PITTSBURGH (AP) – Nasir Alexander is ready to make history.
Alexander of Kissimmee, Fla., is among 80 men who this week will become the first males enrolled in the historically all-female undergraduate college at Chatham University. Move-in day is Wednesday, with orientation on Thursday.
Overall, total enrollment at the fully coed Chatham is expected to be up by more than 100 students, from 2,134 last school year to 2,241 this fall, including 61 men who are first-year students and 19 who are transferring in.
The growth has come largely from first-year students, who have more than doubled, from 104 last school year to 219 this fall. That means that, in addition to men, there are more women.
Alexander said, “One of the reasons I decided to go to Chatham was the opportunity to start something brand new and leave a legacy.”
Derrick Robinson, a graduate of City Charter High School in Downtown and a Penn Hills resident, isn’t traveling as far to campus but is just as excited. He plans to study information management systems.
“I feel like this is a really good time for me to express who I am as a person and as a scholar with academics. I think it’s a really good chance to broaden Chatham’s horizons, also,” he said.
Founded as a women’s college in 1869, Chatham has been accepting men as graduate students for more than two decades but not in the on-campus undergraduate college in Shadyside. The move to make the entire university coed sparked campus protest from alumni when the decision was made in 2014.
“It’s been a lot of work,” said Esther Barazzone, who has been president since 1992. “I think we’ve done the right things, and it’s being (proven) in increases in both men and women.”
She said the college expected to attract not only men but more women because only small percentages of high school students are interested in a women’s college.
Chatham had about 500 students – all undergraduates – in the early 1990s. Today, much of its enrollment is in various graduate, professional and other programs, including online courses. Last school year, even as its enrollment grew above 2,100, it still had only 597 on-campus undergraduates in what was called the Chatham College for Women. This fall, 685 on-campus undergraduates are expected.
“We decided to grab that problem before it became a devastating problem,” Barazzone said.
The president hopes Chatham ultimately will have at least 1,000 undergraduates and some day as many as 5,000 total students, both on campus and online.
Changes have been underway on campus to prepare for the men. All but one of the residence halls will be coed by floor, with Fickes Hall remaining women only. All of the undergraduates will be housed on the Shadyside campus, although a new residence hall, which will have graduate students, is opening on the Eden Hall campus in Richland.
Changes have been made in some other buildings as well, including moving the bookstore and student life offices from the Carriage House to Woodland Hall to make space for a student center, including a lounge and meeting spaces, in the Carriage House.
Chatham, already a member of the President’s Athletic Conference, has added Division III men’s sports, including basketball, baseball, volleyball, track and field, cross country, and swimming and diving. Women will continue to field teams in all of those sports except baseball. Women also have ice hockey and softball.
Of the 80 men, 44 are athletes. About 30 percent of incoming women are athletes.
Alexander, who is looking forward to being on the basketball team, said he learned about Chatham when the head basketball coach visited Florida and saw him practice. Alexander wanted to play basketball in college, but at 5 feet 8 inches he had no illusions of a Division I scholarship. He began researching Chatham, applied and won a presidential scholarship covering tuition, fees, room and board for four years if he maintains a 3.0 GPA.
When he visited the campus in the spring, he said, “I liked that it was near Downtown where all the activity and things are, but it has its own little section.”
He was also encouraged by talking with teachers in his planned major of exercise science.
Robinson, who does not plan to play sports, said Chatham awarded him a “fantastic financial aid package,” and he likes that it is close to home.
Of Chatham, he said, “From everything I’ve heard about Chatham, it provides a challenge to students. . I want to be challenged.”
There also is the attraction of historical moment.
“I do think setting my place in the first male class did affect my decision because that sounds exciting,” he said.