SHRS’ Carvell remembered as ‘the true academic person’

George Carvell

Physical Therapy Professor Emeritus George Carvell, recently retired after a 47-year career as a faculty member in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and its first National Science Foundation-funded researcher, has died.

When Dean Anthony Delitto joined the school’s physical therapy faculty in 1991, Carvell had already been an important presence in the school since 1975 — including for his research, some in collaboration with Pitt faculty member Daniel Simons, on neuronal integration in the neocortex, funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“He represented in my mind the true academic person,” Delitto recalls. “He was not only a great teacher but an accomplished scientist. He was the pacesetter then. You don’t get funded by the NSF if the work is not very innovative.”

When Carvell instituted important changes to the neuroscience course he was teaching, Delitto was department chair. “It was a choice of either reducing the rigor or finding a better way to teach it and he chose the latter,” he says of Carvell, who created an extensive online learning module to help students through the class materials. “At the time it was quite innovative.”

Carvell was known in the department for taking advances in basic science and adapting it to what PT students do every day. “The more mature the student, the more they appreciated his approach to teaching and his sense of humor,” Delitto says. To undergraduates and graduate students alike, “he was just a wonderful mentor, but you had to come to the table wanting to work. For those willing to come to the table and do the work, they all spoke very highly of him.”

Delitto recalls their mutual early hours in the school, and Carvell’s frank, straightforward talk: “I really admired his candidness. He was a very humble guy in a lot of ways. He was a big part of the school and a big part of its foundation.”

Carvell was still teaching in his retirement – full courses, up to the last.

As Daniel Simons, now a retired professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Neurobiology, wrote in a remembrance. “George was deeply committed to furthering the scientific basis of clinical practice in physical therapy. This forward-looking view drove his passion for teaching and science. George had a questioning intellect, an artist’s eye and an irrepressible if somewhat quirky sense of humor. My informal polling of several decades of Pitt PT graduates suggests that few if any of the many hundreds of his students have forgotten his intellectually rigorous lectures, each delivered with a healthy dose of dad jokes. George brought these same gifts to the laboratory bench. He was a creative and accomplished scientist as well as an outstanding and supportive role model for undergraduate and postgraduate trainees in our laboratory. Everyone, including myself, benefited from George’s knowledge, dedication, and timely wit.”

Carvell earned an bachelor’s degree in biology from Gettysburg College (1967), physical therapy certification from the University of Pennsylvania (1971), a master’s degree in medical science from Emory University (1976) and Ph.D. from Pitt (1986).

He began his career as a high-school science teacher in 1967 but found it dissatisfying, soon joining Pitt as an instructor. By the next year, he was an assistant professor and by 1984 the PT program’s acting director, serving also as acting department chair in 1990. He was the school’s associate dean of graduate studies (1993-2011), in the midst of which he gained the rank of professor (1998). He also served on many school committees.

His extensive list of research publications includes several academic book chapters. When he retired in 2022, he published “Gray Matter On My Mind: Brains Wired For Survival and Success: Neuroscience For Rehabilitation Professions,” which had taken 23 years to complete, through Creative Commons as an Open Access eBook.

Memorial gifts are suggested to Pitt’s Department of Physical Therapy.

Marty Levine