Amber Johnson

Amber Johnson receives $50,000 Escalator Award

Amber Johnson, a Pitt assistant professor of medicine, is one of four recipients of the 2022 Escalator Awards. The $50,000 grant from Women as One will go to the University of Pittsburgh in recognition of Johnson as a talented woman in cardiology.

Johnson, a cardiologist who is certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine, plans to explore neighborhood-level determinants of health for patients with hypertension.

“Dr. Johnson is one of our most successful academic cardiologists,” said Mark T. Gladwin, professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Medicine. “She is committed to advancing our understanding of how racial and economic disparities affect the delivery of cardiovascular care and the prevalence and severity of heart diseases.”

Johnson has published more than 30 manuscripts about health equity in cardiovascular disease and has received multiple awards, including the 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health award from the National Minority Quality Forum and grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Leigh Patel

Patel elected to National Academy of Education

Leigh Patel, professor in the School of Education, is one of 17 new members elected to the National Academy of Education (NAEd), an honorific society of scholars and educators who make outstanding contributions to the education field.

“This is a significant honor that means a great deal to me,” Patel said. “There are a number of Black, Indigenous, migrant, and decolonial women in the academy doing quality research that impacts the possible futures of Black and Brown children. Their work has deeply influenced me, and it’s an honor to be in the same group.”

As a member of NAEd, Patel will serve on expert study panels that address pressing issues in education and be involved as a mentor for the organization’s professional development fellowship programs.

Patel, who joined Pitt Education in 2018, is a transdisciplinary scholar who studies the narratives that shape how people are treated in society. She is an internationally known scholar of education, ethnic studies, critical higher education studies, and literacy.

One of her current projects — in collaboration with PittEd Justice Collective facilitator Anneliese Martinez and predoctoral fellow Ogechi Irondi — is to create an oral history of parent and caregiver experiences when schools shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Terry Smith

Terry Smith wins Teacher of Art History Award

The College Art Association, a professional body for art historians, artists and the museum community, has bestowed its Distinguished Teacher of Art History Award for 2022 on Pitt professor Terry Smith.

Smith is a professor of contemporary art history and theory in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences. He also is a professor in the Division of Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought at the European Graduate School, which has campuses in Switzerland and Malta.

The citation from the association says: “Terry Smith has long written, curated and taught across borders, in the beginning coming from Australia to study and work in New York as both a scholar and an active member of Art & Language. He has been expanding his sights ever since. He has long advocated for the study of indigenous art. For the past 20 years, starting with projects such as Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s at the Queens Museum, he was the trusted collaborator of Okwui Enwezor. He has always insisted that the past and the present be given their due consideration and global perspectives.”

Smith received his award at the association’s annual meeting last week.

Four innovation teams awarded Chancellor’s Gap Funds

Four Pitt innovation teams have been selected to receive a total of $263,000 in commercialization grants from the Chancellor’s Gap Fund to accelerate their path from the lab to the market.

The Chancellor’s Gap Fund was reauthorized in 2021 to provide critical bridge funding for research projects that have demonstrated strong commercialization potential but require key proof of concept experiments or other data or prototypes in order to attract interest from potential investors or industry partners. The fund provides grants ranging from $25,000 to $75,000, based on what is needed to advance the project through a significant milestone.

Expressions of interest for the next funding cycle will be accepted beginning in April.

Innovation teams receiving awards in the current cohort include:

PACE-RTP: Perception-Action Coupling Evaluation for Return to Play: A rapid and reliable method for measuring sport-related concussion. Principal investigator: Chris Connaboy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Co-investigators: Alice LaGoy, Neuromuscular Research Laboratory; Shawn Eagle, Department of Neurological Surgery.

Youbiotics: Personalized probiotics for weight management. Principal investigator: Steven Little, Swanson School of Engineering. Co-investigators: Matt Borrelli, Swanson School of Engineering; Abhinav Acharya, Arizona State University; Jonathan Krakoff, National Institutes of Health.

Reusable and self-sterilizing 3D HEPA metal filters: 3-D printed porous metal filter for use in air filtration applications in masks, room- or building-based air filtration. Principal investigator: Markus Chmielus, Swanson School of Engineering. 

LiDIA: Listening, iDentification and Instant Amplification: Device for greatly broadening the identification of hearing loss that is currently untreated. Principal investigator: Catherine Palmer, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Co-investigators: Jeffrey Vipperman, Swanson School of Engineering; Erik Rauterkus, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Boo Kyung Jung receives grant from Academy of Korean Studies

Boo Kyung Jung, a faculty member in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has received a $21,000 grant from the Academy of Korean Studies in South Korea.

She will use the grant to examine how heritage Korean language users understand subject-predicate honorification. To find pedagogical suggestions, Jung will explore this through behavior experiments, including reaction time and eye-tracking, and input analysis.

Teaching Center names director for equitable and inclusive teaching

Pitt’s University Center for Teaching and Learning has named Sera Mathew as the director for equitable and inclusive teaching.

As director, Mathew will provide leadership in the evaluation of diversity, equity and inclusion teaching initiatives, and she will work with faculty to create an environment that allows students to explore and challenge ideas as part of the learning process.

Prior to joining Pitt, Sera was an assistant professor at Point Park University and director of the Honors Program.

Four faculty named to American Association for the Advancement of Science class

Four faculty members from the University of Pittsburgh have been named to the most recent class of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellows, one of the most distinct honors within the scientific community — and a historic one as well, dating to 1874.

They are among 564 fellows announced Jan. 26. The four faculty recognized are:

Kay Brummond, associate dean of faculty and a professor of chemistry in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences

Sarah Gaffen, professor in the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at School of Medicine

Steven R. Little, professor and department chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering as well as a faculty member in the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and bioengineering, immunology, ophthalmology and pharmaceutical sciences departments

Jerry Vockley, professor of pediatrics and pediatric research at the School of Medicine and a professor of human genetics at the Graduate School of Public Health

The nominating and vetting process includes a cadre of scientists, engineers and innovators recognized for achievements across disciplines ranging across research, teaching, administration, industry, government and communications.

Read more about the work of these faculty member on Pittwire.

Woodward named to Society of Research Administrators International board

The Society of Research Administrators International (SRAI) elected Jennifer E. Woodward, vice chancellor for sponsored programs and research operations at Pitt, to serve on the board of directors. Woodward began her new position on Oct. 26, 2021, serving as one of six at-large board members with full voting rights and significant responsibility for the stewardship of the organization.

Woodward was selected by a majority of her peers from among a talented field of candidates from across the globe. SRAI members evaluated candidates’ career history, demonstration of exceptional professional growth and significant contributions made to the advancement of research administration in making their selections.

Woodward brings more than 20 years of progressive leadership experience in research administration to the organization. Her passion is evidenced through her commitment to evolving and innovating the field of research administration, while also supporting the professional development and success of research administrators worldwide. 

Three Pitt researchers earn Charles E. Kaufman Foundation grants

Pitt researchers have been awarded a portion of a $2.1 million grant for Pennsylvania universities from the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation. The foundation, established by chemical engineer and entrepreneur Charles E. Kaufman, supports fundamental scientific research in chemistry, biology and physics at institutions throughout the commonwealth.

New Initiatives Research Grants, which carry an award of $300,000 over two years, are designed to encourage investigators with strong research records to establish interdisciplinary collaborations requiring expertise beyond a single researcher. Pitt recipients Nathan Lord and Mo Ebrahimkhani will explore the elaborate language of signals used by human embryos and seek to decode the molecular language that enables embryos to control organ development in their project titled, “Spatially guided morphogenesis in human liver organoids.”

Lord is an assistant professor in the Department of Computational and Systems Biology in the School of Medicine, and Ebrahimkhani is an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and a member of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the School of Medicine.

Tera Levin, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, received a New Investigator Research Grant, which empowers scientists at the beginning of their career through an award of $150,000 over two years. Levin will study mechanisms of interbacterial competition in Legionella pneumophila, which can colonize plumbing systems and cause outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease, in her project “Playing with fire: How bacteria deploy self-targeting antimicrobials during inter-bacterial battles.”

The foundation advisory board reviewed 121 inquiries from scientists at 23 colleges and universities. The latest awards will support research at the University of Pittsburgh, Bryn Mawr College, Bucknell University, Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Haverford College, Pennsylvania State University, Swarthmore College, and Washington and Jefferson College.

Scott Morgenstern receives Fulbright Specialist Program award

Pitt professor of political science Scott Morgenstern has earned a Fulbright Specialist Program award, the U.S. Department of State and Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board has announced.

The Fulbright Specialist Program sends faculty and professionals to academic institutions abroad “as expert consultants on curriculum, faculty development, institutional planning and related subjects.” Recipients are selected for academic and professional achievement and their potential to foster long-term cooperation between institutions abroad and the U.S.

Morgenstern intends to complete his project in Spain at the Universidad de Salamanca. There, he will exchange knowledge with other political science experts and create partnerships and educational activities that will benefit the U.S. and Spain. He is one of more than 400 U.S. citizens who will share their expertise at their chosen host institution.

Clark and Little in 2021 fellow class of National Academy of Inventors

William “Buddy” Clark and Steven R. Little, of the Swanson School of Engineering, have been selected as members of the 2021 fellow class of the National Academy of Inventors, the highest professional distinction accorded to academic inventors.

They are the ninth and tenth Pitt faculty members to be selected as NAI Fellows since its inaugural class in 2015.

Clark is professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and is co-founder of Diamond Kinetics, a Pittsburgh-based company that produces data-driven bat swing and throwing systems for baseball and softball training. The company’s products are used by many of the teams in Major League Baseball and sold direct to consumers at Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company employs approximately 30 people on the North Shore near PNC Park.

Little is a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, in addition to being the department chair. He also has appointments to the departments of Bioengineering, Immunology, Ophthalmology and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Little is a co-founder of Pitt spinout company Qrono Inc., which is developing therapies that change the way cancer tumor cells and immune cells interact in a manner that enables immune T cells to infiltrate metastatic tumors. In 2020 he co-authored a study in the journal Science Advances that utilized a similar microparticle therapy that “hacks” the immune system to accept transplanted tissue.

The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society. The 164 members of the 2021 fellow class hail from 116 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes worldwide. They collectively hold more than 4,800 U.S. patents.

Read more about Clark and Little on the Innovation Institute website.

Hammond named Pa. Society of Physician Assistants’ Educator of the Year

Jamie Hammond, assistant professor in the Physician Assistant Studies program in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, is this year's Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants Educator of the Year. Awardees are selected for being inspirational and moving others through their selflessness toward humankind.

Hammond is director of mentoring for the Physician Assistant Studies program. She also serves as secretary for the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association and participated in the National Health Service Corps in rural North Carolina and Pennsylvania from 2008-2013. She continues to serve as an ambassador for the latter organization.

Lotze gets lifetime achievement award from cancer immunotherapy group

Michael T. Lotze, professor of surgery, immunology and bioengineering at the Pitt School of Medicine, was honored with the 2021 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer Lifetime Achievement Award at the group’s 36th annual meeting last month in Washington D.C. 

Lotze is currently chief cellular therapy officer of Nurix Therapeutics and scientific advisory council chair for the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

He is widely regarded as the leader in exploring cancer as a disorder of cell death and is devising novel strategies to approach the disease in this context. He initiated the first approved gene therapy protocols at the National Institutes of Health and has treated more than 100 patients on gene therapy protocols at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the co-inventor of 10 patents in dendritic cell vaccines and antigen discovery, and author of more than 500 scientific papers and chapters in basic and applied tumor immunology and cytokine biology. 

Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer is a member-driven organization dedicated to improving cancer patient outcomes by advancing the science and application of cancer immunotherapy through educational programs that foster scientific exchange and collaboration. Learn more at

Bradford’s Ibañez gets Hero Award from financial aid group

Melissa Ibañez, associate vice president of enrollment management and director of financial aid at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, has received the 2021 Hero Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administration.

The award, which was presented to only six financial aid administrators in Pennsylvania this year, is given to a PASFAA member who has made significant contributions, often behind the scenes, to the association.

This is not the first time Ibañez has been recognized by the PASFAA. In 2017, she received the Distinguished Service Award for her leadership, activities and research in financial aid. In 2015, she received the President’s Award, which is awarded to a financial aid professional whose actions have helped to advance the goals and objectives of the association.

Ibañez has worked at Pitt-Bradford since September 1999. In addition to her work in the Financial Aid Office, she also is a Veterans Affairs official for the campus.           

Before coming to Pitt-Bradford, she served as the associate director and director of financial aid at Syracuse (N.Y.) University College of Law and as the assistant director of financial aid at Seattle University School of Law.

Meyer named visiting scholar at Oxford’s Centre for Life-Writing

Michael Meyer, a professor of English in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, has been selected to be a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Life-Writing. Founded by Dame Hermione Lee, author of the acclaimed biography “Virginia Woolf,” the program brings together authors from around the globe to produce the best in biography.

While in residence, Meyer is finishing research on a book recounting a scandalous 1877 trial in London over a woman’s defiant publication of a birth control pamphlet. His forthcoming book “Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet,” detailing the 200-year legacy of Franklin’s bequests to working-class Americans, will be published by HarperCollins in April. Meyer will also be a Fulbright Scholar to Taiwan in spring 2022.

Reeser named fellow at University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study

Todd Reeser, professor and chair of French and Italian in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been selected as a 2021 fellow of the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study. The prestigious fellowship allows international researchers to travel to Strasbourg, France, to advance their research. 

One of 14 researchers selected for the honor, Reeser’s work focuses on gender and sexuality in France, folding in topics of politics, identity and culture. Reeser will be working on a book project titled “Transgender France: universalism and sexual subjectivity,” in which he is exploring transgender representation in the country and the ways in which trans representation challenges assumptions about French citizenship.

As part of the fellowship, Reeser will spend next spring in residence at the University of Strasbourg, hosted by Professor Marine de Lassalle.

Mascaro Center, Covestro team up on new Circular Economy Program

The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, the Swanson School of Engineering and polymer supplier Covestro have teamed up to bring a new effort called the Covestro Circular Economy Program to the University of Pittsburgh.

This graduate-level circular design academic program will specifically address the challenge of global waste and material use while creating opportunities for research, education and innovative advancement of circular economy principles. The goal is to germinate ideas in the academic setting that will take root and drive real-world solutions designed to save the planet

Through the program, Covestro and Pitt plan to create new fundamental science that supports the assembly of tools to aid circular design. The program will enable graduate students at Pitt to become experts in circular economy principles, informed by Covestro's advances in this area, and ultimately create sustainable products and service solutions. The first cohort of graduate students will be recruited for fall 2022.

Learn more about the program. 

Pitt researchers part of international team awarded $1 million Magee Prize

The Magee-Womens Research Institute awarded its $1 million Magee Prize to an international team led by Pamela Moalli, professor in Pitt’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and director of urogynecology and pelvic reconstruction surgery at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

The team — which includes Kyle Orwig, of the Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) and the Pitt School of Medicine, and Caroline Gargett, of Monash University in Australia — is working to develop new biomaterials to repair tissue loss in people with compromised vaginal structure and function.

Their project seeks to identify stem cell populations that restore vaginal structure and function and isolate the cellular ecosystems needed for stem cell survival, proliferation and engraftment.

The Magee Prize, which is funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, is among the largest grants of its kind in women’s health that is awarded by a non-government institution. To qualify for the prize, teams must include at least one MWRI researcher and at least one international collaborator.

Read more about the award.

Cunningham appointed interim executive director of Center for Neural Basis of Cognition

Robert K. Cunningham has been appointed interim executive director for the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), a joint venture of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University that focuses on research into the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to behavior.

“Rob Cunningham has an extraordinary national track record of helping large teams organize and strategize to take their efforts to the next level. This new interim leadership role will allow him to use both his organizational savvy and his neuroscience background to move CNBC to even greater impact,” said Rob Rutenbar, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for research.

“I am excited to help guide the next stage of evolution of the CNBC and to be given the opportunity to revisit my neuroscience background,” said Cunningham, who also serves as Pitt’s vice chancellor for research infrastructure. “The CNBC is a groundbreaking organization, and the center’s collaborations continue to enable breakthrough results as we continue to seek to understand the mind and brain.”

The collaboration has received two sizeable grants, including $6 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to support the launch of CNBC.

Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, CNBC co-director at Carnegie Mellon, said, “CBNC has a worldwide reputation that draws trainees to Pittsburgh to study how computations in the brain control perception, cognition and behavior. It’s what attracted me here, as well. I look forward to working with Pitt to reexamine how CNBC can maintain its vitality throughout the 21st century and beyond."

Tracey Conti named chair of family medicine department

Tracey Conti has been appointed chair of the School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine.

Conti began her new position on Nov. 1, 2021. She has served many leadership roles within the department over the past 20 years and also directs the family medicine residency program at UPMC McKeesport and serves as executive vice chair of the department.

Conti has been recognized for her clinical contributions, which include being named a Pittsburgh Top Doctor and a Pittsburgh Top Black Doctor. She also has been recognized for her leadership with the Mon Valley Women of Achievement award, and most recently the UPMC Physician Excellence Award — Excellence in Leadership. She holds leadership roles within the hospital community and currently serves as the board chair of the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians.