What’s a week in the life of a university president during Commencement Week really like? Meet Moon Township resident Dr. Christopher Howard, who became the eighth president of Robert Morris University in February. Dr. Howard, who previously served as president of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, is a native of Plano, Texas. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Harvard Business School, Dr. Howard was awarded the Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan. While on a Rhodes Scholarship, he earned a doctorate in politics from the University of Oxford.
Monday, May 2
My week begins and ends at the same place—Pittsburgh International Airport. I suspect many Pittsburghers take for granted what a great airport we have here. As a newcomer, I’ve come to relish its amenities, particularly the free WiFi! I will head home from a short trip to Philadelphia, ready to dive into a jam-packed Commencement Week at Robert Morris University.
Tuesday, May 3
Today feels like Commencement Week begins in earnest with this evening’s International Student Graduation Reception, during which we recognize our international students who are graduating and we honor the faculty and staff who help to make RMU a culturally diverse and inclusive campus. Over the past 10 years, international enrollment at Robert Morris has increased fivefold.
It is fitting, therefore, that this afternoon I will receive a visit on campus from Melanie Harrington, president and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh, whose mission is to ensure the vitality of the Pittsburgh region by attracting a diverse and inclusive workforce, and promoting the region nationally and internationally. As I often say, diversity is about counting numbers, and inclusiveness is about making the numbers count.
Wednesday, May 4
Wednesday’s schedule will also prove serendipitous: As the university prepares to send hundreds of new graduate into the workforce, I will attend a presentation of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s 2014-2025 Workforce Demand Analysis at the Tower at PNC Plaza. It will be my second trip to PNC’s breathtaking new building. In April, RMU held an alumni event there with some of the 350 RMU graduates who work at PNC. The meeting will include breakfast; otherwise I will find it hard to resist a trip to the Corner Mercantile on the ground floor of the tower.
I’ll head back to campus for a slew of Commencement Week events, including the Seniors Brunch and the Presidential Undergraduates Awards Dinner, where I will honor the top graduating seniors in each of the university’s degree programs.
Thursday, May 5
I’ll make the trek to the South Side Thursday morning for an editorial board meeting at the New Pittsburgh Courier, my first visit to the storied African American newspaper. I’ll stop for a cup of joe at Big Dog Coffee.
Much of the rest of the day will be spent preparing for RMU’s 91st commencement ceremonies, the first at which I will preside.
Friday, May 6
Commencement Weekend is here! First up is our graduate ceremony, during which 220 students will receive master’s and doctoral degrees. They and their families are in for a treat: Our keynote speaker is Aradhna M. Oliphant, president and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh. We are thrilled to have one of the region’s most influential women speaking at our commencement, and I am glad to get to know her.
All week it will be a privilege to meet with community-minded people like Aradhna, people who have devoted their lives to serving the Pittsburgh region and positioning it for growth. Today I’m having lunch on campus with Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (and a previous RMU commencement speaker). I’m eager to hear the vision that Dennis and Aradhna have for our region, and how RMU can contribute.
Saturday, May 7
I will don my academic regalia for the second time this week when RMU holds its undergraduate commencement ceremony, where we will confer bachelor’s degrees on approximately 700 young men and women. Our speaker will be my friend, Robert McDonald, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and former CEO of Procter & Gamble. I am a member of Secretary McDonald’s “MyVA” Advisory Committee, and he is a fitting speaker for RMU: Sixty-five veterans of the United States armed services will be earning a degree this weekend.
I will get a double dose of commencement this weekend, as I will head down to Tennessee after things wrap at RMU to join the rest of my family for the graduation on Sunday of my son Cohen from Sewanee: The University of the South. It is a rare privilege to be able to witness this cherished academic tradition from two different perspectives in the space of two days. Seeing my own son receive his diploma is a priceless reminder of the responsibility and calling I feel as a university president. Next week I’ll give the commencement address at Christopher Newport University in Virginia—the commencement hat-trick!
So, back to the airport!