Summer 2020

Heading to the Commons Room in Uncommon Times

Updates from the Pitt Alumni Association.

Woman with dark straight hair, dark-rimmed glasses, navy blue blazer, white shirt and layered necklaces smiles at camera in front of teal backgroundThe response by our alumni to COVID-19 has been inspiring and energizing. In this time of social distancing, you have found ways to bridge the space among us by reaching out to each other, your home communities and even the world. There are countless examples of how Pitt alumni have stepped up to the many challenges we face, and I hope it instills an even deeper sense of Pitt pride in you, just as it has in me.

When we asked you to support the members of the Class of 2020 as they graduated into the most chaotic economy in decades, you responded with job postings, internship opportunities and messages of encouragement. And you continue to do so.

When we let you know about special fundraising opportunities to support the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, a Health Sciences COVID-19 research fund and the Student Emergency Assistance Fund, you collectively came through with thousands of dollars in gifts. These funds remain open, as these pursuits are ongoing.

And when we asked you to reach out to each other through Pitt Commons, our recently launched global networking platform, we saw an immediate spike in activity. Pitt Commons helps alumni, students and others in the Pitt community to connect and establish networking and mentoring relationships. Never before have such connections and support systems been so important.

Regardless of where you are in your career, you have valuable knowledge and experiences to share with the Pitt community. Mentoring is a great way to support the next generation. In the same way, networking provides a fantastic opportunity to get fresh ideas and perspectives. It’s all part of giving back to Pitt and getting the most out of your degree.

Simply sign up at with a few details about you and your experiences and let us know what types of interactions most interest you. From there, we will link you with others from among the nearly 6,000 already using Pitt Commons.

Despite all that is happening, our board continues to meet (virtually, of course) and find new ways to help our alumni support one another. We have passed the gavel to our new president, Valerie Njie (EDUC ’71), and we profusely thank Lisa Golden (A&S ’93) for her service and outstanding leadership over the past two years. I could not ask for a better pair of board members to guide us through these uncertain days.

Thank you to our Pitt alumni ceaselessly laboring on the frontlines fighting this pandemic, striving in the lab to find a cure, tirelessly working behind the scenes, reaching out to others in comfort and concern, and simply staying home to help flatten the curve . . . while also making time to support one another. You inspire us all.

Stay safe, and as always, Hail to Pitt!


Nancy Merritt

Vice Chancellor, Alumni Relations


COVID-19 Heroes

As the world confronts the novel coronavirus pandemic and learns to cope, create and connect in the age of social distancing, many of our alumni have risen to the occasion in heroic ways. Read about three of them here and many more at

When the wave of COVID-19 cases inundated hospitals in New York, Liane Popkin (NURS ’13) received the go-ahead from her employer to leave her emergency room job in Denver to spend three weeks helping at a hospital in NYC. “The spirit of cooperation and helpfulness among the nursing staff is amazing,” Popkin said while on assignment. “I’m so grateful for the training I got at Pitt.”

Brian Pettiford (MED ’96) heads thoracic surgery at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Along with his surgical duties, Pettiford took 12-hour shifts in his hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care unit. “Most of my patients were Black and had a medical comorbidity,” Pettiford said. “This pandemic should challenge us to address deeply rooted societal inequities that may contribute to health disparities. During this time, our much-maligned health care system bent but it didn’t break, which is testimony to the dedication of health care workers.”

As the world educated itself about the novel coronavirus, Sunny Williams (A&S ’07) realized there was a dearth of material for young kids. His company, Tiny Docs, created animated and comic book materials addressing COVID-19, which were offered free to parents, hospitals and school districts. “Recently, we released a ‘caretoon’ on mindfulness,” Williams said. “With so many kids anxious about COVID-19, we hope this helps them feel a little better.”


Welcome President Valerie Njie

On July 1, 2020, Valerie Njie (EDUC ’71) will officially take the reins of the Pitt Alumni Association as its new president. Njie has decades of experience on the Pitt Alumni Association Board of Directors and the Pitt African American Alumni Council, earning numerous honors for her service, including the PAA 2015 Volunteer Excellence Award. Njie looks forward to guiding the board as it expands services and activities promoting, supporting and connecting alumni.


Virtually Connected

The Pitt Young Alumni Advisory Team (YAAT) isn’t letting separation get in the way of staying connected and having a good time. The YAAT hosted dozens of alumni at happy hours and virtual game nights. The team is planning more gatherings and might continue them after social distancing measures are lifted.


Ode to “The O”

Roc the Panther eats fries at The OFor more than half a century, sharing a large fries with friends at “The O” (The Original Hot Dog Shop) was a rite of passage for Pitt students. But nothing lasts forever, and the owners of the much-loved eatery have cleaned the fryers for the last time, announcing in April that they have permanently closed the family-run shop. Their last act was to donate seven tons of potatoes to local food pantries. Even Roc will miss “The O.”


Cathedral of Learning at dawn or dusk, drawn with colored pencilsJust for Fun

To help encourage creativity and relaxation at home, the PAA offered a few Pitt-themed coloring pages created by PAA alumni coordinator and artist Rick Antolic. Alumni, students, staff and friends shared their colorful creations on social media. Check them out on Twitter: @PittAlumni #HailingFromHome