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Pop Star: Esther Barazzone

"Our core mission of educating women," says Dr. Esther Barazzone, Chatham Unversity president, "both undergraduate and graduate, is extremely important for the economic development of the region."

Leaning forward in her well appointed office in Andrew Mellon's former home, a large, faux-Tudor structure that once housed the Secretary of the Treasury et famille, in the heart of Chatham's 39-acre Shadyside Campus, Barazzone has reason to know. A founder or board member of a slew of women's development groups including the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship; the Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy; the Rachel Carson Institute; and The Regional Women's Initiative; among others in her 17-year tenure at Chatham (now extended through 2013), Barazzone has relentlessly pursued institutional growth as well as women's roles in regional life.

One thing Pittsburgh needs is diversity in leadership," she says. "So we've added graduate programs in fields that women have historically gone into. Education. Health sciences. Nursing. Physician assistants. Physical therapy. Occupational therapy. Our graduates are hitting sweet spots in the local economy."

And, Barazzone adds, they also succeed because they're trained in such vital, emerging areas as environmental studies, globalism, and women's roles. "We try to have all three run through our programs," she says.

All told, it's been a remarkable transformation. Chatham (renamed a half-century ago for William Pitt's title, the Earl of Chatham) is a mere 140 -- and pretty spry for a dowager who keeps re-inventing herself. From a cloistered women's college with 500 undergraduates, Chatham's enrollment has swelled to a robust 2,300 students.

Now with three campuses -- Shadyside, Eastside Building (at Penn and Fifth Avenues, on the seam between East Liberty and Larimer), and Eden Hall, a 400-acre farm in Gibsonia -- the university has been happily experiencing a 10 to 15 percent growth every year since '94.

Further change will come at Eden Hall, a former Heinz company retreat being remade into a kind of laboratory for renewable resources. "It's not Old Economy," Barazzone says, referring to the historic village on the Ohio River, a museum of the utopian 19th-century Harmonite movement. "It's New Economy, a 21st-century place for 21st century problems.

"I'm very proud of Chatham," she adds. "The institution has had to re-interpret its past. Change has been a part of whatever we do."

Another key change has been Chatham's "very focused international program," Barazzone says. Not only does the university have a dedicated international recruiter bringing top students to Pittsburgh, but Barazzone has made a number of trips herself, building partnerships in Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. Still, she says, "we want to be more systematic and extensive in our international partnerships."

Pointing to manufacturing, information management, and emerging technologies, Barazzone says that she sells Pittsburgh as "a great place, a wonderful middle-sized city with a great future.

"I moved here 17 years ago," the Philadelphia native adds. "Pittsburgh is my home of preference now."

Abby Mendelson's latest book, End of the Road, a collection of short stories, is available at amazon and bn.com.

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