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Simon Kioko in a white headband and black hoodie on the left, Dijana Mujkanovic in a grey shirt on the right

Two Students Win Boren Awards

The National Security Education Program has recognized two University of Pittsburgh students with David L. Boren Awards. These study abroad awards enable recipients to further their studies of languages and cultures most critical to our nation’s security. After returning to the United States, the Boren recipients will work in a federal government agency for a minimum of a year. 

Simon Kioko, awarded a Boren Scholarship, is a sophomore in the School of Computing and Information majoring in information science, as well as digital narrative and interactive design. He will be taking his Boren to Tanzania.

Dijana Mujkanovic, awarded a Boren Fellowship, is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. She will be taking her Boren Fellowship to Israel.

Students sitting out on a lawn and in a gazebo at Pitt Bradford campus

Pitt-Bradford Named Military Spouse Friendly School

The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford has been named a Military Spouse Friendly School by Viqtory Media for being at the forefront of colleges and universities supporting the goals of military spouses. 

The group evaluated institutions using public data sources and responses from a proprietary survey. More than 1,200 schools participated in the 2021-2022 survey and 194 were selected for the Military Spouse Friendly Schools list.

Pitt-Bradford won the designation for its leading practices, outcomes and effective programs for military spouses. Pitt-Bradford is the only campus in the University of Pittsburgh system and one of only three public universities in Pennsylvania to earn the Military Spouse Friendly designation. 

“Military Friendly is committed to transparency and providing consistent data-driven standards in our designation process,” said Kayla Lopez, national director of military partnerships for Military Friendly. “Schools who achieve designation show true commitment and dedication in their efforts.” 

In February, Pitt-Bradford received the Military Friendly School designation for its 11th year.

Panther fountain

Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life Names Hall of Famers

The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life recently inducted the Eta Class of the Greek Hall of Fame at its Fraternity and Sorority Life Awards Ceremony.

Vanetta Cheeks Reeder (NURS ’83) was the 34th National President for the National Pan-Hellenic Council. She is currently a nurse educator in perioperative services for the Jefferson Northeast Health System.

Matthew V. Sauers (BUS ’13) from Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and from Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. recently earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and serves as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. During his undergraduate career, he was instrumental in planning his fraternity’s centennial celebration. 

The Greek Hall of Fame recognizes alumni and advisors who have contributed to the fraternity and sorority life community and have been successful in their personal and professional lives.

Two women, one in a red mask and another in a blue mask and baseball cap, hold up a trash bag

Student Plogging Project Raises Funds, Mental Health Awareness

Classmates Raeanne Heuler, Beth King and Samson Love have revived plogging at Pitt as part of their work in Geology and Environmental Science instructor Ward Allebach’s sustainability course this spring. 

Plogging is a combination of running or walking while picking up trash along the way.

The trio’s team project, Plogging for Health, focused on cleaning up the campus while improving mental health awareness and support through fitness activities.

They formed a club on the running/cycling app Strava to build community and help participants train, then hosted a benefit 5K Walk/Run in April, which they hope to make an annual event. 

The virtual event attracted 70 participants, who walked or ran in staggered start times on multiple routes. 

It raised nearly $450 to benefit Steel Smiling, a mental health nonprofit that specifically gives care and support to the Black community in Pittsburgh. The team also is donating an additional $500 received through a grant from Unpack U, a mental health organization that supports college students across Allegheny County. 

The Strava club, now 28 strong, welcomes new members

Cathedral of Learning pictured from a distance

Pitt Debate Places in National Tournament

Two teams from the Pitt Policy Debate organization qualified for and competed in the National Debate Tournament (NDT) at the end of March. 

Qualifying for the National Debate Tournament is no easy feat: In order for Pitt’s teams to compete they had to win against other teams in their district, from schools such as Georgetown University and James Madison University. Each district can qualify 5-8 teams, and Pitt qualified two teams.  

One team, consisting of sophomore biological science major Alex Reznik and sophomore political science major Zachary Lim, placed first in their district to qualify for the NDT. Another team, comprising history major Christian Mendoza and sophomore Kwudjwa Osei, also qualified through the district process.

Throughout the debate season, teams continue to debate the same topic, creating new arguments and saving their best for the national tournament. This year, the debates focused on the United States’ alliance agreements with Korea, Japan, China and NATO.

The tournament itself is a long, multi-day process, taking several hours per day for up to five days. Reznik and Lim’s team made it to the double octa-finals, and Mendoza and Osei made it to the semi-finals. According to advisor Calum Matheson, “This is the best debate performance for Pitt since we won the NDT in 1981.”

This content was written by Kendal Johnson, a student reporter for Pittwire.

Kunal Gandhi in a blue vest and collared shirt

SimpL Startup Wins Prize in Rice Business Plan Competition

Pitt senior Kunal Gandhi’s startup, SimpL, was recently awarded $30,000 in the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition

Gandhi also won a Young Entrepreneur Award from the NFL Players Association this winter. Gandhi, a neuroscience and computer science major at Pitt, has been developing an app that uses artificial intelligence to show people in real-time whether their posture or technique is correct while training.

A former master trainer at the University’s Petersen Events Center, Gandhi recognized that many athletes were hurting themselves due to repeated strain resulting from poor training technique.

The app delivers feedback to users during workouts when they are not demonstrating correct posture and form.

The Rice competition bills itself as the “world’s largest and richest” student startup competition. In 2017, Forest Devices, a medical device company founded by Pitt School of Medicine student Matt Kesinger, won the top prize. SimpL becomes the second Pitt team to place in the competition.

“The most valuable part of SimpL for me was having the opportunity to represent the University of Pittsburgh at a national level. We get to show the rest of the country that great innovation takes place at our University,” Gandhi said. “Additionally, I would say meeting other passion-driven founders as well as investors was a great opportunity for us. I found that the most valuable part for us internally was working as a team and pushing ourselves to keep up with the other incredible schools and founders."

SimpL was awarded two prizes during the Rice Business Plan Competition Awards Ceremony: the $25,000 "Spirit of Entrepreneurship" award, given to the team that most exudes the thrill of entrepreneurship, and the $5,000 seventh place prize.

Gandhi received training and help from Pitt's Big Idea Center, an on-campus, inclusive innovation catalyst that develops the innovative and entrepreneurial skills of the Pitt student community.

Castilleja F. Olmsted against a gray background

Castilleja F. Olmsted Wins Graduate Student Policy Award

Castilleja F. Olmsted, a third-year PhD student in the Department of Biological Sciences, was recently awarded the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award.

The Ecological Society of America is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization of professional ecologists, and this award provides graduate students with the opportunity to receive policy and communication training before they meet lawmakers. Castilleja and the other award recipients will participate in a Congressional Visit Day, organized and sponsored by ESA, where they will interact with policymakers and discuss the importance of federal funding for science and the need for research relief for the biological and ecological sciences.

Olmstead's research investigates the importance of soil seed banks for forest communities undergoing anthropogenic changes and maintaining crop diversity in traditional agriculture. She is also pursuing a graduate certificate in Latin American Studies and a teaching minor.

Olmsted was awarded the Alfredo D. and Luz Maria P. Gutierrez Predoctoral Fellowship from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently serves as president for the Women in Science and Engineering Graduate Student Organization at the University of Pittsburgh and is a member of the Field Safety Committee and the Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Biological Sciences. 

A panther statue

Ashley Lynn Priore Joins Clinton Foundation’s Global Initiative University

Ashley Lynn Priore has been accepted as a part of the 2021 class of the Clinton Foundation's Global Initiative University (CGI U). Started in 2007 by former president Bill Clinton, the global program engages the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world. Priore will be the first student accepted from the Pittsburgh area. 

Priore has made national press for her work as the founder and CEO of Queens Gambit, a nonprofit organization using chess to empower youth and teaching life skills. Priore also founded the first youth-led and youth focused campaign strategy firm, Youth Political Strategies, in the United States. 

CGI U challenges students to make commitments to action: new, specific and measurable initiatives that address pressing challenges. Through the program, students participate in leadership development, mentorship, skills training and partnership building, with the experience culminating in the CGI U Annual Meeting, where commitment-makers across the world come together to learn how to turn their ideas into action. Since 2007, more than 7,000 commitments have been made and $4 million in funding has been awarded to commitment-makers through CGI U.

The Cathedral of Learning behind flowers

School of Education Distinguished Alumni Award Winners Announced

The Pitt School of Education has selected 13 noteworthy educators with 2021 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

"In their work and through their studies, our alumni and student award recipients represent the highest ideals of the Pitt School of Education," said Michael B. Haas, the school's director of alumni and development. "They are leaders who are propelling their organizations forward and helping the communities they serve through their commitment to innovation, equity and justice in education."

Established in 1992, the Pitt Education Distinguished Alumni Awards are granted annually to outstanding alumni and students in the fields of teaching and learning, education policy, and health, wellness and human development. 

The 2021 virtual awards ceremony took place on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

Meet the 2021 winners:

Caitlin Spear in a blue shirt

Office of Child Development Hosts Picture Book Initiative to Combat Racism

As part of the annual Books for Change initiative, the University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Office of Child Development recently hosted a free training workshop for educators, “What’s In a Book,” focused on how educators and families can use picture books to have conversations with children about race. 

Offered through the new Division of Literacy and Learning, the virtual training session was primarily attended by teachers. Attendees also included a school librarian who wanted to gather more materials for her students and a grandmother who wanted to provide better information about race to her grandchildren. 

Caitlin Forbes Spear (pictured), director of Literacy and Learning, said it is important for adults to have conversations with children about race.

“Racism is certainly not new, but many of the racial injustices of 2020 have made more people aware. We have seen a real interest and need for adults to have these conversations with children, so we are providing support to help them do that,” said Spear.

Spear explained that although adults may want to shield children from conversations about race, avoiding the subject can actually perpetuate racism. 

“Children start to recognize skin color as babies and start to make decisions about play based on race as young as 2 years old. As kids start to make sense of the world around them, adults need to step up to talk to them about race,” she said.

The session was hosted in conjunction with the Office of Child Development’s third annual Books for Change book drive, which collected more than 1,200 books that will be distributed to more than 100 local childcare facilities. 

Darris Means in a blue jacket and light striped shirt with a pink and blue bowtie

Darris Means Receives Outstanding Publication Award

Darris Means, associate professor in educational foundations, organizations and policy, has received the Outstanding Publication Award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) for a co-edited 2020 book, “Case Studies for Student Development Theory: Advancing Social Justice and Inclusion in Higher Education.”

Means and his co-authors were a part of the 2017 Emerging Scholars Program for the American College Personnel Association (ACPA): College Student Educators International. He describes the book as a team effort that also involved more than 70 others who contributed to the case studies.

“We came up with the idea to write a book that would contribute to the field of student development and be helpful to practitioners, students and faculty alike,” said Means. “The book explores the intersection of student development theory and social justice.” 

The book consists of 12 sections of case studies organized by topic. Means edited the sections on spirituality and religion and on social class. The case studies on spirituality and religion, he said, tie to his decade of research on queer Black men in higher education and spirituality. 

W. Vincent Liu in a light blue dress shirt

W. Vincent Liu Elected to Physics and Astronomy Organization Leadership

W. Vincent Liu, a professor in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Science’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been elected to serve the U.S.-based International Organization of Chinese Physicists and Astronomers (OCPA) on the six-year track of secretary to vice president to president, transitioning to the next role every two years.

Liu, a fellow of the American Physical Society, is interested in the theory of novel emergent phenomena of quantum condensed matter. He has considerable experience in interacting Bose and Fermi gases of cold atoms, quasi–one–dimensional electronic, charge and/or spin liquids, and quasi 2D strongly correlated electronic systems such as high temperature superconductors. He also has a background in quantum field theory and is interested in all applications of it to condensed matter. His current research focuses on the rapidly developing field of ultra–cold atomic gases, driven largely by many ongoing experiments worldwide.

Natalie Leland in a purple sweater

Natalie Leland Receives NIH Grant for Medicare Payment Research

Natalie Leland, associate professor of occupational therapy, is a recipient of an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health. The four-year, $2.86 million grant from the National Institute on Aging is for her project, "The Impact of Post-Acute Care Payment Changes on Access and Outcomes." Leland is co-principal investigator along with Tracy Mroz, associate professor at the University of Washington.

The study will examine the impact of Medicare's new payment models for skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies on access to care and quality outcomes. Stakeholders have raised concerns that provider organizations may respond to these new models by changing care processes at the expense of quality and safety, resulting in decreased access to rehabilitation services and poorer outcomes for some vulnerable patient populations. This study will employ a mixed-method approach to describe provider responses to maintain quality under the new payment models and examine changes in utilization of rehabilitation services and quality outcomes following implementation of new payment models overall and across vulnerable patient populations.

Adam Slivka in a white lab coat and light blue dress shirt

Adam Slivka Honored by Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Society

In May 2021, Adam Slivka will receive a top honor from the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, the Master Endoscopist Award. 

This award recognized clinicians who spend the majority of their time in patient care and are recognized regionally or nationally for their expertise and contributions to the practice of GI endoscopy. 

Slivka is professor of medicine, associate chief of clinical affairs in the division of GI, hepatology and nutrition, and medical director of the GI service line for the UPMC health system. 

Max Laun in a black suit and tie

Max Laun Named Director of New Online Graduate Law Program

Max Laun (LAW ’88) has been named director of the new International Business Law and Dispute Resolute Online Graduate Certificate Program  in Pitt’s School of Law.  

Laun serves on the boards of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, Inc., the organization that oversees 16 organizations the provide civil legal services to the indigent in Pennsylvania and the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, the nationwide organization committed to improving legal access in both criminal and civil matters.

He was appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to serve on the PA Continuing Legal Education Board and serves on the Advisory Council to the University of Pittsburgh School of Law’s Center for International Legal Education. 

Laun retired in April 2020 as vice president, general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer of Arconic Inc., following the split of Fortune 150 integrated aluminum company Alcoa Inc., into Arconic and Alcoa Corp. He was vice president and general counsel for Alcoa from 2012-16, following 25 years in roles of increasing responsibility in Alcoa’s legal department. 

His major area of legal practice was international mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, and over the course of his Alcoa career, he led transactions on six continents, including major greenfield investments by the company in Saudi Arabia and Iceland, state privatizations in Hungary, Italy, Spain, Russia, China and Venezuela, and other private transactions in more than 15 countries across Europe, Latin America and Asia.

A student in a blue shirt writing

Princeton Review Names Pitt Among Best Schools for Making an Impact

University of Pittsburgh once again made the Princeton Review’s top 200 list of Best Value Colleges. Pitt ranked #17 on the Top 20 Best Schools for Making an Impact list. 

The Princeton Review chose these schools based on data collected from fall 2019 through fall 2020 via their institutional and student surveys, and on alumni and salary statistics from They created a return-on-investment rating by weighing more than 40 data points covering academics, costs, financial aid, debt, graduation rates and career/salary data. The 50 schools that received the highest rating were included on the Top 50 Best Value Colleges list.

In conjunction with Best Value Colleges, the Princeton Review also lists the top 20 public schools and top 20 private schools in: Best Value Colleges for Students With No Demonstrated Need, Best Alumni Networks, Best Schools for Internships, Best Career Placement, Best Schools for Financial Aid, and Best Schools for Making an Impact.

Further information can be found on the Princeton Review’s website.

The Cathedral of Learning

2021 John C. Mascaro Faculty Awards in Sustainability Announced

The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation announced their 2021 John C. Mascaro Faculty Awards in Sustainability. The John C. Mascaro Faculty program is designed to enhance the University’s mission of interdisciplinary excellence in sustainability research and education

Faculty fellowships

International Development Policy (IDP) BADGE

David Fraser
University Honors College

Müge Kökten Finkel
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

A New Approach to Decision Making Under Uncertainty with Applications to Electric Grid Operation

Oliver Hinder
Industrial Engineering

Faculty scholarships

Development of a Digital Twin for Green Energy Management and Security in a Picogrid Laboratory

Robert Kerestes
Electrical and Computer Engineering

Electric Motor Materials and Designs for a Sustainable Electrified Future

Brandon Grainger
Electrical and Computer Engineering

Paul Ohodnicki
Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Introduction to Engineering for Humanity

Ian Nettleship
Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Faculty lectureships

Sustainable Food Systems Course

Corey Flynn
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Writing Sustainability

Steven LeMieux
Department of English  

Citrus juices as an environmentally benign catalyst for chemical transformations.

Manisha Nigam
Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Nicole Sekel in a dark blue jacket

Nicole Sekel Joins American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Program

Nicole Sekel, a first-year doctoral student and research assistant in the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, has joined the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR)’s inaugural Student Cohort Program. The selective program will provide specialized mentorship, educational programming and networking opportunities for admitted trainees specializing within the bone, mineral and musculoskeletal field.

Sekel graduated from George Mason University with a master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Food Studies. Her research interests include vitamin D deficiency among collegiate athletes and members of the military. 

Helen Cochrane in a black top

Helen Cochrane Recognized by Women Who Advance Associations

Helen Cochrane, the program director of the Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics program in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, is one of the 21 Women Who Advance Associations across the international association community. 

Women Who Advance Associations is honoring 21 female association leaders in 2021. According to the organization, "As representatives of civil society, association leaders act as role models and engines for transformation."

Cochrane was recognized during Women's History Month this March.

Alyson Stover in a black shirt

Alyson Stover Receives Occupational Therapy Advocacy Award

Alyson Stover, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, received the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Lindy Boggs Award for advocacy leading to far-reaching change. This award will be conferred at a recognition ceremony on April 26, 2021. 

The Lindy Boggs Award, established in 1982, recognizes the significant contributions by an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant in promoting occupational therapy in the political arena by increasing recognition of occupational therapy in federal or state legislation, regulation and/or policy or by increasing appreciation and understanding of occupational therapy by elected or appointed officials.

Read more about Stover's work in Pittwire.