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New Leaders Council

Meet Mark Ptak- 2016 Pittsburgh Fellow

Getting to Know Mark Ptak...


1.       Favorite Book of all time AND the last book you read?

My favorite book would probably have to be Fight Club. I’m a big fan of Chuck Palahnuik’s writing style, and his plots are always incredibly imaginative. The last book I read was Between the World and Me, and I’m currently working onThe New Jim Crow.  

2.      If you could master one skill you don’t have right now, what would it be?

Multilingualism. I took Spanish in high school and could converse pretty well, but a lot of it’s been lost since then. Our world is increasingly interconnected and I feel like knowing only one language boxes us in when it comes to understanding others and making important decisions that affect them. So I regret not having kept up with at least one other language, but I’m trying to commit to catching back up with Spanish.

3.      What’s your Zodiac Sign? If you know anything about it do you think it’s you?

I’m a Libra. From what I understand, they’re supposed to be balanced and diplomatic. I think that’s a pretty good fit, but I’m more of a Myers-Brigg personality person (I’m an INTJ for the record, and it’s pretty spot-on).

4.      What’s the First album you bought and what media was it on? (CD, tape, 8 track?)

The first album I loved enough to actually go out and buy was Hot Fuss by The Killers. “Mr. Brightside” is still the greatest song of all time.

5.      If you had to sacrifice one of your five senses which would it be and why?

Smell. It seems like the one you could reasonably get by without and not really notice.

6.      What was your dream job growing up?

One of my favorite movies growing up was The Mummy. For a good while I was fixated on archaeology and thought I’d be digging up pyramids in Egypt when I got older. The shine wore off after I realized that’s not how it actually works.

7.      Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

No matter where I am, I want to be working to advance causes I’m passionate about, whether that’s in the office of an elected official, a nonprofit, or something else entirely. I have a strong attachment to my communication background and I’m a big policy wonk, so I’d like to find some way to combine the two. Vox is a great example of a website that’s really filled the void for a broad audience interested in those kinds of discussions, but in a more digestible and visual way. Similarly, BuzzFeed gets a bad rap for some of its tabloid-style content, but it doesn’t get enough credit for finding a way to get young people to stay aware of current events while actually reinvesting in investigative reporting at a time when most traditional news outlets have been moving away from it. These are the kind of outside-of-the-box thinkers that are going to thrive in the digital age, as easy as it is to be cynical about changes to long-standing traditions people are used to.  So right now I have a general vision of where I want to end up, but I’m leaving all pathways open and seeing where the opportunities take me.

8.     What’s your favorite thing about Pittsburgh?

While I was working in NYC, the one thing that reminded me of home was how many unique neighborhoods there were, all in such a compact area. Whether you’re visiting for the first time, or you’re a lifelong resident, there’s such a welcoming sense of community here in Pittsburgh. I think we’re on the frontlines of tackling some big challenges that come with a rapidly changing economy and demographics, but that core value isn’t going to go away.

9.      If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Barcelona! I’ve always loved the culture of Spain, but I’ve heard great stories about Barcelona in particular when it comes to their art, food, weather, and open-mindedness in general.

10.  In what ways are you a leader? In what ways are you a follower?

Thinking about myself as a leader is a relatively new experience for me. I consider myself an introvert, and I think society unfortunately teaches us that we don’t have certain qualities that make up a leader. While extroverts might have an easier time doing some things, there are really a lot of valuable strengths introverts have that can give us an edge. We like to think about a problem, break it down, and turn that analysis in action after we’re confident we’ve conquered it from every angle. Bill Gates is a great example of someone who’s talked about this. Leadership for us means refining our weaknesses and running with our strengths, just like everyone else. So hopefully I can be a leader on that issue!

I’m a follower when it comes to listening to anyone who has more knowledge or experience than me on a given topic. You’re not going anywhere if you’re not growing every single day, and the best way to do that is recognizing that everyone around you has a different background that you can learn from.

11.   If you could have one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?

Being able to see into the future would come in handy. There’s nothing more excruciating than being at the crossroads of a tough decision and not knowing what the right move is. Having that power would make things a lot easier. 

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