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Four Faculty Honored with 2019 Provost Awards for Excellence in Mentoring

At a reception held April 15 in the William Pitt Union, four faculty members were honored with the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring, which recognizes faculty members who demonstrate outstanding mentoring of graduate students seeking research doctorate degrees with a citation and $2,500.

The 2019 recipients are:

William Layton
Professor, Department of Mathematics, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Layton, whose research involves novel algorithms, models and analysis aimed at understanding fluid motion, has published three research books and more than 160 refereed papers. Additionally, he has advised numerous student researchers and directed 31 doctoral students. Many of his doctoral students have themselves won awards for their high-quality thesis research and gone on to tenure track positions at research universities where they are teaching students producing excellent work.

“My mentoring philosophy is the same as my teaching philosophy and the same as my research philosophy: Act to contribute to human flourishing,” Layton wrote of his approach in a response to the award. He said at the reception that he gives his students the “problems the leaders in the field are scared to work on.”

John Markoff
Professor, Department of Sociology, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Markoff’s research concerns the theory of democratization, considered as a multi-continental process across several centuries. He has done work on the French Revolution as well as written on Latin American politics, and his work has been included in numerous publications. His scholarship has motivated students to explore difficult problems and to formulate their own research topics; his students have gone on to accomplished careers as entrepreneurs, researchers and faculty members.

In remarks at the reception, Markoff took the opportunity to recognize one of his own academic mentors early in his Pitt career: Burkart Holzner, former director of the University Center for International Studies, who in his final collaborative book discussed shared voyages of discovery. “That can describe my own view of the scholarship in which I’ve engaged and describes as well what I like to pass on to my students who shared part of their own voyage with me,” said Markoff.

Michael Sayette
Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Psychology, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Sayette serves as supervising faculty for the Alcohol and Smoking Research Laboratory, where his research interest focus on the psychological theories of alcohol use and abuse as well as cigarette craving. His research has been included in such publications as Addiction and American Psychologist, and his students have gone on to become accomplished faculty members, skilled clinicians and high-ranking personnel in private industry.

In accepting his award, Sayette also alluded to journeys, noting that they were more important than destinations. He also spoke about the idea that continued learning keeps the mind — and life — fresh. “Looking through the eyes of students is to be continually renewed,” he said.

George (Chien-Cheng) Tseng
Professor, Department of Biostatistics, Graduate School of Public Health

With research in biostatistics, human genetics and computational and systems biology, as well as a focus on statistical applications of genomics and bioinformatics, Tseng leads a team of doctoral students at the Bioinformatics and Statistical Learning Group lab, which he established in 2008. The lab’s work has been published in such journals as Statistica Sinica, Translational Psychiatry and Human Pathology.

“In early years, I learned to prioritize what’s important,” Tseng said. “The earlier stage, there are fewer students. At that time, I had less experience so I was more focused on daily routine and how to get things done. But later I think I could pay more attention to their long-term career development — their unique personalities and their interests — and really motivate them.”