Chancellor Announces ’08 Distinguished Research and Teaching Awardees

Issue Date: 
February 18, 2008

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has named the winners of the 2008 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research and Distinguished Teaching awards.

The Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award will be given to the following five Pitt faculty members:

  • Stephen Badylak, a professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, deputy director of the Pitt-UPMC McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM), and director of MIRM’s Center for Pre-Clinical Tissue Engineering;
  • G. Bard Ermentrout, University Professor of Computational Biology and professor in the Department of Mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences;
  • Michael Sacks, William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering and director of MIRM’s Engineered Tissue Mechanics and Mechanobiology Laboratory;
  • Peter Wipf, University Professor in the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the School of Pharmacy, and codirector of Pitt’s Drug Discovery Institute; and
  • Wen Xie, a professor in the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and a professor of pharmacology in the School of Medicine.

Badylak, Ermentrout, Sacks, and Wipf were honored in the senior scholar category, which recognizes “an outstanding and continuing record of research and scholarly activity.”

Xie was honored as a junior scholar “whose exceptional early contributions have demonstrated great potential and have already produced a measure of international standing.”

The five winners of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award are:

  • Jeffrey L. Brodsky, Avinoff Chair of Biological Sciences and professor in the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biological Sciences;
  • Susan M. Dunmire, a professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine and an emergency medicine physician at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital;
  • William M. P. Klein, a professor in the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology;
  • John M. McGrath, a professor in the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown; and
  • Christina E. Newhill, a professor in the School of Social Work.

Each awardee will receive a $2,000 cash prize and be recognized during Pitt’s 32nd annual Honors Convocation on Friday, Feb. 29, along with winners of the Chancellor’s 2008 Staff Excellence Award. Their names also will be inscribed on plaques in the William Pitt Union.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Awards

“You are a pioneer in the fields of biomaterials and tissue engineering, whose medical advances have been used to treat more than 500,000 patients throughout the world,” Nordenberg wrote in a Feb. 1 letter notifying Badylak of his award. Badylak was one of the first researchers to realize that the best biomaterials for tissue regeneration would be those that are rich in a certain type of protein found in vivo. These special proteins, when implanted in the body at the site of a wound, recruit new cells to form tissues identical to the original, injured structures. In addition, Badylak invented new materials that repair and replace damaged human tissues.

Nordenberg wrote that Badylak’s “clinical and medical accomplishments are backed up by solid research studies in highly interdisciplinary areas, such as cell biology, surgery, biochemistry, materials science, tissue engineering, and biomechanics.”

The chancellor added that Badylak’s peers praise him as an innovator in his field, describing him as “a model for how science, technology, and medicine might be coupled in the 21st century.”

Ermentrout not only possesses an international reputation in mathematical modeling, but is renowned across several disciplines. He is considered to be among the world’s top researchers in the field of computational neuroscience.

“There are few fields that your work on mathematical modeling has not touched, and in so doing, made a lasting impact. You are highly sought after for your unique insights and contributions to the modeling of neural and biological systems, ranging from the brain, neurons, and cognition to viruses and olfaction,” Nordenberg wrote. Ermentrout’s work in such leading scientific journals as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, and Science has been cited by other researchers more than 135 times per year on the average, with each of his publications receiving an average of more than 27 citations.

Ermentrout’s colleagues, in letters supporting his nomination, described him as “a genius, an outstanding scholar, and a prolific contributor to several disciplines” who has garnered both national and international recognition and respect for his contributions, the chancellor said.

Sacks is a leader in the field of the mechanical behavior of biological and bioprosthetic tissues. He also possesses noted expertise in heart valve analysis and replacement.
In the award letter, Nordenberg praised Sacks, writing that he “has both developed novel methods to analyze tissue structure and conducted pioneering work in the experimental and theoretical understanding of soft tissue mechanics.”

Scientific American named Sacks one of the top 50 researchers for 2006 for his seminal work on the biomechanics of biological scaffolds for cardiac regeneration.

Colleagues regard Sacks as a world leader in heart valve mechanics and, in letters of support for his nomination, described him as “a leading investigator in the solid mechanics and functional fibrous architecture of heart valves and other collagenous tissues,” Nordenberg wrote.

“They conclude that you are at the top of your field,” the chancellor stated in his letter, quoting one of Sacks’ peers saying that Sacks “has established himself as the world leader in heart valve mechanics.”

Wipf is known as one of the preeminent researchers in the field of organic synthesis.

Nordenberg called Wipf “a true leader and visionary … who works at the interface of organic and biological chemistry. You developed a vast repertoire of new synthetic chemistry methodologies, which you have used to create numerous structurally diverse and biologically important organic compounds.”

Nordenberg praised Wipf for his leadership of both the Center of Chemical Methodologies and the Chemical Library Development Program, as well as for the 300 peer-reviewed articles he has had published over the past 23 years. Those efforts helped to raise the level of organic chemistry scholarship at Pitt, the chancellor wrote.

Colleagues regard Wipf as one of the world-class stars of contemporary organic chemistry. The chancellor also cited comments from Wipf’s colleagues, who said that Wipf has “shown the world that clever synthetic design, when coupled to comprehensive cellular and in vivo evaluation, cannot only open our eyes to key disease pathways, but lead to useful therapeutics.”

Nordenberg wrote to Wen Xie, an acknowledged pioneer in the field of pharmacogenetics and toxicology, that “your rise to prominence in your discipline has been nothing short of spectacular.”

Xie possesses an impressive record of grant support, which includes three currently funded NIH R01 grants, and an imposing publication record, which includes 54 peer-reviewed articles, the chancellor said. Xie’s papers have been published in such esteemed journals as Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, and Cell, the chancellor noted.

“Your reputation extends far beyond the University,” Nordenberg added.

Letters of recommendation for the award from established senior investigators referred to Xie as “a scientific force to be reckoned with and a rising star in both the nuclear receptor and toxicogenomic fields,” the chancellor wrote.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Awards

“This honor … recognizes your contributions to the education of the next generation of scientists and scholars in the biological sciences,” Nordenberg wrote in the letter notifying Brodsky of his award. In undergraduate- and graduate-level courses, “your ability to relate real-life examples to topics in molecular biology has excited students and enabled them to master difficult underlying principles while also acquiring critical thinking skills,” the letter continued.

Nordenberg noted that a number of Brodsky’s students have won prestigious national awards and coauthored articles in peer-reviewed scientific publications.

“Your commitment to teaching is further evidenced by the sharing of your teaching methods through CIDDE [The Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education] activities, your participation in several community outreach efforts involving the public schools, and your development of a graduate Teaching Minor for your department,” the chancellor said.

Dunmire was recognized for her commitment to the education of medical students and residents in emergency medicine.

“As a physician-educator for the past 20 years, you have invested significant time and effort in providing students with opportunities to develop the decision-making skills so important in your medical area,” Nordenberg wrote. He cited Dunmire’s creation of more than 60 critical patient scenarios with hands-on simulation that enable students to practice skills in a safe setting.

The chancellor praised Dunmire for creating a course of study that enables students to face real-world clinical scenarios. “The new course you recently created, Get Ready for Residency, and its accompanying handbook received rave reviews for its creativity and relevance. Interspersing lectures with emergency phone calls and response situations simulates the hospital conditions that residents will face; your students greatly appreciate your efforts to prepare them for the reality of clinical practice.”

Klein was honored for his teaching excellence in a variety of settings, including large introductory classes, upper-level undergraduate courses, graduate seminars, and the one-on-one mentoring of both undergraduate and graduate students.

“You infuse your teaching with your research expertise in social psychology and health psychology; your passion for both teaching and research impresses and inspires your students. Creative methods like debates, mock trials, and group problem-solving projects encourage student engagement with the learning process,” Nordenberg wrote.

The chancellor praised Klein for his work as both the director of Undergraduate Studies in Psychology and chair of the Undergraduate Education Committee. “You have been influential in revising the major and increasing student exposure to writing and research experiences. These and numerous other teaching-related activities you have undertaken have gained you the well-deserved reputation as a champion of undergraduate education.”

Nordenberg wrote McGrath that he was was chosen for the award because of the important role he plays in the marketing program at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

“You are involved with students at all levels, having responsibility for most of the required and elective courses in marketing. In addition to your teaching load of at least four classes each term, you advise a large number of marketing students and the local student chapter of the American Marketing Association, volunteer your marketing expertise in the community, and publish and present your research,” Nordenberg wrote.

In particular, the chancellor cited McGrath’s volunteer work within the community. “The service-learning projects your students conduct in local, nonprofit agencies are rewarding for the students and benefit the community by providing invaluable assistance that these agencies could not afford otherwise.”

Newhill has taught and been involved with the graduate education of social work students for 17 years.

“Your previous clinical experience as a psychiatric social worker enriches your teaching through the use of case examples, videotapes or client interviews, and creative assignments that challenge students to examine their own attitudes,” Nordenberg wrote.

“Your reputation for presenting rigorous, well-organized comprehensive courses is legendary, and students vie for admission to them. Students reference their notes from your classes long after they have graduated, and also consider you a role model for the respect and empathy you want them to show their clients,” Nordenberg continued.

The chancellor praised Newhill’s role in advancing the School of Social Work’s academic mission. “You have contributed to curricular revisions in the popular Direct Practice concentration that you chair, have helped the large number of adjunct faculty in your school become better teachers, and have communicated your mental health expertise through your research publications and presentations,” he wrote.