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Postdoctoral Scholar Millie Rincon-Cortes Named Ford Foundation Fellow

Millie Rincon-Cortes, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was named a Ford Foundation Fellowship Scholar for 2020.

Rincon-Cortes’ research focuses on postpartum stress exposure, a translational risk factor for postpartum depression. Rincon-Cortes said, “This project is of human relevance because human parental care is disturbed under conditions of adversity and/or chronic stress, and this is replicated in rodent models, which enable causality and more invasive brain manipulations.”

The foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, to maximize the educational benefits of diversity and to increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.

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SHRS Teaming Up with DePaul School for Hearing and Speech

The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) and DePaul School for Hearing and Speech are teaming up to provide research and educational opportunities to improve academic programming at both institutions. A strategic and official partnership, marked by the signing of a memorandum of understanding, is significantly expanding collaboration between the two Pittsburgh schools.

For many years, DePaul School has served as a training site for speech-language pathology and audiology students from SHRS’s Department of Communication Science and Disorders (CSD). DePaul School for Hearing and Speech teaches children who are deaf, hard of hearing or with speech impairments to listen and speak. By utilizing Listening and Spoken Language Education, DePaul School currently serves approximately 60 students ranging from infancy through eighth grade. 

The partnership between the institutions aims to fulfill various mutually beneficial goals including the development of graduate student scholarships, the creation of doctoral student and post-doctoral research fellowships and community partnership initiatives, among many others. Pitt CSD will contribute the resources and expertise to carry out this work while providing opportunities for students to experience hands-on clinical and research training.

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PERU Receives Funding for Work on Veteran Suicide Prevention

The University of Pittsburgh Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU), in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, recently announced a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement and evaluate a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention, focusing especially on service members, veterans and their families.

The CDC awarded PERU $700,000 in funding each year over the next five years for suicide prevention by creating the Northwest Pennsylvania Veteran Suicide Prevention Program.

The program will consist of an assessment of active county, state and national suicide prevention initiatives to identify gaps in services and programming. Following the assessment, PERU will develop and implement additional risk assessment programs, community-based trainings and healthcare-related initiatives across a 15-county target region. Quantitative and qualitative data will be collected throughout the program to identify best practices and develop future policy.

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Swanson School’s Melissa Bilec Receives National Science Foundation Funding

Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has received $98,000 from the National Science Foundation to convene a panel of experts to meet for a workshop on the circular economy that will help set the research agenda for years to come.

In the course of three three-hour sessions over three weeks, the workshop will be an opportunity for the wide array of invited constituents to discuss and develop ideas in circular economy research.

Bilec will team up with Eric Beckman, distinguished service professor of chemical engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, and Gemma Jiang, director of the Organizational Innovation Lab at the Swanson School. They are collaborating with the University of Georgia’s Jason Locklin, professor of chemical engineering and founding director of the New Materials Institute; Jenna Jambeck, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia; and Gregg Beckham, senior research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Lab.

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Sanjeev Shroff Inducted as Fellow of the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering

Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, was elected as a Fellow of the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering. The virtual induction ceremony was held in conjunction with the Carnegie Mellon Forum on Biomedical Engineering on Sept. 18.

This competitive election is in recognition of distinguished contributions to and leadership in the field of medical and biological engineering on an international level. Presently, there are only around 200 living IAMBE fellows.

Shroff was selected for his significant research contributions to cardiovascular engineering and bioengineering education. His research in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering has two focus areas: regulation of cardiac muscle contraction by changes in cardiac proteins and their chemical modifications, and the role of vascular stiffness in cardiovascular function and potential therapeutic applications of vascular stiffness-modifying drugs and/or hormones.

His research efforts have been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1986, with additional support from other funding agencies such as the American Heart Association and the National Science Foundation.

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Pitt Receives Funding to Study Laser Treatment for Glaucoma

The University of Pittsburgh, in partnership with West Virginia University (WVU), received a combined $15.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study using laser treatments to better manage glaucoma.

Goundappa K. Balasubramani, research associate professor of epidemiology, and Stephen R. Wisniewski, professor of epidemiology and vice provost for budget and analytics at Pitt, will enroll 600 patients across 20 locations to receive selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT). The study explores whether having one STL procedure a year can delay patients’ need for the expensive and often irritating eye drops usually prescribed to treat glaucoma. Pitt will be the data coordinating center for the trial, and WVU will oversee the clinical sites.

Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world.

Read more about the partnership.

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Audrey Murrell to Serve on Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors

Acting Dean of the Pitt Honors College and professor of business administration Audrey J. Murrell was nominated by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to serve on the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) board of directors.

A resolution appointing Murrell as a member of the board of directors for the PWSA for a term to expire Dec. 31, 2023, was approved at the September meeting of the Pittsburgh City Council. Murrell will be serving a seat that had been vacant. 

Murrell said, “it is a tremendous honor to serve the city in this capacity and it fits well with the work we are doing within the Pitt Honors College on issues related to water sustainability with our region.”

Murrell also serves as senior research fellow for the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership. 

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Support Program for Low-Income, First-Generation Students Receives Funding

The Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences is home to TRIO Student Support Services (SSS), a U.S. Department of Education program that provides academic, social and cultural support to first generation, low-income college students.

SSS has been funded again for the next five years at $454,704 annually—a total of more than $2 million. During this grant cycle, in 2022, the Dietrich School will celebrate 50 years of continuous funding of TRIO SSS at Pitt.

Last year, for the first time, program director Michele Lagnese and her staff hosted a four-day retreat for all new SSS students, translated this year into a virtual event. SSS Peer Mentors hosted a meal on Zoom where everyone brought their food and ate together. One advisor led a yoga session. And two young alumnae of the program participated in a Q&A program focusing on how they’d used their time at Pitt to prepare them for their careers. 

 

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National Health Research Institute Scientific Council Select Savio L-Y. Woo as Standing Member

Savio L-Y. Woo, distinguished university professor emeritus of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, has been appointed as a standing member of the National Health Research Institute Scientific Council in Taiwan beginning in 2021.

Established in 1995 by the Taiwan government, the National Health Research Institutes is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the enhancement of medical research and the improvement of health care in Taiwan.

This election reflects Woo’s pioneering research in the field of bioengineering and his more than 50 years of translational research in the healing and repair of tissues.

“Professor Woo is a world-renowned researcher in the musculoskeletal biomechanics and tissue engineering arena, and we have been fortunate to have him as a member of our department for three decades,” said Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt. “We have benefited significantly from his uncanny ability to identify important new research questions and his outstanding mentorship of students and young faculty. I am certain that these talents will serve him well in his new endeavor.”

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Engineering’s Shaniel Bowen Named Fellow for Health Work

Shaniel Bowen, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was named a Ford Foundation fellow this spring for her research on women’s health.

Bowen, whose research focuses on bioengineering, has been studying ways to better assess repairs for pelvic organ prolapse, a common adversity that occurs when the muscles and tissues that support the pelvic organs weaken and allow the organs to push against the vagina. Surgical repair for this often fails within five years and requires reoperation, but the exact causes of this failure are unknown.

The Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximize the educational benefits of diversity and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.

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Pitt-Titusville’s $1.2 Million Grant to Boost Region’s Future

A $1.2 million federal grant announced Sept. 29 for the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville’s Education and Training Hub is an investment in the future success of northwestern Pennsylvania, officials said.

U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia made the announcement at Erie High School. The grant was made through the Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities program, in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority. The program supports communities hard-hit by economic transition with local and regional workforce development.

Catherine Koverola, president of Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville, said the grant will fund a manufacturing assistance center and a medical assistant program at Pitt-Titusville. A nursing program is already in place.

“We are very grateful to Secretary Scalia and the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration for recognizing the great need that exists in this six-county region,” Koverola said. “To help this area flourish, we need a facility that will offer the kind of training needed to enable people to fill current and future manufacturing jobs and health care positions that provide sustaining wages.”

She added: “This grant is an investment into the future growth and development—as well as the future health—of this region.”

Pitt-Titusville has been the beating heart of the Oil Region for nearly 60 years, Koverola said. During that time, residents looked for it to provide the academic programs that people needed to build successful lives of purpose.

In consultation with the business community, and with the help of Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s Workforce and Opportunity Center and the University’s Manufacturing Assistance Center, Pitt-Titusville has transitioned into a model that will inject innovation and invigoration into the region to help lead the region’s economic rebirth.

Koverola said the Education and Training Hub is a transformational project that will reduce the effects of structural poverty in northwestern Pennsylvania by creating a healthy community ecosystem. The Hub will train the region’s residents in the skills required to participate in the local economy, attain meaningful work and engage in civic life, thereby increasing the social capital of the community.

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Pitt Spaces Honored with Design Awards

The University of Pittsburgh was honored by the 2020 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Pittsburgh Design Awards. The annual awards “recognize and honor architects and designers, and promote excellence, innovation and achievement in the craft of architecture.”

The Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood was honored with a Social Equity in Design Award. Opened in 2018, the CEC in Homewood holds classrooms, conference rooms, a computer lab, the new SHRS Wellness Pavilion, an art gallery with works by local artists and more—and hosts programming for Homewood residents of all ages and the Pitt community. According to the AIA’s jury comments, the CEC in Homewood “models a bridge between academic institutions and the communities that surround them—an invaluable stream for sharing resource towards more equitable communities.” The CEC in Homewood was designed by Strada.

Additionally, the Center for Urban Education (CUE) within Pitt’s School of Education was awarded a Certificate of Merit for its space in Posvar Hall. According to the award page, the team behind the design of CUE kept the health and wellness of those who occupy the space in mind—making improvements to the space’s natural light and other elements. According to AIA’s jury comments, CUE stands out as a space that “breaks away from the rigid geometry of the existing building and boldly resets its rules on spatial interaction within the academic setting.” CUE, which was designed by Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, completed its renovation in September 2017.

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Katz Ranks Among the Five Highest-Rising Business Schools of the Decade

Poets & Quants has named Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business one of the top five business schools to have risen the most in MBA rankings between 2010 and 2019.

Katz ranked No. 64 in 2010 and broke into the top 40 in 2019. The MBA program is currently ranked No. 39 in the U.S.

The composite MBA ranking is based on a weighted average of the five major MBA rankings from U.S. News, Forbes, the Financial Times, The Economist and Businessweek.

Katz’s rise is attributed to its continuous evolution of new experience-based learning opportunities, new courses and new programs to adapt to the ever-changing business world. Katz students are prepared to enter the workforce as agile business leaders—something that has been increasingly noticed and sought out by employers.

Read more in this Katz school news feature.

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Hatridge Part of $115 Million Grant To Support Quantum Computing Center

Michael Hatridge, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been named a co-investigator in a $115 million Department of Energy Office of Science initiative to advance quantum computing research. The Co-design Center for Quantum Advantage, led by Brookhaven National Laboratory will bring together world-leading experts in QIS, materials science, computer science, and theory will work together to resolve performance issues with today’s quantum computers by simultaneously designing software and hardware (co-design). Under the grant, Hatridge will work with others in the center to develop devices for connecting quantum computers into large-scale machines and amplifiers designed to read bits of quantum data.

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Tia Lynn Ashman Publishes Flower Pigmentation Study

The effects of climate change have led to increases in floral pigmentation over the last 76 years, according to research featuring the work of Tia Lynn Ashman, a distinguished professor of evolutionary ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The paper, “Floral Pigmentation Has Responded Rapidly to Global Change in Ozone and Temperature,” was published in Current Biology on Sept. 17. It was coauthored with University of Virginia GIS Specialist Drew MacQueen and Clemson University Assistant Professor Matthew Koski, who earned his PhD in biological sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. The research outlines how global changes in ozone and temperature have affected UV-absorbing pigmentation of flowers during the 20th century.

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2020 Sheth Awardees Make Their Mark Internationally

An international Pitt expert on Cuba, a Pitt trailblazer in pediatrics and a young Pitt engineering alumnus are the winners of the 2020 Sheth International Achievement Awards, sponsored by the University Center for International Studies (UCIS). The honors, given annually to individuals making a mark on the international stage, are being awarded to:  

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies, who has performed thought-leading research that helped to create unified and equitable social security systems in Latin America. He helped shape Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies and directed it for more than a decade.

Pitt Vice Provost for Global Affairs and UCIS Director Ariel C. Armony said Mesa-Lago showed “a deep commitment to establishing and strengthening a global dimension at Pitt, allowing students to gain global skills needed for success anywhere in the world.”

After launching his Pitt career with a residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Diego Chaves-Gnecco (GSPH ’00) joined its Community Oriented Residency Education (CORE) program. The associate professor of medicine created this region’s first pediatric bilingual-bicultural clinic which offers Pittsburgh Latinx families primary care, monthly free clinics, community fairs and a literacy program for children.  

“His work with local Latinx families inspires new generations of Pitt medical students to fine-tune global points of view while using humanistic values and cultural understanding to ground their local practice,” said Armony.

The vice provost also lauded alumnus winner Vyasa Sai (ENGR ’13), who conducts research that addresses the challenges in low-power and communication for RFID and Internet of Things devices. He has authored a book, has several U.S. patents and has contributed to a number of academic journals in the fields of electronics and communications. Armony said Sai “exemplifies what Pitt students can accomplish and how Pitt alums can contribute to the betterment of society.” Sai is currently a senior hardware engineer for the visual technologies team at Intel Corporation in Folsom, California.

The awards are named for renowned scholar Jagdish N. Sheth (BUS ’62, BUS ’66).

A celebration to honor the winners will take place in the spring.

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Gig Economy Researchers Receive Knowledge Challenge Grant

Spyridon Lagaras, assistant professor of finance in the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, has been awarded a $220,000 Knowledge Challenge grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for "Securing the Gig: Entrepreneurship and the Rise of the Platform Economy,” a joint project with Matthew Denes of Carnegie Mellon University, Margarita Tsoutsoura of Cornell University and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“The proposed project will investigate the effect of the gig economy on entrepreneurship using detailed administrative microdata from the Internal Revenue Service,” said Lagaras. “We plan to study how the gig economy affects entry into entrepreneurship, nascent firm growth and their sources of capital/funding.”

Together with funding from CMU's Block Center for Technology and Society and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, their gig economy research has received nearly $400,000 in funding.

Read more about the award in this Katz school news feature.

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Melanie Hughes to Serve as Sociology Program Director with National Science Foundation

Melanie Hughes, professor of sociology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Gender Inequality Research Lab, will serve as sociology program director with the National Science Foundation (NSF) starting this month.

Her appointment is part of NSF’s rotating program director initiative through which university faculty work at the federal agency for a period of one to three years. Hughes will help manage the NSF grant review process to determine which sociology proposals will be recommended for funding. She will also work with program directors in other divisions and directorates to pursue NSF’s broader objectives, as well as conduct outreach to inform sociologists about how NSF works and to encourage them to submit research proposals. While in the position, rotating program officers are also permitted to continue their scholarly research.

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Online Training Developed for Vis Moot Law Competition Participants

The Vis Moot competition is an important one for Pitt Law students. Every year, a select group from the School of Law join teams of students from hundreds of law schools in 65 countries to present written and oral arguments in a fictitious commercial dispute.

The “problem” to argue is presented in October and the actual competition takes place in Austria in the spring. Ronald Brand, the Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg University Professor of Law, has been training law students for the Vis Moot and accompanying them abroad for more than 15 years. But this year, with the entire process moving online, he had to pivot.

So, Brand, working with the Commercial Law Development Program at the U.S. Department of Commerce, developed training videos for the law students. In just three weeks, the 2021 Vis Moot training page had 2,250 visits and is currently averaging 156 visits a day. Students logging in are from Afghanistan, Albania, Bahrain, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Maldives, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

“The Vis Moot has been a great pedagogical tool—not only helping educate a new generation of international lawyers, but also resulting in valuable curriculum development in law schools in many transition countries,” said Brand, who is also the driving force behind Pitt’s Center for International Legal Education. “It has been a real privilege to be involved in this process, and to work with our Commerce Department colleagues to make it happen.”

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Cultural Engagement Playbook Aims to Create Safe, Healthy and Inclusive Environments

With increasingly diverse classrooms and workplaces comes the challenge of effective, inclusive communication among classmates and colleagues. The coronavirus has also not only prompted conversations about public health but also about inequities embedded in society, tying into larger conversations about race, ethnicity, discrimination and institutionalized racism. 

To help with this, and to create safe, healthy and inclusive environments, the University of Pittsburgh Humanities in Health group has created the Cultural Engagement Playbook, a multimodal training approach to engage trainees in person, virtually or both in a purposeful cultural self-examination of how their own lived experiences influence their attitudes, with the goal of encouraging empathy for others, critically examining their own biases and gaining an appreciation of diversity and a greater sense of community.  

The team includes lead innovator Abdesalam Soudi, who is the primary investigator in the Humanities at Work project and lecturer in Pitt’s Department of Linguistics in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; Shelome Gooden, assistant vice chancellor for research for the humanities, arts, social sciences, and related fields and a linguistics professor; and Jeannette South-Paul, professor and chair emeritus of family medicine in the School of Medicine.

Two dedicated entrepreneurial mentors are guiding the process and as part of the Pitt Ventures First Gear Program. The project also received NSF I-Corp funding to help validate the market-readiness of the innovation.

For licensing information contact Carolyn Weber, technology licensing associate, cweber@innovation.pitt.edu, in Pitt’s Innovation Institute.