Chancellor’s Distinguished Awards honor 15 faculty members

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher has recognized 15 faculty members — and one entire office — this year with a Chancellor’s Distinguished Award across three categories.

The chancellor singled out the the COVID-19 Medical Response Office with a Special Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award, created to recognize the extraordinary service performed by the CMRO. Led by Director John Williams, Henry L. Hillman endowed chair in pediatric immunology, and Associate Director Elise Martin, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, the CMRO kept Pitt campuses informed and promoted a sense of community through exceptionally challenging times. Although this special award doesn’t come with a cash prize, every member of the CMRO will receive a certificate for their service.

In a letter to Martin and Williams, Chancellor Gallagher wrote: “The CMRO has equipped our University with the tools to safely navigate a pandemic while maintaining — and advancing — our academic mission.”

All of the other recipients received a letter from the chancellor along with a $2,000 cash prize and a $3,000 grant to support their work. Awardees will be recognized at the Faculty Honors Convocation on April 1 in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Awards

Senior category

Jeffrey Brodsky, Avinoff Chair of biological sciences in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, was honored for his research in cell biology and biochemistry, connecting basic research to health applications. Among his contributions to the field, Brodsky discovered a quality control system in a part of the cell that breaks down proteins that have folded incorrectly, a pathway related to many human diseases.

David Brent, distinguished professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, epidemiology and clinical and translational science, and chair in suicide studies in the School of Medicine, was recognized for years of impactful research, including work identifying risk factors and processes behind adolescent depression and suicidal behavior. One peer called Brent “one of the great psychiatrists of the past 50 years.”

Jeff Inman, Albert Wesley Frey Chair in marketing and associate dean for research and faculty in the Katz Graduate School of Business, was honored for pioneering a field of marketing involving how the experience of consumers in stores affects how they make decisions.

Junior category

Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis, assistant professor in the Department of Computational and Systems Biology, School of Medicine, was recognized for her work on new genes that emerge through evolution. One of just a handful of the foremost experts on this phenomenon, Carvunis’ peers called her research “among the most innovative” in evolutionary biology.

Gina Ann Garcia, associate professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, Organizations and Policy, School of Education, was honored for her work on how higher education can serve the Latinx population in the United States. A leading scholar on Hispanic Serving Institutions, Garcia’s research has drawn attention to the role of these institutions in higher education and how they can support their students.

Cecelia Yates, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Development, School of Nursing, was recognized for her research to understand the signaling networks that underlie pathologic fibrosis across multiple tissue and organ systems. Cited as a “rising star” in the field, Yates’ approach also includes developing therapeutics for diseases caused by this phenomenon.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Awards

Brenda Cassidy, associate professor and vice chair for administration, Department of Health Promotion and Development, School of Nursing, was honored for developing teaching modules for health care providers to improve health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ patients. Along with her commitment to inclusive and engaging teaching, Cassidy is a legislative advocate for LGBTQIA+ youth.

Samuel Dickerson, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, was honored for leading the undergraduate computer engineering program, one of the largest in the school. As part of his role, Dickerson advises more than 300 students.

Peter Drain, associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology, School of Medicine, received the award for developing courses that contribute to the School of Medicine’s national reputation. Drain also helped launch the successful Biomedical Master’s Program.

Andrea Hergenroeder, associate professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and director of the Pre-Health Resource Center formerly known as the Interprofessional Center for Health Careers, was honored for leading the Pre-Health Resource Center as its director as well as the Doctor of Physical Therapy program’s residential option.

Götz Veser, Nickolas A. DeCecco professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, was honored for developing a full third of the classes in his department’s undergraduate curriculum. Along with developing courses and showing a willingness to teach beyond his required load, Veser created two student clubs.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Awards

Rosta Farzan, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the School of Computing and Information, received the award for working to improve representation of underrepresented populations in computing and information. Among other projects, Farzan created a data advocacy summer program and engages students in real-world projects for local organizations.

Richard Garland, assistant professor in the School of Public Health, was honored for his work to reduce gun violence, including the Violence Prevention Initiative and the Gunshot Reoccuring Injury Prevention Services program.

John Sebastian, director of the McKamish Construction Management Program in the Swanson School of Engineering, was recognized for co-creating the Experiencing Architecture summer program and leveraging his extensive industry experience and network to mentor students and benefit Pitt’s construction management program. Sebastian also serves on the board of the Sarah Heinz House, the ACE Mentor program, the Mascaro Construction Academy and Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, on which he chairs its governance committee.

Shannon Wanless, associate professor in the School of Education, was honored for her role as the director of the Office of Child Development, which engages nearly 7,000 people in community-focused programs each year. Wanless is also the co-creator of the My Racial Journey program and the co-lead of The Pittsburgh Study’s Early School Age Cohort, along with her involvement in other social justice and equity initiatives. 

— Pittwire