Chancellor’s annual awards for faculty announced

Sixteen faculty members were honored recently with the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service, Research and Teaching awards, which each carry a $2,000 prize and $3,000 grant to support the work of the recipients:

Distinguished Public Service Awards

Betty Braxter: associate professor; associate dean for Undergraduate Education, Health Promotion and Development; School of Nursing

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, Harries has improved safety by helping develop 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; director, David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership

Working with Thread International, Jones has established a partnership benefiting both the company and Pitt students. Jones also coaches fourth-grade boys basketball, teaches at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and travels with students applying their business skills to improve underserved communities.

Christi Kolarcik: research faculty, Department of Neurobiology, School of Medicine

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

Jules Lobel: professor, School of Law

In partnership with the ACLU, 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.

Distinguished Research Awards


Daniel Buysse: professor of Psychiatry and Clinical and Translational Science, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine

Buysse was honored for his outstanding record of research and academic activity over 35 years. He 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

Conley played a role in shaping the interface between genomics and nursing. She 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 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.


Maria Chikina: assistant professor, Computational and Systems Biology, School of Medicine

Chikina was honored 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. Her 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, Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences

Gill-Peterson has 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, Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences

Peng Liu received an award 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.

Distinguished Teaching Awards

Salah Al-Zaiti: associate professor, Acute and Tertiary Care, School of Nursing

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, Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences

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, Dietrich School of Arts & 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, 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; School of Medicine

Spagnoletti led 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.

— From @PITT