About Us


Patricia Cluss, PhD Director

Patricia Cluss, PhD

Susan Nitzberg, MPH Associate Director

Susan Nitzberg, MPH
Associate Director

Karen Merrick, LSW, ACSW, Employer Services Coordinator

Karen L. Merrick, LSW, ACSW
Employer Services Coordinator


Patricia Cluss, Ph.D., is the Director of STANDING FIRM. Retired from her faculty position in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she continues her professional work as a licensed psychologist and consultant for regional nonprofit and health-related organizations. At Pitt, she engaged in research and program development in partner violence, smoking cessation for special populations, and pediatric obesity and published a number of articles about partner violence in academic journals. Dr. Cluss has been an expert member of the Allegheny County District Attorney's Intimate Partner Violence Homicide Review Team and a consultant for a PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency-funded research project at the University of Pittsburgh that is describing the methodology and impact of batterer intervention programs in the region. Dr. Cluss is a consultant at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and directs the STANDING FIRM initiative there.

Associate Director

Susan Nitzberg, MPH, serves as Associate Director for STANDING FIRM. She has extensive experience with community and non-profit organizations. She has held numerous leadership positions in organizations such as National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section, Family Hospice and Palliative Care, Union Aid Society, the Child Health Association of Sewickley and many more. Within NCJW, she spearheaded domestic violence programs and initiatives. Formerly, she served as Vice President, St. Clair Hospital. She is a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh. In 2013, she received a Women of Achievement Award.

Employer Services Coordinator

Karen L. Merrick, LSW, ACSW, is the Employer Services Coordinator for STANDING FIRM. Karen has more than 25 years of experience in the field of employee assistance, providing clinical counseling services and account management. Her skills and expertise are in the areas of management consultation and training with emphases on developing relationships, promoting resilience, and managing organizational change. Karen was previously a senior account manager with Life Solutions, UPMC’s employee assistance program. As the UPMC Team Coordinator, she led a team that provided EAP account management services to all UPMC hospitals/business units, including presenting trainings/workshops to leaders and managers on intimate partner violence.

Program Associate

Catherine Gutowski is the Program Associate at STANDING FIRM. She has extensive experience in operational and program support within the education, tech and not for profit sectors, both in the United States and overseas. Outside of STANDING FIRM, Catherine volunteers regularly with the American Red Cross as a Disaster Services Caseworker, as well as for her local school PTA as Communications Coordinator.



Thanks to the following foundations for their interest in and support of this important community initiative:

Present Funders

FISA Foundation, whose mission is to build a culture of respect and improve the quality of life for women, girls, and people with disabilities in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Heinz Endowments, whose mission is to help the Pittsburgh region thrive as a whole community - economically, ecologically, educationally and culturally, while advancing the state of knowledge and practice in the fields they work in.

Another local foundation that chooses to remain anonymous

Past Funders

Eden Hall Foundation

Jewish Women's Foundation

McAuley Ministries

PNC Charitable Trusts

Scaife Family Foundation

Staunton Farm Foundation

Women and Girls Foundation