University of Pittsburgh
October 13, 2009

Pitt in Brief

News, Awards, and Developments From the University of Pittsburgh Engineering professors to present novel approaches to education at inaugural symposium Pitt professor wins lifetime achievement award for commitment to childcare Pitt grad student earns fellowship for research in Caribbean family planning
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH- Behind the larger stories about the University of Pittsburgh are other stories of faculty, staff, and student achievement as well as information on Pitt programs reaching new levels of success. The following is this week's compilation of some of those stories.

Novel education tactics earn Pitt professors invitation to inaugural meeting of national educators

Two professors in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering are among 49 young engineering researchers and educators selected to present their novel approaches to engineering education at the National Academy of Engineering's (NAE) inaugural Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) symposium scheduled for Nov. 15-18 in Herndon, Va.

Mary Besterfield-Sacre, an associate professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Fulton C. Noss Faculty Fellow, will discuss her current project to develop a tool for evaluating team-based design processes and the factors that result in a quality design and prototype. Besterfield-Sacre has designed several models for evaluating engineering student learning. In addition, she developed the Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitudes Survey to measure students' perspectives of engineering and their confidence to be an engineer. The survey is widely used in engineering schools to predict which students will complete engineering programs in good standing.

Joseph McCarthy, an associate professor and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow, created a block-scheduled engineering curriculum intended to increase student motivation and help students understand the interconnectedness of their discipline. Instead of loading students with a variety of smaller chemical engineering classes each semester, McCarthy's model breaks the discipline into six "pillars"—or main courses—and presents one pillar per semester as a two-hour class, five days a week. McCarthy will explain that after seven years in practice, the expanded class time and integrated laboratory experiences have resulted in more hands-on student experiences, an increase in student assessment scores, and fostered better professor-student interaction.

For more information, contact Pitt News Representative Morgan Kelly at 412-624-4356 (office); 412-897-1400 (cell);

Nicole Bourbonnais Receives Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellowship

Nicole Bourbonnais, a doctoral candidate in the University of Pittsburgh Department of History in the School of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada for her research, which traces the history and evolution of family planning in the Caribbean.

Bourbonnais, who received a bachelor's degree in history from the University of British Columbia, studies Caribbean and Latin American history at Pitt. She will receive $20,000 Canadian (about $18,000 U.S.) per annum for four years while she is enrolled in the doctoral program.

Bourbonnais' experience as a sex education project volunteer in 2003 for Youth Challenge International, a Toronto-based nongovernmental aid organization in Guyana, sparked her personal and scholarly interest in the region.

The SSHRC Doctoral Fellowships program aims to develop research skills and assist in the training of highly qualified personnel by supporting students who demonstrate a high standard of scholarly achievement in the social sciences and humanities.

For more information, contact Pitt News Representative Trish White at 412-624-9101 (office); 412-215-9932 (cell);

Karen VanderVen Receives Life Time Achievement Award From the Academy of Child and Youth Care Professionals

Karen VanderVen, professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychology in Education in Pitt's School of Education, has received the Life Time Achievement Award from the Academy of Child and Youth Care Professionals. The citation reads that the award is "For your outstanding commitment, dedication, and contributions to the field of child and youth care."

VanderVen's interests include early childhood education with a special focus on play, professionalization of early childhood and child and youth work, leadership development, the developmental role of activity, practical strategies for activity programming, and intergenerational and life-span practices.

Prior to joining Pitt's education faculty, VanderVen worked directly with both normal and exceptional children and families in settings that included early childhood programs, psychiatric treatment facilities, and community mental health.

Her professional activities include serving as senior visiting fellow at the SEARCH Institute and visiting scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is a founder of the North American branch of the International Federation of Educative Communities and project director of the Conference-Research Sequence in Child Care Education.

VanderVen earned an AB degree in psychology at Vassar College and an MS degree in child development and child care and a PhD degree in education at Pitt.

For more information, contact Pitt News Representative Trish White at 412-624-9101 (office); 412-215-9932 (cell);