Brenda Cassidy, Jennifer Lingler and Patricia Tuite

Pitt Nursing faculty stand out in statewide awards

Three Pitt School of Nursing faculty members were recognized in November at the 30th annual gala and celebration of the Nightingale Awards of Pennsylvania. Each faculty member who was nominated for her category received the award. 

Brenda Cassidy (NURS ’86G, ’97G, ’11G), assistant professor, won the Doctorate of Nursing Practice award; Jennifer Lingler (NURS ’98G, ’04G; A&S ’03G), professor, won the Nursing Research award; and Patricia Tuite (NURS ’85, ’92G), assistant professor, won the Nursing Education-Academia award.

The Nightingale Awards are a statewide program designed to recognize excellence in nursing. Over the past 30 years, more than 100 nursing professionals who best exemplify compassionate care, clinical expertise, education and leadership have been celebrated at the awards ceremony.

Peter Strick

Peter Strick honored for brain research

Peter Strick, founding scientific director of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, was selected for a 2019 Krieg Cortical Kudos Discoverer Award in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of the cortical circuits involved in motor control.

He was presented the award by the Society for Neuroscience at the Cajal Club in Chicago. Each year, neuroscientists at senior, intermediate and beginning stages in their careers are honored by the society for outstanding research on the structure and connections of the cerebral cortex.

Strick's research focuses on four major areas: the generation and control of voluntary movement by the motor areas of the cerebral cortex; the motor and cognitive functions of the basal ganglia and cerebellum; the neural basis for the mind-body connection; and unraveling the complex neural networks that comprise the central nervous system.

Alex Toner

Alex Toner recognized as Western PA Rising Star

Alex J. Toner (SCI ’11G), assistant director of community engagement in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations, was recognized as a 2019 Western PA Rising Star by Get Involved!, Inc., at its 10th annual Pittsburgh Service Summit on Sept. 12.

The Rising Star awards recognize 21 local young professionals who “dedicate their time and talent to community organizations and who are making a positive difference in the region.”

In addition to his role at Pitt, Toner serves as a high school mentor at Brashear High School through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentor 2.0 program, is an active member of Brookline Together and is pursuing a masters of public policy and management from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

According to its website, Get Involved!, Inc. “provides leadership and development programs and initiatives that engage, energize, educate and empower students, young professionals and lifelong learners to make a positive difference in their communities and to become civically engaged.”

Catherine Palmer

Study on hearing loss and social participation receives award

Catherine Palmer, associate professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders at Pitt, has been approved for a $2.23 million funding award by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to study hearing aids’ role in participation in senior communities.

Through this three-year award, Palmer and her team in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) will find out if people are more satisfied with their social participation when more hearing support is available, and if people with hearing loss find their quality of life improves when they have access to hearing help more frequently.

Palmer’s study was selected for PCORI funding through a highly competitive review process in which patients, clinicians and other stakeholders joined clinical scientists to evaluate the proposals. Applications were assessed for scientific merit, how well they will engage patients and other stakeholders and their methodological rigor among other criteria.

Palmer is also director of the SHRS Audiology Program, director of the Center for Audiology and Hearing Aids at UPMC and the current president of the American Academy of Audiology. Other Pitt researchers who will work with Palmer in this study include audiology associate professor Elaine Mormer, occupational therapy associate professor Natalie Leland and physical therapy professor Charity Patterson.

Jeanne Marie Laskas

Laskas pens 'The Mister Rogers No One Saw' essay in New York Times

Jeanne Marie Laskas, distinguished professor of English in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences and founding director of Pitt’s Center for Creativity, published an essay in the New York Times Magazine on her friendship with Fred Rogers.

Laskas first met Rogers after finishing graduate school and remained friends with him until his death in 2003.

“Fred Rogers’ philosophy guided me to teach in the way that I do now. He gave me the confidence to become a writer,” said Laskas, a New York Times best-selling author of eight books.

During Pitt’s Year of Creativity, Laskas said we can all learn a lot from Rogers. “Fred believed that the creative process was a fundamental function at the core of every human being,” Laskas wrote in her essay.

Her essay appeared in the Nov. 24 New York Times Magazine. In addition to serving as a contributing writer for the New York Times, Laskas is also a correspondent at GQ. Her bylines have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Esquire.

Gina Garcia

Gina Garcia appointed to board of directors of National Higher Education Organization

Gina Garcia, assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, has been elected to the board of directors of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).

With more than 2,000 members, ASHE is a national organization for scholarship in higher education administration. Garcia’s appointment will run from 2019-2021.

Garcia focuses her research on Hispanic-serving institutions (not-for-profit, degree-granting colleges and universities that enroll at least 25 percent or more Latinx students) in post-secondary education, Latinx college student experiences, and the effects of racism and microaggressions in collegiate settings. Pitt celebrated the launch of her book, “Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges and Universities,” on Oct. 15.

Pitt–Bradford named National Guard-friendly school

Pitt–Bradford has been named one of 30 colleges and universities in the initial group of National Guard-friendly schools by the Pennsylvania National Guard Associations.

“Guardsmen have unique responsibilities that active duty troops and reservists do not have, and this creates different challenges for them when pursuing a degree,” said retired Brig. Gen. George Schwartz, chairman of the association’s Education Council. “These 30 schools have made a deliberate effort to be flexible, accommodating and supportive of guardsmen-students and deserving of recognition.”

At Pitt-Bradford during the 2018-2019 academic year, the National Guard provided $64,888 to students for educational expenses.

Pitt-Bradford offers military science classes through the U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Seneca Battalion at St. Bonaventure University in nearby Allegany, N.Y. Entry-level ROTC classes taught by National Guard instructors are available on the Pitt-Bradford campus for a student’s first two years.

After that, students travel to St. Bonaventure to take advanced leadership courses with juniors from the five other colleges in the Seneca Battalion, all located in New York: St. Bonaventure, Alfred State SUNY College of Technology, Alfred University, Houghton College and Jamestown Community College.

Pitt-Bradford students serving in the Pennsylvania National Guard are able to drill monthly with Company C Armory at the nearby Bradford Regional Airport.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at Pitt-Bradford, contact Robert Dilks, assistant vice president of enrollment management, at 814-362-7693 or

Inmaculada Hernandez

Pharmacy’s Hernandez wins emerging leader award

Inmaculada Hernandez, of the Pitt School of Pharmacy, was been awarded the 2019 Seema S. Sonnad Emerging Leader in Managed Care Research Award by the American Journal of Managed Care during the Patient-Centered Oncology Care meeting on Nov. 8 in Philadelphia.

In 2016, Hernandez joined the Pitt faculty as an assistant professor of pharmacy and therapeutics and as associate director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing. She also serves as associate editor for the journal BMC Cardiovascular Disorders. Hernandez’s research program is focused on the intersection of pharmaceutical health services and outcomes research, pharmacoepidemiology, pharmaco-economics and pharmaceutical policy.



Running on a treadmill

Pitt honored at Healthiest Employers of Pittsburgh Awards

The University of Pittsburgh has been named an honoree for the Healthiest Employers Awards.

Since 2009, the Healthiest Employers Awards aim to recognize leaders in corporate wellness across the U.S. The Healthiest Employers company researches more than 8,000 employers nationally to assemble trends, challenges and practices to enhance corporate wellness programs. Employers are assessed on their health and wellness programs using six fundamental areas of health programming:

  • Culture and leadership commitment

  • Foundational components

  • Strategic planning

  • Communication and marketing

  • Programming and interventions

  • Reporting and analytics

Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Benefits John Kozar is helping develop Pitt’s health and wellness program for faculty, staff and students. “This honor helps create an awareness of the University’s wellness efforts. It also further supports our designation as a Live Well Allegheny Workplace by the Allegheny County Health Department,” Kozar said.

Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Dave DeJong agrees. “Pitt is dedicated to bringing the best health and wellness services and resources to its faculty, staff and students. As a healthy employer, we are paving the way for other higher education organizations to follow our lead and support their employees in health.”

Pitt was recognized for its dedication and commitment to employee health and wellness as a large employer in the Western Pennsylvania region. One such example is the Wellness for Life program for faculty and staff, which focuses on proactive health management, positive lifestyle choices and physical activity. Pitt employees can visit the on-campus UPMC MyHealth@Work Health and Wellness Center to treat a variety of health issues, partner with a health coach to make healthy lifestyle changes and get in shape and explore Life Solutions services to help balance work and the stresses of daily life.

Paul Leu

Paul Leu to lead effort for better smartwatch and TV screens

Paul Leu, associate professor of industrial engineering at theSwanson School of Engineering, will lead a collaborative study that aims to replace indium tin oxide with metal “microgrid” conductors to improve performance of organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs.

Leu will work with Electroninks, a technology company in Austin, Texas, thanks to a $1 million award from the Department of Energy’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

OLEDs are present in smartwatches and 4K television screens. Indium tin oxide is expensive, doesn’t perform well enough for larger areas and can crack with repeated touching or swiping. By using a new metal patterning technique that prints the metal grid directly on glass or plastic, the team aims to create “microgrid” conductors that can outperform indium tin oxide at a lower manufacturing cost.

Lisa Bodnar

Lisa Bodnar named committee member for infant feeding study

Lisa Bodnar, professor in Pitt Public Health's Department of Epidemiology, has been named a full member on the National Academy of Medicine's “Committee on Scoping Existing Guidelines for Feeding Recommendations for Infants and Young Children Under Age 2.”

The committee will review existing documents and resources about what to feed and how to feed infants and children from birth up to two years of age, and assess descriptions of best practices for implementation strategies to support communication and dissemination of feeding guidance. They'll then inform stakeholders about the feasibility of consolidating feeding guidelines and/or harmonizing guidance for feeding infants and children up to two years of age, and will make recommendations about communication strategies.

Bodnar’s research focuses on discovering the healthiest weight and dietary patterns for pregnant women and their children. 

Timothy Grebeck

Austism awareness advocate Timothy Grebeck wins Thornburgh Forum Award

Graduate student Timothy Grebeck began educating those around him about what it was like to have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when he was in the seventh grade at a regional school. Diagnosed with ASD at age nine but tired of being bullied, he says he chose as a young teen to devote his life to make sure others like him didn’t suffer the same way.

Grebeck is currently a graduate student at Pitt studying childhood and special education in the School of Education and the founder of the advocacy group Talking 4 Autism. Recently he was presented with the 2019 Dick Thornburgh Forum Disability Service Award at a ceremony in the William Pitt Union Lower Lounge. It’s an annual honor from the Dick Thornburgh Forum on Law & Public Policy.

“Changing the world for the better starts with changing the viewpoint of just one person,” said Ginny Thornburgh, as she handed Grebeck a check for $5,000 for his future work.

Through Talking 4 Autism, Grebeck provides intimate personal presentations about the world of autism to college students and faculty as well as corporate employees. “I expect and encourage people to ask things that are uncomfortable to talk about because that is how we all learn,” he said.

The award ceremony's keynote speaker was Ted Kennedy Jr., chair of the board of the American Association of People with DisabilitiesListen to Kennedy’s keynote speech.

PittPharmacy’s Beumer named U.S. editor of international journal

Jan H. Beumer, PittPharmacy professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has taken on the role of U.S. editor-in-chief of Cancer Chemotherapy & Pharmacology, joining the European editor, Professor Etienne Chatelut from the University of Toulouse in France.

Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology addresses a wide range of pharmacologic and oncologic concerns on both experimental and clinical levels. It is a high-quality journal that reports on the pre-clinical and clinical pharmacology of cancer therapeutics.


Erika Ninos

Sustainability program coordinator gets PLAN Supportive Staff Member Award

Student Affairs staff member Erika Ninos, sustainability program coordinator in the Office of PittServes, has received the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) Supportive Staff Member Award.

This national award recognizes a staff member who has gone above and beyond in supporting students. She was chosen for this student-nominated national award from among five nominees. 

Ninos was nominated by Student Office of Sustainability program associates Ellie Cadden and Zach Delaney, who praised her mentorship, patience and dedication. 

“One message that I have taken from her is to always recognize how powerful students are to implement tangible and positive change on campus,” wrote Cadden in her nomination. 

Wrote Delaney: “I've learned how to be an ambassador for social justice, environmental activism and everything else due to her. She has been supportive of me emotionally through difficult class schedules, working two jobs, taking summer classes, has been professionally supportive of me in my efforts on campus to serve the community here and the ones around me, and has dedicated her time on this campus to its general betterment.”

The award was presented Oct. 12 at the Students for Zero Waste Conference in Philadelphia, hosted by PLAN.

Hergenroeder earns SHRS Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Andrea Hergenroeder, an associate professor of Physical Therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, earned the SHRS Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award for creating life-long learning habits in her classroom; using creative and cutting-edge teaching methods and technologies; and creating experiential learning activities that support students through all stages of learning.

Bioengineering’s Abramowitch receives Diversity Lecture Award

Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering, received the Biomedical Engineering Society 2019 Diversity Lecture Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to improving gender and racial diversity in biomedical engineering. His lecture, presented on Oct. 17 at the society’s annual conference in Philadelphia, asked the audience to consider, “Are you comfortable?” Go to the Pitt Engineering website for more details.

School of Medicine clinical instructor John to lead Pa. Medical Society

Lawrence R. John, clinical instructor for the Department of Family Medicine in the School of Medicine and a family medicine physician affiliated with UPMC St. Margaret, was recently sworn in as the 170th president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society — a physician-led organization representing all physicians and medical students throughout the state of Pennsylvania.  

“I am excited to have been selected as president for the Pennsylvania Medical Society and look forward to advocating for both physicians and medical students throughout the state,” John said in a news release. 

As president, one of John’s primary goals is to highlight and seek solutions for physician burnout. 

“Since we know that physician well-being is essential for safe and high-quality patient care, we must have a critical discussion about how we can eliminate burnout and establish an environment of well-being,” John said. 

John earned his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame. In both 2017 and 2018, he was named one of “Pittsburgh’s Best Doctors” by Pittsburgh Magazine. 

Shawn Brown returning to lead Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

Shawn Brown has been selected as the next director of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint research center of Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. Brown, whose work uses high performance computing, informatics and computational modeling to advance research in scientific fields, will join the center on Nov. 27.

Brown, who previously served as the director of public health applications at the center, comes back to Pittsburgh from McGill University in Montreal where he served as the chief technology officer of the Neurohub Project and associate director of research software development at the McGill Centre for Integrative Neuroscience.

“We are delighted that Shawn is bringing his expertise, especially in public health and neuroinformatics, back to Pittsburgh,” said Rob A. Rutenbar, senior vice chancellor for research. “In addition to his major achievements in simulations modeling, his collaborative approach and team leadership highly impressed the search committee.”

William Kramer, who was announced as the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s director in July, has chosen to remain at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign.

Murat Akcakaya

Engineering team receives NSF funding to study brain in rehabilitation research

A team of researchers from Pitt and Northeastern University received a combined $1.18 million from the National Science Foundation to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) system that will be implemented in augmented reality, allowing for better detection, assessment and rehabilitation of unilateral spatial neglect. Unilateral spatial neglect is a deficit in attention that can occurs in individuals who have had a stroke.

The Pitt side of the team is led by Murat Akcakaya, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering.

The researchers plan to focus on visual neglect and address the shortcomings of current rehabilitation by reaching beyond the clinical setting and taking activities of daily living into account. They will develop a noninvasive, portable and cost-effective tool that can be used to help guide rehabilitation programs in real-time.

Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis and Caroline Runyan headshots

Two Scientists win High-Risk High-Reward grants for research programs

Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis, assistant professor of computational and systems biology in the School of Medicine, and Caroline Runyan, assistant professor of neuroscience in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, have won NIH Director’s Awards for pursuing major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that require trans-NIH collaboration to succeed.

Carvunis’ research focuses on addressing questions about the uniqueness of different plant, fungi and animal species. These questions include how new genes can emerge without having parent genes, how networks of interacting molecules form and change within cells and how these networks differ across species.

Runyan’s work looks at the brain’s ability to flexibly control perception and behavior in different situations. Specifically, she images and manipulates cells and circuits to learn how the brain is able to shift gears quickly, as well as how it processes different types of sensory information depending on behavioral context.

Carvunis and Runyan both won New Innovator Awards. Part of the High-Risk High-Reward Research Program, these honorees are early stage investigators within 10 years of doctoral or postgraduate training who propose innovative, high-impact projects in the biomedical, behavioral or social sciences.