PS Greater Allegheny chancellor of 14 years retiring with no regrets
Curtiss Porter has few regrets as he prepares to retire as chancellor at Penn State's Greater Allegheny campus.
“I would have loved to upgrade or replace the Kelly Library,” Porter conceded in an interview last week.
But much else was overhauled during his 14½-year tenure.
“I hoped we could have added more residence halls to the campus,” said Porter, whose retirement takes effect on Dec. 31, two days after his 74th birthday. “We've added four-year degree programs. We built a new student community center. We've added a fully-outfitted fitness and cultural center.”
Porter is confident the improvements will continue under his successor, whom he believes will come from a national search such as the one that brought him back to his Mon Valley roots in July 1999.
“We have very adequate people who could step in and do what I can do,” Porter said.
“Most certainly, our next campus leader will have a solid foundation on which to build,” Penn State's vice president for Commonwealth Campuses Madlyn Hanes said in a news release announcing Porter's retirement.
“I will be working closely with the campus community in the months ahead in preparation for the transition in leadership,” Hanes said.
Porter is a Braddock native who took classes at the former Penn State McKeesport in 1964 and earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh.
He earned his doctorate in counseling psychology at Pitt, and established and gained accreditation for the university's Department of Africana Studies.
Porter held academic posts at California State University at Long Beach, was interim director of the the University of Connecticut's Stamford campus, CEO of the Urban League of Southwestern Connecticut and vice president for affiliate services of the National Urban League in New York.
He was a proponent of changing the campus' name from Penn State McKeesport in 2007.
“I don't know how many people would come up and say, ‘I hope you're doing a good job with the students from McKeesport High,'” Porter said.
The change “expands the notion you have of the campus,” he said. “We are an urban-suburban campus. We link the urban environment with the suburban environment.”
He noted that most of the Greater Allegheny campus is in White Oak, although it straddles the McKeesport city line and is next to Renziehausen Park.
“People here are pretty balkanized about their points of view,” Porter said. “They are reluctant to cross rivers and bridges.”
Porter built bridges to city leadership, which initially resented the name change.
“I've sat down with Sen. (James) Brewster and the current Mayor (Michael Cherepko), who is an alumnus of the campus,” Porter said. “There is no tension between us.”
Porter recalled how Brewster invited colleagues from the General Assembly to meet with students from eight school districts at a seminar in May at Greater Allegheny. It was Brewster's second seminar in three years there.
“We want to draw people to this region and we have been successful in doing so,” Porter said, pointing to a student body that hails from McKeesport, Verona, Elizabeth, Irwin, North Huntingdon Township, Mt. Lebanon and all over Pennsylvania. Some of those students became involved in the surrounding community.
“A group of our students built a Habitat for Humanity home here in McKeesport,” Porter said, noting that the project was inspired by a student who lived in a Habitat home.
Porter said the student body is comprised of people from 10-12 states and four to five countries.
Porter's legacy includes a Teaching International faculty initiative designed to promote greater awareness of global trends and civic engagement, and broaden students' understanding of intercultural and international issues.
“We select a spot on the planet,” Porter said. “We ask all of the faculty members to donate portions of what they teach in the classroom to that region.”
The initiative began in Haiti around the time of its bicentennial. Canada is Greater Allegheny's focus this year.
The campus has international partnerships with universities in India, Chile and Vietnam.
In announcing his retirement, the university said Porter headed two successful capital campaigns, with total receipts of more than $10 million, and secured a single campaign gift of $2.2 million, the largest in the history of the campus.
The university pointed to his role in putting together “All That's Jazz” for scholarship development. The 10th annual fundraiser performance will be Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. in the Student Community Center. Homestead's Tamara Tunie will return to perform, accompanied by Grammy award-winning drummer and bandleader Jeff “Tain” Watts.
“All That's Jazz” has raised nearly $600,000 for student aid.
Porter said he's moving into a new stage in his personal development, “to see what avenues are left to explore.” He saw no reason not to make that move.
“Why not?” he asked. “I'm healthy. I really like what we have been able to accomplish here. All of it has been a wonderful experience, doing all of the exciting and creative things we have been able to do.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.