University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown

Dr. Spectar's Welcome Update

Dear Members of the Pitt-Johnstown Community,

Greetings, and welcome back to the start of the new school year! I hope you had a great summer, with the opportunity to get a little rest and do something fun, and hope you are now feeling refreshed, ready to begin this new academic year and to realize your goals.

I wanted to share a few brief updates with you and will provide more information in the coming weeks: Enrollment This year’s new class consists of nearly 820 new students enrolled, representing six countries and every county across the Commonwealth. Our new students are represented by 18 states, compared to 14 in fall of 2017.

Particular areas of enrollment growth include Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering, Nursing and health-related professions, and Business Management. Our Engineering majors make up 23% of our new student class this fall.

Academic Affairs

There are three changes in faculty administration this academic year:

  • Dr. Steve Kilpatrick is now serving as Interim Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs.
  • Dr. Jill Henning is serving as Undergraduate Research Coordinator. In this capacity, Dr. Henning will coordinate our annual fall and spring undergraduate research events, and will foster studentfaculty scholarly engagement across all divisions in a range of mentorship and other learning experiences.
  • Dr. Becky Webb is the Biology Department Chair.

At the end of spring 2018 semester, the following faculty members were promoted to Associate Professor with tenure:

  • Ms. Marissa Landrigan Justus – English Literature 
  • Dr. Derek Leben - Philosophy
  • Dr. Paul Lucas – Communication

There are 18 faculty in new teaching positions on campus:

  • Dr. Shivkumar Bale - Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • Dr. Melissa Casses- Visiting Assistant Professor of Special Education
  • Dr. Sarah Chesney - Assistant Professor of Education
  • Dr. Mallory Ferguson - Assistant Professor of Nursing
  • Dr. Robert Grimminger - Assistant Professor of Chemistry
  • Dr. Prasanna Joeg - Assistant Professor of Computer Science
  • Dr. Kassiani Kotsidou - Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering
  • Dr. Sofya Masharipova - Assistant Professor of Mathematics
  • Dr. Maryl McGinley - Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication
  • Dr. Stephan Ohl - Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Science
  • Ms. Dawn O’Roark - Visiting Instructor/Simulation Lab Manager in Nursing
  • Dr. Laura Ritchey - Instructor in Chemistry
  • Mr. Stephen Sarma-Weierman - Instructor in Computer Science
  • Dr. Ramesh Singh – Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • Ms. Angela Stiffey - Clinical Instructor in Respiratory Care
  • Dr. Matthew Tracey - Assistant Professor of Chemistry
  • Ms. Elaine Wilson - Visiting Instructor in Special Education
  • Dr. Gerald Zahorchak - Associate Professor of Education and Division Chair

Development of a One Button Studio: Communication Department faculty members Dr. Patty Wharton Michael, Dr. Paul Lucas, and Dr. Diane Nicodemus received an Innovation in Education Grant from the Provost’s Office for their proposal “Designing a Personalized Learning Space with the Push of One Button.” A One Button Recording Studio is being developed to engage students and faculty in our increasingly visual and dynamic informational environment. Work to prepare the Studio, which will be housed in 238 Blackington, is underway.

Personalized Education Grant: Academic Success director Dr. Kate Kinsinger received a grant from the Provost’s Office for her proposal “First at Pitt-Johnstown,” a fall 2018 pilot program for first-generation students. The program is designed to help participants engage with the campus community in meaningful ways to facilitate their academic and social transition to college. Components of the program include a one-credit course, faculty and peer mentoring, and social activities. The grant also support a qualitative research study to learn more about the experiences of first-generation students at Pitt-Johnstown.

Provost’s Office Seed Grant: An interdisciplinary group of Pitt-Johnstown faculty has been awarded a Pitt Seed Grant titled “A Place for Pitt-Johnstown in the Cure Violence: Johnstown Campaign.” These faculty will work with local and regional community organizations to launch the research-based Cure Violence program in the Johnstown area, with the goals of halting the progress of violence and building stronger communities. The awardees are Dr. Christine Dahlin, Biology; Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Education; Dr. Jill Henning, Biology; Dr. Stephanie Jimenez, Psychology; Dr. Ross Kleinstuber, Sociology; and Dr. Jeremiah Coldsmith, Sociology.

Experiential Learning: Congratulations to our Concrete Canoe Team for placing 9th in the nation at their national competition in San Diego in June 2018!

Student Affairs

New Student Orientation: This past weekend, Pitt-Johnstown welcomed the class of 2022 with an educational and fun-filled three-day new student orientation program to help our students Get Ready for the Real World, be Involved in our communities, be difference makers and to embrace and enjoy our world. Presenters educated students about being active bystanders with regard to alcohol, drugs, sexual misconduct and hazing. The students learned to define academic success for themselves and were introduced to the wealth of resources available to help them to achieve their academic goals. In the evenings, our freshmen participated in structured social activities, and kicked off a new tradition with the Mountain Cat Cup (formerly the Hall Games) and UPJ Color War. This year, 40 volunteer orientation leaders served as peer mentors for the new students after participating in four days of leadership education and helped the campus prepare for the Welcome Week activities.

In what has become an annual tradition, over 600 members of the freshmen class participated in a day of service throughout Johnstown and the Moxham area including an amazing project at the Johnstown Iron Works to prepare the building for potential new businesses. Additionally, our new students were introduced to downtown business through a punchcard contest where students who visited a certain number of participating businesses were entered into a drawing for gift cards from these businesses. The response from both of the city-related activities was extremely positive from both our students and local leaders and business owners.

Staffing: We are pleased to welcome Mr. Chris Stumpf as the new Vice President of Student Affairs. Mr. Stumpf has served in several administrative roles in his 22 years of service to Pitt-Johnstown. Mr. Robert Knipple has been appointed Executive Director of Housing and Dining to provide leadership for our efforts to enhance the housing and dining experience for students. Ms. Judi McGuirk will continue to serve as Meal Plan Coordinator in Housing and Dining. Dr. Renee Brown, currently Assistant Women’s basketball coach, has been hired as the Coordinator of International Services. Ms. Sherri Rae has been appointed Director of Real World Career Services.

Commuter Lounge: We opened a new Commuter Lounge in the second floor of the Student Union to accommodate students who are driving back and forth to campus daily. The lounge offers comfortable seating and study tables, lockers, a refrigerator and microwave along with enhanced Wi-Fi and a charging station.

Philo TV: The campus has completed the migration to the Philo IP-based television system. Philo provides students with the flexibility of watching programming on their computer, tablet, iPad, and television anywhere within their residence hall. With access to 60 channels, Philo provides advantages over the previous cable-based system including high-definition programming and free DVR. Students will have access to sports networks, including ESPNU and BTN, major news networks, and many of the popular cable channels including Bravo, Comedy Central, Food Network, HGTV, The Learning Channel, and the Discovery Channel. A complete channel lineup is available at

Food Services: The new academic year will bring enhancements to the student dining experience. A new Farm Fresh feature is being added to the existing Mountain Cat Club and will provide a different selection of fruits and vegetables throughout the semester. All Farm Fresh products will come from growers in Pennsylvania and will include apples, corn, peaches, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. A menu item will be available that features the highlighted Farm Fresh product as a main ingredient. A Chef’s Station is being added to the Student Union Dining Hall that will introduce students to new creations. The station will provide students with tasting opportunities and will also have an informational component. The Grill and Tres Habaneros eateries in the Tuck Shop will have extended hours until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays to provide students with late-night dining options on the weekends.

Pop-up Grill on Blackington Patio: Campus Dining Services will be offering “pop-up” lunches on the Blackington Patio. Look for announcements on Twitter, email and posters at the Daily Grind about the menu, time and day of these special events. The new patio tables and umbrellas are available anytime.

Facilities and Technology

Lighting Improvements: Phase I of the campus exterior lighting project addressed the walkways near Maple, Heather and Hawthorn. These 11 new fixtures which will cast a brighter and larger area to improve nighttime visibility. The LED fixtures also consume less electricity and support our goals to be a more sustainable campus.

Phase II of the project is underway with new posts being installed in the campus mall area around Blackington, Biddle and Krebs Halls.

North Lodges: A number of cosmetic enhancements were made to the North Lodges. In addition to refreshing the exterior wooden trim on several buildings, many areas received new carpeting, fresh paint, and new furniture.

Residential Wi-Fi Enhancements: Every First Year Hall received an additional 9 wireless access point, each WAP added capacity for 25 -30 device connections which means that the new WAPs can support 200 additional devices in each building. The location of the devices will also improve coverage in the buildings.

North Lodges are also being equipped with new WAPs. Briar and Larkspur Hall have been enhanced while Hawthorn, Heather and Foxfire Halls will get additional WAPs in early September as soon as supplies arrive on campus.

Chemical Engineering Building: Construction is underway and on schedule to open in January, 2019. The building includes a chemical engineering laboratory, simulation laboratory, computer classroom and faculty offices. The 7,000 square foot building is attached to the John P. Murtha Engineering and Science building and was made possible, in part, by a $2,000,000 grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Owen Library: Starting this fall semester, we will be the first Pitt campus to offer a Personal Librarian Program to help the library connect with our new students (and vice-versa) and to help students access library services. Every new student (freshman and transfer students) will be assigned an Owen Library librarian who will give the student a contact point in the library, answer the students' questions about library services, provide guidance about library resources, and help the students conduct research. The librarian will be available to the student throughout the student's time at Pitt-Johnstown.

Community Engagement

REACHland Connect: Construction will soon begin on a much-needed sidewalk and bike path connecting campus to CPA and the Richland Town Centre.

The project, dubbed REACHland (Recreational, Environmentally-safe, Access way for Community and Healthy-Living) Connect, is a multi-phase initiative to connect, by sidewalks and bike paths, campus and community with culture and commerce.

The first phase of REACHland Connect includes a paved bike path and sidewalk connecting Pitt-Johnstown, Penn Highlands, Richland School District, Highland Community Library, Richland Township Municipal Building and Richland Town Centre.

The paved and lighted paths will allow residents and visitors alike to walk, run, cycle, and rollerblade or simply stroll and enjoy the education placards along the way.

CODE 4 STEM Academy: The university’s Code 4 STEM Academy kicked off its first summer term geared for students in grades 2 through 12, exploring topics such digital coding, robotics technology, space explorations and sports science.

The first course for elementary-aged students had them using and making new technology and innovating solutions to real-world situations in a coding- and design-thinking environment. They were challenged to apply their skills and knowledge to scenarios presented to them within each class. Topics included teambuilding and working with others, writing computer code, building and coding a robot, design- thinking through STEM and building a model using engineering concepts.

Pitt-Johnstown Magazine: View the special Anniversary Edition of the magazine »

Welcome back!
Jem Spectar