Eleven Faculty and Staff Proposals Receive Pitt Seed Funding

Three seedlings in the soilAt the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Wellness Pavilion at the University’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood, members and neighborhood residents will learn to take control of their health.

A campuswide collaboration at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown aims to enhance awareness and engagement related to diversity and inclusion, create safe spaces and foster a supportive environment that extends to neighboring communities.

The School of Law’s Immigration Law Clinic will establish an asylum clinic to provide forensic evaluations for asylum seekers, train health care providers to perform them and educate medical students about the process of asylum.

These are just a few of the 11 projects named 2020 Pitt Seed Grant recipients, which represent a wide range of research, initiatives, individuals and organizations within the University and the six goals within The Plan for Pitt.

“Our call for proposals received a great response—and I congratulate this year’s grantees. Many of the projects funded this year reflect our continued commitment to social justice and active outreach to communities in need,” said Ann E. Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor. “We have committed support to projects that reflect our deep interest in further exploring ways to evaluate teaching effectiveness, as well as to probe innovations in both the advising and remote learning spaces. All of this is important work—and I am very excited to support these extremely interesting initiatives.”

The Pitt Seed Project Initiative received more than 60 letters of intent and 45 total applications, including 30 from faculty and 15 from staff. Sixty-eight volunteers from various units across Pitt participated in reviewing grant applications. Their recommendations were reviewed and endorsed by Provost Cudd before being presented to and approved by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

The 11 proposal summaries and their designated points of contact are:

XProjects Applied Research XPloration

Brandon Barber, BioE design, innovation and outreach coordinator
Swanson School of Engineering

The purpose of the XProjects Applied Research XPloration (XARX) is to further develop the Pitt XProject program’s internal research collaborations and explore new applications of ongoing research, while simultaneously providing students with cocurricular design/engineering experiences that go beyond the classroom. The diverse multidisciplinary teams employ a rigorous process and a proven suite of tools to navigate fast-paced project work, all while gaining practice with project management, prototyping and negotiating stakeholder-client relationships. This innovative approach to design education also creates an environment where students can gain the experience they need to more confidently approach and define complex problems.

University of Pittsburgh Advising Certification and Training Program (Pitt-ACT)

April Belback, director for undergraduate advising and mentoring
Office of the Provost

The University of Pittsburgh Advising Certification and Training Program (Pitt-ACT) is a large-scale collaboration between the Office of the Provost Undergraduate Studies Academic Innovation Team, the Center for Teaching and Learning and undergraduate academic and advising units across the University. Designed for faculty and staff at Pitt who work with students in an advising and mentoring capacity, the project creates a suite of online onboarding and training materials to help standardize the practice of advising across Pitt.

Using Administrative Data to Measure Teaching Effectiveness

Kevin Binning, assistant professor
Department of Psychology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

The proposed project will leverage existing institutional datasets to develop, validate and standardize new methods for assessing teaching effectiveness. In particular, the project will quantify the impact that particular instructors have on student outcomes, including subsequent retention, major choice and academic performance. This will be used to help Pitt improve by helping instructors understand the effectiveness of their teaching practices while also providing standardized benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of educational interventions.

NSF GRFP Preparation Program

Josh Cannon, scholar mentor
University Honors College

This project seeks to raise the number of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Project (NSF GRFP) winners among Pitt's graduate and undergraduate (seniors) populations. The project collaborators will host a series of workshops that provide strategies and guidance on application preparation, as well as bring in faculty and advanced graduate students to provide their own insights and expertise to applicants. Scholars in the appropriate fields will provide draft review services for each application. The seed grant will support this project for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years.

EvolvingSTEM Afterschool Program at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood

Vaughn Cooper, professor
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the School of Medicine

The EvolvingSTEM program addresses the critical need for engaging, equitable learning practices that support student success and promote a well-educated, diverse STEM workforce. Pitt Seed funding will support efforts to provide an after-school program to underserved students from the Pittsburgh Public School system at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood’s modern laboratory space. Students will design, conduct and analyze their own bacterial evolution experiment under the guidance of Pitt undergraduate mentors. Student projects will utilize cutting-edge laboratory and computational techniques, including bioinformatic analyses of genomic DNA sequencing data.

SPARKS: Promoting Diversity and Inclusion at Pitt-Johnstown and the Local Communities

Tuangtip Klinbubpa, associate professor
Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

This project is a campuswide, collaborative, multidisciplinary, personalized effort that will take place at Pitt-Johnstown and extend to the neighboring communities. The project aims to enhance awareness and engagement related to diversity and inclusion, sustainably engage Pitt-Johnstown and the neighboring communities in promoting diversity and inclusion and create safe spaces and a supportive environment for all.

Personalized Course Coaching at Scale: Bringing ECoach to Pitt

Lingfeng Liu, lab instructor
Department of Chemistry in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

We will bring ECoach, a personalized coaching tool developed at the University of Michigan, to Pitt. ECoach allows professors to personalize feedback to students to support success in large enrollment STEM courses.

SHRS Wellness Pavilion at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood

Channing Moreland, Wellness Pavilion director
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

The School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Wellness Pavilion is a student-led space inside The W.E.L.L (Wellness, Education, Living & Learning) at Pitt’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood. This community-engaged and interdisciplinary space was designed for Homewood and surrounding communities’ residents to feel heard and empowered to improve, maintain and take control of their health and wellness. To do so, the space provides free evidence-based health and wellness services and programs for residents across the lifespan. Moreover, the pavilion is committed to fostering healthy relationships between students, faculty, staff and community members via interprofessional collaborations and person-centered approaches to care. The Wellness Pavilion intends to maintain and initiate mutually beneficial partnerships within Homewood and surrounding communities to fortify University-specific strategic priorities. Community-based learning will occur at the pavilion, which will advance teaching practices, appeal to diverse applicants seeking admission and/or employment at the University and positively impact the student experience.

Classroom to Community: Designing and Inventing for Real-World Impact

Joseph Samosky, assistant professor
Department of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering

Classroom to Community is for students who want to creatively design and invent solutions for real-world problems and needs. Space, resources and mentorship will be provided for students to learn powerful human-centered design tools and methods, build bridges with community partners and create diverse teams from different backgrounds, majors and schools. Together we will co-create an engaging, multidisciplinary experience for students to explore, envision, share and learn from faculty partners and each other as they translate their ideas into something new in the world that benefits others. The project’s ultimate goals are to foster a culture of innovation, agency and service; empower students to discover their creative potential; and become agents of positive change.

School of Medicine Asylum Clinic

Sheila Velez Martinez, Jack and Lovell Olender Professor of Refugee, Asylum, and Immigration Law and director of clinical programs
School of Law

The Immigration Law Clinic and students and faculty at the School of Medicine are engaged in an effort to establish an asylum clinic that would provide forensic evaluations for asylum seekers. By documenting the physical and psychological sequelae of human rights abuses and submitting a medical-legal affidavit to court, physicians and students can make a difference in whether these individuals are granted asylum or other relief from deportation. The clinic will also train health care providers to perform asylum evaluations and educate medical students about the process of asylum and the role of health care providers in asylum. Shadowing asylum evaluations not only exposes students to the unique points of view of human rights atrocity survivors, but also allows them to observe and practice trauma-informed interviewing and cross-cultural communication.

Creating University-Wide Infrastructure and Policies to Enhance Career Development and Professional Networks of Pitt Employees and Students Through Nonroutine Dependent Care Support

Anna Wang-Erickson, assistant professor and associate director
Institute for Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation in Children (i4Kids), Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine

Speaking and networking at conferences is crucial to career advancement, and these opportunities often create a need for occasional nonroutine dependent care. This burden disproportionately affects women and people early in their careers. This project aims to create University-wide infrastructure and policies to support the career and professional network development of faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students through occasional nonroutine dependent care support. Additionally, it will evaluate the efficacy and impact of the new infrastructure and policies to improve efforts in building professional networks and promoting work done at Pitt at the international level.