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Top students often are defined as academic superstars who rack up the best grades. But there are other kinds of super students at Pitt and on campuses nationwide. For them, academic prowess is merely a starting point. They’ve got a lot more on their minds.

Wholehearted


Allison Schlesinger


  Kathy W. Humphrey, vice provost and dean of students (Tom Altany photo)
 

Sara Fatell’s trusty black executive planner is barely 10 months old, yet its binding is limping along, the penholder is hanging by a thread, and dirt is collecting on the sticky remnants of a price tag. Fatell unzips the binder, revealing a scatter of business cards, Post-It notes, and appointment reminders. A jumble of scribbles, arrows, and notes fill the calendar’s pages, along with an occasional stain from a dinner meeting.

Fatell resents depending so dearly on her planner, but she knows better than to part ways with it. “We have a very close, personal relationship,” Fatell says with a laugh. “I’d die without my planner. I’d fall apart. It’s not getting done unless it’s on my calendar.” It’s the first day of finals week at the University of Pittsburgh and, like a trusted personal assistant, Fatell’s day planner is helping the soon-to-be Pitt senior navigate a schedule that would make even Martha Stewart’s head spin. Fatell will spend most of this bright, spring day inside offices, scurrying from one appointment to another as she prepares for her hustling summer (first, she’s off to Washington, D.C., for a three-week lobbying internship, then she’ll take a month-long trip to Ghana through a study-abroad program). There are airline tickets to pick up, immunizations to get, an academic transcript to request, and paperwork to square away before Fatell will get a chance to finish a paper and study for her three final exams. This day, like most days, will end with Fatell falling asleep with a book in her hand.

Welcome to a day in the life of a student who is something of an archetype. For years, student affairs deans around the nation have been tossing around the phrase “educating the whole student” and have applauded those who don’t reserve learning for the classroom. More than ever, universities and colleges, including Pitt, are emphasizing the importance of tending not just to students’ academic needs, but also their physical, spiritual, professional, and social needs. The schools want to turn out alumni who are, among other things, self-aware, civically responsible, and prepared for the future. In short, institutions of higher education are increasingly focused on fostering well-rounded leaders like Fatell.

Fatell is serious about her education—she plans to graduate in the spring of 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, a minor in political science, and certificates in women’s studies and Africana studies—but she’s also keenly aware of the world beyond campus borders. In the past three years, the Havertown, Pa., native has ripened into a champion for voting rights; campus diversity, including the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities; and other causes. She also has developed a passion for grassroots organizing.

She’s just 21 but uses small, 9-point font to keep her appointments and accomplishments from spilling off the page. Among other things, she’s vice chair of the U.S. Student Association’s National Women’s Student Coalition, a student lobbyist, and the former president of Pitt’s Rainbow Alliance. In 2004, she coordinated the University’s Get Out the Vote campaign.

“I don’t understand how you can live in a world and not care and get involved,” Fatell says. “Apathy is my worst nightmare.”

That’s enough to make Kathy W. Humphrey smile from ear to ear. Community involvement is just one piece of Pitt’s overall plan to educate the whole student—a plan that lured her to the University last year for the job of vice provost and dean of students. Humphrey earned a PhD in higher education administration at Missouri’s Saint Louis University and was vice president for student development there. When she was in the running for her current position, she says, Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor James V. Maher told her about the University’s desire to nurture students in and out of the classroom, aiming to produce graduates who have communication skills, a sense of self, motivation, and a sense of responsibility in addition to a high grade point average (GPA).

When Maher talks about communication skills, Humphrey says, he’s not just referring to a student’s ability to write and speak well. Although those skills are important, the University also aims to cultivate students who are comfortable with technology, because that will help make them comfortable accessing and communicating with other cultures, communities, and countries.

Then, once students use their enriched communication skills to reach out to the rest of the campus and the world, they’ll develop the motivation and sense of responsibility to make them better places. The University encourages motivated and conscientious students by providing volunteer and leadership opportunities, study-abroad programs, internships, and other offerings.

Expert communications skills and volunteer, leadership, and professional experiences should produce students who have a clear vision of their personal, academic, and professional goals once they reach graduation day, says Humphrey, who is a much sought-after consultant, author, and speaker.

It’s not hard to find Pitt students who already embody the University’s values. They aren’t necessarily taking the same path as Fatell, but they, too, are good examples of whole students.

Take Joe Pasqualichio, the president of the University’s Student Government Board, who is majoring in electrical engineering and political science. While Fatell is most comfortable in a T-shirt and jeans, Pasqualichio keeps a suit in his office at all times in case he’s called to a last-minute meeting with a Pitt administrator. While Fatell’s a fan of grassroots organizing, Pasqualichio’s a booster of working within the system. She’s liberal. He’s conservative. Then there’s the subject of day planners and calendars—he doesn’t use them. Instead, the Pitt senior keeps track of his equally hectic schedule by adhering sticky notes to the computer monitor in his William Pitt Union office.

But like Fatell, Pasqualichio has a résumé that is brimming with awards and accomplishments. During his career at Pitt, the Grand Island, N.Y., native has held lots of leadership positions in organizations such as the Pitt Board of Trustees’ Athletics Committee, the University Senate, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon social fraternity, the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, and the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society. He’s completed two summer internships—one for the Idaho National Laboratory and another for the National Science Foundation—and the 22-year-old is interning for Boeing this summer. He works as a mentor and peer leader instructor and maintains a 3.99 GPA (he got his lowest grade, an A-, in an honors physics class).

His near-perfect GPA is quite a feat, considering he struggles every day to make it to his classes on time. It’s rare when Pasqualichio walks across campus without being stopped by a student with a request for help or an administrator with a question. He tries to make himself accessible by studying in his Student Government Board office, but a steady stream of e-mails, phone calls, and impromptu visits makes concentrating tough. Pasqualichio sometimes sneaks away to Hillman Library to steal some quality study time.

He’s aware of how appealing his résumé will look to future employers but says he strives to make Pitt a better place for his classmates, too. He can’t imagine what his University career would have been like if he hadn’t been so active.

“I realized as the years went on that I was learning as much outside of class as inside of class,” Pasqualichio says.

Effortless, natural leaders like Fatell and Pasqualichio have always existed on university campuses; they probably would have excelled in and out of the classroom regardless of any university initiatives. That’s why, Humphrey says, the University is looking for new ways to engage those students who want to get more involved but not necessarily as campus superstars.

“I think every person is searching to be whole. Every person wants to be fully developed,” Humphrey says. “You can’t accomplish that in four years, but we want to get them on the road.”

In May, Humphrey assembled Pitt administrators, advisors, and faculty to discuss how to transform Pitt’s philosophies about educating the whole student into additional programs and services. It’s a tough task, Humphrey says, because there aren’t many examples to follow.
“If you Google ‘educating the whole student,’ you’ll find that a lot of schools are talking about it, but you won’t find out how to do it,” says Humphrey, who has won a number of awards for her work with students and campus life.

It’s true that an Internet search yields a lot of theories and discussions. Some university leaders believe that treating students as whole people and not just bodies in classrooms will lead to better retention rates. Others think that the whole-student concept will lead to happier alumni and, therefore, more alumni donations.

Those are probably some of the reasons that universities and colleges around the nation are tending to the whole student by offering amenities that wouldn’t have appeared on campuses 50 years ago, such as residential learning communities, leadership development courses, and peer leaders, who serve as liaisons between instructors and students. Remember those afternoon-long freshman orientation sessions held in steamy gymnasiums? Some schools have abandoned them in favor of semester-long freshman orientation classes, which help new students acclimate not only to the university, but also to the community around it. Instructors of these classes teach students how to catch a bus, show them the nearest grocery store, and tell them about the best pizza joint in town.

These are trends that are happening at Pitt, too. This fall, the University will open its new residence hall, Panther Hall, near Sutherland and Pennsylvania halls. It will contain the Competitive Edge program, a residential learning community for groups of students who have the same academic goals. These students often take classes together and participate in extracurricular activities that pertain to their studies. In the case of the Competitive Edge, which Pitt calls a Living-Learning Community, the University will reserve floors of the new residence hall for students interested in research, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement and community service.

The 12 students who will live in the research community, for instance, will work outside the classroom with faculty and researchers from Pitt’s University Center on Race and Social Problems to conduct research, get their findings published, and learn how to write grants. This work will be in addition to the students’ traditional coursework.

Also this academic year, Humphrey plans to hold two more reflection retreats, the first of which was held last spring. The weekend retreats are a chance for students to think about their talents and interests and consider whether those interests and talents are compatible with their academic and professional goals, Humphrey says. Participants meet individually with counselors and attend workshops that encourage them to reflect on their futures.

Humphrey searches for teachable moments in every aspect of campus life. “Classroom experience is pivotal, but the experience outside the classroom is also important,” she says.

That’s why Humphrey has made it her priority to encourage those in Student Affairs who advise Pitt’s more than 350 student organizations to think of themselves as teachers of life lessons. The student leaders of many of these organizations are working with budgets worth thousands of dollars, with which they may hire speakers, caterers, or other professionals. Humphrey believes it’s a prime opportunity for advisors to teach student leaders how to budget, negotiate, and solicit competitive bids.

Her ultimate goal is for students to leave Pitt not just with a diploma, but also with life skills that they can use to make their own lives, their communities, and maybe the world a better place.

When the vice provost describes that goal, it’s quite possible she’s thinking about someone like Jennifer Anukem, a University student who was born in the Imo state of Nigeria and moved near Baltimore, Md., when she was just 6 years old. She’s now a 21-year-old Pitt senior who expects to graduate next spring with a double major in political science and communication, a minor in economics, and a certificate in Latin American studies.

Like Fatell and Pasqualichio, Anukem’s GPA is impressive – 3.8 – and her résumé is dazzling. Among other things, she’s a member of the University’s Student Government Board, a resident assistant in Sutherland Hall, a Pitt Pathfinders student recruiter, the vice president of the University’s African Students Organization, and the former president of the Collegiate YMCA.

But what’s most striking about Anukem is her clarity about her future. She can rattle off her 10-year plan without a moment of hesitation: First, she’ll attend a tier-one law school; then she’ll spend a few years doing pro-bono work before she secures a position as a corporate attorney; and finally she’ll run for political office using the leadership skills she honed at Pitt. But all of this is just a means to an end. Anukem’s ultimate goal is to serve the people of Nigeria one day.

She wants to be part of a solution for some of the many problems that plague her birthplace, including a struggling economy, a corrupt government, and high HIV rates. She believes that many young Nigerians have the potential to achieve greatness and influence the world, but most don’t have her opportunity to realize their full potential.

“As one who has been blessed with the opportunity to come to the United States and gain a formal education, I feel a need to help the Nigerian community that groomed me to be the person I am today,” she says.

Her family’s culture and traditions helped Anukem develop her strengths in leadership, scholarship, and service. But, she says, the tools and experiences she’s acquiring at Pitt are helping her make the most of those talents—and that wouldn’t have been possible without
lessons beyond the classroom.


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