Accolades

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Peter Strick

Peter Strick Honored for Brain Research

Peter Strick, founding scientific director of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, was selected for a 2019 Krieg Cortical Kudos Discoverer Award in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of the cortical circuits involved in motor control.

He was presented the award by the Society for Neuroscience at the Cajal Club in Chicago. Each year, neuroscientists at senior, intermediate and beginning stages in their careers are honored by the society for outstanding research on the structure and connections of the cerebral cortex.

Strick's research focuses on four major areas: the generation and control of voluntary movement by the motor areas of the cerebral cortex; the motor and cognitive functions of the basal ganglia and cerebellum; the neural basis for the mind-body connection; and unraveling the complex neural networks that comprise the central nervous system.

Alex Toner

Alex Toner Recognized as Western Pennsylvania Rising Star

Alex J. Toner (SCI ’11G), assistant director of community engagement in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations, was recognized as a 2019 Western PA Rising Star by Get Involved!, Inc., at its 10th annual Pittsburgh Service Summit on Sept. 12.

The Rising Star awards recognize 21 local young professionals who “dedicate their time and talent to community organizations and who are making a positive difference in the region.”

In addition to his role at Pitt, Toner serves as a high school mentor at Brashear High School through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentor 2.0 program, is an active member of Brookline Together and is pursuing a Masters of Public Policy and Management from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

According to its website, Get Involved!, Inc. “provides leadership and development programs and initiatives that engage, energize, educate and empower students, young professionals and lifelong learners to make a positive difference in their communities and to become civically engaged.”

Jeanne Marie Laskas

“The Mister Rogers No One Saw”: Jeanne Marie Laskas Pens Essay in The New York Times Magazine

Jeanne Marie Laskas, Distinguished Professor of English in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences and founding director of Pitt’s Center for Creativity, published an essay in The New York Times Magazine on her friendship with Fred Rogers.

Laskas first met Rogers after finishing graduate school and remained friends with him until his death in 2003.

“Fred Rogers’ philosophy guided me to teach in the way that I do now. He gave me the confidence to become a writer,” said Laskas, a New York Times best-selling author of eight books.

During Pitt’s Year of Creativity, Laskas said we can all learn a lot from Fred Rogers. “Fred believed that the creative process was a fundamental function at the core of every human being,” Laskas wrote in her essay.

Her essay appeared in The New York Times Magazine, on shelves Nov. 24. In addition to serving as a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, Laskas is also a correspondent at GQ. Her bylines have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Esquire.

Haihui Zhu, Christopher Paquinelli and Roman Hamilton

Student Engineering Team Wins Award for ASL Translator Device

A student team in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering recently took the Bronze Award at the InnovateFPGA 2019 Global Contest Regional Final for a program that translates American Sign Language (ASL) to voice using machine learning. 

Led by Haihui Zhu, Christopher Pasquinelli and Roman Hamilton, all undergraduates in computer engineering, the team is developing a sign language reader that uses a camera and artificial intelligence to identify the hand gestures used in ASL and translates them into sentences, which would benefit the hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. who rely on ASL to communicate.

The award includes a certificate, a cash award of $800, and the Max 10 Plus FPGA main board. Team members say they will continue working on the project and are seeking students to join their team.

The Cathedral of Learning

Pitt, UPMC to Lead New National Research and Training Center on Family Support

The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC have been selected to create the National Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Family Support

Through a $4.3 million grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), the center will serve as a national hub that leverages state-of-the-art research to improve the care, health and quality of life of all persons with disabilities and the families who support them.

The center, which builds upon 30-plus years of Pitt’s efforts in support of caregiving, is directed by Heidi Donovan, professor in the School of Nursing’s Department of Health and Community Systems; Scott Beach, interim director and director of survey research of the University Center for Social and Urban Research; and Bambang Parmanto, professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Health Information Management in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

“The need nationwide for this center is huge. Despite the important role that caregivers provide to our health system, there are still gaps in knowledge in the field of family caregiving,” said Gabriela Prudencio, Hunt Research Director at the National Alliance for Caregiving. “Pitt and UPMC bring over 30 years of extensive research experience in this field and have been leveraging key relationships to translate research into programs and policies.”

Using sparklers to write H2P

Pitt Hosts Students from Franklin Regional School District for Disability Mentoring Day

The University of Pittsburgh hosted 13 students from Franklin Regional School District as they participated in Disability Mentoring Day on Oct. 16. Disability Mentoring Day is a nationwide effort to promote career development for students with disabilities through hands-on career exploration. The effort began in 1999 and takes place annually on the third Wednesday of October.

The Franklin Regional students toured Panther Central, University Mailing Services and the University Store on Fifth in the morning, where they received Pitt IDs, learned how to use student mailboxes and explored the ins and outs of running and working in a retail space. In the afternoon, representatives from the Office of Human Resources, Department of Athletics and Office of Diversity and Inclusion met with the students to talk about what they do at Pitt, assist with resume building and practice mock interviews. They also enjoyed lunch together and took pictures with Roc.

The day-long event was hosted by Pitt’s human resources office. Organizers included Tom Armstrong, Veterans and Individuals with disABILITIES recruiter, and Sarah Morgan, talent acquisition manager.

“It was a pleasure to host Franklin Regional students—they were engaging, thoughtful and such a delight,” Morgan said. “We are always happy to help our community members discuss career paths and jobs at Pitt, but this particular event gave us the chance to meet students that we might not otherwise have had the chance to meet. It was a great day.”

“Disability Mentoring Day was a real opportunity to introduce the kids to the different departments at Pitt so that they can get an idea of what everyone does around the University. We were proud to be asked to participate with the rest of the organizations in Pittsburgh, and we hope to continue to develop this event in the years to come,” said Armstrong.

Running on a treadmill

Pitt Honored in Healthiest Employers of Pittsburgh Awards

The University of Pittsburgh has been named an honoree for the Healthiest Employers Awards.

Since 2009, the Healthiest Employers Awards aim to recognize leaders in corporate wellness across the U.S. The Healthiest Employers company researches over 8,000 employers nationally to assemble trends, challenges and practices to enhance corporate wellness programs. Employers are assessed on their health and wellness programs using six fundamental areas of health programming:

  • Culture and leadership commitment
  • Foundational components
  • Strategic planning
  • Communication and marketing
  • Programming and interventions
  • Reporting and analytics

Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Benefits John Kozar is helping develop Pitt’s health and wellness program for faculty, staff and students. “This honor helps create an awareness of the University’s wellness efforts. It also further supports our designation as a Live Well Allegheny Workplace by the Allegheny County Health Department,” said Kozar.

Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Dave DeJong agrees. “Pitt is dedicated to bringing the best health and wellness services and resources to its faculty, staff and students. As a healthy employer, we are paving the way for other higher education organizations to follow our lead and support their employees in health,” said DeJong.

The University of Pittsburgh was recognized for its dedication and commitment to employee health and wellness as a large employer in the Western Pennsylvania region. One such example is the Wellness for Life program for faculty and staff, which focuses on proactive health management, positive lifestyle choices and physical activity. Pitt employees can visit the on-campus UPMC MyHealth@Work Health and Wellness Center to treat a variety of health issues, partner with a health coach to make healthy lifestyle changes and get in shape and explore Life Solutions services to help balance work and the stresses of daily life.

The University of Pittsburgh

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) turns 50 this year. 

The school began as one of the smallest schools on Pitt’s campus in 1969 and has grown to be one of the most prominent today.

“We are fortunate that the leadership in SHRS sees the challenges as opportunities to demonstrate our collective innovativeness in educational delivery. This is especially evident as we boldly move into the arena of distance education,” said Anthony Delitto, who has served as the school’s dean since 2015. 

Read more about the school over its half-century existence in the latest edition of FACETS, SHRS’ magazine.

Lisa Bodnar

Lisa Bodnar Named Committee Member for Infant Feeding Study

Lisa Bodnar, professor in Pitt Public Health's Department of Epidemiology, has been named a full member on the National Academy of Medicine's “Committee on Scoping Existing Guidelines for Feeding Recommendations for Infants and Young Children Under Age 2.”

The committee will review existing documents and resources about what to feed and how to feed infants and children from birth up to two years of age, and assess descriptions of best practices for implementation strategies to support communication and dissemination of feeding guidance. They'll then inform stakeholders about the feasibility of consolidating feeding guidelines and/or harmonizing guidance for feeding infants and children up to two years of age, and will make recommendations about communication strategies.

Bodnar’s research focuses on discovering the healthiest weight and dietary patterns for pregnant women and their children. 

Paul Leu

Paul Leu Receives Award to Lead Effort for Better Smartwatch and TV Screens

Paul Leu, associate professor of industrial engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, will lead a collaborative study that aims to replace indium tin oxide with metal “microgrid” conductors to improve performance of organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs.

Leu will work with Electroninks, a technology company in Austin, Texas, thanks to a $1 million award from the Department of Energy’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

OLEDs are present in smartwatches and 4K television screens. Indium tin oxide is expensive, doesn’t perform well enough for larger areas and can crack with repeated touching or swiping. By using a new metal patterning technique that prints the metal grid directly on glass or plastic, the team aims to create “microgrid” conductors that can outperform indium tin oxide at a lower manufacturing cost.

Andrea Hergenroeder

Andrea Hegenroeder Receives Distinguished Teaching Award

Andrea Hergenroeder, associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Physical Therapy, is this year's recipient of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award. 

Hergenroeder was selected for creating life-long learning habits in the classroom, using creative and cutting-edge teaching methods and technologies, and developing experiential learning activities that support students through all stages of learning.

Her research interests include physical activity and its role in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease, health promotion in physical therapy practice and measurement of vital signs and clinical responses to exercise among others.

Lia Winter

Alum Lia Winter Finalist in Innovation Competition

Lia Winter (ENGR ’17) was recently a finalist in the 2019 Collegiate Inventors Competition

Winter’s entry is a trademarked patent of hers, the EasyWhip, a double-loop stitching apparatus that leverages removable, connected needle portions, resulting in a new whip stitching method that improves graft accuracy, reduces the need for costly revision surgeries and provides better overall outcomes for patients.

While studying bioengineering at Pitt for her undergrad work, she also volunteered in cancer research at the former Pitt Summer Academy, investigating the use of native immune cells to induce cell-mediated autophagy as a cancer therapy.

Steven Abramowitch

Steven Abramowitch’s Work in Diversity Initiatives Receives Honor

Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering, recently received the Biomedical Engineering Society 2019 Diversity Lecture Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to improving gender and racial diversity in biomedical engineering. 

Abramowitch has made an impact through his career in women’s health and the Swanson School of Engineering’s diversity initiatives.

Since starting PITT STRIVE, the engineering school’s program focusing on engagement with and awareness of under-represented minorities, the Swanson School has surpassed historic levels of minority enrollment in the PhD program. Through the study abroad programs, Abramowitch has helped undergraduate students see the impact of engineering through the lens of another culture, and with CampBioE, he has educated more than 1,000 middle and high school students, with more than 40% participation from under-represented minorities and low-income students since the diversity campaign began in 2014.

Timothy Grebeck

Autism Awareness Advocate Timothy Grebeck Wins Thornburgh Forum Award

Graduate student Timothy Grebeck began educating those around him about what it was like to have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when he was in the seventh grade at a regional school. Diagnosed with ASD at age nine but tired of being bullied, he says he chose as a young teen to devote his life to make sure others like him didn’t suffer the same way. Grebeck (EDUC ’19) is currently a graduate student at Pitt studying childhood and special education in the School of Education and the founder of the advocacy group Talking 4 Autism. Recently he was presented with the 2019 Dick Thornburgh Forum Disability Service Award, at a ceremony in the William Pitt Union Lower Lounge. It’s an annual honor from the Dick Thornburgh Forum on Law & Public Policy.

“Changing the world for the better starts with changing the viewpoint of just one person,” said Ginny Thornburgh, as she handed Grebeck a check for $5,000 for his future work.

Through Talking 4 Autism, Grebeck provides intimate personal presentations about the world of autism to college students and faculty as well as corporate employees. “I expect and encourage people to ask things that are uncomfortable to talk about because that is how we all learn,” he said.

The award ceremony's keynote speaker was Ted Kennedy, Jr., chair of the board of the American Association of People with DisabilitiesListen to Kennedy’s keynote speech.

Erika Ninos

PittServes’ Erika Ninos Wins National Student Support Award

Student Affairs staff member Erika Ninos, sustainability program coordinator in the Office of PittServes, has received the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) Supportive Staff Member Award.

This national award recognizes a staff member who has gone above and beyond in supporting students. She was chosen for this student-nominated national award from among five nominees. 

Ninos was nominated by Student Office of Sustainability program associates Ellie Cadden and Zach Delaney, who praised her mentorship, patience and dedication. 

“One message that I have taken from her is to always recognize how powerful students are to implement tangible and positive change on campus,” wrote Cadden in her nomination. 

Wrote Delaney: “I've learned how to be an ambassador for social justice, environmental activism and everything else due to her. She has been supportive of me emotionally through difficult class schedules, working two jobs, taking summer classes, has been professionally supportive of me in my efforts on campus to serve the community here and the ones around me, and has dedicated her time on this campus to its general betterment.”

The award was presented Oct. 12 at the Students for Zero Waste Conference in Philadelphia, hosted by PLAN.

Pitt Police officers

University of Pittsburgh Police Department Named Corporate Citizenship Award Winner

The Pittsburgh Business Times announced on Oct. 9 that the University of Pittsburgh’s Police Department won a 2019 Corporate Citizenship Award for their “Most Wanted” food drive program.

The program, spearheaded by Sgt. Mark Villasenor, collects unwanted food from students’ dormitories when they leave campus at the end of the semester and uses it to stock The Pitt Pantry, a volunteer-run food pantry that serves Pitt community members who meet the federal guidelines for food assistance. They partnered up with pantry coordinator and Sustainability Program Assistant Ciara Stehley to stock shelves, cut out coupons and pass out groceries on a weekly basis. Community Relations Officers Heather Camp, Mallory Jarzynka and Guy Johnson helped with this effort. 

Devised in 2014, the food drive now gathers more than 1,500 pounds of nonperishable goods like pasta, cereal and canned goods annually. During the drive’s first year, Pitt’s police department collected enough food to fill 11 dorm move-in carts—this year, they filled 45.

The food is also given to CHS South Oakland to help fight food insecurity on campus and in the Oakland Community. The Community Relations Unit has also contributed its efforts to Special Olympics of Western PA, Adopt-A-Highway, United Way of Allegheny County, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Cops and Kids Camp and Camp Cadet.

Greg Scott, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for business and operations, said, “We are committed to strengthening communities … and thanks to the Pitt Police’s work, it truly shows.”

The Corporate Citizenship Award honors Western Pennsylvania individuals and companies that demonstrate significant contributions to society. The winners of the award are chosen by an online nomination process. Read more about the Pitt Police’s award-winning program in the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Lawrence R. John

Lawrence R. John Elected President of Pennsylvania Medical Society

Lawrence R. John, a clinical instructor for the department of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine was recently sworn in as the 170th president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

The society is a physician-led organization representing all physicians and medical students throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

John also was elected by the society’s statewide House of Delegates in 2017 to serve one-year terms as vice president (2017-18) and president-elect (2018-19) before assuming the role of president for the 2019-20 term. He is also a family medicine physician affiliated with UPMC St. Margaret.

Rachel Ann Brickner

Writing Program Alum Recognized by The Missouri Review for Audio Essay

Rachel Ann Brickner (A&S ’09, ’18G) was recognized by The Missouri Review for its 12th annual Miller Audio Prize for her audio essay, “How to Survive a Fire.”

The Miller Audio Prize recognizes work in four genres: poetry, prose, humor and audio documentaries. 

Brickner, who earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh in 2018, is also a part-time instructor in the Department of English in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.

Murat Akcakaya

Engineering Team Receives NSF Funding to Study Brain in Rehabilitation Research

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Northeastern University received a combined $1,181,757 from the National Science Foundation to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) system that will be implemented in augmented reality, allowing for better detection, assessment and rehabilitation of unilateral spatial neglect. Unilateral spatial neglect is a deficit in attention that can occur in individuals who experienced a stroke.

The Pitt side of the team is led by Murat Akcakaya, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering.

The researchers plan to focus on visual neglect and address the shortcomings of current rehabilitation by reaching beyond the clinical setting and taking activities of daily living into account. They will develop a noninvasive, portable and cost-effective tool that can be used to help guide rehabilitation programs in real-time.

Lambert in a dark suit, blue shirt and swirly blue tie

Robert F. Lambert (SCI ’95G) Named to Bank Board of Directors

Robert F. Lambert (SCI ’95G) has been named the newest director of York Traditions Bank, effective September. Besides earning his master’s in library and information science from Pitt, he is also a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania and of Penn State University. 

Lambert has served as president of York County Libraries in Pennsylvania since 2016. His history of community leadership includes serving as Controller for the City of York from 2008–16.

“I am excited to join the Board of Directors of York Traditions Bank to help support its mission as a valued community partner,” said Lambert in a press release. “The Bank’s commitment to investing in the communities it serves is exemplary. They are a highly visible, consistent force for good! I look forward to serving its stakeholders and contributing to the organization’s future success.”