Pitt’s 2023 Faculty Honors Convocation on Thursday, March 16 honored high-achieving faculty in several categories, for the effort and creativity they put into research and teaching. Faculty from every school and discipline across the University community were recognized for work in virology and organ transplants, astronomy, chemistry and material science, engineering, history, and filmmaking, and far more. The roll call of the achievements of Pitt faculty make for a long, impressive list – that is inevitably incomplete. (See the full list of awardees.)
The ceremony marked the second year that Pitt held separate convocations for faculty, undergraduate student, and graduate students. “The opportunity to focus on the absolutely outstanding accomplishments of our faculty and students in this way really gives us time to share in their achievements and to celebrate them more fully,” explained Provost Ann Cudd, who presented awards for undergraduate and graduate student advising.
The Convocation carried a bittersweet undertone. Provost Cudd and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher are stepping down from their roles. This was their last convocation as presenters as part of the University leadership. Provost Cudd has accepted the provost position at the University of Oregon; Chancellor Gallagher will remain at Pitt as a professor of physics.
Pitt Board Chair Doug Browning began the ceremonies by focusing on the faculty’s role in helping shape the lives of students. “We exist because of our students, and you faculty are the linchpin,” said Browning. “You create life-long lessons every day.”
The Chancellor’s Distinguished Awards were presented in the categories of public service, teaching, and junior and senior faculty research. Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, recognized 25 faculty who have been appointed to distinguished professorships and endowed chairs. While 20 of the appointees are in the School of Medicine, Shekhar emphasized that Pitt faculty contribute outstanding contributions in many fields on a global scale in chemistry, engineering, English, business and medicine.
“They are chemists discovering and developing new materials for practical applications in our daily lives, and they are mechanical engineers applying their knowledge to better understand vascular disease and brain aneurysms,” he said. “They are internationally recognized business experts and award-winning filmmakers.”
Senior Vice Chancellor for Research Rob A. Rutenbar presented awards recognizing 41 faculty who received prestigious national and international awards from outside the university. He emphasized the importance of the entire range of scholarship at Pitt, their work with students and collaboration within communities – and that external financial support is not the way to measure the importance of academic work.
National and international prestigious awards represent recognition by peers for research, scholarship, and creativity, represented by almost every school at Pitt and one regional campus, at every career stage.
But Rutenbar, whose background is engineering, said, “This year, they are not just numbers,” he said. “They’re global bragging rights.”
For the first time this past fiscal year, Pitt surpassed $1 billion in research expenditures for external awards – putting the University at number 15 in an elite group of American universities.
“Think about that,” Rutenbar asked the audience. “Yes, it’s a big dollar figure. But more important is what it represents – recognition of the work that has gone into cultivating some of the most outstanding researchers in the world. That one big number is made up of the cumulative efforts of Pitt researchers -- the work the long hours of hard work each person in this room does every day.”
A few highlights of the Faculty Convocation awards:
- Aidan Wright, professor of psychology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences won a Chancellor’s Junior Researcher Award and was recognized for an American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for work on stability and fluidity in human personality.
- In what Rutenbar described as an astounding double play, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering Tabgo Niepa won both an NIH New Innovator Award and an NSF CAREER Award.
- Distinguished Professor Rory Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, was recognized for being named to the National Inventors Hall of Fame for work on wheelchair technology.
- Assistant professor of history Alaina E. Roberts was recognized not only for receiving the W. Turrentine Jackson Award from the Western History Association for her book I've Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land, but also for being a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
- The Department of Physics & Astronomy was called out for several honors, including assistant professor Rachel Bezanson for receiving an NSF CAREER Award for studies of massive galaxies, and assistant professor Evan Schneider for winning a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering for her groundbreaking software code to simulate complex astronomical events. The award made Schneider the first person from Pitt’s astronomy department and the first woman from Pitt to win a Packard Fellowship.
- Dean of the School of Education Valerie Kinloch was recognized for being elected president of the National Council of Teachers of English, recognizing both her exceptional research and leadership work strengthening Pitt’s commitments to urban education, equity and justice, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement.
- Rob A. Rutenbar was not only a presenter but an honoree for winning the 2021 “SIGDA Pioneering Achievement Award” from the Association for Computing Machinery.
- Afonso Silva, recognized as Endowed Chair in Translational Neuroimaging, recently received a $6.8 million NIH grant to create an ultra-high-resolution molecular atlas of the human brain along with colleagues from Pitt and CMU.
- Infectious disease expert Dimiter “Mitko” Dimitrov was recognized as Distinguished Professor of Medicine. Shekar called out that Dimitrov had been named one of 10 “Science Superheroes” during the COVID-19 pandemic for work in monoclonal antibodies.