Professors Win Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers

Issue Date: 
February 29, 2016

President Barack Obama has named four University of Pittsburgh professors as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

A total of 105 researchers from across the nation will receive the honor this year. Pitt leads the nation—tied with MIT and the University of California, Berkeley—in its number of Presidential Early Career Awards.

The Pitt awardees are Tina Goldstein, associate professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine; Ervin Sejdic, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering, Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering; Elizabeth Skidmore, associate professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; and Cynthia Puranik, former associate professor of communication science and disorders, for work done while she was at the University.

Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. The awards are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. 

Tina Goldstein

Tina Goldstein

Goldstein’s work focuses on the assessment and psychosocial treatment of youth with or at risk for bipolar disorder, with a particular interest in suicide prevention in this population. 

A graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder, where she earned her PhD in clinical psychology in 2003, Goldstein relocated to Pittsburgh, where she completed the Clinical Psychology Internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. She also completed a federally funded postdoctoral fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry. Goldstein joined the department’s faculty in 2006 and was appointed director of Psychotherapy for Pediatric Mood Disorders in January 2014. She has played an important role in training interns, residents, postdoctoral fellows, and medical students in that area.

Goldstein has collaborated on more than 60 peer-reviewed publications in high-impact journals, as well as numerous book chapters. She is co-author of a book on the treatment of depressed and suicidal youth. She is also a popular lecturer who has presented her work at conferences and meetings in the United States, Turkey, Italy, and Canada.

“I am deeply honored by this recognition,” she says. “The award serves to further reinforce my commitment to the critically important investment in the mental health of America’s youth through clinically relevant research. I share this award with the many generous and wise mentors, collaborators, and students with whom I have been privileged to work—their efforts have made this work possible.”

Ervin Sejdic

Ervin SejdicDuring his undergraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario, Sejdic specialized in wireless communications, while his PhD project there focused on signal processing. From 2008 until 2010, Sejdic was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering with a cross-appointment at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation teaching hospital. During his postdoctoral fellowship, Sejdic focused on rehabilitation engineering and biomedical instrumentation. He was also a research fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School with a cross-appointment at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he focused on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular monitoring of older diabetic adults.

“After receiving the announcement, I was speechless for a few minutes,” Sejdic says. “I didn’t have words to describe my excitement and my honor. It is a great honor for me, and especially a strong acknowledgement of my scientific work. I am extremely grateful to all my mentors, my colleagues, and my students. Without them, I would not be able to achieve this award.”

From his earliest exposure to research, Sejdic says he has been eager to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge. He has coauthored more than 90 publications over the past five years. Sejdic’s research interests include biomedical signal processing, gait analysis, swallowing difficulties, advanced information systems in medicine, rehabilitation engineering, assistive technologies, and anticipatory medical devices.

Elizabeth Skidmore

Elizabeth SkidmoreSkidmore’s research focuses on interventions to promote independence and community re-engagement after stroke and other forms of brain injury. She says that individuals with brain injury frequently experience cognitive impairments that contribute to significant long-term disability. These individuals may have difficulty with simple activities such as bathing, dressing, or walking, as well as more complex activities such as managing their homes or completing school or work-related activities. Skidmore’s National Institutes of Health-funded work has identified rehabilitation treatments that can be started within a few days after brain injury onset and are associated with significant reductions in long-term disability. These treatments have been developed and tested within six of the inpatient rehabilitation units in the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute. The next phase of her research program will be to study a widescale implementation of these treatments in selected rehabilitation centers outside the region.

“I am incredibly honored and pleased to see rehabilitation science, particularly occupational therapy science, receive such prestigious recognition,” she says. Skidmore earned her master’s degree in occupational therapy and PhD in rehabilitation science at Pitt.

Cynthia Puranik

Now on the faculty of Georgia State University, Puranik’s research focuses on early writing development, and she explores various research pathways in understanding the emergence of writing in children as it relates to human development and education.