Long University career included earning two degrees

Staff member honored by chancellor and department chair


For Chris Szalkuski, starting at Pitt after she graduated from high school meant getting a job in the registrar’s office.

And staying at Pitt for 50 years has meant bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a long-time job in the Department of Pathology that she has no plans to leave soon.

When she graduated from high school, a friend suggested Szalkuski come to Pitt and work with her helping register students.

“It was very different times, of course,” she said. “When you came in in the morning, the line was around the Cathedral. You would have these data cards that you pulled, and you took them to the 18th floor of the Cathedral of Learning for processing.”

For a couple years, she moved around to different jobs at the University, before coming to the School of Medicine’s cardiology department when she was 20 and then working on a team with an NIH grant to look at a multi-disciplinary approach to cancer. In 1981, she moved to the job she has now as assistant to the chair of the Department of Pathology. There she’s worked for two bosses — Thomas Gill for seven years and George Michalopoulos for the past 31 years.

Michalopoulos said Szalkuski’s contributions to the department are “vital and essential. Her performance has had a strong positive impact in every aspect of the department’s function and life.” In addition to managing the day-to-day activities of the academic clinical and research office, she is the department’s United Way ambassador, she coordinates a research seminar series and has welcomed hundreds of visiting professors. 

While raising five children (including two stepkids), Szalkuski was able to use the University’s education benefits to complete a bachelor’s degree in business administration and master’s in public administration — something she says was possible because Pitt was ahead of its time in being “family friendly.”

Her degrees took 12 years of night classes and external, self-paced learning, often taking one class per semester. Three of her five children also ended up getting degrees at Pitt, with one going on to get an MBA here. In 2002, her oldest son, Curt, graduated with his bachelor’s of public administration from the College of General Sciences on the same weekend she completed her master’s degree in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Her coursework, she said, helped her do the pathology department job better. She learned about grant writing and organizational structure, along with other issues concerning nonprofits.

“Over the course of time, I was able to look at it from a different perspective, understanding where my boss had to go and what he was doing and why,” she said.

Over the past 50 years, Szalkuski said, Pitt has “come to be a very respectable school. Although my boys got in, they even say they don't know that they would get in today, because the standards have been raised.”

Now she’s hoping her 6-year-old granddaughter, Beatrice, who is very interested in science, will go to Pitt some day and continue the family tradition.”

Szalkuski said she’s glad to have been around long enough to see renovations being done to the medical school, but she’s still sad that Pitt Stadium was torn down in 1999 and the football games were moved to Heinz Field. “It was nice to have that football camaraderie in the neighborhood.”

“I always thought I was going to go somewhere else someday, and then when I got my degree and I looked around, I found out that there was nothing wrong with where I was. It gave me everything I needed,” she said. “I don't think I could have done better. They were flexible with my family. It was to me stimulating to see the work of so many devoted people and to be a part of that. I would miss that. I would have loved to have gone on for PhD myself … I just love education. That was the best field for me.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


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