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YSU A trio of new deans talk it up



Published: Sun, June 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The three are part of one of the biggest turnovers in academic leadership in the university's 94-year history.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- She's a cat-loving math guru in upstate New York and one of only a handful of women in her academic position.

He's a Ma- honing Valley native, a former schoolteacher and principal who once aspired to be a Catholic priest.

And another is a zoologist who runs a bed-and-breakfast with his wife in downtown St. Louis.

The diverse careers and lives of Cynthia Hirtzel, Philip Ginnetti and Robert Bolla come together this summer in one of the biggest turnovers in academic leadership in Youngstown State University's 94-year history.

Hirtzel, former provost at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, will be in Youngstown July 10 to take over the reins of YSU's engineering school.

Ginnetti, assistant dean in YSU's education school for the past two years, becomes education dean Monday.

Bolla, who has spent the past 13 years as chairman of the biology department at St. Louis University, takes over as dean of YSU's arts and sciences college Monday.

The trio, hired after extensive national searches, will oversee half of the university's six colleges in a move that ushers in a new era for YSU's academics under President David Sweet.

Each of them sports lengthy, impressive, research- and degree-laden vitae, as well as compelling personal stories of struggle and triumph:

Got out of her way

Cynthia Hirtzel knows what it's like being the lone woman in the good old boys club.

Growing up in Indianapolis in the 1960s when things like math and science were reserved mostly for boys, Hirtzel was always curious about why and how things work the way they do.

"I love math and science, but it was an era when girls weren't necessarily encouraged to pursue technical careers," she said.

Hirtzel didn't let that get in her way.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in math, she earned master's and doctorate degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Northwestern University in Illinois in 1977 and 1980, respectively.

At the time, women made up less than 3 percent of engineering doctorates, according to the Society of Women Engineers.

Although those numbers have improved, it's a rarity for a woman to be appointed to head an engineering school.

She estimated that there are no more than a half-dozen other woman engineering deans in the nation. She is the first woman to lead YSU's engineering program, where about 20 percent of the 1,100 students are female.

"But I don't like to focus on that," said Hirtzel, who also was dean of Temple University's engineering college from 1995 to 1998. "I tell students that what they need to do is pursue their dreams."

After four years in Plattsburgh, Hirtzel said, she was looking to move back into a deanship, and YSU seemed a good fit.

"I want to be someplace where I can be a long time," she said last week from her New York office. "I'm tired of moving around."

Divorced with no children -- "My family are felines" -- Hirtzel is a self-described busybody who said she plans to be active in the Youngstown community.

"There are many different ways to define success, but in my opinion every single definition must include service, and that means giving back more than you got," she said.

A born educator

Looking back on it, Philip Ginnetti said it sounds like a "real dorky" thing to do.

It was the 1960s, and Ginnetti had a little classroom set up in the basement of his home in Struthers. Ginnetti was the teacher; his seven brothers and sisters were his pupils.

"I had these little desks lined up," he said. "We had a chalkboard and everything."

So, when it came time to go to college, Ginnetti naturally pursued a career in education and got a bachelor's degree in elementary education from YSU in 1974.

"I can remember going to kindergarten and thinking, 'I want to do this,'" said Ginnetti, who will lead YSU's 1,840-student education college.

"You can ask my mother, too, because she says that's all I ever talked about."

For a brief time, however, Ginnetti thought there might be another career path out there for him: Catholic priest.

After teaching five years in the Girard schools, the eldest son of a devout Italian Catholic family entered the Pope John XXIII National Seminary near Boston in 1981.

"I wasn't sure it's what I wanted to do, but I wanted to try it," he said. "I sold all of my furniture, quit my job and gave it my all."

He didn't like it and left after a year.

"One time, I had to go to the funeral of a child, and I watched the priest and thought, 'I can't do this,'" he said.

So he returned to Girard, where he became an elementary school principal, later moving to the Lordstown schools. He began teaching at YSU in 1985, earned a doctorate from the University of Akron in 1989 and in 1997 took over YSU's department of teacher education.

"In the back of your head, you're always thinking that that's something I wouldn't mind aspiring to," Ginnetti, who is single and lives in Boardman, said about being dean.

"But the reality is it's very seldom that internal candidates are considered. So if I wanted to [become a dean], I would have had to move, and that is something I wasn't interested in."

Of the six top administrators that Sweet has hired since coming to YSU two years ago, Ginnetti is the only one from within the university.

"I certainly know the climate; I certainly know the people," he said.

"It gives other people hope that if you work hard, you make a big effort, you might have a chance, too."

It's a big move,

Of the three new deans, Robert Bolla may require the most adjustment because of his move to Youngstown.

A native of upstate New York, Bolla has spent the past 26 years in St. Louis, the first 13 years at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the past13 at St. Louis University.

His daughter is enrolled in a doctoral program in St. Louis, and his son is in law school.

"This is a big move for us," he said last week while packing up his St. Louis office. "It was a very major decision."

Bolla, 59, head of St. Louis University's biology department for 13 years, said he's confident it's the right decision.

"I've spent a lot of years as a department chair getting ready to do this," he said.

Bolla will lead YSU's largest, most academically diverse college, which includes majors such as statistics, sociology, psychology and physics.

Bolla, a scientist at heart, with master's and doctoral degrees in zoology from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said he's fascinated by the wide blend of subjects under the arts and sciences umbrella.

"It's probably the best job at the university in a lot of ways," he said.

"It puts you in focus with campus life. It's a good mix of people. I'm very interested in many things other than science, so it gives me the opportunity to move around in other areas, like the arts, history and English."

Bolla said he's also excited about returning to a public university like YSU. St. Louis University is a private school.

"For students at an institution like YSU, the attitude is that this is an opportunity for them and they really want to learn," he said. "I'm not sure sometimes that's the attitude of many students in private institutions."

The move to Youngstown also means Bolla and his wife, Terese, will have to close their bed-and-breakfast, The Brick House, on 11th in St. Louis' French Quarter.

The Federal style row house built in the mid-1800s has been the couple's home and business for four years, and Bolla said they may consider opening one in the Youngstown area.

"I'm the maintenance man," he said.




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