January 28, 2021
New August Wilson Forever stamp unveiled with help From Pitt’s Library System
Fans and scholars of the late playwright August Wilson are celebrating the new August Wilson Forever stamp that was unveiled Jan. 28, 2021, by the U.S. Postal Service. It is the 44th stamp in the Black Heritage Series.
At the livestreamed ceremony, U.S. Postal Service Delivery Operations Vice President Joshua Colin called Wilson “a trailblazer who brought fresh perspectives and previously unheard voices to the stage.”
Others commenting on Wilson’s impact were his widow Constanza Romero; his daughter Sakina Ansari; actor and director Phylicia Rashad; and actor Stephen McKinely Henderson. The ceremony featured a number of images provided by the August Wilson Archive, acquired last fall by Pitt’s University Library System.
The new stamp features an oil painting of Wilson by artist Tim O’Brien, based on a 2005 photograph. The picket fence behind Wilson alludes to “Fences,” Wilson’s 1985 play that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for its Broadway production. It was also made into a 2016 film.
“Fences” is the sixth play in Wilson’s acclaimed “American Century Cycle” — 10 plays set mostly in Pittsburgh about the African-American experience.
January 27, 2021
Bernotas honored for sustainability work
Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management Scott Bernotas has been named an Environment + Energy Leader for 2020 (E+E 100), which highlights leaders and innovators taking action to improve their organizations’ bottom lines while advancing progress toward a more sustainable world for future generations.
Bernotas oversees Pitt’s Office of Facilities Management, which operates, maintains, constructs and oversees design of more than 130 buildings and all infrastructure on the Pitt’s 145-acre main campus.
Under his leadership in fiscal year 2020, the Oakland campus attained its lowest energy use per square foot since data tracking began in 2008. Overall, the campus has realized a 22 percent reduction in campus energy use since 2015, which moves the University closer to its Pitt Sustainability Plan goal of reducing energy use per square foot 50 percent by 2030. This also keeps Pitt on track to meet its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2037
The Facilities Management team also has implemented solutions to cut water consumption toward Pitt’s goal to reduce water use per square foot 50 percent by 2030. Water use on campus has decreased 13.9 percent since 2015.
Bernotas and his team also have partnered on expanding the University’s renewable energy portfolio, increasing Pitt’s renewables percentage to over 23 percent in 2019 — more than five times its 2014 level.
January 27, 2021
Pitt faculty working with U.S. Air Force on materials research
The acquisition was made by a five-faculty team led by Jennifer Laaser, assistant professor of chemistry, and includes Susan Fullerton, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The new instrument, a Novocontrol Concept 80, will be used to measure the conductivity and dielectric properties of soft materials, which will help faculty at Pitt and surrounding universities conduct research ranging from ion gel materials for carbon capture to new materials for computing.
“This instrument fills a huge gap in our ability to characterize the dielectric properties of the materials we use in our device research,” said Fullerton. “We focus on new materials and approaches for low-power electronics, and the equipment provided by the DURIP will significantly accelerate our progress.”
January 25, 2021
Pitt-Bradford names Tasha Alston as inaugural diversity and inclusion officer
Tasha Alston has been named Pitt–Bradford's inaugural chief diversity and inclusion officer.
“Dr. Alston is an advocate, scholar, practitioner and interdisciplinary thinker who will build on the critical diversity, equity and inclusion work that we have already begun as a campus community,” said Catherine Koverola, president of Pitt-Bradford.
Alston began her position last week and is a senior campus leader, serving on the president’s cabinet. Additionally, she oversees the University’s Title IX office and will implement programs, partnerships and activities to advance equity and success for all members of the Pitt-Bradford community.
Alston is a social worker and educational psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She specializes in research and community work that focuses on advancing equity and social justice for all, with a particular emphasis on children and families.
January 21, 2021
Sue Mesick joins Office of the Chancellor
Sue Mesick (CGS ’13) has joined the Office of the Chancellor as executive assistant. She brings an impressive portfolio of supporting senior leaders in her 35-year tenure at Pitt, including administrative leadership positions in Business and Operations, the Office of Economic Partnerships, the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and General Counsel, and Budget and Administration.
January 12, 2021
LifeX Labs Enters Alliance for Industry Growth
Together, the organizations will provide educational programming resources, company acceleration activities and networking opportunities for early-stage life science companies throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. The collaboration will provide innovators a one-stop-shop for everything they need to advance their endeavors, from laboratory development to commercialization.
The new alliance comes just as the Henry L. Hillman and R.K. Mellon Foundations are also throwing their support behind LifeX Labs’ mission of helping translate life sciences innovations into commercial successes. Their funds will serve to streamline support for regional startups. This will be the R.K. Mellon Foundation’s first financial support of LifeX Labs.
Also this month, Gerald J. Vardzel Jr. was named president and CEO of LifeX Labs. He replaces Evan Facher, director of Pitt’s Innovation Institute and LifeX board member, who’d been serving as interim CEO. Vardzel, a Pitt grad, was most recently president and director at Predictive Oncology Inc., a company that uses artificial intelligence to develop personalized medical treatments.
January 12, 2021
Pitt Cyber announces accelerator grant recipients
Pitt’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security has announced awardees for the fall 2020 Pitt Cyber Accelerator Grants Program, which provides support for projects that establish or reinforce Pitt and Pitt Cyber as places of distinction and excellence in cyber studies and practice.
The grants provide initial funding for novel and innovative multidisciplinary efforts that advance Pitt Cyber’s mission: to bring the breadth of one of the world’s leading public research universities to bear on the critical questions of networks, data and algorithms, with a focus on the ever-changing gaps among law, policy and technology.
January 11, 2021
Physics and Astronomy’s Hrvoje Petek publishes in Nature
Hrvoje Petek, professor in the Dietrich School's Department of Physics and Astronomy is co-author of the article, "Plasmonic Topological Quasiparticle on the Nanometre And Femtosecond Scales," featured in the Dec. 23, 2020, issue of Nature.
In his research, Petek examined ideas surrounding the origins of light, taking snapshots of light, stopping light and using it to change properties of matter. He worked with collaborators Chen-Bin (Robin) Huang of the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and Atsushi Kubo of the Tsukuba University of Japan, as well as Dietrich School graduate student Yanan Dai on the experiments.
The team performed an ultrafast microscopy experiment where they trapped green light pulses as composite light-electron density fluctuation waves and imaged their propagation on a silver surface at the speed of light. These light waves came together from two sides to form a light vortex where light waves appeared to circulate about a stationary common core as a whirlwind of waves. The light vortex fields can potentially cause transitions in the quantum mechanical phase order in solid state materials, such that the transformed material structure and its mirror image cannot be superimposed, thus generating two materials that are topologically distinct.
Petek said such topological phase transitions are at the vanguard of physics research because they are thought to be responsible for some aspects of the structure of the universe. “Even the forces of nature, including light, are thought to have emerged as symmetry breaking transitions of a primordial field. Thus, the ability to record the optical fields and plasmonic vortices in the experiment opens the way to perform ultrafast microscopy studies of related light-initiated phase transitions in condensed matter materials at the laboratory scale,” he said.
Petek is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recipient of the 2019 Ahmed Zewail Award in Ultrafast Science and Technology, and winner of the University of Pittsburgh 2005 Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award.
January 7, 2021
Swanson School’s Prokopyev awarded NSF grant for wildfire management
Industrial engineer and professor Oleg Prokopyev at the Swanson School of Engineering will collaborate with researchers at Texas A&M University on a project that will help optimize wildfire management.
Using advanced decision-making methods such as mixed-integer optimization and simulation the project will provide a better understanding of what types of fuel treatment options would be most effective and when to implement them.
“One strategy for mitigating forest fires is fuel treatment, which involves strategically removing some of the vegetation—the ‘fuel’ for the fire—with controlled burns, grazing or mechanical thinning,” Prokopyev said. “Our models will help predict when, where and how to best implement these methods.”
The project is expected to last three years and is funded by a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Of the total amount, $270,000 is designated for Pitt.
January 7, 2021
Faculty lead $300K NSF project for inclusive engineering education
The National Science Foundation has awarded $300,000 for a Pitt-led collaborative research project that will provide engineering educators tangible guidance for operating an inclusive classroom.
Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and co-principal investigator April Dukes, faculty and Future Faculty Program director at the Swanson School’s Engineering Education Research Center, are partnering with faculty at Arizona State University and the Colorado School of Mines on the three-year project, “Collaborative Research: Increasing Implementation of Proven Inclusivity Practices in Undergraduate Engineering Education.”
Prior research shows that more inclusive classrooms improve student learning and academic performance, especially for underrepresented students. Read more about the project.
January 7, 2021
Nursing’s Catherine Grant wins practitioners award
Grant is the owner of Associates in Family Health Care, based in Slickville. The clinic was the first in the state to be owned and operated by a nurse practitioner. Her practice provides health care services from birth to geriatrics, including acute and chronic care management; screenings and preventative services such as immunizations, Pap smears and gynecologic health. The practice also provides home visits for patients who are unable to make it into the clinic.
Grant is a previous recipient of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Excellence in Nursing recognition for her work in the community.
January 5, 2021
Pitt Business’ Peggy Liu named 2021 Marketing Science Institute Young Scholar
The biennial program recognizes the best young marketing academics. The 2021 class is made up of 37 young scholars from business schools around the world, who are three to six years post-Ph.D. and conducting research on critical marketing topics.
Liu, assistant professor of business administration and Ben L. Fryrear Faculty Fellow in the Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, conducts research on consumer behavior, focusing on judgment and decision making in the health and social domains. She also teaches undergraduate consumer behavior.
Among many other honors and awards, she also was recently named one of Poets & Quants 2020 Top 50 Undergraduate Business School Professors,
December 18, 2020
Shawn Ellies appointed director of Security and Emergency Management
Commander Shawn Ellies has been appointed director of Security and Emergency Management, overseeing the Integrated Security Department, which includes the University’s physical security, access controls and emergency management areas within the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management.
Ellies has served the Pitt community for the past 23 years in public safety roles including patrol officer, shift sergeant, shift lieutenant, administrative lieutenant, commander of the special emergency response team and commander of operations.
He holds a doctorate in administration and policy studies from Pitt’s School of Education, a master’s degree in public policy and management from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and a master’s degree in leadership and management from Duquesne University.
He is the chair of the American Society of Industrial Security’s Pittsburgh chapter, in addition to chairing Pitt’s Veterans Affinity Group.
Additionally, Ellies is an ASIS Certified Protection Professional, a credential that is recognized as the gold standard for security management professionals worldwide.
December 18, 2020
Pitt Law professors named to civil rights advisory committee
Two professors from Pitt’s School of Law have been named to the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights — an independent agency developed by Congress in 1957 to focus on matters of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin. There are advisory boards in all 50 states.
Associate Professor Jessie Allen (left) and Professor Mary Crossley have been appointed to the panel for four-year terms. They will consult with members of the commission and offer advice and recommendations on the areas they have studied.
Allen, a civil rights advocate, teaches courses on jurisprudence, legal ethics and property. She writes in the area of legal theory including a long-running series of essays on the work of William Blackstone, some of which appear on her blog Blackstone Weekly. Prior to her position at Pitt, Allen was a staff attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, where her practice focused on challenging state laws that bar voting because of criminal conviction.
Crossley, a widely respected scholar in disability and health law, has studied pressing legal issues presented by advances in medical science. Those topics include discrimination in the treatment of infants with HIV infection and newborns with disabilities as well as the ramifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Crossley is director of Pitt Law’s Health Law Program and teaches courses in health law, bioethics and law, and family law, among others. She served as the dean of Pitt Law from 2005 to 2012.
December 18, 2020
Law Professor Jules Lobel honored with teaching award
Pitt Professor of Law Jules Lobel has been honored with the Society of American Law Teachers Great Teacher Award. The award will be presented at a virtual celebration on Jan. 8, 2021.
This national award recognizes individuals that have made important contributions to teaching, legal education and mentoring. Past Great Teacher honorees include Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Pitt Professor Derrick Bell (Law ’57).
Calling Lobel “a champion of justice, diversity and teaching excellence,” the awards committee praised Lobel’s work in integrating his impactful and important social justice work into the courses he teaches at Pitt. Lobel has long been a leading voice in the campaign to end solitary confinement and improve the inhumane conditions of mass incarceration.
In 2002, he co-counseled a major class action (Wilkinson v. Austin) that challenged prolonged solitary confinement at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio. Lobel ultimately argued the case at the U.S. Supreme Court and, despite the steep odds at the outset, was able to successfully secure relief on behalf of his clients. As is his practice with all his work, Lobel’s students conducted research, wrote memoranda, held strategy sessions, attended the argument, and met with human rights organizations and co-counsel while in Washington, D.C.
The society also mentioned Lobel’s work as president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he has litigated several cases challenging human rights violations and abuse of war powers. His most recent cases involve a class action brought on behalf of prisoners with mental disabilities and challenging conditions at jails in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The full extent of Professor Lobel’s impact is not only what he has done, as incredible as his work is, but the work that his students and former students do and have been doing for decades,” said Pitt Law Dean Amy Wildermuth. “They remain inspired by him and are determined to pursue justice just as he taught them to do. We are all better — and our world is better — because of Professor Lobel.”
December 18, 2020
Matthew Sterne joins Oakland Business Improvement District board
Formed in 1999, OBID represents a diverse group in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, including property and business owners, universities, hospitals, city government, community and cultural nonprofits. Its mission is to create a vibrant and dynamic business district.
Board members are elected to a three-year term.
Sterne oversees the office of business and auxiliary services at Pitt, including housing, dining, transportation and mobility, the University Club, University retail stores, conference services, Panther Central, mailing and print production.
“He is joining us at a great moment,” said Georgia Petropoulos, OBID executive director, noting that the board has just completed a new Organizational Strategic Plan for shaping Oakland’s future. “His expertise will help us navigate current challenges as we work to realize this growth.”
Monica Rattigan, executive director of University stores and strategic initiatives at Pitt, and Paul Supowitz, the University’s vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, also serve on the OBID board.
December 17, 2020
Bob Chamberlain joins Pitt as emergency coordinator
Bob Chamberlain has joined Pitt’s Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management as emergency coordinator, in support of the Pitt community.
In this position, Chamberlain collaborates with the University’s emergency management team to develop, implement and assess emergency plans; serves as an emergency management liaison with local, state and federal officials; oversees emergency communications systems; leads the Emergency Operations Center; and trains others on disaster response and compliance.
He is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer with 24 years of joint, interagency, multinational and counterterrorism experience throughout the Middle East, Africa and the Far East.
December 10, 2020
Two Pitt faculty named to Poets & Quants Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors
Anthony Rodi, clinical associate professor of business administration, and Peggy Liu, assistant professor of business administration and Ben L. Fryrear Faculty Fellow, are among the Poets & Quants 2020 Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors.
This year’s list features professors from 33 of the world’s best undergraduate business programs, selected from among nearly 900 nominees based on their achievements in research and teaching.
Rodi, whose expertise is in information systems and technology management, has taught at Pitt since 2015. Poets & Quants recognized his multiple teaching awards and industry experience.
“I am passionate about teaching and try to provide the best experience with every class that I teach,” Rodi told Poets & Quants. “My first priority has always been establishing excellence in the classroom by keeping course content relevant and engaging.”
Liu, whose research focuses on consumer behavior, joined the Pitt faculty in 2016. Poets & Quants cited her “very successful and impactful early teaching and research career” among the reasons for naming her to the prestigious list.
“I really enjoy teaching Pitt’s undergraduate business students because they are very bright, eager and humble. I love that they are open to learning consumer psychology theories and thinking about how to apply them to business and policy problems,” she told the publication.
December 8, 2020
Eric Beckman named National Academy of Inventors fellow
Beckman is the eighth Pitt faculty member to be named an NAI fellow, and the second with a primary appointment in the Swanson School. He has nearly 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, 26 book chapters and receipt of 40 U.S. patents with more pending.
Beckman’s research group examines the use of molecular design to solve problems in green product formulation and in the design of materials for use in tissue engineering. He is currently leading a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and NineSigma, in collaboration with Think Beyond Plastic, to develop innovations to reduce the amount of plastics that end up being burned or buried in landfills, or make their way into the world’s waterways and oceans.
December 7, 2020
Valerie Kinloch to chair NCTE convention
Valerie Kinloch, dean of the Pitt School of Education, will serve as program chair of the 2021 annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), which is scheduled for Nov. 18-21, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. Kinloch, who is the president-elect of NCTE, selected “Equity, Justice and Antiracist Teaching” as the convention theme.
The annual NCTE convention is attended by thousands of literacy educators in K-12 and higher education. Proposal submissions for the 2021 annual convention will be accepted through Jan. 13, 2021. Membership in NCTE is not required to submit a proposal. Learn more about the NCTE convention.