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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Video by 40 Under 40 Alum Emmai Alaquiva

 

40 Under 40: 2017
 

Pittsburgh has always been characterized as a town full of hardworking people. People who make things with their hands. People who see something broken and fix it. Inventors, innovators, philanthropists, givers. People who simply get stuff done. That is certainly true of those honored in the 19th annual 40 Under 40 list, presented by Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP. These outstanding young Pittsburghers have built a satisfying career, or found meaningful volunteer work, or started a business, or saw a need and launched a nonprofit. They might not have it all figured out, but they have something figured out, and that’s worthy of recognition.
 

 Photos at Waterfront Pump House by Douglas Duerring  |  Hair/makeup by Travis Klingler
 

Joel Acie (37)
UPMC MWDBE Projects Manager, Pensiamo, Inc.

The alphabet soup that is Joel Acie’s job title does little to showcase the importance of his work. MWDBE stands for Minority, Woman and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, and Acie is tasked with ensuring that the companies that supply UPMC are sufficiently diverse. To do that, he works closely with organizations such as the Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council and the Women’s Business Enterprise Council, among others, to certify minority-owned and women-owned businesses. He also serves on Gov. Tom Wolf’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities, which helps Pennsylvania identify diverse businesses and increases the utilization of those businesses in state contracts. Acie says that this work is important whether you’re working for a hospital system like UPMC or the entire commonwealth — it grows small businesses through economic inclusion, which helps to grow communities. “We can make this a greater place to work, live and thrive,” Acie says.
 

Lacee Ecker (30)
Assistant General Counsel,
American Eagle Outfitters, Inc.

Lacee Ecker arrived in Pittsburgh in 2005. “I came here as an 18-year-old,” she says. “Pittsburgh has really molded me into the person I am today.” After earning both a bachelor’s degree and a J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, she took a job as counsel at United States Steel Corp. In 2016, she was hired as an assistant general counsel at American Eagle. At Pitt, she was an active volunteer; she wanted to continue that while working as a lawyer. In addition to other volunteer pursuits, she just marked her four-year anniversary with Little Sister and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. She acknowledges that there are countless worthy causes, but making an impact on one kid’s life is more of a proactive community service than a reactive one. “I really think that volunteering and focusing on kids is important,” Ecker says.
 

Danielle Crumrine  (39)
Executive Director, Tree Pittsburgh

As the executive director of Tree Pittsburgh, Danielle Crumrine has heard every tree hugger joke. But she always says, “I am a people hugger before I’m a tree hugger.” For Crumrine, trees are an issue of social justice. “When you look at our tree canopy, wealthy neighborhoods typically have more trees than neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Everyone deserves access to parks, rivers, forests, tree-lined streets,” she says. Crumrine brought that passion to her environmental work at Tree Pittsburgh when she was hired as the first employee in 2007. She has grown the organization to six full-time employees, seven part-time and others who do seasonal work through tree planting and maintenance, education and advocacy. Crumrine did not set out to be an environmentalist. While studying political science and Spanish at Duquesne University, she was volunteering with AmeriCorps when she noticed trash floating under the 10th Street Bridge. After organizing a cleanup, she joined a group now called Allegheny Cleanways, becoming board president at age 22. Tree Pittsburgh is building an office and education center in Lawrenceville, where it already has a tree nursery.
 

Michael Rubino  (32)
Visual Designer and Instructor, LUMA Institute

Michael Rubino’s creativity crosses art forms and genres. A graphic design graduate from Seton Hill University, Rubino designed the locker room mural for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has written and co-directed documentary films, including “Of Duckpins and Destinies,” which won a Mid-Atlantic Emmy award. An improv performer, Rubino was one of the founders of Arcade Comedy Theater Downtown. And he brings his creative energy to his day job as a visual designer and Human-Centered Design instructor at LUMA Institute, a company that trains and empowers people to innovate by transforming the way they work. At LUMA, Rubino shows organizational leaders from around the world how to use brainstorming, problem-solving and other techniques to encourage more people-centered offices. Rubino applies the same methods to his own life and creative pursuits. “LUMA has changed the way I work,” he says. “Put empathy first and be more collaborative. It has definitely rubbed off on me.”
 

 

Temple Lovelace  (39)
Associate Professor of Special Education, Duquesne University

Temple Lovelace is an accomplished scholar in the field of special education. The Duquesne University professor has published articles in books and academic journals, secured grants of almost $2 million and developed new courses for the university. But she doesn’t lock herself in her office or limit her presentations to academic circles. She takes her scholarship into the community, helping children with learning disabilities, as well as minority students and other underserved communities. Lovelace is spearheading a new project called Education Uncontained, which gives young people such as the diverse student body of Brashear High School opportunities to work together to transform their schools and communities. She also invites middle and high school students into Duquesne’s new Equity x Innovation Lab so they can interact with researchers about their ideas and then bring them back to the school. Part of the approach Lovelace takes with young people means not telling them what to do. Instead she poses the question, “How do I work with youth so they can empower themselves?”
 

Justin Aglio (38)
Director of Academic Achievement and District Innovation, Montour School District

Justin Aglio knows that when people think of innovation, they jump to technology. And of course, kids today “have had an iPhone in their hand since birth,” he says. But he also knows that innovation is the introduction of something new. So, he views his role with the Montour School District as the way to introduce new methods of both teaching and learning by taking what’s relevant to kids and embedding it into the everyday curriculum. The district’s new elementary school has a Minecraft Education Lab and a LEGO Makerspace. “I think students can solve a lot of issues on their own, but when we work collaboratively as a team, we can solve bigger problems,” Aglio says. “If it’s good for kids, let’s find a way to do it.”
 

Joanna Huss (33)
Founding CEO, Huss Group

Joanna Huss had two young kids and a career in limbo when she decided to start her own public relations firm. She’d served as the press secretary for former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and enjoyed working with local nonprofits on event planning and press events that included the mayor. She gained experience with crisis communications as the city hosted the G-20 summit in 2009 and dealt with a 2011 flash flood on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park that left four dead. Huss felt more than prepared to launch the Huss Group, which focuses on business development and marketing; Huss Group has grown by referral and now has an associate in New York City. “I have a drive to be in a position where I can make an impact,” Huss says. “And right now, and then, it was helping people with communications.”
 

Natalie Bulger (32)
Director of Compliance, Risk and Regulatory, The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh

Natalie Bulger left Pittsburgh for college, but she wasn’t away from home for long. “My mom likes to make a joke that Pittsburgh makes this big sucking noise — that when you leave, it sucks you back in so quickly,” she says. Pittsburgh, she adds, is a good place for someone to “strike out on their own and make a career for themselves.” And that’s exactly what she did. She began her career at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh as an administrative resident while earning a master’s degree in health care administration from the University of Pittsburgh. She quickly moved through the ranks to her current position, which allowed her to earn the FACHE (Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives) credential, “a tough thing to get when you’re under the age of 40,” she says.
 

 

Megs Yunn  (32)
Co-Director and Founder, Beverly’s Birthdays

One day in 2011, Megs Yunn met an 11-year-old girl named Beverly who told her that she had never had her own birthday party or a slice of her own birthday cake. With the somber realization that some kids only live through their birthdays rather than celebrate them, Yunn decided to bring the birthday cheer herself. She submitted her idea to the “BE BIG in Your Community Contest,” and her $2,500 first place grant launched Beverly’s Birthdays, a charity supporting kids who are homeless and families in need. The nonprofit now celebrates an average of 50 birthdays a day and hosts 120 group parties each year. “That’s a lot of birthdays,” Yunn says. In five years, the nonprofit has raised more than $1 million and has partnered with 57 social service agencies and 68 schools. They also provide local food banks and other agencies with “Birthday-in-a-Bag” kits containing all the makings of a home celebration. Yunn says it’s been a privilege working with children who show resilience in the face of devastating problems. “At every birthday party, there is never a sad face,” she says.
 

Dr. Aaron V. Mares (37)
Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery / Primary Care Sports Medicine, UPMC Sports Medicine

Whether you’re playing football for the University of Pittsburgh or running your first Pittsburgh Marathon, Aaron V. Mares is on the sidelines. After getting a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and an M.D. from Temple University, Mares came to Pitt’s med school for residency in internal medicine and completed a fellowship in sports medicine. Now, as co-head team physician, he manages all medical care, therapy and rehab for Pitt’s football players, attending every practice and every game. From August to January, he says, it’s seven days a week. Despite his limited downtime, he also serves on the Pittsburgh Marathon’s medical team, helping to develop treatment protocols for injured athletes.  Mares, a father of two, emphasized his nonstop work schedule wouldn’t be possible without his wife, Melissa. “Her understanding and willingness with everything is beyond amazing,” he says.
 

Julius A. Boatwright [34]
Executive Director, Will Allen Foundation
Founder and CEO, Steel Smiling

Julius A. Boatwright sees connections in everything he does, from his duties as a social worker to his desire to start a consulting firm to his service as a mentor with the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ “We Promise” program. He says that connecting with other people helps everything align, which allows him to build new programs and strengthen already impactful ones, whether in his full-time work, as a consultant or as a volunteer. Boatwright and his wife plan to launch a consulting firm in 2018 that focuses on “servant leadership,” ideally by focusing on projects that benefit the entire region by working with a variety of companies, nonprofits and schools as opposed to a series of one-off projects. And the serendipitous relationships he’s built in Pittsburgh will help him achieve his goals. “That’s not happenstance. Whatever we call it — I call it God — it is guiding every single thing that I do,” he says.
 

Zack Block [39]
Executive Director, Repair the World Pittsburgh

Zack Block grew up around people who loved what they did for a living. His grandparents ran a restaurant for more than 60 years, and his father taught at Duquesne University for 42 years. But Block was “pretty miserable” working as a tax attorney. “I wanted to find work that felt meaningful to me,” he says, so he could give his children the same example he had. So in 2013, he joined Repair the World Pittsburgh, which connects volunteers with organizations that work on food and education justice issues. At the end of the organization’s first year, it worked with 1,000 volunteers. Now, that’s up to 4,200, largely millennials. In the fall, Repair the World launched a program that will allow parents and kids to volunteer together, giving Pittsburgh parents the ability to do what Block does on a regular basis through his job — such as volunteer with his kids in a community garden or on a beautification project. 
 

 

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.
 

 

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. 
 

 

Jessica Strong  (37)
Co-Founder and CEO, Flexable Founder, Whetstone Workgroup

After Jessica Strong had her second child, she quit her full-time job so she could work as a freelance grant writer. She figured it would be easier to work from home while watching her kids. Wrong. “It was bananas,” she says. Strong, who earned a Master of Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University, found herself working until midnight or working with clients from unusual places — in one case, she was writing emails from the zoo. Strong knew other freelancers, many of them moms who had the same issues. Two years ago, she started Whetstone Workgroup, which merges a co-working space with drop-in daycare. A year later, she teamed up with Priya Amin Strong for another take on childcare. They co-founded Flexable, which provides on-site childcare services for events, trainings, conferences, weddings and workplaces. The software they have in development also will help parents find available childcare. The two were the only all-women team selected to receive an Alpha Lab grant in 2016. “I hope to expand to doctor’s offices. How do you take a 3-year-old to an OB-GYN appointment?” she says.
 

John C. Mackie (39)
First Vice President, Hefren-Tillotson, Inc.

About seven years ago, John C. Mackie and his wife, Shana, decided they wanted to host an annual party.  They tossed around holidays — Labor Day? Halloween? But with three young kids, they worried about committing to the same date every year. Then they had an idea: “Is there a way we can meld this with something that’s meaningful for us?” So they decided to plan, fund and host an annual “Party With a Purpose” and ask their guests to support a designated charity. At their most recent party in February, they raised more than $25,000 for the Coach Dave Gray Scholarship Fund, which is administered through the Pittsburgh Foundation. There are no tickets involved, and it’s not a gala. They don’t care if it’s a $5 donation or a $1,000 donation. “Whatever you want to do, we just ask that you support it in some way,” he says.
 

Medina Jackson (39)
Director of Engagement, The P.R.I.D.E. Program 

The P.R.I.D.E. Program — Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education — falls under the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development, where Medina Jackson works to get parents and educators the resources they need to ensure children ages 3 to 8, particularly African-Americans, understand and embrace their ethnicity, race and heritage. She says it’s important for parents, caregivers and teachers to understand what a positive racial identity is and how it can be beneficial for all children, particularly children of color. In addition to providing resources to parents and teachers, the program holds popup arts festivals that showcase Africana arts so attendees can learn more about positive racial identity and a speaker series that draws local and national figures to talk about race. “We need a pride pipeline from the cradle to college,” she says.
 

Jason Jones  (35)
Community Development Relationship Manager and District Manager, Woodforest National Bank

Jason Jones never thought he would grow up to be banker. As a teenager, he had plans to pursue a teaching career, but when it came to numbers, he was ambivalent at best. As the community development relationship manager at Woodforest National Bank, the 35-year-old is a banker whose teaching makes a real-world impact in underserved communities. Working in low- to moderate-income communities, Jones teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills to high school students and adults. Jones, who earned a master’s degree in leadership at Mountain State University, supports nonprofit organizations that make deep impacts in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in a five-state area. In financial wellness classes, he teaches high school students and adults how to balance a checkbook, create budgets and manage debt. Jones helped to develop a Business Leadership Academy that teaches entrepreneurs the fundamental skills they need to succeed, such as raising capital, team-building and the rules of profit and loss. The graduates pitch their ideas to funders, à la “Shark Tank.” “If you don’t know the rules, you can’t win the game,” he says.
 

 

Steve Fleck  (39)
President and CEO, Careform

When Steve Fleck founded his first healthcare company, ClearCount Medical Solutions, in 2005, he was also pursuing an MBA at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Nine years later, he sold the medical device company to Stryker Medical. Fleck loved being an entrepreneur, and he told himself that if he were blessed with a second startup, he would apply what he learned the first time around. He got that opportunity in 2012 and used it to start an innovative healthcare company. Careform uses a platform that allows doctors to track certain pharmaceuticals and reimbursements. Patients can access information on pharmaceutical reimbursement, access and affordability. The company has grown to over $15 million in revenue and has more than 150 employees. “I have been blessed and fortunate to run a successful business two times,” he says. Fleck, who received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, says he was inspired by his grandfather, who founded a coal company in addition to working as a real estate developer, president of a bank, and a town commissioner. “He taught me there are no shortcuts to success,” he says.
 

Brian Burley  (31)
President and CEO, Burley & Company Enterprises

Brian Burley has mentored many minority youth and shared his own experiences as a young businessman of color. Burley, who received an MBA at the University of Pittsburgh, went on to become a successful black businessman and entrepreneur with his own publishing arm and foundation. But, Burley knew he was fighting the negative stereotypes of African Americans. So he decided to create a literal counter narrative of his own to inspire young people of color and the city at-large. He wrote and published a coffee table book called “YNGBLKPGH” after working with more than 140 young black Pittsburghers to describe their blueprint for success. Each profile includes a handwritten letter to the younger generation with wisdom, hopes and inspiration. “I wanted it to feel as genuine as a book can feel,” he says. The book was funded with the help of a BMe Community Leader grant he received in 2015 for his work as a young black man promoting positive images in the community. People ask him when a second volume will be published; he says it’s coming soon. “We can also do volumes 3, 4 and 5,” he says.
 

B. Reeja Jayan (37)
Assistant Professor (Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science & Engineering, Chemical Engineering), Carnegie Mellon University

B. Reeja Jayan’s expertise is in designing more efficient materials for manufacturing by lowering the energy required to produce them. When she was diagnosed with celiac disease while working on the last leg of her Ph.D., she set out to find a material that could act as a sensor for proteins to detect gluten proteins in foods and other products. “They tell you to avoid gluten and go home,” she says. “But gluten is in everything.” She says she ultimately hopes to create a product that consumers and doctors can use to test for allergens. In her work at CMU, she teaches mechanical engineering students about materials using the game Minecraft. “It was no longer learning,” she says. “It was fun.” She started with senior undergraduates, but she looks forward to current middle schoolers entering her classroom. “They love this game, and they are experts,” she says, adding that they “know much more about the game than I will ever know.”
 

Mila Sanina  (31)
Executive Director, PublicSource.org

As the executive director of PublicSource.org, Mila Sanina is passionate about digital storytelling and public-service journalism that gets to the heart of issues in western Pennsylvania. As an example, she cites the series her staff did on the inequities facing black girls in Allegheny County. “It showed how much this demographic has the deck stacked against them,” she says. When Sanina took the helm at PublicSource in July 2016, she tweaked the company’s mission to go beyond storytelling and be more focused on the community. PublicSource also hosts in-person events, bringing attention to issues such as poverty in small-town America, as addressed in a speech by J.D. Vance, bestselling author of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Sanina grew up in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union. She notes that Kazakhstan’s leaders did not permit freedom of the press or protect journalists. “I always wanted to be journalist,” she says. “I was born in the wrong country.” Sanina worked at PBS and CNN International before moving to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where her final position at the newspaper was deputy managing editor. In her short tenure at PublicSource, she has already doubled traffic to the site — but with hard-hitting stories written by the nine-member staff, not through frothy page clicks. “PublicSource is essential to making Pittsburgh a smarter Pittsburgh,” she says.
 

 

Corey Buckner  (30)
Manager of the Office of Community Affairs and LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council Coordinator, City of Pittsburgh

Corey Buckner has long been an activist, working as a grassroots organizer in his neighborhood of Garfield. He campaigned for Barack Obama and served as Bill Peduto’s deputy field director during Peduto’s 2013 run for mayor. Now, he will bring his activist and political skills to his role as LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council Coordinator for Pittsburgh. By making his advisory council as diverse as possible, Buckner hopes to keep fighting for equality for the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual) community. “Marriage equality was not the end-all,” he says. Buckner was one of the people who assisted Pittsburgh City Council in passing legislation that banned mental health officials from practicing conversion therapy for minors, a practice that aims to change their sexual orientation. He also is a liaison for Gov. Tom Wolf’s LGBTQ working group. “My goal for Pittsburgh is that we become a model city that is safe for LGBTQ people, and my hope is that we create influence across the commonwealth,” he says.
 

Michael Fratangelo (32)
Founder and CEO, DiverseCity, Inc.

Michael Fratangelo was volunteering in West Philadelphia when he spotted a group of black kids on their way to play basketball. He crossed the city line into the suburbs and saw another group of white kids playing basketball. They live so close, and they all play basketball, and they would probably never interact. The Wilkinsburg native recognizes the importance of diversity and having self-awareness and empathy for those who are different from you — he was the only white student in his class at Wilkinsburg High School. Those experiences led him to start DiverseCity, which brings together kids from the city and suburbs, of varying racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, in summer and after-school programs to play sports and learn together. It started in Philadelphia and has since grown to New York, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Fratangelo says DiverseCity may look and feel like a sports program, but it’s giving kids skills to succeed and thrive in a world that’s constantly changing and becoming more diverse. 
 

Venkat Viswanathan  (32)
Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

In his first year at Carnegie Mellon University, Venkat Viswanathan made his mark on the scientific community when he won the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award. His lab, the Electrochemical Devices Lab, comprises more than 25 students and postdoctoral scholars working on developing more powerful, longer-lasting batteries for potential use in various vehicles. His lab has formed close collaborations with several Pennsylvania-based companies, including Watt Fuel Cell, Bosch RTC and Eaton Corp. He has been widely quoted on safety issues related to lithium-ion batteries, fires in hoverboards and e-cigarettes. Viswanathan’s current passion involves developing batteries powerful enough for electric planes. Through a collaborative project with NASA Ames, Glenn and Armstrong Flight Research Center, the project goal is to be able fly an electric plane powered by batteries developed in his research group. He also practices what he studies: Viswanathan drives a Tesla Model S.
 

Diamonte Walker  (36)
Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Program Officer, Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh

Diamonte Walker believes that women and minorities need stronger social and economic networks to start or grow their own businesses. As the new MWBE program officer for the URA, she hopes to widen the networks for women and minorities so they can develop relationships with economic development stakeholders and others. “I call it a game-changer,” she says. She also aims to help more women and minorities through the process of applying for MWBE certification. “It can be intimidating.” She comes to her new post with a track record of community development in the Hill District, where she lives. As the former program and operations manager of Hill Community Development Corp., she was architect of the Hill District’s business leadership (BLAST Program) and Holiday on the Ave., which activated pop-up market spaces for business people selling everything from jewelry to organic skin care products. She is part of the Pittsburgh Land Bank Board and also oversaw the development of a Neighborhood WiFi network along the Centre Avenue corridor to help businesses.
 

 

Rachel Mauer (37)
President, German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter

German apprenticeship programs “have been leading the way for well over 100 years,” Rachel Mauer says, but when German companies set up in the United States, they often find that the workforce is insufficient. “German companies have consistently said, ‘We really wish we could have the skilled workforce we have in Germany,’” she adds. The Pittsburgh chapter of the German American Chamber of Commerce attempts to do just that. The chamber’s workforce development program teaches students the skills they need to land a job as an extrusion operator, blowmold technician or dental technician, among others. Apprentices are then paired with companies. “They learn it, and they do it right away, so they know the skills they have are applicable to the company,” she says. “We’re actually training students to have real career paths.” 
 

Jacob Rooksby  (35)
Associate Dean and Associate Professor, Duquesne University School of Law | Of Counsel, Cohen & Grigsby, P.C. 

Jacob Rooksby grew up knowing he would be a lawyer. When he was in law school at the University of Virginia, he realized he wanted to be a law professor, too. “I just love the notion that you could get paid to challenge other people how to think,” he says. In 2012, at the age of 30, he joined the faculty of Duquesne University School of Law. Four years later, he was tenured and named Associate Dean. The familiar scene of the law professor putting unsuspecting students on the hot seat isn’t just a Hollywood stereotype, he says. “I like to tell students that lawyers play roles. You might not always be comfortable in your part, but you have to stand and deliver because your client expects you to. You have to think on your feet.” A popular professor, Rooksby teaches courses in tort law and intellectual property, as well as higher education law, and he served as the president of the Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Law Association. He recently published a book called “The Branding of the American Mind,” which explores intellectual property in higher education.

Josiah Gilliam (30)
Special Assistant to the CEO/Web and Digital Communications Manager/Program Manager, My Brother’s Keeper

Josiah Gilliam sees his work with My Brother’s Keeper — an Obama administration initiative focused on finding ways to erase the opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color — as a “local entry into a national conversation.” Pittsburgh is “reidentifying itself,” Gilliam says, but how does that impact people in the region? How do Pittsburghers think about communities of color, vulnerable communities, immigrant/refugee communities? How do Pittsburghers intentionally include these communities? This fall, My Brother’s Keeper is launching a three-credit digital literacy course offered at five locations around Allegheny County, helping to ensure Pittsburgh has a diverse workforce that’s ready for the current job market — and job markets to come. “How does the city come to know itself, and how does it make space for the … left behind as it’s rejuvenating?” Gilliam asks.
 

Terri L. White  (34)
MBA Student, University of Pittsburgh’s  Katz Graduate School of Business

Terri L. White plans to visit all 50 states — and do the touristy stuff. She’ll take a lot of trains, trolleys, buses and planes along the way. She is not only an inveterate traveler, but she’s also curious about the ways goods and services are transported. “How do we decide as a society who and what goes where and at what cost?” she says. That is the kind of weighty issue she will study as she earns her MBA at Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business, with concentrations in operations and marketing, through a fellowship offered by the Pitt Black Alumni Network. “I have a nerdy interest in infrastructure,” she says with a laugh. White comes to her new career track from the museum world. She worked at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., before returning to her hometown of Pittsburgh and working at the Heinz History Center. Then she became assistant director of development at the Carnegie Science Center, overseeing the Carnegie Science Awards.
 

 

Wasiullah “Wasi” Mohamed  (25)
Executive Director, The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh

Wasiullah Mohamed took over the leadership of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in 2015, at a time he was noticing a spike in hate crimes and anti-Muslim sentiment. And that stream of negativity has turned into a barrage, he says, since the election of President Donald Trump. “We have received plenty of negative messages and threats,” he says. “But we also receive an overwhelming amount of positive support.” Mohamed has helped to create how-to-be-a-Muslim-ally training; community potlucks unite Muslims and non-Muslims. The Islamic Center, located in Oakland, also gives tours to anyone who asks. “We do our small part to dispel the negativity,” he says. Mohamed, who came to the center just a week after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, presides over a diverse Muslim community comprised of 45 different nationalities. He serves on the city’s Commission on Human Relations and is also a local regional coordinator for Emgage, an organization that aims to engage the local Muslim community in political and other activist platforms to become a force for positive change.
 

Katie Patterson  (35)
Program Coordinator, The Watson Institute Education Center in Sewickley

Growing up in Connecticut, Katie Patterson volunteered to help students with special needs by coaching a Special Olympics swim team. When she moved to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University, she worked with children with autism at a summer camp program run by The Watson Institute. She loved the work and knew she had found her calling — to help children with special needs reach their full potential. “I never left Watson,” says Patterson, who started as a student teacher and worked her way up to leadership positions. As program coordinator of The Watson’s Sewickley site, she oversees around 125 staff members and more than 190 students who have a variety of special needs. She has expanded the SCALE summer program for children with autism by pairing each student with an organization so they can volunteer while learning pre-vocational skills in the community. As a mentor, Patterson has trained The Watson staff and other organizations on ways to teach independent living skills and on the benefits of iPads and other technology in their classrooms.
 

Kelly K. Wesolosky  (38)
Community Outreach Specialist, FBI Pittsburgh Field Office

Kelly K. Wesolosky has seen many depictions of the FBI on TV and in movies. The Hollywood image doesn’t always match reality, and her job is to demystify the image of the FBI typically portrayed in books and movies and create partnerships within communities to help in the fight against federal crimes. To that end, she hosts the FBI Citizens Academy, where business and community leaders get an inside look at the investigative offices. “I cover all of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. There is only one me and all that territory. I need partners. We value the partners in the community,” she says. Wesolosky is also the Director of the HOPE (Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education) Initiative to educate youth about the dangers of opioid and heroin abuse. Partnering with western Pennsylvania area school districts, she provides supplemental materials the schools use in health and journalism classes. “It has become a problem that cannot be ignored anymore,” she says. In addition to all that, she runs the Jr. Special Agent Program to promote internet safety and keep children safe from online predators.
 

Toni Murphy  (34)
Vice President of Comcast Business, Keystone Region

Toni Murphy is constantly on the go. Running an organization of 160 employees, her territory at Comcast covers 100,000 customers in four states. In the hyper-competitive cable, Internet, fiber optics and telephone business, her role as a vice president for the company is to grow market share. “We are kind of a one-stop shop for businesses as they grow,” she says. “They can start off as a small business and grow to a large corporation. Our products scale as they grow.” Murphy, a graduate of Princeton University, worked on Wall Street before joining Comcast 10 years ago. In her leisure, Murphy unwinds by watching the “Real Housewives” reality shows. “I have such a busy and hectic life, it helps me find my happy place. I’m a Bravo-holic,” she quips. Murphy also serves on the board of the Pittsburgh chapter of Strong Women, Strong Girls. The group facilitates cross-generational mentoring by pairing executive women with college women, who in turn mentor young girls.
 

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