Swanson School Alum Gives Back

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George Shiarella (ENG ’52) had a successful career in oil and gas. Now he is helping the next generation of Pitt petroleum engineers with an endowed scholarship. He was drawn to the industry by a story involving Pancho Villa and a hidden pistol, but knows things are different now.

As a high schooler, George Shiarella (ENG ’52) was contemplating a career in medicine but a visit from his uncle, Nick Shiarella, who was among the first students to receive a petroleum engineering degree from Pitt, changed his mind.

George Shiarella

“He kind of romanced me about what a wonderful life he had in the oil and gas industry,” George said.

Among the exploits uncle Nick would share with the family was the time he and his crew were captured by Pancho Villa while working in Mexico. “He said that he escaped any harm . . . by giving Pancho a little pearl-handled Derringer he carried in his boot,” remembered George.

George was accepted into Pitt’s engineering program but knew his parents would not be able to pay for all of his college education so he worked nights and weekends to help cover tuition and lived at home to save money. Every day his sister packed him a lunch.

“Nothing is as good as a cold peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a paper bag,” said George with a bit of sarcasm in his voice.

Upon graduation, he went to work at Shell and after a few years in the oil and gas fields, he took a job with The First National City Bank of New York evaluating loan applications from oil and gas companies. By 1964 he was running his own consulting firm, which he did until he retired in 1996.

“My philosophy has always been that any money I felt I could share . . . should be dispensed to people and entities that helped me make that money.”

All along George had been making what he calls “modest” financial gifts to the University.

“My philosophy has always been that any money I felt I could share . . . should be dispensed to people and entities that helped me make that money,” he said. “There was no question in my mind that both the Staunton Military Academy and the University of Pittsburgh were instrumental in any success I had.”

When George dissolved his business, he knew it was time to enjoy the fruits of his labor and share all he could with others.

“Think about what you really need to sustain any measure of lifestyle you now have, and start [using the rest to be] generous with the people that you could help,” George said. “I’ll do just about anything that I can do to help with this kind of scholarship and these young kids.”


George endowed the George R. Shiarella Scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, which is annually given to an engineering undergrad. In her senior year, Shiarella Scholarship recipient Macy Divens (ENGR ’17) wrote her benefactor a heartfelt thank you. 

“Without support from [you], I would not have been able to afford such a great school,” wrote Macy. “I greatly appreciate all of the opportunities I have been given.”

George encourages anyone contemplating a gift to do it while they can see the benefits first hand. He says too often people say they are going to get to it later, or maybe they just don’t want to think about it, and then they just don’t do it.

George recently added to his endowment at Pitt by directly sending to the University a portion of the federally required minimum disbursement from his IRA. George says that is a strategy he might use again in the future because it is easy to do, does not impact his cash flow, and benefits an organization that helped put him on his path to success.

“Do it now,” he said. “Enjoy the benefits of helping people while you are alive and you can witness your impact on others.”