November 01, 2011 12:00AM
Homecoming is a time when thousands of alumni return to campus to reminisce and reconnect with their alma mater. For four Pittsburg State University graduates, however, this weekend is especially meaningful.
Maria Pacheco, Lisa Paterni, Gina Pinamonti and Brett Potts, this year's Outstanding Alumni Award recipients, spent Oct. 14 speaking with students and getting reacquainted with the campus.
"This is overwhelming and humbling," said Paterni, who is president of Pitsco, Inc., an education company that provides curriculum and hands-on products in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.
Maria Pacheco, vice president of mobile games at Atari in Los Angeles, Calif., said she was traveling when she got word of the honor.
"It took me completely off guard. I didn't have any idea that I was nominated," Pacheco said. "After I got off the phone, I thought, 'Of course! Rough week, a busy day, busy schedule, crazy at work and who's calling me to make me feel good about myself and to remind me about the love and warm coming from Kansas and back home but Pittsburg State University.'"
The honorees agreed that life had taken them down some paths they hadn't expected since they graduated and none of them ever dreamed that one day they would receive PSU's Outstanding Alumni Award. Dr. Gina Pinamonti, an orthodontist and dentofacial orthopedic specialist in Pittsburg said, however, that her plan from childhood was to be an orthodontist in her hometown.
"I'll attribute a lot of it to Dr. Huff. He was my orthodontist and starting around third or fourth grade, I would tell him I was going to come back to Pittsburg and be an orthodontist," Pinamonti said. "That was my goal and I was very focused."
Unlike Pinamonti, Paterni said she had no idea where life might take her.
"I think I frustrated a lot of my first supervisors," Paterni said, "because they would ask, 'Where do you want to be in five years?' I don't think I ever really had plans or a vision for myself. I always just said, 'If I work hard, I do a good job and I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way, I'll be fine.'"
The award recipients said it was exciting to be able to spend part of their time on campus talking with students. Paterni and Pinamonti, because they live in Pittsburg, lecture frequently on campus. But for Brett Potts, a former Kansas Teacher of the Year and currently the principal of Pleasant Ridge Middle School in Overland Park, Kan., and Pacheco, it was a rare opportunity.
"I am going to emphasize to students how great it is to be here," Potts said. "I'm going to tell them to cherish the moments that they're here, because there's something special about Pittsburg State. When you're here, you don't realize it. When you take a few steps away from it and look back on it, the experiences here are incredible."
Pacheco said one piece of advice she was going to share with students was to keep an open mind about work, especially those first jobs.
"I took a few jobs early on in my career that weren't exactly the jobs that I wanted, but I knew they were stepping stones to get me to where I wanted to be."
Pacheco said she also tells students to be brave enough to take some risks, don't burn bridges, travel as much as you can and meet people from other cultures and other parts of the world.
"As I've done those things, it has just reminded me how lucky I am that I was raised in Kansas and got my education at Pittsburg State University, because it's a really special place. I don't think I would have appreciated it so much if I hadn't been around the world."
Potts and Pinamonti also talked about family connections to Pittsburg State that go back generations.
"My dad was on the 1961 National Championship football team so he's going to be back this weekend meeting and with his old buddies and reliving the experiences they had," Potts said. "My mother is also a graduate of Pittsburg State. My grandmother was actually a Pittsburg State grad back in the '30s. So we've got a lot of Gorillas in our family."
Pinamonti said she has been involved with Pittsburg State since she was in pre-school on campus.
"Its just part of my life," Pinamonti said. "My grandparents went to school here. My grandmother was an Alpha Sig. My mother was an Alpha Sig. I was a Tri Sigma and my sister and sister-in-law were Tri Sigmas. My father and my husband were both in fraternities."
On Saturday, the Outstanding Alumni Award recipients rode in the Homecoming Parade in downtown Pittsburg. They participated in pre-game tailgating activities in Gorilla Village and were recognized at the football game. It was a weekend they will never forget.
"No matter how many years you've been gone, you still have a place in your heart for this place," Potts said. "I love coming back to Pittsburg State and to come back for this honor is just an incredible experience.