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.

The Cathedral on a blue sky day with American flags planted in the foreground yard

Pitt celebrates Veterans Week 2019 with films, photos and food

The Office of Veterans Services is marking Veterans Week 2019 with a series of events aimed at building bridges, promoting understanding and encouraging dialogue. 

Community members are invited to events such as an annual drive for toys, coats and gloves (running through Dec. 6, email for information) and a Pitt Military Community Appreciation Brunch on Nov. 7. The week will end with the 100th annual Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 9 in downtown Pittsburgh. For more details and to RSVP for the events, please visit this form.

Additionally, the School of Social Work will hold a continuing education workshop titled “Working with Veterans and their Families,” on Nov. 15. The workshop aims to better prepare social workers to be a more effective helping professional in relating to and intervening with veterans and their families, and will cover topics including Veterans Administration scope and resources, suicide prevalence and intervention with veterans, working with post-traumatic stress and understanding and working with military sexual trauma.

a statue on Pitt's campus

Pitt Law boasts highest first-time passing rate for Pa. bar exam

The rate of first-time takers who passed the Pennsylvania bar exam from Pitt’s School of Law is 91.36 percent — the highest in the state. Eighty-one Pitt Law graduates sat for the test for the first time this past July, and 74 of them passed. Pitt Law was followed in the rankings by Dickinson, with a rate of 88.46 percent, Penn with 88.24 percent and Duquesne with 87.88 percent. The overall state average was 80.6 percent.

The rigorous two-day test, which includes six hours of written essay questions and 200 multiple choice questions, was given at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on July 30 and 31. Pitt Law offers bar exam prep courses and provided therapy dogs on site for its local test-takers, as well as boxed lunches with notes of encouragement signed by Pitt Law staff and faculty.

“We congratulate the Class of 2019 on their incredible achievement, which reflects their collective hard work, perseverance and support of one another,” said Pitt Law Dean Amy J. Wildermuth. She also credited Rob Wible, Pitt Law’s director of academic success and bar exam services.

“He is our cheerleader-in-chief,” she said. “His day-in and day-out support of our students made all the difference.”

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.

two people walking on campus with the bright sun behind them, obscuring their faces and bodies

Pitt ranked a top 50 Best Global University

The University of Pittsburgh was again named among the world’s top 50 universities in the 2020 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities rankings. Pitt landed at No. 47, tied with University of Minnesota.

In the latest ranking, the magazine evaluated a list of the world’s top 1,500 universities — which includes institutions from the U.S. and more than 80 other countries. The universities were rated based on 13 different indicators measuring their academic research performance and their global and regional reputations.

Several Pitt programs ranked in the top 50 by subject, including Surgery at No. 3, Clinical Medicine at No. 18 and Psychiatry/Psychology at No. 19.

Other programs in the top 50 are:

  • No. 23: Neuroscience and Behavior
  • No. 23: Oncology
  • No. 34: Pharmacology and Toxicology (tied with University of Pennsylvania)
  • No. 36: Arts and Humanities
  • No. 39: Immunology
  • No. 42: Cardiac and Cardiovascular Systems
  • No. 49: Microbiology (tied with University of Toronto)

Pitt students come from 108 countries and all 50 states, in addition to the U.S. Territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Internationally, most students come from China, India and Korea. 

Pitt Police honored with Corporate Citizenship Award

The Pitt Police and its Community Programs Unit were honored earlier this month with a Corporate Citizenship Award from the Pittsburgh Business Times.

In presenting the award, the publication cited the unit’s “Most Wanted Food Drive” to collect the surplus of nonperishables from Pitt dormitories at the end of the semester.

In the first year, Mark Villasenor, supervisor of the Community Programs Unit, and the six members of the unit gathered 11 “move-in carts” full of food.

“This year, we collected over 45 carts,” Villasenor told the Business Times. “It keeps getting larger every year.”

The food is used to stock the Pitt Pantry during the summer semester and also helps Community Human Services South Oakland, the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, East End Cooperative Ministry, Garden City United Methodist Church and more.

The Community Programs Unit also partners with other groups, such as Special Olympics of Western Pennsylvania, Adopt-a-Highway, United Way of Allegheny County and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Rebecca Thurston

Thurston named president of North American Menopause Society

Rebecca Thurston, professor of Psychiatry, Clinical and Translational Science, Epidemiology and Psychology, has been named 2019-2020 president of the North American Menopause Society. 

“It is a privilege to lead this fantastic organization devoted to the study and care of midlife women,” Thurston said.

Thurston is an expert in the field of mid- and late-life women’s mental and cardiovascular health. Her research has transformed the understanding of numerous behavioral health issues underlying women’s cardiovascular health, including the link between hot flashes and cardiovascular disease and the relationship of psychosocial issues such as depression, anxiety and poverty to cardiovascular disease.

Patricia Kroboth

Dean Kroboth, Professor Kane-Gill honored by Pa. pharmacists

Two Pitt Pharmacy professors were recognized for their work at the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association 2019 annual conference in September at Seven Springs Mountain.

Dean Patricia Kroboth (pictured) received the Mortar and Pestle Award, which is a special recognition presented solely at the discretion of the PPA Board of Directors recognizing lifetime outstanding service to the pharmacy profession.  The award recognized her ongoing support and commitment to the future of pharmacy, her student and faculty support, and her commitment to professional organizations such as PPA.

Sandra Kane-Gill, a professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, was presented with the NASPA Excellence in Innovation Award sponsored by Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc. The award recognizes a qualified pharmacist who has demonstrated significant innovation in their respective practice, method or service directly or indirectly resulting in improved patient care or advancement of the profession of pharmacy. She has committed her career to medication error and adverse drug event prevention and used technology to advance the field of medication safety.

Find more information on the Pitt Pharmacy website.

Db-SERC Leader Awards given to 12 faculty members

Twelve faculty members in the natural sciences departments in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences were recently awarded the Discipline-based Science Education Research (Db-SERC) Leader Award.

This yearly award recognizes and celebrates the contributions to the Db-SERC faculty learning community, which promotes and supports evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning in the natural sciences, and their active participation in many Db-SERC events during the past academic year.

 Db-SERC Leader Award winners (2018-2019 year):

  • Peter Bell, Chemistry

  • Russell Clark, Physics and Astronomy

  • Sean Garrett-Roe, Chemistry

  • Joe Grabowski, Chemistry

  • Ericka Huston, Chemistry

  • Kirill Kiselyov, Biological Sciences

  • Barb Kucinski, Psychology

  • James Mueller, Physics and Astronomy

  • David Nero, Physics and Astronomy

  • Welkin Pope, Biological Sciences

  • Jackie Powell, Chemistry

  • Brianna Reed, Biological Sciences

Find more information about Db-SERC here.


Carolyn Carlins Keller headshot

Education affiliate Carolyn Carlins Keller receives 30 Under 30 Award

Carolyn Carlins Keller, operations manager for the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate housed within the School of Education, received Pittsburgh’s 30 Under 30 Award given by the Pittsburgh Business Times in partnership with Leadership Pittsburgh, Inc.

The award recognizes leaders in Pittsburgh’s nonprofit and business landscape who “exemplify the creativity, passion and perseverance that have come to characterize western Pennsylvania’s new economy.”

The award recognizes Keller’s work outside of Pitt as the founder of Curio412, a consulting firm for mission-driven organizations including nonprofits, foundations and social businesses. In the School of Education, she coordinates, manages and monitors the various operations of the Carnegie Project, an international nonprofit consortium of more than 115 schools of education.

Willa Doswell headshot

Willa Doswell named 2019 Woman of Excellence by New Pittsburgh Courier

Willa Doswell, associate professor in the School of Nursing, has been named a 2019 Woman of Excellence by the New Pittsburgh Courier.

The awards are given annually to 50 African-American women who have made significant contributions to the community.

Doswell will be recognized at a luncheon in downtown Pittsburgh on Dec. 12. She is also a member of the Internal Advisory Council for Pitt’s Community Engagement Centers.

Michel Gobat headshot

History professor Michel Gobat honored by American Historical Association

Michel Gobat, professor in the Department of History in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, has been recognized by the American Historical Association with an award for the best book in Latin American and Caribbean history.

Gobat will receive the Friedrich Katz Prize for his book “Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America.

The association annually recognizes “exceptional books, distinguished teaching and mentoring in the classroom, public history and other historical projects.”

Jill Krantz named to oversee construction of new rec center and other campus rec activities

Jill Krantz has been named the executive director of campus recreation.

Krantz will oversee the construction of the new wellness and recreation center scheduled to open in 2023 — one of the largest construction projects in recent campus history.

Additionally, Krantz will be responsible for the oversight and management of other campus recreation facilities, operations, personnel, budget, fitness, aquatics and outdoor programs, as well as programs and services including both intramural and club recreation sports. She will also support University-wide initiatives and events pertaining to student wellness. 

“Jill has the demonstrated leadership ability, professional knowledge and enthusiasm to lead the University in this next stage of campus development,” said Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner. “My team and I are looking forward to working closely with Jill as she gets to know Pitt and brings her own vision for how to best serve our students, staff and faculty.”  

“I’m honored to be joining the University of Pittsburgh and to be part of supporting its exceptional commitment to recreation and wellness,” Krantz said. “It’s especially exciting to be involved in helping to shape the future of campus recreation and to work with an incredible team.”

Krantz served for more than six years as associate athletics director and department director of intramural-recreational sports at the University of Virginia. Before her tenure at UVA, Krantz served as the facility manager at the Chilson Recreation/Senior Center in Loveland, Colo.; as a principal with GreenPlay, LLC; as the recreation and tourism director/instructor in the School of Business at the University of Colorado; and as the recreation supervisor for Onslow County, N.C. She is an active member of the National Recreation and Park Association and of NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation.

Still image from "Making Montgomery Clift" film, showing a circular viewfinder with images of the actor standing against a red-planked wall

Film professor’s ‘Making Montgomery Clift’ wins documentary feature award

The documentary “Making Montgomery Clift,” directed by Pitt assistant professor of film and media studies Robert Clift and his wife, senior lecturer Hillary Demmon, has been honored by the University Film & Video Association.

The film won the Silver Award in the Documentary Feature category at the UFVA 73rd Conference Award Ceremony, held recently at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.

“It was a great honor to have the film recognized by my academic peers,” said Clift, the legendary actor’s nephew, of the association's event. 

Clift and Demmon have spent the last year screening the documentary at film festivals around the globe. It has played at more than 50 venues, including at a packed house at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre during Frameline 43, one of the largest LGBTQ+ film exhibition events in the world.

The film is now heading to streaming and on-demand services. Check its Facebook page for how and when to watch.

Headshot of Lauren O. Wallace

Lauren O. Wallace recognized on 40 Under 40 list

Lauren O. Wallace (BUS ’12, EDUC ’12G), director of recruitment in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, has been named an honoree to the 40 Under 40 List by Pittsburgh Magazine and Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project.

The award annually recognizes 40 “outstanding” individuals who meet the age requirement whose “creativity, vision and passion” enrich the Pittsburgh region. Since 1998, artists, entrepreneurs, doctors, educators, nonprofit executives and public figures have been among the recipients of this honor.

Wallace is also currently enrolled in the Doctor of Education Program in the School of Education.

Erv in Dyer headshot

Ervin Dyer receives Pulitzer Center international reporting grant

Pitt Magazine’s senior editor, Ervin Dyer, is the recipient of a 2019 Pulitzer Center international reporting grant. The center partners with individual journalists and news organizations to support in-depth, high-impact reporting on topics of global importance, including telling stories on problems that are often overlooked by mainstream U.S. media.

Dyer will use the grant to report from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on an emerging and innovative urban church and its pastor. He will chronicle how the church is helping to strengthen the congregation members and build programming to battle the forces of inequality and corruption.

Dyer earned a doctorate in sociology from Pitt studying African immigrant settlement into urban America and is an award-winning former reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

He is also the founder of a storytelling collective that takes journalists, photographers and others to Haiti to share the voices of the ordinary men and women who fight back against oppression. 

“We know that poverty is a huge challenge for many Haitian citizens. This Pulitzer Center grant is important because it allows me to tell one story of how oppressed Haitians are challenging and resisting poverty to make their lives better," Dyer said. "There is a humanity in their resistance that we don’t hear much about.”

Paul Cohen headshot

Pitt’s newest school builds its expertise with new faculty

New faculty members with backgrounds vital to building expertise in the School of Computing and Information (SCI) have recently joined the school, which was established in 2017 as Pitt's first new school in 20 years..

“SCI is very excited to welcome 18 new faculty,” said Paul Cohen, founding dean. “Each faculty member has a deep understanding of cross-disciplinary collaboration and a commitment to furthering SCI’s mission of making the world a better place through polymathic education and the science of interacting systems.”

SCI welcomed the following faculty at the start of the fall 2019 term:

  • Wonsun Ahn, visiting lecturer, obtained his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a Samsung Frontier founding member. His research interests include computer architecture, compiler optimization, scripting languages, speculative parallelization and parallel computing.
  • Katharine Anderson, visiting assistant professor, models and analyzes the structure, formation and dynamics of scientific collaboration networks, skill diversity and synergy and the complexities of human capital. She earned her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan in 2010.
  • Amy Babay, assistant professor, focuses on modeling and designing new internet services with demanding performance requirements and on building dependable critical infrastructure systems. Babay received her Ph.D. in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in 2018.
  • Jacob Biehl, associate professor, comes to Pitt after a decade with FX Palo Alto Laboratory, Fuji Xerox’s computer science research laboratory in Silicon Valley, California. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008.
  • Seong Jae Hwang, assistant professor, concentrates his research on medical imaging, computer vision and machine learning with an emphasis on modeling disease progression. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019.
  • Stephen Lee, assistant professor. His research interests span several areas of computer systems, including distributed systems and cyber-physical systems, with an emphasis on domains such as smart cities, smart buildings and transportation. He earned his PhD in computer science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2019.
  • Eleanor “Nora” Mattern (SCI 14G), teaching assistant professor. Mattern returns to Pitt, where she earned her PhD, after serving as a librarian at the University of Chicago. Prior, she held a joint visiting position with the University Library System’s Digital Scholarship Services and SCI at Pitt. With SCI, she previously taught courses in preservation, archival ethics and metadata and archival access systems and developed experiential learning projects.
  • Luis de Oliveira, visiting lecturer, graduated from the University of Porto, Portugal, with a Ph.D. in 2016, with a thesis focused on wireless communications and localization for small teams of mobile robots. His current research interests are the preservation of reproducible software execution, real time communication protocols for teams of mobile agents and anchorless localization using RF signals.
  • Song Shi, visiting assistant professor, does research on new media interventions for development and social change initiated by activists, NGOs and the government as detailed in his monograph “China and the Internet: Using New Media for Development in Social Change.” Shi received his Ph.D. in communication and media studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2013.
  • Xulong Tang, assistant professor. His research interests include modeling and designing high-performance computing and parallel computer architectures and systems. He earned his Ph.D. in computer engineering from the Penn State in 2019.
  • Lingfei Wu, assistant professor, is a computational social scientist whose current research aims at unleashing the power of artificial neural network techniques to overcome cognitive and social constraints of human knowledge creation. Additionally, Wu co-founded one of the largest non-governmental science associations in China, which is the incubator of three million-dollar AI startups in self-driving, natural language processing and urban planning.
  • Joseph Yurko, teaching assistant professor, has a background that spans both machine learning and traditional engineering applications. He comes to Pitt from Arconic, a manufacturing company, where he served as a data scientist. He earned his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Additional faculty who joined SCI in the last academic year:

  • Kayla Booth, research assistant professor. Her research interests include diversity and social inclusion, social and health informatics, and social media. She obtained her Ph.D. from Penn State.
  • Matt Burton, lecturer, was previously a visiting assistant professor at SCI before becoming a lecturer. His research interests focus on infrastructure studies, data science, and scholarly communication. He holds a Ph.D. in information from the University of Michigan.
  • Timothy Hoffman, lecturer, is a former corporate trainer for software development and former assistant teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University. His interests center on developing software tools to streamline the grading and administrative aspects of course management, along with tools to assist department researchers working on issues such as early identification of struggling students, tools for tutoring and remedial work for struggling students and the gathering of meta data relating to pedagogy.
  • Vinicius Petrucci, lecturer, was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Diego, and at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He obtained his Ph.D. in computer science at Fluminese Federal University in 2012. 
  • Marcia Rapchak, lecturer. Her research interests span multiple areas and include information literacy, academic libraries, computer-supported collaborative learning and critical librarianship. She obtained her Ed.D. from Duquesne University and has several recent publications. Rapchak is the 2018 recipient of the Routledge Distance Learning Librarianship Conference Sponsorship Award.
  • Erin Walker, associate professor, completed her in Ph.D. in 2010 at Carnegie Mellon in Human-Computer interaction. Her research uses interdisciplinary methods to improve the design and implementation of educational technology and then to understand when and why it is effective.