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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.

Ollie Green in a bright blue dress shirt

Ollie Green Joins Pitt as Chief Information Security Officer

Ollie Green III joined the University as Chief Information Security Officer on Feb. 1. 

Green has more than 20 years of technical and executive managerial experience in information security, risk management and network engineering, including serving as chief information security officer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Norton Healthcare. 

Green comes to Pitt from nThrive, a leader in revenue cycle management software-as-a-service solutions used by more than 900 hospitals and health systems in North America.

His expertise includes advanced HIPAA and National Institute of Standards and Technology regulatory/compliance strategy, enterprise-wide information security governance processes and creation of security operations and monitoring centers to oversee the confidentiality, integrity and availability of research, and administrative data.

A panther statue

Pitt Professor Joins Alpha Chi Forum on Race, Privilege and Responsibility

Alpha Chi hosted a forum on race relations and social justice to help its members and greater community start the process on Feb. 6 called, “Personal Perspectives on Race, Privilege and Responsibility.”

The three panelists included: Dwonna Goldstone, associate history professor and director of the African American Studies program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas; Justine Pas, associate professor of English and associate dean in the School of Humanities at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri; and Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, who focused on positive actions students can take to address diversity issues. The seminar was hosted and moderated by Lara Noah, executive director of Alpha Chi.

“And Justice for All…” is the theme for the organization’s 2021 Virtual Convention, and this event was planned to help raise awareness of these issues among the Alpha Chi community.

Alpha Chi National College Honor Society was founded in 1922 to recognize and promote academic excellence among college and university students of all disciplines, to encourage a spirit of service and leadership, and to nurture the elements of character that make scholarship effective for good. Alpha Chi is a member in good standing with the Association of College Honor Societies.

Rosemary Hoffman in a light top against a multicolored background

Nursing’s Rosemary Hoffman Wins Educator Leader Award

Rosemary Hoffman, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, was recently recognized as a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Educator Award winner, given each year by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the Commission on Nurse Certification.

Hoffmann is being recognized for her success with the post-baccalaureate CNL program (Model A), which led Pitt to creating an entry into practice CNL program (Model C) that will take effect within the next year. Hoffman will receive the award later this month.

“Dr. Hoffmann was selected for this award for personifying the idea of expanding the role of the CNL and being able to think holistically,” according to a statement made by the association. “She is praised by her colleagues for having a particular skill in challenging her students and peers to think bigger by using their credentials and skills as a CNL to become problem solvers and patient advocates.”

Corey Robinson in a dark top with glasses

Corey Robinson Joins Department of Parking and Transportation with a Focus on Sustainability

Corey Robinson joined the Department of Parking and Transportation in January 2021 to focus on alternative commuting options for the University community. If you have questions about moving to more shared, active and low carbon commuting, she will be deploying and developing programs to assist you.

While completing her degree in sustainability at Chatham University, Robinson served in multiple roles reporting on and researching for Chatham’s sustainability initiatives. Outside of her new role as mobility specialist at Pitt, Robinson also maintains sustainable practices in her personal life, including growing her own food, composting at home and training to bike from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., this fall.

Paul Ohodnicki in a dark sweater and a dress shirt

Paul Ohodnicki Receives $1 Million Grant to ‘Innervate’ Pipelines

Research led by Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, recently received $1 million in funding to utilize Pitt-developed optical fiber sensor technology as the “nerves” of critical infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines, to mimic the principle of a nervous system. Ohodnicki also teaches in the electrical and computer engineering department.

The research will embed optical fiber sensors internal to the pipeline to create an “innervated” pipeline system that enables monitoring the integrity of the pipes through acoustic and vibrational signatures of defects. By combining the embedded sensors with artificial intelligence and machine learning and integrating into an overarching digital twin of the pipeline system, an “intelligent” pipeline can be realized that allows for targeted in-situ repairs of defects. It utilizes an emerging robotic crawler deployable technology, known as “cold-spray,” with reduced downtime and dramatically reduced repair costs.

The team also plans to develop an economic model for in-situ repair and sensor-embedded coating technology as well as a detailed set of modifications to the existing and standard regulatory requirements required for commercialization.

Zongqi Xia in a black suit and white dress shirt

Zongqi Xia Named Fellow for Research Initiative

Zongqi Xia, assistant professor of neurology and biomedical informatics, was named a fellow for Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s (RCSA) new Scialog initiative, “Microbiome, Neurobiology and Disease.”

Scialog is short for “science + dialog.” Scialog initiatives bring together early-career scientists from a variety of disciplines to focus their collective thinking on issues of global importance, awarding funding to promising multidisciplinary research projects.  

Co-sponsored by RCSA, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group and the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Foundation, the program begins with its inaugural virtual conference on April 22-23, 2021. Three yearly conferences are planned. 

Microbiome, Neurobiology and Disease will convene chemists, physicists, biologists, microbiologists, neuroscientists and bioinformaticians to explore our understanding of the gut microbiome and its relationship to the brain in both normal and disease states. 

Fellows are selected from multiple disciplines and institutions across the U.S. and Canada to maximize creative thinking and innovative ideas. At each conference, participants form multidisciplinary teams to design cutting-edge research projects, which they pitch to leading scientists who have facilitated discussions throughout the meeting.

A committee of these facilitators then recommends funding to seed the most promising team projects, based primarily on the potential for high-impact results. 

See the full list of Scialog fellows and facilitators

A clock tower in the Pitt-Bradford campus

New Pitt-Bradford Journal Features First-Year Writing

The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford has launched a new online publication that gives first-year students an opportunity to have their writing published.

Founded by composition instructor Matthew Salvia, Bradford Writes! features exemplary student essays in a number of genres typically required of first-year students—narrative, analysis, argument and research.

“There’s a lot of research in composition theory that students are much more likely to apply themselves to their work if it’s for more than a grade,” Salvia said.

With the help of faculty in the composition and first-year seminar programs as well as the Writing Center at Pitt-Bradford, Salvia solicited submissions from students. After selecting items to publish, he worked with the students through an editing process. Salvia hopes that by being published early in their college careers, students will pursue additional opportunities to publish and present. The journal will be published twice yearly.

Those published will also have the chance to read their essays at the unveiling of the campus’s literary magazine, Baily’s Beads, at an online event on Feb. 3. Those interested in attending should email Nancy McCabe, professor of writing, at ngm4@pitt.edu.

Lindsay Page in a pink sweater

Lindsay Page Named National Influential Scholar

Lindsay Page, associate professor in the School of Education and research scientist the Learning Research and Development Center, has been named a national scholar of influence in the 11th annual 2021 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, released by Education Week. The Edu-Scholar ranking names university-based scholars in the United States who had the biggest influence on educational practice and policy last year. Page was ranked 168th of a total 200 faculty members.

Given that more than 20,000 university-based faculty in the U.S. are researching education, simply making it onto the Edu-Scholar list is an accomplishment. Page joins widely known education research scholars, many with decades of experience in the field, such as Howard Gardner and Catherine Snow (Harvard), Linda Darling-Hammond and Carol Dweck (Stanford), and Diane Ravitch (NYU).

Page’s research lies at the intersection of college access and economics, with a particular focus on financial aid, college persistence and completion. She is a research fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and, at Pitt, has secondary appointments in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences' economics department, and in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Page and her colleague, Benjamin Castleman from the University of Virginia, coined the phrase “summer melt” to describe students who intend to go to college but do not enroll in the fall, in their 2014 book “Summer Melt: Supporting Low-income Students Through the Transition to College.” 

The LRDC Building against the blue sky

Learning Research and Development Center Researchers to Evaluate New Pittsburgh Promise Coaching Initiative

In December 2020, The Pittsburgh Promise awarded three Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) researchers a $325,000 grant to conduct an evaluation of a new program, the Promise Coaching Initiative.

Since its inception in 2008, The Pittsburgh Promise has funded college scholarships for city high-school students going, investing about $140 million in more than 9,500 students. Not all eligible students take advantage of this opportunity, and the Promise wants to know why. Last year, the scholarship organization announced the Promise Coaching Initiative, a plan to place coaches in the three city high schools with the lowest Promise participation rates.

Jennifer Iriti, LRDC research scientist, Lindsay Page, associate professor of education and LRDC research scientist, and Danielle Lowry, an education graduate student, will provide feedback on the program’s design and implementation. The evaluations will also assess whether the program is achieving its goal of increasing the percentage of graduates eligible for and using the Promise scholarship.

The four-year pilot program will serve all students at the three schools but pay particular attention to those who risk falling below or are below eligibility. Students eligible for The Promise must have graduated from a Pittsburgh Public Schools high school with an unweighted 2.5 GPA and at least 90% attendance. The Promise coaches will help students develop their skills and interests, identify resources—financial or otherwise—understand their options and navigate the marketplace.

A stamp featuring an oil painting of August Wilson

U.S. Postal Service Unveils New August Wilson Forever Stamp with Help From Pitt’s Library System

Fans and scholars of the late playwright August Wilson are celebrating the new August Wilson Forever stamp that was unveiled Jan. 28, 2021, by the U.S. Postal Service. It is the 44th stamp in the Black Heritage Series.

At the livestreamed ceremony, U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Delivery Operations Vice President Joshua Colin called Wilson “a trailblazer who brought fresh perspectives and previously unheard voices to the stage.”

Others commenting on Wilson’s impact were his widow Constanza Romero; his daughter Sakina Ansari; actor and director Phylicia Rashad; and actor Stephen McKinely Henderson. The ceremony featured a number of images provided by the August Wilson Archive, acquired last fall by Pitt’s University Library System.

The new stamp features an oil painting of Wilson by artist Tim O’Brien, based on a 2005 photograph. The picket fence behind Wilson alludes to “Fences,” Wilson’s 1985 play that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for its Broadway production. It was also made into a 2016 film.

“Fences” is the sixth play in Wilson’s acclaimed “American Century Cycle”—10 emotionally-powerful plays that demonstrate Wilson’s ear for African-American storytelling traditions.

Nine of the plays are set in Wilson’s hometown of Pittsburgh.

Watch the USPS ceremony, visit the archives and read more about the acquisition.

The Cathedral of Learning

Pitt Faculty Working with U.S. Air Force on Materials Research

The University of Pittsburgh will receive $313,000 from the U.S. Air Force for a broadband dielectric spectrometer through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP).

The acquisition was made by a five-faculty team led by Jennifer Laaser, assistant professor of chemistry, and includes Susan Fullerton, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The new instrument, a Novocontrol Concept 80, will be used to measure the conductivity and dielectric properties of soft materials, which will help faculty at Pitt and surrounding universities conduct research ranging from ion gel materials for carbon capture to new materials for computing. 

“This instrument fills a huge gap in our ability to characterize the dielectric properties of the materials we use in our device research,” said Fullerton. “We focus on new materials and approaches for low-power electronics, and the equipment provided by the DURIP will significantly accelerate our progress.”

Gerald J. Vardzel Jr. in a black suit and a striped dress shirt

Gerald J. Vardzel Jr. Named CEO of LifeX Labs

LifeX Labs, a life sciences startup incubator focused on providing early-stage companies with the support, resources and ecosystem to be successful, recently appointed Gerald J. Vardzel Jr. President and Chief Executive Officer in early January. The labs are supported in part by the University of Pittsburgh.

Vardzel has extensive corporate expertise, with over 30 years of general management and commercial leadership from a broad spectrum of healthcare companies, including Fortune 500 market leaders. Over the past 20 years, he has assisted startups as well as midsize and large life science companies in developing and implementing new commercialization strategies and models for technology launches. 

“We are delighted to have Gerald as our new CEO of LifeX Labs. He brings both the experience and vision to attract domain expertise and outside capital to drive our strategy in the life sciences sector,” said Rob A. Rutenbar, Senior Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Pittsburgh and chairman of the board of LifeX Labs. “We also thank Evan Facher, whose work as interim CEO built the strong foundation allowing us to attract top-notch leadership in our national search for this role.”

Ashley Priore in a black top

Ashley Priore Wins Women in Toys Foundation Scholarship Program Grant

Ashley Priore, a junior English and political science major in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, was recently announced as a recipient of the 2021 Women in Toys (WIT) Foundation Scholarship Program grant.

The grant is given to deserving young women seeking undergraduate degrees in business, design, engineering, entrepreneurial studies and other industry-related programs.

Priore is president and CEO of Queen’s Gambit, a nonprofit organization that uses chess to impact communities, empower young people and solve society's biggest obstacles through strategy. Priore started the organization prior to her enrollment at Pitt to teach chess to people of all ages and seek inclusion in a male-dominated sport. The U.S. Chess Federation ranks her in the top 1,500 chess players in the country.

The Cathedral of Learning behind flowers

Winners of Political Engagement Award Announced

On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program and the Graduate School of Public Health will host a virtual ceremony to recognize the 2020-21 recipients of the Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement.

This year’s honorees include undergraduate students Beatrice Fadrigon, a psychology major, and Kathryn Fleisher, who is majoring in politics-philosophy and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. Doctoral graduate student Kess Ballantine from the School of Social Work was also recognized.

Faculty member Gina Garcia, associate professor of higher education in the Department of Education Foundations, Organizations and Policy, and staff member Prince Matthews, Sr., academic and student services coordinator in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, were also honored.

Sponsored by both programs, the awards recognize those who work to promote justice—whether at the local, national or global levels, or in the University—under the belief that social activism takes many forms. The award was created in 2008 in memory of philosopher, social theorist and Graduate School of Public and International Affairs professor Iris Marion Young, who passed away in 2006. Read more about the current and past recipients of the award

All members of the Pitt community are welcome to attend the ceremony: Register for the Zoom event.

Tasha Alston in a black top and gold earrings

Pitt-Bradford Names Tasha Alston as Inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Tasha Alston has been named the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford’s inaugural chief diversity and inclusion officer.

“Dr. Alston is an advocate, scholar, practitioner and interdisciplinary thinker who will build on the critical diversity, equity and inclusion work that we have already begun as a campus community,” said Catherine Koverola, president of Pitt-Bradford.

Alston began her position last week and is a senior campus leader, serving on the president’s cabinet. Additionally, she oversees the University’s Title IX office and will implement programs, partnerships and activities to advance equity and success for all members of the Pitt-Bradford community.

Alston is a social worker and educational psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She specializes in research and community work that focuses on advancing equity and social justice for all, with a particular emphasis on children and families.

Sue Mesick in a red top

Sue Mesick Joins Office of the Chancellor

Sue Mesick (CGS ’13) has joined the Office of the Chancellor as executive assistant. She brings an impressive portfolio of supporting senior leaders in her 35-year tenure at Pitt, including administrative leadership positions in Business and Operations, the Office of Economic Partnerships, the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and General Counsel, and Budget and Administration.

Elizabeth Skidmore in a red top

SHRS’ Beth Skidmore Helps Address Rehabilitation Needs for Biden Transition Team

Elizabeth Skidmore, associate dean for research in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was recently selected to represent the American Occupational Therapy Association and the greater rehab research community in an invited meeting with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. “It was pretty exciting to talk with a member of the transition team. They want to understand the problems that people are facing and get to effective solutions,” she said.

As a partner with the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Consortium, Skidmore has been addressing the needs of people with disabilities and the disparities they face, including how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased hardships for the disability community. The consortium consists of scientists, disability advocates and legal experts.

Along with being chair and a professor for Pitt’s Department of Occupational Therapy, Skidmore’s research focuses on innovative rehabilitation treatments that promote greater independence and community re-engagement for those with cognitive impairments.

Skidmore is a 2013 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.