Awards and More

Issue Date: 
November 2, 2009

Mary Besterfield-Sacre and Joseph McCarthy, two professors in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, are among 49 young engineering researchers and educators selected to present their novel approaches to engineering education at the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) inaugural Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) symposium, scheduled for Nov. 15-18 in Herndon, Va.

Besterfield-Sacre, a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Fulton C. Noss Faculty Fellow, will discuss her current project to develop a tool for evaluating team-based design processes and the factors that result in a quality design and prototype. Besterfield-Sacre has designed several models for evaluating engineering student learning. In addition, she developed the Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitudes Survey to measure students’ perspectives on engineering and their confidence is pursuing an engineering career. The survey is widely used in engineering schools to predict which students will complete engineering programs in good standing.

McCarthy, a professor and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, created a block-scheduled engineering curriculum intended to increase student motivation and help students understand the interconnectedness of their discipline. Instead of loading students with a variety of smaller chemical engineering classes each semester, McCarthy’s model breaks the discipline into six “pillars”—or main courses—and presents one pillar per semester as a two-hour class, five days a week. McCarthy will explain that after seven years in practice, the expanded class time and integrated laboratory experiences have resulted in more hands-on student experiences, an increase in student-assessment scores, and better professor-student interactions.

Karen VanderVen, professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychology in Education in Pitt’s School of Education, received the LifeTime Achievement Award from the Academy of Child and Youth Care Professionals. VanderVen’s interests include early childhood education with a special focus on play, professionalization of early childhood and child and youth work, leadership development, the developmental role of activity, practical strategies for activity programming, and intergenerational and life-span practices. VanderVen earned an AB degree in psychology at Vassar College and an MS degree in child development and child care and a PhD degree in education at Pitt.

Nicole Bourbonnais, a doctoral candidate in the University of Pittsburgh Department of History in the School of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada for her research, which traces the history and evolution of family planning in the Caribbean.

Bourbonnais, who received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of British Columbia, studies Caribbean and Latin American history at Pitt. She will receive $20,000 Canadian (about $18,000 U.S.) per annum for four years while she is enrolled in the doctoral program. Bourbonnais’ experience as a sex-education project volunteer in 2003 for Youth Challenge International, a Toronto-based nongovernmental aid organization in Guyana, sparked her personal and scholarly interest in the region.