None of Chandler Byers’ college career has been simple. Byers, a junior studying politics and philosophy, is the first member of his family to attend a four-year university. His mother has a two-year associate degree in dental hygiene and his brother goes to trade school, but the idea of pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a large university like Pitt was initially overwhelming for Byers.
“I come from a blue-collar, middle-class family,” Byers explains. “I was really stepping out of my comfort zone, coming from a very rural area to a city like Pittsburgh.”
Aside from the culture shock, Byers also had to overcome the challenge of figuring out application forms, like the FAFSA.
“We’d never had to fill out those forms before and they were all so confusing,” Byers notes. “I have family members that went to Duquesne University and they kept telling us that we should’ve already done this and that and it took lots of phone calls and emails to clear all that up. Luckily, Pitt was actually pretty good with helping me figure out how to pay for four years of college.”
After finally working through the confusion and chaos of getting situated as a first-generation college student, Chandler felt comfortable at Pitt during his freshman and sophomore years. He found support from the Career Center when he could not decide between pursuing a degree in medicine or political science.
Prompted by his academic advisor, Byers sought out help from career consultant Alyssa Camerota. Camerota discussed the benefits of each field, gave Byers links to do his own research, and even suggested that he could find a middle ground between the two by writing medical policy.
“The best advice she gave me was just to go with my gut,” Byers says. “So I chose political science, and I’m really thankful to the Career Center for clearing everything up for me.”
In the fall of his sophomore year, Byers began to look for a student worker position, and found one under Caroline Willig, the Career Center’s alumni student programs coordinator. Thinking back to his previous positive experience with the Center, Byers gladly took the position. Once in that role, Byers had easier access to networking events and Career Center staff, taking advantage of these benefits by having his resumé reviewed by Experiential Learning Consultant Glen Edward.
“I thought I had a good resumé, but Glen tore it apart and put it back together. It’s a lot better now; he helped me tremendously.”
With his updated documents, Byers was able to secure a research position with political science professor Ross Harrison, researching for Harrison’s new book about soft powers, the media, and how they both affect the population of Iran.
Byers also began to feel more comfortable on campus. “Everything was more open and inclusive at Pitt, and I’ve always felt more appreciated here than back home,” Byers expresses.
However, Byers’ life changed drastically in the second semester of his sophomore year, when his father went into hospice after battling cancer. Byers had to take off of school from spring break until the end of the school year.
“My professors were so understanding,” Byers says. “I was doing more work than they wanted me to and they told me to take my time. They said that school doesn’t matter right now, and they all offered me G-grades.”
G-grades are given by professors when a student is unable to complete class assignments due to extenuating personal circumstances.
Unfortunately, Byers’ father did pass away that year. Now, Byers is back at school, honoring his dad by continuing to pursue his degree.
“You’re not normal when a parent passes away,” Byers explains. “You just have to keep moving on. I’m doing what my dad wanted me to do, which was graduate college.”
Byers has been through a lot since he first started at Pitt, yet he remains determined.
“Personal success to me just a means getting out of bed in the morning, going to class, and achieving what I want to achieve each day,” he notes. “I’ve had a lot of things that have knocked me down over the past three years. My dad had cancer; I, myself, am battling severe depression, anxiety, and ADHD. I have to take ten pills a day just to be ‘normal’. There are days I want to stay in bed and not do a thing, but if I’m getting up in the morning and talking to people and going to class and doing what I’m here at Pitt to do, that’s a big accomplishment. People see accomplishments as getting prestigious internships and whatnot, but I see it as getting up and facing each day.”