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October 29, 2015

Obituary: Susan Hicks

Susan HicksAndrew Konitzer remembers Susan Hicks, the assistant director for academic affairs in the University Center for International Studies’ Center for Russian and East European Studies (REES), as possessing “a unique and extremely profound experience that made her a thoroughly globalized intellectual” with an entrepreneurial spirit as well. “She had already positioned herself to be a key actor in where we were headed, here at UCIS and at Pitt.”

Hicks, who was 34, died Oct. 23, 2015, when the bicycle she was riding was struck by a car at Forbes and South Bellefield avenues. The accident is still being investigated, Pittsburgh police say.

Konitzer, acting director of REES and adjunct associate professor of political science, recalls Hicks joining Pitt not too long after she had finished her PhD in cultural anthropology at the University of British Columbia in 2011. Hicks had gotten her previous degrees from Pitt: a BA in anthropology and English literature in 2003 and an MA in administration and policy studies from the School of Education in 2005.

She didn’t have administrative experience, he notes, but “she brought a lot of great things to the center. She quickly clicked, once she had a position appropriate to her skill level, which was quite high. She was a tremendously adaptive person who was nonetheless able to hold onto her core and her personal values. She had a tremendous sense of empathy for what mattered professionally and personally. It is still rare to find somebody who can maintain the intellectual side and is still an adept administrator and a people person. It really rounded out our team.”

Hicks designed a course on global energy that was held for the first time in May and began with an examination of local energy developments in Pennsylvania. Her students traveled to Washington County to see the impact of shale gas drilling on communities, then to Washington, D.C., to study U.S. policies’ effects, then on to see firsthand Moscow’s global energy networks and the situation in Bulgaria, a country caught between two energy giants. The course, Konitzer says, “was interdisciplinary, it worked with so many schools, it got us out into the community, and it got us out into the world.”

Hicks had been critical of some parts of shale development, he recalls. During the class’s Washington County tour given by a local energy company, “she went out there extremely skeptical. She came back skeptical — but clearly struggled with her point of view. You do see some of the positive economic impact. She came back with what Susan always sought, which was a more complex picture of reality.”

Prior to working for Pitt, Hicks had participated in international programs in Russia, Mongolia and Peru. She was a resident director for the American Council for International Education, supervising several groups of American students in Russia, and an instructor at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, teaching classes on transnationalism and society, the history of indigenous peoples and the anthropology of Eurasia.

All of her experience, Konitzer says, “made her a tremendously effective facilitator for the study-abroad program.” She was also running Pitt’s global village living-learning community.

In addition to cycling, she participated in marathons, rowing and hiking, as well as social causes that were important to her.

“She was not only active but she was an activist,” he says. “People talked to her and they felt a connection immediately. She would work with people from all walks of life.”

People gathered for a memorial to Hicks on Oct. 24 near the scene of the crash, where a white-painted “ghost” bike was placed to mark the fatal cycling accident. A second memorial was held Oct. 25 at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park.

Hicks is survived by her parents, Julie and Steve Hicks, and her brothers Brian, Michael and David Hicks.

A memorial fund is being established; contact REES at for information.

Funeral arrangements in the Washington, D.C. area, near her parents’ home, are incomplete.

—Marty Levine        


A memorial fund has been established to honor Hicks. To contribute to the Susan M. Hicks Memorial Fund, which will aid Pitt students studying Russian and East European studies, go to


Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 5

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