Laura Dempsey

Believe it or not, when I first entered university I thought Pittsburgh was a 'big city!' Having grown up on the side of a mountain in rural Colorado, I had no idea what to expect from attending a school with an urban campus and over 17,000 undergraduate students. Moving over 1,400 miles away from home was nerve-wracking, but I was determined to broaden my perspective and form my own independence. I could not have asked for a better place to start this journey than in my Freshman dorm, Forbes Hall.  I immediately felt welcome and comfortable in my living space.  I was able to participate in fantastic activities sponsored by the Honors College that allowed me to explore Pittsburgh, and it was also in Forbes Hall that I met my first friends whom I continue to be close with.

Due to my enrollment in the Swanson School of Engineering and rigorous Bioengineering coursework, I began to drift away from the Honors College after Freshman year. I still participated in a few events, but I lost contact with the staff who helped make my Freshman year so incredible. In my 4th year at Pitt, I encountered a situation that made me remember what a supportive organization the Honors College is.

In Fall 2010 I was a senior in Bioengineering, but I didn’t feel ready to graduate. I had played around with the idea of extending my undergraduate career by a year to pursue a different field, but in a major that I initially felt had to be science-related. Something, however, didn’t feel right. Throughout my entire life, I have always juggled science and art, both of which are great passions of mine. I often snuck art classes into my engineering schedule throughout college, even taking advantage of studio courses at Carnegie Mellon. I finally decided I wanted to stay an extra year to solely pursue art. To help initiate this new venture, I decided I needed external support from the people that are masters in multidisciplinary study: the Honors College. I will never forget my advising appointment with Mike Giazzoni, who with inspiring optimism told me that getting a double major in Bioengineering and Studio Arts was entirely possible and laid out what I needed to do in concrete, manageable steps.

Pursuing both art and science has opened up innumerable opportunities for me, both personally and professionally. When I reached my 5th and final year, I became more involved with the Honors College than ever before. I contacted Judy Zang, the Director of National Scholarships, about post-graduate international opportunities. Not only did she advise me about the ones I brought up, she also drew my attention to additional international programs that I didn’t know existed.  In the months that followed, I was given an incredible amount of help and advice by both Mrs. Zang and Dean Stricker as I applied for numerous international fellowships. My gratitude is inexpressible for all the late nights they spent editing my essays and challenging me to clarify my ideas in writing. Getting to know them and other members of the Honors College has continued to open up exciting opportunities in my final year that I never thought I would be involved in. I highly recommend every incoming student - whether they feel they are part of the Honors College or not - to come up to the top of the Cathedral of Learning and meet the amazing staff.  The personable interest the Honors College takes in every student’s success is incredible - no Pitt undergrad should pass this resource by!