Paying It Forward

Issue Date: 
February 23, 2009
Dick Swanson (left) and Al SilkroskiDick Swanson (left) and Al Silkroski

Like many people trying to get their degrees, Al Silkroski (CGS ‘90) worked to support his family and pay for school.

“I went to Pitt for two years, then left to work full-time,” says Silkroski. “I always wanted to go back, but there were so many responsibilities I had to consider.”

As Silkroski continued to work, he developed a solid relationship with his employer, Dick Swanson (KGSB ’55), chair of Swanson Group Ltd., a Carnegie-based supplier of limestone.  “About a year after I began working for him, he heard that I wanted to go back to school,” Silkroski recalls. In a show of support, Swanson lent Silkroski money toward tuition as an incentive for him to finish his degree in the evenings—and it worked.

Silkroski worked as a plant laborer at Swanson Group during the days and went to night school at Pitt for almost five years to finish his bachelor’s degree in business. He was also busy helping his wife raise two toddlers.

“Dick gave me the encouragement I needed so I wouldn’t keep making excuses about my degree,” says Silkroski.

Now the president and founder of Hilltop Enterprises, Inc., an environmental remediation firm in West Chester, Pa., Silkroski attributes a large part of his success to Swanson for helping to jump-start his career. In appreciation, Silkroski recently created the Perry Richard Swanson Endowed Scholarship Fund in honor of his former employer. The scholarship will help nontraditional students enrolled in the College of General Studies.

“Giving back was important to me,” explains Silkroski. “I feel like I can repay Dick by finally ‘paying it forward’ to help other people who might be in a similar situation. I had hoped from the day he gave me that loan that I’d be able to help someone else. And I finally got the chance.”

Humbled by the honor of having a scholarship dedicated to him, Swanson remarks, “I’m just thrilled that Al has done something like this to help other people keep their dreams within reach.”