Behind the Curtain
Amy Baker wears shoe covers, blue scrubs, and a hair net instead of ruby slippers, a blue-checkered dress, and braids, but she feels the same sense of wonder that Dorothy must have felt in The Wizard of Oz upon reaching the Emerald City. The high school senior scheduled an observation day in the operating room to satisfy her curiosity about the surgical profession, and though the only emerald here is the color of the surgeon’s scrubs, Baker feels she may have found her own yellow-brick road.
Heart? The surgery in progress is a cardiac case. Courage? The surgeon must have quite a bit the way he’s wielding that scalpel. Brains? Undoubtedly, the doctor and nurses have no lack of cerebral resources. But what catches Baker’s interest is that the patient’s head and neck are hidden behind a blue
curtain. She thinks she sees someone seated behind the drape, as well.
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, Baker thinks, recalling the famous line from the movie when the real Wizard of Oz is found out. But curiosity gets the better of her. She peeks behind the blue cloth.
She finds her career on the other side.
The curtain—called the blood-brain barrier in operating room lingo—separates the world of surgery from the world of anesthesiology. The person behind the curtain on the day of Baker’s visit was a nurse anesthetist. Baker (NURS ’03) was captivated almost immediately. Today, she is less than a year from graduating with her master’s degree from Pitt’s nurse anesthesia program and taking her place on the brain side of the barrier.
“A lot of people don’t know what nurse anesthetists are or what we do,” says Baker. Nurse anesthetists work in tandem with anesthesiologists to give patients as comfortable a surgical experience as possible, she explains. An anesthesiologist oversees the process of sedation and wakening but typically does not remain in the operating room during surgery. A nurse anesthetist remains with the patient throughout the process, administering medication and blood as needed, inserting breathing tubes, and monitoring vital signs. “We’re sort of the people behind the scenes,” says Baker.
Pitt’s Alumni Association might say the same thing. Through its scholarship program, the association makes things comfortable for exceptional graduate students like Baker, winner of the association’s 2006 Graduate Scholarship.
Launched in 1992, the scholarship program has grown substantially from four scholarships in its initial year to more than 60 today. “The Pitt Alumni Association is proud to offer a comprehensive scholarship program that addresses the needs of Pitt students, both undergraduate and graduate,” says Leland Patouillet, the association’s executive director and Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. “We are committed to helping attract the best and brightest students and to making a quality Pitt education more affordable nationwide.”
The scholarships not only help attract top students; they also help the University encourage legacy support. Scholarships like the Hilda M. Willis Freshman Legacy Scholarship and the Alumni Recognition Scholarship are awarded to students who are children of Pitt alumni. The association’s Graduate Scholarship is presented to an incoming or currently enrolled graduate student who received an undergraduate degree from Pitt. The association also manages endowed scholarship funds—like the Dr. Donald M. Henderson Endowed Scholarship and the Cecile M. Springer Endowed Scholarship, which help students based on financial need and promote the University’s commitment to diversity—and matches scholarships offered by various Pitt Clubs and affinity councils, such as the African American Alumni Council, Alumnae Council, and Pitt Band Alumni Council.
The association’s support allows scholarship winners like Baker to dedicate themselves fully to their studies. “In my program, we’re encouraged not to take on an outside job,” says Baker. Nearly every day of the week, including school vacations, Baker is involved in clinical work at various UPMC locations as part of her degree program. “It’s great to ease that tension, have more money to pay for school. It’s a very generous scholarship. It took a huge burden off me.”
Bill Zamboni (PHARM ’05G, ’94G, ’92), the winner of the association’s first Graduate Scholarship in 1993, says the award has had an immense impact on his career. “The scholarship allowed my full-time job to be exploring my interest in pharmacy. It also gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of different people in different areas of the University. I got to go to many events and meet people who became lifelong friends and professional contacts.” Today, Zamboni is a Pitt assistant professor of pharmaceutical science, member of the Molecular Therapeutics and Drug Discovery Program at the University’s cancer institute, and member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. He has served as chairman of the association’s scholarship committee and regularly recruits students to work in his lab.
“It’s just my way of giving back,” he says, “of giving those students an opportunity that the people here gave to me.”
Baker also knows about gratitude. It’s one of the reasons becoming a nurse anesthetist appeals to her.
“You can really be there for the patient, check up on them,” she says. “They say, ‘Thank you so much. I had no pain, just a nice sleep.’ It’s really satisfying to hear that.”
Working behind the scenes clearly has its rewards.
The Talk of the University
Commencement weekend rocked, as happy graduates and happier parents, along with alumni, gathered for the association’s Panther Sendoff. Alumni Association representatives welcomed new grads and their families into the Connolly Ballroom of Alumni Hall, where they enjoyed a “smashed potato bar,” filling martini glasses with mashed potatoes and a variety of toppings. The Kenny Blake Trio entertained, and grads were given commemorative mugs, Panther Print memory books, and the opportunity to have a photo taken with a Pitt Panther that had found its way into the lobby for the occasion.
Renee Nerozzi (CBA ’06) celebrated with her family and with Mike Valenti (A&S ’04). Aaron Morrissey (A&S ’06) enjoyed the festivities with sister Caitlin and parents Mike and Val. Renee Behe (A&S ’06) was seen with her parents and fiancé Rob Schwerdt (ENGR ’06). Drake Wilson (A&S ’06, ENGR ’06) picked up his memory book and mug and mentioned that he is looking forward to turning 18 this summer. Patrick Regan (A&S ’06) attended with parents Mike and Diana and grandmother Irene. Georgine Materiak (EDUC ’75, CAS ’70), Alyson Wallach (A&S ’04), Penny Semaia (CAS ’03), and Lynnett Van Slyke (EDUC ’95G), led by Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey, were some of the Student Affairs staff on hand to help celebrate.
Earlier that day, at the association’s annual meeting, new president Brian Generalovich (DEN ’68, CAS ’66) received the gavel. Among the newly minted board and Alumni Leadership Council members were Diane Murphy (KGSB ’75, CAS ’74), Wes Pickard (ENGR ’61), and Gene Scanlon (CAS ’69).
Alumni leaders of the present—and possibly the future—made appearances. Joel (KGSB ’96, GSPH ’96, CAS ’93) and Tina (DEN ’97, CAS ’94) Reed showed off baby Ella, and Erin Walker (CAS ’94) and wife Stephanie (CAS ’96) passed around photos of their new bundle of joy.
At a reception for volunteer leaders, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, his wife, Nikki Pirillo Nordenberg (EDUC ’88G), and Provost Jim Maher were all in attendance. Ilene Fingeret (LAW ’86, EDUC ’76G) and husband Jay (LAW ’71, KGSB ’65, CAS ’63) enjoyed the festivities, and Dan Boyd (BUS ’57) talked up a soon-to-be-released DVD of Pitt Band half-time shows.
Our volunteers are nothing if not hardworking, as exemplified by new board member Lisa Golden (CAS ’93), who arrived after working the night shift as an emergency room physician near Philadelphia, and Mary Frances Archey (EDUC ’68) and Patty Mathay (KGSB ’92), who worked nonstop to help staff change the ballroom setup from the board meeting to the Panther Sendoff reception in record time. Many thanks to everyone involved.
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