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New Leaders Council

2018 Fellows

2018 Pittsburgh Fellows

Julie Asciolla

Government and Public Relations Liaison, City of Pittsburgh


Julie Asciolla is the government and public relations liaison for the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections. As the liaison, Julie encourages community members to actively participate in the well-being of their neighborhood through code enforcement and permitting. In an effort to empower communities, Julie was project lead on buildingeye, an interactive map that displays years of PLI’s public data. She is a member of the Special Events Committee, the Clean Pittsburgh Commission, the Archive Commission, and the chair of the Board of License and Inspection Review. Julie has worked at PLI since 2011.

Julie attended the University to Pittsburgh at Johnstown where she gained an adoration for Geographic Information Systems and geography, gaining a bachelor’s degree in the subject. This lead to an assistantship at the University of Akron and a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and GIS. She interned and eventually worked for the City of Akron Development Services department. She worked on projects ranging from housing rehabilitation to increasing home ownership. She developed a pilot deconstruction program in which the City of Akron and Habitat for Humanity partnered to recycle building materials before demolition instead of going to a landfill. The program is still in use today. This time solidified Julie’s interest in local government and community development.

Julie and her husband recently purchased a 1900 Victorian fixer-upper in Mt. Washington. When she is not DIYing a project she learned about on YouTube, Julie enjoys spending time on the rivers, road trips, and visiting all of Pittsburgh’s great restaurants and entertainment options. Most of all, she loves being close to her family and watching her nephews grow. She believes in Pittsburgh and creating a city for all.

Oliver Beasley

Contract Review Specialist, City of Pittsburgh

PHOTOOliver Beasley was born and raised in Pittsburgh’s Northside, and is dedicated to making Pittsburgh a livable city for all backgrounds and demographics. Oliver knew at a young age his life goal would be to serve his community and act as a liaison on their behalf. This realization of his calling at such a young age has led to 16 impressive years of community service. He’s a product of Pennsylvania’s educational system, having gone to Pittsburgh Public Schools K-12, Slippery Rock for an undergraduate degree in Finance, and Villanova for a Masters of Public Administration. Currently, he serves as a Contract Review Specialist in the Office of Mayor William Peduto. Within this role, he reviews minority participation for construction and professional service contracts applying to do work for the City of Pittsburgh. Outside of work, community involvement continues to be at the forefront of Oliver’s social activities. He holds a CFO position with local production company, Brittany Leanna Productions. The mission of Brittany Leanna Productions is to pair art with activism, giving a voice to those who are oftentimes silenced. Oliver also enjoys volunteering within his community. His volunteer activities include serving food at food banks, mentoring middle school students, and assisting with the planning of activities for seniors at the hill House Senior Center.

Vaibhav Birda

Medical Student, University of Pittsburgh

Vaibhav is currently a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh passionate about health equity and healthcare delivery to under-resourced settings. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Vaibhav grew interested in international development and the role that healthcare institutions could play in poverty alleviation. During this time, he helped found a community health worker program helping promote healthcare in slum communities in India and worked as a mentor and tutor for at-risk youth and the incarcerated communities of the Bay Area. Looking to continue this work but with a healthcare background, Vaibhav enrolled in medical school in Pittsburgh in 2015, and as a current student is involved in public and global health interest groups and activities. He hopes to one day utilize medicine as a tool to both advocate for underserved communities both locally and internationally, while also engaging in its relationship to progressive political and social justice movements.

Originally from the Los Angeles area, Vaibhav is an avid fan of sunshine, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Mexican food, and is (still) waiting to participate in a snowball fight.


David Fortna

Associate Director of Admissions, Carnegie Mellon University- Heinz College

PHOTODave Fortna arrived in Pittsburgh during the winter of 2010, when he began his graduate studies in Higher Education Management at the University of Pittsburgh. Since then, he has been an active and enthusiastic member of the Higher Education community at both the local and national levels. For the past seven years, Dave has mentored and advocated for students aspiring to make an impact in government, non-profits and healthcare. Dave’s immersive engagement in these sectors has motivated him to seek new opportunities for impact around the region. Dave hopes to eventually run for local office in his district, with the goal of expanding Pittsburgh’s momentum of positive growth and development to the Western part of the region. Currently, Dave works at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information System and Public Policy as an Associate Director of Admissions. He is an experienced professional with expertise in multiple domains of education including coaching under-represented students, career services, alumni relations and admissions. Additionally, Dave is a leader in his industry, having served as the Outreach Chair for the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association- Young Alumni Council and Vice President of the Western Pennsylvania Career Services Association. Prior to beginning his career in Higher Education, Dave worked for Norfolk Southern Railroad as a Train Master, managing a team of Union Employees and the logistics of freight movement at a major East Coast rail yard. Dave is known for fostering strong cross-functional relationships, strategically aligning internal constituents and stakeholders from disparate public and private external organizations. Advancement of strategic growth initiatives and successful facilitation of connections between students and professional opportunities form the core of Dave’s professional achievements.

Kiandra Foster

Program Manager, United Way of Southwestern PA

PHOTOKiandra Foster, Program Manager at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, has spent years focusing on providing needed services such as emergency food, housing, healthcare, educational resources, and access to economic opportunities to low-income families, women at times of crisis, veterans, and unaccompanied youth. While overseeing human service delivery, Kiandra works to demonstrate key relationships between economic and political institutions and the health and well-being of those in need in local communities.

One of her passions is working to provide needed supports for women and girls experiencing violence- a passion which led to her engagement in the Southwest PA Says NO MORE initiative, where she now works to prevent gender violence before it occurs. She oversees the implementation of Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM) in high school athletic programs in the region, working with service agencies to train high school coaches to have conversation with their athletes about respect, consent, and healthy relationships. She assists in planning the Father’s Day Pledge to End Gender Violence in order to encourage fathers and men to take personal ownership of their role in violence prevention. Also, she partners with corporate and civic leaders to leverage their unique touch in the community to raise awareness of important issues like sexual assault and domestic violence.

Kiandra is also passionate about providing resources to empower struggling families on their path towards financial self-sufficiency. As part of her work in the Financially Struggling Families area at United Way, Kiandra: serves as the administrator of a partnership with FEMA to support food pantries and homeless shelters; coordinates with local human service agencies to assist families with school-age children in avoiding homelessness and achieving financial stability; leads a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coalition that provides free tax preparation and asset-building resources to over 10,000 households; and searches for new and innovative opportunities to increase community impact and address emerging community needs.

Additionally, Kiandra is committed to environmental sustainability and helping local stakeholders understand the relationships between environmental and economic sustainability practices. In this effort, she serves as an active member of the Board of Directors for Sustainable Pittsburgh.

Kiandra plans to continue advocating for the health and well-being of those in her community through her work in each of these areas in the future.

Antony Gnalian

Emerging Leaders Program Associate, HM Health Solutions

PHOTOAntony Gnalian was born and raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to immigrant parents from India who provided him with a strong foundation to stand on as he continues his journey as a second-generation American citizen.

As soon as he arrived on campus at the University of Pittsburgh, Antony sought to further understand his identity by involving himself in cross-cultural leadership opportunities through Greek Life and the South Asian communities at school. The intersection between these communities provided him with a greater appreciation for leadership, civic engagement, philanthropy, and diversity & inclusion. 

Antony graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.S. in Health Information Management. He’s currently an Associate-level IT Analyst at HM Health Solutions, an IT for-profit subsidiary of Highmark Health, as a member of the company's Emerging Leaders Program, an IT leadership and development rotational program, with a concentration in project management & business analysis. He desires to further his education by concentrating his efforts towards health care policy and management in order to pursue his goals of providing greater accessibility, affordability, and quality healthcare services for patients and the community.

One of his current initiatives at work includes working with the Office of Diversity & Inclusion at Highmark Health to develop an Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Business Resource Group that will impact the AAPI and MENA communities at the workplace, within their respective communities, in the healthcare marketplace, and patient care.

In his spare time, Antony enjoys reading about behavioral economics, social justice, and leadership, writing for his blog, listening to podcasts, playing sports, and watching his favorite sports teams. He serves as a tutor with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council and volunteers with the North Pittsburgh Democratic Volunteer Corps in his neighborhood of Franklin Park where he currently resides. He also has an older sister, Tesin, who is a teacher in the Seneca Valley School District and a younger brother, John, who is an aspiring physician and current student at the University of Pittsburgh.

Traci Johnson

Associate, Denny Civic Solutions

PHOTOTraci Johnson is an Associate at Denny Civic Solutions – a public affairs consulting firm that assists clients in turning their amazing ideas into action. She is a Pittsburgh native and Hill District resident that has spent the bulk of her career in the nonprofit world. Traci is a graduate of Carlow University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a concentration in Urban Policy and Research. She has firsthand experience working with vulnerable and at-risk populations. It was during this experience that Traci had the opportunity to hear the powerful and compelling voices of community members and, she knew that their stories needed to be told.

This propelled Traci to pursue a career change that would enable her to share these stories with high-level decision makers and affect real change for communities and their residents. As a participant in Mercy Global Action at the United Nations, Traci worked with the Sisters of Mercy on their advocacy initiatives on behalf of poverty-stricken, international populations. These initiatives ranged from Water Rights to Human Trafficking. This experience fueled her desire and drive to learn how decisions regarding policies and laws are made and how to draw attention to an issue that will charge decision makers to a solution. Now, Traci works with diverse organizations, stakeholders, and state government entities to create positive change by developing and managing civic campaigns that engineer and influence public policy. She aims to become a catalyst for change that will equitably benefit all populations socially and economically.

Emily Kinkead

Law Clerk, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

PHOTOThough a Pittsburgh native, Emily has lived all across the country from West Virginia to North Dakota. After graduating from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania with Bachelor's degrees in Political Science and Biology, she moved to Washington, DC where she worked in an immersive community for adults with developmental disabilities called L’Arche. She went on to work for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) before returning to Pittsburgh to attend law school at the University of Pittsburgh.

Emily spent the summer after her first year of law school in Eldoret, Kenya working with the Legal Aid Centre of Eldoret (LACE), which provides free legal services to any person with HIV/AIDS or who has been the victim of gender or domestic violence. The summer after her second year, she worked at Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA), representing low-income tenants in disputes with their landlords. She also served on the Board of Directors of the Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation (PLISF), a student-run non-profit that raises money for Pitt Law students who accept unpaid public interest summer internships.

Outside of school, Emily has volunteered with Common Cause and served on the Board of Directors of Democracy Matters, two non-partisan organizations that focus on issues of government ethics reform and addressing the impact of dark money in our political system. Since graduating Pitt Law in 2016, Emily has stepped away from her advocacy roots to serve as a law clerk on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate court primarily responsible for matters involving state and local government and regulatory agencies, as well as the trial court for lawsuits filed by or against the Commonwealth.

In her free time, Emily enjoys catching up on all the great books she missed reading while in law school, watching Pittsburgh sports, learning the skills of newly minted homeowners, and attending Star Trek conventions with her family.

Aishwarya Kumar

Student Assistant, Part-time, University of Pittsburgh


Ash is a graduate student at the School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Public Administration with a specialization in Governance and International Public Management. At GSPIA, she has been involved with student affairs as she represents the international students and general student body with fervor. She serves as a board member for the Office of Career Development and Placement Assistance’s first Diversity Advisory Board at the University of Pittsburgh. Ash has been researching governance patterns and issues in developed and developing countries. She is currently involved in research work for the Center of Metropolitan Studies and the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership. She was a fellow at the prestigious Hesselbein Leadership Summit held in 2017 at the University of Pittsburgh. Over the Summer of 2017, she worked as a GIS Intern for the Quaker Valley Council of Governments, Pittsburgh. Her focus was on property evaluation and mapping the data that was collected to develop a blight mitigation strategy and for efficient code enforcement. She is also leading the ICMA student chapter at GSPIA as the Co-president.

She graduated from the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology University, Ahmedabad, India with a degree in Urban Planning (B. Plan) in May 2016. Ash speaks English, Hindi, Malayalam, Gujarati, and Arabic. She enjoys learning about different cultures and languages. She is very empathetic and takes deep interest in education for the underprivileged. She has served as a tutor in India and the United States. She is passionate about governance at different levels and aims to practice in related fields after graduation.


Dominique Luster

Archivist, Carnegie Museum of Art

PHOTODominique Luster is from Louisville, Kentucky, transplanted to Pittsburgh for school and work, and currently serves as the Teenie Harris Archivist at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Before working at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Luster worked as a Liaison Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh where she focused on serving at-risk undergraduate students, promoted advanced research at the undergraduate level, and served as the liaison to the Theatre Arts Department.

While completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky, Luster studied Theatre Design and Technology, theatre history and literature, art history, and German. As a theatre student, she learned lighting design both at the university and at various theatre companies such as Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and the Dorset Theatre Festival. Luster also completed the Gaines Research Fellowship in the Humanities program and studied at the Freie Universität Berlin in Germany as a US Fulbright “Discover Germany” scholar.

These experiences lead Luster to an interest in research, scholarship, and working with primary sources. Following her return from Berlin, Luster worked as a learning lab intern in the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library processing theatre and other arts related archival collections. Between her time at the University of Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh, Luster also worked at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art as a collections processing intern.

All of these interests came together to lead Luster to her current position as the Teenie Harris Archivist. Within her role here, she is striving to help the Carnegie Museum of Art build a world-renown archive, that is uniquely hyper-specialized on the life of African Americans in the mid-20th century. The Teenie Harris Archive consists of almost 80,000 images dating from the 1930s to the 1970s; documenting what might be one of the most complete insights into African American urban life at that time. The collection spans just about every major topic imaginable from births and weddings to cars and jazz clubs and features some of the most prominent African American entertainers and politicians as well as beloved local community members in their everyday lives.

John Marshall

Phone Canvass Manager, Clean Water Action

PHOTOJohn was born in Allentown, PA, but his father’s work with the United States government took the family to La Paz, Bolivia when he was 7 years old. His family would spend much of the next 14 years overseas, during which time he would develop deep interests in culture, systems of government, and communication. His current work as a Phone Canvass Manager with Clean Water Action allows him to engage with all these interests while helping build the progressive movement around the country through direct fundraising campaigns, issue organizing, and training young activists.

His fascination with communication led him to earn a BA in English from Washington College in 2012, where he was a member of the men’s rugby team, and was active in the campus literary scene at the Rose O’neil Literary House. Post-graduate life took him to Washington D.C., and eventually to Brooklyn, New York, where he began working as a freelance writer covering a range of topics from food to gender-parity on executive boards.

Attracted by the city’s culture and the proximity to family in town, John made a home in Pittsburgh in 2015. Here he began work with ArtMap Inc. a marketing and media startup as a content marketer and eventual Managing Editor of two of the company's largest publications, which had over a combined 20,000 subscribers at the time of his departure in late 2016.

When he’s not ‘fighting the good fight,’ John likes to read books, play darts, and explore Pittsburgh with his friends.

Jeffrey Morris

Project Manager, NCAT, Manchester Bidwell Corporation

PHOTOJeffrey Morris currently works as a Project Manager for Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s National Center for Arts and Technology (NCAT) in Pittsburgh, PA. NCAT consults with community leaders, government officials, corporations, foundations and high net worth individuals nationally and internationally; in order to build start-up, nonprofit centers providing responsive career training for underemployed/unemployed adults, and quality visual arts programs for public high school youth.

Prior to joining NCAT, Jeffrey spent thirteen years in performing arts production, management and operations. He has worked for a variety of organizations throughout Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C, and Pittsburgh. Notable companies include Actors’ Equity Association (labor relations), ODC Theater (dance presenting), Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (community chorus), the San Francisco Mime Troupe (political musical theater), The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (arts presenter), and Woolly Mammoth Theater Company (new works).

Jeffery holds a Master of Arts Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Bachelor’s in Playwriting and Performing Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He’ll soon complete the requirements for his PA real estate license, is a coffee addict, travel junky, nature lover, and regularly consumes art of all genres. 

Cassia Priebe

Account Manager, Hilti, Inc.


Cassia hails from Rochester, New York, and moved in Pittsburgh in 2008 to attend the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering, and has remained in Pittsburgh ever since. After several years working as a production engineer at local manufacturing companies, Cassia transitioned to working in sales at Hilti. She sells jackhammers and drills to construction contractors in Washington and Greene counties. She was always a concerned citizen but never got involved politically beyond voting. However, developing personal relationships with members of the blue-collar population of rural Southwestern Pennsylvania through her work at Hilti convinced her that now is the time to pursue an active role in a public sector or non-profit role to advance causes she cares about – racism, economic equality, LGBTQ equality, and environmentalism. Cassia is excited to use her skill set from her engineering and sales background to enact change in a professional role, rather than just her free time.
Cassia has been involved with a Russian scouting organization since she was young, and participating in leadership roles within it since her teens. The St. George Pathfinders of America runs a cultural summer camp for descendants of the Russian Orthodox Christian diaspora. She has served as an executive planner, camp counselor, and music director. The volunteer-run organization aims to preserve Russian language, history, music, and of course scouting techniques.

Cassia also is a member of the Renaissance City Choir, Western Pennsylvania’s only LQBTQA choral group. The group strives to promote a positive image of the LGBTQ+ community and to be a leading contributor to the cultural life of the tri-state area. It seeks to educate, challenge, and enlighten audiences and singing membership by affirming, through song, the worth and dignity of sexual minorities.


Ernest Rajakone

Community Affairs Liaison, City of Pittsburgh

PHOTOThe son of Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants who left during the civil war, Ernest has lived in Pittsburgh since 2011, where he moved from Central Pennsylvania to attend college at the University of Pittsburgh. Graduating in 2015, with a B.A. in Political Science, during his time in college Ernest served as President of Pitt College Democrats and the Pitt South Asian Student Association. Ernest was also involved at the grassroots level in politics, interning as an OFA Fellow for the Obama Re-Election Campaign in 2012 and on the Wolf Gubernatorial Campaign in 2014. As a member of the 2014 Class of the Washington Leadership Program, a national non-profit organization that aims to develop the next generation of American leadership from the South Asian community, Ernest interned in the Office of U.S. Representative Joe Crowley (NY-14).

Following graduation, Ernest worked various local political campaigns in Allegheny County and worked at Planned Parenthood. Ernest currently serves as a Community Affairs Liaison for the City of Pittsburgh, where he helps provide outreach and support to communities on behalf of the City of Pittsburgh and the Office of Mayor Bill Peduto. In this role, he also coordinates the Love Your Block Program, a community service program focused on neighborhood revitalization, and plays an active role in Welcoming Pittsburgh, a Mayor’s Office initiative focusing on immigrant and new American integration. Ernest is also the National President of Iota Nu Delta Fraternity, Inc., the first South Asian interest fraternity. Ernest is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Management (MPM) at the Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University.

James Reid

Intern, Economic Development Department, The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh

PHOTOJames Reid is driven by one core idea: we all do better when we embrace our differences. This belief inspired him to pursue an advanced degree in public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy where he focuses on developing policy advocacy skills to combine his passions for equitable economic development and deliberative democracy. As a Stephen M. Lauble Community Fellow at Heinz College, James is dedicated to building a Pittsburgh where race, gender, and zip code can no longer successfully predict a person’s life outcomes.

In addition, James works for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh’s economic development department where supports a variety of functions related to project management and policy analysis. Prior to moving to Pittsburgh to attend Heinz College, James lived in Washington, DC and worked for a boutique law firm specializing in regulatory compliance within the national security and international trade fields. There he worked with small and medium sized advanced technology firms, manufacturers, and resellers to develop robust international trade regulatory compliance programs and navigate the labyrinth of federal regulations governing the import and export of goods and services.

James is avid listener of podcasts who occasionally hosts Heinz Radio: Policy That Matters. He spends his free time reading, listening to music, walking his dog, and exploring Pittsburgh with his fiancé, Allison.

Meaza Solomon

Research Analyst, CivicScience

PHOTOMeaza is a research analyst at CivicScience, a marketing research startup. There she partners with clients and publishers to help them utilize CivicScience’s platform to make data-driven decisions. As someone who enjoys understanding human behavior and analysis, Meaza gets excited exploring the empirical evidence behind it.

During graduate school, she was fortunate to have amazing opportunities to intern at the United Nations Development Programme focusing on Ecosystems and Biodiversity. As well as interning at the Urban Redevelopment Authority working with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Prior to that, she worked in as a sales consultant for Hilton Hotels throughout California for seven years. Meaza earned her BS in Hotel Administration from Cornell University and her Master’s in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

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