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


Are You Comfortable?

Bioengineering, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (October 31, 2019) … Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) 2019 Diversity Lecture Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to improving gender and racial diversity in biomedical engineering. His lecture, presented during the annual meeting on October 17 at the BMES annual conference, asked the audience to consider, “Are you comfortable?” For Abramowitch, his comfort was with the path that altered his research and career, as well as his advocacy for diversity programs in engineering. Abramowitch attended graduate school at Pitt and performed ligament research in the Musculoskeletal Research Center under the direction of Savio L-Y. Woo, Distinguished Professor of Bioengineering. A natural continuation would have been a career in sports medicine, but as he learned more about women’s health and the complications associated pelvic floor disorders, he was drawn to research in that area. “Pelvic floor disorders - such as pelvic organ prolapse - result from a weakening of the muscles and tissues that help support the pelvic organs and cause them to push against the vagina, creating a ‘bulge’ that can extend outside of the body,” said Abramowitch. “These disorders can make everyday tasks more difficult and significantly affect a woman’s quality of life.” Though Abramowitch was encouraged by some of his peers to pursue a “cooler” career in sports medicine, where there was ample funding, he decided not to take the easy route. With support from the then-department chair and Distinguished Professor of Bioengineering, Harvey Borovetz, he got out of his comfort zone and began working with Pamela Moalli, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Pitt and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Together they now co-direct the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Female Pelvic Health. “Nearly one-quarter of women suffer from pelvic floor disorders, with most stemming from injuries during childbirth, and yet we don’t hear about these injuries that women sustain everyday,” continued Abramowitch. “These are not just quality of life issues - they are a quality of family issue.” In addition to his career in women’s health, Abramowitch has contributed to the Swanson School of Engineering’s diversity initiatives with programs such as PITT STRIVE, the Global Engineering Preparedness Scholarship (GEPS), Engineering Design for Social Change: South Africa, and CampBioE. Through these programs, he has helped to create a culture of diversity and inclusion and has worked to better prepare engineering students for a global marketplace. “Once again, some of my peers tried to dissuade me from participating in these programs, suggesting that it would be good for the school, but not for my career or even that I should not get caught up in race relations in Pittsburgh,” said Abramowitch. “But with continued support from Dr. Borovetz, my current department chair Sanjeev Shroff, and our Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs Sylvanus Wosu, I was able to take on these roles and help students get out of their own comfort zone.” Since 2008, Abramowitch has served as director of CampBioE, an immersive summer camp for middle and high school students that implemented a campaign in 2014 to focus on being an affordable resource for underrepresented minorities (URM) and students from underserved school districts. The program trains undergraduate students as senior counselors that provide “near-peer” mentorship for the campers and has, in turn, created a diverse community that makes STEM education more fun and less intimidating. Ashanti Anderson, a 2019 high school participant, said, “CampBioE has given me the experience of working with students of different ethnicities and cultures and allowed me to learn how to connect with them.” A sense of community is an important aspect of Abramowitch’s diversity efforts in the Swanson School. In 2015, he established an annual PITT STRIVE retreat that brings together faculty mentors and PhD mentees to improve professional and personal bonds, encourage effective communication, and help identify challenges that both parties face. “We are trying to create community between faculty and students,” he said. “We encourage them to discuss the difficult things and try to make them uncomfortable so that they can have these important conversations and break these boundaries. We want the faculty and students to be committed to each other’s success.” Abramowitch’s confidence in not taking the well-paved and comfortable path has helped shape his career and make a significant impact in the Swanson School. “Being uncomfortable, I realized, is not such a bad thing,” said Abramowitch. “Connecting with individuals who have a different background or worldview can help broaden your perspective and, for me, has ultimately provided a more fulfilling career.” Since starting PITT STRIVE, the Swanson School has surpassed historic levels of URM enrollment in the PhD program; through the study abroad programs, Abramowitch has helped undergraduate students see the impact of engineering through the lens of another culture; and with CampBioE, he has educated more than 1000 middle and high school students, with more than 40 percent participation from URMs and low-income students since the diversity campaign in 2014. Abramowitch’s impact has not only been acknowledged by BMES - he is also the only two-time recipient of the Swanson School’s Diversity Award, in 2011 and 2014. “What sets Dr. Abramowitch apart is that his work in this area is not defined by a singular activity or initiative,” said Dr. Borovetz. “Instead, Dr. Abramowitch’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is integrated into who he is as a person.” ###


Three Swanson School Alum Recognized by Pitt’s African American Alumni Council at Homecoming 2019


PITTSBURGH (October 31, 2019) ... During the University of Pittsburgh Homecoming 2019 celebration, three Swanson School of Engineering alumni were recognized by the African American Alumni Council (AAAC): Daniel Armanios (ENGR ‘07) and Marvin Perry Jones (ENGR ‘59) were honored as distinguished alumni and Rodney Kizito (ENGR ‘15) received a Rising African American Leader (RAAL) award. Pitt AAAC’s mission is to “support the community of alumni of African descent, to strengthen their connection to the University of Pittsburgh, and to promote the recruitment and retention of African American students, faculty, staff, and administrators.” Armanios and Jones received their accolade at the Sankofa 50th Commemoration Gala on Saturday, Oct. 26. The annual event recognizes the achievements of alumni who have made and are making outstanding contributions to the University and the larger community. Daniel Armanios, Rhodes Scholar and Marshall Scholar A 2007 summa cum laude graduate of the Swanson School of Engineering, as well as the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Armanios received the Goldwater Scholarship in 2004 and the Truman Scholarship in 2005. In 2007 he was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, with which he earned two master’s degrees at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. After earning a PhD in 2015 at Stanford University, Armanios returned to Pittsburgh. He is an assistant professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University where his research focuses on the public policy impact upon China and Africa concerning the interrelationship between entrepreneurship, high-tech innovation, infrastructure and public organizations. Marvin Perry Jones, varsity athlete and retired Pan American airline pilot A 1959 graduate of the Swanson School of Engineering, Jones earned a bachelor’s degree from the mechanical and aeronautical departments. A letter winner in each of the years he competed for the Panthers in varsity track and field from 1955-1959, Jones was a member of the 1955 relay team that won the IC4A championship in New York City. Upon graduation, Jones, through ROTC, was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, achieving the rank of captain by the time of his honorable discharge six years later. He was the first Black pilot to fly for Pan American Airways in 1965. In 1986, he became the airline’s first African American captain. He was a founder and president of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. His generosity to Pitt has earned him membership in the Chancellor’s Circle for many years. Click here to see PittWire’s full coverage of the event. Kizito received the RAAL award at the annual Sankofa farewell fellowship brunch on Sun, Oct. 27, where they honored rising African American alumni and distinguished members of the Black Greek community. Rodney Kizito: A doctoral student in industrial engineering at the University of Tennessee and research and development engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy, Kizito is actively involved with under-represented middle and high school students and Pitt Excel students and mentoring programs. Click here to see PittWire’s full coverage of the event. ###


A “Shocking” New Way to Treat Infections

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 21, 2019) — Titanium has many properties that make it a great choice for use in implants. Its low density, high stiffness, high biomechanical strength-to-weight ratio, and corrosion resistance have led to its use in several types of implants, from dental to joints. However, a persistent problem plagues metal-based implants: the surface is also a perfect home for microbes to accumulate, causing chronic infections and inflammation in the surrounding tissue. Consequently, five to 10 percent of dental implants fail and must be removed within 10-15 years to prevent infection in the blood and other organs. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering introduces a revolutionary treatment for these infections. The group, led by Tagbo Niepa, PhD, is utilizing electrochemical therapy (ECT) to enhance the ability of antibiotics to eradicate the microbes. “We live in a crisis with antibiotics: most of them are failing. Because of the drug- resistance that most microbes develop, antimicrobials stop working, especially with recurring infections,” says Dr. Niepa, author on the paper and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the Swanson School, with secondary appointments in civil and environmental engineering and bioengineering. “With this technique, the current doesn’t discriminate as it damages the microbe cell membrane. It’s more likely that antibiotics will be more effective if the cells are simultaneously challenged by the permeabilizing effects of the currents. This would allow even drug-resistant cells to become susceptible to treatment and be eradicated.” The novel method passes a weak electrical current through the metal-based implant, damaging the attached microbe’s cell membrane but not harming the surrounding healthy tissue. This damage increases permeability, making the microbe more susceptible to antibiotics. Since most antibiotics specifically work on cells that are going to replicate, they do not work on dormant microbes, which is how infections can recur. The ECT causes electrochemical stress in all the cells to sensitize them, making them more susceptible to antibiotics. The researchers hope this technology will change how infections are treated. Researchers focused their research on Candida albicans (C. albicans), one of the most common and harmful fungal infections associated with dental implants. But while dental implants are one exciting application for this new technology, Niepa says it has other potential applications, such as in wound dressings. The paper, “Electrochemical Strategy for Eradicating Fluconazole-Tolerant Candida albicans using Implantable Titanium,” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.9b09977) was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. It was coauthored by Eloise Eyo Parry-Nweye, Nna-Emeka Onukwugha, Sricharani Rao Balmuri, Jackie L. Shane, Dongyeop Kim, Hyun Koo and Tagbo Niepa.
Maggie Pavlick

Adding a Human Touch to Engineering

Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (September 10, 2019) … During his undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, Isaiah Spencer-Williams (BSCEE ’19) traveled across the globe, witnessing the impact of engineering in places like Flint, Michigan and South Africa. These experiences left a lasting impression and inspired him to reframe his approach to engineering. Spencer-Williams, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, wants to remind his peers that they are designing for humanity and has worked to create an environment where students can focus on their wellbeing and grow to better understand the needs of others. “Human needs and problems often direct technological developments, so I think that we need a better understanding of human values and emotions to create the most effective designs,” said Spencer-Williams. “I think this concept is underrepresented in our undergraduate curriculum so I wanted to create a space for students to express themselves and learn to connect with their peers.” CREATING A SAFE SPACE Spencer-Williams and a friend founded The I.N.N.A.T.E. Project, which is dedicated to providing a space in which community members, specifically youths and young adults, can network with artists, challenge normalcy, and spark impactful conversations using natural and developed artistic abilities. The project not only provides a venue for students to have healthy discussions surrounding mental health, societal normalcies, and community engagement, but it also pushes them to explore their creativity, which Spencer-Williams encourages. “Whether it be writing, drawing, painting, or dancing, everyone should find something to distract themselves from the stress of their academic career,” he said. “People really value having this space to create. Engineering students have very rigorous curriculums and often feel siloed in the STEM world. This venue provides a safe space for many of us to branch out and connect with students from across the university and in the greater Pittsburgh community.” The I.N.N.A.T.E. Project holds their events at The Corner in West Oakland and has grown from a small gathering to a group of more than 40 students. They have recently been on hiatus but are working to restart and revamp programming in fall 2019. Finding Inspiration Away from Home Spencer-Williams started writing poetry in 2012, using music as inspiration for his work. He later began performing his poetry during his freshman year at Pitt and has since taken inspiration, in part, from experiences during his undergraduate studies. After his sophomore year, he had the opportunity to travel to South Africa through the Global Engineering Preparedness Scholarship (GEPS), where students are encouraged to think both locally and globally in terms of how to approach different problems in the classroom. New to international travel, this trip inspired him to write Aquatic Rose and Moonlit Lotus, his first poetry collection. Including pieces like “Orchid’s Obituary” and “No Longer With Us,” Spencer-Williams highlighted critical, recent American events in a creative way and called for us to remember our purpose in order to make positive change. “… I pray that our world mirrors your beautiful image, grasps onto your heavenly traits, and realizes that though you are no longer with us physically, you are eternally in the purity of our hearts.” - A line from "No Longer With Us" “My experience in South Africa really expanded my mindset and made me question how engineers can design for a larger community in a way where they balance the impact on the environment with the needs of the people they are serving,” said Spencer-Williams. “The trip also made me reflect on the privileges that we have in America and wonder how we can use that as a platform to better serve those who may be less fortunate.” After his junior year, Spencer-Williams traveled to Flint, MI, a city that has been in the national spotlight for its 2014 water crisis where insufficient water treatment exposed residents to lead and other toxins. Though this experience was difficult for him to write about, it further demonstrated the impact that engineering can have on a community. The Art of Communication “Taking poetry classes alongside my engineering coursework helped me manage my mental health,” Spencer-Williams explained, “but in addition to that, it has also made me a better communicator and has really helped elevate my academic career.” During the 2017 Fall Regional Conference of the National Society of Black Engineers, he participated in the Art of Technical Communication, a competition that challenges future engineers to develop innovative and imaginative techniques to express their knowledge of STEM. He presented Push, a poem communicating engineering principles and the black engineering experience and was awarded first place and the People’s Choice award for his performance. “…ultimately, what I'm trying to say, is that understanding the difficulty of being a black engineer is something on the orders of quantum mechanics…” - A line from "Push" “Developing my writing skills has helped me more effectively communicate my research, which is an important skill to have when trying to teach the general public about engineering,” he said. Spencer-Williams matriculated at the Swanson School’s civil engineering graduate program in August 2019. His goal is to become a professor so that he can encourage students to focus not only on academics but also on developing a stronger sense of self and understanding of how one’s work can impact the lives of others. He believes that fostering a greater sense of community, self-care, and global-mindedness may not only benefit society but also influence the way we teach, learn, and create. ###


In Pursuit of Inclusive Excellence


WHEELING, W.V. (Aug. 28, 2019) — Graduate school isn’t just about earning a degree. It’s about a shared experience, a community of scholars sharing little moments of connection across cultures. And that means learning to grow and thrive as a diverse team. That was the message at the 2019 PITT STRIVE retreat, which took place at Oglebay Resort and Conference Center on Aug. 8 and 9. The fourth annual retreat brought together Swanson School of Engineering faculty mentors and PhD mentees from the PITT STRIVE program, which  strives for excellence in academic and faculty engagement cultures that promote the success, transition, representation, innovation, vision, and education of URM PhD students. The program supports underrepresented students as they transition into doctoral engineering programs at the Swanson School, and fosters an inclusive environment that supports their retention and graduation by strong graduate students and faculty community building activities. “PITT STRIVE’s annual retreat gives our fellows and scholars the opportunity to cultivate relationships that will carry them forward into their professional and academic pursuits,” says Sylvanus Wosu, PhD, associate dean for diversity affairs. “A culture of inclusivity is invaluable in academia, and we all have a vital role to play in building it.” The retreat’s goal was clear from the first session. Michael Eatman, a diversity professional who helps organizations develop cultural competence and inclusive learning and working environments, led sessions designed to break down barriers and foster discussion about what inclusivity and diversity truly mean. What We Do Not See Eatman asked the group to find one individual that they do not work with on a regular basis for an exercise called “What We Do Not See.” In this team-building activity, partners looked at one another for two minutes without speaking and took note of the observations and assumptions they made about their partner. “Part of the work building community is being able to honestly share with those we are in community with,” Eatman noted. “Getting to the heart of community is moving through the use of our observations and assumptions as the only reality. Some of our work may be to create communities that allow room to discover who is beneath the facade we learn to put on for survival in institutions.” Some of the participants found this activity to be the most meaningful at the retreat. “I found this activity so significant because not only did I get to learn about another person, but I also gained a new tool to use in order to confront my own biases that I may have about people from now on,” said Isaiah Spencer-Williams, a civil engineering alumnus and rising graduate student. “As a community builder, I think building relationships and getting comfortable enough with people to have real conversations is a quintessential skill that a lot of people aren’t willing to invest into.” Eatman likened the dichotomy between diversity and inclusion to an hourglass, with “diversity” at the top and “inclusion” underneath. The bottleneck prohibiting the free flow of sand from one to the other was marked “share, respect, appreciate.” In order to navigate intercultural perspectives, he explained, we must pursue a shared goal, respect one another’s identity and appreciate cultural differences. “We have to be able to talk openly about diversity,” said Eatman. “We need to be soft on people, but hard on barriers to inclusion.” Building Communities and Ecosystems, Not Silos James R. Martin II, PhD, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering, also discussed building community, specifically how participants can work together as a team to pioneer a new educational paradigm. He discussed how higher education is being disrupted and how as a greater community, we need to determine what we value in education. “We are all a part of the same community to help solve these challenges,” he said. “Universities are supposed to be platforms of upward social mobility. By not investing in higher education, we are undervaluing the creation of new knowledge.” In order to thrive, he said, higher education must value diversity: “Diversity is critical because you need the gathered perspective that not one person has,” he said. “We must build communities and ecosystems in higher education, not silos.” “The dean’s presence made a positive impact on the participants,” says Wosu “Some participants felt the dean’s presence and his remarks on diversity and inclusion were some of the highlights of the event.” Breaking Barriers Medeva Ghee, PhD, executive director of the Leadership Alliance and an assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University, delivered the keynote address this year. Her talk, entitled “The Leadership Alliance: Removing Barriers to Accelerate the Diversification of the Research Workforce,” discussed the lack of diversity in academia and research communities, and the importance of addressing this concern. The Leadership Alliance, a national consortium of 35 institutions of higher education, provides programming to develop underrepresented students into thought leaders in academia and industry. Programs like this one, she explained, remove barriers that prevent underrepresented students from pursuing careers in academia and in research, such as workshops on how to market oneself for research careers, training activities for faculty to learn to recruit and retain diverse talent, and grant writing coaching groups to provide opportunity for junior faculty from minority-serving institutions to develop proposals to fund research. “These barriers are not new and have existed for decades,” said Sossena Wood, BSEE ‘11 PhD BioE ‘18, Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.  “It becomes very discouraging at times but supportive networks like the Leadership Alliance allow us to have a community that is equally invested in our success.  As much as programs like the Leadership Alliance support the development of URM graduate students for post-graduate careers in academia and research, continual work and partnership must evolve to reform the environments in which we choose to work.” Ghee also led a workshop titled “Faculty as Change Agents: You Got This!” The workshop provided a toolkit that can promote institutional change in diversity and inclusion. Building a culture of change starts with collaboration, an ecosystem informed by a university-wide strategic plan and evidence-based programs. “My biggest takeaway from the retreat was that in order to continue to build an inclusive and integrated community in the Swanson School of Engineering, efforts like this need to be supported and mobilized,” says Spencer-Williams. “The dean often talks about being the pioneers of a new educational system, and I think having conversations surrounding not only inclusivity, but also realistic integration can help make that transition.” After Ghee’s keynote address, Eatman reconvened with the group to help them gather their thoughts and discuss their response to the topics that were addressed throughout the day. The group then recognized four former PITT STRIVE fellows with the Pacesetter Award: Brandon Jennings, MSCoE ‘16, PhD ECE ‘19; Harold Rickenbacker, PhD CEE ‘19; Florencio Serrano Castillo, PhD ChemE ‘19; and Dr. Wood. The award honors them for serving as a role model in the PITT STRIVE community and for their commitment to the success of underrepresented minority graduate students in the Swanson School. This year’s PITT STRIVE retreat enacted the “Five I’s of Inclusive Excellence” during its two-day run. The community got a chance to come together and solidify its identity. Attendees interacted with one another, asking tough questions and learning about one another’s experiences. The speakers revealed ways to get involved in creating a more inclusive culture and have a real impact on the environment at Pitt. ### Brandon Jennings, PhDJennings, a senior system engineer for Raytheon in Tucson, Ariz., was the first PITT STRIVE Fellow to graduate from the program. He participated in numerous programs encouraging diversity in STEM, teaching robotics for three years for the INVESTING NOW program at Pitt. Jennings published six papers and won several awards during his time at Swanson, including K. Leroy Irvis Fellowship, the AGEP/PITT-STRIVE Fellowship and Chuck Cooper Foundation Scholarship. Harold Rickenbacker, PhDRickenbacker enrolled in the Pre-PhD Program offered by the Office of Diversity at Swanson in 2014. During his time at Swanson, he was awarded the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Award in 2019, the National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Scholar Grant Supplement Award in 2018, the Climate & Urban Systems Partnership: Research Grant in 2017, the Mascaro Center for Innovation Grant Award in 2016, and the Heinz Endowments Next Oxygen-eration Grant Award in 2015. He published six papers, two of which list him as first author. Florencio Serrano Castillo, PhDSerrano Castillo joined the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt as a PITT STRIVE Fellow in 2014. While earning his doctorate, Serrano Castillo was first author on two peer-reviewed publications and presented his work at several national and international conferences. He joined Fourth Rivers Consulting, where he participated in several engagements for healthcare startups in the Pittsburgh area. He was also part of the winning team of the Pitt Challenge Healthcare Hackathon. Serrano Castillo served two years as vice president of the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association, two years as the Chemical Engineering Department Representative to the Engineering Graduate Student Organization, and one year as the Graduate Student Representative for Pitt SHPE. Serrano Castillo will be starting a new role in industry as a clinical research scientist with Amgen at the Clinical Pharmacology, Modeling and Simulations division, developing system pharmacology models for the development of large molecule therapeutics for various indications. Sossena Wood, PhDWood is a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow within the Biomedical Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University. As she earned her doctorate in bioengineering at Pitt, she was a PITT STRIVE Fellow and a  K. Leroy Irvis and National GEM Consortium Fellow. Additionally, Wood won a number of awards, including being one of the University of Pittsburgh’s Rising African American Leaders, the National Institutes of Health F31 award, the New Pittsburgh Courier’s FAB 40, NSBE’s 2017 Mike Shinn Distinguished Member of the Year award, and Professional Women’s Network award. She served two terms as the National Chairperson of the National Society of Black Engineers. She is committed to engaging and empowering underrepresented youth to pursue STEM degrees locally and globally.
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell

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Email: eodadmin@pitt.edu

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