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Partners in Progress

Pitt's partnership with ALCOA Foundation strengthens bonds within the University while helping it reach out in new ways.

When ALCOA Foundation awarded Pitt a $565,000 grant last spring, foundation vice president Kathleen Buechel hoped to start a chain reaction.

New bridges across disciplines would help more women and minorities succeed in technical fields. Stronger programs in education, engineering, law, and arts and sciences would bind Pitt more closely to business and industry locally and worldwide. And all these efforts working together would help Pitt and ALCOA Foundation achieve a mutual goal of educational excellence.

During the grant selection process, the foundation worked closely with University officials for more than a year to pare a list of 63 program ideas down to eight. The money, to be disbursed over three years, will help the University of Pittsburgh expand some of its most successful programs and create some new ones as well.

In deciding which Pitt programs to fund, the foundation looked for strengths in different faculties across disciplines, the potential for collaborations among them, and ways for students to learn while working to improve the Pittsburgh community, says Buechel. "We also hoped to build sound policy, address the needs of the disadvantaged, and strengthen the quality of education and opportunity in the region."

That's a tall order from a traditional grant-giving perspective.

But Pitt and ALCOA Foundation worked hard to craft the grant to get the most bang for the buck--hopefully yielding long-lasting, concrete results at the University and across the region, says Buechel.

The foundation awarded the School of Engineering's Manufacturing Systems program $100,000 to enhance its part-time master's degree program.

"The grant will help us improve our design capabilities and integrate the activities of the existing manufacturing assistance center at UPARC (University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center) with the course offerings that are made in our part-time master's degree program in manufacturing systems," says H. K. Chang, dean of the engineering school. "This allows people working in the community to get their master's degree."

The engineering school's Impact program, which uses alternative instruction methods to help underrepresented students such as women and minorities succeed in technical courses, will also receive $100,000.

Buechel hopes that Impact's student support services will work in tandem with the College of Arts and Sciences' QUEST program, to which ALCOA Foundation also awarded $100,000. For the past five years, QUEST has prepared African-American and Hispanic students to succeed in math and science at Pitt, offering intensive instruction and research experience the summer before their freshman year.

The collaboration of these programs should lead to better performance for these underrepresented students in basic science courses offered by the College of Arts and Sciences.

"Our hope is that the collaboration of Impact and QUEST will mean the success of more students of color and women in technical fields at Pitt," says Buechel.

"We know that alternative instruction methods like these support and study groups make a big difference in the achievement of all students."

Getting more women and minorities into the work force in technical fields is another goal that Pitt and ALCOA Foundation have in common.

"Much of our educational funding is predicated on the notion that the country itself is becoming more diverse," Buechel says. "For work and industry to benefit most from diversity, we need to tap into this important pool of talent."

Chenits Pettigrew, coordinator of QUEST and dean of the University's Challenge for Excellence Programs (UCEP), approached ALCOA Foundation about funding QUEST when the grant that had funded the program during its first five years expired.

"ALCOA has had a record of involvement in diversity initiatives and quite a few Pitt alumni have gone on to work there," he says. "We worked very closely with representatives of ALCOA and ALCOA Foundation. They were interested in supporting instructional initiatives that they think will make a difference in retention and graduation of underrepresented minority students in math and science."

A $150,000 segment of the grant encourages diversity on another level. This money allows the law school to bring lawyers from around the world to Pitt for its new two-semester Master of Laws (LLM) program. In this program, international lawyers take classes with Pitt law students working toward their law degree (JD). Practicing lawyers from countries like Brazil, Germany, India, Italy, Taiwan, and Denmark began attending classes last fall.

Ron Brand, professor of international business law at Pitt, says the LLM program will link international lawyers to the Pittsburgh business community while providing traditional Pitt law students with a more global perspective.

"This will enable people who have completed their legal educations overseas to be better able to work with Americans after they go back to their countries," he says. "Another reason to have international students in JD classes is so our regular students are exposed to different questions, cultures, and backgrounds. These people have been trained in different legal systems in different cultures, so they tend to look at problems in different ways from our students. Our students benefit simply by having a more diverse classroom."

Other Pitt programs receiving a slice of the ALCOA Foundation pie include:

The Center for Latin American Studies--$30,000 for research fellowships

The Institute of Politics--$15,000 for program development

The School of Education's Superintendents Academy--$20,000 to help its faculty integrate computers into their course work

The Learning Research and Development Center--$50,000 to help develop the "New Standards Applied Learning Portfolio System" in Allegheny County.

These initiatives have strengthened the long-standing partnership between ALCOA Foundation and Pitt and will build new bridges within the University extending to the greater Pittsburgh region and beyond, Buechel says.

"Pitt has so many different strengths, that when they're combined, the result is far greater than when they are separate. With this partnership, we hope to achieve concrete and measurable results that will enhance Pitt, its students' experience, and the broader community in which we all live."

Two Heads Are Better than One

A gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation links Pitt and CMU researchers from across the disciplines.

A penny for your thoughts? The Richard King Mellon Foundation believes that what is on your mind is worth a significantly larger investment. Through a major joint grant to Pitt and neighbor Carnegie Mellon University in 1994, the foundation has helped to establish the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC).

The center builds on other ongoing collaborative efforts between Pitt and CMU, including the Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, the W. M. Keck Center for Advanced Training in Computational Biology, and the National Science Foundation's Research Training Program in Neural Processes of Cognition.

The primary focus of the CNBC is the study of cognitive processes such as learning and memory, language and thought, perception, attention, and planning. Drawing upon their combined resources, scientists at the two universities are engaged in a wide range of research that seeks to understand the neural mechanisms of memory, language, and cognition, as well as how these are altered in conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers expect to apply their findings to areas as varied as artificial intelligence, medicine, and technology.

By funding this project, the foundation is also casting a vote of support to Pitt and CMU for putting their heads together to get a clearer picture of the mysteries of the mind.

Codirected by Pitt's Robert Moore and CMU's Jay McClelland, the center brings together faculty and research scientists from Pitt's departments of information science, mathematics, neurobiology, neurology, neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology, and from CMU's departments of biological sciences, computer science, and psychology.

It is within this atmosphere of cooperation, built around the generous initiative of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, that innovative research is under way--research that may forever change the way we think about the way we think.

The Spirit Lives On

A generous bequest from former Pitt athlete Vee Toner will aid athletes and students of future generations.

Some people leave their legacies in steel and stone, creating tangible reminders of their presence on this planet and of the values and beliefs they honored while they were here. These are certainly worthy memorials for some, but for "Vee" Shakarian Toner--a woman whose life was characterized by an energetic and spirited approach to everything she did--a stationary monument just wouldn't seem...appropriate. Toner (Arts and Sciences '27), who died in March 1995, opted instead to leave her mark by honoring the University of Pittsburgh with a generous bequest earmarked for Pitt's Emergency Loan Fund and for scholarship funds for the varsity marching band and athletics.

Toner had a lifelong passion for athletics. As a student at Pitt, she was elected president of the Women's Athletic Association. An avid swimmer, basketball and tennis player, she became a swimming official at the 1955 Pan-American Games in Mexico City, was a manager-chaperone of the 1956 Olympic women's swimming and diving team in Melbourne, Australia, and served on the Women's Olympic Swimming Committee for the 1960 Olympics in Rome. She also held the rank of stadium umpire of the US Tennis Association and was one of the first women to umpire at the National Open and Wimbledon.

Appropriately enough, she met her late husband, Arthur Carling Toner Jr., while going racquet-head-to-racquet-head. "We met on the tennis court," she remarked in a 1986 interview. "That's a love game--and I gave him a pretty close match." Toner was also a pilot and at one time served as the governor of the Ninety-Nines, a national organization of licensed women pilots that was founded by famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart. But while she enjoyed flying, Toner's head was certainly not in the clouds. A talented scholar, she completed graduate study at the University of Wisconsin, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Oxford University, the latter on a scholarship. In recognition of her scholarship, leadership, and community service, Pitt awarded Toner one of its highest honors, a Bicentennial Medallion.

Tributes in stone and steel certainly have their places in history and time, stretching out against endless skylines. They are formidable and solid and sometimes even seem to take root in the very ground they rest upon. But Vee Toner's tribute will be present at Pitt in other ways--in the fanfare of a trumpet at a home football game, in the trill of an official's whistle to signify the beginning of a swim meet, and in the faces of the next generations of student-athletes who will forever remember her as the high-flying benefactor who enabled them to soar as well.

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