FROM THE DESK OF GREGORY G. DELL’OMO, PH.D., PRESIDENT OF ROBERT MORRIS UNIVERSITY
Fall is upon us. The campus is buzzing again with the energy of young people whose futures are just a tantalizing few years ahead of them, full of promise. It’s a wonderful time to work at a university. But this autumn has also been buzzing with worrisome news for American institutions of higher learning. After a stretch of several years of significant growth, college enrollments across the country are slipping. The reason is simple: High schools have turned out more and more graduates every year for decades, and colleges have been able to count on a growing supply of potential freshmen. But that trend peaked with the Class of 2010 and is now in decline, not only in Pennsylvania but nationwide.
In a story this summer, the New York Times explained the problem through the lens of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where a sharp and unexpected drop in this year’s freshman class led to a $3.5 million budget shortfall and emergency budget and staff cuts. “There are many institutions that are on the margin, economically, and are very concerned about keeping their doors open if they can’t hit their enrollment numbers,” David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told the Times.
Meanwhile, at Robert Morris we are looking at our biggest freshman class in history, with 980 first-year students from 26 states and 19 countries. Nearly 8,000 people applied to RMU in 2013, which is almost double the number from five years ago — and that’s with a steady improvement in our applicant pool’s average SAT score and high school grade point average. We are seeing record numbers of international students (more on that inside) and more online learners as well. If you ask students and staff alike, their biggest gripe lately is probably finding a parking space.
We work constantly to reinforce RMU’s image as a “university of choice,” and I’d like to share a little statistic demonstrating that the message is being received. Every year I offer 15 full-tuition Presidential Scholarships to the applicants with the most impressive academic records. Understandably, these are students with a lot of opportunities, because other colleges are offering them equally attractive financial aid packages. So each year I expect some of our Presidential Scholar candidates to choose a different school. But this year, I was delighted when all 15 of them chose Robert Morris University.
What makes RMU a university that students actively seek out and choose for their college experience? It’s not good enough just to say we have a beautiful campus; students and their parents evaluate a college’s “value proposition.” They take into account any number of things: program quality and reputation, student life, the way faculty and staff treat people, exciting athletics, a safe and secure campus environment, and strong outcomes, like the share of graduates who get jobs in their field. The bottom line, of course, is price. It’s the university president’s role to watch over all the components of the value proposition and make sure all of them are in balance. Our strong enrollment success, particularly in challenging circumstances, suggests that we’re doing something right. That’s something everyone in the RMU family should be proud of. Sincerely,
Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D.
INTERNATIONAL STUDENT POPULATION INCREASING If you ask students at Robert Morris to name their favorite professor, there’s a good chance they’ll say Sue Jamison. Sue, the wife of Provost David Jamison, has been teaching sociology as an adjunct faculty member at RMU since 2009. Anyone who’s met her will probably not be surprised to learn that Sue has a reputation among students as one of the friendliest and most supportive people on campus.
This January, Sue got a bit of a surprise. “I looked at my class roster and saw a whole page of names beginning with ‘A,’ and I knew that something was different,” she recalls. Her sociology section was filled with students from Saudi Arabia. “So there they were, and there I was, and I really had no idea what to expect.”
The international student population at Robert Morris has increased dramatically in just the last three years, and now exceeds 400 — nearly 8 percent of our student population. That is more than double the national average, and indicates our commitment to promoting a global perspective on campus. Many international students are athletes, and we have had a large Canadian contingent for many years thanks to our strong men’s and women’s ice hockey programs. But as of this fall, Saudis now outnumber Canadians on campus.
This isn’t just a Robert Morris phenomenon. In an effort to foster mutual respect and understanding after the September 11 tragedy, Saudi King Abdullah, with the full encouragement of President George W. Bush, launched a scholarship program in 2005 to send Saudi students to America for college. This year more than 70,000 are studying in the U.S.,
making Saudis the fourth-largest group of international students in the country after Chinese, Indians, and South Koreans.
Khulood Al Ali, a junior biomedical engineering major, was one of the first Saudis to arrive at Robert Morris three years ago. “When I was in middle school, it was a dream to come to the United States,” she says. “And it’s happened.” She says she aspires to be a leader and is off to a promising start — among her many activities, Khulood is president of RMU’s international student club, Carpe Mundum, and volunteers with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and Carnegie Library. RMU’s engineering and computer science programs have an excellent reputation in the kingdom, and word has spread quickly. Freshman Ahmed Alshammari, a mechanical engineering major, heard about Robert Morris from his Saudi friends while he was studying English in Manhattan. He says he is happy so far with the change from New York. “Here it’s a different life,” Ahmed says. “The people … are very, very friendly with me. They help me with everything. If I need anything, if I ask about anything, they just help me immediately.” Sue Jamison helped her students by offering evening tutoring sessions for her sociology section. All students were welcome, but her international students especially valued the extra time to review the material. “It turns out I should not have worried,” Sue says, “because basically here’s what I did: I treated them just like I have always treated all of my students. I believe I treat all my
students with respect, I believe I care about all my students, I welcome them and they know that I care about them.”
Learning went both ways, she says. “What I gained is an understanding of their culture, which always helps us as teachers grow. But I also got so much back from them — appreciation, respect and friendship. That’s how it enriched my life.” With such a large population on campus, Saudi students are increasingly making their mark on student life. They have organized their own student group and are enthusiastically involved in the annual spring International Dinner. Both club and intramural soccer are very popular among the Saudis too.
They turned out in large numbers this summer, when Prince Sultan bin Salman, their country’s minster of tourism and antiquities, made a visit to campus. Prince Sultan, who also holds the distinction of being the first Arab to orbit the earth — he was a payload specialist on the space shuttle — was in Pittsburgh to open a Saudi Arabian exhibit at the Carnegie Museum. During his stop at Robert Morris, the prince tried out the United States Steel Corporation TelePresence Center in the School of Business, chatting with university officials in
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS IN AMERICA: WHERE DO THEY COME FROM
Riyadh. He spoke about the importance of the King Abdullah scholarships, the tremendous importance of higher education for the kingdom, and the desire for more U.S.-Saudi cooperation.
Most Saudis studying in America are men, but women like Khulood also are taking advantage of their country’s scholarships, which cover college costs, medical insurance, and travel expenses. Khulood acknowledges that it can be a challenge to navigate a culture very different from hers. For instance, like most Saudi women, Khulood covers her hair in a scarf called a hijab. She declines politely when a man offers to shake her hand, since the version of Islam she practices forbids contact between women and men who are not related. But Khulood is also making an extra effort this year to introduce herself to more American students. “I’m really glad that I’m an RMU student,” she says. “I really find myself here.”
INSIDER THINK YOU KNOW ALL THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT RMU? HERE ARE SOME SURPRISES DRIVING OUR SUCCESS: RMU Means…Engineering? Western Pennsylvania is home to some of the nation’s most prestigious engineering programs, including Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and Penn State. That makes it all the more gratifying that the fastest growing major at Robert Morris is engineering. The university is a member of the federally funded National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which includes nine research universities and 40 companies developing cutting-edge manufacturing techniques. Our laboratories are equipped with 3-D printing equipment, and our bachelor’s program in manufacturing engineering is the only one in Pennsylvania accredited by ABET Inc.
Enterprise Systems: Back to the Future In a world of smartphones and tablets, it is surprising to learn that many corporations still rely on mainframe computers. But while most of the world’s financial transactions, for example, are processed on enterprise computing systems, most colleges and universities stopped teaching how to manage these systems 20 years ago. Enter RMU. We revived our enterprise systems courses at the behest of local employers including Highmark and BNY Mellon. IBM has called Robert Morris a model for others to follow and has provided the university with free use of mainframe systems for our students. A Sustainable Education What does it mean for a business to be sustainable? How does an organization balance pursuit of its goals with obligations to future generations? Those questions are tackled each year at the Sustainable Enterprises of the Future Conference, organized by the School of Business. It brings together scholars and industry leaders from all over the world to examine how to get bottom-line results while also producing social worth. And RMU offers a Global Reporting Initiative certified training workshop in partnership with BrownFlynn, to help organizations manage sustainable results.
A Crisis, and a Step Toward a Solution The facts are grim: Suicide is the third leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24. Mental illness increases the risk of chronic illnesses. Most children and adolescents who need psychiatric care have no access to it. But RMU is doing something about it. The university has received a $923,000 federal grant that will allow RMU to expand its existing Doctor of Nursing Practice program for psychiatric nurse practitioners, who can prescribe medications and provide psychotherapy. Grant funds also will be used to purchase distance-learning technology to allow students who live in rural areas, which are acutely under-served, an opportunity to earn a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner certificate.
Teaching the Teachers Teaching jobs have been scarce in western Pennsylvania for decades, and the problem has been exacerbated in recent years, with so many school district solving budget shortfalls by laying off teachers. RMU has responded with a series of new master’s and certificate programs to help teachers get jobs in the most sought-after disciplines. • Reading Specialist Certification which may be completed as part of our M.Ed. in Literacy
• Certificate of Advanced Study in Online Teaching • An M.Ed. in Special Education that offers applicants special education certification at the pre-K-8 and 7-12 grade levels
• An Autism Spectrum Disorders program for additional endorsement to a teaching certificate
• Our newly minted Principal Certification Program pairs educators who aspire to school leadership positions with experienced principals as mentors.
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