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November 12, 2015

Obituary: Joel Reed

Funeral services were held Nov. 5 for Joel Reed, a former Pitt administrator whose career was dedicated to providing minority and disadvantaged students access to higher education.

Reed, of Penn Hills, died Oct. 30, 2015. He was 72.

He earned his bachelor’s degree at Penn State and completed his graduate studies at Pitt, earning master’s and PhD degrees in education here.

An assistant dean in the College of General Studies, Reed directed the University-Community Education Program (U-CEP), and the TRIO program in arts and sciences for many years.

U-CEP, later renamed University Challenge for Excellence, was instituted in 1968 to provide access and support services to students who traditionally would have been denied entrance to the University.

In 1980, Reed chaired the task force on minorities as a member of the University’s retention committee, which examined ways to increase student persistence.

Reed was among the founders of the Council for Opportunity in Education (1977); served as president of the Mid-Eastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (1979-80) and was president of the Pennsylvania Association of TRIO programs (1982-83).

He left Pitt in 1993 to direct math and science curriculum at the Woodland Hills School District.

Jack L. Daniel, former vice provost for undergraduate studies, said the majority of African-American students who came to Pitt between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s entered through U-CEP, “especially in the earlier part of those years when universities were reaching out through the federal TRIO program for special access for disadvantaged students.”

Daniel said, “This was a man who led a program that changed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. … So many young people owe so much of their success to coming through that program.”

Daniel remembered Reed as a gentle, yet serious instructor dedicated to his students. Although as a full-time administrator Reed wasn’t required to teach, he taught math in the U-CEP program “because he thought it was so important,” Daniel said. “Math is a gateway to success in STEM fields, in which African-American students were, and continue to be, underrepresented.”

Reed “demonstrated tremendous humility combined with tremendous competence and determination that African-American students had access and academic success at the highest level,” Daniel said.

“He didn’t go the extra mile, he went the extra two miles” for students, Daniel said. Rather than take a few students under his wing, Reed was known for being accessible to all, “and all the students knew that,” Daniel said. “There are students who say Reed was probably the most influential mentor they had.”

Among them is Vaughn Clagette, a physician and hospital administrator in Atlanta who earned his bachelor’s degree and his MD at Pitt.

Clagette said he entered the University in 1984 through U-CEP from a disadvantaged upbringing in Belle Vernon. “I came to Pitt with limited resources and a background that wouldn’t have set me up for sustained success,” Clagette said. “I knew I wanted to go to medical school, but I had no idea of knowing how to get there.”

Reed was a role model, Clagette said. “It was one of the first times I experienced an African-American male in a leadership position in education.

“As a 17- or 18-year-old young African-American male in 1984, stepping into a huge university — with unbelievable aspirations, yet not knowing how to succeed, not believing in my abilities or even knowing my strengths — and meeting Dr. Reed, his influence and leadership were critical in a lot of ways,” he said.

“It was what we needed: a positive role model. And he understood the challenges.” Clagette said Reed met regularly with U-CEP students. “We would talk about life in general, talk about our challenges, our opportunities.” Reed “was encouraging. And he was one of us. He advised us how to navigate. He provided practical knowledge, encouraging us in what we needed to be successful,” Clagette recalled.

“He carried it out in a soft-spoken, not authoritarian manner. He easily identified with students. It was as if I were speaking to my friends,” he said. “You didn’t feel a sense of separation based on age or position. It felt like he was a family member, telling me what I needed to do to succeed.

“I felt he had legitimate concern for me as an individual,” Clagette said. “I saw him as a common man, meaning he was able to relate with everybody and you could relate to him.”

Said Clagette: “He shaped the direction of my matriculation at the University. No question about it. I couldn’t have succeeded without his foundation and his leadership.”

Reed is survived by his wife, Ernestine Reed; daughter Shelley Reed-Wallace; and two grandchildren.

—Kimberly K. Barlow     

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 6

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