To progressively move forward, many believe that you must remember your past. The University of Pittsburgh’s African American Alumni Council thinks no differently and during last month’s Homecoming celebration, the AAAC honored seven distinguished alumni for their trailblazing accomplishments.

Robert Hill, vice chancellor for Public Affairs, relayed a series of historical firsts—door openers—related to the African-American experience at the university. He told of the first African-American admitted to the university in 1829, known then as the Western University of Pennsylvania.

DISTINQUISHED ALUMNI—Back row, from left: Robert Agbede, Bernard Mack, Bill E. Strickland, Gregory Randall Spencer and Mark A. Nordenberg. Front, from left: Rachel Poole, Dr. Linda Warton-Boyd, Norma Bennett Anderson and Nadine Frye.

He wasn’t permitted to sit in the classroom, but had to sit outside the classroom. Hill mentioned the take over of the computer center by members of the Black Action Society in 1969, and what doors that action opened, paving the way for the thousands who have since graduated from the university and the appointment of many Black faculty and development of the Africana Studies Department.


Introducing the 2009 AAAC Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipients:

Robert Agbede—School of Engineering 1979, Graduate degree, 1981

President of Chester Engineers, the largest Black-owned environmental engineering firm in America; Noma Bennett Anderson School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Ph.D. Program, 1979

The first African-American to serve as president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and professor and chair in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Florida International University.

Nadine Frye—School of Nursing 1947, 1951 graduate degree, and 1987 School of Education

In 1943, Frye was one of the first three Black women (Rachel Poole and Adena Johnson Davis, honored by the AAAC in 2003) to be admitted into Pitt’s nursing program, which then became the first nursing program in Pittsburgh to accept Black students, thus breaking the color barrier for future generations of Pitt nurses. Frye went on to earn a Ph.D. in education at Pitt and teach mental health nursing at her alma mater.

Bernard Mack—School of Arts and Sciences 1988

State Farm Insurance franchise owner and a real estate entrepreneur. He has served twice as president of AAAC and an early participant/resident of Intercultural House.

Rachel Poole—School of Nursing 1947, graduate degree 1952, School of Education 1977

Poole is one of the first three Black women to be admitted into Pitt’s nursing program. Poole went on to earn a Ph.D. in education at Pitt, win an appointment as a nursing professor at her alma mater, and become the first Black director of nursing at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

Gregory Randall Spencer—College of General Studies 1980

President and CEO of Randall Industries and founder of Bridging the Gap Development LLC, a business that acquires properties and businesses that will provide job opportunities for the less fortunate.

Bill E. Strickland Jr.—School of Arts and Sciences 1970

President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corp., the parent company of Bidwell Training Center and Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild; a Pitt trustee; a Grammy-award winner; and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award.

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