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Researchers Earn NSF Grant for Autism Therapy Development

A University of Pittsburgh research team recently received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new brain-computer therapy method to help people with autism.

The team is led by Murat Akcakaya, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Carla A. Mazefsky, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry.

They will develop social interaction scenarios in virtual environments while recording EEG responses simultaneously in order to detect patterns that represent changes in distress levels. The virtual scenario will then present audio or visual cues to help remind them how to handle stress. The project will also develop new machine learning algorithms and neuroscience methods to identify EEG features associated with emotion regulation to classify between distress and non-distress conditions, and to distinguish among different distress levels.

woman in a dark blazer

Leanne Gilbertson Receives Early Engineering Educator Grant

Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was selected to receive the Mara H. Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant from the American Society for Engineering Education’s (ASEE) Women in Engineering Division. The award recognizes her contributions to engineering education and will provide travel to the 2019 ASEE Annual Conference in Tampa, Florida, June 15-19.

Gilbertson’s research group aims to inform sustainable design of existing and novel materials to avoid potential unintended environmental and human health consequences while maintaining functional performance goals. Her research includes both experimental and life cycle modeling thrusts. Read more about the award.

Bemyeh smiling

Mohammed A. Bamyeh Elected President of Arab Council for the Social Sciences

Mohammed A. Bamyeh, professor of sociology, was elected chairperson of the board of trustees of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS) during its fourth conference this April. From its headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, the council oversees the largest and most active social science network in the Arab region. It has supported hundreds of social science researchers in 22 Arab countries and among diaspora communities of scholars, through fellowships and grant programs.

Bamyeh has been at Pitt since 2007. His work focuses on comparative social and political theory and globalization, revolutions and social movements, Islamic studies, culture, religion and secularism.

Sherrard, outside, holding awards

Pitt Wins Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge

Pitt’s campus-wide commitment to sustainable practices once again led to a first-place finish among universities in the most recent Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge. The University has participated in and won its division in four successive Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge competitions (formerly known as the Green Workplace Challenge).

Pitt finished with 1,097 points — more than double second-place university finisher Carnegie Mellon’s 444 points — with transportation contributing the largest number of points across all categories. 

Aurora Sharrard (pictured), director of Pitt’s Office of Sustainability, was among the Pitt representatives at the March 21 awards celebration.

More than 100 southwestern Pennsylvania area businesses, nonprofits, municipalities, universities, and K-12 schools completed the 13-month-long challenge to integrate sustainability into their organizational culture.

Together, participants saved more than 80 million kilowatt hours of energy worth $6.27 million — energy sufficient to power 7,978 average Pittsburgh homes for a year — and more than 20 million gallons of water — enough to fill more than 30 Olympic-size swimming pools. In addition, participating organizations avoided a per-capita annual average of 200 pounds of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Collectively, participants earned points for more than 2,200 sustainable actions including reducing energy and water usage, monitoring indoor air quality, implementing policies on supplier diversity and supplier code of conduct, creating a workplace sustainability team and encouraging carpooling and other alternative forms of transportation. 

Means in a scrubs shirt

Alumna Wins National Scholarship to Pursue Dual Degrees at Pitt Dental

Katelyn Means has been awarded the National Health Service Corps Scholarship, a full ride to pursue a dual Doctor of Dental Medicine and Master of Public Health degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. In return, the scholarship program requires four years of service practicing dentistry in a medically underserved community after graduation.

The National Health Service Corps Scholarship program is a division of the Health Resources and Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Means’ full scholarship was one of only 222 scholarships awarded nationally in 2018. In April 2018, Means completed her Bachelor of Science in microbiology at Pitt, with minors in Studio Arts and chemistry.

“I spent most of my time as an undergrad at Pitt working full-time while being a full-time student. That meant keeping two restaurant jobs within the city on top of my campus leadership roles, volunteer positions, and other extracurriculars,” Means said. “The financial relief of this scholarship, and now my ability to pursue two degrees within the time of one, are immeasurable for me, my family, and for the care I will be able to give my patients as I fulfill my service commitment.”

Kenney in a blue suit

Michael Kenney to Contribute to Report on Countering Extremism

Michael Kenney, an associate professor and program director of international affairs at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, has been commissioned by the British government’s Commission for Countering Extremism to contribute an academic paper to a comprehensive report on extremism.

Kenney’s contribution will explore the links between extremism and terrorism through a deep dive into the first UK-based proscribed Islamist group, Al-Muhajiroun. This is an extension of Kenney’s research into this organization, which is the subject of his recent book, “The Islamic State in Britain: Radicalization in an Activist Network.” Kenney’s paper will draw on dozens of interviews with activists and former activists, and hundreds of hours of direct observation of their activities over a period to several years.

His research focuses on Islamist extremism, terrorism and transnational organization crime. He serves on the editorial board of Terrorism and Political Violence, the leading academic journal in terrorism studies.

a female and male cheerleader in Pitt gear

Pitt Cheer, Dance Teams Rank Among Best at Championship Competition

The University of Pittsburgh cheer and dance teams ranked among the nation’s best — including a first-place finish — at the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) and National Dance Alliance (NDA) Collegiate National Championships, held April 4-6 in Daytona Beach, Florida. More than 320 college teams from across the country competed.

A perennial top-10 finisher, Pitt’s cheer team broke through this year to win its first national title since 1994, topping the Intermediate Division I Small Coed.

Additionally, the Panthers’ dance team placed an impressive sixth in the Division I-A Team Performance competition. 

The cheer and dance teams have been coached the past 36 years by Theresa Nuzzo, herself a former Pitt cheerleader. Full results, video and news from the 2019 NCA and NDA Collegiate National Championships can be found at

H2P spelled out in sparklers in the dark

Engineering E-Car Team Qualifies for National Competition in the Fall

Undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering brought two cars sailing to the finish line in this year’s Regional Chem-E-Car Competition at the 2019 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) MidAtlantic Regional Student Conference. Their placements qualify them to compete in the AIChE Chem-E-Car International Competition at the AIChE Annual Conference, held in Orlando, Florida, in November. Read more and see a photo of the team at the Swanson school website.

Psychiatry Professor Mary Ganguli Honored With Distinguished Scientist Award

Mary Ganguli, professor of psychiatry, epidemiology and neurology in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry, was recently given the 2019 Distinguished Scientist Award by the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.

Ganguli received the award in recognition of her many years of significant contributions to the field and her mentorship of successful junior researchers in the field of geriatric psychiatry.

Ganguli has conducted seminal research on the epidemiology of the aging brain and late life mental disorders and is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of geriatric psychiatry.

Two people in silhouette walking on Pitt campus with sunlight breaking through

Pitt+Me Registry Tops 200,000 Participants

The Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) at the University of Pittsburgh announced that the Pitt+Me® Registry — currently celebrating its 10 year anniversary — enrolled its 200,000th participant in March 2019.

This large and diverse group of adult and pediatric participants helps Pitt and UPMC researchers make groundbreaking discoveries, gives Western Pennsylvanians access to innovative research studies, and contributes to advancing exceptional medical care across the region.

Recognizing the need for an innovative way to connect people with research opportunities, CTSI Director Steven Reis, MD, started the registry in 2008, with just 4,200 participants and 75 studies using the service during its first year. Participants may join research studies to find treatments for their own health conditions, to advance knowledge in the hopes of preventing disease in the next generation, or to help move science forward in general. Many studies also provide compensation for a participant’s time and effort. Since 2008, Pitt+Me has assisted with more than 1,000 research studies and made over 123,000 participant referrals to study teams.

Michel Gobat headshot

Michel Gobat Named Finalist for PROSE Award

Michel Gobat, associate professor in the Department of History, has been named a finalist for the 2019 PROSE Awards for his book, “Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America.”

Each year, the Association of American Publishers presents its PROSE Awards to “recognize the very best in professional and scholarly publishing by bringing attention to distinguished books, journals, and electronic content.”

Gobat’s book centers around William Walker, a believer in the nation’s manifest destiny, and the “untold story” of the rise and fall of the first U.S. overseas empire in Nicaragua.

Sweet wearing a bright red collared shirt

Robert Sweet Honored By American College of Psychiatrists

Robert Sweet, a UPMC Endowed Professor in Psychiatric Neuroscience and Professor of Neurology and Clinical and Translational Science at Pitt, was recently given the Award for Research in Geriatric Psychiatry by the American College of Psychiatrists.

Sweet is recognized internationally for his investigation of the mechanisms which lead to the generation of psychotic symptoms that are core features of schizophrenia, but also occur in about 50% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

His research suggests there are common genetic risk factors and vulnerable brain circuits that act together to cause positive symptoms across these disorders. 

Reed in a maroon baseball cap

Justin Phillip Reed Named Fellow in Creative Writing at CAAPP

The Center for African American Poetry and Poetics (CAAPP) has named Justin Phillip Reed as its new creative writing fellow.

The Fellowship in Creative Writing at CAAPP was established in 2017 as a two-year opportunity to provide an early-career poet with time and space to pursue their own creative work while they participate in community and classroom activities at the University.

A South Carolina native, Reed is the author of Indecency, which won the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He also wrote the chapbook A History of Flamboyance. Reed earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing at Tusculum College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as junior writer-in-residence. He is also the recipient of fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Conversation Literary Festival and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. His work has also been featured in Best American Essays.

"We're extremely excited that poet and essayist Justin Phillip Reed will be joining us as the next CAAPP Fellow,” said Dawn Lundy Martin, director of CAAPP. “We have every confidence that whatever he does during his two years at Pitt will be important to the literary community writ large, and we have every confidence that he will contribute in beautiful and unexpected ways to intellectual and creative life in Pittsburgh." 

Housed within Pitt’s Department of English in the Dietrich School, CAAPP was founded in 2016 as a creative think tank for African American and African diasporic poetries and poetics. Its mission is to highlight, promote and share the work of African American and African diasporic poets and to pollinate cross-disciplinary conversation and collaboration.

Larkins-Pettigrew with her hand on her chin

Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will be honored with the Gateway Medical Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Larkins-Pettigrew, who is a former president of the society, is a Pitt alum. She received her Doctor of Medicine degree, a baccalaureate degree in nursing, and a master’s in public policy and international affairs from the University. She is currently the Edgar B. Jackson Chair for Clinical Excellence and Diversity, heads the Office of Community Impact, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Case Western University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. She is also an assistant dean in the Office of Student Affairs at Case Western Reserve University and heads global health programs in her discipline. 

She is the founder of W.O.N.D.O.O.R. (one door), Women and Newborns, Diversity, Outreach, Opportunity and Research, an innovative program that educates global physicians, students, residents and junior faculty through local and international health care collaborations.

The Gateway Medical Society is a component of the National Medical Association, whose objectives are to promote the science and art of medicine and the betterment of public health.

Starr, wearing a gray shirt and glasses, in front of a bookcase

John R. Starr Wins Beinecke Scholarship

Undergraduate student John R. Starr has been awarded a Beinecke Scholarship worth $34,000 in support of his graduate education.

Starr, a third year student from Warminster, Pennsylvania, is currently completing a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in linguistics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Writing, with a minor in Persian.  He plans to obtain a PhD in linguistics with a focus on Persian.

The Beinecke Scholarship Program “seeks to encourage and enable highly motivated students to pursue opportunities available to them and to be courageous in the selection of a graduate course of study in the arts humanities and social sciences.” Starr is one of eighteen students from across the country to receive the scholarship this year. This is the third consecutive year a Pitt student has received the prestigious scholarship.

In 2018, Starr completed a Brackenridge Summer Research Fellowship through Pitt Honors, where he researched the history of Chinese immigration to the United States, philosophical interpretations of identity and a wide range of literary forms. Starr also serves as musical director of “The Songburghs,” a co-ed a cappella group on Pitt’s campus. He is proficient in Spanish, Persian, Homeric Greek and Python.

Panther statue

University’s Retirement Savings Plan Wins 2019 Plan Sponsor of the Year Award

The University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Human Resources is the recipient of the 2019 Plan Sponsor of the Year award in the Public Defined Contribution category for the University's retirement savings plan. Pitt was recognized for its Write Your Own Financial Story communications campaign, education initiative and overall updates made to the retirement savings plan.

The Plan Sponsor of the Year annual award program recognizes retirement plan sponsors that show a commitment to their participants’ financial health and retirement success. Finalists are judged on a variety of factors including richness of program offerings, commitment to the program, leadership and innovation.

“We are thrilled for the University to again be recognized for our distinguishable efforts and commitment to developing customized educational programs to increase financial literacy, as well as help our generationally diverse workforce address their personalized needs and goals,” said Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Cheryl Johnson.

The Plan Sponsor of the Year Award program is sponsored by PLANSPONSOR, a magazine and website that provides news and research for retirement benefits decision makers, and it recognizes retirement plan sponsors that show a commitment to their participants' financial health and retirement success. Pitt was among 38 finalists in 10 categories.

Read more about the University’s award-winning plan and the 2019 Plan Sponsor of the Year Award program.

South-Paul in a dark jacket and blue scarf

Jeannette South-Paul Honored by Pennsylvania Governor

Jeannette South-Paul, the Andrew W. Mathieson Professor Department Chair at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Family Medicine, was recently honored by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, First Lady Frances Wolf and Maj. Gen. Tony Carrelli at the fourth annual Female Veterans Day Ceremony in celebration of Women’s History Month.

South-Paul served in the U.S. Army for 21 years beginning with ROTC and retiring as a colonel. During her time of military service, she worked as an Army physician, her last duty station being at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Her research focuses on maternal-child health, particularly teen pregnancy.

h2p written with sparklers at night

WISER Celebrates 25 Years in 2019

The Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation, Education, and Research, or WISER for short, is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019.

WISER is an internationally renowned simulation center at the University of Pittsburgh that focuses on healthcare education, improving patient safety, and the professional development of simulation educators and technicians around the world.

The institute currently supports over 60,000 hours of simulation and over 2,000 classes, which impacts 5,000 healthcare professionals and trainees each year.

flowers blooming in front of the Cathedral

Food Recovery Heroes Wins Zero Waste Award

Pitt student group Food Recovery Heroes was recognized for its environmental leadership with a Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) Zero Waste Excellence Award, presented at PRC’s fourth annual Zero Waste Event.

Since its start in 2014, Food Recovery Heroes has worked to recover more than 28,000 pounds of surplus food from campus; fighting hunger while keeping leftovers out of landfills. It also has inspired a student-supported composting initiative that is advancing toward the Pitt Sustainability Plan goal of composting 50 percent of campus food waste by 2025.

The Zero Waste award is icing on the cake for these heroes, whose efforts led to Pitt’s recent recognition in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Food Recovery Challenge.

Read more about these sustainability-minded students in this 2017 Pittwire feature.

Quigley with dark brown hair in front of trees

School of Education’s Cassie Quigley Named PA STEM Ambassador

Cassie Quigley has been named a 2019 Pennsylvania STEM Ambassador.

The PA STEM Ambassador Program aims to “shape the future of STEM education in the commonwealth targeting vital policy conversations to legislative leadership in the areas of STEM Learning ecosystems, computer science, state and federal policy for formal and informal education, and workforce needs.”

Quigley, an associate professor of science education in the School of Education, received this honor along with thirty-one other leaders across Pennsylvania.

“Because of my commitment to improve STEM experiences for our youth, being able to sit at the table with the decision-makers allows me to help influence the type of experiences students will have,” said Quigley. “My hope is that students will be positioned to be change-makers in their schools and society, and STEM education is one way to do that.”

Added Quigley, “For the past five years, I have been working with my colleague Dr. Dani Herro to help teachers shift their practices, and I have seen the results in the students.  Students are engaged, excited and informed about how to solve some of the most pressing problems in our world. Between this research, and the opportunity to work with Pennsylvania lawmakers, I am excited about the potential for our students.”

Quigley also has a new publication, “An Educator’s Guide to STEAM,” which will be released late in March 2019.