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Pitt Clubs Jump-Start the Future for Students

It’s night on Lamu Island, located off the coast of Kenya, and 20-year-old Rachel Cobb is sitting alone in the dark in a tiny, rented room. She can’t turn on the lights because the island is in the midst of one of its recurring blackouts, so she takes in her surroundings with her four other senses. She feels an insect brush against her leg, tastes the salty breeze from the Indian Ocean coming through her window, smells the lingering aroma of a fish dinner eaten at dusk, and hears a faint, distant conversation in Swahili.

Cobb wonders what her family back in Wisconsin would say if they knew about this—her third night in the dark on an island where the only transportation is by donkey. They would be surprised to see her sitting quietly, listening to the hums and buzzes of odd creatures, the rhythm of the sea, and the other sounds of this unfamiliar environment.

Even Cobb is surprised by her calm independence. This trip to Lamu Island with two friends is the last leg of the University of Pittsburgh student’s four-month trip to Kenya through the Knowledge Exchange Institute. So far, she has seen a lion attack in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve; she has been in the midst of a political riot on the Ugandan-Kenyan border; and she has worked in a Nairobi slum.

That’s why she was unfazed when she squeezed into a small wooden ship packed with people, goats, and chickens and set sail for the island. She didn’t panic when she discovered that an island-wide blackout had driven away many of the island’s workers and tourists. She confidently devised a plan to collect supplies and find a safe place to sleep before sundown.

“It was the point in my life when I knew I could be self-sufficient and independent. I didn’t let myself fall apart under pressure,” Cobb says today, a year after her April 2006 trip.

At about the same time, another young adult grappled with self-discovery and the unknown.

In his parents’ home in Cambridge, Mass., Robel Tadesse is quiet and sure as he prepares to send a check to Pitt’s Housing Services, securing his place in a residence hall. This simple act effectively notifies the University that Tadesse plans to be part of the Class of 2010, and it solidifies one of the biggest decisions in his young life. But Tadesse isn’t one for fanfare.

It’s true that challenging events brought the teenager to this moment: his childhood in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, his family’s immigration to the United States when he was 12 years old, and his determination to be respected and understood in his new country. Now, he was choosing the next path on his journey.

“It was a decision I had to make,” Tadesse says today. “Being independent is part of the college experience.”

Aside from those moments of self-discovery and independence a year ago, Cobb and Tadesse have something else in common. Those moments were made possible by the University’s Pitt Club Endowed Scholarship Matching Program. Cobb, who graduated this spring, and Tadesse, who just finished his freshman year, received annual scholarships from two of the 12 Pitt Clubs that participate in the program. Had it not been for the scholarships, the students say, their lives might have taken different paths.

Pitt Clubs connect alumni in regions around the country for networking and special events. A dozen of these clubs have created endowments, which generate investment income that will fund scholarships for generations of students to come. The clubs work in concert with the University to award these annual scholarships. Income from the club endowments pays for the scholarship award the first year; then, income from the Pitt Alumni Association and the University’s Office of Admissions and Financial Aid pays for the next three years.

The clubs and Pitt also work together to select scholarship recipients. The clubs receive a list of regional residents who’ve been accepted to the University, and club leaders select recipients based on various criteria and academic standards.

“The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid can only give so much money to each student, so it’s nice to be able to give an extra boost through these alumni clubs,” says Lee Patouillet, the Pitt Alumni Association’s executive director and Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for alumni relations.

The Chicago Pitt Club, which has outreach into Wisconsin, awarded a $1,000 scholarship to Cobb for her freshman year, and she continues to receive that amount annually from the matching fund program. She used her scholarship money to help fund her Kenya experience.
Tadesse was on the fence about whether to attend Pitt, but that changed when the Boston Pitt Club selected him to receive an annual $2,000 matching fund scholarship.

He says his difficult journey to Pitt was made easier by the scholarship. But Tadesse has often refused to take the easy path since he left Ethiopia. In junior high, he insisted on taking mainstream classes, even when he had difficulty holding his own in English conversations. He also took Advanced Placement classes throughout high school and became a member of the National Honor Society.

So it’s high praise when Tadesse reveals another benefit of his scholarship: It keeps him motivated to achieve even more—something Cobb, now a new alumna, fully understands.
—Allison Schlesinger


Koral’s Korner

The Talk of the University

Four days into spring, more than 150 women gathered at the Twentieth Century Club in the University’s Oakland neighborhood for the first-ever Pitt Women Connect, a career networking event sponsored by the Alumnae Council of the Pitt Alumni Association. One of the first orders of business was the presentation of the Alumnae Council Scholarship to student Katherine Powell. In addition to being a first-year political science major, Powell actively volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, and she serves in the Marine Corps Reserve. After the keynote address by Eva Tansky Blum (LAW ’73, CAS ’70), the council president Kristi Riccio (GSPH ’02) surprised Blum by presenting her with the Distinguished Alumna Award. Roundtable discussions ensued, followed by a dessert reception and networking.

Lynn McMahon (CAS ’81) and her sister Patricia McMahon (EDUC ’93G, FAS ’84) attended with their niece Emily Guzan (A&S ’07). Karen Krymski (GSPH ’82, SHRP ’78) was there to offer advice, as were Susan Lester Flaherty (PHARM ’76) and Constance Rohm (DEN ’77, CAS ’73). Donna Sanft (EDUC ’89G, ’74) and mother/daughter team Barbara (EDUC ’76G, ’73) and Jennifer Yates (A&S ’06) were on hand. Alumni association stalwarts Patti Mathay (KGSB ’92) and Marilyn Burke (EDUC ’67) were seen chatting with Julie Shepard (GSPIA ’03, CAS ’90). Meanwhile Tami Licht (SLIS ’93G, CAS ’84), Patricia Lewis (NUR ’96G, ’88), Barbara Stoops (SOC WK ’99G), Cynthia Meshanko (CGS ’94), and Gwendolyn Allen (GSPIA ’92, CGS ’88) networked with other alumni and with students.

Speaking of dynamic women … Welcome to the Pitt Alumni Association women directors at large: Kathryn F. Bryson (EDUC ’68), Lauren Feintuch (CBA ’06), Alka Patel (ENGR ’96), and new regional directors, Mary Frances Archey (EDUC ’68), Rebecca Borghi (SHRS’97), and Michelle Tallarico (CAS ’01).

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