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Pitt-Greensburg marks 45th anniversary

By Jennifer Reeger
Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008
 

When Norman Scanlon and Larry Whatule arrived at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg in 1968, they were excited about the possibilities.

The branch campus of the University of Pittsburgh had opened five years earlier, and Scanlon and Whatule were joining a faculty dedicated to building the campus.

"We were so small you could get your hands in all kinds of stuff," said Scanlon, now an associate professor of political science. "This was something exciting. You don't get a chance to start a college every day."

Tomorrow, Pitt-Greensburg will kick off its 45th anniversary year with a public celebration on the Hempfield campus.

The campus opened its doors on Maple Avenue in Greensburg, across from St. Clair Park.

School superintendents in the area had asked for a branch campus. Pitt leaders obliged to reach students who might not otherwise have continued their education.

The city was the campus.

Fine arts classes were taught at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Physical education was held at the YMCA. Laboratory classes were held at what is now Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Whatule, now an associate professor of communications, chuckles when today's students complain about parking because they can't find a space next to their building.

"In those days, because you were in town and there was limited parking, parking really was hard to find, and you had to pay," he said.

But a new campus was emerging in Hempfield.

In 1964, the university purchased the 104-acre Charles McKenna Lynch estate. Faculty offices and classrooms were split between Greensburg and Lynch Hall, a former home on the Hempfield site.

"Students had to come back and forth," Scanlon said. "We were holding classes at both locations. It was quite an adventure really."

Pitt-Greensburg was a feeder school. Students would attend classes there for two years and then finish their degrees at the main campus in Oakland.

Gary Amelio, president of retirement services for ULLICO Inc., a Washington D.C.-based company that serves the benefit needs of unionized workers, attended Pitt-Greensburg from 1974-76.

Amelio, a Jeannette native, later graduated from the main campus and received his law degree from Pitt.

He took classes in both downtown Greensburg and in Lynch Hall.

"There were no dorms back then," he said. "The place was like an old Scottish moor at night when the fog rolled in, spooky as all get-out. The parking lot wasn't paved. It was very rustic."

Space was tight.

"Things were getting very crowded," Scanlon said. "People were literally working in closets."

In 1976, the entire campus moved to Hempfield -- opening up space and more possibilities. "We got what we thought were luxurious accommodations," Scanlon said.

In the mid-1980s, Scanlon, Whatule and other faculty got together with then-President George Chambers to map out the future of the university.

From that plan, dormitories, a library, faculty offices and other structures emerged.

"It felt like a college," Scanlon said. "You could look around and see the buildings, and the campus is lovely."

Out of the plan, the campus received degree-granting status. The Class of 1989 was Pitt-Greensburg's first graduating class.

Whatule, who was director of admissions at the time, said he would talk to guidance counselors about the growing academic programs, but that didn't get them to notice Pitt-Greensburg.

"It was the physical plant that got people more interested than the academic programs," Whatule said.

The academic programs grew even more under President Frank Cassell.

Dormitories were built to house students who wanted to live on campus. The Academic Villages -- a community where students live in dormitories based on their majors and participate in after-class events geared to those disciplines -- began under Cassell's tenure.

Whatule said the villages have invigorated the campus.

"There are so many activities on campus you're caught between, 'Do I go to this or do I go to that?'" he said. "Never did I think I would see this much activity on campus."

Amelio said he was truly surprised a few years ago when he returned to receive the Alumnus of Distinction Award.

"I was astounded at how much growth there was, how many buildings had been put on the campus, the growth in the student body, the fact it was a four-year degree-granting program," Amelio said.

Amelio said UPG offers the warmth of a small campus and the academic offerings of a world-renowned university. "You're really getting the best of both worlds, and I think that's part of the real genius of the campus," he said.

The current president, Dr. Sharon P. Smith, said she hopes to build on the "wonderful foundation" by "taking the wonderful programs we have here and improving them and making this place more visible."

Academic programs must be expanded, Smith said. "The challenge for us is to anticipate where our students need to be and to be there," she said.

But as the campus celebrates another year, Scanlon and Whatule will soon say goodbye.

Scanlon, who taught and served as vice president for academic affairs and even interim president, will retire in December.

Whatule, who returned to the faculty after 19 years in the admissions office, will leave in April.

Both are still excited about the possibilities for Pitt-Greensburg.

"It's a very special place that can only get more special," Scanlon said.

Additional Information:

Pitt-Greensburg

Enrollment

The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg opened in September 1963. Here are a few facts about the campus then and now.

1963 -- 56 full-time students, 156 part-time students

2008 -- 1,677 full-time students, 153 part-time students

Physical Plant

1963 -- two buildings

2008 -- 29 buildings

Academic programs

1963 -- instruction in nine areas of study

2008 -- 21 majors and 19 minors

Faculty and staff

1963 -- 15

2008 -- 249

Additional Information:

Celebration

The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg begins its 45th anniversary celebration tomorrow with a community event from 4 to 7 p.m. on the lawn in front of Chambers Hall. The public is invited to the free celebration, which will include games, prizes, face painting, food, photos with Bruiser the Bobcat, laser tag, an obstacle course and a telecast of the Steelers-Eagles game at 4:15 p.m. The movie 'Kung Fu Panda' will be shown in Ferguson Theater at 7:15 p.m. For more information on this and other anniversary events, visit the Web site .

 

 
 


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