This is one in an occasional series profiling University staff, providing a glimpse of some of the less recognized employees whose primary business is making Pitt work.
By MARTY LEVINE
“I have to work somewhere where it’s all about the community,” says Diane Neely Bates, who retired from Pitt in 2017 only to be lured back into the workforce — by another job at Pitt.
Bates has been the receptionist for the University’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood since September 2018. “I’m telling you, when Daren Ellerbee, the director, shared with me the vision of the CEC, I was on board before I ever heard about my salary.”
Bates’ first Pitt job was as assistant to the director of the Learning Research and Development Center, Lauren Resnick, from 2003 until Resnick retired from that post in 2007. Bates administered and helped create materials and arrangements for many events involving visiting school district officials from across the country, handling the logistics for everything from international travel to the director’s daily needs: “I’m old school — the coffee and all that stuff,” Bates says.
“She was a good mentor,” Bates adds about Resnick. “To me she was a very great mentor for women. I loved it. It was challenging.”
Bates had already worked a stint at Mellon Bank, then had spent 1988-2003 at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina — an historically black university — where she was executive secretary and human resources assistant to the dean of the School of Health Sciences. It was her first taste of working in higher education, but it was the regional difference that made her feel a little out of place at first, she says: “Even as a black person I felt like an outsider. They let me know about Northerners. There was a little resentment at first. But with my personality I believe I can get along with anybody.
“I loved the South,” she adds. “It was a job I would have retired from.” But the needs of family members eventually drew her back to Pittsburgh, and to Pitt.
Then, when Resnick retired, Bates returned to Winston-Salem State for three years, until family needs called once again. Joining Pitt once again, Bates worked for several Pitt faculty in the health sciences, often at UPMC facilities. She even switched to work directly for UPMC for a brief period before returning to a University job.
Since her work involved the administration of grant-funded projects, she found herself switching among jobs more often than expected, and also saw the physicians with whom she worked moving on to other institutions. When another Pitt boss — the final physician for whom she worked — retired on her, she figured: Why not retire myself?
“For eight months it was fun,” she says. “Then you're sitting there thinking, I’ve got to get out of the house.” She joined a Silver Sneaker exercise program and she continued her community volunteering.
Bates is not just a casual volunteer. In 2016 she was honored by the New Pittsburgh Courier as one of their Women of Excellence, which “recognizes African-American women who are leaving lasting marks by making great strides in their professions and positively impacting their communities.”
In retirement, Bates’ volunteer efforts included a singing program for residents of a home for the elderly, working at a local homeless mission and food bank, and joining with a motorcycle club’s efforts to collect coats for kids.
“That’s what brought me to where I am now,” she says; volunteering in the community introduced her to the CEC. “Everywhere I am working it is (about) getting out in the community, engaging,”
Still, Bates didn’t know much about Homewood and says she had some trepidation at first. However, she adds: “When I came out here — gorgeous! One, because of the community. Two, because of the energy, not just with the residents in the community, but East Hills, Larimer, Lincoln, whatever. It’s the organizations that come through here that make great programs at the center — the community partners.”
On a tour of the facility, Bates points out a display about the CEC’s new phase 2, which is slated to open in the fall. It will include a wellness pavilion with occupational and physical therapy, as well as audiology services and nutrition advice, medication consultation services, mental health services, supportive group and child-friendly programs and other community spaces.
“It’ll go another level,” she enthuses. “It’s about education, because if individuals don’t know these things, how do you take advantage of it?
Concludes Bates: “If you don’t take advantage of it, shame on you!”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.