Launched in 2018, Pitt’s Panthers Forward initiative is designed to support student success and reduce the debt burden of those who took out federal student loans in their final year.
In addition to financial aid, students are connected to a network of mentors and life skills programs, said Sarah Webb, director of Panthers Forward. “Through PF Connect, a private engagement platform, members have access to other community members and event details. The events focus on a variety of topics, all important to the university’s transition, ”she said.
The year ends in April with a celebration to mark their graduation from the ranks of Pitt alumni.
The program comes with a voluntary condition: that recipients “pay it forward” as alumni to help future cohorts of Pitt students. Giving back goes beyond financial contributions. Panthers Forward alumni also pay it by mentoring others.
Members of the new cohort were introduced to this growing network of mentors and friends at a recent virtual kickoff celebration that included informal discussions and online breakout sessions.
In a videotaped welcome speech at the October 22 launch event, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said when Panthers Forward launched two years ago, there was no crystal ball to imagine how 2020 would unfold.
But, he said, “we knew that students, alumni, donors and others would come together, rise up and create a tremendous network of support – and this community matters more than ever. “
This year’s Panther’s Forward cohort is accomplished and diverse:
69% are from Pennsylvania; 31% are from out of state.
The average GPA is 3.6.
91% have professional experience related to their field of study.
25% are men; 75% are women.
53% come from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Dietrich; 15% are from the College of Business Administration and 7% from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. The Swanson School of Engineering, the School of Nursing and the School of Computing and Information represent 5% each; with others representing the School of Education, the College of General Studies, the School of Pharmacy, the School of Social Work and several majors.
The cohort is 75% white; 11% black or African-Americans; 7% Asian, 3% Hispanic and 3% other ethnicities.
Three new Panthers Forward recipients shared their Pitt stories:
“Nothing is more exciting than getting an email saying you have free money, especially when it’s a good amount,” joked Alex Davidson, who applied for the Panthers Forward program after learning about it from email to the university. Davidson, a senior from Philadelphia who is majoring in information science, holds two jobs while completing his final year at Pitt.
In addition to working as a web developer and research assistant in the pediatric faculty member Ana Radovic’s group, Davidson did a software engineering internship with healthcare giant Cigna, a position that will become a full-time job in Philadelphia after graduation this spring.
Davidson chose Pitt after reviewing schools across the country. “Pitt offered a good option for my major, as well as perks like going to the Cathedral of Learning class,” Davidson said. “And it’s a beautiful city. I wanted a college with its own campus in a city.
Davidson, who plays guitar and bass, made connections on campus and in the Pittsburgh community during their time here. They have been active on radio station WPTS, with student group BLAQ (Black, Loud and Queer) and on the Pittsburgh music scene. “Everyone is very friendly and it feels like a small town. It was easy to make friends here, ”they said.
Davidson is already expanding that circle through Panthers Forward. “Panthers Forward provides access to a large network of Pitt alumni from all walks of life and all generations,” Davidson noted. “It’s great to be able to access and benefit from this network. Later, when I am established in my career, I want to offer the same to undergraduates.
After the virtual launch event, Davidson said, “I love how informal the connections are – it’s not all about suit and tie and awkward chatter. The people involved in the program are there to help you.
Steven Montalbano, a senior from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, will be graduating in computer science this spring.
He has been active in the Kappa Theta Pi professional tech fraternity on campus, as president in its first year and currently as vice president. The group organizes professional development events and volunteers as a team on community projects, including Pitt Make a Difference Day.
Montalbano found the opportunity to reduce his student loan balances through Panthers Forward. “I have a lot of loans so it didn’t hurt to apply. For four years, I accumulated debt, ”he said.
“Once I applied I had a follow-up survey to fill out, with lots of questions about mentoring and financial literacy, and I realized there was more to the program than just a grant. . He has just started exploring the Panthers Forward Connect online resources for the Panthers Forward community.
“Once I learn this about the program, to me it shows that you don’t leave the Pitt community when you graduate. It’s an opportunity to help current students, ”he said, considering the opportunity to help other people with similar financial circumstances to his.
Montalbano said his parents paid for his tuition at St. Joseph’s High School in Natrona Heights, Pa., But the cost of education was largely borne by him.
In addition to his college internship work, he spent hours applying for scholarships before and after coming to Pitt. He has received financial aid from the Pittsburgh Italian Scholarship Fund, government grants and support from the University of Pell Grant Correspondence program. He still needed student loans.
The Panthers Forward program was attractive as a way to reduce these loan balances as it moved into a promising but still uncertain future. Montalbano has already seen an internship opportunity canceled due to the pandemic. And while he’s optimistic that his current internship at CMU’s Software Engineering Institute could lead to a full-time job, that’s not guaranteed.
“To be selected for Panthers Forward in a huge pool was an honor. I wasn’t expecting it, ”he said. “This is an opportunity to help with the transition to my life after graduation. “
Khadajah Muhammad, an elder from Oklahoma, came to Pitt unseen – drawn to the University’s generous financial aid program. She is majoring in political science with a minor in administration of justice and aspires to a career in the US foreign service. Muhammad is applying to graduate schools and is awaiting decisions on several State Department scholarships she applied to through University Honors College.
She grew up in a single parent family, surrounded by three siblings and is the first in her family to attend university. “I have always loved school,” she said, adding that she knew early on that she wanted to continue her education. His decision to come to Pittsburgh did not disappoint. “Academically, Pitt has been amazing,” she said.
Muhammad also enjoys Pennsylvania’s urban environment and rich political history, an ideal ground for studying political science, she said.
She has been active giving back to the community throughout her time in Pitt, including volunteering through the PittServes office and serving on the Council for Student Civic Engagement, as well as helping to forming the Association of Black Students of Political Science on Campus, a student organization that received approval from the Student Organizations Resource Center earlier this year.
Pitt was among her top schools when deciding on colleges, but she had both academics and results to consider when she made her final decision. “I didn’t want to be in debt forever,” she said.
His interest in Panthers Forward is not just about financial aid. She looks forward to the opportunity to network with alumni and maintain these relationships. “By making those connections, you know you’ll want to give back,” she said.
She sees the Panthers Forward program as proof that Pitt continues to honor his commitment to helping students. “I want to help with this,” she said, as she waits to fulfill her own pledge to pay it forward. “I want students who are in my situation to be able to come here like I did.
Learn more about the start of the program and the first Panthers Forward cohort.