PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A local university is making progress and history at the same time with the hiring of a new president.

Through the glass doors at Robert Morris University sits the school’s first African-American president.

“I’m excited about serving Robert Morris period. It’s not lost on me that I happen to be African-American, but having said that, I am here to serve the red, white and the blue of RMU as it were,” Dr. Christopher Howard said.

Dr. Howard is a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy, a Rhodes Scholar, and a graduate of both Oxford and Harvard.

He has worked as an intelligence officer, held positions with Bristol-Myers Squibb and most recently, he was the president of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

“I always wanted to make a difference in the world. The platform of a place like Robert Morris University allows me to touch the lives of so many people in so many ways,” Dr. Howard said.

Howard points to his own family history as to why making a difference is so important.

“My great, great grandfather, who I did not know, was actually a slave, Amos Howard, and he’s no different really than this chair that I’m sitting on right now in the sense that he was property. But yet, so many generations later, I’m leading one of the greatest universities in the country, if not the world,” Dr. Howard said.

He also credits his mother, who showed through example, the true meaning of fortitude.

“A woman of faith, a woman who didn’t have electricity in her house until she was a junior in high school, never had running water in her house, but yet finished valedictorian,” Dr. Howard said.

Using his family’s core attributes of character, leadership and integrity, Dr. Howard never sees his race as a hindrance.

“You’re the other to some extent. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a true thing. And when you are the other, you learn. You learn about empathy. You learn about putting yourself in the shoes and vantage points of other people, no matter who they might be,” Dr. Howard said.

As his relatives did for him, he wants to use his position to do for others.

“It’s about making a pathway. Making a path for those that can come behind you,” he said.

As for his hopes for RMU?

“Let Robert Morris be what Robert Morris must be. Let’s be an institution that’s committed to both opportunity and excellence,” Dr. Howard said.