From classroom teachers and school principals to nonprofit leaders in tech education and teaching through international service, this Who’s Next class has a love of learning.
We’re honoring these 18 young Pittsburgh leaders in our Who’s Next: Education class. From dozens of nominations, the editorial staff at The Incline selected these latest honorees for Who’s Next. The series allows us to recognize under-40 leaders in the community and is presented by S&T Bank. (Nominate someone for Who’s Next: Housing by 5 p.m. July 20.)
Want to meet these education superstars? Come to a happy hour in their honor later this month at Ascender in East Liberty.
Join us as we recognize stellar under-40 teachers, administrators and innovators in and around Pittsburgh who are making a difference and changing the education landscape. Your ticket includes appetizers, beer, wine and spirits as well as your chance to meet The Incline's Who's Next: Education class, presented by S&T Bank.
Where: Ascender at 6401 Penn Ave., 3rd Floor (East Liberty)
When: July 26, 2017 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
How much: $20 for public | Free for Who's Next: Education honorees
As executive director of Amizade, Brandon Blache-Cohen has organized hundreds of service-learning courses across the world in partnership with universities, high schools and government agencies. He’s led Amizade, a nonprofit with a focus on international service learning and volunteering, since May 2010, and previously worked there as director of operations. Blache-Cohen spends “every moment of his time dreaming big and thinking of ways that we can and should be improving the way we educate students, and adults, around the world,” according to his nominator. He was previously an adjunct faculty member at West Virginia University, creating and organizing international service-learning programs, has worked in 80 countries and has experience working with refugee, immigrant rights and health policy organizations. In 2011, he was a U.S. delegate to the One Young World Summit in Zurich. Blache-Cohen is also a member of the planning committee for the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center and a board member of the Pennsylvania Council on International Education and of The Global Switchboard. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and Clark University and lives in Squirrel Hill.
Sara Byrne started her career as a classroom teacher before moving to Apangea Learning to provide online math instruction to students in grades three and up. From there, she became the manager of the math teachers. Apangea became Think Through Learning, and Byrne served as director of curriculum development and operations as well as managing editor. She told The Incline that working at Apangea and Think Through Learning allowed her and a team of co-workers to build a product “that impacted the lives of millions of student and tens of thousands of teachers.” She’s now a senior manager for product at Turnitin, creating educational tools and business strategies, working on cross-team communication and collaboration and helping the product team grow. Outside of work, she’s the services committee chairperson for West View Elementary PTA and hospitality committee member for St. Jude’s Research Hospital. Byrne is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and lives in West View.
Cori Frazer is a self-described “autistic and nonbinary/queer activist and organizer who works to create equity in their community.” Frazer leads the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy as executive director and a co-founder. They are also an intern with the Education Rights Network, collaborating with community and parent organizers to advocate for students with disabilities and students of color. Frazer is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a focus on community organizing. They founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network Pittsburgh chapter and led it from 2014 to 2016, then helped turn it into an independent center last year that does trainings, professional development, social events and more. Frazer volunteers with Autism Connection of Pennsylvania, is a member of the city/county task force on disability and the Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council. They are a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and live in Wilkinsburg.
A biomedical student and president of the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, Ashok Gurung helps refugees learn about and adjust to life in Pittsburgh. He co-founded the Bhutanese Community Association in 2014. As president, he coordinates a wellness program, helps with grant writing and fundraising and represents the Bhutanese community at events and meetings in Pittsburgh and across the state. Gurung also teaches literacy and civics classes to adults in the Bhutanese community, helping them prepare to become citizens, according to his nominator. That person also praised Gurung for his support of the refugee community. Fluent in Nepali, English, Hindi and some Urdu, he also works as an interpreter both via phone and in-person to help with medical visits as well as visits to insurance companies and more. Gurung also volunteers as a mental health first aid provider, connecting community members to mental health services. He is a graduate of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal, and the University of Pittsburgh. Gurung lives in Whitehall.
As owner of Creative Instruction, an education consulting company, Kate Harris works with a variety of clients including the Senator John Heinz History Center and the Society for Biblical Literature. She’s a learning lab coordinator for the Smithsonian Institution in Pittsburgh, developing digital teaching collections and student activities as well as professional development workshops and webinars for teachers. Harris was previously a consultant for Green City Remix, a project that brought together six schools, the Green Building Alliance and the history center. In 2016, she co-founded the Steel City History Collaborative to support the teaching and learning of social studies in the region. A Pittsburgh native, Harris returned to the city two years ago after spending 10 years teaching at a public high school in Durham, N.C., which was an experience that greatly impacted her values and perspectives on education, Harris told The Incline. “She is a visionary, a strong collaborator and a ‘let's make dreams a reality’ kind of person,” her nominator wrote. Harris is a graduate of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Duke University and lives in Highland Park with her husband Marshall, their son Sebastian and dog Teddy.
As a civil rights attorney at the Education Law Center, Cheryl Kleiman gives legal advice and guidance on cases of access and equity in public education. Since March 2014, she’s led a statewide team and works to advocate for students who are educationally at-risk, including students of color, LBGTQ students, students with disabilities, students who are homeless and students in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Kleiman “is a visionary with integrity who has the best interest of students at the heart of her work,” wrote her nominator. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Kleiman worked at the Center for Children & Youth Justice in Seattle. In addition to her work at the Education Law Center, she’s a board member of the National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh and serves on the advisory boards of New Voices for Reproductive Justice and Standing Firm: The Business Case to End Domestic Violence. Kleiman is a graduate of the University of Arizona and the University of Washington and lives in the South Side Slopes.
Being hired by Pittsburgh Public Schools was “a dream job,” Emily Schantz Lilly told The Incline. She said it was both an opportunity to meet her lifelong goal of being a teacher and to do it in her hometown. She taught middle school students in multiple courses including world geography and archaeology, world history, U.S. history and communications. In 2013, Lilly left her job after her first child was born, but she wanted to keep working to improve public education while having a work–life balance. So she created Pittsburgh Assistance Center for Educators and Students aka PACES. The organization is “committed to enriching students, supporting teachers and fostering community” in public schools in Allegheny County. Lilly works to create and implement educational outreach programs such as field trips and art history programs in multiple school districts. She’s also substitute teaching with Pittsburgh Public Schools. “What makes Emily the ideal community leader is that she empowers students, teachers and parents to invest in their education and find the leader within themselves,” her nominator wrote. Lilly is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Greenfield.
Maggie Lynn Negrete is a multidisciplinary artist and designer who started working with students at the Brashear Association through a mural project. Now, she’s an education coordinator at the association, where she creates curriculum for elementary students and works on classroom management, communications, grant writing and more. As an educator, Negrete said she focuses on “elevating youth voices and promoting civic engagement through zines, storytelling and typography.” Previously, she’s been a teaching artist in several locations including the Arts in Action Program at Arsenal Middle School, Lawrenceville United Summer Camp and at Gwen’s Girls Summer Camp. Negrete’s artwork specializes in illustration, zines and hand-lettering. She’s also an organizer of the Pittsburgh Zine Fair and a lead designer for Women in Sound. Negrete is a graduate of Vassar College and of CCAC. She lives in Allentown.
Nichelle L. Nelson is chief programming officer with the Fund for the Advancement of Minorities Through Education, aka FAME. She also has a doctor of ministry degree from Drew University and is an ordained minister at Mount Ararat Baptist Church. Nelson started as FAME chief programming officer in 2012 and works to close the education gap through planning and managing scholar activities and events, coordinating the tutoring program and more. “She works tirelessly to pour into these young peoples’ lives,” according to her nominator. Nelson was previously an adjunct professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where she’s now part of its Preaching Association, and was the associate director of development for KidsVoice. She’s also taught and done service work in England, Costa Rica and Guyana. Nelson is a graduate of the University of Delaware, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, University of Pittsburgh and Drew University. She lives in Penn Hills.
With a doctoral degree in reading education, Russell Patterson has led Pittsburgh Faison K-5 and Crescent Early Childhood Development Center since 2014. As principal, he directs educational programs, monitors academic performance and uses data to implement professional development for staff. He was previously assistant principal at Faison and taught third grade. “Especially with children of color, Dr. Patterson is immersed in advocacy work for children,” his nominator wrote, praising him for his advocacy in literacy and the mentoring programs he started. Patterson finished his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh in 2012, and his dissertation focused on culturally relevant texts and comprehension strategy for teaching reading to African-American boys. Before coming to Pitt for his undergraduate and graduate degrees, Patterson grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended public schools there, he told The Incline. He’s a member of the National Alliance of Black School Educators and of the International Reading Association, where he’s on the grants subcommittee. Patterson is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Squirrel Hill with his wife Tamia and their three children: Taylor, Russell IV and Raymond.
Erica Peterson founded Science Tots in 2015. The nonprofit gives instruction and resources to families and educators for early childhood learning in STEAM or science, technology, engineering, art and math. Science Tots brings programming to schools, nonprofits, community centers, events and more. “You will never meet someone more passionate about engaging children and parents in STEM or STEAM,” her nominator wrote. Peterson also started Western PA Business Besties, a Facebook group for women who own a business or are starting a business, and the Pittsburgh chapter of the Association for Women in Science. She’s pursuing a master of education in STEM Education at California University of Pennsylvania and recently founded Moms Can Code. Peterson is a graduate of West Virginia University and Anisa I. Kanbour School of Cytotechnology at UPMC. She lives in Robinson.
An instructor at Chatham University, Alexandra Reznik is also pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Duquesne University. Her dissertation aims to find what the 19th century can teach us about the 21st century in how black, white and biracial female performers navigate and participate in systemic oppression the U.S. In the classroom, Reznik said she stresses including diverse voices to empower “students from all backgrounds and interests by centering their experiences and perspectives.” This spring, she taught a class on power and performance in world literature called “Who Run(s) the World?” which included Beyonce, of course, as well as reflecting on and enacting activism. Reznik also won the Duquesne Center for Teaching Excellence graduate teaching award in the spring. According to her nominator, not only does Reznik teach and work toward her Ph.D., she mentors young women interested in an academic career. “I'm glad that a professor like Alexandra Reznik is teaching, mentoring and empowering students to think critically and make holistic decisions,” her nominator wrote. This fall, Reznik will teach a first-year writing class “to draw upon Beyoncé's artistry, the power of turning lemons into lemonade,” as well as mentor middle school students through Higher Achievement. She’s a graduate of Chatham and Duquesne universities and lives in the North Side.
Lauren Schieb started working as a special education teacher for the Woodland Hills School District five years ago. In her role, she teaches language arts, reading, spelling, science and math to students as well as develops individual education plans for each student. Schieb has also worked with children with autism for more than six years and is an avid volunteer. She’s been a big sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters for almost seven years and is the co-chair for the Big Recruitment Board. Earlier this year, she was named the organization’s Big Sister of the Year for Pennsylvania. In her Who’s Next nomination, Schieb’s little sister through the program wrote an essay about her including a poem titled “Ode to My Sissy.”
Thanks for supporting me, even when I am wrong
Thanks for protecting me, and making me strong
Thanks for soothing me with love, when I am down
Thanks for making me smile, and wiping my frowns
Thanks for watching out for me, when things don’t seem fine
Thanks for pulling me up, when I am out of line
Thanks for playing perfectly, my sister’s role
I will always love you, from my heart and soul
Schieb is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College and Duquesne University. She lives in Highland Park.
While a student at the University of Florida, Jackie Shimshoni said she saw how multidisciplinary, hands-on education fit with her “idea of how education should work.” Shimshoni said she knew she wanted to focus on breaking the mold of traditional learning environments. Now, she’s the Startable program coordinator for Innovation Works, a role she’s had since 2015. Shimshoni oversees the entire program from marketing and curriculum to student recruitment and more, such as finding long-term opportunities for students. She told The Incline that’s she’s passionate about the program and her work to create and perfect a youth startup accelerator. Startable “changes the lives of the students by re-focusing ones that are misguided and by showcasing the ones that are talented that may have not gotten the spotlight they deserve,” her nominator wrote in praise for Shimshoni. She also previously worked as the Unblurred program coordinator for Assemble. Shimshoni is a graduate of University of Florida and Carnegie Mellon University and lives in Wilkinsburg.
William B Tolliver, Jr. is a program associate for Educational Projects at the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children aka PAEYC. He started the role in August 2016. Tolliver provides support to make grant-funded education initiatives happen and focuses on projects for children from birth to fourth grade. His nominator praised him for coordinating a program called Raising Readers, “a literacy initiative that brings books, children, as well as Zone 5 police officers, to learn and connect with one another.” He was previously the Homewood nature educator at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and assistant to the director for Creek Connections. Tolliver is a board member of the Day One Project, is on the Pennsylvania Environmental Educators Capacity Leadership Team and is an alumni fellow with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and lives in Shadyside.
Scott Vensel has taught reading and language arts at Dorseyville Middle School in the Fox Chapel Area School District since 2007. He manages the eighth grade curriculum in reading/language arts, tutors students who need extra instruction, and works with science and social studies teachers on cross-curricular writing assignments. “My goal is to help students find a balance between the expectations of the 21st century workforce, while not neglecting the human element of the humanities,” Vensel told The Incline. “ Also, teaching eighth graders, I find it important to create an atmosphere of expectations and experiences in the classroom that foster growth of responsibility, self-reliance and confidence.” His nominator praised him for coordinating the school’s multimedia Holocaust education assembly and for “constantly creating innovative and interactive ways to teach his students.” Vensel also coaches football and track and “uses his love for sports to teach teens valuable life lessons about hard work, dedication and working together as a team,” according to his nominator. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Stanton Heights with Gina, his wife, and Giavanna, their three-year-old daughter.
Stanley B. Whiteman III has worked at the Duquesne City School District for 10 years. For the past three, he’s been the assistant principal at Duquesne Elementary School. He was previously the assistant to the superintendent, student services coordinator, athletic director and a K-8 health and physical education teacher in the district. He’s also coached baseball, football and basketball throughout his career, and most recently was the head football coach and athletic director from 2007 to 2012 at Duquesne. His nominator called him a “strong advocate for the students of Duquesne,” and wrote that he “showed great leadership in being able to bring the students, parents and community together around athletics.” Whiteman’s nominator also praised him for his work in instructional technology, collaboration and building safety. In April, he finished his Superintendent’s Letter of Eligibility from the University of Pittsburgh and will graduate with an educational doctorate in April 2018. Whiteman is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Community College of Allegheny County, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and California University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Allison Park with his wife Karen and their three sons: Blake, Bradyn and Brett.
Ciera Marie Young works with students across Pittsburgh in her roles at The Ellis School and Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation. As the coordinator of equity and inclusion at The Ellis School, she creates cultural awareness programming for students, helps develop cultural competency curriculum and more. Young is also the coordinator of after-school activities at Arsenal Middle School through the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, working to do STEM and literacy programs, as well as train high school students as mentors. She’s also the summer youth employment program coordinator for the corporation. “As a devoted mentor, she does everything within her power and ability to lift up young women of color by creating opportunities that they would otherwise miss out on,” Young’s nominator wrote. She’s also a member of the Adagio Health Young Leaders Council, Urban League Young Professionals Board, the PublicSource Advisory Committee for its “I am a black girl and…” project and an Amachi mentor. Young told The Incline that she plans to pursue joint master’s degrees in education and public policy. She is a graduate of Chatham University and lives in Highland Park.