“It’s time to think big because Pittsburgh has moved beyond the usual answers and is coming up with truly game changing ideas.”
Growing up in the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh in Greensburg, Ashley Blankette was surrounded by more farmland than neighbors, so imagination and innovation were cultivated early on. After receiving a dual bachelor’s degree from Penn State in Graphic Design and Advertising & Communication, she and her husband moved home to be close to their families, but not without some pushback: “When I told classmates and professors I was coming back to Pittsburgh I faced a lot of skeptics, but I feel like I played the long game and won. Pittsburgh is incredibly exciting and it’s really just the beginning of opening up what potential we have here.”
Ashley’s first job out of school was as a designer with ThoughtForm Inc., a communications and design consultancy in the Southside. She spent five years with the company discovering she had a passion for designing interactive experiences and welcomed the challenge of taking complex information and data and representing it in simple, useful ways. From there, Ashley took a job with global consulting firm, FTI Consulting, as a user experience (UX) designer and honed her skills in an area that she saw was on the rise, which ultimately led her to BNY Mellon.
As a UX designer at BNY Mellon, Ashley spent her first 3-4 years building a team of 12 in Pittsburgh that is responsible for evangelizing design thinking within the bank, and also for clients. “There’s a lot of great young talent coming out of our local universities in technology and Human Computer Interaction (HCI). I didn’t have to look far to find the talent I needed to grow a successful team.” Recent graduates also benefit from BNY Mellon’s Technology Leadership Program that allows new staff to rotate in various areas of technology within the bank to identify where they fit best.
In 2017, anticipating that she wanted to move into the innovation space, Ashley enrolled in the MIT Innovation and Strategy Executive Education program. Her career evolution that brought together design, client advocacy and technology provided a strong platform to move into the innovation space and in December 2018, Ashley was named the Head of the Pittsburgh Innovation Center: “I’m constantly impressed with how BNY Mellon culture creates an environment where there are active champions for women in leadership and there’s a real focus on advancing the careers of women in technology." This commitment is recognized nationally: In 2017, BNY Mellon was named one of the Top Companies for Women Technologists by AnitaB.org for the third year in a row.
When she’s not innovating at work, Ashley and her husband Matt, a teacher with Norwin School District, are often exploring some of the lesser known sides of Pittsburgh. “We love architecture and old homes, especially mid-century and people don’t always recognize what an amazing stock of homes we have here. I think the east suburbs are an especially underappreciated side of the city.” She recommends going for a drive to check out some of the beautiful mid-century homes on Marbury Road in Churchill and seeing some of famed Pittsburgh-architect, Tasso Katsalas’, work. The couple also collects mid-century antiques and are always using estate sales as a good excuse to explore new neighborhoods around the region. Ashley recommends the store Who New in Lawrenceville for great antique finds.
Sometimes fails turn into successes, as one of their favorite finds came from a foiled estate sale trip when they happened upon Better Maid Donut in Carnegie. “At least once a month we wake up on a weekend and with one glance we know it’s a donut morning.” They are also big fans of Italian food and can often be found on Friday nights at Gia Visto, a BYOB Italian restaurant in Monroeville, or picking up goodies at the neighborhood Italian grocery store, Labriola’s.
As for where BNY Mellon and Pittsburgh are heading in the innovation space?
“Our global Innovation Centers are pushing the envelope in terms of technology and exploring the ‘adjacent possible.’ How can we combine our rich data with our technology framework and emerging technologies in ways that create new value for our clients? The sky is really the limit.”