Robert Morris University

Professor is Pennsylvania Mayor of the Year

Ken LaSota receives the honor for his 22 years as mayor of Heidelberg.

Ken LaSota

Ken LaSota says what makes Heidelberg special is its people, and he of all people is the authority on the topic. After presiding over 74 weddings in his 22 years as mayor of the small South Hills community, he probably has met most of them at receptions.

“A mayor can only be as good as his or her residents, so If I’ve had any success it’s because of the good people of Heidelberg,” says LaSota, a professor of geology and earth sciences at Robert Morris University since 1988.

The Pennsylvania State Boroughs Association, the signature professional society for mayors of the state’s 958 boroughs and 56 cities, chose LaSota as its 2020 Mayor of the Year during its annual summer conference for his leadership, accomplishments, and community impact.

LaSota and his wife, Rebecca Stanhope, live in the house where he grew up, and he is quick to extol the virtues of his hometown, including walkability—it is one quarter square mile in area—and a named exit on Interstate 79 despite a population of only 1,200. Asked to choose his proudest accomplishment as mayor, LaSota names the creation of a six-acre community park overlooking Chartiers Creek that he helped to reclaim from an industrial brownfield.

The experience of elective office adds perspective to his teaching, LaSota says, particularly an in his environmental law class. “When we talk about federal, state, and local laws that affect the environment, students are getting it from someone who’s actually done it,” he says. “I’ve been there creating and producing regulations and ordinances.”

LaSota also has a personal perspective on being a student at RMU. While he already had a Ph.D. in petrology, the microscopic study of rocks, when he was hired in 1988, LaSota took classes as a faculty member and earned three graduate degrees from the university: an M.B.A. and master’s degrees in instructional leadership and business education. So did his wife; a former social worker with a doctoral degree of her own, Stanhope earned a nursing degree at RMU and worked for more than a decade as a nurse before her retirement.

With Covid-19 causing faculty to move much of their work to a virtual environment this fall, LaSota says he has spent the summer developing new laboratory assignments. It will be the first time his geology class will be online, and while he admits it is a challenge, it also has its advantages. “The collection of lab materials that students can look at online will be greater than what we have in our inventory at Robert Morris,” he says.

See more stories on Mayor LaSota’s award at Local Government Academy, the Post-Gazette, and TribLive.