Dr. Jessica Spradley and Dr. Rod Taylor

Two Frederick Douglass Institute scholars have joined theCal U faculty for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Dr. Jessica Spradley holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology; she is pursuing her Ph.D. in social foundations of education at the University of Toledo. Her research examines the use of care-based practices in the classroom and the
intersections of race, class and education in society.

Rod Taylor ’10 earned a bachelor’s degree in English atCal U. He is completing his Ph.D. at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is revising his dissertation, WritingBack: Anti-Plantation Literature in the Reconstruction South, 1865-1905.

The FDI fellowship is a component of the FrederickDouglass Institute Collaborative, a network of scholars at each of the 14schools in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.

Named for the renowned African-American orator and statesman, the Frederick Douglass Collaborative focuses on making each campus inclusive and establishing connections among historically underrepresented students and faculty.

Since 2003, Cal U’s fellowship program has brought18 FDI scholars to campus, where they share their talents and receive professional support from experienced faculty as they prepare for academic careers.

Award recipient values ‘champions’

Jesse J. McLean '83, '94

Jesse J. McLean Jr. ’83, ’94 accepted this year’s JennieCarter Award at a reception in the Kara Alumni House.

A human services professional with more than 30 years’ experience in Pittsburgh’s nonprofit sector, McLean is an executive director at Pressley Ridge, where he oversees the fiscal, operational and clinical integrity of programs for children and families in westernPennsylvania.

The annual award is named forElizabeth “Jennie” Adams Carter, Class of 1881, the University’s firstAfrican-American graduate.

“I would love to know who her champions were, because … I believe you need champions to help nurture your spirit, resilience and leadership,” McLean says, citing the late Elmo Natali ’53, former vice president for Student Development, as his own champion and mentor.

McLean continues the tradition. Over the years he has successfully recommended his alma mater to more than 150 students, and he comes to campus regularly to check on their progress.

“I am very connected to theUniversity,” says McLean, of Penn Hills, Pa. “I continue to mentor and work with these students because I want to make sure they graduate.”

Cal U builds engaged citizens

Cal U has been recognized as one of the nation’s “schools doing the most to turn students into citizens.”

Washington Monthly magazine lists Cal U on its honor roll of Best 80 Colleges for Student Voting.

Schools on the honor roll received a perfect score on a scale that awards points for participation in the National Study of Learning, Voting andEngagement (NSLVE), a project at Tufts University that calculates voter registration and turnout rates for college campuses, and submission of election-year “action plans” to the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, which encourages universities to promote civic engagement.

The campus chapter of the AmericanDemocracy Project leads the University’s voter engagement efforts.

“Cal U is committed to educating students about the importance of civic engagement, whether it is volunteering in the community or voting on Election Day,” says Dr. Melanie Blumberg, the chapter’s director.

“The hope is that students will see themselves as stakeholders and realize they can impact decisions that affect their lives."

Prof takes mummies to science center

Dr. Cassandra Kuba

Anthropology professor Dr. Cassandra Kuba was among the experts featured when the Carnegie Science Center, in Pittsburgh, unveiled Mummies of the World: The Exhibition.

Kuba was invited to speak at the traveling exhibition’s media preview and the opening event, where she and a group of current and former anthropology students talked with visitors outside the main exhibition.

Although Kuba is an expert in biological anthropology and the study of the human skeleton, her display was tailored to the Carnegie ScienceCenter’s theme: It featured a variety of mummified animals that died naturally before their bodies were preserved.

“I enjoyed the one-on-one interactions with the public and the chance to explain the mummification process,” Kuba says.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for our Cal U students and alumni from the anthropology program to share their knowledge, too.”

Best? Distinctive? Yes, that’s Cal U!

For the 15th consecutive year, The Princeton Review has recognized Cal U as one of the best universities in the northeasternUnited States.  

The nationally known education services company profilesCal U online in its 2020 Best Regional Colleges listing. Schools on the list are “academically outstanding and well worth consideration” by future students, the website says.

The "Best in the Northeast" list includes colleges in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

For the first time, Cal U also was selected as a College of Distinction for its commitment to undergraduate education.

The University was cited for excellence in four areas: student engagement, faculty, student life and student outcomes.

Cal U also received special recognition for programming in the Business, Education, Engineering and Career Development categories. Criteria include program accreditation, breadth of programs and track records for success.

“We are proud to be recognized by these well-respected organizations,” says Dr. Bruce Barnhart, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

“At Cal U, we put our students first. We give them the tools they need for career success. And we prepare them to become thoughtful, productive members of our global society.”

Major grants benefit students, commonwealth

Two significant grant awards will benefit students and communities across Pennsylvania:

A Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) OpioidWorkforce Expansion Grant will help students prepare for careers infields related to drug addiction policy, prevention and recovery.

Dr. Sheri Boyle, chair of theSocial Work Department, and Dr. Elizabeth Gruber, chair of the CounselorEducation Department, were awarded the three-year grant, which totals $1.3million.

It will provide 27 stipends of $10,000 each to graduate students in Cal U’s social work, school counseling and clinical mental health counseling programs.

Students in these programs must complete 600 or more hours in field placements or advanced practicums – a requirement that makes it difficult to work and attend school at the same time.

“The Opioid Workforce Expansion grant is great because it’s for our students,” Boyle says. “But it’s also critical for our communities, because it will focus on theserious issue of opioid and other substance abuse disorders.”

A PAsmart Advancing Grant for $172,155 is a step toward filling what the commonwealth projects will be 300,000 job openings related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by 2026.

The grant supports training for providers of after school programs in computer programming and cryptography – secure information and communication techniques that rely on mathematical concepts.

Grant writers Dr. Lisa Kovalchick and Dr. Pratibha Menon led daylong training sessions in Crypto Club (cryptography and math), Scratch (coding and teamwork), and the Alice Project (fundamental coding skills). Participants received a $100 stipend and teaching materials to use in their after school programs.

“The expected number of computer science jobs is expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 to 20 years,”Kovalchick says. “We don’t have enough graduates (to fill those jobs). We want to change that.”

Scholarship fundraising earns national nod

Raising funds for student scholarships is a priority at Cal U. Now those efforts have received national recognition.

CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, honored the University with its 2019 Educational Fundraising Award.

A first-time winner, California is the only university in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education to receive the CASE fundraising award this year.

“Scholarships are more important than ever,” says Anthony Mauro, vice president for University Development and Alumni Relations.

“For many students, a scholarship makes the difference between earning a college degree and taking another path.And our donors take great pride in empowering students to succeed.”

Cal U was one of four schools honored for overall performance among public comprehensive institutions with endowments under $35 million.

CASE bases its selection on a review of data submitted to its annual Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey. Among other characteristics, award recipients demonstrate “solid program growth” and“breadth in the base of support” for fundraising initiatives.

Staff members offer exceptional service

Two staff members are the inaugural recipients of awards recognizing outstanding job performance and customer service.  

Cindy Speer ’97, administrative assistant for the Department of History, Politics, Society and Law, received the Vulcan President’s CircleAward.

Rhonda Gifford, director of the Career and ProfessionalDevelopment Center, accepted the Vulcan Exceptional Service Award.

The Vulcan President’s Circle Award recognizes a staff member for outstanding job performance. The Vulcan Exceptional Service Award honors a staff member who consistently provides superior service to students, parents,fellow employees and/or community members.

“Staff members play a critical role in University operations and campus life,” says University President Geraldine Jones. “Our first two awardees demonstrate Cal U’s commitment to excellence in everything they do.”

Alumnus to lead Council of Trustees

Attorney James T. Davis ’73 has been elected to chair the University’s Council of Trustees.

A founder and partner of Davis and Davis Attorneys at Law, in Uniontown, Pa., he has served on the council since 2009.

At its reorganization meeting in September, the council also elected Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi ’79 as vice chair and student Alex Arnold to continue his role as secretary.

Each university in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education has a Council of Trustees that serves as a policy-setting board. The governor nominates trustees for a six-year term, and the state Senate confirms the appointments.

Graduate degree helps you get ahead

Looking to enhance your resume or advance your career? Discover how a master’s degree or doctorate from Cal U’s School of Graduate Studies can help you build your future.  

Information sessions for prospective students are planned for 6-8 p.m. March 26 and June 24, 2020.

Cal U offers both on-campus classes and graduate-level degree programs delivered 100% online – a convenient choice for busy professionals.  

At the information sessions, you can meet with faculty,financial aid staff, grad students and alumni to learn about the benefits of a Cal U graduate degree. Campus tours, free applications and information on graduate assistantships also are available.

The sessions are free, but online registration is requested at For details, contact the School of Graduate Studies and Research at 724-938-4187 or

ROTC cadet tapped for Best Warrior event

First-year student Jordan Amrhein, a private first-class in the U.S. Army Reserve and an ROTC cadet, was selected to compete for the title of Best Warrior this fall.

The annual competition, held at Niagara Falls, N.Y., is a preliminary event used by major Army Reserve commands to select the best junior enlisted soldier and noncommissioned officer in their ranks. Winners represent their units at the annual U.S. Army Reserve Command Best Warrior Competition.

Amrhein, of Bentleyville, Pa., serves with the 393rd MedicalCompany, based in Coraopolis, Pa. He was nominated to represent the 99th Battalion.

He took on a variety of challenges at the competition – firing weapons, marching with a heavy pack, taking part in written exams and formal interviews, and tackling the Army Physical Fitness Test, among others.

A computer engineering technology major, Amrhein says his goal is to graduate and be commissioned as a second lieutenant. Then he hopes to attend Ranger School and train for Special Operations before beginning his active military service.

“Growing up I’ve always wanted to be in the military … but I also really enjoy working with computers,” Amrhein says. “My academics can only help me in my military career.”