By MARTY LEVINE
The familiarity of Pittsburgh drew Leland Clark back, but the Pitt campus has been a surprise to him in many ways.
Clark joined the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences last June as its executive director of student affairs. Although he grew up here — in Highland Park, East Liberty and Point Breeze, attending Frick and Schenley schools and Carnegie Mellon University — he had been living in New York City for the past 17 years, doing a similar job for a culinary school that closed due to COVID-19.
“People from Pittsburgh who move always kind of come back,” Clark says, “and during COVID my homesickness to be close to my mom and my brothers increased.” He also felt a bit burned out, just from experiencing the pandemic in New York City during the pre-vaccine days, he says.
Back here, he has noticed the neighborhoods have changed — not the people or the housing, just the affordability, he says. Today he lives on the street where he grew up in Highland Park, and it has become a place where the average person can no longer buy a house, he says.
The school where he worked in New York occupied a single building, “so it’s great to be in a place (that) feels like a community,” he says of the University. “What I love about Pitt is that it is integrated in the city. It is not a walled-off campus. It feels very much a part of Pittsburgh.
“Pitt is massively larger than anywhere I’ve worked before, in terms of size and complexity, and this is really exciting to me,” he adds. In Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, he oversees the registrar process and admissions and academic advising for students, as well as student engagement: extra-curricular activities from career development workshops to social and wellness events.
“Students here are extremely motivated,” he says, noting that Pitt doesn’t require the same student retention and motivation tasks he faced in his previous job. “Our students really mean business here.”
Clark is already taking advantage of a Pitt opportunity. Having just gotten his master’s degree in science in higher education administration from Baruch College of the City of New York, he’s now starting his doctorate in education with a higher education concentration in the School of Education here.
Seventeen years is a long time to spend away from Pittsburgh, but he still remembers his ‘Burgh bona fides: he and his brother were on an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” when they were kids, when the program visited their school soccer team in the 1980s. In fact, it was only as an adult, he says, that he realized the program had more than Pittsburgh fame.
“The most pleasant surprise” of his time back here, he says, is that “everyone who works here from the dean to administrators is hyper-focused on student wellness and success. The experience of students is always present in conversations. It’s been a pleasant surprise for me to be in that kind of environment.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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