I came to the Allegheny Conference in July 2011, explaining that I was in the midst of a mid-life re-boot, and the Conference generously gave me a shot as its first-ever video production intern – an opportunity that allowed me to produce 60-some videos for ImaginePittsburghNow.com, the blog of the Conference and its Affiliates. As I completed my time as intern, senior vice president of communications and public affairs Catherine DeLoughry asked me whether I felt re-invented. My answer’s at the end, but first the back story.

In 2009, a seismic financial shift struck my family when my husband was part of a mass firing by a major global corporation. At that time, I had been a stay-at-home mother for five years. Both of us immediately sought full-time employment. Luckily, my husband found his current position, but at a 20 percent pay cut.

My own situation was unnerving. Nobody wants to hire someone without a degree who has been out of the workforce for so long, a recruiter at an employment agency told me. My helplessness turning to anger, I decided I never wanted to be a financial liability to my family again. I finished the few credits I needed at the Community College of Allegheny County to get an associate’s degree, and researched my transfer options.

Chatham University not only accepted every one of my transfer credits, but gave me significant scholarship aid based on my grades and financial situation. I headed to school there in fall 2010, at the age of 40, having been of legal drinking age before most of my young counterparts were even born. Yes, it was scary, but if I’ve learned one thing about bravery over the years, it’s that you feel the fear and you do it anyway. And as Mr. Spock said, the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or the one. So, off I went.

I chose a double major because I found it the perfect combination of legitimizing my current resume while allowing me to develop some new skills. I was one of Chatham’s first two students to ever use the experiential portfolio program, which allowed me to collect a semester’s worth of credits based on professional and life experiences. Already having a sizable portfolio from various jobs as a freelance writer, I lost out on staff positions because of my lack of degree. Now I’ll have the communications and professional writing side of my major to legitimize that. The film and digital technology side adds a bag of mad multi-media skills that I hope will make me more marketable.

I’ve learned a lot of new programs and concepts from my classes, but not as much as I have learned through my four internships: as an audio support intern with the Teenie Harris Archive; a professional blogger for BRAVO-TV’s Top Chef University; a game design intern at Schell Games in the South Side; and of course my multi-media production internship with the Conference.

I’d tell other adult students that I found nothing but respect and support from companies when applying for internships. If you show dedication, ability, passion and a willingness to learn, you may get even more consideration based on anything you’re also bringing to the table from your prior experiences.

My advice to others is, DO go to school. Befriend your school’s career development office, and do as many internships as you can in your new career field. If something you want to do isn’t on your resume yet, take advantage of being a student to put it there by availing yourself of internships, student activities and other opportunities available only to students.

Make no mistake, though: if you’re considering this kind of a re-set, it will be impossible without the support of your family, crazy-good time management, a committed and helpful academic advisor and some seriously hard work. I’ve been an overachiever with a 3.93 GPA, because I feel if I’m going to nag three kids about their grades, mine had better be infallible. I hope I’ve set a good example for them, showing them that dedication can pay off, and that it’s never too late to choose again if you’re dissatisfied with your life.

Looking toward my May graduation, I see a great many career options that I didn’t before. And now, I’ll have a more current resume, a strong multi-media and writing portfolio, and a double degree. Corporate communications, media production, advertising agencies: there are plenty of opportunities in Pittsburgh. I also look forward to more big-budget films coming to town, because opportunities also exist there. One job I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d hold was as a writer for video games, and I now have inroads there, too.

I especially appreciate the chance to have worked with the fantastic bunch of folks at the Allegheny Conference because they really do love Pittsburgh and they work unbelievably hard to be stellar regional ambassadors. These people run around like crazy to make sure they’re delivering the best and most current, correct information to their Regional Investors and the public. I admire all of them and am pleased to call them friends and colleagues as I leave.

So, do I feel re-invented? Absolutely. I’ve gone from weak and bleak to large and in charge. It’s completely possible to do in Pittsburgh. I’m proof.

Ben Kamber

In just 15 months, ShaleNET — a multi-state recruitment, training, placement and retention program for jobs in the gas industry — has graduated 65+ people. Many of these graduates have now landed good paying jobs in the burgeoning Marcellus Shale industry — an industry expected to grow steadily over the next several years. As CONSOL Energy’s Gary Slagel remarked on a recent episode of Our Region’s Business, his company’s natural gas division alone is estimating 500-750 new hires over the next five years. Slagel is joined by Byron Kohut, director of the ShaleNET Western Hub and Col. Grey Berrier II, deputy commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team to discuss the program’s progress and the value it can offer returning veterans.

Have you ever met someone, say a potential date or business associate, but weren’t quite sure if they were being completely truthful? Well, now there’s an app for that. Created by an Iowan inventor, “Docket in Your Pocket” allows you to perform a quick, comprehensive background check on just about anyone via your smart phone. Matt Haindfield, creator of “Docket in Your Pocket,” sat down to talk about his product and explain why he decided to launch it in Pennsylvania.

As the oldest Chevy dealership in the U.S. under continuous family ownership, Bridgeville’s Colussy Chevrolet is only 7 years younger than the Chevy brand itself. Tim Colussy, co-owner of Colussy Chevrolet, takes us through the dealership’s remarkable history, which started when his 17 year old grandfather began the business back in 1918.

“Our Region’s Business” airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV.  Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Phil Cynar

For innovators and entrepreneurs, Pittsburgh can be the perfect place for a soft landing. It’s a real alternative to the west coast, the mecca that beckons tech visionaries wanting to make it big. But for Shoefitr, a start-up company specializing in a proprietary web application for online shoe sales, Pittsburgh is – pardon the phrase – a perfect fit.

Co-founded by a team of three recent Carnegie Mellon grads – Matt Wilkinson, Nick End and Breck Fresen – Shoefitr is satisfying online shoe buyers with correct fits the first time, reducing customer disappointment and dissatisfaction. At the same time, the company’s proprietary application is saving online shoe purveyors big bucks annually in the returns department.

Shoefitr’s been lauded as a start-up “most likely to be acquired,” but the team isn’t all that anxious about when that will happen. In a recent interview with WTAE TV’s Sally Wiggin, the young entrepreneurs talk about loving what they’re doing and why they love doing it here. The Pittsburgh region has exceptional networks to support entrepreneurs of all ages, including Innovation Works – an organization that’s part of a statewide system advancing Pennsylvania’s knowledge-based economy. It’s the single largest investor in seed-stage companies in the region – as well as one of the most active in the country – and was one of the key partners that helped Shoefitr achieve its current success.

While it’s a metro of significant size, Pittsburgh is small enough to be accessible – a “big small city” – as it’s been characterized. Here, people connect easily and relationships are formed, and yet there are a disproportionately large number of resources for innovators and entrepreneurs to tap to turn their visions into money-making realities.

Watch the WTAE TV interview with Shoefitr here and learn more about other successful entrepreneurs who call the Pittsburgh region home.

Bonnie Pfister
Dennis Yablonsky presenting at TEDx Pittsburgh, November 2011 / Photo Copyright Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.

Late last year the Pittsburgh region hosted a TEDx conference. For more than 20 years TED conferences have brought together thinkers and doers across the fields of technology, entertainment and design (TED) to share ideas and collaborate on future possibilities. Since 2009, creative thinkers outside of TED’s home base in northern California have been hosting related events dubbed TEDx. In November 2011, Leadership Pittsburgh brought together presenters who included engineers, musicians, business leaders and writers from all over Pennsylvania and the tri-state region. Scholars and educators from Carnegie Mellon University, Pitt, Duquesne and WVU were among the presenters and participants at the gathering at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in the Laurel Highlands, Fayette County.

We’ll highlight several of those presentations (most at a digestible five minutes each) here on the blog of the Allegheny Conference and its Affiliates in the coming weeks.  (You can also check out all of them any time at www.TEDxPittsburgh.com.) We begin with Allegheny Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky, who explains how the region went from 18 percent unemployment in the early 1980s to a diversified, robust economy thanks in part to innovative public-private partnerships. And we hear from Greg Babe, president and CEO of Bayer MaterialScience and Bayer Corp.’s North America headquarters, both located in Robinson Township, about how the United States can transform itself from a nation of consumers back to a nation of creators.

Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of Allegheny Conference on Community Development


Greg Babe, CEO of Bayer Corp. North America and Bayer MaterialScience North America
Chair, Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce

Ben Kamber

It’s well-known that Carnegie Mellon University has one of the world’s top computer science programs, but did you know that its home just won top global honors for design?

The Gates Center for Computer Science and Hillman Center for Future Technologies, which house the university’s acclaimed School of Computer Science, have received the 2012 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award for Architecture – one of only nine projects worldwide to receive this leading recognition. A striking architectural example of excellence, the complex was completed in 2009 thanks to funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Hillman Foundation.

If you’ve been on CMU’s campus recently, you may have noticed the unusual windows and exterior materials of these asymmetrical buildings carefully nestled into one of western Pennsylvania’s trademark hollows. When commenting on its rationale for this recognition, the AIA jury stated that the “project is scaled perfectly within an urban campus and within a uniquely difficult site. The building not only matches the culture and aspirations of the school but also provides campus connections that had been clearly missing before.”

And with an eye toward sustainability, the Gates and Hillman Centers represent more than just outward beauty. Due to hundreds of windows illuminating the interior with natural light, several innovative green roofs, and energy efficient lighting and utility systems, the nine-story, 217,000-square-foot project earned LEED Gold status from the U.S. Green Building Council, more than doubling the site’s original green space.

Learn more about the innovative features present in the complex here. To see the other eight awardees, click here.

Ben Kamber

Solar and other alternative energy sources represent enormous potential for our regional economy, but present some challenges as well. On a recent edition of Our Region’s Business, Dr. Gregory Reed of the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh delves into some of these challenges, such as integrating renewable energy sources into the grid. (You can also hear Dr. Reed expand on these points by watching his TEDx talk here.)

What drove a 55-year-old roofing company to enter into the world of solar energy? For Jack Scalo, president and CEO of Scalo Solar Solutions, the rationale was simple: it’s what his clients wanted and it made good business sense. Scalo discusses how their recently unveiled, Sunscape Demonstration Project has already reduced their office energy costs by 55 percent and why solar energy represents opportunity for his business.

And in the spring of 2012, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will unveil one of the world’s most energy and water efficient buildings on its campus in Oakland. Called the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, this education, research and administrative facility will deploy a number of cutting-edge technologies that will result in the building being net-zero energy and net-zero water. Phipps Executive Director Richard Piacentini sat down to talk about this remarkable project and some of the highly innovative energy technologies being used.

“Our Region’s Business” airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV.  Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.