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.


Karen Enos

Former school superintendent to head Titusville training hub

Karen Enos, former superintendent of the Titusville Area School District, has been appointed interim executive director of Titusville’s new Education and Training Hub.

“I am so pleased that Karen has accepted the invitation to serve in this role and have no doubt that she will be a tremendous asset as we move forward with launching the hub at Titusville,” Catherine Koverola, president of Pitt–Titusville, said in a news release. “As an educator for more than 30 years, Karen has dedicated her career to ensuring that students reach their fullest potential.”

Koverola will introduce Enos at a community celebration on the Titusville campus at 1 p.m. Oct. 4, at which time Koverola and Pitt Provost Ann Cudd will give an update on the new Education and Training Hub.

Enos will work closely with the three partners that have joined with Pitt to further develop the hub. Those partners, the University of Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Assistance Center, the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, and Manchester Bidwell Corp., will provide education and job training programs to meet the educational needs of the six-county region beginning August 2020.  

Enos, who served as Titusville’s school superintendent for 13 years, will serve in the role until May 31, 2020. A search for her successor will commence in the spring.


Bruce Childers

SCI’s Childers to add role in provost’s office

Bruce Childers, who currently serves as senior associate dean in the School of Computing and Information and professor of Computer Science, will take on an additional role in the Office of the Provost as special assistant to the provost for Data Science.

Over the next two years, Childers will collaborate across the University to develop policies and examine opportunities regarding data science. As a first step, he will help the provost to populate and charge the Task Force on Data Science. The task force will work to further propel Pitt’s educational and research mission through data in all its forms.

According to a message from Provost Ann Cudd, “Many academic units at the University of Pittsburgh recognize this need and are responding individually with initiatives around data science. We have a burgeoning variety of ‘analytics,’ ‘digital,’ ‘computational,’ ‘informatics,’ and ‘-omics,’ in fields as far flung as business, health sciences, social sciences, law, and humanities, as well as adaptive learning and student advising platforms. Coordinating and collaborating on these activities could leverage our collective ability, jointly build capacity to meet the demand, and foster opportunities for new interdisciplinary educational and research programs.”

Headshot of  Dana Thompson Dorsey

Center for Urban Education to house Educational Researcher journal

The Center for Urban Education (CUE) within the School of Education has been selected as the new home institution of the academic journal Educational Researcher

Educational Researcher is a publication of the American Educational Research Association. One of the journal’s goals is to “make major programmatic research and new findings of broad importance widely accessible.”

Dana Thompson Dorsey, CUE’s associate director of research and development, will be one of the journal’s five senior editors situated across the country. CUE director T. Elon Dancy II will serve as associate editor, along with Jennifer Russell, assistant professor of Learning Sciences and Policy and research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), and Lindsay Page, assistant professor of research methodology and research scientist at the LRDC.

The Center for Urban Education will house the journal from 2019 to 2022. It is customary for the assignments to rotate every three years among the top schools of education.

David Birnbaum headshot, Kathryn Haines headshot

Two From Pitt receive grants from National Endowment for the Humanities

Two Pitt projects will get a big boost from grants awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

  • David J. Birnbaum, professor and chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, was awarded an Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities Grant. The $249,456 award will support “Advanced Digital Editing: Modeling the Text and Making the Edition,” a two-week summer institute on the theory and development of digital scholarly editions.
  • Kathryn Haines, associate director of the Center for American Music in the University Library System, received a Landmarks of American History Grant of $169,803 to support “The Homestead Steel Strike and the Growth of America as an Industrial Power,” a two one-week workshops for K-12 educators.

The awards were part of $29 million total in grants to fund 215 humanities projects and programs across the country to “support vital research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities.”

headshot of Maureen Porter, wearing black, blue and white patterned blouse

Education professor Porter receives Outstanding International Educator Award

Maureen Porter, associate professor in the School of Education, received the David Portlock Outstanding International Educator Award.

The award is given by the Pennsylvania Council of International Education and recognizes international educators “who have exhibited evidence of ongoing mentoring of colleagues in the field, exemplary leadership in international education on their campuses and consistent contribution to the field as seen in presentations, papers, publications or other academic enterprises.”

Porter, who has developed education projects around the world in countries such as Bolivia and Ethiopia, said the award is an honor because it recognizes how her programs have been sustained for many years.

“It shows that people can look to the School of Education as a destination for pedagogically sound and culturally inclusive international education programs,” she said.

headshot of Toi Derricotte

Professor emerita Derricotte honored by Modern Language Association

Toi Derricotte, professor emerita in the Department of English in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been recognized by the Modern Language Association with its Phyllis Franklin Award for Public Advocacy of the Humanities.

Derricotte received the award along with her colleague Cornelius Eady, with whom she co-founded Cave Canem, a national poetry organization that cultivates “the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.”

“The contributions that Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady have made in African-American and African Diasporic poetry are immeasurable. Their visionary work at the Cave Canem Foundation helped open doors once difficult to access for black poets.” said Dawn Lundy Martin, director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics.

“Derricotte made Pitt the beacon for African-American poetry and poetics that it is today, and we remain grateful for her lasting contributions —a gratitude that remains visible in our having a chair in poetry named in her honor,” said Gayle Rogers, chair of the Department of English.

The namesake of the award, Phyllis Franklin, served as Modern Language Association’s executive director from 1985 until 2002. Derricotte will be presented with the award at a ceremony in January.

Vélez Martínez to receive IMPACTO Award

Professor Sheila I. Vélez Martínez, of the Pitt School of Law, was named the recipient of the 2019 IMPACTO Award.

The award is presented by the Latinx Law Students Associations to a Latinx lawyer or ally whose work in the legal academy, judiciary, private practice of law, government, public service agency, or community organization has positively impacted Latinx communities.

Vélez Martínez will accept the award on Sept. 19 at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Gelsy Torres-Oviedo headshot in blue jacket.

Bioengineering researcher Torres-Oviedo awarded grant to study stroke patients

Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, assistant professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, recently received a $805,670 CAREER Award by the National Science Foundation to apply a novel approach to improve locomotor learning in stroke patients. 

Torres-Oviedo’s lab will record how patients with brain lesions perceive asymmetries in their gait, then measure how their perception is adjusted once their movements are adapted in the split-belt environment. In the second part of this study, the lab will use these data and a unique method to manipulate how people perceive their movement to create the illusion of error-free performance during split-belt walking. The goal is for patients to sustain these movement changes in daily life.

The project also aims to increase participation by underrepresented minorities in science and engineering. 

Cathedral of Learning with blue sky and white clouds in background

Pitt online master of science in nursing program ranks third in national report

Pitt's School of Nursing was ranked third in the 15 Best Online Master of Science in Nursing Degree Programs for 2020 by Best Health Degrees.

The ranking website makes note of the University’s “cutting-edge” research in STEM fields like nursing, which “increases the prestige of such programs.”

“Few train nurses for clinical management roles as the program at Pitt does,” according to the ranking’s statement on Pitt’s placement in its annual list. “Nurses who want to advance to management roles but still work in the clinical side of nursing should consider Pitt to be one of the best MSN programs for their needs, and one of the top RN to MSN online programs overall.”

Ryad Benosman and Feng Xiong headshots.

Pitt researchers to create vision system mimicking human sight

Ryad Benosman, professor of ophthalmology at the School of Medicine who holds appointments in electrical engineering and bioengineering, and Feng Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, are leading the effort to develop a neuromorphic vision system that takes a new approach to capturing visual information that is based on the human brain, benefitting everything from self-driving vehicles to neural prosthetics.

The project will receive $500,000 from the National Science Foundation.

The team will use a “spiking neural network” with realistic dynamic synapses that will enhance computational abilities, develop brain-inspired machine learning to understand the input, and connect it to a neuromorphic event-based silicon retina for real-time operating vision.

Education professor Shafiq to head prestigious international society

School of Education faculty member M. Najeeb Shafiq has been named executive director for the Comparative and International Education Society, which will now make its home at the University of Pittsburgh.

Shafiq, who is a professor of education, economics and international affairs, has been at the School of Education since 2010. He also has appointments in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Economics in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.

“The University of Pittsburgh is one of the world’s premier institutions supporting our field, having produced numerous CIES presidents and leaders since the late 1950s,” said David Post, president of CIES and a faculty member at Penn State University, in the official announcement.

CIES is a global association for educators and practitioners whose professional work is built on cross-disciplinary ideas, systems and practices in international education. The society has more than 3,000 members around the world.

The School of Education is expected to host events with leaders in the field, including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Economic Policy Institute, the RAND Corporation, and the American Institutes for Research.

“We will be at the forefront of where education policy around the world is headed. It really is an exciting time to be a Pitt Education student, alumnus, or faculty member,” Shafiq said in a news release.

Find more information here.

Dana Thompson Dorsey

Leading education journal to be housed at Center for Urban Education

The Pitt Center for Urban Education has been selected as the new home institution of the influential journal Educational Researcher, from 2019 to 2022.

Educational Researcher, a publication of the American Educational Research Association, is described as making “major programmatic research and new findings of broad importance widely accessible,” according to its website. It is customary for the home institution to rotate every three years between the top schools of education.

Dana Thompson Dorsey (pictured), an associate professor and associate director of research and development at CUE, will be one of the five senior editors at the journal. The others are June Ahn from the University of California, Irvine; Thurston Domina from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Sarah Woulfin from the University of Connecticut; and Andrew McEachin from the RAND Corporation.

“The presence of Educational Researcher brings important national visibility to the center. I am excited about the journal’s future under the leadership of Professor Thompson Dorsey and her senior co-editors,” said T. Elon Dancy II, the director of the Center for Urban Education and the school’s chair in Urban Education.

Additional associate editors at the Pitt School of Education include Dancy and faculty members Jennifer Russell and Lindsay Page.

“Educational Researcher is known for publishing innovative research, so the fact that the Pitt School of Education and the Center for Urban Education is hosting such a prominent, impactful journal highlights the important and ground-breaking research occurring here,” said Thompson Dorsey. “I am truly honored and excited to be a member of an incredible team of scholars serving as ER’s editors and associate editors for the next three years.”

Dancy anticipates that the journal’s presence at the Center for Urban Education will provide graduate students at the Pitt School of Education with additional opportunities to engage in scholarly work.

“We’re excited by what this means for providing our students with opportunities to publish and hope that it encourages them to aspire to be reviewers and editors one day,” Dancy said.

Piervincenzo Rizzo wearing a black top, headshot

Swanson School’s Piervincenzo Rizzo to receive Durelli Award

The Society for Experimental Mechanics has selected Piervincenzo Rizzo, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, to receive the 2020 A.J. Durelli Award

The award recognizes “a young professional who has introduced, or helped to introduce, an innovative approach and/or method into the field of experimental mechanics,” according to the society.

The award will be presented at an awards luncheon on June 10, 2020, during the SEM Annual Conference and Exposition on Experimental and Applied Mechanics in Orlando, Fla.

Sylvia Rhor, wearing green long-sleeve top, resting hand on her chin leaning on a white cube

University Art Gallery director Sylvia Rhor selected for Getty Leadership Institute

University Art Gallery Director Sylvia Rhor was one of 35 museum leaders from around the globe selected to participate in the 2019 Getty Leadership Institute Executive Education for Museum Professionals this past June.

The Getty program, now in its 40th year, combines online coursework and a residency program on the campus of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif.

While there, Rhor discussed museum industry challenges with peers from around the world, including directors, curators and education representatives from the British Museum, The Barnes Collection, the Van Gogh Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and others. They talked about how to keep museums and galleries relevant to their communities and the importance of expanding diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on all levels of museum administration and programming.

As the representative of one of six academic museums in the cohort, Rhor said the Getty program reinforced her commitment to academic museums such as the University Art Gallery. “They can be testing grounds for innovative and challenging programs and ideas, and a platform for new methods of building exhibitions and programs,” she said, “and they offer a flexibility and nimbleness that other public institutions might not always have.”

Vorp named to Council on Research fellowship program for rising leaders

David Vorp, associate dean for research at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and professor of Bioengineering, is one of eight people nationwide named to the third cohort of the Research Leader Fellowship Program of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities Council on Research.

The 18-month fellowship is designed to allow rising research leaders to gain expertise outside of their respective portfolios and to foster connections with the Council on Research’s extensive network of senior research officers through site visits and participation in council meetings.

Vorp also holds secondary appointments in Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, and the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for me that I will ensure also greatly benefits Pitt and the Swanson School,” Vorp said in a news release. “In the past few years we have expanded and diversified our research portfolio, increased our public-private research partnerships through the creation of our Making Research Work initiative, and more. But there is so much more that we can do, and I’m excited to see up-close the best practices and novel programs developed by other research universities and learn from the best minds in the business.”

During his fellowship, Vorp plans to focus on working more closely with Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations; integrating research data and analytics into proactive planning and research portfolio management; and developing more sustainable revenue models for the Swanson School’s several research centers and institutes. He also plans to investigate how the Swanson School can play a greater role in regional economic development as well as develop stronger multidisciplinary and sponsored research programs.

NSF funds joint Pitt/Drexel project on ozone and water sterilization

The National Science Foundation will fund collaborative research at the Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and Drexel University’s College of Engineering that could transform the way we sterilize water on demand and in larger scales. 

The project, “Collaborative Research: Regulating homogeneous and heterogeneous mechanisms in six-electron water oxidation,” will receive $473,065, with $222,789 designated for Pitt’s team. Led at Pitt by John Keith, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, the research aims to discover a simpler and less energy-intensive way to create ozone, a molecule that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for water and food sanitation since 2001.  

“Whether ozone is good or bad depends on where it is,” Keith explains. “Ozone in the upper atmosphere shields the Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but it's also the main ingredient in smog that damages your lungs if you breathe it.”

However, what makes ozone hazardous for lungs also makes it excellent for water sanitation. When ozone is “bubbled” into bacteria-infected water, it kills the bacteria and sterilizes the water, similar to chlorine in swimming pools or sanitation facilities. Keith’s research group will use computer modeling to study how water can react to form ozone in electrochemical cells.  

Keith will be working with Maureen Tang, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The grant spans four years and begins in 2020. 

Kramer in a gray suit

William Kramer to lead Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

William Kramer has been selected as the next director of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Kramer, currently project director and principal investigator of the Blue Waters Project and the senior associate director for @Scale Science and Technology at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, begins his new role in the fall.

Following his first academic appointment at the University of Delaware, Kramer has held leadership roles at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at NASA Ames Research Center. Over the course of three decades, his award-winning career has focused on improving the efficiency of large-scale, complex computational and data analytics systems, and making the organizations that create and use them highly productive.

“I am extremely honored to be selected as the director of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. The center, which is supported by two world-class universities, is well positioned to help current and future generations of scientists, engineers and researchers create insights into a wide range of challenges in fundamental science, health care, security and other areas that will expand our understanding of phenomena that are of critical importance to society,” Kramer said.

Evan Facher headshot

LifeX Labs receives $750,000 grant to help life science startups

LifeX Labs has received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to enhance its efforts in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is among 44 organizations nationwide — and the only one in Pennsylvania — to share a total of  $23 million awarded under the administration’s i6 Challenge grant program to expand entrepreneurship.

LifeX Labs is a life science startup accelerator launched by the University of Pittsburgh in 2017 with a mission to help companies translate the region’s world-class research into breakthrough commercial products.

“LifeX helps young life science startup companies overcome the unique challenges that they face,” said Evan Facher (pictured), interim CEO of LifeX Labs and director of Pitt's Innovation Institute. “The goal of this award is to help LifeX accelerate the development of resources and programming needed to enable these companies to thrive in the Pittsburgh region. In parallel, the award will also help us build a stronger sense of community within the life sciences ecosystem.”

With this three-year award, LIfeX Labs estimates that it will have the ability to serve thousands of innovators and entrepreneurs, add dozens of startups to its portfolio, and create more than 100 jobs in the region by 2028.

In part, the funding will aid development of programming for pre-seed to Series A life-science companies; engagement of regional key opinion leaders to identify needs and opportunities in the life science community; and creation of a pipeline of life science workers at all skill levels in collaboration with local colleges and job training organizations.