Winners of the 2017 Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Awards Announced

Issue Date: 
April 5, 2017

The Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences has selected its 2017 Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award winners — Lillian T. Chong, Gianni Downs and Alison Slinskey Legg.

The awards were established in 1998 and endowed in 2008 with a $1.5 million gift from Dietrich School alumnus David Bellet and his wife, Tina, to acknowledge, reward and encourage teachers.

Winners are chosen based on their efforts to advise and mentor undergraduates, communicate subject matter and encourage high standards in the classroom. Pitt faculty and students nominate Dietrich School professors for the award, and the winners are celebrated with an invitation-only dinner and receive a one-time cash prize of $6,000.

The 2017 awardees: 

smiling womanA Pitt faculty member since 2006, Lillian T. Chong is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry. She holds a secondary appointment in Pitt’s Department of Computational and Systems Biology and is the director of an on-campus research lab in the field of computational biophysics. Throughout her time at Pitt, Chong has actively involved undergraduates in her lab’s research, which has resulted in numerous publications in highly respected journals.

Chong enjoys teaching courses focused on complex subject matters. Engaging students in new and challenging concepts and helping them develop effective skills for problem solving and communicating abstract concepts is an aspect of her work she treasures.

“Creating a class environment for students to feel comfortable making mistakes and asking questions is essential for helping them become more confident and sophisticated learners,” said Chong. “I involve students in the lectures by posing them questions, have the students work in groups to tackle problems together, and ask students to present their answers to certain problems to the rest of the class.”

smiling manGianni Downs is a lecturer in scenic design and scenic art as well as the director of undergraduate studies within the Department of Theatre Arts. He brings nearly 20 years of theater production experience to the classroom.

Prior to arriving at Pitt in 2013, Downs worked on major stage productions across the country and taught at renowned institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University and Westminster College. He credits his successful transition from stage designer to university professor to his observations of talented faculty early in his teaching career.

“Often we are hired for our professional and academic thoughts, but the meat and potatoes of our jobs as professors is teaching,” said Downs. “My advice for novice instructors is to observe great teachers. Take their classes, look over their teaching materials, watch their lectures on YouTube. You should dedicate yourself to researching the skills and techniques of teaching, and apply those skills to your chosen field of study.” 

smiling womanAlison Slinskey Legg is the director of outreach programs for the Department of Biological Sciences. She develops and oversees a series of University-sponsored efforts to enhance public education throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania.

As a lecturer, Slinskey Legg designs and teaches such courses as Preparation for Biology. The class acts as a foundational stepping-stone for Pitt students who aspire to take more complex courses in the field. This gives Slinskey Legg an opportunity to engage with her students, the aspect of her work she most enjoys.

“I try to maintain an active learning environment and challenge students to think. I love science, and my work here at Pitt progresses my belief that science should be accessible to all students,” said Slinskey Legg. “I have the privilege of providing widespread access to current science by creating educational experiences that highlight the best of what we do here at Pitt. Every day I have a standout moment.”