University of Pittsburgh

Phenomenal Women

Written by the Editors

The University of Pittsburgh is celebrating a remarkable occasion that offers an opportunity to reflect on the outstanding successes and accomplishments of all Pitt women. The 2008–09 academic year marks the 110th anniversary of the Stein sisters’ history-making graduation as part of the Class of 1898.

Since Pitt Magazine could never have enough pages—or volumes—to showcase adequately the exceptional achievements of Pitt women through the years, this issue relies on a few to honor the many.

The magazine has assembled a contemporary cross-section of women from the Pittsburgh campus, representing students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees. Like Stella and Margaret Stein, the women featured here are success stories, too.

Let the celebration of Pitt women begin! And may it extend far beyond Women’s History Month in March.

Stella and Margaret Stein

Sisters Stella and Margaret Stein were true pioneers, daring to tread first where others eventually would follow. Their exceptional spirit of achievement continues to be a beacon of aspiration and attainment for all Pitt women.

In 1895, after completing advanced courses at Pittsburgh’s Central High School, the Stein sisters enrolled as sophomores at the University of Pittsburgh, which then was known as the Western University of Pennsylvania.

The Steins were the first women in the University’s history to be admitted as full-time undergraduates.

By the end of their senior year, the Stein sisters were indisputable standouts in the Class of 1898. They had aced their courses and were tied—with one another, with identical grades—for first place in their graduating class. Ultimately, Stella Stein was named class valedictorian; some surmise that a coin flip determined the outcome. Several years after

completing their bachelor’s degrees, the Steins enrolled as Pitt graduate students and were among the first women to earn master’s degrees from the University.

Kathy W. Humphrey, PhD

Kathy W. Humphrey, PhD

Vice Provost and Dean of Students

Office of the Provost

University of Pittsburgh

It is not uncommon for Kathy W. Humphrey to rearrange her action-packed schedule at a moment’s notice to assist a student. As Pitt’s vice provost and dean of students, she works to create learning opportunities for undergraduates inside and outside the classroom. As a faculty member, she focuses her School of Education efforts on helping traditional-age college students find their purpose. Her staff members describe her as dynamic, passionate, energizing, inspiring, and committed. “I am someone who believes that everything can be made better,” she says.

Since her arrival at Pitt in 2005, Humphrey has initiated many innovations for students, including the establishment of the Office of Cross-Cultural and Leadership Development and Nordy’s Place recreation center in the William Pitt Union. She created the Office of Student Employment and Placement Assistance to give students a boost in securing internships and jobs, and she also played a leadership role in developing the Outside the Classroom Curriculum, a Universitywide initiative that was piloted in the fall of 2008.

Also in 2008, Humphrey received a YWCA Greater Pittsburgh Tribute to Women Leadership Award in the education category. She was one of eight women honored for their professional and volunteer work and for helping to advance the goals of YWCA—the empowerment of women and girls and the elimination of racism. Humphrey’s accomplishments have been lauded before, but her greatest personal honor so far, she says, is recognition as the 2007 Best University Administrator in her category as voted by the readers of the student newspaper, The Pitt News. She particularly cherishes this accolade from the students.

A leader, author, educator, and compassionate human being, Humphrey encourages all of us to reach our full potential. In a convocation speech, she gave this advice to freshmen: “You are in charge of your soul, which is your intellect, your will, your emotions, and your imagination. Develop your intellect. Use your will to make good choices. Develop a game plan that can help you boldly face the difficulties that may come. Take charge and develop the strongest you.”

Alberta Sbragia, PhD

Mark A. Nordenberg University Chair

Director, European Union Center of Excellence/European Studies Center

Professor of Political Science

University of Pittsburgh

Alberta Sbragia, PhD

Alberta Sbragia, PhD

Alberta Sbragia has been studying the changes in Europe for more than three decades—most of her academic career. She remembers the day when the Berlin Wall came down. She was in Brussels, Belgium, watching a television screen that glowed with images of people streaming across a once-forbidden border between West and East Germany. As a longtime political expert, she was astonished by what she saw. “It was one of those moments when you think, ‘This is truly historic,’” she says. “But no one could foresee how Europe would change.”

Now, nearly 20 years later, the direction is clearer. Sbragia, the inaugural Mark A. Nordenberg University Chair and professor of political science, is an internationally renowned expert on Europe and the European Union’s rise as a unique type of superpower. “The whole of Europe is being reshaped by the European Union,” she says.

With expertise in public policy, urban affairs, transAtlantic relations, and comparative European-American politics, Sbragia has won the respect of colleagues as well as European Union leaders. She directs the University’s European Studies Center, as well as Pitt’s European Union Center of Excellence, one of only 10 such centers nationwide designated and financially supported by the European Commission. She also is a Jean Monnet Chair ad personam, an honor bestowed by the commission upon leading American scholars whose careers exemplify excellence in teaching and research related to the European Union.

When she’s not busy teaching, writing articles and books, mentoring students, and leading two active academic centers, she’s often lecturing in cities across Europe. The continent is being transformed, she says. Sbragia wants to observe those changes up close, to see history in the making.

Helen S. Faison, PhD

Helen S. Faison, PhD

Helen S. Faison, PhD

EDUC ’46, ’55G, ’75G

Director, Pittsburgh Teachers Institute, Chatham University

Trustee, University of Pittsburgh

The week before Helen Faison graduated from Westinghouse High School, her father died, leaving her an orphan. With the help of church and community, she was given a scholarship, after-school work, a home with a generous family, and enough support for trolley tokens. The quiet, serious student was able to begin her classes at Pitt in the autumn of 1942. The support gave her something else, too: great expectations.

Faison didn’t disappoint. With a sense of duty and a graceful determination, she repaid the debt, blazing a trail of firsts as she became one of the state’s most accomplished educators.

In 1950, joining a small cadre of black teachers, Helen S. Faison was hired to teach social studies and English at Fifth Avenue High School in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. A strong believer in public education, she encouraged her students and built a highly respected career. In 1960, she became the school district’s first African American high school guidance counselor; in 1968 she became the district’s first African American and first female academic high school principal. Later, she became a deputy superintendent and the district’s highest-ranking woman. She retired from the public schools in 1993, returning in 1999 for one year as interim school superintendent, making her the first African American to lead the entire school district.

Those long-ago lessons of community continue to resonate. Faison is now director of the Pittsburgh Teachers Institute, a center for enhanced teacher training at Chatham University. The Helen S. Faison Arts Academy, in the community where she grew up, is a tribute to her ongoing legacy.

In 2006, Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg announced the creation of the Dr. Helen S. Faison Chair in Urban Education, the first fully endowed chair in the School of Education’s history. Faison, a Pitt trustee, has also been recognized by the University with an honorary doctorate, a Distinguished Alumna award, and other accolades. With respect and dignity, Faison continues to inspire others. Her father, most surely, is proud.

Angela M. Gronenborn, PhD

Angela M. Gronenborn, PhD

Angela M. Gronenborn, PhD

UPMC Rosalind Franklin Professor and Chair School of Medicine Department of Structural Biology

University of Pittsburgh

Member, National Academy of Sciences

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

German-born Angela Gronenborn loves to walk. For her, walking is a way to stimulate thinking and stay fit. As a graduate student at the University of Cologne, she walked the city. As a postdoctoral fellow and scientist in London, England, she walked to her research lab in Mill Hill. She enjoyed hiking the Alps and exploring Munich in her time at the Max Planck Institute. And she combined Metro rides with urban strolls during her years as chief of structural biology at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) near Washington, D.C.

As a leading structural biologist and expert in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, Gronenborn has a lot to think about. In her work, she uses massive magnets to decipher the structure of proteins and other biomolecules at the atomic level. Today, Gronenborn is UPMC Rosalind Franklin Professor and Chair in the School of Medicine’s Department of Structural Biology at Pitt.

“If you want to know how proteins interact with one another, you need to know their shapes and the location of their binding sites,” she says. This knowledge aids in understanding cellular processes and suggests structure-based avenues for drug development and treatment approaches. While at NIH, Gronenborn detected a way to inhibit the AIDS virus. Using magnetic fields, she unmasked the structure of a particular protein that binds to certain sugars on the virus, blocking the virus from infecting other cells. This led to a new strategy for inactivating HIV. Her group also pioneered three- and four-dimensional NMR imaging methods that reveal enormous structural detail. Gronenborn—who was elected a member of the elite National Academy of Sciences in 2007 and a fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2003—continues to decipher proteins, looking for other potential pathways to prevention and treatment of diseases.

Wherever she goes, she pursues life with European flair. Research, she says, requires as many adventurous minds as possible.

Yuan Chang, MD

Yuan Chang, MD

Yuan Chang, MD

Professor of Pathology

School of Medicine Department of Pathology

University of Pittsburgh

Cowinner, 2003 Charles S. Mott Prize

Professor Yuan Chang lives in a hilly, wooded section of Pittsburgh, not far from campus. Although the surroundings are urban, her family’s yard gets visits from deer, raccoons, and even wild turkeys. She shares this setting with her scientist husband, Patrick Moore, and the two “collaborate” to bring up their son, Jackson. They also work together in a University lab, looking for viruses that cause cancers. “To develop effective therapies and to gain a basic understanding of cancer, we need to know why some viruses evolve to cause cancers while others cause nothing worse than the common cold,” says Chang, a neuropathologist.

Many scientists have searched for such links, with few outright successes. Only seven viruses are known to cause human cancers—and two of them were found by Chang and Moore, who is a Pitt professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. In 2003, they shared the prestigious Charles S. Mott Prize for pegging KSHV, a herpes virus, as the cause of Kaposi’s sarcoma, the leading AIDS malignancy. In 2008, the Chang-Moore lab discovered that Merkel cell polyomavirus causes an aggressive skin cancer.

Chang is one of only a few scientists, and the lone woman, to have such phenomenal success in the virus-cancer field. One reason is that she and Moore developed a technique called digital transcript subtraction (DTS), which allows them to cross-compare tumor versus healthy gene sequences in the national Human Genome Project database. With DTS, they can quickly eliminate healthy genetic strands from errant strands. On very good days, they may even be able to match an errant strand with a known virus strand, a telltale breakthrough.

Chang serves on editorial boards and has received numerous awards, including the Meyenburg Foundation Award for Cancer Research, the Robert Koch Prize, and the New York Academy of Sciences’ Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology.

Although Chang is passionate about searching for the links between viruses and cancers, she also loves the broader wonders in her life—home, garden, family, and a yard full of wildlife.

Eleanor Ott

Eleanor Ott

Eleanor Ott

Class of ’09

2008 Truman Scholar

Senior, School of Arts and Sciences

Honors College University of Pittsburgh

Between classes, Pitt senior Eleanor Ott walks to a nearby high school every week to tutor refugees who’ve come to the United States seeking better lives. Patiently, she repeats English words and grammar rules, helping students to learn the tongue of their new country.

As president of the student organization FORGEPitt, she also leads other Pitt students in tutoring refugees. Ott was one of the first members of Pitt’s chapter of Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment, a national refugee advocacy organization. Through the group, Ott—a triple major in chemistry, history, and French—also has spent summers working at a refugee camp in Zambia.

Ott’s academic accomplishments, community service, and leadership won her a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a highly competitive, merit-based federal award named after President Harry S. Truman. She was one of only 65 students nationwide to receive the honor in 2008. The award provides support for the nation’s top undergraduates to attend graduate school in preparation for public service careers.

After graduate school, Ott aspires to be a United Nations protection officer in a refugee camp—a job that will allow her to use both her intellect and her compassion.

“I’ve talked with refugees who feel like the world has turned its back on them,” says Ott. “I try to give them hope and help them improve their lives. Change can only happen with resources and the belief that it is possible. It is my life’s passion to see that through.”

Agnus Berenato

Agnus Berenato

Agnus Berenato

Head Coach

Women’s Basketball

University of Pittsburgh

When Agnus Berenato arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in March 2003, the women’s basketball team had seven losing seasons in its past eight. Four years later, under her leadership, the Lady Panthers racked up the most wins in team history with a 24–9 record and earned a first-time berth in the NCAA tournament. The team ascended into the nation’s top 25 for the first time since 1979, climbing as high as 14th in the Associated Press poll after an 11–0 run. In the 2007–08 season, the team pulled off its biggest marvel yet, advancing to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Pitt women’s basketball history.

“What she’s done in a short time is nothing short of a miracle,” says Paul Zeise, a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who has covered Pitt women’s basketball for almost a decade.

Berenato has been honored twice as Pittsburgh’s Sportswoman of the Year by the Dapper Dan Charities. She makes no secret of her ambition in Pittsburgh. “I want to win a national championship,” she says, without blinking. Ultimately, though, she knows she won’t be remembered where it counts the most. “The X’s and O’s of a win-loss record are literally about 5 percent of what we do,” she says. “It is about so much more than that. It’s about helping to transform young women into better athletes, better students, and better people.” That’s what counts the most to Coach Berenato.

Jeannette South-Paul, MD

Jeannette South-Paul, MD

Jeannette South-Paul, MD

MED ’79

UPMC Andrew W. Mathieson Professor and Chair

School of Medicine

Department of Family Medicine

University of Pittsburgh

Jeannette South-Paul called her mother weekly during her years as a Pitt medical student in the 1970s. She missed her Philadelphia home. Few classmates could relate to the challenges of being a woman and second-generation African American whose family had emigrated from Jamaica. She worried about her ability to succeed. Every week, her mother urged her to keep going.

In 1979, she earned her medical degree from Pitt and served as a family doctor in the U.S. Army for 22 years, ultimately as vice president, chair of family medicine, and professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. After retiring from military service as a colonel, she returned to Pitt to become the first female chair of a Pitt medical department and the first Black female chair in the nation of a medical department at a nonhistorically Black college or university. At Pitt, she is the UPMC Andrew W. Mathieson Professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine.

In 2004, The Joy McCann Foundation named South-Paul a McCann Scholar, with a $150,000 award—the only national honor by a private foundation to recognize mentors in medicine, nursing, and science. In 2005, she was featured as one of the preeminent women doctors in U.S. history when the National Library of Medicine included her in the exhibition, Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians.

Several years ago, South-Paul spoke to freshman women at Pitt’s Lantern Night, inspiring and urging the students to succeed, just like her mother inspired her three decades earlier. South-Paul’s advice: “Remember that the difference between a successful person and one who is not is that the successful one gets up one more time than the one who fails.”

Eva Tansky Blum, JD

A&S ’70, LAW ’73

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Eva Tansky Blum

Trustee and Cochair, Building Our Future Together Capital Campaign,

University of Pittsburgh

Senior Vice President and Director of Community Affairs, PNC Bank

Chair, PNC Foundation

As a Pitt undergraduate in the late 1960s, Eva Tansky Blum was interested in politics, democracies, and how individuals could bring about positive change within the system. She studied political science and then won a scholarship to attend Pitt’s law school. “From the moment I got that scholarship, I felt that someday it would be my responsibility to make sure other students who came after me would have the same opportunities,” she says. Ever since, she has been active in helping others—at Pitt and far beyond.

Today, Blum is senior vice president and director of community affairs at PNC Bank and chair of the PNC Foundation. Her volunteer activities have supported the Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure, the Ellis School, and many other community ventures. In 1998, she received the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh Tribute to Women Leadership Award; in 1999, she was honored as one of Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business; and in 2001, she was recognized as one of the Carlow University Women of Spirit.

A recipient of the Pitt Volunteer of the Year award in 1990, Blum remains actively involved in the University. She serves as cochair of the University’s $2 billion capital campaign, along with her brother, Burton Marvin Tansky (A&S ’61), president and chief executive officer of The Neiman Marcus Group, who is a Pitt alumnus and trustee. In 2006, the Tansky siblings—including sister Shirley Gordon of Pittsburgh—established the Tansky Family Lounge in the William Pitt Union in honor of their parents.

Eva Tansky Blum also is a member of the executive committee of Pitt’s Board of Trustees; serves on the law school’s Board of Visitors; and is a life member and past president of the Pitt Alumni Association, whose Alumnae Council named her a Distinguished Alumna in 2007. She recently received the 2008 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the School of Law.

Blum learned her early Pitt lessons well. She’s a wonderful example of how individuals can, indeed, work within the system to create positive change while inspiring others to do so, too.

Gwen Watkins

Gwen Watkins

Gwen Watkins

Vice President, Steering Committee, Staff Association Council

Community Activities Coordinator

Office of Community and Governmental Affairs

University of Pittsburgh

Every day she performs acts of kindness. As the community activities coordinator for the Office of Community and Governmental Relations at Pitt, Gwen Watkins spends much of her time helping Pitt faculty and staff volunteers reach out and give back to communities near and far. She coordinates campus blood drives. She volunteers at Family House, a “home away from home” for out-of-town patients who are being treated for serious illnesses. She organizes a winter collection for the homeless to put warm socks on cold feet. As a volunteer for Project Bundle-Up, she takes youngsters shopping for brand-new clothes. With others from campus, she serves dinner to the homeless and needy to chase away the holiday blues. And, if that’s not enough, she is vice president of the steering committee and a longtime member of Pitt’s Staff Association Council, which represents all staff in matters of University governance.

For Watkins, such grace comes naturally. Her stay-at-home mom, Bertha, modeled the art of nurturing and just being there; her hardworking father, Albert, a maintenance manager, taught her the value of integrity. Inspired by those whom she calls her “women of strength”—women of faith, women who are wise, women who persevere against trial—Watkins, a breast cancer survivor, makes it her own cause to mentor young women, to help them succeed, and to show them their own strengths, just as her parents did for her.

The lessons from her century-old Baptist church urged her to take her ministry beyond its walls—and that’s what she does, every day.

Susan G. Amara, PhD

Susan G. Amara, PhD

Susan G. Amara, PhD

Thomas Detre Professor and Chair

School of Medicine Department of Neurobiology

Codirector, Center for Neuroscience

University of Pittsburgh

Member, National Academy of Sciences

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

As a child, Susan Amara loved to explore her family’s garden. Her natural curiosity led her to extract liquids from plants and to corral bugs for study. Once, she wanted to pull up her bedroom carpet to build a chemistry lab, but her mother intervened. Years later, Amara’s curiosity and creativity are the cornerstones of her pioneering science.

In junior high school, she was influenced by a field trip to a pharmaceutical company and became interested in pharmacology. After undergraduate studies at Stanford University, she completed her PhD in physiology and pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego, and soon joined the faculty at Yale as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow and, in time, a senior investigator.

In the late 1980s, her Yale University lab was the first to clone the norepinephrine transporter, one of many molecules that regulate the brain’s chemical activity. Since then, her work has produced significant insights into brain chemical transporters, with implications for impairments like addiction and degenerative brain conditions.

“We’ve benefited greatly by looking at things in a different way,” says Amara, who joined the Pitt faculty in 2003 and is now Thomas Detre Professor and chair of the School of Medicine’s neurobiology department. “When you’re not encumbered by preconceived notions, you notice things.” She also holds a secondary appointment as professor of pharmacology and is codirector of the University’s Center for Neuroscience.

Amara has received a number of coveted awards and fellowships, among them the 1992 Young Investigator Award from the Society for Neuroscience, the 1993 John J. Abel Award from The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, an investigator award from The McKnight Foundation, a 1997 MERIT Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the 2006 Julius Axelrod Award from the Catecholamine Club. She was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 2004 and, in 2007, was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her outstanding contributions to neuroscience.

And…it all began with a youngster full of curiosity in a family garden.

Amy Krueger Marsh, MBA

Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer

Office of Budget & Controller

University of Pittsburgh

Amy Krueger Marsh, MBA

Amy Krueger Marsh, MBA

Amy Krueger Marsh remembers grappling with new math techniques as an 8-year-old student at Starr Elementary School in Oregon, Ohio. Her father sat her down and told her, in no uncertain terms, that she would learn them. She did.

Today, as Pitt’s treasurer and chief investment officer, Marsh is responsible for managing Pitt’s substantial financial assets, which have benefited significantly from her leadership during her nine years at the University.

“She’s always very independent minded,” says Arthur G. Ramicone, Pitt’s vice chancellor for budget and controller.She does her homework and makes up her own mind about whether an investment opportunity is the right opportunity for the University of Pittsburgh.”

One day last spring, Marsh was tying up loose ends before flying to London, England, to meet with global fund managers. Although it is not unusual for a woman to head an endowment or foundation, the investment managers Marsh deals with more often are men. She spends a lot of time traveling each academic year, meeting with fund managers and other financial leaders around the nation and the globe.

Yet she doesn’t feel like a trailblazer for women’s rights. That pioneering work was performed a long time ago, Marsh says. “I find that investing cuts across gender, ethnicity, age, and other cultural or physical characteristics. People instead are looking for intellect, insights, and ideas.”

Whether she is serving as a role model for her two daughters or for other women, Marsh believes the best way for her to set a good example is to excel at her work: “The greatest measure of success is being passionate about the path you have chosen.”

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