Never A Spectator: A Civic Engagement Forum

Graduating from being a spectator to being spectacular.

On March 11, 2021, over 100 students and mentors joined the Elsie Forum to talk with each other about advocacy and activism. This year's keynote speaker, Emmai Alaquiva, talked to us about graduating from being a spectator to being spectacular.

These were his five steps on how to go from being a spectator to being spectacular:

  1. Knowledge of Self
  2. Establish your Attributes
  3. Discover the Possibility
  4. Allyship & Advocacy
  5. Activiate your Actions

In case you missed the event, check out Emmai's powerful keynote below.

Why Attend

The Never a Spectator Civic Engagement Forum is a unique opportunity for Pitt students to network with some of the region’s most prominent leaders, including leaders from government and politics, foundation executives, and nonprofit and business leaders. Students join these visionaries and mentors for an evening and dinner reception devoted to sharing a vision for public service, inspiring action, and developing the pipeline of leadership needed to foster sustainable growth and regional transformation as Pittsburgh continues to evolve as one of America’s premier cities. 
During the event, students learn about the incredible legacy of Elsie Hillman and engage in small group discussions with their community mentors from the nonprofit, business, and government sectors to learn how they can jumpstart their own community involvement and make a positive impact. 

When & Where?

  • When: 2022, TBA
  • Where: TBA


  • Connect and grow relationships with established regional leaders
  • Learn how you can make a difference by getting involved with civic engagement programs at Pitt
  • Earn Outside the Classroom Curriculum (OCC) credit - Leadership Development


All University of Pittsburgh students pursuing any major or degree are welcome to register and attend. 

Keynote Speaker

Emmai Alaquiva, a 2-Time Emmy Award-winning film director, photographer, and composer, skillfully showcases the soulful account of humanity across multidisciplinary art platforms. Once homeless, Alaquiva shifted the trajectory of his life's path to become one of the most distinct trailblazers in the arena of creative arts.

Today, Alaquiva serves on the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf, the proud CEO of Ya Momz House, Inc., a digital media agency, curator of OpticVoices, an interactive photography exhibit for social change as well as co-founder of Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. an award-winning arts education program.

Presenting TEDx talks in 2016 and 2019, Alaquiva’s work has been seen and heard across the world through media giants from CBS, Amazon and PBS to celebrity projects with Oprah Winfrey, Wiz Khalifa, Martha Stewart, the late Dr. Maya Angelou and more. This 12-time Telly Award-winner has been recognized as Pittsburgh “40 under 40”, “50 Finest”, “FAB 40”, along with several proclamations from City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. He was GET Involved, Inc.’s “Man Of The Year” for his community leadership and WHIRL Magazine’s, “Couples Who Make A Difference” for his philanthropic work raising thousands for charity. Alaquiva hold’s a 2017 Emmy nomination his international directorial debut of the film “Ghetto Steps” and was selected by the City of Pittsburgh to spearhead the Amazon Pitch Video for their second Headquarters. Moreover, Alaquiva is a Pittsburgh Business Times, “Top CEO of the Year”, nationally honored as Black Enterprise Magazine’s “BE 100 Modern Man of Distinction and a national BMe Community Leader recognized by President Barack Obama. Most recently, Alaquiva wrote and directed a viral PSA, “Unspeakable” which aims to amplify the voices of the Deaf, hard of hearing and those with disabilities and recently won a 2020 Emmy Award.                                                            

“The Sky is NOT the Limit” - Emmai Alaquiva

2021 Community Mentors

Aaron Arnold

Executive Director | Prevention Point Pittsburgh

Aaron Arnold has worked at Prevention Point Pittsburgh (PPP) since 2015, and served as a volunteer in various capacities for ten years prior to that. PPP is one of only two legal syringe services program in the State, the largest community-based distributor of naloxone in Western Pennsylvania, and the only mobile buprenorphine provider outside of Philadelphia. As an organization that is rooted in harm reduction philosophy and practice, PPP is focused on providing a comprehensive set of low-threshold public health services to improve the safety, health, and quality of life for individuals who use substances. During his four years as Executive Director of PPP Aaron has focused on strengthening the organization’s infrastructure, expanding the provision of direct services, addressing disparities and inequities in access to services, and advancing opportunities to implement harm reduction initiatives across Pennsylvania through advocacy efforts. Aaron previously worked for an HIV services provider where he coordinated a successful initiative to identify and better serve the needs of individuals living with HIV who also experience challenges related to mental health, substance use, housing instability and/or incarceration. He holds a master’s degree with departmental honors from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Africana Studies and a certificate in the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Aaron enthusiastically participates in numerous advisory groups and collaborative efforts to address issues related to the intersections of infectious disease, substance use, and systemic injustices. Outside of work Aaron enjoys collecting vinyl, patronizing and producing local arts and club events, traveling, and outdoor activities. However due to the pandemic he has just been staying the heck home, working too much, listening to the same tunes, and enjoying brief hikes when the weather isn’t gross.

Dana Brown

Executive Director | Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics, Chatham University

Dr. Dana Brown began her tenure as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics and assistant professor of political science at Chatham University in July of 2010. Dr. Brown earned her doctorate in American Politics and Women and Politics at Rutgers University where she also received her master's degree in political science. Dr. Brown has presented research on women in politics, political psychology, political media, and political participation by women of color.

Dr. Brown is also active in the community. She currently serves in the following capacity: Governor Wolf's Pennsylvania Commission for Women, PLEN's (Public Leadership Education Network) Board of Directors, Adagio Health's Advisory Council, a Pennsylvania delegate to the Vision 2020 program at the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership at Drexel University, an Advisory Board member to the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh's Center for Race & Gender Equity, the Executive Women's Council and its Women on Boards Committee, and 74% Kitchen Cabinet at Robert Morris University Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, and the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Dr. Brown's work and leadership in women and politics has been recognized in the following ways: the Obama White House acknowledged her work at the Center by inviting her to participate in a conference on girls' leadership and civic education. In 2014 Dr. Brown was recognized in Pittsburgh Magazine as one of Pittsburgh's "40 Under 40." In 2018 City & State PA recognized Dr. Brown as one of 25 women from across the Commonwealth who have exhibited exemplary leadership in their field as well as earning AAUW PA's Gateway to Equity Award.

Doris Carson Williams

President & CEO | African American Chamber of Western PA

Doris Carson Williams is a board member of Highmark and vice chair of the Highmark Foundation. She also serves on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and is President of the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline. A certified member of the National Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, Doris co-chaired the 2014 G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. A member of the International Women’s Forum, Doris holds the entrepreneur of the year award by Washington and Jefferson College, and the 2017 Pittsburgh Opera Maecenas Community Leadership Award. She and husband James have one son, James III, and are the proud grandparents of James IV and Jade Williams. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Carlow University in 2020.

John Denny

Principal | Denny Civic Solutions 

John Denny has spent a career transforming ideas into action. From his days as one of the youngest people in the United States to manage a statewide presidential campaign, to his work building an organization that aids at risk-youth and nonprofits, John and his team create results.

Denny works to create positive change by managing civic campaigns and engineering public policy. With decades of hands-on expertise, he knows how to foster an idea from inception to execution. And with his experience as a former national political campaign manager and consultant, he thoroughly understands how to create a message, target its focus, and move audiences to support or oppose an initiative, idea, or piece of legislation.

A constant throughout John’s career has been his work supporting and representing community and political leader Elsie Hillman. He has served as a special assistant and consultant to Mrs. Hillman, as well as director of community relations for the Hillman Company. His work for Mrs. Hillman has spanned three decades and has involved leadership on a broad range of initiatives critical both to her and the community, touching the lives of thousands of people in the process.

A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, Denny has garnered his skills through a unique combination of professional endeavors, ranging from corporate communications to grant making in the Pittsburgh foundation and nonprofit communities. With a trifecta of expertise from corporate, political, and nonprofit work, Denny understands the needs, strengths and challenges each party brings to the table and can balance those needs toward positive outcomes. In addition, Denny understands local and statewide government because he has lived it. From that experience, John brings the understanding of the public sector to the forefront of his endeavors.

 Max Gelernter

Associate | K&L Gates

Max Gelernter is an associate at K&L Gates where he is a member of the firm’s complex commercial litigation and disputes practice group.  Max sits on the Pittsburgh office’s Diversity Committee and is a leader within the firm’s LGBT employee resource group.  Further, Max is a founding member of the firm’s Anti-Human Trafficking Initiative.  This Initiative’s purpose is to (1) identify members of the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania who may be victims of human trafficking and (2) connect victims to law enforcement (i.e., the FBI) to help human trafficking victims. 


Mark Holman

Partner | Ridge Policy Group

For over 35 years, Mark Holman has served as a senior manager and advisor within both the Federal legislative and executive branches, State executive branch, and in eight political campaigns, which has given him a comprehensive understanding of government and a unique perspective that few of his peers enjoy.


  • Deputy Assistant to the President in the White House Office of Homeland Security, assisting President George W. Bush and Governor Ridge with policymaking that ultimately led to the historic creation of the nation’s first Department of Homeland Security
  • Governor Ridge’s Chief of Staff from 1995-2000, where he served as the senior executive, managing the work of cabinet officials, senior staff, and more than 150,000 other staffers
  • Worked in both branches of Congress, beginning his public career with the late Senator John Heinz
  • Managed Governor Ridge’s first campaign for Congress in 1982 and later his first gubernatorial campaign
  • Served on President George H.W. Bush’s campaign committee in 1980 and 1988, as well as President Reagan’s 1980 campaign
  • Served as Practice Group Leader for eight years at a national law firm where he became a full equity principal

Boards and Other Activities

  • Republican Governors Association Finance Committee
  • Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP)
  • Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security
  • Federal Enforcement Homeland Security Foundation
  • Elsie Hillman Civic Forum National Advisory Council


  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania

anupama jain

Executive Director | Gender Equity Commision, Mayor Peduto's Office of Equity

anupama jain is the Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission in the Mayor’s Office. anu is also the founder of Inclusant, a consulting firm focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion that uses applied research and evidence-based strategies to offer cross-sector training. Since 2014, Inclusant has designed customized interventions for over 80 organizations in the greater Pittsburgh region. Formerly a full-time professor of literary and cultural studies for over a decade, anu taught courses on subjects such as utopian studies, postcolonial writing, and literary theory. She is the author of How to Be South Asian in America: Narratives of Ambivalence and Belonging (Temple UP), which investigates how the American Dream shapes the national imaginary and influences public policy.  

PhD: UW-Madison. BA: Bryn Mawr College. 


Sallyann Kluz

Director | Office of Public Art

Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

Sallyann Kluz is a Pittsburgh-based arts administrator, architect, and urban designer whose practice is situated at the intersection of art and community development. With over 20 years of practice in the Pittsburgh region, her work is focused on the public realm and the people who inhabit it. Her practice includes public art programs and strategies, community engagement, design education, public space design, and neighborhood development strategies.


Phil Koch

Vice President of Policy and Community Impact | The Pittsburgh Foundation

For over two decades, Phil has been working to strengthen communities. He started his career as an elementary and middle school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and also taught in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. In 2005, Phil left the classroom and began working in the nonprofit sector as the Pittsburgh Director for MGR Youth Empowerment, a direct service nonprofit focused on youth development. Shortly after, Phil took on the role of National Executive Director and grew MGR Youth Empowerment to five urban cities, serving more than 50,000 youth.

In 2015, Phil began his work in philanthropy as the Executive Director of The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, an affiliate of The Pittsburgh Foundation, working with local leaders, community philanthropist, and the nonprofit sector to tackle the most pressing issues in the county.  As a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy, Phil helped families create and implement highly effective charitable strategies.  He also oversaw the foundation’s grantmaking initiatives focused on supporting vulnerable populations, community and economic development, and capacity building for the nonprofit sector.  Phil founded the Westmoreland County Nonprofit Network, a coalition that provides advocacy and education for the nonprofit sector. 

In 2020, Phil took on a newly created role at The Pittsburgh Foundation as Vice President of Policy and Community Impact.  This work includes designing and implementing strategies to increase the foundation’s impact in Southwestern Pennsylvania including public policy, coalition building, community partnerships, convening, leveraging assets, and impact investing. 

Phil serves on many nonprofit boards and advisory groups, including Grankmakers of Western PA, Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, Shady Lane School, and Wittenberg University Alumni Board. He and his wife, Deanna, are the parents of three sons and live in Ingram, PA. As a windy city native, Phil cannot turn down a Chicago dog or Cubs tickets.

Representative Summer Lee

PA State Representive | D-District 34

Summer Lee was elected to the House in 2018. She grew up in the North Braddock and Rankin neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, and currently lives in Swissvale.A graduate of Woodland Hills High School, she went on to study and graduate from the Pennsylvania State University and Howard University School of Law, where she specialized in civil rights and constitutional law. While at Howard, Lee was an intern with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a student attorney in the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, representing and assisting indigent clients with civil rights complaints. After graduating law school, Lee was a dedicated organizer, activist and advocate for social justice in her local community. Her legislative priorities include criminal justice reform; education, health care and energy policy reforms; a progressive tax structure for Pennsylvania and a $15 minimum wage for all workers.

She is the first black woman elected to the state House of Representatives from western Pennsylvania.

Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis

Executive Director | Women for a Healthy Environment 

Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis has worked in the non-profit field for over 25 years gaining expertise in non-profit management, strategic planning, program development, fundraising, communications coalition building and advocacy. As executive director of WHE, she leads the organization’s initiatives, focusing on prevention of environmental exposures that impact public health, with an emphasis on working in environmental justice areas. Ms. Naccarati-Chapkis’ experience includes working closely with communities; local, state and federal governments; non-profit organizations; foundations and corporations. She has spoken at national, state, and local conferences and has been featured in regional media outlets. Ms. Naccarati-Chapkis holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh’s Class of XXVIII. She serves on several non-profit and government boards and committees. She is the mom of three young adults and enjoys spending time outdoors with her family. Her dream for WHE is that children can live, learn and play in a world free of environmental harms.

Morgan Overton

Community Engagement and Policy Associate | Jewish Healthcare Foundation

Morgan Overton is currently the Community Engagement and Policy Associate for the Women’s Health Activist Movement Global under the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. She works on initiatives to transform maternal health, racial, and reproductive equity on the community and policy level. She also serves as Vice Chair of the City of Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission. Morgan’s career in public affairs began nearly a decade ago as a fellow for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, and has since spanned through roles at the local and state level. Morgan is also a visual artist whose work has exhibited across the United States, and France. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Morgan earned a Master’s in Social Work with a focus in community organization and social action, and a Bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in studio arts from the University of Pittsburgh. Morgan has been awarded Female Emerging Leader of the Year by GetInvolved! Inc, the Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement and Social Justice, and the Pittsburgh Business Times’ 30 Under 30 Awards.

Bhavini Patel

Cofounder and CEO | beamdata

Bhavini Patel is Cofounder and CEO of beamdata, a civic tech company that operates at the intersection of policy and data. Her company built Be the Change, a participatory civic action app that allows people to share Community Causes in the form of neighborhood ideas and legislative feedback directly with the PA General Assembly. In 2019, Bhavini was a candidate for Allegheny County Council District 8 and came in second in a competitive three-way race. In 2020, she was appointed to the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board and also served as a Biden Delegate to the 2020 Democratic National Convention. As a Pittsburgh native, Bhavini volunteers her time on the Boards of several organizations including the University of Pittsburgh MQE Advisory Board, Second Generation PAC, the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh and Civically Inc. 

She earned an MPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford as a Rotary Global Grant Scholar and a BPhil in International Area Studies from the University of Pittsburgh as Phi Beta Kappa. Bhavini is also a graduate of Emerge Pennsylvania. She has been recognized as 30 Under 30 by Pittsburgh Business Times, 40 Under 40 by Pittsburgh Magazine, and a finalist for the ATHENA Young Professional Award.

Meghan Pierce

Executive Director | League of Women Voters of PA

Meg joined the League in October 2020 amid one of the League’s most challenging and exciting election seasons. Meg began her career in nonprofit organizations, working in the areas of gender equity and immigration advocacy. From her work in nonprofits, she developed a passion for local-level government and policy. Her work experience includes time at the New York City Mayor's Office, the Women's Law Project of Pennsylvania, and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. She has also worked on several city and state-level political campaigns in Pennsylvania. Meg holds a B.A. from George Washington University and a Master's in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. 

Maranie Staab

Independent photographer, journalist, videographer, storyteller based between Portland, Oregon and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

SOCIAL MEDIA: Instagram: @maranierae Website: Twitter: @maranierae

For me, photography is a means to an end and the camera, a tool to be used wisely. The work I pursue focuses on human rights and social justice issues, displacement and the impact of conflict on individuals and society. 

Dedicated to journalism and storytelling, I strive for visual intimacy and am fueled by curiosity, steadfast convictions, empathy, and just the right amount of grit. In addition to domestic projects, I've worked throughout the Middle East (Iraq on several occasions, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey); Africa (Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC); Vietnam; Greece [mainland & Lesbos] and on the US/MX border. 

Erika Strassburger

City Councilperson | City of Pittsburgh

Erika Strassburger is a member of Pittsburgh City Council, proudly serving the residents of the City’s 8th District. She is the first woman elected to this seat. Previously, Erika served as Chief of Staff for her predecessor, former-Councilman Dan Gilman. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade advocating for clean air, clean water, and a clean energy future at the state and federal levels. She has been an outspoken advocate for policies promoting clean water and air, equitable and diverse communities, safe, complete streets, and an open, transparent, and responsive government, and is passionate about offering new ways for her constituents to be informed & involved in city government. In addition to her work in City Council, Erika serves on the Executive Committee of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and is a board member of the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh. Erika graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in International Relations. She lives in Squirrel Hill with her husband, Jordan and her son, Evan.

Terrell Thomas

Senior Field Organizer, Campaign for Smart Justice | ACLU Pennsylvania

Terrell Thomas is the Senior Field Organizer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Smart Justice Campaign in Allegheny County. Terrell works to reduce Pennsylvania’s jail and prison population while combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He was the Executive Director of The Isaiah Project youth development program which caters to the needs of Pittsburgh area teenagers, emphasizing critical thinking, crisis intervention, life skills, trauma-related rehabilitation, gang prevention and mediation. Terrell is the President of Power University, a community awareness program that educates and unifies Pittsburgh residents and organizations through community education initiatives in an effort to address challenges faced by residents that often lead to violence. Terrell was responsible implementing trauma response services, crisis intervention meetings, mediation strategies, workforce development programming, group therapy and life coaching workshops. Terrell created the Peacekeeper pact which works with active gang members or individuals living a high-risk lifestyle and helps them to obtain employment and skills needed to become successful. Terrell spearheaded Project LOVE which is a group of business professionals, non-profit services providers, executive directors, Pittsburgh residents, artists, real estate agents, developers and community activists participating in social lab-based processes that allow the team to identify and address root causes to issues rather than the symptoms of issues that have a systematic effect in our environment. Terrell sits on the board of directors of numerous organizations and is a volunteer for youth sports. Terrell is the mind behind "Steel City Strong" documentary and book that uses the motivational life experiences of people from Pittsburgh to uplift others that may be going through hard times. Terrell is the owner of Last Fix Lawn Care company which hires men and women who were incarcerated and recently released from prison and gives them an employment opportunity at the city's true living wage. Terrell is the CEO of My Brother’s Keeper transitional living facility. Since its inception in 2002, it has worked to help men and women re-entering society become self-sufficient and socially conscious. Terrell was named one of the 40 under 40 by Pittsburgh Magazine in 2016, a Man of Excellence by The New Pittsburgh Courier in 2017, Who’s Who in Black Pittsburgh in 2015, the Ronald Dillion Man of the Year in 2017, and in 2019 he was named as one of 20 honorees for The Incline's Who's Next: Community Leaders and Activists. (Pittsburgh)

Heather Tomko

Outreach Coordinator | University of Pittsburgh National Rehabilitation Research and Training (RRT) Center on Family Support

Founder | Accessible YOUniverse

Heather Tomko is the Outreach Coordinator National Rehabilitation Research and Training (RRT) Center on Family Support at the University of Pittsburgh. Tomko is an alumna of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, where she received her Master of Public Health in Health Policy and Management.

As a woman with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a neuromuscular disease, Tomko is passionate about disability advocacy and access. She serves on the Board of Directors of CLASS, a local disability resources organization, The Andy Warhol Museum, and AT&T’s Advisory Panel on Access and Aging. She is the founder of Accessible YOUniverse, an organization focused on disability advocacy, education, and representation.

Tomko was the winner of the 2018 Dick Thornburgh Disability Service Award, which is awarded to a student at the University of Pittsburgh who has made a difference in the lives of children and adults with disabilities. She also received the 2019 ACHIEVA Awards of Excellence for Community Awareness and was Ms. Wheelchair USA 2018.

  Randy Vulokovich 

Senior Principal - Governmental Relations 

Buchanan, Ingersoll, Rooney

Randy is a recognized leader in the greater Pittsburgh business community. In 2019, he was named to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s Our Next 75 initiative steering committee which is helping shape the next generation of regional
transformation by evaluating the challenges facing the Pittsburgh region and then setting priorities for what the region should focus on for its future. Additionally in 2018, Randy was selected as one of 10 Pittsburgh leaders to participate in an effort under Harvard Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Project known as the Young American Leaders Program. As a member of Pittsburgh’s delegation, Randy collaborated with Harvard’s internationally renowned faculty and influential leaders from thriving cities across the country, sharing insights and best practices designed to help foster cross-sector collaboration to improve prosperity and propel communities forward. Randy also devotes time to lifting up the next generation of leaders, serving as an Executive Mentor through The Advanced Leadership Initiative (TALI), an organization whose vision is to dramatically improve the regional presence of African Americans in executive leadership roles thus helping to create a more diverse, inclusive and prosperous community. In 2015, Randy was selected by the Pittsburgh Business Times as a “Fast Tracker” – an award honoring the region’s most outstanding business, government and non-profit leaders under the age of 40 for their impact on the growth and scope of their workplace. Randy previously served as the firm’s Chief Administrative Officer and was responsible for facilitating best practices and executing the firm’s operational objectives, focusing on improving efficiencies and the effectiveness of administrative operations and processes firm wide. Prior to the CAO role, Randy spent nearly seven years as the firm’s Chief Business Development Officer, during which time he was responsible for leading the firm's strategic business goals pertaining to client service, marketing and revenue generation. In 2010, Randy served in a leadership role during Tom Corbett’s 2010 successful gubernatorial campaign.