Pitt students can help carry Susan Hicks’ legacy and passion for traveling by studying abroad with a scholarship in her name.
In the weeks immediately after a car hit and killed Hicks, a Pitt adviser, while she was riding her bike on Fifth Avenue, her friends and family decided to set up an endowed scholarship fund in her name. The Susan M. Hicks Memorial Fund, which will contribute to at least two students studying abroad in Eastern Europe or former Soviet Union countries, reached its original goal of $10,000 on Nov. 20.
Joseph Junker, from Pitt’s Office of Institutional Advancement, said there is no specific set date for when the scholarship will be available but students will hopefully be able to apply by fall 2016.
The project managers, including Dawn Seckler, who works in Pitt’s Russian and Eastern European Studies Department, have since raised the goal to $20,000 by the end of December. The support was indicative of Hicks’ impact wherever she went, according to Seckler.
“I think it speaks volumes of the work Susan was doing and the tremendous respect friends and colleagues have for her work,” Seckler said.
The fund is a campaign on EngagePitt, Pitt’s crowdfunding platform through the University Office of Institutional Advancement. According to the EngagePitt website, Hicks advised students looking for study abroad funding and programs in Russia, Montenegro, Poland and other countries.
“She would jump up and down for joy with them, when they learned they had won funding,” according to the website.
After Hicks passed, some of the students who she worked closely with as an adviser grieved as deeply as her close friends. Seckler said the small size of the Eastern European Studies Center allowed for personal connections between students and professors.
“There were a lot of students who wanted to be present in the center and talk with us,” Seckler said. “It would be an awful thing if we just left those students high and dry.”
Hicks’ brother, Brian, has also helped raise money for the campaign.
“As a family, we knew that we wanted to do something like this,” Hicks said.
He said that while he wasn’t as privy to Hicks’ relationships with her students, he knew about her passion for travelling.
“It always seemed to me that she was on another one of her trips or adventures,” he said. Susan Hicks got her Ph.D. in British Columbia, spent a year in Siberia and travelled to Peru with friends.
“I could always talk about where my sister was travelling,” Brian Hicks said.
Katherine Matson, who is also a project manager for the fund, met Hicks on their first day of college at Pitt in 1999. They were both undergraduates with Chancellor’s Scholarships from the University Honors College. When Hicks moved back to Pittsburgh in 2013, they reconnected.
“Susan had a really nice circle of friends from all walks of life — that was one of the things that was so special about [her],” Matson said. “I’m really, really happy that there’s been such an outpouring of support. I think she would be really pleased by it.”
Hicks shared her love of travel and learning about different cultures with her students, pushing them to “study language, conduct research and immerse themselves fully in the place, the culture and the community they’re visiting,” according to the fund’s webpage.
Seckler said the fund will continue for as long as possible, so that people can contribute on anniversaries and special occasions in remembrance of Hicks.
Just like Hicks would go from running from six to eight miles whenever she reached her goal, Seckler said “we [won’t] hit a mark and then stop.”
Matson said she most admired Hicks for her willingness to seize every opportunity she could.
“Something I always thought about her and have been thinking about lately, I feel like she always seized opportunities. She was very good about taking advantage of every moment,” Matson said. “The great thing about the scholarship fund is that it will help a lot of students get the opportunity to do that same thing.”
Seckler said that for Hicks, the study abroad opportunity was about traveling and learning as much and as frequently as possible — and that this scholarship will allow students to do the same.
“[She] demonstrated her own scholarly work and her own commitment to studying in an international environment,” Seckler said. “She did that so honestly [and] so truly.”