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The Pink, the Proud, the Marines

Saluting a Winner

  Katherine Powell

Whenever she’s asked to share something about herself at meet-and-greets with other students, Katherine Powell always tells people two things. First, she’s a U.S. Marine reservist. Second, she once had a pet pig. A sprightly 5-foot-2, she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s a pushover. “But I don’t want them to think I’m mean, either,” she says. “That’s why I tell them about Porky.”

Powell is a gregarious 19-year-old with trimmed blonde hair. All smiles and enthusiasm, she doesn’t mind the slew of questions that inevitably follows. Everyone wants to know: Who is this walking dichotomy, this soldier who decorates her dorm room in pink?

Powell left for boot camp on the same day that she gave a commencement speech as valedictorian of her Fort Cherry High School graduating class. She cried as she looked out at the familiar faces of her hometown—the close-knit McDonald, Pa., a rural community southwest of Pittsburgh. These were the people who’d known her since she was a child and who often saw her walking a potbelly pig named Porky along the side of the road. The next day, Powell traded a cap and gown for fatigues, and a home for a bunk at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C.

Throughout that summer, she and 70 other women rose at 5 a.m., raced through one-minute showers, and endured grueling physical-fitness training in the brutal heat of the South. They ran, lifted weights, and did sit-ups, push-ups, and arm hangs until their limbs burned. On nine-mile hikes, they carried rifles and 30-pound packs on their backs, moving single file in order of height. Powell always came in dead last. Through it all, drill instructors harangued constantly: “POWELL!” this, “POWELL!” that. Early on, she began mentally counting down. Just 10 more weeks....

Powell’s military training lasted through the start of her first term at Pitt, so she began her first semester two weeks late. She was alone in unfamiliar territory. On the first day of her first class, the professor gave a test, and Powell didn’t do well. “The old Katie would’ve lost it,” she says. But the new Katie—toughened by three months of marine boot camp—knew she would succeed if she just kept pushing on. Take the knocks, keep going. “Adjusting to college life was hard—but at least no one was yelling at me,” she says wryly.

As the first member of her family to go to college, she was determined to pay her own way through school. In addition to a full course load, she worked at Taco Bell and had a work-study position on campus. She also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and spent one weekend every month training with her military platoon in nearby North Versailles, Pa.

In spite of the strenuous schedule, Powell pulled a near-perfect grade point average during her freshman year. Her achievements won her the 2007 Alumnae Council Scholarship, which was awarded in the spring at Pitt Women Connect, a career networking event hosted by the Pitt Alumni Association and its Alumnae Council.

“It really impressed the committee that she was able to excel academically and fund her own education in addition to being a Marine,” says Alyson Wallach Kavalukas (A&S ’04), associate director of alumni outreach. The committee also noted her abundant schedule of activities and her personal humility.

Now in her sophomore year, Powell continues to work, to volunteer, and to fulfill her commitment as a reservist. She’s added another role, too, as a residence hall assistant in Tower B, where she looks out for 38 freshman women on her floor. Still, she remains focused on her goals for the future. She expects to complete officer training next summer, then finish her degree in political science before going to law school. She wants to become a military lawyer.

Once you get to know her, this Marine in pink flip-flops begins to make sense. She’s strong enough to step up and take responsibility—for herself, for others, for her country—but she’s also soft enough to remember those days in her girlhood when she took extra-special care of her pet pig Porky, rubbing sunscreen on his fair skin to protect him from the summer sun’s harmful rays.
—Elaine Vitone

Koral’s Korner

The Talk of the University

Imagine traveling to a new and exciting place in the company of congenial, well-educated people. You’ve got a perfect picture of traveling with the Pitt Alumni Association’s Travel and Learn Program. More than 100 alumni and guests came to an Evening of Travel in August at Alumni Hall to learn about the intriguing destinations the program will visit in the coming months. Milana Barr (GSPIA ’03) was there, as were Bernard Fedak (KGSB ’73, ENGR ’68) and wife Marian (NURS ’76), Cynthia Gamblin (CBA ’07), David (A&S ’54) and Nancy (A&S ’54) Green, Jennifer Birkholz (A&S ’04), Connie (CGS ’79) and Bill Hoon (CGS ’82, GSPH ’81, DEN ’80), and Sandra Kresovich (EDUC ’80G). Want to learn more about Paris, Tahiti, or the Panama Canal? Visit to see all the possibilities through 2008. Call 1-800-ALU-PITT to request a brochure.

The Metro Pitt Club Freshmen Sendoff Picnic officially welcomed to campus Pitt freshmen and their families from the Pittsburgh area. More than 110 students, family, friends, and alumni attended. Among the alumni to welcome students into the Pitt fold were Amy Niceswanger (KGSB ’03, A&S ’98), Patti Mathay (KGSB ’92), Mark Villasenor (CGS ’94), Julie Shepard (GSPIA ’03, A&S ’90), Will Hoel (CBA ’60), Lou Meshanko (CGS ’94), Tom Burke (A&S ’89) with wife Erin, Chris McNair (CGS ’05), Donna Ottoviani (NURS ’95G, ’94), Dean Julian (A&S ’03), T. Barry Levine (A&S ’66), Arnie Epstein (EDUC ’69), Linda Burger (A&S ’67), and Marilyn Burke (EDUC ’67) and husband David (A&S ’67).
Association staff helped kick off the fall semester by joining the Blue and Gold Society to “paint the town blue and gold.” New staff members Anne Stanton, Alyson Wallach Kavalukas (A&S ’04), and Liz Hixson (UPJ ’07) enjoyed painting paws all over Oakland.

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