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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Po-Shen Loh (35)
Founder and CEO, Expii, Inc. / Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University
Three things drive Po-Shen Loh: people, challenges and analytical thinking. “These three things ultimately inform all that I do,” he says. As a mathematician, he wanted to make interactive learning universally accessible for free in a personal way. “One of the greatest things about the human race is its diversity,” he says, noting that because of that, people have different ways of learning how diversity can be integrated into how we teach. The goal of his social enterprise startup, Expii, is to teach students everything from algebra and calculus to biology in a personal way from any smartphone or computer. He looks at learning through the lens of athletic training — whatever you did today, you should be able to do tomorrow, but more accurately and faster. Expii allows students to go beyond what they are required to learn for standardized tests and challenge themselves to their full potential. “Our goal is ... to bring people to the best level they can reach,” he says.
Marlee Gallagher (29)
Communications & Outreach Coordinator, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp.
When Marlee Gallagher started at the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. in 2014, the organization was working to convince voters to approve a referendum to allow liquor sales in the borough, which had been dry since the 1930s. In 2015, the referendum passed, and Salvatore’s Pizza House landed the first liquor license. Over the summer, Gallagher attended a wine tasting at Salvatore’s, and she says sipping wine on a Penn Avenue patio “just felt really different for Wilkinsburg.” But different in a good way. Gallagher’s role is to promote Wilkinsburg and its businesses and challenge negative perceptions about the community. She says the small CDC staff of six full-time employees and one part-timer work hard to put on events to showcase all the borough has to offer, including a street festival and a vacant house tour. “My job is uncovering the cool things about Wilkinsburg and showing them to people,” she says.
Sonja J Finn (38)
Chef and Owner, Dinette and Executive Consulting Chef, The Cafe Carnegie at Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History
Sonja J Finn was 29 when she opened her restaurant, Dinette, in East Liberty nine years ago. She had $50,000 in her savings account, secured an additional bank loan and put $50,000 on her credit card so that she could cook high-quality, farm-to-table cuisine in a casual setting. Dinette’s menu changed daily, depending on what was at the market or growing at local farms and on her rooftop garden. Finn, a graduate of Columbia University and the Culinary Institute of America, also won national acclaim for her cooking when she was named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star Chef of the Year” in 2009 and 2010; Dinette also is a mainstay on Pittsburgh Magazine’s annual Best Restaurants list. “I just wanted to have a nice restaurant that was contributing to the neighborhood. I didn’t expect national attention.” Then, she was hired to be executive consulting chef for The Cafe at Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, an honor for someone who has spent many afternoons at the museum. “I am happy to be part of a restaurant scene in Pittsburgh that is changing,” she says.
J. Matthew Landis (38)
Embedded Systems Engineer, Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory / Chapter Director, No One Left Behind — Pittsburgh Chapter
When J. Matthew Landis left the Army, veterans organizations offered to help him transition from military to civilian life. But, he says, veterans often miss the sense of service. “It really leaves a cavity there that’s tough to replace,” he says. In his first few years in Pittsburgh, he volunteered with The Mission Continues, starting a platoon in Homewood to identify projects and provide the community with the manpower, resources and military reassurance that the work will get done and be maintained. After that, he met with the national director of No One Left Behind, who asked Landis to run the Pittsburgh chapter of the organization. No One Left Behind provides combat interpreters from Afghanistan and Iraq with Special Immigrant Visas, plus housing, food, transportation and legal services, as well as “a hero’s welcome” at the airport, because they’re veterans, too. “It’s not enough to bring these guys here. It’s not enough to get them out of harm’s way and out of Afghanistan,” he says.