College of General Studies

About our Students

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Parents. Veterans. Working professionals. Homemakers. Volunteers. Each one different, but they all are connected by a common goal: earning a degree from a world-class university. Every one of our students has a unique story to tell about the role of CGS in their real-world success.


Alice Lawson, CGS '13
Legal Studies/Administration of Justice

Picture of CGS StudentWhen her husband became disabled and she suddenly took on the role of head of household, Alice Lawson knew that she needed to redesign her future. While she had already earned a degree in court reporting, Alice understood that it would take more than that to distinguish her in a crowded job market.

"I needed a safety net. Something to expand my prospects and help me stand out," offers Alice, a vivacious woman who works as a Grants and Contracts Officer in the University of Pittsburgh Office of Research.

With the encouragement of her husband David, and the voice of her beloved late mother serving as inspiration, Alice returned to school at CGS, pursuing dual bachelor's degrees in Administration of Justice and Legal Studies.

"I thought to myself, 'I'm going to be 50 whether or not I'm taking a final.'"

Alice's can-do attitude and work ethic has earned her a 3.99 GPA, two scholarships (Bolvin and Levenson), and the 2010 Evening Chancellor's Award, a scholarship which will continue to cover her tuition until she graduates.

"I'm doing so well that I would have never believed it."

An accomplished markswoman, Alice has continued success in her sights: after she finishes her degrees in 2013, she plans to take a year off before applying to graduate school.


Picture of CGS StudentJacquelyn Hill, CGS '12
Social Science
Certificate in Non-Profit Management

When Jackie Hill attended the University of Pittsburgh in the 1980s, she left without completing her degree. But when she was laid off from her job after 12 years, she decided to return to school and pursue the goal that had eluded her the first time around.

"Every time I came through Oakland, I had a feeling that something had been left undone," says Jackie, a woman of quiet determination and gentle good humor. "This time, I was wiser and I had a much stronger work ethic. I took it a lot more seriously and I could really appreciate the opportunity."

A grateful two-time survivor of breast cancer who is very active in her church ministry, Jackie wanted to earn a degree that would allow her to help people. As part of her academic requirements, she completed an internship at the Salvation Army in Homewood, a position that provided her with invaluable hands-on experience she believes will help her find her next job.

The mother of three, including a 12-year-old son, and grandmother of three, Jackie knows full well that when a parent returns to school that the commitment to success involves the whole family. But so do the rewards.

"I tell my son, I'm not just doing this for myself. I'm doing this for you."


Picture of CGS StudentJerry Schaas, CGS '13
Legal Studies

Jerry Schaas had worked as a flight attendant for 20 years when belt-tightening in the industry prompted him to explore other career options. He earned his California real estate license and worked briefly in that field until the market took a downturn, then made the decision to return to Pittsburgh and continue his education.

He enrolled in CGS in 2008, and is working towards a bachelor's degree in Legal Studies to complement his associate's degree in paralegal studies.

"Not many universities offer a legal studies degree," says Jerry, who is considering advancing his education in the field of international human rights law. "I'm very excited to be here. Coming back to school at this age is much more enjoyable—there's a different kind of satisfaction I take in learning and applying myself."

His exemplary grades distinguished Jerry as a 2012 Chancellor's Evening Scholar, an honor that comes with a full-tuition scholarship for up to 48 credits.

"The scholarship will allow me a great deal of latitude with my choices of classes. I can pick up Honors College courses or a foreign language. Pitt has been very good to me. I would encourage anyone, at any age, who has thought about returning to school to finish their education to do so. And, I would highly encourage them to come to the University of Pittsburgh."


Picture of CGS StudentDhara Mehta, CGS '13
Natural Sciences/Pre-Med

Dhara earned her first undergraduate degree—in life sciences and biochemistry—while in India, later supplementing it with two graduate degrees, one in neuroscience and one in molecular biotechnology. But it was her dream of becoming a doctor that prompted her to enroll in CGS.

"I had been working in the University's Department of Medicine in a clinical setting and I was excited about the opportunity to earn a degree from a highly ranked research university."

Many of Dhara's credits transferred and she has been able to take advantage of CGS's online courses and flexible scheduling to complete additional requirements—a benefit that the new mother and full-time employee greatly appreciates.

"People have been so understanding. The goal of every professor is that you gain something out of his or her class. They want you to succeed."


Picture of CGS StudentFina Abramovitz, CGS '13
Administration of Justice

As a senior at Pittsburgh's Taylor Allderdice High School, Fina had the opportunity to take a college-level course called Introduction to Criminal Justice. At that point, she knew she had found her passion. Fina first enrolled in Indiana University of Pennsylvania's School of Criminology, but transferred to CGS because she missed Pittsburgh's dynamic city atmosphere. She also appreciated the fact that most of CGS's Administration of Justice courses are taught by people who have worked in the field.

Says Fina, "At Pitt, I feel like I've gotten a realistic look inside law enforcement from judges, lawyers, and police officers. It's a great benefit inside the classroom and it helps to establish important professional connections for later on."

While at CGS, Fina has completed two internships—one with the Office of Homeland Security in the Investigations Department and a second in the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office. The hands-on experience she gained in both placements—including bagging evidence from crime scenes and being present for autopsies—helped her to narrow her long-term career aspirations.

Fina's experience at CGS also helped her land what she calls her "dream job": She is now a forensic investigator in the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office!


Picture of CGS StudentMaria Gerardi

CGS '12, Public Service
A&S '12, Sociology
Certificate in Helping Professions
Certificate in Non-Profit Management

In her five years at the University of Pittsburgh, Maria earned two bachelor's degrees and two certificates; completed an internship at the Collegiate YMCA; worked as both a peer advisor and a research assistant; was named a University Scholar for three years in a row; and, earned recognition as the CGS Student Government Student of the Year. All this while working part time, commuting from Shaler Township, and enthusiastically engaging in one of her first loves—competitive baton twirling.

"I'm a first-generation college student and my parents were always my biggest support. I've been lucky to have people who really believed in me," says Maria, who also served as the president of the Sociology Student Organization.

Perhaps it is her talent at twirling—she is a two-time international champion, and a one-time world champion—that enables her to balance her many commitments so well. More likely, though, her success can be credited to hard work, amazing discipline, and a passionate commitment to a future she wants to spend helping others.

Maria will be attending Duquesne University in the fall to pursue a graduate degree and certification in school counseling. Offers Maria, "I want to be the person who can help kids get through and live up to their greatest potential. My advisors at Pitt were wonderful. I hope that one day I can do the same for my students."


Picture of CGS StudentPoonam Dhillon, CGS '13
Health Services

As a child, Poonam Dhillon dreamed of coming to the United States and earning her college degree. Seven years ago, she and her family took the first giant step in making that dream a reality when they moved from India. To fulfill her long-term goal of becoming an occupational therapist, Poonam needed to complete several prerequisite science courses before applying to an OT program.

The health services degree at CGS not only offered the classes she needed, but provided her with the scheduling flexibility she required in order to continue working as a production clerk and spending quality time with her husband and two young daughters, Taruna and Tiya. Her schedule is demanding and she admits with a smile that she often doesn't get very much sleep. But she's confident that her diligence and sacrifices will pay off.