Pitt Associate Vice Chancellor Madelyn Ross Retires

Issue Date: 
September 9, 2013

Madelyn “Maddy” Ross, associate vice chancellor for national media relations and University Marketing Communications at the University of Pittsburgh, retired at the end of August. In her roles with the University, she shepherded important Pitt stories into major national and international media outlets and oversaw some 25,000 marketing projects, raising the high-quality profile and reputation of the University.

Ross joined Pitt in 2005 after 34 years in journalism, Maddy Ross22 of them as managing editor of The Pittsburgh Press and then the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In those years, she directed and edited three reporting projects that won Pulitzer Prizes, created an innovative professional journalism writing program that was exported to many newsrooms around the country, was a regular lecturer at the American Press Institute in Reston, Virginia, and served twice as a Pulitzer Prize juror. That rich journalism background served Pitt in a number of ways.

At Pitt, Ross was known for her powerful writing, deft editing, creative problem-solving, and ability to organize and lead complex projects.

She placed Pitt stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report, Time Magazine, National Geographic, the London Daily Mail, and the South Asian Times, on the national Associated Press and Bloomberg wires, and on 60 Minutes, The Today Show, CNBC, China Central Television, and the Discovery Channel, among many others.

After Pitt was given a Wyoming ranch littered with dinosaur bones, her deep journalism contacts led her to a Washington Post writer with a little-known affinity for paleontology, who then wrote Pitt’s “Jurassic Ranch” story in a 10-page spread in the Sunday Washington Post Magazine. Her promotion of the historic Cathedral of Learning led to a full segment on the Travel Channel’s “Made in America.”

Her leadership on the “Eds and Meds” project in advance of the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh resulted in a Pitt resource-laden website for the international journalists arriving in Pittsburgh and tours for journalists of Pitt, Carnegie Mellon, and UPMC labs. That initiative contributed to hundreds of positive stories about Pitt and its role in the economic development of the region covered by more than 500 media outlets around the world.

In addition to such stories, she began a system with the Pitt news team to offer Pitt faculty expertise that would raise the level of public discourse on topics in the news and bolster the stature of the University. Over the years, many thousands of news stories have included the wise counsel of Pitt experts.

She also authored or edited and placed scores of op-eds promoting Pitt ideas, ideals, or expertise in newspapers around the region and the country. She authored the Op-Ed Guidelines now used around the University.

The University Marketing Communications (UMC) department—Pitt’s main marketing arm—was added to Ross’s portfolio in September 2007. Since that time, she expanded its reach into every department of every Pitt responsibility center, raised the quality standards of every project, and through efficiencies and innovations, such as an on-line store and an online print-bidding system, cut costs for Pitt clients in each of the past five years.

This year, under Ross’s direction and after extensive research efforts, including 13 focus groups and collaborations with teams throughout the University, UMC’s Web operation launched a new iteration of the University’s main Web site. The Pitt team updated the design and increased the site’s usability, while deepening its content to include a global site with a world map that, for the first time, laid out the University’s worldwide reach. Other additions included a new sustainability site, a new search function to help prospective students discover what Pitt has to offer, and audience pages that guide users directly to information important to them.

In addition to her regular duties, Ross was also central to many special Pitt projects, such as the dissemination of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation report in 2012, the story of the cleaning and conservation of the Cathedral of Learning, the historic gifts of John Swanson and William Dietrich, the billion-dollar (ultimately two-billion-dollar) capital campaign, the visits to campus of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso, and the return to campus of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. During Maathai’s visit, Ross arranged an introduction to her for Pitt graduate student and fellow Kenyan, Kakenya Ntayia. Ntayia has since won acclaim for her own work to provide Maasai girls an education in her town in Kenya.

Ross participated in the editing of the well-received Institute of Politics book on the political career of Elsie Hillman. She produced the Keep Pitt Public Web site and its associated Pitt Progress site to inform the public of Pitt’s contributions to the community and the state. And she conceived of and executed the student-centered advertising campaign to oppose the city effort to tax tuition.

For one special Pitt project, she was curator of a major exhibition at the Heinz History Center that used recently discovered slave-related records to expose the little-known story of slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibition ran for six months and then was digitized and remains part of Pitt’s permanent archives.

Her work at Pitt garnered many awards, including Council for Advancement and Support of Education Accolades Gold awards, Public Relations Society of America Renaissance awards, and the International Association of Business Communicators/Pittsburgh Best of Show award. In 2007, the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania gave her its President’s Award for lifetime achievement.

Earlier, she received the Carlow University Women of Spirit Award, the Triangle Corner Celebration of Excellence Award, YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh’s Leadership Award, Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the National Catholic Education Distinguished Graduate Award, and Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business award.

Ross earned a master’s degree from the Graduate School of International and Public Affairs at the University of Albany, a bachelor’s in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and did post-graduate work in rhetoric and communications at Pitt.

“Over the past 41 years in journalism and at Pitt,” Ross said, “I have been exceedingly fortunate to have played some small role in telling many of the profound stories that impact our lives. Now, in my next role, I will be giving the profound stories of my 96-year-old mother my undivided attention.”