Faculty, staff, alumni and students share stories of ‘Pitt Grit’


The Office of Student Affairs has rolled out a series of videos where Pitt faculty, staff and students give intimate interviews, hoping to inspire students to persevere, even when their college years aren’t going according to plan.

The program, called Pitt Grit, features stories from various members of the Pitt community who have overcome hardships to be successful.

The videos show Pitt community members giving first-hand accounts of some struggles they faced, including coping with mental illness, being suspended from school and struggling with a learning disability.

The program began over the summer after Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner said he wanted to tell stories about members of the Pitt community who overcame hardships, said Janine Fisher, director of marketing and communications for Student Affairs.

The goal for the videos is to show students “that it’s not a straight line …. There’s going to be bumps and challenges, and the path you start on might not be the path that you end on,” Fisher said.


One video features Jay Darr, director of the University Counseling Center. He talks about how he struggled at West Virginia University, where he was student-athlete studying engineering. He was suspended after repeatedly failing courses and switching his major to business.

The year he was suspended, he applied to Military Officer Candidate school. He later became a military police officer, then applied to work for the Pittsburgh Police Department. After a panel interview at the Pittsburgh police department, a panelist encouraged him to return to school.

“Society didn’t really have much to offer an African-American male at 20 years old, particularly if you don’t have a college degree,” Darr said. “Either I was going to end up getting involved in some activities that would send me into the institution or end up, unfortunately, dead.”

WVU let him back in, but he had to start over — one class at a time because of financial aid issues and his low GPA. He worked at a coffee shop to offset costs.

He then went to a sociology program and excelled in it, raising his GPA. That set him on his path to becoming the counseling center director earlier this year.

Adam Gaus, assistant director of marketing and communications for Student Affairs, said Pitt Grit is about comforting students going through these hard times, reminding them they’re not alone.

The word “Grit” has more than one meaning, Gaus added.

“ ‘Grit’ isn’t just kind of like pulling up your bootstraps moving forward, it is asking for help, it is discovering something about yourself and going out of your comfort zone to learn something or to be able to tackle challenges that you didn’t realize you had before,” Gaus said.

Pitt Grit also is designed to help push students to alternate mental health resources outside of the Counseling Center. These include:

  • Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) — An online library of interactive programs to help students learn life skills and improve their resilience

  • Let’s Talk — A program where counselors hold walk-in hours on different campus locations to better accommodate students.

  • ThrivingCampus — An online directory for Pitt students to access off-campus, licensed clinicians who provide outpatient services.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.  


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