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Pitt Professors Win Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers

ECE's Ervin Sejdić among four awardees at Pitt & 105 nationwide

University of Pittsburgh News Release

PITTSBURGH—President Barack Obama has named 105 researchers as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. 

The University of Pittsburgh leads the nation—tied with MIT and the University of California, Berkeley—with four Presidential Early Career Awards. The awardees are Ervin Sejdić, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering; Elizabeth Skidmore, associate professor in and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy within the University’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; and Tina Goldstein, associate professor of psychiatry in Pitt’s School of Medicine. Cynthia Puranik, former associate professor of communication science and disorders, also won for work done while at the University.

During his undergraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario, Sejdić specialized in wireless communications, while his PhD project focused on signal processing. From 2008 until 2010, Sejdić was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering with a cross-appointment at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation teaching hospital. During his postdoctoral fellowship, Sejdić focused on rehabilitation engineering and biomedical instrumentation. He was also a research fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School cross-appointed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he focused on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular monitoring of older diabetic adults.

“After receiving the announcement, I was speechless for a few minutes,” Sejdić says. “I didn’t have words to describe my excitement and my honor. It is great honor for me, and especially a strong acknowledgement of my scientific work. I am extremely grateful to all my mentors, my colleagues, and my students. Without them, I would not be able to achieve this award.”

From his earliest exposure to research, Sejdić says he has been eager to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge. His work has resulted in co-authoring over 90 publications in the last five years. Sejdić’s research interests include biomedical signal processing, gait analysis, swallowing difficulties, advanced information systems in medicine, rehabilitation engineering, assistive technologies, and anticipatory medical devices.

Skidmore’s research program focuses on interventions designed to promote independence and community re-engagement after stroke and other forms of brain injury. She says that individuals with brain injury frequently experience cognitive impairments that contribute to significant long-term disability. These individuals may have difficulty with simple activities such as bathing, dressing, or walking, as well as more complex activities such as managing their home or completing school or work-related activities. Her National Institutes of Health-funded work has identified innovative rehabilitation treatments that can be started within a few days after brain injury onset and are associated with significant reductions in disability in the long term. These treatments have been developed and tested within six of the inpatient rehabilitation units in the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute. Skidmore is planning the next phase of her research program, which is focused on studying a wide-scale implementation of these treatments in selected rehabilitation centers outside the region.

“I am incredibly honored and pleased to see rehabilitation science, particularly occupational therapy science, receive such prestigious recognition,” she says. Skidmore earned her master’s degree in occupational therapy and PhD in rehabilitation science at Pitt.

Goldstein’s work focuses on the assessment and psychosocial treatment of youth with and at risk for bipolar disorder, with a particular interest in suicide prevention in this population. She aims to develop improved prevention and intervention strategies for young people informed by an enhanced understanding of the complex relationship between biological and psychosocial determinants of mood disorder and suicide.

A graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder, she earned her PhD in clinical psychology in 2003 and relocated to Pittsburgh, where she completed the Clinical Psychology Internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC) and a federally funded postdoctoral fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry. She was recruited to the department faculty in 2006. She was appointed Director of Psychotherapy for Pediatric Mood Disorders in January 2014 and has played an important role in the training of interns, residents, postdoctoral fellows, and medical students in that area.

Goldstein has widely disseminated her work, collaborating on over 60 peer-review publications in high-impact journals such as The American Journal of Psychiatry, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and Archives of General Psychiatry, as well as numerous book chapters, and is co-author of a book on the treatment of depressed and suicidal youth. She is also a popular lecturer who has presented her work at conferences and meetings in the United States, Turkey, Italy, and Canada.

“I am deeply honored by this recognition,” she says. “The award serves to further reinforce my commitment to the critically important investment in the mental health of America’s youth through clinically relevant research. I share this award with the many generous and wise mentors, collaborators, and students with whom I have been privileged to work—their efforts have made this work possible.”

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.



Author: Joe Miksch

Contact: Joe Miksch