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.”