Building a Legacy: Robert Morris University Building a Legacy | Robert Morris University

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WRITTEN BY MARK HOUSER

Former roommates Diane Leonard Pearson ’85 and Dee Ann Loveridge Johnson ’85 have made personal contributions to RMU’s record enrollment numbers — their kids.


BIGGER & BETTER EVERY YEAR

Robert Morris this year admitted the biggest freshman class in its history: 980 first-year students from 26 states and 19 countries. Residence halls are filled to capacity, including Yorktown Hall, now completely converted from a former hotel.

With a full-time traditional undergraduate enrollment of 3,766, and a total enrollment of 5,440 including part-time and graduate students, finding a parking spot on campus is getting tricky.

More students are applying to the university each year. In 2008, RMU received applications from 4,257 prospective students. Five years later, more than 7,800 students applied. The higher number of applicants has not come at the expense of quality; this year’s crop of applicants had an average high school grade point average of 3.47 and an average combined reading and math SAT score of 1042, both up from five years ago.

The university’s online degree offerings also are expanding rapidly. Students enrolled in 4,171 total credit hours of graduate and undergraduate classes this fall, up 20 percent from the previous year. The international student population has increased dramatically in recent years and now exceeds 400, or almost 8 percent of RMU’s total student population.

President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D., says RMU is increasingly becoming what he calls a “university of choice” for prospective students in the Pittsburgh area and beyond. “It’s not good enough just to say we have a beautiful campus,” Dell’Omo says. “Students and their parents evaluate a college’s value proposition.”

That includes not simply tuition cost, he says, but 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 RMU’s placement rate of 93 percent for graduates.

Years ago, the two business majors shared a room with their pet hamster, Felicia, and played in co-ed mud football games in the field where Sewall Center now stands.“But probably my favorite memory,” Dee Ann says, “was coming back early in the morning after a night out with all our suitemates, and I would make ultimate PB&J sandwiches that we would pass around in a circle and eat.”

They were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, went on to successful careers in their fields, and remained close friends as they raised families. Diane is a wealth management advisor and a co-founder of Legend Financial Advisors in McCandless, while Dee Ann is chief financial officer of specialty steelmaker Ampco-Pittsburgh. Now their kids, sophomores Haley Johnson, a nursing major, and Alex Pearson, a double major in accounting and finance major, along with freshman marketing major David Pearson, are legacies on the same campus their moms once called home.

Hockey is what first got Robert Morris on the boys’ radar. The Pearsons are avid fans, and the boys watched the Colonials play at the RMU Island Sports Center and at Consol Energy Center. Alex came to campus for a tour, and was impressed with the School of Business; his brother equally so. “It’s comforting that they’re this close to home, yet they’ve got their own sense of independence,” Diane says. “Robert Morris is so completely different from when I was here, so it’s hard to compare what I went through to what they’re going through because there are just so many opportunities now that weren’t there when I was here.”

Dee Ann says she wanted to steer Haley toward her alma mater. “I was excited, and the funny story about that is I suggested Robert Morris to her, but sometimes you want to find your own way. Something about going to the same school as your parents.” Haley looked as far as Louisiana, but in the end she decided her mom was right, and chose RMU.

So to the delight of the two old friends, sending their children off to college turned into a reunion. “We moved them in together at RMU, and then we all went to Primanti’s and had lunch. Then we came back and dropped them off,” Diane says. “We watched the two of them walk off, and it was like, OK. So we both high-fived and went home.”