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September 29, 2016

Community engagement center plans progressing

Pitt’s plans to launch community engagement centers in local neighborhoods are moving forward.

“We want to have one on the ground by the beginning of next year,” Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, told the University Senate community relations committee (CRC) last week.

Supowitz said the University has begun approaching community organizations in neighborhoods where Pitt already is engaged, in an effort to find partners and physical space in which to house the planned centers.
The first to be approached are the Hill District, Homewood and Larimer, he said.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced the plan to launch as many as five Centers for Urban Engagement (CUEs) in his June 24 report to Pitt’s Board of Trustees. (See July 7 University Times.)

The centers will be overseen by an assistant vice chancellor for community engagement, with a director and a support staffer in each, Supowitz said. He said summer meetings with Pitt deans about the centers were positive, adding that many areas have identified individuals to serve on an internal advisory committee for the centers.

Supowitz anticipates that community advisory groups also would be formed as the CUEs are launched.

“The idea is really to provide a coordinating function for both the academic engagement as well as the service and community engagement that goes on around the University,” he said, noting that the decentralized nature of universities can leave departments and schools unaware of one another’s efforts.

“We can really enhance what we’re doing and provide a benefit to all who are engaged in this kind of work by having centers embedded in the neighborhood, but also having a unit whose function is to coordinate and assist with all of those efforts,” Supowitz told CRC.

“I think it’s a chance to really take what we do now and make it more effective, make it more efficient, and capitalize on the synergies that exist between schools that may not even know that they’re working in the same communities,” he said.

Supowitz said the first open session for potential partners from the Hill District was set for Sept. 21.

“There’ll have to be a lot of dialogue to figure out what the right programs are,” he said. “It has to be win-wins. We want to do things that are articulated needs and interests of the neighborhoods that we’re going to be in, but it also has to be endeavors and efforts that are consistent with what our faculty are doing or want to do” and that mesh with Pitt’s service efforts.

Pitt ideally is seeking partners who can provide space for the CUEs, rather than spending University dollars on bricks and mortar, he added.

Kannu Sahni, director of Community Relations, said discussions within the University have underscored the importance of having a stable space for work in the communities.

“It’s a big barrier to our departments and schools and programs not to have a persistent space,” said Sahni. “They have to scramble around to rent a space, and then they have to worry about recruiting,” he said.

“If we have a stable space that’s available to a Pitt department that has any kind of an outreach, they can just book the space and work with the community partners to access the demographic that they’re looking to interact with” — whether it’s K-12, seniors or some other group, he said. “This makes it very doable without a lot of effort from schools.”

Supowitz added that the CUE center spaces must be versatile to accommodate a range of initiatives.

“I envision maybe we’d have an exam room because on Mondays the School of Nursing is doing screenings or flu shots; maybe there’s a room there that has a classroom setup in the morning to work with seniors on an introduction to technology, and after school there are programs.”

John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for Community Relations, added that having lab space in the CUEs would facilitate programs that introduce city students to science and technology.

Wilds told the University Times that candidates are being screened in order to identify an assistant vice chancellor for community engagement this fall.

Bike-pedestrian safety improvements

forbes bikerSupowitz said community members raised concerns about the need for extended bike lanes along Forbes Avenue during an Aug. 31 public meeting on the Forbes Avenue improvements.

Under the current design, bike lanes on Forbes Avenue will end at Craig Street, leaving the stretch from Craig Street to Bigelow Boulevard to be addressed, he said. The connection between Oakland and Downtown also is to be determined. A bike corridor is to be included as part of a bus rapid transit (BRT) proposal still to come, he said. (See May 3, 2012, University Times.)

Details on proposed improvements to Forbes Avenue are posted at


Year of Diversity

CRC member Tracy Soska of the School of Social Work suggested mental health diversity as a focus for possible programming in the Year of Diversity.

He suggested modeling a campus or community event on Peoples Oakland’s classroom presentations in which members with mental health diagnoses share their stories in an effort to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

“We don’t often look at the mental health population when we look at diversity,” Soska said.

Accessibility is another aspect for consideration, Georgia Petropoulos, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District, suggested. She cited the ongoing Oakland for All ( efforts to make Oakland a model community for accessible buildings, commercial establishments and public spaces.

CRC planning

Committee members offered suggestions for the year’s agenda.

CRC chair Linda M. Hartman floated the idea of visiting one of Pitt’s regional campuses. In recent years, CRC has made virtual connections with the regionals via teleconference or Skype.

The group entertained possibilities for its annual “field trip” to a local neighborhood. Suggestions include Homewood, the Hill District, Hazelwood, Manchester, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield-Garfield or a return visit to Uptown, last visited in 2014.

Mission statement review

A routine review resulted in the suggestion that the reference to promoting relationships between the University and “external communities” be changed to “the broader community” in CRC’s mission statement (

Expanded SAC representation

Fiona Seels is a new nonvoting member of CRC, added in response to the Staff Association Council’s request to expand SAC representation on University Senate committees. She joins SAC representative Marissa Arlet on the committee.

University Honors College

Holly Hickling, UHC’s academic community engagement adviser, alerted faculty that funding is available for undergraduates who are doing community-based research and for those engaged in public service summer internships.

Oakland Forever

The annual Oakland Forever celebration, a project of the Oakland Task Force, of which Pitt is a member, is set for Sept. 30 and Oct 1.

The free event will include a night market and live music from 5-11 p.m. Sept. 30 on South Bouquet Street between Fifth Avenue and Sennott Street. Local designers will be featured in a fashion show at 6 p.m. near the Forbes Digital Plaza. From 7-11:30 p.m. Oct. 1, the celebration will include movies, games and popcorn on the Schenley Plaza lawn. For details visit

Community partner reports

• Demand at the Oakland food pantry has increased, this summer exceeding 2,000 monthly customers for the first time, said Jon Hoffmann of Community Human Services. Volunteers are needed to serve customers and assist with receiving and distributing food. Distribution times are 2-6 p.m. on Thursdays and 10 a.m.-2 p.m on Fridays.

In addition, volunteers are needed to help accept deliveries on Wednesday mornings. Sign up via

The Big Share, a farm-to-table dinner and concert to benefit the Oakland food pantry, is set for 4:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at Blackberry Meadows Farm in Natrona Heights.

Proceeds will help provide fresh produce from local farms to food pantry customers. For information, visit

• The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. expects to hand out some 1,500 welcome packets to off-campus students, to be distributed mainly through Pitt’s Be a Good Neighbor block parties, via landlords and door-to-door, said executive director Wanda Wilson. The packets include trash and recycling resources and other neighborhood information.

OPDC is working to launch a community land trust in Oakland to preserve affordable housing and owner-occupied housing. Wilson said target areas and financial resources are being identified now. The group is preparing a presentation to explain how a land trust works and how it might be implemented in Pittsburgh, Wilson said. She offered to make a presentation about it to CRC.

OPDC has been awarded low-income housing tax credits that will advance its Oakland affordable living project, Wilson said. The plan entails rehabbing 24 existing apartments and building 25 new units in West Oakland.


CRC’s next meeting is set for noon Oct. 18 in 140 Alumni Hall.

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 3

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