Black History Month Feature/Vernon Franklin: A Purposeful Life

Issue Date: 
February 7, 2011
Vernon FranklinVernon Franklin

Vernon Franklin, a communications specialist and computer trainer within Pitt’s Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD), has been working at the University for three decades. Though he has held multiple positions at Pitt since he began in 1981, Franklin says his true passion is personal and professional development—helping individuals identify and pursue the purposes of lives well lived.

Eight years ago, Franklin says, he came to understand that his own purpose was to help others find theirs. “Mentoring individuals is my whole life,” he says. “Friends and family members have always sought me out for advice.”

Leading weekly training sessions during Pitt’s Human Resources orientation sessions for new hires is just one of the many ways that Franklin provides computer guidance to Pitt employees. He also trains faculty, staff, and students on new software when the University upgrades technology.

The biggest challenge as a computer trainer is the need to continually learn new technologies, says Franklin. “But once I get an understanding of a new technology, I can teach it. After I receive training on new software from our vendors, I develop our custom tools and training manuals.”

Unbeknownst to Franklin when he was an undergraduate at Geneva College, an elective course in computers would set his future path. A sociology major, Franklin liked the computer class and decided to pursue a minor in business data processing. He received his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1976 and returned to Geneva for his master’s degree in organizational leadership, which he received in 2000.

At Pitt, Franklin is highly regarded, particularly by his CSSD colleagues. Communications supervisor Orr Goehring has worked with Franklin since 2004 and said that he is an exemplary representative of the department at orientation sessions across campus. “I can’t think of anyone better than Vernon to be the first point of contact from our department,” says Goehring. “He’s approachable and knowledgeable. He’s a great trainer and meticulous in his preparation.”

When asked to describe his greatest success at Pitt, Franklin answered without hesitation, “The greatest successes are when people leave my classes empowered. Many people have told me that I have a teaching style that is very patient and very thorough.”

Working in academic computing has put Franklin in touch with many students throughout the years. He said he’s taken many young students under his wing and helped them set and reach their goals.

Tyler Karns (A&S ’08) is one Pitt graduate who has benefited from a friendship with Franklin. The two met when Karns was a student worker for CSSD in 2005.

“He has been a mentor to me,” says Karns. “He makes me think about how I can better myself as a person—how I live my life. We have some very deep conversations about what is going on in our lives and what we can do to better ourselves.”

Jackie Huggins (A&S ’95), a communications specialist technical coordinator in CSSD, has worked with Franklin for 13 years and also calls him her mentor.

Huggins says Franklin has often helped her with her own personal and professional development and attributes many of her training skills to him. “I didn’t have a strong teaching background, but I had a background in information technology. Vernon helped me bridge the gap between knowing my subject and actually communicating and teaching it to someone else. Vernon can help you see a different perspective on things,” she adds. “He has also helped me to recognize some of my own strengths. He sheds light on a lot of things professionally.”

Franklin has found many opportunities to pursue his interest in personal and professional development at his church, Allegheny Center Alliance Church (ACAC) on Pittsburgh’s North Side. In addition to serving on the Board of Elders and as a lay counselor, he has, for nearly eight years, led a life-purpose course. “We look at personality type, passion, talents, spiritual gifts, and life-shaping experiences to see how a person is wired and how God has equipped us as individuals,” says Franklin. “We try to match people with their life purpose, life profession, or life ministry.”

Franklin’s desire to work within the church can be traced to his upbringing. His grandparents founded Pittsburgh’s Victory Baptist Church, which began in his grandmother’s home. Growing up, he was often asked to volunteer with the church. As an adult, Franklin pursued formal ministerial training. In 2002, he received a certificate in Biblical counseling from Christian Research and Development, a ministerial training program based in Philadelphia, and he studied urban ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1998.

Through ACAC, Franklin also served as the coordinator for Aftercare Ministry, an inmate release program offered through the Allegheny County Jail. The program provides a place for people recently released from jail to be mentored and receive assistance with finding housing, transportation, and jobs. The program allowed Franklin and the other mentors to meet once a week with former inmates. “We went over life skills and also had Bible lessons,” says Franklin.

Franklin seems to have an endless supply of energy. When he is not offering training at Pitt and doing community work with his church, he can be found running in Highland Park before dawn; baking a variety of cakes, cookies, and breads; and experimenting with vegetarian cooking. And because he loves teaching, he also finds time to lead computer courses as an adjunct faculty member at the Community College of Allegheny County.

With his many commitments and activities, it’s a wonder that Franklin’s momentum never seems to flag. “Helping others motivates me. That is one of my gifts—when I’m able to be of service.”