University of Pittsburgh
April 25, 2002

A Family Affair Mother, son receive degrees, fulfilling longtime dreams


Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

April 25, 2002

PITTSBURGH—When Christine Szalkuski attends the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs' graduation ceremony 1 p.m. Saturday in the 20th Century Club, she will be crossing the finish line of an academic journey that began 12 years ago—a journey of persistence that inched along, often one class a semester, through a bachelor's degree and the Master of Public Administration program, all the while working full-time in the University's School of Medicine and raising a family.

This long-awaited graduation day is an extremely proud moment for Chris, but perhaps not the proudest of her life. For that, she will have to wait another 24 hours, until Sunday, when her oldest son, Curt, participates in his own graduation ceremony and receives his degree, the Bachelor in Public Administration, from Pitt's College of General Studies.

The coincidental timing of the Szalkuski's mother-son commencements wasn't planned, but the role that Pitt played in preparing both of them for their futures certainly was.

"I've been planning for this day ever since Curt was a baby," Chris said, smiling at her 23-year-old son. "I came to work at Pitt 30 years ago because I knew it would be a good employer for me and a way to provide the kind of academic opportunities for my children that my parents weren't able to provide for me. When Curt graduates, my dream for my son will have come true."

"I knew I was going to go to Pitt ever since I was in the second grade," Curt confirmed. "It was the only place I wanted to go, the only school I ever applied to."

Both mother and son have chosen not only the same university but also the same major—public administration.

"This is a preprofessional field that is very marketable," Chris explained of the course of study that has prepared her and Curt to manage a government or nonprofit organization.

But marketability isn't the only reason for their choice: What attracted them most is public administration's ability to prepare them for the kind of careers that reflect their personal values.

"As a family, we emphasize doing things that contribute to helping people, and to making society a better place," Chris explained, noting that she plans to stay with her job as assistant to the chair in the Department of Pathology, because the work on cancer research being done there is so important for improving people's lives.

"In my work, I'm also able to put my education into practice, to apply the computer technology that I have learned, and to see how the policies discussed in class are applied within the University," she said.

Off the job, Chris has signed up to be director of her church's vacation Bible school this summer and is considering volunteer work with Head Start. In her remaining free time, she's hoping to explore some of the creative activities she's always been interested in, such as making crafts and gardening.

And while Chris is looking forward to tilling the soil, Curt plans to be pounding the pavement. Brand-new to the professional job market, he's not yet certain where he will be applying his Pitt degree, but he's been sending out resumes and is anxious to get on with his life's work.

"I graduate on Sunday and would like to start work on Monday," Curt said, adding that if he could capture his dream job, it would be working at Pitt.

Curt's goal to be employed by the University grew from his recent experience as a student worker in the Office of Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences.

"It's the third student job I've had and the best one by far," Curt said of his 16-month stint there. "I've had the chance to work with every department in the School of Medicine, and I've learned things that I'll take with me for the rest of my life."

With so many aspects of Curt's life already running parallel to Chris', it came as no surprise last year when a chance encounter led him to the job with the University's School of Medicine.

"One day, an employee in the dean's office casually asked a student who was delivering something if he knew anyone interested in a job," Curt explained.

The employee didn't know the student was Curt's younger brother Matt, who was studying business at Pitt and working in cell biology. Matt recommended Curt, who, without any help from his mom, landed the job.

Curt's supervisor, administrative assistant Gerri Maringo, praised him for his great organizational skill (which were called into play when the 50-person dean's office moved to Scaife Hall), his sense of humor, and his conscientiousness—yet another trait encouraged by his mom.

"We have students who work in our office," Chris said, "and so I always stressed to Curt how important these students are to the University's operation. Sometimes students don't think their jobs are important, but we depend on them to help us in so many ways—from filing to deliveries—that they really can make or break us."

"Curt was a positive addition to our office," Maringo said. "Everyone here who worked with him feels as I do—that it will be very hard to replace Curt."

But, with his life already running in such close parallel to his mom's, it's very likely that something at the University will open up for him…and that the Szalkuskis will continue to be a part of Pitt for a long time to come.