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September 15, 2005

New Titusville president lays out his vision for the campus

Pitt’s Titusville campus — “the little engine that could,” according to its new president — will become a significant force in the Pitt system under an agenda proffered this month.

President William A. Shields, who took over the helm at UPT Aug. 1, laid out his goals and vision for the future on Sept. 1 at the campus’s 18th annual academic convocation.

“Having survived the threat of closure, having met the challenge of declining enrollments and having demonstrated its importance to this community and region, the institution is now on an even keel,” Shields told the convocation audience. “Its graduates are successful; it has proven that it can successfully pursue needed curricular initiatives, and its image and reputation are as high as they have been in its history.”

Atop the campus’s priorities, Shields said, is “to demonstrate to Oakland that UPT is and will continue to be a significant player in the overall mission of the University of Pittsburgh. From a certain perspective this in an over-arching goal, a basic motivation for this entire agenda.”

Shields brings to his new job more than 30 years’ experience in higher education including serving as president of four institutions. No stranger to Pitt, he holds both a master’s and doctorate in sociology from the University and he served as interim president of the Bradford campus from 2002 to 2003.

Shields will be installed formally as Pitt-Titusville president on Nov. 18, succeeding Michael A. Worman, UPT president for 17 years, who has retired.

“We cannot be all things to all people,” Shields cautioned. “We cannot chase every academic program or curricular fad that comes along simply out of expediency. Educational quality must guide our decisions, and catalog fiction and empty recruitment promises must be avoided at all cost. Whatever the challenge, whatever the task, it is best approached in a cooperative, collegial and transparent manner, in an atmosphere based upon open communication, trust and mutual respect.”

Strategic planning therefore must be based on a thorough assessment of feasibility, anticipated outcomes and effect on institutional mission, he said.

With that in mind, UPT’s primary, short-term objective is to increase full-time equivalent enrollment from its current 475 to 500, Shields said. “This is a number that the University has said is attainable given our current resources and facilities. The presumption being: Once that threshold is reached, additional resources and facilities will be forthcoming for us to move to the next.”

Also on the Pitt-Titusville agenda are:

• Developing a student recruitment strategy that will put greater emphasis on regular visits to and contacts with high schools in northwest Pennsylvania. This also could include a stronger web presence to aid recruitment and offering course enrollment to qualified high school seniors through advanced placement programs. There are 25-30 high schools within convenient travel range of UPT, Shields said.

• Building on the success of the cooperative baccalaureate program with Pitt-Bradford by establishing programs with other Pitt campuses and four-year institutions in the region. These programs primarily would be taught by faculty of the cooperating institution and could employ a combination of in-person and interactive media instruction.

“Among other benefits, the availability of these programs on our campus would provide a viable, alternative opportunity for our students to complete a baccalaureate degree here rather than having to transfer to a campus elsewhere,” Shields pointed out.

• Establishing additional programs in the field of allied health. Shields said, “The robust enrollments and ongoing interest in our PTA (physical therapy assistant) associate degree program and new associate degree program in nursing demonstrate our ability to respond to needs in these fields.” In its first year, the nursing program enrolled 32 students, he noted.

• Expanding continuing education and certification opportunities to citizens of the area. “We, of course, offer such services now, but I believe that we should explore ways and means by which we could increase and enhance such programs as needed,” Shields said. “I’m also interested in expanding the service-learning component of our curriculum by increasing internship opportunities with the business community.”

• Establishing a formal UPT Alumni Association.

“UPT is just 42 years old. But in that brief period, some 1,400 students have received associate degrees or certificates or have relocated to the Oakland campus,” Shields pointed out. “So it is time to integrate our alumni, in a formal way, into the life of the institution.”

Already, more than 25 alums have agreed to join the association once it is established, he said. Creating a database of alumni contacts and increasing communication with UPT alumni via newsletters are part of this agenda item, he added.

• Maintaining and nurturing a “town and gown” connection. “There is a symbiotic relationship between a college or university and the community and region in which it is located,” Shields maintained. “We should make the most of every opportunity to establish cooperative liaisons with a wide variety of community groups and organizations.”

Since his arrival in early August, Shields has met one-on-one with 26 members of the local community, including members of the UPT advisory board, the school superintendent and hospital and other institutions’ leaders.

“For my part, I intend to be an active, visible and articulate spokesman for the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville in the Pitt system and in this community, the region and the commonwealth,” he said.

Achieving these goals will require additional financial investment in personnel and facilities, Shields acknowledged. “While added tuition and appropriations revenue will help, the reality is that we will have to redouble our grant-writing efforts as well as emphasizing consistent and sustained fundraising and advancement activities.”

“The goals I laid out are ambitious,” Shields told the University Times in a phone interview last week. “As I said at the convocation, this agenda will require sustained, common effort over time; it will not be achieved overnight.

“But what’s important is that we are building on an excellent platform and a strong foundation,” he added. “The real asset of UPT is that we’re a small institution within a large, nationally recognized university. So we offer the best of both worlds: Students are treated as individuals; they know their professors and the staff personally; yet as part of a major university, students can access tremendous resources, technological, bibliographical, financial.”

UPT also boasts the most diversified student body in the Pitt system, with about a quarter of its students from minority groups, something that lends a “real world” character to the campus and provides an rich environment for cultural and ethnic understanding and appreciation, Shields noted.

“We’re also providing services to our area by responding to the needs here, such as our PTA associate degree and our new associate degree program in nursing,” Shields said. “We need to systematically look at what those needs are and how we can address them.

“We’ve also shown that we provide a quality education for our students, including the options students [referred from Pittsburgh]. All our programs are offered within a highly academic and scholarly environment with broad-based requirements. A prestigious Pitt degree is a Pitt degree, whether it’s earned at Titusville or Oakland.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 2

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