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Despite widely different backgrounds and interests, some University of Pittsburgh students have at least one thing in common—the financial support of complete strangers who share the belief that higher education and Pitt students are sound investments. Here’s a glimpse of the rewards in action.

Real Rewards

Allison Schlesinger and Bo Schwerin

Despite widely different backgrounds and interests, some University of Pittsburgh students have at least one thing in common—the support of complete strangers who share the belief that higher education and Pitt students are sound investments.

Across all five campuses, thousands of students receive financial help from alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of the University of Pittsburgh—people who understand the power of investing in one life to help many. Today’s students become the teachers, researchers, professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, and leaders of tomorrow. An investment in them helps build the future for all of us.

Here’s a glimpse of a few Pitt students who, thanks to some initial support, expect the years ahead to be better for them and for others, too.

  Andy Byer (Tom Altany photo)

Andy Byer

Andy Byer isn’t the type of guy who would tell a stranger how hard he works. The 6’-1” athlete won’t boast that he wakes up to study long before his first class at 9 a.m. He won’t say that after five hours of classes, he’ll practice with the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) basketball team until late in the evening or that away games mean he might not get home until nearly midnight. Unless you ask, Byer won’t mention that he also works part-time to make ends meet. Only his kid sister will tell you he often comes home to Tire Hill, Pa., for weekend dinners and that he tries to attend as many of her high school basketball games as he can. The mathematics major definitely won’t brag that he does all this while taking courses such as calculus and chemistry and maintaining his status as an honors student.

But Byer—who’s considering a research career—will say that his life as a Pitt-Johnstown student would be much more difficult had he not received a scholarship for the 2006-07 academic year. He is a recipient of the James E. and Margaret Wilkes Scholarship, which covers much of the cost of his tuition, books, and more.

The scholarship bears the family name of another hard-working UPJ student—James Edward Wilkes (CAS ’59)—who also received scholarship help during his Pitt days. He played basketball, too. He then parlayed a geology degree into a successful career in the oil well and chemical industries, where he founded and led several companies. “I understand the value of financial help, and I feel fortunate to be able to give,” Wilkes says.

Over the years, James and Margaret also have established various scholarships to help other Pitt student-athletes and to assist selected Somerset County natives who attend UPJ, because many residents in the economically depressed area don’t typically have a lot of higher-education options. The Wilkes’ decision to help UPJ students was reinforced when they heard that a third of those who attend Pitt-Johnstown are first-generation
college students, like Byer.

Earlier this year, just before the UPJ basketball team played a tournament in Florida near the Wilkeses’ winter home, the modest Byer was willing to reveal something else: “I’d like to personally say thanks to the Wilkeses.”—AS


  Jovonne Jones (Tom Altany photo)

Jovonne Jones

It’s 8:15 a.m., and the phone is ringing. Jovonne Jones, a pharmacist-in-training, types a prescription on the computer and reaches for the handset. It’s a customer calling to refill medication. Jones hears a cough and glances up. Three other customers are waiting to drop off prescriptions. The phone rings again: On line 2, it’s an insurance company representative. As she turns to grab a pen, Jones sees the unfiltered sun of an Arizona summer already glaring through the drive-through window—and another customer waiting in a car. The pharmacist and other coworkers buzz about the office, searching racks of pill bottles, measuring capsules into containers, shuttling between telephones, the front desk, and the drive-through. Prescriptions pile up, waiting to be vetted by the pharmacist, approved for insurance coverage, compared against each patient’s profile for drug interactions and allergies, and filled. The phone rings: It’s line 3, a doctor calling. Line 4: another customer.

Jones is spending her summer interning in a 24-hour Walgreens pharmacy. The Pitt student is in the fourth year of a unique six-year pharmacy doctorate program that enables undergraduate students to join the graduate program in their junior year. She’s doing all she can so that, when she graduates, she’ll be on the leading edge of a rapidly changing profession. “I love it,” she says. “It keeps me on my toes, keeps exposing me to different parts of pharmacy, so I can discover where I best fit.”

Meanwhile, Pitt alumnus and trustee John Curran (PHARM ’71, ’68) has long kept a careful eye on advances in the pharmaceutical industry, from his time with Pfizer, Inc., to his years as a Wall Street securities analyst specializing in health care and pharmaceutical companies. “Pharmacists will increasingly have a role in advising doctors and patients, especially in the hospital environment,” he says.

Curran knows a good investment when he sees one, which is why, in 1999, he and his wife Connie made a $1 million donation to establish the John P. and Constance A. Curran Pharmacy Scholarship Fund at Pitt. The scholarship provides tuition assistance to pharmacy students in financial need—students like Jones—who, ultimately, will not only improve their profession but also their communities.

“She’s smart and ambitious,” says Curran about Jones. “She’ll be a force to be reckoned with, in pharmacy and in life in general.”

Jones is grateful that, thanks to the scholarship, she can dedicate all of her considerable vigor to her studies and a wealth of pharmacy-related activities. Upon graduation, without loans to pay back, she expects to contribute even more of herself to her career and the needs of others.

The phone rings. Lines 1 and 2. Jones picks up the handset just as a customer approaches the desk, white slip of paper in hand.—BS

  Anthony Imbarlina (Tom Altany photo)

Anthony Imbarlina

Anthony Imbarlina’s childhood was filled with watching and playing baseball, football, and wrestling. In high school, he was a standout in track and field, and his athleticism helped him win a University of Pittsburgh scholarship. But there’s more to Imbarlina.

Inspired by his boyhood doctor, he aims to be a pediatrician. As a premed student, the 18-year-old volunteers to help friends with their schoolwork and wants to be a dormitory resident assistant during the upcoming school year.

He graduated in the top of his class from Norwin High School and had options for the university of his choice, but he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg (UPG) so he could be closer to home and his large extended family. He loves the hills of North Huntingdon, where he grew up.

There’s something else about Imbarlina, too. His spirit and dreams resemble another one-time UPG student, Kevin DiVecchio.

While attending Pitt-Greensburg, DiVecchio considered careers in pharmacy and medicine before getting a bachelor’s degree in biology and pursuing a teaching career. He had a way with kids, which showed as he coached sports and, later, took command of a classroom as a substitute teacher. He was passionate about sports and rarely missed Pitt football games. He cared about people, volunteering to tutor friends and making a point to talk with the shy ones at parties. He loved his hometown of North Huntingdon and his alma mater of UPG, where he once served as a dormitory resident assistant and dreamed of being a full-time teacher at his old high school—Norwin.

DiVecchio also was thoughtful about his future, and he saved a large portion of his earnings. Tragically, he died at age 24 in a car accident in Latrobe, Pa.

Now the nest egg he saved is helping to build a future for other young people, like Anthony Imbarlina, who is the first recipient of the Kevin M. DiVecchio Endowed Fund for Student Resources. The scholarship was created by Kevin’s parents to help UPG students who graduated from Norwin High School and whose academic and athletic interests are similar to Kevin’s.

Carol DiVecchio and Ralph DiVecchio both felt a rush of emotion nearly a year ago when they presented Imbarlina with the scholarship. Apart from their sadness, they also felt proud that the inaugural recipient embodied so many of their son’s values and goals. They knew in their hearts that Kevin would approve.—AS


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