Welcome LHU’s 15th President

Pignatello exchanging tall buildings for tall mountains

SARAH SMELTZ/The Express Robert M. Pignatello, incoming president of Lock Haven University, poses with his family Wednesday at a welcoming event. From right are his daughters Ava and Teresa Pignatello; his significant other, Amy Molyneux; Rob Pignatello; his niece and god-daughter Gianno Ciaramello; and her boyfriend, Derek Sammak.

LOCK HAVEN — “We’ll get some good things done,” declared Lock Haven University’s incoming president, Robert M. Pignatello, as he shook hands with Jim Gregory, local businessman and university trustee.

Pignatello was greeted by LHU students, staff members and others at an outdoor reception recently, following an official welcoming program in Price Performance Center.

He is slated to become the 15th president of Lock Haven University on July 1, the first day of the coming academic year.

Pignatello grew up in Verona, New Jersey, which he experienced as a small town of about 12,000 residents. The son of immigrants, he said his family worked hard and was barely able to send him to a state college. With a bachelor’s degree from Montclair, he went on to earn a master’s from Rutgers University and is pursuing his doctorate in Higher Education Leadership and Management.

Pignatello is now senior vice president at Hunter College in New York City.

“Tall buildings are great, but so are tall mountains,” he said.

He recalled driving a cousin to the Lock Haven University campus 25 years ago. He referred to “the breathtaking beauty” of this region and said, “I knew I wanted to be here.”

It’s not just the scenery or the family atmosphere that attract him to LHU, however.

“We are an engine for upward mobility,” he said of the university.

Some 150 people attended the welcoming event, and LHU’s colors of crimson and white with grey accents, were very much in evidence.

Pignatello focused his remarks on what the university can do for its students, the community and the region.

The university has a “moral imperative” to position itself to help, as the numbers of manufacturing jobs decrease and jobs in new technologies increase. Strategically growing new programs, and establishing signature programs at LHU, will allow students to find future employment as well as provide the university with a pathway to financial success, he said.

To recruit and retain students, he called for a university-wide effort to remove financial and administrative obstacles, as well as to engage them in what they are learning.

As technologies change, so does the workplace, and employees who know how to learn and move forward are valued. This makes a liberal arts education even more important, Pignatello said, as it can instill and nourish “the love of learning.”

The university’s service learning program also can help students develop skills for the changing job market, he said, and the athletics programs can provide valuable lessons as well.

He would like to see alumni engaged in lifelong learning through LHU, he said. He would also like the university’s career services to be open to the general public, he added.

“The connections the university has to the community appeal to me,” he said.

His first order of business, he said, is “getting to know the community. Listening. Learning.”

He wants the university to look for ways to partner with the city, the school district and the region, which he said has a documented need for associate degrees. LHU may be in a good position to meet that need.

Pignatello also told his listeners that he believes in shared governance. “If we want student success, we must invest in faculty success,” he said.

“I feel I have qualities to help meet the challenges here. They are not different from colleges in New York and across the country,” he said.

Before becoming senior vice president for finance and administration and chief operating officer at Hunter College, which is part of the City University of New York, he served in a similar position at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also a CUNY college. He has been an administrator in the Essex County Sheriff’s Department in Newark and a legislative assistant in the New Jersey State Senate.

However, his most treasured title is “dad,” he said in introducing his family.

He and his significant other, Amy Molyneux, will be moving to Lock Haven, and he expects that his two daughters, Ava and Teresa Pignatello, will visit often. Also attending the welcoming event was his niece and goddaughter, Gianna Ciaramello, and her boyfriend, Derek Sammak.

Wearing LHU’s school colors, the incoming president said he is looking forward to rooting for the Bald Eagles. He also received an LHU hat and shirt from Trevor Dietz of Mill Hall, president of the student government.

Trevor introduced the program and said he was proud of the role he played in selecting someone to replace Dr. Michael Fiorentino as university president. Fiorentino retired at the end of March.

Students, staff, faculty, alumni and other interested parties all came together to make the best choice for LHU, Trevor said.

From a financial standpoint, Lock Haven University is ranked at the top in performance among the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s 14 schools. However, the university is among many across the Northeast, and the nation, seeing decreases in enrollment. It currently has about 3,900 students here and on the Clearfield campus.

Dr. Karen M. Whitney, interim chancellor of the state system of higher education, called LHU “a university on a wonderful trajectory, poised to reach a higher relevance … for its students and the community.”

Pignatello’s selection marks a new beginning, said Dr. George Durrwachter, chair of the university’s board of trustees.

He called the search for the 15th president “almost seamless from start to finish.”

He thanked trustee Guy Graham for chairing the search, Gwen A. Bechdel, who is executive assistant to the president, and the search consulting firm RPA, Inc.

“Rob Pignatello has the vision, the experience, the fortitude to provide opportunities to future students as they aspire to, and reach their goals,” Durrwachter said. “He has strong leadership and great people skills … He will be student-centered and involved in our community.”

After the event, and a standing ovation for Pignatello, the welcome continued outside at the meet-and-greet reception on the brisk day in early spring.

Dr. Donna Wilson, LHU’s provost and interim president until July 1, said she believes Pignatello “will carry on the tradition of strong, collaborative leadership.”

At this time of year, the university naturally bends some of its focus toward commencement, she said, a reminder of Lock Haven University’s over-arching goal. “This is what we do it for — the students.”