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Pitt Projects Featured at ACCelerate Creativity and Innovation Festival

Three research projects and one theatre performance from the University of Pittsburgh were selected to be featured at the ACCelerate Creativity and Innovation Festival in Washington, D.C. this past April.

“While most think of the ACC as only an athletics conference, the ACC Academic Consortium aims to promote academic excellence and provide opportunities for collaboration between faculty, students and administrators from the 15 member institutions,” said Joseph J. McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies at Pitt.

The four Pitt teams were:

The World History Center’s Digital Atlas Design Internship Program. In the semester-long internship, undergraduate students learn GIS and web design skills, and complete a research project of their choice using QGIS and ESRI StoryMaps. Each student’s project will be incorporated into a larger project, the World Historical Gazetteer: a linked open data global index of historically important place names and information. The World Gazetteer is expected to be completed in late 2019.

The Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA) and Strong Arm were both developed in the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), which are a part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs as the Center for Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering.

“It’s Who You Know,” a hybrid recommender system to connect students with informal social networks of Pitt researchers is a Personalized Education Grant project, supported by the Office of the Provost, that aims to connect students with researchers with similar interests. The project, out of the PAWS Lab, will test the concept of an online system that can curate and filter vast amount of information to result in “personalized education, career pathways, and research collaborations for [students], faculty and future students.”

Directed by Cynthia Croot, associate professor and head of performance in the Department of Theatre Arts, Recoil is a Pitt-created theater piece that “explores the complexities of gun ownership, violence, and protest through the voices through young people” using real first-person accounts.

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Researchers, Students Recognized by Occupational Therapy Foundation

Students and researchers from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences were recently recognized by the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF).

  • Former Occupational Therapy Department Chair and Professor Emeritus Joan C. Rogers received the AOTF Leadership Service Commendation.
  • Natalie E. Leland received the first ever AOTF Mid-Career Research Excellence Award and gave the AOTF Mid-Career Research Award Presentation at the American Occupational Therapy Association’s annual conference in New Orleans.
  • Roxanna Bendixen, assistant professor of occupational therapy, was inducted into the association’s Roster of Fellows. 

Pitt occupational therapy students also raised over $5,000, earning 3rd place in the foundation’s St. Catherine Challenge. Funds raised through this initiative support occupational therapy research grants awarded by the foundation. 

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Sociology Department Chair Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Suzanne Staggenborg, chair of the Department of Sociology at Pitt, has been honored with the John D. McCarthy Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Scholarship of Social Movements and Collective Behavior from the University of Notre Dame Center for the Study of Social Movements. The award recognizes exceptional contributors to the field.

Staggenborg’s work centers on social movements, including abortion politics, women’s movements and grassroots environmental movements. Currently she is focusing on several local environmental organizations fighting fracking and promoting sustainable communities.

Award events include a public lecture by Staggenborg, a dinner, award ceremony and toasts at Notre Dame on Saturday, May 4, 2019.

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Education Professor Emerita and LRDC Scientist Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Peg (Margaret) Smith has been awarded a 2019 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award “honors NCTM members who have exhibited a lifetime of achievement in mathematics education at the national level.” Smith is one of three recipients of the prestigious award.

Smith is a professor emerita of mathematics education in the Department of Instruction and Learning in the School of Education, and a senior scientist in the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC).

Smith studies how teachers support student learning through the use of rich mathematical tasks. Over the course of her career, she has published more than 75 journal articles, book chapters and books. Notably, her “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussion,” which she co-authored with Mary Kay Stein, sold more than 35,000 copies in its first two years.

Smith was recognized in April during the Opening Session of the 2019 NCTM Annual Meeting and Exposition in San Diego.

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Daniel Balderson Receives Literary Award

Daniel Balderson has been named co-winner of the 2019 Richard Finneran Award for his book about an Argentine author titled “How Borges Wrote.”

Balderson is a Mellon Professor of Modern Languages in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

The award is given by the Society for Textual Scholarship to recognize the best edition of book about editorial theory and/or practice published in the English language.

Balderson’s book is “the first and only attempt at a systematic and comprehensive study of the trajectory of Borge’s creative process.”

Blain in a dark shirt

Keisha N. Blain Awarded Best Book in African American Women’s and Gender History

Keisha N. Blain, assistant professor in the Department of History, received the 2019 Darlene Clark Hine Award from the Organization of American Historians (OAH).

The prestigious award, given annually for the “best book in African American women’s and gender history,” was presented to Blain for her recent publication, “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.” The book, which “[draws] on a variety of previously untapped sources, including newspapers, government records, songs, and poetry,” tells the stories of Black women nationalists in the 20th century.

The award committee calls Blain’s work a “major contribution to existing historiographies that centers on African American women, black internationalism, intellectual history and African American history.”

The OAH, founded in 1907, is the world’s “largest professional association dedicated to American history scholarship.”

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Four Pitt Students Earn 2019 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships

Four University of Pittsburgh students have been named recipients of the 2019 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, which support outstanding students who are pursuing careers in the fields of engineering, mathematics and the natural sciences.

The Goldwater Scholarship, established in 1986 by the U.S. Congress and named for Sen. Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, is granted in either a student’s second or third year and assists in covering tuition and other educational expenses for each student’s remaining period of study.

Institutions can only nominate four students each year, and this is just the third time in Pitt’s history, in addition to the years 1998 and 2000, that all four of its nominees have won the award. In total — including this year — Pitt has produced 60 Goldwater Scholars.      

Pitt’s 2019 Goldwater Scholars, all of whom are from Pennsylvania and will be seniors in fall 2019, study within the University’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The University Honors College supported all four students throughout the application process. These students are part of a cohort of 496 peers nationwide to earn a Goldwater Scholarships for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Pitt’s honorees are:

Julia Driscoll of Pittsburgh. A chemistry major, she hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in organic chemistry, conduct research in the total synthesis of natural products and teach at a major research institution.

Driscoll works in the lab of Kazunori Koide, professor in the Department of Chemistry. She also serves as fundraising chair for The Imagination Project, a non-profit organization whose members visit pediatric hospital patients and members of the special needs community while dressed as characters from children’s stories.

Teja Peddada of Sewickley is majoring in neuroscience and minoring in math and statistics. He plans to obtain an MD/PhD in neuroscience and conduct translational research in psychopharmacology to better understand and find potential treatments for psychiatric disorders in an academic hospital setting.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, Peddada studied pharmacology at the University of Cambridge as Pitt’s 2018 Jesus College Cambridge Scholar. He also serves as president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness at Pitt.

Mariya Savinov of Upper St. Clair is majoring in physics and math. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree in applied mathematics, conduct research in dynamical systems with a focus in mathematical biology and teach at the university level.

At Pitt, she works in the lab of G. Bard Ermentrout, distinguished university professor in the Department of Mathematics. She is also the founder of Pitt’s TESSA Talks, which are interdisciplinary discussions that explore themes of technology, education, science, society and art. Her older brother, Andrew, also received the Goldwater Scholarship in 2009 while studying at Pitt.

Swapna Subramanian of Mechanicsburg is majoring in ecology and evolution and anthropology and minoring in chemistry. After graduation, she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in evolutionary biology, conduct research in evolutionary adaptation to climate change and teach at the university level.

At Pitt, she works in the lab of Martin Turcotte, assistant professor of evolutional ecology. She also works in the Section of Herpetology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

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Feng Xiong Receives NSF Grant to Develop Conversion Method for Heat Energy

Feng Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Jonathan Malen, professor of mechanical engineering at CMU, recently received a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation to develop a thermoelectric semiconductor using tungsten disulfide to convert waste heat into energy. 

This collaboration seeks to make converting heat lost in energy production back into usable electricity that’s more efficient.

The team will work closely with local communities to encourage students from all backgrounds to explore engineering careers and foster interest in nanotechnology. Outreach efforts will include lab demonstrations, summer internships and career workshops.

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Lina Dostilio Named First Research Fellow for Coalition for Urban and Metropolitan Universities

The Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) has named Lina Dostilio CUMU’s first research fellow. During a five-month appointment, Dostilio, associate vice chancellor for community engagement at the University of Pittsburgh, will work to establish a cross-city research agenda on the effects of hyperlocal engagement on community capacity. Over the course of the fellowship, Dostilio will work to create a space for dialogue and collaboration on data, instruments, policy, and strategies.

“This project is interested in how universities honor the existing capacities of the communities they engage and how hyperlocal efforts may influence those capacities over time. Examples of the kinds of capacity we are exploring are community readiness for change, civic engagement and social connectedness, among others,” said Dostilio.

“There’s never been a more important time for institutions to be authentic about their responsibility and capacity for place-based engagement and service. Lina’s scholarship on hyperlocal engagement will help to define CUMU’s research agenda and move this important work forward,” said Bobbie Laur, CUMU executive director.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.”

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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.

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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 nca.varsity.com.

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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.

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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.

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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.