Thursday, April 30, 2009, marked the last day of my academic tenure at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. It’s been 26 years since I moved into my first office in the CS department down in E&S in August, 1983--an amazingly happy 26 years and I'm eternally grateful to the University of Pittsburgh for allowing me to serve UPJ in this way.
Twenty-six years might seem like a long time to some; to others, like my good buddy Bob Zellers, it's merely the beginning of what, for him, will have been a distinguished tenure of over 40 years (God willing).
Over the past 26 years, because of my interdisciplinary background in Information Science, I’ve served on search committees in CS, Business, Communication, English, Foreign Languages, Psychology, and Education, as well as search committees for the Vice President of Student Affairs, Chairperson for the Natural Sciences division, Library personnel, Learning Resource Center, and Continuing Education. Based on this experience, I know that, when final hiring decisions are made, they are made, sincerely and confidently, with a hope and a prayer.
I hope that the folks in the UPJ community, looking back, can feel that their hopes and prayers were answered and that they are well-pleased with the contribution I have made.
I taught for the first 12+ years for the CS department as a professor in the Division of Natural Sciences. I am especially grateful to Doctors Hube Callihan, Ed Vizzini, Dennis McNair, Bill Brice, and George Trimitsis for their friendship and guidance during those early years when I was working towards promotion and tenure.
Then, in 1995, my career-track at UPJ took a significant change of direction.
In the Fall of that year, I was approached by Dr. David Dunlop, then Interim President of UPJ and, prior to that, Academic Dean, and, prior to that, Chair of the Division of Education (he subsequently became President of Shepherd University, West Virginia). Dave asked me if I would be interested in a new position opening up in Education. They needed a full-time, tenure-stream professor to take care of Instructional Technology.
I leapt at the chance.
Teaching has always been my forte. I love to teach; I love to help students learn. The thought of rounding out my teaching career in an environment where I could help tomorrow’s teachers prepare for their careers was exciting, to say the least. So I accepted on the spot.
I interviewed with the Division of Education and the faculty endorsed Dr. Dunlop’s recommendation. Dr. Dunlop asked me if I would prefer to wait until the end of the academic year to make the transition from Natural Sciences to Education. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t wait; I wanted to switch right away--New Year, 1996.
The rest is history.
Needless to say, I am eternally grateful to the folks in the Education Division for welcoming me aboard. I was immediately swept up into a round of meetings in preparation for a state inspection by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), which took place in the Fall of 1996. Karen Scanlon, also a new recruit to the division, but an experienced hand when it came to state inspections, was my office mate that first year, and her advice and calming presence were invaluable.
Indeed, it has been a joy working with everyone in the Division of Education. Dr. David Hayes, Chair of the Division and a meticulous, unassuming, remarkably empathic man, made sure that we all stayed on top of any and all changes demanded by PDE. More importantly, he kept our focus squarely on the students majoring in Education. He over and over again insisted that we do everything possible to give our students the guidance they needed to achieve their academic and career goals.
I must recognize others among the many colleagues on the faculty and staff who have helped to make my time at UPJ such a delight. I can’t name them all, but I must name a few.
Jerry Samples, then Vice President for Academic Affairs, was a trooper when I told him, in 2006, that I needed a sabbatical to take advantage of an offer of a Fulbright Scholarship to India. “We’ll deal with the problems,” he said right away. “You go!” I did, and it was one of the most awesome experiences of my life.
I maintained a blog while I was in India. If you would like to read about what I got up to, you'll find it at http://berniepoolesfulbrighttoindia.blogspot.com/
I must also recognize Nancy Brunberg, Executive Assistant in the Natural Sciences division, who was a constant, efficient, and unfailing friend. To say that says not nearly enough, because she bailed me out over and over again when, for example, I would forget to be there on the first day of classes or whatever. She was totally unflappable!
Dan Gottwald and his team in the Print Shop were quite simply amazing in the way, unfazed, they consistently met whatever demands any and all of us made on them. For the record, Dan had the best role model of all in his former boss, Jim Fetchgo, may he rest in peace.
Kevin Grady and his team in the Public Safety Office always responded swiftly to my not-infrequent requests for assistance. I’m proverbially absent-minded and often had to call on them to bail me out when I forgot to bring my keys with me from home or whenever I locked them inside my office. When, in the '80s and early '90s, I was billeted in the then CS office area in E&S, someone from Public Safety had to hike down there whenever I forgot my keys at home. One of the perks of my move to the Division of Education in 1996 was that my new office in Biddle Hall was right next to Public Safety.
Prior to emigrating from England to America, for 17 years I taught around the world, in elementary and secondary schools in the UK, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. It was hard work. Children make huge demands on one’s time and energy—if one cares. The same is true, I have found, at the university level. If one cares, it’s hard work; or to put it another way, teaching is hard work when it’s heart work.
What has made my work at UPJ significantly less onerous, and therefore more rewarding, has been the support that I have had from a devoted team of staff.
I already mentioned Nancy, Dan, and Kevin. But I have to recognize, too, Linda Just, Rick Povich, Sam Gemus, Rob Eckenrod, Bob Knipple, Jim Gyure, Kim Shook, Ralph Miller, Andrea Liebfried and Sharon Wilson, Janet Valine and her team in the Business Office, Jackie Schreier, Tom and Frank Dupnock, John Ziats, Georgine and the other folks in the Bookstore, Marilyn Alberter and her team in the Registrar’s Office (especially Donna Vickroy), Gladys Andrews, Bob Blaschak, Joe Parker, Darrel Bowman, Mike Kemock, Craig Gresko, Sheryl Smigla, Karen Clites, Wanda Ferguson, Linda Erwin, Shirley Richards, Judy Freedman, Pam Sabol, Betsy Goenner, Helen Golubic, Jeff Sernell, Patty Riddle (now retired, but she was directly instrumental in my being invited to join the Education Division), Joan Keirn, Kathy Patterson, Chris Stumpf, Jeanne Susko, and Loretta Zerby.
I guarantee I missed some special people, so forgive me each of you if I did.
There remain two UPJ constituencies I must thank: the several presidents and interim presidents during whose tenure I have served, and, no less important, my students.
I first met Frank Blackington, 19 year president of UPJ, on the Windber Country Club golf course. This was a few weeks before I was even on the payroll at UPJ. Jake Stiffler, then Director of Housing and Residence Life, had organized one of his thoroughly-enjoyable annual faculty-staff get-togethers--a golf scramble for faculty, staff, and their wives and friends.
I signed up for the tournament and was paired with President Frank Blackington, Finance Officer Jeff Lavine, and Public Safety Director Kevin Grady. The beauty of this foursome for me was that I was immediately given the opportunity to bond with significant administrative personnel at UPJ. But what I especially loved about our scrambling foursome was that none of us was exactly skilled at golf. More to the point, none of us particularly cared.
We had a great time.
The most memorable moment for me was when, after we'd all hit our drives on one particular par 4, the one best drive which allowed us vague access to the green was the one where the ball was nestled against the base of a tree, but on a side of the tree which only a left-hander could hit.
As it happens, I play left-handed when it comes to golf.
My teammates decided that our best chance at reaching the green was to play this shot which only a left-hander could play, and they trusted me to take care of the job.
I didn't, of course. I made a mess of it. I used my 5 iron to slash the ball just a few yards forward and still nowhere near the green.
Frank, our illustrious President, was next to play. He placed a ball at the base of the tree where mine had been, then stepped back a couple of yards.
"Bernie," he said, "give me your 5 iron."
He stood over the ball for a few seconds, glancing back and forth between the ball and the green. Then he let loose with a left-handed shot which caught the ball perfectly at the end of the down-swing and sent it sailing towards the green.
Miraculously it rolled to within three feet of the cup, and one of us managed to pop it into the hole for a birdie.
Seriously, you can't make this kind of thing up.
The two other Presidents I have served under are Dr. Etheridge and Dr. Specter. I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed working with and for both. They brought a refreshing change of pace to the job.
Last, but not least, I must thank the thousands of UPJ students I've had the honor and pleasure to work with over the years. They challenged me as a teacher in myriad ways and I tried my best to rise to the challenge and help each of them achieve their academic and professional goals.
Let me end with one perhaps amusing anecdote.
When clearing out my office at the end of my tenure at UPJ, I came across two pairs of pants in back of one of the drawers in one of the filing cabinets. I’d forgotten I’d put the pants there years ago when I was still teaching in the CS department. Here's the story.
One morning in the 1980s, early, I’d arrived in my office in E&S to prepare for an 8:00 am class. I bent down to get a book from the bottom shelf of the bookcase and rrrrrrrrrrip!--the seam in back of my pants was rent asunder.
What to do?
Well, I’ve always preached, to anyone who cares to listen, my favorite dictum: “No problems, only solutions!” I used a stapler to staple my pants back together and then, in class, moved very gingerly from place to place and NEVER turned my back to the students!
After class I dashed off to the mall and bought new pants to see me through the rest of the day.
Next day I came to school with two spare pairs of pants that forever after have quietly lurked in the back of my filing cabinet.
Needless to say, I’ve never needed them. Thank heaven, for if I had, they wouldn’t have fit and it would have taken a lot more than a stapler to get them on my strangely enlarged frame.
You know how it is: You just hang something in your closet for awhile and it shrinks two sizes.
Hey, the past 26 years have been a blast. Thank you one and all. Thank you again and again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.