Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Hawkeye View of RMU

So I was strolling along the walkway between Massey Hall and Hale Center today (a.k.a, the Magical Forest), when I heard a ruckus from above. I looked up just in time to see two hawks squabbling in the branches of a tall white pine. Maybe the one was an outsider from some rival campus, trying to move into the neighborhood uninvited. Whatever the reason, the stronger hawk prevailed and chased the other away, sending it flapping off across campus toward Nicholson. The victorious hawk let out a cry as if to say, “…and stay out!”

Just as this was happening, I heard a similar cry coming from behind me. I turned and looked high up into another tree to see three smaller hawks perched on a lofty branch. These must be her babies, I surmised. At that moment, I was quite happy that I was a man and not a mouse or a chipmunk. Surprisingly, it was the first time I’ve ever had such a thought.

As I stood far below, watching these three youngsters and their mother scan the ground for their next meal, I couldn’t help but wonder what they might be thinking, looking down at the
campus from so high above…

Baby Hawk #1
: Hey look…there’s that guy again.

Baby Hawk #2
: Oh, yeah—the one that looks like Brooks Orpik. And look…I think he’s checkin’ us out.

Baby Hawk #3
: Doesn’t he have anything better to do? HEY! Why don’t you take a picture, buddy? It’ll last longer!

Mama Hawk
: That’s enough. Just ignore him and he’ll go away.

Baby Hawk #2: Hey…I bet you can’t…you know…hit him from here.

Baby Hawk #1
: I bet I can!

Baby Hawk #3
: Oh, I definitely want some of this action.

Mama Hawk:
That’s enough! Nobody is going to be hitting anyone. Got it? Don't forget the last time you tried to "hit" someone and almost got Pres. Dell'Omo instead.

Baby Hawk #1
: Hey, what’s goin’ on over there? See all those construction vehicles?

Baby Hawk #3
: They’re renovating some of the dorms and putting in some new sidewalks. It’s part of the first phase of the university’s Master Plan.

Baby Hawk #2
: Master Plan? What you know about any Master Plan?

Baby Hawk #1
: Yeah, you can’t even read.

Baby Hawk #3
: Groundhog told me about it.

Baby Hawks #1 and #2
: Oh.

Baby Hawk #1
: By the way, where have all the students been lately?

Baby Hawk #3: It’s summertime, dummy. They won’t be back until orientation on August 20.

Baby Hawk #1
: Oh, that’s right. I wish RMU offered classes for hawks. I always wanted to get into nursing.

Baby Hawk #3:
Yeah right, and I always wanted to get my MBA. Gimmie a break.

Baby Hawk #2: Hey look…that guy’s leaving. Guess he got tired of staring at us. Let’s buzz him and give him a real scare!

Mama Hawk
: Nobody’s going to buzz anyone. They don’t bother us, we don’t bother them.

Baby Hawk #1
: Aw, com’on Ma!

Mama Hawk: You heard me. Now keep your eyes peeled for lunch. They don’t allow hawks in the Food Court, you know.

--Valentine J. Brkich

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RMU Shares Its Ideas on G-20 Summit 2009

In case you’ve been living in a cave lately or some remote part of South Dakota (i.e., anywhere in South Dakota), you’ve probably heard that Pittsburgh has been chosen to host the next G-20 Summit, September 24-25. This is a BIG deal for our region. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to really shine and show the rest of the world what a vibrant, cultural, livable city this is.

Just think, in only a few short months representatives from 19 countries will be descending upon our fair city to discuss the future of the global economy. Whatever they decide, it’s sure to be the biggest news story that week. Fortunately the planners had the foresight not to plan the meeting during a Steelers game; otherwise, the summit would have gotten second billing in the Monday papers.

Today Robert Morris University got to play a part in the planning (unintentional alliteration) of the G-20 Summit when it hosted one of three “Welcome the World” brainstorming sessions, aimed at gathering ideas from the public on the best ways to welcome the G-20 to Pittsburgh this September. Over 200 people packed into the Sewall Center’s International Suite (How apropos!), including various dignitaries like RMU President Gregory G. Dell’Omo; Bill Flanagan, executive V.P. of corporate relations for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and host of “Our Region's Business” on WPXI-TV; Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato; Jon Delano, political analyst for KDKA-TV; and some other guy with a purple sport coat and blue-plaid slacks who was passing out a manifesto that he wrote at 3 o’clock this morning (sorry, didn’t get his name).

As I sat an listened to person after person approach the microphone, each with a unique idea of how to best promote the city in the months leading up to the event, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if the G-20 Summit was being held on the RMU campus. Here’s how I think the event would go:

• After the morning session, Paul Spradley, assistant director of Student Life for Multicultural Affairs, would take all the leaders to Primanti’s over on University Boulevard for a Kolbassi & Cheese and an ice-cold Iron.
• During the afternoon break, everyone would go for a walk in the Magical Forest and then stop at the Rudolph Family Garden for some peaceful meditation. Meanwhile, Dr. Dell’Omo would invite President Barack Obama back to his office to show him that cool trick with the fly.
• After dinner in the Food Court, the delegates would gather down in the Jefferson Center Recreational Center for a spirited table tennis tournament, with the losers paying off the winning country’s national debt.
• International controversy would break out in the university’s newly renovated dorms as the various leaders squabbled over who gets the top bunk.
• Over the course of the two days, G-20 security would be keeping a close eye on the big smiley guy called RoMo.

At least that's how I think it would go.

On second thought, maybe it's better that they're having it downtown. That table tennis tournament could get pretty heated.

--Valentine J. Brkich

Monday, June 22, 2009

"A New Deal for Veterans"

Inside Higher Ed features an interview today with the authors of a new history of the original G.I. Bill, which is titled "The GI Bill: A New Deal for Veterans." The G.I. Bill is popularly considered to be the most successful piece of domestic legislation in American history, credited with vastly expanding access to higher education and home ownership in the years following World War II. The G.I. Bill arguably created the modern American middle class and transformed the post-war economy.

On the other hand, the authors of "A New Deal for Veterans" tell Inside Higher Ed that its impact has been significantly exaggerated. A majority of returning servicemen, for example, probably would have gone onto college even without the G.I. Bill's generous education benefits. And since women and African Americans were underrepresented in the armed forces, few were able to reap the G.I. Bill's benefits. Which is not to say that the authors don't regard the G.I. Bill as revolutionary in its impact:

"The bill played an incredibly important symbolic and substantive role in higher education. It replenished the human capital in the United States, training a workforce to help the nation enter the postindustrial age. It accelerated, albeit modestly, the expansion of higher education, by stimulating the development of statewide systems of public colleges and universities. Even more importantly, it spread the perception that higher education was the preferred path to economic mobility – and served as a rallying point for reformers interested in increasing access to college. Designed as a temporary expedient, it legitimized the notion that a college degree should be and actually was within reach for millions of Americans."

The interview also touches on the differences between the original G.I. Bill and its post-9/11 iteration, but fails to make mention of the Yellow Ribbon Program, which many private institutions like RMU are using to help veterans bridge the gap between our tuition and what the G.I. Bill pays. The latest edition of Foundations magazine includes an article about the old and new G.I. Bills, and President Dell'Omo discussed them in his letter in the magazine.

-- Jonathan Potts

The Edward A. Nicholson Student Center

The first time I visited Robert Morris University, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Like many people, the only part of campus I’d ever seen was the football stadium, which is visible from University Boulevard. I had no idea what lay just over the hill.

The building that really caught my eye was the Edward A. Nicholson Student Center. As you drive along Campus Drive, this 78,000-square-foot brick structure, with its distinctive dome and cupola, appears on your left at the end of an expansive lawn. Built in 1999, today it’s the centerpiece of the RMU campus, providing a gathering place for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors.

The Nicholson Center is always buzzing with activity. Down on the first floor, you’ll find the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, featuring a wide selection of RMU gear and apparel. Walk up the rotunda’s spiral staircase to the second floor and you’ll find the Food Court and dining area, the Office of Student Life, and other student-based services. The third level houses the Admissions Office and RoMo's CafĂ©, and on the fourth you’ll find the School of Communications & Information Systems, along with various faculty offices and study lounge areas.

Originally known simply as the “student center,” it soon became clear that such an important building was deserving of a more significant designation. The name chosen was that of Edward A. Nicholson.

Edward A. Nicholson served as president of RMU from 1989 to 2005. During this time, Nicholson helped RMU grow from a specialty business college into a leading broad-based university by focusing on the expansion of graduate programs, the development of more research programs, and the creation of significant community service initiatives.

In October 2005, RMU honored Nicholson with the university's prestigious Patriot Award for both his leadership to RMU and his significant contributions to the greater Pittsburgh region. He has served on the boards of the Greater Pittsburgh Council-Boy Scouts of America, Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Pennsylvania Economy League, Pittsburgh Symphony Society, Ohio Valley General Hospital, and Pennsylvania Partnership for Economic Education, to name a few. He is a corporate member of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, chair of the Airport Market Area Taskforce, training chair and board member of the United Way of Allegheny County. He also serves on the advisory board for the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management.

Nicholson retired as president of RMU in July 2005; however, he has remained active with the university, including teaching as a professor of management. The Nicholson Center stands today as a tribute to this man who did so much to help RMU become what it is today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Robert Morris is a Yinzer!

Robert Morris University’s official colors may be blue and white, but recently we’ve been basking in the Black & Gold of Pittsburgh!

Yes, sir, it sure is a great time to be here in the Steel City, or should I say, the City of Champions. Things couldn’t be more exciting in Pittsburgh right now, and RMU is so glad to be a part of it.

• On June 12, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 2-1 in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals. This was great news not only for Pittsburgh in general but also for a big hockey school like RMU, whose men’s hockey and women’s hockey programs have also experienced a lot of growth and success in recent years.

• Back in February, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in a thrilling Super Bowl XVIII, which like the Stanley Cup, came down to the final seconds. RMU even had connections working on the field for both sides during the big game.

• And the Pittsburgh Pirates…er…um…did I mention the Penguins won the Stanley Cup! (Keep pluggin' away, Buccos!)

And Pittsburgh isn’t just getting recognized for its sports teams either.

• In late May, the White House announced that Pittsburgh would be hosting the next G20 economic summit this September 24-25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which, by the way, is the only other conference facility in the city larger than our own Sewall Center here at RMU.

• In June, The Economist magazine named Pittsburgh the most liveable city in the U.S., and ranked us 29th in the world! This is another honor for the city, which was named America’s “Most Livable City” in 2007 in the 25th anniversary edition of Rand McNally's “Places Rated Almanac.”

• And just this week Pittsburgh was listed 18th on the Brookings Institution listing on the strength of local economies.

Here at RMU, however, we don’t need anyone to tell us how great Pittsburgh is (although it is nice). We’ve always known what a vibrant, cultured, friendly city this is, and our students are lucky to be located in such an up-and-coming region.

I wonder what our namesake Robert Morris would think of all this? You might think a guy like himFounding Father, powdered wig, stockings, etc. would be a little stuffy and not get caught up in all the excitment. I disagree. I bet he’d be swelling with Pittsburgh pride and eating a Primanti Bros. sandwich (capicola, cheese, and egg) while screaming “Let’s go Pens!” from the top of Mt. Washington (or, as they say in Pittsburghese, “Mt. WARSH-ington").

After all, that's just the kind of guy he was.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

His Name is My Name Too

Not long after I started working at Robert Morris University, I had a meeting in John Jay Center. John Jay? That’s a strange name for a building, I thought. Actually, in my head, which always has a song queued up like some mental jukebox, I began singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” a song that had been pounded into my brain back in elementary school. This is just how my mind works. It’s exhausting.

Originally built in 1965 as an athletic facility, John Jay Center was RMU’s primary indoor athletic venue until the Charles L. Sewall Center opened in 1985. Today, the gymnasium is used solely for intramural sports. The rest of the building is home to the SchoolEngineering, Mathematics, and Science of , and the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, and includes several high-tech classrooms and laboratories. Pete Pezzin, director of construction and maintenance for RMU's Office of Facilities Planning, told me that the building was renovated in 2005, and included the addition of a new wing and laboratory.

The building’s namesake, John Jay (1745-1829), was the eighth of 10 children (and the sixth son) born to pious Calvinists Peter Jay and Mary Van Cortlandt. At just 15 years old, Jay entered New York’s King's College (Columbia University), where he studied law and graduated with honors in 1764. After that, he became a law clerk for Benjamin Kissam and was admitted to the Bar of New York in 1768.

Jay’s storied political career spanned 27 years. In 1774, he served as a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, and also as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In 1777, he became a member of the New York Constitutional Convention and the state’s first Chief Justice. The following year he was elected as president of the Continental Congress, and over the next several years, he served as Minister to Spain (1779), one of the peace commissioners for the Treaty of Paris (1782-83), Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1784), a contributor to The Federalist Papers (1788), and negotiator of the Jay Treaty (1794). Jay is probably most known as the First Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1789-1795). And as governor of New York (1795-1801), he signed a law in 1799 that emancipated all slaves in the state. That's quite a resume, by any standards.

So there you have it: the second stop on RMU’s “Tour de Names.” Stay tuned as we continue to reveal the people behind the names of the university’s many buildings and facilities. Now that I know more about John Jay the man, I understand why they chose his name for this important building. Besides, “The John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt Center” would be too wordy.

Now I just have to figure out how to get that blasted song out of my mind.

—Valentine J. Brkich

John Jay Links





Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A good landing is one you walk away from

U.S. Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger got a rock star's treatment during his testimony today before the National Transportation Safety Board, according to the Wall Street Journal. It turns out there is an RMU connection to Flight 1549, which Sullenberger successfully guided to an emergency landing in the Hudson River after geese were sucked into the plane's engines. Luther Lockhart, a 1999 RMU graduate, was a passenger on board that brief but harrowing flight. He gave an account of the flight and its sudden landing to Foundations magazine, which is available online here.

Thanks, Sully, for keeping our folks safe.

-- Jonathan Potts

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What's in a Name?

One of the first things you notice on the Robert Morris University campus is that every building is named for someone. Some of these names are easily recognizable: Jefferson, Franklin, Revere, Adams, Hancock, etc. Other ones, however, may not be as familiar: John Jay, Braddock, Benjamin Rush, Wayne, Sewall, Gallatin, Washington…oh wait, scratch that last one.

So who are these people, and what did they do to get a building named after them? More important, how can I get a building named after me?? That’s what I wanted to know. Since I thought you might want to know, too, I decided to do a little research to find out.

Our first stop on the “Tour de Names” is Massey Hall – home to RMU President Dr. Gregory Dell’Omo, the School of Business, and many of the institution’s full-time professors. In addition, the building is also the home of RMU's Colonial Theatre. Massey Hall is named for Harris B. Massey.

According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, the late Massey and his wife, Doris, were leaders in the Pittsburgh business community. They were also the owners of the Massey Buick Co., which at one time was the largest Buick volume dealer in the country. During his life, Massey initiated and led several other successful businesses, while donating much of his time to serve in active roles for various civic organizations.

The Masseys established a trust fund in 1968 which, since their passing in 1984, has been active in supporting community programs in the city of Pittsburgh and throughout Allegheny County. The trust now provides support in the areas of education, health, arts and culture, conservation, religion, and human services. In 2003, the trust gave $500,000 for RMU’s Partners for Progress campaign to enhance the School of Engineering, Mathematics, and Science, which used the gift to create two new laboratories in John Jay Center.

The Massey Charitable Trust also supports programs for at-risk children, as well as the Pittsburgh Promise. In 2007, The Pittsburgh Foundation established the Pittsburgh Promise program with a $100 million commitment from UPMC, $10 million of which went to support the 2008 graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools. The remaining $90 million was meant to stimulate support and contributions, with a goal to raise an additional $135 million. In June 2008, the Massey Charitable Trust provided a $1 million grant to the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund to help the program fulfill its important mission.

As we've mentioned before, 33 Pittsburgh Promise students enrolled at RMU in fall 2008—more than any other private school available to them. These students now have an average GPA of 3.0, right around the university average for all students and freshman students. They are active in campus activities and have become some of our most enthusiastic boosters. (If you'd like to meet some of them, click here.)

So there you have it. The story behind the name of Massey Hall. Quite an inspiring story of generosity, if I do say so myself.

Stay tuned for more on the RMU Tour de Names, coming soon…

– Valentine J. Brkich