Fourteen personalized education projects funded in program’s second year

The second annual Personalized Education Project reception on March 19 celebrated the 14 new education projects funded by the Office of the Provost.

The grants go to projects that are designed to support education tailored to Pitt students’ individual experiences, interests and abilities. In addition to 14 projects chosen this year, three projects from the previous year will continue to receive funding.

Some of these projects include programs designed to promote more community engagement and to add more mental wellness planning into academic support systems to keep up with the mental health needs of college students.

“All of these teams who have achieved awards have aligned their goals with our goal of doing everything in our power to make sure that students are best positioned to thrive and to live lives of impact,” Provost Ann Cudd said during the reception. “It’s a commitment to students that says we’ll do our best to understand you and your particularities to offer the best opportunities to you and help you achieve your goals and your dreams.”

Find short summaries of the projects below. Full abstracts can be found here, along with other collaborators on each project.

Funded projects

Cheryl Paul, Swanson School of Engineering
Inclusive Dialogue: Inviting Mental Wellness Understanding & Planning into Everyday Academics

The focus of this proposal is to map out the initial stages of a comprehensive plan for the Swanson School of Engineering to begin inviting conversation and training among our students, staff professionals and faculty around mental wellness. Through the implementation of three distinct interventions (Mental Health First Aid Training, creation of a Mental Wellness Advisory Board and specialized Curricula Development), we believe we will be creating new systems of personalized support. Our ultimate goal is to propel our students to experience unprecedented support, success in their studies, and prepare all for life beyond the university.

Ann Sinsheimer, Law
Persistence, Performance and Law School: Implementing Interventions to Encourage Growth Mindset, Maximize Education and Ensure Practice Ready Professionals

At the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, my colleagues and I have observed evidence of “fixed mindset” in our students as early as the first week of the first semester. A fixed mindset is associated with a tendency to get discouraged and question one’s abilities, whereas a “growth mindset” is associated with resilience and persistence in the face of challenges. Drawing upon the expertise of Omid Fotuhi of the Learning Research and Development Center, we propose to use survey data to understand what happens to our students, from their perspective, which could put them in a fixed mindset — at what point it occurs and why, and then implement interventions designed to promote adaptive mindsets, student engagement and course enhancement.

Elizabeth Katrancha, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Division of Nursing and Health Sciences
The MIND (Meditative Individualized Nursing-student De-stress) Initiative

The literature is clear concerning occupational stress among practicing nurses. The stress experienced by practicing nurses often begins in undergraduate nursing programs. This personalized education project incorporates mindfulness techniques in the classroom and clinical settings. The hope is that these individualized techniques can be carried with the student into their career and personal life. 

Marie Norman, Institute for Clinical Research Education
A Twine Tool-Kit for Creating Personalized Learning

Research shows that faculty resist the adoption of even very promising educational technologies because they lack the time, training and support required to integrate new tools successfully. Our goal for this project is to develop a tool-kit that makes it easy, intuitive and motivating for faculty to use Twine, a free, open-source game-development platform that allows instructors to create narrative-based, branching activities focused on key decisions and their consequences.

Stephen Robar, Pitt–Bradford
Advancing Intentional Student-Faculty Interaction: Freshman Seminar and Gateway Course Synthesis

The “freshman transition” and the “gateway experience” are critical to the success of all new college students, yet especially so for first-generation and underserved students. By creating a personalized freshman seminar course that is directly paired with a gateway course, this project is designed to increase first-year student success and engagement at the Pitt–Bradford campus.

Joseph Samosky, Engineering
Classroom to Community: A Bridge from Academic Projects to Real-World Impact

We propose a pilot program to enable high-potential – and potentially high-impact – student design projects to be supported and continue beyond the particular course in which they originate and be nurtured toward real-world impact. The Classroom to Community program will provide space, resources and mentorship for teams of students designing solutions for human-centered, real-world problems.

Denise Chisholm, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (Occupational Therapy)
Skills2Care: A Personalized Education Experience for Occupational Therapy Students to Help Older Adults Age in Place

Doctoral-level occupational therapy students need to gain specialized geriatric knowledge and skills due to a growing aging population and a transformative health care environment. We propose to combine our expertise in gerontology and aging in place with the developers of Skills2Care, an innovative and evidence-based occupational therapy program designed to target functional limitations and environmental barriers that older adults with physical and cognitive declines and their families face while in their home. The personalized education experience will provide OTD students more advanced and in-depth knowledge with increased clinical exposure and training in geriatric care.

Daqing He, School of Computing and Information, Department of Informatics and Networked Systems
IRIS: Intelligent Recommender for Instructors and Students — Completing Personalized Assessment Loop

Assessment plays an important role in learning for it provides instructors and students feedbacks on their teaching or learning effectiveness. This project will build a personalized education system, called IRIS, to recommend learning materials to be specific to the assessment outcomes and at the appropriate knowledge level for the student. Based on each student’s individual learning behavior, assessment performance and knowledge level, IRIS makes truly personalized learning recommendations.

Kayla Heffernan, Pitt–Greensburg, Mathematics
First-Year Learning Communities at Pitt–Greensburg

A team of six professors at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg will design and offer two new first-year learning communities for incoming freshman students beginning in the fall of 2019. We are designing these communities — titled the Humanities Learning Community and the Social Sciences Learning Community — for students considering major programs in the humanities and social sciences generally, and more specifically to target incoming students who are undecided in choice of major. 

Sam Orlowski, Film Production Department
‘Thanks to Her’ Short Film

This project involves the development of a student film project from script to the first screening. With a focus on diversity and inclusivity, this project will highlight the diverse voices of the University’s community. Through High Impact Learning Techniques, such as experiential learning and mentorship, the student crew will gain the professional skills necessary for further employment in their field of choice.

Cassie Quigley, School of Education (Instruction and Learning)
STEAM Education Endorsement: An Opportunity for Connected Learning for K-12 Educators

Early research findings suggest student interest in STEM fields increased when students have exposed STEAM approaches to teaching and learning. This has generated a growing interest among practitioners and researchers in STEAM. However, the lack of formal, professional learning and training experiences to prepare teachers for working in this area still remains. the School of Education aims to provide K-12 teachers, educational technologists, artists and museum educators with a STEAM Education micro-credential and add-on endorsement (with an opportunity to roll the courses into a master).

Shelby Dawkins-Law, School of Education, Administrative and Policy Studies
Students Pursuing (Invisible) Dis/ability Justice through Intervention, Investigation, and Innovation

Our project focuses on improving the education of graduate students with invisible dis/abilities through a multi-pronged effort to universally redesign how student experience informs higher education. We plan to accomplish this through three main activities: Intervention, Investigation and Innovation. Our primary product will be a compendium of resources created through these three strands that can be shared and scaled across the university.

Annmarie Duggan, Theatre Arts
Creative Skills Studio and Mentorship App

Associate Professor Duggan and lecturer Gianni Downs propose to create a creative skills mentoring studio where the mentor and mentee can use both traditional and digital technological tools to look at designs and design approaches. This space would be large enough and equipped well enough so that the team can work in a variety of methods associated with design skills like: CAD, Photoshop, 3D printing, traditional drawing and drafting, model building, sound editing, video editing, projection mapping, plotting of architectural prints and light plots. Coupled with the studio, we propose to create an app that, when combined with a Go-Pro camera in the theater spaces, will let the mentor tag a recording of the students’ technical rehearsals. We will expand the app to deliver notes to the student in real-time from the mentor in a secured and private application.

Jenette Phillips, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Interaction Between Engineering Education Pedagogies and Neurodiverse Learning Styles

“Traditional” engineering education delivery — largely unchanged since the mid-20th century — tends to be rigid and often unsuited or inaccessible to neurodiverse students. The objective of this proposal is to study the interaction between the learning styles of neurodiverse STEM students and pedagogical practices in STEM courses. Once we know what can be improved in teaching pedagogies and understand the neurodiverse student's perspective in the classroom, we can refine our classrooms to provide the best education possible for the broadest spectra of individuals.

Peter Brusilovsky, School of Computing and Information
The Pitt Grapevine: An Advisor-in-the-Loop Academic Recommender System

Grapevine is a recommender system for helping Pitt students learn about and connect with the vast field of people, experiences and programs that are available at Pitt. Our proposal is to build out Grapevine as a hybrid recommender system in which the recommendations come from two critical sources: (1) Grapevine’s analyses of Pitt data and (2) advisors’ professional knowledge and social networks. The system will target both student and educator/advisor populations with different functions and interfaces. The system will give educators new conversational support during advising sessions, the powerful analytics about social “knowledge” networks, and add their insights and expertise to the system’s database of recommendations.

Kelly Hammonds, Athletics
Personalized Education Opportunities Within Pitt Studios

The second year of personalized education opportunities within Pitt Studios is off to an exciting start. In year one, three students were selected to participate in the program. In year two, six students will be selected, but the Pitt Studios staff anticipates adding even more students over the course of the academic year. From live broadcasts on the ESPN ACC Network, to studio-based original programming, to partnerships with the world leader in remote broadcast production, Pitt students will have hands-on opportunities to learn and network in the field of live broadcast.

Linda DeAngelo, School of Education, Administrative and Policy Studies
Pathways for Civic Growth

The Pathways for Civic Growth project has four main aims: 1) to make high-impact community engaged experiences more visible and available to students, 2) to better support students as they discern among community-engagement experiences and develop a personalized body of community engagement experiences over the course of their education, 3) to engage in a cutting-edge approach to civic mentoring to maximize the impact of students’ community engagement experiences, and 4) to assess the impact of a cumulative body of community-engaged experiences on the Pitt student experience to provide an evidence base for further development of civic engagement as part of the Pitt student experience.