Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Welcome from the Associate Dean of Diversity

Sylvanus WosuIt is my pleasure to welcome you to the Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE) Office of Diversity. SSOE diversity refers to the integrated differences and similarities that all individuals and programs contribute in the academic mission of the school. The mission of the Engineering Office of Diversity (EOD) is to create and sustain learning and working environments where those differences and similarities are valued and respected, and all students, especially women and underrepresented students are included and empowered to excel in engineering education. EOD provides continuous academic and community support services through four program areas: the Pitt Engineering Career Access Program (PECAP) pre-college INVESTING NOW and college Pitt EXCEL Programs, Diversity Graduate Engineering Program (DGEP), and Diversity Education Program (DEP).

Sylvanus N. Wosu, PhD

Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs


Five Pitt engineering faculty capture nearly $3 million in total NSF CAREER awards for 2018/2019

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (August 23, 2019) … Five faculty members from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have been named CAREER Award recipients by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Recognized as the NSF’s most competitive award for junior faculty, the grants total nearly $3 million in funding both for research and community engagement. The CAREER program “recognizes faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.” The five awards – one each in the departments of Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum, Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science – ties the record from 2017 for the most received by Pitt and Swanson School faculty in a single NSF CAREER funding announcement. “Federal funding for academic research is extremely competitive, especially for faculty just beginning their academic careers. Receiving five prestigious NSF CAREER Awards in one cycle is a reflection of our winners’ distinctive research and support by their respective departments and the Swanson School,” noted David Vorp, PhD, the Swanson School’s Associate Dean for Research. He added, “Since a CAREER Award is also focused on community engagement, this is an opportunity for our faculty and their graduate students to promote STEM to children in the area, especially in underserved populations, and we will be working with them to develop impactful outreach programs.”Dr. Vorp also noted that the Swanson School’s recent success with CAREER awards can be attributed to a number of factors, including the School’s Center for Faculty Excellence, directed by Prof. Anne Robertson, and the CAREER writing group developed and run by Julie Myers-Irvin, PhD, the Swanson School’s Grants Developer. “Participating faculty acknowledge that the writing group focus on early preparation, group comradery, technical feedback, and discussions of grantsmanship practices attribute to more well-rounded proposals,” Dr. Myers-Irvin says.The award recipients include:Murat Akcakaya, Assistant Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, with Carla A. Mazefsky, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology ($550,000)Title:Toward a Biologically Informed Intervention for Emotionally Dysregulated Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (#1844885)Summary: Although clinical techniques are used to help patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) respond to stress and other factors, none are known to couple with technology that could monitor brain response in real time and provide the patient with feedback. Drs. Akcakaya and Mazefsky are developing a new intervention using electroencephalography (EEG)-guided, non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) technology could complement clinical treatments and improve emotion regulation in people with ASD.Dr. Akcakaya will also develop courses related to the research and outreach activities to promote STEM and ASD research to K-12 populations and the broader public. Outreach will focus especially on individuals with ASD, their families, and caretakers. Susan Fullerton, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering ($540,000)Title:Scaling Electrolytes to a Single Monolayer for Low-Power Ion-Gated Electronics with Unconventional Characteristics (#1847808)Summary: Two-dimensional (2D) materials are being explored for their exciting new physics that can impart novel functionalities in application spaces such as information storage, neuromorphic computing, and hardware security. Dr. Fullerton and her group invented a new type of ion-containing material, or electrolyte, which is only a single molecule thick. This “monolayer electrolyte” will ultimately introduce new functions that can be used by the electronic materials community to explore the fundamental properties of new semiconductor materials and to increase storage capacity, decrease power consumption, and vastly accelerate processing speed.The NSF award will support a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, as well as an outreach program to inspire curiosity and engagement of K-12 and underrepresented students in materials for next-generation electronics. Specifically, Dr. Fullerton has developed an activity where students can watch the polymer electrolytes used in this study crystallize in real-time using an inexpensive camera attached to a smart phone or iPad. The CAREER award will allow Dr. Fullerton to provide this microscope to classrooms so that the teachers can continue exploring with their students. Tevis Jacobs, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science ($500,000)Title:Understanding Nanoparticle Adhesion to Guide the Surface Engineering of Supporting Structures (#1844739) Summary: Although far thinner than a human hair, metal nanoparticles play an important role in advanced industries and technologies from electronics and pharmaceuticals to catalysts and sensors. Nanoparticles can be as small as ten atoms in diameter, and their small size makes them especially susceptible to coarsening with continued use, which reduces functionality and degrades performance. Dr. Jacobs will utilize electron microscopy to develop new methods to measure the attachment and stability of nanoparticles on surfaces under various conditions, allowing researchers to enhance both surfaces and nanoparticles in tandem to work more effectively together.Additionally, Dr. Jacobs and his lab group will engage with the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and a local elementary school to create and nationally disseminate surface engineering-focused curricular units for sixth- to eighth-grade students and professional development training modules for teachers. Carla Ng, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering ($500,000)Title:Harnessing biology to tackle fluorinated alkyl substances in the environment (#1845336) Summary: Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that are useful in a variety of industries because of their durability, but do not naturally break down in the environment or human body. Because of their useful oil- and water-repellent properties, PFAS are used in many consumer products, industrial processes, and in firefighting foams, but unfortunately, their manufacturing and widespread use has contributed to the undesired release of these chemicals into the environment. With evidence showing that PFAS may have adverse effects on human health, Dr. Ng wants to further investigate the potential impacts of these chemicals and identify ways to remove them from the environment. She plans to elevate K-12 and undergraduate education through the use of collaborative model-building in a game-like environment. Dr. Ng in particular will utilize the agent-based modeling language NetLogo, a freely available and accessible model-building tool that can be equally powerful for cutting edge research or for students exploring new STEM concepts in science and engineering. Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering ($805,670)Title: Novel human-in-the loop approach to increase locomotor learning Summary: Many stroke survivors who suffer from impaired gait benefit from rehabilitation using robotics. Unfortunately, motor improvements following training are not maintained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo hypothesizes that some of these individuals have difficulty perceiving their asymmetric movement, and she will use this project to characterize this deficit and indicate if split-belt walking - in which the legs move at different speeds - can correct it. Her lab will track how patients with brain lesions perceive asymmetries in their gait. They will 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 and create the illusion of error-free performance during split-belt walking. The goal is for the changes in their movements to be sustained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo will also use this project as a way to increase the participation of students from underrepresented minorities (URM) in science and engineering. She will recruit, mentor, and prepare URM students from K-12 and college to pursue advanced education, with the ultimate goal of broadening the professional opportunities for this population. ###


ChemE Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton featured in Penn State Engineering's alumni magazine

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity

Susan Fullerton, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, was featured in the spring/summer 2019 issue of Engineering Penn State, the magazine of the Penn State College of Engineering. View her spotlight on page 38.


Two Swanson School Alumni Elected to Pitt's Board of Trustees

Civil & Environmental, MEMS, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (June 28, 2019) ... The University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees elected five new trustees during its annual meeting on Friday, June 28. The new members, all distinguished Pitt alumni, bring to the board a range of experience that spans decades in industry and public service. The five new trustees are: Robert O. Agbede (ENGR ’79 G ’81) SaLisa L. Berrien (ENGR ’91) Sundaa Bridgett-Jones (GSPIA ’95) Wen-Ta Chiu (GSPH ’89) Adam C. Walker (A&S ’09) Their terms are effective July 1. The board also re-elected Eva Tansky Blum to her fifth and final term as chair of the board, a position she has held since 2015. Thomas E. Richards, a long-serving Pitt trustee and executive chair of the board of directors for the technology services corporation CDW, was named chair-elect of the University’s Board of Trustees. In this capacity, he will become chair after Blum’s final term, which will conclude in June 2020. The board also nominated Richards, Vaughn Clagette, James Covert and John Verbanac to serve on the UPMC Board of Directors. Biographical information for the new members follows:Robert O. Agbede currently serves as vice chair of Hatch USA, a global management, engineering and development consulting firm. He is the former CEO and owner of Chester Engineers, which merged with Hatch Ltd., in 2017. Agbede built Chester Engineers into one of the largest African American owned water/wastewater, energy and environmental engineering firms in the United States. There, he developed a work culture that emphasizes the importance of giving back and viewing corporate social responsibility as good business. He has earned several awards, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year—Business Services, the Minority Enterprise Development Agency’s Minority Small Business Award and the NAACP Homer S. Brown Award. In 2000, Agbede was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Swanson School of Engineering, where he is currently a member of the Board of Visitors and chair of its Diversity Committee. Agbede helped establish several mentorship and scholarship opportunities at the Swanson School, including the Robert O. Agbede Scholarship for African American students pursuing engineering degrees, as well as the Robert O. Agbede Annual Diversity Award to encourage recruitment and retention of African American faculty and students. In 2009, the University’s African American Alumni Council presented him with the Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement in Business. SaLisa L. Berrien is the founder and CEO of COI Energy and has more than 25 years of experience in the electric power and smart grid space, working in areas ranging from vertically integrated utility companies to an energy service company on smart grid, clean tech and big data analytics. Berrien is also founder and board chair of STRIVE Inc., a charitable organization that focuses on STEM leadership development training for students in grades three through 12. In 2013, she established COI Ladder Institute to focus on delivering leadership and empowerment services to millennials and women. In 2004, Berrien established the Karl H. Lewis Engineering Impact Alumni Fund for Pitt students of underrepresented groups enrolled in engineering. She later elsewhere established, in honor of her aunt, the Talibah M. Yazid Academic Excellence scholarship for college-bound high school seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or greater. Berrien has earned service awards from the City of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Lehigh University; the National Society of Black Engineers and the YMCA. She is also the recipient of the Allentown Human Relations Commission Human Relations Award and the National Society of Negro Women Mary Jackson Engineering Award. Sundaa Bridgett-Jones leads the Rockefeller Foundation’s support for policy innovations to help solve pressing international development issues, including achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She has more than 20 years of experience designing and executing global initiatives and public-private partnerships. Between 2010 and 2012, Bridgett-Jones led the Office of Policy, Planning and Public Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in groundbreaking advocacy on internet and religious freedoms and served as a member of the White House National Security Staff interagency committee. She previously managed C-suite affairs at the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, working on preventive diplomacy plans in South Asia. Bridgett-Jones launched the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative at Princeton University to encourage talented women and men to enter public service. She has taken on lead roles with Global Kids, an organization that develops youth leaders for the global stage. She also serves as a member of the Board of Visitors for Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Wen-Ta Chiu serves as a co-CEO of California-based AHMC Healthcare Inc., a hospital and health system committed to improving access to health care services for the most vulnerable members of the San Gabriel, California, community. In 2011, Chiu was appointed Minister of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Taiwan. During nearly four years of service, he successfully implemented the second-generation National Health Insurance, along with many other health policies. He also led the ministry through several public health crises in Taiwan. Prior to his appointment as minister, Chiu led the successful growth of Taipei Medical University, a world-class medical university and hospital system. Chiu is an accomplished traumatic brain injury researcher who has made significant leadership contributions in public health through the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium, the Academy for Multidisciplinary Neurotraumatology, the Taiwan Neurotrauma Society and the Asia Oceania Neurotrauma Society. His numerous career honors include earning the Contribution Award for Public Health from the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium, distinction as a Distinguished Alumnus of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health and the University’s Legacy Laureate Award. Adam C. Walker is CEO of Summit Packaging Solutions, a leading global supply chain firm, taking the helm in 2014 and applying nearly 20 years of industry expertise to set in motion an accelerated growth strategy. Walker previously co-founded Homestead Packaging Solutions, overseeing facilities in Tennessee and Michigan and garnering industry recognition such as the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council’s Supplier of the Year and the U.S. Department of Commerce–MBDA Manufacturer of the Year. Walker was a National Football League player for seven consecutive seasons, beginning and ending his career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1990 and 1996, respectively. From 1991 until 1995, he played for the San Francisco 49ers, including the 1994 Super Bowl championship team. Walker has earned the Atlanta Tribune Men of Distinction award and recognition as a New Pittsburgh Courier Men of Excellence honoree. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council and as a member of Procter & Gamble’s Supplier Advisory Council. # # #
Kevin Zwick, University of Pittsburgh News

Let's Clear the Air

Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (May 22, 2019) — For the past 40 years, research has proven that people of color, low-income communities and ethnic minorities suffer the effects of environmental contamination more than other communities. The Flint, Mich., water crisis and the Dakota Pipeline protests serve as national examples of environmental injustices, but similar issues affect communities across the country. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, in partnership with the Kingsley Association and funded by the Heinz Endowments examined the impact that bottom-up, community-level initiatives have in addressing environmental justice issues. They found that the best way to address a community’s environmental injustices is to meet them where they are, integrating into the community and building trust over a long-term partnership. Pittsburgh has long struggled with air quality since its early industrial days, and the effects of environmental pollution on health are well-known. Residents in the Greater Pittsburgh region are at twice the cancer risk of surrounding counties, and disadvantaged communities see the worst of it. The East End of Pittsburgh is among the city’s most underserved boroughs, struggling with crumbling infrastructure, community disinvestment, and high traffic density. These factors all contribute to the poor air quality affecting citizens’ health and wellness, which is what their program, the Environmental Justice Community Action Matrix (EJCAM), is designed to address. “When your house is in need of repairs, it can’t effectively keep the outdoor air out. Since Americans spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors, the concentration of pollution inside the house could be a significant contributor to poor health,” says Melissa Bilec, PhD, the Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “I visited one community member’s home and noticed that she was using an oxygen tank, and it struck me just how much these environmental issues are impacting people’s health inside their own homes.” Dr. Bilec and her team, with PhD student, Harold Rickenbacker as a lead, have partnered with the Kingsley Association, a community organization in Larimer, since 2007 on environmental justice initiatives. EJCAM, their most recent collaboration, went through four stages, using the Theory of Change paradigm: outreach, involvement, participatory research and consultation. It culminated in in-house air quality testing that Dr. Bilec says wouldn’t have been possible without the trust that their partnership built, especially Harold’s commitment and time spent in working with the community. EJCAM created Community Action Teams (CATs), which trained community members to become leaders who would train others and advocate for environmental issues; the Urban Transition Cities Movement (UTCM) brought together unlikely stakeholders community members, non-profit leaders, small businesses, universities, governmental agencies, youth and public officials. Because of these initiatives, community members have become more involved and aware of environmental issues, knowledgeable about green materials, infrastructure and land use practices. They’re active in the management of forthcoming landscape features in housing developments and pollution control schemes. The most important thing Dr. Bilec learned through this process was that in order to be effective, the first step must be building trust. And the way to build trust is to be visible in the community over time. Harold Rickenbacker, a PhD candidate working with Dr. Bilec on the initiative and lead author of the paper, dedicated himself to integrating with the community to truly understand its needs and the best way to fill them. He attended community meetings, church gatherings and other events. A mobile air quality monitoring bicycle campaign took researchers and community members to the streets, riding bikes mounted with air particulate counters that give a real-time map of air quality in the area. More than that, it gave the researchers a way to be visible and connect with the community, who would often stop them to ask what they were doing. “We found the most important thing we could do was to be present, to listen to the citizens and figure out how our research can help them,” says Mr. Rickenbacker. “Community-based initiatives are effective, but they have to be a sustained partnership, not a one-off event.” The team is currently performing indoor air quality assessments with the community members, counseling them on measures they can take to improve it and the supplies they’ll need to do so. They hope that their program model will be replicable in other communities in the Pittsburgh area and beyond. The project recently won the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Award, and Mr. Rickenbacker won the Carnegie Science Award in the College/University Student category this year for his work on EJCAM. The paper, “Creating Environmental Consciousness in Underserved Communities: Implementation and Outcomes of Community-Based Environmental Justice and Air Pollution Research,” was published in Sustainable Cities and Society (DOI10.1016/j.scs.2019.101473) and was coauthored by Dr. Bilec and Fred Brown of the Forbes Fund.
Maggie Pavlick

Melissa Bilec Named Director of Faculty Community Building and Engagement for PITT STRIVE Program

Civil & Environmental, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (May 14, 2019) — Melissa Bilec, PhD, associate professor Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Deputy Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, has been appointed Director of Faculty Community Building and Engagement in the PITT STRIVE Program. The PITT STRIVE Program works to improve the transitions of under-represented minorities into doctoral engineering programs. In this position, Dr. Bilec will lead key Faculty-Centered Strategies and Faculty Learning Community Activities to help improve faculty engagement with under-represented minority students. “We are very blessed to have a colleague of Dr. Bilec’s caliber join the PITT STRIVE Program Leadership Team,” says Sylvanus Wosu, PhD, associate dean for Diversity Affairs. “Dr. Bilec is passionate and committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity.” Dr. Bilec’s commitment to diversity extends beyond her work with PITT STRIVE. Dr. Bilec serves on the Engineering Diversity Advisory Committee, is the co-faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers, and was co-faculty advisor the Graduate Women Engineering Network. She received the 2017-2018 Swanson School of Engineering Diversity Award and has worked in the disadvantaged local community of Larimer on projects including energy assessments and indoor air quality assessments for the past 10 years.
Maggie Pavlick

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3700 O'Hara Street
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