Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Oct

Oct
21
2020

Pitt Engineering Alumnus Dedicates Major Gift Toward Undergraduate Tuition Support

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Nuclear, Diversity, Investing Now

PITTSBURGH (October 21, 2020) …  An eight-figure donation from an anonymous graduate of the Swanson School of Engineering and spouse to the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering in their estate planning to provide financial aid to undergraduate students who are enrolled in the Pitt EXCEL Program. Announced today by Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and US Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II, the donors' bequest will provide tuition support for underprivileged or underrepresented engineering students who are residents of the United States of America and in need of financial aid. “I am extremely grateful for this gift, which supports the University of Pittsburgh’s efforts to tackle one of society’s greatest challenges—the inequity of opportunity,” Gallagher said. “Put into action, this commitment will help students from underrepresented groups access a world-class Pitt education and—in doing so—help elevate the entire field of engineering.” “Our dedication as engineers is to create new knowledge that benefits the human condition, and that includes educating the next generation of engineers. Our students’ success informs our mission, and I am honored and humbled that our donors are vested in helping to expand the diversity of engineering students at Pitt,” Martin noted. “Often the most successful engineers are those who have the greatest need or who lack access, and support such as this is critical to expanding our outreach and strengthening the role of engineers in society.” A Gift to Prepare the Workforce of the Future Martin noted that the gift is timely because it was made shortly after Chancellor Gallagher’s call this past summer to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for all, especially for the University’s future students. The gift – and the donors’ passion for the Swanson School – show that there is untapped potential as well as significant interest in addressing unmet need for students who represent a demographic shift in the American workforce.  “By 2050, when the U.S. will have a minority-majority population, two-thirds of the American workforce will require a post-secondary education,” Martin explained. “We are already reimagining how we deliver engineering education and research, and generosity such as this will lessen the financial burden that students will face to prepare for that future workforce.” A Half-Century of IMPACT on Engineering Equity In 1969 the late Dr. Karl Lewis (1/15/1936-3/5/2019) founded the IMPACT Program at the University of Pittsburgh to encourage minority and financially and culturally disadvantaged students to enter and graduate from the field of engineering. The six-week program prepared incoming first year students through exposure to university academic life, development of study skills, academic and career counseling, and coursework to reinforce strengths or remedy weaknesses. Many Pitt alumni today still note the role that Lewis and IMPACT had on their personal and professional lives.  Under Lewis’ leadership, IMPACT sparked the creation of two award-winning initiatives within the Swanson School’s Office of Diversity: INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program created to stimulate, support, and recognize the high academic performance of pre-college students from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM majors. Pitt EXCEL, a comprehensive undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field. “Dr. Lewis, like so many of his generation, started a movement that grew beyond one person’s idea,” said Yvette Wisher, Director of Pitt EXCEL. “Anyone who talks to today’s EXCEL students can hear the passion of Dr. Lewis and see how exceptional these young people will be as engineers and individuals. They and the hundreds of students who preceded them are the reason why Pitt EXCEL is game-changer for so many.”  Since its inception, Pitt EXCEL has helped more than 1,500 students earn their engineering degrees and become leaders and change agents in their communities. Ms. Wisher says the most important concept she teaches students who are enrolled in the program is to give back however they can once they graduate—through mentorship, volunteerism, philanthropy, or advocacy.  Supporting the Change Agents of Tomorrow “Pitt EXCEL is a home - but more importantly, a family. The strong familial bonds within Pitt EXCEL are what attracted me to Swanson as a graduating high school senior, what kept me going throughout my time in undergrad and what keeps me energized to this very day as a PhD student,” explained Isaiah M. Spencer Williams, BSCE ’19 and currently a pre-doctoral student in the Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Pitt EXCEL is a family where iron sharpens iron and where we push each other to be the best that we can be every day. Beyond that, it is a space where you are not only holistically nurtured and supported but are also groomed to pave the way for and invest into those who are coming behind you.  “Pitt EXCEL, and by extension, Dr. Lewis' legacy and movement are the reasons why I am the leader and change agent that I am today. This generous gift will ensure a bright future for underrepresented engineering students in the Pitt EXCEL Program, and will help to continue the outstanding development of the change agents of tomorrow.”  Setting a Foundation for Community Support “Next year marks the 51st anniversary of IMPACT/EXCEL as well as the 175th year of engineering at Pitt and the 50th anniversary of Benedum Hall,” Dean Martin said. “The Swanson School of Engineering represents 28,000 alumni around the world, who in many ways are life-long students of engineering beyond the walls of Benedum, but who share pride in being Pitt Engineers. “The key to our future success is working together as a global community to find within ourselves how we can best support tomorrow’s students,” Martin concluded. “We should all celebrate this as a foundational cornerstone gift for greater engagement.” ###

Sep

Sep
3
2020

How to Handle a Zombie Outbreak

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Investing Now

In the middle of the Atlantic lies Grimmsport, a fictional island that has identified an outbreak of Zom-B13 which turns the island residents into mindless zombies. This thinly veiled theme for the 2020 Summer with Swanson camp helped teach high school students about the scientific aspects of a pandemic. The University of Pittsburgh’s CampBioE and Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation joined efforts to create a virtual camp that served underrepresented pre-college students in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Investing Now program. The students’ mission was to contain and treat the zombie outbreak, and the first step was to mitigate the spread. “We discussed the importance of a mask and its ability to help filter cleaner air for individuals to breathe,” said Ankith Rao (BioE ‘21). “They learned about human factors in product development and how to create a mask for a universal user. The students then sketched designs and physically prototyped masks with objects from around the house.” With a protective measure in hand, the students then learned how to research reliable information on the outbreak. The camp counselors demonstrated the CRAP test to help students consider four critical areas in identifying a trustworthy source: currency, reliability, authority and purpose. They used these new skills to complete an online scavenger hunt to learn more about vaccines. As part of the overall theme, the students also had to use engineering concepts to solve a series of puzzles that would aid in eliminating the virus. “In one of our modules, the students intercepted an email from zombie island, but they first had to learn how to use ASCII code to translate a clue that was coded in binary notation,” said Lucy Kress (BioE ‘21). One of the other clues included a circuit with a hidden DNA sequence to decode. “Students used software to figure out the protein sequence of the DNA, which was subsequently used to create a 3D model of the protein that served as the antigen for the vaccine,” said Pooja Chawla (BioE ‘22). “They then participated in a detailed virtual lab that demonstrated how vaccines are made.” After gaining a better understanding of how vaccines are developed, the students put their efforts toward creating a way to figure out who is infected. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology can rapidly detect viral DNA using primers – short, single-stranded DNA sequences that are specific to the disease. “Any time there is a new virus, you have to be able to identify if a person has been infected,” said Patricia Donehue, a Pitt biological sciences alumna. “We designed primers and introduced the students to PCR and gel electrophoresis as one means of identifying infection. They applied this technique to the clues to discover who may have been exposed to the disease.” The group also used artificial intelligence to set up a classifier that could identify if a face was human or zombie. In this exercise, they demonstrated bias in AI and discussed its implications in modern technology. Finally, the students learned about the pathology of the virus through a series of escape rooms that represented different stages of infection. “Each room had a patient chart with symptoms, and they used a website with a human anatomy model to solve the clues and figure out who was infected,” said Garima Patel (BioE ‘22). In the end, the students successfully created a vaccine, treated the population, and eradicated the zombie outbreak at Grimmsport. While the overall feedback for Summer with Swanson was positive, the counselors encountered a variety of obstacles along the way. Many of the issues involved access to technology and an internet connection. “Some students only had access to phones and tablets while others were limited by website restrictions on their school’s technology,” said Donehue. “Adaptability was an important aspect of this year’s camp. We had to make sure that the students were able to participate in each of the activities, regardless of what technology was available.” The Department of Bioengineering’s CampBioE, like many other programs, had to reframe their curriculum to adapt to coronavirus restrictions. The changes were challenging in many ways, but the solutions also opened new doors. “While the need to do everything virtually created some significant barriers, it also broke down some barriers,” said Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt and director of CampBioE. “Physical distance was no longer a factor, which allowed us to extend our programming out-of-state and reach audiences that would not have been able to participate otherwise.” The group plans to eventually package their activities on their website so that middle and high school educators across the nation can continue to “inspire tomorrow’s engineers.” # # # This effort was supported by funding from the Wilke Foundation, Phillips, Len and Ann Berenfield, and the Swanson School of Engineering Office of Diversity.

Jun

Jun
19
2020

A Message from U.S. Steel Dean James Martin II on the 155th Celebration of Juneteenth

All SSoE News, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Investing Now



Apr

Apr
22
2020

Giving Virtual Recruitment the Personal Touch

Covid-19, Diversity, Student Profiles, Investing Now

PITTSBURGH (April 22, 2020) -- During this time of year, the staff at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering would be busy welcoming prospective and admitted students and their families to campus. Calendars would be filled with tutoring and mentoring sessions, events like Admitted Student Day, tours of Benedum Hall and Q&A sessions about life as an engineering student. Except this year, since the coronavirus pandemic has prevented those in-person events from taking place, the staff has shifted to using the technology at hand to welcome students virtually. While there has been an adjustment period, student support services are reporting positive results, and some are even considering keeping remote activities as an option for families and students who aren’t able to attend the in-person events. From In-Person to Virtual-Person Lauren Byland, associate director for the First-Year Engineering Program Office, has been organizing virtual information sessions for admitted students for about a month now, with between 40 and 80 students and their families joining each one. Despite the pandemic, recruitment numbers are approximately 50 percent ahead of where they were at this time last year. “The virtual sessions have been going very well. They feature a professional recruitment team staff member such as myself or Beth Scott, the campus visit and recruitment coordinator for the Swanson School,” says Byland. “One of our senior-level Engineering Ambassadors presents, too, so they can get a student perspective.” The team hosted its first virtual Admitted Student Day on April 13 on YouTube Live, and they’ve ramped up social media efforts to connect with students. The Pink Panthers Mentorship program, which started last year, is continuing to pair admitted female students with a mentor at the Swanson School. The group had conducted eight of the 12 scheduled events, and when asked if the admitted students would be interested in virtual events, 25 of 37 signed up. “These events will be smaller and more personalized, and we are happy that technology allows us to make these connections. Nothing can replace a personalized on-campus visit, but these programs certainly help them see themselves as Pitt Panthers and feel connected to our School,” says Byland. “We were forced into this virtual recruitment world, but now that we are doing it, we plan to still do virtual sessions or meetings after we come back to campus for families that may not be able to visit us in person.“ Christopher Kirchhof, coordinator of transfer student services at the Swanson School, has also begun using virtual alternatives to the small, in-person meetings usually held at this time of year. A majority of transfer students come from within the University of Pittsburgh’s Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, but Kirchhof also spends time visiting other schools to meet with transfer students there in groups. Those group meetings have become one-on-one Skype calls. “To me, I think students and families have been understanding that this is a pivot from the norm and have been appreciative of the one-on-one outreach. I keep going back to the quote, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention;’ we have had the technological capabilities to do virtual outreach, but this situation has forced us to rethink our practices,” says Kirchhof. “While nothing can replicate an on-campus or in-person meeting, I’m thinking that once we are back on campus, virtual advising for students at other campuses may become the norm, at least for the first interaction.” Excelling in the Digital Space Serving more than 250 undergraduate students, Pitt EXCEL is a diversity program that provides academic support, mentoring and career development for underrepresented minorities. More than that, they help students develop a community and professionally grow together. As campus closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, program staff had to quickly adapt these services to remote learning. “The transition to remote learning has been quite difficult academically,” said Halima Morafa, a sophomore mechanical engineering student. “Many of my teachers have been quite accommodating; however, it is still a big change now that I’m back at home, and a lot of the resources that I would utilize at Pitt are not available.” Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL, and the engineering student support staff have been developing new ways to implement their programs and services. “I think the students realize what they had on campus was something special, and we’re collectively doing everything we can to recreate it,” said Moore. “Pitt EXCEL is having virtual one-on-one meetings, and the student organizations have jumped right in with tutoring and ‘lounges’ where they can meet as a group and discuss tips for working from home.” Student groups like the National Society for Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers have held virtual elections, while DIVA and Brotherhood have continued to provide virtual workshops. “It has been business not-as-usual, but it has been great,” said Moore. “At first I thought it was going to be hard for us to change everything to virtual so quickly, but it wasn’t. The students, to their credit, are resilient.” The program has bolstered its presence on social media, where Moore holds weekly Instagram Live (@PittEXCEL) events called, “Fabulous Friday.” The virtual gatherings are a widely attended 15-minutes of motivation on subjects varying from “The What-ifs of Life” to “Flying Without Wings.” They have also planned an Instagram Live cooking show with alumni so that they can discuss healthy eating habits during the quarantine. “One thing that has remained consistent is our alumni engagement,” said Moore. “They have great wisdom and advice to give our students about how they can navigate these uncertain times.” Another recent development established by the undergraduate coordinators is an engineering hotline. Students can fill out an online form to discuss any topic, such as co-op, tutoring, or professional development, and they are paired up with someone who can help. Alumni are available to give advice and prepare students to enter the workforce, and upperclassmen are available to assist them with challenging coursework or discuss their personal experiences as an engineering student. The hotline is available from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. on weekends. “The Instagram Lives, the hotline, and Ms. Moore’s online advising sessions have been so helpful because it gives this scary time a nice sense of normality and stability,” said Anaya Joynes, a sophomore industrial engineering student. “She reminds me that I will still reach my goals and we are still a family, though we are far away.” Moore said, “For some students, life looks different when they go home, but they know that they also have a home at Pitt, and we can provide that extra support and help them process all of this.” Investing in Future Students INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program that welcomes and supports high school students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields, has shifted their operations online, as well. They have continued to offer advising, tutoring and workshops but have also added virtual meet-up groups with Pitt undergraduates who are also INVESTING NOW alumni. When it was clear the University would be moving to online interactions, INVESTING NOW sent instructions for families on how to use Zoom, and advisors and students reached out to contact students individually to schedule sessions. “Smaller group interactions are best, and relationships matter. Because our college student employees (both student coordinators and tutors) already had relationships with our pre-college students, it was easier to make the connection,” says Alaine Allen, PhD, director of Educational Outreach and Community Engagement at the Swanson School and a co-director of the Broadening Equity in STEM Center at Pitt. “These relationships that were built on trust make the connections stronger and allow our pre-college students to see interacting with the college students as a treat.” In addition to the usual tutoring and mentoring activities, INVESTING NOW has also begun holding regular meet-up groups with Pitt students where they discuss topics like “quaren-things to do,” college planning, games, time management and more. Yet, Allen has noticed a disparity in the students’ technological skills and preparation, which has presented additional challenges. “We have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly our high school students and our undergraduate tutors and mentors adjusted to the virtual space,” says Allen. “However, we have been alarmed by the difference of experience our students are having based on the school they attend. Our biggest challenge has been the academic expectations of students, depending on their school and/or district.” Luckily, Allen says most students have access to a computer or smartphone, and they’re in touch with community organizations who can support student technology needs if necessary. However, while some districts were prepared with online curricula, not all of them were able to immediately make a smooth transition. “Because of the difference, not all of our students are as engaged as possible,” says Allen. “This experience has made us realize the importance of assessing students access to technology in advance. We are very concerned that various levels of access have only increased the educational inequity and challenges present.” # # #
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell