Their Pitt Story Started on the 35th Floor of the Cathedral of Learning
If you called central casting for the “perfect young Pitt couple,” you would probably get a family that looks exactly like the Bellancas.
“We actually met at freshman orientation for the Honors College in the Cathedral of Learning,” said Jennica (Roche) Bellanca (ENG ’09, ’11G).
“We discovered we were both huge runners and we decided to go for a run the next day,” added Kevin Bellanca (ENG ’09). “A few weeks later we were dating.”
Fast forward seven years and Jennica and Kevin are getting married at Heinz Chapel. Fast forward a few more and there are two little panthers running around the Bellanca house.
“Just this morning our three-year-old was playing and chanting ‘P-I-T-T. Let’s Go Pitt!’” said Kevin.
Jennica was raised in Cleveland and Kevin grew up in Buffalo, which could be a bit uncomfortable on fall Sundays on the Pitt campus. But their zeal for Pitt Panthers football on Saturdays and Pitt basketball all winter made up for it.
“We would get to the Petersen Events Center way too early just to make sure we could be in the front row of the Oakland Zoo,” laughed Kevin.
While both Kevin and Jennica enjoyed watching the games and hanging out with friends, they also excelled in their studies.
“She was one of the brightest students I have ever had,” said Dr. Mark Redfern, William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, who met Jennica when she was an undergraduate in his Human Movement and Balance Laboratory. “She was every bit equivalent to a grad student and that is why the department eventually funded her master’s studies.”
In the lab, Jennica studied the impact that different pathologies have on walking. Her work on campus would eventually lead to a position at the Bruceton, PA offices of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), where she helps lead the Virtual Immersion and Simulation Laboratory researching health and safety issues related to mining such as self-escape.
“She is advancing innovative technology at NIOSH, but that’s not a surprise.” Dr. Redfern said. “She would always challenge everything in terms of ideas, including me, which was great.”
Kevin did several co-ops at Equitable Resources (which changed its name to EQT Corp. while he was there) and upon graduation was offered a full-time position. He currently is a design engineer for Equitrans Midstream, which spun out of EQT.
As soon as the Bellancas both had full-time jobs, they began to give back to the University by making annual gifts. In 2017, the couple decided to create the Kevin and Jennica Bellanca Legacy Fund in the Swanson School of Engineering.
“I have gotten so much out of life so far and Pitt had a lot to do with that,” Kevin said. “I want to make sure others have that opportunity, especially if they have limited financial means.”
As a student, Kevin was the beneficiary of two named scholarships. Likewise, Jennica earned several scholarships, including the prestigious John A. Swanson Scholarship.
The Bellancas will make payments on their endowed scholarship through 2021, which Jennica says is a great way to make the gift fit into their budget. Kevin’s employer also matches their gift dollar-for-dollar.
Receiving a scholarship allows a student to concentrate on their studies rather than spending precious hours at a part-time job simply trying to keep their loans as low as possible. However, it’s not all about the academics for Jennica and Kevin. They hope any student who earns their scholarship will take time to enjoy everything the campus and the city have to offer, especially athletic and social events.
“We built a great group of friends while at Pitt that we still see today,” Jennica said. “It’s a great support system for our lives, and if getting a scholarship makes that possible for others, we would be happy.”
The couple plans to make additional gifts after the initial endowment payments are completed, which will increase the amount it can pay out in the future. And they encourage others to make similar commitments to Pitt.
“Don’t be daunted by some of the bigger gifts you see in the news,” Kevin said. “Any size gift will make a difference.”
Follow this link to read more stories from this issue of the Chancellor's Circle Update.