Newest Panthers Forward Class Prepares to Give Back

Woman in a yellow headscarf and a white mask with PanthersForward 2021 in the background

Panthers Forward, a program that leverages the power of the Pitt community to reduce student debt and support success, recently celebrated its latest class with games, networking and a virtual photo booth.

“We love our community and we’re thrilled to be able to host an end-of-year send-off with great speakers, trivia and prizes that didn’t feel like just another Zoom meeting,” said Sarah Webb, director of Panthers Forward. “Just because we can’t celebrate in person doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time.”

Panthers Forward harnesses the philanthropic power of the Pitt community to reduce student loan debt. Launched in 2018, the program accepts 150 seniors each year who have taken out federal loans to cover their schooling and offers them up to $5,000 to offset their student loan debt. The program asks the Panthers to return the favor and donate back to the program when they’re able. It also includes networking, educational opportunities and tips for financial literacy as participants exit college. This financial education is an important resource. 

“As someone who understands the burden of student debt, I’m excited to be working for a program with the goal of combating the student loan crisis in this country,” said Webb. “It’s personal for me and I want to give our students access to resources I didn’t have, like our programming on financial literacy and student loan basics. Our hope is that our program helps seniors feel more prepared as they transition to life after graduation.”

During this year’s April celebration, the Pittsburgh Foundation gave an in-depth presentation about the ways that students can give back not only to Pitt but to the Pittsburgh community. 

“Giving is more than just powerful—it can enrich your life,” said Emmie Calland, director of the Pittsburgh Foundation. Calland asked students to reflect on their own giving: what organizations they donated their money and time to, and why. 

One student, Corrine Chernich, talked about how her interest in the nursing field inspired her to participate in Pitt Dance Marathon, a year-long program raising funds and awareness for the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. 

“I feel like it all relates. I want to be a nurse, so giving my time to a children’s hospital just makes sense,” she said.  

Another student, communications major Rachel Stackiewicz, summarized what others offered in one phrase: “Giving back to things that gave to you.” 

After the presentation, the students got to engage in fun and activities hosted by alumnus Eric Burnett’s (A&S ’07) Fireside Events. Students participated in trivia and other games to win prizes—a nice break indeed from the usual Zoom calls. 

This story was written by Kendal Johnson, a student reporter for Pittwire.

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