Pitt Day in Harrisburg: The Stories Behind the Impact

This year’s Pitt Day in Harrisburg was the first that University of Pittsburgh at Bradford’s Stephen Robar attended. Together with a dozen Bradford colleagues and students, he hoped to raise awareness about the impact of regional campuses and the great student experiences they can foster.

Robar, who is an associate professor of political science, associate dean of academic affairs and director of both the College in High School (CHS) and environmental studies programs at Pitt–Bradford, also saw the event as an opportunity for hands-on education.

“Many of the students were my own politics students,” he said. “Understanding just how important face-to-face contact is with elected officials was something you can’t necessarily teach in a classroom.”

Over the course of the day, Robar made multiple connections, including Rep. Martin Causer of the 67th District, a Pitt–Bradford alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science.

Robar was one of nearly 325 Pitt students, faculty, staff and alumni who traveled to Harrisburg to speak directly with Pennsylvania’s state representatives and their staffs to tell their own stories to raise awareness about the University’s impact on the state and economy.

“It is a critically important effort because it’s the one day of the year when the Capitol is awash in Pitt blue and gold and there is a palpable sense that the University of Pittsburgh is in the building,” said Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for community and governmental relations. “Lawmakers get to hear directly from students, alumni, faculty and staff how Pitt influences individual lives.”

Both information and example

Michael Giazzoni, director of the CHS program at the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, hoped that information he shared with lawmakers about CHS would help them think about legislation in Pennsylvania.

Founded at the University in 1980, the Dietrich school’s CHS program offers high school students from across the region concurrent enrollment, which provides top-quality and low-cost University credits that can be transferred to most accredited colleges and universities. Pennsylvania is one of only three states without legislation addressing concurrent enrollment.

“If legislation comes, we hope that legislators will see our program — as the oldest and largest in the state — as a resource to share good policy we’ve seen from other states, as exemplified by our professional organization’s accreditation standards,” he said.

Through Pitt’s concurrent enrollment system, students can earn both high school and University credit in courses taught in one classroom. Currently, the CHS program at the Dietrich School works with more than 300 teachers to provide instruction to more than 3,000 students in 130 high schools throughout the region.

Engaging the community

For Daren Ellerbee, director of the Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood, an afternoon meeting with Rep. Sara Innamorato of the 21st District was a reunion: The two women met through Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garret before Innamorato even explored running in 2018 for office. Ellerbee recalled the conversation on her patio when Innamorato mentioned the possible campaign.

“I was elated, encouraged her to go for it and vowed to support her in any way. The rest is history. Seeing her in Harrisburg made my heart full,” Ellerbee said.

Their meeting also included Lina Dostilio, associate vice chancellor for community engagement, and Jamie Ducar, director of community engagement, in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations, as well as several student CEC community assistants.

Ellerbee said the community assistants are Pitt sophomores and juniors selected by nonprofit organizations in Homewood and the Hill District to work within those organizations.

“Being here with my students made me feel so proud,” Ellerbee said. “It made me realize that the seeds that we are planting now will ensure that our students remain civically engaged and continue to give back.”

The stories behind the numbers

Pitt Day in Harrisburg is a crucial opportunity for students, faculty and staff members to meet directly with the lawmakers, show the real-word impact that higher education — specifically Pitt — has on them and urge lawmakers to make the University a budget priority.

A new economic impact report prepared by the Office of Economic Partnerships shows that in addition to delivering a world-class student experience, the University makes a significant contribution to the state’s economy, driving innovation, talent and communities. In 2018, Pitt’s economic impact was $4.2 billion.

For every dollar the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania invests in the University of Pittsburgh, the return is a whopping $26. Additionally, the University directly employs more than 18,000 people and supports nearly 40,000 jobs throughout the commonwealth. Pitt alumni living in Pennsylvania contribute more than $114 billion to the state economy over their lifetimes.

But it’s the stories of Pitt people that bring those numbers to life and can make an impact on lawmakers. That’s what makes Pitt Day in Harrisburg so exciting — and so powerful.

“The best part of the day happens when we connect our alumni and students with the legislators for the sharing of success stories, so that they can clearly see how much impact their support and advocacy has on real people,” said Lindsay Hilton Retchless, director of alumni relations at Pitt–Bradford.

“I think there was tremendous value in making Pitt’s impact personal,” said Kristen de Paor, director of partnerships in the Office of Economic Partnerships, whose booth at the foot of the Capitol rotunda staircase distributed to passersby copies of the University’s Economic Impact Stories 2018 report.

“You can hear that Pitt’s total economic impact is $4.2 billion, but it might not carry much weight until a Pitt student, employee or alumnus tells you their story,” de Paor said. “I like the idea of having a day set aside each year for hundreds of these stories to be told at the Capitol.”

  • With a group of many of the members of the Pitt community who traveled to Harrisburg, Sen. Jay Costa from the 43rd District holds one of two proclamations from the state’s Senate and House of Representatives celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pitt Day. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Chancellor Patrick Gallagher spoke with Amy Kleebank (middle left), art director, Office of University Communications; Lola Suvak (middle right), Staff Council administrator; and Robyne Ivory (right), project coordinator for University Library System. This was Kleebank's third year to participate. She said that attendance seems to have increased over the years she’s participated and that the state's lawmakers and their staffs are always happy and receptive to talking about Pitt. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • From left are sophomore student Marissa Merritt; Lindsay Hilton Retchless, director of alumni relations; junior student Anuja Sharma; Steven Robar, associate dean of academic affairs and associate professor of political science; and Nathan Lawyer (A&S ’17), all of whom made the trek to Harrisburg from Pitt–Bradford. Retchless stressed the importance of raising awareness about the University’s regional campuses and what they have to offer, highlighting Pitt–Bradford’s high graduation rate and the personalized attention faculty and staff can give to students at a smaller campus. (Don Henderson/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Daren Ellerbee (center), director of the Pitt Community Engagement Center in Homewood, met with her friend and mentor Rep. Ed Gainey from the 24th District in his office. She was joined by sophomore community assistants Keanne Marcelo (left) and Rosie Hogan (right). Ellerbee said one of the lessons she learned from Gainey is that “in order to engage communities, the work has to start with the people. It’s a ground game.” (Aimee Obidzisnki/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Amanda Smith (left), administrative assistant, and Kristen de Paor, director of economic partnerships, both from the University Office of Economic Partnerships, staffed a table for their office, which among other projects highlighted the new University Talent Alliance. A partnership among Carlow, Carnegie Mellon, Chatham and Pitt, the new monthlong jobs program provides training, mentoring and other support services. Graduates of the program are eligible to secure a full-time position at one of the four universities. (Don Henderson/University of Pittsburgh)
  • From left are Director of Community Engagement Jamie Ducar, junior student Cedric Humphrey, Associate Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement Lina Dostilio and Rep. Sara Innamorato. When asked about what legislators find valuable both about Pitt Day and the University, Innamorato highlighted how important it is for lawmakers to get information from Pitt and other universities, as well as the significance of “sharing stories of successes in the community.” (Don Henderson/University of Pittsburgh)
  • From left are Jeanne Edwards, Traci McAllen and Sarina Bishop, representing the School of Social Work Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center in Mechanicsburg. Edwards, a second-time Pitt Day attendee, said the event underscored “the importance of getting out there and networking with others — colleagues, legislators and members of the community — to have an open and ongoing dialogue about what we are doing, because you never know the impact you might have in sharing. So, we need to get out there. Participate in community events. Share the great work we do and learn from others.” (Don Henderson/University of Pittsburgh)
  • From left are Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations and President for the Medical and Health Sciences Foundation Kris Davit, Pitt mascot Roc and Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Kathy Humphrey. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)