Evan Facher in a dark suit and purple shirt

Pitt leaps eight spots in worldwide patent ranking

The University of Pittsburgh made a significant move up the list of the top recipients of U.S. utility patents among worldwide universities in 2020, according to the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

Pitt ranked No. 20 for the 2020 calendar year with 106 patents. In the previous year, the University ranked No. 28.

“Filing for and receiving patent protection for innovations is an important step in creating research of impact by Pitt researchers,” said Evan Facher (pictured), vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship and director of the Innovation Institute, which is responsible for managing and licensing intellectual property at the University. “We are pleased to see Pitt rise in this ranking, especially as it indicates that more Pitt innovators are getting involved in the commercial translation of their work.”

Read more at the Innovation Institute’s website.

Nikhil Bajaj in a dark suit

Engineering’s Nikhil Bajaj receives U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission grant

Assistant Professor Nikhil Bajaj has been awarded $450,000 from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a nationally recognized nuclear research program and grow the overall nuclear program at the University of Pittsburgh.

The grant will support Bajaj in establishing research in advanced sensors and artificial intelligence for reactor applications, specifically high temperature, high-reliability sensor designs using machine learning and advanced communication technology. 

Laura Schmid in a pink shirt

Laura Schmid named director of OHR's shared services

Effective July 12, Laura Schmid will serve as the director of shared services in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). In this role, she will oversee the development and execution of strategic plans within shared services and continue to evolve OHR’s operational performance to cultivate a culture of consistent process improvement and optimization.

Schmid is an experienced administrator with an extensive background in higher education. She specializes in a multitude of disciplines including project management, operational process analysis, efficiency improvement, organizational design and strategic planning. She most recently served as the director of personnel at the Graduate School of Public Health.

Mary Margaret Kerr

Mary Margaret Kerr receives Education Policy and Leadership Center Alumni Award

Mary Margaret Kerr, a professor in the School of Education, was recently named a winner of the Education Policy and Leadership Center’s (EPLC) 2020 Leadership Program Alumni Award.

The EPLC is a Pennsylvania nonprofit focused on developing and implementing state-level education policies designed to improve PreK-12 student learning, increase the effective operation of schools and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages. Among its various initiatives, it offers an annual education policy fellowship program for policy makers and education leaders.

“I was amazed to receive the alumni award,” said Kerr. “The other alums who have received awards are so well respected. This is an honor I can’t even describe.”

Kerr has devoted her career to promoting mental health, suicide prevention, school safety and compliance with laws protecting students with disabilities. Not only has she worked in policy in Pennsylvania, but she has worked across the nation, including a long court-appointed leadership role in the Los Angeles Unified School District in California.

Read more at the School of Education.

New machine learning methods could improve environmental predictions

Machine learning algorithms do a lot for us every day—send unwanted email to our spam folder, warn us if our car is about to back into something and give us recommendations on what TV show to watch next. Now, we are increasingly using these same algorithms make environmental predictions for us. 

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, University of Minnesota and U.S. Geological Survey recently published a new study on predicting flow and temperature in river networks in the 2021 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics International Conference on Data Mining proceedings. 

The research demonstrates a new machine learning method where the algorithm is taught the “rules” of the physical world in order to make better predictions and steer the algorithm towards physically meaningful relationships between inputs and outputs. 

The study presents a model that can make more accurate stream temperature predictions, even when we have little data available, which is the case in most streams. The model can also better generalize to different time periods.

“Water temperature in streams is a ‘master variable’ for many important aquatic systems, including the suitability of aquatic habitats, evaporation rates, greenhouse gas exchange and efficiency of thermoelectric energy production,” said Xiaowei Jia, a lead author of the study and assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Computer Science in the School of Computing and Information. “Accurate prediction of water temperature and streamflow also aids in decision making for resource managers, for example helping them to determine when and how much water to release from reservoirs to downstream rivers.”

Esch receives Pitt–Bradford Staff Recognition Award

Rick Esch, vice president for business affairs at Pitt–Bradford, was chosen by his fellow staff members to receive the Staff Recognition Award for his leadership in helping the campus navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.           

“We never would have gotten through this challenging time without Rick,” said Catherine Koverola, Pitt–Bradford’s president. “He is the bedrock of Pitt–Bradford and embodies servant leadership.”

Esch was nominated for the award by Kathy Moonan, manager of accounts payable who has worked with Esch for many years; James Baldwin, vice president for enrollment management; and Pat Frantz Cercone, executive director of communications and marketing.

“His leadership enhanced the safety and well-being of all concerned during a time when almost everything was uncertain,” Moonan wrote in her nomination.

For nearly 18 months, Esch, who oversees budget and financial reporting, auxiliary services and facilities management, has represented the Bradford and Titusville campuses on the Chancellor’s Resilience Steering Committee and has worked closely with Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office. He also has collaborated with local, regional and state agencies, including the McKean County and Crawford County Emergency Management agencies, UPMC and Bradford Regional Medical Center.

Esch also assembled and led a COVID-19 Mitigation Response Team, which included representatives from most offices at Bradford and Titusville. Under his leadership, the team successfully implemented many changes on campus, including testing asymptomatic students weekly; isolating and quarantining symptomatic students; adapting the physical plant, including the dining hall and classrooms, to enable physical distancing; purchasing masks, signage and other materials; and identifying vaccinations sites.

“It shouldn’t be forgotten,” Cercone added, “that Rick did all of this while still performing all of his other important duties.”

Esch, who is a 1983 Pitt–Bradford alumnus, started his career at his alma mater in 1994 as the director of auxiliary services. In 1999, he was named chief business and administrative affairs officer, and in 2003 was promoted to vice president for business affairs.

He holds a master of business administration from the Katz Graduate School of Business and a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from Pitt–Bradford. 

The annual Staff Recognition Award honors employees whose performance consistently exceeds the standards and expectations set for their position at the university or whose work in the community surpasses the expectations of the organizations for whom they serve and whose commitment and effort have made a significant impact on the community.

Stevanovic receives Fulbright Specialist Program award

Aleksandar Stevanovic, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, has received a Fulbright Specialist Program award from the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Stevanovic will complete a project at the University of Kragujevac in Serbia that aims to exchange knowledge and establish partnerships through a variety of educational and training activities within civil engineering and urban planning.

He is one of more than 400 U.S. citizens who are selected for the Fulbright Specialist Program each year, based on academic and professional achievement, demonstrated leadership in their field, and their potential to foster long-term cooperation between institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

Stevanovic is also principal investigator of the Swanson School's Pittsburgh Intelligent Transportation Systems Lab, which investigates transportation problems and develops solutions to preserve a city's livability.

"This Fulbright project will help us to assess what can be done to help cities and countries with low level of penetration of Intelligent Transportation Systems to reduce fossil fuel consumption, carbon footprint, and harmful emissions caused by traffic in congested urban networks," Stevanovic said. "While many solutions can be found in multimodal policies and operations, with this project we intend to optimize traffic signal control with outdated technology through a comprehensive and careful analysis of urban traffic flows, to achieve benefits without significant infrastructural investments."

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by Congress to the State Department.


Cathedral of Learning with pink flowers

Two win 2021 Orosz Award for excellence in emerging leadership

Kayla Banner from the Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (OUR). and Jasmine Dixson. from the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics. are this year’s Orosz awardees.

The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Orosz Award was established to honor Michael Orosz, a staff member in the Department of Biological Sciences who passed away unexpectedly in 2003. It recognizes staff members in the early stages of their careers who have exhibited excellence in their performance and displayed leadership qualities among their peers. To be nominated, staff must have worked for the University at least one year but not more than five years. Staff nominees must also have worked in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences/College of General Studies for at least one full year.

Banner serves as the BRIDGES program manager and outreach coordinator in OUR, providing mentorship and academic and social support to traditionally underrepresented students in the Dietrich School. She also leads a team of 20 peer mentors who provide support to program participants, impacting nearly 1,000 students in the school. Additionally, Banner is an instructor for OUR’s First Approaches to Research and the Summer Undergraduate Research Awards courses.

Dixson serves as the academic coordinator in the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics. Her nominators shared the numerous and innovative ways that she has made an impact on their lives and the lives of students, from developing databases to creating virtual graduation ceremonies, from sorting through datasets to extract detailed information to reducing red tape in departmental processes.

Panther Statue

Wagner and Woo inducted to International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering

Two Pitt faculty members were elected fellows of the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering (IAMBE). William R. Wagner and Savio L-Y. Woo were selected for this competitive election alongside 24 other internationally recognized leaders in the field. To date, there are fewer than 250 fellows of the academy throughout the world.

Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering, was selected for “pioneering contributions to regenerative medicine and for integrating engineering expertise within the clinical environment, and championing innovation investment at the state and national level.” 

Woo, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Bioengineering, was selected for “pivotal contributions and leadership in biomechanics and bioengineering, leading to revolutionary treatments and rehabilitation strategies for improved patient care for ligament and tendon injuries worldwide.”

Read more at the Swanson School of Engineering website.

Ryan McDermott in a white shirt

Ryan McDermott receives $300K from National Endowment for the Humanities

Associate Professor of English Ryan McDermott and colleagues received a $300,000 National Endowment for the Humanities award to support the Genealogies of Modernity Project (GenMod).

The project’s podcast, website and colloquia seek to motivate and organize a critical, cross-disciplinary inquiry into influential narratives of the origins of modernity in the humanities with a special focus on theological genealogies. 

GenMod is based at the University of Pennsylvania’s Collegium Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture and Pittsburgh’s Beatrice Institute. McDermott is founder and faculty director of Beatrice Institute.

The GenMod project recognizes that the stories we tell ourselves about the passage to modernity are many and often conflicting, even within one discipline. Attention to the complexity of the intertwined genealogies of the present opens the possibility to forge new relationships to the past and discover resources for life-giving responses in the present. 

The journal and podcast offer a place for graduate students, early career and established scholars to parse these narratives and to make legible the intellectual and cultural kinships that often unconsciously subtend these narratives. 

Robert Schoen in a black suit

Pitt expert details history of refugee physicians in the U.S.

Robert Schoen, chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in conjunction with prominent Holocaust scholar Laurel Leff, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University, has published an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine recounting the history and oppression of Jewish physicians seeking refuge in the United States during WWII.

Barred from practicing medicine in their home countries by the Nazi regime and hoping to find new opportunities, nearly 5,500 Jewish physicians successfully emigrated from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and other European nations to the U.S.

Many refugees were met with anti-Semitism and restricted from practicing medicine through regulations that prevented them from taking state licensing examinations. Professional medical organizations urged state medical boards to require full citizenship before foreign medical school graduates could take a licensing exam—amounting to, at minimum, a five-year hiatus in employment as the refugees waited for citizenship. Schoen and Leff tell the story of David L. Edsall, a former dean of Harvard Medical School, and his efforts to lobby on behalf of these physicians.

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu receives Behavioral Science and Policy Association award

Peggy Liu, Ben L. Fryrear Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of marketing at the Katz Graduate School of Business, has received the Behavioral Science and Policy Association (BSPA) 2021 New Investigator Award.

The award “recognizes an early career scholar who received his or her doctoral degree in the last five years whose body of work has advanced the rigorous application and development of behavioral/social science to policy and practice in public, private and/or nonprofit sectors.” The award was announced at BSPA’s virtual conference this May.

This award from BSPA is one of numerous honors and awards that Liu has recently received, including being named a Society for Consumer Psychology 2021 Early Career Award Winner, a 2021 Marketing Science Institute Young Scholar, and a Poets & Quants 2020 Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors.

Rob A Rutenbar in a black suit

Rob Rutenbar earns Distinguished Professor honor

Rob Rutenbar, senior vice chancellor for research, has been appointed to the rank of Distinguished Professor in the School of Computing and Information, and Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering.

Designation as a Distinguished Professor recognizes extraordinary, internationally recognized scholarly attainment in an individual discipline or field. Rutenbar was recommended for this high distinction by Interim Dean Bruce Childers, Dean James R. Martin II and Provost Ann Cudd, and was approved by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in May 2021. 

Rutenbar’s research focuses on tools for integrated circuit design, especially analog circuits, and hardware architectures for artificial intelligence. He has launched two successful companies in these areas:  Neolinear Inc., the first commercial toolchain for analog chips (acquired by Cadence in 2004); and Voci Technologies, Inc., for ultra-fast enterprise voice analytics (acquired by Medallia in 2020).  He has published more than 200 research papers and books and mentored more than 50 graduate students.  A set of courses on chip design he devised for the global Coursera MOOC platform has attracted nearly 100,000 registered learners.

As senior vice chancellor for research at Pitt, Rutenbar leads the Pitt Research organization which supports the full breadth of the University’s enterprise, and provides strategic vision, leadership and partnership expertise to help Pitt researchers and scholars. 

Since his arrival, he has launched several initiatives that exemplify his exceptional commitment to the University: The Pitt Momentum Funds, to catalyze new directions in scholarship and support large-scale team science; LifeX Labs, to enhance Pitt’s abilities to transfer life science innovations into commercial use; and the new Office of Industry and Economic Partnerships, which aligns Pitt's research expertise with industry partners to advance scientific and technological opportunities.

James Cassaro in a blue shirt

Pitt wins NEH grant to digitize silent film sheet music

The Theodore M. Finney Music Library at the University of Pittsburgh has been awarded a $145,897 grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), under its Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program. The funding will help the library finish processing and digitizing the Mirskey Collection, an archive of sheet music for silent film accompaniment.

James Cassaro (pictured), professor of music and head of the Finney Music Library, is the principal investigator for this project.

The Mirskey collection is named after  Polish composer Nek Mirskey, who collected this music for his Polonia Orchestra, which was the house orchestra for the Metropolitan Theatre in Washington, D.C., from 1916 until Mirskey’s death in 1927. This music has been used by silent film scholars to reconstruct scores for various films. Among them are Gillian Anderson’s restoration of the score to “Rosita”—an Ernst Lubitsch film that opened the 2017 Venice Film Festival—as well as the score to “Forbidden Paradise,” another Lubitsch film. Currently, Anderson is using the collection to restore the score to “Way Down East,” a D.W. Griffith film, starring Lillian Gish

The collection comprises approximately 3,000 sets of photoplay music, or music published specifically for cinema orchestra, with each set averaging fifteen instrumental parts, for a total of 45,000 pages to be digitized and made available globally and open access via a dedicated website on the University of Pittsburgh Library System’s Digital Research Library.

As of right now, approximately 87 percent of the collection is cataloged, with full level records appearing in PittCat and OCLC WorldCat. The funds from the two-year grant will not only cover the digitization costs, but also the cataloguing of the collection and creation of a dedicated website.

Gayle Rogers in a dark suit, with flowers in the background

Gayle Rogers elected to Association of Departments of English leadership

Gayle Rogers, professor and chair of English in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been elected to the 12-member executive committee of the Association of Departments of English (ADE) for a three-year term, running 2022-25. 

This organization advocates nationally for the study of literature, writing and culture across many forms and supports departments in their disciplinary work, especially through its constitutive affiliation with the Modern Language Association. The ADE also hosts professional networks, data resources and annual conferences for chairs and other campus leaders.  

Rogers’s work focuses on the history of ideas, global modernisms, translation theory, comparative literature, critical history and the intersections of literature, economics and risk theory. Read a piece he wrote for The Conversation about financial speculation through the ages.

Garrett Grindle kneeling on the left and Rory Cooper in a wheelchair on the right.  Both hold up their Pennsylvania Veterans Service Awards.

Cooper, Grindle honored with Pa. Veterans Service Award

On May 6, leaders of the Pennsylvania National Guard awarded Pitt’s Rory Cooper and Garrett Grindle, both of Pitt's Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), the Pennsylvania Veterans Service Award for their work protecting veterans and their caregivers during the pandemic.

In April 2020, HERL pivoted from their usual technology research and development to producing nasal swabs, face shields and other medical supplies to meet demand during the crisis. Their work helped keep VA hospitals open and safe for workers, patients and caregivers.

“I am extremely proud of the team at HERL,” Cooper told the VA’s Research Currents publication last spring. “They have risen to the challenge of assisting with VA’s response to COVID-19 and have performed outstandingly. The work of the team at HERL has likely helped slow the spread of the disease and has assisted VA health care providers in saving the lives of veterans.”

Among other titles, Cooper is the FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America Professor and Distinguished Professor of Pitt’s Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, and founding director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist at HERL. Grindle is the associate director for engineering at HERL and a research scientist at Pitt.

Read more about HERL’s pandemic pivot.

Jamie Ducar with blurred trees in the background

Jamie Ducar named member of Engaged Scholars Initiative cohort

Jamie Ducar was recently named a member of the 2021-22 Engaged Scholars Initiative cohort. Ducar serves as the director of community engagement in Pitt's Office of Community and Governmental Relations, a role she has held since 2019. 

The Engaged Scholars Initiative is a yearlong program designed to develop community-engagement professionals, empowering them to lead equity-focused work within their institutions and spheres of influence. The 2021-22 cohort will include virtual retreats, monthly meetings, mentorship, scholarly coursework and peer collaboration. 

The initiative is a Campus Compact program, in partnership with the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility at Swarthmore College. Campus Compact’s approach of attracting, developing and retaining critical public scholars from diverse backgrounds across the nation encourages participants to expand their understanding of community engaged work and scholarship. 

“I’m very excited to be a part of the first national ESI cohort. My professional development interests are being realized thanks to Pitt’s relationship with compact. I hope to advance institutional ties to innovative practice, ‘stretch’ my role at Pitt and apply what I learn to our Community of Practice,” Ducar said.

Cathedral of Learning with a blooming pink tree in the foreground

Institute for Learning Receives Grant for Middle School Mathematics

The Institute for Learning (IFL), an outreach of Pitt’s Learning Research and Development Center, has been awarded a planning grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to be part of the foundation’s effective implementation cohort. 

The vision for the Gates Foundation effective implementation cohort is that “education agencies, schools, and the organizations that support them have reliable, practical evidence and measures to apply in planning and implementing a high-impact math improvement initiative district-wide.” 

IFL will partner with Canutillo Independent School District, Fabens Independent School District and Tornillo Independent School District, all of which are in the El Paso area of Texas, to design a multi-year plan to develop a high-quality mathematics curriculum for 6th through 8th grade students.

The team working on this planning grant include: Joe Dostilio, IFL mathematics fellow and principal investigator on the grant; Laurie Speranzo, IFL mathematics fellow and lead designer on the project; Beatriz Strawhun, IFL mathematics & bilingual education fellow; Ivonne Durant, IFL leadership fellow; Rosa Apodaca, IFL executive director; Carol Chestnut, IFL mathematics content developer, Aaron Anthony, IFL director of analytics and operations; Chris Schunn, LRDC senior scientist and IFL co-director; and Rip Correnti, LRDC research scientist.

Julie Donohue in a black shirt on a grey background

Health Policy chair one of the editors of new JAMA journal

Julie Donohue, professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Graduate School of Public Health, is among the editors of JAMA Health Forum, the newest peer-reviewed, print journal in the JAMA network. 

The open-access journal’s mission is to publish original research, evidence-based reports and opinion about national and global health policy; innovative approaches to health care delivery; and health care economics, access, quality, safety, equity and reform.

“Our goal is for JAMA Health Forum to play a leading role as a peer-reviewed journal, bringing rigorous evidence forward from a diverse community of authors to inform readers who will use this evidence to improve health outcomes and advance health equity,” Donohue and her fellow editors wrote in an editorial introducing the first issue

Hands on a laptop

Pitt Cyber announces new affiliate scholars

Pitt’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security welcomes Jacqui Lipton and Jennifer Keating as its newest affiliate scholars. 

Lipton is an assistant professor of legal writing at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Her scholarship focuses on law and digital technology. 

Keating is a senior lecturer and the writing in the disciplines specialist in the William S. Dietrich II Institute for Writing Excellence in the Composition Program in the Department of English. Her work includes exploring the influence of advancing technology on society and the politics of language.

Pitt Cyber affiliate scholars are drawn from faculty across the University of Pittsburgh and are selected for their excellence in cyber-themed research and teaching. Affiliate scholars are a source for transdisciplinary collaboration and innovation across Pitt and beyond.