Kicking up gravel, Stephen Gonzalez sprints across the finish line as the stopwatch official shouts, “Twenty-five, fifty!” Gonzalez slows to a walk, huffing after racing five miles along a hilly Schenley Park trail. It’s the fastest he has ever run on the tree-shaded course. Smiling at his personal achievement, he joins a cluster of blue-and-gold teammates who congratulate him on his 25-minute, 50-second run. It’s a humid September morning, and Gonzalez knows it’s going to be a good day.
When the varsity cross-country meet ends, he hops into a car with his biggest fans—parents Luis (PHARM ’81) and Stephanie (UPJ ’83) Gonzalez —and yaks about life at Pitt as they roll into central Oakland. In the back seat, he changes from his athletic apparel into a striped rugby polo, the uniform sported by the Blue and Gold Society. The society is a group of Pitt undergraduate achievers who have been chosen to act as liaisons between the University’s student community and its alumni. Approaching Alumni Hall, Gonzalez leaps out of the vehicle and rushes inside. He’s just in time for a retreat with the Pitt Alumni Association and the Blue and Gold Society.
Members of both organizations have gathered in a sleek fifth-floor conference room to discuss how Pitt alumni can enrich students’ lives. Among the 60 attendants is Keith Schaefer (CAS ’71), an energetic alumni association member, who scans the mass of blue-and-gold polo shirts. He notices a brown-haired, clean-shaven student with an oval jaw who is very attentive to the event speakers. That afternoon, the same student strides to the podium for an impromptu presentation.
It’s Gonzalez, and he stands with ease and confidence in front of the crowd. He’s still pumped from the race, and he excitedly explains his idea: display more Pitt advertisements at football games. Schaefer notices how Gonzalez has captured everyone’s attention with his articulate talk. He has the makings of a great leader, he thinks. At the end of the retreat, Schaefer compliments Gonzalez on his communication skills. It’s high praise coming from the CEO of BPL Global, an international supplier of broadband services. It’s also the beginning of a strong mentorship and a new association program.
That was two years ago; soon after, Gonzalez was elected president of the Blue and Gold Society, which was no surprise to Schaefer, who was president of the Alumni Association at the time. Together, the two presidents began working on a better way to connect students on campus with the association long before graduation. Working with the association’s board and staff and Blue and Gold Society members, they helped develop a solution: a student branch of the Alumni Association.
The Pitt Student Alumni Association (SAA) recently became a reality. Dues-paying student members are being invited to networking events with alumni, get-acquainted barbecues, and seminars about life after college. They’re flashing their membership cards for discounts at the Pitt Book Center and numerous Oakland businesses. Plans are in the works for field trips and finals study breaks.
“We are absolutely ecstatic about it,” says Brian Generalovich (DEN ’68, CAS ’66), current association president. “We’ve achieved and surpassed our goal for this year already.”
The association hoped to enroll more than 500 students this year—more than 600 signed up during the two weeks of the fall semester.
Student branches of alumni associations are a growing trend on campuses nationwide, says Leland Patouillet (EDUC ’00G), associate vice chancellor of alumni relations and the association’s executive director. Their mission is to improve student life and to instill lifelong dedication to the school.
Gonzalez hopes the new organization, administered by the Blue and Gold Society, will boost Pitt pride across campus. His affection for the University was instilled as a boy when he watched televised Pitt football games with his parents in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. “The alums really love students,” says Gonzalez, now a senior psychology major and vice president of Pitt’s Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society. “Pitt pride really goes beyond the campuses.”
He also hopes that students in the SAA will find alumni mentors like Schaefer. Since meeting at the retreat two years ago, Schaefer has encouraged Gonzalez to build on his leadership skills. A varsity swimmer during his Pitt days, Schaefer understands Gonzalez’s competitive drive as a cross-country and track runner. When a summer communications internship at Schaefer’s company opened, he immediately thought of Gonzalez and his enthusiastic get-it-done attitude. Gonzalez became one of three Pitt students so far who have completed internships at BPL Global. While there, he learned business skills that he intends to use as a sports psychologist someday.
“I think this is the model for the association going forward—to encourage alumni to mentor Pitt students, whether it’s in their career, or their academic quest for knowledge, or their personal life skills,” says Schaefer.
Every morning at dawn, Gonzalez is out running, often along the familiar Schenley Park trails near campus. In the hushed atmosphere, he thinks about his goals. With so many Pitt people encouraging his progress, he works even harder to reach his personal best.
—Cara J. Hayden
The Talk of the University
Arrival Survival is always a full-court press for the alumni association. Alumni volunteers who joined in the three-day effort to make move-in day at the residence halls as smooth as possible included Kathy Bryson (EDUC ’68), Arnie Silverman (LAW ’62), Will Hoel (BUS ’60), and Arnie Epstein (EDUC ’69).
Admissions staffer Brooks Renoll (A&S ’06) was also meeting and greeting people in the Alumni Hall lobby, home to the new Legacy Gallery, a wonderfully interactive way to learn about the Pitt experience and remarkable Pitt alumni.
Football games are a great way to rally Pitt spirit outside the Pittsburgh area. The Southern California Pitt Club did just that for the season-opening Virginia game. Among those who joined Herb (CAS ’61) and Shelli Dodell in LA to cheer the Panthers on to victory were Bruce (LAW ’77, CAS ’73) and Winnie (CAS ’73) Gelb, Jim McAllister (ENGR ’87), Karen Horlick (SOCWK ’77), and Gerald Paulsen (KGSB ’68). The following week, Pitt alumni who attended the win at Cincinnati included Jay (EDUC ’99G, SHRP ’90G, ’77) and Patty (FAS ’01, CAS ’77) Irrgang, Jim (A&S ’04) and Tricia (EDUC ’01, CAS ’00) Fawcett, Sherry Hellman (GSPH ’75, SHRP ’72), Steve Wolf (PHARM ’94), Michael Bechtold (KGSB ’73), Brendan Delaney (LAW ’03, CAS ’00), and David Zink (CAS ’77). Special thanks to Tony Massoud (ENGR ’63) and Carlos Reisen (CAS ’70) for organizing the event.
Speaking of alumni volunteers, the executive committee of our board of directors meets six times a year on Saturday mornings in addition to the quarterly board meetings and their many other duties. Some new faces at the table belong to Jack Smith (MED ’73, CAS ’69), Chip Babst (LAW ’73), Wes Pickard (ENGR ‘61), and Gary Brownlee (KGSB ’78, CAS ’74).
And as usual, alumni are sending news from all over. Michael Hout (CAS ’72) has been elected to the American Philosophical Society. Kathleen Marie (Scanlon) Amerkhanian (CGS ’97) is now director of communications at the University of Toledo College of Law. Edward Hanna (CAS ’69) received a Doctor of Education degree in organization change from Pepperdine University in California last July. A bit further afield, Donald Shaw (CAS ’70) is teaching English in the People’s Republic of China, and Kam Mericli (LAW ’78, CAS ’75) and Stella Smetanka Mericli (LAW ’80) report that their son Ben, an Honors College junior, is spending this year at Bogazici University in Istanbul.
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