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Pitt’s latest affordability initiative welcomes its inaugural class

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  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
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A group of 20 high-achieving first-generation Pitt students have earned a new scholarship that will provide both financial and social support throughout their college careers.

In April 2022, Pitt received a five-year, $1 million grant to implement the Kessler Scholars Program. Now, Pitt joins 15 other institutions as part of the Kessler Scholars Collaborative and welcomes its inaugural class.

“With the University of Pittsburgh taking such a strong stance on empowering first-generation students and their success, we are excited to embark on this educational journey with our Kessler Scholars,” said Brian Williams, assistant director of the program in the Office of the Provost. “Our program is focused on ensuring that students feel a sense of belonging at Pitt. We’ve developed intentional collaborations and on-time programming with just that aim.” 

Pell-eligible Kessler Scholars have their full financial need met, with a guaranteed minimum of $2,000 in scholarship support from the collaborative. More than a scholarship, recipients  participate in events, workshops, trainings and more throughout their four years at the University, including networking beyond Pitt — all with the aim to help them succeed and make it clear that they belong.

One of the first Kessler Scholars experiences is the Provost Academy, a weeklong August program now in its fifth year, that gives all first-generation and Pell-eligible students the chance to explore the University and learn from faculty in the global affairs, STEM, business and liberal arts disciplines. 

So far, the new scholars say they’ve been enjoying the experience and the support they’ve received.

Jerry Jiang said thanks to Pitt and the Kessler Scholars Program, he’s been able to live in an environment more diverse than his hometown of Masontown, Pennsylvania, and has been able to participate in several fun activities through the Provost Academy.

“It was a really amazing experience,” Jiang, a biology major, said. “I think about 200 students all gathered together a week before the semester started. We were able to work on workshops. And at the end of the day, they always had something fun for us to do, whether it was a carnival outside, or like a boat tour; they even had a painting and mocktails day. I really enjoyed that one.”

Breanna Feil said she initially felt overwhelmed because she didn’t have any family members to tell her what to expect from a college experience.

“But the support I have now because of the Kessler Scholars Program, it just makes me feel like this is already a second home,” said Feil, who plans to study education. “I personally struggle with change, but I already feel like I’ve adapted really well. The Kessler Program gave me friends, people to network with and people to talk to.”

“What the Kessler grant allowed us to think about was how we could scale initiatives across the institution in providing support for our at-promise student populations across their time at Pitt,” said April Belback, associate vice provost for student success and advising in the Office of the Provost​. “The Kessler Scholars are already showing to be the leaders that we knew that they would be,” added Belback.

Here are the inaugural Kessler Scholars:

  • Adetola Ajayi of Staten Island, New York
  • Unique Allen of Buffalo, New York
  • Nino Caligiuri of Pittsburgh
  • Kam Chan of Munhall, Pennsylvania
  • Leah Cottrell of Cadiz, Ohio
  • Fatima Fall of Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Breanna Feil of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania
  • Katie Helwick of Pittsburgh
  • Jerry Jiang of Masontown, Pennsylvania
  • Marissa Kelley of Chester, Virginia
  • Hannah Kuzmiak of York, Pennsylvania
  • Emerly Lin of Mamaroneck, New York
  • Britney Lu of Philadelphia
  • Sophia Mancinelli of Oaklyn, New Jersey
  • Yanea Miron of Ardmore, Pennsylvania
  • Yordanos Negash of Aurora, Colorado
  • Kate Parker of Querétaro, Mexico
  • Saeed Platts of Philadelphia
  • Christopher Valdez of Fort Worth, Texas
  • Jake Zheng of Evans City, Pennsylvania 


— Donovan Harrell, photography courtesy of the Office of the Provost

Expanding access to higher education

If you have academic promise, you belong here, regardless of your financial situation. The University of Pittsburgh has launched several other affordability efforts in recent years including the Kessler Scholars ProgramPanthers ForwardPittsburgh Public Scholarsthe Pittsburgh Admissions CollaborationPitt Fund$Methe Coalition for College and Raise Me.

Learn more about access and affordability.