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April 17, 2008


Isabel L. Beck, emeritus professor in the School of Education and senior scientist in the Learning Research and Development Center, has been elected to the National Academy of Education.

Education Dean Alan Lesgold said, “The academy is the highest-level body devoted to supporting and maintaining the very best educational research. This is truly U.S. education’s highest honor. Among the approximately 200 members of the academy are Pitt colleagues Bob Glaser, Jim Greeno, Lauren Resnick and now Isabel.”

Internationally known for her research in reading, Beck has engaged in extensive research on decoding, vocabulary and comprehension and has published more than 100 articles and several books. “Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction,” with Margaret G. McKeown and Linda Kucan, has become a best seller.

Beck’s awards include the National Reading Conference’s 1988 Oscar S. Causey Award for outstanding research and the 2000 Contributing Researcher Award from the American Federation of Teachers for “bridging the gap between research and practice,” which is Beck’s hallmark. In 1995, she was inducted into the International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame and received its William S. Gray Award in 2002.

Beck earned her degrees in education — a BS in 1953, an MS in 1963 and a PhD in 1973 — all at Pitt.


Marcus Rediker, professor of history, has been selected the 2008 Merle Curti Award winner for “The Slave Ship: A Human History.” The award is given annually by the Organization of American Historians for the best book published in American social, intellectual or cultural history.

In “The Slave Ship,” Rediker set out to describe “what it meant to live in a wooden world.” According to Rediker, what had happened on the slave ship informed what resulted on land. “It was a social and cultural process that changed people,” he explained. “And the repercussions from that process still resonate today.”

Rediker’s writings have been translated into French, German, Greek, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish. His honors include a 2001 International Labor History Book Prize, a 1988 Merle Curti Social History Book Award and a 1988 John Hope Franklin Book Prize.

He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

The Organization of American Historians named him distinguished lecturer, 2002-08.


Thomas W. Braun, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, was honored this month with the Distinguished Alumni Award at the eighth annual Dean’s Scholarship Ball. Braun earned a DMD in 1973 and PhD in 1977 at Pitt.

The ball was established in 2001 by Braun to provide partial tuition support for predoctoral students at the dental school. This year, more than $1 million in scholarship money has been raised.


Magee-Womens Research Institute founding director James M. Roberts was honored last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Gynecologic Investigation (SGI).

An internationally known authority on the potentially deadly pregnancy complication preeclampsia, Roberts received the society’s 2008 Frederick Naftolin Award for Mentorship. The award, named for a former SGI president, recognizes contributions to the training and career development of investigators in the field of reproductive and women’s health.

Roberts is professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the School of Medicine.


Samuel Stebbins, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and assistant professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health, has been accepted as a scholar in the National Public Health Leadership Institute (PHLI).

PHLI is a one-year leadership development program for high-potential leaders with a commitment to leading their own organizations and communities and system change on a national level.

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the goal of PHLI is to create new public health leaders who will help foster change in the public health system.

PHLI is based at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health and partners with the Center for Health Leadership and Practice in Oakland, Calif., and the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C.


David Geller, the Richard L. Simmons professor of surgery at the School of Medicine and co-director of the UPMC Liver Cancer Center, has been chosen president-elect of the Society of University Surgeons. SUS is dedicated to advancing the art and science of surgery by encouraging members to pursue original investigations in both the clinic and the laboratory and by developing innovative methods for teaching surgery.

As a hepatobiliary surgical oncologist, Geller’s clinical interests center on the evaluation and management of patients with liver cancers.

He has pioneered minimally invasive liver resection surgery, performing more than 200 such procedures, and specializes in laparoscopic radiofrequency ablations of liver tumors.

Geller’s one-year term begins next February. His duties will include overseeing the SUS executive council and committees for the growth of educational and political agendas, directing meetings and retreats, developing long-range strategic planning for the organization’s growth and delivering the presidential address in 2010.


Kenya Kamimura, a postdoctoral fellow working in the lab of Dexi Liu, professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the School of Pharmacy, has received an Excellence in Research Award from the American Society of Gene Therapy (ASGT). Kamimura’s abstract, “Image-Guided Hydrodynamic Gene Delivery to Pig Liver,” was selected as one of the top seven submitted by a postdoctoral fellow or student for the ASGT’s 11th annual meeting, May 28-June 1.

Each year, approximately 1,200 abstracts are submitted and only the top 10 are selected to receive the Excellence in Research Award.

In the field of gene therapy, this award is the highest honor the society gives to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Kamimura also received one of 60 travel grants to the meeting.


The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) will award the 2008 Potamkin Prize to three researchers for their work in Alzheimer’s disease research.

William E. Klunk and Chester A. Mathis, both with Pitt’s School of Medicine, and Clifford R. Jack Jr. of the Mayo Clinic, will receive the award this month during the AAN’s 60th annual meeting.

The Potamkin Prize honors researchers for their work in helping to advance the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. The $100,000 prize is to be used toward continuing Alzheimer’s research and will be shared by the three researchers.

The work of the researchers involves the use of brain imaging with living patients to help visualize the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Klunk and Mathis have collaborated on the development of a novel tracer for another brain imaging technique, positron emission tomography (PET).

This tracer, called Pittsburgh Compound-B or PiB, can identify the amyloid protein deposits that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, but could only be confirmed at autopsy prior to the development of amyloid imaging.

“This research could help identify Alzheimer’s disease subjects earlier in the course of the disease and aid in the testing and development of new drugs capable of reversing the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Mathis.

Added Klunk, “It could facilitate the development of newer, more effective drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and allow earlier, more accurate diagnosis, so therapy could be started earlier when the chances of success are greatest.”

The Potamkin Prize attempts to attract the best medical minds and most dedicated scientists in the world to the field of dementia research.


Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar and Frances Zauhar, associate professor of English at UPJ, were named faculty initiates in the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. The two were inducted at the Johnstown campus April 5 along with 40 UPJ students.

The primary objective of the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society is the recognition and encouragement of superior scholarship in all academic disciplines.


Paul Douglas Newman, professor of history at Pitt-Johnstown, is the recipient of the History Channel’s 2008 “Save Our History” Teacher of the Year Award. He will be recognized at a ceremony May 2 in Washington, D.C.

In 2007, Newman obtained, with Anne Staples of the Coal Country Youth Hangout in Northern Cambria, a $10,000 “Save Our History” grant from the History Channel to fund a local research project for select Northern Cambria High School students.

In September he and 15 students began producing a one-hour video documentary about Cambria County Vietnam War veterans.

According to Newman, October 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. combat death in Vietnam, Captain Harry Griffith Cramer Jr. of Johnstown. “The 50th anniversary came and went with no fanfare. Meanwhile, another mega-documentary honoring the veterans of World War II appeared on PBS and dominated American attention,” said Newman.

“Our film gives local Vietnam vets a venue for their voices to reflect upon this anniversary. It is our hope that it will spark a national remembrance and conversation about the Vietnam experience as we approach the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s 1965 escalation of hostilities coming in 2015.”

The documentary will premiere June 15.

To view a three-minute video preview trailer, visit


Pitt Board of Trustees Chairperson Ralph J. Cappy, former chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, will receive the Distinguished Leadership Award from the American Red Cross April 26 at the annual “red tie affair.”

Each year at the fundraising event, the American Red Cross southwestern Pennsylvania chapter presents the award to a community member whose ongoing leadership, commitment and courage has made a difference in the perception and image of the southwestern Pennsylvania region.

Cappy graduated from Pitt with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1965, then from Pitt’s School of Law with a Juris Doctorate in 1968. After 10 years in private practice and as a public defender, he was appointed to the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas in 1978.

In 1989 Cappy was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and in 2003 he was appointed chief justice.

He sits on the board of visitors of Pitt’s law school and serves as vice chairperson of the UPMC Board of Directors. Cappy retired from the bench in January and joined the Pittsburgh law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.


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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