University of Pittsburgh
October 16, 2006

Noted Pitt Faculty to Be Honored at African American Alumni Council Homecoming Sankofa Event Oct. 20

Alumnus John Woodruff, 1936 Olympic Gold medal winner, to take part in Pitt's AAAC reception, Honoring Champions of Education, Culture, and Commitment
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-The University of Pittsburgh African American Alumni Council (AAAC) will honor four faculty members with the inaugural Sankofa Award during the University's Homecoming 2006 AAAC Sankofa Awards Reception, Honoring Champions of Education, Culture, and Commitment, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in the Twentieth Century Club, 4201 Bigelow Blvd., Oakland.

The Sankofa Award honors members of the University community who have exhibited outstanding educational support and service to students of African descent. Honorees are Vernell A. Lillie, associate professor emerita of Africana studies; Nathan Davis, professor of music and director of Pitt's Jazz Studies Program; Karl Lewis, associate professor emeritus of engineering; and Chenits Pettigrew, director of admissions and student affairs for the School of Social Work.

Also at the reception, renowned Pitt alumnus John Woodruff (CAS '39), who won the Gold medal in the 800-meter race during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, will be recognized.

Woodruff will travel from Fountain Hills, Ariz., with his wife, Rose, to attend the event as well as other homecoming festivities, including the Oct. 21 Pitt-Rutgers football game. (During the game, Pitt will recognize Woodruff's presence and the 70th anniversary of his Olympic victory.) The world premiere of the short film Footsteps of a Giant: The John Woodruff Story (Sugar Camp Productions) will take place during the AAAC reception.

A 1935 graduate of Connellsville Area Senior High School in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Woodruff earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology in 1939 at Pitt and went on to receive a master's degree in sociology from New York University.

After his 1936 Olympic win, Woodruff and fellow Olympic teammates competed successfully in track meets in Germany, England, and France. Woodruff donated to his hometown a Black Forest oak tree presented to him when he won the Olympics. Today, the 78-foot tree towers over the track at Connellsville High School.

On Oct. 20, AAAC members will participate in the Apple Seed Project, a community service event giving alumni the opportunity to share their time and talents with students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The AAAC fall board meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Oct. 21, prior to the Pitt Panthers football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. An AAAC engineering mixer at 6 p.m. in the William Pitt Union, 3959 Fifth Ave., Oakland, and an "Old School Cabaret" at 8 p.m. in the Hilton Hotel, downtown, will top Saturday's events. A worship service and fellowship brunch Oct. 22, also at the Hilton, brings AAAC's festivities to a close.

The idea for an African American alumni association originated with a small group of Pitt graduates in the early 1980s. This group met in the intervening years and sponsored several events, generating the interest and participation of an increasing number of African American graduates. The increased interest and growth led to the group's recognition as an affinity group of the Pitt Alumni Association.

The AAAC's mission is to support African American alumni, students, faculty, staff, and administrators and to strengthen their connection to the University through its many programs and activities. For more information, call 412-624-8229 or 1-800-258-7488 or visit

Biographical information on the Pitt faculty honorees follows.

Vernell A. Lillie

Associate Professor Emerita of Africana Studies, Lillie believes that both students and the community can develop an understanding of African American art, culture, and social concerns through active education. In 1974, Lillie cofounded Kuntu Repertory Theatre at the University to showcase the works of the late Pitt professor Rob Penny and other local African American playwrights.

More than 32 years later, Kuntu is internationally renowned for the quality of its productions, its sets, and the opportunity it affords talented men and women. Pitt presented Lillie with the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1986. Then Governor Tom Ridge named Lillie a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania in 1998, and in 2006, she received the Pennsylvania Creative Community Award. Her academic degrees include a B.A. in drama and speech from Dillard University and Master of Arts and Doctor of Arts degrees in English from Carnegie Mellon University. She also received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Seton Hill University.

Nathan Davis

Jazz musician and educator to the world, Davis established the Jazz Studies Program at Pitt in 1969, when most universities offered only a handful of jazz courses. Under his leadership, it has become one of the premier jazz programs in the country.

In 1970, Davis, Pitt professor of music and director of the Jazz Studies Program, also created Pitt's annual Jazz Seminar and Concert, which continues to bring world-class jazz artists to Pittsburgh to hold free lectures and demonstrations for students and the general public. In addition, he founded the University of Pittsburgh Jazz Ensemble, which has emerged as a proving ground for future jazz giants while garnering repeated praise as one of the best collegiate jazz groups performing around the world.

In 2003, Davis founded Pitt's Jazz Seminar Outreach Program, which now extends internationally to locations in Dubai, Ghana, Brazil, and Paris, the latter through a partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In the same year, the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh presented him with a Racial Justice Award for using jazz "to break down racial, cultural, social, and economic barriers."

Davis earned a B.A. degree in music education at the University of Kansas, an M.A. degree in ethnomusicology at the Sorbonne in Paris, and a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University.

Karl Lewis

Associate Professor Emeritus Lewis was appointed to teach civil engineering at the University in 1966-a time when few Blacks were faculty members here. Once he arrived, Lewis did not forget a vow he made to do what he could to help other Blacks succeed in engineering. True to that vow, he created the Impact Program-a precollege transition program that provides tutoring, study sessions, counseling, financial aid, and whatever it takes to help Blacks (and financially and educationally disadvantaged students) to succeed in engineering.

At Pitt, Lewis served as chair for the Geotechnical Engineering Program, the University Senate Committee on Admissions and Student Aid, and the Graduate Program Standing Committee for the School of Engineering. In 2004, five Impact Program alumni recognized Lewis' work by establishing the Karl H. Lewis Impact Alumni Endowed Fund. In 2006, the National Society of Black Engineers honored him with its Lifetime Achievement in Academia award

Lewis received a B.S. degree in civil engineering from Howard University and earned both a Master of Science degree and a Ph.D. degree in civil engineering from Purdue University.

Chenits Pettigrew

Pettigrew (EDUC '76G) has positively impacted academic policies, curriculum development, and retention programs for underrepresented students at universities across the nation for more than 30 years.

During his time at Pitt, Pettigrew became the director of the University Challenge for Excellence Program (UCEP), designed to mentor and increase enrollment of underrepresented students in math and science. He also helped to secure funding for other programs similar to UCEP.

Pettigrew began his career at Pitt in 1969 as assistant to the dean of students, followed by a number of other leadership positions that included assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1991 and his current role as director of admissions and student affairs for the School of Social Work. In 2000, Pitt's (Facilitating Opportunity and Climate for Underepresented Students) FOCUS Program presented Pettigrew with a special recognition award. In 1984, the University of California at Los Angeles recognized Pettigrew with a Distinguished Services Award for his work in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

In addition to his Pitt master's degree, Pettigrew earned a B.A. degree in political science at Westminster College and a Doctor of Education degree at Pepperdine University.