Legislative Fellow, Friend of Higher Education Named for 2011

Posted on 12/2/2011 4:23:01 PM
James Wansacz

IUP honored Jim Wansacz, Lackawanna County commissioner-elect and former state representative, with the Friend of Higher Education Award and named Representative Frank Dermody its fourteenth Legislative Fellow at a luncheon December 1, 2011.

The Friend of Higher Education Award is given in recognition of an individual’s continued support of and advocacy for public higher education in Pennsylvania.

The Legislative Fellow program is the result of an initiative begun in 1998 by APSCUF, the union that represents the IUP faculty.

Frank Dermody

APSCUF representatives, IUP administration, and students designed the program, in which the fellows serve as guest speakers in classes and meet with students and faculty and staff members.

Each year, a Legislative Fellow program committee, made up of faculty members and administrators, meets to select a fellow from among Pennsylvania legislators, usually from the western half of the commonwealth, and the Friend of Higher Education award recipient.

The selection is based on a demonstrated record of leadership in state government and in the legislator’s local community. Each candidate must possess knowledge and expertise related to aspects of state government or issues important to the welfare of the state. Program organizers believe that, in addition to the sharing of expertise, on-campus contact among students, faculty members, and state legislators will result in greater understanding of the roles each plays in higher education.

Dermody has served in the House of Representatives since 1990 and became Democratic leader in 2010. He previously served as whip, chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, and chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

His 33rd district occupies the northeastern corner of Allegheny County and may soon expand into Westmoreland County. A resident of Oakmont, he earned his B.A. from Columbia University and his law degree from Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington. He was an assistant public defender and assistant district attorney and served as a district justice before his House election. His legislative priorities include economic development and job creation, prison sentencing reform, and restoring the deep budget cuts to education made this year.

From 2000–2010, Wansacz served as the state representative from the 114th district. His committee assignments included Environment and Energy, Commerce and Economic Development, Professional Licensure, Gaming, and State Government. He was chair of the Pennsylvania Small Business Advisory Council and a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. He also served as deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus.

After leaving state government, Wansacz worked as a business development consultant for Commonwealth Energy Group before his election this year as a Lackawanna County commissioner.

Wansacz, of Old Forge, graduated from IUP with a degree in Business Management and a minor in Economics. He is president of the IUP Alumni Association.