In first century, YSU leaves lasting imprint on local community, economy, leadership

By Harold Gwin

The university’s impact can be measured in human capital, not just dollars.

YOUNGSTOWN — Charles J. Bannon recalls, when he graduated from the Youngstown College of Law in 1957, about one-third of the lawyers practicing in Mahoning County were graduates of that same school.

“Academically, it was a great law school. I felt badly when it closed,” said Bannon, 79, now a retired common pleas judge. “It was a big deal around here.”

The school, part of what would eventually become Youngstown State University, had a major impact on the local legal field and offered a truly significant service to the community, Bannon said, adding that its closing in the 1960s was a loss to the legal community.

The YMCA’s decision to begin offering college-level courses in commercial law in 1908 was the unofficial start of the law school. YSU traces its own its beginnings to that program and that year; 2008 is being celebrated as the university’s centennial.

Meeting community educational needs has always been a priority for YSU, an open access institution, said Dr. David C. Sweet, YSU president.

There were fewer than 1,000 students enrolled in 1939 at what was then Youngstown College. In 1946, that number jumped to around 5,000 with a post-World War II boom of veterans seeking to take advantage of the GI Bill. The university adapted to meet the growing demand.

YSU’s impact in the field of local education is particularly impressive.

Statistics provided by the university show that, in 2005, 90 percent of the elementary, middle and secondary teachers in Mahoning County were YSU graduates. In Trumbull County, the number was 75 percent.

“Thousands of individuals have gotten an education here and been successful in their chosen occupations,” Sweet said.

An examination of the various organizations active in the university’s primary service area of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties would show YSU alumni in leadership positions, Sweet said.

“That’s a major component of our impact in this community,” he said.

Indeed, YSU statistics show that more than half of its 80,202 living graduates, some 45,000 people, live in the immediate region of that tri-county area and Mercer and Lawrence counties in neighboring Western Pennsylvania. “I think our impact has been pervasive,” Sweet said.

Further examples of that, he said, are: Capital construction dating back to Jones Hall in 1931, partnering efforts with other institutions such as Youngstown Early College and the city’s 2010 revitalization plan, ongoing efforts to link the campus with the downtown, and the development of partnerships with local businesses and industry to help foster economic development.

The university’s own direct economic impact can’t be overlooked.

With more than 1,100 full-time faculty and staff, the university boasts a payroll approaching $76 million, putting it on the top 10 list of area employers, said Thomas Humphries, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber.

He said that Sweet has focused on university funding, economic development and increased enrollment in his eight years as president and his efforts have made “a really significant impact.”

Sweet has had direct involvement in the 2010 plan and led the university in a proactive approach to economic development, teaming up with Wick Neighbors in the Smoky Hollow redevelopment plan and working with the chamber, Humphries said.

YSU is constantly looking for ways to offer added value to products made by local manufacturers, he said, pointing to ties with the local aluminum extrusion business, one of the largest in the country, as an example.

The university is also looking to step into the “tech belt” between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, a goal being pushed by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, Humphries said.

YSU opened its College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics last fall, developing the STEM program as a way to address the future economic well-being of the region, state and nation. School officials said at the time that it was important to align academic programs to address those growing fields.

Since then, the STEM college and the university’s new Center for Transportation and Materials Engineering have actively been soliciting partnerships with local businesses and manufacturers, offering help in solving problems and improving products.

The university is “a strong point for the community,” said Wendy Webb, superintendent of the city school district which partners with YSU in the Youngstown Early College program.

The university has also stepped up, offered studies and involved city school children in a variety of community history, science and other study programs, Webb said.

When the steel mills went down in the 1970s and 1980s, a lot of nontraditional students went to YSU to forge new careers, she said.

An education at YSU has had a profound impact on a number of its graduates.

Brothers Sidney and Bert Rigelhaupt, who spent their years in the local legal profession after graduating from the Youngstown College of Law, remained close to the university and, when they died, they left a trust of more than $1 million to provide scholarships for YSU’s on-going pre-law program.

Tony Lariccia of Boardman, perhaps the Mahoning Valley’s best-known philanthropist, said YSU’s impact on his life has been “beyond positive.”

He graduated with a business administration degree in 1966 and said he found then-president Howard Jones to be “absolutely stunning. He was just a force for good.”

Jones and his assistant, Mary B. Smith, “helped me immensely,” Lariccia recalled, adding that his experiences at the university have caused him to remain fiercely loyal.

He and his family have given the university more than $5 million and that generosity has expanded into the community, with giving by the Lariccia family to various causes totaling more than $11 million to date.

The university dedicates itself to growth and diversity, and to working with all groups, Sweet said. It seeks to fulfill its mission of being student-centered, working not only for their betterment, but the betterment of the community as well, he said.

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