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Social Work’s Whitfield receives National Institute of Mental Health grant

Darren Whitfield, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, received a $443,533 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the relationship between psychosocial factors (depressive symptomatology, substance use, social support, perceived HIV risk) and adherence and persistence to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among young Black gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.  

Young Black men who have sex with men continue to experience a disproportionate rate of HIV infections in the United States. HIV PrEP is a biomedical prevention intervention shown to reduce risk of HIV infection; however, studies suggest young Black men are less likely to be prescribed PrEP and have significantly lower levels of adherence to PrEP compared to white men. In addition, persistence on PrEP among young Black men is low, with discontinuation rates ranging between 17 to 22 percent within six months of starting.

This study will examine the factors associated with long-term adherence to PrEP in young Black men in Atlanta, a city with a large concentration of young Black men impacted by HIV. The study is a collaboration between the Pitt School of Social Work and Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. 

The co-principal investigator of this study is Jeb Jones at the Rollins School and the co-investigator for the study is Patrick Sullivan at the Rollins School. Further collaborators in the study include Positive Impact Health Centers, NAESM Inc. and the Fulton County Board of Health.  

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Swanson School’s Melissa Bilec receives NSF funding

Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, has received $98,000 from the National Science Foundation to convene a panel of experts to meet for a workshop on the circular economy that will help set the research agenda for years to come.

In the course of three three-hour sessions over three weeks, the workshop will be an opportunity for the wide array of invited constituents to discuss and develop ideas in circular economy research.

Bilec will team up with Eric Beckman, distinguished service professor of chemical engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, and Gemma Jiang, director of the Organizational Innovation Lab at the Swanson School. They are collaborating with the University of Georgia’s Jason Locklin, professor of chemical engineering and founding director of the New Materials Institute; Jenna Jambeck, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia; and Gregg Beckham, senior research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Lab.

The Cathedral of Learning

Pitt research unit receives funding for work on veteran suicide prevention

The Pitt Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU), in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, recently announced a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement and evaluate a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention, focusing especially on service members, veterans and their families.

The CDC awarded PERU $700,000 in funding each year over the next five years for suicide prevention by creating the Northwest Pennsylvania Veteran Suicide Prevention Program.

The program will consist of an assessment of active county, state and national suicide prevention initiatives to identify gaps in services and programming. Following the assessment, PERU will develop and implement additional risk assessment programs, community-based trainings and healthcare-related initiatives across a 15-county target region. Quantitative and qualitative data will be collected throughout the program to identify best practices and develop future policy.

The Cathedral of Learning behind flowers

SHRS teaming up with DePaul School for Hearing and Speech

The Pitt School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) and DePaul School for Hearing and Speech are teaming up to provide research and educational opportunities to improve academic programming at both institutions. A strategic and official partnership, marked by the signing of a memorandum of understanding, is significantly expanding collaboration between the two Pittsburgh schools.

For many years, DePaul School has served as a training site for speech-language pathology and audiology students from SHRS’s Department of Communication Science and Disorders (CSD). DePaul School for Hearing and Speech teaches children who are deaf, hard of hearing or with speech impairments to listen and speak. By utilizing Listening and Spoken Language Education, DePaul School currently serves approximately 60 students ranging from infancy through eighth grade. 

The partnership between the institutions aims to fulfill various mutually beneficial goals including the development of graduate student scholarships, the creation of doctoral student and post-doctoral research fellowships and community partnership initiatives, among many others. Pitt CSD will contribute the resources and expertise to carry out this work while providing opportunities for students to experience hands-on clinical and research training.

Annual dB-SERC Leadership Award winners announced

The Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center (dB-SERC) has announced the recipients of the 2019-2020 Leadership Award. This annual award recognizes and celebrates the contributions to the dB-SERC community made by faculty members in the natural sciences departments in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.

The dB-SERC promotes and supports evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning in Pitt’s natural sciences departments. More information about dB-SERC can be found at its website.

Leader Award winners for 2019-2020:

Danielle Andrews-Brown, Geology and Environmental Science

Peter Bell, Chemistry

Russell Clark, Physics

Robert Devaty, Physics

Jenny Ganger, Psychology

Sean Garrett-Roe, Chemistry

Joe Grabowski, Chemistry

Ericka Huston, Chemistry

Kirill Kiselyov, Biological Sciences

Barbara Kucinski, Psychology

Tamika Madison, Chemistry

Dave Nero, Physics

Jessica Wandelt, Biological Sciences

Kyle Whittinghill, Geology and Environmental Science


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Sanjeev Shroff elected as fellow of the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering

Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, was elected as a fellow of the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering. The virtual induction ceremony was held in conjunction with the Carnegie Mellon Forum on Biomedical Engineering on Sept. 18.

This competitive election is in recognition of distinguished contributions to and leadership in the field of medical and biological engineering on an international level. Presently, there are around 200 living IAMBE fellows.

Shroff was selected for his significant research contributions to cardiovascular engineering and bioengineering education. His research in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering has two focus areas: regulation of cardiac muscle contraction by changes in cardiac proteins and their chemical modifications, and the role of vascular stiffness in cardiovascular function and potential therapeutic applications of vascular stiffness-modifying drugs and/or hormones.

His research efforts have been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1986, with additional support from other funding agencies such as the American Heart Association and the National Science Foundation.

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Tia Lynn Ashman publishes flower pigmentation study

The effects of climate change have led to increases in floral pigmentation over the last 76 years, according to research featuring the work of Tia Lynn Ashman, a distinguished professor of evolutionary ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

The paper, “Floral Pigmentation Has Responded Rapidly to Global Change in Ozone and Temperature,” was published Sept. 17 in Current Biology. It was coauthored with Drew MacQueen, a geographic information systems specialist at the University of Virginia, and Clemson University Assistant Professor Matthew Koski, who earned his Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. The research outlines how global changes in ozone and temperature have affected UV-absorbing pigmentation of flowers during the 20th century.

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Michael Hatridge to lead $115 million grant to support quantum computing center

Michael Hatridge, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been named a principal investigator in a $115 million U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science initiative to advance quantum computing research. The Co-design Center for Quantum Advantage, led by the Brookhaven National Laboratory, will feature five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers designed to advance and scale quantum computing capabilities. Under the grant, Hatridge will help his center develop devices for connecting quantum computers into large-scale machines and amplifiers designed to read bits of quantum data.

Lagaras in a blue suit, white shirt and red tie

Gig economy researchers receive Knowledge Challenge grant

Spyridon Lagaras, assistant professor of finance in the Katz Graduate School of Business, has been awarded a $220,000 Knowledge Challenge grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for "Securing the Gig: Entrepreneurship and the Rise of the Platform Economy,” a joint project with Matthew Denes of Carnegie Mellon University, Margarita Tsoutsoura of Cornell University and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“The proposed project will investigate the effect of the gig economy on entrepreneurship using detailed administrative microdata from the Internal Revenue Service,” said Lagaras. “We plan to study how the gig economy affects entry into entrepreneurship, nascent firm growth and their sources of capital/funding.”

Together with funding from CMU's Block Center for Technology and Society and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, their gig economy research has received nearly $400,000 in funding.

Read more about the award in this Katz school news feature.

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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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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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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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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.

A panther statue

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