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40 Under 40: 2014

In their own ways, the 40 men and women we introduce here show us daily how we can ensure that Pittsburgh is deserving of its Most Livable City title.



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Among them are a former Ms. Wheelchair America, an Olympian and a Grand Jury Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival. Some work in the neighborhoods in which they grew up, while others work across the globe. They will change the way you look at everything from the not-so-humble plantain to your CSA share (which, in this case, stands for Community-Supported Art). They excel in their professions while uplifting their communities, and more than one of them takes issue with Pittsburgh being called the Most Livable City. “For whom is it most livable?” some ask. In their own ways, the 40 men and women we introduce here show us daily how we can ensure that we’re deserving of that title.
 

photos by Dave DiCello   |   makeup by Rachael Ryan   |  shot at Mansions on Fifth
 

Christine Wankiiri-Hale [39]

Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine
Christine Wankiiri-Hale says her work restoring dental health to patients “just may be the beginning of helping people feel that they can do something with their [lives].” It’s also just the beginning of Wankiiri-Hale’s community involvement. As the first woman of color to serve as associate dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine and a graduate of the American Dental Education Association’s Leadership Institute, she says she strives to be a leader both in her field and beyond. Wankiiri-Hale first moved to the United States from Botswana in 1994; two years later, she became involved in mentoring children on the North Side through New Hope Church. “Having that educational equipment,” she reflects, “allows them to have the ability to reach their dreams or have opportunities that they might not have otherwise had.” Eventually, she and her husband relocated to the North Side to be living examples of what is possible to those they mentor.

 


Melanie R. Brown [33]

Education Program Officer, The Heinz Endowments
Melanie R. Brown’s first work-study job in college involved teaching reading in a Washington, D.C., elementary school. She remembers lockdowns, drug paraphernalia on the playground and bars on the windows — and from outside the school, a view of the U.S. Capitol Building. “I could not understand why we were miles away from the capital of this country, the richest country of the world, and these kids were forced to learn in these conditions,” she says. She didn’t go to college to study education initially, but she soon changed her major, became a teacher and worked to advance educational equality ever since. As the education program officer for The Heinz Endowments, Brown helps to direct investments for educational improvement. Given the need that she sees every day, she says she has trouble with the idea of viewing Pittsburgh as the “Most Livable City” and wants us to think of it more as an aspiration: “This is the way I see it: We should want to be the Most Livable City in the country . . . I think it should be used as a charge to do better.”

 

Sam Franklin [34]

Executive Director, Office of Teacher Effectiveness, Pittsburgh Public Schools
There’s a lot that Sam Franklin loves about Pittsburgh. He cites the appetite to support innovation and the people who want to be part of positive change. He’s also insistent that we shouldn’t get too comfortable in our optimism. As the city reinvents itself, he wants to ask: “Who is going to benefit from the positive changes that are happening in Pittsburgh?” If Franklin has anything to do with it, a big portion of the beneficiaries will be the kids who are graduating from Pittsburgh schools. Franklin’s involvement in education reform began as a sixth-grade teacher and continued as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, when he designed a new kind of school: the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, which opened its doors in 2009. Also that year, Franklin became involved in reforming the Pittsburgh Public School system, supported by a $40 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As the executive director of teacher effectiveness, he works to recognize great instructing in Pittsburgh while offering additional support to help teachers improve their skills and better engage students.

 

Matthew Mohn [38]

Partner, Reed Smith LLP
Matthew Mohn took an oath as a lawyer to give back to his community, but as he represented large companies and entrepreneurs in transactional work, he struggled with how to fulfill that pro-bono pledge. When he learned about Urban Innovation 21, which helps to finance businesses in struggling neighborhoods, Mohn invited the organization to talk to his firm. He remembers hoping that someone in addition to him, the CEO and the chief operating officer of Urban Innovation 21 would show up. As it turns out, the room was packed, people were standing and everyone wanted to help. “That was a really fulfilling, rewarding moment,” remembers Mohn. Since October 2013, 60 Reed Smith lawyers have provided $400,000 worth of free legal services for businesses in Homewood and the Hill District. “My overall philosophy is about access and trying to level the playing field for people who haven’t had the same kinds of opportunities that so many people have,” says Mohn. That’s why he built this collaboration, why he’s a past president of the board of directors of Reading is Fundamental and why he’s a trustee with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. “It’s about access,” he says.

 

James Troup [39]

Chief Executive Officer, Pediatric Alliance
Though he’s devoted most of his career to issues of health care, James Troup’s background is not in medicine; it’s in the business end of health. “What you don’t want is your hospitals closing all the time because they don’t have any money,” he explains. In essence, he is devoted to the long-term sustainability of health care. Troup is CEO of the largest independent physician practice in Pennsylvania — that independence means that its pediatricians drive the decisions of the organization. Every decision that Pediatric Alliance makes is focused on kids and the pediatricians who serve them, ensuring that motivations remain clear. Troup also serves as vice president of the board of directors for the Bradley Center, a behavioral health-care center for kids, and an adviser and shareholder for FocusMD, which works to reduce medical costs through effective care management in the medical sector. Every day he works for children and the people who serve them, transforming our health-care system by starting with the population that will inherit it.

 

Selena Johnson [34]

Peer Coach Specialist, Allegheny County Department of Human Services
She’s frank about it — throughout Selena Johnson’s 11 years as a social worker, there have been times when the work was overwhelming. She says that’s the reason so many people burn out in the profession. Part of what she tries to do as a peer coach is to aid other social workers through those times. She also innovates in the field, refining the gathering of case histories and shifting the planning process to help families — with caseworker guidance — reach better solutions to problems on their own. This element of creating sustainable change is central to Johnson, who says, “I believe that you cannot continue to service or help families or individuals by doing the same thing . . . What worked years ago is not going to work today.” Johnson applies this in her work as a board member for the Woodland Hills School District, where she says her perspective as a social worker helps her to serve students in a formal education setting.

 

Tom Baker [35]

Chief Community Affairs Officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh; Member of Allegheny County Council for District 1
Tom Baker wants to ask: “If you were a multimillionaire and could do whatever you wanted for a living, what would you care about so much, believe in that mission so much, that you would do it for free?” Through his organization Get Involved!, Inc., Baker has spoken to more than 50,000 students and civil leaders and written three books on community involvement, hoping young people will find and pursue the things they believe in. Beyond his day job at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, his community involvement could fill multiple pages. As a member of Allegheny County Council who represents suburbs north and west of Pittsburgh, he spends many hours supporting others as they reach out. “What I really love about [the job],” says Baker, “is going out and showing groups that their county government cares about them and believes in them and really wants to recognize them for all the good things that they’re doing.” So what does Baker believe in so much that he’d do it for free? The work he does every day.

 

Josie Badger [30]

Pennsylvania Youth Coordinator, PEAL Center
Josie Badger has been working for the independence of youth with disabilities since she started training service dogs at age 11. Most recently, Badger, who’s on staff at the PEAL Center downtown and was Ms. Wheelchair America 2012, co-founded the Children’s Hospital Advisory Network for Guidance and Empowerment. With monthly events at the hospital, this youth-run board works to support and educate young people as they transition into the adult health-care system. What makes CHANGE stand out from other disability programs is its constant encouragement for those with disabilities to advance both within the network and in the community. After attending several CHANGE events, attendees are invited to become interns, and they are mentored and educated in leadership by other youth leaders and adult allies. After six months, they are encouraged to take a position on the governing board, completing the cycle of this for-youth, by-youth organization, which targets people that other groups have overlooked. “It’s about not just surviving,” says Badger, who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, “but about thriving and becoming leaders.”

 

Erin Colvin [39]

Clinical Director, The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center
The Lemieux Family Center is the only program of its type in the country, says Erin Colvin. A transitional hospital for infants with special needs and their families, the center teaches those families how to use medical equipment that their children will need at home. Because the center is a homelike environment, it aims to enable families to become comfortable while they still have nurses nearby — and to ensure that when they return home, they’ll be able to stay safe. Colvin also runs Child’s Way, The Children’s Home’s day care for medically fragile children. If you’re picturing something bleak, think again; Colvin describes kids running around, crafting and working on schoolwork. “It’s just like a regular day care,” she explains. “You wouldn’t know that these kids have medical needs.” Beyond her day job, Colvin also is involved with Zachary’s Mission, which supports families of critically ill children while they’re in the hospital, providing home-cooked meals and gift cards.

 

Katrina Brown [39]

Senior Product and Community Manager, Diamond Kinetics
Katrina Brown analyzes data with the goal of helping other people to become more active and healthy. This has had permutations in her work, from helping to market Alli, the first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight-loss drug, to her current job at Diamond Kinetics, a local company that provides motion data and analytics to baseball and softball players and coaches. She’s working on a product that gives players the data they need to improve their bat swing. “Hopefully, as we have more technology and we have more people thinking about technology, we can integrate that into pulling people away from their devices all the time,” she says. Despite her number-crunching nature, Brown says, “you can’t just understand people by looking at them on a piece of paper.” She serves on the Advisory Council for Educational Partnerships, which helps to provide school supplies for local kids in need. Through donations to teachers and schools, Educational Partnerships distributes supplies to students. When kids receive the supplies, she recalls, it’s with the enthusiasm of Christmas morning.

 

Erin N. Fischer [35]

Vice President and General Counsel, Mid Atlantic Capital Group
Erin Fischer’s passion for helping people at crucial moments of growth is central to her work. As a lawyer, she mentors young lawyers, especially women and minorities. In a legal community that tends to be conservative, she says it can be difficult for some to feel comfortable. “It can be pretty daunting at first,” she says. She serves on the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity and mentors diverse law students. She reaches out in other ways, too. As a board member of St. Edmund’s Academy and previously as a mentor at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12’s Career Literacy for African-American Youth program, she strives to ensure that students have the support they need to seek equal educational opportunities. She also serves on the board of Our Clubhouse, which contacts kids and families touched by cancer. Uniting it all, she says, “I think that I try to keep my morals and involvement in the community and my love for Pittsburgh . . . in the forefront.”

 

Austin Davis [25]

Executive Assistant to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
In a time when politicians may seem distant from the communities they are working to serve, Austin Davis is devoting his life to bridging these areas. While in high school, he approached Jim Brewster, then-Mayor of McKeesport, and pitched the idea of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council to discuss and make recommendations on youth policy; once the council was established, he served as the chairman. In essence, his work today isn’t that different. As executive assistant to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Davis works daily with the community. Likewise, his civic work aims to create systemic change through government. “Pittsburgh’s a little big city; everything’s connected,” he says. Issues may range from gun violence to preserving the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, but the people with whom he works on community boards, such as the Adonai Center for Black Males and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School, are the same people whom he reaches out to in his job. “I think everyone wants to get to the same goal,” says Davis. “It’s just how we get there that’s the bigger discussion.”

 

Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle [27]

Goalkeeper, USA Ice Hockey; Owner, Brianne McLaughlin Gold Medal Goalie Training
When Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle asked at age 4 if she could play hockey, her mother instead suggested ballet. It didn’t stick. She ended up at the rink, played through college at Robert Morris University and made it onto the 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic women’s teams, taking silver each time. Today she and her teammates devote numerous hours talking to kids, many of whom have not considered the work that goes into being a professional athlete; McLaughlin-Bittle also runs her own goalie-training program. “It’s not just about being a good hockey player,” McLaughlin-Bittle tells them. “You have to be a good teammate. You’ve got to work hard. Your team has to be able to trust you that when you go home you’re working hard.” Despite her Olympic successes, she says her proudest moment actually is a much earlier achievement. She remembers her senior year at Robert Morris, when the team was preparing to play national champion Minnesota. Radio DJs were asking “Who’s Robert Morris?” and few could believe it when the Colonials took the game 3-2, earning them a standing ovation from Minnesota’s traditional rival, Wisconsin.

 

Kevion Latham [25]

Partner, Fort McIntosh Wealth Advisors
Kevion Latham didn’t fall into the trap of being unprepared for life when a football career didn’t pan out after graduating from Penn State University. But he knows that there are people who don’t know how to get to where he is today — a partner at Fort McIntosh Wealth Advisors. In 2013, he joined Shawn Robinson in a pilot program called Orange Arrow, a nonprofit organization that works with kids from underprivileged backgrounds on everything from learning dining etiquette to discussing domestic violence. “It’s all about being a gentleman,” says Latham, though Orange Arrow also is piloting programs for girls. As the vice president of Orange Arrow, Latham has seen these children transform. They now meet people eye to eye; they stand up tall; they speak clearly. After all, asks Latham, “what’s the point of being educated if you’re not going to pass it on? If we keep it all to ourselves we’re not going to help society grow.” Kid by kid, Orange Arrow is helping to affect this change by showing what is possible.

 

Tyra Oliver [33]

Staff Attorney, Pennsylvania Superior Court
Tyra Oliver has the type of job that most of us probably never consider: She combs through the details of thousands of cases that have been appealed to Pennsylvania’s Superior Court to help determine if the rights of accused people were violated. “Important mistakes . . . are fixed at the appellate level,” says Oliver. “It’s another level of ensuring that people’s rights are protected.” Before taking her current position, she worked as an assistant district attorney; she says she knows she’s benefited from professional and community programs, which is why she now offers her own support. Oliver (who admits she has trouble saying “no”) is particularly active with the Allegheny County Bar Association, where she serves as the chairwoman of its Homer S. Brown division and works to support diversity throughout the association. She is co-chair of the Young Lawyer Division Diversity Committee, and she assists with the Diverse Law Student Initiative Program. Oliver serves as co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division Zone 12; she’s a member of its House of Delegates. She also is vice president for the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh’s Young Leaders Board.

 

David Bush [36]

Assistant Vice President & Relationship Manager, PNC Bank
To David Bush, art is not an extra in our city; it is a vital part of the whole. “The arts frame our community in the best light,” he says. Bush serves on the board of trustees for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the board of directors for Chatham Baroque and the leadership board of the Pittsburgh Symphony Association — and that’s just where his efforts begin. He and his partner, Tim McVay, served as co-chairmen of the 2014 Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force Gala fundraising event, which was the largest and most successful in the organization’s history. Bush has a soft spot for animals, too, serving on the annual Ball Host Committee for Animal Friends and on the President’s Circle for the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center. In his day job, Bush works at PNC, a company that he says is deeply involved in our community. “It makes you very proud to be associated with this bank and with people who do these jobs day in and day out to help people financially.”

 

Cindy Fernandez-Nixon [28]

Senior Project RAMS Manager, Ansaldo STS USA; Owner & Executive Producer, La Rumba Productions / Latin Media Productions LLC
Cindy Fernandez-Nixon wasn’t always so keen on Pittsburgh, but she decided that if she were to make a home in the city, she also would make some changes. “If I’m staying in Pittsburgh, I’m going to do things so that all the other Latinos stay, too,” she told herself. First, she started “La Rumba,” the city’s first bilingual music radio show, on 88.3 FM WRCT. It isn’t just about music; she also uses her show as a hub of information for goings-on in the Latino community. For its first anniversary, she hosted a live event — which turned into a series of live events, incorporating everything from hip-hop to reggaeton to bachata. In 2011, she started hosting and helping to produce the first bilingual TV segment for WQED-TV. Today, her work has helped to bring together a bilingual Latino community in Pittsburgh around music, events and businesses. Fernandez-Nixon admits that her motive for entering into this work was selfish: She wanted to be happy. “The thing is that once you are happy yourself, you make other people happy,” she explains.
 

Asha Persaud [35]

Executive Director, The Hope Learning Center
When Asha Persaud first started working with children with developmental disabilities, she says she knew nothing, quite literally. On her first day, she was directed to work with a nonverbal child; afterward, she and the child spent two hours staring at each other. She realized that she had a whole lot to learn. Today she is the executive director of The Hope Learning Center, which has locations in Wexford and Peters Township and offers children with developmental disorders individually focused therapies. Established in 2007, the center offers full- and part-time programs, as well as one-on-one, group and outpatient offerings, child care, summer camps and support groups for parents and siblings. As of this year, it also includes the Hope Academy, a licensed private academic school. “I want to do as much as I possibly can to help the kids and help the families to make their lives easier,” she says. Earlier this year, The Hope Learning Center moved to a larger facility, more than tripling its space. It’s already paying off — enrollment this school year also has tripled.

 

Jenna Cramer [33]

Vice President, Green & Healthy Schools Academy, Green Building Alliance
Jenna Cramer describes her work as being human-centered, not building-centered. When it comes time to renovate school buildings, the questions she asks aren’t about structures. Instead she poses queries such as “What are the types of students that you are hoping to grow and graduate?” and “When you think about the next generation of leaders, what types of qualities do you want them to have?” From that point, she starts thinking about how the structures can cultivate traits such as empathy, critical thought and community engagement. “There’s a huge opportunity to integrate sustainability principles into the built environment and . . . to create healthy, socially just, environmentally friendly, economically vibrant and beautiful places where we all can thrive,” she says. If you can create small changes in how people feel and think and act in schools, the potential to affect larger change is enormous. She always has this larger picture in mind — whether that means installing a wind turbine and integrating it into an engineering program or renovating a greenhouse and courtyard garden.

 

Don Charlton [37]

Founder & CEO, The Resumator
With The Resumator’s job-recruitment software, Don Charlton intends to solve a technical dearth and restore a sense of equilibrium to the job market by “educating and empowering people to have awareness and access to every job.” Through his youth outreach, he works toward this target on a different level. Charlton grew up in public housing in rural Fayette County. By telling the story of how he went on to build the software used by the likes of Instagram and both candidates’ campaigns in the last U.S. presidential election, he hopes to restore for kids a sense of possibility, no matter where they’re growing up. Not only does he design tools to level the playing field, but he also speaks of the same goal. “The more successful I am, hopefully the easier it will be for people who don’t fit certain patterns to be considered potential leaders of businesses, potential leaders of technology, potential leaders of startups — basically potential,” says Charlton. “I’m trying to show that people who don’t fit patterns aren’t necessarily risks.”

 

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40 Under 40: 2014