Funding Awarded to 24 Pitt Seed Projects

Twenty-four projects supporting the University’s strategic goals will receive nearly $1 million in funding as part of the second year of the Pitt Seed Project.

The Pitt Seed Project is an initiative funded by the Office of the Chancellor that provides faculty, staff and students an opportunity to directly and actively contribute to the University’s strategic transformation. 

"Your ideas were creative, practical and inspiring—and they underscored your dedication to making the University an even better place to work, learn and grow," wrote Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in a spotlight message posted to his website.

This year, 85 faculty and staff members — representing diverse areas across the University, including the regional campuses — reviewed a total of 83 proposals.

The entries represent a wide range of interests and individuals within the University and all six goals within the “The Plan for Pitt.” Funded projects come from areas including arts and sciences, social work, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, health and rehabilitation sciences, athletics, public and international affairs, the Innovation Institute, the Learning Resource and Development Center and the Greensburg and Bradford regional campuses.

The proposals selected to received funding and their designated points of contact are:

Obama Academy-Mathematics Assistance Center
Angela Athanas, Lecturer
Department of Mathematics, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"I am developing a Mathematics Assistance Center in the Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies located in the East End of Pittsburgh. This will be an after-school program for high school students and a Quality Resource Time (QRT) (intervention period) program for middle school students. I will have undergraduate mathematics and engineering students as assistants. They will tutor high school students or train them to tutor middle school students. We will meet biweekly at the Obama Academy at 2:30 p.m. to serve high school students that end their school day and serve middle school students during their QRT."


Pitt Startup Incubator for Students and Recent Alumni
Babs Carryer, Director
Big Idea Center, Innovation Institute

"The energy around student entrepreneurship today is incredible. Some of today’s most celebrated tech leaders built their ventures while in school. Entrepreneurially minded students need programs that give them essential experiential education in how to build great, impactful businesses. The Innovation Institute’s Big Idea Center has identified a gap between our campus programming and external accelerator and investor programs. This proposal aims to establish a Big Idea Incubator for students and recent alumni to bridge this gap and provide students and recent alumni pursuing startups the education and mentorship necessary to launch successful businesses and gain external support from investors and customers."


Graduate Certificate in Regional Intergovernmental Organization Management
George Dougherty, Assistant Professor
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

"In order to support recent research on regional intergovernmental organizations, we propose a graduate certificate in managing regional intergovernmental organizations. The certificate would consist of 12 to 18 graduate credits integrating existing course content and new content offered online through GSPIA’s Master of Public Policy and Management (MPPM) online program. Offering intense summer classes in Pittsburgh will also be explored. Given there are currently no graduate programs available, we expect that the initial audience will be national in scope. Grant funds will be used to convene a practitioner advisory panel and host a mini-conference in fall 2019."


Creating Connections through CREATES
Max Fedor, Director
Pittsburgh CREATES

"This project proposes to expand CREATES' collaborative activities with industry to include a focused programmatic effort that will connect medical and surgical device industry partners to student and faculty innovators on campus. CREATES has already established a base of industry partners with whom it provides clinical and academic services to advance surgical technologies and practices. Through the Pitt Seed Project, we hope to establish more direct interactions between students, faculty and industry. In doing so, we will further connect CREATES’ mission to the broader University and regional ecosystem."


Mobile Visual Feedback for Gait Training
Goeran Fiedler, Assistant Professor
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

"The proposed project aims to expand on a promising line of research on gait retraining and optimization. We have previously developed and tested a system and method of providing real-time mobile visual feedback on gait quality, based on kinetic data that is collected by wearable sensors. A critical advantage of this approach is that users receive pertinent and timely information on their gait pattern and that they see the immediate results of any gait adaptations. Initial applications for this were in people with lower limb prostheses. However, the potential of this technology extends to other and larger populations as well."


ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh
Benjamin Gordon, Assistant Professor and Rosenberg-Perlow Fellow in Classical Judaism
Department of Religious Studies, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh is a digital humanities project seeking to transform how religion is studied at the University. It will be centered around a dynamic online exhibit showcasing the lived experiences of religious communities in the city. Its emphasis will be not on doctrine, but on the vernacular aspects of religious life. The exhibit will feature religious Pittsburgh in all its diversity, and in ways that are as colloquial and unexpected as our second-person plural pronoun. Students at Pitt will research local religious communities through course-related assignments and present their findings in a public forum on the site."


Pittsburgh Public Schools Partnership: Entertainment Technology
Kelly Hammonds, Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast and Video Production
Department of Athletics

"This Pitt Seed Project will provide broadcast and video production workshops for students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system. Milliones, a Pittsburgh public schools magnet program, provides students with an entertainment technology curriculum through the Career and Technical Education Program. The program’s mission is to teach students skills they can use to find employment after high school, or pursue through higher education. Milliones is looking for more ways to expose students to the world of broadcast and video production, outside their existing equipment and resources."


Vibrant Media Lab
Zach Horton, Assistant Professor
Department of English, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"The Vibrant Media Lab (VML) opened its doors this year with support from the Department of English. Twenty faculty members and many graduate and undergraduate students have come together to build a unique, multidisciplinary lab to experiment with cutting-edge media and media history alike. As a humanities research lab, the VML aims to break new ground in project-based work at Pitt. The two-year seed period will allow the Seed Project team to expand the VML to reach far more faculty members and students across the University with a slate of projects to enact our full vision of an experimental, interdisciplinary humanities lab."


Raising GIRL: Gender Inequality Research Lab at Pitt
Melanie Hughes, Professor and Cofounder and Codirector of Gender Inequality Research Lab (GIRL)
Department of Sociology, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"Raising GIRL will create a new, year-long transdisciplinary course paired with an internship program. Graduate students and undergraduate honors students will work directly with the United Nations Development Programme and national governments to research gender inequality in public institutions worldwide. Our initiative promises transformational results by engaging students in close collaboration with institutional partners on high-impact, policy-relevant global research; by creating internship and exchange opportunities; and by bridging the academic divide between graduate and undergraduate education. It will advance educational excellence at Pitt, raise GIRL’s reach and produce research that aids global efforts to reduce gender inequality."


Development of the Broadening Equity in STEM Center (BE STEM Center)
Alison Legg, Senior Lecturer and Director of Outreach Programs
Department of Biological Sciences, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"Pitt’s Broadening Equity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Center (BE STEM Center) is a newly created unit in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Office of Undergraduate Studies. Faculty and staff from several academic and administrative units comprise the center’s multidisciplinary collaborative team, leveraging academic and professional expertise centered around broadening equity work. The center’s mission is to increase diversity in Pitt’s STEM programs by serving as a hub interconnecting like-minded but siloed efforts and providing programs with relevant organizational support. This proposal focuses on developing the communication and dissemination infrastructure of this newly established center."


A School-Based Trauma Intervention to Build Social and Cognitive Resilience
Brianna Lombardi, Assistant Professor
School of Social Work

"Youth living within distressed urban communities face repeated and ongoing exposure to adverse childhood experience (ACEs). Chronic exposure to ACEs has a cumulative, detrimental effect on children’s social and cognitive capacity, impacting their ability to succeed in the classroom. To mitigate harm and promote students’ capacities to learn, we will customize an intervention to directly target the ramifications of ACEs and work collaboratively Woodland Hills Intermediate to ensure the program meets the contextual needs of the community. After development of the intervention, we will conduct a pilot trial of the School-Based Trauma Intervention to Build Social and Cognitive Resilience."


Food Insecurity, Nutritional Literacy, and Heart Disease: A Novel Interdisciplinary University of Pittsburgh Initiative
Jared Magnani, Associate Professor
School of Medicine

"Heart failure patients with limited food access and food insecurity have elevated risks for symptomatic morbidity, recurrent hospitalization and mortality. We propose a novel, interdisciplinary intervention to: (a) identify UPMC heart failure patients (n=30) with food insecurity and limited social resources, heretofore unrecognized by standard clinical care; and (b) deliver a six-month, home-based intervention to address food insecurity, social challenges and nutritional literacy. We combine expertise in heart failure, home-based social work interventions, nutrition in chronic disease and neighborhood-level strategies for public health. Our safety net program will improve outcomes in vulnerable individuals and strengthen Pitt's community-based safety net."


Inclusive Staff Mentoring in the Dietrich School
Michele Montag, Chief of Staff, Executive Director for Staff Personnel and Senior Assistant Dean
Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"Formal mentoring will enhance both recruiting and retention efforts for our staff employees, and we seek to implement a mentoring program that will foster an inclusive and supportive workplace. We will establish an 18-month pilot program. The first six months will focus on training 15 mentors who will be assigned mentees for a one-year period. Mentor training will consist of core lessons in the mentoring process as well as specific, high-level development focused on diversity and inclusiveness. This program complements current efforts to increase diversity through recruiting by fostering an environment where staff enjoy working and retention is high."


Surveying Latin American Legislators
Scott Morgenstern, Professor and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies
Department of Political Science, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"This proposal seeks to support a survey of Latin American legislators through a partnership with the University of Salamanca, Spain. Unlike standard mass surveys, this annual survey collects information directly from the policymakers, thus providing analysts invaluable information about politics and policy in the region. With support for three Pitt graduate students to conduct the interviews, plus a graduate student assistant, the project provides students unparalleled access to the region’s policy makers. In providing these research opportunities and developing an international partnership, the project will attract top students, advance Pitt’s prestige and support central goals underlined in The Plan for Pitt."


Justice Scholars Expansion - Pitt Enhanced College Support
Esohe Osai, Director of Services for Pitt-Assisted Communities and Schools
School of Social Work

"Justice Scholars is a transformative program that provides a credit-bearing, college preparatory experience to students in a local underserved high school. Since 2016, this transdisciplinary program has partnered with various units to offer Pitt courses and additional supports to impact students at Westinghouse Academy in Homewood. Collaborators, both at Pitt and in the community, have expressed interest in a Justice Scholars replication that would bring this Pitt-sponsored college preparatory opportunity to other local schools. The proposal intent is to embark on a two-year evaluation and replication study of Justice Scholars that will include a program launch at one additional school."


Pitt Participation in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program
Ravi Patel, Lead Innovation Advisor, Pharmacy and Therapeutics
School of Pharmacy

"The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) creates the opportunity to be a part of America's space program by fostering students' interests in science. Students create proposals for microgravity experiences to be tested aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Faculty mentorship facilitates students' real experiences in teamwork, communication, competition and the thrill of science in space. This project will allow for participation in the SSEP program, interdisciplinary school events and community engagement with local high schools. By participating in SSEP's Mission 14 to the ISS, the University of Pittsburgh will create unique opportunities for students, faculty and programs as a whole."


Art's Work in the Age of Biotechnology
Elizabeth Pitts, Assistant Professor
Department of English, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"This project aims to position Pitt as a leader in public communication of science and technology. Unlike most outreach endeavors, which ask citizens to contemplate emerging technologies in the abstract, our efforts will emphasize hands-on engagement. A Pitt Seed grant would launch this work by supporting an exhibition of artworks created with tools and techniques that have typically been the purview of scientists. The exhibit, called 'Art’s Work in the Age of Biotechnology,' will invite visitors to consider not only the roles that artists and scientists can play in shaping our genetic futures, but also their own roles."


MilTeenChat App for the Military Community: Developing Gamification to Strengthen Teens' Decision-Making Skills
Kathryn Puskar, Professor Emeritus and Past Associate Dean and Director of Honors Nursing
School of Nursing

"Children ages 12 to 18 in military families have experienced the highest number of wartime separations in U.S. history. The effects of multiple moves and significant parental absences have affected resilience in the military adolescent population. The MilTeenChat App was designed to promote resilience and coping among teens in military families. We plan to develop a gamification component to the app with which we can teach military teens coping with deployment strong decision-making skills."


Pitt–Greensburg Military & Veterans Program (SITREP)
Lisa Reffner, Data and Registrar Specialist
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg

"The Pitt-Greensburg Military & Veterans Program is a two-year project to expand the development and execution of scholarship, education and support programs that benefit the Pitt–Greensburg military, veteran and campus community."


Women in International Security Seed Project
Julia Santucci, Senior Lecturer
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

"The project team seeks to establish a chapter of Women in International Security (WIIS) at the University. WIIS is the premier global organization devoted to advancing the leadership and professional development of women in the field of international peace and security. Membership would be open to students, faculty, staff and members of the community. WIIS membership offerings (including training, mentoring, networking programs and research opportunities) would be supplemented by the local chapter through funding of student memberships, transport to networking and mentoring events (Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.), and an inaugural conference and speaker series featuring women prominent in their fields."


Leveraging Technology to Treat Anxiety Disorders in Community Pediatrics
Jennifer Silk, Professor
Department of Psychology, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

"The goal of this project is to develop a new partnership between four Pitt schools (arts and sciences, medicine, health and rehabilitation sciences and computer information) and Children's Community Pediatrics to scale up, disseminate and test a new technology-based solution to the widespread problem of anxiety disorders in community children and teens. Specifically, we will test the feasibility and effectiveness of delivering a novel smartphone-based mobile health intervention for childhood anxiety disorders via behavioral health therapists embedded in pediatrics practices. Data will be used to support commercialization, widespread dissemination and future applications for federal funding and FDA clearance as a digital therapeutic."


Learning Research and Development Center Undergraduate Summer Internship Program
Natasha Tokowicz, Research Scientist
Learning Research and Development Center

"The Learning Research and Development Center Undergraduate Summer Internship Program is designed to promote diversity across the learning sciences and their basic disciplines and to enhance the center’s diversity by providing research experience and training to individuals from underrepresented groups. The program launched in 2017. This grant seed proposal is to further develop and leverage this initial effort by extending the program from six to eight weeks and to increase the number of interns we can enroll. This will enable us to develop the program and resources and collect more data necessary to support the writing of external grant proposals to sustain the program."


Creating a Student Outreach Services Program at Bradford Campus
Ye Wang, Director and Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems and Technology Program and Director of Asian Collaborations
University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

"This proposed program will address our students’ diverse needs in financial support, education assistance, internship, career preparation, community-and-network building and study abroad. This student-centric program will offer sponsorship and services in four aspects: mentoring, internship services, career assistance and global perspectives to all students in the division (particularly in the Computer Information Systems and Technology Program) with a focus on low-income, first-generation, underrepresented and veteran students and students with disabilities."


The Center for Applied Research (CFAR) at Pitt–Greensburg: Developing Infrastructure and Training to Grow Our Center
Geoffrey Wood, Director of the Center for Applied Research
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg

"The Center for Applied Research (CFAR) seeks funding for two years to enhance our education and training infrastructure. We will do this by developing an education and training program for CFAR undergraduate research assistants, which will also be available to all Pitt–Greensburg undergraduate students, and will enhance our applied research minor. We wall also engage community experts to provide workshops on specialized content. These efforts will allow us to develop our students, deepen our community applied research connections and grow our center. Faculty, students and the community will benefit in a project that can be sustained following the two-year funded period."