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Pitt Day of Giving is a collective effort

  • University News
  • School of Computing and Information
  • Swanson School of Engineering

On the day of the big race, students, parents and teachers packed the New Jersey middle school gymnasium and watched as car after car rocketed across the waxed floor. The cars looked mostly alike — sleek right triangles carved from balsa wood, placed on four wide-set wheels and propelled by tiny carbon dioxide cartridges.

All except one.

Dawson Winston’s black and silver model was smaller and lighter than the rest. It balanced on a pair of in-line roller skate wheels. When it was his turn to race, the car clocked in at an impressive 42 mph, nearly double the speed of his competitors.

“I’m blowing everyone out of the water,” Winston says, remembering the moment. “I’m killing it.”

A headshot of Winston

That victory, along with a deep admiration for Black inventors, set Winston (ENGR ’22) on a trajectory for engineering school. He envisioned creations  and patents that would someday have his name attached — a hoverboard that actually hovers, a microwave that can heat and freeze — and the University of Pittsburgh looked like just the place to launch his career.

But out-of-state tuition is expensive, and Winston’s sister would soon follow him to college. To blunt the one-two financial punch to his parents, he applied for scholarships. And he was thrilled to be named the recipient of an African American Alumni Council (AAAC) Endowed Scholarship.

Established in 1997, the AAAC scholarship fund was designed to attract and retain African American students at Pitt. Since 2017, most of the money that is eventually awarded to students has been raised on a single day of the year — Pitt Day of Giving (PDoG).

On PDoG, Pitt alumni, students, faculty, staff, friends and families come together to support the schools, departments, programs and organizations they care about most. The collective effort, boosted by friendly competitions and challenges, has resulted in big wins for students. Last year alone, more than 11,000 donors gave nearly $3 million to the University.

A person holds out a puzzle piece with a lab in the background

The AAAC scholarship program, and students like Winston, are far from the only beneficiaries. In 2022, five campuses, 16 schools and colleges, and 59 student organizations funded priority, student-focused projects thanks to PDoG. For example, the loan forgiveness, mentoring and financial wellness program Panthers Forward received thousands of dollars to go toward debt relief for participating Pitt seniors; Pitt’s chapter of the pharmacy fraternity Kappa Psi was able to pay for members to travel to its national conference in Arizona; and the School of Computing and Information (SCI) got a significant boost for one of its signature initiatives.

The SCI gift came as a surprise. Without forewarning or fanfare, Emeritus Trustee and SCI Board of Visitors member Alfred Moye (A&S ’68G) gave $20,000 to the school’s 3Sixty program. The program, which Moye helped to create, offers students a suite of curated courses designed to help them gain knowledge and skill in critical data thinking and develop a core competency that could help them land a job.

In keeping with Moye’s longtime commitment to diversity and equity, 3Sixty prioritizes minority students.

“Dr. Moye’s gift was a wonderful, generous surprise, like Santa Claus coming on Christmas morning,” says SCI Director of Development Terri Taylor. “It immediately expanded scholarships for the program he created.”

A crowd of people under the Cathedral of Learning at night

Though Moye’s gift was extraordinary in its generosity, the average PDoG gift is just $100. Most participating organizations rely upon the number of donors rather than the total dollars those donors give.

“It’s really a testament to the power of the Pitt community,” says Jake Strang, assistant vice chancellor for alumni annual giving. “The more people who participate in Pitt Day of Giving, the bigger the impact we have on the University, our researchers and our students.”

For Winston, PDoG is a reminder of the way community has supported him. It’s been on his mind a lot as he prepares to start a job with Lockheed Martin. He gazes at that black and silver car, still sitting on a shelf in his bedroom, and thinks about how he can help future Pitt engineers realize their dreams, just as past donors aided him in achieving his own.

“It’s great to know there are alumni out there — who don’t even know you — who are rooting for you,” Winston says. “People invested in me, and now I can continue the legacy.”

This year’s Pitt Day of Giving is Tuesday, Feb. 21. Visit the PDoG website to learn more about all the ways you can give.