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March 14, 1996

Project designed to encourage pride in African-American women at University

In 1895, Agnes Irwin became the first woman to receive a degree from Pitt. It was an honorary Doctor of Law given to her as president of Radcliffe College.

Three years later, in 1898, sisters Margaret and Stella Stein became the first women to actually earn degrees at the University. They both graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in the "Latin scientific" field.

Nobody, however, knows who was the first African-American woman to graduate from Pitt or exactly when that occurred. Records indicate that two black women graduated from the School of Business in 1928, but their names are unknown.

"That is one thing we're hoping to find out with this essay contest," said Audrey Murrell, a faculty member in the Katz Graduate School of Business and coordinator of Bridges to Our Future: A Celebration of African-American Women at Pitt.

Designed to encourage pride in the accomplishments of African-American women associated with Pitt and aid in the retention of black students, Bridges to Our Future includes an essay contest, poster exhibit and networking breakfast.

The essay contest is open to Pitt undergraduate and graduate students. To enter, students must write a 500-word essay describing the background, ambition and accomplishments of a "Pitt pioneer" African-American woman. Information for an essay can be obtained through interviews and/or research. Prizes of $200 each will be awarded to the three essays that best capture the style, spirit and contributions of African-American women who have made significant contributions to the University, their profession or field of study.

The top 20 essays, judged by a panel of faculty and alumnae, will be printed in a special publication. Essays should be sent to Nancy Washington, assistant to the chancellor, 132 Cathedral of Learning, by March 25.

The networking breakfast will be on April 10 in the Ballroom of the William Pitt Union. It will honor Pitt graduate Gladys McNairy, who served as a member of the Pittsburgh Board of Education from 1964 – 1976 and became the first African-American woman member of the University's Board of Trustees in 1977.

Cheryl Allen Craig, a graduate of Pitt's law school and judge in the juvenile section of the Allegheny County Family Court, will host the breakfast. Because the breakfast is designed to provide ample networking opportunities for African-American women students, Murrell said the number of students who can attend is limited. The Bridges to Our Future committee is soliciting nominations of students who might benefit from the breakfast. Nominations can be made to Murrell, 648-1651, or Sharon Nelson-Le Gall, 624-7481.

In conjunction with the breakfast on April 10, there also will be a show of poster art created by black Greek organizations at the University. The show will be in the Kurtzman Room of the William Pitt Union.

–Mike Sajna

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