Alumni ask chancellor how to keep Pitt innovative, competitive


At a new University Update presentation, Pitt alumni asked Chancellor Patrick Gallagher about his strategies to support students, alumni and programs to make sure the University remains competitive.

During the Homecoming event on Oct. 25, Gallagher shared Pitt’s achievements in student financial aid, rankings and construction. Following the presentation, which highlighted information from his annual report to the Board of Trustees September meeting, alumni had a chance to question Gallagher directly.

Nancy M.K. Merritt, vice chancellor for alumni relations, moderated the discussion and fielded questions from alumni submitted through a survey. Below are some of the questions and Gallagher’s responses.

Question: How has Pitt changed from his time as a student to the present?

Gallagher said the Pitt atmosphere feels “different” from his time when the economy wasn’t as strong. Even though Pitt was a great place and a big school, he said, “what you feel now is a palpable product.”

“The students know that they're part of something special,” he said, adding that students are pushing faculty, staff and administrators to innovate.

Q: How can Pitt make sure employers recognize the value of Pitt and Pitt alumni in competitive fields?

Gallagher said the key is to tap into the desires of young Pitt alumni, who are eager to create social and professional networks. Students already working at these competitive companies help open the doors to future Pitt alumni, he said.

Q: How Pitt is supporting startups and commercializing inventions? (Asked by an alumnus who works in the tech industry.)

Gallagher said Pitt’s Innovation Institute has been key to expanding Pitt’s collaboration outside of campus and offering technical support innovators looking to commercialize.

Another strategy, Gallagher said, has been “removing barriers” to allow for students and faculty to have more control and support for their intellectual property. Pitt is also a city with a blossoming tech company community that helps students and faculty.

Q: How will recent construction projects affect parking on campus?

Gallagher explained that the O’Hara Parking Garage will be demolished to make way for the new Rec Center, which will create a temporary parking shortage. 

To compensate for this, Pitt will push more commuting options and will adopt new strategies, such as “stacking” cars in the Soldiers and Sailors Parking Garage where drivers would block in other cars and leave their keys inside. An employee would patrol the garage and move cars when needed.

Q: How does Pitt balance a strong research program with a strong undergraduate program?

The chancellor said the best way to do both is to recruit strong faculty with solid research backgrounds who can secure funding. These faculty and Pitt’s programs also promote experience-based learning through internships and co-ops. 

“Instead of a balancing act, I kind of see a synergy,” Gallagher said. “Now the synergy can be broken if things get too unbalanced. And the thing that drives that is the size of the faculty, and the quality of the faculty,”

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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