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Matt Schultz wearing a blue shirt

Alum, Staffer Releases Indie Horror Film

Matt Schultz (A&S ’10), manager of recruitment in the University Honors College, recently debuted “The Boonies,” a feature-length horror film shot primarily in Cambria, Somerset and Allegheny counties. 

Schultz co-wrote and acted in the film, which was released widely in April and had a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles. The plot follows campers who find themselves fighting for survival against cannibals in the Appalachian woods.

Watch the trailer or download the full film on Amazon, iTunes and other video on demand sites.

Aarti Patel in a white shirt in front of a snowy field

Aarti Patel Receives Fellowship for Women in Aerospace Industry

Senior Aarti Patel was named to the 2021 class of the Brooke Owens Fellowship. The organization recognizes exceptional undergraduate women and other gender minorities who are entering the aerospace industry. Patel is a mechanical engineering major in the Swanson School of Engineering. 

Fellows are matched with an executive-level mentor to help launch their careers and will be invited to the annual Brooke Owens Summit, to be held virtually at the end of the year. This year, 44 undergraduates were chosen as “Brookies” out of more than 800 applicants. The selected fellows have demonstrated “their desire to pursue a career in aerospace, a record of leadership, a commitment to their communities and their inexhaustible creativity,” according to the organization. 

In her studies at Pitt, Patel has taken an interest in mechanical design, analysis and mission operations for launch vehicles. In addition to her engineering classes, internships in the aerospace industry and undergraduate research, Patel was a co-founding member of Pitt’s Society of Astronautics and Rocketry and now serves as one of the chief engineers of the NASA Student Launch Team at Pitt.

Brooke Riscoe in a red and white shirt on the left and Emi Finkelstein in a black shirt on the right

Two Named to German Academic Exchange Service

Pitt undergraduate student Brooke Riscoe (left) and graduate student Emi Finkelstein have been named to the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), translated in English as the German Academic Exchange Service.

The DAAD is Germany’s national agency for the support of international academic cooperation. The agency provides a variety of educational and research opportunities, including support of study abroad experiences within German laboratories and research institutions.

Riscoe graduated this year from Pitt with a major in geology, minor in German and certificate in Global Studies focusing on sustainable development, critical world ecology and sustainability. She plans to continue her studies in Germany through a master of science in applied and environmental geosciences at Universität Tübingen or a master of science in climate and environmental sciences at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in order to prepare for related doctoral studies and improve her German skills. 

Finkelstein is a PhD candidate in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. Her dissertation examines the afterlife of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in contemporary Germany’s cultural institutions and public spaces. She will spend next year based at the University of Leipzig where she will carry out research on the display of modern art from East Germany in regional museums in Leipzig, Halle (Saale) and Rostock.

Birdseye view of Oakland

Fortune Ranks Katz MBA No. 7 for Online Programs

The part-time MBA program at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business has been ranked the No. 7 online MBA program nationwide by Fortune’s first-ever ranking of this category, announced April 26.

“We’re thrilled to not only be part of the newest Fortune Online MBA rankings, but also to be ranked in the top 10,” said Arjang A. Assad, Henry E. Haller Jr. Dean of the Katz Graduate School. “I’m continually proud of the adaptability of our programs and how our school continues to excel.” 

The ranking takes into account four components: program score, Fortune 1000 score, brand score and prestige score. 

Accounting for the majority of their ranking methodology, the program score outlines incoming student GPA and GMAT numbers, program retention and graduation rates, and program size. The second component, Fortune 1000 score, focuses on the number of MBA alumni who are C-suite level executives at Fortune 1000 companies. Brand score considers surveys of business professionals conducted by Fortune, partnered with Ipsos Global Market Research, while prestige scores focuses on an aggregate of other rankings results, including the Princeton Review, Poets & Quants and U.S. News & World Report. 

“At Katz, we recognize that our students juggle a variety of priorities, and the ability to take classes from anywhere allows them to better balance pursuing their MBA with their personal and professional lives,” said Laura Oknefski, director of graduate programs. “The part-time program also gave us an edge when the pandemic forced all classes online, as many of our faculty already had experience teaching virtually, and we had a robust library of online content that we could quickly adapt and deploy across all of our programs. In creating flexibility for our students, we developed our own adaptability to be able to best serve them, even amidst unprecedented circumstances.”  

Pink flowers with the Cathedral of Learning in the background

Doctoral Candidates Win Dissertation Completion Fellowships

Two Pitt PhD students have been named Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellows by the American Council of Learned Societies. The fellowships support promising doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences with a year of funding designed to help them complete projects that will form the foundations of their scholarly careers. The program, now in its fifteenth year, is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Samuel Boateng from the Department of Music in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences is working on a dissertation titled, “Jazz Ghana: Historical Perspectives, Transnational Routes, Space and Sustainability.”

Jennifer M. Farquhar from the Dietrich School’s Department of Anthropology is writing her dissertation, “Human-Environment Interactions: The Role of Foragers in the Development of Mobile Pastoralism in Mongolia's Desert-Steppe.”

Hallway of the Cathedral of Learning, with a student walking in the background

7 Projects Granted Open Educational Resources Funding

The Office of the Provost recently awarded Open Educational Resources (OER) funding to seven projects during the spring 2021 term.

OER funding supports faculty to adapt, adopt or create OER for an existing course. These projects will enhance the educational experiences of Pitt students, save students money on course materials and provide faculty with the ability to customize their courses.

This year’s winners are:

  • OER Development for Physics of the Human Body: Matteo Broccio, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
  • Computational Biology for All! Development of an Interactive, Accessible and Student-customizable Computational Biology Text: Nathan L Brouwer, Department of Biological Sciences, Dietrich School
  • Development of Open Educational Resources Suitable for a Majors Microbiology Course: Candice Damiani and Erica McGreevy, Department of Biological Sciences, Dietrich School
  • Open Interactive Simulations for Teaching Computer Systems: Sherif Khattab, Vinicius Petrucci, Luis Oliveira and Wonsun Ahn, Department of Computer Science, School of Computing and Information
  • OER for Sophomore Level Organic Chemistry: Manisha Nigam, Chemistry Program, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
  • Gender, Education, and Development: Maureen Porter, Department of Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy, School of Education
  • OER for Screenwriters of Digital Media, TV and Film: Christopher Prouty, Film and Media Studies, Dietrich School
Hands on a laptop

Pitt Team Reaches Regional Round of Cyber Defense Competition

The University of Pittsburgh Cyber Competitions team competed against collegiate teams across the nation in the regional final of the 2021 Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

The team, which consists of four Pitt students, placed 4th out of 25 teams in the Mid-Atlantic region of late February’s qualifying round. There, competing teams were assigned identical environments simulating the assets of a data science-focused group dealing with the pandemic. The teams were tasked to ensure that pandemic-related data from state departments of health were accurate and delivered quickly.

While each competing team was playing as a blue team (system defender), there was a red team (nationally recognized red team members and penetration testers) aiming to impede business continuity and take down the blue team’s services.

The team members are David Ayodele, master’s student in the School of Computing and Information (SCI); Jackson Frank, undergraduate in SCI; Quinnan Gill, undergraduate in the Swanson School of Engineering; and Simon Kioko, undergraduate in SCI. Their faculty advisor is Ahmed Ibrahim, assistant professor in the Department of Informatics and Networked Systems.

Rachelle Brick in a black top and necklace

Rachelle Brick Receives Doctoral Research Scholarship

Rachelle Brick, PhD candidate in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, received the 2021 Dr. Gary Kielhofner Doctoral Research Scholarship for her research titled, "Developing a Stakeholder-Driven Cancer Rehabilitation Intervention for Older Adults with Breast Cancer." Eligibility for the scholarship requires a "dedication to establishing a research agenda to impact the advancement of science for the field of occupational therapy through investigation or development.

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.