FHC alumnus Joseph Landsittel named Rhodes finalist

November 27, 2023

Joseph Landsittel (A&S, FHC ’22) of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, believes that mathematical modeling can be used to make predictions to understand our world better and improve people’s lives through that understanding. While still an undergraduate at Pitt, Landsittel completed the David C. Frederick Honor’s College’s prestigious Bachelor of Philosophy degree in applied mathematics, physics and astronomy, won two university-level prizesthe Thomas-Lain Prize in Physics and Astronomy and the M.M. Culver Prize in Mathematicsand completed an internship with the National Security Agency (NSA).

This year, Landsittel was recognized once again for the caliber of his scholarship and commitment to others when he was selected as a finalist for the 2023 Rhodes Scholarship.

“The Rhodes is the most prestigious scholarship award in the worldbar none,” said Nicola Foote, Dean of the David C. Frederick Honors College. “For Joe to be included among the finalists is a tremendous accomplishment. He has committed himself deeply to public service, taking a year away from his scholarship to teach math and physics to underprivileged students. He embodies the values of academic excellence and leadership through service, and I can’t wait to see how he continues to excel beyond Pitt.”

The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the oldest international study awards open to U.S. students, and, of the 862 applicants endorsed by their academic institutions this year, only 32 were selected as winners.

“We are very proud of Joe being named a Rhodes finalist,” said Lesha Greene, Director of National Scholarships and Post-Graduation Success. “The chances of getting a Rhodes based on the number of applicants is less than four percent, so for Joe to make it to the finalist stage is a reflection of his accomplishments thus far not only in the sphere of research, but also when it comes to education equity. We are very excited to see what comes next for Joe.”

Applying mathematics, leadership and curiosity

His Bachelor of Philosophy thesis, Using dynamical systems to make micro- and macroscopic predictions in marine biology, tackles everything from the individual brain behavior of a single fish to the alternate mating strategies of cephalopods. Landsittel recognizes the need for applied mathematics in preserving the oceans as they face many new pressures and that knowledge to address challenges like overfishing must come from micro- and macroscopic perspectives.

Landsittel currently serves as a Teach for America Corps member at the KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he teaches 11th and 12th grade science while working on his instructional certification in physics for grades 7–12 through the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In his current role, Landsittel has worked to reshape the KIPP Foundation’s AP Biology curriculum for its national network of schools to provide students with content and methodology that translates classroom skills into successful AP Biology Exam results.

A Family Tradition

Landsittel followed in his father’s footsteps at Pitt. Douglas Landsittel (A&S ’92, SPH ’97) also studied applied mathematics as an undergraduate at Pitt and received his PhD in biostatistics in the Graduate School of Public Health. D. Landsittel’s role as a professor of biomedical informatics encouraged several of his children to also attend the University. And his academic relationships with the notable Bard Ermentrout was passed down to his son.

He had told me stories about the great time he had studying under Professor Ermentrout, so in 2019 when I was a freshman, Ermentrout was the first person I reached out to do work with,” said Landsittel. “My dad and I have similar research interests in that we're interested in using applied math to make predictions in medical, or more broadly 'living', systems; he is more interested in methodology from statistics. We have been collaborating on a project recently, which will hopefully supply insight into how we evaluate the effectiveness of treatments in the absence of a randomized trial.”

Landsittel referenced his mother’s dedication as a nurse and mother of six children as an influence to his own desire to help others. Landsittel follows his family’s tradition of service and scholarship as he continues to mentor his students and perform groundbreaking research.