Two of the 13 University of Pittsburgh faculty members honored as winners of the 2011 chancellor's awards for distinguished teaching, research, and public service are McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Sanjeev G. Shroff, PhD, professor and Gerald McGinnis Chair in Bioengineering and professor of medicine, and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Rory Cooper, PhD, Distinguished Professor and FISA-Paralyzed Veterans of America Chair in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and director of Human Engineering Research Laboratories. Dr. Shroff is the recipient of the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award, and Dr. Cooper is the recipient of the Chancellor's Distinguished Public Service Award.
Dr. Nordenberg wrote to the teaching award winners, "The very existence of this award underscores the high institutional priority that we assign to our teaching responsibilities, and your individual efforts stand as an inspiring example of excellence in the role of University teacher."
Dr. Shroff of the Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Medicine was recognized by Dr. Nordenberg for his passion for teaching students both in the classroom and in the laboratory.
"Among your many accomplishments as an educator is your pioneering contribution to the creation of innovative, simulation-based teaching tools that are having a national impact on the training of bioengineers, health care providers, and medical students," the chancellor wrote. "It is evident from your student evaluations that you have a unique ability to engage students and that your instruction is precise, insightful, and very exciting for them. Your instruction provides students with the tools they need to become independent researchers and to pursue careers in bioengineering and medicine."
Dr. Shroff teaches both graduate and undergraduate students in courses ranging from 5 to 15 students in graduate bioengineering classes to as many as 120 students in medical school classes.
"I do not let the number of students influence my basic approach to or philosophy of teaching. However, I do make a distinction between an introductory class versus an advanced, graduate-level class. In the latter case, I am likely to hold students more responsible for their learning and use student-initiated discussions as the major component of in-class teaching," Dr. Shroff told the University Times.
"I always believed that the best way to learn something new or to gain deeper insights into what one already knows is to teach it to someone else. I put a great deal of emphasis on learning to think 'generically.' The goal is to motivate students to see common conceptual patterns among problems from seemingly disparate domains, so that the knowledge and tools acquired in the context of one domain can be readily transferred to another domain."
Dr. Shroff's early academic career focused on conducting research in the cardiovascular area. "I find the teaching experience deeply satisfying — at par with the euphoria of discovery in the research arena," he said.
"I do believe that some individuals have an innate ability to tell a 'good story.' It is quite likely that these individuals begin the teaching journey with an advantage. However, I also believe that one can learn to be a good teacher — as long as there is a strong commitment to teaching, willingness to put in the effort, and willingness to learn from one's experiences and from others," Dr. Shroff said.
He said there are many paths to being a successful teacher and that a teacher must find his or her own way.
"However, these different paths seem to share some common features: innate love for teaching, willingness to learn and adapt, and willingness to put in the necessary effort. I have learned that domain expertise is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a successful teacher. In this context, being a good teacher is not a destination; instead, it is a journey — never ending, yet quite joyous and fulfilling."
In his letter to the public service award winners, Dr. Nordenberg stated, "This award underscores the high institutional priority that we assign to applying the expertise of faculty members to address social problems in ways that are consistent with our teaching and research missions."
Dr. Cooper of the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology was honored for his dedication to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.
"Your academic accomplishments have been unparalleled in the field of rehabilitation engineering, as evidenced by your distinguished academic appointments, by your nine issued or pending patents and by your receipt of countless honors, including both the Olin Teague Award and the Paul Magnuson Award, among the highest forms of recognition from the Department of Veterans Affairs," Dr. Nordenberg wrote.
Dr. Cooper founded the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in 1994 and, in 1999 this facility became the first, and remains the only national VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence in Pennsylvania, the chancellor noted.
Dr. Nordenberg wrote: "Beyond the University, you have worked tirelessly to ensure that advances in technology help the people who need it most. You have been responsible for creating and advising a myriad of veteran, military, and civilian programs that have had a long lasting and enormously positive impact on people with disabilities," including counseling the Department of Defense to establish the Armed Forces amputee patient care program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"Your service as a leader within community organizations and as a political adviser at the state and national levels is equally distinguished. Thanks to your efforts, Pittsburgh will host the 2011 National Veterans Wheelchair Games," the chancellor noted. Dr. Cooper told the University Times, "The public service itself is a tremendous reward. I thoroughly enjoy helping other people with disabilities, and military service members and veterans. It energizes and inspires me. It is nice to see that such activities are valued by the University leadership."
His public service work with people with disabilities is inseparable from his teaching and research efforts, Dr. Cooper said.
"My students and many of my colleagues participate in public service. It has led to new research and educational ideas and opportunities," he said.
For example, Dr. Cooper said, conducting research at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is a focal point of his programmatic research, and has led to pilot projects with educational benefits, including organizing state-of-the-science symposia at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center.
"Many students have assisted and attended, and had the opportunity to meet severely wounded, injured, and ill military service members first hand. Learning public services is at the core of our program, and helps students to become better clinicians and people," Dr. Cooper said.
"I am very fortunate. When, by a twist of fate, I acquired a spinal cord injury resulting in lower extremity paralysis, I found a calling. At first, I was able to apply my engineering research to the problems facing me and my friends. Because of the many opportunities that have been afforded to me, that reach has expanded and has greater impact on the quality of life of people with disabilities," he said.
"My greatest thrills are seeing people with disabilities benefit from our work, and from seeing students and colleagues develop independent careers and to make their own important contributions toward helping people with disabilities. There are so many unanswered questions, and people with disabilities and veterans need and truly appreciate having bright and public service-oriented people dedicated to assistive technology and rehabilitation science research and development."