Spring 2022
Connections

Say It Loud, Say It Proud

Pitt Advocates help lawmakers understand the University’s sweeping value. This year, their efforts are more important than ever.
Photography by
Tom Altany/Pitt Visual Services

Bruce Mountjoy’s Pitt story began in 1985 at Kaufmann’s department store.

He had just lost his job at Equibank after the company sold all of its branches, including his, to Northwest Mutual Savings. Mountjoy was in downtown Pittsburgh and had popped into Kaufmann’s on Fifth Avenue to pick up a few needed items. Instead, he found himself lingering at an information table for the University of Pittsburgh’s College of General Studies and wondering whether it was the answer to his sudden career setback.

Mountjoy never thought he’d need a college degree. Neither of his parents had one. He’d scored the job at Equibank right out of high school. Besides, the cost of college always struck him as prohibitive. But he quickly calculated that, by working a part-time job and leveraging Pitt’s in-state tuition discount, higher education might just be a possibility.

Today, Mountjoy (CGS ’91) works in the legal department at Citizens Bank. He says he wouldn’t have achieved that success without his Pitt education and that his Pitt education wouldn’t have been possible without in-state tuition.

So, since 2007, he’s dedicated hundreds of hours to ensuring that future generations get the same opportunity.

“If you got something out of your Pitt education, you should do something for the next person who’s walking through campus right now, wanting to go to college,” he says.

Mountjoy is part of the Pitt Advocates network, a group fighting to preserve the state-funded tuition discount by urging lawmakers to pass Pitt’s annual appropriation, which has helped fund the discount for in-state Pitt students for nearly 60 years. The result is an annual tuition reduction of around $15,000 for resident students and a world-class education that is more accessible and affordable.

This year, that appropriation is at risk. The Pitt community across all five campuses has rallied to preserve it. Thousands have signed on as Advocates and called or emailed lawmakers, the Student Government Board passed a resolution in favor of the appropriation, and the University’s College Democrats and College Republicans even issued a bipartisan call for legislators from both sides of the aisle to support Pennsylvania students.

Black woman in blue, white and gold dress; Black man in suit, tie and gold medallion; white woman in blue jacket and black blouse, slacks and gold medallion; and white woman in navy blue dress pose for camera in front of Pitt-seal branded backgroundMountjoy is a prolific writer of letters to newspapers and lawmakers, but he believes the most important work happens on Pitt Day in Harrisburg, when hundreds of Advocates board buses to cross the commonwealth and speak with legislators in person.

Because Mountjoy has attended every year since 2007 (including virtually, when COVID-19 paused the annual trek), his pitch is a practiced one. It’s complete with a robust list of facts and numbers — like how for every dollar the state spends on Pitt, the University returns more than $20 in economic impact; and that 65% of Pitt graduates join the state’s workforce.

“It’s not just about the world-class education Pitt gives its students, it’s about what the students give to the state,” Mountjoy says.

This spring, Mountjoy rode the bus to Harrisburg with Valerie Njie (EDUC ’71), Pitt Alumni Association president, and Debra Thompson, a Pitt nursing school alumna and tireless advocate for nursing education. Thompson’s pitch to lawmakers is simple cause and effect — providing in-state tuition leads to more students attending nursing school at Pitt, and better-educated nurses provide better health outcomes.

But, she says, it’s a single, powerful statement that often resonates most.

“I have a better life because I went to Pitt,” says Thompson (NURS ’77, ’81G, ’10G). “It’s true. Pitt gave me the skills and ability to knock on a door and say, ‘Please take a look at me.’”

She emphasizes that even alumni advocates who don’t feel comfortable cold-calling lawmakers or aren’t able to visit Harrisburg can still make a difference.

“Tell your Pitt story,” Thompson says. “Think about the benefit of lending your voice. Ask: ‘What’s my Pitt passion, and how do I demonstrate it?’”

For Mountjoy, that kind of advocacy has always come easily. He loves reliving the days when Tony Dorsett shredded his way through opposing defenses on the football field. He very seriously posits that he can wear a different Pitt shirt every day for six months and not have to do laundry. When he drives through Pittsburgh, on his way to or from his home in Ingram, Pennsylvania, he always searches the skyline for the Cathedral of Learning.

When he spots it, he feels a swell of pride rise in his chest.

“It’s like feeling the strength of a thousand Panthers behind you,” he says.

 

Get Involved

Pennsylvania alumni and residents: Contact your elected officials and urge them to pass Pitt’s annual appropriation bill, which will continue to fund the in-state tuition discount for Pennsylvania’s students and families.

All alumni: Spread the word about protecting the in-state tuition discount and share your Pitt story via Twitter and Facebook.

 

Cover image: Bruce Mountjoy shows of his Pitt pride with the panther statue on the Pittsburgh campus.

This story was posted on May 23, 2022. It is from Pitt Magazine’s Spring 2022 issue.