The contributions of a university aren't necessarily confined to its classrooms. Often times, they can be found in the surrounding community.
That's one of the lessons that Tom White, archivist for Duquesne University, will be sharing tonight with the Squirrel Hill Historical Society in a forum that is free and open to the public.
"This is an area that is very interested in its history, [and] very much enjoys people talking in depth about it," said society chairman Michael Ehrmann, who has been scheduling the sessions once a month for nearly 10 years. (They take Augusts off, but are otherwise pretty consistent.)
"I found out very early on that having an educational forum is something that fits Squirrel Hill very well," Mr. Ehrmann said. "A lot of professors and students live in this neighborhood and they're used to lectures, and this lecture format works very well for us.
"We usually get anywhere from 30 to 70 people. The topics started with historical interest directly related to Squirrel Hill, and we now have moved it regionally. But there's always a historical aspect to it."
Well, being that they're a "historical society," that would make sense.
"We do a lot of talks about institutions that are important to Squirrel Hill and the surrounding areas," Mr. Ehrmann said. "We've had the other universities in the area, and it was time to do Duquesne."
Mr. White has been archivist at Duquesne, where he earned his master's in public history, since 2005. He is the author of eight books, the latest published in January: "A Higher Perspective: A Hundred Years of Business Education at Duquesne University."
"My area of specialty is the history of Pennsylvania," Mr. White said. "I teach courses on it, and most of my books are about the legends and odd history of Pennsylvania. So I'm familiar with a lot of the institutional histories in this area."
Duquesne, which was founded in 1878, has a rich history that is worth remembering -- and sharing.
"Basically we're going to talk about the entire history of the university, from its very early years when the Spiritans first came over and were asked by the bishop to start an institution of higher education for Catholics in Pittsburgh," Mr. White said.
"Really, it was aimed at educating the children of immigrants. It expanded from there and overcame a variety of obstacles. The school didn't have a lot of money, certainly in the beginning, and they've managed to overcome a lot of things that put a lot of other schools under. They battled some anti-Catholicism before the 1920s, but that was overcome. World War II, the changes that followed.
"They started in the city with almost no money and they were missionary priests. But they were used to functioning with almost nothing. And they continue to serve their commitment to that mission of educating those students."
But Duquesne has always been about more than just book-smarts. There's that part of being good people and contributing to society.
"Duquesne shows a long tradition of commitment to their mission of having a Catholic education," Mr. White said. "Lots of places talk about having a mission. It's kind of become a buzzword in the past 20 years in business and everywhere else. But at Duquesne, it really has had a mission that has been remarkably consistent throughout time. They remember the human element in everything, making their students benefit society when they come out. It prepares them to go out and be a positive force in the world. You don't just go out to make money and benefit yourself."
Still, does Duquesne really benefit Squirrel Hill?
"Duquesne is unique in that it has been literally right there right at the edge of Downtown Pittsburgh, on the Bluff, and really in the heart of everything that was going on," Mr. White said. "Universities do tend to get involved in communities, and Duquesne has always tried to partner with surrounding neighborhoods. Take for example, the programs designed by the school's Small Business Development Center. They helped especially after the collapse of the steel industry."
You can learn more about the relationship tonight at 7:30 at the session, which is held at the Church of the Redeemer, 5700 Forbes Ave. Mr. White said he expects to speak for about an hour or so depending on the question-and-answer period.
"I can go on longer than that if people are interested," he promised.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/