First Pitt Seed Project Awards Fund 23 Projects for ‘Transformation’

The inaugural Pitt Seed program has awarded up to $50,000 each for 23 proposals from Pitt faculty and staff members. These projects, chosen from 171 applicants, are designed in a manner that “broadens the ways in which you can directly and actively contribute to Pitt’s strategic transformation,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in announcing the program.

Chosen with the aid of 125 faculty and staff members who reviewed the proposals, the first set of Pitt seed projects “are poised to help our faculty and staff members advance Pitt’s mission in new and meaningful ways,” the chancellor noted.

The application process was designed to elicit projects that furthered the goals of the University’s strategic plan, “The Plan for Pitt.” The winning projects and their primary investigators are:

Design Thinking and the Built Environment                                       

Christopher Drew Armstrong, director of Architectural Studies and associate professor
Department of History of Art and Architecture, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Using expertise from the department, its school and the Swanson School of Engineering, this project will enhance and integrate existing undergraduate programs in architecture and civil engineering to develop a new graduate-level program that will incorporate experiential learning opportunities in the Office of Facilities Management. The new program will work with experienced national organizations to create programs for high school students in the Pittsburgh area interested in pursuing degrees in architecture and civil engineering. The eventual aim is to begin developing a nationally recognized graduate program in design and the built environment.

Serious and Transformational Games for Patient Education and Clinical Interventions

Dmitriy Babichenko, Professor of Practice
Department of Computer Science, School of Computing and Information

Despite a great number of tools and techniques developed to treat and manage serious medical conditions, interventions are often hindered by motivational and engagement challenges. The project team is developing games to increase medication compliance and enhance clinical outcomes for adolescent cystic fibrosis patients and facilitate behavioral nutrition and exercise changes in local kids suffering from childhood obesity. The project will build a scalable foundation to bridge academic expertise (in the School of Computing and Information, School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing and School of Medicine), sustainably address real-world health care challenges, and engage Pitt students in cross-disciplinary research that can be generalized to multiple patient populations.

Pitt Prison Education Project

Faculty member Christopher Bonneau
Department of Political Science, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Formed in 2016, the Pitt Prison Education Project (PPEP) has been teaching courses modeled on the Inside Out program, in which college faculty teach courses in the prison to classes composed of both incarcerated students and traditional undergraduates. Project funding will be used to add 10 more faculty members to the program and strengthen its assessment methods and data analysis. It will then seek external funding to make PPEP a Prison Education Center at Pitt, with teaching, research and service components.

U.S. Law and Legal English Program

Faculty member Ronald Brand
School of Law

The U.S. Law and Legal English Program of the Center for International Legal Education in the School of Law and Pitt’s English Language Institute (ELI) together will expand the global reach and diversity of Pitt Law by bringing foreign undergraduates to the Pitt campus for a four-week program that combines English language instruction, an introduction to the U.S. legal system, and a variety of extracurricular activities and excursions. This project will serve as a model of cooperation between a professional school and Pitt’s ELI for the development of educational programs that are entrepreneurial in nature and enhance Pitt’s reputation around the globe.

The Business of Humanity — Enhancing Economic, Environmental and Social Sustainability in Disadvantaged Communities through Radical Business Models

Faculty member John Camillus
Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

This project seeks to build a self-sustaining, multi-school global laboratory that serves as a platform for researching radical business models that profitably incorporate social purpose; developing a portfolio of community-oriented courses for business, engineering and social work students; and responding to needs of disadvantaged communities in Pittsburgh and abroad, as well as stimulating economic vitality. The laboratory will connect and manage sites serving the energy and health needs of two communities, one in the U.S. and the second in India.

Development of Functional Balance/Mobility Assessment Tools in Individuals with Central Vision Loss    

Faculty member Rakie Cham
Department of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering

New medical interventions show great promise to improve or restore functional vision in patients with various ocular conditions. Yet, there are currently no standard assessment tools that evaluate the efficacy and quality of these emerging interventions on patients’ quality of life. This grant will allow the seed project team to focus on balance and mobility in these patients. The goal is, first, to gather a detailed understanding of the function-related needs of patients with central vision loss, and second to develop a set of performance-based outcome measures that can be used to assess their function levels.

Global Water Concerns: An Experiential Learning Project         

Faculty member Nancy Condee
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

To address a large global challenge, strengthen interdisciplinary engagement and support professional development among undergraduate students across the humanities, social sciences and pre-professional programs in business and engineering, the Center for Russian and East European Studies (REES) in the University Center for International Studies will develop a two-part study abroad initiative. The project will complement an innovative course cluster, “Water in Central Asia: Tributaries of Change,” which REES plans to introduce in 2019 on the vast and diverse aqua-region of greater Central Asia. By integrating this study abroad component with work at two U.S. sites into the classroom-based Water in Central Asia curriculum, students will participate in global-local engagement while investigating an issue of worldwide urgency: the need for clean, sustainable water.

A Place for Pitt–Johnstown in the Cure Violence: Johnstown Campaign

Faculty member Christine Dahlin-Schuster
Biology, Pitt—Johnstown

In response to the marked increase in gun deaths and drug overdoses in Johnstown, a community organization called Hope 4 Johnstown, representing more than a dozen community groups, police and schools, formed to bring Cure Violence to Johnstown. Cure Violence is an evidence-based program that addresses violence as a public health crisis. The seed project will conduct an initial assessment of Cure Violence for the city of Johnstown, research attitudes regarding violence and its connections to opioids, and assess community needs. It also will develop educational programs for students in the Greater Johnstown School District and non-violence messaging with assistance from UPJ marketing faculty and undergraduates.

Frank Bolden Multimedia Workshop with Pittsburgh Black Media Federation                               

Staff member Ervin Dyer
Office of University Communications

Positive, skillful media use can be a weapon against bias and discrimination, and the Frank Bolden workshop — a storytelling project that uses media to help students in underserved communities share stories of their lives and their communities — can aid in developing such skills. Through learning news writing, photography and videography — and exposure to lessons about the African diaspora — students in the workshop are trained and empowered to tell their own stories, broaden the scope of their humanity beyond stereotype and fight against the narrative discrimination that too often flattens out their lives. This project uses media skills to teach self-confidence, awareness and pride.

Ventriculoamniotic Shunting for Fetal Aqueductal Stenosis

Faculty member Stephen Emery
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Reproductive Sciences, School of Medicine

This project will lead an international, multidisciplinary, evidence-based, scientifically rigorous and ethically justifiable reassessment of ventriculoamniotic shunting for fetal hydrocephalus, which causes injury to the developing brain due to increased intracranial pressure. Relieving that pressure by shunting excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to the amniotic fluid may allow for normal brain development, thereby avoiding neurologic injury.

A Makerspace on the Move: Mobilizing the Open Lab to Serve the University and Beyond

Staff member Aaron Graham
Office of the Provost

The University Center for Teaching and Learning’s Open Lab — an established, cross-disciplinary makerspace that serves the entire University community — will use the seed grant to acquire and mobilize cutting-edge maker technology for use in classrooms, academic units and community events in active learning, demonstrations, workshops and training. The project’s goal is to extend the reach of the lab, especially to Pitt’s academic units and local communities that are typically underserved by emerging instructional technologies, such as virtual reality and 3D printers. This initiative will employ the Teaching Center’s expertise in pedagogy, effective application of instructional technology and close collaboration with the Digital Scholarship Commons in Hillman Library.

Building Bridges: Sustaining Our Commitment to Equity and Justice by Empowering Minoritized Students to Transform the Educational Landscape in Pittsburgh and Beyond    

Faculty member Michael G. Gunzenhauser
Department of Administrative and Policy Studies, School of Education

This project intends to provide transdisciplinary wraparound support services for minoritized graduate students in the School of Education, particularly in the areas of recruitment, retention, graduation and employment. Programs include an applicant recruitment weekend, new-student bootcamp, summer writing retreat, drop-in research methods tutoring, mental health support, conference travel opportunities, mentoring and academic and non-academic job search workshops. Project faculty hope double the minoritized graduate student applicant pool by January 2020 and increase minoritized graduate students’ retention by 100 percent.

LMS Platform for Online Continuing Education                        

Staff member Lorna Kearns
Office of the Provost

Pitt uses Blackboard as its learning management system for enrolled University students, but it has limitations as a platform for continuing education courses for learners not enrolled in a Pitt academic program. This project will seek and maintain a platform that will host online continuing education courses targeted to working professionals. With support from the instructional design resources within the University Center for Teaching and Learning, the project will aim to offer leading-edge online continuing education programs to learners around the world interested in advancing their careers.

Pitt–Greensburg and ULS Partnership with West Overton Village & Museum: Photogrammetry, GIS and Virtual Tours                                                        

Faculty member Amber McAlister
History of Art and Architecture, Pitt–Greensburg

Pitt–Greensburg faculty and students, together with University Library System experts in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and digital data curation, will team up to construct a virtual tour of exterior and interior spaces at West Overton Museum and Village in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. The Village consists of 19 historic buildings spread over 12 acres. It is a stop on the American Whiskey Trail and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The project envisions designing a mobile-friendly virtual tour for West Overton Museum in which, as visitors approach a building on the physical site, the interior spaces of the building will be available for viewing in layers representing available data from historic photos. The project also will help the site serve visitors with disabilities.

Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts 

Faculty member Clark Muenzer
Department of German, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

The Goethe-Lexicon Project is a collaborative research initiative that will assemble an international and interdisciplinary team of experts to identify, collect, explicate and digitally disseminate a wide range of philosophical concepts that, when taken together, allowed the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to reformulate the central questions of western metaphysics within the practices of literature, science, aesthetics and cultural history. This project will be presented at a colloquium at Pitt’s Humanities Center in fall 2018, and offer a four-day workshop for project board members in spring 2019. It also will develop an interactive website and provide advice on the use of digital resources for the dissemination and production of the lexicon.

Afro-Latin American and Afro-Latino Studies Initiative

Faculty member Michele Reid-Vazquez
Department of Africana Studies, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

The intersections of race, ethnicity and migration continue to shape contemporary society through the complex confluence of blackness and identity throughout the Americas. To address the history of slavery and the experiences of black people today, this project aims to create a pilot program featuring spring symposia, summer workshops, certificate programs and graduate study abroad. In particular, the symposia will focus on the African diasporas, while the workshops will bring together 10 scholars of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Latino Studies to share work in progress. It also will develop undergraduate and graduate certificates in comparative and transregional studies and establish an Afro-Cuban studies graduate study-abroad program to provide a first-hand exposure to Afro-Latin American history and culture.

The Allegheny County Breast Consortium: Developing Synergy for Breast Cancer Control

Faculty member Margaret Rosenzweig
Department of Acute and Tertiary Care, School of Nursing

Allegheny County continues to experience racial and economic breast cancer survival disparity at an unacceptable rate. The Allegheny County Breast Consortium, a group of more than 20 representatives from community, health care and academic organizations, was begun in 2012 at the Graduate School of Public Health, and is now housed at the School of Nursing. This cooperative group is building a network of breast cancer community engagement offering support, education and advocacy for underserved women in Allegheny County, specifically in Braddock, McKeesport and Penn Hills.

Connecting Linguistics to the Community and Industry: Creating an Engagement Platform

Faculty member Abdesalam Soudi
Department of Linguistics, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Creating an engagement platform for connecting linguistics to community and industry is the goal of this seed project. The project will create a space where interns, alumni, faculty, staff, community and industry partners work in a cooperative environment, drawing on and expanding the department’s internship course into a program that connects linguistics graduates’ skills with local industry. The goals are to increase the visibility of linguistics, prepare students for challenging careers where linguistics is part of the solution, train them in a supportive environment and strengthen Pitt linguistics-industry partnerships. In the longer term, the department hopes to create a center to house this program.

Creation of The International Center for Conflict Resolution

Faculty member Luis Vargas
Katz Graduate School of Business

The mission of the International Center for Conflict Resolution will be to provide decision makers with an in-depth understanding of the negotiating positions of all parties and recommend implementation guidelines, based on preferences and priorities, to facilitate resolution of otherwise intractable conflicts. The project will use this seed money to secure commitments from people and/or organizations that could benefit most from the center. Among the center’s objectives will be to conduct studies of diplomatic and corporate conflicts and develop a road map to facilitate implementing a feasible solution.

ACCESS MAPS: Assessing Critical Care and Emergency Service Systems

Faculty member David Wallace
Department of Critical Care Medicine, School of Medicine

There is little information available on the extent, location and capacity of health care delivery worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This can lead to health systems that provide inadequate geographic access in some areas; inefficient duplication of services in others; and logistical challenges for communities, countries and whole regions affected by natural disasters or infectious disease outbreaks. This project will demonstrate and evaluate how ACCESS MAPS, an online platform being developed at Pitt, collects and shares up-to-date health care capacity and capability data. It will collect information on hospital-based microbiological laboratory capacities around the world, with special emphasis on low- and middle-income countries, to help identify health care infrastructure worldwide, inform health system development, facilitate disaster relief efforts and improve universal health care access.

Pittsburgh Sarcoma Research Collaborative

Faculty member Kurt Weiss
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, School of Medicine

The goal of this project is to secure funding for the development of the Pittsburgh Sarcoma Research Collaborative, a multi-disciplinary group of researchers across the University with the common goal of developing a world-class sarcoma research program. It intends to move basic science bench findings into the clinical setting through the involvement of the physicians in the program.

A Feasibility Study for Two New Online Programs at the University of Pittsburgh Master of Research Administration Graduate Program and a Certificate in Research Administration Program

Faculty member Jennifer Woodward
Office of Research

This project will conduct a needs assessment for these potential Pitt programs, which would expand the research administrator talent pool at Pitt and create both an internal and national pipeline of professionals with advanced training in the field of research administration. A study will be conducted in collaboration with the Office of Human Resources, University Center for Teaching and Learning, School of Education, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business’s Center for Executive Education, Office of the Provost and other offices, as well as external consultants, to identify the benefits, risks and viability of these programs in the short- and long-term.

Contemporary Chinese Village Data

Faculty member Haihui Zhang
University Library System

The East Asian Library of the University Library System (ULS) will use its seed project funding to begin work on the Contemporary Chinese Village Data (CCVD) project, which will create an open resource of primary data from the ULS’s collection of Chinese village gazetteers — periodic compendiums of administrative data on China’s villages. The ULS currently holds the largest collection of these publications outside of China. The CCVD project will create an open-access dataset, including information on a range of topics: population changes, health care, rural development, educational attainment, religious activities, village histories, genealogy and more. This is a collaborative effort between multiple ULS departments, in consultation with the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History, the University Center for International Studies and its Asian Studies Center.


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859