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July 7, 2016

Chancellor outlines new initiatives

trustees.gallagher.standing.MikeDIn alignment with its strategic goals, the University plans to launch a University Center for Teaching and Learning; Centers for Urban Engagement to promote collaborations with local communities; a mentoring program for potential University subcontractors; an Energy Grid Research and Infrastructure Development (GRID) Institute; and an innovation center where the Syria Mosque once stood.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced the plans in his June 24 report to Pitt’s Board of Trustees.

“We’re aspiring to be a university that can transform the very ways we learn, teach, discover and grow. This young strategic plan defines this agenda and we’ve already begun to take steps forward in that direction,” he said.

University Center for Teaching and Learning

“To define our leadership role we must be leaders in improving education, in educational innovation, in transforming teaching. To bring more of our students to their fullest potential, we must be known for creating a learning landscape that is more individualized, more targeted, more meaningful and more responsive. We must empower faculty to innovate teaching approaches in their respective disciplines and we must empower students to discover themselves, to learn and to translate these experiences into new opportunities that will maximize their success in life,” Gallagher said.

“To be leaders in educational innovation, we must leverage the science of learning, we must leverage data and new technologies and make an excellent learning environment here at Pitt even better.”

The teaching and learning center will open this fall to help Pitt faculty “develop and apply cutting-edge teaching skills and strategies,” Gallagher said. (See teaching center story.)

“Building blocks of this center include a teaching and learning exchange to disseminate evidence-based teaching practices; a center for communication, which will aid faculty at sharpening their communication skills and tailoring them to specific audiences; a course incubator that will use rapid response teams of experts to transform course content with the latest technologies, the latest tools and research-based strategies; and a micro-credentialing program, which will give faculty and graduate students a menu of opportunities to advance their teaching skills and expertise,” the chancellor said.

“This is only a beginning, but by bringing these elements together we create a focal point for collaboration within the University and we can offer faculty the coordinated services and programs they need to take the science and practice of teaching and learning to a new level.

“Most importantly, these changes will enable our faculty to enhance and enrich the learning environment for today’s and tomorrow’s students.”

Contractor mentoring

Also in fall, the University hopes to enroll 50-60 participants in a new mentoring program that aims to help local minority- and women-owned businesses expand their professional networks, influence and expertise. The training classes would take place one-two nights a week in partnership with local contractors, construction experts and other nonprofits, Gallagher said.

“In addition to providing valuable business opportunities, this program will expand the number of companies who are qualified to compete for services that support our mission,” he said.

Scott A. Bernotas, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management, told the University Times that Owen Cooks, assistant vice chancellor for planning, design and construction, is coordinating this program, known internally as accelerated contractor training, or ACT, in conjunction with construction firm Skanska and other partners.

“This will help both Facilities Management and our contracted partners meet our mutual goal of increasing diversity in our workplaces,” Bernotas said.

Building neighborhood partnerships

Pitt plans to fund three-five Centers for Urban Engagement (CUEs), which Gallagher labeled the urban equivalent of agriculture extension programs that embed University offices in rural communities.

“Each of these centers will have a dedicated facility in the community and a neighborhood ambassador whose mission is to foster collaboration between the participating community and the University,” the chancellor said.

CUEs will help coordinate and support Pitt faculty in community-based education and research programs, Gallagher said. And, in cooperation with local businesses, residents, institutions and community leaders, CUE staff will help define needs and priorities, identify potential Pitt programs and guide and support their implementation.

“These will become familiar meeting places where Pitt can connect with community stakeholders, and each local ambassador will serve as a rich resource of knowledge and expertise about their designated community and its businesses, residents and institutions,” he said.

“We hope that these centers will serve as a new model for community-university collaboration, one that benefits all parties equally, enriches both and brings out the best in this magic interface between the University and its community,” Gallagher said.

Kathy Humphrey told the University Times that Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, will provide leadership for these efforts, utilizing Community Relations staff, among others. Humphrey said a coordinator for the CUEs has yet to be named.

The hope is to work in tandem with interested communities using facilities that already exist or that will be created, she said.

A request to gauge communities’ interest in having a CUE is to be sent within the coming week, Humphrey said. (Community leaders interested in partnering with the University to create a CUE should contact Humphrey’s office at 412-624-4200.)

Pitt already has hundreds of activities and partnerships in area communities, she said. Centralizing services will help Pitt have more of an impact. Faculty will benefit by having a better understanding of existing agencies and services that may be tapped in support of their research interests — information useful when writing grant applications, she said.

And the coordination will be helpful should the University choose to apply in 2018 for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classification for community engagement. (See Feb. 18 University Times.)

A report ( that emerged from last fall’s Academically Based Community Engagement Faculty Idea Exchange called for the creation of better infrastructure to support faculty community engagement. (See Oct. 1, 2015, University Times.)

Innovation center plans

Gallagher announced as well the University’s intention to explore development of a “collaborative innovation center” on the former site of the Syria Mosque, now dubbed One Bigelow. University trustees in February approved the purchase of the 2.1-acre site, behind the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, that currently is used as a UPMC parking lot. (See March 3, University Times.)

The proposed facility would be “a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Gallagher said. “It should serve as a front door for the business community who wishes to collaborate with the University of Pittsburgh. It will be a place of learning, creativity and discovery where students can see research being translated into new products and services before their very eyes.”

The proposed center “should have a feel that is totally different than any typical academic building, one focused on collaboration and creation, more like visiting Google than visiting Posvar Hall,” the chancellor said.

“This is a place that will be built on partnerships,” Gallagher said, adding that UPMC would be “a key tenant and partner in this facility as they use the space to advance their innovation in health data efforts.”

A UPMC spokesperson did not respond to a University Times request for details on UPMC’s involvement in the planned center.

Gallagher said, “We want this to be a partnership-driven effort and we will seek partner funding to help offset the cost. But most of all, we want the center to embody Pitt’s entrepreneurial spirit. We want it to be a magnet for attracting innovative businesses and institutions to our region.”

GRID Institute

Gallagher said the creation of the Energy Grid Research and Infrastructure Development (GRID) Institute at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District will address power and energy infrastructure issues.

“Our GRID Institute will enable Pitt researchers to evaluate major issues impacting our nation’s power grid, as well as the patchwork of transmission and distribution systems across the globe,” Gallagher said.

“But equally important, it will put our students, our faculty and our staff alongside an unprecedented collaboration between utility, industry, government and foundation partners. And it will firmly position Pittsburgh as the key player regionally and globally in the race to modernize our energy infrastructure.”

Gregory Reed, faculty member in electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and director of the Center for Energy, will direct the GRID Institute.

Partners include Duquesne Light, Eaton, the Electric Power Research Institute, ANSYS, Dominion Virginia Power, FirstEnergy, Emerson, PITT-OHIO Express, Sargent Electric Company, Siemens and Universal Electric Corp. The Henry L. Hillman Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation are among the nonprofit supporters.


Gallagher also reported on cost-cutting and efficiency efforts aimed at maximizing value for students.

“We know that a Pitt education is one of the most incredible values because it will pay enormous dividends over a lifetime. That being said, it still costs money. This money comes from a limited number of sources that include commonwealth, donors, foundations, research supporters, but most of all our students and their families: So we can’t carry out our mission in all these other areas if we can’t responsibly maximize what we do with these limited and precious resources.”

The University has become a founding member of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (, a group of more than 90 public and private institutions that aims to broaden access and increase the affordability of higher education for students of all backgrounds.

“This new partnership will give us a formal avenue for connecting and engaging high school students, particularly for students from low-income households who might overlook our University,” the chancellor said.

Pitt also plans to launch in July a micro-scholarship program, Gallagher said. Through a partnership with Raise Me (, high school students can earn money toward a Pitt scholarship for accomplishments such as leadership experience, academic achievements and community service.

“We’re committed to helping our enrolled students navigate from move-in day to graduation day as quickly as possible because time to graduation is another way to maximize value,” Gallagher said, citing summer programs and dual-degree programs among Pitt’s efforts.

Operational efficiencies contribute as well, Gallagher said.

The University has reduced its average annual energy costs by $1.4 million; has consolidated scientific supplies purchasing to save an estimated $5.5 million over the next five years and has renegotiated smaller scientific supplies contracts to save an estimated $1.4 million over the next five years, Gallagher said. Pitt also is negotiating a new telecommunications service contract that Gallagher said will save a projected half-million dollars per year and is streamlining and negotiating new travel services to save approximately $1.6 million per year.

New efforts are planned, he said. “Our budget for the coming year will include both cost cuts and smart reinvestments to support this goal but we have to do more. This has to be a major area of focus for ongoing development efforts so we can expand program quality and offer more financial assistance to our students.”

In other business:

— On recommendation of the property and facilities committee and the budget committee (see May 26 University Times), the board approved the addition of four fiscal year 2016 capital budget projects totaling $11.7 million: Cost Sports Center renovations; Cathedral of Learning 12th floor renovations and mechanical upgrades; Chevron Science Center high voltage equipment replacement; and Space Research Coordination Center exterior and roof renovations.

— On recommendation of the governance and nominating committee, the board:

• Re-elected Eva Blum to a one-year term as chairperson, ending in June 2017.

• Elected Edward J. Grefenstette, Patricia D. Horoho and S. Jeffrey Kondis as new board members for the 2016-20 term.

• Re-elected term trustees John A. Barbour, Eva Tansky Blum and John H. Pelusi Jr.; special trustees Douglas M. Browning, David C. Chavern, Brian Generalovich, Marlee S. Myers and Robert P. Randall; and alumni trustee Jack D. Smith.

• Re-elected Michael A. Bryson and Robert M. Hernandez as trustees of the University of Pittsburgh Trust board.

• Elected John J. Verbanac and re-elected Mark A. Nordenberg as University directors of the UPMC board of directors.

• Adopted a statement of trustee commitment and responsibilities. (See June 9 University Times.)


Departing board members Brenton L. Saunders, Charles M. Steiner and Tracey T. Travis were awarded trustee medallions in recognition of their service.


The full board’s next meeting is set for Oct. 28.

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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