On July 1, Lock Haven University welcomed its 15th president, Robert Pignatello, to The Haven. Upon his arrival, President Pignatello sat down for a question and answer session to learn a little bit more about him.
What attracted you most to LHU, making you want to be the next president?
I was attracted by the importance of the university to the city, county, region and beyond as an economic driver and an engine for upward mobility. The Haven’s mission is a very compelling one. I viewed Lock Haven as a very impressive and consequential institution that had the potential to be even more and that I could help it get there. The more I learned about LHU, the more my interest grew.
Having grown up in a working class family myself, having attended a public university, and having worked for a major public university system my entire career, I was able to identify with those who are served by this remarkable institution. Coincidentally, a relative of mine from Italy attended Lock Haven University 25 years ago as an exchange student. I had just begun my career in higher education and it was my responsibility to pick her up from High Hall and bring her back during winter break, and that was my first connection to Lock Haven University.
Needless to say, the campus facilities are spectacular and the surrounding region breathtaking. It was evident to me that The Haven has dedicated faculty, staff and coaches; alumni who return to support the institution and its students; supportive Council of Trustees and Foundation Board; as well as a reputation for quality programs and services.
What are you most looking forward to in your first semester as president?
I cannot wait to meet with our students and welcome the freshmen class. I’m looking forward to getting to know the community better and engaging them on the issues we care about. I am also excited to walk around our beautiful campus and connect with faculty, staff and coaches and collaborate on how we can strengthen our institution and make everyone feel part of that process.
What are some of your favorite spots or buildings on campus and why?
Having overseen facilities at major institutions for a very long time, I’m very focused on the condition and function of buildings. The first thing you notice as soon as you step on campus and spend any time at all here is that our facilities are extremely well maintained. Clearly, the facilities crews do an outstanding job. What I’m looking forward to seeing in the fall is how our buildings and facilities become activated by our students and how they are served by them. I really enjoy the newly dedicated Poorman Commons, which is a great crossroad for the community. The Recreation Center, recently renovated Price Auditorium and the DACC also stand out.
What are some of your favorite places you’ve visited so far in the Lock Haven community, and some others you are looking forward to checking out?
Amy and I already have eaten at nearly every restaurant in town. We are both avid walkers and immensely enjoy the Riverwalk and we also have visited Bald Eagle State park and the Pine Creek trails. The Alumni Association will sponsor a bike tour in fall. It is great to have such a nice downtown and to be able to walk everywhere, too. Recently we enjoyed a play at The Millbrook Playhouse — that’s a real jewel. I also appreciate the availability of fresh produce and the farm stands are another favorite stop.
Do you feel a strong connection to the local community is important for someone in your position?
Absolutely. Our institution is an important part of the community and I would like to extend that even further. So, I plan on being active with community leaders and businesses in order to do that. As a former mayor myself, I have a clear understanding of the importance of these relationships. So I will be reaching out to key community leaders and groups and looking for ways we can be mutually helpful to each other. I have already begun to do that. One of the first things I did was meet with Mayor Baney to discuss how we could jointly celebrate our 150th anniversary, among other ways to build on our relationship, and we hosted a networking event with elected officials to engage them as well. I would also like to work with employers to learn more about their needs. It is an important reciprocal relationship. We are here to serve the community that we are part of and to help improve lives. Through them, we want to generate more support for The Haven.
You’ve mentioned your favorite animal is an eagle. Can you tell us why it is your favorite and how it makes feel to now be a LHU Bald Eagle?
Well, it’s been a lifelong affinity for me. As a symbol of our country, it reminds me that my parents immigrated here a long time ago — choosing to become American citizens. My father was fiercely patriotic and we hung the flag out on important American holidays. He took a great interest in civic affairs and he passed that on to me, leading to my career in public service and belief in higher education as a public good. So, when I see the eagle, I think of our country’s values and our nation’s vast natural beauty. I love the fact that we are the Bald Eagles because I think much of the symbolism applies to us. We want to help our students fly higher than any others — to soar like eagles do. And of course eagles are renowned for their superior vision and focus. I want this to inspire us at The Haven to see and think strategically and to reach new heights. I had a portrait of an eagle in my office for over 20 years along with a woodcarving of an eagle that I purchased in the Poconos around the same time. These items have always been dear to me and are now in my office here at The Haven.
What are some things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Amy and I love to cook (pesto and tomato with basil sauces are old family recipes), travel, bike, and as I mentioned, we are avid walkers. We’ll be looking for new places to do that in the area. I also enjoy music. My taste varies, but I particularly like the blues and 70s soft and classic rock. I have played the guitar for a long time and have become a singer-songwriter, performing on and off. Last year I produced my first CD of original music. I also enjoy planting and tending floral and vegetable gardens. I’m a lifelong baseball fan but enjoy other sports as well. My beloved New York Mets are not doing very well so far this year. I am looking forward to attending as many athletic events as possible at Lock Haven. Although I don’t play many sports myself anymore, I could be talked into a game of volleyball or shoot some hoops. I am also a bit of a newshound so I’m always keeping up with current events and I also enjoy a good detective novel.
What are some of your longer-term hopes and vision for your presidency?
I believe in the power of public higher education to change lives. For that to work it must be accessible and affordable. When students attend LHU, their Haven Advantage experience must prepare them for an ever-evolving, knowledge-based economy. That experience should be a cut above the rest. They need technical, critical thinking and strong analytical skills, along with soft skills like written and oral communications to compete and succeed. Most of the new jobs created today and into the future will require a college degree and frequent “upskilling.” We must actively look at how to promote the importance of obtaining a degree to a wider audience that includes adult learners and focuses on lifelong learning for all.
We need to grow enrollment and meet changing demands through the development of new programs. Increasing revenues and strengthening our financial position are key priorities. I would like to bolster community ties and increase strategic alliances. I also will focus on initiatives to improve the work climate, increase faculty and staff engagement, improve career services, support athletics and other student organizations, engage alumni and work collaboratively with all university stakeholders.
We will continue to use technology to develop innovative solutions and advance best practices. We need to establish an integrated marketing and institutional advancement program to highlight all the great work we do and recruit new students. Within the State System, I will work to advance our agenda and advocate for greater support. I am committed to being visible, accessible and involved.
Our students are passionate and want to help solve problems in their communities and within the Commonwealth. We want to help them make that positive impact and achieve their ambitions. A thriving Lock Haven University, in touch with the needs of the community and contributing to its success, is imperative. Making The Haven a place of distinction and greater consequence is vital.