All in the Family: Robert Morris University All in the Family | Robert Morris University

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BY VALENTINE J. BRKICH

Fathers and daughters share a special bond. and when they end up attending the same university, that bond grows even stronger. the following are three tales of fathers and their daughters, and their common connection to Robert Morris University. in two of these stories, the connection spans generations; in the other, the story's still being written. for each of these Colonials, RMU is truly a family affair.

For most college students, having their father go to the same school and attend classes with them would be a nightmare. But not sophomore accounting student Caitlynn Albright. When her stepfather, John Hillen, was forced to change careers and wanted to study accounting, Caitlynn let him know he only had one choice.

"I forced him to go here," she says. "I actually got mad when I heard he was considering other schools. I told him that if he wanted to do accounting, RMU was his only choice."

Last year Caitlynn and John took managerial accounting together. On the first day of class, Caitlynn and her friends sat up front and John sat way in the back row. Caitlynn didn't approve. "I told him, 'Dad! Get up here!'" she says. Turns out that dad was just trying to give his daughter some space. "I didn't want to bother her or ruin her college experience," says John, who's in his junior year and considering RMU's integrated M.B.A.

"He's like my little brother," she says. "When I got my tattoo, he got his tattoo. When I said I was going to get into accounting, he said, 'That sounds like fun!' We joke about it, so it's all good."

A retired Air Force aircraft mechanic, John was injured while in service and reaggravated the injury working as an auto mechanic. "My doctor told me to get a new vocation," he says. Around that time he got letter in the mail from the VA about the Post-911 G.I. Bill, which enables qualified veterans to attend college free of charge. "I was a little nervous about going back to school after 15 years," he says. It wasn't long, however, before John found his groove. "They really work with you here," he says. "Heather Jericho and Dan Rota in the veterans office have been especially helpful. They'll give you anything you need." The students have accepted him as one of their own, too. "They call me Pops. I have a blast with them."

Caitlynn also suffers from an injury – reflex neurovascular dystrophy, a condition caused by a slip on the ice when she was 13. Her muscles sometimes constrict suddenly, pulling bones apart and causing her hip to dislocate. It happens about once a week, and she often needs to use crutches. She plays E-flat clarinet in the band, but instead of marching, Caitlynn is the announcer introducing the band when it's on the field. As for traversing campus, Caitlynn says she deals with it. "I'm late a lot, but the teachers are all understanding."

Her goal is to get her C.P.A. license, then maybe an M.B.A. from Robert Morris. "My dad wants to be more on the auditing side of things," she says. "So I'll do the work, and he can check it."

When he first found out his daughter would be attending his alma mater, Alvin Smith '86, was overjoyed. "I'm dating myself here," he says, "but I was like Gene Kelly in 'Singin' in the Rain,' dance steps and all."

Imagine how many puddles he splashed in when Briana Smith '11 was named the 2011 recipient of RMU's Rising Star Award. The honor is given to a graduating senior who demonstrates academic success, individuality, determination, passion, and potential. Briana graduated in December with a degree in communication and information systems, and is now a business technology analyst at PNC bank, where she had been an intern for two summers.

Briana is one of the first graduates who came to college through the Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship program started in 2008 to help city public school students afford higher education. She was vice president of events and programming for Pittsburgh Promise students at RMU, organizing community service efforts and planning events for her cohort. Even though she has her diploma, Briana will continue helping with similar RMU events this spring. "I want to make sure those that follow know how to run things and that the program’s in good hands," she says.

An active volunteer, Briana helped raise money to provide a month's worth of rice for 600 families in the African country of Ghana, and she also volunteered with Girls Hope in Coraopolis, which provides support to at-risk girls. "By impacting the lives of these girls, I realized that I wanted to strive to be an even better person," she says. "Changing lives motivates me to do better."

Alvin, a graduate of Robert Morris's business information systems program, was happy that Briana got a chance to experience college campus life. "As an evening student at the downtown campus, my experience was geared more towards the working adult experience," he says. "It's a parent's dream having your children achieve and do even more."

After 22 years in management at UPS, Alvin retired as an operations business manager. He also had the opportunity to represent the company as the district loan executive for the United Way. "Robert Morris helped make it possible by making me willing to take on challenges and take chances," he says. "Failure is 100-percent guaranteed if you never take the shot."

"RMU genuinely pursues excellence in the development of its students to help them become the future leaders of tomorrow," he adds. "I'm proud to see that Briana's become part of the change here."

When Ellen Langas '79 was five years old, her family lived in a house that stood where the Sewall Center lower parking lot is today. "Back then the campus was much different," she says. "There were stables and apple orchards and everything. It was a real country experience." They moved there when Robert Morris hired her father, George Langas, to be director of maintenance in 1963. "Dad came over from Greece and taught himself to speak and write English. It was impressive that he was given this opportunity."

Once she was attending classes, having her father on campus did present some challenges. "He kept us right under his surveillance," she says. "It was tough having this strict Greek dad and his entire crew keeping an eye on you at all times. It certainly wasn't the typical college experience."

"I loved growing up with the entire campus as my backyard," says Rita Langas Wilson '77 , Ellen's sister. "My father was respected and admired by students and peers alike. He would coordinate faculty and staff picnics and freeze over the old tennis courts so that students and kids from the neighborhood could go ice-skating. He really went above and beyond in his job."

Ellen earned a degree in marketing from Robert Morris in just three years, graduating summa cum laude. She helped found the Students In Free Enterprise team, and, in 1978, led it to a national championship. Now she is the founder and president of NouSoma Communications Inc., a Philadelphia marketing, publishing, and public relations company. Before that, she worked at the shopping channel QVC Inc. where she handled public relations and was also one of the company's first on-air hosts. She is also the author of the Girls Know How book series, which encourages young girls to pursue the careers of their dreams.

Rita studied secretarial sciences at Robert Morris and eventually got a bachelor's degree in business administration. She came back in 1995 to earn her teaching certificate, and today she is a creative writing and English teacher and tennis coach at West Allegheny High School. Before that, she taught marketing and communications part-time at RMU for over 12 years. "Teaching in RMU's business program, combined with the knowledge I gained from the teacher education program, really prepared me for the classroom – not just academically but also as a classroom manager," she says.

"Growing up on campus, I could never have known how much of an impact the college would have on my life," she says. "Not only did I live there, receive my education there, and work there, but I also met my husband there. It's like onestop shopping at its best!" John Wilson '77 studied communications management and transportation at Robert Morris. His brother, Matt Wilson '85, studied marketing and business administration, and their mother, Margaret Wilson '44, attended classes at the William Penn Hotel downtown.

John and Rita were married in the Rudolph Family Gardens in 1978. Their son, Nicholas Wilson '06 M'09, got his degree in sport management and followed it up with a master's in instructional leadership. Like his mother, Nicholas now works at a high school tennis coach and teacher at Moon Area High School.

Today John and Rita stay connected with the university by attending RMU basketball games and through the alumni association. "The education and people that I have connected with since my first day at Robert Morris continues to grow," John says "and I look forward to the university expand."

WEB EXCLUSIVE!

LegacyLuncheon

Keeping it in the family. Generations of RMU alumni and students gathered for our annual Legacy Luncheon. See photos from this year's Legacy Luncheon

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