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April 30, 2015

Humphrey focuses on Pitt’s community service efforts

“What we want to do is pair better,” senior administrator Kathy Humphrey told some of Pitt’s community partners in a recent meeting of the University Senate community relations committee.

Humphrey, who was named senior vice chancellor for engagement and chief of staff earlier this year, elaborated on the strategic planning currently underway (see April 2 University Times), with an emphasis on efforts to streamline how the University organizes its community service.

“Pitt is serving all over the place in so many locations and so many areas, but we really don’t have a centralized way of deploying the service,” she said.

“We really want to create an engine to focus efforts” on making Pitt’s engagement “even stronger and mightier.”

In addition to providing an “incredible environment” for students and for researchers, Humphrey said the University is focused on building community strength. Citing longstanding partnerships facilitated by the Office of Community and Governmental Relations, Humphrey said, “We want to continue everything we’re doing in that respect,” adding that the University also is looking at building and strengthening partnerships that will keep the city and the state strong.

“What happens to those entities is crucial to us and crucial to our success,” she said.

Pitt already is having a dramatic effect on the city and on the region, Humphrey said. “We want to take another step in that … one to be much more concrete in going out to the community to say ‘How would you like us to help you?’”

Pairing better will be part of the work for Rebecca Bagley, Pitt’s new vice chancellor for economic partnerships, Humphrey said. (See March 19 University Times.)

“If we know that there’s a concern that you have and there are researchers on our team or people in our areas that are looking into that area, what we want to do is do a better job of mapping those two pieces of the puzzle together to make that economic impact … more directed, more concrete and more developed.”

Some community partners attending the meeting raised the issue of facilitating communication between the University community and community partner groups, which CRC leaders said could become a planning item for the committee’s agenda in the coming year.


In other business at CRC’s April 21 meeting:

Service learning event date set

Service learning and community engagement will be the focus at “Academically Based Community Engagement: An Idea Exchange,” set for 2-4 p.m. Sept. 25 in the William Pitt Union Kurtzman Room.

CRC co-chair Tracy Soska said Lina Dostilio, who teaches service learning pedagogy in Pitt’s School of Education, will be the featured speaker.

The event will include discussion roundtables, networking and an idea showcase. A call for proposals, abstracts and posters will be coming soon, Soska said.

University partner reports

The Office of PittServes, which connects students with service opportunities, is marking the end of its first year and planning for the upcoming academic year, said director Misti McKeehen.

Among its most recent projects is the start of a food pantry for Pitt students. The Pitt Pantry has served both graduate and undergraduate students in the four weeks since it opened.

“If you know a student dealing with food insecurity, please feel free to encourage them to visit the pantry at Bellefield Presbyterian Church,” McKeehen said.

Planning is underway to develop a sophomore year service corps, which would pair students with ongoing service opportunities with community partners, McKeehen said. The goal is to provide students with opportunities for leadership roles within community organizations.


Community and governmental relations representatives reported that nascent efforts online to re-establish the SempleFest block party were quelled with the cooperation of landlords, city and Pitt police.

When talk of a potential SempleFest ’15 arose on social media, a team was assembled to prevent plans from coalescing, said John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations.

Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for community and governmental relations, said, “It’s still a big social, party week in Oakland” but the goal was to prevent a centralized party with large crowds from outside the neighborhood.

Wanda Wilson of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC) said the group reached out to landlords, who informed student tenants that the huge party would not be tolerated.


Despite cold and rain, about 225 students, faculty, staff and alumni volunteered at 15 project sites as part of March 28 Be a Good Neighbor Day efforts, said Kannu Sahni, director of community relations.


Wilds said Pitt will take the lead in working with the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education to present a conference this fall on underage and dangerous drinking. In addition, the University is seeking a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board grant to help fund planned programming on underage and dangerous drinking.

Community partner reports

OPDC’s Wilson outlined her group’s efforts to provide affordable housing in Oakland neighborhoods. OPDC has applied for state housing finance agency support for a project that would enable the group to rehab 24 housing units and construct 25 more for low- and moderate-income residents, she said.

On a related topic, Wilson noted that efforts to step up code enforcement and reduce disruptive behaviors, undertaken in conjunction with neighbors, the University and city authorities, is aiding in making Oakland more attractive to homeowners, a factor that is critical to the long-term health of the neighborhood, she said.


Georgia Petropoulos of the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID) outlined the launch of Oakland for All accessibility efforts (see related story, this issue).

She noted as well that five representatives from Oakland, including Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and faculty member Rory Cooper, will be part of the advisory committee for the city’s recently announced Envision Downtown endeavor. The $32 million, five-year plan aims in part to redesign streets to focus more on pedestrians.

The Forbes Plaza digital gallery at Forbes Avenue and South Bouquet Street (see Oct. 25, 2012, University Times) is fully funded and construction bids will be requested soon, she said.


Adrienne Walnoha of Community Human Services announced that the Oakland Community Food Pantry, located at 307 Lawn Street, has grown from one of the smallest in the county when it was established in 2009, to the largest distributor of fresh foods among pantries in Allegheny County, serving more than 1,400 people each month, she said.

Panther Hollow history

The committee distributed a brief history of Oakland’s Panther Hollow neighborhood produced by Carlino Giampolo, a descendent of some of the original Italian immigrants who began settling in the South Oakland neighborhood in the late 1800s. A related website ( includes old photos and details about the neighborhood’s early residents plus links to an oral history by a longtime resident and a WQED video segment on Panther Hollow.


CRC’s next meeting is set for noon, May 19, in 272 Hillman Library. The agenda will include planning for the upcoming academic year and a farewell to committee liaison Renny Clark, vice chancellor for community initiatives, who is retiring from the University.

—Kimberly K. Barlow