40 Under 40: 2016

Meet our 2016 class of 40 Pittsburghers Under 40 who are changing our region – and the world – for the better.

 

    

          

PHOTOS AT PNC PARK BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK | HAIR/MAKEUP BY TRAVIS KLINGER

People are drawn to lists, and sometimes when a list isn’t handy they make one up. Consider Jorge Luis Borges, whose fantastical prose lit up the world of Latin American literature in the 20th century.

He referenced a Chinese list — a taxonomy of different types of animals — and attributed its translation to a known academic of the time. According to this list, animals broke down into categories such as “those that belong to the Emperor,” “mermaids,” “embalmed ones,” “fabulous ones,” “those that resemble flies from a distance,” and even, “those that have just broken a flower vase.”

Scholars spent decades trying to locate the original list which, as it turns out, was stored safely inside Borges’ head and nowhere else. The French writer Michel Foucault referenced the Borges list in his book “The Order of Things.” 
 

         

Foucault’s main theory was that the thinking of each age is defined by a single, dominant prism of beliefs and constructs through which we view things. Called an “episteme,” it set the boundaries for all knowledge and understanding at the time. The episteme for the pre-classical period was based on differences and similarities. In the Classical Period, it was all about order and measurement.

And, so on.

What worldview informs this year’s list of 40 Under 40? The conceit of the list is that Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP invite others to nominate people who, not quite midway through life, have done something — or several things — remarkable. Community service, professional achievement, a general overcoming of obstacles that would stop the rest of us — or all of these factors can land someone on this list.
 

         

One of our honorees was inspired by growing up in war-scarred Ethiopia. Another founded a company that provides free, online language-learning to anyone. Still another seems to have succeeded in so many community organizations, she borders on requiring her own, separate list.

The list is so diverse, the personalities so disparate and the accomplishments so varied that fitting our 40 Under 40 onto a single list requires breadth of imagination and depth of understanding. None has broken the flower vase, nor have we noticed any mermaids. As to any “embalmed ones,” there always is a reception to celebrate this honor, so we’ll need to get back to you.
 

         

In the meantime, accept that at least on this list, we can include the term “fabulous ones” and not be accused of making anything up.

Meet this year’s 40 Under 40:
 

 


 

Christy Uffelman   [39]
Partner-in-charge, Pittsburgh Office, Align Leadership

Christy Uffelman was the first woman executive at Mascaro Construction. Later, she launched Align Leadership’s East Coast office, where she builds mentoring programs to help cultivate female leaders from the Millennial crowd. Under her, Align Leadership partnered with such firms as Consol Energy, Eat’n Park and FedEx Ground.

She volunteers with the Girl Scouts as a troop leader and is the Pittsburgh Chair of the 2020 Women on Boards. She serves on the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council Executive Team and the ATHENA committee of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

A native of Sheraden, she earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and corporate communications from Duquesne University before launching her first company at age 27.

Her speaking gigs have included appearances before the National Association of Women in Construction, the International Women and Film Summit, the Business and Professional Women and the Commercial Real Estate Women.  

My favorite Pittsburgh thing … When I am talking with a friend at an event — and run into another a friend who I am then super-excited to introduce to the first — only to discover that they already know one another! Good people know good people. I love that about our town.
 

Chris Daley   [35]
Senior Manager of Digital Media, UPMC Health Plan

The TEDx talks — Technology, Entertainment, and Design — have become the Chautauqua movement of our century: a chance for ordinary folks to hear extraordinary ideas. They came to Pittsburgh in 2015 because of one man: Chris Daley.

By day, he is senior manager of digital media for the UPMC Health Plan, but he also has earned standing as one of Pittsburgh’s foremost digital innovators. Audiences have heard details about driverless car technology from its creator, Carnegie Mellon University’s Raj Rajkumar. Gisele Fetterman, herself a 40 Under 40 honoree last year, captivated listeners with her explanation of the Braddock Free Store and the 412 Food Rescue program.

Ticket sales doubled in the past year, and Daley created a proprietary mobile app for the events.

You’d be surprised to know … I front a punk band called Mace Ballard (A-F Records). I’m laid back most of the time, so it’s sometimes surprising to people I know from outside the music scene when they see a show. I’m lucky to have an outlet to share another side of myself and be loud.

Michael Nites   [24]
Business Analyst, McKinsey & Company

Michael Nites didn’t simply take the helm at the University of Pittsburgh’s Student Government Board — he steered the ship toward new horizons.

Carrying a triple major in industrial engineering, mathematics and economics, Nites put in 40-hour weeks with student government while maintaining a 3.94 grade-point average.

As a junior and senior, Nites coordinated students running Pitt Make a Difference Day, sending more than 3,500 students to provide service around the city. With other student leaders, he convinced the university to hire a full-time sustainability coordinator, to eliminate plastic bags and paper receipts at dining halls and establish a university-sponsored thrift store. It culminated in his winning Pitt’s Star of Distinction for Campus Leadership and in 2015 being named Pitt’s Senior of the Year.

Toward the end of his senior year, Nites opened up to friends about his struggles with depression and later came out as gay. Since then, he has become an advocate for sexual minorities and volunteers with Proud Haven, a homeless shelter for LGBT youth.

My favorite Pittsburgh thing is … the top of the Cathedral of Learning. You can see the city and the suburbs, and it gives you a different perspective.
 

Luis Von Ahn   [37]
CEO, Duolingo

If you recently have proved to a website that you’re not a robot, thank Luis von Ahn. The Guatemalan native is one of the co-creators of “CAPTCHA,” that little box in which you type blurry numbers and odd combinations of letters. Computer robots can’t read that text; only humans can. And it’s the field of “human computation” that von Ahn has helped to develop and define.

Through his work, he won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and produced two companies that he sold to Google in his 20s. And it helped him to found Duolingo, the most popular online language-learning platform in the world. Duolingo boasts more than 120 million users and $83.3 million in investment.

One of Pennsylvania’s best-funded startup companies, Duolingo now employs 75 people at its East Liberty headquarters. School districts already have begun to adopt Duolingo as part of their language-training regimens.

At von Ahn’s direction, Duolingo has begun to sponsor Creative Technology Nights, a program focused on inspiring middle school girls to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.  

You’d be surprised to know … I don’t read any books. Even though I’m a professor, I don’t like reading books. I find them inefficient.
 

Heather Hopson   [39]
Communications Director, Allies For Children

An award-winning “mom blogger” and community volunteer, Heather Hopson studied journalism in college, worked as a TV reporter in the Cayman Islands and helped the Pittsburgh Public Schools system with its social media outreach.

Today, as communications director at Allies for Children, she co-chairs the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, coordinating efforts for 50 disparate organizations across Pennsylvania. She scored a major victory when the state legislature enacted a new public school-funding formula for its 500 districts.

She spends her extra hours mentoring a Pittsburgh student as part of the Amachi program, has partnered with national brands to solicit donations for the Braddock Free Store and is opening a Free Store location in her native Penn Hills — all while raising her daughter.

My favorite Pittsburgh thing is … My family. My maternal grandparents were married for 65 years and raised 15 children together. So as you can imagine, their home is always filled with lots of people, love and laughter. 
 

 


 

Harry Johnson II   [29]
Pittsburgh Community Manager, BMe Community

There are more than 100,000 African-American millionaire families in the United States. As community manager of BMe (Black Male Engagement) in Pittsburgh, Harry Johnson II is determined to direct the discussion away from athletes, singers and actors and toward a fuller perspective when it comes to looking at black men and black life in Pittsburgh and beyond.

Part of that mission has included helping to award more than $100,000 in grants to deserving entrepreneurs, dreamers and dads in the community to carry forward the work of a better day for the community.

Johnson began his Pittsburgh career after arriving from his native North Carolina six years ago and becoming a top aide to City Councilman Daniel Lavelle for three years.

You’d be surprised to know … I am a product of a single-parent home, and with a strong mother I made it through many odds to become the man I am today.
 

Diana Bellini   [32]
Vice President/Relationship Manager, BNY Mellon

Ecuadorian by background, Diana Bellini came from Queens in New York City to Pittsburgh, where she has become a pivotal figure in promoting economic opportunity in the city’s growing Latino community. She works as vice president and Latin America relationship manager for the asset-servicing division of BNY Mellon.

As president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals for America, she created programs to encourage local companies to hire and retain Latino talent. Additionally, Bellini is a board member of Satchels of Caring Foundation. In that capacity, Bellini helps with the fundraising event, Bags, Bellinis & Brunch to raise funds to distribute satchels to patients undergoing chemotherapy.

She also is a volunteer with POWER and Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania and is a contributor of women’s empowerment initiatives with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

You’d be surprised to know … I loved ketchup since I was a little child. The irony is that I ended up living at the birthplace of Heinz.
 

Dr. Andrew Pogozelski   [34]
Transplant Cardiologist, Allegheny Health Network

One of the youngest advanced heart-failure and transplant cardiologists in the country, Andrew Pogozelski shone at Duke Medical School, then entered an accelerated track at the University of Pennsylvania that combined internal medicine, cardiology and advanced heart failure training and later joined UPMC to complete his subspecialty training.

Then, he took the act on the road.

Pogozelski established a first-of-its-kind Heart Failure and Transplant Clinic outside the City of Pittsburgh in 2014. Setting up the clinic at Forbes Hospital in Monroeville allowed Pogozelski to bring technology into a regional setting, reaching more of the local population.

He splits his time between Allegheny General Hospital, where he has access to cutting-edge technology, and Forbes, where the local population has access to him.

You’d be surprised to know … I have cut my own hair since I was 10 years old.
 

Erin Belitskus   [38]
Director, Changing Our World

Erin Belitskus boomeranged to Pittsburgh after a tour that took her through the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the University of Wales in Aberystwyth and the Peace Corps in Romania.

She returned home to structure a new development and community engagement strategy for the Brother’s Brother Foundation. Since then, she founded a Pittsburgh chapter of the New Leaders Council and was named the Pittsburgh-based director of the international philanthropic consulting firm Changing Our World. Belitskus has been active with Women in International Security since 2006 and is the is the past Vice President of the Green Mountain College Alumni Association.

She’s also active with the Northside Chamber of Commerce, the Pittsburgh Civic Leadership Academy and the Buhl Foundation’s One Northside. Belitskus’ exemplary civic leadership led to her selection as a New Organizing Institute Digital Bootcamp Fellow in 2015 and the Allegheny County Democrats naming her a committeewoman for Ward 22-4.

You’d be surprised to know … I’m an introvert — but everyone thinks I’m an extrovert because of all the events I attend and host.
 

 


 

Latasha Wilson-Batch   [39]
Executive Director, Best of the Batch Foundation

Transforming a family foundation from a single program serving 100 youth to a dozen programs that reach more than 3,300 boys and girls from financially challenged communities is no small order.

As leader of The Best of the Batch Foundation, Latasha Wilson-Batch did just that, giving the organization a reach across six counties. She developed special programs for girls and women focusing on education, sports and the challenges of growing up in the world today.

She holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and physical education from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., and a master of science degree in professional counseling from Carlow University. She’s currently at work on a doctorate.

She also has raised more than $1.3 million for the foundation so far and is organizing a $10 million capital campaign to expand the organization’s reach and success.  

The biggest thing I ever had to overcome: The concept of letting go and just letting life happen.
 

Kathryn Vargas   [31]
Senior Manager, United for Children,
United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Kathryn Vargas has a simple goal of colossal proportion: making sure children have an inalienable right to a quality education, a decent community and a fulfilling life.

As manager of programs for children and youth at the United Way of Allegheny County, Vargas has the job of making sure the agency’s investments in Allegheny County make the maximum positive impact on children and youth. In fact, she once dressed up as the PBS KIDS character Daniel Tiger just to see the reaction from children.

“I had never been in costume before, and to see how different kids and their parents reacted to a life-sized version of their favorite TV character was really adorable,” she recalls.

Serving at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, she was the sparkplug for a range of neighborhood efforts, reaching into schools, parks and community-wide campaigns. Among her notable innovations: she encouraged the neighborhood’s school crossing guards to work as “attendance mentors” to make sure young scholars didn’t just cross the street but crossed the boundary called graduation.  

If I had a second chance … Nothing — I think it’s important to learn from both good and bad choices while keeping your mind and motivations on the things ahead.
 

John Huckle   [39]
Founder & CEO, BusinessForward

John Huckle keeps the music of his ancestral homeland Croatia alive in the United States. By profession, he’s an entrepreneur who began his career as a consultant with the Deloitte accounting firm, then later Pittsburgh’s own Freemarkets, before launching his own company, BusinessForward, at age 29.

He cut his musical teeth with the Tamburitzans, then a part of Duquesne University, and went on to serve on the board of directors of the newly formed Pittsburgh Institute of Folk Arts.

As rock and pop took over here and in Europe, the tradition needed an advocate. In the case of Huckle, the advocate knew the form so fluently that his previous band was invited four times to perform at Croatia’s largest folk music festival, showing that the new-age entrepreneurship of one Pittsburgh boy remained linked to the traditions of his ancestors.  

If I had a second chance … I would have left Pittsburgh for a period of time and come back. I think that the opportunity of leaving and coming back possibly positions people to take new and different ideas from other areas and offer them to the folks in our region.
 

 


 

Betty Cruz   [38]
Owner, Change Agency

A first-generation Cuban-American, Betty Cruz has a habit of being present at the creation of impactful changes. Working with KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit group “dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids,” she helped to create 60 playgrounds.

When Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto walked down the middle of a city street enroute to his swearing-in, Cruz was among the top aides who walked with him into the city’s new era.

While a deputy chief of staff for special initiatives, Cruz has worked to cultivate an immigrant-friendly city, launched programs to increase food access in stranded neighborhoods, campaigned to enroll the city’s young in health care programs and worked to increase opportunities to veterans by working with the private and public sectors.  

The biggest thing I ever had to overcome … Immigrant kids often are navigating many firsts in our family, beyond being the first born in the U.S. You carry the weight of migration ­— the fear and hope that made your parents leave everything behind. And you never quite feel like you fully belong in either place. However, there’s a beauty to that, and I feel deep pride for the cultures that have shaped me.
 

Lisa Boyette   [35]
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Curable

Lisa Boyette isn’t out to “find” a cure for the disease that threatens her brother. Cures are created. It’s 100 percent engineering and zero percent magic.

Jon Boyette has primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease of the bile ducts that ultimately destroys the liver. A transplant might help, but an outright cure would work wonders.

PSC isn’t a well-known disease, and it’s not at the top of the list when it comes to causes that people fund. So Lisa, who earned MD and Ph.D. degrees from Pitt, founded Save Jon two years ago. It operates on what’s called an “iterative model,” which means trial, error, learning, patience and proving. It exists not only as a search for a cure to a disease but also as a cure for the delays and false starts that plague so many causes.

Her supporters say Save Jon’s approach can become an organizational blueprint that will work in the fight against other complex diseases affecting underserved patient populations.  

You’d be surprised to know … I worked in Colonial Williamsburg one summer as a tavern wench — petticoats and a cap and the whole getup.
 

Terrell Thomas   [32]
Executive Director, Isaiah Project

Fifteen years ago, 16-year-old Terrell Thomas carried the body of his brother, Charles Daniels, from the scene of a shooting in Beltzhoover, yet another episode in a summer of violence amid an undercurrent of drugs, poverty and desperation. It marked the start of a mission.

Thomas earned a degree in sociology and political science at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; he now is advancing toward a master’s degree at Point Park University.

He’s been the youth director for Voices Against Violence, a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh’s South Side. He chairs the Pittsburgh Leadership Council, serves as a member of the Minority Emergency Preparedness Task Force and has helped to lead the revitalization of the Pittsburgh Hilltop abandoned homes and to reclaim abandoned lots in the city.

He serves as CEO of My Brother’s Keeper, a transitional-living facility on the North Side, and is program coordinator for The South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace, helping to resolve gang disputes, teach violence prevention and end the pattern of destruction.  

You’d be surprised to know … I consider myself a fitness guru, and I love working out to ’80s pop music.
 

Pete Spynda   [37]
Project and Event Manager; DJ

There’s no way to comprehend Pete Spynda without coming to terms with the fact that he has turned “Pandemic” into a fun word. To date, he has organized hundreds of events to promote alternative music and traditional fun. His more recent undertaking is Weather Permitting — a live-music outdoor event geared toward both parents and their children.

As a nominator’s explanation put it: “Most families have two working parents, so when parents would like to go out, it means the added expense of a babysitter and more time away from the kids.

Enter Weather Permitting, a summer picnic open to everyone where parents can attend with their children, who can play games or listen to live … music while parents hang out, picnic or visit food trucks.”

His musical tastes are as eclectic as the city in which he works. Spynda’s has produced events for Balkan brass bands, a nod to the city’s eastern European heritage, as well as hip-hop and Cumbia, which look toward the city’s evolving music scene.

The best thing that ever happened to me … It’s a tie between winning the Spirit Wiffle ball home run derby and losing my “real” full-time job so I could become a professional hustler.
 

 


 

Marteen K. Garay   [33]
Director of Entrepreneurship Programming, Urban Innovation21

Meet Marteen K. Garay and the first thing she’ll tell you is that she’s from New York.

“I do this to build a connection,” she says. “I know what it’s like to live, to stomp and stand for your city.”

Since arriving here in 2010, Garay has been doing that for the ’Burgh, from the Homewood Children’s Village, Coro Pittsburgh and the Harambee Ujima Association and its cultural festivals.

With a master’s degree in public policy and management from CMU’s Heinz College, she also received the school’s Otto A. Davis Award for upholding racial and social justice in her everyday work.

She is director of entrepreneurship programs at Urban Innovation21, where she works to develop business opportunities to underserved and disadvantaged communities. The goal is equitable solutions that make certain that Pittsburgh’s journey into the new century includes every community.

Garay recently was honored with the 2016 ATHENA Young Professional award. The New Yorker now calls herself something more … a proud Yinzer.  

If I had a second chance … I would have picked up playing the saxophone. I learned how to play clarinet in elementary school … but dropped off in college. I can imagine myself playing backup in a jazz band and like a hole-in-the-wall kind of bar.
 

Amanda Filippelli   [30]
Owner & Founder / Mental Health Specialist / Editor-in-Chief, Parity Health Service

Amanda Filippelli’s initial goal in life was to repair the lives of persons with mental illness. But she soon discovered that first she’d have to fix a broken mental health system. The flaws in the bureaucracy have been evident at every level, even inspiring U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) to sponsor a sweeping reform bill.

At the local level, Filippelli already was on the case. In 2014, she founded Parity Health Services, which pairs education with treatment, providing tutoring services alongside mental health counseling. For people leaving the mental health care system, Filippelli’s firm provides individually tailored follow-up care.

Her spare time includes lobbying Congress for mental health reform, especially to ease the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.

You’d be surprised to know … I’m terrified of bridges, even though I’m from the city of bridges …
 

Duane Binion   [30]
Co-Founder of True T Entertainment | Kelly Strayhorn Theatre

Acting isn’t always about a stage, and melodies don’t always have to come out of a trombone.

Duane Binion is an actor and accomplished trombonist, but seven years ago, at age 23, he decided to put in the performance of everyone else’s life: he started a program called True T.

It provides HIV and STD testing and prevention, as well as unique safe spaces for at-risk youth. Soon enough, he would be the associate producer at Pittsburgh’s Kelly Strayhorn Theater, known for its judgment-free atmosphere for patrons of all ages, races, religions and gender identities.

After growing up without a male figure who reflected his identity as a LGBTQ youth, Binion has become determined to address the lack of positive male role models for other kids.

You’d be surprised to know … I am actually a huge WWE/WWF wrestling fan and have been since the late ’90s. WWF is actually what inspired me to pursue a career in the arts as I was always so amazed by their acting and ability to entertain.
 

Bill Viola Jr.   [39]
President, Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp.

Pittsburgh often is credited as the birthplace of a self-defense discipline known as Mixed Martial Arts.

Bill Viola Jr. is the author of the book “Godfathers of MMA,” which chronicles the life of his father, Bill Sr., and explores the world of martial arts as first developed west of the Alleghenies. The younger Viola is known internationally for his work in the martial arts industry, founding the highly regarded annual Kumite Classic in 1999.

He also was named to the U.S. Karate Hall of Fame in 2005 and was the winner of the Willie Stargell Pittsburgh MVP Award in 2011 for his work training youth in martial arts programs.

He currently is head instructor at his family’s Allegheny Shotokan Karate studio, founded in 1969, and he is the founder and producer of the Pittsburgh Fitness Expo.

The biggest thing I ever had to overcome … In 1999, I was in a car accident that ended my competitive martial arts career. Going from world champion to watching on the sidelines was complete culture shock, but the injury was actually a blessing. In rehab, I found my true passion, being a sensei (teacher). Seeing my students succeed is more rewarding than any title I won.
 

 


 

Margaret (Meg) Gleason   [39]
Partner, Jones Day

Meg Gleason is a multitasker.

In the space of 16 months, she married, made partner at the Jones Day law firm, helped to win one of the largest commercial verdicts in the history of Allegheny County and gave birth to her first child.

That’s not counting her pro bono work for the indigent, the law class she taught at Imani Academy in Homewood and her distance running. She once ran a sub-3-hour marathon.

A native of Louisville, Ky., she went on to be a varsity cross-country athlete in high school, college and later at Oxford University where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. In addition to her work as a litigation attorney for Jones Day — she’s also been recognized by the Super Lawyers rating service — Gleason serves on the board of Sisters Place Inc., a family-service agency that helps young mothers to complete their educations and begin careers.  

My favorite Pittsburgh thing is … The view of the city from the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
 

Kristine Irwin   [31]
Human Resources Recruitment Specialist, Pittsburgh Mercy

Almost 12 years ago, Kristine Irwin was dumped on a road by the man who sexually assaulted her on the way to a party. She refused to recede into victimhood.

Instead, she has become an advocate for rape survivors and a persistent warning on campuses about the need to confront and eradicate a scourge at once shocking and routine because of its persistence. She describes her recovery: the horror, violation and struggle to find herself by finding new identities.

She went to seven Lady Gaga concerts in 18 months, each time in costume. She founded Voices of Hope to reach out to anyone who has survived assault.

In the intervening years, she has built a professional career as a talent-acquisition specialist, married and given birth to a son. Instead of “moving on” she has moved the discussion of a terrible subject out of the shadows and into the light, the better for rape survivors to find their own paths forward.

You’d be surprised to know … I got to meet Britney Spears at a concert. Ever since I was 10 or 11 I was a big fan. You could buy backstage passes. [I took] some savings I’d put away and decided to use that to meet her.
 

Aster Teclay   [28]
Senior Project Manager, Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh

Turning public-housing complexes into communities is a daunting task, but Aster Teclay helped to redevelop the once-tough stretch known as Addison Terrace in the Hill District.

Today, with mulched flower beds, clear streets and a burst of optimism, the place is a shining example of what can be accomplished.

The daughter of Eritrean war refugees, Teclay worked her way through Pitt with a dual major in political science and business. She earned an MBA in sports, arts and entertainment management from Point Park in 2014 and currently is pursuing a master’s degree in public management from CMU.

Serving at the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, she became its primary liaison with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and analyzes legislation and crafts policies to improve housing programs, on which more than 20,000 families in the city rely for rent assistance.

You’d be surprised to know … One of the things I did to overcome being overwhelmed by large projects is take an improv class. I was secretly freaking out, but I had a great time. A lot of people when they meet me don’t think I have that funny, goofy side until they get to know me.
 

Allison Saras   [32]
Charitable Relationship Manager, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering

When Allison Saras left Pittsburgh for Philadelphia in 2002 to attend college at Penn State University and later graduate school at Villanova University, where she also worked in the university’s development office, an item advanced to the top of the University of Pittsburgh’s to-do list: get her back here.

By 2010 she was back in the ’Burgh. A record-setting fundraiser for the schools she serves, Saras has climbed the academic ladder, from Pitt’s School of Law to its Swanson School of Engineering, where she now holds the post of director of development.

Her job is to locate donors in the $100,000 range and beyond. She tells friends she someday might like to be a college president.

Saras doesn’t limit her good deeds to work hours. She also has helped with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the American Red Cross, the Sen. John Heinz History Center, the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the One Young World Summit held in Pittsburgh in 2012.  

The biggest thing I ever had to overcome … Finishing my doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh while working full-time. It was well worth it and one of my biggest accomplishments, but it was very challenging.
 

The Rev. Paul Abernathy   [37]
Director, FOCUS Pittsburgh; CEO FOCUS Pittsburgh Free Health Center

From peacekeeper to peacemaker, the Rev. Paul Abernathy’s road led not to Tarsus but to the Hill District.
After serving in combat in Iraq from 2003-2004, he became the founder of FOCUS Pittsburgh, an Orthodox Christian nonprofit organization.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Wheeling Jesuit University, a master’s degree in public and international affairs from Pitt and a Master of Divinity degree from St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary.

In his new role, Abernathy oversees the distribution of food, clothing, furniture and other emergency relief to needy Pittsburghers.

More than 2,500 Pittsburgh students from three neighborhoods have been given food and supplies, including one who was standing in line with his mother. The youngster had given away his own groceries to the families of other children. Abernathy made sure that kid was rewarded for getting the message about giving.  

My favorite thing about Pittsburgh … Anything that tells the history of Pittsburgh. This city has such an incredible legacy, and I greatly enjoy finding inspiration from the stories of past citizens who persevered to build a city loved by so many.
 

 


 

Elena LaQuatra   [24]
Digital Media Reporter, WTAE; Miss PA USA, Miss Universe Organization

It’s a new world of journalism out there, and Elena LaQuatra is confronting it with an effervescence that all but jumps out of the computer screen.

She’s a model — Miss Pennsylvania USA in fact  — and she doubles as a digital media creator-reporter for WTAE-TV’s online lifestyle and entertainment channel.

What makes this accomplishment remarkable is that she lost her hearing at age 4 due to bacterial meningitis. She spent four years learning how to speak and how to listen with the use of a cochlear implant.

“It was a ‘hiccup’ in my life,” she says. “But I genuinely believe I’m a much stronger, better, more empathetic and compassionate person because of it.”

Part of that compassion is demonstrated in her charity work, starting with DePaul School for Hearing and Speech in Shadyside, where she regained both the gifts of speech and listening.  

You’d be interested to know … I don’t have a Pittsburghese accent, but I just love when people do. I love everything about this city.
 

Ryan Scott   [32]
Director of Education Initiatives, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

Ryan Scott is the Director of Education Initiatives at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and co-director of the Black Male and Female Leadership Development Institute.

The latter is a program of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and Robert Morris University.

He’s working to encourage youth academically and socially. He also has served with Amachi Pittsburgh, working with children and families confronting the difficulty of having a parent incarcerated.

His appointment as a delegate from 2012-15 to the annual One Young World Summit has taken him to Johannesburg, Dublin and Bangkok to research global change.

His community work includes being active with Word and Worship Church in North Braddock and serving as a lead mentor at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12 in East Liberty.

You’d be surprised to know … that my celebrity cousin is Pharrell Williams.
 

Emiola J. Oriola   [27]
Associate Director, Investing Now Program, University Of Pittsburgh

How’s this for a greeting: “I secretly carry a cannon in my throat.”

Emiola Oriola describes himself as a “traveling poet and spoken word artist” — and that’s not even what got him on this list.

Oriola, called “Jay” by his friends, is associate director of the Investing Now Program at Pitt. At age 27, that should suffice. But there’s more.

After graduating from Pitt with a Bachelor’s of Science in psychology, he became a leader of the Urban League of Pittsburgh’s Black Male Leadership Program Institute. His work involved mentoring high school students.

Since 2014 he has been working with Investing Now, where he functions as an advisor for high school student scholars. And, about that cannon. It’s fairly high-caliber stuff. He’s a seven-time Spoken Word Champion for the City of Pittsburgh.  

If I had a second chance … I would learn more languages in my youth. I’ve come to realize how true this Nelson Mandela quote is, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you speak to a man in his language, it goes to his heart.”
 

Amanda J. Laichak   [38]
Director of Education, Junior Achievement of Western PA; Part-time Ph.D. student, University of Pittsburgh

Amanda Laichak grew up in near-poverty in Johnstown.

She lives in awe of her mother, who raised her and Amanda’s severely handicapped sister, constantly encouraging Amanda to get ahead in life.

Laichak attended college and graduate school while taking on the task of helping to resettle refugees in the Pittsburgh area. Working with Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, she helped refugee youth to find career opportunities in their new country.

Later, she accepted a board post at another refugee-assistance agency, Children of Shangri-Lost.

In her latest job, she works for Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania, again promoting initiatives for children. She expects to complete her Ph.D. in social and comparative analysis in education by 2019.

Over the course of her work and studies she’s travelled to 25 countries as she focuses on the importance of building a bridge between the Pittsburgh community and its newest citizens.  

My favorite Pittsburgh thing is … Take a group of friends and an empty stomach on the second Friday of every month to eat a big, homemade Hungarian meal (and sometimes hear the owner sing in Hungarian and dance) at Jozsa’s Corner in Hazelwood.
 

 


 

Clinique Brundidge   [32]
Senior materials scientist And Engineer, Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation

Eight years ago, Detroit-raised Clinique Brundidge was driving through western Pennsylvania when she saw a scarecrow dressed up as Troy Polamalu. She just knew she had to try living in a place where someone would do that.

Today, she is the senior materials scientist and engineer at Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation, developing the gear that goes into nuclear reactors for the U.S. Navy.

The path from a childhood in Detroit to a Ph.D. passed through the University of Michigan, where she became the first African-American woman to letter in swimming all four years. Today, she continues to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods.

STEM education, she says, is a path forward in life. And, yes, when she travels on game days, Brundidge always boards the plane wearing her Steelers gear.

If I had it to do over … I would have majored in manufacturing engineering rather than materials science and engineering. Those guys seem to have more fun!
 

Ngani Ndimbie   [29]
Women in Transportation Fellow, Traffic21


In a city where bike-motorist relations often amounts to mobile combat — two wheels versus four — Ngani Ndimbie has taken up the cause of making sure the value of an old-fashioned bicycle and the person riding it get a full hearing before decision-makers.

As former communications manager for BikePGH, Ndimbie mobilized advocates, grabbed the attention of lawmakers and demanded safety for cyclists and pedestrians as the City of Pittsburgh transitions to a new era of personal transportation.

She came to Pittsburgh from Florida and immediately went to work as a community activist. Her resume includes stints at the Coro Pittsbugh foundation, where she was a Community Problem Solving Fellow; at Regional Equity Monitoring Project, where she was a project assistant; and the ACLU, where she worked as a community organizer.

A resident of Bloomfield, she helped to start Bloomfield Livable Streets, leading community cleanups and, as ever, bike-pedestrian-motorist diplomacy.

If I had a second chance … [I’d] take a journalism class while in college.
 

Derrick L. Tillman   [36]
President & CEO, Bridging the Gap Development, LLC

Housing and jobs remain essential concerns for Pittsburgh’s minority community, and Derrick Tillman’s real estate company — Bridging the Gap Development — is addressing those needs.

The firm builds new construction and rehabilitates affordable, market-rate, mixed-income housing.

He previously ran a weatherization business that went from zero to $1 million in revenue before he sold his interest.

Since then, he has focused on bringing development projects, both housing and commercial, to parts of the city where they can have the greatest economic impact. One ongoing project includes building and/or rehabbing 36 units of affordable housing in the Hill District and will focus on providing homes and careers to residents.

Success did not come easily, but as he’s pleased to point out, Tillman once was a Section 8 housing resident. Today, he’s a Section 8 housing landlord and a real estate developer.

You’d be surprised to know … I had to deliver my son at our home on the bathroom floor because we didn’t make it to the hospital in time.
 

PNC PARK:

As do many of our 40 Under 40 honorees, the Pittsburgh Pirates — which operate PNC Park, our shoot location this year — seek to provide opportunities that better the lives of future generations.

The Pirates do this through many philanthropic pursuits, including Fields for Kids, which provides financial support to improve youth baseball or softball facilities, and by supporting Miracle League field programs, which help children with special needs to play baseball.

During the 2016 Pirates season, 2 million people visited the ballpark, which seats about 38,000 people, allowing plenty of opportunities to give back to the kids. 
–– Amanda Reed

photo by Dave DiCello
 

 


 

Shinjini Kundu   [25]
MD/PhD candidate, University of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Mellon University

She finished high school at 16, completed both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at age 20, earned a Ph.D. at 25 and is on target to complete an MD degree next year at the Pitt School of Medicine.

The lightning speed of Shinjini Kundu’s academic progress could test the laws of physics, much less those of probability. How can one star shine so brightly?

Kundu already has broken new ground in her doctoral field of biomedical engineering. Her dissertation work, building on her electrical-engineering degree from Stanford University, explores ways to “train” computers to spot patterns in medical images that escape the human eye. The new technology enables osteoarthritis to be detected three years before symptoms appear.

It’s hard to imagine she has spare time, but along with promoting women in STEM professions and coordinating the Women in Science and Medicine Association, Kundu finds time for writing, travel and Indian dance. Kids these days.

You’d be surprised to know … I’m a trained Indian classical dancer and have performed at Madison Square Garden.
 

Dr. Ermias Abebe   [33]
Instructional Faculty, Orthopedic Surgery Department, UPMC Medical Center

Growing up in Ethiopia, Dr. Ermias Abebe saw friends suffer through surgeries to repair the random damage of injuries that were a fact of life in a country perennially at war.

His family came to America when he was 12. Now 33, he works 80-hour weeks at UPMC, treating orthopedic injuries, teaching medical students and mentoring two of them as they applied for the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.

Outside of the hospital, Abebe is team physician for the Mt. Lebanon High School varsity football team, standing on the sidelines and watching battles worth having.

On other days, he can be found working in the soup kitchen at St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown.

You’d be surprised to know … I am naturally shy and reserved. Answering the call of a surgical subspecialty and rising to the challenges of life and service that I chose required extraordinary communication skills unfamiliar to me as an introvert. These processes enriched my communication capacities and helped me shed my comfortable muted inclinations for more traditional extroverted roles.
 

The Rev. John Creasy   [39]
Associate Pastor, Open Door Church; Director, Garfield Community Farm 

The Rev. John Creasy turned 30 empty lots into Garfield Community Farm, a living experiment in sustainability that turns out thousands of pounds of healthy produce for a neighborhood once devoid of fresh food.

An ordained Presbyterian minister who serves at the Open Door Church, Creasy also holds a certificate in permaculture design.

On taking his post at Open Door, Creasy was determined to combine his ministry with service to the overall neighborhood. Creasy sells produce to local restaurants but also remains determined to see to it that the bulk of Garfield Community Farm produce ends up on the plates of local residents. He launched a mobile market this summer to get food to the people.  

You’d be surprised to know … I also work with a Mexican doctor and his family on a project we call the “Mexico Food Forest Project.” Through this project, we work with an indigenous people group living in central Mexico called the Xi’úi. While they have taught me a great deal about sustainability and multi-crop planting strategies, we’ve helped them plant hundreds of fruit trees in their fields and forest edges.
 

​Rosamaria Cristello   [27]
Director of the Latino Family Center, Allegheny Intermediate Unit

​Rosamaria Cristello came here from Guatemala when she was less than a year old and has spent the ensuing years welcoming others to our region.

At 24, she became director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Latino Family Center in Hazelwood. It has become a focal point for the city’s growing Hispanic community to share a common bond as they join in what de Tocqueville called “The American Experiment.”

Partnering with A+ Schools, Cristello also created Latino Parents United in Action, promoting the needs of the community in the city’s public schools. Cristello also led a Latino Needs Assessment to better understand the Latino community in Allegheny County.

She’s doing this and more while completing a master’s degree in public administration at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Cristello recently received the inaugural Spirit of ATHENA scholarship, allowing her to attend the leadership and negotiation academy at CMU.

The biggest thing I ever had to overcome … Completing the Pittsburgh Marathon [in 2015]. It was my first marathon, and after all of the training I injured my knee the week of the marathon so I had to run with the knee injury. But the process of training and finally crossing the finish line teaches you a lot of life lessons and was a huge accomplishment for me.
 

 


 

Dean Aloise   [38]
Global HR Consulting Leader, Head of Buck Consultants, Xerox

Pensions might be the dullest of important issues. Nationwide, hundreds teeter on insolvency. In Pennsylvania, taxpayers are strapped with $60 billion in unfunded liabilities. The near-sorcery required to make sure your money doesn’t run out before your time on earth does falls to a rare species.

Dean Aloise leads Human Resources Consulting for Xerox HR Services, with more than 1,500 employees across the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Before that, he was the U.S. Wealth Practice Leader and co-inventor of a nifty tool called the Pension Risk Navigator, which helps companies manage the risks in their pension funds. He took that skill set to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, where he helped to design a health plan for its members.

His other skill set is music. Some days he rocks out on his electric guitar at the Peters Township location of The Bible Chapel, a 3,000-member church.  

My favorite Pittsburgh thing is … The family-friendly, down-to-earth culture of our neighborhoods and communities. Pittsburgh is the greatest place on earth to raise a family while also pursuing a successful career. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
 

Aurora Sharrard   [37]
Executive Director & Vice President of Innovation,Green Building Alliance

A framed print sitting on Aurora Sharrard’s desk at the Green Building Alliance seems to explain it all. A young woman is leaping over a bridge, the sun in her face, the wind at her back, and above a caption that announces: “I am in the world to change the world.”

That captures the woman who has been leaving her fingerprints all over the most exciting new buildings in Pittsburgh.

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and others reflect Sharrard’s determination to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

With a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering with an emphasis on green design from CMU, Sharrard helped to launch the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative, working to cut down greenhouse emissions in a city once renowned for smoke and now best known for bridges that all but challenge idealists to cross them into the new century.

You’d be surprised to know … My sons are named Angstrom and Faraday.
 

Kristy Knichel   [39]
CEO, Knichel Logistics

The shipping business is tough — hypercompetitive, unforgiving and male-dominated.

So Kristy Knichel had to prove herself, first to her father when she took charge of the family business and then to the industry at large. And she is doing it while showing that, at least in her case, nice gals can finish first.

Friends describe her as someone with a genuine concern about the safety, welfare and happiness of her employees. The idea of work as a place of fulfillment is a standing commitment.

Knichel Logistics has been around for 13 years and, under her leadership, revenue has climbed to $50 million yearly — a far cry from its first-year revenues of $2 million.

A Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic, Knichel has been an active sponsor of Hines Ward’s Positive Athlete program, and for several years she annually awards the Title IX scholarship to a female high school athlete in the region. She also serves as a mentor to women entering business.  

You'd be surprised to know … I have a full back tattoo.
 

​LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill   [29]
Deputy Chief of Education, Office of Mayor William Peduto

When Bill Peduto took over as Mayor of Pittsburgh, he decided on new approaches to confronting the city’s problems. In one of the most vital — making sure the city’s youth reach adulthood prepared for the new economy — he turned to a Texan.

LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill left a corporate job at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to join the mayor’s office, later taking the newly created post of deputy chief of staff for education.

Her portfolio includes youth development, creating a culture of inclusion and being a voice for opportunity in the City of Pittsburgh.

She has helped to implement two White House initiatives, TechHire and My Brother’s Keeper, and she has quadrupled investment in summer youth employment from less than $1 million to $5.3 million in one year.

She credits much of her success to a patient husband, Tracey Sherrill. That patience has received a new test this year: The couple recently welcomed their first child.  

My favorite Pittsburgh thing is … Fries on salads! The best concoction ever!

Dennis B. Roddy is a freelance journalist and former special assistant in the Pennsylvania Office of the Governor. A longtime staff writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he also has written for a number of regional and national publications.
 

 

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