Saxena, Skrzycki Win 2012 Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Awards

Issue Date: 
February 6, 2012
Sunil SaxenaSunil Saxena
Cynthia SkrzyckiCynthia Skrzycki

The University of Pittsburgh Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences has named Sunil Saxena, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Cynthia Skrzycki, a senior lecturer in the Department of English, winners of the 2012 Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award. The Bellet Award recipients will be honored during a by-invitation-only dinner at 6 p.m. April 5 in Pitt’s University Club.

The Bellet Awards were established in 1998 and endowed in 2008 with a $1.5 million gift from Dietrich School alumnus David Bellet (A&S ’67) and his wife, Tina, to recognize outstanding and innovative undergraduate teaching in the Dietrich School. A committee appointed by the Dietrich School associate dean for undergraduate studies evaluates teaching skills based on student teaching and peer evaluations, student testimonials, and dossiers submitted by the nominees. Full-time faculty members who have taught in the Dietrich School during the past three years are eligible. Each award recipient receives a cash prize. Saxena joined the University in 2001. Previously, he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1999 to 2001. From 1997 to 1999, he was a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology.

Saxena’s work includes the development of pulsed electron spin resonance (ESR) methods and their application to otherwise inaccessible problems in biophysics and materials sciences. Through the use of ESR, Saxena and his team have been able to produce rich information about the electronic, structural, and dynamic properties of various types of molecules, including organic, inorganic, biological, solid state, and surface molecular species.

Additionally, Saxena’s lab creates methods to measure the precise distance between two units in a protein in order to determine the protein’s folding patterns— the ways in which a protein assumes its functional shape—and conformational dynamics. These studies could provide insight into allergies or diseases, as allergies are actually caused by the misfolding of proteins, and the immune system does not produce antibodies for certain protein structures. Saxena’s group is continuing to develop applications of these spectroscopic rulers, including capturing the essence of structural changes—such as misfolding—in proteins.

From 2004 to 2009, Saxena was selected to participate in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program, which is the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars” through outstanding research, education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their institutions. Saxena’s research has been featured in many publications, among them Applied Magnetic Resonance, Biochemical Journal, and Biophysical Journal.

Saxena earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi, India, and his Master of Science degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. He earned his PhD in chemistry from Cornell University.

Skrzycki joined Pitt’s Department of English in 2004. Under her guidance, Pitt students have landed internships with such organizations as Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Washington Post, CBS, CNN, NPR, Congressional Quarterly, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and U.S. News & World Report.

Skrzycki is also a business correspondent for GlobalPost. com, a news service based in Boston. Prior to joining Global Post in 2009, she was a business columnist for Bloomberg News.

Skrzycki was on staff at The Washington Post for 18 years, covering federal regulatory issues, management, and technology. Her special expertise in federal regulation and lobbying led to her writing a weekly column titled “The Regulators” for more than a decade.

Before joining The Washington Post, Skrzycki was an associate business editor at U.S. News & World Report, specializing in transportation issues, and a Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star- Telegram, where she covered the gamut of business topics. She also worked in the Washington bureau of Fairchild News Service, covering the steel industry, and was a business writer for The Buffalo News.

Skrzycki is the author of the book The Regulators: The Anonymous Power Brokers Who Shape Your Life (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003).

Last year, she was among 15 women in the media honored by the Women and Girls Foundation for “leading the way in print, radio, PR, TV, film, and on the Internet, and those utilizing multiple media to promote and amplify the voices of women and girls.”

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Skrzycki is an honors graduate of Canisius College, where she was a member of the DiGamma Honor Society. Skrzycki holds a master’s degree in public affairs and journalism from American University in Washington, D.C. A former two-term member of Canisius College’s board of trustees, she also is a board member of the Three Rivers Youth Orchestra in Pittsburgh and a former member of The Pitt News Advisory Board.