"Okay, we need one tablespoon of baking soda," Kelly Hoffard says to her pony-tailed brother, Diana Mellitz. The two brothers take turns attempting to open the yellow baking soda box before they finally rip a hole in the cardboard. Mellitz, a senior communication major at Pitt, measures out a teaspoon and dumps the white ingredient into a bowl.
Shouldn’t the two women be sisters? Not when they’ve pledged allegiance to a fraternity. They’re both members of Phi Sigma Pi National Honors Fraternity, a coeducational organization that has chapters at more than 90 colleges across the United States.
The honors fraternity was originally founded as a male organization in 1916. It differed from social fraternities because the Phi Sigma Pi bylaws required all brothers to maintain a minimum grade point average. After Title IX legislation was passed in the 1970s, prohibiting sex discrimination in education, the fraternity was forced to either disband or allow women to join. Twenty-six years later, Phi Sigma Pi is still active, and now women outnumber men.
Mellitz and Hoffard, who have grade point averages above the required 3.0, need the baking soda as part of a recipe for a service project they are doing with eight other brothers. In the kitchen of the Family House on Neville Avenue in North Oakland, the brothers are measuring, mixing, and baking eight-dozen chocolate chip cookies for the residents. The Family House is a home for patients and their families who travel to Pittsburgh for long-term treatment at UPMC’s hospitals.
Community service is only one aspect of the fraternity. The Pitt chapter maintains an average of 50 active brothers who participate in a variety of activities. As the cookies bake in the oven, the brothers swap stories about Friday’s dinner with brothers from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s chapter, yesterday’s paintball adventures, piling amounts of homework, and intramural football. During the course of the semester, brothers will award a $300 scholarship to a graduating Allegheny County high school senior, attend performances in the downtown cultural district, compete in Trivial Pursuit tournaments, and spice their taste buds during monthly dinners at Oakland’s ethnic restaurants.
"Would you like a cookie?" Hoffard, a junior speech pathology major, asks a Family House resident who is working on a puzzle in the game room. Unable to resist the warm chocolate chips, the elderly woman puts her puzzle pieces aside and takes two cookies.
"I’m so glad you could do this for us," she says with a grandma’s friendly smile. She compliments Hoffard on her sorority, and Hoffard makes a few attempts to explain that she’s really a brother. Receiving the usual puzzled stare, Hoffard decides to just smile and let the woman enjoy her first bite of a cookie fresh from the oven.
Cara J. Hayden
Meet John Lush.
This Pitt senior isn’t majoring in eating, but he could. Lush knows how to consume a meal, whether it’s Eddie’s never-ending smorgasbord or Schenley Café’s double-bacon cheeseburgers (hold the mayo).
Ever heard of a bar crawl" Well, with Lush, it’s more like a food crawl. Whenever he’s not in classes, working toward his English writing degree or lifting at the Petersen Events Center, you can find him eating. This is no exaggeration. We’re talking about a man who consumed eight cheeseburgers in one day last yearand that wasn’t the only thing he ate that day!
A popular student meal plan is 11 meal blocks per week plus dining dollars for extra snacking. But that just isn’t enough for Lush. He has the biggest meal plan the University offers. His plan translates into 19 meal blocks weekly and $160 dining dollars per semester.
Luckily for Lush and his never-ending stomach, Pitt has more than 15 campus eateries, so there’s a place to chow down at any hour. Typically, he breakfasts on a sesame bagel (toasted with plain cream cheese) at Einstein’s bagelery or at Cathedral Coffee, then takes his appetite to the all-you-can-eat Marketplace cafeteria in the Litchfield Tower basement, where his favorite dish is the make-your-own pasta. Other times he goes for the traditional smorgasbord fare at Eddie’s or Schenley Café in the William Pitt Union.
The flexibility of having a meal plan isn’t just for students who live on campus. Pitt offers a commuter plan that goes by the semester instead of the week.
With so many choices, it’s a good thing that Lush exercises regularly. "What can I say, I like to eat," he mumbles while munching on his second Schenley Café cheeseburger of the day. That should hold him until lunch, which is only an hour away.
Don’t Leave Home Without It
I’m late. I apologize to my film professor for leaving class early. Zipping my bag, I swoosh out the door.
As rain pours down, I jog over wet, cracked pavement from Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland. Hair streaks onto my face as I speed past the Porsche dealership, toward the Giant Eagle. My appointment with my English professor at the Cathedral of Learning begins in 15 minutes. Already out of breath, I’m still 20 minutes away on foot.
Reaching the intersection of Melwood and Centre avenues, I try to hide from the rain under the tiny overhang of Melwood Legend Drugs, hoping that a 71A or 54C will save me. Searching through my pockets, I don’t feel my Pitt ID. Without it, I can’t ride the city bus.
As I dig further, I realize it’s not the first time I’ve relied on this little card.
Freshman yearwaiting on Fifth Avenue for a bus to take me Downtown to see the Pittsburgh Symphony; after about a half hour, I realize I’m on the wrong side of the road. When I finally reach the box office, a name-tagged gentleman pulls me to the side to ask if I’m a Pitt student. After showing him my ID, I walk away with a free ticket in hand. I pass row after row until reaching my seatfront row, center. Between two well-dressed families, I, unshaven and wearing flip-flops, delight in Mozart.
Sophomore yearflashing my ID in the Pitt Arts office, I secure a ticket to the Annual Jazz Seminar and Concert at the Carnegie Music Hall. Sitting in the first balcony, I listen to Nathan Davis jam on sax and discover my love for jazz.
Junior yearhaving not read the hundreds of pages assigned for my Russian film class, I cram through the night, consuming only coffee. Tired and hungry, I continue to draw blanks: Who is Anatoly Lunacharsky" Who directed ZvenigoraWhat is Zvenigora"! Defeated, I trudge from the Cathedral. My stomach speaks its own strange, painful dialect. Although I have no money in my pocket, I stop at a nearby Subway and order a foot-long Italian on an Asiago roll. I pay for it with my Panther Fund, using my ID. With every bite, I distance myself from that cold, bitter place.
A dull roar coming up Centre Avenue snaps me out of my daydream. A 71A is fast approaching which can get me to my appointment on time, that is provided I find my ID. Pulling my wallet from my pants, I frantically rummage through itthere’s my Blockbuster card, driver’s license, Carnegie Library card. There it is! I find it just as the 71A sighs to a stop. I get on it, sighing myself.
I proudly show the ID to the bus driver who turns to me and says, "Pay when you get off."
Keith Bandelin (CAS ’04)
||Pitt senior Derek Knight accepts the trophy on behalf of the University’s team from Jeanne Caliguiri
The motorcycle engine lay in a scrap yard. It was up to Pitt engineering students to build it into a winner.
The reincarnated 600-cubic-centimeter Honda engine did its job. It powered Pitt’s open-wheel racecar into first place in the Richard M. Caliguiri Collegiate Invitational Race, part of Pittsburgh’s annual Vintage Grand Prix.
Students crafted 80 percent of the car, including the lightweight carbon fiber body, says Derek D. Knight, a senior mechanical engineering student and cocaptain of Panther Racing.
"We knew we put together a good car," he says. So good was the Panther car that it bested entries from Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, and other universities.
Panther Racing doesn’t go into hibernation during the winter. The team is building a new car for the annual Formula SAE competition, which is held each spring in Pontiac, Mich. The race is sponsored by the Big Three automakersDaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors. Last year, the race attracted more than 100 teams from 10 countries.
"Behind the starting line is lots of hard work," says William S. Slaughter, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, who oversees the team. "There are untold man-hours involved," he says. "It’s really a labor of love."
Kris B. Mamula
About 35 students sit in a circle on folding chairs inside an old, wooden dome. The dome crowns a hilltop just north of downtown Pittsburgh. It’s early evening. Darkness mostly fills the dome but soft, red light glows from several wall-mounted glass lamps, resembling old ships’ lanterns. No one speaks, as if waiting expectantly for some ancient omen, some sign.
A lecturer begins tugging on a thick rope, which hangs from rigging on the dome’s inner wall. A pulley slowly winds the rope, lifting a wood panel up and away, to reveal a narrow swatch of evening sky. Tonight, this group of mostly freshmen will see something marvelous, something not seen from Earth for at least 60,000 years. And it won’t happen again for many generations.
Eric Burnett, who is only weeks into his first semester at Pitt, is excited to be here. He watches the lecturer tussle with the dome’s central attraction, a Fitz-Clark refracting telescope. It’s the same telescope that Samuel Pierpont Langley used in the 1860s, when he was Pitt’s first director of the Allegheny Observatory. The building has other telescopes, but the original Fitz-Clark is a great teaching tool, with the aura of history still clinging to its vintage casing and handmade 13-inch lens.
With the push of a button, the lecturer moves the wooden dome with the slivered opening. It begins sliding slowly to the left, interrupting the silence with a lurch of wood on metal. The red lights continue to glow as all eyes turn toward the now-open patch of inky dark sky, dotted with airplanes and other bright, flickering objects.
From his nearby folding chair, Burnett watches the lecturer push, then pull, then slowly tumble the long body of the one-ton telescope into position. The telescope is suspended on a pivoting platform, but the instrument can be unwieldy to maneuver.
Through the sliver of open dome, Burnett can see a small, bright ball of light in the southeastern sky. It appears much smaller than the Earth’s moon, but also larger than any star in the sky. Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, is passing nearby in its elliptical orbit. It won’t come this close again until 2287 or later. From the dome, the planet can be seen with the naked eye. But Burnett is eager to view it, too, through the telescope.
One by one, each student mounts wooden steps to peer through the telescope’s eyehole. Burnett lingers at the sight of the small, pale object in the lens. Even though the image is unspectacular compared to enhanced satellite images or Star Wars movies, Burnett is captivated. He sees the white-on-pale polar ice cap mentioned by the instructor. Yes!, he thinks to himself, that’s it!
Nothing else in his Introduction to Astronomy class is likely to impress him as much. "This will be my only opportunity to see Mars up close. I’m never going to have it again. I didn’t care if I had to stand at the telescope for 15 minutes. I had to see it."
As Jon Skindzier walked through the halls of his dorm, passing open doors, he saw most of his classmates sitting at their computersthey never seemed to go outside. Food was always delivered to their rooms. And there were the rumors that roommates, people sitting right across from each other, would sometimes instant message each other rather than talk. When Skindzier enrolled in college, he hadn’t expected his dorm to be populated with a bunch of hermits.
The English department wasn’t what he expected, either. And then there was the campus. If he walked 10 minutes, east or west, he’d end up in some violent city neighborhoods. Around campus, he had a hard time finding any good restaurants or cool places to hang out.
He thought this was a "good" school. As a high school student, he had read everything prospective college students are supposed to readlists evaluating professor-to-student ratios, the diversity of undergraduates, the ease at obtaining financial aid. His final choice ranked near the top in most categories. Yet, not long after his arrival there, he realized that the lists missed the essence of the college.
He transferred to Pitt after his first year. The fourth-year English and film studies major, who hopes to become a director/writer of film, is still here. Last summer, the Pittsburgh native stayed in his hometown, finding work at the College Prowler.
Founded about a year ago in Pittsburgh by Jason Putorti (CAS ’02) and four alumni from Carnegie Mellon University, College Prowler produces individualized guides on colleges and universities, including nearly two-dozen student rankings on everything from "Academics" to "Guys and Girls" to "Weather." Each booklet incorporates plenty of student quotes and opinions.
Here’s a bit of what the 66-page Pitt College Prowler has to say:
On Academics: "The teachers are cool, for the most part. You can always e-mail them, and I never felt like there were so many kids that the teacher wasn’t willing to help me one-on-one."
On Guys & Girls: "There are enough attractive people of both genders to go around. The variety’s not too bad: there are jocks, punks, skaters, and many more."
On Weather: "We don’t get the greatest weather. When it does get nice, it’s like a holiday and everyone is out enjoying it. The Cathedral lawn is a fabulous spot for sunning, talking, and napping."
Skindzier, director of writer management at College Prowler, spends much of his time between class recruiting and managing student writers from across the country who divulge the real stories about their schools. With that kind of handy information, Skindzier promises College Prowler readers won’t have the same freshman year surprises he did.
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