Work, Avocation Take Charleroi Native to New Heights

By Paglia, Ron | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 13, 2008 | Go to article overview

Work, Avocation Take Charleroi Native to New Heights


Paglia, Ron, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Philip J. Kellman, Ph.D., didn't set out to be a college professor, Fulbright Scholar, NASA researcher, author and pilot. But those credits are among the ever-growing list of accomplishments on his curriculum vitae.

"I went to college certain that I would become an attorney," said Kellman, a native of Speers now living in Pacific Palisades, Calif. "From some courses in philosophy and psychology, I got very interested in issues of human nature, consciousness and how knowledge is possible."

That desire to learn more about cognitive psychology ignited during Kellman's undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., continues today in his duties as chair of the Cognitive Area in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Cognitive psychology, Kellman explained, attempts to study the aforementioned issues using scientific methods.

"As with most of scientific psychology, my work focuses on how minds and brains work in general and has little to do with clinical psychology, personality or pathology," said Kellman, 53, a 1972 graduate of Charleroi Area High School.

Kellman graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree from Georgetown in 1976. He earned his master's and doctor of philosophy degrees in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1977 and 1980, respectively.

It was during graduate school at Penn that Kellman focused on research on "how we see," especially visual perception of three- dimensional objects, how seeing relates to thinking, how perception develops in infancy, and perceptual learning throughout life.

"These areas fascinate me for a number of reasons," he said. "They involve deep issues of the relations of the world, the mind and the brain. They also have many direct practical implications. Another benefit is that they involve a fair amount of mathematics that I enjoy. I think I'm a geometer at heart."

Kellman's passion for education moved him to the front of the classroom not long after receiving his doctorate as he accepted a position as assistant professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia, in 1980. He then became an associate professor and professor at Swarthmore, where he taught through the 1992-93 term.

It was during his tenure at Swarthmore in 1984 that he received support from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the James McKeen Cattell Foundation to be a visiting scholar at the Uppsala Universitet in Sweden.

"I was fortunate to work with some excellent scientists there doing research on object and motion perception," Kellman said.

Four years later, in 1988, he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. His assignment there involved research on depth and space perception.

Kellman was appointed as a senior associate by the U.S. National Research Council to work for a year (1991-92) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. He worked in the Aviation Human Factors Division and began to test his ideas for applying perceptual learning methods to computer-based learning.

"It was our first time living in California and we enjoyed it," Kellman said of his family. "And the experiments -- on improving pilots' pickup of information from instruments and charts -- worked great."

In an "unexpected bonus," Kellman was able to base his aircraft at Moffett Naval Air Station at NASA Ames.

"Lined up for takeoff behind a P-3 Orion or a gigantic C-5A transport, my plane looked like a small insect," he said, laughing. "That kept me on my toes. It was the closest I'll ever come to being a military pilot, or being run over by one."

While at NASA, Kellman was recruited by UCLA, but he and his wife, the former Pamela Hilpert, M.D., were hesitant about a permanent move to the West Coast.

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Work, Avocation Take Charleroi Native to New Heights
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