Scholarship Helps Pitt Students and At-Risk Youth

Lester Snyder Jr.
Tom Slone (CGS ’88)

Each semester, a dozen or more at-risk youths are partnered with Pitt undergrads through a scholarship program that is as unique as its benefactor. 

Tom Slone (CGS ’88) found himself in Pittsburgh in 1981 as the head of the local division of Associates First Capital. The Kentucky native and Air Force veteran had some college-level classes under his belt, and the company wanted him to attend the Columbia School of Business. But Tom thought he would prefer to get his degree from Pitt.

 “I spoke to an advisor at Pitt, and he said the University would accept two years’ worth of my night school credits, and he laid out a plan for me to finish my degree going to school on Saturdays,” remembered Tom.

“I feel an obligation to help because I’ve been helped by so many mentors.” - Tom Slone

But before he could finish, Associates transferred him to Texas. Tom wanted to complete his education at Pitt, so he and the dean of the school worked out a plan that would have him commute from Dallas several Saturdays a semester and use a local proctor to administer tests.

“This was long before online classes made distance learning commonplace,” said Tom. “I had the longest commute of any commuter student at the time.”

By 1988, he was a Pitt alumnus. And he has never forgotten how the University worked so hard to make his goals possible.

Slone left Associates First Capital in 1999 when it was sold to Citigroup and soon launched Touchstone Communications, specializing in direct sales, quality assurance, and website services. He continues to serve as the multi-national company’s CEO and Board Chair.

The other half of the story

Even before he had finished his degree, Tom was bitten by the volunteerism bug, especially when it came to helping at-risk youth. Soon after moving to Dallas, his wife Frances learned about Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America and the couple began mentoring an 8-year-old boy. Much like his rise through the corporate ranks, Tom soon began to serve on the local BBBS board in Dallas, peaking with a stint as chairman.

“Helping someone when you have the ability to do so is the greatest satisfaction you can have.” - Tom Slone

“I feel an obligation to help because I’ve been helped by so many mentors,” said Tom, who was raised by his grandparents until he was eight when his father returned from World War II. “I’ve said I’m the luckiest man in the world because all through my life I’ve had teachers and mentors who have looked out for me and made a difference in my life. And as a result of that, I just felt compelled to give back.”

Tom has found a unique way to meld his love for Pitt, desire to set youth on the path to success, and passion to reward hard-working college students while instilling a life-long habit of giving back to the community. He and his wife established the Thomas R. Slone Scholarship Endowment in 2005. It grants scholarships to Pitt students who have demonstrated financial need, are working on campus or in the community while attending school, and are willing to volunteer as a big brother or big sister.

“Volunteering with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program often starts out as the student just wanting to get a scholarship, but mentoring usually becomes something they want to do for the rest of their life,” said Tom.

Among the nearly 90 recipients of the Slone Scholarship to date is Alexandra Bortot McCrossin (A&S ’12) who was awarded funds in 2011. She fondly remembers the two youngsters she mentored and says it changed her life.

Tom Slone
Tom Slone (left) along with fellow Distinguished Pitt Alumni Johanna M. Seddon (A&S ’70, MED ’74) and Catherine U. Dischner (NURS ’79) in 2013.

“It made me realize just how lucky I was for the upbringing I had. The fifth grade boy I was coupled with had moved eight times in two years,” Alexandra said. The names of the youths are not made public to respect their privacy. “I was quite naive to what some young kids go through.”

Today, Alexandra has expanded her volunteerism and is active with a program that combats food insecurity among children in the Pittsburgh area. She says her time as a big sister helped open her eyes to the need.

Tom established his endowment with a large opening gift and fully funded it over several years to the point that it now covers the costs of the scholarships without dipping into the principal. Just this year, he informed the University he has also included an additional $500,000 for the scholarship fund in his estate plan.

Over a span of 21 days in 2005, Tom, his three grandsons, two fellow mentors, and four mentees attended Major League Baseball games in 10 cities. In 2011, he published the book Grounders: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Journey of Baseball, History, and Mentoring, which offers 33 lessons on being a more successful leader, employee, parent, or mentor. Tom has dedicated all proceeds from the book to support at-risk children’s charities.

“Helping someone when you have the ability to do so is the greatest satisfaction you can have,” said Tom. “To know the things I was taught by my mentors have been passed to new mentors and will be carried on by others after I’m gone is tremendous payback.”

Follow this link to read more stories from this issue of the Chancellor's Circle Update.