In 2004, Robert Hill, vice chancellor for public affairs at the University of Pittsburgh collaborated with Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg to establish the university’s annual Black History Month program. Over the past decade, the nationally recognized program has won numerous awards and left Hill’s stamp on the university he’s called home since 1999.
“There’s a rich African-American history that America would benefit from knowing more about and our program localized that to Pittsburgh and refined it more precisely to the role of the university in the Black experience,” Hill said. “There is a wealth of material that is worthy of recognition, celebration, dissemination. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Now the award-winning program will be left in someone else’s hands as Hill prepares to retire on May 31. His retirement was announced on May 1.
As head of the office of public affairs, Hill has overseen the university’s marketing, media relations, and publications. Under his leadership, the university has produced a number of award winning publications including Pitt Magazine, Pitt Med, the Pitt Chronicle, and Blue Gold and Black, a tribute to Pitt’s African American community.
Throughout his time at Pitt, Hill has used his role as chief communications officer to tell the city, the country, and even the world, about the university’s noteworthy accomplishments. But he’s also used that role to tell the stories of African-Americans at the university and throughout history.
“What gave me the most satisfaction was the ‘Free At Last?’ exhibit where we were able to present the little known story of how African-Americans came to be in Pennsylvania and how their story unfolded from a life of slavery all the way through some 250 years of Pittsburgh history to give insight into the reasons for the conditions experienced by Black Pittsburgh today,” Hill said. “I didn’t come to Pitt to do that. Most of my time was spent telling Pitt’s story so people could understand how we’ve achieved tremendous progress, but in the process of conducting those central activities I came to learn about slavery in Pittsburgh and thought what I learned should be made known to the world.”
While Hill’s publications and productions have won numerous awards, he too has been recognized for his stellar talents. In addition to other recognitions, the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation named him the Robert L. Vann Communicator of the Year in 2010
Looking back, Hill said he has seen positive growth for African-American students at the university. He said Pitt is admitting a higher caliber of Black students who have gone on to reach impressive accomplishments including one who received a Rhodes scholarship, a selective international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford.
He also said the university has received two visits from the National Society of Black Engineers in the past five years. The university had also seen two students go on to become president of the National Black Medical Association.
“We’ve done a good job at attracting some highly qualified African-American students, retaining them and graduating them,” Hill said. “Obviously I don’t claim responsibility for that but it’s certainly great to be a part of that.”
Hill is a board member of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and a member of the NAACP-Pittsburgh Branch’s Corporate Committee. He said he is taking time to consider what activities and community causes he will be involved in after he retires.
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