Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Sep

Sep
9
2020

When Words Aren’t Enough: EXCEL Students Reflect on Inequities in Education

Diversity, Student Profiles

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, a new generation of digital age students were awakened to the deep-rooted issues that contribute to racism in higher education. Now, they are dedicating energy to solve those issues, in their own communities and beyond. At the University of Pittsburgh, a group of Swanson School of Engineering students and alumni plan to push for sustained change and hope that the University will unite to create a better environment for everyone. They want to help colleges and universities evolve into places that feel welcoming and accessible for students of all races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. In doing this, they hope to create a rippling effect that will contribute to equality in the workforce and society as a whole. Finding a Space to be Black One challenge that underrepresented students in STEM face is the feeling that they cannot be authentically themselves and also fit in. Many students feel that they must code-switch in order to succeed. Pitt alumnus Rodney Kizito (BS IE ‘15) lauded the Swanson School and Yvette Moore’s efforts in establishing and directing Pitt EXCEL, a diversity program for underrepresented engineering students, which gives them a space to be themselves and support one another. “EXCEL gives us that sense of family and belonging where not everybody looks like you, but you’re all connected and share a common love and respect,” he said. “You don’t find many programs like this, and I haven’t had a comparable experience in my 10 years in academia.” When students discuss an inclusive environment, among other things, they want a place where they feel represented, heard, equal, and accepted. Sam Copeland, a junior in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, worked with EXCEL’s Summer Engineering Academy (SEA), which helps students make a smooth transition from high school to college. He echoed Kizito’s sentiment and saw its impact on the students’ choice in college. “The students in SEA have been coming because of the Pitt EXCEL family,” he said. “With COVID-19 and the current racial justice movements, they’ve really felt the power of EXCEL. They understand that we’re not just trying to meet a diversity quota. We want to support you and help you be the best person you can be.” Pitt EXCEL is an example of the space and inclusivity that students seek and how that can drive participation in college programs. However, according to the students, creating a space to be Black is only one of the gears that need to shift. Representation Matters Bringing diverse faculty to the educational system is part of the change that the students want to see. Enacting that change may not only help recruit and retain underrepresented minorities, but also provide something as simple as a fresh perspective on how race and culture intersect with various disciplines. “Because engineering has a deep relationship within the public sector, racial cultures should have a larger component in the design of some structure,” said Copeland. “More often than not, it is just avoided because it makes people ‘awkward’ or ‘uncomfortable.’” Given how engineering can impact the human condition, the students believe that the curriculum should represent and reflect the diverse global population and not assume a one-size-fits-all approach. “We aren’t written into the curriculum,” said Rene Canady (BS BioE ’20). “It’s not just Black people; in general, people of color are omitted from today’s education.” In creating a more inclusive curriculum, they believe that engineers can better serve society as a whole. A Call to Action As everyone begins to navigate the fall semester, the Swanson School students do not want the passion and drive for this movement to slow. For many, it is not simply a change of behavior; it is a change of mentality. Individuals may have to grapple with their own shortcomings and way of thinking. “I think those that acknowledge the struggle but fail to acknowledge the privilege that they have are the ones who may fall short in how far they can go to truly help us,” said Kizito. From July 28-30, the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted Diversity Forum 2020, Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action. Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Anti-racist Research at Boston University and author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, delivered the keynote in which he said, “To do nothing is to be complicit because that allows for the maintenance of racism.” The students in EXCEL want to have conversations about sacrifices people are willing to make in order to help others feel like they belong. “It’s not enough just to say that you’re not racist, we should strive to be anti-racist, as Dr. Kendi discussed in the Diversity Forum,” said Yemisi Odunlami, a senior in industrial engineering. “We all have some level of privilege, and we have to be able to recognize that and be willing to lose it so we can have an even playing field. “You don’t have to personally know a person of color to feel affected and want to enact change,” she continued. “The Marathon Continues” This year’s major events are a marathon; whether discussing the pandemic or racial justice, change is not going to happen in a day, but one has to keep running and fighting. And so, as EXCEL alumna Sossena Wood (BSEE ‘11 PhD BioE ’18) says, the marathon continues. “I was in high school when Black Lives Matter started, and I remember you couldn’t have posters or even a sticker on your binder,” recalled Odunlami. “Now corporations and universities are saying it, so I definitely feel hopeful, but we need to keep things moving.” She, like many others, feels optimistic for the future but wants to experience continuous inclusivity, not just after tragedies. “Each generation has had their own contribution to getting us to where we feel that level of equality,” said Kizito. “I’m definitely hopeful, and I feel blessed to witness what’s happening right now.” These engineering students, who have had both positive and negative experiences as underrepresented minorities in higher education, hope to see a transformation and believe that these changes will make it a better environment for the university as a whole in the years to come. # # # Resources Swanson School of Engineering’s Office of Diversity Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) Justice in June - a resource compiled by Autumn Gupta with Bryanna Wallace’s oversight for the purpose of providing a starting place for individuals trying to become better allies. Anti-racism for beginners Other educational resources Follow @BlackOwnedPGH on Instagram to support local Black-owned businesses Literature: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt Dowd, Alicia C., and Estela Mara Bensimon. Engaging the Race Question: Accountability and Equity in U.S. Higher Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 2015. Harper, Shaun R. Race Matters in College. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming. Museus, Samuel D., and Uma M. Jayakumar. Creating Campus Cultures: Fostering Success among Racially Diverse Student Populations. New York: Routledge, 2012. Quaye, Stephen John, and Shaun R. Harper. Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2014. Smith, Daryl G. Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making It Work. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. Steele, Claude M. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010. Sue, Derald Wing. Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley,

Aug

Aug
31
2020

Pork Dumplings with a Side of Wisdom, on ‘Seasoned’

Diversity, Student Profiles

Nse O’Dean had prepared some of his ingredients ahead of time: He had chicken in a plastic bag, coated with a vibrant blend of curry spices; a bag of frozen vegetables on stand-by; and a pan on the back burner. He adjusted the camera (his phone, propped up on the counter), poured some oil into a hot pan, and began chatting about his job, his car and his future plans. With his face ever-so-slightly out of frame, the recent graduate of University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering shared his cooking steps with all the ambiguity of a true family recipe. All the while, he fielded live questions from an audience of Pitt EXCEL students and friends: “What gave you the most anxiety when you got out of college?” “How do you get back to your focus if you find yourself feeling lost?” and “How do you get comfortable with the unknown?” It’s true across cultures and throughout time: Cooking brings people together. It’s a way of sharing traditions and culture while caring for the people closest to us. It was with that in mind that Pitt EXCEL, the undergraduate diversity program at the Swanson School, created the Seasoned video series on Instagram. Each 45-minute, biweekly Instagram Live video welcomes a member of the Pitt EXCEL community to share wisdom on a given topic while cooking a dish of their choosing. Delicate red velvet waffles, tidy pork dumplings and spicy Tuscan shrimp pasta were created live on camera while the chefs answered questions about careers, identity and navigating today’s world. The mind behind the series is Halima Morafa, a Pitt EXCEL member and a junior studying mechanical engineering. She worked with Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL, to develop the idea. They wanted to showcase both the wisdom inherent in the community and the cooking skills developed during quarantine. “Seasoned came to me as an expression that no matter what, food and conversation will bring people together. The connection is bigger than the divide,” said Moore. “It was a time for the young Pitt EXCEL Scholars to learn from some of their legacies. “Sometimes, as people of color we forget we have a legacy that is strong and rich. This is what Seasoned created while we all were able to sit around our virtual kitchens,” she added. Seasoned has been a perfect antidote to the fatigue caused by the pandemic, the loneliness of quarantining and the stress around the Black Lives Matter movement.  “I’ve always seen food as the center of a community. Seasoned was something lighthearted and gave us a time to connect with family and be there for each other,” said Morafa. “With everything being virtual, it feels good to have community engagement, but with real conversations about real things.” The videos themselves feel casual and personal—as if the host, who relays questions and provides comment, is chatting with a friend who happens to be making dinner—but the topics make for impactful discussions. “I loved listening in on conversations as there were always nuggets of wisdom I took from them,” said Ruby DeMaio (ChemE ’22), a current EXCEL student. “Pitt EXCEL has a really great relationship with our alumni, and this was definitely a different way of getting to hear from them. Overall the series came across as very organic and I can't wait for it to come back!” Seasoned created a space for alumni to connect with their friends and support one another, as well. “I kept tuning in because each person featured was someone that I had the chance to get to know during my time at Pitt so I got the chance to hear from them and watch them make a new cuisine at the same time,” said Jahari Mercer (IE ‘20), an EXCEL alum. “Pitt Excel really is one big family, and so I tuned in to be around my family. I had the chance to see others tuning in and chat with them while we were all online. “For me, it was fun just to laugh and hear from others that you don't get to physically see during this time.” So far, viewers have heard from several EXCEL alumni: Rene Canady about growing pains while learning to make red velvet waffles; Nse O’Dean created his feast of curried chicken, peas and rice and chow mein while discussing being comfortable with the unknown. Christine Nguyen talked about giving back to the community while sharing her take on bun rieu, a Vietnamese crab noodle soup, and Kiara Lee showcased her colorful salad techniques while chatting about work-life balance. Current students also shared their wisdom. Morafa chatted about the importance of good communication while preparing Tuscan shrimp pasta with an added kick, and Sydney Anderson, a senior studying chemical engineering, shared her insights on building self-confidence, while creating pork dumplings. “All the chefs have been great with a plethora of knowledge,” said Morafa. “All around, it’s a fun show to tune into and learn something from peers. It lets us connect with our family over the summer.” Though the series was set to run only until the end of the summer, the videos remain on Instagram to inspire. Find all of the Seasoned videos on Pitt EXCEL’s Instagram (@PittEXCEL).
Maggie Pavlick

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



May

May
20
2020

Pitt alumna and Alabama engineer Renee Corbett '16 helping NYC homeless fight COVID-19

Covid-19, Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

This story was originally published by AL.com. In New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the virus that’s forced most people indoors is forcing the homeless outdoors. Renee Corbett, a native of Huntsville who works with the international aid group, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, has seen it first-hand. Corbett, a civil and environmental engineer by training, is in New York working with an MSF team providing hygiene service and infection control to New York’s homeless population. With public bathrooms and recreation centers closed, the places where homeless people could bathe are gone. So Corbett’s team operates two mobile shower facilities for people that need it. “At our showers we are meeting many people who say that they are choosing to live on the streets instead of in shelters because they feel that they are safer from COVID-19 on the streets,” she said. Before the global pandemic, Corbett had worked primarily in Africa, providing water and hygiene to people in Ethiopia and Sudan. It seems odd that providing a simple need: clean water and a place to bathe, would be just as necessary in America’s largest city as it is in wilds of Africa. ... Read the full article here.
Author: Shelly Haskins, AL.com
May
5
2020

Swanson School of Engineering Names Natasa Vidic as 2020 Outstanding Educator

Industrial, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (May 5, 2020) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering recognized Natasa Vidic, PhD, assistant professor of industrial engineering, with the 2020 Outstanding Educator Award. This competitive award recognizes her excellence in teaching and innovative work in improving learning methodologies for undergraduate students. The award includes a $2,000 grant to further enhance the recipient’s teaching. Vidic received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 and hired as a Visiting Professor immediately after. She joined the Department of Industrial Engineering as an assistant professor in 2010. Since then, she has taught over 3,500 engineering students and frequently has more than 200 students per semester. “Natasa has worked tirelessly as a valued member of the Undergraduate Committee to make sure our students receive the best possible learning experience,” said Bopaya Bidanda, PhD, Ernest E. Roth Professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering. “She is always working towards improve her courses each year both in content and technique, and has led the effort to review core course content in the entire curriculum to ensure that there is no duplication, and that technical material is integrated in a logical progression.” In addition to her course load and committee work, Vidic has spent the past decade researching engineering education, where she focuses on improving engineering students’ learning strategies through models and modeling. “This award reaffirms my past efforts to improve student learning outcomes,” said Vidic. “It inspires me to work even harder to make sure that we continue to offer outstanding education to our students and help them reach their potential.” Vidic was one of the first faculty members in the Swanson School to “flip” her class, a teaching method that presents the lecture content online for students to watch before class, leaving class time for discussing and applying the material. “Since the very first course I took from Dr. Vidic, I admired her ability to engage a classroom.  Even in a setting of over eighty students, you never felt as though you were just sitting through another hour and a half lecture,” said Sean Callaghan, who graduated with his BS in industrial engineering in 2019. “Most of the time, you were having a conversation with either a small group or the entire room and talking through the complex theories and problems that Dr. Vidic had just presented that day.” Vidic’s open-door policy has solidified her role as a mentor and advisor to a growing number of undergraduates. Among them is senior industrial engineering student Jacob Richards, who said, “I fervently believe that there is no faculty member like her, that she is one of those special cases that mean so much to people like me and that without her, I would not be where I am today.” The Outstanding Educator Award is usually presented in person at a meeting for faculty; however, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the award was announced by U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II in his address to the graduating industrial engineering class. “Improving the way we teach and serve students is a goal toward which we strive, and Natasa has been a tremendous role model in that respect,” said Martin. “The Swanson School is proud to have her among our faculty as she emboldens the next generation of the engineers to solve the toughest problems and advance the human condition.”
Maggie Pavlick

Apr

Apr
24
2020

Shaniel Bowen Receives Ford Foundation Fellowship for Women’s Health Research

Bioengineering, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2020) … Despite the fact that women make up more than half of the U.S. population, women’s health continues to be an underserved area of research in science and medicine. Shaniel Bowen, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, is doing her part to narrow that gap by studying the biomechanical roots of a common pelvic floor disorder, and she has received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to support these efforts. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when the muscles and tissues that support the pelvic organs weaken and allow the organs to push against the vagina. This common condition adversely affects women’s quality of life, including their body image, sexual function and personal relationships. Surgical repair for POP often fails within five years and requires reoperation, but the exact causes of this failure are unknown. The goal of Bowen’s research is to create a tool to better assess POP repairs. “The standard tool used to evaluate POP repairs is limited to external vaginal examination,” explained Bowen. “As a result, it cannot detect the internal changes and interactions of pelvic structures involved in POP recurrence.” This work is led by her advisor, Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Pamela Moalli, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Pitt and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Abramowitch’s research uses experimental and computational methods to develop preventative treatment options for POP and more effective patient-specific treatments. He has a background in biomechanics, which he and the lab believes will play an important role in better understanding the causes of failed surgery. “Nearly one-third of POP repairs fail due to abnormal mechanical behavior of the muscles, connective tissues, and nerves that help provide pelvic floor support following surgery,” said Bowen. “Failure of POP repair is fundamentally a biomechanical process; therefore, a biomechanical understanding of how and why repairs fail is needed to better treat POP and prevent its recurrence after surgery.” Bowen’s goal is to create a novel assessment tool to evaluate and predict surgical outcomes of POP repairs based on patient anatomy. The project uses magnetic resonance images (MRIs) to get a better idea of the internal changes after POP surgery. She will apply statistical shape analysis and finite element modeling to the MRIs of 89 women with POP that underwent native tissue repair or mesh repair 30-42 months post-surgery. She will then use these data to identify anatomic descriptors and predictors of surgical outcomes and quantify the relationship between the mechanical demand required for POP repair to successfully correct prolapse. “We need to address the gaps in scientific knowledge about women’s health,” said Bowen. “If this research is successful, it will advance our biomechanical knowledge of how and why failures occur after POP surgery. We hope that this tool will provide useful data to clinicians and help guide and optimize surgical decision-making to improve POP repair.” # # # About the Ford Foundation Fellowship Through its Fellowship Programs, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Predoctoral, Dissertation, and Postdoctoral fellowships will be awarded in a national competition administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on behalf of the Ford Foundation.

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

Mar

Mar
31
2020

Alumnus Rodney Kizito BSIE '15 thrives in PhD program at the University of Tennessee

Industrial, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Read Rodney's story at the Tickle College of Engineering. Industrial and systems engineering Department Head John Kobza describes PhD student Rodney Kizito as an “industrial engineering cheerleader,” and an overall great ambassador for the department. Kizito’s dedication and enthusiasm earned him notice as the 2020 Outstanding Graduate Student in ISE. Kizito says of many accomplishments in his time as an Engineering Vol, he is proudest of an article he published in the IEEE journal in January 2020. “It’s been a goal of mine my entire five-year graduate career, and to accomplish it in my final year was truly a blessing,” he said. The article focused on his research into the optimization of solar-based microgrid system operation. “I’m building a case for why utility companies should consider investing in microgrids as a way to provide power to their serviced regions in the event of a large-scale disturbance, such as a hurricane or tornado, to the traditional power grid.” Kizito’s motivation stems from a uniquely personal life experience. He migrated with his family to the US from Uganda in 1999 at the tender age of six. “My parents gave up everything to give my siblings and me a chance at a better education, and life in general, here in the States,” said Kizito. “My family is one of the fortunate families that gets to chase the American dream from Uganda, thus I wanted to pursue my PhD with a research focus that can help my fellow countrymen back home.” More than 40 million people live in Uganda, yet less than 25 percent of the country had access to electricity when Kizito began grad school in 2015. This didn’t seem right to him. “The one thing Uganda does have in abundance is the sun,” he said. “I decided to pursue a research track focused in harnessing solar energy as a means for power generation. My prayer is that I am able to help bring regular electricity access to my fellow countrymen, and make great use of the opportunity I was blessed to receive to study in the USA.” Kizito works both locally and globally to give back to his community. He has worked with UT’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to help connect members from across the country to the ISE graduate program at UT. “I enjoyed doing so because I know how beneficial NSBE has been for me in my 10-year collegiate career,” he said. “Being a recruiter for the department allows me help open up graduate school opportunities for NSBE members looking to continue their education.” He also enthusiastically appreciates the many ways his academic goals have been boosted at UT: acceptance and encouragement from the ISE department; support from the university’s grant partnerships with the Department of Energy; and helpful challenges from his advisor, Professor Xueping Li. “Dr. Li has challenged me academically, professionally and personally,” said Kizito. “He has challenged how I approach problems, especially those that don’t necessarily fall in my lane of expertise. I can’t say enough of how grateful I am for his leadership and guidance as my advisor, but even more for how he has cared for me as a person.” He looks forward to completing his PhD in December. In the meantime, he couples his research with working with Associate Dean Ozlem Kilic to improve the college’s efforts at recruiting students from underrepresented areas of the population. “After graduation, I hope to work for a renewable energy developer while I continue establishing my entrepreneurial consulting firm goals,” said Kizito. “I will forever be a proud graduate of Big Orange.” ###
Author: Tickle College of Engineering
Mar
10
2020

Learn more about Pitt's planning and response to COVID-19

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Please visit and bookmark the University of Pittsburgh COVID-19 site for the most up-to-date information and a full list of resources. From the University Times: As the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, Pitt is remaining diligent with addressing related issues as the pop up. For an overall look at updates from Pitt, go to emergency.pitt.edu. On Saturday, Provost Ann Cudd issued a statement about how to support faculty and staff who have committed to attending professional conferences this semester and choose not to attend due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The University will grant an exception for travel booked through May 31 and reimburse any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by those who decide to cancel travel. The administration will reassess this deadline date as COVID-19 evolves and may extend the deadline as conditions evolve. For more updates from the provost, go to provost.pitt.edu. The provost and the University Center for Teaching and Learning is encouraging faculty to be prepared if remote learning situations become required. The center has set up a page detailing the basics of providing instructional continuity. The page will be updated regularly. Find information about remote learning and more at teaching.pitt.edu/instructional-continuity. All business units and responsibilities centers also are being asked to work on how to handle mass absenteeism and/or the need for as many people as possible to work at home.