Staff hero: Jeremiah McKain helps make Dietrich space better


Jeremiah McKain calls himself “the space guy” at the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.

As operations manager, McKain got his start in 2009 as a student here, interning in the dean’s office. One of his first assignments was to go through all the Dietrich offices and labs (today, that’s 45 academic units in 26 buildings) and chart all the network ports available to the school.

“I’m crawling around on all those floors,” he remembers. “I got to know all of that space.”

Now, he says, there are five space people in the school. “I define the job as 50 percent landlord and 50 percent manager,” he says. “My job is to make things better. Primarily I do that by making space better” — from relocations to renovations, and from planning projects to fixing a latch on a window.

“Mostly, I’m there as the faculty’s voice, to make sure their needs are being served” during the bigger moves and revamps, McKain says. “I have to be able to speak architect. I have to be able to speak contractor. I have to be able to speak carpenter. I also have to speak vice provost sometimes, or dean, making the case that this is something that we need to invest in.”

When COVID-19 appeared, all the bigger projects were stopped in their tracks and the school’s five space-folk met remotely to “reinvent for all of this.” How does a space guy do his job, without being in the space? What needs still need to be served?

“The big one that I never knew coming was building access,” he says. By the end of April 2020, “our faculty … had no access to their offices, and they had left in a rush. There was this great clamor for access to the buildings at a time when we didn’t know what would be safe.”

When senior administrators set a series of days when faculty could pick up material, there were 550 people in Dietrich alone who needed access to 20 buildings across two weeks. “I sort of had to be the quarterback for that,” working with Facilities Management, Operations and the Pitt Police, he recalls.

Through the summer he was a proto-concierge, he says, watching over the online building access permission system and even helping to check people into buildings alongside Pitt security. He is pleased that, as far as he knows, the system kept staff and faculty safe.

He believes that, at the Dietrich School, “there wasn’t as much cohesion” among employees before COVID-19. “Now I think we’re a much more cohesive group, operating on the same first principles.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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