Pitt Scholars & Stewards: Remembering Evelyn H. Wei’s Passion for Research

Issue Date: 
October 12, 2009
Evelyn H. WeiEvelyn H. Wei

Nearly 20 years ago, Evelyn H. Wei chose the University of Pittsburgh as her academic home. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the School of Arts and Sciences in 1993 and earned her doctorate in psychiatric epidemiology at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) in 1999. A promising young scientist, Wei was a senior researcher for the Pittsburgh Youth Study, part of UPMC’s life-history studies program at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. She had become a national expert on teenage fatherhood and violent behavior by young men.

Tragically, Wei was struck and killed by a minivan near her Regent Square home in January 2004. She was only 33 years old. Seeking to memorialize Wei’s passion for research, her parents—Donald and Yuling Wei—created an endowed scholarship in her name, the Evelyn H. Wei Scholarship Award in Epidemiology.

Fifteen people have benefited from the scholarship award since its creation in 2006. One of this past year’s recipients, doctoral candidate Allison Longenberger is studying the the role of measures of physical function and physical activities as risk factors for diabetes in HIV-infected individuals. A promising young scientist like Wei, Longenberger has maintained a nearly perfect GPA while also raising a family. “While I spend much of my free time working on my dissertation, my primary role in life is taking care of my beautiful year-old son,” she explained. “Having a family has made this scholarship even more valuable to me, and I appreciate the support it has provided.”

Yuling Wei clearly remembers her daughter lamenting how difficult it was to afford the various expenses associated with her doctoral research and education. The Weis said they hope the  scholarship will allow deserving epidemiology students to be able to concentrate on what really matters in graduate school.

“Scholarships in today’s education are extremely important,” Longenberger said. “They allow my classmates and me the freedom to focus on our research and our studies.”

Many of Wei’s colleagues and friends host a biannual fundraiser to support the scholarship award fund. Under the leadership of Pitt epidemiology professor Kim Sutton-Tyrrell, the fundraiser is held before Mother’s Day and again before the winter holidays. The events have grown exponentially over the years, both in terms of supporters and items sold. Sutton-Tyrrell makes jewelry to sell, and there are also such gifts as candles, paintings, and used books. The effort has proven to be an effective way to raise support for the scholarship, and it has also become part of the social fabric of GSPH—a wonderful way to honor Wei’s memory.