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New Leaders Council

Leadership Team

Jordan Ball (2015 Fellow), Chapter Co-Director


Jordan Ball began his career in public service as a Panetta Congressional Fellow in 2012, where he interned under the guidance of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He was inspired by his experience on Capitol Hill, and subsequently worked on local, state, and national campaigns across the country, including Americans for Workplace Opportunity in New Hampshire. Jordan currently serves as U.S. Senator Bob Casey’s Southwest Regional Representative, where he works across the region to facilitate collaboration and work on issues impacting coal, rural, urban, senior and veteran constituencies. He has quickly established himself as an innovative, populist thinker who challenges orthodoxy. He also serves as Co-Director of New Leaders Council Pittsburgh, where he helps recruit and train millennial entrepreneurs from business, government, and non-profit sectors. In summer 2016, he was selected to give a national speech at the New Leaders Council (NLC) conference in Washington, D.C., where he urged political leaders to re-evaluate anti-energy policies and how they connect with working class communities in coal country. Additionally, he is active on several boards including the National Veteran’s Art Museum Pittsburgh Advisory Committee. He is currently pursuing his MBA at West Virginia University with an emphasis in Energy Finance.


Rhiannon Cook (2015 Fellow), Chapter Co-Director


Rhiannon Cook is currently a Senior Media buyer and planner with Chemistry Communications, a full service advertising agency. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in ‘09 she held a range of communication roles across politics, environmental advocacy, education, and healthcare. Vast and varied experiential learning has directed Rhiannon to her niche as a media and communications strategist. It's her mission to aid cross-functional collaboration that bridges variegated roles and industries to produce profitable results for social good.

In her current role with Chemistry Communications, Rhiannon is focused on making data-driven optimizations and executing integrated digital campaigns for her non-profit clients to help them with fundraising and raising awareness. She enjoys working at the intersection of ethical business and new technology, where she takes client strategy and translates it into targeted media recommendations to meet goals and increase brand cohesion.

Rhiannon is a native of Northeast Ohio, but now calls Pittsburgh home. She currently serves as the Secretary for the Media Association of Pittsburgh and the Vice President of the Influential Leaders Board of the Women and Girls Foundation. Rhiannon is a lifelong volleyball player, swimmer, social activist, and probably planning her next trip abroad.

Sarah Boal (2016 Fellow), Institute Co-ChairPitt-Boal.jpg

Sarah Boal serves as Executive Director of Friends of Southeast Alaska, a nonprofit in the startup phase. FOSEA works with teams of volunteers in small communities in the Alaskan Panhandle to assist local organizations with educational programming and facilities maintenance. Sarah is currently a candidate for a Master’s of Public Administration, majoring in Public and Nonprofit Management at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Sarah is also a member of the current cohort of the Leadership Portfolio Program through the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership at GSPIA. Presently the Medical Mission Trip assistant at Brother’s Brother Foundation, Sarah works in their Medical Mission Trip Program.

Prior to attending GSPIA, Sarah spent several years working in Youth Ministry. She has served as Director of Student Ministries for Saegertown United Methodist Church, Minister of Christian Education at Church of the Good Shepherd in Lebanon, PA, and Youth Director at Cochranton Presbyterian Church. Sarah also volunteers time each summer to serve as a Program Director at Gretna Glen Camp & Retreat Center in Lebanon, PA. For nine years Sarah has worked for the Crawford County Fair in Meadville, PA, serving as the “voice of the fair,” dispatcher, and assistant to the Executive Secretary. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Lebanon Valley College. She also has a Bachelor of Science –Business Administration in International Business with a Minor in Marketing – from Slippery Rock University. While at Lebanon Valley, Sarah served as the Editor of the Quittapahilla, the college yearbook, and as President of a campus community service organization.


Maria Pisano (2016 Fellow), Selections Co-Chair


Maria is a creative communications and marketing professional with more than 17 years professional experience. She is currently doing free-lance work for non-profit and independent clients including Kidsburgh, SLB Radio, Inc., Cribs for Kids, and author Lillie Leonardi among others. From 2005 – 2015 Maria was employed at WQED Multimedia, the nation’s first community-supported broadcaster and production-home of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for more than 30 years. As a Marketing Associate for the last eight years she was responsible for coordinating and creating marketing and media campaigns for WQED’s four television channels, Classical WQED-FM 89.3 radio broadcast station and three online streams, local and national television and radio productions, WQED Interactive, and iQ: smartmedia, WQED’s educational initiative. In 2008 she initiated the corporate Twitter® account which she helped to grow to more than 25,000 “followers.” She has coordinated signature community engagement projects including “The Neighborhood of Make-Believe Tour” in 2009 which saw over 4,000 people in attendance over a three-day period to recognize the 40th Anniversary of Mister Rogers Neighborhood on television.

In 2011, she developed an innovative advertising strategy for the premiere of Pittsburgh From the Air. Utilizing a sky-writing stunt that went viral, “WQED” became the local “trending topic” for the first time on Twitter®, and the program became WQED’s most successful retail offering with over 20,000 units sold to date. Maria started her career at WQED in 2005 as a Member Services Representative where she provided exceptional customer service to WQED Members, and created solutions that improved departmental operations. Prior to working at WQED, she worked at Mellon Bank (now Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon) from 2000 – 2005 in loan collections while attending Duquesne University in her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2004, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, with an emphasis in Journalism, and a minor in English. Passionate about her community, Maria has volunteered hundreds of hours to area non-profits and participated in numerous local and national election campaigns. Her passions include economic justice, education and politics. She currently resides in Mount Washington with her grandparents Beverly and Charles and their “dog-son” Gizzmo, and enjoys spending evenings and weekends with her boyfriend Michael and his daughter Katelyn.


Leah Rainey (2016 Fellow), Selections Co-ChairPitt-Marmo.jpg

A graduate from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Social Work, Leah has spent her life devoted to understanding large scale social issues in an effort to elicit change and movement. Born and raised in Pittsburgh's coal towns, Leah brings a first hand account of the effects of poverty and community redevelopment to her work of studying homelessness on a county-wide level. As an undergrad, Leah focused her studies on researching homelessness and poverty on an international level, traveling to Poland to work with a team of researchers in a cross-cultural analysis of European and Western social issues. Since living and working in Pittsburgh, Leah has immersed herself in the rapid changes within Pittsburgh's East End, working both in community development and community grassroots efforts to make Pittsburgh fair and accessible to all. Leah lives in the East End with her soon to be husband Ben and rescue pitbull Sierra Nevada. Leah balances her work life by training for marathons, doing yoga, and enjoying coffee with friends and family.


Mark Ptak (2016 Fellow), Communications ChairPitt-Ptak.jpg

Born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, Mark attended the University of Pittsburgh graduating with a B.A. in both Communication and Film Studies in the summer of 2014. While attending, he first became involved in politics as an intern during Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gubernatorial race, and has since continued campaign work on races both in New York and in Pittsburgh, including for City Controller Michael Lamb’s reelection. His communications and organizing background, in addition to coming from a family of Polish immigrants, has had a profound influence on his commitment to progressive ideals. His goal is to bring together contemporary mobilized causes as one intersectional movement for social, political, economic, and environmental justice. He’s especially drawn to communication and messaging strategies that resonate with those traditionally disengaged or disillusioned with the political process to build a coalition committed to bold and lasting change. He is currently a Research Assistant in the Office of the City Controller, handling policy related to the City's ethical and fiscal transparency. 


Ricky Burgess (2016 Fellow), Recruitment ChairPitt-Burgess.png

Ricky relocated back to the Pittsburgh area shortly before becoming an NLC fellow. Prior to that, Ricky a was participant Rexnord's MBA leadership development program, where he served in marketing, engineering, project management, operations, and product management roles within Rexnord businesses across the country. Ricky graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2012 with both a MBA concentrating in organizational leadership and a MSPPM from Heinz College. While at Tepper, Ricky served as VP of Finance for the Organization Leadership Club and President of the Black Graduate Student Organization. Prior to business school, Ricky worked as a project manager for an engineering consulting firm and earned a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering from MIT. Ricky's passion is to provide affordable access to potable water and water treatment for people throughout the United States and across the globe.



Jenna Baron (2016 Fellow), Alumni Co-ChairPitt-Baron.jpg

Jenna Baron comes to Pittsburgh by way of Wilkes-Barre, PA where she was born and raised. In spring 2013, Jenna graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and certificates in Global Studies and African Studies. Jenna is currently employed by the United Way of Allegheny County, where she works on two initiatives within the department of Children and Youth: the Be There Campaign and Be a Middle School Mentor. After graduating from Pitt in 2013, Jenna was awarded a Fulbright Research Scholarship to Nairobi, Kenya, where she conducted a project documenting the experiences of activists, teachers, students, and volunteers involved in the disability rights movement. After completion of her Fulbright project, she returned to Pittsburgh to serve as a fellow with Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE), where she was placed with the United Way’s Be There Campaign.

At the end of her fellowship with PULSE, she stayed on the Campaign, which partners with schools in Allegheny County to address chronic absenteeism - a national crisis affecting school-age youth. Her current role is focused on working with schools in the North Side as a partner to the Buhl Foundation’s One Northside initiative. Outside of her work at the United Way, Jenna volunteers with Pittsburgh Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment (PRYSE) Academy. Jenna’s work is guided by her belief that reforming the U.S. public education system is a key approach to combat racism and achieve social justice. Now and as she continues in the nonprofit field, she hopes to become a better and more experienced advocate for minority rights, specifically immigrants and people with disabilities.

 Alyssa Lyon (2016 Fellow), Alumni Co-ChairPitt-Lyon.jpg

Alyssa P. Lyon is currently a Master of Public Management Candidate (2017) at Heinz College housed at Carnegie Mellon University.  She’s also a Pitt alumna having received a BA in Communications and Africana Studies & certificates of Leadership and African Studies (plus a language) from the University in 2012.  Originally hailing from The Bronx, New York, Alyssa’s undying love for the city of Pittsburgh has influenced and guided her into community and economic development where she focuses her efforts towards community organizing and urban planning.  She believes that neighborhoods function best when they’re are provided with equal resourcing opportunities, contain economically thriving businesses & organizations, and are successful at producing and retaining inhabitants who are prideful of their living spaces & fellow residents. Additionally, she’s worked in Larimer during their comprehensive neighborhood planning stages for which they received a HUD grant for proposed revitalization efforts.  She’s spent time in the Hill District, where she created a historic preservation strategy for the community’s aging assets, such as Playwright August Wilson’s home and the New Granada Theater.  

Outside of the professional realm, Alyssa remains active in community-oriented events throughout Pittsburgh.  She’s worked and volunteered with educational youth groups, like the Penn State Extension program, 4-H Community Innovation Training & Youth, where program initiatives highlighted academic success, youth leadership and civic engagement as facets of a progressive and sustainable community.  Alyssa is also a board member & devoted volunteer for the African American Alumni Council at the University of Pittsburgh and member of the Larimer Consensus Group’s One Voice action team.  Alyssa is an enthusiastic learner and worker capable of following directions & absorbing constructive criticism. She’s a great team player & leader with strong communication & organizational skills.  She possesses an exceptional ability to build relationships and is extremely capable of adjusting to strenuous environments. Alyssa understands that every chance she gets is an opportunity for her to gain knowledge & understanding; therefore she commits herself to being Life's greatest student.  

Tara Jerry, Finance ChairTara_Jerry.jpg

A native of New Jersey but lifelong Steelers fan, Tara Jerry came to Pittsburgh in 2010 to begin her undergraduate career at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated early in 2013, magna cum laude, with a BS in Economics and Political Science. After writing for PoliticsPA in 2012 and interning on numerous local elections in college, Tara began her current career path when she joined the fundraising team on Tom Wolf’s campaign for Governor in March 2014. Since then she has continued fundraising for many local and statewide candidates.  In addition to being Finance Chair for New Leaders Council’s Pittsburgh chapter, Tara is active in the Young Democrats of Allegheny County.




 Aerion Abney (2015 Fellow), Mentorship ChairPittsburgh-_Aerion_Abney.jpg

Aerion is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2010 he received his undergraduate degree in Communications with a minor in Theatre Arts from the University of Pittsburgh. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, he continued
 his education and received his Masters of Social Work also from the University of Pittsburgh. He chose social work because he is dedicated to a life of service and making a positive difference in the lives of others and their overall well-being. His ultimate goal as a social leader is to raise the bar of acquired knowledge, while at the same time closing the gap of ignorance.

Aerion is the Program Officer at the POISE Foundation, an African American owned and operated community foundation with a mission to assist the Pittsburgh regions African American community achieve self sustaining practices. As the Program Officer he is responsible for donor engagement and identifying strategic grantmaking opportunities that are aligned with the Foundation’s priority areas. Additionally, he oversees the Promoting Positive Family Interactions grant process a component of the Foundation’s Strengthening Black Families program strategy. To this end he has assisted in the publication of the Foundations first ever position paper entitled “Strengthening Black Families: A Case For Philanthropic Investment”.

Aerion is politically engaged within the city of Pittsburgh and has served as a Committeeman for the 21st Ward 4th District. He currently sits on the boards of: Community Human Services, Hill District Federal Credit Union, and Human Services Center Corporation, as well as the advisory board for the African American Achievement Trust Collective Focus. Additionally he serves on the City of Pittsburgh’s My Brother’s Keeper taskforce an initiative to create action plans around the opportunity gaps that effect young men of color.

Currently, Aerion lives his professional life at the intersection of philanthropy and politics. His background and interests are in workforce training, community development, and social and economic justice. He intends to apply and infuse his acquired knowledge and understanding of social justice into the philanthropic mission of the Foundation. Aerion is also a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons.

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