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 March 2002
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Social awareness

Pitt professor
Edward Sites

The headlines are grim; the stories aren’t for the squeamish. A 10-year-old girl left home alone is strangled to death by her family’s pet snake. A woman discovers her four nieces and nephews imprisoned by their parents in the basement of their home.

These kinds of high-profile cases understandably enrage the public. Fingers often get pointed at child welfare officers. But blaming them isn’t the answer, says Edward Sites, a professor of social work at Pitt. He points out caseworkers are overworked, underpaid, and often undertrained.

In Pennsylvania alone, he estimates there are 23,000 reports annually of child abuse and neglect. “Each and every single one of them has to be examined,” he says. Yet he reports there are only 3,800 child welfare officers available to conduct the investigations, on top of the 150,000 cases already in the system.

It’s little wonder caseworkers burn out. About 40 percent quit during their first year, Sites says. “By the time a family gets to know a caseworker, they’re gone.” The demand is so great, he admits that many new caseworkers are hired even though they aren’t trained in social work. This, he says, perpetuates the cycle. “If you have no professional education, you have a good chance of being frustrated, burning out, and quitting.”

To break the cycle, he believes child welfare agencies have to provide incentives for caseworkers to stay on the job, and train them to cope with the pressures. With that in mind, Pitt in 1995 began Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare Education for Leadership (CWEL). The program offers an MSW to caseworkers and other child welfare staff while they take a paid leave of absence from their jobs. Upon graduation, they must return to their employer for at least two more years.

Once a social worker obtains an MSW, opportunities for career advancement increase. “And we know from experience these people are likely to stick around,” Sites says. Approximately 87 percent of the 300 caseworkers who have completed CWEL are still on the job.

CWEL’s results have been so dramatic the state’s public welfare department has expanded the program, which now totals $20.5 million in federal and state funds. The money will be used in several ways. It will bolster recruitment efforts of undergraduate social work students, enable on-the-job training for child welfare workers, and provide computer support to workers and agencies. Also, those who oversee independent-living programs for current and former foster children can receive additional technical support.

Pitt will administer the new programs through 15 other participating colleges and universities and all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Sites notes that neighboring states and universities are watching CWEL with keen interest: “We’ve got a huge scope and high
visibility.”

—Jason Togyer

Gold medal winner

Maneuvering through grass, gravel, fallen walnuts, and rolling hills, Rory Cooper confronts the knobby terrain and sloping landscape of his Gibsonia farm in suburban Pittsburgh. Powering his wheelchair’s treaded-tires with arm power, he even pops a few wheelies.

While Cooper admits that grass is “quicksand for wheelchairs,” he’s not going to let that stop him. In fact, his persistence in tackling the obstacles surrounding his home helped him prepare for the National Veterans Wheelchair Race, which is the largest wheelchair sports event worldwide.

Cooper captured gold medals in the 100, 200, 400, and 800 meter races for his age group, 40 and up. This is the 19th year he participated in the games. While he once dedicated more of his time to working out, now that he is a professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and director of Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, he devotes his energy to improving the wheelchair.

—Meghan Holohan

Business cents

If the 2002 Katz School of Business graduates are like their predecessors, they’re in luck: the most recent average starting salary for Katz grads is $70,000, with an average signing bonus of $9,600. Twenty-five percent of them secure consulting positions, 25 percent join the finance ranks, and 20 percent suit up for sales and marketing.

—MH

Olympic doctor

Leaning back in his overstuffed leather chair, the doctor explains with a slight Bahstahn accent that he might leave if he gets a phone call. Just for a moment, though. Sure enough, the phone rings. Evidently, someone needs a flu shot right now. Chip Burke politely breaks off the conversation and leaves the medical confines of his office at UPMC St. Margaret’s Memorial Hospital in Pittsburgh. He’s off on a kind of house call.

Actually, he generally doesn’t give flu shots, let alone make house calls. His patients are more likely to need emergency surgery to reset leg bones or mend torn muscles and ligaments.

Since 1988, Burke, an assistant professor of orthopaedic medicine, has also been the team physician for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He secured that job after serving an earlier residency with the team, and demonstrating a dedication to his patients, like the one who needed that flu shot. The Penguins are a perfect fit for him; he and his five brothers played hockey growing up and in college.

Along the corridor to his comfortable blue office are action sketches of famous Pittsburgh sports players. Manila folders, large envelopes holding x-rays, textbooks, and even replicas of human arms and kneecaps litter his office.

Burke doesn’t drop names or tell funny anecdotes about the players, though. He prefers talking about his work to prevent hockey injuries. Those that most concern him are head injuries because they can be debilitating, and bone and muscle injuries, because they can be career ending.

Prescribing treatments for those types of injuries can be extremely difficult. “When you get to the professionals, their real job is playing their sport, and if they are unable to play their sport because of injury, they’re in jeopardy of losing their job. So dealing with professionals is a very different job, and it takes into account many factors. You’re always balancing people’s treatments with their desire to play.”

His efforts are internationally recognized, and were instrumental in his selection as team physician for this year’s US Olympic hockey team.

While in Salt Lake City for the Olympics, he spent time in the locker room mending injuries, participating in injury clinics, serving as doctor for other teams, and working on-call for emergency injuries.

Back in Pittsburgh, Burke plans to research treatments to improve flexibility in older athletes so their quality of life improves on and off the ice.

—MH

Band of brothers

Sure, little things caught Jack E. Foley’s eye. Like the boots. Not— what do you call them today—Rockports? We’re talking the ’40s. Here were laced paratrooper boots. Still has a pair in the closet somewhere. Then there were the silver wings for your uniform. Real sharp. This was little stuff though. The important thing was Hitler had to be stopped. Left Pitt where he was majoring in political science and economics. One semester left. Signed up for active duty in June ’43. Commissioned a 2nd lieutenant five months later, assigned to the Easy Company in late ’44. And, sure, they spent a day or two at Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s deserted hideaway in Berchtesgaden. Just a stopover, really. The weird thing was the orange soda pop. Cases of it. Could’ve been Hitler’s favorite. Who knows? The big deal was Bastogne—at least during Foley’s year in E Company. German guns pounded the Belgian town. Coldest winter in decades, ’44. Townspeople gave burlap bags. Guys used string, cord, whatever, to tie the burlap around those brown boots. Trying to keep warm. It was like Foley said then, Hey, George Washington has nothing on us! Came back to get his degree in ’46. Now E Company is the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. Some actor plays Foley. There’s also mention of him in the book of the same name. And last summer, France honored the 47 veterans of E Company in France. Had his picture taken with Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s granddaughter! Now, that’s something!

—Kris B. Mamula

Carnegie scholars

A student in Mariolina Rizzi Salvatori’s Introduction to Critical Reading class found the tyranny of King Lear too rough to endure. Several classmates agreed. Shakespeare left them feeling abused. So Salvatori listed on the blackboard what her students found boring. It turned out they weren’t bored; they were confused by intertwined plots and by characters with similar names. The students soon realized the need to understand those elements in order to unravel the meaning inside the play.

That class prompted Salvatori, a Pitt associate English professor, to design a classroom approach that enables students to confront their difficulties. “I view them as windows of possibility instead of barriers to understanding,” she says.

Her approach hasn’t gone unnoticed. Salvatori is among a select group of professors from across the country who have been awarded Pew National Fellowships. Awardees spend several weeks at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Menlo Park, California. David Bartholomae, English department chair, calls the fellowship one of the most prestigious education awards in the nation.

Salvatori isn’t the lone Pitt representative. Associate English professor Jim Seitz has also been duly honored.

Seitz says his time in Menlo Park working with peers from around the country was “almost like being” an undergrad again. “All of us were placed in the same hotel, and we met at all hours of the night to discuss our projects and our students. One of the aspects I really valued was meeting people beyond English. At a large institution like Pitt, you tend to stay in your home department a lot. It’s rare that I actually get the opportunity to talk with people from other departments on campus.”

He found instructors in all disciplines face a similar problem: they’re trying to get students to think critically, and not merely regurgitate formulas and figures.

“The old formula is that the faculty transfers the knowledge to the students,” Seitz says. “Teachers [must] find ways to get students involved, to participate in that knowledge-making process.”

Seitz, who instructs future high-school teachers, gives them a taste of their future career by having them not only research a topic and lead a class discussion, but also write a paper on what they learned from teaching their peers. He has found the feedback they gain deepens their understanding of the subject and of teaching, which is not unlike what he has experienced as a Carnegie scholar.

—JT

India exchange

Sitting around a monitor, Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences staffers stare at the screen. They are watching a live broadcast of a man maneuvering in a wheelchair. “Do you like it?” they ask. He grins and says yes. A live hookup is one method the school uses to treat populations around the world. It’s also one way the school will partner with India. The school will establish a facility there to help the 80 million Indians with disabilities.

—MH

’Burghers of the Year

A partnership that began with a welcoming bouquet may one day transform the economy of Southwestern Pennsylvania. In spring 1997, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg greeted Carnegie Mellon University’s new President Jared Cohon with flowers. That started a friendship, which has blossomed and led to collaboration in microchip design, biotechnology, and research between the universities. For those efforts and what it could mean to the region, Nordenberg and Cohon were named 2002 Pittsburghers of the Year by Pittsburgh Magazine.

Campus newsmakers

Daniel Weeks
Winner of the 2001 Mortimer Spiegelman Award from the American Public Health Association, Daniel Weeks, associate professor in the Graduate School of Public Health, was recognized for his work in mapping susceptibility genes for diseases such as autism, diabetes, endometriosis, and age-related macular degeneration.

Last fall Donald M. Yealy received national recognition when he received the American College of Emergency Physicians Award for Outstanding Contribution in Education. Recipients of the award have to demonstrate dedication, commitment, and action toward high-quality emergency medicine education.

The Society for Cinema Studies named Pitt English professor Lucy Fischer president of the organization. Fischer, who has penned numerous books about women in film, will play a large role in organizing the society’s annual conference.

Research periscope

Thump, thump. . . thump, thump. . . . For 12 hours a human heart beats outside of a body aided by UPMC’s Portable Organ Preservation System (POPS). School of Medicine researchers believe this technology will improve transplant capabilities and allow organs to be transported farther distances because the machine helps the organ function normally.

Researchers in the Graduate School of Public Health are investigating the best treatments for hepatitis C, and whether African-Americans respond to treatments differently than whites.

Pennsylvania awarded $1.1 million to the Visual Information Systems Center (VISC), part of the School of Information Sciences. The funds will be used to continue VISC’s work in evaluating the 29,000 Web sites in Pennsylvania including all schools, libraries, hospitals, municipalities, research centers, and high-tech organizations.



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