New to Pitt: University has surprises in store for returning hometown native | University time

By MARTY LEVINE

Pittsburgh’s familiarity drew Leland Clark back, but the Pitt campus came as a surprise to him in many ways.

Clark joined the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences last June as Executive Director of Student Affairs. Although he grew up here – in Highland Park, East Liberty and Point Breeze, attending Frick and Schenley Schools and Carnegie Mellon University – he had lived in New York for 17 years, doing similar work for a culinary school that has closed due to COVID-19.

“Pittsburgh people who move always come back,” Clark says, “and during COVID my homesickness for being close to my mom and brothers has increased.” He also felt a bit exhausted, having just experienced the pandemic in New York in the days leading up to the vaccine, he says.

Back here, he noticed neighborhoods had changed — not people or housing, just affordability, he says. Today, he lives on the street where he grew up in Highland Park, and it’s become a place where the average person can no longer buy a house, he says.

The school where he worked in New York was in one building, “so it’s great to be in a place (that) feels like a community,” he says of the university. “What I like about Pitt is that he’s integrated into the city. It’s not a closed campus. It really is part of Pittsburgh.

“Pitt is massively bigger than anywhere I’ve worked before, in terms of size and complexity, and that’s really exciting for me,” he adds. In Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, it oversees the Registrar process and Admissions and Academic Counseling for students, as well as Student Engagement: extracurricular activities ranging from career development workshops to social and wellness events.

“The students here are extremely motivated,” he says, noting that Pitt doesn’t need the same student retention and motivation tasks he faced in his previous job. “Our students are really serious here.”

Clark is already taking advantage of a Pitt opportunity. After earning his Master of Science in Higher Education Administration at Baruch College in New York City, he is now beginning his PhD in Education with a concentration in Higher Education at the School of Education here.

Seventeen years is a long time away from Pittsburgh, but he still remembers his bona fides: He and his brother were on an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as kids, when the show aired visiting their school football team. In the 1980s. In fact, it wasn’t until adulthood, he says, that he realized the program had more than just Pittsburgh fame.

“The most pleasant surprise” of his time here, he says, is that “everyone who works here, from the dean to the administrators, is hyper-focused on student well-being and success. The student experience is always present in the conversations. It was a pleasant surprise for me to be in this kind of environment.

Marty Levine is an editor for the University Times. Join it at [email protected] or 412-758-4859.

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