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Posts from the ‘Robert Morris’ Category

Robert Morris Goes Storytelling in Ireland

From May 9-23, Andrea Frantz, Ph.D., associate professor and head of RMU’s Department of Communication, and Christine E. Holtz, RMU professor of Media Arts, accompanied 19 journalism and photography students to Sneem, Ireland, a village of 400 in the Ring of Kerry in the Southwest part of the country.

While there, the journalism students focused on learning the stories of the community by interviewing villagers and photographing, writing, and blogging about them. The photo students were challenged to develop themes for their photography and shoot with the goal of creating photo books. The students also sought to learn about the culture of rural, southwest Ireland by listening to and practicing traditional Irish storytelling and performing music.

The group’s guide, Mr. Batt Burns, offered several workshops in storytelling as well as a great deal of historical insight into the area.

Frantz, Holtz, and their students traveled to the Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Killarney, and the Blasket Islands. Students also took part in hiking, biking, kayaking, and golf. One evening the group even enjoyed a traditional pub night in which the students shared their own talents in music, dancing, and storytelling, alongside the locals.

“For me, this was a real high point in my teaching career,” says Frantz. “I have long advocated a community journalism approach in my traditional classes, and I’ve challenged my students to see their university community as the home-base for learning. But this was the first time I’ve had the privilege of doing community reporting in a foreign country, and Sneem couldn’t have been a better place to pull it off.”

By challenging students to practice community journalism in a small village in which they were forced to quickly learn its people, geography, history, and customs in order to locate and re-tell its stories, they were pushed out of their comfort zones.

Following a particularly challenging interview with a local farmer, who possessed an extraordinarily thick Irish brogue and was very reticent to talk about himself, senior Heather Lowery told Frantz, “This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my four years as a journalism student.”Later on, however, when her story was complete, Lowery’s tune had changed. “I have never been more proud of any story I’ve written,” she said.

During their time in Ireland, the students recorded their reactions, observations, and first impressions of Ireland and the experience in general via a series video blogs, which you can view through the following links:

Right on the tails of the journalism class came another RMU group led by Jim Vincent, associate professor of English studies, along with Heather Pinson, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications, and Alisa Krieger, student leader.

Arriving on May 25, the group, which was made up of 25 students from Vincent’s Irish mythology and literature course, began its Ireland adventure in the town of Mullaghbane in County Armagh. There they stayed in the cultural center of Ti Chulainn, an agricultural, isolated, mountainous region, famous for being a stronghold of the home hunting grounds of the Red Branch Knights of ancient Ireland, and their leader Cuchulainn.

Students also climbed the mountain of Slieve Gullion and visited Navan Fort and Giant’s Causeway. They even toured Newgrange, which is 600 years older than the pyramids of Egypt and contains passage tombs of Irish settlers from well before the Celtic Age.

During the second part of their trip, on the way to Sligo, they stopped at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, County Tyron, which is a large park full of re-enactors who depict both Ulster and American life in the late 18th century.

“Many Ulster Scots, generally Presbyterian, emigrated to western Pennsylvania,” said Vincent. “Thomas Mellon has a replica of his house there, and a friend of mine actually plays Mellon at the park.”

While at the park they had a night of music with local musicians as well as RMU singers Dawn Savage ‘11, Shaun Sweeney, and Melissa Curiale. The visit to the park was coordinated by former Rooney Scholar Marie Martin and her husband Joe. The group also enjoyed a lunch hosted by Southwest College in the town Omagh.

At Sligo (name means shallow or shelly), students concentrated on the life and poetry of Ireland’s most famous poet William Butler Yeats. Sligo was Yeats’ summer home; his poems “The Stolen Child” and “The Lake Isle of Inisfree” have their sources in this region. Here they explored by bus and by boat, and climbed Knocknarea, on top of which is the legendary burial site of Queen Medb.

During their stay at The Yeats Village, since there wasn’t any cafeteria, the students got the chance to cook for themselves. “We found out who could cook and who couldn’t,” said Vincent.

They also had a lot of fun, too. “We heard poetry, visited churches, drank in pubs, sang and danced,” added Vincent. “Generally, we had a good Irish time.”

To wrap up their journey, the group spent a day and a half in Dublin, where some students visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, others the Guinness Brewery, and some took pictures of Ireland’s scenic capital city.

For more on RMU’s trips to Ireland, find them on Facebook (search “RMU Claddagh Club”) or on Flickr.


Written by Valentine J. Brkich


The Forgotten Founding Father

Washington. Jefferson. Franklin. Adams. Hamilton.
And, yes, Morris.
If you’re like most people, when you think of the American Revolution, you probably think of Washington’s daring Christmas-night crossing of the Delaware River, Franklin’s diplomatic efforts overseas, Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence, or any number of other extraordinary contributions made by our “Founding Fathers.”
Unfortunately, more often than not, Robert Morris’s important role is forgotten.
But according to “This Rebel Came Armed With a Balance Sheet,” John Steele Gordon’s review of Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye (Simon & Schuster), Morris deserves more credit than he is usually given. (The book review recently appeared recently in The Wall Street Journal.)
Of course, here at Robert Morris University, we already knew that.

RMU’s Hidden Symbols

Back in 2003, novelist Dan Brown took the publishing world by storm with his highly controversial book, The Da Vinci Code. Just recently, he released his long-awaited follow-up, The Lost Symbol, which centers around the mysteries surrounding the many Masonic symbols found around our nation’s capital and on our national currency.

At the center of this new thriller is the fresco known as “The Apotheosis of George Washington,” which adorns the ceiling of the Capital Dome. Painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880), this Raphael-esque fresco covers an area of 4,664 square feet and took eleven months to paint.

In the center of the fresco, Brumidi depicts George Washington rising to the heavens with classical female figures representing Liberty and Victory. Washington is depicted as a godlike figure here, hence the word “apotheosis” in the title, which literally means “the raising of a person to the rank of a god.”

Six other groups of figures are included in the painting symbolizing American ingenuity in war, science, marine, mechanics, agriculture, and commerce.

Ed Karshner, assistant professor of English studies and communications skills at RMU, pointed out that the commerce grouping actually depicts Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, handing a bag of money to our very own Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution. “Mercury was the patron god of alchemy, which sought to transform lead (the body/material) into gold (the soul/spirtiual),” he says. “Mercury represented the swift intellect and was associated with Hermes, the messenger of the gods. So, the intellect is handing Robert Morris a spiritual reward of transformation (i.e., what was lead is now gold), which is a pretty cool metaphor for a university.”

Each semester, Karshner has students in his Mythology class look for the hidden symbols around campus. “I also like to look at how groups use symbols, icons, and indexes subconsciously,” he says. “It’s a kind of symbol scavenger hunt and a mind puzzle, but it’s also fun and can be illuminating.”

Karshner points out that at RMU we have a ziggurat: a stepped hill with a temple (Rogal Chapel) on top. “You can look at ancient Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica to see examples of these pyramids,” he says.

We also have a dome and spiral in the Nicholson Center, which Karshner says symbolizes the migration or emergence into the mind or the ascending to heaven. “All of these symbols fit into RMU as a university, since they all reference a migration upward to a higher consciousness and a transformation of self.”

–Valentine J. Brkich

The British are coming! (We hope)

Regular readers of this blog — we know you are out there — know that our Homecoming takes place this year on Sept. 26, just after the G-20 Summit (rechristened The Pittsburgh Summit) wraps up in downtown Pittsburgh.

In the spirit of good transatlantic relations, we decided to invite the British delegation to come partake in our Homecoming celebration, as a way of burying the hatchet over that whole Revolutionary War business. Here is the text of the letter that RMU President Greg Dell’Omo sent to the British ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald.

Dear Ambassador Sheinwald:

As the president of a Pittsburgh university named for the man who financed George Washington’s army, I am proud of the historical heritage of Robert Morris University. While Morris is not as widely known as other Founding Fathers, the “Financier of the Revolution” loaned the colonial forces money from his own accounts and ordered his company’s ships to operate as privateers, attacking British vessels and seizing their cargo.

All’s fair in love and war, as they say. Yet today, as Pittsburgh prepares to welcome the world’s leaders for the G-20 summit, I recall the special relationship between the United States and United Kingdom. Former foes are now partners. Our university maintains a student exchange program with the University of Birmingham, we have British students and faculty, and we are extremely proud that this fall, alumnus Michael Wahl will become the first RMU graduate to attend the University of Oxford, where he plans to pursue a doctorate in social anthropology.

So how to make amends for the past? While it will not be possible for us to return the cargo Morris’s privateers took, I would like to offer something almost as valuable. The day after the summit, on Saturday, September 26, we will hold our annual “Homecoming” ceremonies for alumni, culminating in the crowning of a king and queen (an idea we borrowed from the “Mother Country”) and a game of RMU Colonials football (our kind, not your kind) at high noon.

I would like to invite your delegation to be my personal guests that day, including seats in my private presidential reviewing stand, an American lunch, and, if you are willing, a formal handshake at midfield to convey our mutual admiration and respect.

Robert Morris University is very close to the Pittsburgh airport, so this may be a fun way for your officials to wrap up the visit before departing. We would be glad to make all transportation arrangements for your group’s visit, on Homecoming or on another day. If your schedule is too full, we would be pleased to meet you at your convenience to share ideas about how Robert Morris University can strengthen its commitment to giving its students a global perspective.

I wish you a pleasant and productive visit to Pittsburgh, and sincerely hope to have a chance to welcome you to RMU.


Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D.
President, Robert Morris University

Robert Morris is a Yinzer!

Robert Morris University’s official colors may be blue and white, but recently we’ve been basking in the Black & Gold of Pittsburgh!

Yes, sir, it sure is a great time to be here in the Steel City, or should I say, the City of Champions. Things couldn’t be more exciting in Pittsburgh right now, and RMU is so glad to be a part of it.

• On June 12, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 2-1 in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals. This was great news not only for Pittsburgh in general but also for a big hockey school like RMU, whose men’s hockey and women’s hockey programs have also experienced a lot of growth and success in recent years.

• Back in February, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in a thrilling Super Bowl XVIII, which like the Stanley Cup, came down to the final seconds. RMU even had connections working on the field for both sides during the big game.

• And the Pittsburgh Pirates…er…um…did I mention the Penguins won the Stanley Cup! (Keep pluggin’ away, Buccos!)

And Pittsburgh isn’t just getting recognized for its sports teams either.

• In late May, the White House announced that Pittsburgh would be hosting the next G20 economic summit this September 24-25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which, by the way, is the only other conference facility in the city larger than our own Sewall Center here at RMU.

• In June, The Economist magazine named Pittsburgh the most liveable city in the U.S., and ranked us 29th in the world! This is another honor for the city, which was named America’s “Most Livable City” in 2007 in the 25th anniversary edition of Rand McNally’s “Places Rated Almanac.”

• And just this week Pittsburgh was listed 18th on the Brookings Institution listing on the strength of local economies.

Here at RMU, however, we don’t need anyone to tell us how great Pittsburgh is (although it is nice). We’ve always known what a vibrant, cultured, friendly city this is, and our students are lucky to be located in such an up-and-coming region.

I wonder what our namesake Robert Morris would think of all this? You might think a guy like him Founding Father, powdered wig, stockings, etc. would be a little stuffy and not get caught up in all the excitment. I disagree. I bet he’d be swelling with Pittsburgh pride and eating a Primanti Bros. sandwich (capicola, cheese, and egg) while screaming “Let’s go Pens!” from the top of Mt. Washington (or, as they say in Pittsburghese, “Mt. WARSH-ington”).

After all, that’s just the kind of guy he was.

The Perils of Antiquing

I may be the first – and youngest – person to ever sustain a knee injury at an antique store.

Okay, I admit it—I like antique stores. I’m not into porcelain tea sets or costume jewelry or paintings of dogs playing poker or anything like that; I just enjoy perusing the aisles and seeing what type of interesting junk…um, I mean treasures people have to sell. Occasionally I’ll buy an old book or a vintage typewriter, but for the most part I’m just a browser.

And that’s exactly what I was doing a few weeks ago down at a local antique dealer in nearby Coraopolis. I was coming back from a meeting at the RMU Island Sports Center, when I spotted the store and decided to do a little treasure hunting. That’s when I came across an old painting entitled “The Formation of the First National Bank of the United States.” I was immediately intrigued.

In case you didn’t know, our very own namesake, Robert Morris, “Financier of the American Revolution,” helped organize the Bank of North America – the first modern U.S. bank – in 1781, while he was serving as superintendent of finance. This bank was the predecessor of the First Bank of the United States, which got its charter from Congress in 1791. Was Robert Morris involved in the establishment of this “First Bank” too? I didn’t know, and it was impossible to tell from the painting, which shows several men all wearing traditional colonial garb and powdered wigs. The only recognizable face was that of George Washington. So, unsure if Morris was in the picture, I decided not to buy it.

After a couple weeks, however, I decided to just go and purchase the painting since it wasn’t expensive, and there was a good chance that Morris was one of the subjects depicted. But when I arrived at the store I became distracted by some dusty old books and started to peruse the titles.

That’s when it happened. As I squatted down to look at a book, I felt a sharp pain in my knee. And when I came back up, the pain was even more intense. So, after paying for the painting, I hobbled out of the store, hoping that I hadn’t just blown out my ACL while antiquing.

As it turns out, I just pulled my quad muscle, which is not as serious an injury, but still quite an embarrassing one to sustain at an antique store. Fine, I admit it: I’m old.

As for the painting, I’m still not sure yet if Robert Morris is one of the white-wig-wearing gentlemen shown discussing our nation’s first bank. Regardless, I gave it to Fran Caplan, RMU’s dean of university libraries, as a donation to the Heritage Room, of which she is the curator. It should make a nice addition to the room, which honors our esteemed namesake.

In the meantime, I’ll keep digging around on the Internet to see if I can find an answer to this mystery. Hopefully I won’t pull anything while operating my computer mouse.

–Valentine J. Brkich