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July 27, 2017

New Vice Provost to Focus on Personalizing Undergraduate Experience

Joseph McCarthy

Joseph McCarthy

Joseph McCarthy was recently named vice provost for undergraduate studies and has been working with outgoing vice provost Juan Manfredi in a transition that is scheduled to be complete by the end of August. McCarthy comes to the Office of the Provost from the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, which he joined in 1998 and  has served in an administrative capacity for the past 12 years.

One of his most notable accomplishments toward enhancing undergraduate education while at the Swanson School of Engineering was his work with Robert Parker on the design and implementation of the chemical engineering Pillars curriculum. McCarthy was awarded the Swanson School of Engineering’s Outstanding Educator Award in 2012 and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2015.


You recently joined the Office of the Provost from the Swanson School of Engineering. What was your first impression of your new appointment?

It was clear to me right from the start that I was stepping into a really great situation. We have one of our best incoming freshman classes ever. The retention rate of our students is very high, our graduation rates are impressive and we are seeing significant increases in the number of students getting involved in international/global experiences, as well as the number of students pursuing entrepreneurial activities. Rather than having to come in and fix anything, I can immediately focus on how we can make the University of Pittsburgh and our students’ experiences even better.

My transition has been smoothed by the opportunity to work closely with my predecessor, Dr. Manfredi, over the summer. Given the strength of our undergraduate programs, I have been able to spend the last two months learning my new role and about some of the outstanding projects already underway in the provost’s office. At the same time, I have had time to work on fleshing out some of my own ideas of what we might do next to continue to improve the undergraduate experience.

What really stands out to me is that the people that I am joining in the provost’s office are really an amazingly intelligent and dedicated group that are deeply committed to the University. I am very excited about the opportunity to join this group and what we can accomplish together.


What projects can we look forward to that will impact Undergraduate Studies moving forward?

As the vice provost for undergraduate studies, my role is to make sure that the academic experience and performance of our students is as good as it can be.

The Provost’s office has several projects underway that are aligned with the Plan for Pitt that are focused on personalized learning, advising and access and affordability, to name a few. All of these are very important to the undergraduate experience and are intimately related to one another in impacting Pitt undergraduates. Personalized learning requires great advising, which helps to improve affordability and student success through decreased time-to-degree and higher graduation rates. Obviously, each of these projects has academic aspects – and that is where I will primarily contribute – but these projects also involve student affairs, data and information and admissions and financial aid, among other areas. So, making progress on them requires that a number of people in the office work together to tackle them as a team. Ultimately, doing these things well all adds up to an even better university and better outcomes for our students.


Do you have new initiatives that you are planning on starting?

I am interested in working on building a method whereby we can more effectively communicate our students’ holistic educational achievements. Pitt students do so much outside the classroom – both extra-curricular and co-curricular – that enhances their education that I would like to develop ways to express the impact of these experiences and how they are synergistic with classroom experiences. Moreover, if we do it right, we can use the same type of instrument to show how students have built a level of expertise in areas where they might not have met the formal requirements for a concentration or minor, etc. That is, I hope to provide more information about the competency of our students in knowledge and skills over and above what is typically available simply by looking at their individual course grades.

For example, the student who not only takes a technical writing course, but also writes articles as part of an internship or as part of their role in a student organization is going to be far more prepared for the workforce or post-graduate education, and I would like to formally convey that. Alternatively, a student who studies writing in different contexts will be more well rounded in their abilities than someone who simply takes one course.

I think that Pitt students are so talented and take advantage of so much of what the University has to offer. Any way that we can present a more complete picture of their abilities and experience will lead to more opportunities for them in the future.


What advice would you like to give to current and future undergraduates?

There are so many exciting opportunities for students to enrich their educational experience at Pitt: through internships, entrepreneurship, undergraduate research, the outside-the-classroom curriculum, study abroad, etc. I guess I would say, “Make the most of all that Pitt has to offer and stay vigilant because we are always working to continuously improve.”

Our objective really is to personalize education. We want each student to have the most effective and efficient path toward his or her own specific educational — and life — goals.

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