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Pitt-Johnstown Community Report: Spring 2009

Pitt-Johnstown Community Report: Spring 2009

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Community Report CoverI am thrilled to share with you another community report about many of the initiatives, events, experiences and accomplishments that reflect how we are realizing the goals in our New Dimension of Excellence Strategic Plan and fulfilling our mission.  The sixth Community Report continues a pledge to track our progress and to continue to communicate our story to all members of our community.

The pendulum is swinging towards the close of another academic year, closing another chapter that started last fall with events such as orientation to another graduation event in just a few days. Between the book ends spans another fruitful year of vital, high-quality teaching and learning excellence in a supportive living-learning environment; delivery and refinement of current and responsive programs meeting the personal and professional needs of our students and communities, from the local to global. In every way, it has been another year doing what I have often referred to as the most meaningful work -- transforming our world, one mind at a time, through the liberating and enlightening power of higher education. 

As another academic year races to a close, our fine faculty can be rightfully proud of another year of teaching excellence, sharing their insights and expertise, disseminating knowledge necessary to shape and reshape our world. Our faculty continue to shine in teaching, scholarship and service. Recently, I was privileged to sit through several presentations in Brian Houston’s Civil Engineering class.  The students were so professional and well-prepared that they seemed straight out of central casting courtesy of engineering firms in the real world.  The excellence evident in that class is a key reason why so many of our faculty are being recognized for their endeavors. For example, Dr. John Thompson, associate professor of mathematics was recommended by his colleagues for the President’s Award for Teaching Excellence.  In recognizing Dr. Thompson, his colleagues noted “Dr. Thompson uses real-world examples and applications, encourages students to generate and develop their own ideas, and uses cooperative learning and directed questioning to improve student learning and understanding.” Likewise, I was gratified to learn that Dr. Paul Newman received the 2009 Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award.  For those of you who do not yet know, our Dr. Newman was recognized not only for his teaching, research, and writing at Pitt-Johnstown, but also for his time mentoring Northern Cambria High School students in the research and writing of As the Dust Settles, Revealing Those Seldom Seen. Dr. Newman also led the students in the development and production of a video-documentary, Remembering America’s Longest War: Western Pennsylvania Vietnam War Vets and the Approach of the Golden Anniversary. Clearly, our faculty are making a real difference in their classrooms and we all should be thankful.

Faculty have sustained the momentum that led to the development of the BSN degree.  Working collaboratively, faculty have continued to make refinements in our program offerings to ensure that they are responsive to the needs of our students and communities. Faculty reviewed and favorably recommended new program proposals for degrees in Computer Engineering Technology, Applied Computer Science, as well as Biochemistry. Additionally, we have announced plans to offer the Leadership Initiative for Transforming Schools (LIST) K-12 Principal Certificate program, which is a cooperative venture with the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.  Continuing the exemplary work of the Global Education Task Force, there have been impressive efforts toward curricular internationalization including the finalization of International Studies certificates in business, geography, French, German, and Spanish.

Other new ideas are being considered with regard to program developments in the area of energy and sustainability.  The creativity and flexibility that have marked the program developments have been noteworthy.  I am very thankful to the faculty in the various divisions who responded to the call to develop new programs as well as the division chairs and the VPAA, whose tireless efforts have facilitated this progress.

Our students, the focus of our work, continue to make the most of their college life, in readiness for the real world. Recently, I was pleased to join the academic division chairs and the VPAA in recognizing dozens of students for outstanding academic achievement at the annual Academic Honors Convocation.  Just this morning, I was also pleased to see the names of so many students on the Dean’s List. I recently got an opportunity to get more acquainted with one of these students, Ms. Kate Shadron.  Kate stood out as a top-ranked student and has been described as nothing short of “exemplary.”  In addition to receiving numerous commendations during Honors Convocation, Kate was also the recipient for an Outstanding Student Athlete award during the recent WVIAC tournament. Other fine students such as Jesper Nielsen presented and published a paper with Dr. Reinhard Heinish. Another student, Jim Lauffer, collaborated with Dr. Kamal Verma to publish in the notable South Asian Review edited by Dr. Verma. To these students of distinction, as well as to all our students who make the effort to improve their lives and better their world through a Pitt-Johnstown education, we say a collective “thank you!” 

When not excelling in the classroom, our students have continued to build on an impressive record of out-of-class real-world experience. As part of the revitalized RealWorld Action Program, more and more students are actively and collaboratively involved in on and off campus experiences that foster leadership development and service. For example, there was a 225% increase in students’ participating in this year’s “alternative spring break” project where students worked at four different sites in Florida and Alabama.  Recall that the Tribune-Democrat recently featured a story “Local Student Aids Community Struck by Flood,” that discussed senior Jessica Cwik’s efforts to help flood victims in Terra Haute, Indiana as part of the 2009 United Way Alternative Spring Break.

This enviable spirit of service was also in evidence during our Pitt-Johnstown @ Your Service Week when several students volunteered in the real world of our surrounding communities.  Just today, we were pleased to honor another student, Cara Stewart, for exceptional accomplishments during @ Your Service Week.

Out-of-class excellence was in full display by the award winning Pitt-Johnstown athletes and their teams.  Men’s Basketball Coach Bob Rukavina led the team to another WVIAC Championship.  His amazing team included two outstanding basketball players, Marcus Tullis and Quinton Davis, both of whom are also graduating seniors; wish these graduating seniors the very best! Likewise, Sasha Palmer’s Lady Cats made a brave run for the WVIAC Tournament semifinals and took us so close to a conference championship trophy, while Lindsay Cale was named First-Team All-WVIAC, and Shena Aden was named Second-Team All-WVIAC!  Our wrestling team earned second place at the regional tournament, and our men’s baseball team is ranked eighth in this year's first NCAA Division II Atlantic Region poll.  The collective effort of these teams and their coaches led other athletic directors in the West Virginia Conference to award the Conference’s prized Clement H. Clower Institutional Sportsmanship Award to Pitt-Johnstown!  I was honored to personally collect that award as my colleagues from other institutions looked on.  Mountain Cat proud!

Our dedicated staff continue to make sterling contributions to fulfilling our mission-based commitment to a supportive living-learning environment that is responsive to students needs. Recently, two of our staff members have earned significant accolades for their noteworthy contributions.  I was pleased to present Ms. Diane Lenio with the President’s Staff Award for Excellence in Service to Pitt-Johnstown.  Mr. Bob Knipple, executive director of External Relations, received the Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the Community. In addition, on March 12, Mike Bodolosky, executive director of the PPAC, was recognized by the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce as the recipient of this year’s Cultural Affairs Award. These staff members are exemplars of the dedication to service that fills us all with Mountain Cat Pride and gratitude. I cannot conclude this section without giving a Mountain Cat shout-out and special commendations to Ms. Joyce Radovanic and many others whose organizational skills and first-class dedication to duty made our Pitt-Johnstown @ Your Service Week so successful. There are so many examples of the dedicated Pitt-Johnstown staff whose contributions may sometimes go unnoticed, but never unappreciated. But, of course, you know that because you, too, are one of them.  Thank you!

Since the last report we have continued to work on upgrades to our campus environment.  Wellness Center planning and design is now in its final phase.  Several weeks ago, we sought and received approval of our design from the Richland Township authorities and the final details are being resolved.  With groundbreaking set for as early as October, we are still on schedule for a 2011 completion. Meanwhile, we have made significant strides in plans to refurbish the Student Union, develop a new Mountain Cat Club and upgrade Chasers into our new University Club for faculty, staff and students. The dining room projects are being funded by a generous grant from our partner Sodexo.

With regard to our external communities, we continue to strengthen our connections to a broad range of constituencies.  Our outreach to alums continued, including through expanded efforts to recognize successful alums on the alumni web page; the first edition of the Mountain Cat Newsletter received positive response from readers and precipitated several donations; and student involvement in the Blue and Gold Society has increased significantly. As I travel the area, I meet many alums who are very proud of our growing connections with the alumni community.

To enhance our ties to the surrounding communities and fulfill our mission as a public-serving institution, we launched our landmark service project entitled, Pitt-Johnstown @ Your Service. This ambitious undertaking developed and or facilitated numerous opportunities for members of Pitt-Johnstown to volunteer in the city in partnership with various members of our local community.  In a broad range of projects including fund raising drives, visits to local schools, hospital and nursing homes, the Pitt-Johnstown family demonstrated its commitment to service that sustains and transforms our communities.

Of special note, we strengthened our partnership with Greater Johnstown School District. Several senior administrators and faculty from Pitt-Johnstown visited with Superintendant Barbara Parkins and Principal Daniel Resenic to further cooperative ties.  As a result of our discussions, we invited 30 teachers from the Greater Johnstown School District to campus to spend the day on an in-service workshop on teaching and learning in the sciences. Subsequently, 25 students from Johnstown High were invited to campus as part of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Day.  Thanks to a suggestion from Dr. Sharon Berstch, STEM Day was auspiciously scheduled on the same day as our enormously successful SPACE event.  The combination of the two events created a picture-perfect showcase for our learning environment.  With our faculty, staff and Johnstown High visitors in attendance (and at times in awe), our students proudly presented various scholarly endeavors that were guided or mentored by our talented faculty. This was a university at its finest!

In addition, it was also heartwarming to see many community members in attendance at our newly-launched Glocal Society Series that seeks, inter alia, to explore the interconnections between the global and local dimensions of the pressing issues of our time. From the PPAC’s enormously successful season to the large crowds at our sporting events, as well as scholarly events, the community was increasingly a part of life at Pitt-Johnstown. Thanks to an extensive advertising campaign, whether in billboards, print, or electronic media, we are clearly gaining greater visibility and awareness of our message, mission, and our accomplishments. There is no question that we are the University of Pittsburgh at, in, and for Johnstown.  

Regarding our fiscal situation, I am pleased to note that we are weathering the stormy global financial mess and forging on with prudent management of our resources. As stated in my recent briefings to faculty, staff and students on the economic situation, we have taken active steps to right-size our budget to protect ourselves against a further turn for the worse in the local and global economy.  Meanwhile, rejecting furloughs and other more drastic measures, we vigorously and successfully protected and maintained our long-term employees.  The worst may not be over, but I am confident that we will not only survive, we will thrive - working together. 

Like the previous five, this Community Report offers an essential periodic update that provides an accounting and assessment of recent progress towards realizing the New Dimension of Excellence Strategic Plan and its 2008-09 goals and targets.  This sixth Community Report remains true to our practice of rendering an accounting about our shared efforts to ensure our students are ready for the real world by enhancing educational quality, strengthening the living-learning environment, connecting with our communities and prudently harnessing all resources.

As I read through the various drafts of this Community Report, I was struck by how routine the process of giving a comprehensive account had become ever since we attempted this nearly two years ago.  Although the process of gathering and preparing the report is now more routine, there is nothing routine about the exhaustive and dedicated efforts that are presented here.  Indeed, there is nothing routine about the alchemy involved in transforming students’ lives, preparing them for productive careers and rewarding lives of meaning and consequence in their respective communities. 

As you will discover, the achievements, successes and milestones encapsulated in this report illuminate the talent, energy and creativity of our Pitt-Johnstown spirit, more reasons why this is such a great place to learn, work and fulfill the thrilling promise of life’s journey.  Whether your specific contribution is mentioned here or not, please know that you, too, are a vital part of the fabric and ethos that sustains this wondrous enterprise. You, too, are a key character in the brave and noble task, to fulfill our mission and achieve our vision of being at the forefront of baccalaureate colleges when it comes to preparing students for the Real World – the rapidly changing 21st century world.

As the academic year draws to a close, I am honored to take this opportunity to express heartfelt thanks to you, to you all, our fine faculty, staff and, of course, students, whose work animates this report of our success. In a term when the world itself seemed to be coming unglued and unhinged, we stuck together, maintaining a sharp focus on our obligations and our core mission. While the road ahead will surely bring more surprises, our momentum and, I daresay, our Pitt-Johnstown spirit of resilience and resourcefulness will see us through. That is as it should be so we may keep the faith, so we may do right by our legacy, so we may fulfill our promise.

To view the Spring 2009 Community Report, please visit:

Mountain Cat Proud!

Jem Spectar

Posted by Knipple, Robert on 4/20/2009 4:15:00 PM