Robert Gregerson is still in awe of the lush greenery that surrounds the grounds of the University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg campus.
It’s a world away from the sandy beaches of Fort Myers, Fla., where he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University prior to being named the fifth president of Pitt-Greensburg last spring.
“The trees and yards are just beautiful. It’s so green,” he said, gazing out the window of his office in Lynch Hall.
Gregerson, 59, had his first opportunity to meet with students and their families this past week as they arrived at the campus nestled in a valley in the hills just outside of Greensburg. Classes begin Monday.
Gregerson, who goes by Bob, was selected for the post after a national search. A native of the state of Indiana, he said he’s delighted to have landed at the regional campus that serves about 1,500 students.
The towering college administrator, a father of three adult children, avid outdoorsman and an avid sports fan, holds a doctorate in molecular genetics.
Although he loved science and teaching, Gregerson said he realized he could have an impact on even more students as a college administrator.
He has spent three decades in academic leadership posts at schools ranging from large research universities to a small liberal arts college. He said he sees the regional Pitt campus as an opportunity to serve in the best of all worlds.
“I’ve been at small colleges, and there is something special about colleges this size. When you walk down the sidewalk, you know the people. This is where education happens on a personal scale. And we have the luxury of being associated with a powerhouse research university. When you combine the two, you can’t miss,” he said.
Ann E. Cudd. Pitt’s provost and senior vice chancellor, said Gregerson’s varied resume seemed tailor-made for his new post.
“Bob’s dedication to students, faculty and academic programs shines through in the collaborative, strategic planning and development efforts demonstrated in his past appointments. It’s wonderful to see his demonstrated appreciation for the power of personalizing the education experience, and his commitment to diversity and inclusion, which are so much a part of the Plan for Pitt,” Cudd said in announcing Gregerson’s appointment.
Faculty members said their initial impression of the new president is likewise positive.
“He’s approachable. He understands we have to be part of the community and the importance of that,” one professor said.
That’s just one of priorities Gregerson has set for himself as he settles into a new post and a new reality.
In Florida, he was in the midst of a state university that could tap a growing pool of traditional college age students. Here the opposite is true and the Greensburg campus has seen enrollment decline from just under 2,000 to about 1,500 this year.
“That’s very much on my mind. You have to be realistic about the demographic context you operate in. You have to examine everything you do and say, ‘Can we do this piece better? Can we do that a little better?’ ” Gregerson said.
He’s happy with Pitt’s commitment to match Pell grants with institutional awards for students who qualify for need-based aid.
“I grew up poor, one of seven kids and the first to go to college, so I understand that,” Gregerson said.
“If 35% of our students are getting Pell grants and the Pitt Promise, that still leaves 65% who aren’t. So, we need to work as efficiently as possible,” he said.
A continued emphasis on thinking outside of the box to maximize resources and fundraising are on his agenda.
“Our alumni have lived this experience and gone out and done well. There was someone there who helped them, maybe it was someone anonymous. Now we have an obligation to help others,” he said
He’d also like to see the regional campus boost its impressive retention and graduation rates—about 72 percent of freshmen in Greensburg return as sophomores, while 12% transfer to another campus. About 65 percent graduate from Pitt, a number well above the national average for public universities.
Given the high cost of leaving college with debt and no degree, Gregerson said he’d like to see more students stay and graduate.
“It’s easy for me to sit in a soft chair and say that, but it’s difficult to do,” he said, as he prepared to jump into the new semester.