By DONOVAN HARRELL
After more than three decades with the University, John Wilds, Pitt’s assistant vice chancellor for community relations, will retire at the end of the month.
Wilds has spent 34 years serving the Pitt community. He first joined as director of human resources in January 1985, where he served for 10 years.
He then held a position as director of governmental relations before transitioning into his role as assistant vice chancellor for community relations in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations.
Wilds also earned his bachelor’s in psychology from the University and a doctorate in psychology in education.
The city of Pittsburgh honored Wilds earlier this month for his various community service efforts over the years.
The University Times spoke to Wilds about community outreach, his tenure at Pitt and how things have changed over the years. The conversation has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
You got both your undergrad and graduate degrees at Pitt. How would you say things have changed on campus since when you were here as a student compared to now?
There’s a lot more services for students, a lot more housing for students who want to live on campus. So those are the big things. And Greek life has expanded; programs for non-athletes have expanded into intramurals. Recreational venues have improved for those students. So, it’s been pretty interesting to be part of an evolving University.
What made you decide to stay at Pitt for so long?
It’s a nice place to work. You get to meet a lot of brilliant people. And we’re able to do some good things for faculty and staff. So, it’s been pretty positive. There’s no reason to look elsewhere. Although, people always knock on your door with opportunities.
I read that you were a student athlete here as well. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
I tried to run track for the university. I wasn’t that good. But I tried to do it. I did the best I could.
What’s a memorable thing that has happened at Pitt that has stuck with you over the years?
We’ve been trying to make the University more diverse. And I think the first thing that comes to my mind is we developed the first University policy on domestic partnership, which has expanded. We were able to develop a policy that provided some benefits for domestic partners. So, that was a big deal.
What’s been one of your proudest achievements during your time at Pitt?
If I looked at things that we did as part of my tenure from my current position, I think what we did was to establish a more meaningful and working relationship with our community partners. From my previous position (in HR) — staff who were not being paid as well as others did not participate in a retirement plan. So, what we had to do was to develop a defined benefit plan so that those persons who could not participate in the defined contribution plan would have a retirement program as they left the University after serving for a number of years. That was one of the things that stands out as an accomplishment from serving as director of human resources.
What’s next for your position after your retirement?
The position will be filled my assistant, Jamie Ducar, who will be moving up into, I would imagine, a director position to continue. Then, she will be developing and maintaining the relationships that we’ve established with our community partners and including governmental entities that that we engage with. She’s been on board for a little over a year now, so she can step right in and hopefully do a better job than I’ve been able to do.
What’s next for you after your retirement?
I’m going to be traveling. I may do some writing about my experience here at the University. I might write some kind of reflective kind of thing that I might want to do, so that will consume my time. Visit the grandkids and have some fun with them. So that’ll be my primary agenda.
Are there any places in particular that you want to travel to?
I haven’t been to Italy, so I’m going to Italy. I’m kind of a history buff interested in the WWII kinds of things. Maybe in the fall, I may go to visit the beaches of Normandy. I’ve been talking about that for a number of years now but haven’t gotten there.
After all the time you’ve spent with Pitt, what legacy do you hope you’ve left behind here?
I hope in some way my work has improved the image of the University in the community. It’s extremely important to me that the University, if we’re considering ourselves to be world class in other aspects of the University’s mission, we ought to be world class in community relations. That’s been my agenda. I’ve been trying to improve that and working with our community partners.
Why is it so crucial for Pitt to be involved in the community surrounding it?
Holistically, the University’s tri-part mission is teaching, research and service. And if you can claim that you’re going to be outstanding and excellent in regard to your mission, you gotta walk the talk! Working with four chancellors, trying to get to where we are today, it’s been very nice.
Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
It’s been an extremely positive experience here at the University of Pittsburgh. I almost feel that I’ve spent my entire life here.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.