Community celebrates Tartan Week in Scottish nationality room

By Katelyn Kruszewski, Staff Writer

The Zoom screen showed an animated image of a classroom created by virtual reality software. The center of the screen zoomed in on a wooden jug with artistic carvings on the side — the historical Tam O’Shanter jug.

The Scottish nationality room celebrated Tartan Week with a live presentation last Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. in the room and on Zoom, including an overview of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs, a brief history of Scottish influence at Pitt and a presentation demonstrating Scottish technology.

The celebration was a collaborative effort between the Scottish nationality room and the Scottish Business Network to discuss the new Sister City pairing with Glasgow and to highlight Scottish tech.

Tartan Week takes place around the world each April. It is a series of events that celebrate Scottish culture by sharing Scottish traditions such as parades that feature Highland dancers, clan organizations and history lessons. Tartan Day always falls on April 6, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. The declaration asserted Scottish sovereignty over their own lands from the English crown.

Neil Owen, an ambassador from Scottish Business Network to the Pittsburgh region, said he had a role in tying the Pittsburgh area to its Scottish roots, particularly with expanding current technological innovations within Scotland to the region. An example of the new tech includes the development of virtual reality for educational purposes.

Owen invited Scottish technology company Edify to the event to give a brief demonstration of interactive learning. Owen said he felt Edify’s innovations were relevant for the presentation.

“With so much expansion of remote learning technology in such a short space of time over the last couple of years, I felt it fitting to showcase a technology firm that is at the leading edge of what students will likely see be introduced to their education experiences,” Owen said.

Over the Zoom screen, Nathan Kirkwood of Edify demonstrated an image of a virtually created classroom. In celebration of Tartan Week, Kirkwood showed animated versions of highly prized Scottish artifacts including the Tam O’Shanter. Kirkwood explained that virtual reality is a way to expand education and allow students to observe these artifacts easily through the use of technology.

Speakers at the event included Bill McShane, who gave a brief history of the Scottish nationality room and Scottish influence across campus. Brackenridge and Bruce Hall are both buildings named after Scottish academics who helped to build the University, Robert Bruce and Hugh Henry Brackenridge.

Bill McShane, secretary of the Scottish nationality room, told a brief history of Scottish influence around Pitt’s campus. He said the connection between Pittsburgh and its Glasgow Sister City works to build community.

My understanding is that the goal is to build communities of shared knowledge around topics affecting both cities, such as inequality, infrastructure, education and health and well-being,” McShane said. “The idea is to have folks from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean sharing knowledge to address these shared issues. We want this to be a continuing engagement for sure.”

McShane said he wants students to know that the nationality rooms are not just a place in which they have class.

The classrooms are not just a space you may have class, but that they are supported by committees and friends of Pitt to promote and share knowledge relevant to the rooms and the program,” McShane said. “To that end, our most important goal is supporting Pitt students, especially those that want to study abroad.”

Owen gave a brief description of his role in tying the Pittsburgh area to its Scottish roots through highlighting each city’s shared foundation of industry and innovation. Owen said the role of SBN is to create meaningful connections in global and local networks.

This event is the culmination of bringing together several key ‘dots’ within the Pittsburgh region to celebrate both the Scottish roots and heritage that have helped to shape and form the Pittsburgh region, but also highlight the contemporary culture of innovation that is playing a role in Pittsburgh’s present,” Owen said.

Jo Olson, a professor of business administration at Pitt, attended the presentation due to her Scottish heritage. She said the presentation was valuable in expanding her knowledge of Pitt’s Scottish roots.

“Learning about the role of Scotland in Pennsylvania, in particular in Pittsburgh, the history of the University is interesting. I didn’t know all these different people, their roles at the University of Pittsburgh. I learned a lot,” Olson said.

Owen said the Scottish nationality room is a pillar of Scottish heritage in Pittsburgh. 

“The Scottish nationality room, I feel, is truly a jewel in the crown of the many fine examples of Scottish heritage here in the City of Pittsburgh,” Owen said. “It is fantastic to be able to showcase that to a wider audience both here and to those further afield who are tuning in.”