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Meet Pitt’s first Mitchell Scholar

Firestine in a suit

The University of Pittsburgh has a new name to add to its honor roll of high-achieving scholars. Alex Firestine, a senior in the David C. Frederick Honors College and College of Business Administration, has been named a 2024 George J. Mitchell Scholar — the first in Pitt history.

The award is one of the country’s most prestigious scholarship programs, offering fully funded postgraduate study in Ireland to 12 United States students annually. As a recipient of the Mitchell, Firestine will pursue an MSc in climate change, agriculture and food security at the University of Galway.

“I am proud to recognize Alex as the University of Pittsburgh’s first-ever Mitchell Scholar,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “Even more, I'm proud of Alex’s dedication to tackling some of society’s most complex challenges. His future is bright, and I look forward to celebrating his successes and impact for years to come.”

A Chancellor’s Scholar, Firestine is pursuing three majors — finance, accounting and business information systems — as well as certificates in business analytics and leadership and ethics. Outside of the classroom, Firestine has pursued research, internship and employment experiences while working with industry leaders such as KPMG and Deloitte as well as Food21, a local nonprofit dedicated to developing sustainable food systems in the greater Pittsburgh region. He is also a co-founder of PeerCommerce, a student-focused startup.

In 2020, Firestine received a Brackenridge Research Fellowship funded by Tina and David Bellet, which supports Pitt students as they conduct independent research or a creative project full-time over the summer. For his project, he worked on the development of the digital Food Abundance Index (FAI), which was created in 2011 by Pitt researchers as a way to measure regional food security across five dimensions using data collected on a physical scorecard. Firestine worked in collaboration with Food21 to develop a digital version of this scorecard, leveraging newly available data to calculate dimensions like food accessibility and density in a particular region. This project became the foundation for the Mid-Mon valley assessment Firestine completed with Food21, which investigated causes of regional food insecurity in the Mid-Mon Valley. His work was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

“Alex represents the epitome of a Frederick Honors student,” said Nicola Foote, dean of the Frederick Honors College. “He is pushing himself to pursue and create knowledge across multiple fields and using the insight he generates to serve others and create social change.”

Lawrence Feick, interim associate dean of Pitt’s College of Business Administration, commended Firestine on his community impact: “We are proud of his entrepreneurial spirit, dedication to helping and others, and his commitment to address some of society’s biggest challenges.”

Firestine has worked closely with his mentor Audrey Murrell, a professor of business administration, psychology, public health and international affairs in the Katz Graduate School of Business, who has long recognized the important nexus of Firestine’s research.

“I am extremely proud that the work Alex Firestine is doing to address food insecurity using evidence-based data analytics has received this amazing recognition,” said Murrell. “His efforts will help both research and practice elevate solutions for creating resilient food ecosystems locally, nationally and globally.”

The Mitchell Scholarship won’t be Firestine’s first time abroad. He studied in Ireland before coming to Pitt and developed a knowledge of the Irish economy as well as an appreciation of the centrality of agriculture to Irish business. He said he sees the potential for that sector to grow and develop into a truly sustainable model that the rest of the world could emulate.

With the Mitchell, Firestine hopes to elevate his research to an international scale and facilitate the expansion of his academic career into a new field of agriculture and climate change.

“I strive to continue to work towards building sustainable food systems not only for the current generation, but also for future generations in the context of climate change,” he said. “Ireland acts as the perfect catalyst for this study, as the country is No. 2 on the global food security index, yet currently experiences agricultural challenges with the onset of climate change.”

In light of this historic win, Firestine encouraged future scholars to pursue their passions and expose themselves to a diverse set of experiences.

“I also encourage future scholars to become involved with all of the resources that Pitt provides, especially through the Frederick Honors College and the College of Business Administration,” Firestine said. “Find a mentor (or two or three!) in your field who will provide you with guidance and support but will also challenge you to learn and grow. I attribute much of my success to the amazing mentors I’ve had throughout my time at Pitt.”

Aidan Beatty, a scholar mentor for the Frederick Honors College, along with Lesha Greene, the director of national scholarships, worked with Firestine, offering insight and feedback on scholarship applications.

“Alex’s win as Pitt’s first Mitchell Scholar is monumental and reflects his ability to think outside the box,” said Greene. “Alex took advantage of the opportunities offered through the Frederick Honors College such as the flagship Brackenridge Research Fellowship and the unique, research-focused Bachelor of Philosophy degree to fine-tune his interests and set himself up for post-graduation success. We are very proud of him.”

 

— Terry Jarbe