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Pitt–Johnstown Hosts 10th Annual Older Youth Retreat

Some 100 teenagers who are about to or who have recently transitioned from foster care are convening on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus starting Aug. 6 for the tenth annual 2018 Older Youth Retreat — an event that welcomes foster teens from across Pennsylvania for activities and workshops in a college campus setting. From rural areas in Butler County or the urban core of Philadelphia, these teens convene to begin charting a course for their future, alongside others who have experienced substitute care.

“They work on goal setting, planning, advocacy, leadership and building relationships, all while experiencing college life with its structure and support,” said Helen Cahalane (pictured), principal investigator of Pitt’s Child Welfare Education and Research Programs, within the School of Social Work. The school, along with the state Department of Human Services’s Office of Children, Youth and Families hosts the event, with support from several partners across the state. In its ten years, the retreat has supported more than 1,000 young people ages 16 to 21.

“We’re helping youth create positive change in the child welfare system,” said Cahalane.

Giannis Mpourmpakis Named Emerging Investigator by American Chemical Society

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data named Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, an “Emerging Investigator” in a special issue of the publication. The issue highlights work from 25 researchers at the forefront of their discipline. Mpourmpakis contributed his paper “Understanding the Gas Phase Chemistry of Alkanes with First-Principles Calculations” to the ACS special issue. Read more about the paper and his work at the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab.

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Robert Brandom Named Fellow of the British Academy

Robert Brandom, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Philosophy, has been named a Fellow of the British Academy. The British Academy is the United Kingdom’s 116-year old national academy for the humanities and social sciences. Brandom, who was recognized for his research on the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of logic, pragmatism, German idealism, Wilfrid Sellars, Frege and Wittgenstein, is one of 20 Corresponding Academics elected to the Academy from outside of the U.K. In total, 76 academics were added this year. Past fellows include Winston Churchill, C.S. Lewis and Beatrice Webb.

Public Health Graduate Student Named Miss Wheelchair USA

University of Pittsburgh student Heather Tomko represented Pennsylvania in the Miss Wheelchair USA pageant and won the pageant’s top prize. At the pageant, Tomko also won the Invacare People’s Choice Award and the Dr. Georgi Hudson Smith Quest for Knowledge Award. Her platform, “Increasing Inclusion of People with Disabilities into their Communities,” aims to advocate and educate the community about disabilities and accessibility.

Tomko is a student and part of the research staff in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, pursuing her master’s in public health in Health Policy and Management.

Vanitha Swaminathan to Serve as President of American Marketing Association’s Academic Council

Vanitha Swaminathan, the Thomas Marshall Professor of Marketing at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, will serve as President of American Marketing Association’s Academic Council from July 2018 through June 2019.

Swaminathan, who joined Pitt in 2002, is the director of the Katz Center for Branding. Her research focuses on branding strategy and the conditions that foster consumer-brand relationships. Her research investigates how firms can successfully design brand strategies such as co-branding, brand extensions, brand acquisitions, marketing alliances to strengthen customer loyalty as well as firm stock market performance. More recently, her focus is on understanding how brand managers can leverage the power of social media to build stronger relationships with customers.

As president of the council, Swaminathan will lead the 12-member group that represents the diversity of scholarly interests in managerial, behavioral, modeling and public policy perspective with attention to strategic marketing implications.

Ruiz in a blue and green scarf

Alumna Monica Ruiz Lauded for Work in Latino Community

The Thomas Merton Center named Monica Ruiz (SSW ’15 SSW ’17G) its New Person of the Year 2018. The organization lauded Ruiz as “a talented organizer and tireless advocate for immigrant rights and racial and economic justice.”

Ruiz is the civic engagement and community organizer at Casa San José, an organization that advocates for and empowers the Latino community in and around Pittsburgh. She organizes around immigrant rights, housing and legal issues, advocates for policies that support immigrants, and builds coalitions to boost racial and workers justice movements.

“As a community organizer and alumnus, she represents well the social work values of worth and dignity for all and social and economic justice,” said Tracy Soska, chair of the School of Social Work’s concentration, Community, Organization, and Social Action, the first and longest standing community organizing program in any professional school in the country.

“We are proud of her work, tenacity, and commitment to the cause that demonstrates our school’s legacy for community organizing and social change,” Soska added.

Kar-Hai Chu Awarded NIH Grant to Study Technology and Substance Use

Kar-Hai Chu, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics in the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, was recently awarded a 4-year, $600,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study technology and substance use patterns. The ultimate goal of his project is to optimize cancer prevention and control.

Although many commercial smartphone applications have been created and marketed as tobacco cessation tools, none are based on scientific evidence. Chu’s work seeks to fill this gap by conducting a trial to test the usability of a smartphone-based app for tobacco cessation in young adults. In the long-term, the results of this study will inform the delivery of evidence-based tobacco cessation tools using affordable and accessible technologies.

a red see-through cross with little chemical/atom bits in it

Science Journal Features Artwork by Pitt PhD Student Yasemin Başdoğan

Artwork by a Pitt researcher was featured on the back cover of Royal Society of Chemistry journal, “Chemical Science.”

Yasemin Başdoğan — a PhD student in the lab of John Keith, assistant professor of chemical engineering and R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering — designed the image, which shows several molecules reacting in a cross-shaped container slowly filling with a liquid. Başdoğan’s research focuses on improving the modeling of a complex chemical system called the Morita-Baylis Hillman reaction.

“Our model is like a paramedic team that comes with an ambulance: it’s a quick fix that can be really effective,” she said.

The image was developed using tools and skills Başdoğan learned in a course at the Swanson School taught by assistant professor Chris Wilmer called Advanced Scientific Visual Communication, with assistance from Pitt’s Center for Research Computing.

Escobar in a black shirt

Pitt Med Students Named Finalists in American Medical Association’s Global Health Challenge

A group of students and alumni at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has been chosen as finalists for the American Medical Association’s Global Health Challenge.

The students are members of the Pitt Med Latino Medical Student Association and part of Students and Latinos United Against Disparities, which provides Spanish volunteer interpreters for the Birmingham free clinic, serving uninsured Latino patients. The group, Latinos Unidos, includes Angélica María Escobar (team leader, pictured), Daniela Ines Alarcón, Simon Edber, José Miguel Juarez and Vivianne Oyefusi.

If they win, the group will have the opportunity to travel to a Latin American country with the AMA to help areas in need and to further their commitment and passion for global health and underserved medicine.

Winners of the competition are chosen based on the number of votes received. Voting ends July 30th, and those interested in supporting the group can vote once per day. To vote, click the blue “thumbs up”/like button on the Latinos Unidos page.

Waverly Duck Named Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Trustee

University of Pittsburgh faculty member Waverly Duck has been chosen for a three-year term on the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Board of Trustees.

“It is an absolute honor to join the Carnegie Library Board of Trustees. As a child and teenager, the public library was an essential part of my intellectual development. More than just a resource for books, the library is a safe public space for individuals of all ages that operates with embedded rules of civility,” said Duck.

He added, “The Carnegie Library System is a very special institution, with each library designed to meet the respective needs of the communities where branches are housed. Equally, the leadership is absolutely fantastic with a strong commitment to the city of Pittsburgh.”

Duck is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences whose fields of interest include urban ethnography. He is also Pitt’s director of urban studies.

New Leadership in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Announced

Two professors at Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) recently changed positions for the new fiscal year.

Jonathan Pearlman (pictured, left), an associate professor, is now chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology. He will oversee the Prosthetics and Orthotics and Rehabilitation Technology programs. Pearlman replaces Rory Cooper, who remains the FISA/Paralyzed Veterans of America Distinguished Professor, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories and associate dean for inclusion in SHRS.

Tom Platt, associate professor and vice chair for the Community Health Services division of the same department, will now add Emergency Medicine program director to his responsibilities. He replaces Walt Stoy, who will remain with the program as a faculty member.

Savage

Art Historian Kirk Savage to Appear in PBS Documentary

History of Art and Architecture Professor Kirk Savage, a renowned expert on public monuments, is featured in a new PBS special “10 Monuments That Changed America,” which airs nationally on July 17. In the show, Savage discusses the history of the Civil War Standing Soldiers monuments, which can be found in some 30 states. Savage is the author of two prizewinning books — "Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape" (2009) and "Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America" (1997), the second edition of which will be published this month. He also has been quoted extensively in the national press regarding the history of Civil War statues and the removal of Confederate monuments.

“10 Monuments” is just one episode in the series “10 That Changed America,” that explores various streets, parks, buildings, and towns that reflect our nation’s history and values.

Recipients of 18th Annual Steven D. Manners Awards Announced

Three people have been selected for the Steven D. Manners Faculty Development Awards, given out annually since 2001 by Pitt’s University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) to promising research projects in the social, behavioral and policy sciences on campus.

The awards honor the memory of Manners, a sociologist who began working at the center in 1974 and served as its assistant director from 1989 until his death in Sept. 2000. This year’s research development grants will support pilot research with scientific merit and a strong likelihood that the project will lead to subsequent external peer reviewed funding.

The 2018 Manners Award winners and their projects are:

2018 Brackenridge Circle Inductees Honored

Two dozen benefactors were recently honored at a celebration on the University of Pittsburgh campus to mark their induction into the Brackenridge Circle.

Named for Pitt founder Hugh Henry Brackenridge (pictured), the Brackenridge Circle was established in 2010 to recognize donors whose planned gifts and pledges to the University — through a bequest, annuity, charitable trust or life insurance policy — total $1 million or more. The group has grown to 214 members overall.

The collective generosity of the 2018 Brackenridge Circle inductees includes gifts to support student scholarships, medical research, endowed professorships and more.

Holger Hoock Awarded NEH Grant to Rethink Humanities Doctoral Education

Holger Hoock, associate dean for graduate studies and research in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the J. Carroll Amundson Professor of British History, recently received a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support his project, “Humanities Careers: Re-Imagining Doctoral Education in the Humanities.” Hoock’s project aims to foster a cultural transformation in how faculty, students and University administrators envision the broader importance of doctorates in humanities, as well as the societal impacts of humanistic training. 

Studying current culture and resources across programs, and investigating best practices nationally, the project team will create an initial suite of new resources and make actionable recommendations to the University, the Dietrich School and doctoral programs.

19 New Members Inducted to Cathedral of Learning Society

Nineteen new members of Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning Society were inducted in a June 22 celebration in the Cathedral of Learning Commons Room. The recognition program honors donors who have made lifetime gifts of $1 million or more to the University. At the event, inductees were presented with medallions and crystal recognition awards etched with the image of the Cathedral of Learning.

More than 200 donors have been inducted into the Cathedral of Learning Society since its inception in 1999.

The generosity of this year’s cohort of Cathedral of Learning Society members has established student scholarships, endowed academic chairs, supported sports teams and facilities, funded academic programs and advanced a wide range of medical research.

Swanson School of Engineering Names Joseph Samosky as Its 2018 Outstanding Educator

In recognition of his excellence in teaching and development of its Art of Making program, the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering presented Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering, with its 2018 Outstanding Educator Award

In 2013, Pitt joined the NSF’s Epicenter (Engineering Pathways to Innovation) program, which created an opportunity for Samosky to utilize his passion for this style of learning to develop a design-centered course called The Art of Making. In this course, students apply innovative methods to solve real-world problems while gaining hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies including robotics, smart systems and user interfaces. It is offered in the Swanson School to first-year and upper-level undergraduate students.

In addition to establishing this course, Samosky has served as a mentor for 27 bioengineering senior design teams, advising a total of 130 students. The undergraduate projects he has mentioned have led to 33 students being co-authors on 14 papers and conference presentations, and co-inventors on 8 invention disclosures and provisional patents and 2 issued patents. 

Barone Gibbs and Collaborators Awarded $3.4 million from NIH to Study Sitting and Blood Pressure

Assistant professor in the Department of Health and Physical Activity Bethany Barone Gibbs was awarded a $3.4 million, 5-year grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study whether an intervention that targets reduced sitting can reduce blood pressure. Co-investigators include John Jakicic (also from Health and Physical Activity), Subashan Perera and Matt Muldoon (Pitt School of Medicine), and Molly Conroy (School of Medicine, University of Utah).

Gibbs’ project, "Effect of Reducing Sedentary Behavior on Blood Pressure," is a 3-month randomized trial involving desk workers with unmedicated, but elevated hypertension. This initiative is especially timely given the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology’s recent recommendation to begin treatment at lower blood pressures. The intervention arm of the trial will target reduced sitting through use of a sit-stand desk attachment, activity prompter, and behavioral counseling.

Collaborative Program Provides Funding for High Need Special Education Professionals

Tessa McCarthy and Doug Kostewicz, faculty members in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education's Department of Instruction and Learning, will be co-principal investigators on Project Certifying Orientation and Mobility/Behavior Specialists (COMBS), a professional training grant funded by the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for $1.1 million over the next five years.

The purpose of Project COMBS is to provide tuition assistance for master’s level students who wish to pursue degrees in either orientation and mobility or applied behavior analysis and work with blind or visually impaired students upon graduation. The project focuses on giving certified teachers of visually impaired students the opportunity to become highly qualified, highly collaborative professionals who also are certified as orientation and mobility, and behavior specialists.

Fifteen scholars studying Vision Studies will have the opportunity to add certification as an orientation and mobility specialist and certification as a behavior specialist to their prerequisite certification as a teacher of students with visual impairments. Nine scholars focusing on applied behavior analysis will have the opportunity to gain additional expertise in working with students who are blind or visually impaired in order to implement more accessible interventions and assist with identification and referrals of students who are blind and visually impaired.

Aryana Nakhai headshot

Swanson School Student Aryana Nakhai Receives Society of Women Engineers Scholarship

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has selected Aryana Nakhai, a University of Pittsburgh undergraduate electrical engineering student, as the recipient of its 2018 Lockheed Martin Corporation Scholarship totaling $2,500 for the 2018-19 academic year. 

“This award is recognition of Aryana’s incredible passion for power systems and electrical engineering, and it speaks to the engineering community’s confidence that she will contribute great things during her professional career,” said Gregory Reed, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering and director of Pitt’s Center for Energy and the Energy GRID Institute.

Nakhai has been a member of Pitt SWE since her freshman year in 2014.

Nakhai is studying electrical engineering with a concentration on power systems. She is scheduled to graduate in December 2018 and plans to pursue a master’s degree at Pitt after graduation.