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Dr. Melissa A. Wertz: From youth softball coach and mentor in Lilly, Pa. to college dean

Dr. Melissa A. Wertz, Pittsburgh Technical College

… her focus on technology was a great career stimulus

Many people venture off in careers that are not what they originally envision. That happens to many people, and as a young college student, Melissa Wertz never thought about earning a doctorate or being a college administrator.

However, she changed her focus after a stint working at a college in her home area, and she is now Dean of Business, Criminal Justice, and Online Education at Pittsburgh Technical College in Oakdale.

What she remembers is advice that she received from her father many years ago when she was considering college.

Background in Lilly, Pa.

Melissa was one of four children of Fosten “Toby” Wertz and Carol (Yingling) Wertz who grew up in the Barkertown area of Lilly. She was a twin with her sister, Marcy (Hoffman). She graduated from Penn Cambria High School in 1988 and then matriculated at Indiana University of Pennsylvania,

I always had a love for education, so college was always going to be in the picture for me. Learning new things is something that I have consistently done and continue to do to this day. When I started college, I never imagined I would have a Doctorate. I am happy I completed the entire puzzle, but who knows what could be next because I am always seeking new knowledge to assist me in my career.

My dad always told me never to stop learning, and education is the only thing you pay for that no one can take away. This sentiment has stuck with me my entire educational journey and inspired me to persevere to the end and achieve my Doctorate.

Interview with Melissa

However, the career path that she had envisioned was hurt by something that many education majors discovered in the early 1990s: Baby Boomer teachers were no retiring, and few openings existed for new teachers. Despite that, another development in education made some other career paths available for students at the time.

The road to Higher Education

Melissa wanted to become a high school math teacher, but when she left college, not many such jobs were available.

I would say that I was very confident that I could succeed in college. I have always been someone who will work hard and learn new things. Looking back to the first piece of my postsecondary journey, I was confident I could succeed and make a difference for others. My experiences in high school with my math and science teachers provided me with an analytical foundation that was very beneficial for me in college-level courses.

When I went to college for my undergrad, the thought of being a college Dean never crossed my mind. When starting at IUP, my goal was to achieve my degree and secure a high school math teacher position. I honestly thought I would teach, coach a sport, sponsor a club, and contribute in any way I could to a high school to assist students for the rest of my career. But things do change.

Upon graduation, the job search began, and there were limited position options for high school or even middle school math teachers. I considered positions in many different locations, but the salary and cost of living were always the sticking point and kept me from accepting a full-time job.

Melissa Interview

Nevertheless, she took advantage of an opportunity that opened the door for what she is doing today, and she changed the focus of her educational career,

My opportunity to teach at the newly formed community college in Cambria County was my first adventure as a post-secondary educator. This experience prompted me to start looking for positions at the college level and led me to my current college.

Early in my career, I did not only teach mathematics. The early ’90s was the beginning of the technological era with different computer applications and the internet becoming a large part of education and business. I started studying and learned new software very quickly, which benefited me job-wise because I could teach and train people how to use the technology. My technology skills were instrumental in getting my first full-time position as a faculty member.

Melissa interview

After working for what was then Cambria County Area Community College [now Pennsylvania Highlands], she earned a teaching job at Pittsburgh Technical College and has been at PTC for 27 years.

The quest for a doctorate

At CCACC, Melissa focused on technology and mathematics while developing plans to deliver software to businesses and industries in the area. She also worked to research curriculum choices in technology and mathematics.

All of that work paid dividends in leading her to PTC — and to earning doctorate. She first entered a master’s program at Robert Morris and received an M.S. in Instructional Leadership. Then she made the decision to take her education to the next level,

Once I started my career in higher education, I always knew that someday I would pursue a Doctorate. I look at my educational journey as never-ending, but the Doctorate was the last piece of the puzzle as the highest degree I could achieve. I will never stop learning new things, but the final part of the puzzle, my Doctorate, was a goal I set nearly 20 years ago for myself. As I looked to the future and how I wanted to contribute at my college, I knew I needed to pursue a higher degree.

A mentor at work was also a big encourager for me to pursue a higher degree. He would always inspire me to reach further and pursue different things that would assist me with growing as a leader.

My Doctoral journey was exciting and challenging with coursework and writing. I refer to it as a journey because it required so much from me from balancing work and life; it was a consuming adventure. I am glad I could complete the journey and am proud of what I accomplished. It was an exciting time for my family and me when I participated in commencement and walked across the stage in my Doctoral regalia. My mom and dad would have been so proud on that day. I am sure they were there in spirit with smiles on their faces.

Melissa Interview

She earned a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from Walden University. Her dissertation topic was “Female Persistence in Fully Online Allied Health Programs at a Career College.”

The Wertz/Yingling Family Ladies: Melissa, Marcy (Hoffman), Suzette, Lucille Yingling, grandmother, Carol (Yingling) Wertz, mother

Roles at PTC

Melissa started as an instructor at Pittsburgh Technical College in 1995, and she became Program Director of Information Systems and Technology in 1997. From there she became the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Academic Chair, and the Dean.

She is now a fervent advocate for online education,

I have been very fortunate in my career at PTC. I have worked on many different initiatives that have built the foundation of what the college is today. From new programs, new degree levels, and online education, I have had an instrumental role in helping to sustain the college over the past 25+ years in various positions.

There are many critics and supporters of online education. My love for technology and education is a perfect marriage for the online world. Online education may not be for everyone, but it may be the only way for people to pursue their dreams and goals.

Over the last two decades, the proliferation of online education has opened the door for so many people to become educated that may have never been able to fit into the traditional higher education model of campus learning.

I always try to present this positive side of the online education story, realizing that there will always be critics. The student and faculty experiences have been a big focus for my work. I consistently research and collaborate with others to gather feedback and build systems that focus on the learning and teaching experience.

I continuously look for new ways to improve the experience and work with many colleagues to make this happen. This approach is beneficial when working with online education because it assists in building relationships and showing people that online is a viable form of education.

Melissa Interview

Pandemic and online education

When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit in 2020, Dr. Wertz was at the forefront of transitioning more than 1,800 PTC students, faculty, and staff to both remote work and to a hybrid/online learning model. The college did this in five days,

The inception of the pandemic has impacted online higher education in many ways. In some instances, online learning has flourished, and in others, it has fallen flat. The technology resources have been a godsend through the pandemic for educators and allowed education to continue no matter how imperfect. Imagine what would have happened if the technology resources were unavailable during the pandemic. Teaching would have gone back to correspondence courses, which ironically is the starting place of online education.

Melissa Interview

Satisfaction with career

From a coach of young girls in the Mainline area of Cambria County to an academic leader in Pittsburgh has been a great accomplishment for Melissa,

As an experienced leader in higher education, I have been working with faculty and students for over 25 years to achieve goals and serve the community. My experiences have allowed me to assist with growing a small urban career college with only five programs to a suburban academic institution with over 30 programs of study at various levels offered through online or on-campus delivery.

My career has allowed me to work at different levels in higher education. As a lifelong learner and proponent of professional development, I have learned and grown over the years to stay focused on higher education trends and challenges to assist me in accomplishing goals.

Melissa Interview

Career goals must be flexible

Melissa’s journey demonstrates that we all have to be amendable to change. Just like Dr. Kathy Phillips realized after student teaching middle school students that higher education may be her calling, Melissa was looking for a high school career when an opportunity at a new college in her home area showed her what the future could hold for her.

Two young women from Lilly pursued their dreams, and both earned doctorates. Melissa still have some years ahead of her in education, and who knows where that odyssey will lead.

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