Nordenberg Names Winners of Distinguished Teaching, Research, and Public Service Awards

Issue Date: 
February 18, 2013

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has announced the winners of the 2013 Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching, Research, and Public Service Awards.

The following five Pitt faculty members will receive the 2013 Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award:

Marah Gubar, a professor of English and director of the Children’s Literature Program within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; 

Steven Little, a professor, CNG Faculty Fellow, and chair in the Pitt Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and the Pitt-UPMC McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine; • Bryan Norman, a professor of industrial engineering in the Swanson School; 

Regis Vollmer, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy; and 

Brett Wells, senior lecturer in the Department of French and Italian Languages and Literatures within the Dietrich School. 

The following five Pitt faculty members will receive the 2013 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Awards: 

Tia-Lynn Ashman, professor and associate chair in Pitt’s Department of Biological Sciences within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; 

Lisa Bodnar, professor in the Department of Epidemiology within Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health; 

Shaun Eack, an assistant professor in Pitt’s School of Social Work; 

Kirk Savage, a professor in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture within the Dietrich School; and 

Peter Strick, Distinguished Professor and chair in the Department of Neurobiology within Pitt’s School of Medicine.

Ashman, Savage, and Strick are being honored in the senior scholar category, which recognizes “an outstanding and continuing record of research and scholarly activity,” while Bodnar and Eack are being honored in the junior scholar category. 

The two winners of the 2013 Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Awards are:

Harry Gruener, a clinical professor in the School of Law; and

Jeffrey Shook, a professor in the School of Social Work.

Each awardee will receive a $2,000 cash prize and a $3,000 grant for research support and will be recognized during the University of Pittsburgh’s 36th annual Honors Convocation, to be held at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, in Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. The event is free and open to the public.

Distinguished Teaching Award

As director of the English department’s Children’s Literature program, Gubar has made significant contributions to the curriculum and has advocated a new direction for studying children’s literature in the wider context of childhood studies. In his Feb. 7 letter to Gubar notifying her of the award, Nordenberg cited her efforts to help her students become critical thinkers by creating several innovative teaching initiatives, including the development of an interactive website called “Representing Childhood.” Grubar also works to make her class topics relevant for students, frequently introducing current news articles and examples. “As evident from your very positive student evaluations, which include discriminating comments of praise and appreciation, your commitment to teaching and creating engaging learning situations in your classroom is deeply appreciated by your students,” the Chancellor wrote.

Little has had a significant impact on the teaching mission of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. He provides valuable research opportunities in his laboratory for 10 to 15 undergraduate students, many of whom win local and national honors for their work. The lab is pursuing numerous projects, including so-called biomimetic strategies, which involve mimicking a biological interaction using a synthetic material, and the development of drug delivery systems that target certain cells. “As one of only 14 individuals nationally to be named a 2012 Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar and as a plenary speaker at the 2012 Beckman Scholars Symposium, your positive influence on the undergraduate learning experiences of your students is evident,” Nordenberg wrote in his letter to Little. 

Norman was the recipient of the Swanson School of Engineering’s 2011 Teaching Award and has been selected several times as a Faculty Honor Awardee by his industrial engineering students. Nordenberg wrote in his letter to Norman that “it is evident that students recognize your excellent teaching.” The Chancellor also noted Norman’s use of case-study data to reflect current issues, preparing students for real-world situations. In addition, Norman received support from a department-wide National Science Foundation grant to better integrate the curriculum and to design a new course titled “Unstructured Problem Solving,” which is taught by a faculty team led by Norman. “The University is proud to reward your many contributions to excellence in teaching with this award,” Nordenberg added.

Vollmer has implemented several teaching initiatives in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy, including web-based videos of clinical procedures, simulation workshops in the University’s Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation Education and Research, and modules on experimental methodology that have significantly increased the efficacy of clinical learning and education within didactic lectures. Vollmer received the student-selected 2000 Teacher of the Year Award and the 1986 Hygeia Award for Teaching. “Your commitment to teaching basic physiology and pharmacology alongside patient care applications enables your students to gain the skills they will need to be caring and effective pharmacists in a variety of clinical and research practice settings,” Nordenberg said in his letter to Vollmer.

Wells serves as the director of undergraduate studies in French and the study abroad advisor in French, both within the Department of French and Italian Languages and Literatures. His deep grasp of the French language is evidenced by his recently receiving the highest category of achievement from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages oral proficiency interview. Nordenberg, in his award-notification letter, cited Wells’ successful revision of the department’s business French course “so that students would be engaged in real-world activities such as writing a business plan and making professional presentations in French. Your students appreciate your teaching talents and consistently rate you as among the best faculty members at the University.”

Distinguished Research Award

Ashman has made significant contributions to the field of ecology and the evolution of plant productive systems, as well as evolutionary biology. She has published in many of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, including Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Evolution, Genetics, and American Naturalist. In his Feb. 7 letter to Ashman, Chancellor Nordenberg wrote that one colleague said that she exemplified “the attributes one would hope to see for attaining this honor—she has an exceptional record of achievement in research and publication that is recognized internationally.” Another colleague, the Chancellor wrote, described Ashman as “one of today’s very best plant evolutionary biologists. It would be difficult to find three peers of her stature at her career stage nationally.”  

Bodnar has led interdisciplinary collaborations to examine how exposures to factors such as diet, multivitamin use, iron deficiency anemia, vitamin D deficiency, obesity, and gestational weight gain relate to adverse birth outcomes. The award selection committee noted Bodnar’s current research on vitamin D and maternal weight, and it also cited the “rigorous and comprehensive body of research” that Bodnar has contributed to fill gaps in knowledge about the role maternal nutrition plays in adverse pregnancy outcomes. In his letter to Bodnar announcing her award, Nordenberg cited a comment from one of Bodnar’s colleagues, who wrote, “Lisa Bodnar has made exemplary research contributions and demonstrated exceptional scholarly potential. The University of Pittsburgh is very fortunate to have her on the faculty.”

Eack focuses on the development of new social-work interventions in the areas of schizophrenia and autism, with an interest in how fundamental brain mechanisms in those disorders can be enhanced through social-work interventions. Nordenberg, in his award-notification letter, wrote that the award selection committee “also noted that your work shows a sophisticated command of cutting-edge designs and statistical methods relevant to the questions and hypotheses being posed, going further by calling you a rising star in social work and psychiatric research.” The chancellor also quoted one of Eack’s colleagues, who wrote, “In reviewing his curriculum vitae, I am, quite frankly, taken aback by Dr. Eack’s productivity dating back to his pre-PhD years. Professor Eack has few peers in the field. Indeed, his CV would favorably compare with far more senior colleagues.”

Savage focuses his scholarly work on public monuments within the larger theoretical context of collective memory and identity. Shortly after its publication, his first book, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America, won the John Hope Franklin Prize for the best book published in American studies. That book explored themes of slavery and emancipation in the monument boom that occurred at the local, state, and national levels following the Civil War. Savage’s 25 years of accomplishments led to his serving as a public historian and planning commission consultant for the National Mall, as well as being asked to lend his expertise to other public monument planning projects in the United States and Europe. 

Strick is internationally recognized for his studies of the motor system of the brain. He was recently elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences and has had long-standing membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The award selection committee, Nordenberg wrote in his award-notification letter, noted Strick’s “extraordinary leadership skills, including your current service as codirector of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, codirector of the Center for Neuroscience, director of the Systems Neuroscience Institute, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center, scientific director of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, and chair of the Department of Neurobiology.” The chancellor cited a comment from one of Strick’s colleagues, who wrote, “I have only praise for Peter, a world leader in motor anatomy and physiology. He is an outstanding investigator and a world leader in systems neuroscience.”

Distinguished Public Service Award

Gruener directs the School of Law’s Family Law Clinic and has worked diligently to ensure that the clinic serves its clients and the Allegheny County Family Court system, as well as the Pitt students who offer legal services as part of a two-semester course. Nordenberg, in his letter to Gruener, praised the clinic’s breadth and mission, saying “… you have structured the Family Law Clinic to serve a high volume of pro se litigants appearing in Family Court—individuals who would not otherwise have the benefit of the advice and aid of an attorney in personal matters of great importance to them.” The chancellor added that Gruener works closely with the Family Court judges, ensuring that the clinic students’ efforts are targeted most effectively.

Shook has worked extensively on issues related to juveniles in the legal system, specifically youths being tried and sentenced as adults. Shook developed his interest in the field during law school, when he served as an intern representing youths confined to a maximum-security juvenile facility, and at the American Bar Association, where he worked on issues involving the legal representation of young people in the juvenile court system. In his award letter to Shook, Nordenberg noted Shook’s involvement “in a group of scholars, lawyers, and advocates that has created a network of individual and groups seeking to change juvenile sentencing policy. One of this network’s most significant accomplishments has been the creation of a movement aimed at reforming sentencing policy… .”