The spirit of the season is infectious throughout campus. From our signature Goodwill Arches, to the festive decorations illuminating our Financial Aid Office, from the canned food collection for the St. Vincent DePaul Society to the sock collection for the Salvation Army, the Pitt-Johnstown community is warming up to the holidays - despite the wintry chill. I am filled with a spirit of gratitude for all that you have made possible this year.
We find ourselves at the end of another term in which our students made meaningful advances in their journey towards greater personal and professional fulfillment. Inside and outside the classroom, our students are making the most of collegiate life as they acquire the knowledge, skills and dispositions for successful lives in the real world. We were recently notified that four of our excellent students won the prestigious Vira I. Heinz awards given to excellent students with leadership potential. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the following student award winners: Kelly Cernetich (Seville, Spain), Bridgette Dawson (Alicante, Spain), Olivia Mundy (Florence, Italy), and Rebecca Sedlmeyer (Vienna, Austria). In addition to excellence in the classroom, our students continue to make us proud through the high level of engagement they are demonstrating with regard to campus life as well as civic, community and global engagement. While there are too many to single out, a few come to mind. For example, Garrett Britton, a senior from Townville, volunteered for several projects during Pitt-Johnstown @ Your Service week and spends every Thursday volunteering in the orthopedic unit of Memorial Medical Center. Garrett, who plans to go to medical school, serves as a positive role model and an inspiration to many and I am very thankful. Additionally, dozens of Pitt-Johnstown students and staff have made our campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity one of the most active in the country.
It was a pleasure to see Pitt-Johnstown’s own Ben Watkins recognized for his outstanding achievements at this years Blue and Gold Gala. A student in engineering technology, Ben was drafted by the New York Yankees baseball organization, and has managed to successfully blend his budding professional baseball career with continued exceptional academic achievement in his major. Chosen as an ESPN Academic All-American, Ben exemplifies the ability to combine academic proficiency in the classroom with a full extracurricular experience, an achievement we celebrate at Pitt-Johnstown, and encourage our students to emulate.
Our faculty continue to bring distinction to Pitt-Johnstown through their professional development and service. For example, Science News and The New York Times recognized the fine work of Dr. Carrie Davis Todd and her colleagues Dr. Uldis Kaktins, Neil Coleman, and Reed Myers who conducted relevant research into the flood water of 1889. Dr. John McGrath and Mr. Ron Vickroy continue to support the economic development of our region through their work with the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce. They recently presented the findings of their annual Economic Climate Study at the Chamber’s Economic Summit. Dr. Paul Newman is leading the new “Act 48 at Pitt-Johnstown” initiative, whereby several of our faculty will collaborate with the Outreach Office to provide local K-12 educators (many of whom are our alumni) with excellent professional development. Our very own “Mad Scientist” David Willey was featured in “Beyond Bizarre” and “Indestructible” on the National Geographic Channel this month, adding this to a long list of performances around the world.
Our loyal and dedicated staff continue their exemplary work in support of our students, faculty, and community. This week, I had the opportunity to recognize two shining examples of service to the University and the community. Mrs. Beverly Walerysiak received the 2009 President’s Staff Award for Excellence in Service to Pitt-Johnstown, and Mrs. Joyce Radovanic received the 2009 President’s Staff Award for Excellence in Service to the Community. We are proud of these two employees as well as the dozens of others who work everyday to support our educational mission in myriad ways, from the classroom to the physical plant, from the dining halls to the residence halls.
This year, several members of our fine staff are celebrating significant milestones in their service to Pitt-Johnstown:
P. Johanna Pedrazzani
Please join me in congratulating these colleagues and acknowledging their long term service and loyalty to the University.
As we fete these long-serving colleagues, we are also bidding farewell to two others. Dr. Monica Frolander-Ulf will retire after a teaching career that spanned more than 37 years at Pitt-Johnstown. In addition to her expertise in anthropology, Dr. Frolander-Ulf was a pioneer of service-learning, having led numerous study trips to Jamaica and the Navajo Nation. We are deeply appreciative of her efforts that have touched, shaped and transformed the lives of thousands of students and citizens. Dr. Bob Yaskanich, known to many simply as “Dr. Bob,” retired after having led our Personal Counseling Center for more than a decade. Sincerest gratitude to Dr. Bob for helping our students navigate myriad challenges.
It is rewarding to see that retired faculty and staff continue to maintain strong ties with Pitt-Johnstown. Early in the semester, I had the distinct privilege of welcoming 30 retired faculty and staff for the annual Emeritus Club Luncheon. I look forward to this annual event, as it creates a wonderful opportunity to connect to the rich history and heritage of our beloved institution. It is always gratifying to learn about the many rich personal and professional activities in which they are involved. For example, Dr. Bill Brice, professor emeritus in geology and planetary science, just recently published a new book, Myth, Legend, Reality-Edwin L. Drake and the Early Oil Industry. A headline in today’s paper hailed “UPJ’s Brice to read from his new book” on Sunday at the BottleWorks. We owe a special debt of gratitude to these fine individuals who helped to build, shape and continue to sustain Pitt-Johnstown over the years.
It was an honor to welcome faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders to campus in November as we broke ground on our $9.7 million Wellness Center. This exciting construction project is one of many of the ongoing enhancements that we continue to make to our campus facilities and infrastructure. Thanks to the generous support of Sodexo, we opened our new Mountain Cat Club to rave reviews. (Take a moment to check out one of the karaoke nights as I have. You will be very entertained). Our students, in increasing numbers, are enjoying the many recreational benefits of The Zone, providing a much welcome relief and down time from the rigors of academe. Upgrades were also completed to several residence halls, and we continue to expand the availability of technology-ready classrooms.
In the inaugural term of our MountainCat Veterans Program (MVP), I had the privilege of hosting our campus’ first-ever Veteran’s Day dinner for the military veterans among our faculty, staff, and students. The dinner, which was part of our MVP initiative, featured Retired Marine Corps Major General Thomas Jones as the keynote speaker. I was deeply moved and honored when Chief Warrant Officer David Lee Devan presented me with an American flag that had flown in combat zones.
Our alumni continue to give us many reasons to be Mountain Cat Proud. For the second year in a row, the Pitt-Johnstown Alumni Association was honored by the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association with a Gold Banner Award. This award recognizes the Alumni Association’s efforts to contribute to student success, support scholarships, and reconnect with alumni. Our Alumni Association also led the effort in developing one of our campus’ largest Homecoming celebrations in recent history, which you will read more about later.
Furthermore, our efforts to connect Pitt Johnstown to the community and develop stronger ties with external constituencies intensified over the past few months and were highlighted through various Pitt-Johnstown @ Your Service initiatives. I was particularly impressed by the turnout for our second @ Your Service Week, which involved 331 volunteers in more than 800 hours of service. In developing the project, we strategically expanded our focus to address areas of vital importance to both Pitt-Johnstown and our community, including health promotion, veteran outreach, and workforce development. Along with other initiatives such as annual PITT-nic in the Park and Pitt-Johnstown Athletes @ Your Service, the University continues to generate lots of goodwill in the community.
I am pleased to report that, despite a year of severe economic challenges for our nation, we continue to make steady progress. We have been successful in our efforts to achieve our targeted enrollments and we are holding steady around 3,000 FTE. (Modest growth over last year’s FTE will also entail a positive tuition incentive that will boost our revenues.) That enrollment figure also included an unprecedented increase in the number of new international students studying at Pitt Johnstown, a whopping 133% increase from the number in 2007. Their presence is transforming our campus and I hope you have the good fortune of interacting with one or two here and there. While major fundraising momentum slowed here as elsewhere due to the economic downturn, we made some notable strides. In particular, our first-ever Blue and Gold Gala, for the benefit of athletic scholarships, brought sports legend Rocky Bleier to our campus and raised $21,000 for scholarships.
As you can see, there are so many reasons to be Mountain Cat Proud and thankful in this special season! Our efforts and successes are garnering acclaim far and wide. It is special treat to read about our MVP program in the Chronicle of Higher Education or about our re-focused RealWorld Career Services initiatives in CASE, one of the largest international professional organizations in higher education. We are pleased that our intentional efforts to reach out to our military veterans led to the campus’ designation as a “Military Friendly School” – an honor bestowed only to the top 15% of institutions. Thanks to the work you all have done and continue to perform, it is no surprise they say we are a “Best Baccalaureate College,” (U.S. News and World Report,) and a “Best Northeastern College” (The Princeton Review).
The entire Pitt-Johnstown community is robustly engaged in the fulfillment of our educational mission that is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, while providing students the opportunities to develop professional knowledge, skills and dispositions for success in the RealWorld of the 21st century. The momentum indicates a seriousness of purpose about our mission as well as a determination to burnish our laurels. I have no doubt, as we transition into a new year, that we are further along the road towards attaining our vision of being at the forefront of baccalaureate colleges when it comes to preparing students for a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world.
To view our most recent Community Report, visit: www.upj.pitt.edu/CommunityReports (if you do not have a username and password, enter the following PIN: 2009).