Pitt Chancellor Nordenberg surprised with new namesake building

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Month after month, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg received updated lists of the gifts pushing his school toward its $2 billion fundraising goal.

But some gifts it turns out never made those lists, and it's no accident why.

Even as Pitt neared the goal of its "Building Our Future Together" drive, a stealth campaign within the fundraising campaign was under way to acknowledge Mr. Nordenberg's pivotal role in transforming Pitt during 17 years as chancellor.

On Friday, a secret kept for nearly a year from him and from virtually everyone else on the sprawling campus finally was out as school trustees announced a $5 million scholarship fund and the naming of a new campus residence hall in Mr. Nordenberg's honor.

Standing at a podium after the announcement, with clear emotion in his voice, Mr. Nordenberg said he is seldom at a loss for words at board meetings.

"You never often see me with tears of joy either," he said. "When you named me the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, you gave me the greatest professional gift that I ever could have hoped for."

A 10-story building, which will now be known as Mark A. Nordenberg Hall, is being built at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and University Place. It is expected to open in fall 2013 with 559 beds, a wellness center and retail space.

The university wants ultimately to raise $10 million to endow the scholarship fund, said Albert Novak Jr., Pitt's vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

Income from the fund will help Pitt "in its efforts to recruit, enroll, retain and graduate highly motivated and academically superior undergraduate students," according to a statement from the university. Pitt will recognize students who win those merit-based scholarships as "Nordenberg scholars."

Sam Zacharias, a school trustee, conceived of the idea and, along with board leadership and several staffers sworn to secrecy, solicited gifts from fellow trustees, Mr. Nordenberg's friends and other Pitt supporters. Keeping the school's chief executive out of the loop about his own campaign was not easy and required scrubbing the gift list clean of any hint of the effort, Mr. Zacharias said.

"My biggest concern was last night," Mr. Zacharias said Friday. "There was a trustee dinner and many of the trustees are donors, and I thought they would go up to him and congratulate him."

The secret, it turns out, was safe.

Ushered into the trustees meeting Friday were Mr. Nordenberg's wife, Nikki, his mother Shirley, sister-in-law Susan Pirillo and two grandsons, Finian and Leo.

Looking visibly affected by the announcement even after the meeting ended, Mr. Nordenberg, first hired by Pitt in 1977 as a law school faculty member, said it's easy to forget in the daily rush of work how much Pitt really has changed.

"The other day," he said, "I looked out at Schenley Plaza and I thought, you know it wasn't many years ago that [it] wasn't there. Or you go down Fifth Avenue and you see the biomedical science tower and you remind yourself that used to be the ugliest little block in Oakland. Or, you go up to the Petersen Events Center and you remember how many people were mad at you for tearing Pitt Stadium down.

"The university means so much to me. Its growth means so much to me, the students mean so much to me -- to have my name on this newest residence hall that sits in the heart of campus, I can't imagine anything nicer," he said.

Also at Friday's trustee meeting, Pitt announced John A. "Jack" Barbour -- chief executive officer, managing director, and board chairman of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney -- was appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett as a Commonwealth Trustee. Mr. Barbour succeeds state Rep. Dan B. Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, who joined the Pitt board in January 2004.

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Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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