Kati Csoman takes over as new director of the Nationality Room Program

Kati+Csoman%2C+the+new+Nationality+Rooms+director%2C+succeeds+Maxine+Bruhns%2C+who+was+in+the+role+for+54+years.

Alanna Reid | Staff Photographer

Kati Csoman, the new Nationality Rooms director, succeeds Maxine Bruhns, who was in the role for 54 years.

By Colm Slevin, Staff Writer

As a Pitt sophomore in 1987, Kati Csoman won the Hungarian Room Scholarship, which let her spend five months living in Hungary.

She studied at University of Pécs, spent a month living with family members who she never met before, and even developed an accent when speaking Hungarian. Csoman said her experience abroad inspired the rest of her academic career.

“It gave me a focus for that certificate, and for my studies,” Csoman said. “Everything sort of came back to Hungary, came back to Central Europe when I was doing papers or research for undergraduate classes.”

Csoman returned to Oakland and became the new Nationality Rooms director on Aug. 9, replacing Maxine Bruhns, who previously held the role for 54 years before retiring in early 2020 and passing later that year. During her time as director, Bruhns built 12 new nationality rooms, expanded the University’s summer study abroad program and met the Dalai Lama at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. The Nationality Rooms program — built to celebrate the City’s international heritage — started in 1926 and has grown to 31 rooms and a staple on Pitt’s campus.

Csoman graduated from Pitt’s Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences in 1989 and Graduate School of Public and International Affairs in 1996. Before entering her role as Nationality Room director, she previously worked as an assistant teaching professor and associate director of global program innovation at Penn State.

Looking back at her time as a student at Pitt, Csoman said she fondly remembers her mentor Bob Donnorummo, her Russian and East European studies certificate and learning Hungarian, which helped her get a fellowship with the U.S. Department of State to work at the American Embassy in Budapest after graduation. 

Csoman also said her involvement with the Nationality Rooms was the reason she became interested in international education.

“The Nationality Rooms were definitely the accelerator for what really became this journey in international education as a student,” Csoman said. “And then as an administrator, working in international education.”

Csoman said she wants to try and do more with the rooms, by holding more events and getting more people interested in the rooms. Michael Walter, tour coordinator for the Nationality Rooms, said Csoman is focusing on reaching out to people to get them invested with the programs to increase engagement. 

“I believe that she is interested not only in the individual finding inspiration,” Walter said. “Whether it’s by the chance of a person being scheduled for a class in a room, possibly the tourists coming to see the room, but also as groups who may find some use of the rooms that they might not have considered. ”

Csoman said in her new role, she plans on understanding the community and approaching them with humility. She wants to keep the Pitt community engaged with the Nationality Rooms and everything they offer.  

“I approach things through the lens of cultural humility,” Csoman said. “It’s very important for me to understand the communities. What’s happening, what are the needs, what are the interests, what are the aspirations. It is to build on a very important legacy to keep students, staff, faculty and community members interested and engaged.”

Csoman said she thinks international education and connecting students to current events in the world and different cultures is important to fostering a positive community and appreciation of cultures.

“Intercultural learning is so important for higher education, but really for all levels of education,” Csoman said. “And I think, again and again, contemporary events show us that a lack of understanding of one another is really harmful, and if we could help to foster at all levels this appreciation of other cultures, experiences with other cultures in deep meaningful ways, then the world would be a better place.”

Walter said Csoman has established a good relationship with the members of the Nationality Room Program team and is bringing a new attitude to the University Center for International Studies

“It’s an interesting and refreshing take on seeing how things can intersect and offer new possibilities,” Walter said. “I know, speaking to my guys, they’re all very excited about her start and possibly what we can do, and new creative opportunities for educational engagement.”

Maryann Sivak, the assistant to the director of the Nationality Rooms, said Csoman’s goals and understanding of the communities she’s working with makes her a good leader for the Nationality Room Program. 

“She also has new ideas for moving forward,” Sivak said. “She has goals that would work with the mission of the University of Pittsburgh. She understands the requirements of academia and she also understands communities because of her background. She is very well-rounded.”

Sivak also said Csoman’s ideas to collaborate with other departments within UCIS and the University will enrich the Nationality Rooms and the experience students have with them. 

“She wants to work with universities, she wants to work with the other units within UCIS,” Sivak said. “And although we did work before with the other units, but not to this extent, and the biggest change will be that we’re collaborating with other departments like when we have a visiting professor at Pitt, we will be reaching out to them and asking them to give presentations.”

For Csoman, she said working at Pitt allows her to give back to the community that gave so much to her. With her experience, she said she wants to encourage students to have a life-changing experience such as learning a language or going abroad. 

“This place changed my life in ways that I could not have even imagined before coming to the University, and I would like to have the opportunity to support students.”

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