School of Education Honors Alumni at Annual Awards Ceremony

by John Conroy

Pictured from left to right: (back row) Sean McComb, Dean Alan Lesgold, Robert Robertson, Brent Johnson, Joshua “JC” Childs; (middle row) Katie Clark Patterson, Miray Tekkumru Kisa, Francesca Amati, Cynthia Reed, R. Rudy Filek; (front) Ellen Falk Hirsch. Not pictured: Antoinette Y. Farmer.

R. Rudy Filek has had a long career involved with enhancing higher education throughout the Appalachian region of Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Following graduation from the School of Education, he served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, rising to lieutenant while working for his master’s degree in education and also serving as a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School System. Not only has he worked in public schools, he also worked as the director of continuing education for the Penn State McKees Rocks campus and at West Virginia University in the ranks of associate, interim, and full dean of the evolving Center for Extension and Continuing Education, where he spent more than 23 years as an innovative leader and trailblazer for his discipline. This center had a $20 million budget and employed 400 staff members state wide. Collectively, these activities and programs have raised the profile and value of outreach community education throughout West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.

Francesca Amati pursued her scientific career with a post-doctoral position in the lab of Bret Goodpaster in the School of Medicine. Because she was awarded a junior investigator grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation (equivalent to the K-award from the NIH), she returned to Switzerland in May 2010 to start her own independent research group at the University of Lausanne. Amati obtained further funding and secured her lab and research team, succeeding in installing her own clinical research cohort that studies the effects of exercise in the prevention of diabetes in senior citizens.  

On the clinical side, Amati was a trained MD in internal medicine and diabetology in Switzerland before coming to Pittsburgh to pursue her graduate studies. In the past two years, she has succeeded in setting up and maintaining a new outpatient clinic called Sports and Diabetes, which is dedicated to patients with metabolic diseases. While at Pitt, she was active as student on research grant committees and was also a member of the School of Education Alumni Society Executive Committee.

Katie Clark Patterson became a high school special education teacher at Propel Andrew Street High School following graduation from the School of Education. In three short years, Patterson has emerged as a teacher leader. Last year, Propel recognized her contributions and talent as an educator and promoted her to special education coach. Throughout her brief career, Patterson has worked diligently to teach and advocate for students with disabilities. She is currently a special education coach and the transition coordinator within Propel Schools.

Patterson has presented at national, state, and local conferences on teaching self-advocacy, transition, co-planning, data-driven instructions, and effectively working with para-educators. She’s been involved with various initiatives at Propel: creating a community-based instruction program for students with special education needs at the high school level; partnering with the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh; and coordinating a partnership with PaTTAN and RENEW to provide mental health supports and services for elementary school students.

Brent Johnson had a long and distinguished career as a teacher, central office administrator, and principal in public schools. Although his greatest impact during his 40-year career has been with the Pittsburgh Public School District, he has been a genuine asset to the Pennsylvania's Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) Project during his eight years as a University of Pittsburgh employee. He has interacted with thousands of teachers, administrators, superintendents and special education personnel from across the State of Pennsylvania.

Johnson has served on curriculum, professional development, dropout prevention, and special education committees at the local and state level, and in 1994 was named a fellow by the National Society of Experiential Education. He is a life member of the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association and has participated in Pitt’s Day of Caring. He has held numerous positions on boards of nonprofit organizations and is active in his church, his local American Legion, and DAV chapters.  


Cynthia Reed accepted a faculty position at Auburn University as an assistant professor of educational leadership after graduating from Pitt. Since then, she has progressed through the ranks and is now the Emily R. and Gerald S. Leischuck Endowed Professor in Educational Leadership and Director of the Truman Pierce Institute, a center for research and engaged scholarship in the Auburn University College of Education. She served as the educational leadership program coordinator at Auburn for seven years, during which time she led the team through the redesign of its principal preparation program.

Reed was the 52nd president of University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) and has served as a UCEA Barbara Jackson Scholar mentor for over six years. She is also a William Boyd Policy Workshop presenter and mentor (UCEA and AERA) and a Clark Scholar mentor and policy panelist (UCEA and AERA). She was the 2003 recipient of the UCEA Jack A. Culbertson Award, which recognizes innovation and excellence in early career faculty. In 2011, she was selected as Auburn University’s Presidential Administrative Fellow, a mentoring program designed to prepare faculty for leadership roles in higher education.

Robert Robertson has been one of the most honored and respected professionals in the field of exercise physiology. He is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and recently received the Citation Award for his many significant contributions to the field of exercise physiology and physical activity. Though his contributions to the field of exercise physiology are many, he is best known for his contributions related to understanding the perceptual responses to exercise and physical activity, which has led to the widely used OMNI Scale to assess perceived exertion.

Robertson joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1976 and remained in that position until his retirement in 2011. While a faculty member, he served as HPA’s department chair, coordinator of the health and physical education program, and started the University of Pittsburgh wellness program in 1986. Robertson had a secondary appointment within the School of Medicine, served on a University IRB committee and chaired the School of Education’s Promotion and Tenure Committee.

Sean McComb is currently a teacher in Baltimore at the Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts. McComb was recently named Baltimore County’s Teacher of the Year and Maryland’s Teacher of the Year in October 2013 for his work as an English teacher and for encouraging students to enter college. McComb was also named as National Teacher of the Year in April 2014. With this honor, he was invited to Washington to meet with First Lady Michelle Obama to take part in discussions on how to improve access to higher education for the types of disadvantaged students he teaches.

In addition to teaching English, McComb has taught a national program called Advancement Via Individual Determination, which teaches students study skills that will enable them to take advance placement and other upper-level classes in high school to prepare them for college. McComb has been at Patapsco High School since his graduation eight years ago.

Antoinette Y. Farmer is associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Rutgers University's School of Social Work. Her research focuses on examining the social and interpersonal factors that affect parenting as well as how parenting practices influence adolescent high-risk behaviors, such as delinquency and substance use. Her work in the area of parenting has led her to develop and test models to determine what variables may mediate the relationship between parenting and adolescent outcomes. She is also beginning to examine the effects of fathers' parenting practices on adolescents high-risk behaviors.

Farmer’s work has also examined the effects of religion and spirituality on adolescent high-risk behaviors. In order to carry out her research agenda, she conducts quantitative data analysis using large national datasets. Farmer’s research has been published in Social Work, Journal of Social Service Research, and Children and Youth Services Review. She has also written several chapters on this issue as well, with the most recent appearing in the Handbook of Social Work Research Methods (2nd Edition).   

Ellen Falk Hirsch was part of a small group of children who would be the first to graduate in 1942 from the newly established Fanny Edel Falk Elementary School. She is the eldest of Leon Falk Jr. and Katherine Sonneborn Falk’s five children. Leon and his sister, Marjorie Falk Levy, established the school in 1931. After graduating from college at Pitt, her professional life started as a Head Start pre-K teacher in the New York Public School System, followed by moving to Philadelphia to work as a kindergarten and then special projects teacher.

Hirsch moved with her husband and two young daughters to Jerusalem in 1971, where for the next 20 years she held a number of public relations and English editing positions, culminating with a 15-year association with the Israel Information Centre, preparing written materials for distribution by Israel's embassies and consulates throughout the world. She retired in 1996 and returned home to her family in Pittsburgh.

Joshua “JC” Childs is a graduate student researcher for the University Center for Social and Urban Research working on their Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System project. Mr. Childs is involved with the Center for Urban Education within the School of Education where his work includes creating, supporting, and disseminating various research projects geared toward improving urban education locally in Pittsburgh, regionally, and nationally.

He also serves as the business manager for the Council of Graduate Students in Education. He was selected for the 2014 David L. Clark National Graduate Student Research Seminar in Educational Administration and Policy, and was selected as a University Council for Educational Administration (USEA) Barbara L. Jackson Scholar for the 2011-2013 class.

Miray Tekkumru Kisa has been working as a post-doctoral associate at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC). Presently, she is working with Christian Schunn and Mary Kay Stein on an NSF-funded project that focuses on the design, implementation, and study of STEM-based curriculum materials that aim to teach ideas in biology that are tied to mathematics concepts and use engineering principles in project-based activities within high school science classrooms.

Tekkumru Kisa’s research focuses on designing innovative tools (e.g. video cases, educative curriculum materials) and environments (e.g. professional development, web-based learning environments) and studying their effectiveness for supporting teachers’ learning and instructional improvement. She is interested in supporting effective use of cognitively   demanding tasks in science and mathematics classrooms. In her research, she has investigated science teachers’ learning to select cognitively demanding tasks and notice important features of classroom interactions that are needed in order to maintain high-levels of student thinking and reasoning during the enactment of cognitively demanding tasks.