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Blue and Gold, Everywhere

A Tampa couple and their friends rally Pitt goodwill near and far

Written by Niki Kapsambelis

As she waited for her cell cultures to grow, the Pitt biology student decided to kill time by cleaning out a file cabinet. Impressionable and ambitious, Melanie de Souza was spending her summer as an unpaid research assistant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, gaining experience that she hoped would move her closer toward her goal of one day attending medical school. As she cleaned, someone walked past and noticed her. She remembered him as Anil Mehta, the guy who campaigned outside the Towers courtyard for election as Pitt’s Homecoming King.

“Hi, what’s your name?” he asked.

“Melanie,” she answered.

“I’m going to call you Mel-Mel now,” Mehta announced. And from that point on, the two were inseparable.

Married in 2003, de Souza (A&S ’99, MED ’03) and Mehta (A&S ’96) have settled on Florida’s Gulf Coast. But they missed their Oakland ties so much that they made a pact with a group of friends to meet at least once a year in Pittsburgh for a home football game. Known to one another as the South Oakland Refugees, the friends have remained faithful to their cause. They even traveled to the 2008 Sun Bowl together to watch Pitt play Oregon State on New Year’s Eve.

That ability to rally fellow classmates with enthusiasm was part of what helped Mehta become Pitt’s Homecoming King in 1995. He even managed to do it without his future wife’s vote. “I forgot,” she explains, laughing.

It also prompted the alumni association to approach them to form the Tampa Bay Pitt Club, a new chapter meant to reach out to nearby Florida alumni who want to reconnect with the University.

“Our number-one goal is to get the ball rolling and have alumni see that we’re planning activities,” says Mehta, who works in sales for an occupational health care management company.

So far, the group has set up a Web site and gotten fellow alumni together for the Backyard Brawl football game between Pitt and West Virginia, for the last game of the men’s regular basketball season, and for the Sweet 16. Eventually, they hope to work toward social events such as a wine tasting or kayaking trip. Friends at other Pitt Club chapters are offering advice to the fledgling group, as is the Pitt Alumni Association.

Fellow Pitt graduates who live in Tampa Bay would have a hard time missing Mehta, according to his wife, who now practices internal medicine. “Anil wears Pitt merchandise wherever he goes,” she says. In Florida, where Gators and University of South Florida logos are commonplace, the Pitt flag outside their house stands out, as does the Pitt license plate on their car.

Mehta and de Souza draw inspiration from the Pitt Club activities they remember from Washington, D.C., where de Souza completed her residency in 2006. The Tampa Bay alumni club hopes to start a Pitt scholarship fund similar to the one launched by the South Oakland Refugees, which is now more than a decade old. The new venture will begin with a tour—led by a fellow Pitt alumnus—of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility.

“Our group of friends, and Mel and I, have a strong loyalty and love for Pitt and the contributions the University has made to the world,” says Mehta. “It’s just a fantastic school, and we take a lot of pride in that.”

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