Synagogue shooting victim Joyce Fienberg was a “driving force” of good

November 18, 2018

Personalized, handwritten holiday cards, beautiful dinners and thoughtful advice: This is what Joyce Fienberg shared with the graduate students she welcomed into her home, said Aleksandra Slavkovic, now a professor in the statistics and public health sciences departments and associate dean for graduate education at Eberly College of Science at Penn State University.

Slavkovic described Fienberg as an esteemed social scientist, as well as an elegant, magnificent person who was “kind beyond belief.”

Fienberg, 75, of Oakland, was one of 11 people killed Saturday during a shooting at Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill. She was married to the late Stephen Fienberg, a professor of statistics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University. They had two sons, Anthony and Howard.

Slavkovic met Fienberg through her husband, who served as Slavkovic’s adviser while she completed her doctoral studies at Carnegie Mellon. Their home was open to all of the students he mentored, Slavkovic said.

“That’s just goodness, and no limit to what they were willing to offer and show kindness to people,” Slavkovic said of the Fienbergs. “I felt Joyce was really a driving force to that.”

Their home was warm and inviting--a feeling Slavkovic attributes to Fienberg.

“It didn’t matter what race, religion, ethnicity you were,” she said. “Their home was open to you. ... A big part of this was because of Joyce.”

Fienberg earned her degree in psychology at the University of Toronto, where she was a student research assistant in social psychology, according to a post on Facebook from the Learning Research and Development Center. She later worked with children with emotional and behavior needs at a residential treatment center.

Fienberg went on to work as a research specialist at the Learning Research and Development Center from 1983 until she retired in 2008.

“We worked full work weeks, and she managed to be a fabulous mother,” said Gaea Leinhardt, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, where Fienberg worked as a researcher.

She and Leinhardt worked together on several classroom-based research projects.

“Joyce was a magnificent, generous, caring and profoundly thoughtful human being,” said Leinhardt, who regularly saw and spoke with Fienberg since her retirement.

Leinhardt met Fienberg in 1968 in Cambridge, Mass. They worked together on many projects related to teaching and learning, as well as projects that were part of the Museum Learning Collaborative, studying how people learn from visiting museums. Leinhardt described Fienberg as an “unbelievably warm person” who was an outstanding mother and adoring grandmother.

After retirement, Fienberg spent time volunteering at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh, Leinhardt said.

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