Treasuring the Voices of Pitt Engineers

celebrating 175 year of pitt engineeringTo mark the 175th anniversary of engineering education at the University of Pittsburgh, the Swanson School of Engineering endeavored to record the memories of alumni and faculty who have helped to shape our legacy.

For millenia, engineers have created new knowledge that has transformed the human condition. Engineering however is more than a profession - it is a celebration of lifelong learning that engages the world with transformative effect. The vignettes below are a testament to the Pitt Engineering family who, since 1846, has transformed communities, countries, and the world.

These vignettes are a sample of each individual's story - their full oral histories will be archived as a gift to the University of Pittsburgh Archives. We hope that their experiences will inspire us all, especially the generations of Pitt Engineers to follow.


Carlton Adams was born in Philadelphia in 1961. After graduating from Pitt with his degree in industrial engineering, he got a job at Philadelphia Electric Company, and, after a few years in the workforce, decided to pursue an MBA at Temple University. Throughout his career, Adams used his combined background in management and industrial engineering to optimize systems for a variety of companies, including Caterpillar, Peabody Energy, MasterCard, and Express Scripts. He entered the nonprofit sector in 2021, as Chief Operating Officer for Operation Food Search, an organization that works to reduce child hunger and family food insecurity.

What we do is urgent.

Carlton Adams

Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Robert (Bob) Agbede was the first Black student to enroll in Pitt’s Mining Engineering program in 1975. Under his leadership as owner and CEO, Chester Engineers became one of the largest African-American-owned engineering firms in the country. Agbede is currently Vice Chairman of Hatch USA. He serves on the Swanson School’s Board of Visitors and is Chairman of the Diversity Committee. His advocacy led to the creation of the Robert O. Agbede Scholarship, which goes to Black students studying engineering at Pitt, and the Robert O. Agbede Annual Diversity Award, which encourages recruitment and retention of Black faculty and students.

Give them a chance.

Robert Agbede

Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1984 to Coptic Egyptian parents, Daniel Armanios won a Henderson scholarship to study mechanical engineering and political science at the University of Pittsburgh as a Pitt IMPACT scholar (now EXCEL). He was the first Pitt engineer to become a Rhodes Scholar, earning master’s degrees in management and water science policy from the University of Oxford before earning his PhD in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford. In 2015, he joined the faculty in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

I just realized how little I knew

Daniel Armanios

Born in Homestead, PA in 1940, Elayne Arrington was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Engineering. She went on to work as an aeronautical engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, where she supported Cold War aviation reconnaissance efforts. Professor Arrington was hired as faculty at the University of Pittsburgh after earning her PhD in mathematics in 1974, becoming the 17th Black woman in the U.S. to earn this degree. She remained on the Pitt faculty until her retirement in 2018.

It was time

Elayne Arrington


You had to prove yourself at every turn

Elayne Arrington

Originally from Bethlehem, PA, SaLisa Berrien earned her degree at Pitt while caring for her young daughter as a single mother. She credits the mentorship of the late Professor Emeritus Karl H. Lewis, Founder and Director of the Pitt Engineering IMPACT Program (now EXCEL), for enabling her to finish her degree. After graduating, Berrien began her career at Pennsylvania Power and Light, before moving to Philadelphia Electric Company. She is CEO and founder of COI Energy, a startup that helps companies reduce energy waste, and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees.

That’s not what an engineer does

SaLisa Berrien

Born in Erie, PA, Charles (Chuck) Bleil transferred to the University of Pittsburgh from Penn State Behrend to study chemical engineering. He gained experience in the field through a work study position in the Chemical Engineering Department and a summer position at Texaco in Louisiana. Following graduation, Bleil joined Procter and Gamble as a research and development engineer and continued to work for the company in various positions throughout his decades-long career.

You kind of learn what you can and can’t do

Chuck Bleil

Born in Pittsburgh in 1984, Bailey Cassler graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in astronomy and physics from the University of Maryland in 2006. After 12 years in the workforce, she decided to return to school to pursue a second bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at Pitt. As a student, she worked as a research assistant in Professor Matthew Barry’s lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, where she helped model an ice probe intended for a mission to Europa. After graduation, she got a job with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where she continues to work on probes destined for Europa.

It feels a little bit surreal.

Bailey Cassler

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Carol (Simko) Christobek graduated summa cum laude and was named “Man of the Year” by the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. She met her future husband, Mark, while studying at Pitt. The two married in Heinz Chapel in 1977, before moving to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to pursue their respective careers at Bethlehem Steel. Carol joined the chemical company Ashland Global in 1996, where she led global IT services, which included expanding services in Hyderabad, India. She retired in 2019.

Man of the Year

Carol Christobek

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Mark Christobek met his future wife, Carol, while studying at Pitt. The two married at Heinz Chapel in 1977, before moving to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to pursue their respective engineering careers at Bethlehem Steel. Christobek went on to earn a master’s degree in industrial engineering at Lehigh University, followed by a PhD at Temple University. He spent 17 years as faculty at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

We met at Freshman orientation

Mark Christobek

Robert (Rob) Copeland was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1967. He entered the University of Pittsburgh as an IMPACT scholar, graduating his bachelor’s degree in 1989. After working as an industrial engineer for the United States Army, he returned to Pitt, where he earned an M.B.A. and M.S. in management of information systems in 1995. Copeland has had a long career in software engineering and consulting, working in various private sector roles at Lexis-Nexis, Highmark and PNC. Throughout his career, he has stayed connected to the Pitt IMPACT program, now known as Pitt EXCEL, supporting engineering students from underrepresented groups. Copeland’s son Sam studied Civil Engineering as a Pitt EXCEL scholar, graduating in 2022.

It takes a village.

Robert Copeland

Born in Braddock, PA in 1934, Bruno R. Graziano was raised mostly by his grandparents, Czechoslovakian immigrants who spoke Slovak at home. After serving in the Air Force, he attended Pitt with support from the G.I. Bill, studying electrical engineering, which had been a passion of his since childhood. His engineering career spanned over 30 years, with roles at General Electric, Westinghouse, and IBM. He applied his Air Force experience to his work designing military equipment and technologies, including in-flight radar systems and the Hubble space telescope.

He was always looking down.

Bruno R. Graziano

Marvin Perry Jones was born in rural Virginia in 1934, where he spent his early childhood on his grandfather’s farm and dreamed of flying airplanes. He was awarded an athletic scholarship to attend Pitt, where he ran track and field, participated in ROTC, and earned his degree in mechanical engineering with a focus in aeronautical engineering. After working briefly for Lockheed Martin, he was called to join the Air Force, where he went through pilot training and later flew planes in Vietnam. In 1965, he became Pan Am Airways’ first Black pilot.

We’ve come a very long way

Marvin Perry Jones

Born in 1995 in Lancaster, PA, Emily Kloncki came to Pitt to study microbiology and environmental engineering. Drawing on the microbial fuel cell research that she began in high school, she worked under the mentorship of Professor David Sanchez at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, where she was a Research Assistant. Following an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she was hired as a planetary protection engineer for the Mars Europa Lander mission. She is currently working on her PhD at UCLA.

I can’t believe I did this

Emily Klonicki

As a civil engineering student at Pitt in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Joseph (Joe) Lagnese was active as a jazz musician and has remained so throughout his life. After working for the U.S. Air Force for several years following graduation, he spent most of his career running his own engineering consulting firm—Duncan, Lagnese, and Associates—based in Pittsburgh. He established a scholarship at Pitt to support Black students to study environmental engineering.

The routine was school, work, jazz

Joe Lagnese

Leo Li was part of the first class of students at the University of Pittsburgh’s Sichuan University Pittsburgh Institute (SCUPI). Born and raised in Hunan Province, China, he moved to Chengdu in 2015 to attend SCUPI, before coming to Pittsburgh to finish his studies on the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus two years later. After graduation, he got a job as a product design engineer for Cooper Tire and Rubber Company in Finley, Ohio.

That number is who you are

Leo Li

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Roberta Ann (Robbi) Luxbacher got her first job delivering papers at the age of eight. After graduating with her degree in chemical engineering from Pitt, she was hired by Exxon in Houston as a technical sales representative and rose through the ranks to become Vice President of Natural Gas in 1999, making her the first woman vice president of an Exxon operating business. She ultimately served as an officer of ExxonMobil Corporation and a Global Vice President. She retired in 2014 and remains active as a Trustee for the University of Pittsburgh.

I was interested in getting A’s

Robbi Luxbacher

Jeffrey (Jeff) Mascaro is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mascaro Construction, a company founded by his father, John C. (Jack) Mascaro in 1988. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Jeff Mascaro joined his father’s company as an employee and worked his way up to run the company alongside his two brothers. Their father, Jack Mascaro – also an engineer and a Pitt alumnus – made a gift to the Swanson School of Engineering in 2003, establishing the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. He died in July 2020.

We miss him.

Jeffrey Mascaro

Ruthann Omer was Pittsburgh’s first woman municipal engineer. Her father, Fred Omer, was founder and owner of civil engineering firm Gateway Engineers. Involved in the family business since childhood, Ruth Omer graduated with her degree in civil engineering and worked alongside her father until his death. She took over as company president in 1994 and served in that role until her retirement in 2018. While at Pitt, she became active in the Society of Women Engineers, an organization she later led as national president for 16 years.

Pitt was the working man’s school

Ruthann Omer

Born in Bellevue, PA to Italian immigrant parents in 1934, Nicola (Nick) Sirianni spoke Italian at home and aspired to be a commercial artist. After receiving a scholarship to attend Pitt, he changed course and enrolled in the School of Engineering. As a student, Sirianni was very active on campus, participating in both the marching band and the Skyscraper Engineer magazine. He was named “Mr. Pitt” in 1956. He spent most of his career working at Westinghouse.Class of 1956 (B.S.), Industrial Engineering

I learned to look at the big picture

Nick Sirianni

Lester (Les) Snyder III is a third-generation Pitt alumnus whose father and grandfather both attended the university. After sustaining an injury as a soccer player at Grove City College, he transferred to Pitt to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Pitt engineer. Snyder spent much of his decades-long career as an engineer at Mellon Stuart Company, American Bridge and Barton Malow. He is currently President and CEO of Infrastructure and Industrial Constructors USA, LLC—branded as i+iconUSA.

He wasn’t going to let me give up

Les Snyder III

John Swanson began his engineering career at Westinghouse, where he worked on the NERVA nuclear rocket program and learned computer programming—a skill he would apply to his PhD dissertation research in applied mechanics at Pitt in the late 1960s. In 1970, he founded Swanson Analysis Systems, Incorporated (ANSYS), a software company which grew from three people working out of Swanson’s farmhouse in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania to a 4,000-person company distributing software globally. In 2004, he received the Fritz Medal, the highest award in the American engineering profession. In 2007, he made a gift of $41.3 million to the University of Pittsburgh’s engineering school. Today, it is named for him: The John A. Swanson School of Engineering.

They had the power of Hoover Dam in that little tin can

John Swanson

I didn’t know for 15 years that I was an entrepreneur

John Swanson



George Surman grew up in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania during a period of economic struggle in the region. While a student at Pitt in the early 1950s, he participated in ROTC and the ROTC band. After earning his degree, he went to work for IBM, where he spent his entire 37-year career, applying his electrical engineering expertise to the company’s growing work in computer technology. He served concurrently in the Army Corps of Engineers for 31 years and continued to work part-time as a computer technology consultant following his retirement in the 1990s.

The guy saved my life

George Surman

David Tannenbaum was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he spent much of his childhood tinkering with circuitry and wiring at his basement workbench. Tannenbaum studied electrical engineering at Pitt before pursuing his law degree at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He started his career at Bell Laboratories—first as an engineer, then later as a patent attorney–and went on to grow a large patent law practice in Dallas, Texas, where he wrote the fundamental patents for many of the technologies that we still rely on today.

I was always tinkering

David Tannenbaum

Mary Tannenbaum entered the field of electrical engineering at a time when there were very few women in the discipline. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Pitt while raising her first of two sons as a single mother. Throughout her career, she worked in telecommunications as a building engineer, a technical sales representative, and a systems engineer—for companies including AT&T and Bell Laboratories. She retired in 1999 to raise her granddaughter with her husband, David.

Master of my own destiny

Mary Tannenbaum

Stephen (Steve) Tritch was born in Butler, Pennsylvania. After graduating with his mechanical engineering degree in 1971, he accepted his first job at Westinghouse Electric Corporation in the Power Circuit Breaker Division and went on to earn his MBA from Pitt in 1977. Tritch held a number of positions at Westinghouse throughout his 39-year career there, including in the Advanced Energy Systems Division and the Commercial Nuclear Divisions. He was named CEO of Westinghouse in 2002, holding this position until his retirement in 2008. Tritch served on Pitt’s Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2019.

A tough job.

Stephen R. Tritch

PGeorge Whetsell was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Miami, Florida. As an undergraduate student at Pitt, he worked closely with Professors Larry Shuman and Harvey Wolfe, developing a specialty in healthcare consulting and continuing on to graduate studies in industrial engineering and public health. Whetsell had a long career in healthcare consulting, working for major firms such as Ernst & Young and KPMG before founding the first of his own consulting firms in 1995. His firms specialized in turnarounds of financially- distressed hospitals. He retired in 2018 and lives in Windermere, Florida.

One of those serendipitous events.

George Whetsell

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1988, Sossena Wood came to Pitt to run track and study engineering. As an undergraduate, she was Chapter President of the University of Pittsburgh’s National Society of Black Engineers, and she became heavily involved in the Society’s national arm as a graduate student. She credits her involvement with Pitt Engineering’s EXCEL Program for inspiring her to attend graduate school. After completing her PhD, Wood joined Carnegie Mellon University as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in Biomedical Engineering.

Who am I in this space?

Sossena Wood

After graduating from Pitt with her degree in chemical engineering, Mary Zeis began her decades-long career at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1978, as one of the company’s first female engineers. She stayed with P&G in various roles and sectors until her retirement in 2009. Throughout her life, Zeis has been a steadfast advocate for the rights and representation of women in engineering—internally through her work at P&G and after retiring as a volunteer with the Society of Women Engineers in Pittsburgh.

I’ve always been a women’s libber

Mary Zeis


Professor Anna Balazs was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1953 and fled the country with her parents in 1956 when Russian tanks invaded Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution. She earned her bachelor’s degree in physics at Bryn Mawr College and her master’s degree and PhD at MIT. She is a Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked alongside her husband, Steven Levitan, a professor of electrical engineering, until his death in 2016. Balazs is internationally recognized for her theoretical and computational modeling of polymers. She is especially passionate about biomimetic systems and oscillating gels. Balazs' research and grant writing bring millions in funding to Pitt every year.

In 2016, she became the first woman to win the Polymer Physics Prize; in 2021, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences; and elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2022. She is the first University of Pittsburgh and Swanson School faculty member elected to both national academies.

It was a real love affair.

Anna Balazs

Professor James Thomas (Tom) Cain completed both his undergraduate and graduate education at Pitt before joining the faculty in 1970. He led the effort to create the Computer Science Accreditation Board to establish standards for computer science programs in the United States and worked to expand accreditation globally. Throughout his career, he held close to 30 different positions in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, where he was elected President in 1995. He and his wife established the James Thomas Cain and Jacquelyn Stone Cain Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2011. He was a close friend and colleague of Professor Marlin Mickle, a Pitt innovator who holds the University record for invention disclosures filed, and who passed away in 2015.

A very good friend

Tom Cain

MEMS Faculty 2000-present
Professor Minking Chyu was born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1951. He studied nuclear engineering as an undergraduate student in Taiwan before emigrating to the U.S. for graduate school in mechanical engineering and beginning his research focusing on heat transfers within jet engines. Professor Chyu was on the faculty at Arizona State University and Carnegie Mellon University before joining the faculty at Pitt in 2000. His nuclear engineering background was valuable in helping to start the nuclear engineering program at Pitt. He led the effort to establish the Sichuan University Pittsburgh Institute (SCUPI), a collaborative degree program and partnership between the Swanson School and China’s Sichuan University, which welcomed its first class of 100 undergraduate engineering students in 2015.

You want to make something happen

Minking Chyu

Professor Ronald Hoelzeman spent over 50 years at the University of Pittsburgh, earning all of his degrees in electrical engineering before joining the faculty in 1970. He began his engineering career at Westinghouse and came to specialize in computer engineering—a field that didn’t exist when he began his studies—with a focus on optimization techniques and computer architecture. As faculty, he helped develop the first Model Curricula for Computer Science and Engineering, playing a major role in getting universities across the country to more formally offer this emerging field of study, including the creation of Pitt’s Computer Engineering program.

Engineering was everywhere

Ron Hoelzeman

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Professor Kim Needy earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Pitt, completing the latter while she worked as an engineer for PPG Industries. She went on to work for Boeing in Kansas, where she earned her PhD in industrial engineering from Wichita State University before returning to her alma mater as a member of the faculty in 1993. She left Pitt in 2008 to become IE Department Chair at the University of Arkansas. She was later named Dean of the Graduate School and International Education, and, in 2020, she became the first Dean of the College of Engineering. Her research interests include engineering management and sustainable engineering, and she is a co-author of the textbook Fundamentals of Engineering Economic Analysis.

I was an accidental graduate student

Kim Needy

Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1977, where he established a reputation as an outstanding teacher and developed research in civil litigation. He served as Dean of the law school for eight years before being named Interim Provost in 1993, Interim Chancellor shortly thereafter, and, finally, Chancellor of the university – a role in which he served from 1995 to 2014. Chancellor Nordenberg was closely involved with the Swanson School of Engineering throughout his tenure in administration and helped to oversee sweeping transformations in the School over time. Following his retirement as Chancellor, he has remained active as Chair of the Institute of Politics and Director of the Dick Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy.

The process of change does not come easily

Mark Nordenberg

Professor David Sanchez was born in 1984 on the island of Guam, where he grew up as part of a large, close-knit family. He left Guam to attend college at the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 2006. He went on to pursue his graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied sustainability and sustainable engineering as part of the first cohort of Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) fellows. Professor Sanchez earned both his master’s degree and PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering, graduating in 2014. His research interests include energy, water and microbial fuel cells. In 2015, he joined the faculty at Pitt as an Assistant Professor and was named Assistant Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainability.

I wanted to tackle the grand challenges.

David Sanchez

Professor Larry Shuman joined the engineering faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969 and served for 32 years as Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. As faculty, he worked with various interdisciplinary and multi-university research projects, including developing pre-hospital care systems in rural areas throughout the U.S. He also worked extensively in the area of engineering ethics and education. Professor Shuman’s legacy includes development of the engineering co-op program; assisting with the founding of the bioengineering program; and establishing a robust international study initiative. The latter was inspired by his time as Academic Dean for the Semester at Sea program.

Is this what you want to do?

Larry Shuman

Harvey Wolfe began his research on healthcare systems as a graduate student, working with nurses at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and developing some of the early nurse staffing models as a pioneer in the field. He continued his hospital work after joining the faculty at Pitt in 1964, developing the Health Service Research Group. He also served as a consultant to Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania. Professor Wolfe went on to serve as Chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering as well as President of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering. He later received the Institute’s Albert G. Holzman Distinguished Educator Award, as well as its highest honor, the Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Industrial Engineering Award recognizing his many contributions to human welfare in the field of industrial engineering.

People are much more erratic and difficult to deal with than machines

Harvey Wolfe

Savio L. Y. Woo, a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, is a pioneer in the field of bioengineering. Born in Shanghai, China, his family fled to Hong Kong after the revolution in 1950; he later emigrated to the U.S. to study engineering. Professor Woo began his academic career in orthopedic research at the University of California, San Diego and was subsequently recruited by the University of Pittsburgh, where he founded the world-renowned Musculoskeletal Research Center. In 1998, he was awarded the International Olympic Committee’s first Olympic Gold Medal and Prize for Sports Science. Professor Woo and his wife, Pattie, used the prize money to create the Asian-American Institute for Research and Education (ASIAM) that has awarded over $1.5 million in scholarships and fellowships for up-and-coming students and researchers.

And that’s how I survived

Savio L-Y. Woo

Class of 2022 Student Project

Philip Andreoli was born in Harrisburg and grew up in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania with his twin brother, Carmen. During his time at Pitt, Andreoli has been a member of several on-campus organizations, including the Pitt Jazz Band, in which he plays guitar; the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers, which he currently serves as Vice President; and the Supply Chain Management Club, which he currently serves as President. He received the award for Outstanding Senior from the Department of Industrial Engineering, as well as the Outstanding Service Award.

It’s a motivator, for sure.

Philip Andreoli

Samuel Copeland was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Moon Township, Pennsylvania just outside of Pittsburgh. Alongside his degree in Civil Engineering, he graduated with minors in Industrial Engineering and Africana Studies and plans to study engineering at the graduate level. He was the Region 2 Programs Chair of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and was also involved in Pitt Engineering’s EXCEL Program.

What Black engineering means.

Samuel Copeland

Logan Dyer grew up in Mechanicsburg, PA and came to the University of Pittsburgh to study environmental engineering. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and serves as Vice President of the Pitt chapter of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists. He also serves as the captain of the Pitt Environmental Team. In Summer 2021, he participated in a study abroad program with Dr. David Sanchez focused on sustainable design and innovation in Guam.

I just wanted something different.

Logan Dyer

Uthman Fadu was born in Nigeria, immigrating to the U.S. with his parents and older brother when he was a child. His family spent six years in Rhode Island, where they found a close-knit community through a local Nigerian Muslim mosque before moving to Sheraden, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Fadu attended Taylor Allderdice High School, where he was first introduced to the field of engineering, and came to the University of Pittsburgh as a member of the Pitt EXCEL program to study bioengineering. Following graduation, he will be doing consulting work for Deloitte.

That’s why I’m here.

Uthman Fadu

Melina Hudson was born in Milford, Delaware and came to Pitt to study environmental engineering. She joined the Pitt Band as a freshman and continued all four years, playing the saxophone. During her undergraduate years, she joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and became a member of the fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi, devoted to music and band members. After completing an accelerated Master’s degree program in 2023, Hudson plans to work for Greenman Pedersen Inc., focusing on highway and road design as well as water resources, in her home town of Milford.

This is what I want to do.

Melina Hudson

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Anaya Joynes is studying industrial engineering with a concentration in engineering management. Her parents also attended Pitt, where they met and fell in love. During her time at Pitt, Anaya has been heavily involved with Pitt EXCEL, the Mu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), which she serves as Chapter President.

A safe space.

Anaya Joynes

Isabel Lee was born in New Jersey. She grew up fascinated with Legos and building things, which eventually led to her passion for engineering. She is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, with a minor in Spanish. She has been a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) since freshman year, holding a leadership position since sophomore year. During her time at Pitt, she was also captain of the Balsa Wood Bridge team, captain of the intramural volleyball team, and a member of the Society of Women Engineers.

Life is pretty messy.

Isabel Lee

Born in Austin, Texas, Cuauhtémoc Macías moved to Pennsylvania to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at Pitt. He has been continuously involved since his freshman year with the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers, holding positions as Freshman Co-chair, External Vice-President, President, and Social Media Chair. As a member of the Pitt EXCEL program, he has worked as a student mentor at the Summer Engineering Academy and completed the Summer Research Internship program. He has most recently served as a teaching assistant for a microelectronics course.

I had no clue what I was going into.

Cuauhtémoc Macías

Halima Morafa grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and came to Pitt to study Mechanical Engineering. She began her freshman year as a member of the Pitt EXCEL engineering program, which she now works with as a mentor. She has been a member of the National Society of Black Engineers since 2018, and also serves as the Student Co-Chair and Research Program Student Lead for the Mechanical Engineering and Material Sciences (MEMS) Student Advisory Board. Morafa is also a member of Ya'baso, an African dance group at Pitt.

If it’s meant to be, it will be.

Halima Morafa

Ankith Rao was born and raised in Fairfax, Virginia. As a bioengineering student at Pitt, he became involved with the Biomedical Engineering Society as an underclassman in search of mentorship and later transitioned into serving as a mentor himself. As a student at Pitt, he worked in the Hemorheology, Hemodynamics & Artificial Blood Laboratory and co-op’ed with Bayer’s radiology division. He plans to attend medical school after graduation.

The wonders of the universe.

Ankith Rao

Born in Mason, Ohio, Natalie Steibel came to Pittsburgh to study chemical engineering in 2018, recruited as a member of the Pitt volleyball team. As an undergrad, Steibel has been involved with the student athlete advisory committee, Tau Beta Pi, and the Society of Women Engineers. She also completed a co-op at Johnson and Johnson in Philadelphia in 2021, where she worked in technical operations and later became the president of the Intern and Co-op Association.

A big turning point.

Natalie Steibel

Keilani Swartzmiller was born in Jacksonville, Arkansas and lived on several different military bases while she was growing up, including in Hawaii and Germany. During her time as an industrial engineering student, she was a member of the Pitt EXCEL engineering program. She has also worked as a peer advisor in the Global Studies office and served as a first-year mentor and a mentor in the Pink Panthers program. Swartzmiller has been involved with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) since her first year at Pitt and now serves as the President of her chapter.

I was the only girl.

Keilani Swartzmiller

Born in New York City and raised in Pittsburgh, Andrew Toader has been involved in numerous organizations during his undergraduate studies, including serving as a corporate liaison for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a mentor in the biomedical engineer society, a student leader volunteer at Children’s Hospital and in multiple emergency medicine ski patrols. He also worked in a neuroimaging lab as a freshman and got an internship at Medtronic doing embedded systems engineering. Toader plans to attend medical school after graduation.

I saw the end point.

Andrew Toader

Amelia Wear grew up in Herndon, Virginia. She majored in mechanical engineering, minored in computer science, and completed a certificate in entrepreneurship. As an undergraduate student, she joined many clubs and organizations, including the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where she helped found a coding program for middle schoolers, and the Urban Gaming club where she currently serves as president. After graduation she plans to work for the company LabTech and eventually go back to school to earn her master's degree.

You’re gonna survive this.

Amelia Wear

Born in New Jersey, Dawson Winston dreamed of becoming an engineer from a very young age. During his time at Pitt, Winston has been involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities, including the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Pitt X Projects, and Pitt DesignHub, among others. A Pitt EXCEL scholar, he is graduating with his degree in mechanical engineering.

The next Iron Man.

Dawson Winston

Project team



Mary Besterfield-Sacre
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor, Director of the Engineering Education Research Center

Paul Kovach
Director of Marketing and Communications

Larry Shuman
Distinguished Service Professor of Industrial Engineering and Interim Department Chair

Project Director and Story Editor

Erin Anderson
Assistant Professor, Department of English

Interviewers and Audio Producers

Noelle Mateer
Graduate Student, Department of English

Susan Peterson
Graduate Student, Department of English

Joshua Palmer
Graduate Student, Department of English