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The Cathedral of Learning

2020 Sheth Awardees Make Their Mark Internationally

An international Pitt expert on Cuba, a Pitt trailblazer in pediatrics and a young Pitt engineering alumnus are the winners of the 2020 Sheth International Achievement Awards, sponsored by the University Center for International Studies (UCIS). The honors, given annually to individuals making a mark on the international stage, are being awarded to:  

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies, who has performed thought-leading research that helped to create unified and equitable social security systems in Latin America. He helped shape Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies and directed it for more than a decade.

Pitt Vice Provost for Global Affairs and UCIS Director Ariel C. Armony said Mesa-Lago showed “a deep commitment to establishing and strengthening a global dimension at Pitt, allowing students to gain global skills needed for success anywhere in the world.”

After launching his Pitt career with a residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Diego Chaves-Gnecco (GSPH, ’00) joined its Community Oriented Residency Education (CORE) program. The associate professor of medicine created this region’s first pediatric bilingual-bicultural clinic which offers Pittsburgh Latinx families primary care, monthly free clinics, community fairs and a literacy program for children.  

“His work with local Latinx families inspires new generations of Pitt medical students to fine-tune global points of view while using humanistic values and cultural understanding to ground their local practice,” said Armony.

The vice provost also lauded alumnus winner Vyasa Sai (ENGR ’13), who conducts research that addresses the challenges in low-power and communication for RFID and Internet of Things devices. He has authored a book, has several U.S. patents and has contributed to a number of academic journals in the fields of electronics and communications. Armony said Sai “exemplifies what Pitt students can accomplish and how Pitt alums can contribute to the betterment of society.” Sai is currently a senior hardware engineer for the visual technologies team at Intel Corporation in Folsom, California.

The awards are named for renowned scholar Jagdish N. Sheth (BUS ’62, BUS ’66).

A celebration to honor the winners will take place in the spring.

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Pitt-Titusville’s $1.2 Million Grant to Boost Region’s Future

A $1.2 million federal grant announced Sept. 29 for the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville’s Education and Training Hub is an investment in the future success of northwestern Pennsylvania, officials said.

U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia made the announcement at Erie High School. The grant was made through the Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities program, in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority. The program supports communities hard-hit by economic transition with local and regional workforce development.

Catherine Koverola, president of Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville, said the grant will fund a manufacturing assistance center and a medical assistant program at Pitt-Titusville. A nursing program is already in place.

“We are very grateful to Secretary Scalia and the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration for recognizing the great need that exists in this six-county region,” Koverola said. “To help this area flourish, we need a facility that will offer the kind of training needed to enable people to fill current and future manufacturing jobs and health care positions that provide sustaining wages.”

She added: “This grant is an investment into the future growth and development—as well as the future health—of this region.”

Pitt-Titusville has been the beating heart of the Oil Region for nearly 60 years, Koverola said. During that time, residents looked for it to provide the academic programs that people needed to build successful lives of purpose.

In consultation with the business community, and with the help of Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s Workforce and Opportunity Center and the University’s Manufacturing Assistance Center, Pitt-Titusville has transitioned into a model that will inject innovation and invigoration into the region to help lead the region’s economic rebirth.

Koverola said the Education and Training Hub is a transformational project that will reduce the effects of structural poverty in northwestern Pennsylvania by creating a healthy community ecosystem. The Hub will train the region’s residents in the skills required to participate in the local economy, attain meaningful work and engage in civic life, thereby increasing the social capital of the community.

The Cathedral of Learning

Pitt Spaces Honored with Design Awards

The University of Pittsburgh was honored by the 2020 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Pittsburgh Design Awards. The annual awards “recognize and honor architects and designers, and promote excellence, innovation and achievement in the craft of architecture.”

The Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood was honored with a Social Equity in Design Award. Opened in 2018, the CEC in Homewood holds classrooms, conference rooms, a computer lab, the new SHRS Wellness Pavilion, an art gallery with works by local artists and more—and hosts programming for Homewood residents of all ages and the Pitt community. According to the AIA’s jury comments, the CEC in Homewood “models a bridge between academic institutions and the communities that surround them—an invaluable stream for sharing resource towards more equitable communities.” The CEC in Homewood was designed by Strada.

Additionally, the Center for Urban Education (CUE) within Pitt’s School of Education was awarded a Certificate of Merit for its space in Posvar Hall. According to the award page, the team behind the design of CUE kept the health and wellness of those who occupy the space in mind—making improvements to the space’s natural light and other elements. According to AIA’s jury comments, CUE stands out as a space that “breaks away from the rigid geometry of the existing building and boldly resets its rules on spatial interaction within the academic setting.” CUE, which was designed by Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, completed its renovation in September 2017.

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Katz Ranks Among the Five Highest-Rising Business Schools of the Decade

Poets & Quants has named Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business one of the top five business schools to have risen the most in MBA rankings between 2010 and 2019.

Katz ranked No. 64 in 2010 and broke into the top 40 in 2019. The MBA program is currently ranked No. 39 in the U.S.

The composite MBA ranking is based on a weighted average of the five major MBA rankings from U.S. News, Forbes, the Financial Times, The Economist and Businessweek.

Katz’s rise is attributed to its continuous evolution of new experience-based learning opportunities, new courses and new programs to adapt to the ever-changing business world. Katz students are prepared to enter the workforce as agile business leaders—something that has been increasingly noticed and sought out by employers.

Read more in this Katz school news feature.

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Michael Hatridge to Lead $115 Million Grant to Support Quantum Computing Center

Michael Hatridge, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been named a principal investigator in a $115 million U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science initiative to advance quantum computing research. The Co-design Center for Quantum Advantage, led by the Brookhaven National Laboratory, will feature five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers designed to advance and scale quantum computing capabilities. Under the grant, Hatridge will help his center develop devices for connecting quantum computers into large-scale machines and amplifiers designed to read bits of quantum data.

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Tia Lynn Ashman Publishes Flower Pigmentation Study

The effects of climate change have led to increases in floral pigmentation over the last 76 years, according to research featuring the work of Tia Lynn Ashman, a distinguished professor of evolutionary ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The paper, “Floral Pigmentation Has Responded Rapidly to Global Change in Ozone and Temperature,” was published in Current Biology on Sept. 17. It was coauthored with University of Virginia GIS Specialist Drew MacQueen and Clemson University Assistant Professor Matthew Koski, who earned his PhD in biological sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. The research outlines how global changes in ozone and temperature have affected UV-absorbing pigmentation of flowers during the 20th century.

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Gig Economy Researchers Receive Knowledge Challenge Grant

Spyridon Lagaras, assistant professor of finance in the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, has been awarded a $220,000 Knowledge Challenge grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for "Securing the Gig: Entrepreneurship and the Rise of the Platform Economy,” a joint project with Matthew Denes of Carnegie Mellon University, Margarita Tsoutsoura of Cornell University and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“The proposed project will investigate the effect of the gig economy on entrepreneurship using detailed administrative microdata from the Internal Revenue Service,” said Lagaras. “We plan to study how the gig economy affects entry into entrepreneurship, nascent firm growth and their sources of capital/funding.”

Together with funding from CMU's Block Center for Technology and Society and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, their gig economy research has received nearly $400,000 in funding.

Read more about the award in this Katz school news feature.

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Melanie Hughes to Serve as Sociology Program Director with National Science Foundation

Melanie Hughes, professor of sociology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Gender Inequality Research Lab, will serve as sociology program director with the National Science Foundation (NSF) starting this month.

Her appointment is part of NSF’s rotating program director initiative through which university faculty work at the federal agency for a period of one to three years. Hughes will help manage the NSF grant review process to determine which sociology proposals will be recommended for funding. She will also work with program directors in other divisions and directorates to pursue NSF’s broader objectives, as well as conduct outreach to inform sociologists about how NSF works and to encourage them to submit research proposals. While in the position, rotating program officers are also permitted to continue their scholarly research.

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Online Training Developed for Vis Moot Law Competition Participants

The Vis Moot competition is an important one for Pitt Law students. Every year, a select group from the School of Law join teams of students from hundreds of law schools in 65 countries to present written and oral arguments in a fictitious commercial dispute.

The “problem” to argue is presented in October and the actual competition takes place in Austria in the spring. Ronald Brand, the Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg University Professor of Law, has been training law students for the Vis Moot and accompanying them abroad for more than 15 years. But this year, with the entire process moving online, he had to pivot.

So, Brand, working with the Commercial Law Development Program at the U.S. Department of Commerce, developed training videos for the law students. In just three weeks, the 2021 Vis Moot training page had 2,250 visits and is currently averaging 156 visits a day. Students logging in are from Afghanistan, Albania, Bahrain, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Maldives, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

“The Vis Moot has been a great pedagogical tool—not only helping educate a new generation of international lawyers, but also resulting in valuable curriculum development in law schools in many transition countries,” said Brand, who is also the driving force behind Pitt’s Center for International Legal Education. “It has been a real privilege to be involved in this process, and to work with our Commerce Department colleagues to make it happen.”

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Cultural Engagement Playbook Aims to Create Safe, Healthy and Inclusive Environments

With increasingly diverse classrooms and workplaces comes the challenge of effective, inclusive communication among classmates and colleagues. The coronavirus has also not only prompted conversations about public health but also about inequities embedded in society, tying into larger conversations about race, ethnicity, discrimination and institutionalized racism. 

To help with this, and to create safe, healthy and inclusive environments, the University of Pittsburgh Humanities in Health group has created the Cultural Engagement Playbook, a multimodal training approach to engage trainees in person, virtually or both in a purposeful cultural self-examination of how their own lived experiences influence their attitudes, with the goal of encouraging empathy for others, critically examining their own biases and gaining an appreciation of diversity and a greater sense of community.  

The team includes lead innovator Abdesalam Soudi, who is the primary investigator in the Humanities at Work project and lecturer in Pitt’s Department of Linguistics in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; Shelome Gooden, assistant vice chancellor for research for the humanities, arts, social sciences, and related fields and a linguistics professor; and Jeannette South-Paul, professor and chair emeritus of family medicine in the School of Medicine.

Two dedicated entrepreneurial mentors are guiding the process and as part of the Pitt Ventures First Gear Program. The project also received NSF I-Corp funding to help validate the market-readiness of the innovation.

For licensing information contact Carolyn Weber, technology licensing associate,, in Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

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Jackie Smith Receives Fulbright for Globalization and Human Rights Research

Jackie Smith, professor in the Department of Sociology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Canada. Smith, whose research focuses on how globalization impacts people and communities, will conduct research at McMaster University’s Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition as part of her book project, “Globalization, Human Rights and Cities in the 21st Century.”

This research considers how global economic and social policies affect cities’ abilities to address residents’ needs, and how people are coming together within and across cities to demand their “right to the city.” The award will enable Smith to include additional comparative research on human rights, racial equity and housing justice struggles in Canadian cities.

Smith has documented long-term trends in transnational social movement organizations and coalitions, in addition to research on connections between global politics and activism in cities and communities. Smith is currently engaged in participatory research with Pittsburgh and with national human rights organizers and engaged in work to connect municipalities with United Nations human rights work.

The flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, the Fulbright Program is designed to forge lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, counter misunderstandings and help people and nations work together toward common goals.

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School of Education Receives Grants to Spark Innovation in K-12 Education

The School of Education has been awarded three grants totaling $255,000 to lead new innovations in K-12 education. The funding comes from The Grable Foundation as part of the Tomorrow campaign, which is awarding 17 grants to nonprofit organizations across Western Pennsylvania over the next year to advance the future of learning.

The three grants that the School of Education received were the most awarded to any organization under the campaign, and will help support the following projects:

  • Ignite Learning Teacher Mentorship Program: an opportunity for practicing teachers, pre-service teachers and university professors to take advantage of culturally relevant training and professional development opportunities.
  • A Social-Emotional Learning Tutoring Network: Through the Center for Urban Education, the new program will enlist retired Black educators to offer tutoring support to those who work with Black students, especially those in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
  • School Board Leadership College: The School of Education’s Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents and Pitt’s Institute of Politics will create a school board leadership college for school board members.

For more about the funded projects, visit the School of Education website.

Led by Remake Learning, the Tomorrow campaign is supported by the Grable Foundation, ASTC, Global Minds Initiative, Kidsburgh, KnowledgeWorks, Project Fuel, The Saturday Light Brigade and transformED.  

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HERL Receives Patent for Computer Pointing Device

The Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) at the University of Pittsburgh recently announced its latest patent to help improve mobility for people who use prosthetics.

The patent is a pointing device for computer mice to be used by people with prosthetic hands. HERL focuses on innovative technologies that improve human mobility.

“The ability to use a computer is critical in today’s world, and using a mouse is ubiquitous unless you use a prosthetic arm,” said Rory Cooper director of HERL and one of the researchers named on the patent. “This technology opens an efficient, and cost-effective means for individuals who use prosthetic arms to access a computer, which could be revolutionary.” Cooper is also associate dean for inclusion and Distinguished Professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

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Pitt Partnering with City of Pittsburgh for Webinar Series for Small Businesses

The University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center, part of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, is partnering with the City of Pittsburgh for a three-part webinar series for small business owners to learn about opportunities for contracts with the city and prepare for the bidding and solicitation process to gain request-for-proposal approval.

The sessions will be held on the following dates, with different topics:

  • Session 1, Sept. 22—New Contracts, Identify Availability: Guidance on bidding on City of Pittsburgh solicitations and a checklist to navigate.
  • Session 2, Oct. 6—Respond to Request for Proposal: Contracts and capability and winning solicitation proposals.
  • Session 3, Oct. 20—Close the Deal: Presenting your Presence: Interview process and preparation and capacity to fulfill contract requirements.

Tickets can be reserved at no cost on the center’s website.

The Cathedral of Learning

11 Undergrads Named 2020 Millennium Fellows

The University of Pittsburgh welcomed its second cohort of undergraduate students to the Millennium Fellows program—a semester-long initiative for undergraduate leaders focused on ways to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

More than 15,000 young leaders from 1,400 campuses applied, and only 80 campuses worldwide were selected to host this year’s 1,458 Millennium Fellows.

Pitt’s fellows are:

  • Ashima Agarwal, Class of 2020
  • Sri Akkineni, Class of 2022
  • Alison Chilcott, Class of 2020
  • Dan Cho, Class of 2020
  • Cloe Holloway, Class of 2023
  • Nishtha Kochhar, Class of 2021
  • Madison Mascari, Class of 2023
  • Aishwarya Mukundan, Class of 2022
  • Kunal Patel, Class of 2021
  • Swathi Tata, Class of 2021
  • Caroline Weiss, Class of 2022
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Pitt Cyber Announces Fall 2020 Affiliate Scholars

The Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security (Pitt Cyber) has added a new slate of researchers to its team of Pitt Cyber Affiliate Scholars. Affiliate scholars are selected for excellence in cyber-themed research and teaching and work to serve as sources for transdisciplinary collaboration and innovation within the University and beyond.

The Fall 2020 Affiliate Scholars are:

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Pitt Recognized for Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

For the fourth consecutive year, the University of Pittsburgh was recognized for its work in diversity and inclusion with the INSIGHT into Diversity magazine’s Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award. 

HEED Awards annually recognize U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate “outstanding commitment” to this work. 

“This recognition serves as a formal acknowledgment of the persistent efforts of the Pitt community to advance equity and inclusion,” said Clyde Wilson Pickett, Pitt’s newly appointed vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion. “We understand that this work cannot be done individually, it is work that must be intentional and collaborative. While this is an opportunity to pause and note our progress, we know that our work is far from over. I am excited to help continue and expand on this work, collectively, as we strive to make our campuses more inclusive and equitable for all.”

During the pandemic, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has led a variety of virtual events to bring people together across the Pitt community and beyond—namely through its running town hall series, titled This is Not Normal: Allyship and Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19, and the Diversity Forum 2020, Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action. In the past year, the University also adopted the Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility Policy and Procedure and will continue to offer workshops on accessibility throughout the academic year.

Pitt will be featured alongside other honorees of the HEED Award in the November 2020 issue of INSIGHT into Diversity, the oldest and largest diversity publication in higher education.

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Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing Receives Funding for Two Projects

Pitt’s Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing recently announced two new collaborations that both aim to tackle some of the toughest questions to address patient risk and prescribing practices relating to opioids.

In one project, the center will work with Pennsylvania’s Department of Health to add advanced analytics to its Overdose Data to Action response. “Our goal in applying machine learning to opioid data has always been to find ways to use these new techniques in real-life situations to help make better decisions and better policies around the epidemic,” said Walid Gellad, center director and associate professor of medicine and health policy and management at Pitt. The project, through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will go through August 2022.

Another project is a continuation of funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to develop and implement machine learning risk prediction models to help improve opioid overdose prevention and treatment. The center recently received an additional two years of funding from the foundation to continue working with the Department of Human Services in Allegheny County. The goal is to implement this modeling tool in the county, after robust community discussion and ethical review, to help address the opioid epidemic.

Vanitha Swaminathan

Pitt Business Partners With AR/VR Firm for a New Marketing Course and Case Competition

The Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business is partnering with AR/VR company ImagineAR, to launch a new business disruption series with the course, “Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) for Brands and Strategy,” taught by Vanitha Swaminathan, Thomas Marshall Professor of Marketing.

Students, working in teams, will design an AR/VR branding campaign for a real business or company with the help of ImagineAR and will conclude the course with a 10-minute video presentation showcasing their ideas.

“The offering of this course is extremely unique and timely,” said Swaminathan. “The current health crisis has required marketers to be even more creative in how to engage fans and customers. Augmented and virtual reality tools will provide new, creative ways of engaging with customers during this challenging period of social distancing.”

The online course will be offered to MBA and MS students this spring and eventually will be open as well to undergraduates in the College of Business Administration.

The course also will tie into a new Katz Augmented Reality Case Competition for graduate students, co-sponsored by the Center for Branding, Katz Marketing Club, Katz Technology Club and ImagineAR. The competition will expand students’ experiences and challenge them to think through how AR/VR technologies can improve the brand experience.

Read more about this new course.

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New Research Examines Use of Earth-Abundant Metals

Platinum, rhodium and other precious metals are used as industrial catalysts, but they're a limited and expensive resource.

John Keith, associate professor of chemical engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, contributed to a new paper in the journal Science that explores the use of earth-abundant metals instead. Earth-abundant metal catalysts are common in nature. Engineering new catalysts based on the natural world would dramatically reduce the cost and environmental footprint of industrial processes.

“Humans have developed portfolios of rare metals that work in industrial catalysis, but nature has its own portfolios of biological enzymes that use complex combinations of earth-abundant metals,” said Keith, who is an R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy. “When we decipher nature’s blueprints for catalysis based on these metals, we can engineer new earth-abundant, metal-based catalysts to dramatically reduce the cost and environmental footprint of industrial processes needed for making materials, medicines, fuels and chemicals.”