Honors College Establishes G. Alec Stewart Student Achievement Award

Issue Date: 
December 10, 2012

We are about to conclude the Fall 2012 term and thereby end the year in which the University of Pittsburgh celebrated its 225th anniversary. That celebration began with the Honors Convocation in February and was followed one day later by a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Pitt’s University Honors College (UHC), a more modest milestone but a noteworthy one nonetheless. 

There is no question that in its 25 years of existence the UHC has contributed substantially to improvements in the quality of education that undergraduate students can obtain at the University of Pittsburgh. There also is no question that G. Alec Stewart—the founding dean of the UHC who served in that role for 23 years before he died in April 2010—provided the vision for the college and guided its influence at the University. It is therefore fitting that in this year of celebration the UHC will inaugurate a new annual award to commemorate Dean Stewart’s great and lasting contributions.

The G. Alec Stewart Student Achievement Award will honor in their junior year undergraduate students who are judged to best symbolize the values of the UHC and of the University generally. Four students will be selected annually for the award, each to receive a prize of $1,000.  

Two aspects of each applicant’s credentials will be given primary consideration in the selection of the awardees. One is high academic attainment, which implies more than a high grade-point average: This award intends to recognize students whose academic pursuits also reflect unusual depth and breadth. Depth might be demonstrated not only by the completion of advanced courses in the student’s major subject area, but also by participation in research that further advances knowledge in the field. Breadth might be reflected in the pursuit of multiple majors or a major plus one or more minors and/or certificates, indicating a broad scope of academic interests. The second aspect this award intends to recognize is intellectual curiosity, as shown by students whose quest for education is characterized by an impassioned inquisitiveness and a determination to learn, leading to deep understanding.

But high academic attainment and intellectual curiosity, however central, are not the only values that the UHC promotes among the undergraduate students at the University of Pittsburgh. Their own scholarship should be accompanied by an awareness of, and concern for, those around them.  In a narrow sense this could mean interacting with a group of other students interested in the same subject matter, or it might be described more broadly as a willingness to help others succeed—on campus, in the city, or elsewhere. The Stewart Award encourages that sense of citizenship as one of the goals of the education that this University provides.

Candidates for the Stewart Award are expected to have benefited in some direct way from their participation in one or more of the great variety of UHC activities, among them taking honors courses, receiving honors advising, participating in the Brackenridge Research Program or one of the UHC reading groups, pursuing the Bachelor of Philosophy degree, living in an honors residence hall, or otherwise contributing to the honors community. Because the UHC is not a membership organization (that is, no student is a member of the UHC), the competition for the award is open to students enrolled in any of the schools of the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland that provide an undergraduate education.

The candidates’ credentials will be evaluated by a committee composed of faculty members and alumni with a record of involvement with the UHC, and the first winners will be announced at the University Honors Convocation in February 2013. Thus, the first awardees will be honored one year after this year’s anniversary celebrations began, in that way providing cause for renewed celebrations next year and for years to come. 

The establishment of this award will serve several important goals. The first is to honor Dean Stewart by highlighting and advancing important aspects of his UHC legacy. The second is not only to honor students for their exemplary academic achievements at the University, but also to do so while they still are students at Pitt. In fact, during their senior year, the awardees will be asked to serve as UHC Ambassadors, introducing incoming students to the programs and opportunities offered by the UHC. The third goal is to make clear that in addition to providing a rich array of educational opportunities for undergraduate students, and in addition to encouraging students (and faculty) to do their best work, the UHC publicly recognizes and thereby draws attention to a cluster of traits in our students—academic attainment, intellectual curiosity, and citizenship—that will promote personal development and success before and after graduation. For these various reasons, we are delighted that the Stewart Award will join the other prizes and honors at the University that reflect the values and general goals of the institution.

 (Stricker is dean of Pitt’s University Honors College and Distinguished University Professor of Neuroscience in Pitt’s Department of Neuroscience.)