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The Good, the Bad, and the Unexpected

One couple helps others along the bumpy road

Minutes after arriving home from a hospital maternity ward, a young mother stands, immobilized, in her living room. She holds a newborn in each arm, and two more children cling to her calves. As a newly single mom with a medical assistant’s salary and two sets of twins, all under the age of two, she’s reeling from the sheer uncertainty in her life. Standing there, she says a prayer: Please help me get through this.

Out of sheer necessity, Jodi Gigler quickly became a master at multitasking. She learned that if she kept a basket of plush toys handy, she could toss them across the room to distract the toddlers from mischief while she nursed one infant and burped the other. She learned that if she animated her voice, she could turn any college textbook into a bedtime story. She learned these things simply because she had to if she was going to reach her goal—to build a better life for her family.

Gigler took courses at several Pittsburgh-area colleges while considering her career options and looking for a good fit. Then, she took a job supporting a medical-research team in Pitt’s critical care medicine department and found her career niche. Soon after, she enrolled in Pitt’s College of General Studies (CGS), designed for students who don’t take the traditional path to college immediately following high school. She chose a major in health services, which builds and enhances career skills for those in professional health settings, including research project managers like her.

This didn’t make her life easier, of course. Her class books were often soaked in juice and covered with crayon graffiti, and her children sometimes made the trip with her to Hillman Library. Even so, something at Pitt did lighten her burden and brighten her future.

Bettye and Ralph Bailey are familiar with the difficulties of finishing a degree when life intervenes in unexpected ways. Ralph’s studies were put on hold when he was called to serve in World War II. Then, after his tour of duty, Bettye postponed her college education so that the two could start their family.

Ralph worked his way up through the ranks of the coal and petroleum industry and eventually retired as chairman and CEO of Conoco, Inc., a major international oil company. Bettye, because of various family moves, compiled credits at six colleges and graduated from Pitt’s CGS in 1984—at the age of 60—having delayed her college education until three of their four children were college students themselves. For 23 years, she served as a trustee of Wilmington College in Wilmington, Delaware.

Throughout the years, though, the Baileys never forgot a gift that helped to launch their family’s future—a college scholarship and the G.I. Bill, which enabled Ralph to complete his degree during lean times.

Those benefits inspired the Baileys to help others struggling to balance family, work, and academic commitments while keeping up with life’s unexpected twists and turns. In 2006, Gigler became one of the first to receive the University of Pittsburgh’s Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Scholarship, which honors and supports nontraditional students who’ve maintained solid academic standing despite challenging circumstances.

The scholarship funds have made it possible for Gigler, a CGS junior, to keep her amazing balancing act going. The scholarship covers everything from tuition to books to babysitting.

For Amber Esper, another Bailey Scholarship recipient, life sidetracked her college plans in the form of a diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The news came on her 17th birthday, and through much of her junior and senior years of high school, she struggled to regain her health. With help from her school and support from her family, she was able to graduate on schedule and look forward to the next step in her education.

“It was a positive, life-changing experience,” she says now about her battle with the disease. She’s cancer-free and grateful for the perspective recovery has given her: “I wouldn’t give it up.”

A true-to-form overachiever, Esper dove straight into working full-time and attending classes at Pitt, but because of her weakened immune system, she was unable to complete the semester and had to postpone her plans for a university degree.

Last fall—nearly five years later—the timing was finally right. Esper enrolled in CGS while working full-time as a legal secretary for a downtown law firm. She met her own high standards for academic excellence and won the Bailey Scholarship, which has inspired her to work even harder. “Every time I crack a textbook, I think of the Baileys,” says Esper, who looks forward to pursuing a career as a real-estate attorney.

Gigler, too, often has the Baileys on her mind. Sometimes, she still falls asleep at the kitchen table, her face in her homework, after full days of work, mom duties, and evening classes. But the Bailey Scholarship has set her and her family on a path toward success: “I want my kids to say, ‘If my mom could do this with all these distractions, there’s no reason I can’t accomplish the same—and more.’” —Elaine Vitone

Al Novak

Notes from Novak

As the spring semester got under way this January, I took some time to reflect on how our fundraising campaign has directly affected our students. In a time when higher education costs continue to rise year after year, the University of Pittsburgh has been working avidly to offer more scholarships to students, both undergraduate and graduate. Since 1997, the number of scholarship funds has increased by more than 80 percent. But more needs to be done.

Once our students are in the classroom, we have been able to continue to support them with student resource funds that help them purchase books and other academic supplies and to pay for other campus-related expenses. These funds can be invaluable in making ends meet. Student and faculty resource funds have increased 128 percent since 1997.

Ralph and Bettye Bailey’s scholarship—described in the accompanying article—is helping to make a college
education possible for nontraditional students. It’s inspiring to read about the scholarship’s affirming impact on the lives of hard-working students.

And thousands of other donors have created or supported scholarships and student resource funds at all levels so that thousands of students walking on Pitt’s campus today have financial support that would not be possible otherwise.

Thank you for helping us support Pitt and our students with your generosity. You truly are helping us build a better tomorrow for future generations—one gift at a time. Hail to Pitt! —Al Novak

  • For more information about the Discover a World of Possibilities campaign, go online: www.giveto.pitt.edu

Campaign Watch

Institutional Advancement is committed to reaching the University’s ambitious new $2 billion goal. Pitt’s alumni and friends have contributed generously, making our current campaign status $1.038 billion!


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