2020 Pitt Seed Grant recipients cover many subjects

The 11 projects that were awarded the 2020 Pitt Seed Grants represent a wide range of research, initiatives, individuals and organizations within the University and the six goals within The Plan for Pitt.

“Our call for proposals received a great response — and I congratulate this year’s grantees. Many of the projects funded this year reflect our continued commitment to social justice and active outreach to communities in need,” said Provost Ann Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor.

The Pitt Seed Project Initiative received more than 60 letters of intent and 45 total applications, including 30 from faculty and 15 from staff. The applications were reviewed by 68 volunteers from units across Pitt. Their recommendations were reviewed and endorsed by Cudd before being approved by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

2020 Pittt Seed Project grants

XProjects Applied Research XPloration, Brandon Barber, BioE design, innovation and outreach coordinator, Swanson School of Engineering

The purpose of the XProjects Applied Research XPloration is to further develop the Pitt XProject program’s internal research collaborations and explore new applications of ongoing research, while simultaneously providing students with co-curricular design/engineering experiences that go beyond the classroom. The diverse multidisciplinary teams employ a rigorous process and a proven suite of tools to navigate fast-paced project work, all while gaining practice with project management, prototyping and negotiating stakeholder-client relationships.

Pitt Advising Certification and Training Program, April Belback, director for undergraduate advising and mentoring, Office of the Provost

The Pitt Advising Certification and Training Program (Pitt-ACT) is a large-scale collaboration between the Office of the Provost Undergraduate Studies Academic Innovation Team, the Center for Teaching and Learning and undergraduate academic and advising units across the University. Designed for faculty and staff, the project creates a suite of online onboarding and training materials to help standardize the practice of advising across Pitt.

Using Administrative Data to Measure Teaching Effectiveness, Kevin Binning, assistant professor, Department of Psychology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

The proposed project will leverage existing institutional datasets to develop, validate and standardize new methods for assessing teaching effectiveness. In particular, the project will quantify the impact that particular instructors have on student outcomes, including subsequent retention, major choice and academic performance.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Project Preparation Program, Josh Cannon, scholar mentor, University Honors College

This project seeks to raise the number of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Project winners among Pitt's graduate and undergraduate populations. The project collaborators will host a series of workshops that provide strategies and guidance on application preparation, as well as bring in faculty and advanced graduate students to provide their own insights and expertise to applicants. The seed grant will support this project for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years.

EvolvingSTEM Afterschool Program at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood, Vaughn Cooper, professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the School of Medicine

Pitt Seed funding will support efforts to provide an after-school program to underserved students from the Pittsburgh Public School system at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood’s modern laboratory space. Students will design, conduct and analyze their own bacterial evolution experiment under the guidance of Pitt undergraduate mentors. Student projects will utilize cutting-edge laboratory and computational techniques, including bioinformatic analyses of genomic DNA sequencing data.

SPARKS: Promoting Diversity and Inclusion at Pitt-Johnstown and the Local Communities, Tuangtip Klinbubpa, associate professor, Department of English at Pitt–Johnstown

This project is a campuswide, collaborative, multidisciplinary, personalized effort to enhance awareness and engagement related to diversity and inclusion at Pitt-Johnstown and the neighboring communities and create safe spaces and a supportive environment for all.

Personalized Course Coaching at Scale: Bringing ECoach to Pitt, Lingfeng Liu, lab instructor, Department of Chemistry in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

ECoach, a personalized coaching tool developed at the University of Michigan, allows professors to personalize feedback to students to support success in large enrollment STEM courses.

SHRS Wellness Pavilion at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood, Channing Moreland, Wellness Pavilion director, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

The Wellness Pavilion is a student-led space inside the W.E.L.L (Wellness, Education, Living & Learning) at Pitt’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood. This community-engaged and interdisciplinary space was designed for Homewood and surrounding communities’ residents to feel heard and empowered to improve, maintain and take control of their health and wellness. To do so, the space provides free evidence-based health and wellness services and programs for residents across the lifespan. The Wellness Pavilion intends to maintain and initiate mutually beneficial partnerships within Homewood and surrounding communities to fortify University-specific strategic priorities.

Classroom to Community: Designing and Inventing for Real-World Impact, Joseph Samosky, assistant professor, Department of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering

Classroom to Community is for students who want to creatively design and invent solutions for real-world problems and needs. Space, resources and mentorship will be provided for students to learn powerful human-centered design tools and methods, build bridges with community partners and create diverse teams from different backgrounds, majors and schools. Together we will co-create an engaging, multidisciplinary experience for students to explore, envision, share and learn from faculty partners and each other as they translate their ideas into something new in the world that benefits others. 

School of Medicine Asylum Clinic, Sheila Velez Martinez, professor of Refugee, Asylum and Immigration Law and director of clinical programs, School of Law

The Immigration Law Clinic and students and faculty at the School of Medicine are engaged in an effort to establish an asylum clinic that would provide forensic evaluations for asylum seekers. By documenting the physical and psychological sequelae of human rights abuses and submitting a medical-legal affidavit to court, physicians and students can make a difference in whether these individuals are granted asylum or other relief from deportation. The clinic will also train health care providers to perform asylum evaluations and educate medical students about the process of asylum and the role of health care providers in asylum.

Creating University-Wide Infrastructure and Policies to Enhance Career Development and Professional Networks of Pitt Employees and Students Through Nonroutine Dependent Care Support, Anna Wang-Erickson, assistant professor and associate director, Institute for Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation in Children (i4Kids), Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine

Speaking and networking at conferences is crucial to career advancement, and these opportunities often create a need for occasional nonroutine dependent care. This burden disproportionately affects women and people early in their careers. This project aims to create University-wide infrastructure and policies to support the career and professional network development of faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students through occasional nonroutine dependent care support. Additionally, it will evaluate the efficacy and impact of the new infrastructure and policies to improve efforts in building professional networks and promoting work done at Pitt at the international level.