Anyone can be an advocate for Pitt at annual day in Harrisburg

Chris Bonneau, Frank Wilson and Robin Kear


If you’ve never gone to Pitt Day in Harrisburg, you don’t need to be nervous, says Cassandra Hayt, Communication and Advocacy Manager for Pitt’s Office of Community and Government Relations. “All they really need is a passion for Pitt and their personal story.”

This year’s trip to Harrisburg will be on March 26, leaving the Oakland campus at 7 a.m. and departing Harrisburg at 4:15 p.m. Pitt Advocates from all of the University’s campuses will be heading to the state Capitol to let elected officials know about Pitt’s impact in the state.

There are several benefits to attending Pitt Day in Harrisburg, according to Andy Stephany, Staff Council president.

“One, it’s an eye-opening political experience walking through the state Capitol, walking into representatives’ or senators’ offices, and telling them about the impact the University of Pittsburgh has had on their life,” Stephany said. “Two, it’s a great excuse to walk around a beautiful building and learn a little bit about its history, through a guided tour. Third, it’s an opportunity to network with faculty, students, alumni and fellow Pitt staff on the drive there, during the day, and on the drive back.”

Alex Toner and Rick SacconeCommunity and Government Relations coordinates the day with the Pitt Alumni Association and Pitt Advocates, Hayt said. They will brief all those attending about talking to legislators and will provide packets of information about Pitt’s impact.

“I’m hoping for Pitt Day this year, we can … get some people that maybe wouldn't normally be comfortable advocating or who wouldn’t normally think going to Harrisburg makes a difference, but help them understand that it does and really try and get them to participate,” Hayt said.

“Each year we work with CGR to increase the number of staff members who attend,” said Alex Toner, Staff Council’s vice president for public relations. “Those who do are often repeat attendees, which isn’t a bad thing. However, we’d really like to see an increase in attendees — and first-time attendees — in 2019.

The key issue each year is the money Pitt gets in the state budget appropriation.

Hayt said CGR provides information on how funding has decreased over time, what Pitt does with the money it receives from the state, and how much alumni contribute to the state’s economy.

They try to match up those headed to Harrisburg with the lawmakers from their home district.

“The collective goal of the day for attendees is to … deliver packets of material to every member of the House and Senate,” said Stephany, who has gone on several of the Harrisburg trips. “Ultimately, you drop by three or more elected officials’ offices, to either speak with them directly or members of their staff, and tell them about the importance of state support for the University of Pittsburgh. The packets contain information specifically tailored to the impact that Pitt has on the respective elected officials’ district — numbers of students and alumni who are among their constituents.”

“The story of Pitt and Pittsburgh — and the resurgence of our city — is directly tied to the ascendancy of Pitt as a research university and recognition across the country as an elite university,” Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny, whose district includes most of Oakland) said in an email. “These things lend to the vitality of our community and attract businesses and corporations that want to relocate here. I’ve encouraged Pitt Day participants in the past to share this with legislators from other parts of the region and state so that they see the impact of higher education.”

Stephany said that usually 30 to 40 staff members from the Oakland campus go on the trip, and Hayt said they expect 250 to 300 people overall

The day also includes poster sessions from five Honors College students and five graduate students showcasing their research. There also will be tables set up for the regional campuses and various departments, such as the offices of Diversity and Inclusion and Veterans Services, to show what they do and who they serve.

Those who want to participate have until March 8 to register at

The day is an approved absence by the University with prior approval by the attendee’s supervisor, based on needs of the department. It is up to the employee to have that conversation with their supervisor about attending, Stephany said.

“Each year Staff Council requests that the University communicate to deans, directors and departments that staff are not only encouraged to participate, but can do so as a paid, approved absence, based on the business needs of one’s department,” Toner said. “It’s only fair that if the University expects staff to advocate on its behalf, they fully support them in doing so.

“I personally encourage staff members to attend, both as supporters of the University and citizens of the commonwealth,” he said. “State support for the University’s five campuses affects our families, our student, and our communities. There’s really no reason not to attend — we can always find more buses!”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.