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Panthers Forward debt relief program, which has saved students $3.75 million, is seeking applications

Cameron Chase

Cameron Chase (A&S ’23) arrived at Pitt with a passion for STEM and the drive to soak up every opportunity she could.

She channeled that ambition through her environmental studies major in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and a two-year stint as managing director of the Student Office of Sustainability. Yet as Chase, pictured above, entered her senior year and looked toward sustainability-related careers, she encountered a cacophony of options and advice.

“All that input is helpful, but it also can be overwhelming,” she said. “Sometimes, you just need a fresh perspective.”

Thanks to the University’s Panthers Forward program, Chase found a perspective that cut through the fog. And it put her on the path to securing a project development position in Chicago with Ørsted, a Danish-based international renewable energy company.

Panthers Forward provides graduating seniors like Chase with up to $5,000 in direct federal student loan relief. Students selected for the program can also benefit from networking and ongoing advice from experienced professionals, most of whom are Pitt alumni.

“When they announced I could have a mentor, I thought ‘Yes, a thousand times yes,’” Chase said. She scoured the Panthers Forward mentoring database and identified Jason O’Connor (A&S ’12), a regional security advisor for Ørsted North America, as a potential match.

Chase and O’Connor were paired by Panthers Forward staff. “I had the feeling she was really taking it to heart,” O’Connor said of his interactions with Chase. “She was very motivated.”

Along with sharing general job-search insights, O’Connor encouraged Chase to review job openings at Ørsted. She soon found an associate project developer role that sounded promising. Following the company’s policies, O’Connor provided a recommendation that ultimately played a role in Chase landing an initial interview.

The rest was in Chase’s hands. But she continued to stay in touch with O’Connor throughout the hiring process — as she does now that they are colleagues working in different areas of Ørsted.  

“Jason’s willingness to offer his time, his advice and his expertise was so helpful, and a good introduction to what it means to be a mentor, because I hope to be one to a student someday,” Chase said.

Since 2019, Panthers Forward has provided nearly $3.75 million in direct federal student loan relief to more than 750 Pitt students. In addition to connecting students with mentors, Panthers Forward offers financial education programming focused on successfully navigating life after graduation.

O’Connor, who has volunteered as a Panthers Forward mentor for three years, said he hopes to show program participants the value of networking at Pitt and beyond.

“When you see a natural opportunity to connect with people, make it happen,” he said. “Those networks come back to benefit you.”

Applications to join the Panthers Forward Class of 2024 are now open and close at midnight on Sept. 24. Here’s how to apply.

And, alumni and friends, learn more about becoming a mentor.


— Josh Tysiachney, photo courtesy of Chase