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An emoji is worth…what, exactly?


It’s not every day that Vogue magazine wants to talk to a Chatham researcher, but Assistant Professor of Psychology Monica Riordan, PhD was ready. Dr. Riordan studies computer-mediated communication (such as texts, instant messaging, and emails), and she recently published a study in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology about emojis—the little pictures of everything from a thumbs-up to a salamander to the Romanian flag that we see on our phone screens and computer monitors.

Some people think that emojis grew out of emoticons, combinations of punctuation that help writers communicate the emotion behind a text or an email. The smile is a common one: :) In fact, many computer programs (including Microsoft Word) automatically replace emoticons with emojis: in the case of the colon + right parenthesis, it’s replaced with a smiley face.

“But if you look at all the 2000+ emojis that exist, only a small percentage of them are faces,” says Dr. Riordan. “The vast majority are objects. It begs the question, what are these non-face emojis for? What do they communicate?”

To investigate this question, Dr. Riordan worked with students to develop a set of texts that they could imagine receiving (“ecologically valid,” in psychology-speak), and paired the texts with zero, one, two or three emojis. She then showed the texts to study participants and asked them to rate how much of each of eight emotions (joy, trust, fear, surprise, anger, sadness, disgust, and anticipation) was present in the text message.

The results surprised her.

“It’s intuitive that if you use a smiley emoji, it will make you seem happier,” says Dr. Riordan. “But it’s not quite as intuitive that an emoji of a tree should suddenly make people seem happier, and yet they seem to. I was really surprised that of all eight emotions that I looked at, joy just significantly increased every single time.

“People just seem more joyful when they use emojis, no matter what that emoji is.”

Cara Gillotti, Senior Writer at Chatham University: Why do you think that might be?

MR: I think it adds an element of playfulness. If you’re really angry about something, you don’t play with language, right? You’re very terse, very to the point. Emojis are a form of art. They’re a form of playing with language.

CG: Do you think that’s their main purpose?

MR: I think emojis are used in a few ways. For one, they might be used to disambiguate meaning. For example, if I send you a text that just says “Party time!”, that could mean a baby shower, a graduation party—you don’t know. But if I include an emoji of two beer glasses clinking, it tells you more about what kind of party it’s going to be. But of course the extent to which they do that depends on which emoji you use, for example, a balloon emoji may not differentiate.

I was working closely with a former student—who is now in the Quantitative Psychology PhD program at Notre Dame—and we spent many hours talking about what emojis mean. She showed me a text she got from a friend that said “See you later” with a unicorn emoji after it, and I was like “What does that mean?” It turns out that they had negotiated the meaning of the unicorn emoji to be a personality signature, like a hidden understanding, a shared joke just between the two of them. And I found that really interesting, and we put together this theory, that by having this hidden meaning inside joke emoji, you’re almost performing your role as a friend, saying “we’re besties.”

The meaning of emojis is negotiated and changes over time. Emojis rise and fall in popularity, more emojis are made, and some emojis are deleted from the favorites list. In these ways, they are a lot like words, and have become a language unto themselves.

Emojis can also be great timesavers in terms of acting out social roles too. Let’s say you’re part of a sales team that just won an award. You could go down to the office and give everyone a high-five, or you could type a couple trophies, a couple of high fives, and text them to everybody, and you’re “present” in that moment.

And sometimes emojis have no meaning whatsoever, sometimes they’re just like rainbows and flowers and whatever else. I have nothing else to say so I’m just going to text you a bunch of emojis in a row.

CG: So we don’t always know what emojis mean.

MR: Nope. In fact, people who are older than college age tend to think of emojis as pictograms—that they represent the actual object. And this can lead to misunderstandings, because the people who use emojis more often actually consider them to be more like ideograms. Which means they don’t represent a trophy in reality, they represent the idea of being a champion, the idea of winning.

CG: How can we tell whether they’re used as pictograms or ideograms? 

MR: Apple recently came out with an upgrade to the iPhone that suggests emojis for words you type in a text— if you text “tree”, it will suggest replacing that word with an emoji of a tree. The problem is, most people don’t do this. The most common place for an emoji is at the end of a text, not in the middle, and rarely in place of words. They’re used as punctuation.

CG: Interesting. 

MR: Yeah. So, because emojis are often seen as ideograms, we can never really know what they mean. With some, there’s almost like a cultural-level negotiation of their meaning.  I thought it was really interesting that negotiation happens at the cultural level, and also at the interpersonal level, like with my former student and her best friend.


CG: I looked at one of the papers your studies references, and was intrigued by the finding that texts that end with periods are actually seen as being less sincere. 

MR: One of my students told me that she uses a period to specifically end a conversation. When you’re face and face with someone, you walk away and the conversation ends. But conversations over text message can go on perpetually. Maybe there’s a delay, and 20 minutes later you get a message. It’s a constant, ongoing conversation. So she feels that if she wants to end the conversation, she puts a period there to show that we are now closing.

CG: So it’s a deliberate decision that she’s making?  

MR: Exactly. And it’s so interesting to me that it’s using punctuation in a completely different way. It’s not ending a sentence; it’s ending a conversation.

CG: In your study, did you find that three emojis—trophies, for example—correlated with more joy than two trophies?

MR: No, interestingly—if we look at the trophy, joy went up almost an entire point from zero emojis to one emoji. But two emojis were basically the same as one emoji, and when you added a third, it went up only about another three-quarters of a point. So it looks like the important thing is whether an emoji is included, not the number of emojis. Only rarely did adding more emojis make an emotion more intense.

If you look online, you will find like the “laughing while crying” emoji three times in a row, and that’s supposed to indicate the intensity of the emotion. But in reality, most of the time we’re not really feeling the ways that we’re communicating that we’re feeling. It’s all a complete performance, so you’re performing the social role.

CG: Do people use emojis in emails?

MR: It is extremely infrequent. Most people – especially teenagers and 20-somethings don’t email their friends or family. To them, email is strictly something they use for professional correspondence.

CG: Are you thinking about extending this line of research?

MR: Yes, I am. So, if my father or mother sends me an eggplant emoji, I know they don’t mean certain associated meanings. But if a friend sends it, I think “she knows what that means!” I judge the meaning of the emoji based on the person who sends it. It’s obviously very complex, but I think I’d like to untangle some of the relationships between context and emoji use, and meaning of the emojis of that context.

Read Vogue’s coverage of the study here.

This study was funded by a Chatham faculty research grant. Chatham University’s undergraduate psychology program allows students to explore contemporary theory and research in psychology while thinking scientifically about behavior and mental processes, appreciating and respecting others and their differences, and to pursue a variety of career paths or graduate school.

“Doing something,” indeed.


“What was the final project?” I ask Michelina Astle ’17, president of the Chatham Scholars Advisory Board (SAB). We’re talking about the one-credit “Dialogues” course that the Scholars take during their first year.

Dr. MacNeil told us to do something,” she says.

“Do something?” I ask.

“Do something,” she says.

This should have come as no surprise—self-determination has been a big part of the Scholar’s program, and it’s getting bigger. But first things first.

At the moment, there are about 70 Chatham Scholars. They come from all different backgrounds, and bond during their first year through a few “Scholars-only” courses, including an English course, a science course and the Dialogues course. This exposure to students from different academic disciplines is one of the things that Michelina, a psychology major, likes the most about the program. “My friends are studying English, biology, math,” she says. “We go to events together and hang out as a group.”

Some of those events are Scholars’ gatherings, like ice-cream socials, volunteering, and the annual trip to the Andy Warhol Museum-plus-dim-sum-or-Middle-Eastern-food. Figuring out what these gatherings are is the work of the SAB, and this autonomy is likely to increase.

“I’d like to place more power in the hands of the students,” says Assistant Professor of Biology Dave Fraser, PhD, director of the Scholars program. “Then I would serve as more of a facilitator to help them accomplish what they set out to do.” He envisions a sort of “Innovation Fund.”

“Rather than having me say ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do with our budget,’ I want the Scholars to come up with ideas for what we should do with the money,” says Dr. Fraser.

“Students might say, ‘You know what, we need a course for students who are first in their family to go to college. It should be a one-credit course, open to anyone. You should fund this because it’s important to the University. Here’s what we need.’ Or ‘We want to put together a seminar to have Chatham graduates who are in grad school come back and tell us what it’s like. Here’s our proposal,’” he says.

“This allows students to say ‘Here’s what I did; I put together this proposal and got this money.’ It shows that they’re able to plan out and carry a project through. That’s valuable to have, not just on a resume, but it really does build problem-solving skills and their own sense of self-sufficiency,” says Dr. Fraser.

Dr. Fraser also sees the Innovation Fund as being able to contribute to the social justice work that’s being done by Chatham students, both on and off-campus. This might look like providing funds to students who would like to work at nonprofits such as the Thomas Merton Center that aren’t able to pay interns that much. Funds could also be used to send students to conferences that they might not otherwise be able to attend.

David Fraser, a white male with brown hair in a blue button down and glasses
Assistant Professor and Director of the Chatham Scholars program David Fraser, PhD

Dr. Fraser teaches the first-year Scholars’ science course, ENV115: Shifting Environmental Paradigms. Over the past couple of years, he has revamped it to make it more relevant for non-science majors.

“I switched the course focus to be about scientific literacy—how to recognize bad data, and how bad science gets used to bolster arguments, whether on purpose or accidentally, which is something we see throughout the media,” he says.

Students choose a current debate in the news that has a scientific component, assess the stakeholders and arguments, and present their conclusions—in a video presentation. “They tend to do so much writing already,” says Dr. Fraser. “I want them to feel like they could be on TV, presenting information. A bit of empowerment, is the idea.”

Topics that students have chosen include the vaccination debate, alternative energy sources, whether video games are healthy or harmful, and whether it’s possible to end veteran homelessness. But the topic isn’t the important part.

“Gathering information, addressing themes that are important to society, and coming up with a way to evaluate the information—these are all classic liberal arts skills,” says Dr. Fraser.

After the first year, Scholars take two upper-level courses that have been designated “Scholars’ courses” though they’re open to everyone who has met the prerequisites.

“Before the start of every term, I talk with faculty who are teaching courses that I think would be good for the Scholars. I try to include as many disciplines as I can. They’re often in history, political science, art, and psychology, and they’re usually discussion- and/or project-based,” says Dr. Fraser. Around five courses per semester are designated Scholar’s courses.

Michelina took an upper-level English course called Food and American Identity with Assistant Professor Carrie Tippen, PhD. “I did a project with another Scholar where we studied the cultural impact of Martha Stewart and the legacy of the domestic goddess,” she says. In Maymester 2017, she will be taking her second Scholar’s course, Oral History, Neighborhoods, and Race in Pittsburgh with Assistant Professor Lou Martin, PhD. In the first week of the course, students read about and discuss topics like segregation, urban history, civil rights, and the African American experience in Northern cities, and in the second part, they conduct oral interviews of graduates of Homewood’s Westinghouse High School.

And then there’s the first-year Scholars Dialogues course. That’s a weekly seminar in which leaders are invited to give presentations on their lives and work and meet the Scholars. One guest speaker was then-Chatham-president Esther Barazzone, PhD. “I felt like that was really exclusive,” says Michelina, “that we got President Barazzone to give a presentation to our small class!”

And Michelina’s response to the “Do something” instruction in the Dialogues course she took during her first year?

“We did a dorm cooking demonstration,” she laughs. “We found that you could combine cake mix with light or dark pop and pop it in the microwave and have a little cake. We searched around for recipes that would work in dorm rooms, and thought about what else we could add to ramen to make it taste better. We had a sheet with tips,” she says.

For more information about Chatham Scholars, please contact Dr. David Fraser at 412-365-2961 or email




Five Questions With Andres Carrillo 

Name: Andres Carrillo
Title: Assistant Professor of Exercise Science
Joined Chatham: August 2012
Born & Raised: Born in Toronto and raised in Hamilton, Ontario Canada
Interests: Movement, Travel, Reading, and Cooking

1. How did you develop an interest in the field in which you teach?

I have always been interested in movement. But it was my high school kinesiology teacher who made me realize that I could turn my interest into a career. She inspired me to pursue a bachelor of kinesiology. That initial educational experience is what made me realize how rich life can be when you construct your career in such a way that allows you to fully pursue your passion.

2. What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

When I was 13 years old I had two summer jobs as a dishwasher and working on a farm. The job as a dishwasher was the worst job I have ever had. It was in a dirty dungeon in the back of a restaurant. Working on a farm was great because I was moving a lot and working outdoors, but it was long hours of really tough work. What I learned from these jobs was the importance of focus and stamina. The work had to be done before I could leave, so I became quite efficient at focusing on one task until it was complete. These skills are important to develop especially as we move more into a time when the susceptibility for distraction is high.

3. What is your passion?

I’m passionate about movement. For me, movement has a few different domains. For example, I believe that diverse physical movement (e.g. exercise) is a smart investment for preserving a healthy self. How we move, reflects how we live. Geographical movement (i.e. travel) provides us with an opportunity for reflection, appreciation, and to gain a greater sense of compassion. Finally, cognitive movement (e.g. reading) avoids stagnation and gives us the opportunity for continuous inner growth that enhances/enriches our interaction with others (e.g. teaching, nature, etc.).

4. What one individual had the greatest impact on you and how?

Dr. David Waters was (and still is) a mentor of mine who has had the greatest impact on me. I took two of his classes while completing my doctorate at Purdue University. Dr. Waters is a comparative oncologist and trained veterinarian. At Purdue, Dr. Waters taught a professional skills course that was like no other course I had ever taken. There were three students in the class. On our first day, Dr. Waters gave each of us 12 books. The topic each week revolved around one of the books. We would meet once per week for 5 hours in the back room of a restaurant where we talk about creativity, writing, reading, leadership, and many other important topics. It was a transformational experience. Since starting at Chatham, Dr. Waters and I meet in St. Clairsville, OH about 4 times per summer to discuss a book that we choose to read together. He calls this experience ‘Think and Grow Rich’.

5. What is your favorite thing about working with Chatham students?

I appreciate the opportunity to get to know Chatham students and to see them inspired by what I’m passionate about. This is possible to due to the small class sizes that allows for extensive discourse in the classroom. It’s always a satisfying to be able to see Chatham students apply what is discussed in the classroom towards improving their own life or the lives of loved ones.

Andres Carrillo, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in Chatham University’s Department of Exercise Science. Andres enjoys classical music and taking his daughter to “Mommy and Me” dance classes.



RecycleMania comes to Chatham

Chatham University is again competing for international recognition as a leader in campus waste reduction. RecycleMania is a friendly competition between 350 colleges and universities. For eight weeks, progress is measured by the Chatham University Office of Sustainability. Those weekly checkpoints are compared against institutions, nationally and internationally, to determine weekly winners. The goal is to promote waste reduction and encourage students to think about where the products they use every day are going. Chatham has been rated comparatively well in the past few years, but we know the numbers can improve.

This year, in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge, the Office of Sustainability has introduced the use of an app–Joulebug–which measures sustainable practices in real time. Joulebug allows you to earn points when you save water, turn off your electricity, take public transportation or fill a reusable mug. By following members of the Chatham community, the Office of Sustainability can develop a better idea of which departments, students and staff are saving the most. It provides an entertaining dynamic to the competition.

In some ways, Chatham is at a disadvantage. Our students, faculty and staff are so diligent in recycling and composting that the baseline is already high. Statistics are measured against that starting baseline. Schools that do not regularly recycle often see huge spikes during the competition–spikes which begin to wane in April. Chatham’s spike is less pronounced, meaning that our efforts are consistently good, getting even better during the event. Compost-ready cups and on-site recyclable collection contribute to Chatham’s edge.

While Chatham does exceptionally well, we cannot get comfortable. In 2015, a social media engagement campaign was included in the benchmark competition. Chatham’s constant uploads were crashing the system. Some colleges and universities were posting direct, if a little aggressive, challenges directly at Chatham’s campaign. The result: Chatham won the competition. In total, with a 66 percent recycling rate, the Cougars made it into the top 15. Last year, Chatham’s composting program brought us to seventh place in food organics. This year aims to improve those numbers. Student participation is necessary to bring those numbers up.

Chatham University Office of Sustainability Director Mary Whitney believes that last year’s success can be replicated,

“Chatham students have an opportunity to prove that last year’s RecycleMania win was no fluke! Remember to compost your cups lids and straws from Cafe Rachel!” she says.

What you can do:

  • BYO: Bring your own containers. Water bottles, thermoses and coffee cups all make a difference in waste recording. Yes, Chatham’s dining services offer compost-ready cups. In the ecologically responsible long run, however, reusable containers will better help the environment. If you must use a disposable water bottle make sure that it is recyclable. Which leads us to…
  • Break it down. All recyclable materials will be measured. In this competition literally every ounce makes a difference. Batteries, glass, cardboard, plastic: if it can be recycled, it should be recycled.
  • Donate. Chatham’s Office of Sustainability is proud of its Greenfund initiative. Students and organizations on campus can apply yearly for a Greenfund award, which encourages green practices and initiatives in the campus community. Dining services allow students to round up their meal costs to the nearest dollar. The extra cents go to the Greenfund.
  • Stop the suck“Vampire” electronics continue to draw power. Sometimes electronics in their “stand by” mode continue to draw power. If you can turn them off, we suggest that you do. Bonus points if you can take the time to unplug!
  • Download the app. The Joulebug app is a fun way to see how you compare to others in your sustainable behaviors. Download the app, include Chatham in your username or bio, and follow your friends to start making an impact.

For more information on the competition, and to check the weekly scores, visit the RecycleMania website. For specific Chatham information, follow the Chatham University Office of Sustainability Facebook page and check their twitter updates at @ChathamSustain.


Mary Whitney Leads Chatham’s Drive Toward Carbon Neutrality

Mary WhitneyMary Whitney, MPPM, PhD, Chatham’s Director of University Sustainability, is an Ohio native who has lived in Pittsburgh since 1982, spending the last 15 years in environmental education, working primarily with citizens, teachers and their students.

As sustainability director for Chatham’s campuses, she leads collaboration on sustainability practices at the university, works to help Chatham meet its carbon neutrality goals, and teaches systems and societal transitions in the Falk School of Sustainability and Environment. Thanks in large part to Mary’s leadership, Chatham is recognized as one of the top five universities in the world for sustainability as measured by The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS).

We sat down with Dr. Whitney to discuss the state of sustainability at Chatham and her role in advancing the University’s goal of carbon neutrality.

Q:     How did you get interested in the field of sustainability?

A:      I grew up in the country, free to roam and enjoy nature.  As I got older and the strip mines got closer and closer to my home, I saw the damage that was being done to the environment, including the farms and woods around my house. It was then that I began to realize that our energy needs were going to completely overwhelm the natural world that I love so much.  I started looking at ways to make energy hurt the world less.  Sustainability is exactly that – the ability to sustain ourselves on this planet without overwhelming the planet’s ability to provide us with good living conditions.

Q:     Why is it important for a university like Chatham to become carbon neutral?

A:      Carbon neutrality is the goal of balancing out an institution’s carbon emissions with reductions and purchasing green power, etc. Chatham’s goal is now to be more than carbon neutral – we are working to have zero-net energy.  In other words, we want to make as much green power as we use.  We also are looking at net-positive energy, where we make more green power than we use, and put that out onto the grid to improve conditions for everyone.

Q:     Please describe what you believe are the top priorities for Chatham in terms of reaching carbon neutrality in 2025.

A:      We do annual greenhouse gas audits to get a good idea of where we are in terms of our institutional carbon and methane emissions.  Over half of our annual emissions come from our electric use, since the grid in our region is primarily coal.  So we are prioritizing electrical efficiency across all campuses – installing LED lighting in all buildings and outdoors, adding motion sensors to turn off lights, and more.  These are all very simple-to-implement strategies. Our next largest source of emissions is our transportation – both the campus fleet and also the cars belonging to faculty, staff and students.  To address this, we have added shuttles to move more people per trip, given everyone a free bus pass, connected our shuttles to the bus way, provided bike rentals and a bike repair shop, offered car-sharing, and more.  There is more to be done, and it will take more than just Chatham working to solve that problem – it’s a public policy problem in many ways.

Q:     It stands to reason that as a University increases its physical footprint – sheer area, number of students – its carbon emissions footprint would increase as well. Yet it seems that the reverse happened here – as we grew and expanded, our carbon footprint shrank. How did that happen?

A:      That’s close – what has happened is that we have reduced our net CO2 emissions. We went from 8,705 tonnes of gross CO2 emissions in 2007 to 14,573 in 2015, which is an increase of 67 percent, much of that due to increased electric and fuel use during the construction of the Eden Hall campus. But our net emissions went from 7,246 tonnes to 5,751 tonnes in the same timeframe – a reduction of 20%.  This is due to our extensive composting program, forest preservation on our campuses, purchasing renewable energy credits for our electricity use, and making our own solar electricity and solar hot water.

We look at emissions as a ratio to the number of students or the total square footage of our campuses as a way to measure how we are doing over time while taking growth into account. For example, between 2007 and 2015, we saw a 14 percent increase in student body, as well as a 14 percent increase in our campus square footage, due to new construction and purchases of existing buildings. Yet at the same time, we showed a 32 percent reduction in electric use.  This is because we have designed in the latest in green building technology for any new construction, and have made as many energy efficiency upgrades as we can to existing buildings. We expect to see continued reductions as we enter into our first full year of solar electric production at Eden Hall.

Q:     What are the top three programs being conducted by Chatham from a sustainability standpoint?

A:      We look at our operations, our academics and our engagement when we measure our efforts. In operations, our energy efficiency program has been ongoing since 2007, and we have been buying green power since 2000.  Our compost program was one of the first for an urban campus, and we have committed to using all compostable products in our dining operations.

In academics, we have an entire school – the Falk School – devoted to sustainability. Here we are able to take everything we’ve learned and share it with the world. We have our campuses as living and learning sustainability labs, our faculty has expertise and shares research for sustainable systems, and our students get to put it all into practice.

My current favorite public engagement project is a joint project between the Black Student Union, Parkhurst Dining Services, Zipcar and 412 Food Rescue. This great program was designed by the students of BSU to rescue food that would otherwise go to waste for people in the community – a great sustainability project!  Parkhurst provides the food, 412 Food Rescue organizes the locations for donations, Zipcar provides free car-sharing for student rescue drivers, and students give their weekend mornings to collect and deliver food. Chatham’s Green Fund pays for other expenses, like containers.

Q:     Chatham is one of the highest ranked universities in the world for STARS, what does this mean and why does it matter?

A:      STARS is a sustainability ranking system developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.  The system’s purpose is to provide a consistent and cohesive way to track, share and benchmark sustainability initiatives.   It is designed specifically for universities and looks at sustainability across academics, operations, engagement with communities, and planning/administration.

Any level of STARS recognizes a significant sustainability achievement, and having a gold rating means that we have made a concerted and effective transformation of our university for sustainability. The recognition is public, and that matters more than just having bragging rights. What truly matters most about the rating is that it proves to others that transforming an institution for sustainability is not a crazy future-dream but a reality, achieved through patience and a deep commitment, more than deep pockets or temporary enthusiasm.

Q:     Chatham is ranked second among sustainable master’s level universities in the 2016 Sustainable Campus Index.  How did the university achieve such a high ranking and what does this mean to students, faculty and staff?

A:      Chatham has been working on sustainability from an educational standpoint for over 25 years, since the founding of the Rachel Carson Institute. We’ve been working to transform our own institutional practice for almost as long, beginning with our first green power purchases in 2000. This long-term commitment lets us make continuous improvement, and we build each year on previous achievements. We take our time to do what we think is right, review and track our progress to see if we’re meeting our own expectations, and keep working on incorporating sustainability into every part of the campus.

A powerful reason for our success is that we have a solid core of sustainability knowledge across our entire community.  It is a huge help that we have attracted so many people who include sustainability in their own work, research and everyday practice – we depend on the students, faculty and staff here to be our success in sustainability.

Q:     What do you want students to take away from their experience at Chatham?

A:     Understanding how environmental, social and technical systems interact with each other, and how to make changes in those systems.  Combine that with lots of opportunities to practice, and the confidence to go out and make those changes!


campus community profile: Kristen Spirl

(l to r) TreePittsburgh Director of Urban Forestry, Matt Erb; two visitors from Perm State University in Russia; Chatham gardeners James Rue and Mike Schneider; Kristen Spirl (second from right); Chatham gardener David Bell

This year, Chatham’s Woodland Road campus has reached its twentieth anniversary of being designated an arboretum by the American Public Garden Association. We talked to Kristen Spirl, grounds department manager, about her work in making sure our campus stays so beautiful year in and year out.

What brought you to Chatham? How long have you been here?
I came to Chatham for graduate school in 2009 and enrolled in the Landscape Architecture program. I received a Master in Landscape Design & Development in August 2012, and shortly after joined the Grounds department! My first day was September 4, 2012.

What’s most exciting about your job?
There are so many things I find exciting about my job. For one, my office is generally outdoors! And no two days are the same. Surprises occur constantly, as Mother Nature answers to no one. I get to create with living plants, making something beautiful, functional, and sustaining. I love that I get to work with students and people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. The tools of the job—tractors, chain saws, skid steer loaders—are pretty fun, too!

What season does campus look the most beautiful?
This is such a hard question! I love every season and enjoy what each period has to offer, but if I must have a favorite… campus looks the most beautiful in the fall… though, winter showcases the structure of the trees—their simple beauty, with minimal colors and textures. The spring has so much color and texture as everything awakens from its nap. Throughout, the interactions of flora and fauna are never the same.

Landscape designer and photographer Rick Darke and Kristen Spirl

What kind of difference do you see yourself making or would you like to make on campus?
I love having volunteer events. Many of the volunteers have had little or no experience being a steward of the land and it may be their first time placing their hands in the earth or planting something that they can watch grow and flourish.

My hope is always that they return in the future with their friends and family to what they’ve planted and get to share in what they’ve added to the world.”

What’s your favorite part of campus?
The Kentucky coffee tree forest and pond adjacent to Mellon Center is really unique. These are old trees, and seeing them and wildlife interacting is very special. The woods between the AFC and Berry Hall is where my favorite White Oak tree is located.

What work have you done on campus that you are most proud of
Collaborating with organizations on campus for volunteer activities is always a big one—planting trees and flowers throughout the year, with “Oc-tulip-fest”, Arbor Day, and our University Day’s Buckets and Blossoms event. Of course I’m especially proud of our Tree Campus USA status! We authored a Campus Tree Care Plan for the University and Arboretum, ensuring the five standards set forth by the Arbor Day Foundation were met for recognition. This will be the 5th year we received the honor. And throughout all of our activities, creating relationships is always special, whether within the campus community, the Woodland Road residents, the City of Pittsburgh Forestry Department or TreePittsburgh.

If you were to pick a favorite plant or animal on campus, what would it be?
I don’t know if I would be able to narrow it down to just one! Kitty is my Integrated Pest Manager, and my favorite campus cat. Blue, the white English retriever, is my favorite off-campus dog. And then there’s… ALL THE DEER! The heron that visits and feeds from the pond. ALL THE BIRDS! Bunny squirrel. ALL THE SQUIRRELS! The White Oak in the woods across from Berry Hall. ALL THE OAKS! The apple tree behind Anderson towards the Carriage house. The saucer magnolia by Dilworth Hall. ALL THE MAGNOLIAS!

See, it’s hard to pick just one!

Follow the arboretum on Instagram. 

With elements designed for the Andrew Mellon estate by the renowned Olmsted Brothers, Chatham’s 39-acre campus encompasses a 32-acre designated arboretum featuring 115 different varieties of species, including dawn redwood, bald cypress, yellowwood, katsura tree, cucumber magnolia, and Carolina silverbell. The arboretum provides an outdoor classroom for students and an inviting place to stroll and to meditate.

Building Community Spirit, Loaf by Loaf

Shauna Kearns shapes a loaf of bread.

This story, by Ray Werner, originally appeared in the Summer 2014 Recorder

Catch the 61B bus from Regent Square to Braddock and you just might catch a whiff of pungent-sweet sourdough bread, on its way to a brick oven.

Benjamin Franklin would approve. You recall he was seen with a loaf of bread under each arm as he strolled along Market Street in Philadelphia. No doubt Ben’s bread was also baked in a brick oven similar to one run by Chatham University student Shauna Kearns.

A student in the Falk School of Sustainability’s Master of Arts in Food Studies (MAFS) program, Shauna has a ready smile and her eyes light up like arctic stars at the mere mention of bread. On her lap is a plastic container of several pounds of sourdough rising to the occasion and ready to be baked in Braddock’s community brick oven. It’s a trip she makes two or three days a week. While she shapes her bread, she is also helping to shape the new community spirit that is a catalyst behind all the good things happening in this comeback town. Their newest community brick oven will be built this July next to the new and much anticipated Superior Motors restaurant.

“With the addition of Shauna and our new oven,” said Mayor John Fetterman, “Braddock’s fortunes will certainly continue to rise.”

Shauna’s passion has deep roots. “I grew up in Toronto in a family that treasured the outdoors and loved to cook with locally grown foods. The first time I made bread, I just fell in love with it.”

That love landed her an apprenticeship at Tracebridge Sourdough in England.

“This incredible couple, Katie Venner and Gordon Woodcock, run a small-scale bakery in Somerset. They have a brick oven they made from reclaimed materials. With their weekly pizza nights, they bring people together with food and music and community spirit. I learned so much from them.”

Shauna brought a jar of Tracebridge sourdough starter back to Toronto from the UK, which she still uses for her bread. Then, she apprenticed at St. John’s Bakery, a nonprofit next to a mission that trains the unemployed. This will be the model for the bread-baking training program Shauna plans for Braddock.

These past few summers, Shauna has also led canoe trips on the Ravensthroat and Coppermine Rivers in the Arctic, and she’s going back this summer, along with her sourdough starter, to paddle the Keele. Yes, she bakes bread in the Arctic wilderness. Much like the Klondike miners did during the gold rush in the late 19th century. But Shauna mines a different kind of gold.

Hands flattening a loaf of bread.

“These canoe trips in the Arctic are little communities,” she says. “They’re nomadic, self-sufficient. We eat only what we catch and carry. Baking bread in a small portable Dutch oven every day in the middle of the nowhere encourages a community spirit. It’s the same kind of spirit I discovered in Braddock.”

Shauna received one of the initial Falk Sustainability Summer Fellowships, which will help her participate this summer in an oven-building workshop at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, Pennsylvania, and to serve as an apprentice at their oven- use workshop in September.

For Shauna, it’s all about what bread from a brick oven can do to bring people together – to learn, to share, to develop a skill and give something back to the community.

Shauna putting loaves in a brick oven.

“Bread sales from the Braddock oven,” Shauna says, “have always gone back into the project. The Falk Fellowship helps ensure this can continue. Imagine, 100% of our bread sales goes right back into it – to buy flour and support the construction of the oven. It will be for sale Saturdays at the Braddock Farm Stand beginning in June.”

So, while breaking bread, Shauna is also breaking the mold. What comes out of the community oven in Braddock is extraordinary. But what comes out of her community spirit is changing people’s lives.

Under Shauna’s leadership, Chatham will be building  a community bread oven at Eden Hall Campus in the summer of 2017. In spring and summer 2017, Chatham will be hosting food-related workshops–including bread baking with Shauna–at Eden Hall.

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.


Eden Hall Campus: A Hub for K-12 Sustainable Education Efforts

Eden Hall Campus was envisioned as a beacon for current and future generations who wish to work toward a more sustainable way of living. Today, Eden Hall Campus delivers this vision through bachelors and masters-level programs and an unparalleled range of opportunities for sustainability-themed experiences for K-12 students in the Pittsburgh area.

Powered by grants made possible by both the Grable Foundation and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Kelly Henderson, LEED AP O+M, is finishing her second year as Eden Hall K-12 Education Coordinator, and the Sustainability Leadership Academy Director.

“Our hope is to empower and inspire students to create real change in their schools and communities by exposing them to new ideas and technologies, connecting them to the natural world, and making what they are learning in school come to life with purpose,” said Henderson.

With these programs, Chatham University aims to help students and educators become confident in their passion for sustainable initiatives and less overwhelmed about the question, “where do I start?”

One of the places students can start is the upcoming Seeds of Change: Igniting Student Action for Sustainable Communities conference scheduled to take place at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus on Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 from 10am – 1:30pm.  The conference will feature up to 100 students from 20 local schools sharing their work on an ongoing or current project that is helping to make their school or community more sustainable.

The Eden Hall K-12 Education program includes field trips, K-12 educator programming, special projects and overnight programs.

FIELD TRIPS TO THE EDEN HALL CAMPUS have been incredibly successful with more than 2,000 visitors from school districts in the tri-state area over the past 2 years. Field trips are designed for fourth through eighth grade students and ninth through twelfth grade students and include exploring topics in sustainability through activities involving:

Built Environment

  • Rain barrels and green infrastructure
  • Wastewater filtration
  • Passive solar design challenge
  • Solar thermal design challenge
  • Materials, products and air quality

Sustainable Agriculture

  • Aquaponics
  • Integrated pest management
  • Mushrooms
  • Food products
  • Farm service


  • Biodiversity survey
  • Watersheds and macroinvertebrates
  • Geocoaching

Through Eden Hall’s K-12 EDUCATOR PROGRAMS, teachers can experience the pedagogy and practices behind Project Based Learning (PBL) through partnership programs.  They will also discover how they can take those same principles of sustainability content into their classrooms to create opportunities for student-driven learning through meaningful projects in their communities.

Pine Richland, South Fayette, Fort Cherry, Falk Lab School, Pittsburgh Schiller STEAM Academy 6-8, and others have produced or are in the process of creating school and community-based, student-driven projects. These projects range from school recycling and compost system overhauls to designing and installing micro-scale renewable energy systems to launching awareness campaigns to get teachers to utilize existing outdoor spaces on school grounds during class time.

At Pine Richland’s Eden Hall Upper Elementary, among the many ongoing projects the school is developing in collaboration with Chatham, the Sustainable Architectural Design Challenge, facilitated by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, has been a popular one with their past two years of sixth graders. This year, students were asked to create a model (using a 1/2-inch scale) showing how a storage barn on Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus can be converted into a place where kids their age could come in the summer to learn about sustainability.

“This project allows students to get a first-hand perspective and application in a real-world setting of sustainable and meaningful architecture and daily living,” said Eden Hall Upper Elementary’s Joanna Sovek. “The project ties into all parts of our curriculum: math, science, ELA, social studies, and art – which fully encompasses our district’s vision of the STEAM initiative.”

The work that begins in the elementary years continues through high school and right into college with the SUSTAINABLE LEADERSHIP ACADEMY (SLA). The SLA is open to rising 10th, 11th and 12th graders, as well as students who have just finished 12th grade. Participants become immersed in a robust hands-on experiential learning program for a full week with faculty in the field where they explore Pittsburgh during day-long guided tours of the city’s sustainable highlights, meet local leaders in sustainability and green building, develop the leadership skills needed to be a change agent, and make like-minded friends from across the country.

“Participating students discover a world of opportunities, not the least of which is that they’re meeting people with shared interests, passion and commitment to global health,” said Henderson.

High school students interested in sustainability also have the ability to apply for the RACHEL CARSON HEALTHY PLANET AWARD, which will be awarded to one deserving student nominated from each high school and community college throughout the United States, who embodies the spirit of Rachel Carson in his or her dedication to sustainability and community development. Healthy Planet Award recipients will also receive preferred consideration for the RACHEL CARSON SCHOLARSHIP, a full-tuition scholarship to attend Chatham University.

With more than 100 programs completed, work in the realm of K-12 education is continuing at Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus, creating a new hub for sustainability education.

“With the Eden Hall Campus K-12 programs, I anticipate our students taking away a more dynamic view of sustainability in terms of understanding what it encompasses; the impact of sustainable systems on a regional, state, national and global level; and an appreciation of the resources available in our region,” says Dr. Trisha Craig, Director of Curriculum & Instruction at Fort Cherry School District.

“I hope that the opportunity presents to them a more diverse viewpoint of sustainability. Students need to see that there is more beyond their backyard and local community.”

chatham resettles new residents

close-up of rainbow trout
Photos courtesy Tony Miga

It was an overcast Wednesday morning, but spirits were high as Eden Hall Campus welcomed its newest residents.

Over 20 people—including reporters from KDKA and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette—were on hand to greet the newcomers: 500 rainbow trout, non-native to Pennsylvania, here to be permanently resettled in their new homes: three fiberglass tanks, each standing about five feet tall and containing 500 gallons, in Chatham’s aquaculture laboratory.

The fish were briefly retained in buckets while last-minute logistics were worked out, but soon they were released, transported to their new residences in green, traffic cone-sized nets by Aquatic Laboratory Director Roy Weitzell, PhD, and his research assistant, Master of Sustainability student Samantha Harvey ’18.


Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), are native to the West Coast of the US. “They are relatively hardy, certainly as compared to our native brook trout,” says Weitzell. “My plan is to use the experience we gain with rainbow trout to culture the native brook trout.” Rainbow trout are stocked widely throughout the northern and eastern US, and widely used in aquaculture globally.

“You can’t ask for a more photogenic fish,” notes Sarah Hamm, Social Media Manager at Chatham University.

“Rainbow trout are one of the most widely studied aquaculture species, so we know a lot about their biology,” Weitzell continues. “We’re confident that we can successfully raise them in our system. This should open the doors for any number of research projects dealing with culture and conservation of the trout native to Western PA.”

The 5-to-6-inch collaborators, who declined requests for an interview, were delivered by Laurel Hill Trout Farm, in a hatchery truck with tanks outfitted with temperature control and supplemental oxygen. The fish had lived their whole lives at the farm.


The aquaculture lab is used in undergraduate and graduate courses and projects led by Weitzell and colleagues at the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment, including Sustainable Aquaculture, Aquatic Ecology, and Basic Agroecology. It’s also regularly used for a variety of K-12 outreach efforts, including aquaponics workshops for students and teachers.

The Falk School of Sustainability & Environment is a wellspring for leadership and education dedicated to addressing sustainability challenges across a range of environments. Through hands-on experience, assistantships, summer immersion programs, community engagement, and a robust academic foundation, students emerge as professionals that will transform thinking in the fields that comprise sustainability.