A campus was born

Back in the early 1960s there were no institutions of higher education in the northwestern/north central region of Pennsylvania. Young people left the area to further their education and often did not return after graduation to invigorate the region with their educated talents and energies. Adults did not have a resource for continuing their own education. The local economy paid the price for this lack of a more educated workforce.

In 1962, Raymond N. Zoerkler, a Bradford geologist with the Hanley and Bird Co., saw a need for an educational resource and came up with an idea. Supported by Robert Cole, Bradford Hospital’s chief administrator, and others, Zoerkler wrote a letter to Edward H. Litchfield, who was then the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, to propose that Pitt establish a campus to serve this area of Pennsylvania.

On Oct. 16, 1962, Chancellor Litchfield announced that there indeed was a need for accessible quality education in the region. A new Pitt campus was born. Litchfield followed his announcement by appointing a committee of community leaders to serve as the Advisory Board for the new Pitt campus in Bradford. He named Dr. Donald E. Swarts, dean of Pitt-Johnstown, as the first president. J.B. Fisher, president of Kendall Refining, was named the first chairman of the Advisory Board. Swarts immediately began to work with the local Advisory Board to open the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

Students walking


The 60s

During the summer of 1963, Swarts and the board organized a faculty, bought Hamsher House from Bradford Hospital and renovated it into classrooms, laboratories, a library and student lounges. On Sept. 3, 1963 – less than a year after Chancellor Litchfield’s momentous announcement – the doors opened to Pitt-Bradford’s first class of students. This class had a mix of young men and women from all over Pennsylvania, as well as from New Jersey, New York and other states.

The newly established campus was a two-year college that offered the beginning of a Pitt undergraduate education. It offered starter and transfer programs to 143 full-time and 145 part-time students.

The new college launched itself with the generous financial support of the region.  Individuals and organizations in Bradford and surrounding regions contributed a total of $758,000 that year – thereby enabling the college to start strong and become firmly rooted in Bradford.

By 1964, the student body had grown to 380 full-time and 100 part-time students.  Dr. Swarts believed that the Pitt-Bradford experience would be enriched by a diversity of students – both commuter and resident, so the college purchased the 125-room Emery Hotel to provide student housing.

On April 18, 1967, J.B. Fisher announced that Witco-Kendall Corp. would donate approximately 78 acres of land on the site of the former Harri Emery Airport for the construction of a campus. At the same time, the City of Bradford and Bradford Township jointly announced they would make a 33-acre parcel of adjacent land, known as the Onofrio tract, available to Pitt-Bradford for development as a recreation area. This attractive setting, just outside of the city, became the site for today’s modern campus.

The University of Pittsburgh made a strong commitment to its new campus by bringing quality faculty to the region, establishing a substantive library collection, and starting quality programs to ensure student success in transferring after two years. These were the substantial building blocks that made the foundation for today’s four-year, baccalaureate institution.

The 70s & 80s

In the early 1970s Pitt-Bradford set its sights on constructing a new campus and moving its academic focus from two-year to four-year programming. The college used the $1.5 million in regional private monies it was able to raise to “seed” nearly $14 million worth of capital projects. This featured the construction of two academic buildings: Swarts Hall and Fisher Hall. Other capital improvements included a residence hall complex, a sports center, outdoor recreational and athletic fields, and a student union. The last building to complete the campus during this time, the Hanley Library, opened in March 1988.

While the new physical plant was emerging, Pitt-Bradford, under the leadership of college President Dr. Richard E. McDowell, fulfilled another important goal: to offer four-year degrees. The first degree program – an associate of science in petroleum technology in 1975 – was followed in 1979 with the designation of baccalaureate degree–granting status by the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Due in large part to a Title III grant, Pitt-Bradford added a significant number of bachelor-level programs beginning in 1985: biology, computer science, geology, history/political science, chemistry, economics, psychology, mathematics, and communications.

The 90s

During the 1990s significant campus upgrades in the form of new buildings and academic programming took place, including two new student residence halls, a Laundromat and security building, and extensive renovations to Fisher Hall.

During the middle of 1995, Pitt-Bradford announced its plans for the future. Plan 2000, coupled with the Facilities Master Plan, acted as the college’s guide into the next century. The plans, devised with an architectural firm from Pittsburgh, used a “residential” approach for future campus growth. This style would allow the campus to keep the natural beauty of its valley setting while focusing on functional accessibility for students to all aspects of living and learning on campus.

In 1994 the college completed a revision of its general education program. Pitt-Bradford joined only a small number of other similar institutions by providing a quality education with a liberal arts foundation to undergraduate students in a public setting. Because of its location in northwestern Pennsylvania, the college also had a parallel mission to serve the needs of the rural region where it is based. Consequently, concurrent with its liberal arts focus, Pitt-Bradford offered professional programs such as business management, sports medicine, and nursing; however, the general education curriculum was the required foundation for all programs.

Campus expansion and growth got a boost in 1995 when the college announced the success of Campaign 2000. More than $10 million was raised during the campaign, exceeding its goal by more than 25%. A major factor in surpassing the goal was the Blaisdell family of Bradford, owners of Zippo Manufacturing Co. Their dollar-for-dollar matching gift program for the college’s fine arts and communication arts building project accounted for nearly $3.5 million.

2000 & Beyond

In June 2002, Dr. Richard E. McDowell, who had been president since 1973 and helped Pitt-Bradford advance from a fledging two-year institution to a thriving four-year university, stepped down as president. Three months later, the university dedicated the newly renovated and expanded Sport and Fitness Center, a project McDowell helped to see to fruition. The building features a performance arena, the newly named McDowell Fieldhouse, a pool, a fitness center, sports medicine classrooms, a human performance lab and an athletic training room.

In April of the following year, Dr. Livingston Alexander, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Kean University in New Jersey, was named Pitt-Bradford’s third president. Dr. Alexander, who was also Pitt-Bradford’s first Black president, officially resumed the presidency on Aug. 1.

Two months later, the campus community and the surrounding community dedicated the newly renovated and expanded Frame-Westerberg Commons building and the academic portion of Blaisdell Hall, the university’s fine arts and communication arts building.

The new Commons included an enlarged Panther Shop, which featured an after-hours convenience store; a dining room with a 9,482 square-foot addition; a new Commons Café; an expanded Mail Center; a new game room; and many more meeting rooms on both floors.

The first phase of Blaisdell Hall featured two all-digital radio and television studios, a computer graphic arts lab, two art studios, a music rehearsal hall, a state-of-the-art music classroom, one high-tech classroom, three music practice rooms, a music listening library and two seminar/conference rooms.

The following year, the second phase of Blaisdell Hall, which included the 500-seat Bromeley Family Theater and the KOA Speer Art Gallery, was dedicated in a lavish ceremony. During the dedication, Marilyn Horne, internationally known opera star, Bradford native and supporter of Pitt-Bradford, received an honorary degree from the University of Pittsburgh, which was presented by Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg in appreciation for her steadfast support of the university.

2005 and 2006

The university saw more growth. Its physical plant grew with the addition of Reed-Coit House, a 103-bed residence hall, and the acquisition of the Seneca Building in downtown Bradford, which enabled Pitt-Bradford to return to the downtown economic and social scene for the first time since 1975. The building housed offices, classroom space, and the headquarters for the Office of Economic and Community Development. Additionally, the campus grew when American Refining Group donated 130 acres of land to the university.
Pitt-Bradford also saw significant growth to its complement of academic programs with the addition of several new majors, including entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary arts, hospitality management, accounting, and health and physical education. Those new programs brought the university’s number of majors to 41. Pitt-Bradford also offers more than 40 minors, concentrations and pre-professional programs.

The university also celebrated the successful conclusion of the Complete the Campus campaign, whose $13 million goal was surpassed. The purpose of the campaign was to support facilities, technology, scholarships and academics.


The complement of academic programs increased again with the resurrection of the petroleum technology associate degree program to help meet the needs of the state's oil and gas upswing.


More opportunities are made available to students. The Crime Scene Investigation House opened on campus, giving criminal justice students the chance to get valuable hands-on experience while investigating "mock" crimes, and the American Refining Group/Harry R. Halloran Jr. Energy Institute was developed, a partnership between the university and ARG to give faculty and students a center where they could explore and research energy-related issues.

In August, the Howard L. Fesenmyer House residence hall – named for longtime supporter and Advisory Board member Howard L. Fesenmyer, was dedicated and opened. Additionally, a newly renovated Swarts Hall was also opened.


The campus continued to grow and provide students with new opportunities.

Sarah B. Dorn House, named in honor of Sarah B. Dorn, a longtime campus supporter, was opened, and science students were able to conduct their experiments in newly expanded and renovated labs in Fisher Hall. On the other end of campus, members of the campus and surrounding communities dedicated the Harriett B. Wick Chapel, a nondenominational chapel that was a beautiful and peaceful space for events, recitals, weddings or quiet reflection.

The university was making other significant advancements well. The Admissions Office received the Chancellor's Affirmative Action Award for its work in increasing minority student enrollment, and a new partnership with Heilbronn University in Germany gave Pitt-Bradford students an additional study-abroad opportunity and Heilbronn students the chance to study at Pitt-Bradford.


The University of Pittsburgh, in an effort to provide support for the campus in Titusville, announced that Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville would share a common administration under the leadership of Dr. Alexander.

Additionally, a study released by Pitt's Center for Social and Urban Research detailed the campus’s impact in the region: Pitt-Bradford generated $67.5 million worth of economic activity and created or supported 740 full-time-equivalent jobs. Enrollment figures that September also showed that the university was having an impact internationally as well. A record 46 international students were enrolled that fall.


Pitt-Bradford turned 50, and, shortly after the arrival of its 50th year, the university received some unexpected and wonderful news: The college research website TheBestColleges named Pitt-Bradford one of the 10 best regional campuses in the United States, placing Pitt-Bradford in some pretty distinguished company, including Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley, Texas A&M University at Galveston, and Tufts European Center.

Also that year, several new academic programs were added: new majors in general studies and energy science and technology, and new minors in women's studies, criminal forensic studies and legal studies.

Additionally, the Sport and Fitness Center was renamed the Richard E. and Ruth McDowell Sport and Fitness Center to honor Pitt-Bradford's second president and president emeritus and his wife for all of their continuing contributions to and support of the campus.

As the year continued, many people on campus were planning for Pitt-Bradford's 50th anniversary, which included a Founders' Day celebration on Sept. 3, exactly 50 years after the first day of classes were held; the 50th Anniversary Alumni and Family Weekend in October, and a 50th Anniversary Gala on Oct. 4 to benefit the Marilyn Horne archive project. Ms. Horne, international opera star and Bradford native, had announced she would be donating her expansive archives to the university.

Part of the university’s 50th anniversary celebrations included the release of a book chronicling Pitt-Bradford’s rich 50-year history. The book was written by Sherie R. Mershon, a freelance writer and editor from Pittsburgh. To commemorate the release of the history, a book signing was held that included President Alexander and President Emeritus McDowell.


More and more students were choosing to live on Pitt-Bradford’s campus for two main reasons: Students who lived farther away from campus were being successfully recruited, and students who lived within commutable distance opted to live on campus to take advantage of the robust campus life and wide variety of student activities.

That continuing increase in resident students meant the university needed to build more permanent housing and, in the meantime, contracted with a local motel to provide temporary housing.

In September, the Lester and Barbara Rice House opened. The newest residence hall, which housed 109 students, was named after Mr. Rice, chairman emeritus and former CEO of KOA Speer Electronics Inc. and the Mukaiyama-Rice Foundation, and his wife, Barbara.


The university community celebrated the successful end of its 50 and Beyond Capital Campaign, which was launched in 2006 to raise funds for scholarships, academic programs, capital projects and special endowments.

Not only did the university reach its $17.5 million goal, it surpassed the goal by more than $2 million, raising a total of $20 million, the most successful fundraising campaign in Pitt-Bradford’s history.


When opera star and Bradford native Marilyn Horne announced she intended to give her archives to the university, officials at Pitt-Bradford wanted to provide a special place for some of her cherished memorabilia. Dr. Alexander and his team decided developing a museum in the Seneca Building downtown would be an appropriate place and way to showcase some of Ms. Horne’s archives and provide a unique opportunity for the public to see them. The University of Pittsburgh’s Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center, and construction on the facility began in May.


A year after construction began, the Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center opened in May with a visit from Ms. Horne, her daughter, Angela, and several other special guests from near and far. As part of that celebration, the university’s Board of Trustees approved naming the building Marilyn Horne Hall.

As the resident student population continued to grow, Pitt-Bradford received approval to build another residence hall, a 178-bed residence hall, and expand its dining hall. This residence hall, which would house first-year students, would be different than the other residence halls on campus by providing common areas where students could socialize, exercise and study in order to help them successfully adjust to college life.

The university’s Board of Trustees also approved naming the new hall Livingston Alexander House to honor Pitt-Bradford’s third president who dedicated 15 years of his career to leading Pitt-Bradford and had announced that he would retire in June 2018.

In addition to Dr. Alexander’s retirement announcement, Dr. K. James Evans, vice president and dean of student affairs, also announced he would retired in summer 2018. Evans, who had been at Pitt-Bradford since 1976, had been the longest-serving administrator in Pitt-Bradford’s history and the longest-serving chief student affairs officer in the University of Pittsburgh’s history.


Before Dr. Alexander retired at the end of June, the campus community – as well as representatives from the Pittsburgh campus – gathered to dedicate Livingston Alexander House, the campus’s newest residence hall that was named in his honor. 

In addition to saying goodbye to Dr. Alexander, the campus community also wished Dr. Evans good luck in his retirement.  

Despite losing two longtime and well-respected leaders, the campus community, in true Pitt-Bradford spirit, welcomed two new administrators: a new interim president and a vice president and new dean of student affairs.

After an unsuccessful search for a permanent president, Dr. Larry Feick, professor of business administration at Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business who had served as a regional campus liaison, was named interim president. A second search for a permanent president was launched.

After a separate national search, Dr. Scott Kane was named new vice president and dean of student affairs. Dr. Kane had previously served as dean of students and interim vice president for student affairs at Rhode Island College in Providence. During this time, Pitt-Bradford’s impact – well known by members of the campus community already -- was quantified when a study showed that the campus contributed $75.1 million to Pennsylvania’s economy during the 2018 fiscal year.

The study, conducted by consulting firm Tripp Umbach, measured the economic, employment and government revenue impacts of the university’s operations and research on all of the university’s campuses.
In addition to its monetary contribution, Pitt-Bradford supported 364 direct jobs. As a result of its operations, the Bradford campus created another 424 indirect jobs.

Pitt-Bradford also generated about $3.5 million in state and local government revenues for the Commonwealth this fiscal year.
In addition to being the seventh largest employer in McKean County, the university also benefits the region in many others ways: through its arts programming, the Bridges program, through which local high school students take classes on campus; the College in the High School program, in which regional high schools offer entry-level college courses; the Center for Rural Health Practice; the Allegheny Institute of Natural History; and American Refining Group/Harry R. Halloran Jr. Energy Institute.


In April, Pitt Provost Ann Cudd announced the appointment of Dr. Catherine Koverola as Pitt-Bradford’s fourth president. Dr. Koverola, who had most recently served as the inaugural provost and senior advisor at the African Leadership University in Mauritius, Africa, officially began her appointment on June 1.

In addition to a new president, Pitt-Bradford had more exciting news. The fall’s freshman class was the largest and most diverse in the university’s 56-year history. The class totaled 442 students, which surpassed the last record set in 2009. The class included nearly 38% racial minorities – 20.4% Black students, 8.6% Hispanic students, 4.5% multi-racial students, 3.9% students of Asian descent and .5% Native Americans.

The new class included students from 22 states and several countries and territories, including Puerto Rico and the District of Colombia, as well as Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, the Philippines and Ontario, Canada.


Pitt-Bradford, like everywhere else in the world, was affected by the coronavirus pandemic. To support the health and safety of the campus community during this unprecedented time, students, faculty and staff transitioned to fully remote instruction and work. Students did not return to campus after Spring Break, and faculty and staff began working from home.   

All campus events and activities were held virtually, and faculty, staff and students became Zoom experts. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the campus community – as well as businesses and organizations throughout the world – had to find solutions for new challenges and had to learn how to conduct day-to-day operations differently.

Students were still recognized during Honors Convocation and Commencement ceremonies, though the events were held virtually. Classes and student activities were still held, albeit by Zoom or another online tool. 

And, despite the challenges, the campus held steady and, in many instances, advanced.

Enrollment held steady, but retention – the number of students who return – increased across the board. Retention for students from their first year to sophomore year was 71.6%, the highest since 2006. Sophomore-to-junior retention was 81.3%, the highest ever. And junior-to-senior retention was 89.9%, the second highest ever.

At the end of March, Dr. Steve Hardin, who had served as Pitt-Bradford’s vice president and dean of academic affairs for 16 years and had earlier announced his impending retirement, retired a bit earlier, and was replaced by Dr. Emily Williams.

And, in an interesting turn of events, a large painting, which had been stored for more than five decades in a Bradford facility, was found and its connection to Pitt-Bradford and Bradford was revealed. The painting, a 9-foot-by-13-foot oil on canvas by 19th century Italian painter Tomasso Juglaris, had once hung in the Emery Hotel, which had been Pitt-Bradford’s very first residence hall. Once the significance of this painting was realized, it was ultimately painstakingly and lovingly restored, with assistance from some students, and later unveiled. A documentary about the restoration was premiered along with a formal unveiling of the painting, which now hangs in the KOA Speer Electronics Lobby of Blaisdell Hall.


After more than a year of adapting to pandemic conditions, the campus community, as well as the rest of the world, started getting to a level a bit closer to what they had known before the pandemic. Students had returned to campus in fall 2020, and during the summer, more and more faculty and staff returned to their campus offices.

In January, the university hired Dr. Tasha Alston, it’s first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, and Dr. Bill Schafer as interim dean of student affairs.

At the end of June, Dr. Koverola, Pitt-Bradford’s fourth president, resigned. Provost Ann Cudd named Rick Esch, a Pitt-Bradford alumnus and longtime vice president for business affairs, as interim president until a new permanent president was found.

In July, Dr. Williams also left the university, and was replaced by Dr. David Fitz until a national search was launched and a new permanent academic dean could be found.

In August, the campus community gathered to watch as ground was broken on a new engineering and information technologies building. The 40,000 square-foot building, which will open in summer 2022, will house two new majors – mechanical engineering technology and energy engineering technology, as well as existing majors, computer information systems and technology, energy science and technology, and information systems.

Construction on the new building started shortly after the groundbreaking, and later that year, George B. Duke, chairman and sole owner of Zippo Manufacturing Co., announced a $2 million gift to support the new building.


As 2022 unfolds, the campus community continues to work together to help students succeed and support the health and safety of the students as well as faculty and staff.