Never A Spectator: A Civic Engagement Forum

Never a Spectator 2022

Date: Friday, November 11
Time: 4:00-7:00 PM
Location: University Club
Keynote: Taking Big Leaps One Step at a Time with Leah Lizarondo, CEO and Co-Founder of 412 Food Rescue
Registration: University of Pittsburgh students can click here to confirm participation. 

Why Attend

The Never a Spectator Civic Engagement Forum is a unique opportunity for Pitt students to network with some of the region’s most prominent leaders, including leaders from government and politics, foundation executives, and nonprofit and business leaders. Students join these visionaries and mentors for an evening and dinner reception devoted to sharing a vision for public service, inspiring action, and developing the pipeline of leadership needed to foster sustainable growth and regional transformation as Pittsburgh continues to evolve as one of America’s premier cities. 
During the event, students learn about the incredible legacy of Elsie Hillman and engage in small group discussions with their community mentors from the nonprofit, business, and government sectors to learn how they can jumpstart their own community involvement and make a positive impact. 


  • Connect and grow relationships with established regional leaders
  • Learn how you can make a difference by getting involved with civic engagement programs at Pitt
  • Earn Outside the Classroom Curriculum (OCC) credit - Leadership Development


All University of Pittsburgh students pursuing any major or degree are welcome to register and attend. 

Keynote Speaker

photo of Leah Lizarondo, CEO and Co-Founder, 412 Food RescueLeah Lizarondo is the CEO and Co-Founder of 412 Food Rescue, a social enterprise with a technology, logistics and civic engagement model that aims to fight hunger and promote sustainability by preventing perfectly good food from entering the waste stream and directly distributing to organizations that benefit those who are food insecure. Founded in 2015, 412 Food Rescue is one of the fastest-growing food recovery organizations in the U.S. Creating the infrastructure for national retailers, 412 Food Rescue has prevented over 7 million pounds of food from going to waste via technology that mobilizes over 8,000 drivers in 5 cities --food rescue heroes--the largest volunteer food transport network. 412 Food Rescue's innovative distribution model bridges the last mile and significantly impacts access and food security as well as mitigates food waste’s impact on the environment. By redirecting surplus food about to go to waste, 412 Food Rescue responds to SDG Target 12.3 - to halve per capita food waste by 2030, as well as redirects perfectly good food to organizations that serve those who are food insecure, responding to SDG 2. Food waste is one of the major sources of carbon emissions and wastes significant natural resources. By redirecting food from going to landfill, the organization also helps mitigate climate change, responding to SDG 13.
Set to expand globally, Leah’s work at 412 Food Rescue has been featured in national media including NPR, Fast Company, FoodTank, Martha Stewart Living, Food & Wine, Saveur, Organic Life, Bust Magazine, Redbook, Success Magazine and Civil Eats. In April 2014, she gave the TEDx Talk “Why the Farm Is Not Getting to the Table.” Leah was named in FoodTank‘s “17 Food Heroes to Inspire Us in 2017" and in 2018 she was named "Pittsburgher of the Year" by Pittsburgh City Paper. Additionally, 412 Food Rescue was recognized as Pittsburgh Tech 50's "StartUp of the Year" in 2018 and received the Carnegie Science Award for Information Technology in 2019 - making it the first social enterprise to receive both awards.
Leah received her graduate degree in Public Policy & Technology from Carnegie Mellon University. She serves as Entrepreneur in Residence at the Block Center for Technology & Society at Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. She was born and raised in the Philippines and currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Sustainable Development Goals 2 (zero hunger), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 13 (climate action).

2022 Community Mentors

Olivia Bennett

Member | Allegheny County Council District 13

Olivia "Liv" Bennett is a community activist that represents District 13 of Allegheny County Council.

Liv has spent several years fighting for justice in Allegheny County. She has advocated for sensible gun control, for police accountability, and anti-racist policies in her work. Her interest in politics and activism began when she was a child, looking up to her father who held office as a Pittsburgh Public School Board member. Although he passed away when she was young, his impact continues to be a source of inspiration for her today.

Raised in Manchester, Liv saw the detrimental effects of violence and economic hardship. Witnessing the painful outcomes of poverty and the crack epidemic in her community shaped her vision to create a better society. She is currently a resident of public housing in Northview Heights and can be found working with area leaders and partners to ensure local residents receive the resources that they need. In 2018, she was involved in the process of opening the Northview Heights Public Safety Center in her neighborhood. She works with organizations such as Alliance for Police Accountability (APA), Take Action Mon Valley (TAMV) and was a mentor in the "Be a Middle School Mentor" for United Way. Liv is also an active member of Macedonia Church of Pittsburgh.

Liv graduated Magna Cum Laude from Carlow University in May of 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in business management and a minor in information technology. She also attends the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, where she studies Public Policy Management.

Liv is married to her husband, Terrence, and has four children, Renee, Raquel, Donald III, and Dominic. They also have three grandchildren, Aiden, Alaya and Hope. Liv feels it is a privilege and an honor to serve the people in Allegheny County. Connect on LinkedIn


Photo of Carlos CarterCarlos Carter

President & CEO | Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

I am committed to changing the world one person at a time and it starts with me! I am dedicated to making a positive impact through every interaction-leveraging my leadership, energy, enthusiasm, business savvy and passion to motivate and empower people and organizations to realize their full potential! I consistently leverage relationships to achieve results! My ultimate goal is to leave people and places better than I found them! I inspire people to become leaders who lead with passion and purpose and realize their greatness! Greatness Awaits You! Click here to preorder my book today. Connect on LinkedIn


Cara CiminilloCara Ciminillo

Executive Director | Trying Together

Experienced Executive Director with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. Skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Intercultural Communication, Program Evaluation, Volunteer Management, and Public Speaking. Strong business development professional with a Master of Education (M.Ed.) focused in Administrative and Policy Studies from University of Pittsburgh. Connect on LinkedIn


Jo ClarkJo Clark

Vice President Value Based Care | Highmark Health

Jo Clark, R.N., B.S.N., M.A., is vice president of value-based care for Highmark Health, a $22 billion national, blended health organization that includes one of America’s largest Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers and a growing regional hospital and physician network. Based in Pittsburgh, Pa., Highmark Health’s 37,000 employees serve millions of customers nationwide through the nonprofit organization’s affiliated businesses including Highmark Inc., Allegheny Health Network, HM Insurance Group, United Concordia Dental, HM Health Solutions and Helion. In her leadership role, Ms. Clark is responsible for driving the strategy and implementing the initiatives associated with the shift to value-based reimbursement and payment models within the blended health organization and among its strategic partners.

Ms. Clark serves as chair on the board of directors for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, a nonprofit that supports the educational needs of homeless children in Allegheny County, where Highmark Health is headquartered. She is also a member of the Pennsylvania Organization of Nurse Leaders (PONL) and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council. Ms. Clark has also been a Highmark Health Talent Advisory Council member and a mentor in the Highmark Health Mentoring Program. She is passionate about talent development and believes that investment in people is the key to Highmark Health’s success. A successful change leader, Ms. Clark is a key contributor leading Highmark Health on its journey to transform health and create a remarkable health experience, freeing people to be their best. Connect on LinkedIn


Martell CovingtonMartell Covington

Pennsylvania House of Representatives | District 24

Martell Covington was elected to the House in 2022 to represent the 24th Legislative District. Born and raised in Homewood, he has deep ties to Pittsburgh and the communities he represents. It's been his mission to serve the community.

For more than 12 years, he worked in various roles for the Community Empowerment Association, a social service organization on the east side of Pittsburgh, eventually becoming the Assistant Director of Youth & Family Services. He is currently chair of its board of directors.

Prior to his election, Covington served as a legislative aide to state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, where he worked on critical developments for the Pittsburgh region, including serving as a leadership team member for the Oakland Business Improvement District’s Strategic Plan and a technical advisor for the Oakland Plan. In 2021, he was elected to serve as Vice President for the Young Democrats of Allegheny County. Covington also is part of the Black Equity Coalition's Policy Team.

As a football and softball coach with Homewood Community Sports for over five years, Covington actively engages with local youth through sports. He recently founded and is the current president of the Black Viking Alumni Society of Central Catholic High School, his alma mater. He also is a board member emeritus of Open Field International and sits on the boards of Kelly Strayhorn Theater and Gwen's Girls.

Covington is a graduate of Howard University and many additional training programs focused on educational development, social justice, and youth organizing such as Training for Trainers with Dr. Joy DeGruy and Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.’s Leadership Development Initiative. Connect on LinkedIn


Sloane DavidsonSloane Davidson

Founder and CEO | Hello Neighbor

Prior to starting Hello Neighbor, Sloane worked for 15 years across the intersection of philanthropy and digital marketing. For 8 years, she created and led one of the leading cause blogs on the Internet called The Causemopolitan. She currently sits on the Board of Resolve Network, an NGO based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that focuses on jobs for women in post-conflict countries through microfinance, and the prestigious Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy Women’s Philanthropy Institute. She was a 2009 Kiva Fellow in the Philippines and has been invited to speak on her activism at The Clinton Global Initiative and The World Economic Forum. Sloane has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Vermont and a Master of Public Policy & Management from the University of Pittsburgh. A proud Pittsburgh native, Sloane returned to her hometown in 2015 and currently lives in Highland Park with her husband and two sons. Connect on LinkedIn


Angela GarciaAngela Garcia

Executive Director | Global Links

Nonprofit leader dedicated to improving access to health resources and improving environmental stewardship in healthcare through community engagement, continuous learning and strategic partnerships. Known for stem-winding, energetic creativity and compassionate leadership. 20+ years experience in disaster response, international aid, program management, fundraising, sustainable operations, process improvement, communications, and human resources. Connect on LinkedIn


Christopher C. Heck

President & CEO | Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce

Christopher (Chris) Heck has had -year career working with companies at senior executive levels in the Pittsburgh association management arena specifically within the economic development, technology, energy, manufacturing and financial services sectors.

Chris currently serves as president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.  With each new opportunity throughout Chris’ career the constant thread has been mission and client driven understanding the deep challenges of both. Recently Chris has been the catalyst in forming the Airport Area Corporate Partnership advocating for the growth and viability of economic development within the airport area.

A graduate of Florida Atlantic University, he received his B.A. in Business Administration and Management. A former petty officer in the USCG Reserves Chris has enjoyed successful employment opportunities with The Pittsburgh Technology Council, Marsh USA, K&L Gates, LLP, 5/3 Bank and the SMC Business Councils. Connect on LinkedIn

Within the local community Chris has held a variety of board positions with non-profit organizations and local municipalities including:
Allegheny County Airport Authority Foundation – Board Chair (current)
Mount Lebanon Economic Development Committee and Mt Lebanon Partnership – Board Member (current)
Pittsburgh Technical College – Education Advisory Committee (current)
Rosedale Technical College – Strategic Advisory Board (current)
Mount Lebanon Sports Authority – Board Member 2016-2018
Board Member, YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh 2005-2010
2nd Class Petty Officer (retired), United States Coast Guard Reserves   


Elizabeth HeftElizabeth Heft

Vice President of Operations | Adagio Health

Ms. Heft has been at Adagio Health since 2018. She leads the Strategic Initiatives and Information Technology departments and is responsible for overseeing the planning and implementation of Adagio Health’s new organizational initiatives such as care for women veterans, LGBTQ competency, and integrated services; the advancement of new funding streams; and continuous quality improvement efforts across the organization.

Ms. Heft previously led grantmaking initiatives for The Forbes Funds, a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation, dedicated to building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in the Pittsburgh region. She is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® and an alumna of Leadership Pittsburgh’s Leadership Development Initiative. An advocate for gender, racial, social, and economic justice, she has worked and volunteered with a variety of community development organizations in Mexico, Central America, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh.  

Elizabeth loves being active and outdoors, and she is a new mom to a beautiful baby boy. She and her husband renovate houses, run a Victorian bed & breakfast, and enjoy good food and craft beer in their spare time.

In 2013, Elizabeth graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Master of Social Work and Master of International Development, with specializations in nonprofit management and human services administration. She has her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish & Latin American Studies from Malone University.  Connect on LinkedIn


photo of Kirk HolbrookKirk Holbrook

Program Director - Gizmology | Deeplocal 

Kirk Holbrook began his career in community service in 2001, working within inner-city after-school programs in the Hill District, Homewood and other areas of Allegheny County, where he enjoyed more than a decade in youth programming. Later, Mr. Holbrook served as an educational advocate and in state government as a district office Chief of Staff for State Representative Jake Wheatley, before moving to the University of Pittsburgh in 2018 as director of the  Community Engagement Center [CEC] in the Hill District. Currently, Kirk Holbrook serves as Program Director of Gizmology, a racial equity initiative within Deeplocal’s global creative technology company based in Pittsburgh, working to eliminate barriers for Pittsburgh’s Black and underrepresented communities in technology. Holbrook’s Gizmology program joins other racial equity projects funded by WPP, Deeplocal’s parent company, across the globe, including projects in Detroit, Atlanta, London and Cape Town, South Africa.

Holbrook was appointed to the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Equity Advisory Panel in 2018, was named as one of the upcoming leaders in the field of education by Incline Magazine in 2019 and was appointed as a Remake Learning ambassador in 2022.

Holbrook believes that working together to weave a connective thread in civil society between non-profit organizations, anchor institutions and the private sector, we can develop targeted strategies, programs and initiatives to directly counteract legacies of inequity in black and brown communities locally, regionally, and across the globe. Holbrook does the work he does to ensure that every child and family has an opportunity to actualize their full potential, regardless of the zip code in which they reside. Connect on LinkedIn


Shenay JeffreyShenay Jeffrey

Director | PittServes

Jeffrey was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and attended secondary school in Nassau, Bahamas. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in health information management from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in public management from the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University. She is also currently a doctoral candidate in the School of Education at Pitt, with a focus on student civic engagement experiences.

As an active member of the Pittsburgh community, Jeffrey has held various leadership positions in regional organizations such as the chapter president of the Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Pittsburgh, public policy and advocacy board chair of PUMP and board chair of New Voices for Reproductive Justice. 

She has also received several awards including the Iris Marion Young award for Social Justice and a Western PA Rising Star award. She was named a Pittsburgh Magazine 2021 40 Under 40 honoree was also featured in the American Dream series from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a feature that highlights the immigrant contributions to the City of Pittsburgh. Connect on LinkedIn


Emily KinkeadEmily Kinkead

Pennsylvania House of Representatives | District 20

Representative Kinkead is a Democrat, serving Allegheny County. Her committee assigments includes Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Appropriations, Committee On Committees, Human Services, and Judiciary. She is an Attorney and graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Connect on LinkedIn


Rob MercuriRob Mercuri

Pennsylvania State Representative | 28th District

Rob Mercuri will serve the residents of the 28th District with the values instilled in him during his Western Pennsylvania upbringing, including integrity, hard work and transparency.

As a husband, father of three and small business owner in Pine Township, Rob will focus on pandemic relief, fiscal responsibility and economic development through innovation, lower tax rates, less regulation and reduced barriers to entry.

Rob will also work to make progress across a number of legislative priorities including improving the openness of government, expanding educational opportunities while respecting taxpayers, reducing the cost of health care, developing programs to keep our communities safe, prioritizing the upkeep of critical infrastructure and harnessing the potential of advanced energy economy for the benefit of residents and the future of our Commonwealth.

Early in the 2022-23 legislative session, Rob was appointed to the Small Business Advocacy Council (SBAC) by Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler. The SBAC is focused on advocating for the small business community and moving policies that help small businesses. For the 2021-22 legislative session, Rob was appointed to serve on the House Education, Finance, Liquor Control, Urban Affairs and Commerce committees.

Before running for office, Rob attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and deployed to Baghdad as a member of an embedded military training unit. He returned home with a captain’s rank and a Bronze Star Medal.

Rob earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and then worked for two major accounting firms in New York City. After being recruited by PNC, he served as the company’s vice president and financial risk manager. Currently, he and his wife, Kelsey, own a UPS store in Pine Township.

In service to his community, he has served as a member of the board of the YMCA, the United States Congressional Advisory Board and the American Corporate Partners, which is a nonprofit that helps connect veterans with careers after their military experience.

Rob lives in Pine Township with his wife, Kelsey, and their three school-age children: Mackenzie, Delaney and Kieran. They are active in their faith community at North Way Christian Community in Pine Township. Connect on LinkedIn


Sabrina Saunders MosbySabrina Saunders Mosby

President & CEO | Vibrant Pittsburgh

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, the “City of Bridges,” Sabrina Saunders Mosby has spent the better part of her career helping others cross them. A seasoned executive, Ms. Mosby currently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer for Vibrant Pittsburgh, a premier economic development membership organization and the region's central resource, spokesperson, and convener on workforce diversity and inclusion. 

A cross-sector leader, Ms. Mosby has held senior roles at numerous nonprofits and spent close to a decade in the government sector while advocating for local constituents at the local and federal levels. Ms. Mosby has a proven track record of partnering with business and community leaders to develop strategic change and build local programs. Described by stakeholders as highly creative, collaborative, visionary and results-oriented, she is a sought after keynote speaker, facilitator, and workshop leader. Ms. Mosby is a recipient of numerous awards and honors including being named an Athena Young Professional Finalist, Ebony Magazine Top 30, Pittsburgh Courier Fab 40, Pittsburgh Magazine 40 under 40, Whirl Magazine 50 Finest, and to the Pittsburgh Business Times' Power 100 list in 2021 and 2022. Sabrina is deeply involved in public service and her community and professional affiliations are many, including serving on the boards of Allegheny Health Network, the Pittsburgh Women’s Alliance, PA American Water, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Mount Ararat Community Activity Center, and as Vice-Chair of the board for her alma mater, Oakland Catholic High School. Ms. Mosby is an alumnus of Leadership Pittsburgh’s LDI XVII, holds a Master of Science degree from Carlow University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Sabrina lives in the Pittsburgh region with her husband Brandon and their son Lincoln. Connect on LinkedIn


Heidi Norman

CIO and Director, Department of Innovation & Performance | City of Pittsburgh

Heidi Norman serves as the CIO and Director, Department of Innovation & Performance for the City of Pittsburgh, PA. I&P elevates the work of city government by designing modern technology solutions for our colleagues, collaborating with partners to test innovative ideas, and developing leaders’ capabilities to achieve operational excellence. I&P has gained a reputation for being at the cutting-edge of open data and analytics, applying lean systems principles to improve government services, and utilizing a collaborative approach to innovation with internal and external partners.

In her current role, Heidi works with Allegheny County and the University of Pittsburgh to provide an open data platform through the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center and partners with Carnegie-Mellon University and its Metro 21 Institute to advance the research, development, and deployment of novel technical solutions to identified community issues. She led the effort for Pittsburgh to achieve Silver Certification from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program and fostered a partnership between Mayor Gainey’s administration and Pittsburgh Futures to achieve operational excellence and outcomes for the community. Further, Heidi catalyzed numerous organizations across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to join the Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition which is working to close the digital divide for residents across our region within five years. 

Ms. Norman holds a BA in Political Science from Northwestern University and a MS in Information Systems from Syracuse University, as well as executive education certificates from the Tepper School of Business and the CIO Institute at the Heinz School of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Connect on LinkedIn


Michelle Pagano-HeckMichelle Pagano-Heck

President & Owner | Nonprofit Talent

President and Owner of Nonprofit Talent, Michelle works with the social sector to improve the capacity of organizations through transition management and executive recruitment. Mission-driven, Michelle listens to the needs of clients and works as a partner with organizations to fulfill their vision.

Prior to launching Nonprofit Talent in 2013, Michelle was Senior Consultant with Dewey & Kaye. Previously, Michelle worked as the Executive Director of WQEDfm, Community Relations Director of WQED Multimedia, Director of Development for the Children’s Home, Director of Corporate Relations for the American Cancer Society, and various other positions of leadership in the nonprofit community.

A 2019 Pittsburgh Women of Influence Award recipient, Michelle is a 2021 “Women & Business” honoree of Pittsburgh Magazine. Michelle is also on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO). She is a guest lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and various associations and organizations.

Michelle graduated from the College of Wooster and received her Master’s Degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Connect on LinkedIn


Ken RegalKen Regal

Executive Director | Just Harvest 

Ken Regal was named executive director in July 2012 after having served as one of our co-directors since Just Harvest’s founding in 1987. An activist and organizer in Pittsburgh for more than thirty years, he organized the campaign in the 1980s which persuaded the Pittsburgh Public Schools to join the National School Breakfast Program. Ken has consulted for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, served on the national grant-making advisory committee of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and has written and spoken on hunger and poverty issues for a wide range of audiences. He represents Just Harvest on the Board of the Pittsburgh United, the steering committee of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, and the Allegheny County Health Department Advisory Coalition for its Plan for a Healthier Allegheny. Ken is a native of Brooklyn and a graduate of Brandeis University and lives in the Highland Park section of Pittsburgh with his wife. Connect on LinkedIn


Dr. Angela M. Reynolds

CEO | YWCA Greater Pittsburgh

Angela comes to YWCA Greater Pittsburgh from United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where she served as Senior Director of United for Families and 2-1-1 while also teaching as an adjunct professor in the Public Policy and International Affairs program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Angela began her career testing for housing discrimination through the Fair Housing Partnership, before embarking on an Assistant Professorship at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. There, she taught statistics, public policy, and research methods and conducted research on racial disparities in housing and criminal justice. Angela is a recipient of the Fair Housing Partnership’s Open Doors-Open Minds Award (2006).

A native of New Haven CT, Angela has called Pittsburgh home for many years. She holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy Analysis from the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon University; an M.S. in Statistics also from CMU; and a B.A. in Mathematics (Sociology minor) from Bryn Mawr College. Connect on LinkedIn


Dr. Kendra Janelle RossDr. Kendra Janelle Ross 

Head of Social Impact | Duolingo

Dr. Kendra Janelle Ross is the Head of Social Impact at Duolingo, where she leads the community engagement and global philanthropic strategy. Before joining Duolingo, she served as an Assistant Professor of Sports, Arts, and Entertainment Management at Point Park University, where she also completed a Ph.D. in Community Engagement. Connect on LinkedIn


David SanchezDavid Sanchez

Associate Director | Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation

Dr. Sanchez is responsible for building research and scholarly initiatives around Sustainable Water, Sustainable Food, Sustainable Innovation, and Global Engagement. Dr. Sanchez is also responsible for managing and directing MCSI’s Faculty, Education, and Community Engagement programs, which include the John C. Mascaro Faculty program, the Len Peters Faculty Fellows, the Community Education Fellows, the Master’s in Sustainable Engineering, the university-wide undergraduate certificate in sustainability and the Student Sustainable Innovation Fund. Dr. Sanchez continues to expand our network of positive working relationships with faculty, administration, students, and external partners (e.g. NGOs, Government agencies, Startups, and Fortune 500 companies) that support our broad education and research agenda. He also oversees the undergraduate and graduate sustainability curriculum and our K-12 programming. 

David V.P. Sanchez is an Assistant Professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Civil & Environmental Engineering department and serves as the Associate Director for the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. He coordinates the Design EXPO that showcases 90+ projects from ~400 students every semester and serves as the Director for the Manufacturing Assistant Center’s Makerspace, Constellation Energy’s Inventor Labs, the Series Workshops and some engineering collaborations in the community of Homewood.  

His research is focused on identifying sustainable designs that address the Water and Energy grand challenges in the natural and built environment on a local/regional scale. Current projects include engineering electrode morphology for bio-electrochemical systems, designing sensors to identify water quality trends in real-time and, developing hydroponic systems for the phytoremediation of PFAS, removing off-flavors from Recirculating Aquaponic systems, and enhancing community agricultural systems.  

Dr. Sanchez is the recipient of several awards including a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, IGERT Traineeship, Alfred P. Sloan Scholarship, Pittsburgh Business Time Energy Award, Best Mentor Award for Pitt’s Excel program, Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award, and the Soska Wilds Outreach and Engagement Leadership award. David actively leads international engineering trips on behalf of the Swanson School of Engineering. Connect on LinkedIn


Beth SchwankeBeth Schwanke, JD

Executive Director | University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security

Beth Schwanke is the executive director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security.

Schwanke previously served as senior policy counsel and director of policy outreach for the Center for Global Development, a think tank researching international development.

Schwanke was also previously an associate in the Federal Law and Policy practice group in the multinational law firm DLA Piper, where she advised clients on matters related to congressional investigations and sanctions compliance. Prior to her time at DLA Piper, she served as legislative counsel for the non-profit organization Freedom Now, where she directed legal, political, and public relations advocacy efforts to secure the release of political prisoners. Her clients included Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Schwanke has provided commentary to Al-Jazeera, CNN, and NPR, among other international news outlets. Her writing has been published in such publications as The New York Times, The Hill, Sydney Morning Herald, and the Wall Street Journal.

Schwanke earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Wellesley College and her Juris Doctorate at the University of Michigan Law School, both with honors. She served as an associate and contributing editor of the Michigan Law Review. She is barred in the District of Columbia.

Schwanke serves on the Advisory Board for Pittsburgh DataWorks and on the Workforce Advisory Council of the School of Computing and Information’s Professional Institute, 
the Digital Inclusion Steering Committee of the Community Engagement Center in the Hill District, and the Steering Committee of the Collaboratory Against Hate. Connect on LinkedIn


Michelle StewartMichelle Stewart

Director | The University of Pittsburgh’s Community Engagement Center (CEC)

Pitt’s Neighborhood Commitment in Homewood is led by Community Engagement Center Director Michelle Stewart. Michelle is a dedicated, full-time Pitt staff person working on the ground in Homewood as a facilitator, connector, and communicator responsible for linking University faculty and students with community leaders and residents. Connect on LinkedIn


Erika StrassburgerErika Strassburger

Member | Pittsburgh City Council 8th District

Erika Strassburger is a member of Pittsburgh City Council, proudly serving the residents of the City’s 8th District. She is the first woman elected to this seat. Previously, Erika served as Chief of Staff for her predecessor, former-Councilman Dan Gilman. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade advocating for clean air, clean water, and a clean energy future at the state and federal levels.
Since being sworn in on City Council in April of 2018, Erika passed trailblazing legislation to guard against employment discrimination for pregnant workers and their partners throughout Pittsburgh; led the charge to overhaul and modernize Pittsburgh’s municipal waste and recycling code; and passed policies to prevent against discrimination based on gender identity and expression citywide.
As the Council Member representing the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Erika was immediately impacted by the October 27, 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. In response, she helped lead the way on a package of ordinances to ban the use of assault weapons and certain firearm accessories, implement red flag policies for those at risk of harming themselves or others, prevent the extreme risk to children by holding gun owners accountable, and increase funding for the City’s violence prevention initiatives.
She has been an outspoken advocate for policies promoting clean water and air, equitable and diverse communities, safe, complete streets, and an open, transparent, and responsive government, and is passionate about offering new ways for her constituents to be informed & involved in city government.

Erika graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in International Relations. She lives in Squirrel Hill with her husband, Jordan and her son, Evan. Connect on LinkedIn


Photo of DaVaughn Vincent-BryanDaVaughn M. Vincent-Bryan

Inaugural Director of Involvement and Student Unions | University of Pittsburgh

DaVaughn Vincent-Bryan serves as the Inaugural Director of Involvement and Student Unions at the University of Pittsburgh. He joined Pitt’s residence life team in 2016 as assistant director for programming, and later served as associate director for residential experience. DaVaughn is the first in his family to pursue higher education, earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology and public communication from the University of Vermont, his master’s in organizational leadership from Southern New Hampshire University and is currently pursuing a Doctor in Education in Pitt’s School of Education with a research focus on fostering cohesion through shared mission development.

DaVaughn portfolio includes William Pitt and O’Hara Student Center, The Student Organization Resource Office, Technical Services, The Pitt Program Council and PITT ARTS. He works each day to enhance and build relationships across multiple constituent and stakeholder groups through his collaborative leadership style. He is dedicated to partnering with campus colleagues to remove barriers and create inclusive environments for all students, faculty, staff and community members. Connect on LinkedIn


Colleen YoungColleen Young

Director of Government Affairs | Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Passionate advocate for building coalitions to advance justice and equity, co-designing dynamic solutions to complex issues by bolstering power within communities, and fostering deep relationships with partners. Connect on LinkedIn

More mentors are being added daily so check back soon

Graduating from being a spectator to being spectacular.

On March 11, 2021, over 100 students and mentors joined the Elsie Forum to talk with each other about advocacy and activism. Our keynote speaker, Emmai Alaquiva, talked about graduating from being a spectator to being spectacular.

These were his five steps on how to go from being a spectator to being spectacular:

  1. Knowledge of Self
  2. Establish your Attributes
  3. Discover the Possibility
  4. Allyship & Advocacy
  5. Activate your Actions

In case you missed the event, check out Emmai's powerful keynote below.