By DONOVAN HARRELL
Kristen de Paor, director of partnerships with Pitt Office of Economic Partnerships, sat across from State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, at his desk in Harrisburg, telling him of Pitt’s various community alliances and outreach programs. This was her first-time attending Pitt Day in Harrisburg.
Gainey said he’s a huge advocate for helping financially struggling members in his community lift themselves out of tough situations through education.
“And now we marry Pitt’s strongest interest, which is knowledge and education, to poverty, pulling people out of poverty in the middle class,” Gainey said. “And that’s the power that Pitt has in our region. And that’s why I’ll always be a Pitt supporter.”
This was one of many interactions Pitt faculty, staff, students and alumni had with Pennsylvania elected officials at the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg on March 26.
More than 250 people rode buses or drove themselves to the state Capitol to advocate on behalf of the University. Each person came with their own messages to legislators.
The topic on the minds of many, including Pitt’s senior administrators, was the state budget. Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf recommended flat funding for state-related universities. This came up a few times throughout the day, said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.
Gallagher said this year he focused on appreciating lawmakers for their contributions to Pitt, and highlighted Pitt’s recent efforts, including its recently announced Pell-Match program, to make the University more affordable.
“I think sometimes we forget, in the two-year cycle, when we’re always asking for more support, to step back and reflect this has actually been one of the longer periods of sustained support from the Commonwealth,” Gallagher said. “And I think it’s important that our lawmakers know that we appreciate that.”
Attendees handed folders to elected officials that contained highlights of Pitt’s recent institutional achievements. Many of them met with legislators in small groups. Students also presented their research on posters to onlookers in the Capitol.
There were several booths set up from various Pitt units, including the School of Social Work and the Community Engagement Centers.
Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, said he’s attended Pitt Day in Harrisburg for 20 years. Over the years, the day has grown to involve a broader group of the Pitt community.
“We have different perspectives,” Supowitz said. “We have one perspective when you’re a student, and very different perspective if you’re a faculty or staff member, and then these alums that go out and do amazing things and contribute to the vitality of the Commonwealth, you know, have a whole other story to tell.”
Alex Toner, vice president of public relations for Staff Council, who’s attended for four years, said he not only goes to Harrisburg each year to advocate for Pitt but also to be a more involved citizen.
“I think it is very important to start with, from a perspective of advocating for the University, but also, becoming more involved and engaged as a citizen of Pennsylvania,” Toner said. “And I think it’s just a great experience to get to the Capitol to see where decisions are made, which can be very abstract sometimes. So, getting here kind of grounds you and your understanding of how policies and legislation are really crafted and processed.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.