The 2023 Above & Beyond
Recognizing 50 remarkable women who are blazing new trails
Women’s History Month may have started on March 1, but the landmarks, milestones and ceiling repairs happen year-round in Pennsylvania. Last month, Joanna McClinton became the first woman of color to lead a chamber in the General Assembly. No fewer than three women are among the leading candidates in Philadelphia’s Democratic mayoral primary. And out of the spotlight – until now – women have been taking the reins of organizations in the private sector, nonprofits and government agencies at record rates. The profiles on the following pages are just a glimpse into how Pennsylvania is being led and pushed forward by women.
In celebration of what they have accomplished – and what they have yet to check off of their to-do lists – City & State recognizes these 50 remarkable women serving in government, business, nonprofit organizations, medicine and more. The following profiles were researched and written by City & State staff and Hilary Danailova, a freelance writer.
When President Barack Obama needed a legal philosopher for his bioethics commission, he tapped Anita Allen. And when the University of Pennsylvania needed a vice provost to oversee faculty affairs at all 12 of its schools and an arts advisory council, it tapped Allen as well.
That’s because few academics can equal the résumé of this Penn Law professor and legal philosopher. Allen, who was the first Black woman ever to receive both a doctorate in philosophy and a law degree, was also the first Black woman to become a president of the American Philosophical Association in 2018. In 1988, Allen became the first philosopher to write a book about the right to privacy.
“I’ve been brave enough to try things that are maybe unusual for a Black woman and a philosopher,” acknowledged Allen, whose areas of specialty also include bioethics, women’s rights and diversity in higher education.
Allen’s intellectual interests took root during her childhood in a peripatetic military family. “I was interested in big ideas that I wouldn’t be able to prove – does God exist?” Allen recalled. She earned a doctorate from the University of Michigan, then a law degree from Harvard.
“Philosophy was very much about living in your own head, and I wanted a career that was more public-facing,” explained Allen of her decision to combine disciplines. After briefly practicing law, Allen made her career at Penn, where she has championed tenure for professors of color.
Her commitments extend far beyond campus, including service on the board of the National Constitution Center as well as on the Pennsylvania Board of Continuing Judicial Education, where she helped implement Pennsylvania’s groundbreaking continuing judicial education program. “For me, that was a unique and important way to help improve the community,” Allen reflected.
Long before she ever heard of community engagement, Olivia Benson followed the people-centered example of her grandmother. “She raised seven children, was a phenomenal cook, an usher in her church, active in volunteering, and an entrepreneur who sold these big and glamorous church hats,” recalled Benson of her earliest mentor.
Relationships have long defined Benson’s career, from her early days in politics to her current role as COO of The Forbes Funds and its Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, where she takes a hands-on approach to social impact work. “I’ll be at community meetings, doing late-night phone calls and talking with folks about budget decisions,” explained Benson. “We really are on the ground.”
Benson guides a $3 million operating budget and manages the organization’s largest funding portfolio, Catalytic Community Cohorts. These are strategic partnerships with area organizations to fund locally led projects, like a new chamber of commerce for the Braddock area and a job training program in conjunction with small businesses and the City of Pittsburgh.
Benson studied policy, management and political science at Carnegie Mellon before earning an MBA from Point Park University and a master’s in policy from Penn. Along the way, she interned at the U.S. Senate and worked as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C. before overseeing communications for several political campaigns.
Prior to joining the funds, she directed youth policy for the City of Pittsburgh and community engagement for the Women and Girls Foundation.
Whether in politics or policy, Benson always keeps her grandmother’s example in mind. “At the heart of it all is people,” she reflected. “Our humanity focus really guides our work ... and I’m proud of that.”
During a decade spent engaging at-risk youth in public art projects, the artist Laure Biron realized she was more interested in the service aspects of her work than the actual painting. So Biron earned a social work degree at Bryn Mawr College and found her niche at Broad Street Ministry, the human services nonprofit where she is now CEO.
“People will ask, ‘Do you miss having an artistic practice?’” relates Biron, who has art degrees from Smith College and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. “But I still feel like I’m solving a problem within a medium. I’m lucky that Broad Street allows me to address public health and deep poverty in a creative and holistic way.”
Biron’s professional evolution coincided with her tenure at Mural Arts, the Philadelphia nonprofit that engages communities in art-based social action. She joined Broad Street in 2019 and became CEO in 2020, launching a meal program called Step Up to the Plate to meet heightened need during the pandemic. Under Biron’s leadership, Broad Street went from serving 70,000 on-site meals annually to a four-site pickup operation that provided 1 million meals to hungry Philadelphians during the pandemic’s first two years.
Biron now oversees a $3.5 million operating budget, the organization’s first strategic plan in nearly two decades, and pilot programs like a mobile hygiene truck. She’s also expanded training for employees of other nonprofits on topics like de-escalation, anti-bias and what Biron calls “radical hospitality,” her favorite descriptor of Broad Street’s mission.
Art is still in the picture: Biron has spearheaded partnerships with the Kimmel Center, the Wilma Theater, Mural Arts and others for Broad Street’s therapeutic arts program. “We believe our guests are entitled to beauty and creativity,” she emphasized, “and to all of the ways that arts can feed the soul.”
Amanda Boris Stevens
Amanda Boris Stevens knew early on that she wanted to make a splash in Pennsylvania politics. The Pottsville native said she was “bitten by the political bug” when the late U.S. Sen. John McCain hosted a 2008 presidential campaign rally in her school gymnasium. Less than a decade later, as a key operative for the state Republican Party, Stevens played a critical role in the successful effort to deliver 2016 wins in Pennsylvania for former President Donald Trump, former U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and other GOP candidates – and landed on PoliticsPA’s “Rising Stars: 30 Under 30” list.
Stevens has been a consultant with Red Maverick Media since 2018, helping to bolster Republican influence with a client list that includes members of both the state House and state Senate. In an otherwise frustrating year for commonwealth Republicans, Stevens scored a win by flipping one of two House seats in play from Democrat to Republican with Rep. Alec Ryncavage. “We were able to win that seat back by staying on message and following our gut,” she said.
Stevens, a 2019 graduate of the Anne B. Anstine Excellence in Public Service Series, got her start working on local campaigns with Duquesne University’s College Republicans. After earning a degree in political science, she worked for the state GOP on then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s reelection and rose through the ranks.
“What I’m most proud of is being one of very few female Republican political consultants here in Pennsylvania,” Stevens noted. “It’s not often that women take on the role of general consultant to candidates from top to bottom. And I think it’s something we need to see more of.”
Gladys Brown Dutrieuille
Every time you turn on the water, go online or fire up that gas stove – if you’re still doing that – you’ve got Gladys Brown Dutrieuille to thank. You can also thank her for the regulation that brought rideshare services in line with taxi standards. At the Public Utility Commission, “we regulate the utilities that impact your everyday life,” explained Dutrieuille, who was first appointed by then-Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013.
Rail safety is also under the commission’s purview. So are landlines and making sure your cell phone can still get through to 911. Dutrieuille also serves on the governor’s Broadband Authority, helping efforts to expand access and keep up with what she calls “Netflix speeds.”
Dutrieuille grew up in Middletown, with a view of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, and earned a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. “I only went into the actual plant when I became a commissioner,” she recalled, “and my staff chuckled about the fact that I know everybody from high school.”
Dutrieuille spent 20 years as an attorney to the state Senate Democratic Caucus, where she worked on deregulation bills for telecommunications, electricity and natural gas. More recently, she examined the national utility response to COVID-19 as a member of the newly created Emergency Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience Task Force. Since 2021, she has also served on the telecommunications and critical infrastructure committees of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
The utility sector “was not a path I chose, but it’s a path I love,” she affirmed. “I put my heart and soul into doing the best job that I can.”
Whether running track or pioneering cannabis law, Judith Cassel has always led the pack. A partner in the firm of Hawke McKeon & Sniscak – where she has long specialized in regulated commonwealth industries like oil and gas – Cassel created and heads the firm’s cannabis practice group and is now among the state’s foremost authorities on this fast-growing industry, helping businesses navigate a new regulatory landscape.
“I thought it would be a natural fit and an area to grow into,” explained Cassel. While colleagues were tentative about associating the firm with cannabis, Cassel followed her instinct – and it paid off. “There’s a lot more diversity in this industry because cannabis is much more accepted by the younger crowd,” she reflected. “And making law is exciting. Some of my Pennsylvania cases are used in other states as precedents.”
Cassel has never been afraid to jump in and get her hands dirty. She grew up mucking stalls and baling hay on her family’s Hershey farm, which specialized in rehabilitating racehorses. Cassel herself started racing after she got carsick so often that her parents had her run alongside the car instead of sitting in it.
A five-time track and field record-holder at Penn State, Cassel was recruited by Mobil Oil to join their corporate team and work in marketing. She earned an MBA and then a law degree before joining Hawke McKeon & Sniscak in 2010.
The veteran litigator is proud of her industry wins, but she’s just as passionate about her social role – suing the Department of Health, for example, over restrictions on cannabis-based medicines. Then there’s her pro bono work: “I’ll get calls from patients who want to know, ‘How is cannabis going to affect my employment, my housing, my divorce hearing,’” Cassel noted. “I’m lucky to do meaningful work every day.”
There were times, earlier in her career, when Elizabeth Christian felt embarrassed and inadequate. Working her way up through Harrisburg’s halls of power, Christian was a single mom with a high school education, and it felt like everybody else had a husband and a college degree.
So it was tremendously validating for Christian, the state’s newly minted deputy secretary of general services, to share her story alongside Gov. Josh Shapiro when he abolished the college degree requirement for state jobs as his first official act. “People have called from all over the country to say, ‘Wow, thank you for telling your story,’” Christian related.
Christian knows that stories set a powerful example. That’s why she is launching a mentoring program at the 850-employee Department of General Services, where she has coordinated operations as acting secretary since 2021. Christian also mentors through the Society for Human Resource Management and Women in Leadership, and serves as an ambassador with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, having been diagnosed herself in 2018. Whether the issue is single parenthood or a serious illness, Christian said that sharing her own experiences has “given other people permission to say, ‘Oh, I have this thing, and this is how it affects me.’”
“You’ll hear the advice to leave your baggage at the door,” she said. “But when your employees come in, you have to accept them where they’re at. Sometimes we even help pick up the baggage and carry it.”
Gwynedd Mercy University President Deanne D’Emilio is not Catholic herself – but a quarter-century spent in Catholic higher education has helped her draw inspiration from that purpose-infused academic tradition.
In her six years as president, D’Emilio – who also teaches management at the business school – has led Gwynedd Mercy to its first-ever national ranking in U.S. News and World Report and made the university a founding member of the new Division III Atlantic East Conference. Through fundraising, real estate sales and strategic investments, D’Emilio has boosted the university’s endowment by 75% and is spearheading construction of the Francis M. McGuire Healthcare Innovation Campus. She’s also overseen numerous campus upgrades and launched new programs in public health, nursing, AI and digital communications.
All of this is informed by the values of the Sisters of Mercy, with which Gwynedd Mercy is affiliated. “The liberal arts, general education – people can study those anywhere,” noted D’Emilio. “But here, they also get our core values of service, social justice and, specifically, the influence of mercy.”
D’Emilio’s own reverence for education was instilled in her by her parents. “They were the first in either family to attend college, and it was life-changing for both of them,” reflected D’Emilio, a Pittsburgh native. After earning an education degree from Westminster College and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, D’Emilio held academic leadership positions at Carlow University and Mount Aloysius College, both Mercy-sponsored institutions where she innovated myriad programs and partnerships.
Working with the Sisters of Mercy “gave me a sense of larger purpose within the higher education landscape,” D’Emilio said. “And because I’ve been at this for 25 years, I’ve seen the power that this education does have to really change people’s lives for the better.”
Donna Crilley Farrell
Donna Crilley Farrell learned the values of loyalty and dedication from her parents, who never attended college – her mother was an assistant at Bryn Mawr College, and her father worked as a painter at the University of Pennsylvania so his daughter could attend tuition-free.
Farrell earned that Penn degree and embarked on a career defined by service and community. As senior vice president of corporate communications at Independence Blue Cross, Farrell has crafted award-winning campaigns for mental health, COVID-19 and other public health issues.
Farrell’s team is currently collaborating with The Philadelphia Tribune on IBX’s “Our Community. Our Health” campaign to raise awareness of common conditions like heart disease, diabetes, maternal health and COVID-19. Her 2020 “Beat COVID-19” initiative is still going strong three years into the pandemic. “In 2022, that campaign drove more than 30 million online impressions with health safety messaging,” Farrell noted.
A graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School, for which she now serves on the board, Farrell led communications for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for a dozen years, returning to serve as executive director of the World Meeting of Families – the organization coordinating 2015’s papal visit.
She still lives in Springfield, the town where she grew up. “I remember driving down the Schuylkill, looking at the skyline and thinking, how can I be a contributor to this great city?” Farrell recalled of her early professional days. For now, the answer lies at Independence: “We’re truly the hometown insurer,” she said, “and I’m incredibly proud of how we focus on the people and communities we serve.”
Spend a few minutes with Tammy Fennessy and she’ll convince you that benefits administration is one of the world’s most dynamic professions. “I’ve been doing it since 2008, and it’s proven to be an ever-changing and exciting field – perfect for someone like me, who gets bored easily,” she laughed.
The Pittsburgh-based Fennessy, who oversees benefits for American Eagle Outfitters, has an infectious enthusiasm for the career path that took her from restaurant kitchens to global administration. She’s taken none of it for granted, thanks to her childhood: Growing up on the Groton, Connecticut naval base, Fennessy knew her father had forgone college for the Navy to ease the family’s financial strain.
She worked her way through West Virginia University as a server and line cook, then spent a decade managing high-volume chain restaurants before moving into human resources. She is now studying for a master’s in applied science and population health management at Johns Hopkins.
Fennessy views her mission as keeping employees healthy and everyone’s costs down. “We’ve rolled out some amazing programs that have bent health care trends by democratizing care and meeting our associates where they are,” Fennessy noted. At American Eagle, she’s spearheaded company health centers that give employees time-saving, wallet-friendly – and often bilingual – alternatives to emergency rooms.
She also serves on the race, health and equity advisory council at the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health, where she is the immediate past chair, and on a Heinz Foundation-funded task force addressing Black maternal mortality. “We are in the business of impacting lives,” Fennessy affirmed. “We’re doing everything we can to support a healthy workforce.”
Angela Foreshaw-Rouse’s first mentor was, like her, a loquacious African American woman: Oprah Winfrey. “I was a latchkey kid in the 1980s,” Foreshaw-Rouse recalled. “So every day at four, Oprah was my babysitter. I’d watch her and say, ‘That is exactly the path that I’m taking – I want to talk to everyone.’”
Like Oprah, Foreshaw-Rouse is a professional communicator and, while her audience is slightly smaller, it’s still impressive – 1.8 million Pennsylvanians over age 50. For two decades, Foreshaw-Rouse has served as a liaison between AARP Pennsylvania and a growing and diverse older population – first as communications director, and now as head of state operations and community outreach. She also volunteers as secretary of the board of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
At AARP, Foreshaw-Rouse leads county-level outreach to expand awareness of the Affordable Care Act and other government initiatives. “I want to make sure people can understand all things about their financial security, about their health care, about what the trajectory looks like once you turn 50 in Pennsylvania,” she explained. And as a first-generation Jamaican American, Foreshaw-Rouse understands how that message needs to evolve. “We have growing populations of communities of color, who may receive information in different ways,” she observed.
Originally from New York, Foreshaw-Rouse joined Temple University to study communications and, apart from a brief sojourn in TV journalism, has made her career in the commonwealth. “I advocate for people who don’t always have a voice – helping make health care affordable, helping people live their best lives,” she noted. “It’s exhausting, but you go to bed so happy.”
Dana Fritz has been at Gov. Josh Shapiro’s side for a full decade. “That is definitely unusual in this business,” noted Fritz, who in January became the new governor’s chief of staff.
Then again, loyalty and great working relationships are some of Shapiro’s best qualities, according to Fritz: “I’m grateful he’s always given me the opportunity and trusted my abilities to take on the next, bigger job.”
The proof is in the team’s decade of political wins. In 2013, Shapiro was a Montgomery County Commissioner when he first hired Fritz as finance director for his PAC. She’s worked on every campaign since, as well as overseeing communications and serving as deputy chief of staff when Shapiro was Pennsylvania’s attorney general.
A Lehigh Valley native, Fritz went to Temple University, where her senior-year internship turned into a postgraduate job with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. The highlights of her career so far, she said, have been working with Shapiro on a grand jury investigation into Catholic Church sex abuse and taking the high road in a gubernatorial campaign marked by what she called “ugly, hateful” rhetoric.
Fritz’s own identity has been an asset as well. With women’s reproductive rights a key issue in the 2022 race, “I was surrounded by consultants and a boss who were male, but who let me be the one to talk about those things,” Fritz reflected. “And that shows the importance of women in the room when we’re dealing with those issues.”
Twenty-two years spent on oncology nursing staffs ultimately gave Roxanna Gapstur crucial insights into the issues that make her an effective health system CEO. “With each new role, I learned important lessons – about how teams and organizations function best, the critical role of leadership and how our health care system needs to continue changing,” reflected Gapstur. From nurse manager to senior vice president at HealthPartners in Bloomington, Minnesota – with every successive position, she said, “I was increasingly drawn to opportunities where I could have a larger influence.”
Since becoming CEO of WellSpan Health in 2019, Gapstur has implemented weekly phone calls with the system’s leadership and kept all 20,000 staffers in the loop via her monthly email and podcast. Gapstur also established a diversity, equity and inclusion steering committee and hired a vice president to oversee it, along with designating 150 “diversity champions” to build an inclusive culture. As a result, the number of women in senior-level positions has increased by 25%.
Gapstur’s practical work ethic has roots in her rural Minnesota childhood, where a high school biology teacher ignited her fascination with science. As a novice nurse on the University of Minnesota’s bone marrow transplant unit, where she worked alongside stem cell pioneers, Gapstur relished “the constant intellectual exercise on the cutting edge of science.”
Now an executive with a Ph.D. in nursing, she tries to keep WellSpan on that cutting edge through strategic partnerships with entities like CVS, Capital Blue Cross and General Catalyst aimed at modernizing everything from care and medication delivery to digital projects.
Her Central Pennsylvania home is new, too, and weekends often find Gapstur hiking through trails. “I grew up in an agricultural community,” she explained, “so South-Central Pennsylvania’s picturesque hills and valleys, dotted with tiny farms, feel familiar.”
Lauren Gilchrist has been, in her own words, “completely obsessed” with cities since her suburban Pittsburgh childhood.
Gilchrist’s obsession stems from growing up amid Pittsburgh’s post-industrial 1980s slump, when unemployment reached 25% and “the urban decay was palpable,” she recalled. After studying business at Bucknell and earning a master’s in public policy from Carnegie Mellon, Gilchrist – the regional market leader and executive vice president for Newmark, a global commercial real estate service firm – worked in public sector economic development. That brought her to Philadelphia, another struggling post-industrial city, where she led research at the Center City District before being recruited to the real estate firms of JLL and Longfellow.
Over the years, Gilchrist has helped spearhead one of Philadelphia’s life science facilities and published research on demographic and economic trends that continues to impact downtown development. Moving between public and private sectors, Gilchrist said, involved “learning how I could translate investment concepts into actionable ideas that fit public sector models and vice versa.”
Gilchrist’s civic involvement extends to serving on the boards of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Facilities Management Commission and others. She also speaks widely on urban development and mentors women joining the industry, which “is something that’s very important to me,” Gilchrist affirmed. “Our clients are getting more diverse by the day – it’s a great time to be a woman in commercial real estate.”
As a newly minted physician at Penn Medicine, Carmen Guerra couldn’t help but notice the racial and socioeconomic health disparities affecting her patients. “African Americans have a higher risk of being diagnosed with many cancers and a much higher risk of dying from them,” she said.
That observation led Guerra to complete a master’s in epidemiology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine – and into a career devoted to reducing inequities. Guerra, the Ruth C. and Raymond G. Perelman Professor of Medicine and the vice chair of diversity and inclusion at the Perelman School of Medicine, also serves as associate director of diversity and inclusion for the Abramson Cancer Center. She leads initiatives to increase access to cancer screenings for underserved populations and to diversify the medical profession.
Guerra’s social consciousness stems in part from her parents, who brought her from Honduras to New York City as a child. “Because they made enormous sacrifices, I grew up with the sense that I had to pursue a higher education,” she said. Guerra became the first in her family to go to college, studying medicine at the University of Rochester.
At Penn Medicine, Guerra has worked to reduce barriers to health care access through patient navigation programs and community-based cancer screenings, including drive-thru clinics in underserved neighborhoods. In partnership with Wharton, she also developed Penn Medicine’s first leadership development program for emerging women and minority physicians, which has so far mentored 160 doctors.
Guerra remains passionate about the possibility for change. “My journey has given me a deep appreciation for this great country, and for the many opportunities it affords,” she reflected.
Two years after launching her own firm, JLH Fundraising, Jenise Harris did something bold. “I decided to limit myself to 15 clients,” said Harris, a prodigious Republican fundraiser. “Last year was a real struggle for work-life balance. I want to give 110% to the clients that I have.”
Harris spent 2022 courting donors on behalf of candidates like Pennsylvania senatorial candidate Mehmet Oz, whom she calls “the most sincere and kind person.”
Harris explained that she has always viewed fundraising through a people-focused lens: “I see myself as a networker,” she explained. “I build relationships with donors across the state, and connect my candidates to like-minded people.”
Harris grew up in Perry County, where her mom was bemused to catch her watching the Sunday morning political shows. She earned degrees in public relations from Millersville University and in corporate communications from Central Pennsylvania College, switching her political party affiliation from Democrat to Republican along the way. Harris honed her political skills working for State Reps. Sue Helm and Marty Causer, and was married to yet another state representative, Adam Harris.
The fundraising side of politics was “an opportunity,” Harris recalled, and she was good at it – raising $20 million and setting small-donor records as finance director for Scott Wagner’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. One year previously, she’d spearheaded a quarter-million-dollar haul during a 10-week fundraising campaign for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society of Central Pennsylvania, where she serves on the executive leadership board.
But while she raises money for high-profile candidates, don’t expect to see Harris in the spotlight anytime soon. “I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person,” she noted. “That’s just how I operate.”
Tanika Harris learned early on that charity was important – and that systemic change was essential. Growing up poor in Pittsburgh’s Garfield Heights Housing Projects, the youngest of six children of a single mother, “I remember sitting in my bedroom crying and questioning God,” recalled Harris. “I fought like hell to get out of the intergenerational poverty I was born into – and to end it with me. And I knew we needed to focus not only on meeting immediate needs, but also on long-term solutions.”
That’s exactly what Harris does as director of communication and community relations for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, the city’s economic development agency. She’s one of two Black women leaders at the URA championing the interests of single mothers, people with disabilities, women, people of color and faith communities like the one that has sustained her.
Determined to work for change, Harris earned degrees from the Community College of Allegheny County and Point Park University, where she studied organizational leadership. In addition to her community development and organizing work at URA, she is also a founding partner of ACT3 Consulting Partners, a firm that focuses on arts and culture, community and technology.
As a single mother of three herself – and a grandmother of five – Harris has a particular fervor for gender equity and empowerment. “Women oftentimes are the master equalizer,” she observed. “We have the strength and courage to challenge systems that rob others of their rights.”
Growing up in Allentown, all Kassie Hilgert wanted was to get out of the Lehigh Valley. So it’s ironic that 30 years later, Hilgert is among the region’s biggest boosters. She heads ArtsQuest, the organization behind Musikfest, the nation’s largest free music festival, and SteelStacks, a cultural campus on the site of the former Bethlehem steel plant.
Hilgert was drawn to the arts early, but her father discouraged her from accepting a college theater scholarship. “He told me, ‘There’s no future in the arts,’” recalled Hilgert, who majored in communications at Penn State. “When I got this job, we kind of laughed about that.”
Hilbert got a new perspective after her first post-college job, in television production, sent her traveling around the country. “I started to look around my own hometown and said, ‘Maybe there’s something here. Instead of trying to get away, maybe I should be part of the change.’”
She was recruited to ArtsQuest in 2000 and moved into the top job nine years ago. Under Hilgert’s stewardship, ArtsQuest reaches nearly 2 million people and generates $136 million in economic activity annually. There are 11 festivals and 4,000 camps, classes and concerts; Musikfest alone offers 500 performances. More than half of ArtsQuest offerings are free.
“Over the past 30 years, you’ve seen an explosion in the scale and impact of the arts in this region, because the private sector now understands that it’s not a quality-of-life thing. It’s an employee recruitment tool,” Hilgert observed. “And that’s even more true post-COVID. When people can choose to live almost anywhere, we’ve got to have cultural amenities that make them want to come here.”
When a patient walks into one of Spectrum Health Services’ Philadelphia clinics, CEO Veronica Hill-Milbourne wants them to feel safe, welcome and cared for. “My health centers are absolutely beautiful,” she said. “And the people we employ here have customer and community in their DNA.”
No matter that many of the 14,000 patients at Spectrum’s four sliding-scale clinics – which are federally qualified health centers – are low-income, paying as little as $5 a month for comprehensive care. In addition to primary care, Spectrum offers dentistry, behavioral health, nutrition counseling – “everything that a family would need from birth to grave,” Hill-Milbourne said.
That commitment to treating everyone with care and dignity has roots in her own West Philadelphia upbringing. “I remember sitting in this rundown public clinic, looking into my mother’s face of despair, and realizing she has no other option,” recalled Hill-Milbourne. “I knew early on, when I was old enough to make a difference, I was going to do something about it.”
Hill-Milbourne became a nurse but realized she still didn’t have the clout to drive structural change. So she earned a master’s in health education from St. Joseph’s University and a law degree from Temple, embarking on leadership roles at Independence Blue Cross, the Health Transformation Alliance and the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater Philadelphia. She became Horsham’s first African American woman Council Member, and currently chairs the board of visitors for Temple’s College of Public Health.
Recruited in 2019 to Spectrum, which has a $40 million budget, Hill-Milbourne oversees a smaller operation than in some of her past roles. “But I really wanted to have a legacy where I was making a big impact,” she reflected, “right back in the community where it all began.”
When U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan and three other newly elected women broke the glass ceiling of Pennsylvania’s all-male congressional delegation in 2018, Houlahan knew the sky really was the limit. After all, she’d been there, too, as a member of the U.S. Air Force.
It was fitting for a woman whose childhood idol was the pioneering astronaut Sally Ride. “Role models are really important,” said Houlahan. “As a girl, seeing that she was successful in the STEM field was inspiring, especially when I was earning my engineering degree at Stanford – her alma mater – and joining the Air Force.”
Houlahan comes from a military family and, after her service, taught chemistry and worked in business before running for Congress. Reelected twice to represent the historically conservative Philadelphia suburbs, Houlahan is a member and former whip of the New Democrat Coalition, a centrist, pro-business caucus, and currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Right now, she’s most excited about the House Bipartisan Working Group on Paid Family Leave, which she co-founded with Republican Rep. Stephanie Bice and currently co-leads. Taking inspiration from past legislation, Houlahan and her colleagues hope “to find consensus on solutions that both sides of the aisle agree on.”
Meanwhile, she continues to champion the rising number of women in Congress – and to make sure that once they’re elected, their voices are taken seriously in leadership roles. “I’m the first woman to serve Pennsylvania’s 6th District, and it was an honor to break that glass ceiling,” Houlahan observed. “But it should’ve been done much earlier.”
Kate Houstoun inherited her public-minded spirit from her parents, who’d met in Washington, D.C. working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Her mother, New Jersey’s first female state treasurer, “was a trailblazer,” Houstoun recalled. “My education started at the dining room table, talking about public transportation and business districts.”
Initially, Houstoun thought she’d apply that interest internationally. But after a year spent working in Mexico for the American Friends Service Committee, “I realized I wanted to dedicate myself to my hometown,” she recalled. Back in Philadelphia, Houstoun worked in a series of nonprofit jobs before earning a master’s in public administration from New York University.
At United Way, she managed the 2020 PHL COVID-19 Fund, a collaboration that raised and deployed $18 million for nonprofits on the pandemic front lines. She also launched PHLConnectEd, an initiative with the city and Comcast to provide high-speed internet to children who were transitioned to remote schooling.
More recently, as Philadelphia’s gun violence rate surged, Houstoun partnered with city officials and philanthropists to launch an anti-violence hotline. She also hired United Way’s first director of leadership equity to oversee efforts to diversify Philadelphia’s nonprofit world.
At the heart of Houstoun’s work is a devotion to her hometown and its communities. “It’s remarkable how diverse our city is,” she observed. “Our neighborhoods are incredible – and such sources of pride.”
During a quarter-century career in the U.S. Navy, Pam Iovino had myriad mentors, “but none of them was a woman,” she reflected. At a Navy event early in Iovino’s tenure, the commanding officer’s wife invited her to join the officers’ wives club, not realizing Iovino was an officer herself. “I instinctively knew that I needed to be identified as an officer, not even a woman officer. I just made sure (gender) wasn’t relevant to the conversation,” she reflected.
From the Pentagon to the state Senate and on to her current leadership of the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission, Iovino has built a four-decade career that’s impressive by any standard – even more so considering the expectations for women when she started out. After graduating from Gettysburg College and considering law school, Iovino opted instead for the Navy, earning a master’s in national security from the Naval War College and attaining the rank of captain before retiring in 2002. That’s when former President George W. Bush appointed her assistant secretary for congressional affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – effectively becoming Capitol Hill’s top legislative advocate for 25 million veterans.
In 2019, Iovino won a special election for the state Senate, representing the same district for which she served as a Senate intern in college. “Running for public office, that level of exposure is an experience that nobody can explain to you,” she observed. “It’s a different flavor of public service from any other.”
Having lost reelection, Iovino is now coming full circle in yet another sphere: She bypassed law school but, as a civil service commissioner, now has the role of an administrative law judge, presiding over the appeals of government workers.
“That’s how life is,” Iovino reflected. “You just never know.”
Born in Trinidad, Dixieanne James grew up in Boston convinced she’d become a doctor and was pre-med at the University of Connecticut. But while shadowing workers in a hospital, she became fascinated by the business side of health care. “And so I changed majors, went to business school and never looked back,” said James, who earned a master’s degree in health care administration from Loyola College.
Today, James is one of Philadelphia’s most experienced health executives, having served as part of the team that managed the recent merger of the Einstein Health Network and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. After 15 years with Einstein – most recently as president and COO – James is now Jefferson’s president for the central region. The transition put her in charge of a $3.2 billion portfolio that includes seven hospitals across metropolitan Philadelphia.
James’ other recent challenge was the pandemic, which for health leaders was “like building a plane while you’re flying,” she recalled. Proud of her health system’s above-average outcomes, “I developed an appreciation for what we can accomplish when put to the test,” she reflected. “I felt that in that moment, we made a difference when it mattered the most.”
Another reason, James added, is the ability to make a difference for the wider community. Just outside the hospital doors, James led a weekly fresh food market in partnership with Philabundance, the hunger relief organization where she serves as vice chair.
“I’m passionate about aligning with community partners,” said James, who is also the board chair for the Southeastern Pennsylvania American Heart Association. “It’s important that we not just operate in our own silos, but put our resources together to get things done.”
When Farah Jimenez was growing up in New Jersey, her Cuban immigrant parents – a civil engineer and a doctor – impressed upon her the value of education. “They left home with nothing but the clothes on their back,” said Jimenez, whose parents successfully transitioned their careers to the U.S. “They told us that education was the only thing no one can take away from you.”
Today, Jimenez champions her parents’ values as head of the nonprofit Philadelphia Education Fund and its signature College Access Program partnerships with schools serving vulnerable students, as well as initiatives around dropout prevention, college readiness, STEM education and teacher support. Jimenez also guides external partnerships, like a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline that promotes STEM education for underrepresented minorities.
Jimenez, whose own education includes undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, has made a name for herself as an education activist. She is a longtime panelist for “Inside Story,” a public affairs show on 6ABC, and was appointed by then-Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014 to serve on the School Reform Commission, the oversight body for the School District of Philadelphia.
Jimenez has added a sixth school to the College Access Program and expanded programming, focusing on at-risk youth. “I always remember what my parents said: It’s a gift to be educated,” she said. “Education is a pathway to mobility.”
When Ashley Jordan first visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia, she saw the institution’s potential to be a transformative destination. And she would know: Her own trajectory was transformed by what she refers to as a “life-changing” college internship at the National Museum of American History.
“I always thought history was just something taught in a classroom,” recalled Jordan, now the Philadelphia museum’s CEO. Seeing Judy Garland’s original red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” among other mementos, “showed me there’s actually military history, sports history, fashion history.”
Inspired, she switched her major at Kent State from journalism to history. “When I had a chance to take African American history, that world unlocked for me,” she reflected.
“Suddenly, I was aware of people who had made these considerable contributions to American culture. Why hadn’t I ever heard of them?”
Jordan completed a master’s in museum studies and a doctorate in American history, both from Howard University. She went on to hold leadership roles with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the Evansville African American Museum in Indiana and the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio.
At 37, Jordan brings fundraising prowess and a youthful perspective to Philly’s premier Black museum, as evidenced by the recent Super Bowl party she threw there to celebrate the historic participation of two Black quarterbacks – an event that attracted the 18-45 demographic so often missing from museums, affirming Jordan’s strategic promotion of the museum as a community hub.
“The African American story here is so unique; there’s so much potential for cultural tourism,” reflected Jordan of her adopted city. “Once more people know about it, they’ll be like, ‘I’ve got to include Philadelphia on my tourism map.’”
As a seasoned Philadelphia public relations consultant, Meg Kane has represented high-profile clients from the Lenfest Foundation and the Philadelphia Orchestra to Tastykake. But her favorite client is the city itself.
Even the name of Kane’s strategic communications firm, Signature 57, is a history buff’s tribute to Philadelphia. It’s an allusion to the Declaration of Independence – signed by 56 white men – and the hypothetical imprint of all those Philadelphians, including women and people of color, who weren’t represented in 1776. “That 57th signature reflects who we are today, and the stories we need to tell now,” explained Kane, a native Philadelphian.
“Public relations, at its heart, is about storytelling,” she added. “How are we elevating new and different voices – and how are we helping our clientele identify the stories that will resonate with people and reflect the city where we live?”
Kane has been telling those stories since earning a communications degree from LaSalle University. She later headed the school’s alumni association, served as a trustee and taught public relations. She also held a series of communications and PR roles before launching Signature 57 in 2021.
Today, Kane represents clients like Visit Philadelphia, the Please Touch Museum and Ballet X. She also serves as host city executive for Philadelphia Soccer 2026, the World Cup host committee for which she helped lead the successful bid. “I’m incredibly excited to bring the world’s biggest sporting event to this passionate fan base,” she said, “and to elevate Philadelphia on the world stage in such an incredible way.”
During the pandemic, while others brushed up on French with Duolingo, Kerry Lange became a certified scuba diver – in the icy quarries of Central Pennsylvania.
Lange brings that same can-do spirit to her work at Milliron Goodman Government Relations, where she is a senior associate. “I love working with clients you’d never expect having,” she related. “When I started, (managing partner) Andy Goodman slid a paper across the desk and I was like, ‘The Pennsylvania Deer Farmers Association – what’s that?’ They turned out to be one of my favorite clients.”
Lange, who grew up in New York, came to Pennsylvania to study political science at York College. She considered law school, interning with the state GOP and working at the York County district attorney’s office. After spending a day shadowing a lobbyist, she knew she’d found her tribe. She has worked in the industry since graduation, joining Milliron in 2017.
Agriculture, health care, housing and tourism are Lange’s key areas, but versatility is clearly something she relishes. Having gotten to know the deer farmers, for example, she’s worked to increase that industry’s visibility among policymakers. “I love that you can see the effect – that you’re helping them day to day with their business,” she said.
Another of Lange’s clients is the Bleeding Disorders Foundation, for whom she recently secured increased state funding for hemophilia resources. “That’s actual direct support for real people,” she noted. “And since you can meet them face-to-face, it’s just really satisfying.”
By the time Lisa Lori graduated from Marywood University, she’d started her own apparel line, sold motorcycle jackets to Nordstrom and staged a New York fashion show. Then she sold the business and enrolled in law school. “Because I probably could have negotiated a better deal,” she explained of her company sale, “I figured I needed either a business or a law degree.”
Lori thought she’d take that savvy back into fashion; her Luzerne County family was in the apparel business. But she fell in love with litigation: For the past 20 years, Lori has been a partner in the litigation and intellectual property departments of Philadelphia-based Klehr Harrison, where she also co-chairs the education and health care groups.
“I love being faced with a problem, a business dispute and solving it,” Lori explained. One of her favorite cases involved a highly successful periodontist who dabbled in real estate development, outsourced his tax returns – and was hit with a seven-figure audit. “There was a big shortfall, but we knew it was an honest mistake,” Lori recalled. Tax fraud cases like his are nearly always wins for the IRS, she explained. “But we knew he was innocent, we strategized a great defense for him, we ended up going to trial – complete acquittal.”
Lori is accustomed to overcoming obstacles. “Being a woman in litigation, it’s different,” she acknowledged. “I’ve got male partners who could go out to a bar at night in Philadelphia to meet other business people. But bringing cases as a female lawyer, you can’t do that. You have to mine your network and do things differently.”
As a new vice president at The GIANT Company, Rebecca Lupfer overheard several women judging a female colleague for leaving early for a child’s sporting event. “As women, we need flexible working arrangements, and COVID showed us people can do it,” Lupfer affirmed. “So at my next town hall, I told them, ‘The next time someone leaves early, you better say, I hope your kid has a good game.’”
Modernizing attitudes around family priorities is just one example of how Lupfer – a mother of three girls – is bringing the winds of change into the aisles of the grocery business. As she puts it: “I’m a fresh pair of eyes looking at things strategically and saying, ‘Are we doing what’s right for our customer?’”
Lupfer grew up on a Mount Union farm and went to college to study accounting because, she recounted, “I never wanted to live or work on a farm again in my life.” Yet as a supermarket executive, Lupfer realizes she’s now feeding families in a different way. “I’m drawn to being involved in my local communities, feeling part of something,” she acknowledged.
Lupfer was climbing the ranks as an internal auditor at Ahold, the Dutch supermarket group, when a merger with Belgium-based Delhaize led her to be recruited – first into merchandising, then into marketing and operations. At GIANT, an Ahold subsidiary, she has led strategy and operations for the mid-Atlantic region since 2018. And she has prioritized female mentorship in the traditionally male-dominated grocery world, serving as the executive sponsor of GIANT’s women’s business resource group.
“With female leaders, I help them understand what their nonnegotiables are,” Lupfer reflected. “Today, you need a flexible workforce to really get the best out of people.”
Sharmain Matlock-Turner has spent a quarter-century leading Philadelphia’s Urban Affairs Coalition. But in truth, her grassroots organizing started far earlier. “We’d knock on doors to raise money for the church, sell Girl Scout cookies,” she recalled of her youth. “I would always say, ‘What’s going on?’ – like the Marvin Gaye song – ‘And how can I be a part of it?’”
With that energy, Matlock-Turner became the first generation of her family to go to college, then helped a friend campaign and win election to the state legislature. Matlock-Turner next worked at the state House of Representatives and Philadelphia City Council before serving as chief of staff to Pennsylvania’s first African American state senator, Roxanne Jones.
“I really just loved organizations,” said Matlock-Turner, who also worked for Mercy Health System before being recruited to head the UAC. When she arrived, the coalition managed $20 million in funding; now Matlock-Turner oversees $100 million in funds that support 80 Southeastern Pennsylvania nonprofits and an array of social, educational and cultural programs.
Recently appointed deputy chair of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, Matlock-Turner advocates for equitable minority lending with Philadelphia’s financial services community. She’s also working on UAC’s youth employment and gun violence initiatives and with the School District of Philadelphia to improve high school graduation rates.
“I always try to make sure we’re involving as many people as possible,” she said. “The work we do allows us to engage with all kinds of folks.”
According to Virginia McGregor, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, fundraising “is really just reaching out to the other parents on the sports team, your friends and neighbors.” That makes sense when you consider her neighbors: McGregor grew up down the street in Scranton from the Casey and the Biden families.
McGregor was raised alongside 10 brothers and sisters by a longtime Scranton council member. When an older brother ran for mayor, she managed all three of his successful campaigns. Then she worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, where her fundraising impressed DNC Chair Tom Pérez enough that he appointed her deputy finance chair.
McGregor’s manner is cheerful and homespun, but her skills are next-level: As the DNC Treasurer, she accounts for nearly 300 million raised for the 2022 midterm - more than double the previous cycle.
McGregor, who serves on the boards of her family’s 104-year-old steel manufacturing business, McGregor Industries, and of the Geisinger Health System, says her commitments are motivated by family. “In politics or campaigns, there’s a beginning and end, so while I was raising six children, it was great for me to have that,” she explained. As she gears up for 2024, it’s her children’s – and grandchildren’s – future that inspires her: “I’m trying to guarantee they’ll have the same rights and opportunities I had.”
“You can’t fix what you can’t see,” opines the activist Celena Morrison, Philadelphia’s executive director of LGBT Affairs and its first openly trans executive. That’s why, shortly after starting the job in 2020, she began work on an employee self-identification census, allowing city workers to voluntarily declare their sexual orientation and gender identity – and bringing LGBTQ concerns into the light of day.
Morrison was raised in North Carolina by a single mother who embraced her when she came out as trans in high school. That example inspired Morrison to pursue a career in human services, “supporting colleagues and folks that are trans and nonbinary that didn’t have that same support.”
Settling in Philadelphia, Morrison worked in community engagement at the Mazzoni Center and directed programs for the William Way Community Center, both LGBTQ organizations.
After serving on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBT Affairs, Morrison went to work for the City of Philadelphia, serving as commissioner of human relations before assuming her current post.
“My identity has served as a kind of power tool,” reflected Morrison. “I’ve built trust by letting folks know, ‘I understand your struggle.’ I’ve been able to open doors that others weren’t able to open with this community.”
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Morrison commissioned the city’s LGBTQ-specific resource guide; she recently spearheaded official guidelines for supporting transitioning city employees. All along, Morrison has been a highly visible presence educating businesses, colleges, nonprofits and religious organizations on LGBTQ issues.
Not that it’s always been easy. “As women, we have to work a little harder, and when you add the other marginalized identities – being Black, being trans – that intensifies,” she observed. “And, you know, I think I’m built for that.”
Growing up in an Elizabethtown trailer park, watching her older brothers tangle with the legal system, Veronica Morrison resolved to devote her career to justice.
As a shareholder with the firm of Stevens & Lee, Morrison does just that. Her litigation practice focuses on construction law, and she’s never more satisfied than before a trial jury, seeking justice for clients like one self-employed home builder whose client stiffed him. “He paid his subcontractors anyway,” recalled Morrison, whose father was a construction laborer. “It’s hard for the little guy to hang in and pay the attorney fees, so helping him was very rewarding.”
Morrison graduated early from Penn State before earning her law degree at Washington University. Her clients have included national outfits like Dollar General, as well as developers, contractors, local governments and business owners – and just as often, she noted, she’s “helping the Davids versus the Goliaths” in disputes.
Morrison is eager to be a force for change. She counsels other women through the Pennsylvania Media Group’s Mentoring Monday and helps coordinate an annual girls’ summer camp through the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Workforce Development Committee.
“It’s exciting to bring young women to tour construction sites and get them involved in the industry,” Morrison reflected. And it connects her to her own youthful self – the girl who, she recalls, “witnessed disparities in terms of bargaining power, and saw an opportunity in the law to have some positive impact.”
Before moving to Philadelphia for an anchor post at NBC10, Denise Nakano, a Los Angeles native, had worked TV news jobs in markets as varied as Sacramento, Syracuse and Seattle. “But two weeks in this town and I was like, ‘This is home for me,’” recalled Nakano, 20 years later. “Everyone’s passionate. You know exactly where you stand. It’s just like my family.”
There’s no question Nakano has thrived in Philly. Her profile rose over the years on air as she snared a prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award and eight Emmy Awards for covering some of the region’s biggest stories. These included the local heroin epidemic, the Amtrak train derailment, Superstorm Sandy and the deadly 2013 building collapse on Market Street – where she met her husband, a police detective searching for survivors.
A few years ago, Nakano left television for KYW Newsradio, where she’s the midday anchor. “I don’t have to worry about how I look anymore,” she joked. But there’s a lot more to worry about in other respects: “One anchor does so many things that I didn’t have to do in television. I’m running the board. Simultaneously, as I’m trying to monitor breaking news, I’m on the air. I’m hitting the buttons, timing the show going to commercial break, hitting the commercial log. On TV, that would be eight people.”
But Nakano is clearly up for taking on new challenges. While raising four school-age children, she recently broke into the movies with a bit part in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie, “Knock at the Cabin.” An agent reached out looking for someone to play a news anchor, and the rest is history. “It was always on my bucket list,” Nakano readily acknowledged.
Alka Patel’s life is a testament to how much you can accomplish within the Pittsburgh orbit. Patel, who oversees government and external affairs as well as community impact for Comcast’s Keystone region, lives just three miles from where she grew up; her children go to the same schools she did. “In true Pittsburgh fashion, my first job was at a steel mill,” she noted.
Patel has also earned an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s and a law degree from Duquesne. She became a sought-after expert on intellectual property, tech startups and artificial intelligence, and at one point oversaw responsible AI at the Department of Defense.
So Patel is perhaps the ideal person to bridge the communities she knows and the digital world that, increasingly, feels out of reach for many of her neighbors. “We’re at a moment in history that, if we don’t figure out how to bridge this digital divide, that gap might become insurmountable,” Patel observed. At Comcast, her team partners with local libraries, YWCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, senior groups and more “to make sure that everyone is part of this digital economy. Whether it’s learning how to turn on a computer or apply for a job, being connected is instrumental.”
She’s currently working on Project Up, Comcast’s $1 billion initiative to increase digital access and literacy, and steers Xfinity’s participation in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides subsidized internet access. Especially dear to Patel’s heart are causes advancing women, minorities, veterans and other groups underrepresented in STEM and digital culture. She was twice appointed by then-Gov. Tom Wolf to serve on his Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
“My work is about community advocacy,” said Patel, “and bringing a voice to people who aren’t represented in the conversations.”
For Sandy Pfeffer, accounting is much more than just numbers. “I love being able to take a technical skill that I have and using it to be of service to others,” said Pfeffer, who is the Greater Philadelphia marketplace leader for the global accounting firm Deloitte.
Pfeffer’s inspiration was her parents, both accountants. She grew up “watching them provide service and support, and being part of the fabric of their clients’ lives,” she recalled. After studying accounting at Temple University, Pfeffer came to Deloitte, where she has been for the past 26 years.
As marketplace leader, Pfeffer oversees 2,100 Philadelphia-area employees and leads the firm’s regional business development and strategic initiatives, including community partnerships. She is particularly dedicated to championing young women, having spearheaded Deloitte’s partnership with Girls Inc. – the centerpiece of which is an annual three-day leadership training. “That not only develops the girls’ leadership skills, but it also gives them a connection back to Deloitte, to continue building their own network going forward,” Pfeffer noted.
The Philadelphia-bred accountant also chairs the Women United affinity group of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey; is a trustee of her alma mater, Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School; and cheers passionately for all of Philadelphia’s teams. “I love our sports community and our passion here,” she said last month while preparing to fly to Clearwater to watch the Phillies start their preseason.
Community, after all, is the defining mission of Pfeffer’s career. “I love that I’ve been able to deliver great value to my clients and really be part of their successes and journeys,” she reflected. “And I’m glad that Deloitte allows me to do that for our wider community as well.”
Few people, and fewer women, have had the kind of sports career that Lara Price has enjoyed over nearly 30 years with the NBA. Price is the Philadelphia 76ers’ longtime COO, overseeing the team’s business operations; since 2019, she has also served as executive vice president, one of the few women ever to hold that position in the NBA.
For Price, it’s all about the fans and their communities. “We are the city’s team, the state’s team, with fans across the world,” said Price. “Sports is that unifying platform that brings people together. When you’re winning, it doesn’t matter what age, race, color – people are all just happy to be a part of it.”
An avid athlete since her childhood in Boulder, Colorado, Price played basketball at Colorado State University and knew she wanted a career in sports. Finding her way to Philadelphia, she joined Comcast Spectacor when the company owned the 76ers and played a key role in the formation of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the outfit that currently owns the team.
Along the way, Price led the development of the 76ers training complex in Camden, the largest such facility in pro sports. She now serves as an ambassador between the team organization and the municipalities of both Philadelphia and Camden.
Community service is an increasingly significant part of Price’s role. “There weren’t a lot of people to look up to when I was coming through the business; I had to rely on male mentors,” she reflected. “And what’s awesome to me now is, I’m not the only woman in a room anymore. It’s my responsibility to help younger women to get here and get past me, quite frankly. And keep going.”
Monet L. Reilly
Being the Black mom of biracial kids in a largely white suburban school district affirmed Monet Reilly’s conviction that, as she put it, “representation is so important.” So did becoming the first Black female UniServ representative for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, where Reilly’s work includes promoting the recruitment and retention of employees of color.
It’s a mission that extends beyond her day job: Reilly is also the founder and CEO of Mirrors in Education, a nonprofit that aims to diversify the Pennsylvania teaching profession, and is the co-director for New Leaders Council Philadelphia, which recruits and trains an annual leadership cohort.
A Philadelphia native, Reilly earned a communications degree from Villanova, where she is a candidate for a master’s in public affairs. She taught ESL online to students in China before taking a job as a family coach at Agora Cyber Charter School, where she organized its union for professional workers.
At PSEA, Reilly advocates for public school educators in 13 Pennsylvania unions and conducts training for both PSEA and its national organization. Her work includes allyship sessions with PSEA’s Minority Affairs Committee, where she has expanded both membership and programming initiatives.
In traditionally white spaces, Reilly’s presence can speak volumes. “I’ve gone to meetings where people are just like, ‘It’s really nice to have someone here that understands,’” Reilly said. “Our members of color typically do not get someone that looks like them, especially when there are racial issues involved. And it makes a difference.”
Her clients know she’s a winner – but Jennifer Riley, a vice president at Triad Strategies, has a passion for what she calls “underdog projects.”
In that category: Pennsylvania’s indoor smoking ban, a cause Riley worked on in 2008 alongside the American Cancer Society and other stakeholders. It passed – but “working towards a non-smoking, healthy environment and against Big Tobacco” wasn’t easy, she recalled.
A similar passion is Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, where Riley is the longtime state director; the political organization, which seeks to enshrine crime victims’ rights in the state constitution, is now a Triad client. “Everyone can name the defendant’s rights. But how many people can tick off the rights of a victim?” asked Riley, who also represents the National Crime Victim Law Institute.
Riley inherited a passion for social change from her parents, who settled in Central Pennsylvania so that her father, a nuclear expert, could work on post-disaster cleanup at the Three Mile Island power plant. Her mother became a prominent clean-energy activist, and politics was a frequent topic at the dinner table.
Riley studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh before finding her niche in public affairs. She spent nearly 20 years at the Pennsylvania-based Bravo Group, eventually managing the Philadelphia office. “There’s incredible movement of influence outside the Capitol, working with grassroots, the media and nonprofits,” she observed. “I’m fortunate to have realized you can influence public policy without being inside that dome.”
As a college intern at NBC’s London bureau, Francine Schertzer got a taste of the globetrotting media life – and decided it wasn’t for her. “I knew I wanted to have a family and that work-life balance,” she recalled.
Now senior vice president and chief content officer for the Pennsylvania Cable Network, Schertzer has a richer and more meaningful career than she could have envisioned growing up as “a coal cracker from Northumberland County,” as she calls herself. And she’s home every night for dinner with her 15-year-old daughter, whom she calls “the light of my life.”
At PCN, where Schertzer has worked since 1997, she guides programming with Pennsylvanians like her own family in mind. “I like to think that it’s not just the lobbyists and Harrisburg insiders, but average people at home for whom we open that window and offer insight into what’s happening, helping them to navigate the system better,” she said.
Schertzer’s first news gig was at her high school TV station; she then interned at local newspapers and radio stations and earned a degree in mass communications from Susquehanna University. But it was at PCN that her love of politics “caught fire,” she recalled. Now an on-air host, Schertzer oversees shows spanning sports and politics, produces live election coverage and has expanded into online civics education.
Her favorite project is an oral history series for which she and her team have interviewed figures such as former Govs. Tom Ridge and Ed Rendell and the late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter about their childhoods and formative experiences. “Specter told phenomenal stories about selling cantaloupes out of the back of a truck – things that really shaped his perseverance,” Schertzer recalled. “And that’s why I love this job: No two days are the same. I always feel like I’m learning something.”
Haniyyah Sharpe-Brown understood the importance of networking early. As a young mother studying at Temple University, she was president of the university’s Association of Black Journalists and racked up internships with Comcast, the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. “Being a mom, I had a little bit more at stake than my peers did,” explained Sharpe-Brown.
Her intern days are long gone, but Sharpe-Brown is still nurturing relationships as senior manager of operations and strategic programs at Accenture. “Networking is my most transferable skill,” she reflected, describing how she develops the consulting company’s local market and brand visibility in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh while overseeing engagement with the local business and nonprofit communities. One of her favorite projects since joining the firm in 2021 has been expanding Accenture’s Philadelphia Apprenticeship Network and leveraging ties from her previous city jobs to coordinate summer internships. “While Accenture is a global company,” she pointed out, “this is really a hyper-local role.”
Fortunately, Sharpe-Brown has deep connections in Philadelphia’s halls of power. Having been talked out of journalism in favor of public relations, she worked in various communications jobs for the City of Philadelphia – including for then-Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown – before leading advocacy internal and external engagement for the School District of Philadelphia, where her two children are enrolled.
About those children: Sharpe-Brown had both while studying at Temple – another accomplishment she chalks up to her deep relationships. “There’s no way I would be able to do the things that I do without the support of my husband, my brother, my mom, my father,” she noted. “It’s a huge support system, and it’s been the thing that has just kept me right.”
Abby Smith loved her peripatetic childhood. Born in Allentown, her family moved to New York and then London, where she attended the American School and took field trips to France.
Yet Smith has rooted her adulthood in the commonwealth, where she heads Team Pennsylvania – a nonprofit that promotes economic growth through investment in public-private partnerships – and chairs the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg.
Smith relishes her sense of belonging, and her broad perspective motivates her to fight for change. “You have to work to create the community that you want to live in,” she explained.
After graduating from Yale, Smith earned a master’s in education from Johns Hopkins and worked as a social studies teacher and recruiter for Teach for America. But ultimately, her ambition went beyond the classroom: “I’m a systems change kind of gal,” she reflected. “I realized that’s where I’m going to be the most impactful.”
Smith next earned a degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon and served as a policy specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. At Team Pennsylvania, where she runs a $1 million budget, “we believe that huge issues cannot be tackled by one entity alone, but by cross-sector collaboration,” she affirmed. An example is the 2022 Pennsylvania Energy Horizons Cross-Sector Collaborative, which brought together stakeholders committed to decarbonizing Pennsylvania’s economy.
At the Federation, Smith spearheaded the recent acquisition of a new Jewish community campus, set to open this year. As she prepares for the b’nai mitzvah of her 12-year-old twin boys, Smith explained, “I want to ensure this is the kind of place I want to raise my kids in – and to prepare us for the next 20, 30, even 50 years.”
Andrea D. Swan
When Andrea Swan talks up Temple University during an admissions tour, she’s pretty persuasive. That’s because, as she likes to put it, her entire life – family, education, career – is “Temple Made.”
Swan grew up in a Philadelphia family of four girls; her sisters studied at Temple, and now her daughter does as well. Swan earned her undergraduate degree from the Klein College of Media and Communication and graduate degrees from the colleges of Education and Liberal Arts. She met her husband while he was the business manager at Temple’s Liacouras Center, and she now works as the university’s community and neighborhood affairs director.
Nobody knows that neighborhood better than Swan. She serves as a liaison between the university and its surrounding districts, spearheading partnerships with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and engaging local schools and community groups. “I bring a special perspective when I’m sharing insights about the university with our neighbors,” she reflected. On tours, she always points out the alumni success gallery as well as the statue of Johnny Ring, a Temple founder who embodied devotion to community.
A century-plus later, Swan carries on that legacy. She mentors her youthful counterparts through the alumni organization and the Temple career center. As a Girl Scouts troop leader, she connects young scouts with campus events like a robotics workshop where they earn badges, and a basketball event where they chat about women in sports with the coach and athletes.
“I’m really passionate about connecting students to higher education,” explained Swan. “Temple is a global institution, but many here are lifelong Philadelphians. It’s important to try to mentor our young neighbors.”
At the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Lauren Swartz brings the world to Philadelphia and Philadelphia to the world. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s people live outside of the U.S.,” reasons Swartz, who lived in London and Copenhagen before settling in Philadelphia. “If we just think of our own place, we’re leaving so much opportunity on the table.”
As head of the region’s oldest and largest international organization, Swartz makes the most of those international connections – for both Philadelphians and the heads of state, Nobel Prize laureates and other luminaries hosted by the council.
She oversees a growing suite of programs that includes international lecturers, youth education and the Global Leadership Institute, a professional development program in cultural diplomacy. Swartz also coordinates 40 annual trips to all seven continents, which take travelers behind the scenes with political organizations, museums and world-class chefs.
Recently, Swartz steered a merger with Citizens Diplomacy International, a similarly missioned Philadelphia organization whose absorption will grow the council’s staff, budget and membership by 30%.
As honorary consul of Sweden for Pennsylvania, she appreciates the deeply rooted identity of her adopted hometown.
“Here in Philly, we don’t have a lot of national fast-food chains downtown. We’ve got a lot of locally owned, locally grown stuff,” noted Swartz, who serves on the boards of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Global Philadelphia Association. “We retain more locally born residents than any of the other Top 10 U.S. cities. That gives us a robust sense of place” – one she’s enthusiastic to share with the world.
Shortly after she graduated with the last-ever male-majority class at Duquesne University School of Pharmacy, Terry Talbott attended an industry conference where colleagues ignored her and talked shop with her husband. “He would let them go through the whole spiel and then be like, ‘You know, she’s the pharmacist,’” Talbott recalled, chuckling.
Times have certainly changed, along with the pharmacy profession – and Talbott has been at the forefront since the late 1980s, when she began her career as a 19-year-old intern at Thrift Drug. When that local drugstore chain merged with CVS Health, Talbott joined the national conglomerate – and is still with CVS 33 years later, having moved from behind the pharmacy counter to the corporation’s government affairs team. She is now the director of pharmacy and retail advocacy, monitoring legislation that affords pharmacists greater agency as CVS Health expands its retail services.
Lately, Talbott advocates for laws expanding pharmacists’ power to administer vaccinations and write prescriptions for everyday drugs like hormonal contraceptives. She’s also lobbying for expanded “test to treat” powers that would allow pharmacists to administer rapid tests for common ailments like strep throat – and then prescribe the proper medications.
A Lehigh Valley native, Talbott currently chairs the Pennsylvania State Board of Pharmacy; in that capacity, she worked closely with the governor and state officials to determine pandemic guidelines for pharmacists in 2020. She also guided the online transition of numerous pharmacy jobs at CVS Health. “The pandemic helped us to draw pharmacies kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” laughed Talbott. “Not all pharmacy work takes place behind the counter.”
That variety, Talbott says, is what continues to keep her enthused about the profession after all these years: “At a pharmacy, it’s never the same day twice.”
She’s now an expert on leadership, but Christy Uffelman floundered in her first management job. It was at Bayer, the pharmaceutical company – and instead of firing her, Bayer “pipelined me into a role called coach,” recalled the Pittsburgh-bred Uffelman, who studied at Duquesne University. “I knew of athletic coaches, but I had no idea there was a job out there that was purely focused on developing people.”
Twenty years later, developing people – women especially – is what Uffelman does as CEO of EDGE Leadership, a coaching consultancy that focuses on peer mentoring. Working mainly with companies worth $1+ billion, Uffelman specializes in all-female and all-male cohorts, fostering inclusive environments to boost retention, development and mobility, and to cultivate a more diverse workforce.
Uffelman learned firsthand how important that is while heading human resources for Mascaro Construction, a $350 million Pittsburgh company. “All of my peers on the executive team had stay-at-home wives running their households, and I was a single mom,” she recalled. “We’d go on these golf trips and the guys would be complaining their wives packed the wrong color belt. And I would be worried about child care.”
Uffelman knew then that she wanted to focus on women. She started a working mothers group in Pittsburgh called Empower, then was recruited by Strong Women Strong Girls, a national mentoring organization, to spearhead a peer coaching program for professional women.
That model became the basis for her EDGE practice and for her 2022 book, “The PEER Revolution: Group Coaching that Ignites the Power of People.” “There are so many more obstacles that women have faced that men simply didn’t,” she reflected of her motivation. “It’s not a glass ceiling; it’s a labyrinth – and nobody successfully navigates it alone.”
Kendra Van de Water
When she was 16, Kendra Van de Water was involved with an altercation with Philadelphia police at a party and ended up in custody, terrified. “I had never experienced anything like that. I was always in honors classes,” recalled Van de Water, who grew up in the Montgomery County suburbs. Over four days in juvenile detention, “I met other kids who were my age, but couldn’t even read. Or they were there for years and didn’t understand why. That experience really propelled my trajectory.”
In the years since, Van de Water has built a career on social justice advocacy, focusing on youth and people of color in the prison system. She currently serves as executive director of the nonprofit she co-founded, Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout (YEAH Philly), which advocates for and empowers teens through community investment, programs and services.
These include the recent Violent Crime Initiative, a program that allows youths arrested for violent crimes to remain in the community and receive services there, rather than being incarcerated or placed elsewhere in the state.
Van de Water, who interned at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy while studying public health at Temple University, later earned a master’s in social work. Before founding YEAH Philly, she worked at social service nonprofits and public agencies, including as a policy analyst for the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission.
“I’d done all these really cool jobs, but I felt like we could be doing so much more to push back against those systematic oppressive structures,” Van de Water observed. At YEAH Philly, she explained, “we’re putting our money where our mouths are.”
Raised on a fifth-generation Palmyra dairy farm, Erin Wachter got an early education in one essential item – milk. More recently, Wachter has been instrumental in the state’s effort to increase the availability of a more modern necessity: internet access.
As deputy director for the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, Wachter has helped guide the rollout of high-speed internet across the commonwealth, aided by $1 billion in federal infrastructure funding. She played a key role in establishing the authority in 2021 while working in the governor’s policy office.
Watcher’s inclination to public service has roots in her childhood church missions to Washington, D.C. for social projects. “Those trips impressed on me the relationship between policy, advocacy and impact on people’s lives,” she noted. That lesson – and her career path – were further reinforced in her Juniata College policy class taught by Samuel Hayes Jr., the former state agriculture secretary, House majority whip and an acquaintance of Wachter’s family. “Agriculture is a small but mighty world,” Wachter reflected.
A government affairs internship in Harrisburg cemented her career path, and she earned a master’s in public administration from Penn State. Wachter then oversaw policy at the state Department of Agriculture, where she helped implement one of the nation’s first milk-to-food bank initiatives, connecting local dairy processors directly with food distributors. She also worked on 2019’s historic Pennsylvania Farm Bill, which invested $76 million in agriculture.
Wachter next led advocacy for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and managed policy and planning at the governor’s office. As she watches high-speed internet come online in new corners of the commonwealth, Wachter is guided by the motto of her former mentor, Samuel Hayes: “Progress is incremental.”
Gail Weidman’s mom is 90 years old and admirably independent. “I keep telling her, there are services out there for you,” laughs Weidman. She should know: Weidman is the policy chief for the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, the statewide advocacy organization representing 400 long-term and senior care providers and their vulnerable patients.
Weidman joined the association in 2009, having been recruited after a decade at the state Department of Public Welfare. Her longevity in jobs – a key factor in her legislative wins – is a trait she attributes to her father, a longtime football coach. “I inherited that belief that when you start something, you finish it. I fight to see things through,” explained Weidman, who will retire next year.
As a single mom, Weidman appreciated the work-life balance afforded by state employment. During the pandemic, however, Weidman worked around the clock with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure her constituents had the guidance and resources they needed to keep nursing homes safe. “The guidance was changing daily, even hourly, and we were all learning as we went along,” she recalled.
The silver lining was a more prominent profile for the long-term care industry, which helped Weidman secure a record 17.5% increase in state funding for long-term care centers. Now she is focused on pushing legislation to create new career paths – like certified medication aides – that would ease staffing shortages.
With her legacy already in place, Weidman is certain to remain a community fixture in retirement – continuing to volunteer for cancer research, wounded warriors and at the Humane Society of Harrisburg. “I always want to do what I can to contribute in a positive way,” she noted.
When Marquita Williams was a deputy commissioner in Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, she realized traditional mental-health programming wasn’t reaching large swaths of the community.
So Williams, who, in addition to a doctorate, holds a master’s in cross-cultural psychology, visited barbershops and basketball courts to recruit participants for the department’s Engaging Men of Color initiative. “We went to where they were,” Williams related. “We asked them to tell us their stories of resilience, of healing from trauma.” The approach worked: Events that had been lucky to draw 20 people were suddenly packed with hundreds of men.
Williams’ success with community engagement led to her current role as senior executive adviser to the DBHIDS commissioner. She oversees public health policy and programs, research and planning, and operations – including community-based services. She’s also responsible for engaging key constituencies such as immigrants, men of color, faith-based entities, schools and LGBTQ populations.
“As a liaison, I make sure that it’s a bi-directional relationship – that we bring people to the table and create the outcomes that they need,” noted Williams.
Williams is also the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Lov’n My Curves, which champions plus-sized pride through community events like fashion shows. And on the weekends, there’s wine, candles and spa time with girlfriends: “I always make time for self-care,” she emphasized.
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