The sights and sounds of students cheering, confetti falling to the ground and caps thrown into the air may not be filling the Petersen Events Center this April, but that same spirit is still with the nearly 8,000 University of Pittsburgh undergraduate and graduate students who will receive their diplomas and begin a new chapter of their lives.
While Pitt is practicing social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19, students, families and friends will gather virtually for the University’s first online celebration of its kind on April 26.
Four speakers—two graduate and two undergraduate—will represent the students receiving their degrees at the event, in addition to other remarks. Meet the graduate student speakers.
Stephanie Wiltman, Swanson School of Engineering
Stephanie Wiltman, who is graduating with her doctorate in bioengineering, said she’s choosing to be optimistic about the future, despite the unexpected hurdles this semester brought.
“I definitely get a lot of my motivation for my work by being around people. But I would say to students that while it would be flippant for me to say everything will be OK, our world has seen this before and I believe that people will be able to figure out solutions to this problem,” said Wiltman.
Her doctoral thesis focused on the biomechanics of prolonged standing. She measured cartilage compression in the knee and circulatory mechanisms in the lower extremities.
“Retail workers, hairdressers and medical professionals are more likely to develop arthritis or circulatory disorders, so we measured these outcomes over time,” she said. “We found that people with different body makeup like body mass index respond differently to interventions, like soft surfaces to hard surfaces. It’s really important to consider different demographics—such as BMI or age—or whether someone has a disease like diabetes to determine if these interventions are effective.”
Wiltman’s undergraduate studies were in materials science and psychology at Virginia Tech. However, after a brief professional stint in glassmaking in Corning, New York, she decided to pursue her doctorate at Pitt to “make more of an impact” with her career.
“Making glass is nice and goes into a lot of important things we use every day, but it was hard for me to see the real impact of what I was doing,” she said. “I specifically picked Pitt because I’m originally from the area. Going back home felt really special to me.”
At Pitt, Wiltman was a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Engineering Graduate Student Organization. With the former, she eventually became the Pitt chapter’s president and started the first bioengineering career fair at Pitt in the fall of 2017, which had seven companies and welcomed approximately 140 students.
“I would love to be able to say in the future that I really helped somebody’s life. I’d like to see the impact of my work,” she said. Wiltman plans to pursue a career in consulting, medical device design, or workplace ergonomics and human factors.
Prince Matthews, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
Prince Matthews was a junior at Westinghouse High School when Barack Obama was elected president. Looking back, he feels that may have motivated him to join those making a difference.
The second-youngest of 11 children, Matthews grew up in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. “There weren’t a lot of positive things going on there,” he said. “But I always believed in myself and tried my best to navigate through any challenge.”
On April 26, he will earn a master’s degree in public administration from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA). His studies focused on public and nonprofit management, program evaluation, strategic management, grant writing, public administration and leadership.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Clarion University and was subsequently accepted to a number of universities, including Ivy League schools. But it was GSPIA that called to him the loudest. Its Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership helped cultivate Matthews’ skills. Through its Leadership Portfolio Program, Matthews found himself on the board of the local Birmingham Foundation.
He reviewed grant applications, selected grant awardees and plunged himself into bettering hometown neighborhoods. “It was a rigorous program, but it aligned with everything I wanted to do in life,” he said.
The summer before his senior year, Matthews interned for the Wilkinsburg-Vision 2020 Project, for which he promoted community efforts on social media, produced videos and built databases. He helped organize a celebration of longtime Wilkinsburg resident Henry Parham, 98, the last surviving Black veteran of D-Day, which was reported on by CNN.
Matthews’ keen interest in politics led him to toss his own hat into the ring in last spring’s Pittsburgh City Council District 9 race, where a slew of candidates had set out to defeat incumbent Ricky Burgess. While Matthews eventually withdrew, he took away lessons from the experience.
“Leadership is not about how much you can propel yourself, but how much you can propel others and how far you can take them,” he said. “If you really care about those people, you’re going to make the sacrifice.”
Currently, Matthews is running his company, Viral Pyramid Marketing, where he creates branding materials and videos for a host of clients. Things are busy on the home front too, where he and his wife, Raven, are expecting Prince, Jr. any day now, a younger sibling to his 5-year-old daughter Princess. All this while he awaits to see if he is selected from 90 regional finalists for the prestigious White House Fellowship program.
He also is a consultant for Partner4Work and eventually wants to create a local Green Collar Jobs Training Program.
Said Matthews: “Anything to help people get out of poverty, anything involving community development and empowerment. I just want to do that for the rest of my life.”