Generating Knowledge, Preparing Students, and Using Research to Transform Lives

Issue Date: 
July 6, 2015

During the June 19, 2015, annual meeting of the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher focused his remarks on the past academic year and the extraordinary accomplishments of Pitt students, staff, and faculty, as well as an update on the University’s strategic planning process. His report to the trustees follows.

Year in Review


Pitt continues to attract students because of its reputation for exceptional academics and quality. Applications for Fall 2015 admissions remain strong, with more than 30,600 students competing for approximately 4,000 spaces on the Pittsburgh campus. In addition, we are seeing strong application numbers for admission to the regional campuses, which continue to post healthy retention and transfer numbers. When the students arrive on campus, they find opportunities to gain an extraordinary education. 


But the job doesn’t end with bringing in a strong class. We have to provide that class with the resources and services necessary for graduation. We do that at Pitt. That is why our graduation numbers are so impressive. More than 8,800 degrees were awarded from August 2014 through May 2015! 

Graduation is a joyful time across all of our campuses, but our graduates continue to find gratification beyond campus. A recent alumni survey administered by Gallup indicates that compared with graduates of other institutions, Pitt graduates are more engaged in the workplace; are leading rich, rewarding lives; feel that Pitt prepared them well for life after college and that Pitt was the best place for them; and that they cannot imagine a world without Pitt. Such remarkable attitudes speak to our University’s capacity to prepare our graduates to make a difference locally and, for many of them, globally.  

Student Awards

Of course, while they are on campus, we help prepare our undergraduate and graduate students to achieve some of the highest national and international honors. In the past year, the distinctions they have earned have reached across global health, energy, language, law, athletics, and community engagement. These awards showcase that Pitt is succeeding in its most fundamental mission: to provide students with the opportunity to be the best in everything they do.

Here are a few of the ways in which the achievements of our students have been recognized: 

• Junior Sage M. Lincoln was awarded a Udall Scholarship.

• Juniors Zachary A. Barnes and Joseph P. Johnston were awarded Goldwater scholarships.

• Tyler Wilps, of Pitt wrestling, was chosen as ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was an NCAA All-American. 

• Recent graduate Alexandre Gauthier was named a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow.

• Recent graduate and women’s basketball standout, Brianna Kiesel, was named to First Team All-ACC and ACC All-Academic.

• In addition, 15 Pitt students won Fulbright grants to teach, research or study abroad; 13 earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships; and four students earned the Boren scholarship to study language and culture in nations critical to U.S. security.  

Staff Achievement

Our students’ remarkable talents enable them to compete against the best in the world, but they are also guided and supported by gifted Pitt staff and faculty who create the environment for students to develop. Our staff and faculty lead by example when it comes to showcasing what it means to be outstanding. And to show our appreciation for all that they do, on May 20th we closed down Bigelow Boulevard and hosted a Staff and Faculty Appreciation Picnic. More than 4,000 members of the University donned their favorite blue-and-gold gear and joined me and other members of the administration for a lunchtime celebration filled with food, fun, and dancing in the streets.

But as you know, life at Pitt is not just about fun and games. Our staff’s achievements, exemplified by Lori E. McMaster, with the Office of Professional and Career Development in the School of Law; James N. Williams, with the Office of Community and Governmental Relations; head women’s basketball coach, Suzie McConnell-Serio; and Allie Chornick, assistant manager with the William Pitt Union, all earned national, professional, or community honors for their outstanding—and sometimes history-making—contributions to their professions and to society. 

In addition, Tami Haslett, Brian Root, Sharie Radzavich, Barbara Early, and Philippa Carter were all recognized with the Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence in Service to the Community or to the University.  

Faculty Achievement

Our dedicated faculty, who hold themselves to high standards of creativity, discipline, and research, are also honored with distinctions. At Pitt, given our research mission, it is no surprise that many of our faculty engage in trailblazing work. 

The following list, while not at all inclusive, demonstrates the high degree to which faculty in the past year earned a range of distinctions across disciplines, across campuses, and across local, national, and international honors.   

• Pitt poet and English professor Terrance Hayes was named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow, one of the nation’s most high-profile honors. 

• Pitt math and biology professor G. Bard Ermentrout received the Israel Brain Technologies’ Mathematical Neuroscience Prize.

• Music professor Amy Williams is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, enabling her to spend a year composing new music.

• Pitt-Bradford Professors Stephen Robar and Wayne Brinda received the Inspiring Youth Award from Pennsylvania Wilds for teaching sustainable tourism development.

• The White House acknowledged Pitt’s national standing in the neurosciences by inviting Peter Strick and Andrew Schwartz, with Pitt’s new Brain Institute, to the White House for the launch of the President’s Brain Initiative last fall. 

• Richard Schulz, of the University Center for Social and Urban Research and Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, received the 2015 Baltes Distinguished Research Achievement Award. It is the nation’s most prestigious award on aging research. 

• Anthony Grace, Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience, and Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, received the William K. Warren Research Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to understanding schizophrenia.

• Mark Stauffer and Olivia Long, at Pitt Greensburg, recently received a National Science Foundation grant to increase the retention and graduation rates of students from rural Pennsylvania. 

• Surgery chair Timothy Billiar was awarded the Medallion for Scientific Achievement of the American Surgical Association—the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the field of surgery. This is an extraordinary achievement.

Successfully Securing Scarce Resource Dollars

In addition to recognition for their accolades, our faculty members continue to attract incredible levels of research funding. In a year of flat federal support, we projected a four percent decrease in federal dollars; we are actually going to see an increase in federal funding. Many significant grants have been received since Aug. 1, 2014, and we are on pace to exceed our target of nearly $670 million in sponsored-project support. Such funding levels put us among other top-tier universities and the expenditure of these dollars also aids the regional economy. Clearly our tremendous researchers are doing high- quality work on the most important problems. 

The grants also enable Pitt to partner in research collaborations with the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Defense, some of the nation’s top schools, and renowned nonprofit organizations. These collaborations help Pitt to address grand challenges in medicine, such as whole-eye transplantation and regenerative medicine, and engage in research that benefits our military as well as civilian population. Equally important, the funding fuels Pitt’s mission and the broad range of ways that our critical research enhances the human condition. At Pitt, we generate knowledge, encourage collaborations, and forge partnerships that advance our work on campus and in the community. This is the way we use our research to help transform lives. 

Sustainability as Year’s Theme

Research, collaboration, new knowledge, and changing lives were at the center of the University’s Year of Sustainability in 2014. It was our first attempt at a theme year, and it was quite successful in engaging students, faculty, and staff around a single topic. Activities included lectures, sustainability competitions, and awards. 

Our faculty members continue to work on new ideas and approaches in sustainability—and they continue to receive funding support. Take, for example, two recent new grants from the National Science Foundation. One was to Paul Floreancig in chemistry, who is investigating sustainable organic synthesis techniques for environmentally friendly products. The other grant supports collaboration between Melissa Bilec of the Swanson School’s Civil and Environmental Engineering and Louise Comfort of GSPIA to study resilient and sustainable building design.

Permanent outcomes from the Year of Sustainability include: 

• The hiring of four new faculty members 

• The launch of a new Sustainability Faculty Fellows program, to be coordinated through the Mascaro Center

• A proposal for a new undergraduate certificate in sustainability

• The hiring of a Sustainability Coordinator—a new and permanent position in Student Affairs that will assist students in the outside-the-classroom  sustainability activities 


Given the success of the Year of Sustainability, we’re going to continue with themed academic years, and I am pleased to announce that we are designating next year as the Year of the Humanities. The year will highlight the significant role that the humanities play in teaching critical and creative thinking on everything from poetry to politics. The year will feature events and programs intended to highlight the importance of the humanities across a wide variety of academic disciplines, including the social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, medicine, and others. The year’s events will call attention to the important role that humanistic thinking plays in research and education across the University. The Provost’s Office will provide $100,000 in matching funds to support activities that further this goal.


A diverse and vibrant University community is fundamental to our mission to educate and serve. In my first year, I toured the campus, visiting departments, units, and schools. I talked with students, faculty, and staff. And, repeatedly, I was told that this is an area of great opportunity that our community feels passionately about.

Embracing diversity is a key goal in our new strategic plan and throughout the years to come. But we have already undertaken some early efforts, including recently naming Pam Connelly as associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, a role she assumed in May. Pam will serve as a guiding hand in centralizing our diversity efforts. The Offices of Affirmative Action and Title IX will report to her. Pam was one of the key coordinators for the Title IX conference that we hosted with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in May, where more than 300 people attended from across the region. Pam will help us renew our focus on diversity to make Pitt more competitive, reflect the world we live in, and echo the business model of many other successful organizations. 

Increasing Commercialization

In addition to taking some early steps toward building a strong culture of diversity and inclusion, we have also undertaken some efforts to tackle another area of great opportunity: maximizing the impact of our research by strengthening our capacity to partner and affect the economy through our work.

We are making great strides toward that purpose. Early on, we developed a high-profile partnership agreement between Pitt and UPMC that is designed to speed the commercialization of new medical technologies and services. It is a partnership that offers the benefits of bringing medical advances to the public more rapidly and supporting new business start-ups, with the accompanying economic benefits for the region.

This increased activity helps Pitt drive regional economic growth. We consolidated several functions under the Innovation Institute. The institute has helped with boosting this region’s entrepreneurs and has aided dozens of commercial efforts. In just this academic year, the institute has received 300 invention disclosures and 65 U.S. patents; generated revenue of $6.6 million for the companies it assists; and helped to launch 10 start-up companies. This kind of effort is highlighted in a recent report by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association that ranks Pitt 28th out of the top 100 worldwide universities that were granted U.S. patents.

Economic Partnerships

In addition to the successful work of the Innovation Institute, Rebecca Bagley joined Pitt as vice chancellor for economic partnerships in March. Rebecca is responsible for coordinating and leveraging the University’s economic development activities. Her work includes helping build economic development strategies and the partnerships to execute those strategies. Rebecca is also working to coordinate major projects that involve multiple schools within the institution and complex external partnerships that can include business, government, and nonprofits. 

Leveraging the Power and Insights of Big Data

In reviewing the year, certainly we can point to emerging opportunities to build a better institution, and in many cases, a better community, country, and world, through commercialization efforts and economic partnerships. But we are also leveraging the power and insights that are contained in the vast stores of digital data being collected in many areas, including science, government, business, education, and health care. Much of this data is stored in our libraries, although not in a way that evokes the traditional libraries of our childhood. To explore ways that we can improve our library system, we have partnered with CMU to conduct a thorough review of our options for collaboration between our universities on this front. 

The value of data also extends to learning about and implementing research-backed and technology-enhanced learning in the classroom. In addition to the outstanding efforts of our learning science faculty, I have also joined the Board of the Global Learning Council, established under the leadership of Subra Suresh at CMU. This organization is drafting a working paper on best practices in technology-enhanced-learning and student data sharing. The paper was presented to the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C., when I was there last month and just yesterday it was shared with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. 

Thanks to an $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, we have a leading role shaping a Big Data to Knowledge Center of Excellence. This is an initiative that will help scientists to capitalize more fully on large amounts of available data and to make data science a more prominent component of biomedical and other research.

The Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance is another way we are using Big Data. Announced in March, the partnership brings together Pitt, CMU, and UPMC. Each institution has well-documented strengths in health sciences research, computer science, machine learning, and clinical care. Together, we will harness health care data to deepen our understanding of how we can transfer knowledge out of the lab into the hands of doctors in our hospitals and clinics. UPMC will contribute $10-$20 million a year for five to six years, and the work will involve many faculty and students from different parts of the campuses. Through this alliance, we are positioning ourselves to be at the forefront of the big data revolution. This also means that this alliance places Western Pennsylvania at the epicenter of innovations that will result in new medical treatments, new business opportunities and new jobs, which support the economic vitality of our region. 

Creating More Opportunities to Effectively Partner to Benefit the Community and the University

Pitt has been built on a culture of service. This service puts students, faculty, and staff in contact with diverse communities and makes Pitt a stronger community partner on many levels. We are not only recommitting to our role in the community but we will also focus on strategically leveraging the new and existing partnerships for greater impact. 

Such key engagements with the community do not go unrecognized. For the second consecutive year, the University of Pittsburgh has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, which recognizes colleges and universities nationwide that play an important role in their communities. The University was recognized in three categories, the most for any institution in Western Pennsylvania: General Community Service, Economic Opportunity, and Education. The Economic Opportunity category recognizes Pitt’s community engagement that leads to the creation of investment, jobs, and housing.

Pitt’s service to community through volunteerism in the past year was exceptional. Pitt students in Oakland and the regional campuses, provided more than 300,000 hours of service to their communities.  

Extending and Deepening our Contribution Globally

Engaging globally is an essential part of the learning and research environment at Pitt, and we are working hard to strengthen it. One prime example of innovative outreach is the fact that more than 11,000 people enrolled in Epidemics, Pandemics, and Outbreaks, the four-week massive open online course taught by Pitt Law faculty, through Coursera. It drew participants from Brazil, India, Nigeria, Turkey and other parts of the globe. In health care, the 7th Annual International Conference on Interprofessional Practice and Education: All Together for Better Health VII brought representatives of 28 different countries to Pittsburgh last summer. It was the first time that this annual conference was held in the United States. 

Later today, Pitt is welcoming to campus the Vice Premier of China, and such outreach continues to build on the fruitful academic and research relations in and with our colleagues in China. The School of Education signed an agreement with Beijing Normal University that includes a program to bring 30-50 Chinese students here to prepare for study at Pitt and elsewhere. James Cook, associate director for the Asian Studies Center, was named by China’s Ministry of Education as a Distinguished Overseas Educator.  Pitt cancer epidemiologist Jian-Min Yuan was awarded a five-year grant of more than $4.2 million from the National Cancer Institute to support two studies examining how environmental and lifestyle factors and genetics have affected the incidence, mortality, and age-related outcomes of cancer in more than 81,000 Chinese men and women. These studies already have yielded important findings and have led to chemoprevention trials underway in the United States. This fall, the University of Pittsburgh-Sichuan University Joint Institute will welcome its first freshman class of engineers. 

But Pitt is connected to other parts of the world, too. Researchers Mary Marazita and Seth Weinberg, in the School of Dental Medicine, for example, were awarded a $11.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, to continue their exploration of the genetic roots of cleft lip and cleft palate and to expand the effort to include populations in Colombia, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Pennsylvania. 

Engaging Alumni and Athletics

Continuously engaging our alumni is critical and our collaborations with them over the past year have resulted in  vital contributions to Pitt’s success. They serve as ambassadors for the University. Among the guests invited to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama for the 2015 State of the Union address were Pitt alumni and trustee Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, and alum Pranav Shetty, a physician who has fought against Ebola in West Africa. Their presence at such a high-profile event helps tell the story of how Pitt alumni continue to make a difference.

It is our goal to continue to engage our alumni and enhance our lifelong relationship with them. Recently, the Pitt Alumni Association held National Networking Day. It was a one-day event for all Pitt alumni to join together in their respective cities and to network. Pitt and Pitt alumni clubs worldwide served as hosts. There were nearly 70 events held around the world and more than 3,000 alumni participated. It included clubs from Anchorage to Atlanta, from Beijing to Boston, and from Shanghai to Seattle. 

Trustees Sam Zacharias and Keith Schaefer helped us to host our first Alumni Engagement Weekend. The program’s purpose was to reignite and better connect our young alums. New football coach Pat Narduzzi is helping us to do this, too. The Alumni Association sent him on a “tour” of several U.S. cities. So far, more than 1,000 alumni have attended the tours to get to know the coach. 

In April, under sunny skies, a packed crowd watched Pitt’s Blue-Gold spring game. It’s an exceptional example of alumni and athletic outreach and community building. A number of prominent football alumni attended: Larry Fitzgerald and Aaron Donald were honorary captains and other football alums came back, including Curtis Martin and LeSean McCoy. 

I think this is a good time for me to welcome our new athletic director, Scott Barnes, who has officially joined our ranks this week. As I mentioned during the April press conference, we are fortunate to have him. Scott is nationally distinguished as one of the top administrators in collegiate athletics, and his track record of accomplishments speaks for itself. I look forward to working with him. Welcome, Scott. 

Institutional Achievements

Pitt is no stranger when it comes to external recognition of excellence at the institutional level, and that recognition continued this past year. 

• We were named a 2015 Beckman Scholars Program Institution, recognizing our ability to consistently produce high-achieving undergraduate scholars.

• We were named a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Site, earning a $300,000 grant to advance innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship at Pitt.

• Pitt-Bradford was named one of the best colleges in the Northeast by The Princeton Review and also a 2015 Military Friendly School, as was our Pittsburgh campus. 

• Out of a worldwide review of 3,500 universities, Pitt’s philosophy department was ranked No 2.

• The Pitt School of Nursing was named No. 5 in the nation in the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools Guidebook. 

Institutional Advancement 

Of course, the work that leads to such accolades is built on the strong base of financial support that is critical to carrying out our mission. Since the end of the University of Pittsburgh’s $2 billion capital campaign in June 2013, we have remained committed to fundraising excellence in the support of students, research, and institutional growth. And donors remain inspired to support the work of faculty and are committed to underwriting the University’s mission. We feel fortunate that so many contribute to our efforts.

Between July 1, 2014, and June 17, 2015, the University received $150 million in commitments, which include pledges and outright gifts. While the fiscal year has yet to close, this marks the 12th consecutive year for raising $100 million in commitments. 

Pitt-Bradford exceeded its $20 million campaign goal by more than $2 million. Most recently, it received more than $600,000 in external funding for a number of programs on its campus. Pitt-Johnstown received a $1 million commitment from Somerset Trust Co. to support out-of-classroom learning, professional mentorship, and other initiatives. 

There has been a strong fundraising push to support upgrades to the Duratz Athletic Complex on Pittsburgh’s South Side, including $2.7 million in commitments so far to support the $3.6 million project. The renovations will enhance the learning environment for our student-athletes. 

The University launched EngagePitt, its first web-based method of fundraising. It is a crowd funding effort especially directed at millennials, the next generation of givers.

Strategic Planning Update

Lastly, we have spent a large part of the year engaged with faculty, students, staff, and our board members to create a strategic plan for advancing the University over the next five years. We engaged the community and our stakeholders in a wide variety of ways and settings. We sought to be as inclusive as possible, and solicited input from every part of the Pitt family. We have heard from hundreds of voices so far, and we will continue to engage the community as we move forward.

Building on the foundation of the strategic priorities and our planning framework, we have now added the strategic goals and supporting initiatives that will advance our vision of what this University can be.

We will define our success by our progress toward these goals. We have established working groups that have been tasked with creating an implementation plan over the next several months. Over the years ahead, this implementation plan will serve as our roadmap for the work we will do and will also establish the metrics we will use to measure our progress. While our work continues, I’d like to outline the five strategic goals that we have identified through our planning efforts.

We aspire to be a university that…

• Prepares students to lead lives of impact through a holistic and individualized approach to learning that engages them both inside and outside the classroom. 

• Advances the frontiers of knowledge and makes a positive impact on the world by integrating the strengths of multiple disciplines and focusing on areas of great societal need.

• Strengthens our communities—from the Pitt community, to our region and the world around us—by expanding engagements, enriching connections, and embracing a global perspective.

• Supports success through a foundation of strong internal culture, a robust capacity to partner, outstanding infrastructure, and effective operations.

• Embodies diversity and inclusion as core values that enrich learning, scholarship, and the communities we serve.

We are now actively planning how to implement these goals by mapping actions to our schools, regional campuses, research centers, and operational units—and defining how we will measure our progress.