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Holiday Message from President Spectar

Holiday Message from President Spectar

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Season’s Greetings! 

Another exciting year closes at Pitt-Johnstown. As we look back, we should be justly proud of the work to date, burnishing a record of academic excellence, instilling a culture of spirited student involvement in our beautiful campus, firming ties with our respective communities and constituencies, and forging on in a fiscally sound and accountable manner. The season of goodwill is therefore a season of gratitude.  There are a whole bunch of goodies in the Pitt-Johnstown stocking. 

Gratitude to our students who brave many adversities, setbacks and hurdles to press on with the obligation to be ready for the real world – the rapidly changing and increasingly complex 21st century world where local and global are intricately intertwined. I am grateful that our students are fulfilling their dreams of pursuing a higher education, the surest access ramp to the American dream and greater personal and professional fulfillment.  They are learning, earning high grades and demonstrating excellent outcomes.  Some are working with talented faculty on guided or mentored projects including capstones, theses, undergraduate student-research, and practica. Others are doing internships and externships with various local, national and regional organizations. In the process, they are making that indispensable link between the classroom and world beyond university walls, and bridging the gap between theory and practice, between the cloister of inner contemplation and the exigencies of the real world.

The evidence of student success is all over the place. Just this week, I joined a few students for a dinner after a presentation by our Pasquerilla Lecture Series guest speaker, the nationally-acclaimed pollster, Dr. Frank Luntz. I was very impressed by the quality of student questions, comments and insights during the presentation and in the reception afterwards.  Particularly heartwarming for this inveterate professor was their enthusiasm for the world of ideas, their aspirations for our country and their overall willingness to engage the speaker. This was the stuff of a vibrant locus of higher learning, indeed. Jesper Nielsen, a young man from Denmark was amazingly cogent, as he made an impassioned case for a more equitable and accessible healthcare system; Alexis Wieczorek regaled us about the virtues of study and service abroad; Spanish-fluent Allison Guess was surefooted about career plans in the diplomatic service; Wesley Hunt, a political science major was already looking ahead to law school and a life of service. And of course, there are others like Brandon Quinn who’s already exceeded our expectations for the Pitt-Johnstown Real World program by logging over 600 hours of service in one term, while maintaining a fine academic record. Need I say more? 

The gravamen is that these students and so many more are a product, a reflection, and a testament of the brilliant efforts of a talented, dedicated and inspiring faculty and staff. In this season of gratitude, I am unrestrainedly proud, too, of the impressive contributions of our faculty to the formation of an active and productive citizenry, as well as more enlightened minds. This is one cause célèbre to champion. At the aforementioned event honoring pollster Frank Luntz, the participating students were also joined by several faculty members, including Professor Ray Wrabley. Dr. Wrabley epitomizes those classic qualities of everyone’s favorite professor: he quizzed the students, posed challenging questions, made thought-provoking comments and fostered a climate of open dialogue. A number of students credited him with finding them internships and they all glowed about how much they “love” his classes – despite his occasional scrawl on the chalkboard.

For several of our faculty, the term was also marked by noteworthy feats and overall professional development. For example, Dr. Katrin Monecke, in the geology department, achieved worldwide acclaim and visibility for her path-paving, peer-reviewed journal article on tsunamis entitled “A 1,000 Year Sediment Record of Tsunami Recurrence in Northern Sumatra.” (Please see many more examples of fine accomplishments at Meanwhile, several paragons of service to the university community included the unparalleled contributions of faculty and staff in the Nursing Working Group (Jeff Ankney, Bruce Colbert, Dr. Chuck Hinderliter, Dr. Janet Grady, Dr. James Gyure, and Dr. Alan Teich) as well as the uncompromising excellence of Dr. Paul Newman who led the Education Policies Committee of the Faculty Senate. The work of these colleagues culminated in an overwhelmingly positive faculty Senate vote that paved the way for the introduction of a new BSN degree at Pitt-Johnstown for fall 2009. Furthermore, the Engineering Technology (ET) Division spearheaded a comprehensive accreditation review that was clearly praiseworthy. In particular, Dr. Jerry Samples and Ms. Bev Withiam, as well as numerous ET faculty, deserve the highest commendations for their thoroughness and diligence on this review. VPAA Dr. Alan Teich and Dr. Elisabeth Bell Loncella were simply terrific as they collaborated in orienting over a dozen new faculty, and vitalizing our Faculty Resource Center. So much to be thankful for…and much more.

Our loyal and dedicated staff members have been hard at work stuffing the Pitt-Johnstown stocking as well.  A case in point: our dedicated facilities staff exceeded my highest expectations as they took on project after project, renovating and remodeling residential facilities such as Larkspur and Woodland, as well as a significant redesign of various internal spaces in Blackington Hall and elsewhere, to create more spaces for our growing programs.  Meanwhile various offices in the Student Affairs area continued to work collaboratively to promote a vibrant campus life. Several of our coaches are outdoing themselves: November’s rousing celebration of Midnight Madness, egged on by a growing platoon of enthused Mountain Cat Maniacs, has ushered in a series of impressive victories under the tutelage of our fine coaches. 

This year, several members of our fine staff are celebrating significant milestones in their service to Pitt-Johnstown:

  • Forty Years +:   
    Thomas G. Dupnock


  • Thirty Years:   
    Dolores A. Berkey
    Samuel W. Gemus
    Pamela Jeanne Sabol
    Joseph J. Sernell
    Sandra J. Smith


  • Twenty Years:  
    Robert Eckenrod
    Deborah A. Hamula
    James R. Hedrick
    Michael Kemock
    William E. Marks
    Judith A. McGuirk
    Janet Paap
    Thomas J. Shiley
    Kimberly D. Shook
    Kathleen E. Sumak
    Jeanne M. Susko
    Donna L. Vickroy


  • Ten Years:   
    Linda Brandle
    Christopher A. Caputo
    Marjorie R. Helman
    Joan M. Keirn
    Jennifer Stephany Kist
    Diane Louise Lenio
    Joni L. Trovato
    Dr. Robert John Yaskanich


  • Five Years:   
    Brian D. Colbert
    Linda R. Coyle
    Lisa Ann Hunter
    Scott J. Mamula
    Willie H. Myers
    Daniel Potchak
    Janice A. Snyder

Please join me in congratulating these colleagues and acknowledging their long term service and loyalty to our students and the future of our communities. So much to be thankful for.

I am also grateful that we are increasingly connected to an ever-more receptive community.  Various external communities and constituencies to which we are historically tethered are expressing their appreciation and affection for Pitt-Johnstown.  For example, a group of city leaders in organizations, such as the Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership and JARI, as well as various local CEOs and legislators, expressed strong and powerful support for our health sciences initiatives. Furthermore, community attendance at various on-campus events, including the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center (PPAC), is sharply on the upswing. As I stated at a recent holiday get together sponsored by the Richland Township leaders, “We are living together, working together and celebrating together” with our community partners. Clearly, our Mountain Cat Pride is catching. 

We are benefiting greatly from the renewed sense of pride on the part of our more than 18,000 alumni. Through the efforts of the Pitt-Johnstown Alumni Association, October 31 brought a historic moment as we presented the first-ever Distinguished Alumni Award to Congressman John P. Murtha (’60). The Association was also recognized by the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association for continuing support of the University by receiving a Gold Banner Award. The award recognized the Association for its ongoing commitment to financial strength, student improvement, communication, and partnerships.

Looking ahead, it appears that, as a country, we are entering (to paraphrase Charles Dickens) the most promising and the most perilous of times!  The looming economic crisis has imposed a strain on institutions around the country.  We have already had to trim about 10 % of our non-academic operating budgets to meet the University’s request for an overall 1.5% cut.  Nonetheless, I am pleased to say we were able to accomplish this goal while exempting our core academic affairs operations.

Yet, even in these uncertain times, we must remain hopeful. I am confident that as a people we have always answered the call for renewal; that as a people, we have shown ourselves capable of rethinking and jettisoning off failed approaches; and that as a people, we are open to testing new approaches and embracing tested methods for a great transformation. Therefore, I remain stubbornly optimistic, even as the soothsayers, augurers, pundits and a few mountebanks announce the end of history, days and good times and the like. 

I am optimistic that, despite the challenges, we will continue to offer high quality academics in a supportive student-friendly campus environment. I am optimistic that all our academic programs, whether professional or otherwise, grounded in the liberal arts tradition, will further real world readiness and the education of a civic-minded citizenry. I am optimistic that we will continue to strive to remain current and responsive to our students’ and communities’ needs, and that we will continue to actively assess our efforts to achieve our mission. For the foregoing reasons and many more, I am humbled and honored to share with you these comments in this season of goodwill and gratitude.

As we enter a new year in pursuit of the lodestar of progress in a more perfect world, I wish that you give chase with high hopes and an abiding sense that tomorrow is always impregnated with new possibilities, that odds and predictions are not outcome-determinative. 

Thus, overwhelmed by our Pitt-Johnstown stocking full of goodies, and even more animated by the promise of tomorrow, I offer a heartfelt Season’s Greetings to you and yours.


Jem Spectar

Posted by Knipple, Robert on 12/11/2008 10:30:00 PM