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Eben Witherspoon in a blue jacket and white dress shirt

Eben Witherspoon (EDUC '19G) Wins Outstanding Doctoral Research Award

Pitt alum Eben B. Witherspoon (EDUC '19G), currently a researcher in education and instruction at the prestigious American Institutes for Research (AIR), received the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) 2021 Outstanding Doctoral Research Award. Witherspoon completed his PhD in the School of Education's Learning Sciences and Policy Program in 2019. Witherspoon was also a postdoctoral researcher at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) working under the mentorship of professor of psychology Christian Schunn.

NARST is a global organization dedicated to improving science teaching and learning through research. The Outstanding Doctoral Research Award was established in 1992 and is given annually for the doctoral dissertation judged to have the greatest merit and significance in the field of science education.

Witherspoon’s dissertation, “Localizing and Understanding Mechanisms of Gender Differences Within Pathways Towards And Away From Science Degrees,” was also named the Outstanding Alumni Dissertation by the Pitt School of Education in 2020.

Witherspoon joins two other Pitt doctoral candidates and LRDC scholars as recipients of the NARST Outstanding Doctoral Research Award. In 2017, Anita Schuchardt was a NARST awardee. In 2011, Catherine Eberbach was granted the NARST award.

Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis in a black top

Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis Earns Prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship

Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis, assistant professor of computational and systems biology in the School of Medicine, is among 128 early career researchers receiving a 2021 Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

“I am incredibly proud of the honor granted to me,” said Carvunis, expressing “immense gratitude” to her lab members, collaborators, the Pitt community and many supportive colleagues around the world.

“A Sloan Research Fellow is a rising star, plain and simple,” said foundation President Adam F. Falk. “To receive a fellowship is to be told by the scientific community that your achievements as a young scholar are already driving the research frontier.”

A Sloan Fellowship offers investigators $75,000 over two years. Carvunis promised forthcoming “ambitious and risky evolution projects.” Her research encompasses the principles that underlie change and innovation in living systems. She works at the cross section of evolutionary and systems biology to advance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that make each species unique, including the origins of new species-specific genes.

Francis Celentano, Alpha Red and Orange Alternates, 1969.

Art History Students Curate Museum Exhibition

A new exhibition called Pattern Makers, designed and curated by Pitt art history students, runs through May 9 at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. The show tracks the presence and meaning of patterns across some of the museum’s collection that has rarely been on public view.

The students in Assistant Professor Alex Taylor’s Curatorial Development class mined the collection virtually—poring over spreadsheets and databases to examine thousands of pieces of art available to them. The result was an exhibition of 67 pieces of art from the museum’s permanent collection, presented in 12 clusters. It includes fine art as well as furniture, quilts and artisan-made objects. 

“I hope the students’ chief takeaway was just how many rich and complex connections one can draw across disparate works in a museum’s collection and how understanding its objects in new combinations can provide almost inexhaustible narratives,” said Taylor.

Two upcoming virtual conversations about the exhibition are scheduled:

Students who took part in the project include Annie Abernathy, Isaiah Bertagnolli, Alan London, Katie Loney, Janina Lopez, Emily Mazzola, Morgan Powell, Olivia Rutledge and Vuk Vukovic.

Pictured at left: Francis Celentano, Alpha Red and Orange Alternates, 1969.

Collection: Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Ethan Arnold-Paine in a blue jacket and checkered dress shirt

Undergraduate Ethan Arnold-Paine Wins De Nora Student Pitch Competition

Ethan Arnold-Paine, an undergraduate studying chemical engineering, won the top prize at the De Nora Student Pitch Competition.

Arnold-Paine presented a closed-cycle PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) remediation system that uses a fast-growing plant—such as bamboo or cattails—to absorb the PFAS from contaminated water as it is run through a hydroponic system. After a growth cycle, the plants would be harvested and sent to a biomass furnace to be turned into char. The char then could be recycled as a filter bed, creating little waste.

Arnold-Paine was competing against graduate students from top-tier research universities from around the world. As a winner of the competition, Arnold-Paine received a cash prize as well as the opportunity to intern with De Nora.

“For Ethan to be as poised and prepared as he was in the midst of such tough competition is a remarkable achievement,” said David Sanchez, whose lab is developing the PFAS system. “He was an excellent standard-bearer for our lab and the work we’re doing to sustainably clean up the environment, and I look forward to all the ideas and innovations he’ll surely bring to other lab projects and the field.”

Read more about the competition.

Keisha Blain in a black top

Keisha Blain Awarded Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study

Associate Professor Keisha N. Blain from the Department of History in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences has been awarded a prestigious fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey. IAS is one of the world's leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. The IAS collaborates with Princeton University and Rutgers University, as well as other nearby institutions. Previous IAS members and faculty include Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Clifford Geertz. During the 2012-22 academic year, Blain will be one of 25 distinguished fellows in residence at the institute's School of Social Science. She will be writing a new book on the history of Black women and the struggle for human rights. 

Ryan Davis in a checkered shirt and dark jacket

Ryan Davis (LAW ’16) Honored for Veterans Tech Transfer Work

Pitt Law alumnus and technology transfer professional Ryan Davis (LAW ’16) has been awarded for his work with the Veterans Affairs (VA) Technology Transfer Program—a unit that determines which outcomes of veterans’ health-based research may have application or commercial potential in the real world.

Davis was selected as Rookie of the Year—an award for someone in a position for no more than three years. From his Washington, D.C., work site, he manages all VA tech transfer activity across a wide swath of the U.S., overseeing patent applications and looking for people within various industries to partner with VA researchers or further develop their ideas.

Recently, he filed patent applications and eventually licensed the technology for a skin-inspection device—a wireless camera with a flexible handle that transmits video to a smartphone app and allows someone to inspect the skin on the bottom of their foot, for example. The person can take video or snapshots and easily monitor their skin for diabetic ulcers or other wounds. A southern California start-up company called Habit Camera, headed by a combat-disabled Marine veteran, will roll out the product this spring.

Davis says his Pitt degree, a Juris Doctorate with a concentration in intellectual property law along with a certificate in health law, prepared him well for his profession.

“The concept behind it—taking cutting-edge technologies straight from the lab and the minds of brilliant researchers—and finding a way to get those technologies out into the world to improve the lives, and specifically the health, of the public, was one of the main reasons I actually decided to attend law school,” said Davis. He says he finds it fulfilling to be “one of the first sets of eyes on new technology.”

The award was presented by the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, a nationwide network of more than 300 labs and research centers.

A female student studying

The Pitt News Wins 15 Pennsylvania Media Awards

The Student Keystone Media Awards have honored The Pitt News staff with a record number of 15 awards this year in 12 categories. The statewide student media competition recognizing student journalists across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced the winners on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

The awards and winners are as follows:

First place:

General News: Rashi Ranjan
Public Service/Enterprise Package: Nathan Fitchett, Martha Layne
Editorial: Leah Mensch
Column: Devi Ruia
Cartoon/Graphic Illustration: Dalia Maeroff
Layout and Design: Maria Doku, Jon Moss, Mary Rose O'Donnell, Sarah Cutshall

Second Place:

Public Service/Enterprise Package: Neena Hagen
Cartoon/ Graphic Illustration: Promiti Debi
Photo Story: Sarah Cutshall

Honorable Mention:

Ongoing News Coverage: Rebecca Johnson
Feature Story: Stephen Thompson
Cartoon / Graphic Illustration: Shruti Talekar
Sports Photo: Thomas Yang
Feature Photo: Sarah Cutshall
Website: Jon Moss, The Pitt News Staff

A full video celebrating the 2021 Student Keystone Media Awards winners will be available in the spring. In the meantime, catch up with the award-winning student newspaper on The Pitt News website.

Elaine Vitone in a blue top

Elaine Vitone (A&S ’06G) Shares Her Science Writing Origin Story

How do you get started in science writing? Elaine Vitone, senior editor of Pitt Med magazine and writer/producer of Pitt Medcast, recently shared her story with The Open Notebook, a nonprofit organization that provides tools and resources to help science, environmental and health journalists at all experience levels sharpen their skills.

Vitone, who earned her MFA from Pitt’s Writing Program in 2006, has been on the staff at Pitt Med since 2010. She has won numerous awards for her reporting, including the inaugural Excellence in Institutional Writing Award from the National Association of Science Writers. She also mentors early career writers through the magazine’s internship programs.

Her latest feature story, “No Recharge for the Weary: Stress is an Inequitable Arbiter of Health,” was published in the winter 2021 issue of Pitt Med. Her latest podcast episode, “Like Daughter, Like Mother,” was released in February.

A student in a blue shirt writing

Teaching Center’s 2020 Advancing Educational Excellence Awardees Announced

Nine Pitt staff members earned the University Center for Teaching and Learning’s 2020 Advancing Educational Excellence Award.

Andrew P.K. Bentley (instructional designer), Lex Drozd (instructional designer), Max Glider (learning space services coordinator), Joy Hart (senior program coordinator), Cressida Magaro (assistant manager of educational software consulting) and Team Testing (Sue Richardson, manager, and testing coordinators Joe Hogle, Brandon Styer and Eric Weaver) all received the award.

The annual honor is a peer-driven award that recognizes teaching center staff members who exemplify the values of the center, demonstrate a positive attitude and commitment to responsibilities and make above and beyond contributions to the University.

The Cathedral of Learning behind flowers

Pitt Professors Awarded National Science Foundation Grant for Project on Public Access to Justice

Professors Kevin Ashley from the School of Law and Diane Litman from the Department of Computer Science were awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) award, FAI: Using AI to Increase Fairness by Improving Access to Justice. Part of the NSF Fairness in Artificial Intelligence (FAI), their project works to improve public access to justice. Ashley and Litman are also professors in the Intelligent Systems Program and senior scientists at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC).

Ashley and Litman’s project applies artificial intelligence to increase social fairness by developing two tools to make legal sources more understandable: Statutory Term Interpretation Support (STATIS) and Case Argument Summarization (CASUM). STATIS is an AI-based legal information retrieval tool that will help users understand and interpret statutory terms. CASUM summarizes case decisions in terms of legal argument triples: the major issues a court addressed in the case, the court’s conclusion with respect to each issue and the court’s reasons for reaching the conclusion.

The Cathedral of Learning behind flowers

Six Pitt Dining Locations Designated ‘Live Well Allegheny’ Restaurants

Five campus dining locations have become Live Well Allegheny Restaurants: The Eatery at The Towers, Schenley Cafe, Cathedral Cafe, plus Pitt Subs and Shake Smart at the Petersen Events Center.

They join The Perch at Sutherland, which became Pitt’s first Live Well Allegheny Restaurant location in 2019.

This designation by the Allegheny County Health Department is part of its Live Well Allegheny initiative for improving the health and wellness of county residents. Municipalities, school districts, restaurants and workplaces in Allegheny County may commit to the campaign, which highlights the importance of increasing physical activity and healthy eating, and of taking a proactive approach to health. 

The University of Pittsburgh has been a Live Well Allegheny Workplace since 2017.

Live Well Allegheny Restaurants recognizes restaurants or food businesses that have eliminated trans-fat oils, are smoke free and do not sell tobacco products, and that take additional action steps toward improving good health.

On campus, the additional actions include providing calorie counts and nutritional information; offering low-calorie alternatives; vegetarian and vegan fare; healthful side dish choices that include fruits or vegetables; low-calorie salad dressings; brown rice and whole grain options; using plant-based oils and providing bicycle parking nearby.

Michael Goodhart in a blue shirt in front of a map of the world

Michael Goodhart Named Fellow of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study

Michael Goodhart, professor of political science in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and director of Pitt’s Global Studies Center, has been named a fellow of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study for 2021-22. The Swedish Collegium aims to articulate the significance of the social and human sciences for an understanding of the contemporary and historical condition of humankind in its diverse global contexts. It is a global scholarly community where fellows pursue research of their own choosing in a context of interdisciplinary dialogue and cooperation, free from the teaching and administrative obligations of ordinary university life.

Alyson Stover in a black shirt

Alyson Stover Named President of American Occupational Therapy Association

Alyson Stover, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was recently elected the newest president of the American Occupational Therapy Association. She will begin her three-year term on July 1.

According to school leadership, she is the first Pitt occupational therapy alumnus or faculty to ever hold this national position, and will serve as the face of occupational therapy to over 100,000 practitioners. Stover's interests include using occupational therapy as a force for larger health care change, advancing occupational therapy’s national and global relevance and its role as a leader in policy development and implementation. Stover is also interested in access to care for underserved and underrepresented populations. 

"I am confident that I have the passion to fulfill these responsibilities with enthusiasm, innovation and unity for the profession,” she said.

The Cathedral of Learning

Five Pitt-UPMC Faculty Elected into American Society for Clinical Investigation

The American Society for Clinical Investigation recently elected its 2021 membership class, which includes five faculty members and clinical leaders at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. The society seeks to support the scientific efforts, educational needs and clinical aspirations of physician-scientists to improve the health of all people.

The five new members are as follows:

They will be officially inducted into the Society on April 8 as part of the 2021 AAP/ASCI/APSA joint meeting, held virtually April 8-10.

The Cathedral of Learning behind flowers

Three Pitt Professors Named to National Academy of Inventors Senior Members Class

The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) this week announced it has selected three University of Pittsburgh professors among 61 academic inventors for the 2021 class of NAI senior members.

They are:

  • Bryan Brown, associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering
  • Michael Lotze, professor in the Department of Surgery
  • Kacey Marra, professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery

NAI senior members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from NAI member institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have growing success in patents, licensing and commercialization.

“I want to congratulate Drs. Brown, Lotze and Marra on joining an exclusive society of academic inventors,” said Evan Facher, vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt and director of the Innovation Institute. “They all have demonstrated exceptional commitment to achieving impact for their research through commercial translation. Importantly, they have years of innovating ahead of them. We look forward to helping bring more of those discoveries to market where they can make a difference in people’s lives.”

Rosta Farzan against a dark background

Rosta Farzan to Lead Diversity Efforts at School of Computing and Information

Rosta Farzan, an associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information, was recently appointed associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the school.

In this new role, Farzan will look to create more inclusive space, provide scholarships and increase inclusive activities for students, using perspectives from the school’s students, faculty and staff. The role complements her research in social computing, which examines the interplay between technology and social issues, in the school’s Department of Informatics and Networked Systems.

“I became interested in diversity for this field during my graduate studies, including what ways we can increase representation,” said Farzan, who received her PhD from Pitt’s Intelligent Systems Program in 2009. “It’s been a centerpiece for my research. I want voices in the school to be heard.”

Hands on a laptop

Pitt Commons Surpasses 10,000 Users

Pitt Commons, the University’s online hub for mentoring and networking, recently reached an important milestone: It now hosts more than 10,000 registered users.

Designed to foster connections among members of the Pitt community, the site has generated a great deal of engagement since its inception in 2018. More recently, it has served a critical role in enabling users to virtually network, access resources and pursue opportunities during a time in which there has been significant disruption to in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This growth is reflected in the data. More than 10,000 users located across five continents have sent nearly 8,000 messages and made more than 1,500 connections via the online platform. The data also demonstrates an upward trend in yearly messages sent and connections made, not only reinforcing the importance of the site in the wake of COVID-19, but also suggesting its effectiveness in terms of user utility.

Members of the Pitt Community are invited to join Pitt Commons by visiting

Babs Carryer in a multicolored jacket

Big Idea Advantage Fund Launched to Support Pitt Student Entrepreneurs

Pitt students who want to explore innovation and entrepreneurship now have a new resource to help them bridge the critical period between the initial idea and having a prototype or beta version of their product or service.

The Big Idea Advantage Fund, a new resource by the Big Idea Center, part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute, will provide investments between $10,000 and $25,000 to Pitt students of any level—first-year to postdoc—from any part of the University. The first investments to approximately three to five student startups will occur this May. Moving forward, three to five teams will receive awards in both the fall and spring semesters.

“Since its launch in 2018, the Big Idea Center for student innovation has been building a suite of programs, events and resources that provide Pitt students with experiential innovation and entrepreneurship learning opportunities,” said Babs Carryer (pictured), director of the Big Idea Center. “Through the Big Idea Advantage Fund we can provide students who demonstrate exceptional commitment and whose ideas show commercial potential with critical early funding to support them before they are able to generate revenue.”

The Big Idea Advantage Fund is being made possible by donors who have stepped forward to accelerate the growth of student innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt.

Visit the Big Idea Advantage Fund website for more information.

Diana Khoi Nguyen in a light top in front of a body of water

Diana Khoi Nguyen Wins 2021 NEA Literature Fellowship

Diana Khoi Nguyen, assistant professor in the Writing Program of the Department of English in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in poetry.

Nguyen’s work includes traditional poetry and prose as well as multimedia and sculptural pieces. The excerpt submitted to the NEA for consideration comes from a larger project which includes video, plays, prose and poem pieces and focuses on the Vietnamese diaspora, family history and the refugee experience. She hopes to use the funding in part for post-pandemic travel to continue research in Vietnamese diaspora communities outside of North America.

Nguyen earned a BA in English and Communication Studies from UCLA, an MFA from Columbia University, and a PhD from the University of Denver. She is the author of the chaplet “Unless” (Belladonna, 2019) and debut poetry collection, “Ghost Of” (Omnidawn Publishing, 2018). “Ghost Of” was selected by Terrance Hayes for the Omnidawn Open Contest, and was a finalist for the National Book Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It also received the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and Colorado Book Award. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in magazines and journals such as Poetry, American Poetry Review and PEN America.

The Cathedral of Learning

Influenzers: Health Science Students Win Microgrant

The Influenzers, an interdisciplinary science policy group in the University of Pittsburgh, recently won a microgrant from the 2021 Civic Engagement Microgrant Initiative.

The initiative, a joint effort by Research!America and the Rita Allen Foundation, provides funding to graduate student and postdoc-led science policy groups from across the U.S. to develop and lead outreach activities in their local communities.

The Influenzers educate the Pittsburgh community about facts and myths surrounding immunizations through educational activities, community engagement and policy initiatives. The group consists of students in Pitt’s schools of the health sciences. They plan to work in local neighborhoods to promote the importance of vaccinations.