Pitt Proud

Issue Date: 
May 2, 2016

Tshering Tobgay (ENGR ’90) 

Tobgay is prime minister of Bhutan. When he initially left the mountainous nation to come to Pitt in the late 1980s, there were few, if any, televisions in his country. There was no such thing as a web page. The skills Tobgay learned as an engineering student at Pitt would help to transform him—and his country. Tobgay, who also earned a master’s degree from Harvard, embraced social media, pioneering its use in Bhutan to blog, tweet, and e-mail information on national services, local and global enterprise, and honoring traditions while sharing 21st century progress.

William Strickland  (A&S ’70)

Inspired by his teenage discovery of pottery making, Strickland learned the power of the arts to create positive change in people’s lives.  He is the founder and CEO of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, an empowering learning environment and job-training community for urban youth and adults in transition. The center has been replicated in cities nationwide and, soon, in Akko, Israel, bringing together Jews and Arabs. Strickland, a Pitt alumnus and trustee, has won many honors including the 2011 Goi Peace Prize and the 1996 MacArthur Fellow ”genius” award.

Michael Chabon (A&S ’84)

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Chabon’s first novel, became a wildly popular best seller. Released in 1988, it thrust the young author—at age 25—into the literary limelight. A later novel, Wonder Boys, was a commercial and critical success, too. Both novels drew from his experiences as a Pitt undergraduate and were later made into Hollywood films. Since then, Chabon has written screenplays, short stories, novels, and earned an impressive list of book honors, including the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. 

Bennet Omalu (GSPH ’04)

Omalu is a physician, forensic pathologist, professor, and medical examiner. Now, the Nigerian-born Pitt graduate is also a famous crusader. His discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, in NFL players sparked national awareness of how concussions can harm brain functioning over time. His steadfast research and passionate efforts to inform the public about CTE spawned a well-received GQ article, the book Concussion, and a 2015 Hollywood film of the same name, where Omalu is portrayed by Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith.

Jeanne Marie Laskas (A&S ’85G)

Laskas penned the GQ magazine article, “Game Brain,” and subsequent best seller, Concussion, which put a national spotlight on brain disease in NFL players. A Pitt English professor and director of its writing program, she enjoys the hunt for quirky characters and has traveled on river barges, entered coal mines, and lived on Alaskan oil rigs to immerse herself in strangers’ worlds. A 2007 finalist for a National Magazine Award and the author of seven books, Laskas has written for The New York Times, Esquire, The Washington Post, and many other media.

Wangari Maathai (A&S ’65G)

To fight environmental degradation and empower local women, Maathai launched the Green Belt Movement in her native Kenya. Its followers planted more than a million trees. Her campaign to protect earth and humanity won her the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004. She was also elected to Kenya’s Parliament, where she served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources. Maathai, who earned a Pitt master’s degree in biological sciences, died in 2011. Pitt honors her legacy through a namesake garden on the Cathedral of Learning lawn.