A year after unveiling its new business building, Robert Morris University in September opened another showcase structure and moved one step closer to its goal: creating a unique home for each of the university's five schools.
The new Wheatley Center unites students and faculty of the School of Communications and Information Systems under one roof for the first time. Media arts is the last department to leave RMU's former downtown property; it joins the school's other departments on campus — computer information systems, organizational leadership, communication, and English.
The soaring, 50,000 square-foot complex, glowing with colored LED accents, is the result of a dramatic architectural makeover. The former Wayne Center, a squat structure that once housed the university's facilities department and mailroom, forms the skeleton of the new building. Where maintenance workers once parked their trucks, students now relax in futuristic recliners under a three-story skylit atrium. In addition to faculty offices and classrooms, the center has a café, an art gallery, a screening room, and a variety of computer and design labs. At the entryway stands a towering titanium sculpture donated by Allegheny Technologies Inc., which the company originally took to the Paris Air Show to announce a new alloy.
"Our approach to the study and teaching of communications goes to how we view our communication skills program," said President Gregory G. Dell'Omo, Ph.D. "It's a holistic approach. We clump everyone together, from poets to computer science people. It's all the different modes of communications in today's world, because we view communications in a very broad sense. And the faculty helped us to make sure the building was designed to reflect that holistic approach to communications."
Faculty members rechristened the structure to honor Phillis Wheatley, a Colonial-era slave who became a well-known poet, and whose patriotic ode to General Washington was one of the first works written by any woman, black or white, to be published in America.
The new building was officially unveiled at a September 20 gala, Celebration2, which also marked the successful completion of the largest fundraising campaign in the university's history. More than 8,200 donors contributed to the $40 million Changing Lives, Building Futures campaign, which funded construction of both the Wheatley Center and the new building for the School of Business, as well as numerous other projects, including 30 new scholarship funds and an endowed research center, the RMU Research Center on Black Male Educational Student Success.
David J. Malone, vice chairman of the RMU Board of Trustees, was the chairman of the capital campaign. Last year the Board of Trustees honored Malone, president and CEO of Gateway Financial, with its inaugural David J. Malone Volunteer Service Award. This year the award was given to Barbara A. McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and a longtime member of the Board of Trustees. Neither Malone nor McNees is a graduate of RMU, a fact that makes their efforts on behalf of the university even more inspiring, says Gary Claus '74, chairman of the Board of Trustees. "They volunteer and donate to Robert Morris because they believe in our mission, pure and simple. Their example is invigorating to me and my fellow alumni on the Board of Trustees," he says.
McNees, a longtime trustee of RMU, is the first female president of the Greater Pittsburgh chamber of commerce in its 136- year history. Previously she served for eight years as the regional manager of the Governor’s Action Team, where she oversaw a 12-county district in western Pennsylvania. She has chaired the Port of Pittsburgh commission, the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, and the Intergovernmental cooperation Agency. She has also served on several boards and is a member of the International Women’s Forum.
McNees earned a bachelor's degree in independent studies from Geneva college and certificates from the Institute for Organizational Management, University of Delaware, the National Development council in Washington, and Wood Tobe-coburn School.
She has two children, Brian and Elizabeth; three stepchildren, Shannon, Patrick and Jason; and four grandchildren, Jared, Rachel, Ethan, and Ava.
WEB EXCLUSIVES - Celebration Squared video and photos
Cheers for both the grand opening of the Wheatley Center at Robert Morris University and the successful completion of the $40 million capital campaign.