Remembering Susan Hicks '03

Susan Hicks entered the University of Pittsburgh as a recipient of the distinguished Chancellor’s Scholarship in 1999. She graduated in 2003 with a BA in anthropology and English literature, and a certificate in Russian & East European studies (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa). In 2005 she earned an MA in administrative and policy studies at Pitt. In 2011, she received a PhD in cultural anthropology at The University of British Columbia.

When Susan Hicks returned to Pitt in 2013 to work in the Center for Russian and East European Studies, she contacted me to express her interest in expanding Pitt students’ participation in international scholarships. Her previous work in Russia with the U.S. State Department American Councils for International Education —specifically with the Critical Language Scholarship—made her an ideal advisor for not only the CLS, but the Boren, Fulbright, and Gilman Scholarships.

She immediately began collaborating with the UHC national scholarships office by encouraging students -- from a range of demographics and backgrounds -- to compete for these awards. She advised them on their applications and wrote recommendation letters; she also shared her vast expertise by serving on our campus interview committees for the Rhodes and other prestigious scholarships. 

With her passion for foreign languages, literature, anthropology, international area studies, and global energy policy, Susan recognized that spark in students who were motivated to seek a deep educational experience to discover themselves and their role in society.

Brianna Gasgonia, who studies both German and Russian, is one such student. Susan began advising Brianna in her sophomore year. She encouraged her to apply for the Summer Language Institute, Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship, and the Boren Scholarship, meeting with her regularly to review her applications and helping her assemble winning applications for all three awards. "Susan was a great advisor,” Brianna said. “She was so warm, encouraging, and supportive. She understood the challenges of studying Russian, and when I felt like it was too hard she encouraged me to continue and told me that I was doing well. When she advised you it wasn't all about academics. She wanted to know about you as a person. She seemed to know of every award, scholarship, and internship for those of us in the humanities. When I told her I wasn't qualified to win an award, she told me that ‘no one is born getting scholarships. You have to put in the work.’ She believed in me and my work and that I could be great."

The death of Susan Hicks on October 23rd stunned the University community.  The outpouring of thoughts and memories of Susan sustains us, however, as we grieve her loss. She will always be a source of inspiration and strength to the innumerable students, colleagues, and friends who interacted with her. We will deeply miss her.


The Susan M. Hicks Memorial Fund will provide support for Pitt students studying abroad in Eastern Europe or the countries of the former Soviet Union.