Senior Molly Brandenburg and a few friends from Pitt were on spring break in Nashville when the news came that they wouldn’t get to return to campus for the remainder of their final semester.
“It was better because we were all together at the time when we first found out,” said Brandenburg, who will graduate with degrees in chemistry and anthropology, conferred in a virtual celebration on Sunday. “But the hardest part was not having my last class, the loss of a graduation weekend. You plan your whole schedule around it, and now there’s no closure.”
Part of being a student ambassador means sharing her Pitt experience, good and bad, with current and prospective Dietrich School students on Instagram. Brandenburg and her 15 peers represent the school at open houses. They serve as resources for high school students with questions. They post about concerts and travels and what they love about Pitt. Their DMs are open.
The result is an inside look at life as a student.
“How involved I got at Pitt is something I’m really proud of,” said Brandenburg, which is a feeling fellow ambassador Joanna Harlacher shares.
The move to finishing the semester remotely has been “melancholy” for Harlacher, home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, now. But she’s grateful for the professors who have restructured classes to be asynchronous and “more accessible to us while working from home. I’m so glad they’ve been so flexible.”
“This time can be isolating but really it’s an opportunity to reach out to people,” said Harlacher. “Make an effort to stay connected.”
Choosing Pitt and making the most of it
“Being pre-med, I wanted somewhere with great STEM programs,” Brandenburg said. “My high school had a big football team, so I also wanted that big student experience. Having something that the entire campus rallies around was really important to me. We’re known for sports, but there’s also so much more to Pitt than the football field,” she added. “Everyone’s part of some student organization.”
Brandenburg gained expertise in research, internships, volunteering and Greek life. She studied abroad for six weeks in the Himalayas. She became president of Delta Phi Epsilon sorority and helped Student Affairs design welcome week for incoming students as a First Year Mentor. She’s currently working part time as a medical assistant at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Interested in medicine and still figuring out which path is the right one for her, Brandenburg plans on staying in Pittsburgh after graduation and interviewing for clinical research positions. She’s particularly passionate about pediatric oncology. “There’s a lot of hope in that department,” she said. “Everyone has a connection to cancer research.”
Harlacher said some notable experiences of her Pitt journey include a First Experience in Research with Pitt’s Visual Media Workshop and contributing to the Itinera database, a map-based resource from the Department of Art and Architecture.
This fall, she interned as a research assistant at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where she worked with an assistant curator on an upcoming exhibition about gender biases in the natural world. Using the anonymous feminist art group Guerilla Girls as inspiration for revealing inequalities, she proposed exhibition concepts to feature female scientists such as Joan Roughgarden, Lynn Margulis and Jane Goodall.
Harlacher will begin a position as a recruitment coordinator for the Dietrich School after graduating, where she’ll continue working with student ambassadors, this time as an alum and Pitt employee.
Brandenburg said she looks forward to returning to campus for Homecoming 2020. “Everyone I’ve talked to is planning on making it a big last hurrah,” she said. And she and Harlacher know an in-person commencement is forthcoming.
In the meantime, Sunday will be one of the first virtual celebrations of the graduating Class of 2020 in the country. Tune in at 11:30 a.m. ET.