Salvatore Russo: The face behind the emails


Tarun Sepuri/The Observer

Salvatore Russo, manager of academic and research administration at the Case School of Engineering, emphasizes that his office is open to all.

If you are a computer and data sciences (CDS) or an electrical, computer and systems engineering (ECSE) student, chances are that you have received an email or two signed off by Salvatore Russo, manager of academic and research administration at the Case School of Engineering. While the name and title may be a familiar sight to a subset of the population of Case Western Reserve University, Russo himself, and his day-to-day duties and responsibilities, are somewhat less known. Whether you notice his string of check-ins during a campus emergency, notifications about mental health awareness or updates on the functionality of campus facilities such as the water fountain on the third floor of Glennan, Russo’s presence is evident throughout the CWRU community. As someone who has such a reach on campus digitally, explaining his role and the general impact on the CDS and ECSE administration seems well overdue.

Russo is an alum of CWRU’s Weatherhead School of Management, and began his undergraduate career as a music education major, but switched to accounting after a year. Though he enjoyed music, he came to the realization that music was more of a hobby and not something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. While this experience was challenging, it gave him a heightened capacity to relate to students because, “as [current students] know, college is hard. You’re having to make these decisions that impact the rest of your life now, just as you are getting out of high school. It’s a very quick and tough transition.” During his transition to accounting he had a lot of self-defeating thoughts, but he thought he should give it a try because he was good with numbers. Thankfully, it worked out for him. 

He started out by working at PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm. While it may seem unexpected to go from working in a Fortune 100 accounting firm to a university administrative position, Russo wanted to follow his passion for helping others and contributing to the community. He shifted from the path he felt was “what he was supposed to do” to a position where he genuinely felt involved. The title “Manager of Academic and Research Administration” seems very broad and this ambiguity, as it turns out, is for good reason: Russo does a lot. On the research side, he assists Case School of Engineering faculty in submitting research proposals to secure funding. Once the funding is obtained, he oversees financial reporting and ensures that all purchases made with the grant money follow requisite guidelines.

On the academic side, one key aspect of Russo’s position is working to support students along with the Division of Student Affairs. He manages the general bulletin and course catalog, provides administrative support for payroll and responds to student inquiries. He works closely with Cynthia Hatcher, the chair’s assistant of electrical engineering and computer science. 

The CDS and ECSE fields are ever-growing, with the department receiving “hundreds of new major declarations a week,” Russo exclaimed. The CDS department now has the biggest student population at CWRU, including undergraduate and graduate populations, beating out the biomedical engineering department last semester, as Russo puts it for “better and for worse.” This rapid growth requires heavy lifting on the part of the administration, which is where Russo comes into play.
Russo explained that the department is working to balance the number of students with the available faculty, advisors and staff resources. Additionally, many are concerned that the CDS department does not have its own place on campus, especially after the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) split into CDS and ECSE. To address that, the fourth floor of Olin is undergoing a huge renovation to create a lounge which will give CDS its identity. These upgrades have been put off until now due to COVID-19 and administrative challenges, with no date currently set for it to begin.

Between the splitting of the departments and the arrival of an inaugural chair, there have been some growing pains and confusion about the department’s new vision and structure. As a result of this evolution, students have expressed degrees of uncertainty over their overlapping courses and unclear requirements. To address these issues, the department’s staff is undertaking an initiative to streamline the curriculum and provide clarity to students, with changes set to go into effect in fall 2023, which aims to remove any previous ambiguity in students’ course requirements. 

As a relatively new manager, Russo has had to adapt quickly to extenuating circumstances on campus while simultaneously familiarizing himself with his position. He feels that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way students interact with their educational institutions. With the rise of remote learning and the need to adapt to virtual communication, students have become more independent and less reliant on face-to-face interactions. Aside from the lingering effects of the pandemic, Russo wonders if there are other factors at play discouraging students from seeking out the “face-time.” He says that the department is working hard to motivate students to reach out and interact with the administration more, and create a sense of “home” for CDS/ECSE students as the population continues to grow.

Although students will inevitably face trials throughout their academic careers, Russo wishes to make it known that he invites students to come to him whenever possible. 

In typical Russo fashion, we will end with the quote that he attaches to each of his emails:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” —Nelson Henderson.