Advocates Emphasize Importance of State Funding at Pitt Day in Harrisburg

  • Roc in front of the capitol with his arms akimbo
    Roc joined two busloads of students, alumni, faculty and staff at the state Capitol during the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg event. (Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Roc stands between a man with gray hair and glasses and a woman in a black and white blouse
    Tom Armstrong (left) and Janet Gerster, both staff with Pitt’s Office of Human Resources with Roc in the state Capitol Rotunda on Pitt Day in Harrisburg. (Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • a woman in a bright pink shirt stands in front of a poster, explaining something to a woman in purple
    Marja Copeland, a graduate student studying geology and environmental science at the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, discusses her research at the graduate research showcase during Pitt Day in Harrisburg. (Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • three people in front of the capitol
    Chris Bonneau (left), a political science professor and incoming president of the University Senate, with Frank Wilson, outgoing Senate president, and Robin Kear of the University Library System at Pitt Day in Harrisburg. (Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • two women, one holding stapled papers, sit on steps outside, looking at the papers
    Camille Burgess (left) and Victoria Ivock, both staff at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, review some materials during their lunch break at Pitt Day in Harrisburg. Both staff at the Katz Graduate School of Business, they participated in Pitt Day as a way to be more involved in University matters. Burgess, who’s worked at Pitt for 30 years, said Pitt Day is her chance to give. “I have a lot of appreciation for Pitt,” she said, “and we need to encourage more participation in the process.” (Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • a group of Pitt affiliates walk through a hallway
    From left: Pitt Student Government Board leaders Zechariah Brown, Caroline Unger, John Boyer and Ritika Bajpai work the halls of the state Capitol during Pitt Day in Harrisburg, getting real-world experience in politics and lobbying. (Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • a man in a gray suit and blue collar shirt standing in front of a poster, talking to an onlooker
    Debashis Ganguly, a PhD researcher in operating systems and run-times at the School of Computing and Information, discusses his research during the graduate research showcase, part of the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg event. He says Pitt Day provides a great opportunity to talk about his complex research with a broader audience. (Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)

Pitt’s Student Government Board (SGB) leaders experienced firsthand what it’s like working the halls of Pennsylvania’s state Capitol during the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg.

“The main reason I’m here is to advocate for a school that has given me a lot of opportunities, a lot of chances, and expanded my horizons in terms of education and of what I think is possible for myself and for others,” said Zechariah Brown, a rising junior and an SBG board member.

Brown was among two busloads of Pitt students, alumni, faculty and staff who made the journey from Oakland to Harrisburg for the Pitt Day event, which is organized annually by the University’s Office of Governmental and Community Relations and the Pitt Alumni Association.

Pitt Day, held on May 23 this year, is a chance for Pitt advocates to share their stories about why predictable and adequate state funding is crucial for Pitt. This year’s event came at a critical time as state legislators begin working to pass an annual state budget by June 30.

“State funding is not only important to us — it provides opportunities such as research, internships, leadership development — but it’s also important so we can attract the best in Pennsylvania and the world so they come to us and can afford the education that we’re giving,” said Ritika Bajpai, a rising junior and SGB’s community and governmental relations chair.

Pitt is seeking a 5 percent funding increase for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The increase, said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, is meant to help Pitt continue strengthening its role as an academic powerhouse, driving economic stability and growth for the commonwealth and deepening its commitments as a vital community partner. Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed flat funding for Pitt and other state-related universities in Pennsylvania. State funding allows Pitt, a major economic driver in Pennsylvania, to help provide in-state students with greater access and reduced tuition at a university twice-named as The Wall Street Journal’s Top Public University in the Northeast.

“I think it’s important for the elected representatives to see that we really do appreciate all that they’ve given us, and we’ll continue to come every year to advocate for Pitt,” said Caroline Unger, a rising sophomore and SGB’s facilities, transportation and technology chair.

Pennsylvania began providing Pitt with funding a little over 50 years ago to expand access to education for Pennsylvania students and families and to support research institutions as community anchors and economic drivers. Today, state funding no longer covers the full in-state discount and is supplemented by the University.

“Nothing is as powerful as all of you coming here, sharing your work and your time, connecting with our state leaders and telling them your Pitt story,” said Gallagher, addressing the crowd of Pitt supporters in the Capitol Rotunda.

During last fall’s budget impasse, Pitt’s advocacy effort included nearly 11,000 members of the Pitt community from 46 states who sent 57,000 emails, tweets and Facebook messages to tell state leaders higher education must be a priority.

Nothing is as powerful as all of you coming here, sharing your work and your time, connecting with our state leaders and telling them your Pitt story.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher

“It’s important to me, even as a resident of the state of Indiana, to ensure that Pitt has access to the capital, the resources that it needs, to maintain a very high standard of education,” said Gary Brownlee (A&S ’74, KGSB ’78), president of the Pitt Alumni Association. “I’m honored to be here to be able to aid the cause.”

Paul Supowitz, Pitt’s vice chancellor for community and governmental relations, said the students, alumni, faculty and staff were “omnipresent in the Capitol” and were encouraged by their discussions with legislators and Wolf’s administration.

“These officials recognize Pitt as a magnet for high-achieving Pennsylvania students and a vital economic engine for the Commonwealth and expressed optimism for a timely passage of the state budget that invests in Pitt and the other state-related universities,” Supowitz said.

Pitt advocates like Camille Burgess, a long-time staffer at Pitt’s College of Business Administration and now the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, fanned out in the state Capitol to communicate the importance of Pitt to the regional community and state economy.

“Without Harrisburg’s support,” said Bajpai, the SGB’s community and governmental relations chair, “Pitt cannot do what it does so well: educate the leaders of tomorrow. In addition to being an economic engine of the region, Pitt is creating the doctors, researchers, performers, and educators that anchor Western Pennsylvania.”