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Robert Morris Pittsburgh to D.C. Bike Ride – Day 3

From May 26-31, a group of Robert Morris University staff members, students, alumni, and friends embarked on a group bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., with stops in Ohio Pyle (Pa.), Cumberland (Md.), Hancock (Md.), and Harpers Ferry (W. Va.). The following is an account of the third day of the journey as experienced by RMU Senior Writer Valentine J. Brkich.

DAY THREE – Cumberland to Hancock (Md.)

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel and a quick stop at the local drug store for some insect repellent – a MUST on the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath – we set off for our next destination, Hancock, Md., a little over 60 miles to the east. Despite the previous day’s challenges and the uncomfortable task of putting on sopping wet shoes first thing in the morning, we were in good spirits. After all, we had made it through the toughest part of the journey—the long uphill climb to the Eastern Continental Divide. From here on out the path would either be flat or downhill.

Piece of cake.

As we started out, we were having a lot of fun riding through the muddy mess that was the C&O—the result of the previous day’s torrential downpours. Within just a few miles, we were splattered with mud and laughing at our utter griminess. A couple miles in, we stopped briefly to check out a Confederate soldier’s family cemetery along the trail, one of the first signs that we were officially on the southern side of the Mason-Dixon Line. (Photo: One of the many old locks along the C&O)

It didn’t take long, however, for the novelty of the mud to wear off. Before long, my legs had grown weary of fighting through the thick, foul-smelling slop. It soon became mentally exhausting as well trying to avoid the puddles, switching back and forth, back and forth, from one lane to the other. And when you did get a chance to stop for a break, you had to be sure to spray every inch of your body with a generous amount of insect repellant in order to fend-off the hundreds of blood-thirsty mosquitoes that would instantly descend on you. (Photo: Fixing a flat in West-Nileville)

And what about this “downhill the rest of the way” stuff I’d been promised? Every once in a while, when you’d come upon an old lock, you’d experience a brief downhill run. But for the most part it was up and down, up and down. The ups were never that steep, but when you’re slogging through thick, energy-sapping mud, even the slightest incline is unwelcome. It didn’t take long before I’d fallen back and was once again on my own.

Our first stop was the tiny town of Paw Paw, about 30 or so miles down the trail. Of course, I missed the turn off and had to backtrack a half mile once I realized my mistake. In town I saw a number of mud-caked bikes parked outside of Anthony Jr.’s, the local pizzeria. I found the crew I’d been riding with earlier in the day already inside. We were all getting some pretty bizarre looks from the locals, who’d probably never seen a grungier bunch of bikers. And I’m sure we all smelled delightful, coated in a mixture of stagnant canal water, mud, sewage, and bug spray.

Bon appetit, everyone!

After woofing down an Italian sub and pausing briefly to admire the Paw Paw Memorial Day parade (fire trucks, John Deere tractor, livestock, etc.), I returned to the C&O beneath the unforgiving midday sun. I was glad when I finally reached the cool shelter of the 3118-foot Paw Paw Tunnel. Since the tunnel has no lights and is nearly pitch dark inside, you have to get off your bike and push it the nearly ½-mile to the other side, hoping that you don’t stumble across a water moccasin as you focus on the light at the other end. (Photo: RoMo outside the Paw Paw Tunnel)

By the time I’d reached mile 40, I was really hurting. My legs, worn out from the previous day’s never-ending climb, felt like Jell-O, my back ached from hours of crouching over my handlebars, and let’s just say my bicycle seat and I weren’t getting along. I was also feeling sick—a combination of allergies and a lingering sinus infection. And since I had run out of water, I was forced to drink the “treated” well water along the trail, which had a lovely, metallic, slightly rusty flavor to it.

It was around this time when the other riders, seeing that I was near death, took pity on me and selected someone – Todd’s dad, Ed, – to stay back and ride along with me. He’d never admit to it, of course, but I knew what was going on. And I appreciated it greatly.

A little further on down the trail, we stopped at a local establishment known as Bill’s Place, one of the few watering holes along this section of the C&O. Jeff Foxworthy would have a field day with this joint. It’s the kind of place where you wouldn’t look out of place walking in shirtless, wearing a pair of oil-covered bib-and-brace overalls, a golf-ball-sized wad of tobacco in your cheek, and a “Git-R-Done!” hat on your head. We, on the other hand, clad in our skin-tight biker shorts and over-sized helmets, stuck out like a bunch of sore thumbs.

The only real charm of the place is in the ceiling, which is covered with dollar bills that people have signed and left there over the years (Bill’s and bills…get it?). We even located the one Todd left there the last time he and his dad rode through. (Photo: Hamer’s bill at Bill’s)

Since Billy Bob and his cousins weren’t exactly giving us that warm-and-fuzzy feeling from over by the bar, we just ordered a few waters and skedaddled whilst we still had the chance.

With about 13 miles to go until Hancock, I found myself riding alone again amidst the jungle-like vegetation of the C&O. Every pedal was agonizing by this point, and the mud and slop had caked both me and my bike in a layer of thick, heavy, smelly filth. Somehow I missed the turn-off to the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail, which would have provided a smooth, almost effortless ride for the last 10 miles of the trip. Instead I continued on down the muddy trail, past the ruins of the Round Top Cement Plant and something with the charming name of the Devil’s Eyebrow. (Photo: Ruins of the old Round Top Cement Plant)

When I finally rolled into town, hungry, thirsty, muddy, and somewhat delirious, I came upon some of the other riders relaxing in the shade enjoying some ice cream. Seeing that I was in no mood for joviality, they hopped on their bikes and led me directly to the hotel, which, of course, sat atop a punishing hill about a half mile down the road. When I stumbled into the lobby looking like the Swamp Thing, they said they couldn’t find my reservation and that there were no vacancies either.


I ended up having to get a room over at another hotel—at the top of ANOTHER HILL!—and it was one of the filthiest, least inviting hotels I’d ever stayed in. The lock on the door was broken, so before I went to sleep I jammed my mud-caked bike between the door and the wall, hoping that it would buy me some time should someone try to break in. Which, after the day I had, seemed totally plausible. (Photo: My filth-covered shirt right, before I threw it in the garbage)

It was an appropriate ending to one of the most physically and emotionally taxing days of my life, and I couldn’t bear to think that I still had two more days and over 120 miles to go.

RMU Dedicates New Media Arts Facility

Its nursing simulations center was recently revamped, and ground has already been broken for its new School of Business Complex. Now Robert Morris University can add media arts to its list of programs with new, state-of-the-art facilities.

Today, around 30 university employees and esteemed guests gathered at RMU’s Colonial Village to dedicate the recently completed Snee-Reinhardt House for Media Arts. Made possible by the Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation, this new facility will serve as a living-learning center for students in the School of Communications and Information System’s (SCIS) Media Arts Program.

The noon ribbon-cutting ceremony was preceded by a welcome from David L. Jamison, J.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “The Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation’s generous support is going to make a tremendous difference here at RMU,” he said. “This beautiful new facility will serve students, faculty, and the entire campus community in so many ways.”

The new Snee-Reinhardt House for Media Arts features a screening room on the lower level for student films and documentaries, a meeting room and conferencing room on the first floor, and ample space throughout to display the work of students. It also features an apartment on the second floor, where visiting scholars will live and work alongside students.

“This new facility will offer a number of ways for collaboration between students and faculty,” said Barbara J. Levine, Ph.D., SCIS dean and associate professor of communications.

The Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation, established in 1983 by Katherine Snee, provides aid to organizations who strive to serve the community by improving social conditions. Christina Treadwell ‘91, a member of the foundation’s Board of Directors and RMU’s Board of Visitors, was instrumental in making this new facility a reality.

“We wanted to make sure it benefitted the students and benefitted the school’s curriculum,” she said. “I am so humbly honored to be a part of this and to be able to put into action the knowledge that I gained right here at RMU.”

RMU President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D., was also very pleased to dedicate the new facility. “It’s great to see our young alums, such as Christina, becoming such wonderful supporters of the university and our vision,” he said. “The academic component is very important, particularly with respect to our commitment to engaged learning, and media arts plays right into that.”

— Valentine J. Brkich

In Connemara

Pictured above is Kylemore Abbey. The picture was taken by Jay Carson, vice president for Institutional Advancement at RMU, who is part of RMU’s alumni trip to Ireland.

RMU’s Irish Adventure

Robert Morris University is going green – emerald green, that is.

A group of RMU administrators, including President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, and his wife, Polly, along with alumni, and friends are currently across The Pond enjoying a private, nine-day tour of Ireland, aka the Emerald Isle.

Led by their guides, James Vincent, associate professor of English Studies at RMU, and Therese Cunningham, a lecturer at the Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology, the group is enjoying unique Irish cuisine (see photos), luxury accommodations, and breathtaking sights during this very special annual trip.

Vincent, who has taught Irish literature and other courses for 32 years, has made more than 30 trips to his ancestral land, and he was instrumental in creating RMU’s exchange agreement with the University of Limerick.

Yesterday the group took a luxury coach tour through County Clare to the soaring, 700-foot-high Cliffs of Moher. Next they visited Burren, where vast stretches of limestone riven by fissures are splashed by the colors of foxgloves, rock roses, and 26 species of butterfly.

Today they made their way to Galway, aka the “City of the Tribes,” which is known for its music, festivals, horse racing, pubs, galleries, restaurants, shops, and theatres.

“We spent the day shopping and touring the city,” said Jay T. Carson, vice president for Institutional Advancement at RMU. “Our guide, Therese, is very knowledgeable and has given some great background on Galway, its traditions and history. Tonight we’ll be going out to dinner at Kirwin’s, which should be fantastic.”

Over the next few days, the RMU group will be visiting many other historic towns and sites, including Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, Dublin, Clonmacnoise, Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Killmainham Gaol, the Hill of Tara, and Powerscourt House and Gardens.

Keep watching the RMUNews blog for photos and updates on the group’s Irish adventure…

Interdisciplinary Class Combines Skills of Marketing and Engineering Students

A protective plastic shell that keeps your bar of soap clean. Pepper spray that sounds an alarm when you use it. These were just a couple of the ideas considered by students in RMU’s Marketing Research and Product and Tool Design classes.

Led by Priyadarshan A. Manohar, Ph.D., assistant professor of engineering, and Cathleen S. Jones, D.Sc., assistant professor of marketing, the interdisciplinary class had students take a common problem, do surveys to gather information, and then design and build an actual working prototype of a product to address the problem.

The students were then required to reveal their findings and prototypes in a professional presentation in front of their peers. During the first round of presentations, the students also got the chance to present their ideas to Larry E. Nolph, senior financial manager for GlaxoSmithKline.

“In a class like Marketing Research, you can’t really understand the subject unless you conduct a real-world research project,” said Jones. “This course is particularly interesting because students not only conduct actual research, but then they see how their results are used to turn a concept into a working model.”

The EZOpen Trash Can, conceived by Brittany T. Herron, Jillian D. Mcconnaughy, and Jamie R. Vanslander, and built by engineering students Justin R. Laughner, Michael J. Serafin, and Donald J. Swisher, addresses the problem many people have when removing the trash bag from their kitchen container. The prototype features a large storage capacity and a front-side opening, and is stackable and lightweight yet sturdy. The front opening eliminates the need to lift the trash bag out of the can, and rubber wheels allow the can to be transported with ease.

The Erase-All Whiteboard Cleaner, conceived by Rachel E. Cavolo, Stephen B. Colella, Rebecca A. Shoup, and Amanda L. Wells, and built by engineering students Mark Geubtner, Sean McDonough, and Anthony Trunzo, is a multi-purpose, dry-erase/chalkboard cleaning tool with a versatile head and an extendable handle. The students said that they hoped the cleaner would capture what they saw was a new multi-purpose dry erase tool market and replace the out-dated rectangular whiteboard cleaners currently being used.

Other prototypes created by students:

Ice Away– a hand-held, vibrating ice scraper
Marketing students: Emily Bradford, Gregory W. Chapman, Andrew E. Muriel, Matthew J. Rusnic
Engineers: Brian Carnahan, Jason Frederick, and Mike Wood

Comfortcrutch – a more comfortable-to-use crutch
Marketing students: Jordan T. Czolba, Chad J. Betris, Mark R. Hewitt, Edward M. Rowse
Engineers: Bryan Dempsey, Nikki Rodgers, and Cleveland Savage

Honored for Business Excellence

Rande Somma ‘73 fought back tears as addressed a crowd of faculty, administrators, students and their families at RMU’s inaugural Beta Gamma Sigma induction ceremony on March 29. “There is a soul about this university that I didn’t know about,” he said. “I’m not sure if you know about it yet – but you will.”

Somma had just been named an honoree of RMU’s new chapter of the international honor society, which is exclusively for business students in AACSB accredited institutions. During the ceremony, which took place in RMU’s Massey Hall Theater, thirteen juniors and 14 seniors, along with 5 M.B.A. students, 3 M.S. in Nonprofit Management students, and 1 M.S. in Human Resource Management student, were inducted into the honor society, which represents the highest honor a business student can receive.

Derya A. Jacobs, Ph.D, dean of RMU’s School of Business introduced the two chapter honorees. “I am very emotional tonight,” she said, speaking to the students and attendees. “I am so proud of you all.”

“This is really a great accomplishment for the university,” said President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D. “Our peers have now identified and recognized us as one of the top 5 percent among business schools.”

Somma received his B. S. in Business Administration from RMU and now serves as president and CEO of Rande Somma & Associates, a consulting firm focusing on leadership coaching and development. Previously, he served as corporate officer for Johnson Controls, Inc. He is also the founder of the Rande and Georgia Somma Integrity First Scholarships, $2,500 awards given annually to the four RMU business students who write the best essays analyzing moral or ethical issues in a business case study.

Somma said that the establishment of this new Beta Gamma Sigma chapter “speaks not only to the exceptional quality of the educational experience at RMU, but also to that of the extraordinary commitment to excellence embodied in the leadership of the university and the School of Business.” He also thanked the many people who had given of themselves to help him find success in life, and who had inspired him to, in turn, give back to others.

His fellow honoree, Douglas J. MacPhail ‘74, echoed this sentiment. “You have to give back,” he said. “You have to give back to your alma mater, family, community, and religious organization. We are role models and mentors for the next generation. Be willing to volunteer your time and resources.”

MacPhail, a native of New Jersey, said his parents had convinced him to come to Robert Morris, and he was glad he’d listened to them. Now a resident of Pittsburgh, he is in his 30th year with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, where he serves as senior vice president. “This university was willing to give me a chance,” he said. “Because of [RMU], I was able to flourish.”

Joseph DiAngelo, Ed.D., dean of the Erivan K. Haub School of Business at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, awarded the charter to RMU’s School of Business and spoke of its impressive growth. “This is a school that is on the move,” said DiAngelo, “– in step with the goals of a great, student-centered university.” He added, “I know your faculty have been in the vanguard of this movement – this revival of great teaching – by embracing and actively promoting the most progressive trends in education today.

“You are a part of the best that Pittsburgh has to offer,” he said.

– Valentine J. Brkich