Get involved to be of service to the U and to you


For professors, life at any university can include much more than teaching classes and doing research.

There are committees to staff, students to mentor and administrative posts to fill. All of these jobs can provide a benefit not only to the university, but also to a professor’s career and sense of accomplishment.


At the panel discussion “Strengthen the U, Strengthen You,” one faculty member asked for advice on how to get noticed for committee positions or other administrative roles. The panelists had a few suggestions:

  • Display a disposition toward participation. Start by volunteering for committees and working your way up to chair committees and more.
  • Show up and don’t be afraid to learn.
  • Make sure your dean or department chair knows the work you are doing, which might involve some self-promotion.

Recently, five Pitt professors spoke at a Faculty Development Workshop, “Strengthen the U, Strengthen You,” about how they got involved with the University beyond their role as a teacher/researcher and what it has meant to them professionally and personally.

The panelists were:

  • Kay Brummond, chemistry professor and associate dean for faculty affairs in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.
  • Dr. Esa Davis, associate professor of medicine; director of UPMC Tobacco Treatment Service; director of Career Education and Enhancement for Health Care Research Diversity Program; and a facilitator in the new IMPACT faculty mentoring program
  • Frank Wilson, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Pitt–Greensburg and immediate past president of the University Senate
  • Don Bialostosky, English professor and chair of the English Department.
  • Haider Ala Hamoudi, professor of law and vice dean of the Pitt School of Law

The event was moderated by David DeJong, executive vice provost, whose own path has taken him from assistant professor of economics starting in 1989 to chair of the department from 2006-10 and now executive vice provost. He said he’s found the work in the provost’s office as intellectually stimulating as when he was solely a professor.

When he came here in 1989, DeJong said he had no interest in how the University was run, he just wanted to be left alone to do his research. But after a quick succession of three chancellors, he realized, “just how much incredible impact leadership at that level was having on morale and motivation on my colleagues in very visible and tangible ways, and so I just became really interested in learning more about the place worse, how you can have impact in in various roles.”

Getting started

Getting involved with service at the University can start out as small as sitting on a curriculum or search committee, or letting your department head know you’re interested in activities outside of your immediate area.

For Davis, mentoring was the path to service.

Early on mentors may try to shield you from service opportunities, she said, so you can concentrate on your research and teaching. But after she became established in her research, Davis made it known she was interested in mentoring. This has blossomed into leading mentoring programs within her department and at the provost level with the IMPACT program.

She also has become involved in diversity and inclusion efforts in the Department of Medicine.

To make time for service, Davis said she tries to pick roles that serve the themes she’s interested in — mentoring and diversity — “things that are central to what I do… as opposed to just a lot of disparate type of service.

“It takes less preparation when it's things that you do all the time, as opposed to, every time you give a talk you have to give it completely new on a different topic.”

Focusing at home

Brummond said she decided to become more involved at Pitt after noticing how much effort she was putting into external organizations.

“I was contributing a lot to the external community and not as much to Pitt,” she said. “I started to be asked to do things that really would have been all consuming, like associate editor for journals, or program directors for funding agencies. … I decided that … if I was going to do something that was all consuming, I really wanted to contribute that time closer to home — at the University of Pittsburgh.”

The chair of her department was stepping down after 10 years, so Brummond made it known that she would be interested in the job. She parlayed that into her current position as vice dean, through which she works on issues of tenure, promotions and diversity.

“One of the reasons I’m doing this is I think it’s important to have women in these leadership positions,” Brummond said. “I’ve been inspired by other women in these leadership type positions. And so this is a small way to pay that forward.”

A place for everyone

Wilson said his interest in service stemmed from his academic field.

“As a sociologist, I'm interested in the organization’s I'm part of and think I should be active in them,” he said. “And it also means that sometimes I volunteer for service kinds of positions, because I disagreed with things that are happening.”

He heard talk about Pitt’s shared governance and was skeptical at first. “But I figured the way to check that out was to volunteer.”

He started on the faculty senate at Pitt–Greensburg, and eventually became the first person from one of the regional campuses to be elected president of the University Senate.

“My view is I'm part of the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Pittsburgh, every time I challenged things, has responded in a very positive way,” said Wilson, who is a non-tenured-stream faculty member and pointed out that there are opportunities at all levels for NTS faculty.

I would just say that it has opened the door for me to be able to work with colleagues (in Oakland) that I probably never would have been able to, and that has stimulating for me as an individual. I think it's been a good mix for some of the folks here to be dealing with people like me from regional campus, because we all are part of a pretty complex organization that’s doing a lot of good work.”

Making a difference

Bialostosky is completing his eighth and final year as chairman of the English Department.

When the previous chair stepped down, Bialostosky said he realized, “I simply had come to care about this department, appreciate its people and processes. And I thought I could take care of it. And I hope as I approached the end of my eight years as chair, I have.”

He said he’s proud to have been able to hire 20 new colleagues to replenish the ranks of the creative writing program, fostered new initiatives in film production and digital media, developed strong programs in areas in digital work and African American culture and writing.

“A chair can play a big part shaping the faculty of the future and supporting the careers of colleagues,” said Bialostosky, who during his tenure helped bring 12 colleagues to tenure and eight to full professor.

His biggest regret in taking on the chairmanship was it limits his time to teach.

Finding a balance

Hamoudi got into service at the University somewhat haphazardly. He was on vacation on a boat in Indonesia when former Provost Patty Beeson was trying to reach him to join a search committee for a new law school dean. When he got back to land and saw her many messages, he felt he couldn’t turn her down.

As a junior faculty member at the time, he said the others on the committee respected that he had demanding teaching duties and he was able to then and continues to “balance that service obligation with my other duties.”

For Hamoudi, one of the benefits of moving into these positions is “the way in which you can really help set the strategic direction for the school, when you are occupying a service position, something like a dean search committee.” As an untenured professor at the time, it really gave him a voice in the decision-making.

He became even more interested in filling service position after he got tenure, although he said it has been a challenge. “I do retain a teaching loaded, I do continue to publish, but obviously, I don't do it the same level that I used to. At same time, I'm able to balance that with something that I do think it creates this sort of positive possibility of being able to shape important directions.”

One of the projects he’s working on now is creating more diversity in the School of Law’s adjunct faculty.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.