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New Awards Celebrate Pitt’s Community Partnerships

Five outstanding community partnerships were recognized in the University’s first annual Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Awards, presented as part of the Community Engaged Scholarship Forum.

Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement, presented the awards to five exemplary community engagement partnerships. Honorees receive $2,000 in support of their work.

The inaugural awards were presented to:

Read more about these vital local partnerships in this feature story from the awards event.


Banerjee in a black top

Ipsita Banerjee Wins 2019 Faculty Diversity Award

Ipsita Banerjee, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, is the recipient of the School’s 2019 Faculty Diversity Award. 

“It would be an understatement to say that Ipsita earnestly strives each year to improve the academic environment fostering the success of under-represented minority students at the graduate, undergraduate and high school levels,” says Steven Little, department chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. Read more at the Swanson School’s website.


Dickerson in a blue Pitt fleece

Sam Dickerson Named 2019 Outstanding Educator

The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has presented Sam Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the computer engineering undergraduate program, with this year’s Outstanding Educator Award. This competitive award recognizes his excellence in teaching and innovative work in developing and improving the department’s undergraduate program.

The award includes a $2,000 grant to further enhance the recipient’s teaching.

Dickerson joined the Swanson School as assistant professor in 2015 after completing his PhD, MS and BS degrees in electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. In addition to teaching, Dickerson plays an influential role in the development and improvement of curricula in the school. Read more at the Swanson School’s website.


Tenecia Ross

Human Resources’ Tenecia Ross Named to New Pittsburgh Courier’s Fab 40

Tenecia Ross, director of employee and labor relations in the Office of Human Resources, has been named one of New Pittsburgh Courier’s Fab 40 Class of 2019 honorees.

Fab 40 recognizes African-Americans under the age of 40 who make a positive difference in the Pittsburgh area through their fields of expertise. Ross’ responsibilities include

interpreting and applying provisions of collective bargaining agreements regarding leaves, discipline, job postings, wage and benefits changes and other employee relations matters. She also counsels managers and represented employees regarding contract issues, benefits and policies and procedures.

“I am proud of my accomplishments at the University of Pittsburgh and I’m thankful to be recognized by the New Pittsburgh Courier. It is an honor to be named with such an impressive list of co-recipients,” said Ross.

In addition to this honor, Ross joined the board of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR), Pittsburgh chapter in January, and serves as vice president of programming and professional development. NAAAHR-Pittsburgh aims to transform and expand the Pittsburgh HR community of minorities through innovation and HR strategy.


Runyan in a black speckled blouse

Neuroscience’s Caroline Runyan Wins Searle Scholarship

Caroline Runyan, assistant professor of neuroscience, has been named a 2019 Searle Scholar. She is one of 15 young scientists selected for recognition this year.

The Searle Scholars Program awards grants to support the independent research of exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences or chemistry who are in their first tenure-track position. An advisory board of eminent scientists chooses the scholars based on rigorous standards designed to find the most creative talent pursuing academic research careers. The recognition comes with an award of $300,000 in flexible funding to support work over the next three years.

Runyan’s research at Pitt focuses on sensation and how the meaning of sensory stimuli can change in different contexts to enable survival. The goal of her research is “to understand the circuit mechanisms that control the flow of information between brain regions. How do networks filter out irrelevant information? How does incoming sensory information interact with the animal’s internal brain state?” she said.


panther statue on a sunny day

Lab Safety Program Wins National Recognition

The Department of Chemistry and Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) have won the American Chemical Society (ACS) 2019 SafetyStratus College and University Health and Safety Award for Pitt’s “outstanding comprehensive laboratory safety program in higher education (undergraduate study).”

EHS director Jay Frerotte credited chemistry faculty member Ericka Huston’s successful Safety in the Chemistry Laboratory (CHEM1010) course, developed with input from EHS staff led by environmental manager Keith Duval, as key to the award.

Awards committee chair Kimi Brown, a senior lab safety specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, called Pitt’s approach to chemical safety education a model for other institutions.  

“Dr. Huston is passionate about ensuring that all Pitt chemistry students are educated in the philosophy of risk assessment and control, regardless of whether they participate in her CHEM1010 course,” Brown said. “To that end, she has added more engaging and informative safety content to both the undergraduate teaching lab curriculum and to the graduate student research-safety training. Furthermore, those students who do enroll in CHEM1010 are given a unique opportunity to develop important leadership skills and deepen their understanding of how safety integrates with science.” 

In addition to a plaque, the award includes $1,000 for expenses to present at the ACS national meeting in San Diego in August.


Ducar in a black sweater with a chunky metallic necklace

Jamie Ducar Earns Community Partnership Micro-credential

Jamie Ducar, director of community engagement in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations, is among the first individuals in the higher-education civic and community engagement field to earn a micro-credential in Community Partnerships through Campus Compact’s new Community Engagement Professional Credentialing Program.

Campus Compact is a national coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. 

Ducar earned this distinction by demonstrating competency in effectively cultivating, facilitating and maintaining high-quality partnerships with community organizations and representatives. 

The program provides formal recognition for the knowledge and skills practitioners develop throughout their careers and provides a framework for them to grow and achieve in the field in ways that encourage effective, inclusive and equity-based partnerships and practices. Practitioners who earn a requisite number of micro-credentials may apply for Campus Compact’s full certification as a Community Engagement Professional.

Among the content advisers to this new program is Pitt Assistant Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement Lina Dostilio.  


Iordanova in a dark shirt

Bistra Iordanova Receives $25,000 to Research Gender in Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is one of the leading causes of disability in the elderly, affecting 5.4 million people in the United States and 35 million people worldwide. Two-thirds these individuals are women, and though they are disproportionately affected, the biological basis of the sex differences in AD onset and progression is not well understood. 

Bistra Iordanova, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a $25,000 award from the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to collect data from female rodent models, integrate it with her existing datasets from males and begin to examine whether AD onset and progression differs between the two. Read more at the Swanson School.


studio portraits of each winner, stitched together

Jayant Rajgopal and Sylvanus Wosu Honored With American Society for Engineering Education Awards

Honoring commitment to excellence and diversity in engineering education, the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) has selected professors at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering to receive two of its annual awards. 

Jayant Rajgopal, professor of industrial engineering, won the John L. Imhoff Global Excellence Award for Industrial Engineering Education and Sylvanus Wosu, associate dean for diversity affairs and associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, won the DuPont Minorities in Engineering Award.

The ASEE will honor Rajgopal and Wosu at the Annual Awards Luncheon during their Annual Conference and Exposition on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, at the Tampa Convention Center. Read more at the Swanson School.


Kinloch in a yellow shirt

Valerie Kinloch to Speak at Event for Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

Valerie Kinloch, the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the School of Education, will speak at a national symposium of education, law and policy scholars to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. The civil rights case declared that the segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th Amendment, and therefore, unconstitutional. The unanimous ruling was delivered on May 17, 1954, by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.

Kinloch was selected among a handful of speakers who will discuss Brown’s “promise of integration amid major contemporary threats to civil rights in education.” Kinloch, who has built her career on working to change the narrative of equity in education, will specifically speak on the topic of “Growing Critically Conscious Teachers.” The event, titled Brown@65, will be held at Penn State University on May 10.


a globe on a turquoise background

Pitt Projects Featured at ACCelerate Creativity and Innovation Festival

Three research projects and one theatre performance from the University of Pittsburgh were selected to be featured at the ACCelerate Creativity and Innovation Festival in Washington, D.C. this past April.

“While most think of the ACC as only an athletics conference, the ACC Academic Consortium aims to promote academic excellence and provide opportunities for collaboration between faculty, students and administrators from the 15 member institutions,” said Joseph J. McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies at Pitt.

The four Pitt teams were:

The World History Center’s Digital Atlas Design Internship Program. In the semester-long internship, undergraduate students learn GIS and web design skills, and complete a research project of their choice using QGIS and ESRI StoryMaps. Each student’s project will be incorporated into a larger project, the World Historical Gazetteer: a linked open data global index of historically important place names and information. The World Gazetteer is expected to be completed in late 2019.

The Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA) and Strong Arm were both developed in the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), which are a part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs as the Center for Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering.

“It’s Who You Know,” a hybrid recommender system to connect students with informal social networks of Pitt researchers is a Personalized Education Grant project, supported by the Office of the Provost, that aims to connect students with researchers with similar interests. The project, out of the PAWS Lab, will test the concept of an online system that can curate and filter vast amount of information to result in “personalized education, career pathways, and research collaborations for [students], faculty and future students.”

Directed by Cynthia Croot, associate professor and head of performance in the Department of Theatre Arts, Recoil is a Pitt-created theater piece that “explores the complexities of gun ownership, violence, and protest through the voices through young people” using real first-person accounts.


a woman in front of a bookcase in a green shirt

Sociology Department Chair Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Suzanne Staggenborg, chair of the Department of Sociology at Pitt, has been honored with the John D. McCarthy Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Scholarship of Social Movements and Collective Behavior from the University of Notre Dame Center for the Study of Social Movements. The award recognizes exceptional contributors to the field.

Staggenborg’s work centers on social movements, including abortion politics, women’s movements and grassroots environmental movements. Currently she is focusing on several local environmental organizations fighting fracking and promoting sustainable communities.

Award events include a public lecture by Staggenborg, a dinner, award ceremony and toasts at Notre Dame on Saturday, May 4, 2019.


man in a jacket in front of a body of water

Daniel Balderson Receives Literary Award

Daniel Balderson has been named co-winner of the 2019 Richard Finneran Award for his book about an Argentine author titled “How Borges Wrote.”

Balderson is a Mellon Professor of Modern Languages in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

The award is given by the Society for Textual Scholarship to recognize the best edition of book about editorial theory and/or practice published in the English language.

Balderson’s book is “the first and only attempt at a systematic and comprehensive study of the trajectory of Borge’s creative process.”


Blain in a dark shirt

Keisha N. Blain Awarded Best Book in African American Women’s and Gender History

Keisha N. Blain, assistant professor in the Department of History, received the 2019 Darlene Clark Hine Award from the Organization of American Historians (OAH).

The prestigious award, given annually for the “best book in African American women’s and gender history,” was presented to Blain for her recent publication, “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.” The book, which “[draws] on a variety of previously untapped sources, including newspapers, government records, songs, and poetry,” tells the stories of Black women nationalists in the 20th century.

The award committee calls Blain’s work a “major contribution to existing historiographies that centers on African American women, black internationalism, intellectual history and African American history.”

The OAH, founded in 1907, is the world’s “largest professional association dedicated to American history scholarship.”


Dostilio in a royal blue blazer

Lina Dostilio Named First Research Fellow for Coalition for Urban and Metropolitan Universities

The Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) has named Lina Dostilio CUMU’s first research fellow. During a five-month appointment, Dostilio, associate vice chancellor for community engagement at the University of Pittsburgh, will work to establish a cross-city research agenda on the effects of hyperlocal engagement on community capacity. Over the course of the fellowship, Dostilio will work to create a space for dialogue and collaboration on data, instruments, policy, and strategies.

“This project is interested in how universities honor the existing capacities of the communities they engage and how hyperlocal efforts may influence those capacities over time. Examples of the kinds of capacity we are exploring are community readiness for change, civic engagement and social connectedness, among others,” said Dostilio.

“There’s never been a more important time for institutions to be authentic about their responsibility and capacity for place-based engagement and service. Lina’s scholarship on hyperlocal engagement will help to define CUMU’s research agenda and move this important work forward,” said Bobbie Laur, CUMU executive director.


Xiong in a dark suit

Feng Xiong Receives NSF Grant to Develop Conversion Method for Heat Energy

Feng Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Jonathan Malen, professor of mechanical engineering at CMU, recently received a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation to develop a thermoelectric semiconductor using tungsten disulfide to convert waste heat into energy. 

This collaboration seeks to make converting heat lost in energy production back into usable electricity that’s more efficient.

The team will work closely with local communities to encourage students from all backgrounds to explore engineering careers and foster interest in nanotechnology. Outreach efforts will include lab demonstrations, summer internships and career workshops.

Researchers Earn NSF Grant for Autism Therapy Development

A University of Pittsburgh research team recently received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new brain-computer therapy method to help people with autism.

The team is led by Murat Akcakaya, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Carla A. Mazefsky, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry.

They will develop social interaction scenarios in virtual environments while recording EEG responses simultaneously in order to detect patterns that represent changes in distress levels. The virtual scenario will then present audio or visual cues to help remind them how to handle stress. The project will also develop new machine learning algorithms and neuroscience methods to identify EEG features associated with emotion regulation to classify between distress and non-distress conditions, and to distinguish among different distress levels.


woman in a dark blazer

Leanne Gilbertson Receives Early Engineering Educator Grant

Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was selected to receive the Mara H. Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant from the American Society for Engineering Education’s (ASEE) Women in Engineering Division. The award recognizes her contributions to engineering education and will provide travel to the 2019 ASEE Annual Conference in Tampa, Florida, June 15-19.

Gilbertson’s research group aims to inform sustainable design of existing and novel materials to avoid potential unintended environmental and human health consequences while maintaining functional performance goals. Her research includes both experimental and life cycle modeling thrusts. Read more about the award.


Sherrard, outside, holding awards

Pitt Wins Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge

Pitt’s campus-wide commitment to sustainable practices once again led to a first-place finish among universities in the most recent Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge. The University has participated in and won its division in four successive Sustainable Pittsburgh Challenge competitions (formerly known as the Green Workplace Challenge).

Pitt finished with 1,097 points — more than double second-place university finisher Carnegie Mellon’s 444 points — with transportation contributing the largest number of points across all categories. 

Aurora Sharrard (pictured), director of Pitt’s Office of Sustainability, was among the Pitt representatives at the March 21 awards celebration.

More than 100 southwestern Pennsylvania area businesses, nonprofits, municipalities, universities, and K-12 schools completed the 13-month-long challenge to integrate sustainability into their organizational culture.

Together, participants saved more than 80 million kilowatt hours of energy worth $6.27 million — energy sufficient to power 7,978 average Pittsburgh homes for a year — and more than 20 million gallons of water — enough to fill more than 30 Olympic-size swimming pools. In addition, participating organizations avoided a per-capita annual average of 200 pounds of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Collectively, participants earned points for more than 2,200 sustainable actions including reducing energy and water usage, monitoring indoor air quality, implementing policies on supplier diversity and supplier code of conduct, creating a workplace sustainability team and encouraging carpooling and other alternative forms of transportation. 


Bemyeh smiling

Mohammed A. Bamyeh Elected President of Arab Council for the Social Sciences

Mohammed A. Bamyeh, professor of sociology, was elected chairperson of the board of trustees of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS) during its fourth conference this April. From its headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, the council oversees the largest and most active social science network in the Arab region. It has supported hundreds of social science researchers in 22 Arab countries and among diaspora communities of scholars, through fellowships and grant programs.

Bamyeh has been at Pitt since 2007. His work focuses on comparative social and political theory and globalization, revolutions and social movements, Islamic studies, culture, religion and secularism.