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February 7, 2008


Donna Sanft has been promoted to executive associate athletics director.

Sanft previously served as senior associate athletics director for administration, student life and compliance. Her long association with the Department of Athletics includes time as a student-athlete, head coach and, for the past two decades, administrator. Sanft served as the interim director of athletics while Pitt conducted a search to fill the position.

In her new role, she will work directly with AD Steve Pederson on all administrative aspects of the department.

Sanft has been involved in the department’s strategic planning and the professional development of its staff. She additionally has been responsible for coordinating Pitt’s compliance and NCAA rules education programs and overseeing the Panther Game Plan, a student-athlete life skills program.

While coaching the Panthers’ gymnastics team for 12 years (1974-1986), Sanft compiled an 82-50-1 record and was twice selected the Eastern Collegiate Coach of the Year. During her tenure, Pitt produced its only NCAA champion in women’s gymnastics, Lisa Shirk.

A 1974 graduate of Pitt with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health and physical education, Sanft was a member and three-year captain of the gymnastics team. She was named Pitt’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1974. In 1999, Sanft was honored by the Pitt Varsity Letter Club as an “Awardee of Distinction,” becoming the first woman to receive the award.

Last year she received a Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence in Service to the University.


Paula Davis, assistant dean of admissions, financial aid and diversity at the School of Medicine, has been named to fill the newly created position of assistant vice chancellor for diversity for the Schools of the Health Sciences.

In her new position, Davis is responsible for working with the six Health Sciences schools on planning, implementing and monitoring efforts to recruit diverse students and faculty.

A Pitt alumna, Davis came to the School of Medicine in 1994 as a program director. She rose to the position of assistant dean of student affairs and director of diversity programs in 1997. In 2005, she accepted the position of assistant dean of admissions, financial aid and diversity.

Under her leadership, the enrollment of students underrepresented in medicine has achieved numbers unprecedented in the medical school’s history. She currently serves the University as the coordinator of AspiringDocs, a program sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges designed to increase the numbers of students underrepresented in medicine considering careers in medicine.

Davis’s accomplishments were recognized by the University in 2003 when she was selected as the first individual recipient of the Chancellor’s Affirmative Action Award.

During her 20-year career, she has provided support for students through Arts and Sciences advising, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, the Learning Skills Center and the former University Challenge for Excellence Program (now Student Support Services).


Pitt law professor John Burkoff was elected last week as one of the three independent members of a panel investigating whether Mylan executive Heather Bresch earned an MBA degree at West Virginia University. Mylan is a Canonsburg, Pa.-based pharmaceutical company with a laboratory in Morgantown. Bresch is the daughter of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

A Dec. 21 report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette raised questions about how WVU went about granting the degree in 1998 when the university’s records showed Bresch had completed only 26 of the 48 credits required.

Burkoff, who has published 11 books in the areas of criminal justice, human rights and legal ethics, was elected by WVU’s faculty senate. Following his election, he told a Pittsburgh TV station, “To my mind, the people involved are irrelevant. The question is did she get an MBA degree, what did the record show and that’s it.”


Dennis Curran, Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and Bayer Professor, received the 2008 ACS (American Chemical Society) Award for Creative Work in Fluorine Chemistry.

Since his milestone article published in Science in 1997, Curran has authored more than 100 papers on fluorous chemistry. These papers have reported the development of new fluorous reagents, catalysts, scavengers and protecting groups, as well as new synthetic and separation technologies such as fluorous solid-phase extraction, fluorous mixture synthesis of natural product libraries and triphasic reaction systems.


Livingston Alexander, president of Pitt-Bradford, has been elected to the NCAA Division III Presidents Council, following a year of service on the NCAA Division III Presidents Advisory Council.

Alexander and two other presidents of Division III schools were elected by their fellow presidents at the NCAA convention earlier this month in Nashville.

Alexander will serve a four-year term on the 15-member council, which meets quarterly to create policy for Division III athletics.

He is the current chair of the Presidents Council of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC), of which Pitt-Bradford is a founding member.

Alexander explained that “very contentious discussions about the future of NCAA athletics are taking place. Central to those discussions is whether Division III will be divided into subdivisions or whether a new Division IV will be created. Each potential outcome could have significant repercussions for Pitt-Bradford and the AMCC.”

AMCC currently has 10 member institutions competing in a variety of sports.

Alexander said, “During the next few months I will engage the AMCC presidents in extensive discussions in order to adopt an official position on possible restructuring in our division. We will soon determine where we stand on the issue.”


James T. Cobb Jr., associate professor emeritus with extensive experience in energy research, has been appointed as acting director of the Bradford campus’s new Energy Institute.

Cobb has been a faculty member in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering on the Pittsburgh campus since 1970. His current research involves the development, evaluation, demonstration and commercialization of wood- and grass-energy projects. He consults with a number of agencies and companies on projects related to biomass energy and has published numerous articles on turning biomass into gas.

In his role as acting director, Cobb will work to develop the institute, which will foster the study of both traditional fossil-fuel applications and renewable energy sources for the benefit of student learning, commercial projects and the regional economy.

The institute also will work to build the energy workforce through the Pitt-Bradford’s petroleum technology program and professional land management agent training.


Keith R. Stowell, fourth-year resident in the psychiatric residency training program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), has been selected by the American College of Psychiatrists (ACP) as a 2008 recipient of its Laughlin Fellowship.

Named after ACP founder Henry P. Laughlin, the fellowship program was launched in 1976 to recognize outstanding accomplishments by psychiatry residents in the United States and Canada. Each year, ACP selects 10 residents deemed most likely to make a significant contribution to the field of psychiatry.

ACP provides a stipend for the Laughlin Fellows to attend its annual meeting and participate in educational functions, allowing them to interact with ACP members, as well as their peers in other residency programs.

Stowell’s clinical and research interests are in substance use and HIV in older adults, mental health services and psychiatric administration.

Stowell is involved in local and national psychiatric organizations and is a member of several committees, including the American Psychiatric Association’s committee on access effectiveness of psychiatric services for the elderly and the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry’s research committee.


Two engineering faculty members have been awarded 2008 CAREER grants from the National Science Foundation.

Xinyan Tracy Cui, assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering and director of the Neural Tissue Engineering (NTE) Laboratory, and Jun Yang, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, recently were awarded the five-year NSF grants.

According to NSF, “The CAREER program offers NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization. The award, which is highly competitive, is bestowed on those scientists deemed most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.”

Cui’s NSF CAREER proposal entitled, “Manipulating Stem Cells via Electroactive Conducting Polymers,” has been awarded funding by NSF’s Division of Materials Research.

Her research interest is interfacing biological systems, mostly the nervous system, via electroactive conductive polymer and smart biomaterials. The primary research focus of the NTE lab is on the interactions between neural tissue and smart biomaterials. The field of study is applied toward a better understanding of the neural tissue/material interface and neural tissue engineering.

NSF will fund Yang’s proposal, “CAREER-EHS: Thermal-Aware Scheduling for Embedded Planar and 3D Chip Multiprocessors.”

Yang’s research interests are in computer architecture, especially micro-architectures and memory systems. Her expertise includes low power, thermal-aware architecture design; thermal-aware task management; leakage reduction; secure processors and memory systems; security in sensor networks; network processor design; processor modeling and simulation; low power, high performance cache/memory design, and bus encoding for energy efficiency.


The People of the Times column features recent news on faculty and staff, including awards and other honors, accomplishments and administrative appointments.

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