Pitt Seniors Receive Whitaker Scholarships for International Research and Study

Issue Date: 
May 2, 2010
Michael FreedmanMichael Freedman

University of Pittsburgh Honors College seniors Michael S. Freedman and Matthew G. Perich have been named recipients of the 2010 Whitaker International Fellows and Scholars Program award, designed to bring international experience and insight to the field of biomedical engineering. This is the fifth year of the Whitaker award competition and the first year Pitt students have applied.

Freedman and Perich are among 23 graduate-level Whitaker Fellowship winners chosen from a total of 38 selectees, which includes 16 postdoctoral scholarship winners.

Matthew G. PerichMatthew G. Perich

Beginning in 1975, The Whitaker Foundation supported the development and enhancement of biomedical engineering in the United States, contributing nearly $700 million to universities. When the foundation closed in 2006, it committed its remaining funds to the Institute of International Education to create the Whitaker International Fellows and Scholars Program, with the goal of enhancing international collaborative ties between the emerging leaders in the U.S. biomedical engineering field and their counterparts abroad.

With his Whitaker award, Freedman, of North Potomac, Md., will attend the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom to complete a Master of Philosophy degree in bioscience enterprise in the school’s Department of Biotechnology. A Pittsburgh native residing in Fairmont, W.Va., Perich will use his award to fund his research position on the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s Blue Brain Project Research team in Switzerland.

During today’s commencement ceremony, Freedman will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in bioengineering from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and a Bachelor of Arts in music from Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, and a Bachelor of Philosophy from Pitt’s Honors College for which he investigated electrically controlled release of dopamine from conducting polymers in his thesis. In summer 2006, Freedman studied Australian history and comparative politics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Among Freedman’s awards are an Honors College Tuition Scholarship and an Albert and Olga Gazalie Endowment Scholarship. Freedman was a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship this year and has received the Fraternity and Sorority Life Outstanding Scholarship Award twice. Freedman is a former president of Alpha Eta Mu Beta Biomedical Engineering Honor Society and a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society, the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society, and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. He also is a Pitt dean’s list honoree.

Freedman works as a researcher in Pitt’s Neural Tissue Engineering Laboratory and as a technician for a heart-lung machine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. He is a member of Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity, having served as its philanthropy chair, internal vice president, and scholarship chair; and was president of Pitt’s Jazz Ensemble, traveling with the group to Jamaica in May 2006 and 2007 to play for underprivileged children in rural communities. In March 2009, Freedman went on a service trip to Guatemala to help build a water reservoir and renovate a schoolhouse.

Perich also will graduate today, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. He will begin his work on the Blue Brain Project in September.

On École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s Web site, the Blue Brain Project is described as the first comprehensive attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain in an effort to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed simulations. Perich will investigate how different learning algorithms impact the function of the simulated neocortical column.

Perich’s honors and awards include a Pitt full-tuition academic honors scholarship, a John C. Papp Scholarship from the Swanson School of Engineering, a Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation Math and Science Scholarship, and an Elks National Foundation Scholarship. A Pitt dean’s list honoree, Perich also is a Pitt University Scholar, a Swanson School of Engineering Term Honor List honoree, and a Mollohan Foundation High Technology Scholar. He is a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society and a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Perich also is a researcher in Pitt’s Rehab Neural Engineering Lab and is completing a two-year research fellowship supported by the undergraduate program in Neural Computation from the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University and Pitt. Perich served as an intern at NASA in 2005 and at the Galaxy Global Corporation in 2006 and 2007, both in Fairmont, W.Va., and at Biometric Services International in Morgantown, W.Va., in 2008.