“Pittsburgh has an extensive trail network, and the flexibility of biking to work is a huge plus from a sustainability and quality of life perspective.”
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Melinda Angeles headed east to the City of Brotherly Love to attend the University of Pennsylvania and completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Environmental Studies before eventually boomeranging back to her hometown. After a short stint in Maryland upon graduation as a government contractor geospatial analyst, Melinda moved back to Pittsburgh in 2015 to be close to her then long-distance boyfriend and her family. Looking to re-engage with the city, she joined the civic technology community and was surprised at how easy it was to not only become a part of it, but also become a leader in it. “I remember looking at meetups online in Philly and Maryland and feeling like I was lost in the shuffle. In Pittsburgh is was easy to connect and make an impact.”
While getting her masters, Melinda fell in love with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) because it allowed her to take data, layer it, and perform analysis to provide a more complete picture. Growing up she was always interested in visual communication directed towards different audiences and often used design to take the lead on school flyers and other side projects. Now she’s able to pursue that interest in a more powerful way through data-driven visualizations in her role as a GIS Systems Engineer with Allegheny County. “A lot of problems are spatial in nature and if you view it in a non-spatial way, it’s more challenging to come up with solutions. GIS helps answer a lot of questions in a digestible, data-centered way.”
Her projects range from working with the health department on designing and implementing data collection surveys to improve overall community health and service access, to providing GIS data freely and openly to the public. Since she works across departments, there’s never a typical day: “There is always new information to unpack, and working with public partners to help move the community forward is a rewarding part of my job.” It’s not without its fun elements, too. She and other colleagues at the County took it upon themselves to find “the ultimate lunch spot” by creating a bracket of 64 restaurants and fanning out over the course of a year to crown a winner. “We had strict guidelines on who could qualify and how we measured our experiences. Admittedly, it was a bit more of an undertaking than we realized at the start, but overall a fun experiment with lots of tasty food!” So who came out on top? Z Best Barbeque was crowned the ultimate lunch spot with Nikki’s Thai Kitchen coming in a close second. Not included in the bracket, but among Melinda’s favorite Pittsburgh restaurants are also Cure in Lawrenceville and Tako downtown.
While food is a passion, so is exploring the city. After a year of looking for places to live, Melinda and her husband, Jeffrey Panza, fell in love with a house in Greenfield and are busy making it a home. She likes attending Grow Pittsburgh events and aspires to have a green thumb and start a home garden. The couple regularly walks to the East End from their new place, and Melinda bikes the Eliza Furnace “Jail Trail” to work daily. Having lived on the North Side before buying a house, they also regularly traverse the Three Rivers Trail, check out events from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, and take visits to Randyland. She met Randy for the first time on a visit there for her 30th birthday “The work that he has done is so impressive! He’s really helped transform the North Side into a top destination.”
Connecting with the community has also been an important part of reconnecting with her Pittsburgh roots. Melinda is the co-leader of Code for Pittsburgh, a civically-minded organization that works to make the Pittsburgh region a better place through the use of information and technology. “We have a varied group of people engage with us, including university students. It’s great to have that brain power and diversity of thought as we find ways to engage with and contribute to the region.” In addition, Melinda organized a fundraiser to screen the movie Hidden Figures in 2016 for Pittsburgh Public Schools, ultimately raising over $6,000 in less than a month and sending nearly 700 students and chaperones to see the film. In her limited spare time, she also volunteers with 412 Food Rescue and encourages people to check out the site to see how they can help.
“I think what makes Pittsburgh unique is an individual’s ability to make a tangible impact quickly, and a willingness from fellow Pittsburghers to help-- you just need to ask.”