Meet Pittsburgh's 40 Under 40 Honorees for 2017
We present this year's class of 40 people under the age of 40 who are making Pittsburgh a better place.
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Anqwenique Wingfield (30)
Education Director, Pittsburgh Festival Opera Studio Manager, BOOM Concepts
Anqwenique Wingfield grew up singing jazz and soul music and fell in love with opera in high school. But the classically trained soprano knows that many young people find the art form of opera intimidating. “Opera is not part of our everyday pop culture life,” she says. “Kids are not watching opera on TV or listening to it on the radio.” In her role as educational director of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera, she manages programs that expose youth from early childhood to elementary school to opera, making it fun and educational. “Making opera accessible is about presenting culturally relevant models so that kids have something to latch onto,” she says. Wingfield also is studio manager at BOOM Concepts, where she works to connect artists representing marginalized voices to space, resources and mentorship to help build their artistic practice. In 2013, she founded Groove Aesthetic, an interdisciplinary artist collective creating performances through collaborations of classical music, jazz, poetry, visual art and dance.
Andrew J. Brennan (32)
Founder and Executive Director, Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation
After serving in the Army in Afghanistan, Andrew J. Brennan ran into a group of Vietnam veterans who make an annual motorcycle pilgrimage to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. “I was absolutely floored with the camaraderie of the group,” he says. The Vietnam veterans started the tradition because of their connection, but they’re soon going to start retiring their motorcycles. It then occurred to Brennan that veterans like him had nowhere to go. “What’s my generation going to ride to?” And so the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation was born. After years of bureaucratic challenges, Brennan in August secured the authorization needed to build the memorial on the National Mall. The foundation is now fundraising the $30 million to $40 million needed to design and construct the memorial, a five- to seven-year process. After that, the foundation will have served its purpose, and Brennan isn’t sure what he’ll focus on next, but it should free up time for hobbies — long-distance trail hiking and “watching the Pens win Cups.”
Jen Harrison Fleming (37)
Executive Customer Representative, Merck & Co., Inc.
After Jen Harrison Fleming met her now-husband, Ryan Fleming, in 2004 and learned he has cystic fibrosis, she knew she wanted to get involved with the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “I was eager to find a way that I could contribute and help,” she says. Since then, she’s worked on a variety of fundraisers, including chairing The Wine Opener, a yearly event at The Priory Hotel on the North Side that, on average, raises $50,000. This year, she joined the A-Team, which focuses on government advocacy, meeting with legislators and their staffers to educate them about the needs of the Cystic Fibrosis community, especially amid ongoing changes to health care legislation. “When you just see the tangible output of your efforts — I genuinely believe we will cure CF,” she says. “That will happen.”
LaRae D. Cullens (34)
Girls Activities Director and Program Coordinator, Andstep Inc.
LaRae D. Cullens believes she was “put here to help people.” She does that by helping at-risk girls see their potential, mostly working with kids who are “programmed not to trust people or believe in themselves.” In many cases, the girls’ parents didn’t attend college, and Cullens’ job is to make sure they’re exposed to career options that might not have occurred to them. Cullens started a program at Andstep called Dream 2 S.T.E.A.M., which focuses on mentoring and career guidance, making sure girls know they have options in the fields of art, science, technology, medicine and mathematics. She brings in working professionals to talk to the girls and show them, with hands-on activities, how to get on the track to college. She says it’s rewarding to see girls who go from being unaware of potential careers to dreaming of being a doctor. “It’s nice to see someone come into something not trusting you, and then they trust you with their life,” she says.