The Art of a First Impression

By Nicole (Dohoda) Lossie ’11, Social Media and Digital Engagement Manager

First impressions are crucial. A kind smile, a firm handshake, or a warm and welcoming space can set the tone of any interaction – especially while entering a new phase of your life. 

Miles Vida ’12M, associate director of Undergraduate Admissions, has offered great first impressions to first-time college students for more than 20 years, answering questions and providing guidance through any uncertainty. He recently made an impactful observation, too. 

"When families arrive here, we get to showcase the vision that Gannon has for the future.” 
- Tom Camillo

Gannon has made strides in building improvements and renovations, but the Office of Admissions at Gitnik Manse had remained unchanged from many of its architectural roots. The historic building needed a generous upgrade, and Vida’s pitch to create a more welcoming first impression here brought the Gannon experience to life.

Reception Area

Admissions’ tour guides gather in the reception area, where pieces from local artists cover the freshly painted walls.

Located on the corner of Sixth and Sassafras streets on Gannon’s Erie campus, Gitnik Manse is a three-story, 18-room home built in 1885 by Erie lawyer Francis F. Marshall. After its restoration by attorney Paul Gitnik in 2000, it was purchased in 2004 by Gannon to become home to the Office of Undergradaute Admissions. 

Gitnik Manse

Historic elements of Gitnik Manse were preserved during the updates, particularly the exterior of the building to align with West Sixth Street’s historic district initiative.

Tom Camillo, director of Undergraduate Admissions, shared, “I think parents and families always thought this building was gorgeous. They saw the woodwork, the architecture – but I think your average 17- or 18-year-old student was asking, ‘what am I doing here?’” 

After completing interior and exterior renovations that began in May and finished in September, the building is now known as Gannon’s New Student Welcome Center. It brings undergraduate and graduate admissions under one roof following extensive renovations on the first floor. Now, the lobby, reception area and meeting spaces have been reimagined to better reflect that intentional and supportive first impression that Gannon is known for in many of our personal interactions.

“We already know students are more likely to attend the university if they visit our campus – so once we have them here, we have to put our best foot forward to make a great first impression,” Bill Edmondson, vice president for Enrollment, explained. “This space is an excellent testament to that, something we’re very proud of that showcases the Gannon experience.” 

“More often than not, this is where students come when it’s their first time on campus,” said Camillo from his office at the front of the building.

This office and all public-facing areas on the first floor, including two unique presentation rooms, were updated with intentional design elements to enhance the center’s function and experience. Aligning the historic building with ADA accessibility guidelines in mind has also made it more inclusive of all guests.  

Meeting Room

A modernized meeting room provides new virtual connection and presentation opportunities and features the bust of Gannon founder Archbishop John Mark Gannon.

Students enter the building to a photo wall showcasing Gannon spirit, followed by an open welcome desk and reception area that is warmly lit by large, circular, modern light fixtures and outfitted with comfortable seating, school spirit gear and a refreshment station. The floor also features local art and photography as well as a second postcard-style photo wall at the rear entrance of the building, which has quickly become a popular stop campus tours.

“When families arrive here, we get to showcase the vision that Gannon has for the future,” Camillo said. “They could be feeling a range of emotions – maybe this is their first college visit, maybe their student is nervous or apprehensive. So being in a relaxed atmosphere and having a chance for conversations with other families and seeing what we have on display. … They get excited for that kind of thing. Everything Miles has done invites that space for conversation.”   

Andy Lapiska ’09M, experience designer and university brand manager, helped lead the development to achieve a modern, engaging experience that held the history of the building intact.

“The idea was to create a welcoming environment and a great first impression for our students,” he said. 

“We did a lot of bold graphics that would give students the feeling that they’re part of something as soon as they step foot into that building (and on to campus). That was my goal.” 

Lapiska is heavily involved with nearly all branding efforts visible on the university’s Erie and Ruskin campuses. If you’ve seen the signature maroon and gold signs adorning each building’s exterior; the spirited lamp post banners proudly displaying the university seal, Golden Knight or 1925 established date; or admired the murals, statues, artwork and photography displayed across our campuses, you’ve witnessed Lapiska bringing the Gannon campus experience and brand to life through his and local artists’ creations. 

The photo walls are admittedly one of Lapiska’s favorite features at the New Student Welcome Center, creating lasting memories through pictures right from a student’s first visit. 

Lapiska added that the center also includes “artwork highlighting our location on the lake, campus beauty shots as well as a meeting space featuring the bust of Archbishop John Mark Gannon,” where visitors can view quotes from the university's founder and museum-style relics before having deeper conversation with an enrollment team member or current student. Everything in the space was selected with the intention of encouraging engaging interactions between the Admissions team, future students and their families. 

Photo Wall

A second photo wall with a postcard feel creates a fun experience highlighting Gannon’s Erie Campus.

Not all work was focused on modernization, though, as exterior updates were intentional to preserve history. Gannon worked closely with local architect Weber Murphy Fox to maintain the historical integrity of the building as well. 

“The exterior updates were completed to align with the movement across West Sixth Street,” Lapiska said. “We looked at other properties here for inspiration – it’s a historic district.” 

Whether it’s your first time walking in as a potential student or your hundredth visit as a Gannon alum, the New Student Welcome Center is an inspired and iconic campus landmark certain to instill a sense of community pride and Golden Knight spirit.

Gannon University
109 University Square
Erie, Pa 16541
(814) 871-7000

Gannon Magazine is published bi-annually by University Marketing and Communications.

We value your input; please direct any comments, questions or feature ideas to


Doug Oathout
Chief of Staff and Director of Marketing and Communications

Mallory (Hedlund) Bottoni ’14
Assistant Director for Marketing, Communications and Content

Paige Penfield
Content Marketing Strategist


  • Laura Giannelli
  • Andrew Lapiska ’09M

contributing writers

  • Haley Figurski
  • Jeff Kirik
  • Nicole (Dohoda) Lossie ’11
  • Kristine Rilling


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