Outstanding Faculty Receive Chancellor’s Distinguished Awards

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher honored 16 faculty members with the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service, Research and Teaching awards, which carry a $2,000 prize and $3,000 grant to support the work of the following recipients:

Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Awards

Betty Braxter
Associate Professor; Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Health Promotion and Development; School of Nursing

Betty Braxter dedicates her career to the care of disadvantaged girls and young women and has served with the Gwendolyn J. Elliott Institute Advisory Committee; Strong Women, Strong Girls; the Pittsburgh Public Schools mentoring program for sixth-grade girls; and the North Side Urban Pathway School. Under Braxter’s guidance, Pitt Nursing students gain experience in community environments like the Allegheny County Health Department's maternal-child program, the Community Engagement Center in Homewood and UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital's Womancare Birth Center.

Kent Harries
Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering

On a national and international scale, Kent Harries has improved safety through involvement in the development of building codes and standards. Harries’ work in the field of bamboo engineering in particular promises to lead to safer and more durable housing for the billion people worldwide that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates live in bamboo housing.

Ray Jones
Clinical Professor of Business Administration; Mehta Family Faculty Fellow; Director, David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership; Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business; Coordinator, Certificate Program in Leadership and Ethics

Working with Thread International, Ray Jones has established a partnership benefting both the company and Pitt students. Jones demonstrates a commitment to long-term community partnerships by coaching fourth-grade boys basketball, teaching at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and traveling with students applying their business skills to improve underserved communities.

Christi Kolarcik
Research Faculty, Department of Neurobiology, School of Medicine

Christi Kolarcik was recognized for her work in research and advocacy on behalf of people who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). On a yearly basis, Kolarcik has lobbied legislators in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., to garner support for legislation providing ALS patients access to speech-generating devices, and the relationships she has fostered within the ALS community have ensured that students have the opportunity to engage with patients.

Jules Lobel
Professor and Bessie McKee Walthour Endowed Chair, School of Law

In partnership with the ACLU, Jules Lobel worked to challenge a police ban on demonstrations during the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Additionally, Lobel helped protect Occupy Pittsburgh’s right to engage in public protests; represented community organizations seeking a referendum on whether their local governments should prohibit fracking; advocated on behalf of prisoners in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in California; and challenged the practice at other prisons in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Awards

Senior Scholars

Daniel Buysse
UPMC Endowed Chair in Sleep Medicine, Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical and Translational Science, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine

Daniel Buysse was honored in the Senior Scholar category for his outstanding record of research and academic activity over 35 years. Buysse helped shape the field of sleep medicine, including influencing how insomnia is diagnosed, assessed, understood and treated. Buysse developed some of the most widely used measurement tools in sleep research, and studied the neurobiology of insomnia, sleep and circadian rhythms and self-reported measures of sleep.

Yvette Conley
Professor, Vice Chair for Research, School of Nursing

Yvette Conley was honored in the Senior Scholar category for the role she played in shaping the interface between genomics and nursing. Conley was the first geneticist appointed in a nursing school to infuse genomics into nursing sciences, and she is a leader in molecular genetics.

Yan Dong
Professor, Department of Neuroscience

Yan Dong was honored in the Senior Scholar category for the degree to which his findings have evolved from empirical foundations to a broad theoretical perspective on drug addiction. Dong’s work revolutionized the mechanistic understanding of drug addiction, and his peers regard him as one of the best neuroscientists in his field.

Junior Scholars

Maria Chikina
Assistant Professor, Computational and Systems Biology, School of Medicine

For the impact her original statistical approaches are having on the analysis of large-scale biological datasets—especially those generated by current genome-scale experimental methods—Maria Chikina received an award in the Junior Scholar category. Chikina’s work demonstrates a clear, unifying theme in her drive to understand the generative process of the dataset in question, use that understanding to guide the design of computational analysis and ultimately gain further insight into the generative process.

Jules Gill-Peterson
Assistant Professor, Children’s Literature Certificate Program, Department of English, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Jules Gill-Peterson was honored in the Junior Scholar category for how she leveraged research to uncover the history of the transgender child. Gill-Peterson successfully contested the notion that children only recently have been identified as transgender and recognized that idea as a means of discrediting and infantilizing trans youth.

Peng Liu
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Peng Liu received an award in the Junior Scholar category for the impact of his use of computational tools on the understanding of transition metal-catalyzed organic reactions. Liu’s insights have guided the experimental development of more efficient catalysts.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Awards

Salah Al-Zaiti
Associate Professor, Acute and Tertiary Care, School of Nursing

Salah Al-Zaiti leads a core ECG lab that recruited more than 2,000 patients from Pittsburgh EMS system and has developed courses in response to the needs of both students and the acute and tertiary care fields. Since joining Pitt in 2013, he has served as a key member of scientific investigative teams on nine research projects contributing to the development and implementation of research protocols, processing ECG data streams and performing longitudinal statistical data analyses. 

Jeff Aziz
Senior Lecturer, Department of English Literature Program, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Jeff Aziz redesigned the Literature Program, developing initiatives that encourage faculty to combine critical analysis with hands-on activities, and played an integral role in creating the proposed medical humanities certificate. Aziz directs and teaches in the Pitt Panther Programs study abroad program, and served as a founding member of Humanities at Pitt and on the Dietrich School Humanities Council.

Jennifer Cousins
Lecturer II, Department of Psychology, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

In addition to engaging undergraduate teaching assistants in designing curriculum and testing teaching innovations, Jennifer Cousins also provides undergraduates with the opportunity to learn general research skills. Cousins’ research interests include emotion regulation and social and biological changes of sleep during development.

David Sanchez
Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering

In addition to leading the innovation and entrepreneurship program in the Swanson School and various sustainability and study abroad programs, David Sanchez’s use of active project-based learning techniques resulted in classes regularly filled to capacity. Sanchez has presented on such topics as academic integrity and student engagement, motivation and outcomes.

Carla Spagnoletti
Professor of Medicine; Director of Academic Clinician-Educator Scholars Fellowship in General Internal Medicine; Director of Masters and Certificate Programs in Medical Education, Institute for Clinical Research Education; School of Medicine

Carla Spagnoletti leads the master’s degree and certificate programs in medical education, which have become the premier medical education degree programs in the nation. Her research interest focuses on patient-doctor communication, the patient experience and professional development.

  • Recognized with the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award are (from left to right, top to bottom): Betty Braxter, Kent Harries, Ray Jones, Christi Kolarcik and Jules Lobel.
  • Recognized with Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Awards in the Senior Scholars category are (top row, from left): Daniel Buysse, Yvette Conley and Yan Dong. In the Junior Scholars category are (bottom row, from left): Maria Chikina, Jules Gill-Peterson and Peng Liu.
  • Recognized with Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Awards were (from left to right, top to bottom): Salah Al-Zaiti, Jeff Aziz, Jennifer Cousins, David Sanchez and Carla Spagnoletti.