• University News
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
Features & Articles

Panthers Forward offers money and mentorship to the Class of 2023

a student holding a mortar board in front of a red door

The waning months of her senior year at Pitt were an all-out sprint for Danielle Malizio (A&S ’22). Not only was she finishing up degrees in psychology and architecture and design, but she was also applying to some of the country’s top architecture graduate programs, including the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania.

Soon, the responses came pouring in — six applications, six acceptance letters.

It should have been an ecstatic moment for Malizio, but all she could think about was money.

She’d already amassed nearly $50,000 in student debt between a stint at the University of Washington in Seattle and three-plus years at Pitt. Did she really want to add to that already daunting total? Plus, she had a nagging worry that she wasn’t ready to jump right into another demanding architecture program.

“Burnout is real,” she said. “It is so important to take care of yourself.”

Fortunately, Panthers Forward was there to help her through both sides of her dilemma. The program is open to all students on the University’s Pittsburgh campus who use federal loans to fund their last year of college. Participants not only get up to $5,000 in direct federal student loan relief, but they also receive mentoring from Pitt alumni and exclusive invitations to events and financial workshops.

So far, Panthers Forward has helped 600 students pay off $3.75 million in student debt.

The $5,000 Malizio received gave her a jump start on loan repayment, relieving some financial stress. Meanwhile, her mentor, Joel Ambrose (A&S ’08), helped her sort through the graduate school quandary. Ambrose is the director of ticketing and patron services at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre Company, so he isn’t particularly well-versed on architecture programs. But then again, he didn’t have to be.

“Joel is the embodiment of what a mentor should be,” Malizio said. “During our Starbucks runs and Piada lunches last semester he was a wonderful source of advice and support. We talked through the options, and he reinforced my gut feeling — it’s OK to take a deep breath and decompress.”

Over the summer, Malizio continued working part time at the Apple Store and applied for a prestigious Apple internship. She’s also looking for full-time jobs. Maybe best of all, thanks to Panthers Forward programming — including a one-on-one session with personal finance expert and author Gene Natali — she feels confident in her ability to navigate life’s toughest financial decisions, particularly when it comes to debt.

“I know the terminology and I have the resources,” Malizio said. “I understand what I need to do to pay off as much debt as possible as soon as possible.”

And like all of the 150 students who participated in the program last year, she said she would recommend Panthers Forward to rising seniors.  

“You should absolutely apply,” she said. “You will have the full resources and support of people who will help you thrive post grad.”

Applications to join the Panthers Forward Class of 2023 are now open and close at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 2. Here’s how to apply.


— April Johnston-Smith