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Pittsburgh Technical College leader inaugurated three years into her tenure

Pittsburgh Technical College President Alicia Harvey-Smith.
Ethan Mansberger
Pittsburgh Technical College
Pittsburgh Technical College President Alicia Harvey-Smith.

Three years ago, Pittsburgh Technical College in Oakdale transformed its model to both attract more students and fill a gap for middle-skills jobs that require certification but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.

The board hired Alicia Harvey-Smith to lead that move before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, she’s officially been recognized for the work she’s done as the first African American president in the school’s 75-year history.

“I believe [my hire] is an indication of the evolution of this institution,” she said.

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Her focus is on putting the school in a position to be nimble to shift curricula and focus, based on the needs of the economy and the region. Harvey-Smith believes that applied technical and community colleges are vital to building the American middle class.

“We look to create jobs in specific sectors,” she said. “We’re able to develop curriculum quickly, we’re able to train quickly, and we’re able to turn around pretty effectively in terms of impact on the community because we’re not bogged down with a lot of the bureaucracy … of larger institutions.”

About three-fourths of students who attend the school are drawn from a 75-mile radius, and 80 percent of students come with financial needs. Moving to a nonprofit model allows the school to apply for more financial aid and scholarship money for the two-year programs. It’s also opened the door to receiving grant funding for cybersecurity and STEM programs that are not afforded to for-profit schools.

Harvey-Smith has organized professional advisory groups for each of its 10 schools to focus on trends in the specific program areas.

“We’re positioning ourselves as a pipeline for middle-skills jobs. So you’re talking technicians, you’re talking a different level of employee that certainly is highly qualified, but this gets them to the workforce more quickly.”

In the Pittsburgh region, some of those in-demand middle-skill positions include information technology, cybersecurity, peer counseling and mediation, according to Harvey-Smith.

Harvey-Smith was officially inaugurated during a ceremony Friday, the first in the college’s history.

“It’s an opportunity for me to … tell our story to the community. It’s all about making sure that we are responsive to the community,” she said.