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Alumna profile: Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14

Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14
Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14

When Rita Armstrong started researching online Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, she did not see herself in Sweden presenting work on diabetic education and self-management to a global audience. “Never in my years did I think I’d be doing that,” she laughs.

Nor did she expect to be speaking at the same conference in Amsterdam in 2018, but she will. Those are just a couple of twists her life has taken since earning her DNP from Chatham in 2014.

Dr. Armstrong started her nursing career in 1994. She received her BSN in 2009, her MSN in 2013—and decided to continue her education. “I knew I didn’t want to do a PhD. I wanted something more in line with evidence-based training,” she says. “That’s the direction healthcare was moving in. I found Chatham online, and decided to apply.”

Dr. Armstrong enrolled in Chatham’s DNP program in January 2014 and graduated in December of that same year, studying full time and working full time.

“I really enjoyed it,” she says. “The first semester was a little strenuous, because I was getting used to studying and working full time, but I liked the way it was structured. It took you through the material in steps, so you weren’t trying to do everything at the last minute.” She has referred five people to the program.

The level of support from the faculty at Chatham really stuck out,” says Dr. Armstrong. “My instructors even initiated contact with me, just to make sure I was on the right track.”

Post-DNP, Dr. Armstrong was teaching nursing at a community college in San Antonia when she was approached to write a proposal for a nursing program at the University of Texas. While writing it, she accepted a position with the Dallas Nursing Institute, where she taught and served as the director of the RN to BSN program. Today, she is the Dean of Nursing at the Fortis College Nursing Program.

 

She has received the National Institute of Staff & Organizational Development (NISOD) for Excellence Award in Teaching. She is also the recipient of the Friends of Texas Award 2013 from Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for her endless community service dedication and contributions.

In August, Dr. Armstrong spoke about communicating and interacting with people with dementia at the Geriatric Symposium in Austin, TX. “Nurses tend to be in a hurry a lot of the time—we’re very busy—but patients with dementia really need to take time to think about what we’re telling them or asking them. The way we present information really makes a difference,” she says.

In the future, she plans to start a free mobile clinic that will provide wellness checks to college students across Texas. “A lot of conditions like diabetes can be managed, but college students don’t always take care of themselves the way they should,” she says. “With some education and training, we can get them to pay more attention to their blood sugar and blood pressure.”

One of the things I love about having my DNP is that I get to see what’s out there in a way that I couldn’t with just my MSN, because I can teach in a graduate program. A DNP is also required for management positions. I consider myself a leader, very much so. Being able to do that, oh yes, that’s a plus.”

Chatham’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is a 27-credit program offering meaningful, sequential courses that provide practical knowledge for the advanced practice RN. It’s one of the shortest-to-degree clinical doctorates in the market. 

Alumna profile: Hallie Dumont, Master of Interior Architecture ‘16

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It was while working in home remodeling with her partner Jodi that Hallie Dumont’s eyes were opened to the unhealthy relationship that some people have with their homes.

“Big houses tend to be a burden, I think, for people,” she says. “They lend themselves to people holding on too too much stuff. My partner came in one day and found a homeowner lying on the floor one day curled up in the fetal position.”

Dumont and Jodi were working on a particularly big remodeling job. “It was a house for two people that was about 22,000 square feet—that’s about the size of a Walmart. It really flipped some sort of switch for me. The project just seemed so unsustainable. They probably had four air conditioning units for this one home for two people, and the material choices were just not intelligent as far as health or environment. I became very interested in the opposite end of the spectrum, which is the tiny house movement, micro-apartments—everything we call alternative housing.”

That brought her to Chatham. Dumont enrolled in the Master of Interior Architecture program, with the goal of concentrating on alternative housing.

‘From the beginning at Chatham I was interested in creating intelligent, smart, efficient residential spaces,” says Dumont. “So my thesis here was on pre-fab interiors, which isn’t really a thing but I made it a thing. I got an internship in Shadyside with an architect named Eric Fisher. I loved working under him; I learned so much. It was like having another studio course. I asked him if I could stay on and if we could design a tiny house (which I called the Nanohouse) over the summer. So I got to do that with him, which was awesome.”

“My goal was to build the Nanohouse, but when I tried to find funding, I realized that it was going to be really expensive. And building tiny houses for rich people wasn’t my goal.”

Eric Fisher had opened his studio space to all sorts of creative people working in Pittsburgh, and fortuitously, that’s where Dumont met her future business partner, Brian Gaudio, an architect recently returned to Pittsburgh from Central and South America. Brian was working to get his start-up, Module, off the ground. In Dumont, he found a kindred spirit and, what’s better, his future Chief Design Officer.

Tiny houses aren’t that new, but Module has some new takes on the idea. For one, they’re designed to be urban. “Normally when you see a tiny house, there’s all this open land around them,” says Dumont. “These are designed to be taken off a trailer and sat on a concrete foundation.” They’re also stackable. Second or third floors can be added, and additions can be added to the side or rear.

“What we’ve found is that the idea of a starter home—a home that you buy when you’re first starting out and then sell once it no longer meets your needs—isn’t really resonating with a lot of millennials. So Module’s solution is to offer alternative housing that can grow with you.”

“Module designs adaptable housing that changes as your needs do. Through a patent-pending wall system and design platform, Module provides first-time homebuyers with just the right amount of space at the right time.” – from Module’s website

What might that look like? There are a couple of prototypes.

One incorporates a built-in Air BnB unit, with a separate entrance and bedroom/bathroom that is totally cut off from the house. “It can help help supplement your mortgage payment at the beginning,” says Dumont, “but over time, the house can absorb that unit, so it can become a half-bedroom, maybe a workspace or a nursery, and the exterior entrance can be removed.”

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Another design starts as a co-living space, but over time, as the owner makes more money or the family grows, the house can split. “You insert a party wall, and you get what’s basically a duplex. Each can have their own separate single family unit,” Dumont explains.

“I think the coolest thing is how excited people get about the idea. Everyone from baby boomers to millennials. That’s been really cool to see.”

“We designed and built a demo unit that would be attached to a larger house for a ‘faux client’,” says Dumont. “He likes to entertain and have family members over to stay, and he’s also a workaholic. It’s a space where he can play board games and have movie nights. A local furniture maker called Bones and All made a coffee table that can flip out into a card table, and there’s a Murphy bed that transitions into a desk unit.”

kennys-house

module-demo
“That unit was the first time I started with a blank piece of paper and a blank space and then made something real,” says Dumont. “In smaller units, every bit of space—down to a sixteenth of an inch—has to be accounted for. In this case, the furniture and the building were being constructed at the same time, so we had to hope all the measurements worked out. It ended up being really close. I had space under a window where we wanted to put in a bench seat, and we had to rip off an edge banding and trim down an outlet. I learned a lot on this project,” she laughs.

The unit will be on display throughout the summer on the North Side, and Dumont is excited to have people walk through it. “We’ve partnered with Comcast for it, and the unit incorporates their smart home technologies—integrated home security, automation, and energy management controls,” she says.

Chatham University’s Master of Interior Architecture is a first professional interior design program that prepares students for practice in an interior design or architecture firm. The program, accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), is geared toward students with undergraduate degrees in fields other than interior architecture or interior design.

Alumna Profile: Nicole Stout, DPT ’98

Dr. Nicole Stout
Dr. Nicole Stout

Chatham Doctor of Physical Therapy alumna Nicole Stout (’98), DPT, CLT-LANA, FAPTA was the recipient of a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the highest award membership category in the APTA, with only 250 Fellows among the roughly 95,000 members. The Catherine Worthingham Fellow designation honors individuals whose contributions to the profession through leadership, influence, and achievements demonstrate frequent and sustained efforts to advance the physical therapy profession. The award was made based on the contributions that Nicole has made in changing the landscape of the physical therapist practice in cancer rehabilitation. A renowned health care researcher, consultant, educator, and advocate, she is the chief executive officer of 3e Services, an information technology consulting firm.

In a recent interview, Nicole gave Chatham University some insight about her Chatham and life experiences.

Q: What brought you to Chatham?

A: I had applied to a number of graduate programs for a master’s in physical therapy and the admissions were quite selective. I was wait-listed at Chatham and was accepted into other programs in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh so my desire was to stay in my hometown. So when I was accepted to Chatham, it was a definite for me.

Q: What is a typical day in the life of Nicole Stout?

Nothing is typical about my days. It is rare that I string together more than three or four days that are even similar. I might start my day on a call with the Chief Data Officer’s office at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA…yes, airplanes) to touch base on how our Enterprise Information Management project is running, review status of deliverables that my team is responsible for and discuss strategy for expanding the data management and data analytics services. I might then be running to the airport to catch a flight to…pretty much anywhere. Recently it’s been to Buenos Aires to speak at an International Rehabilitation Medicine Conference on a Global Initiative in Cancer Rehabilitation, Kansas City to teach a continuing education course on cancer rehabilitation, or Rockville, Maryland to participate on a health IT expert panel to talk about wearable sensors and personal health analytics on behalf of Zansors LLC, a start up company to which I provide Medical Affairs consulting services.

I’m usually working on several projects all around cancer rehabilitation, health IT and wearable technology, and various enterprise data strategies. As I move between client calls and meetings, delivering webinars, and writing, I am also pretty keen about keeping up with communication and engagement on Twitter (find me at @nicolestoutpt).

I might also be working, on a given day, on the family foundation that we established after the death of my father. Our memorial fund raises money to support community projects in Pleasant Hills and Jefferson Hills communities in southern Allegheny County. We are currently working to fund and kick off groundbreaking for a walking and fitness trail in my hometown of Pleasant Hills.

If it’s a really good day, I get to play 18 holes of golf with my ladies league or with my husband at our golf club in Sarasota, and the best days are when I am cooking dinner and sit down to have dinner at home with my husband and get to sleep in my own bed.

Q: How did your Chatham education inform your work today with your company 3eServices?

A: Interestingly, the Chatham influence was very indirect on the business that I am currently running. 3e Services is a technology consulting firm, helping clients solve their problems through better use of technology. The most important thing I learned at Chatham was how to hone my skills in problem solving. In fact, I might argue that there is no greater skill set.

I deal with the process problems and the problems are very similar regardless of whether we’re talking about airplane data, or patient co-morbidity data; people have a lot of data, they need to understand how to bring it all together, analyze it, and learn how to change operations or improve based on the findings.

This is what we do in Physical Therapy every day! We try to bring together all of the relevant data, analyze it and make improvements based on the findings. If we miss the relevant data, if we work from flawed assumptions, or if we fail to execute (or execute incorrectly) based on our findings, we don’t succeed. Being able to step back and really identify the problem and recommend ways to fix the root of the problem are how my learning at Chatham has informed my work today.

Q: What advice would you give to our current students or students considering starting their higher education at Chatham?

A: When I graduated from Chatham our commencement speaker gave us this message “Go For It”. I say that often when I speak to graduating classes. Go For It, do something different, create something, take a risk and go all in. Have the wherewithal and grit to do the unglamorous work because that is the only way people succeed and sustain success. You can get lucky once, maybe even twice, but a strong work ethic and an open, exploratory attitude will keep you on positive growth trajectory.

Q: What is the best advice or experience that you have gained that prepared you to do what you are doing now?

There has been a lot of good advice along the way, but my own personal advice to myself is always “There is never a reason to be mean. Ever”

But, I have to say that the best advice that I received came in the way of actions that I saw in my mentors. Senior researchers sitting on the floor with me at 9 p.m. on a Friday night going through medical charts in a data validation exercise because our back up computer crashed and we had to guarantee the data integrity (this was before everyone had a cloud and 15 forms of back up). How easy would it have been for them to walk out the door at 5:00 and leave me (the junior) with all of that work? I saw my research mentor asking thoughtful questions to a young researcher with very flawed results at a national conference presentation. How easy would it have been for her to slam this youngster for the inadequacies in his methodology? But they always took the time to do the right thing. The actions that I saw from my mentors are the behaviors that I have come to replicate and I am so grateful that I was exposed to such stellar experiences.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?

A: Spend time with my husband is first and foremost on that list. We love every minute of every day together. I enjoy golf, yoga, travel, museums and breathtaking art, music…I can’t live without music. I love to cook as it’s almost therapeutic for me to cook at the end of a crazy long busy day. My paternal grandmother was Italian and taught me to make pasta, sauce, literally everything from scratch. Veggies came from our garden and wine was what she made in the basement.

Q:  Anything else to add?

A: I think one of the most important things that I have learned about professional growth and success is to find way to find gratitude in all situations. Be grateful for opportunities that arise, appreciate that there was a really good reason that you chose not to take that job, even if you can’t fully put your finger on exactly why. Appreciate that not everything works out the way you want it to and that you don’t always win and you certainly don’t always get recognized. You have to be happy with your work and your choices and that has to come from within. Appreciating yourself and the hard work that you do is a huge first step in finding self-fulfillment. Until you love yourself and your work, it’s hard to truly appreciate much of anything else.

 

 

alumna profile: Allie Frownfelter ’17

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Bottle Thread logo, designed by Allie Frownfelter

“I knew I wanted to start a business,” says recent Chatham graduate Allie Frownfelter, “but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Inspiration came little by little. In one of her sustainability classes, Frownfelter (who majored in Sustainability) was shocked by an image the class was shown. “It looked like a bunch of pixels on the screen,” she says, “but the professor said that it represented the number of plastic bottles that gets thrown out every second.”

Later, she overheard a woman expressing interest in starting a clothing line. Sustainable fashion was something that had interested Frownfelter, because it struck her as an untapped market, and because it tapped something inside of her.

“I wanted to study abroad after my bachelor’s degree, and have the least amount of clothing that could be turned into the widest array of outfits while I traveled,” she says.

“Say goodbye to wrinkles and ill-fitting shirts forever.  Our sustainable blouses are constructed with a proprietary blend of fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. The high-quality fabric is UV protected, Anti-pilling, breathable, and moisture-wicking. You could comfortably wear this shirt backpacking, though it looks even better at the office, or writing at a coffee shop in Barcelona.” – from the Bottle Thread website  

The idea of making a button-down shirt for women particularly resonated. “They’re often baggy, uncomfortable, and need to be ironed,” says Frownfelter. “I wanted to make a shirt that you could wear to work, while traveling—something that has that versatility.”

Frownfelter found a manufacturer in Southern California called Indie Source that offers a sustainable fabric partially made from recycled plastic bottles. Her sustainable clothing line—called Bottle Thread—will launch with a women’s shirt, a men’s shirt, and a dress. The clothing will be designed by Indie Source to Frownfelter’s specifications, and she will approve the fabric, cut, buttons, colors, and other elements of the clothing line. “It’s all online,” she says, “so other than the samples, I don’t have to touch anything.”

A white female with long brown hair wearing a denim jacket and sunglasses on top of her head holds up two cardboard sheets with gray fabric samples stabled to them.
Allie with fabric samples

Frownfelter came to Chatham as a transfer student from Millersville, on the eastern side of Pennsylvania. “I just fell in love with the Sustainability program,” she says. “It starts by showing all these problems we have, but also introduces ways that we can start to fix them.”

A young woman in a blue hat and olive green overalls holding a shovel stands in a stream. She is laughing, and there is snow all around.
Allie collecting stream data for one of the qualitative ecology labs.

She credits two courses in particular: Sustainable Transition Management and Sustainable Systems. “Those courses combined opened my mind to possibilities,” she says. “What they taught me was that things take time, and that you can change things incrementally.”

“You can start a business, change a system slightly, direct it into a new kind of way to go somewhere else. That’s what I’m doing with Bottle Thread.”

“During my last semester, I took a quantitative ecology class that focused on environmental statistics,” says Frownfelter. “I was never a math person, so I procrastinated taking that class.  But the timing was perfect, because I was able to overcome my math inaptitude and actually create reliable projections for investors in Bottle Thread.”

Frownfelter was able to have her company dovetail nicely with her coursework: In her Design Praxis course, she developed a logo and brand identity for Bottle Thread.  And her senior capstone project was the Bottle Thread business plan, written under the advisement of Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Business Thomas Macagno.

“The wrinkle free material saves customers on average $300 a year in dry cleaning and can be packed in your suitcase without worrying about finding an iron…. A single blouse reduces ocean and landfill pollution and is made from approximately 42 recycled bottles. Proudly made in the USA”. – from the Bottle Thread website  

“I knew I was going to write a business plan anyway,” she says. “But having the opportunity to consolidate my work into an educational experience meant that I was able to focus more on how to make the company as sustainable as possible. I don’t think I would have been able to be this environmentally focused if I didn’t have such an incentive. Instead, I probably would have focused on creating the best quality product at the cheapest cost, virtually throwing out a lot of the values I learned through my degree for the sake of efficiency because it was easier. Consolidation of the two projects helped me merge my degree into my company, which is basically the new American Dream.”

Frownfelter is also working with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham. The CWE has been helping her with marketing and connecting her to resources including networking events. As the business expands, Frownfelter expects that she’ll be able to take advantage of more services offered by the CWE, but their input has already proven valuable. “The idea to use bra sizes for the shirts was just an off-the-cuff comment made by someone at the CWE, but I think it is a fabulous idea so I am taking it and running with it,” she says.

Bottle Thread and Company is filed as a benefit LLC, which means that Frownfelter must file an annual report with the state explaining how Bottle Thread benefits people and/or the environment.  “Being a benefit LLC allows my company to focus on things other than purely making money,” she says.

Frownfelter hopes to begin shipping on July 1. As of now, Bottle Thread items are likely to be available in white, black, and steel. And a Chatham purple.

 

Marita Garrett, MAP ’15 wins Wilkinsburg mayoral primary

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Update: On November 7, 2017, Marita Garrett won the Wilkinsburg mayoral race. A longer version of this story appeared in the Spring 2017 Chatham Recorder

In 2010, Marita Garrett bought a house in Wilkinsburg, PA, a borough of about 16,000 people, right outside Pittsburgh. “The taxes were super high, but I kept coming back because I really liked Wilkinsburg,” she says.

Three years later, the Department of Education put the Wilkinsburg school district on the financial watch list. Residents, including Garrett, took note.

Her first thought was to help another candidate. “There were four seats open on Borough Council,” she says. “I thought maybe I’d pass out flyers or host an event. But the second time I went to an interest meeting, I asked who was running for our ward, and saw eyes looking at me.”

“I started doing door to door, and realizing no information was getting to our residents. They didn’t even know Wilkinsburg was its own municipality; they thought it was part of the City of Pittsburgh. I thought now wait a minute, I need to stay in this full force, because this has to change.”

She was elected to Council in the fall of 2013, and began her term in January 2014.

Fall 2013 was also when she enrolled in Chatham’s Psychology program. “It made me a good listener, and good at figuring out where people are coming from. That’s come in more than handy in Council, when nine people all want the best thing for the community but have different ideas of what that looks like.”

On my first day of orientation, I saw the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics table and said I was just elected to Wilkinsburg council! They were like, ‘You have to come to our office! and I was like, Yes!’ It’s been a great relationship.”

In September 2014, Garrett launched a series of quarterly community conversations. In 2015, she co-founded Free Store Wilkinsburg, a nonprofit that redistributes new and lightly used goods at no cost to community members to bridge times of financial stress and emergency.

Why did Garrett decide to run for mayor? Wilkinsburg has a “weak mayor, strong council” form of government. That means that the vast majority of decisions are made by the Borough Council.

If it sounds like Council is where the power lies, that’s what Garrett thought, too. That’s why when her friend Austin David, executive assistant to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, asked her whether she’d ever considered running for mayor, she was skeptical.

But then Austin made a very good point: Braddock’s John Fetterman is also “just the mayor.”

“I was like, Wow, you know what? That’s right,” Garrett says. “Fetterman has really taken that role of a figurehead and spokesperson and used it to do so much for Braddock. He’s brought in concerts, events, all these exciting things. I thought ‘You know what, okay. I’m going to do this.’”

“It was always my plan to announce the day after the general election. Then Hillary lost, and I did take a day of reflection. I thought, should I even try to run? Then I thought no—we’re moving ahead. I officially announced my candidacy in January.”

Wilkinsburg’s mayoral general election will be held in November.

MFA student launches online magazine

day shot of Kenny Gould in red parka by Pittsburgh skyline
Photo courtesy J. Travis Smith

“Beer writing, well crafted” goes the tagline for Hop Culture, an online daily lifestyle magazine for the newest generation of craft beer drinkers. The magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief is Chatham MFA in Creative Writing student Kenny Gould, ’17.

Hop Culture—which boasts a masthead that includes several Chatham Masters of Arts in Food Studies graduates as well as current Chatham graduate and undergraduate students—features new content daily. Beer-focused travel guides outline realistic itineraries (see Pittsburgh, Denver, and Boston). In addition to travel, sections dedicated to people, gear, beer, and culture feature interviews, definitions (what is a gueuze?), book reviews, and a “Cheers to Science” series, in which the magazine recognizes an extraordinary scientist by pairing him or her with an extraordinary beer—a refreshing diversity of content for what might seem like a narrow focus.

“A professor once told me that when you’re writing about food or drink, you’re never writing only about food or drink,” says Gould. “You’re writing about history, culture, traditions, people. There’s only so much you can say about a beverage with only four ingredients.”

Kenny Gould in the woods with two black dogs
Photo courtesy Ben Meiseles

After graduating from Duke University with a degree in English, Gould moved to New York City, where he wrote for a men’s lifestyle website called Gear Patrol. Then he moved out west for a fellowship with an urban farm in Berkeley, CA. Soon he found himself ready for a new chapter, and began looking into graduate programs.

“I found Chatham’s program, and I really think it’s the foremost program for writing about the environment and place, which was something that really interested me,” he says. “It was the only school I applied to.”

Gould says that the idea for Hop Culture began on a class trip to Peru with MFA Program Director and Professor Sheryl St. Germain, PhD. “I was reading a guidebook Sheryl lent me, and wondered why there wasn’t such a thing for beer,” says Gould, who had been interested in craft beers for years, even developing a beer-of-the-week program as an undergraduate. “I thought I could do a big road trip and write about the best breweries in the US. Then I realized that there are 5000 breweries in the US, and I couldn’t possibly pick and choose. Then I thought I’d write nine books, one for each of the districts the census bureau splits the US into, but then I thought that no one reads books anymore. This current project has really brought together everything I’m interested in—writing, beer, sense of place, and the online component.”

Chatham University’s groundbreaking MFA focusing on nature, travel writing, and social outreach is the premier graduate program for nurturing students interested in place-based writing and innovative community programs.

A Class of His Own

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport
LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport. Photos by Annie O’Neill.

This story, by Bethany Lye, originally appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of The Recorder. 

LaVaughn Wesley grew up the eldest child of a single mother of five. His family frequently relocated to start fresh, with young Wesley weathering at least 12 moves across three states.

Amid this shifting backdrop, one ritual took anchor in Wesley’s childhood: his mother would get him a new pair of shoes each fall. “They had to last me the entire school year—just that one pair of shoes,” he recalls. “It was a big deal.”

Wesley, now the father of a 4-year-old girl, had this memory in mind while student teaching in the gray and gritty neighborhood of McKeesport, Pa., last year. A young boy entered his classroom one morning wearing shoes so well-worn, they were losing their soles. “Things like that matter a lot to middle schoolers,” says Wesley, 31. “I thought about my mother and all of our struggles. And I knew what being that boy was like.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Wesley went home, grabbed a pair of Jordan’s from his own closet, and handed ownership over to the student the next day.

“The love that I got back from him was incredible,” recalls Wesley, who is now leading his own classroom at the same school—Propel McKeesport.

The fact that Wesley crossed paths with this student wasn’t by chance—it was by intentional design, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps. This program, now in its second year, partners Chatham University with Propel Schools and aims to graduate social justice leaders who are primed to teach in some of Allegheny County’s most economically underserved communities.

As a member of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps inaugural class, Wesley earned his Pennsylvania teaching certification and a master’s degree from Chatham in just 15 months.

The program, which requires participants to take night classes while teaching in a Propel classroom with a mentor for much of the workweek, isn’t for the faint of heart. “It was as hard as I have ever worked both on an academic and a personal level,” says Wesley.

As part of the program, Chatham reduces tuition fees by 65 percent, and students receive a scholarship that covers the remainder of their tuition bill plus a monthly stipend until they earn their degree. In return, the participants must commit to teaching in the Propel School system for the next three years.

Chatham’s Program Director of Education Kristin Harty runs the University’s half of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, and she believes the program is the only one of its kind in the region.

Her counterpart at Propel Schools, Randy Bartlett, says that the partnership grew out of a clear need to fill classrooms with teachers who were passionate about equity in education—and who could bring stability to urban schools, which have long struggled with a high turnover rate among staff.

“As an organization, Propel recognized a teacher shortage and decided to not only create a new pathway for teachers but find individuals who were social justice minded,” says Bartlett, who serves as the director of teacher residency and research for Propel Schools. “We made a decision that we needed to turn the model on its head.”

Today, the program is marked by a multiyear commitment to developing teachers and comprehensive wraparound support along the way to ensure that they succeed. “This is not your typical training program,” says Bartlett. “We are not preparing students who might go teach somewhere else. We know for a fact that these teachers will be teaching in our classrooms the following year. They are a part of the Propel family from day one—and that makes a big difference.”

Harty notes that another defining feature of the program is its dedication to training teachers who grew up in urban communities similar to those of their students. “These teachers understand the culture, needs and strengths of the neighborhoods they are serving, and there is a strong trust that grows from that common connection.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Wesley, who spent some of his boyhood in McKeesport, fits this requirement to a tee. And his most obvious connection is an important one: he looks the part.

At Propel McKeesport, which spans kindergarten through eighth grade, 71 percent of its 400-student body is black. Wesley is also black, and a rarity in his profession, where roughly 2 percent of public school teachers match both his gender and race. Add in the tattoos covered by his perfectly pressed dress shirt, his nose piercing and the diamond stud in his ear, and Wesley doesn’t just fall outside the mold. He obliterates it. This seemingly artificial factor matters. When Wesley initiated a discussion with his social studies class about racial profiling earlier this year, he spoke from experience—and his students knew it.

Even more than looking the part, Wesley has lived the part. He considers his backstory critical to his success in the classroom where, every single day, he is watching life repeat itself. And he knows firsthand that some of his students are navigating obstacles that are less perceptible than well-worn shoes.

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

“Some of these kids don’t have food at home. Some come from mentally and physically abusive homes—or homes where education isn’t valued and is just a day-to-day thing,” he says. “I see myself in all of these kids. I grew up in the neighborhoods that they lived in. And I have roamed the streets where they live,” he says.

This perspective has helped Wesley set some realistic expectations walking into his teaching career. For one, he’s not out to fix anyone. “As an educator, I know that you cannot have the cape on your back and think that every child seeds to be saved.” He also has a clear sense of what success looks like in his classroom: “I want to get through lessons on a day-to-day basis. And I want to keep things organized and create a culture that is warm, inviting and where students feel comfortable enough to open up and engage.”

Michon Gallaway, 13, is an eighth-grader at Propel McKeesport. From her vantage point in the third row of Wesley’s social studies class, he’s already hitting those marks.

“He understands us. He knows us,” says Gallaway, who recently invited her teacher to watch her perform for her church (he accepted—and kept his promise). “He’s also very caring and a really great teacher.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Gallaway is equally complimentary of her Propel education. “I was struggling a lot before I came here,” she says, noting that her mother initiated the move from the nearby public school. “Now, I have all A’s in my classes, and it will help me get into an excellent high school and a really good college.”

The latest public statistics on Propel McKeesport support Gallaway’s optimism. When it comes to standardized test scores, sixth graders at Propel McKeesport are outperforming their peers at the nearby middle school at every turn. GreatSchools, a nonprofit that uses a 10-point scale to evaluate the quality of K-12 schools across the country, echoes this assessment, scoring Propel McKeesport decisively higher overall (6) than its local counterpart (3).

Bartlett and Harty are confident that the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps program will continue to advance the quality of a Propel School education. And with more teachers like Wesley filling classrooms—and staying put—it’s easy to see why.

As for Wesley, he says he hopes to one day serve as a principal of a Propel school. But for now, he’s focused on making the most of where he stands today—and that’s at the head of the classroom, leading by example. In this role, Wesley is keenly aware that he’s teaching his students a lesson that will never check the box of any state-mandated education requirement. And he’s ok with that.

“They know my story. And, together, we’re building theirs,” he says. “I always tell them, ‘You can succeed, no matter where you come from.’ And, as long as they keep showing up, listening and working hard, I’m going to help them get there.”

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Alumnus profile: Scott Marshall, Bachelor of Sustainability ‘16

 

PrintProducing fresh, healthy food in a way that doesn’t deplete natural and man-made resources is a 21st century challenge that Scott Marshall has been unknowingly preparing for almost all of his life. Today, as President of Marshall’s Heritage Farm and member of the first graduating class of the Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability & Environment’s Bachelor of Sustainability program, Marshall is positioned to leverage his extensive experience in the food industry and deep love for the land to embrace the dramatically changing–and crucial–movement toward sustainable agriculture.

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Marshall with Alison Molnar (left), BA Sustainability ’18 and Sarah Daugherty (right), BS Sustainability ’18.

Marshall had begun thinking about how he could use his grandparents’ farm as a family asset in 2013, and after a job change, he decided a return to school was in order.  When he saw a magazine ad featuring Eden Hall, Marshall decided to visit Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus to explore a degree program that would help him in his family endeavor.

“I decided the best path was to focus on sustainable or regenerative agriculture,” says Marshall. “Eden Hall had all of the opportunities I was looking for. I was happy that I had the opportunity to finish my education in a cutting-edge program.”

Prior to attending Chatham, Marshall had spent 25 years in the food service industry. In early 2014, following the death of his grandfather, Marshall began working on a plan to purchase the family farm in Indiana County. The following year Marshall, his wife Lynne and Scott’s parents were able to finalize the purchase, setting the stage for the development of Marshall’s Heritage Farm.

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The independent farm is committed to producing sustainably grown, healthy agricultural products for restaurants, food businesses, and consumers in Western Pennsylvania. In alignment with its mission to support the health of family and community with quality foods while restoring biological diversity and vitality to the land, Marshall’s Heritage Farm plans to develop community workshops, educational programs at local schools, and it is anticipated that all of the farm’s products will be naturally grown by 2026. “My passion is providing clean, healthy food to the community,” explains Marshall.

Marshall’s education at Chatham enabled him to effectively launch the Marshall’s Heritage Farm enterprise. He explained, “It helped me focus on writing a business plan and building my brand. I also formed an operating entity and purchased the farm.”

He also acknowledges that the ability to achieve his goals was influenced by the support he received from faculty, staff, and friends that he encountered while at Chatham.

“I couldn’t list just one, because there were several people that influenced my time in a positive way,” he says. “All of them had an individual role in supporting my goals and success at Chatham. Never underestimate the power of listening to people who have a passion and interest in your success.”

Marshall’s commitment to agricultural sustainability is further evidenced by his work as Field Manager at 412 Food Rescue in Pittsburgh, a community organization that works to end hunger and reduce food waste.

Based on his experience, Marshall advises: “Be open to new ideas and be excited to be part of something new.” His decision to take an active role in the essential movement toward sustainable agriculture, his decision to attend Chatham University’s innovative Eden Hall Campus, and the launch of his family business all demonstrate that Marshall walks his talk.

Located approximately 20 miles north of Pittsburgh and comprised of 388-acres of farmable land, field labs, classrooms, dining halls, and residence halls, Eden Hall is one of the world’s first university campuses dedicated to sustainability education; students at this campus are immersed in hands-on education within fields such as sustainable design and built environments, community development and planning, sustainable agricultural systems, and ecological wellbeing.

Alumnus profile: James Snow, MSUS ’16

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This article previously appeared in Chatham’s Recorder alumni magazine.

As part of the first cohort of Chatham’s Masters of Sustainability program, James Snow loved “embracing the ‘newness’”. “It was a great opportunity to not only help craft the program, but also to be able to gain opportunities from something so new.” Snow said the faculty and curriculum ensured that the students were out in the field, having hands on, real life experiences. He said, “That is a critical element to being placed in a job after graduation.”

Snow is currently a project manager for the environmental nonprofit GTECH: Growth Through Energy + Community Health. With more than 40,000 vacant lots in Allegheny County, many of which attract crime, decrease property values and reduce community cohesion, GTECH’s work to transform these spaces cultivates the unrealized potential of people and places to improve the health of our communities is vital. Through this process, GTECH offers an opportunity for residents to take pride in their community and land. Play spaces, parks, community gardens, and storm water installations are some of the types of projects imagined by residents, meaning what once was a blighted liability, is transformed into a useful asset. “We focus of the intersection of community development and the economy while identifying community health issues and working on solutions,” Snow says proudly.  He was an intern at GTECH while at Chatham, prior to transitioning to a full time employee following graduation.

As Snow reflects upon his time at Chatham, one of his early classes stands out. “In one of our first sustainability classes we were assigned a watershed project that included three different hydrologic systems in Allegheny County. One was urban, one suburban, one rural. We were looking at how when you look at a macro problem, like water run off or storm water, you have to be able to work up and down the scale to find a solution. We had to study everything from what kind of community this was, to who lives here, to what’s the geography and terrain like.

It was so helpful to look at these large, complex problems and then break down the context, then put it back together to craft the solution. It’s not only about different groups, people and backgrounds, but it’s also about taking all those pieces and putting it back together for a final product,” he notes.

Chatham provided Snow with the opportunity to get out in the field and experience real world situations and environments. His experience working directly with people and all different social and economic backgrounds was critical in developing a holistic view of sustainability and community development. “Chatham is a big enough program to obtain resources, but it’s small enough to build really close relationships,” Snow says. This allowed Snow to truly understand the world he’d be working and making a difference in.

Chatham’s Master of Sustainability (MSUS) program prepares enterprising students with the tools necessary to be the agents of change that corporations, governments, and other organizations need to lead their sustainability initiatives. The program and its focus on real-world impact is inspired by environmental icon and Chatham alumna Rachel Carson ’29, whose own work over 50 years ago continues to impact the world.

“My job exists to help you tell someone how you feel”

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Allison Marsh, Class of 96, has made a career out of being forward-thinking. For the past decade, she’s worked in new product development at American Greetings, most recently as a Research and Development Manager. “The sole reason my job exists is to help you tell someone how you feel,” she says. “That’s actually pretty powerful. But what does that gesture look like to a millennial, or to the next generation? Does it have to look like a traditional greeting card? Probably not!”

IMG_2435[1]Marsh’s team handles the cards that “do the unexpected,” she says. “If it sings, dances, lights up, records your voice, shoots confetti, has a QR code—if there’s something above and beyond what you think of as a regular greeting card, it comes from this department.”

Born and bred in Pittsburgh, Marsh loves the city, and when it came time for college, she wanted to stay. “I knew I didn’t want to sit in Psych 101 with a hundred kids and be lucky if the professor knew my name,” she says.

“So I looked at Carlow, Duquesne and Chatham. But once I visited Chatham, I was done. It’s like being in a treehouse above the city. You can’t see that it’s there from the road; it’s hidden, but like two minutes from everything you can experience in city life. I knew I was going to get a great education in a very safe environment. And to me, that’s what I was paying for.”

Marsh came to Chatham hoping to get a degree in art education, but then she discovered art history. “I totally changed my course,” she says. “I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. It’s creative, but it’s also research and discovery, asking questions, generating hypotheses, and trying to prove a point.’”

And she found that Chatham was instrumental in helping her take that on. “I was pushed, challenged; my professors knew who I was and what I needed to succeed,” Marsh remembers. “With class sizes that small, there’s no way you’re skipping class. And you don’t want to, because you’ve developed this little community of people, not just with the professors, but also with the others in the class. It allowed me to form really nice bonds with other students, working as a team, understanding how I learn best.“ This is something Marsh says that has paid off extraordinarily well in her career.

“I work closely with creative teams, technical teams, and manufacturing teams. I think of myself as a mediator, doing by best to keep all those people as happy as possible while bringing forth the vision of the product we’re trying to introduce. So communication is hugely important, and so is attention to detail, and getting people motivated to work in a team. “

After graduation, Marsh was accepted into a doctoral program in art history at Arizona State University. After six months, she figured out that “the practical day-to-day life of a professor wasn’t in line with my passion. I was like ‘wow, I am not cut out for this.’”

Back in Pittsburgh, she applied for a job as a studio assistant for the artist Burton Morris. “He was a really well-known illustrator and graphic artist, but wasn’t doing a lot in the realm of fine art, and he wanted to make that distinction,” Marsh says. “He recruited three or four of us assistants to transfer his illustration to large canvases. So I was making ten dollars an hour—this is back in 1998—to paint.” Marsh stayed with Morris for a couple of years, and learned the business side of art galleries. When it was time for her to move on, Morris introduced her to a business friend of his. “He said ‘How would you like to learn product development?’” Marsh recalls. “And I was like ‘Sure! What is it?’ Back then, they didn’t have courses in product development—you could study industrial design or things like that, but there wasn’t this business component.”

The company sent Marsh to China, where she learned about working with manufacturers there. “I ended up falling in love with the culture and the people,” she says. “And I’ve been going back and forth to Asia for work now for 16 years. If someone had said to me when I was at Chatham ‘you’re destined to work with the Chinese,’ I would have just laughed. But it happened.”

“It just goes to show that you never know what you have an aptitude for until you let yourself try it,” she continues. “There’s a lot of trial and error. You’re going to try stuff that you’re not good at, but then you’ll try something else and it’ll be a total surprise. That’s what this has been for me. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be working for the company that invented Strawberry Shortcake.”

Or, one would imagine, create a furry bag with googly eyes that Miley Cyrus has been spotted carrying, but that happened, too. “We intended it as a gift bag,” Marsh laughs. “But Miley turned it into a fashion statement. We’re not complaining.”