By SUSAN JONES
Before he became registrar this summer on Pitt’s Oakland campus, Jonathan Helm had heard great things about the University from his predecessor, Patty Mathay.
The two had crossed paths frequently over the past decade through their work with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “Having known her, there was some amount of comfort coming into a role that she had held and the expectation that that she was going to leave things in good order.”
The Missouri native’s career has taken him from University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) to the University of Virginia and, mostly recently, Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he served as registrar for 10 years.
Once he learned that Mathay was retiring, Helm did some research on Pitt and thought, “a lot of the experiences and strengths that I brought to roles within my career matched up really well … and the opportunity to be part of one of the pre-eminent institutions in the country, definitely wasn’t lost.”
He had been to Pittsburgh twice before, which was helpful since the interviewing process was conducted virtually. “I think if it had been a place I’d never visited before, with everything being virtual, it would have probably been a little bit more challenging to imagine.”
Coming from Baylor — a private, Christian school — to a large public institution like Pitt has been a transition for Helm, but not as big a one as you might imagine.
“There are definitely some differences, … but many of the issues are very much the same,” he said. “I had the opportunity to meet with some colleagues from Arts & Sciences, and I think almost every topic we talked about, there is some past experience, either from Baylor or from UVA or elsewhere, that I felt like I could draw upon.”
Most of the systems Pitt uses to schedule classes and allot classrooms are ones Helm is familiar with. “Very few of the systems that we’re using, have I’ve been like, ‘OK, I have no knowledge or understanding or background.’ I think that’s aided the transition a little bit as well.”
One difference he noticed between public and private schools in Texas was how much information his colleagues at the public colleges were expected to provide to the state, including on space utilization. Helm is still trying to figure out what “state-related” means when it comes to Pitt’s relationship to officials in Harrisburg.
He plans to continue refining the work started by Mathay on the Degree Planner and Transfer Portal programs. And, as he has at everyplace he’s worked, Helm will have to deal with classroom space limitations. Helm, like his predecessor, encourages faculty to spread their classes out across the hours of the day and the days of the week.
As for scheduling more hybrid or online classes, Helm said, “I don’t know exactly what the future holds around that. Clearly we’ve been able to demonstrate the technology will support some things that we didn’t necessarily imagine prior to the pandemic. I think we’ve learned a lot and I think it’s a matter of, as we go forward, figuring out which pieces that worked well and we want to retain and capitalize on going forward and which may not have worked out as well for a given discipline.”
The registrar’s office is already looking at next fall’s schedule and Helm said the biggest challenge is the unknown.
“At some point we will get to normal,” he said, but “when do we get to that normal and what does that normal look like?”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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