screening committee is independent and members serve on a voluntary basis.


A member of the Pitt-Bradford faculty testified June 24 before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources.

Kropf testifyingMatthew Kropf is director of the American Refining Group/Harry Halloran Jr. Energy Institute and a faculty member in petroleum technology and energy science and technology.

He was one of six educators who testified before the subcommittee on energy and mineral resources during a hearing titled “American Energy Jobs: Opportunities for Education.”

The hearing was part of a series being held to explore opportunities related to changes in the production and consumption of American energy. The June 24 hearing focused on the skills and education required to fill future energy-related jobs and how community colleges, colleges and universities are working to fill the need for expanded geology, engineering and energy programs.

Pitt-Bradford has two multidisciplinary energy-related programs: an associate degree program in petroleum technology and a new bachelor’s degree program in energy science and technology.

Kropf developed the curriculum for the four-year degree. He said that while he was developing the curriculum for the program, which was launched last year, he recognized two opportunities.

He testified that the first opportunity is basic energy competency at the college level. “There is an inherent need to teach about the complex interplay between energy resources, economics and environmental outcomes in order to create a rational and informed public capable of understanding energy policy.”

Kropf said that to encourage students of all majors to become more well-versed in energy matters, he created a new general education elective, Introduction to Energy Science and Technology, which he began teaching in 2011.

He said that the second educational opportunity is to increase student proficiency in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). “Energy production — whether drilling gas wells or installing solar panels — is a multidisciplinary endeavor,” he said. “It is STEM skills that drive innovations in energy production and efficiency, and it is STEM education that will be the only means of achieving and maintaining energy independence for future generations.”

Kropf went on to say that a common thread he has found throughout energy fields is the integration of sensors and computers for automated monitoring and processing. He told the subcommittee that he has developed a multidisciplinary curriculum to emphasize the use of sensors and computers for energy applications.


Muhsin Menekse, a research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center, and co-authors Glenda S. Stump from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Michelene T.H. Chi and Stephen Krause from Arizona State, have been selected to receive the 2014 William Elgin Wickenden Award of the American Society for Engineering Education for their article, “Differentiated Overt Learning Activities for Effective Instruction in Engineering Classrooms.”

It was published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education.

The award recognizes the authors of the best article that represents the highest standards of scholarly research in engineering education among the articles published in the Journal of Engineering Education in each volume year.

Menekse’s primary research focus is on higher level reasoning in complex tasks in STEM domains. Specifically, he investigates how classroom activities and learning environments affect conceptual understanding in science and engineering.

His second research focus is on verbal interactions in small groups. In particular, he is investigating dialogue patterns that can enhance productive discussions and co-construction of knowledge in both online and face-to-face collaborative learning settings.

His third research focus is on metacognition and its implications for learning. He is exploring methods to enhance the student reflection/teacher-feedback cycle in technology-enhanced learning environments.

Much of this research focuses on learning processes in real classroom settings.

In his current project, Menekse is collaborating with computer scientists to improve undergraduate STEM education by integrating natural language processing with mobile technologies.


Elsa StrotmeyerElsa S. Strotmeyer, faculty member in the Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, is one of 61 new fellows of the Gerontological Society of America.

The society — the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging — confers the status of fellow as an acknowledgement of outstanding and continuing work in gerontology. It is the highest class of membership within the society.

Strotmeyer also is a member of the Center for Aging and Population Health.


Elizabeth Skidmore, faculty member in the Department of Occupational Therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was one of two rehabilitation researchers invited to provide a Congressional briefing on the return on investment in rehabilitation research.

The intent of the briefing was to raise awareness of the clinical and societal value of rehabilitation research.

Skidmore is a leading researcher in cognition and brain injury and their effect on everyday activities. Her research has demonstrated that the current models of rehabilitation can be improved by targeting treatments toward problem solving and active learning to restore function to people after stroke and traumatic brain injury.  She used her research as an exemplar of the importance of rehabilitation research in developing effective treatments for all people with disabilities.


Researcher Dario Vignali joined the  School of Medicine  faculty July 1 as the vice chair of the Department of Immunology. He also will co-direct both the cancer immunology program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and the recently expanded Tumor Microenvironment Center.

According to Mark Shlomchik, chair of immunology, “Dr. Vignali is an eminent scientist with a stellar publication record. For the last two decades, he has produced innovative research focusing on identifying and understanding the disease pathways that prevent the immune system from eliminating cancer cells, as well as the causes of autoimmune disorders.”

Said Vignali: “We now stand at an unprecedented point in time when immunotherapy is starting to have a substantial impact on clinical care. We have a growing list of novel targets for further therapeutic development and powerful new tools for genomic and mechanistic analysis.”

He plans to expand his research at Pitt. His lab in the Department of Immunology will focus on analysis of immune cell function in mouse model systems and disease models of cancer and autoimmune disease; a second lab, at UPCI, will work on inhibitory immune pathways in human cancers.

Vignali’s research findings have been published in some of immunology’s leading journals, and he has been awarded five patents worldwide with several more awaiting approval.

Since 1993, Vignali had worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis  and served as vice chair of its immunology department since 2008. He had taught in the Department of Pathology at the University of Tennessee Medical Center since 1996.

He received his undergraduate education at North East London Polytechnic, now East London University, and completed his doctoral studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London.

He completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Institute for Immunology and Genetics at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, and in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard.

His wife, Kate Vignali, is a scientist in one of his labs.


Pharmacy_Neal BenedictPharmacy faculty member Neal Benedict is one of three winners of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Innovations in Teaching Award.

The competition aims to identify innovative teaching and learning strategies and assessment methods, provide an opportunity to engage faculty in a process of documenting their scholarly approach to teaching and learning and provide an opportunity for selected faculty to present their work during a special session at the AACP annual meeting.

Pharmacy_Susan SkledarSusan Skledar, a faculty member in the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, will serve as 2014-15 chair of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) section of inpatient care practitioners educational steering committee.

This committee is responsible for developing educational content for pharmacists at the ASHP midyear clinical meeting, content for the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy and for, a consumer website for drug information.


Wen Xie has been appointed to the Joseph Koslow Endowed Chair in Pharmaceutical Sciences and director of the Center for Pharmacogenetics.

Xie’s lab focuses on understanding the role of nuclear receptors on the regulation of drug metabolism and energy metabolism. In the process of identifying the function of receptors such as PXR, CAR, LXR and ROR,  he established that these receptors can be explored as therapeutic targets in the treatment and prevention of human diseases such as cholestasis, jaundice, gallstone disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and metabolic syndrome.

Xie received his MD from Peking University Health Science Center and his PhD in cell biology from the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

He joined the Pitt faculty in 2002.


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