Pitt in Boston

Issue Date: 
February 22, 2017

They came, they saw, they deepened the University of Pittsburgh’s footprint in the Boston area.

From February 6–8, a small group of Pitt faculty and staff worked to share news and build awareness of the Northeast’s best public university (according to The Wall Street Journal) in a city whose modern economy, like Pittsburgh’s, is built on eds and meds.

The full-court press began Monday evening with concurrent meetings for Boston-area alumni and prospective Boston-area students and their parents. It featured appearances by Pitt faculty members addressing groups at MassBio and at MIT. The 48-hour blitz also included a wave to former Panthers turned New England Patriots Jabaal Sheard and Dion Lewis as they passed by in the Super Bowl parade, a jubilant celebration of the men’s basketball team win over the Boston College Eagles, and a just-in-time departure for Pittsburgh ahead of a snowstorm.

More than 80 alumni, comprising a diverse audience of youthful and seasoned Panthers, met for an update on all things Pitt on Feb. 6. Sekou Dilday, a 2000 graduate of the College of General Studies, described himself as “a big proponent of the University of Pittsburgh. My Pitt degree was the entry way into corporate America and it allowed me to get into the industry that I had aimed for.”

Amanda Lustig, a 2011 Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences graduate who works in health care said, “The most impressive thing I heard today was all of the research that is being done from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC collaboratively. It means a lot to me to know that my alma mater is doing these incredible things.”

They and other alumni were just across the hall from an event for 250 prospective students and families. The alumni closed their event by moving into the student reception for some informal socializing with the potential new Panthers.

“The two events were so closely located that we briefly paused the program for the prospective students and their families when they noticed the alumni beginning to sing the alma mater,” said Senior Vice Chancellor and Provost Patricia Beeson. “It was an unexpected but moving demonstration of the depth of feeling our alums have for Pitt.”

Most of the prospective students present were rising seniors admitted to Pitt and in the process of making decisions, though some high school juniors were also welcomed.

“I came tonight because, well, I’ve been accepted as a student and I figured tonight would be a cool chance to see a bit more about it,” said Ryan Frauenholz, a senior at Boston’s Saint John’s High School. “What attracted me to Pitt was mainly it has an incredible standing as a research university and as a university in general,” he added. “It is a great school.”

The next day, the University hosted a meeting of 30 high school guidance counselors from the New England area.

Pitt faculty, who joined in the events for students and alumni, came along to meet with representatives of Lab Central, a not-for-profit enterprise featuring shared laboratory space that serves as a launch pad for high-potential life-sciences and biotech startups. They also made presentations and participated in panel discussions at local institutions, highlighting Pitt’s achievements in medicine and tech.

Pitt’s advances in personalized medicine were presented to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, an organization based in Cambridge and dedicated to advancing cutting-edge research to improve patients’ lives in Massachusetts and beyond. The Pitt contingent included faculty members Adrian Lee, professor of pharmacology and chemical biology and director of Pitt’s Institute of Precision Medicine; Lans Taylor, Allegheny Foundation Professor of Computational and Systems Biology and director of the University of Pittsburgh Drug Discovery Institute; and Dietrich Stephan, professor and chair of the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and associate director for Population Genetics and Translational Acceleration at Pitt’s Institute for Personalized Medicine of UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences.

“The visit was a great success,” Lee said. “From the scientific side, we learned a great deal about how Boston Biotech is grown, nurtured, and developed. I think we did well to make sure (the audience at MassBio) is aware of Pitt's depth and strengths in many areas. I am certain some of them will now come visit us to learn more — which is one sign of the success of the trip.”

Greg Reed — director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Energy and the Energy Grid Research and Infrastructure Development Institute, director of the Electric Power Systems Laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt, and professor of electric power engineering in the Swanson School’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department — presented to an audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the University’s work in matters related to the electrical grid and direct-current electrical power.

“I talked about the need to invest in the power grid and grid infrastructure,” Reed said, “and the different grid technologies that are being developed, as well as the possibility of a DC grid, and microgrids. Engagement with Boston regional industry was very productive and gave us the opportunity for broader promotion of Pitt activities and potential partnerships.”

On Wednesday leading into Pitt’s match against Boston College in basketball, University representatives met with 45 alumni at a pregame event near the BC campus. The win closed out a whirlwind of activities aimed at raising Pitt’s profile as a national university that can claim 7,000 alumni in New England, approximately 4,000 of whom live in the Boston area. More than 600 currently enrolled students hail from the region.

The visit was preceded with an awareness campaign that reached subscribers of The Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald, 1.5 million listeners of National Public Radio affiliate WBUR, and more than 3 million airline passengers moving through Logan International Airport. Activity on social media related to the events resulted in 1.3 million verifiable impressions.

“We were gratified to hear, again and again, from not only our alumni but other people we met in passing that they had seen news of the University’s planned visit,” said Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Chief of Staff Kathy Humphrey. “Before our arrival, we received notes passed along by colleagues at the University who were contacted by alums who had heard about Pitt in Boston. They told us they loved being able to express their pride in Pitt’s accomplishments through our efforts to make the University better understood in Boston.”