Paying it Forward Forms Basis of New Pitt Program

Inaugural Panthers Forward participants
Inaugural Panthers Forward participants

Hailed by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher as an exciting new model for financing higher education, the inaugural Panthers Forward class has been named and are already talking about how they will “pay it forward.”

“In terms of paying it forward in non-monetary ways such as networking and leadership, I’m starting right now. In terms of financially supporting the program, I’ll be doing that as soon as I’m able,” said Panthers Forward participant Connor Desmond (A&S ’19) who plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health.

The 150 Panthers Forward students will each be given up to $5,000 in direct federal student loan relief upon graduation this spring. The only condition is a voluntary one: that they pay it forward. There is no fixed repayment plan or third-party broker. It’s just Pitt graduates helping Pitt students succeed.

“Panthers Forward injects some much-needed innovation into the stagnant landscape of higher education financing,” the Chancellor said. “It’s a bold new approach that utilizes the power of the Pitt community to position students at the University for lifelong success.”

Students will also gain access to a network of mentors. Among them is Lawrence “Guido” Gurrera (A&S’ 05, LAW ’09).

“I think it is so important to have someone to talk to that will not judge you, that you don’t have to impress, but will give you honest and valuable feedback,” Guido said. “I did not have that in college and I’m excited to be able to offer that to our Panthers Forward participants.”

Participants are asked to consider making monthly contributions once they graduate from Pitt. All gifts to the program from the participating students and other donors will be reinvested to support future Panthers Forward students.

As the program grows and graduates become established in their careers, they will be encouraged to “pay it forward” again by donating their time and professional expertise to the newest members of the Panthers Forward network.

(L to R) Panthers Forward participants Mohammed Nadeem, Drue Denmon, and April Yoder”
(L to R) Panthers Forward participants Mohammed Nadeem, Drue Denmon, and April Yoder

“It is important to be able to connect with and learn from people who were going through what you were going through just a few years earlier,” said Panthers Forward participant Cassidee Knott (A&S’19). “You can learn from their successes and failures and see what Pitt has done for them and to know what there is to look forward to.”

The 150 student participants were named November 28 and will be introduced to University leadership, alumni mentors, donors, and each other at an event December 7. The participants—all of whom expect to graduate this spring—were chosen for their commitment to the program’s principles plus achievements and community participation while at Pitt.

“We strive every day to lower the cost of a degree by encouraging philanthropy among Pitt alumni and friends. By creating the Panthers Forward community, we have an innovative and exciting new tool to bolster our effort,” said Kris Davitt, Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations and President of the Medical and Health Sciences Foundation. “Making that first gift to your alma mater can be intimidating and this will help build our culture of philanthropy.”

Approximately 1,400 seniors on the Pittsburgh campus were eligible for Panthers Forward, of which 465 submitted applications. Those applicants had an average GPA of 3.28 and:

  • 49% indicated they intend to enter the workforce upon graduation,
  • 41% intended to attend grad school,
  • 71% were in-state students, and
  • 82% have professional experience such as internships and research.

“It means a lot just to be acknowledged for all the hard work I’ve done at Pitt. Just to have the University say ‘you are what Pitt wants everyone else to see as an example’ is really great,” said Cassidee. “Eventually I’ll be able to help a student like me and show them that college debt might be really daunting, but I’ve been through it and it does not have to be scary because things are going to get better.”

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