Her Leadership Among Alumni Is Evident

Valerie Corbin Ketchen (A&S ’81) leads the Keystone Pitt Club with Pitt Pride.
Valerie Corbin Ketchen (A&S ’81) leads the Keystone Pitt Club with Pitt Pride.

There is an imaginary line somewhere in the Allegheny Mountains where Pitt blue and gold turns into Penn State blue and white. Despite living on the other side of that line, Valerie Corbin Ketchen (A&S ’81) flies her Pitt colors boldly throughout Central Pennsylvania.

“Valerie bleeds Panther Pride,” said Nickki Weyant (A&S ’05) who, along with Betsy Taylor (SHRS ’88, GSPH ’90), helps Valerie run the Keystone Pitt Club, which is one of the largest and most active in the country. “She has a heart of (blue and) gold and will do whatever she can to make sure Pitt is well represented.”

Valerie grew up in the Harrisburg area and chose Pitt for its strong academic reputation and urban campus. As a student, she participated in the Black Action Society and played clarinet in several bands, including the Marching Band, which allowed her to travel to three bowl games.

She came to Pitt at a time when the University was growing faster than its ability to house the incoming students. Valerie, and nearly 100 other freshmen, lived in a dorm on the Carlow College campus.

“It was actually a great experience; many of us who lived in that dorm are still friends today,” Valerie said.

Valerie feels it is important to stay in touch with alumni from every era. Her first job after graduation was in Washington, D.C. She later moved back to Harrisburg and became active in the Pitt African American Alumni Council (AAAC).

Valerie Corbin Ketchen (A&S ’81) leads the Keystone Pitt Club with Pitt Pride.
The Keystone Pitt Club gathers at a recent Pitt Networking Day event.

"Pitt's history indicates that it wasn't an easy road for blacks in the early years; however, they persevered to make the future brighter for others like me,” said Valerie who echoes the AAAC’s focus on Sankofa, which in the Twi language of Ghana means to “reach back and get it.” The term is generally used to express the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress. “I owe a debt of gratitude to those individuals and will always Sankofa which enables future Pitt students to benefit from our gifts to the University.”

Valerie became increasingly involved with Pitt Club of Central PA activities and as her work travel demands lessened, she stepped into a leadership role as head of the club—today known as the Keystone Pitt Club.

“We serve seven counties and move our events around the area to try to reach everyone,” Valerie said. “We take trips to watch games, host Send-Offs in the summer for students heading to all five Pitt campuses, gather for Networking Day where alumni of all ages and career stages can interact, and just have fun whenever we can.”

Valerie loves to interact with current students as much as possible. She will often team up with other members of the AAAC to host a Dinner with 12 Panthers event—an opportunity for alumni to host dinner in their homes or a restaurant for 12 current Pitt students—and she counts the annual Pitt Send-Off as one of her favorite events of the year.

Valerie Corbin Ketchen (A&S ’81) leads the Keystone Pitt Club with Pitt Pride.
Among Valerie’s favorite alumni events is the annual Pitt Send-Off.

“Whenever students tell me they are in the band, I get very excited for them,” Valerie said.

Valerie is also instrumental to Pitt Day in Harrisburg, the annual University-sponsored trip to the state capitol to meet with lawmakers in an effort to help them understand the impact the University has on the state and what they can do for Pitt as a state legislator. She is no stranger to the halls of the capitol thanks to her role as a senior government affairs representative for Highmark. As often as possible, she takes off her Highmark lobbyist hat and puts on her Pitt blue and gold to talk to lawmakers.

“Valerie is a great leader in the heart of the state and a priceless asset during Pitt Day in Harrisburg,” said Jeff Gleim, Pitt Alumni Association Senior Executive Director, Operations. “Her love for Pitt is evident in everything she does.”

“Her love for Pitt is evident in everything she does."
- Jeff Gleim

Over the years, Valerie has served on the Pitt Alumni Association Board, been a member of the executive committee, and in 2011 received the Alumni Association’s Volunteer Excellence Award.

Valerie does more than share her time and good will with Pitt, she also shares philanthropically. Valerie spreads her annual Chancellor’s Circle level donations across several funds including the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, the African American Alumni Council, the band, athletics, lantern night, and of course, the Keystone Club, which is working to create an endowment for the scholarship it gives to a deserving local student each year.

“I want to make sure our students have the resources to succeed,” said Valerie who takes advantage of her company’s matching gift program. “As long as I’m working, I’m going to do that. And I’ll certainly name Pitt as a beneficiary in my will because I want my gift sustained after I’m gone.”

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