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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Rory Cooper, Ph.D., Receives American Association for the Advancement of Science 2011 Mentor Award

VANCOUVER, CANADA, Feb. 16, 2012 – A University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) researcher who is a renowned expert in rehabilitation and assistive technology has been awarded the 2011 Mentor Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) “for his dedication and successful efforts to increase the number of women and persons with disabilities with doctoral degrees in rehabilitation science.”

Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D., distinguished professor and FISA-Paralyzed Veterans of America Chair, Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, SHRS, will receive the prize at a ceremony on Friday, Feb. 17, in Vancouver, Canada, at the AAAS annual meeting.

According to AAAS, the Mentor Award was established by its Board of Directors in 1996 and “honors AAAS members who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students (women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) towards a Ph.D. degree in the sciences, as well as scholarship, activism, and community building on behalf of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. The award is directed towards individuals in the mid-stage of their careers, defined by roughly 25 years or less of mentoring experience. It includes a monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, and complimentary registration to the AAAS Annual Meeting.”

“I am honored to be recognized by this prestigious organization,” Dr. Cooper said. “I strongly believe that we need to support the efforts of students who want to learn about and contribute to rehabilitation science, particularly those who have personal knowledge of the needs of people with disabilities.”

He is the director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at Pitt and the Rehabilitation Research and Development Service of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he and his colleagues conduct clinical research and explore rehab strategies using advanced engineering techniques with the aim of improving mobility and function for people with disabilities.

“The selection committee was impressed by Dr. Cooper’s ability to create a working environment where every person’s talents, skill and contributions are recognized and valued,” said Yolanda S. George, deputy director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS. “He also has a strong track record as a community-builder through his involvement with a broad array of civic organizations.”

Dr. Cooper, a U.S. Army veteran who sustained a spinal cord injury, has mentored 18 American doctoral students from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), including 13 women and nine individuals with disabilities. Overall, he has mentored 100 undergraduate students, 69 Master’s degree students, 39 Ph.D. students, and 17 postdoctoral students, 50 percent of whom have come from underrepresented groups in STEM. He is active with Easter Seals, United Cerebral Palsy, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans Leadership Program, Three Rivers Center for Independent Living, and the Boy Scouts of America.

He has published more than 250 peer-reviewed journal articles on wheelchair design and biomechanics, has authored two textbooks, and is the editor of the medical journal Assistive Technology.

Dr. Cooper received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, and completed his doctoral degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been a recipient of 18 exceptional honors in the past two years, including the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Department of the Army, Outstanding Researcher Award from the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in 2010; the Community Hero Award from United Cerebral Palsy of Allegheny County in 2009; and the Veteran of the Year Award from the Veterans Leadership Program in 2009. Most recently, he has been heavily involved in the organization of the 2011 National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

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