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Global scribes get taste of city's spirit

| Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

Collaboration among UPMC, University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University is one of the reasons Pittsburgh has been able to transform itself since the decline of the steel industry in the 1970s, the heads of those institutions told a group of national and international journalists Monday morning.

"It was interesting to hear the foundation on which they think their success is based," said Adrienne Woltersdorf, 42, Washington bureau chief for Die Tageszeitung, a national German newspaper based in Berlin.

"Pittsburgh is known throughout Europe as a city that's made a comeback," Woltersdorf said after the event at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CEO Jeffrey Romoff, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and CMU President Jared Cohon spoke of the unusual interconnections among their entities as the basis for Pittsburgh's reputation of a hub for higher education, technology, and medical research and innovation.

Squirrel Hill native Howard Fineman, Newsweek's senior Washington correspondent, moderated the discussion.

"There are very few places in the world where two great universities are literally right next to each other," Fineman said of Pitt and CMU. One of the only other places is Cambridge, Mass., where Harvard University and Massachusetts of Technology are located.

"You don't usually think of Pittsburgh and Cambridge in the same breath," said Fineman, a 1966 graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School. "Get used to it."

"We needed to cooperate for the good of the community and the good of Pittsburgh," Nordenberg said.

Cohon added that CMU "by nature is a very collaborative place -- that's how we've been successful."

"Our inter-institution collaboration has been absolutely fundamental," he said.

Romoff praised the many board members of hospitals that previously operated independent of UPMC.

"They voluntarily gave up some of their autonomy to come together," Romoff said of the UPMC hospitals.

Through that cooperation, Pittsburgh's hospitals have found "a better way," Fineman said.

"UPMC has always been highly regarded," he said. "When people talk about the medical centers in Los Angeles, New York and Minnesota, Pittsburgh has always been in the ball game."

The question before the world this week as Pittsburgh hosts the Group of 20 economic summit is can a city with a population of only 300,000 -- with all of its educational and medical resources but half the size it once was -- be a city that can play on the global stage, Fineman said.

"I suppose Pittsburgh can make that argument," he said.

About a dozen journalists enjoyed the opportunity of going on three one-hour tours of UPMC, Pitt and CMU that included Pitt's Biomedical Science Tower 3, which conducts research in molecular genetics, cellular biology and biochemistry; Pitt's Center for Energy; and CMU's Robotics Institute.

The light turnout was expected because the tours are taking place a few days before the G-20 begins, said Madelyn Ross, Pitt's associate vice chancellor for national media relations.

"We chose to do it too early rather than too late and not be able to get anyone to attend," Ross said.

Sam Fleming, 36, the economics correspondent for London's Daily Mail, called the tours a good start.

"It's a good introduction to what's going on here," he said. "But that's just one little slice of the whole story."

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