Mentors steered provost from welding school to academia

Provost Ann Cudd speaks at summit


“I know very well the benefits of hands-on and informed advising,” Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd told the 2019 Mentoring and Advising Summit on March 7.

Calling herself “a very disaffected student” in her rural high school, Cudd recalled “graduating a year early because I just had to get out of there.”

But her high school guidance counselor listened to her and understood her, she said, when she made a surprising announcement about her post-high-school plans: She was headed to welding school.

“How does that fit into your life?” the guidance counselor asked.

She planned to be an iron sculptor, Cudd explained.

“Why don’t you think about other options?” the guidance counselor said. He sent her to talk to local college admissions counselors. “They came up with this wild idea that I could apply for this scholarship at a New England prep school,” Cudd said. She was admitted, readying her for “an intellectual career that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.”

Advisors were influential in college too, she said. She credits her dissertation advisor, the Pitt philosophy department’s then-chair Tamara Horowitz, for keeping her on the right path. “I’m not one of the best students in the program. I’m not going to succeed at an R-1 job,” Cudd recalled complaining, referring to top research universities. Horowitz countered: “ ‘That’s nonsense. Of course you’re going to succeed.’ ”

Mentors needed more than ever

Academic advisors and mentors “have played life-changing roles” for students, Cudd told the gathering of faculty from across the University. The event included sessions on such topics as “Personalized Transfer Student Advising: Early Intervention Strategies,” “Incorporating Civic Engagement into Advising” and “Building a Student-ready Environment for Advising and Mentoring First-Generation Students.”

The role of faculty will be even more crucial in the future, as competition will ramp up for a reduced pool of applicants, Cudd said. A drop in fertility rates in 2008, due to the recession, hasn’t rebounded, she noted: “We expect to be down by about seven percent of high school graduates by 2025. It means we’re going to have to appeal to a different group of students, more diverse students. … I know we can do it.”

A general decline in state support also will continue to be an issue, she said. “We’re going to have to compete and continue to show how relevant we are” to the state’s success.

The University’s increasing diversity “comes with new hopes and needs from our students,” she added. In fact, it requires “a new national brand for Pitt.”

“What we don’t want … are students and alums who regret their investment in education. Are we maximizing the learning and living experience of every Pitt student?

“Let’s probe together how we measure our success and how we can learn from the data we gather,” Cudd said. “What methods of teaching help our students to succeed?” Pitt faculty need to make certain “when our students earn a degree, it will earn dividends throughout their lives,” she concluded. “The work you do helps drive all these priorities.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.