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“Look for What is Good”: Mr. Rogers’ Commencement Speech at Chatham

“February 19th 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the beloved children’s TV show filmed in Pittsburgh and starring musician, puppeteer, and Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers addressed the students of Chatham University, then Chatham College, during the 2002 Commencement program. To celebrate his show’s anniversary, we’re releasing a copy of his Commencement speech here.”

From Cohort to Cohabitation: Mike Bacasa, MPT ’96 and Holly Putnam Bacasa, MPT ’96

Holly Putnam was working at Cappy’s Café on Walnut Street when a friend walked in one morning, accompanied by a man she didn’t know. “This is Mike Bacasa,” said the friend of the man she would one day end up marrying and having four children with. “You’re both starting the physical therapy program at Chatham.” It was 1994, and Chatham was dipping its toes into graduate education, launching master’s programs in both physical therapy and occupational therapy.

Today, programs in Chatham’s School of Health Sciences are highly competitive, with an overall acceptance rate of approximately 23 percent. But back then, students faced a risk of a different kind: the PT program had yet to become accredited. “That was nerve-wracking for many of us,” says Holly. “But we were all so excited to be there. I think the students and the teachers knew we were all in it together. It bonded us in a different way than what other classes might experience. We all worked really hard to reinforce the idea that the program was successful. It was actually a really fun part of being part of that first year.”

Holly had just finished undergrad at Pitt, and she remembers the first time she understood the difference between a large undergraduate program and a small, private school. “I had avoided organic chemistry all throughout undergrad,” she says. “But I needed to take it at Chatham, as a prerequisite. I realized right then—wow, I can get an A in organic chem! I couldn’t believe all the individual attention I was getting. I realized right away what a good environment the smaller, intimate setting was for learning.”

Holly and Mike, not yet romantically attached, did their thesis together, along with two other students. “It was a case study of a patient who had had a stroke,” says Mike. It was his great-aunt, in fact. “We worked with her three times per week for eight weeks, traveling back and forth to Brookline. Holly and I got to see what it was like to work together. She was always the principal investigator, though, so she was always in charge. That’s still the way it is today!” he laughs.

“I always felt like we were so well supported,” says Mike. “The professors really coached us along. They were always there to say ‘You can do this; we’re here to get you wherever you need to be.’”

“I remember a lot of hands-on lab work in the basement of the Chapel,” he continues. “We had lectures in Coolidge Hall, some in Buhl. Being on campus was great. The group of 40 or so of us in our cohort, we just did everything together,” he says, adding that Holly was always the social chair.

Holly characterizes the way that they were taught to look at patients “without tunnel vision” as nothing less than profound. “A lot of our clinical instructors noticed it,” she says. “I think Chatham students really stuck out more than other students, because of our problem-solving strategies.” Mike agrees: “Once we went out to the clinics, our brains already had those problem-solving pathways in place,” he says. “We were one of the first schools to provide problem-based learning, and thinking in terms of problem-solving was second nature to us. It still is, in every aspect of my life, not just rehab.”

Holly characterizes the way that they were taught to look at patients “without tunnel vision” as nothing less than profound. “A lot of our clinical instructors noticed it,” she says. “I think Chatham students really stuck out more than other students, because of our problem-solving strategies.” Mike agrees: “Once we went out to the clinics, our brains already had those problem-solving pathways in place,” he says. “We were one of the first schools to provide problem-based learning, and thinking in terms of problem-solving was second nature to us. It still is, in every aspect of my life, not just rehab.”

“Being among the first grad students—that was interesting,” says Mike. “I remember when we first came to campus, some of the undergraduates weren’t so excited about having men on campus. We’d see messages written in chalk on the sidewalk—let’s keep Chatham all women, things like that.” “I can’t say enough about the relations we still have with our professors, like Pat Downey and Sue Perry,” says Mike. “That says so much about the program, that they’ve been able to hang on to the original professors. There was a time when (Professor of Physical Therapy) Sue Perry and I were both working at the Rehab Institute. That was unreal, working side-by-side with her, after she had taught us so many things.” After graduation, Holly started working at the Rehabilitation Institute of Pittsburgh. She encouraged Mike to apply, and he did. He got in. About a year later, they started dating, and today, they have four kids.

“I always say that Mike was the first ever male to graduate from Chatham, because students graduate alphabetically,” says Holly. “That’s why we say we have the first Chatham baby—our son Michael. We gave Esther (Barazzone, Chatham’s 18th president) a photo of him as a baby wearing a Chatham sweatshirt. Now that baby’s going to be 13.”

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In 2001, Mike started his sole proprietorship, Wellness for Life, working privately with clients in their homes who had had a stroke or other type of brain injury. In 2006, they opened a space at the corner of Forbes and Shady avenues in Squirrel Hill, and began seeing a mix of clients. “I’ve been working with three of my current private clients for 15 years,” he says. “It’s an unbelievable experience to get to work with someone for that long. I learn a lot; they learn a lot. It becomes a different kind of therapy when it’s ongoing.”

Wellness for Life prides itself on providing one-on-one care throughout the spectrum of life, and since 2006, Holly has been working on the other end, doing early interventions for children aged 0-3 throughout Allegheny County. “It’s a big privilege,” she says. “I go into homes and meet families and their baby or child who has been identified as developmentally delayed. I can teach them things while I’m there, and I evaluate them to see if they qualify for services paid for by the state. I can recommend therapies outside of PT too, like speech or OT. I love it and can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Both Holly and Mike have stayed involved with Chatham over the years. Mike served as a graduate alumni representative for three years to the Board of Trustees, and was also involved with the Alumni Association Board. He has talked with graduating students about his experiences as a business owner, facilitated students doing assessments of real neurological cases, and taken continuing education courses through Chatham. Holly worked with a behavioral therapist to introduce a behavioral component to the pediatric course in Chatham’s PT program, developing scenarios with additional complications for the students to strategize their way through.

“Without that degree from Chatham, I just know that I couldn’t do what I love to do,” says Mike.

New Beginnings for the Penguin Whisperer

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(This story first appeared in the Fall 2017 Recorder.)

Katy Wozniak, neé Antkowiak, grew up with three older sisters and a menagerie: six dogs, “four or five” cats, birds, guinea pigs, and rabbits. It was a bustling life, filled with trips to Sea World and to zoos, that stoked her desire to work with animals. “I always said I was going to be one of those trainers one day,” she says.

Wozniak’s family lived in Oil City, PA, which she describes as a very small town. “I liked the small, close-knit atmosphere,” she says. Later, she got to know another small, close-knit atmosphere on trips to Chatham College, where she visited her older sister Jessica.
“I loved how you were in the city, but once you drove up that driveway, and you were in another world,” she says. She loved it enough to enroll the following year, intent on pursuing her desire to work with animals through studying biology.

At Chatham, Katy fell in love with a psychology class in animal behavior. “It was the professors that made the class,” says Wozniak. “Dr. (Thomas) Hershberger and Dr. (Joseph) Wister. They helped me decide to change my major to psychology, focusing on animal behavior, with a minor in environmental science.”

Wozniak calls a study abroad trip to Belize led by Dr. Wister “the most amazing experience of my life. One morning we got up at 5:00 a.m., made our way through the jungle with flashlights and climbed a Mayan temple in the dark so we could be there for sunrise. I can’t even describe how beautiful it was. You’re sitting on top of this temple as the sun rises, you hear the toucans waking up, the howler monkeys waking up, you’re at the canopies of the trees, as far as you can see, rainforest and beautiful jungle. It happened over 20 years ago and I can still picture every moment of it.”

During her sophomore year, Wozniak interned at the Pittsburgh Zoo, doing observational research on orangutans and rhinos. A couple of years later, she went back to the zoo to work on her senior thesis: comparing elephant foraging behaviors in the wild and in a zoo setting.

“A lot of people think that animals in zoos are forced away from their natural behaviors, but they’re not,” she says. “For example, penguins in the wild spend about 90% of their time in the water, really just coming onto land just to breed and molt (lose feathers). So they have to eat and eat and eat in the water, to store energy for the time when they’re stuck on land. Here in the aquarium, we can just go up to them and feed them on land, but they don’t want it. They retain those natural behaviors. So we try to make their environments as natural as possible, so that people can see these natural behaviors.”

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After graduation, Wozniak returned to the zoo to intern in the aquarium for a year, and had opportunities to work with other animals, too. When a full-time job for an aquarist (“that’s like a zoo-keeper for aquarium animals”) opened up, Katy applied and got it, beating out more seasoned aquarists across the country. She started working full-time at the aquarium in 2000.

“The ‘penguin guy’ was close to retirement age, and he wanted me to work with him,” she says. After two years, he did retire, and in addition to routine care, here’s something that became part of Wozniak’s unofficial job description: Think about ways to make a penguin’s day better (the technical term is ‘enrichment’).

“My penguins love bubbles, so we’ll put a bubble machine in the exhibit, and they’ll chase the bubbles around and pop them with their beaks,” she says. “They have exceptional eyesight, and they’ll follow a laser light. When kids run across the exhibit with those light-up shoes, you’ll see this whole group of penguins chasing this kid back and forth, watching that light light up. Then when we get a really nice snowfall we’ll take them outside to play in the snow early in the morning. They’ll get on their bellies and toboggan and eat snowflakes as they fall.”

“Our penguins’ names come from all over the place,” says Wozniak. “They might be named after a Pittsburgh Penguin, or a little kid from Make-a-Wish might name one — that, for example, is why we currently have one named Cakey-Wakey and one named Letang.”

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Wozniak rose in the ranks, and formalized the aquarium’s internship program in 2006. She attended career fairs and reached out to colleges including Chatham, Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, and Slippery Rock University.

For the past 14 years, Wozniak has been taking her dogs to Twinbrook Animal Clinic for care. “During a routine visit, the owner and head vet told me that she was looking to bring someone on board who shared her passion for animals, programs, and reaching out to the community,” she says. “We met a few times after that, and then the offer to become the clinic’s practice director was on the table. It would involve not only managing the clinic, but moving their programs forward and expanding their offerings.”

“It was a tough decision,” she says, “but I love the staff, and I love the vets, it’s near my house, and I felt ready for a new challenge. I also wanted to give back to them for all the years they’ve been here for our animals.”

Wozniak is excited to bring Twinbrook out into the community. She envisions visits to schools, and bringing animal care to homes, for people who maybe can’t come to a clinic. Right now, Twinbrook focuses on dogs and cats, but Wozniak thinks that can
be expanded too. “There are so many areas around here that have farms with horses,” she says. “I think it would be awesome to expand the practice in that way.”

“In college, I loved my child psychology courses too,” says Wozniak. “And there’s real potential in using animals therapeutically, for anyone from geriatric populations to kids who may have issues. I’ve seen this with kids that come through the zoo on tours, how maybe they have a hard time focusing, but they can just focus on a bird and feel how soft it is—you can see it’s therapeutic for them. I have so many ideas, but I know I need to focus and prioritize,” she laughs. “But in the end, my goal is always to help.”

“It’s a little scary to be leaving this job that I’ve loved for the past 20 years, that has supported my life and my love of animals. But I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut, and I’m looking forward to this new adventure.”

Wozniak considers herself to be starting anew not just in her professional life, but also as a parent: her daughter Antonia is in college, and her son Joey is in second grade. “I’m going to a whole second round of sports events and elementary school plays,” she laughs. “And getting used to a new job. It’s like going through life again.”

Q and A with Katie Cruger PhD


Name: Katie Cruger
Title: Assistant Professor, Communication (hopefully Associate Professor next month!); Director of Professional Writing and Communications Graduate Programs
Date Joined Chatham: August 2011
Born & Raised: Northern Virginia, outside of DC. But also spent much of my life in Manhattan
Interests: Media, Words, Plants

Q: How did you develop an interest in the field in which you teach?
A: I loved movies, TV, and magazines as a kid. I thought I wanted to produce those things as a film maker, editor, show runner. That’s why I earned my B.A. in Communication Arts from Marymount Manhattan University, which is a similar environment to Chatham’s: small, liberal arts college in a bustling city. But then I started working in industry and realized I had more to say as a critic than as a filmmaker or copywriter, and decided to pursue graduate school.

Q: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
A: Babysitting taught me how to spot a lie. Hosting, bartending, and being a server taught me about interacting with people, and how to best negotiate uneven power relationships, but also how gross and unfair the world is. My first full time job was at an advertising agency, which taught me that I didn’t want to sell things to people that they didn’t need, but that I was good at thinking about messages and persuasion, and wanted to explore ways to use those tools for social good.

Q: What aspect of your life before teaching best prepared you to do so?
A: Nannying and being a student are a key part of preparation for teaching. But I also was lucky to have a lot of pedagogy training during my time as a graduate student, so that I wasn’t employing trial and error in the classroom as much as educated guessing. Still plenty of errors, I’m sure, but hopefully fewer.

Q: What makes teaching at Chatham special for you?
A: I appreciate getting to interact with students more than once during their time at Chatham and watching them develop as thinkers and activists first through fourth year, and even beyond to graduate education. I like that so many of our students are committed to justice and making the world better through their work. That means we get to explore the “how” of social justice, instead of just the “why” it’s necessary.

Q: What is your passion?
A: Other than my academic work and family, I’m extremely passionate about animal rights and link between feminist and sustainability concerns and how humans interact and treat animals. I also really love plants. More than people, I’m embarrassed to admit. I’m a certified Master Gardener in Allegheny County and love growing and cultivating plants more than most other things I could spend my time doing.

Q: What one individual had the greatest impact on you and how?
A: Erm. I’m sorry, I don’t think I have a clear answer to this one. I’ve learned a lot about who I didn’t want to be from crummy bosses and leaders of the past. I’m very inspired by Feminist leaders like Angela Davis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Ursula K. Le Guin, but I never met any of those people. My son has certainly changed my life the most out of anyone.

Q: What one thing would your students be surprised to know about you?
A: I used to be quite a good musician. And dancer. And I used to care a lot about high fashion and walked miles a day in 4 inch heels as a Manhattanite.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do outside of work? 
A: Garden. Watch my backyard chickens wander about the yard. Snuggle goats (post retirement, my business card will absolutely read “Professional Goat Cuddler.”) Hang with my kid.

In 2016, Dr. Cruger was selected from a competitive, national pool of nominees to participate in the Teaching Interfaith Understanding seminar in Chicago, Illinois. Read more here

Chatham’s accelerated 30-credit Masters in Communication (MCOMM)  is a hybrid program, blending on-ground courses with select online offerings for increased flexibility. Students are able to choose tracks in Environmental Communication, Healthcare Communication, or Strategic Communication.

Chatham’s  Master of Professional Writing (MPW) program is a broad-based 30-credit online program that leads to a unique, professional degree with specializations possible in Technical Writing or Web Content Development, and paths of study for nonprofits professionals and communications professionals.