“Don’t change the curriculum. Change the culture.”

That’s the approach of Lenore Blum, computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University since 1999. Rather than changing or “dumbing down” the curriculum, CMU established mentorship programs offering support and continuity from faculty.

Read all about it in the article by CNN Tech’s by Sara Ashley O’Brien, excerpted below.


“So many eligible women.”

That’s how Carnegie Mellon’s Lenore Blum referred to this year’s applicants for CMU’s School of Computer Science. Women make up 48% of incoming freshman this year — a new high for the school.

There were nearly 7,000 applicants for the program this year. It accepted just 166, which is about 30% larger than in past years.

The percent of women in the class far surpasses the national average of 16.5% for undergraduate computer science programs, according to the Computing Research Association’s Taulbee Survey.

Blum, who teachers computer science, said there was no talk of “lowering of the bar” at CMU to do so.

“Every year, we get more and more women. And every year, it seems like all the scores and stats go up. It is competitive to get into our program,” Blum said.

Related: Women coders do better than men in gender-blind study

That stands in contrast to the commonly-cited “pipeline problem,” which some in Silicon Valley use as the reason their companies aren’t diverse — that there simply aren’t enough minority or female STEM graduates.

Blum said blaming the pipeline is a “mistake.”

“You start with the group you have,” she added, noting that this year’s achievement reflects incremental growth over several decades.

While Harvey Mudd College credited a redesigned curriculum, for bringing in and retaining more female students, Blum and CMU have taken a very different approach.

When Blum joined CMU in 1999, she said there was serious talk of changing the curriculum to attract more women. “I said, ‘No way. You change the culture — not the curriculum.’”

Instead, Blum started Women@SCS, a mentorship organization for female computer science students. Unlike many organizations that are student-run, this particular group is led by faculty, which means there’s continuity even when students graduate. “You need the guidance and institutional support and the memory,” Blum said.

“Encouraging women by giving them a support system and a sense of community is a good idea,” Macallan Cruff, an 18-year-old CMU freshman told CNNMoney. “Don’t dumb down the curriculum.”

Cruff said she’s been pleasantly surprised to see a 50/50 split of men and women in her courses, compared to about four women in a class of 25 in her high school computer science class.

Related: Parents, yes! Your princesses can code

Cruff hopes schools will work to foster a sense of community for students at a much younger age. As a junior in high school, Cruff formed a “Coding Club” at a nearby elementary school to start introducing programming to girls in the third grade.

Blum said Carnegie Mellon is also focused on reaching students before they even enter college. It trains high school teachers on the latest programming languages, which encourages them to spread the word about CMU to their students.

She stressed the importance of having the administration put money behind the school’s efforts and not solely rely on grants.

Blum noted that Silicon Valley has been recruiting Carnegie Mellon’s graduates, an obvious move given that most tech companies are looking for talented candidates, especially female ones.

But she said it could compromise the number of women going on to get computer science PhDs. “I have concerns about that,” she said.

What pipeline problem? Carnegie Mellon nears gender parity CNNMoney (New York) / First published September 16, 2016: 10:13 AM ET

Bonnie Pfister

The event noted below occurred in the past. But that means ATHENA season is officially on!

Go to to learn about the awards program.

Pittsburgh routinely leads national rankings for everything from its increasingly youthful talent pool, its tech startups, its affordability and its wealth of innovative restaurants. But how are women faring in these emerging industries? Is our region fully leveraging the competitive strengths of women?

As the ATHENA Awards Program opens its annual call for nominations, its host committee invites men and women who care about equity to the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 11 for a lively discussion among women who are pioneers in disruptive innovation, emerging technologies and cuisine. NEXTpittsburgh Publisher Tracy Certo will moderate the panel, which includes:

  • Summer C. Fowler, Director of Cybersecurity Risk & Resilience at CERT, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Jennifer Krusius, General Manager, Pittsburgh + PA Expansion of Uber Technologies, Inc.
  • Priya Narasimhan, CEO & Founder, YinzCam, Inc.; Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Ling Wollenschlaeger, Founder and Head Chef of Pittsburgh Fresh LLC
  • Bethany Zozula, Executive Chef at Whitfield within Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Tickets are $30 and include continental breakfast. The event is the annual kickoff to the ATHENA season, opening the doors for nominations for awards nominations. The traditional ATHENA Award, now in its 26th year, recognizes a woman who demonstrates excellence in her profession, contributes to her community and helps other women to succeed. The ATHENA Young Professional Award is geared toward emerging leaders age 35 or younger. Nominations may be submitted online between May 11 and June 30.

Named for the Greek goddess of strength and wisdom, the Athena Awards of Greater Pittsburgh are unique among regional honors for professional women because of the focus on developing the next generation of female leaders through mentorship. The awards luncheon, scheduled this year for Sept. 26, is attended by more than 900 men and women and is one of the largest ATHENA events worldwide. The awards are convened by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, of which is a program.

*   *   *

Pittsburgh has jobs: more than 20,000 across 10 counties. Tap into to explore southwestern PA’s trending careers and industries.

The ATHENA Awards are the networking event of the season for men and women of all backgrounds! Tickets available here:

The results are in: five  prominent leaders from the Pittsburgh region have been named 2015 Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Awards finalists.

They will be recognized on Oct. 9 for their professional excellence, contributions to the community and mentorship of other women at the 25th Annual ATHENA & Young Professional Awards Luncheon, presented by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, one  At the event, one finalist will become the recipient of the 2015 ATHENA Award. The 2015 ATHENA finalists, selected from among a record 49 nominees – a record-setting number – compose a varied and distinguished group of women. The finalists are:

  • Lynn M. Banaszak, executive director, Disruptive Health Technology Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Doris Carson Williams, president & chief executive officer, African American Chamber of Commerce of Western PA
  • Lisa Lenihan, United States magistrate judge, United States District Court for the Western District of PA
  • Rhonda Moore Johnson, senior medical director of health equity & quality services, Highmark Inc.
  • Lucille Prater-Holliday, founder, Black Women’s Empowerment Institute

The ATHENA Young Professional Award will also be presented — to a woman age 35 or younger who exemplifies the qualities of ATHENA with an emphasis on modeling positive leadership to peers. This is the fifth year for the “Young ATHENA” award and also a record year, with 29 nominations. The 2015 AYPA finalists are:

  • Josie Badger, youth development director, PEAL Center
  • Meredith Meyer Grelli, co-founder and co-owner, Wigle Whiskey
  • Aurora Sharrard, vice president of innovation, Green Building Alliance.

Last year’s luncheon drew nearly 900 attendees, securing the Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award Luncheon’s status as the largest stand-alone event of its kind in the world among the 500-plus communities around the globe that present the award each year.

Tickets for the luncheon may be purchased at

The Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Awards Program is made possible by support from UPMC Health Plan; Citizens Bank; KPMG LLP; Jones Day, Pittsburgh Magazine; PPG Industries, Inc.; Williams; WTAE-TV; Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC; Carnegie Mellon Leadership and Negotiation Academy for Women; Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C.; The Ellis School; and Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP. 

Click here to read this story on NEXTpittsburgh’s website.


Who better to give career advice than the five very impressive Pittsburgh businesswomen nominated for the prestigious ATHENA Award?

The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce has been honoring the area’s inspirational businesswomen with the ATHENA Award since 1991. (Since 2011, a woman age 35 or younger has been honored with the ATHENA Young Professional Award.) All nominated are not only savvy about their careers, but also deeply involved in their local community and in mentoring other women.

This year’s ATHENA Award finalists come from the banking, education, healthcare, finance and online marketing industries. They spoke to NEXTpittsburgh about what their many years of career experience have taught them. The winner will be announced on Monday, Sept. 29 at a luncheon at the Westin Convention Center Hotel downtown. It attracts upwards of 900 attendees and sells out every year. Buy tickets here!


Linda has made a career out of putting students first, no matter what age. She has developed outreach programs not only for preschool learning readiness and literacy, but also for babies with the help of the new mom. She was instrumental in negotiations over the closure of Duquesne City High School and enabling its students to attend other area schools.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?
“I have a quote from John Quincy Adams on my emails that says, ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.’ I think that women can rise to that and perform to that and I would encourage every woman to be one of those folks. I think women are inspirers.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
“I wish I’d known what a long journey it is and it is endless, and it is never boring. Each small victory inspires you to have the courage, the faith, the energy and the commitment to continue.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?
“I think recognizing that everyone is an individual and each one has their story and it is to be listened to and nurtured and supported. Together, a community of individuals can really be a powerful, energizing force.”

What is something you learned at the start of your career that has influenced you?
“Women have to work harder sometimes and have to rise to the challenge even more than others, but it’s all worth it.”

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?
“I love to read, cook and I love antiques. I collect 18th and 19th century furniture, stoneware and vintage linens. Once you find something you love, it’s easy to keep finding more and more.”


Diane has managed to find work-life balance even as one of the more powerful businesswomen in Pittsburgh. It could be because she was formally trained as a therapist and psychiatric social worker before embarking on her current course and now leading 16 of UPMC’s healthcare and insurance divisions.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?
“Keep your options open, be willing to try different things and try to really find people early in your career that can give you some guidance in ways that are both formal and informal.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
“Oh my—just about everything! I wish that I knew earlier in my career that there’s not huge downsides to taking calculated risks, and I think that as you get more confident in yourself you start to do that. I think that sometimes young women are more cautious early on, and that’s understandable, but sometimes it’s worth it to take that calculated risk that can allow you to open other doors.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?
“One of the things that’s important is to begin to look at the colleagues around you—both women and men—as both people you can learn from and that you can provide help to. Most of us find in this very virtual world we live in that it’s not really the effort of one person that usually makes a big difference, it’s really people working together.”

What is something you learned at the start of your career that has influenced you?
“The old adage that most things are 10 percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration — that if you really want to accomplish things, you have to look at what motivates you and excites you to be able to work hard and to deliver on what you’re hoping to accomplish. People early in my career helped me realize that it takes a lot of effort to do things that will produce the kind of outcomes you’re hoping for.”

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?
“I like to play tennis, read biographies and historical fiction, go out to dinner, kind of chill. I think that’s important.”

Susan has built a reputation not only for mentoring other women both within and outside her firm, but also for mentoring local non-profits. She serves on several non-profit boards and shares her financial acumen to keep local organizations focused on their missions.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?
A career is a marathon and not a sprint. I think sometimes that folks tend to believe that they have to accomplish everything yesterday. Your career is really a growth experience and you grow and change over time, and find yourself in new learning environments.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

“I think as you age that you become far more comfortable and far more confident in your contribution. I wish I had recognized that I didn’t have to know everything right at the start and I didn’t have to take it all so very seriously. I think it’s very important that you’re networking externally as well as internally—really building that network. I tended to be one-dimensional and there wasn’t the right balance—if I’m being completely honest—in my approach to networking in the beginning.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?
I’ve often said that if you lead with an open heart and an open hand, you can lead other women in the workplace. Collectively we’re stronger and far more powerful than we are individually. Sometimes I think we all get caught up in needing a program and a rulebook to engage in mentoring activities, when it’s really about connections and helping others make connections.”

What is something you learned at the start of your career that has influenced you?
“That I didn’t have to abandon my goal of achieving the balance that would make me happy and fulfilled in having a successful personal and professional life.”

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?
“I exercise — spinning, hiking, biking, skiing. I run when I have to. Exercise has been a very important part of my life as I’ve matured. It has been wonderful for me. Seven Springs and Big Sky Montana are my favorite skiing spots, and the Laurel Highlands biking trail is spectacular. This region has so much to offer!”


Karen has held many different positions in the nearly 20 years she’s been at PNC but perhaps the most important ones aren’t part of her current job description. She’s one of three women on PNC’s 13-member executive committee, and she focuses on mentoring working mothers and other young bankers.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?
“People need to stay open to being out of their comfort zone. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone and staying there as long as I could improved not only the depth but also the breadth of what I was learning. You need to believe in yourself. I really emphasize to women, especially those starting out, that you need to build your confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself, people won’t believe in you.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
“I wish I would have known that the first job I had taken in banking would lead to a 30-year career in banking. I tell young people to watch that first job you take when you get out of school. If you’re just taking it as a job and not really thinking ahead, sometimes you look back and think, ‘How did I end up doing this for 30 years?’ Sometimes that first opportunity puts you on a track.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?
“I think it’s so important to share the things you’ve learned. In particular, to help women understand that things are not always easy; there are hurdles, but there are ways to get through them. It takes both skill and will to be successful in your career. I think a lot of women have the skills but they think they don’t have the time or the energy to take on whatever it is. I like to be the role model who says you can figure it out, and you can figure it out in your way.”

What is something you learned at the start of your career that has influenced you?
“To raise my hand. There was a certain point in my career years ago when a senior manager asked me why I wasn’t raising my hand and speaking up when jobs were opening up. He told me that when big jobs opened up, his phone would start ringing with mostly men calling about them. At the time, my answer to him was, ‘If you knew how qualified I was, I figured you would tap me on the shoulder and ask me about it.’ But he told me that upper management had come to think I wasn’t interested and was happy staying right where I was, and that wasn’t true. I recognized that if I don’t ask, I’m surely never going to get what I want.”

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?
“I’m not sure I know how to relax. I’m really happiest when I am on the go and completely overbooked. It’s something that gives me so much energy, and with four children and a husband in my life, there just isn’t much time for relaxation. I’m happiest when I’m spending time with my family. We have a place in Deep Creek, Maryland, and when I’m there I’m just being myself and having fun.”


Suzy has occupied nearly every position imaginable—from trainee to CEO—and every job function imaginable—from sales to strategic planning to human resources. She’s now known as an expert in tech marketing strategy and is heavily involved in advising and mentoring women in technological fields.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?
“I would love to see more women get involved in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]. There are tremendous opportunities throughout the technology sector, and many women have found some great work/life balance for themselves in the tech field and I would love to see more women take advantage of that.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
If you find ways to be creative at solving problems for companies, that is one of the key ways that you will be successful, no matter what your career is. Look for creative ways to get things done. Sometimes younger people who are just starting out feel timid, more timid than they should be about making recommendations on how to make something more successful.

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?
“I think what’s key to recognize is that we have the capacity for networking and supporting each other’s career ambitions and too often we don’t take advantage of these opportunities. We get so focused on what we need to do at work and at home and we don’t make the time to network. Really taking the time to form relationships with other women is what we all need to be successful and we should feel that it’s ok to do that and to build it into our daily lives. There is more than enough room for us all to be successful.”

What is something you learned at the start of your career that has influenced you?
“I had a CEO who said, ‘Every relationship should start with trust and it’s up to you and the other person to maintain that trust.’ It’s up to both people to build trust. Often, people have suspicions or concerns about the other person and many times that hampers the ability to get the best solution for both.

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?
“I read a lot — mostly mystery novels and suspense. I enjoy taking trips and vacations, my favorite place to go is someplace warm and that has an ocean! My husband and I are always looking for new opportunities to explore new countries. My children and stepchildren live all over the world, and I enjoy taking vacations to visit them.”

Meet all five ATHENA finalists along with the ATHENA Young Professionals finalists at the awards luncheon on Monday, Sept. 29 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel downtown.


Melanie Linn Gutowski is the author of Pittsburgh’s Mansions, a pictorial history of Western Pennsylvania’s stately homes. She has written for local publications, and The Huffington Post. In 2013, Melanie was a finalist for the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Golden Quill Awards.

Barbara McNees

Please join me at for an important conversation about increasing equity in the Pittsburgh region’s workplaces.

We are kicking off the 2013 ATHENA Awards season with a panel discussion, “Women in Leadership: The Male Point of View” at the Heinz History Center on Thursday, April 25.

Athena is often depicted holding both a shield and a spear with an owl flying nearby representing her reliance on force tempered by wisdom and strategy.
Athena is often depicted holding both a shield and a spear with an owl flying nearby representing her reliance on force tempered by wisdom and strategy.

Taking its name from the Greek goddess of strength and wisdom, the Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Awards recognize exceptional women who demonstrate excellence in their profession, contribute to their community and help other women to succeed through mentorship. The spring event launches the call for nominations, which are due June 28. Two awards will be given at the Sept. 30 luncheon, one of the largest annual gatherings among the hundreds of ATHENA International-affiliated events presented around the world.

With the recent publication of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, discussion has been re-ignited about the persistent absence of women in top business leadership roles. While a record number of American CEOS are now female, there are just 18 women – less than four percent of the total – leading Fortune 500 companies.

Networking and continental breakfast begins at 8 a.m.; discussion follows at 8:30 a.m.

Panelists include:

  • John Barbour, CEO, Managing Director/Chairman of the Board, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC
  • Robert Krizner, Managing Partner, KPMG, LLP
  • Daniel Roderick, President and CEO, Westinghouse Electric Company

Bill Flanagan, Allegheny Conference Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and host of WPXI-TV’S Our Region’s Business, will moderate.

Tickets are $25 (continental breakfast included) and may be purchased here before April 22.

Phil Cynar
Renaissance City Choirs in concert

Uniquely bonded and allied by their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identity and a love of singing, women and men from the region raise their voices in concert this Sunday evening, Dec. 9, filling Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall with seasonal song that’s as diverse as the choir itself – joyful, campy, soulful and sassy.

Jeffry Blake Johnson, D.M.A.  is artistic director of the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC), an organization now in its 27th year of providing the region’s LGBT community – as well as a number of choral music-loving heterosexual neighbors – with an outlet for artistic expression and the advancement and appreciation of sexual diversity.

Johnson has been busy – up to the tip of his conductor’s baton – with preparations for the 2012 concert, entitled “Warm by the Fire,” but he shared the following reflections to better acquaint people with the special ensembles composing the RCC and a performance that aims banish winter’s chill with song while affirming, through music, the worth and dignity of sexual minorities.

ImaginePittsburghNow: In brief, how did the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC) get its start?

Jeffry Blake Johnson: In 1985, the Renaissance City Choir/Pittsburgh Gay Chorus Inc. was established as a gay male chorus, and in 1987, it became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That same year, RCC joined the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) – an international organization with more than 180 LGBT choruses.

To celebrate the choir’s 10th anniversary, RCC hosted a 10th anniversary concert at the Benedum Center and invited nearby GALA choruses – Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, North Coast Men’s Chorus and Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus – to perform. It was also the debut performance for the Renaissance City Women’s Choir formed in January 1995.

IPN:  What does the RCC uniquely bring to the LGBT community in the Pittsburgh area, as well as to the community at large?  What does this special choir have the power to do with its music – both within the group and outside in the community?

RCC Artistic Director Jeffry Blake Johnson

JBJ: The RCC is a microcosm of American society: LGBT men and women living alongside our openly heterosexual brothers and sisters. We work for greater understanding between people of different backgrounds and identities, as well as the advancement of equality. And more simply, we work to create beautiful art and moments of music that are shared with each other and with our audiences. As a true rainbow community we work on living and cooperating in peace and respect, and we try to share those values within our own LGBT community and the wider community. As an organization, we seek to build bridges within our community and with the community at large.

IPN:  How did you land your job as artistic director of the RCC?  As a transplant to Pittsburgh what has struck a chord (pardon the pun) with you?

JBJ: Since I began living in Pittsburgh in 1996 and working at East Liberty Presbyterian Church (2000 – 2007), which is the home base of RCC, I knew about the choirs and had heard them in many concerts through the years. A friend of mine, who has friends in the choirs, mentioned that she thought the position was open and referred me to the choirs’ website where I learned all about the job opening. I went through a series of interviews with a search committee and an audition in a choir rehearsal. RCC is truly a family, and the people in the choirs very much love each other. That wonderful bond was apparent to me from the beginning. Individually, the singers are funny, wise, silly, talented and vivacious, and they bring all of those qualities to their music-making and advocacy.

Pittsburgh’s amazing diversity of communities throughout the city, and of course, it’s beautiful rolling hills, rivers and bridges struck a chord with me.

IPN:  What one thing, in your opinion, that would improve Pittsburgh for its LGBT residents?

JBJ: Marriage equality would be one of the most meaningful things for the LGBT community in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. We need this, not only for those of us who wish to be married, but as a symbol of respect to demonstrate that we are not second-class citizens in our society. There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Until we have full marriage equality, we will be paid less, and our families will be treated as inferior in comparison with our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

IPN:  Silly question, but is everyone in the choir a bona fide LGBT individual? If not, tell us about what’s likely to be the RCC’s “one percent.”

JBJ: There are approximately 65 plus members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allies singing with the Renaissance City Choirs. Although no one has been polled specifically, we do have a number of openly heterosexual folk singing with us. And, we love that!

IPN:  If a reader has time for just one seasonal concert, why should it yours?

JBJ: “Warm by the Fire” will provide a multi-faceted experience. Our audience will hear beautiful classic holiday music, as well as a sassy new composition from composer Jake Heggie (composer of the opera Dead Man Walking) and lyricist Mark Campbell (lyricist for the opera Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music). We’ll sing holiday tunes with the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra and enjoy the performance of the LGBTA youth performance troupe Dreams of Hope. And, for many people, one of the most anticipated traditions of the holiday season will be taking part in our annual singing of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” replete with rowdiness. If you have not experienced “The Twelve Days” with the RCC, you don’t know what fun you’re missing.

Watch a preview video of the 2012 RCC holiday concert here.


The “Warm by the Fire” concert begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9 at Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland (15213). Click here for more information or to purchase tickets (general admission: $25 advance,  $30 at door; premius seats: $50; students: $10.)

Pittsburgh’s got a happening LGBT community. Click here to read more about it and some of its people.

In 2011, highlighted the sustainability of some of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions. This year we’re calling attention to a few of our favorite seasonal things, with a bit of a twist toward greater diversity or international flair. Send your suggestions to us at, or