Accolades

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 www.sitcancer.org.

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.

Jill Sarada named director of Falk Laboratory School

Jill Sarada (A&S ’93, Education ’94G) has been named the new director of Falk Laboratory School, a K-8 institution affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.

Sarada has worked at Falk for 26 years, beginning as a student-teacher. As director, she will be responsible for leading with strategic vision, fostering academic excellence, strengthening Falk’s overall community and ensuring Falk’s financial future.

Sarada’s vision for education includes promoting a wide variety of partnerships and collaborations between the school, the Pittsburgh community and beyond. Guided by the principles of progressive education, she believes in learning experiences that are rooted in identity, culture and development. Her term begins July 1, 2022. 

Jeff Suzik, who has been director of of the school since 2014, will leave his position effective June 30 to become director of Cranbrook Schools, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Retired instructional designer Frey honored for contributions to online learning

Barbara Frey, an instructional designer who retired from the University Center for Teaching and Learning in 2020 after nearly two decades of work, earned the Quality Matters Directors' Award for Exceptional Service during a Nov. 3 virtual conference for her contributions to quality assurance efforts with online and/or blended education at institutions and for learners.

“Over the past 15 years, I’ve volunteered many hours to promoting and improving online learning through Quality Matters,” Frey said.  “I am honored and touched by this award.”

Quality Matters is a leader in quality assurance for online education. In the early 2000s, it became one of the first organizations to standardize and certify online courses.

Public Health’s Garland receives grant for Reimagine Reentry

Richard Garland, assistant professor of behavioral and community health sciences in the Graduate School of Public Health, has received a $1.5 million grant for three years from the Hillman Foundation for his program, Reimagine Reentry, for people returning home to Allegheny County after incarceration

The program is committed to reducing recidivism by offering holistic services to returning citizens, including case mentoring and management, workforce training, family reunification education and housing assistance planning in a state where 63 percent of parolees return to corrections within three years.

The program’s mission is to offer these resources to counteract systemic barriers and ensure the success of program participants. To enroll in the three-year program, applicants must obtain a referral from the state's Department of Corrections, submit an application and complete an interview.

Reimagine Reentry is in partnership with Operation Better Block, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Graduate School of Public Health. It is one of four programs that make up the Violence Prevention Initiative — a project dedicated to addressing community violence.

Garland leads this initiative with Steven Albert, professor of behavioral and community health sciences in the Graduate School of Public Health and the Philip B. Hallen Endowed Chair in Community Health and Social Justice.

GSPIA’s 412Connect project honored at conference

This year’s inaugural Conference on Equity and Access in Algorithms, Mechanisms and Optimization by the Association of Computing Machinery awarded one of two New Horizon Awards to the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ Sera Linardi and her colleagues, Alex DiChristofano, Michael Hamilton and Mara McCloud for their project, 412Connect: Bridging Students and Communities. The distinction recognizes those who successfully bridge research and practice. 

The 412Connect project is committed to building and leveraging online platforms to increase the visibility of Black-owned businesses in Pittsburgh and with local universities. According to 412Connect’s website, the team is “composed of Pittsburgh community activists, Pitt alumni, faculty and staff, and students across schools and degree programs in and outside of Pitt, united in our conviction of universities’ public service role.”

The conference is a product of the Mechanism Design for Social Good initiative and was held virtually in October. The event highlighted work that increases equity and access for historically disadvantaged and underserved communities through algorithms, optimization and mechanism design techniques.

Jarvis awarded funding to assess racial equity in children’s rehabilitation therapy

Jessica Jarvis, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine, was awarded Gabriella E. Molnar-Swafford Pediatric PM&R Research Grant by the Foundation for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for her proposal entitled, “Equity in Rehabilitation Therapy Use During Pediatric Critical Care Among Children with Traumatic Brain Injury.”

She will be the principal investigator for a project that will assess racial and ethnic equity in rehabilitation therapy use during pediatric critical care among children with traumatic brain injuries in the 50-plus children’s hospitals participating in the Pediatric Health Information System.

Jarvis’ study will be a collaborative effort between several Pitt departments. She will be joined on the project by co-investigators Ericka L. Fink, associate professor of critical care medicine and pediatrics and Amy Houtrow, vice chair in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation for pediatric rehabilitation medicine.

NSF grant will boost Pitt’s research computing resources

Chemistry associate professor Geoffrey Hutchison (picture), along with associate professors Lillian Chong in chemistry, Inanc Senocak in mechanical engineering and materials science, and David Koes in computational and systems biology, have landed a $1.2 million National Science Foundation award for new computing resources that will greatly boost the Center for Research Computing capabilities in speed, power, and scope.

Internal Pitt funding added to the grant creates a total of more than $1.5 million for new resources.

“This is not a grant to one researcher or one project but an investment in research itself. We don’t know how wide the impact will be over the life of the technology. The multiplier effect could be huge,” Hutchison said.

The grant enables a leap in technology based on state-of-the-art graphics processing units — GPUs, a technology originally developed for computer gaming and now widely adopted for artificial intelligence and machine learning. The new GPUs are twice as fast as the previous generation and up to 50 times faster than chips used in standard computing.

More than 30 existing research groups across the University — in chemistry, computational biology, materials science, psychology, astrophysics, weather forecasting, energy and sustainability — stand to immediately benefit from the new resources.

Read more on the Pitt Research website.

Kane-Gill awarded two grants to study acute kidney injury

Pitt Pharmacy professor Sandra Kane-Gill was recently awarded two grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The first grant is for a project entitled, “Multi-hospital Implementation of an Electronic Decision Support System for Drug-associated AKI,” in which she is a co-principal investigator along with Pitt Pharmacy faculty members Colleen CulleyPamela Smithburger and Alexis Gaggini.

The project will assess the effectiveness of a clinical surveillance alert system augmented with real-time EMR predictive analytics to support a pharmacist-led intervention to reduce the progression and complications of drug-associated acute kidney injury. This work advances Kane-Gill’s research program theme of medication safety and nephrotoxin stewardship.

The second grant focuses on processes of care after acute kidney injury hospitalization, which have been found to be suboptimal — with lack of continuity of care, delayed follow-up, and suboptimal medication management exacerbating the risks of adverse outcomes.