Pitt hosts ACC Student Body President’s Conference

Just before the University of Pittsburgh took the field for its greatly anticipated football season-opener against Florida State University at Heinz Field, student body  presidents from 11 of the 14 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schools held a leadership conference on the Pitt campus.

The first-ever gathering of student presidents from the ACC, which is generally regarded as one of the top athletic and academic conferences in the country, is just one example of opportunities that are occurring as a result of Pitt’s new association with the tradition-rich schools.

In early August, as Pitt athletic director Steve Petersen was preparing for the Panthers nationally-televised Labor Day football game against Florida State -- and envisioning what the atmosphere at Heinz Field would look like – he reached out to Pitt Student Government Board President Gordon Louderback to see if it would be possible to have somebody carry the flags of each ACC school onto the field before kickoff. 

Louderback took the idea one step further, reaching out to his fellow ACC student body presidents to see if they wanted to personally represent their schools.  After conversations with Alex Coccia, student body president at Notre Dame, and Rosie Contreras, student government association president at Florida State, the student leaders decided to not only carry the flags, but also seize the opportunity to conduct a more formal leadership conference.  Pitt and Florida State agree to co-host the event a few weeks later and put together a program to facilitate the exchange of ideas.

On Monday afternoon, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, FSU President Eric Barron, and ACC Commissioner John Swofford, spent some time with the student presidents, sharing some of their reflections about school and conference history, as well as their vision for the opportunities for collaboration among student leaders and faculty that the new ACC presents.

“This a very important day in the history of the University of Pittsburgh as we publically enter the Atlantic Coast Conference on a very visible stage,” said Chancellor Nordenberg, who shared highlights of Pitt’s storied history and some of the significant milestones and achievements during Pitt’s 226-year existence.  “This is the beginning of a wonderful relationship, one that extends beyond athletic competition and includes gatherings like this one.  I’m proud of our student leaders for taking the initiative to bring you together, and I’m pleased so many of the schools in the ACC could be represented by their student leadership here today.”

FSU President Barron agreed that this was just the start of deeper collaborations between the ACC schools. “You’ve embarked upon something that I think is just absolutely fantastic, because you can all learn from each other, you can see what each of the universities is doing, what they’re doing well, what makes you feel good, what makes you feel proud, and you can share it with other institutions.”

Commissioner Swofford formally welcomed Pitt, Syracuse, and Notre Dame as the newest conference members, and discussed the cornerstones of the ACC during its 60-year history, which “have long been, and still are, the balance of academics at the highest level; coupled with athletic programs that compete at the highest level nationally; coupled with a set of rules, integrity, and compliance from an NCAA standpoint.”

“This is the strongest academic conference among the five major conferences,” Swofford added.  “We should be very proud of that. There’s no reason that we can’t be the best major college athletic conference in the country, in whatever way you want to measure it, whether it be academics, whether it be integrity, whether it be the competition.”

The weekend of activities began Sunday night with a dinner at the home of Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey.  On Monday, the student government representatives were treated to lunch in the Groghan Scheneley Room of the Cathedral of Learning, before conducting meetings in the Babcock Room on the top floor of the campus landmark.  The reps then carried their respective school flags onto Heinz Field before the kickoff of the Pitt-FSU game.

“It was such a privilege to have this outstanding group of student leaders gather together to discuss how to enhance the student experience on each of our campuses,” said Humphrey, who attended meetings with chief student affairs officers earlier this summer.  “It’s also exciting to see the students want to talk about how we can collectively make an impact in our world.”

“It was a great weekend that definitely exceeded all of our expectations,” said Louderback.  “We wanted to collaborate and learn from each other, find out more about what each of us were doing at our institutions, and then try to bring what we learned about other government structures, programming, and how we can advocate together as ACC schools back to our campuses, and to our local and national government officials in Washington, D.C.”

“What we’re most excited about is really to be able to tap into the purpose and mission of the ACC beyond athletics,’” said Contreras.  “Being able to get students who are so invested in their respective universities together, brainstorming what the future of the conference can be, and where our collective potential really lies, I think has been exciting and also thought provoking.  We’ve been able to learn a lot, share a lot, as well as just really think strategically about where we all can go collectively.”

Attendees (presidents unless noted):

Kayley Seaweight (Clemson University)

Ray Li (Duke University) - Vice President

Rosie Contreras (Florida State University)

Adam Rosenthal (Florida State University) - Chief of Staff

Alex Parker (North Carolina State)

Alexandra Curtis (Syracuse University)

Bhumi Patel - Vegetarian (University of Miami)

Jacob Morse (University of North Carolina) - Vice President

Alex Coccia (University of Notre Dame)

Eric McDaniel (University of Virginia)

Brent Ashley (Virginia Tech)

Gordon Louderback (Pitt)