Briefly Noted

Issue Date: 
November 12, 2007

Professor Honored for Work to Preserve Polish Culture

Oscar Swan, professor in the University’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in the School of Arts and Sciences, will be named the laureate of the University of Warsaw’s Polonicum Award during a ceremony Nov. 19 in Poland. The award recognizes outstanding achievements in the advancement of Polish culture.

Swan, the first American to win the award, specializes in Polish and Russian linguistics, Old Church Slavic, syntactic and semantic theory, language pedagogy, materials development, and Polish literature. He has been teaching and publishing in the discipline of Polish language and literature for more than 30 years.

Swan is the author of 16 books, including Grammar of Contemporary Polish (Slavica Publishers, 2003), which won the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages’ award for Best Work in Slavic Linguistics in 2004.
His book Intermediate Rush (Slavica Publishers, 1986) was awarded the Amicus Poloniae Award by Poland magazine.

Swan regularly teaches courses at Pitt in Polish literature and culture, the structure of the Russian language, and Polish culture in film, among other subjects.

The Polonicum Award is administered by the Center of Polish Language and Culture for Foreigners at the University of Warsaw. It was established in 2006 and is under the patronage of the Marshal of the Senate of the Republic of Poland. The award is conferred each year in November during ceremonies celebrating the founding of the University of Warsaw.

—Anthony M. Moore

Norton, Author Isaacson Set Thursday Forum on “Everything Einstein”

Albert Einstein emerged as the preeminent scientist in a century driven by science. Now, renowned Einstein expert John Norton, philosophy of science professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and Walter Isaacson, author of the recent biography Einstein: His Life and Universe, will host an in-depth discussion of how the legendary physicist worked and thought.

Titled “Everything Einstein,” the program starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, on Pittsburgh’s North Side. The program is free and open to the public, but those interested in attending must register by e-mailing

The discussion’s moderator will be Regina Schulte-Ladbeck, a professor in Pitt’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the associate dean of undergraduate studies in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Norton specializes in the philosophy behind Einstein’s theories of relativity and the context within which Einstein developed his ideas. Norton directs Pitt’s Center for Philosophy of Science, the world’s leading research institute in philosophy of science and a centerpiece of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, in Arts and Sciences.

Isaacson, a longtime editor and journalist, is president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and past chair and CEO of CNN. The program is presented by cityLIVE!, no wall productions, the Heinz Family Philanthropies, and the New Hazlett Theater, and sponsored by Pop City Media.

—Morgan Kelly

MIT Economist Delivers McKay Lecture Friday

Peter Diamond, an Institute Professor in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will deliver the Marion O’Kellie McKay Lecture, titled “Thinking About Taxes,” at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Frick Fine Arts Auditorium.

The presentation provides an insider’s perspective of the American taxation system. Diamond, president of the American Economic Association and the Econometric Society, will discuss the pattern of tax rates on earnings and capital income and whether taxes should be based on the circumstances of individuals or families.

Diamond is widely considered one of the major contributors to economic theory during the last half of the 20th century. His professional career has focused on analysis of social welfare programs in general and the U.S. Social Security Administration in particular. Diamond has proposed policy adjustments, such as small incremental increases in Social Security contributions using actuarial tables to adjust for changes in life expectancy.

Diamond is coauthor of Saving Social Security (Brookings Institution Press, 2005). He has been president and chair of the board of the National Academy of Social Insurance and has served on Social Security panels for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and the Congressional Research Service.

This event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Nancy Sciulli at 412-648-1765.

—Anthony M. Moore

UPB Professor Promotes Lab Role in Teaching Engineering

Klaus Wuersig, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, presented a paper on laboratory classes for first- and second-year engineering students at the International Conference on Engineering Education in September.

The conference took place Sept. 3-7 at the University of Coimbria in Portugal.

Wuersig argued that having first-semester engineering students participate in labs, an uncommon practice in most large engineering schools, increases student retention in the engineering program and allows students to make a more informed decision about which area of engineering they would like to pursue.

“If they have the initial qualifications for engineering studies, most students drop out or switch majors because excitement and focus is missing in their chosen engineering field,” Wuersig said. “This is where a well-designed first-semester laboratory course can be very helpful in reducing the perceived drudgery and lack of focus.”

Wuersig compared data from large engineering schools that do not offer labs until the third or fourth year to his experience at Pitt-Bradford, where students take part in labs during their first and second years. In contrast to schools without labs, “We lose very few students that first semester,” Wuersig said of the Pitt-Bradford program.

Wuersig argues that the labs have as much to do with building a personal relationship between students and faculty as it does with hands-on learning.

Wuersig noted that Pitt-Bradford engineering students who finish their degrees at the Pittsburgh campus have a high retention rate.

—Kimberly Marcott Weinberg