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two people walking in front of the sun

Three English Affiliates Receive 2019 Investing in Professional Artists Grant

Three affiliates of the Department of English in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences have been awarded funds from the Investing in Professional Artists Grant, a shared program of the Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.

The foundations recognized fifteen local artists and organizations and selected the grantees based on “not only the quality of their work, but also on the potential of their proposals to advance their careers.”

The three Pitt affiliates and their projects are:

Cameron Barnett (A&S ’16G), faculty of the Falk Laboratory School, received a grant of $8.500 to “support a second full-length book of poetry centered on the historical and racial roots of the artist’s heritage in the U.S. and Canada, and the histories of slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.” Barnett earned his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in poetry from Pitt in 2016.

Adriana Ramirez (A&S ’09G) received a grant of $10,000 to “complete research and manuscript for a book on the history of violence in the Americas, from Pittsburgh to Colombia and back, blending family and oral histories with larger national narratives.” Ramirez earned her MFA degree in creative nonfiction writing from Pitt in 2009.

Anjali Sachdeva, lecturer in the Composition Program and Writing Program in the Department of English, received a grant of $10,000 to “support development of a novel set in a near-future world where people are segregated by gender.”

Mohamed in a gray suit jacket and dark shirt

Alumnus Wasi Mohamed Named Thomas Merton Center’s 2019 New Person of the Year

Pitt alumnus Wasi Mohamed has been named the Thomas Merton Center’s 2019 New Person of the Year. He was recognized at a June 25 event. The annual award honors a local Pittsburgh activist working towards peace and justice. 

Mohamed is the Pittsburgh Director of Community Entrepreneurship for Forward Cities and was formerly director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. 

Mohamed earned a BS in Neuroscience and a BA in history and philosophy of science and philosophy at Pitt, both in 2017. 

Donald in a green polo shirt with navy collars

Aaron Donald Football Performance Center Unveiled, Supported by Historic Gift

The University of Pittsburgh officially unveiled the newly dedicated Aaron Donald Football Performance Center this June, with the two-time reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in attendance.

The ground floor of the Duratz Athletic Complex, Pitt Football's daily home and practice facility, was renamed in honor of Donald after the Pitt legend and current Los Angeles Rams star recently pledged a historic seven-figure donation to the program. Donald donated to the Pitt Football Championship Fund, which serves the program in key areas such as facility improvement, recruiting, technology and student-athlete development. At 27 years old, Donald is the youngest seven-figure donor in the history of the University of Pittsburgh. It also marks the largest donation ever by a Pitt football letterman to the program.

“It was a dream come true to play for the University of Pittsburgh,” said Donald, who starred at Pitt from 2010-13. “My experience as a Panther is something that influences my life every day and I want to pay that forward. I believe in what Coach Narduzzi is building at Pitt and this was an opportunity for me to make a difference for our current and future players. Pitt will always be my school and I'm honored to be able to support the Blue and Gold.”

Hall in a black top in a lab

Martica Hall Receives Outstanding Educator Award

Martica Hall, professor of psychiatry, psychology, and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh, recently received the Sleep Research Society Mary A. Carskadon Outstanding Educator Award for excellence in education related to sleep and circadian research. The award honors outstanding educational contributions to disseminating the knowledge base, research methods and health and safety significance of the field.

Hall’s research explores the effect of sleep on behavioral and physical health, and she has published more than 175 peer-reviewed articles on topics in this area. Her current research pertains to sleep, circadian rhythms and cardiometabolic risk in retired shift workers.

Hall received the award at SLEEP 2019, the annual meeting of the Sleep Research Society.

Stephen D. Meriney

Stephen D. Meriney Receives Grant for Neuromuscular Disease Research

Pitt’s Stephen D. Meriney has received one of 26 The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) grants for rare neuromuscular disease research.

Meriney, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry, focuses on studying the mechanisms that control peripheral nervous system plasticity, including mechanisms that underlie neuromuscular diseases. The MDA awarded him more than $300,000 in critical funding to support the development of a new therapeutic approach for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).  This novel therapy is based on a new small molecule that was developed in a collaboration between the Meriney lab and Distinguished University Professor Peter Wipf from the Department of Chemistry

Meriney’s lab focuses on regulating and modulating presynaptic ion channels — essentially looking at how one neuron “talks” to another by releasing neurotransmitters across both healthy and diseased synapses. He will use the grant to address current gaps in the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that destroys motor neurons which control essential voluntary muscle movements such as speaking, walking and swallowing.  

Cathedral of Learning Commons Room

Three Graduate Students Win Contest for Thesis Elevator Pitch

Piyusha Gade took first place in this past academic year’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Pitt Competition, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, University Center for Teaching and Learning and the University Library System. Gerald Ferrer won runner-up and the first-ever people’s choice award; and Jacqueline Lombard was a second runner-up and, separately, received a DAAD Graduate Scholarship (Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst).

The Three Minute Thesis Competition, started by the University of Queensland in Australia and now in its second year at the University of Pittsburgh, invites PhD candidates ahead of their dissertation defense to effectively present their research in three minutes or less to a non-specialist audience.

Gade, a student in the Swanson School of Engineering, presented a Rational Design of Vascular Grafts in Aged Hosts. Ferrer, also of the Swanson School, explained Improving Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment Decisions. Lombard, from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, spoke about Constructing Racial Identity in Medieval European Art.

“It was great fun trying to sum up five years’ worth of work in three minutes! As scientists, we often talk only about the details of our work. 3MT made me think about what the details add up to. That was a lot of fun!” said Gade.

“As a humanist, I felt some need to pitch not only the importance of my own individual work but also the importance of the Humanities as a field, which is a real challenge when you only have so little time,” said Lombard. “I’m sure, however, that this won’t be the last time that will be necessary, so 3MT was good practice.”

The event was part of National Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week.

Berringer in a coral top

New Director Named for Office of Veterans Services

Aryanna Berringer, an Iraq War veteran, is now serving as director of the Office of Veterans Services (OVS). 

At age 18, Berringer enlisted in the U.S. Army just months after the attacks of September 11, 2001. She was deployed to Jordan in February 2003 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the XVII Airborne Corps and served honorably through 2004. An Oregon native, Berringer was the first in her family to join the military.

In addition to her service in the military, Berringer has a diverse range of professional experience, ranging from IT project management consulting to starting a nonprofit geared toward improving nutrition in schools and military installations as a matter of national security.

“Aryanna is very dynamic and personable, and she’s eager to get started,” said Antonio Quarterman, director of the McCarl Center for Nontraditional Student Success and College of General Studies in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “She will bring a lot to the role, to the University and to OVS — as she builds relationships with the veteran and military community in the city and in Pennsylvania.”

“As someone who has made a deep commitment to continued service to my community after I left the military, I am very honored to join the Pitt family in support of our military veterans and families,” said Berringer. “I look forward to the mission of engaging and strengthening our veteran community — students, families, staff and faculty alike.

Berringer is the recipient of numerous awards including the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

Gill-Peterson in a red coat and white sweater

Julian Gill-Peterson Wins Lambda Literary Awards Prize in Transgender Nonfiction

Julian Gill-Peterson, an assistant professor in the Department of English, received top honors in the category of Transgender Nonfiction during the 31st Annual Lambda Literacy Awards in June. The awards, known as the “Lammys,” recognize the year’s best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature. Gill-Peterson was nominated for their book, “Histories of the Transgender Child.” Gill-Peterson is also a member of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program steering committee at Pitt.

Joseph Pugar

Pitt Spinout Aruga Vascular Graft Wins Business Pitch Funding

Pitt spinout Aruga Technologies won a $25,000 prize in a business pitch competition hosted by the Biomimicry Institute at the recent GreenBiz Circularity19 conference in Minneapolis.

While the contest traditionally focuses on energy, waste and climate change, it was Aruga CEO and Pitt alum Joseph Pugar’s 20-minute pitch on the company’s unique synthetic vascular graft implant technology that won second prize among 12 competitors.

The graft imitates the natural wrinkling that prevents platelets from clumping and blood from clotting inside blood vessels, making it more long-lasting than typical grafts.

The Aruga technology is the product of a series of collaborations between Pitt and the UPMC vascular surgery group. Luka Pocivavsek, a vascular surgeon, is the primary inventor of the technology and worked through Pitt’s Innovation Institute to begin commercializing it.

Pugar, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Pitt in 2017,  joined the team as a student, initially helping to prototype the technology's surface mechanics.

The company was spun out of Pitt in 2018 and is a portfolio company of LifeX Labs, a Pittsburgh-based life science startup accelerator.

Oscar E. Swan

Oscar E. Swan Receives Award from President of Poland

Oscar E. Swan, professor in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and advisor for the Polish minor, was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit from the Republic of Poland.

Swan received the award "in recognition of [his] outstanding services in promoting Polish language and Polish culture, and for outstanding achievements in Slavic Studies."  

Swan accepted the prestigious award, presented by the Polish Ambassador to the United States, in May in Washington, D.C.

Pitt¬–Johnstown Supervisor of Campus Grounds Dave Finney

Pitt–Johnstown Is Pennsylvania's First Campus Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary

The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown has been designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Pitt–Johnstown is the first Pennsylvania university to earn this certification, and only the eighth overall. 

Pitt­–Johnstown Supervisor of Campus Grounds Dave Finney, who led the effort to obtain sanctuary designation, was recognized by Audubon for his environmental stewardship. The Johnstown campus maintains a 655-acre grounds with 15 miles of trails.

"The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown has shown a strong commitment to its environmental program. They are to be commended for their efforts to provide a sanctuary for wildlife on their property," said Christine Kane, CEO at Audubon International. “By taking action to implement indoor and outdoor conservation projects, the administration, faculty and staff at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown have demonstrated their commitment to the sustainable management of their natural resources.”

Certification demonstrates an organization’s leadership, commitment and high standards of environmental management in areas such as environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, water quality and conservation, resource management and outreach and education. Recertification is required every three years to maintain the designation.

Nine Mile Run storm flow

Pitt Researchers' Report Pushes for Regional Green Infrastructure Database

The Pittsburgh Collaboratory on Water Research, Education, and Outreach, has released the white paper “Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Management: Knowledge Gaps and Approaches.” The paper proposes methods to comprehensively study stormwater management and green infrastructure projects underway in local governments throughout Allegheny County. The recommendations are based on a meeting of 32 stakeholders in water management, including representatives from Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Allegheny County Sanitary Authority. The collaboratory is an initiative founded by Professor Emily Elliott, Associate Professor Daniel Bain and Assistant Professors Eitan Shelef and Brian Thomas, all from the Department of Geology and Environmental Science, with support from The Heinz Endowments.

Kumta in a suit and tie

New Pitt Partnership Expands Research into Rechargeable Battery Systems

The Next-Generation Energy Conversion and Storage Technologies Lab at the University of Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center recently announced a new energy research partnership with Malvern Panalytical that will enable the lab to see the chemistry of what is happening inside a battery while it is in use.

The lab, headed by Prashant N. Kumta, focuses on energy conversion and storage, including rechargeable battery systems. Malvern Panalytical’s Empyrean X-ray Platform, a multipurpose diffractometer, will be used in the lab to identify solid-state materials by determining their internal structure, composition and phase while they are in use.

Delitto in a light shirt and red tie

SHRS Dean Delitto Appointed Member of National Advisory Council

Anthony Delitto, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, was recently appointed as a member of the National Advisory Council for Complementary and Integrative Health.

The council is responsible for advising, consulting with and making recommendations to the director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health on matters relating to the research activities and functions of the center.

Delitto treats people with painful musculoskeletal disorders, and his current research is focused on implementing classification and treatment effectiveness studies into quality improvement initiatives. He is also conducting trials in exercise interventions for people with Parkinson's disease.

Blain smiling

Keisha N. Blain Wins Book Prize

Keisha N. Blain, associate professor in the Department of History, has been awarded the annual Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize for her recent publication “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.”

The book, which “[draws] on a variety of previously untapped sources, including newspapers, government records, songs and poetry,” tells the stories of Black women nationalists in the 20th century. The book prize is given annually for “a first book that deals substantially with the history of women, gender and/or sexuality.”

According to a statement, the selection committee said, “Featuring an impressive archive and transnational in scope, every single chapter in this book offers serious interventions, contributions, and reinterpretations of familiar historical narratives.”

Blain also won the 2019 Darlene Clark Hine Award from the Organization of American Historians for the same publication.

Ward in a purple top outdoors

Zina Ward Earns 2019 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship

The American Council of Learned Studies has named Zina Ward, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, as one of 65 recipients of the 2019 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship. The fellowship, sponsored by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, provides Ward and other fellows a $30,000 stipend and up to $8,000 in research funds and university fees in their final year of dissertation writing. Ward is being recognized for her dissertation, “Individual Differences in Cognitive Science: Conceptual, Methodological, and Ethical Issues.”

Runyan in a dark blouse with flowery spots

Caroline Runyan Named Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Caroline Runyan, assistant professor of neuroscience, has been named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The program provides funding to promising young investigators advancing human health who are in their first few years of their appointment at the assistant professor level.

Runyan, who arrived at Pitt in 2017, was one of 22 early career researchers named to the 2019 class of scholars by leading U.S. academic and research institutions. The award comes with four years of flexible funding to invest in exploratory research.

Runyan’s research focus is on the brain’s ability to flexibly control perception and behavior in different situations — specifically, she images and manipulates cells and circuits to learn how the brain is able to shift gears quickly, as well as how it processes different types of sensory information depending on behavioral context.

The Pew funding is helping the lab image activity both within and between brain regions, “so we can start to get a sense of how the brain is able to filter out irrelevant information, or amplify important information. We’re developing methods to study the local circuit mechanisms that control how two brain regions interact to transmit information.”

This will all hopefully enable new, systems-level approaches to understanding brain disorders with altered network communication, such as autism and schizophrenia, Runyan said.

Harry Colmery

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of G.I. Bill, Drafted by Pitt Law Graduate

June 22 marks the 75th anniversary of the original G.I. Bill, which has benefited 8 million veterans by providing education and training benefits. And it was made possible through the vision of Harry Colmery, a Pittsburgh native and 1916 graduate of Pitt’s School of Law.

Born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, Colmery (1890-1979) put his law career on pause when the U.S. entered World War I. After serving as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Service, Colmery settled in Kansas and went on to a successful career practicing law, arguing two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Having a degree from Pitt Law meant that Colmery had a secure professional path after the war, which was not the case for many other veterans. In 1936, Colmery served as the national commander of the American Legion, advocating for a better future for other servicemen and women when they returned to civilian life.

In 1944, handwritten on Mayflower Hotel stationery in Washington, D.C., Colmery wrote the initial draft of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the original G.I. Bill of Rights. The bill, signed by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, would provide education benefits to veterans and help ease their transition into civilian life.

As a result, 8 million World War II veterans — and millions more in subsequent wars — used the G.I. Bill to obtain an education. After World War II, over half of the country’s college students were veterans, who then went on to reinvigorate the economy and bolster the American identity. A multitude of programs were created as a result of the G.I. Bill, having effects in education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, home loan and health care.

“Harry Colmery’s commitment to helping veterans has translated into creating one of the most significant pieces of legislation of the 20th century,” said David Roudabush, outreach coordinator for Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services. “He has positively impacted so many lives, including the veterans that we’re proud to have as faculty, staff and students at Pitt.”

a man and a woman in graduation garb

Pitt-affiliated School Sends Off Inaugural Class

The Nazarbayev University School of Medicine saw its first class graduate this spring.

NUSOM, a school of Nazarbayev University in the Republic of Kazakhstan, selected the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine as its strategic academic partner to assist in the development of the medical school. Since then, Pitt has helped NUSOM institute a curriculum based on the Pittsburgh model, as well as state-of-the-art teaching facilities, school leadership and faculty, policies, courses and more, allowing the new school to stand out in the republic.

Out of 937 graduates from the university as a whole, 41 received degrees from the inaugural class of NUSOM, with 14 medical doctors, 27 master’s graduates and 42 registered nursing to Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates.

Mpourmpakis in a light gray jacket and white shirt without a tie

Giannis Mpourmpakis Earns Prestigious Grecian Award

Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, will be honored June 19 with the Bodossaki Award in the Applied Chemical Sciences.

One of the most prestigious awards for scientists of Greek descent, the Bodossaki Award is given every two years to the most outstanding scientist of Greek descent below the age of 40. Mpourmpakis will be honored by the president of Greece as part of the award ceremony.

Mpourmpakis heads the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab at Pitt, or CANELa for short. Here, he and his research team use theory and computation to investigate the physicochemical properties of nanomaterials with potential applications in diverse technological areas on the nanoscale, ranging from green energy generation and storage to materials engineering and catalysis. Read more about the award at the Swanson School website.