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Pitt Alumni Association celebrates remarkable grads with annual awards during homecoming

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  • School of Medicine
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A tent erected on the Cathedral of Learning lawn for homecoming week was filled with laughter, congratulatory handshakes, and tears of joy and appreciation as the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association (PAA) honored its slate of 2022 awardees.

“It was a beautiful night and a spectacular setting made all the more wonderful by celebrating some of our most dedicated alumni,” said Nancy Merritt, vice chancellor for alumni relations. “Being part of these annual awards is one of the highlights of my year and a great start to the homecoming week.”

The Alumni Association presented five awards.

“Spending the evening with these awardees is both humbling and inspiring,” said Richard Sedory (A&S ’83, LAW ’86). “The accomplishments and dedication of these individuals are stunning and set a high bar against which we need to measure ourselves. At the same time, it shows just what a great foundation a Pitt education lays for our alumni to go out and change the world.”

Distinguished Alumni Fellow

In partnership with the Office of the Chancellor, the PAA awarded the Distinguished Alumni Fellow to Deborah J. Gillotti (A&S ’77). The award is the most prestigious honor bestowed by the Alumni Association. It comes in recognition of commitment to the University and contributions made locally, nationally and globally.

Gillotti is sought after for her leadership by global corporations, well-known nonprofits, and, of course, her alma mater. While rising in her career with companies such as KPMG Peat Marwick and Starbucks, Gillotti earned prestigious honors including being named to CIO Magazine’s list of 100 Leaders for the Next Millennium. She is currently the chief operating officer at nVōq, a leader in speech recognition specializing in the health care industry.

Gillotti holds several leadership roles at Pitt including serving as a University Trustee and on the Board of Visitors for the School of Nursing and the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Gillotti also received the Dietrich School Distinguished Alumni Award in 2016 and earned a School of Nursing Honorary Alumni Award in 2019. She was an inaugural Panthers Forward mentor.

“We don’t have all the answers for the students, but we can give them our perspectives,” Gillotti said. “I tell them to follow their passions and to never be afraid to take risks.” 

Gillotti and her husband, Joseph, financially support the University through their generous annual gifts and estate gift, as well as through the creation of several endowed funds that impact multiple areas of the University including undergraduate research, graduate fellowships, equipment to advance learning at the School of Computing and Information, and support of the Innovation Institute.

Learn more about the award, and watch a video tribute to Gillotti here.

Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award

Zane H. Gates, MD (PHARM ’90, MED ’95) was presented with the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award in recognition of his exceptional accomplishments in his profession, vocation and community.

Gates has two driving missions — ensuring that a lack of financial resources never prevents anyone from accessing the health care they need and working hard to make the world better for others.

Upon finishing his residency, Gates returned to Altoona, Pa., and purchased an old van, which he drove into the city’s underserved communities. Gates understood the community’s needs, having been raised by a single mother in unstable economic conditions. Gates credits his mother with instilling in him an understanding that all people deserve respect.

To honor his mother, Gates created the Gloria Gates Memorial Foundation in 1999. The foundation encourages improved school performance and works to build self-esteem and moral character among children living in three low-income housing developments in Altoona.

Gates founded and runs PeopleOne Health, which is a subscription-based health care provider. The non-profit exists in part thanks to the efforts of Gates in promoting and passing legislation in Harrisburg establishing the Community-Based Health Care Program in the Department of Health and providing for hospital health clinics.

“All my life I wanted to be a doctor, but I never thought a kid from my neighborhood could be a doctor,” Gates said. “That is what’s neat about Pitt… it gives me this wonderful education, and now I can take all those tools and help so many people.”

Throughout his career, Zane has earned a long list of awards for his service including the NAACP Award for Community Service, WebMD’s Health Hero Award, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award. He also received the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013.

Bill Baierl Distinguished Alumni Service Award

Joy D. Starzl (SOC WK ’97) was presented the Bill Baierl Distinguished Alumni Service Award, which recognizes volunteer service to the University of Pittsburgh that has had a significant impact on advancing the University’s mission.

Starzl retired as the executive director of the Lemington Community Center in 2010 and now puts in nearly fulltime hours volunteering at the Eva P. Mitchell Residence and other locations helping senior citizens get the services, care and respect they deserve.

On the Pitt campus, Joy is similarly active. She is on the School of Social Work Board of Visitors and dedicates her time to mentoring and preparing the next generation of social work professionals for meaningful careers.

“When I first learned that I won the award, I was worried that I was not deserving, and then I thought, ‘If they think I am deserving of the award then I should keep doing what I’m doing,’ ” Starzl said. “I learned a lot about the importance of volunteering from my late husband, Dr. Thomas Starzl, and I continue that today.”

Starzl makes Pitt a philanthropic priority, as well. She created the Joy Starzl Scholarship Fund for the School of Social Work, which offers scholarships to students working toward a Master of Social Work degree who have demonstrated dedication to the profession, and she has generously provided for the school in her estate plan.

Ivan and Mary Novick Award for Young Alumni Leadership

Kevin J. Zedack (A&S ’17) received the Ivan and Mary Novick Award for Young Alumni Leadership. The award recognizes leaders who are recent graduates. Zedack began exhibiting his yearn to engage students and alumni through service and fellowship while still in school. He joined the Student Alumni Association and has been part of the Alumni Association ever since.

Upon moving to Washington, D.C., to launch his career in government relations, Zedack quickly became active in the Chesapeake & Potomac Pitt Chapter. He helped organize community service events, game watch parties and gatherings intended to build relations among alumni across generations.

“The Alumni Association is only as strong as we are diverse across multiple spectrums, and it means a lot of individuals who need programming tailored to their interests because those are the things that bring new alumni into engagement with other graduates,” Zedack said. “We are a network of people who may not know what we have in common yet, but we know we have one thing in common, and that’s our experience at the University of Pittsburgh.”

His work prompted the PAA to name Zedack to the Young Alumni Council (YAC) where he helped found an advisory committee connecting YAC members to Pitt staff to advance the young alumni voice and improve the student-to-alumni transition.

ROC Spirit Award

Christopher Luccy (A&S ’70, DEN ’73) and Barbara Luccy (NURS ’70) received the ROC Spirit Award, which recognizes outstanding enthusiasm, loyalty, pride and Pitt spirit. Barbara passed away in 2019 and posthumously received the award.

Christopher and Barbara fell in love with each other and with Pitt athletics while they were undergrads on the University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg and Pittsburgh campuses. Both of their loves endured the test of time.

The Luccys and their family were ever-present at Pitt football and basketball home games — a commitment Christopher continues to this day. At one time, the couple held 14 football season tickets to accommodate their three children and multiple grandchildren. Christopher estimates that he and Barbara missed only 10 home games over the last 50 seasons — demonstrating true ROC Spirit.

“ROC Spirit means to be a gentleman; ROC Spirit means to be nice, fair, and kind to people; ROC Spirit is wearing the Pitt colors and wanting everyone to recognize the University for what it is—a great learning institution full of nice, kind and good-hearted people,” Christopher said. “Barbara and I had a wonderful experience in school and after. The University made it possible for us to reach all of our goals.”

Barbara worked as a nurse and taught at the Pitt School of Nursing. Christopher opened the first pediatric dental practice in Westmoreland County and became known globally as an expert in facial growth and development.

The Luccys are also long-time financial supporters of the University and have earned several other honors, including Christopher being recognized with a Pitt-Greensburg Alumni of Distinction award in 2013. Both Christopher and Barbara were honored with a Pitt-Greensburg Alumni Association Volunteer Excellence award in 2021.


— Mark Nootbaar

Photographed at top, left to right: Chancellor Patrick Gallagher; Gillotti; Starzl; Zedack; Gates; Christopher J. Luccy; Nancy Merritt, vice chancellor for alumni relations