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 June 2002
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Another Dimension

The audience members settle into their seats in the auditorium. With cardboard 3-D glasses perched atop their noses, they wait for the house lights to dim. Suddenly, the screen comes alive with a giant…lysozyme molecule? Oooh…scary.

(John Fedele photo)
These folks aren’t here to see a thriller, but a powerful teaching tool. It’s the new 3-D classroom in a remodeled Chevron Science Center lecture hall.

As children of the 1950s know, projecting 3-D images isn’t new. What’s new is the technology that allows instructors to create computer models of structures, show them to an audience, and rotate or enlarge them at will, says chemistry professor Chris Schafmeister. It’s a big step forward from flat 2-D images drawn on chalkboards or slides. In chemistry, for instance, students are often puzzled by “right-handed” or “left-handed” molecules; these have the same chemical composition, but behave differently depending on how the atoms are arranged.

“Take thalidomide,” Schafmeister says, projecting two molecules onto the screen. “The compound on the right prevents morning sickness. The compound on the left causes birth defects.” On a flat surface, it can be difficult for students to tell the difference, but in 3-D, “the pattern structure is much easier to appreciate.”
—Jason Togyer


Marshall Scholar

It’s no wonder that Alec Stewart, dean of the Honors College, thought Carrie Ann Theisen would be perfect for a Marshall Scholarship. Most students find one academic major creates a demanding workload. Theisen, a senior, is a quadruple major: German, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology.

Her love of language proved to be a barrier when applying for the prize. She tried to pare down a 3,000-word essay to the 1,000-word limit, clinging to her precious words, fearing she would lose the one award-winning idea. She also had to search for a university in the United Kingdom that had a graduate program in artificial intelligence, which Theisen considers a kind of 21st century extension of communication and a way to blend her four majors.

Subsisting on a few hours of sleep a day, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to complete the application on time without neglecting her studies. She pulled it off, but just barely; an Honors College staffer drove the application to the post office on the deadline day.

A few months later there was a voice with a British accent on her answering machine. The message had her jumping up and down, and shouting with joy. She had secured an interview.

Honors College staffers gave her some advice. They told her the interview would be tough, read up on Tony Blair’s The Third Way, wear a suit with a scarf....

The interview—in a tony Manhattan apartment with five or so Marshall Scholar Committee members—lasted only 20 minutes. Theisen was worried she hadn’t made a great impression because they only asked her questions about herself, not about scholarly topics such as world politics or history.

The stressful day didn’t end after the interview. Her return flight to Pittsburgh was canceled, stranding her in a hotel room. No one knew where she was until she finally got in touch with her boyfriend.

“You know the committee thought you were an extraordinary young woman,” he told her.

“What? How would you know?” she asked.

“Oh, you got it.”

In October, the Marshall Scholar will attend the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, to pursue an MA in artificial intelligence.
—Meghan Holohan


Honored Dogs

For decades, Pitt students have feasted at the Original Hot Dog Shop. They must have good taste. Gourmet Magazine recently ranked the Oakland institution’s dogs fourth best in the country. Owner Sidney Simon never imagined his place would be such a phenomenon: “In 1960, when the Pirates were still there [at Forbes Field], we were only a block away, and we thought it would be natural to have a hot dog shop by the stadium.” He adds that it’s unbelievable—though not that unusual—for people from all over the country to stop in for one of his beef- and pork-blended franks, which are charbroiled to seal in extra flavor.
—MH


Honorable Mention

A study lounge that’s not much bigger than an elevator. A tiny classroom with worn leather chairs. A disarrayed bookcase. A clutch of offices.

Amidst this academic clutter on the 35th floor of the Cathedral of Learning, Honors College students try to study, hold club meetings, catch up on gossip, or meet with advisors to discuss their future. Things such as magazines are stacked wherever there is room, and people are all over the place. “Where can I find information about studying abroad?” one student asks as he paces around a large table in the center of the room, picking up anything that looks like it might yield an answer. Meanwhile, two girls by the entrance chatter about a party as bursts of excited conversations waft out of the offices.

Artist’s rendering of new Honors College.
A stream of students flows continuously in and out of the packed space, making it difficult to study. People could use the classroom, which allegedly holds 15 students, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to be there in warm weather—there is no air conditioning and it’s stuffy even on mild days.

In essence, the facilities of the Honors College have been less than honorable. That is about to change. The University doubled the college’s space. The 36th floor will house the administrative offices, leaving the 35th floor devoted solely to students. Once the renovation is complete, the lower floor will include a reading room, seminar room, student advisory offices, and several student organization offices. Also, walls that have been covering three-story gothic windows will come down, unveiling a panoramic view of Oakland and beyond.
—MH


Presidential Challenge

A storybook campus belied tough straits at the Maryland college. Key jobs were unfilled. Enrollment was slipping. Balancing the books in recent years meant tapping the school’s endowment. And now, tiny Hood College[*] in Frederick was looking for its third president in as many years.

Ronald J. Volpe with his wife, Lin, and their daughter, Stephanie
Two states away, Ronald J. Volpe[*] had settled into a comfortable administrative career at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. During the last decade, Capital’s endowment tripled while enrollment ballooned 34 percent. At Capital, he’d worked his way up the ranks—professor of business administration, dean of the graduate school, vice-president of academic affairs, and interim president. The 55-year-old Volpe, who received his PhD at Pitt (Edu ’80), was now provost. After more than three decades in higher education, Volpe promised wife Lin and daughter Stephanie they wouldn’t move again. Life was good.

But then came the phone call last summer from Hood College. Would he be interested in the challenge of his life? He got his family’s okay and didn’t wait until the start of the workweek to give the liberal arts college his decision. He accepted the presidency on a Sunday morning.

Asked why he took the job, Volpe offers the old saw about enjoying a good challenge. But that’s a little like dismissing calculus as just math.

He asked Hood’s trustees for patience—and a little prayer. He also told them something else. “We have to turn this around quickly.”

Volpe didn’t waste time. The day after accepting the job, he scrambled to find a dean of admissions, vice president of academic affairs, and vice president of finance. Oh yeah, he needed an office manager, too. All the key slots were filled before his first day on the job. He squeezed in his first meeting with the college’s board of trustees the day before his inauguration last October.

Volpe has been president of Hood now for less than a year, two or three years too soon to tell if the college has turned the corner. In the meantime, Volpe is a human whirlwind in securing the future of the 109-year-old college. Meeting with prospective students and establishing a strategic plan for the college are among the tasks crowded into his daily schedule.

Some in the administration say there’s a new spirit at Hood, an enthusiasm among staff and students not seen in years.
—Kris B. Mamula


Rebirth

A bushel of acorns is a good start when planting an oak tree forest. That’s the comparison Astro Teller uses to describe the Pittsburgh region’s potential to become the Silicon Valley of biotechnology. But gathering acorns is not enough, says Teller, who is co-founder and CEO of Bodymedia, a Pittsburgh biotech firm that counts UPMC Health System among its partners. Also needed is state and private investment, he says.

Pitt and Carnegie Mellon universities are teaming up to help make that vision a reality by creating the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse[*]. The 10-year, $600 million proposal would help fund new labs, office buildings, and provide help for biotechnology entrepreneurs, like Teller. Funding is expected to come from private and public sources, including a $33 million state grant announced this spring.
—Kris B. Mamula


Campus Newsmakers

Starmack
Can you put a price on education? The Milken Family Foundation did. They gave Thomas Starmack, principal of the Pittsburgh area’s South Allegheny High School[*] and a Pitt School of Education graduate, the National Educator Award, worth $25,000. Starmack did not expect the prestigious award when he attended what he thought was a routine assembly. Students, holding placards spelling out the amount of the award, were as excited as Starmack, suggesting that sometimes a caring student body is payment enough.
Thomas

Minority Access, Inc., based in Hyattsville, Maryland, recently honored Stephen B. Thomas at its national role models conference. Thomas is the director of the Center for Minority Health and the Philip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Social Justice, a joint appointment in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health and the School of Social Work. He was recognized for his efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities by encouraging minorities to participate in biomedical research.

After September 11, the lines among private, public, and nonprofit organizations blurred. Carolyn Ban, dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, addressed this issue in her inaugural speech when she assumed the presidency of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, an institutional membership organization.


Appointments

It’s a perfect fit. The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) recently appointed Associate Professor of Surgery David Bartlett, an oncologist from the National Cancer Institute, as chief of the division of surgical oncology. Bartlett’s innovative treatment techniques, which gave abdominal and liver cancer patients an improved quality of life, complement UPCI’s mission of giving cancer patients—who feel like they have nowhere to turn—new options.

The Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) probably wasn’t taking any chances when they chose Bernard Goldstein to become the president-elect of the international organization. SRA is a group of scientists who focus on environmental risk analysis. Goldstein is dean of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.

There is a new threesome on Pitt’s Board of Trustees. Michael A. Bryson and Catherine D. DeAngelis were elected to serve as trustees on the board. Rounding out the trio is Richard Simmons, elected to serve as emeritus trustee.


Research Periscope

East met West when Pitt’s Asian Studies Program (ASP) received a four-year, $1.7 million grant from the Freedman Foundation. The grant will fund a program called “Undergraduate Asian Studies Funding Initiative,” which will strengthen Asian awareness throughout the University and the Pittsburgh community. The grant will be used to enhance Asian programming and resources, increase instruction in the ASP classes, and offer study-abroad scholarships to students.

Feng Wang

Feng Wang is making a splash in the world of science. The PhD candidate in Pitt’s chemistry department is one of two winners of the 2001 Graduate Students Awards in Computational Chemistry, given out by the American Chemical Society. Wang’s research in how excess electrons interact with water molecules snagged him the award, which is open to graduate students worldwide.


Song and Dance

The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC, swelled with the light notes of a piano as fourth-year Pitt student Missa Haas performed at the famous venue. Haas, who is majoring in the natural sciences, music, and interdisciplinary research, won the Panasonic Young Soloists Award, which gives artists with disabilities opportunities to express their creativity.

Second-year Pitt student Lisa Zini, a business major, tapped her way onstage at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. Zini danced with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marvin Hamlisch, after besting 400 other performers who participated in a Search for a Star competition held by the famed conductor.
—MH

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