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May 14, 2009


Last week, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Tara O’Toole for under secretary for science and technology in the Department of Homeland Security.

O’Toole is the founding director and CEO of UPMC’s Center for Biosecurity, which was established in 2003.

“Bioterrorism is considered one of the greatest national security threats of the 21st century,” said Jeffrey A. Romoff, president and chief executive officer of UPMC. “In this regard, Tara’s expertise makes her uniquely qualified to step into this important role at a time when the dual threats of bioterrorism and pandemic disease are at the forefront, as we have seen in this past two weeks with H1N1.”

Throughout her career, O’Toole has worked in leadership positions both in government and the private sector. Prior to joining UPMC, she was one of the original members of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies and served as its director from 2001 to 2003. She has written on biosecurity and nuclear security issues and lectured extensively nationally and internationally. She has served on numerous government and expert advisory committees. She served as the chair of the board of the Federation of American Scientists.

O’Toole is co-editor-in-chief of the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice and Science.


Dennis Ranalli, professor of pediatric dentistry and senior associate dean at the School of Dental Medicine, recently received a journalism award from the International College of Dentists. The award was presented for an article on substance abuse among adolescent athletes that was published in the Minnesota Dental Association’s Northwest Dentistry Journal.


Alexandre Vieira, assistant professor in the Department of Oral Biology and director of clinical research for the School of Dental Medicine, has earned certification by the Geneticist-Educator Network of Alliances (GENA).

The year-long GENA certification process requires professors to collaborate with educators in their area to develop curricula. Vieira worked with area high school educators to create a lesson plan that teaches students about Msx1 mutations and their role in tooth-and-nail syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by the absence of several teeth at birth and abnormalities of the nails.


George K. Michalopoulos, chair of pathology, has been awarded the 2009 Rous-Whipple Award in Experimental Pathology from the American Society of Investigative Pathology (ASIP), a society of biomedical scientists who investigate mechanisms of disease.

The ASIP Rous-Whipple Award is presented to a senior scientist with a distinguished career in research who has advanced the understanding of disease and has continued productivity at the time of the award.

Prior to coming to Pitt in 1991, Michalopoulos spent 14 years at Duke University as a liver pathologist and NIH-funded investigator of liver regeneration. His laboratory was the first to identify and isolate hepatocyte growth factor and its receptor c-Met.

Michalopoulos also is the recipient of an NIH Merit Award and recently was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Michalopoulos has been a member of the Council of the Association of Pathology Chairs, and led the research committee of that group for six years. He is also a member of the NIH liver biology advisory board and chair of the scientific advisory board of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


Wendy Branowitzer, a senior support analyst in Financial Information Systems, has been named Pittsburgh Analyst of the Year by HDI.

Candidates for the award are judged on 15 categories including customer service, performance, quality of work, team orientation, ethics, technical aptitude, problem-solving skills, leadership and commitment to the service profession.

With 7,500 members worldwide, HDI is the largest association for IT service and support professionals.


William Federspiel, William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the departments of chemical engineering, surgery and bioengineering, and director of the Medical Devices Laboratory at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will serve as a member of the bioengineering, technology and surgical sciences study section of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) for a four-year term beginning July 1.

CSR study section members are selected on the basis of their competence and achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors.


Conrad Dan Volz of environmental and occupational health in the Graduate School of Public Health has received the James L. Craig Award for Teaching Excellence. The award, which consists of a plaque and $5,000 prize, was established by GSPH alumnus James Craig to recognize school faculty who have excelled in teaching and mentoring students.


A Pitt team of undergraduate and graduate students led by Di Gao, assistant professor and William Kepler White-ford faculty fellow in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, won the 2009 Youth Council on Sustainable Science and Technology P3 Award sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Institute for Sustainability and SustainUS at the EPA’s national sustainable design expo last month. AIChE is the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 40,000 members from 93 countries.

The Pitt team’s winning pro-ject was “Removal of Arsenic From Groundwater Using Naturally Occurring Iron Oxides in Rural Regions of Mongolia.” The Pitt team competed with 43 teams.


Prashant Kumta, Edward R. Weidlein Chair and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, has been elected as a fellow of the American Ceramic Society.

Kumta is the author or co-author of more than 150 refereed journal publications and has given more than 200 conference presentations with more than 65 invited presentations. He has been listed in Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in American Education since 1999.

Kumta was the founding organizer in 1995 of the first American Ceramic Society symposium on “Electrochemically Active Materials for Energy Storage and Devices.”

He is editor-in-chief of the international journal, Materials Science and Engineering, B: Solid-State Materials for Advanced Technology.


Zhi-Hong Mao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering, has been selected as the Swanson School of Engineering’s Outstanding Educator Award recipient for 2009. This is the only award given by the school that specifically recognizes teaching excellence.


Pitt-Johnstown’s advisory board presented its 12th Service to Community Award to Nancy Grove, UPJ professor emeritus and director of the nursing program. This award was established to recognize students, faculty and staff who have contributed to the quality of life in the Johnstown region.

Nominees were evaluated based on established criteria, including volunteerism and service that has significant impact or enduring effect.

Grove was recognized for her involvement with United Cerebral Palsy (UCP). She has been a volunteer member of the board of directors for UCP and Choices People Supporting People and a leader of the strategic planning and board development committees. During the UCP and Choices People Supporting People corporate reorganization, she served as a crossover member on all five boards in the new structure. She works with board members and staff in supporting ways to improve the needs and services for individuals with disabilities in the community.


Theresa Messina-Horner, director of Disability Services at Pitt-Johnstown, has been promoted to executive director of Health and Wellness Services at the Johnstown campus. In her new role, Horner will provide leadership to advance health and wellness initiatives within the Pitt-Johnstown campus community.

Additionally, she will oversee Student Health Services, the Personal Counseling Center and Disability Services.

In announcing the appointment, Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar commented, “Mrs. Horner has done an exemplary job in serving as mentor, counselor and advocate for our students. In her expanded capacity, she will play a critical role in integrating the campus’s various wellness initiatives consistent with a holistic approach, and will also promote our vision of a wellness campus.”

Prior to beginning her Pitt-Johnstown career in 2002, Horner was employed as the mental health director at Laurel Counseling. She served as a caseworker for Cambria County Children and Youth Services (CYS), and later became coordinator of the CYS community residential rehabilitative program. She also has taught college courses in psychology and sociology.

Horner is a national certified counselor, a Pennsylvania licensed professional counselor and a Highmark wellness trainer. In 2008, she received the Chancellor’s Affirmative Action Award, which recognized her for her successful efforts to establish highly supportive services that allow students with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of campus life.


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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