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HERL receives patent for computer pointing device

Pitt's Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) recently announced its latest patent to help improve mobility for people who use prosthetics.

The patent is a pointing device for computer mice to be used by people with prosthetic hands. HERL focuses on innovative technologies that improve human mobility.

“The ability to use a computer is critical in today’s world, and using a mouse is ubiquitous unless you use a prosthetic arm,” said Rory Cooper director of HERL and one of the researchers named on the patent. “This technology opens an efficient, and cost-effective means for individuals who use prosthetic arms to access a computer, which could be revolutionary.” Cooper is also associate dean for inclusion and Distinguished Professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

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School of Education receives grants to spark innovation in K-12 education

The School of Education has been awarded three grants totaling $255,000 to lead new innovations in K-12 education. The funding comes from the Grable Foundation as part of the Tomorrow campaign, which is awarding 17 grants to nonprofit organizations across Western Pennsylvania over the next year to advance the future of learning.

The three grants that the School of Education received were the most awarded to any organization under the campaign, and will help support the following projects:

  • Ignite Learning Teacher Mentorship Program: an opportunity for practicing teachers, pre-service teachers and university professors to take advantage of culturally relevant training and professional development opportunities.

  • A Social-Emotional Learning Tutoring Network: Through the Center for Urban Education, the new program will enlist retired Black educators to offer tutoring support to those who work with Black students, especially those in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

  • School Board Leadership College: The School of Education’s Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents and Pitt’s Institute of Politics will create a school board leadership college for school board members.

For more about the funded projects, visit the School of Education website.

Led by Remake Learning, the Tomorrow campaign is supported by the Grable Foundation, ASTC, Global Minds Initiative, Kidsburgh, KnowledgeWorks, Project Fuel, The Saturday Light Brigade and transformED.  

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Jackie Smith receives Fulbright for globalization and human rights research

Jackie Smith, professor in the Department of Sociology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Canada. Smith, whose research focuses on how globalization impacts people and communities, will conduct research at McMaster University’s Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition as part of her book project, “Globalization, Human Rights and Cities in the 21st Century.”

This research considers how global economic and social policies affect cities’ abilities to address residents’ needs, and how people are coming together within and across cities to demand their “right to the city.” The award will enable Smith to include additional comparative research on human rights, racial equity and housing justice struggles in Canadian cities.

Smith has documented long-term trends in transnational social movement organizations and coalitions, in addition to research on connections between global politics and activism in cities and communities. Smith is currently engaged in participatory research with Pittsburgh and with national human rights organizers and engaged in work to connect municipalities with United Nations human rights work.

The flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, the Fulbright Program is designed to forge lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, counter misunderstandings and help people and nations work together toward common goals.

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Cultural Engagement Playbook aims to create safe and inclusive environments

With increasingly diverse classrooms and workplaces comes the challenge of effective, inclusive communication among classmates and colleagues. The coronavirus has not only prompted conversations about public health but also about inequities embedded in society, tying into larger conversations about race, ethnicity, discrimination and institutionalized racism. 

To help with this, and to create safe, healthy and inclusive environments, the Pitt Humanities in Health group has created the Cultural Engagement Playbook, a multimodal training approach to engage trainees in person, virtually or both in a purposeful cultural self-examination of how their own lived experiences influence their attitudes, with the goal of encouraging empathy for others, critically examining their own biases and gaining an appreciation of diversity and a greater sense of community.  

The team includes lead innovator Abdesalam Soudi, who is the primary investigator in the Humanities at Work project and lecturer in Pitt’s Department of Linguistics in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; Shelome Gooden, assistant vice chancellor for research for the humanities, arts, social sciences, and related fields and a linguistics professor; and Jeannette South-Paul, professor and chair emeritus of family medicine in the School of Medicine.

Two dedicated entrepreneurial mentors are guiding the process and as part of the Pitt Ventures First Gear Program. The project also received NSF I-Corp funding to help validate the market-readiness of the innovation.

For licensing information, contact Carolyn Weber, technology licensing associate,, in Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

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Melanie Hughes to serve as NSF sociology program director

Melanie Hughes, professor of sociology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and co-director of Pitt’s Gender Inequality Research Lab, will serve as sociology program director with the National Science Foundation (NSF) starting this month.

Her appointment is part of NSF’s rotating program director initiative through which university faculty work at the federal agency for a period of one to three years. Hughes will help manage the NSF grant review process to determine which sociology proposals will be recommended for funding. She will also work with program directors in other divisions and directorates to pursue NSF’s broader objectives, as well as conduct outreach to inform sociologists about how NSF works and to encourage them to submit research proposals. While in the position, rotating program officers are permitted to continue their scholarly research.

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Pitt Cyber announces fall 2020 Affiliate Scholars

The Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security (Pitt Cyber) has added a new slate of researchers to its team of Pitt Cyber Affiliate Scholars. Affiliate scholars are selected for excellence in cyber-themed research and teaching and work to serve as sources for transdisciplinary collaboration and innovation within the University and beyond.

The Fall 2020 Affiliate Scholars are:

  • Max Goplerud, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

  • Lucas Mentch, an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics in the Dietrich School

  • Lara Putnam, a UCIS research professor in the Department of History n the Dietrich School

  • Malihe Alikhani, an assistant professor in the School of Computing and Information

  • Eleanor Mattern, a teaching assistant professor in the School of Computing and Information

  • Morgan Frank, an assistant professor in the Department of Informatics and Networked Systems in the School of Computing and Information

  • Jamie Sidani, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine in the School of Medicine

  • Cassie Quigley, an associate professor in the School of Education

  • Tony Rodi, clinical associate professor of business administration in the Katz Graduate School of Business

  • Candice Biernesser, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Psychiatry

Three named Leonard Peters Faculty Fellows in Sustainability

The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation has named three Pitt professors as 2020-21 Leonard Peters Faculty Fellows in Sustainability. The fellowships provide opportunities for Pitt faculty members focused on sustainability to contribute to strategic MCSI goals, including their mission of interdisciplinary excellence in sustainability research and education.

The fellows are Michael Blackhurst, co-director of the Urban & Regional Analysis Program; Tony Kerzmann, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science; and Danielle Andrews-Brown, lecturer and coordinator of the Environmental Studies Program in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science.

Find more information on the Swanson School of Engineering website.

Mark Schmeler

Schmeler awarded $2.5 million to study health coverage for custom wheelchairs

A Disability and Rehabilitation Research Project headed by Mark Schmeler, associate professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, has been awarded $2.5 million over five years from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

Schmeler, who is vice chair for Education & Training in the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, and his team will investigate a new health coverage policy for custom manual and power wheelchairs for people with disabilities to improve their ability to live and participate in their communities.

The project summary says that current health policy for these devices is very restrictive to the point that they are not even covered for people to leave their homes to attend work or school, which conflicts with the spirit of the Rehabilitation Act.

Schmeler and his department are partnering with UPMC and UPMC Health Plan, along with Ohio State University, University of Michigan and key disability, industry and policy stakeholders to evaluate current policies and novel models with stakeholder input. They also plan to develop a standardized assessment and procurement protocol; perform analyses of existing datasets relevant to these devices; and evaluate the feasibility of a new model.

Katz MBA program top five mover in composite rankings

The Katz Graduate School of Business’ MBA program jumped from 64th in 2010 to 39th in 2019, making it one of the top five movers in the composite rankings compiled by Poets & Quants.

The composite MBA ranking is based on a weighted average of rankings from U.S. News & World Report, Forbesthe Financial Times, The Economistand Businessweek.

The Katz MBA program also has been consistently ranked in the Top 20 by Poets & Quants for the last six years — currently at 17th among public programs in the U.S.

In an article titled “10 Years of P&Q MBA Rankings: Who Sits On Top?,” Katz’s rise in the rankings is attributed to its continuous evolution of new experience-based learning opportunities, new courses, and new programs to adapt to the ever-changing business world.

“We have been fortunate in that the quality, enthusiasm and energy of our students coupled with an emphasis on staff, faculty, alumni and community partners mentoring students, broadening their career horizons, has resulted in great employment opportunities,” said Sara B. Moeller, associate dean for Graduate Programs, in an article on the Katz website.

To learn more about where Katz graduate programs stand against the competition, please visit the stats and rankings page.

English professor Meyer receives Fulbright award

Michael Meyer, a professor in the English Department, Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Taiwan. Meyer will teach creative nonfiction writing at Taipei’s National Taiwan Normal University.

This project will continue Meyer’s cultural and educational engagement across the Taiwan Strait. In 1995, he was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers sent to China, and is the author of three award-winning books about the region — “The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed”; “In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China”; and “The Road to Sleeping Dragon: Learning China from the Ground Up.”

Pitt teams with state health department for first responder training

The state Department of Health is teaming up with Pitt’s Program Evaluation and Research Unit to provide education and training to first responders across the state on substance use disorder, the use of naloxone, and stigma and implicit bias of those fighting the opioid epidemic.

Pitt will receive nearly $2.8 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services First Responders-Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

In addition, Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia will receive $1.2 million from the health department through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Overdose Data to Action Grant

Training will be provided at no cost to first responders, including local law enforcement, emergency medical services providers, firefighters and related public safety professionals, as well as prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, judges, probation and parole officers and correctional officers.

The department plans to convene an Advisory Council in the fall to oversee and coordinate these trainings. Agencies interested in receiving this education can email

Derek Angus

Med school’s Derek Angus to be senior editor of JAMA

Derek Angus, professor and chair of the Department of Critical Care Medicine at Pitt and chief health care innovation officer at UPMC, will become a senior editor at the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Christopher Seymour, director of the Translational and Clinical Science Program at the Clinical Research, Investigation and Systems Modeling of Acute Illness (CRISMA) Center in Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC intensivist, will take Angus’ place as associate editor at JAMA, focused on critical care medicine.

“Derek is among the most prominent ICU physicians in the world and has helped JAMA recruit the best papers in this specialty,” said Howard Bauchner, JAMA’s editor-in-chief. “After consideration of many possible replacements, we have decided that Christopher Seymour — also from UPMC — will become an associate editor … Christopher has been an important contributor to JAMA as an author and reviewer and is a well-known trialist in the field.”

Angus joined UPMC and Pitt in the early 1990s after earning his medical degree and completing residency training in internal medicine at the University of Glasgow, UK. His specialties include epidemiologic, economic and health services research aspects of critical illness, with a particular focus on improving randomized control trials to better serve the sickest of the sick.

Seymour joined UPMC and Pitt nearly a decade ago after earning his medical degree and completing his residency at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, followed by a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Washington. His research focuses on the early recognition and treatment of sepsis and critical illness, using machine learning and translational science.

Read more about the appointments on the UPMC website.


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University publications bring home Golden Quill Awards

The people who bring you Pittwire, Pitt Magazine and Pitt Med magazine took home 21 winner or finalist awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Golden Quill Awards on Sept. 3.

Of special note: Associate Editor of Pitt Med magazine Gavin Jenkins took home the Ray Sprigle Memorial Award: Magazines for his story, "Oct. 27, 2018: Pittsburgh's Darkest Day, and the Mass Casualty Response," about the local and Pitt responders to the Tree of Life tragedy. 

See all Pitt’s winners, including audio, photography, writing and video awardees.

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Center for Neuroanatomy with Neurotropic Viruses receives NIH funding

The Center for Neuroanatomy with Neurotropic Viruses, a national research resource based at the University of Pittsburgh, recently received a five-year, $4.25 million award from the National Institutes of Health to continue its work.

The center provides the neuroscience community at Pitt and throughout the world with access to the highly specialized reagents, training and facilities that are necessary to use neurotropic viruses as transneuronal tracers. This technique is providing fundamental new insights into the functional architecture of sensory, motor, cognitive and affective networks in the central nervous system. For example, Pitt researchers led by center director Peter Strick discovered the mind-body connection between the gut and the brain using this approach. 

"We’ve developed a terrific tool for investigating neural networks in the brain and we are sharing it with investigators all over the world,” said Strick, who is also scientific director of Pitt’s Brain Institute and chair of Pitt’s neurobiology department in the School of Medicine.

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Sharon Alvarez elected to Academy of Management leadership track

Sharon Alvarez, Thomas W. Olofson Chair in Entrepreneurship and professor of business administration in the Katz Graduate School of Business, has been elected to the Academy of Management (AOM) Board of Governors executive track.

Her five-year term begins as vice president-elect and program chair-elect, culminating as AOM president, and a final year as past president.

The Academy of Management is the pre-eminent professional association for management and organization scholars, with nearly 20,000 members across more than 120 countries. Its members are business professors and doctoral students, academics in related social sciences and other fields, and practitioners.

Alvarez recently finished a three-year term as an editor of the organization’s flagship journal, the AOM Review.

Her theoretical research, “Discovery and Creation: Alternative Theories of Entrepreneurial Action,” won the AOM Entrepreneurship Division 2019 Foundational Paper Award and the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal Best Paper Award.

Alvarez earned her doctoral degree in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship and strategic management and her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado and her master’s degree in international management from the University of Denver.

Read more about her appointment in the Katz school’s news feature.

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Katz School's executive MBA program soars in The Economist 2020 ranking

The Katz Graduate School of Business Executive MBA Worldwide program earned its best rankings ever in the biennial Executive MBA Ranking by The Economist.

In the recently released 2020 ranking, the Katz EMBA was rated No. 31 globally, up 18 spots from 2018. The Katz EMBA placed 20th nationally and seventh among public universities.

Ranking metrics are related to personal development, educational experience and career development and are based on a school survey and a survey of current students and alumni from the last three graduating classes.

Read more on the Katz school news page.

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Pitt again ranks Among EPA’s top green power partners

The University of Pittsburgh has again been named among the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Top 30 college and university green power users.

The July 2020 list reflects the top 30 higher education institutions in the EPA’s Green Power Partners who purchase and/or generate large volumes of renewable electricity.

Pitt placed 30th, with annual green power usage of just over 41 million kilowatt hours, representing 19 percent of the University’s annual power usage.

Green Power Partners commit to use green power for all or a portion of their annual electricity consumption. Pitt became a Green Power Partner in 2019 and also made the Top 30 list in July 2019.

Read more about this news on the Pitt Sustainability website.

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Dara Mendez receives national recognition for maternal and child health research

The Coalition for Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology and 15 national health organizations selected Dara Mendez as the recipient of the 2020 Award for Effective Practice at the Community Level.

Mendez is an assistant professor of epidemiology in Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health, specializing in understanding and addressing racial and socioeconomic inequity in pregnancy, birth and women's health.

The award recognizes her significant work toward improving public health practice through effective use of data, epidemiology and applied research. It will be formally presented in September during the virtual CityMatCH Leadership and MCH Epidemiology Conference.


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Pitt Dental research collaboration receives more than $31 million

A multi-institute collaboration including the University of Pittsburgh received more than $31 million from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to study regenerative therapies and to improve patient care by providing solutions for the unmet clinical problems in dental, oral and craniofacial medicine. 

The Michigan-Pittsburgh-Wyss Regenerative Medicine (MPWRM) Resource Center is a multi-institute collaboration between the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine, McGowan Institute for Regenerative MedicinesciVelo and the Harvard University/Wyss Institute.

The funding will be used to support various projects from the center, such as developing a technology focused on disc repair for the joint connecting the jawbone to the skull and developing immunomodulatory strategies to treat periodontal disease.

The center has supported 19 interdisciplinary translational projects since its founding in 2017 to advance their research toward market implementation by offering comprehensive guidance in research and clinical, regulatory, market and business development.

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Pitt researchers receive $3.2 Million grant to uncover genes that build faces

Pitt researchers Seth Weinberg, associate professor of oral biology and co-director of Pitt’s Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics, and John Shaffer, assistant professor of human genetics, recently received a $3.2 million five-year grant from the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research to continue their effort to identify the genes that help determine human facial features.

This latest grant will expand upon earlier gene mapping work by focusing on high-throughput strategies designed to identify the specific variants most likely to drive gene expression during early facial development — a key piece of information needed to understand the molecular mechanisms that build human faces.

An additional component of the project will leverage longitudinal data to identify regions of the genome that impact patterns of facial growth during childhood and adolescence. This may provide unique insights into the genetic pathways that contribute to facial dysmorphology.

The project is a collaborative effort involving additional researchers from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Stanford University, Penn State and Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.