Scott Ballina, Senior Director of Diversity, Belonging & Giving at Citrix on the Value of Inclusion & Productive Disruption
This week on The CEO.digital Show, we’re joined by Scott Ballina, Senior Director of Diversity, Belonging & Giving at Citrix. We discuss his career to date, including his long-term involvement with the U.S Navy, his decision to focus on diversity and inclusion, and the value of prioritising diversity as a catalyst for what he calls Productive Disruption.
Scott Ballina is the Senior Director of Diversity, Belonging, & Giving at Citrix. With almost 20 years of experience creating, implementing, and championing diversity and inclusion initiatives, Scott is also a Diversity Speaker and a volunteer Mentor and Coach at American Corporate Partners, and organization that helps veterans transition from the military into civilian careers.
Scott Ballina began his professional journey in the U.S Navy, and it was his travels in his capacity as a Navy serviceman that inspired his passion for diversity and inclusion. He took that passion to Deloitte and spent nearly 15 years working on groundbreaking inclusion initiatives and programmes. Now at Citrix, his ability as a diversity practitioner sees him act as a champion of diversity and inclusion for the business and their clients, driving change and delivering business growth on a day-to-day basis.
Through Scott’s wealth of experience, we discuss how diversity and inclusion can be addressed by businesses to diversify their offerings, reduce risk, provide a better quality of product and service, and deliver faster, better, and more affordably. We also dive into how diversity and inclusion affect culture, how the pandemic has affected business’s ability to attract diverse talent, and the many benefits of a multi-generational workforce.
Valley graduate set to release debut novel, 'Gridiron Girl'
Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, [email protected]
Keen-eyed readers will notice local landmarks and other A-K Valley name-drops in the debut novel by Tamara Girardi, a Lower Burrell resident. “Gridiron Girl” is the first in a six-book set aimed at young adults. It launches March 3, published by Wise Wolf Books.
“Locals will see a lot of things they recognize,” said Girardi, who grew up in New Kensington and graduated from Valley High School. “The names are changed, but it won’t be too difficult to figure out.”
The main character, Jules Medina, has her heart set on capturing the role of starting quarterback for Iron Valley High School. She quits her championship volleyball team to follow her true passion for tossing the pigskin, only to battle stereotypes by coaches, players and members of the community.
“But there’s no stopping her from pursuing her dream,” Girardi said. The author’s inspiration stems from many, many hours discussing, watching and living with footballers, she said.
Her husband, Dom, was the Vikings quarterback when they met in high school. “His younger brothers played and his father was a coach,” Girardi said. “I spent a lot of time watching them throw the ball around in the backyard. When we were dating, he would mark X’s and O’s on Eat’n Park place mats and quiz me about routes. “We would go to Memorial Park and practice how to correctly throw the football.”
The writer got to thinking: “I wonder what would’ve happened if they had a little sister. Would she have wanted to play?” The thought paved the way for “Gridiron Girl,” in which the pages are filled with high school drama, teenage romance, friendships and lessons of self-worth.
Girardi said she drew from today’s women-in-sports movements that have empowered young girls.
To celebrate the book’s release, Girardi will host a book signing at 7 p.m. March 3 at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont. Tickets cost $14.95 and include a copy of the book.
That event will be followed by an Afternoon Coffee and Tea with Girardi at the newly opened 1833 Coffee and Tea Co. in Freeport. It will be from 2 to 3:30 p.m. March 6.
“We are so happy to be hosting this event,” co-owner Virginia Lindsay said. “We feel like it is good for our community to support one another and showcase our local talent.”
A third event will be 7:30 p.m. March 16 at Riverstone Books in McCandless.
After graduating in 2000 from Valley, Girardi attended Jacksonville University in Florida and then traveled to Scotland to earn a master’s degree from the University of St. Andrews. She returned home and lived with her family in Harrison for more than a decade before settling in Lower Burrell. During that time, she earned a Ph.D. in English from IUP and began teaching at Westmoreland County Community College.
Her football-enthusiast husband is now the high school coach at Highlands, and Girardi is an associate English professor at Harrisburg Area Community College.
After signing the six-book sports series with Wise Wolf, a new publisher of YA fiction based in Las Vegas, Girardi has kept a frantic writing pace since last year. The second book, “Disorder on the Court,” is set for release in June. She is currently writing book No. 3, which will release in September.
In May, she’ll release an illustrated children’s board book titled “Why Daddy Why?” through a separate publisher, before setting out to write sports story No. 4, set to release in December.
“They have an innovative business model where they publish authors more frequently,” she said. “It’s been fun to be a part of that.”
After spending more than 15 years jotting stories in a notebook, the irony isn’t lost on Girardi that she’ll have five books on shelves this year.
“There are interesting stories in these sports stories and threads to develop,” she said. “I was able to write this series not just because of my husband but I thought back to my closest friends in high school and envisioned the situations. High school is impactful, and I want to relay stories of our wonderful community.”
Dr. Joe Mazzulli Earned the Toffler Scholar Award in 2021 at Northwestern University
Dr. Joe Mazzulli grew up in a suburb right outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both his parents were hard workers and instilled in him the value and importance of work. His mother and father regularly assigned chores to Joe, his older brother, and younger sister to contribute to the upkeep of the house.
Joe discovered his first passion, music, at the age of six when he happened upon an old piano in the family’s basement. He started banging on the keys and, soon after, his mother signed him up for piano lessons. Joe continued to play and study the piano throughout his formative years, and continues to play today.
When he started attending high school, Joe discovered two additional areas of interest: math and biochemistry. Understanding math and biochemistry came easily to Joe, primarily because he found them so fascinating. Also, the patterns he saw in music overlapped with science and math. To him, they fit naturally together so he decided that, once he completed high school, he would study both music and biochemistry.
After graduating high school, Joe attended the University of Pittsburgh. Early in his studies, Joe signed up for Intro to Neuroscience, an elective class he’d heard great things about. This seemingly incidental choice would ultimately define the trajectory of Joe’s career: he took the class and was hooked. He added a neuroscience major to his biochemistry major and began pursuing degrees in both fields. Throughout his undergraduate years, Joe held multiple jobs to support the cost of his education, including janitorial and assembly-line positions in factories around Pittsburgh.
As he neared the end of his undergraduate education, Joe wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go to graduate school or medical school. So he started working as a technician in a neurobiology lab at the University of Pittsburgh. He already knew that he loved lab work, but witnessing the principal investigator’s passion for the research they were doing opened Joe’s eyes to how exciting the work could be.
During this same time, Joe applied for and received a travel grant to study abroad. This enabled him to take an intensive course in neurodegeneration at Japan’s prestigious RIKEN Brain Science Institute (RIKEN BSI). The topic fascinated him and, while at RIKEN BSI, he learned that the University of Pennsylvania was doing extensive work in the field. He applied and was accepted to the university’s graduate program, where he continued his studies in neurodegeneration.
While completing his PhD, Joe began researching neurodegeneration processes in disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. He wanted to understand how a protein can convert from its normal shape into a pathogenic or aggregated shape that ultimately leads to cell death. If there were a way to prevent, slow, or even halt this process, Parkinson’s and similar neurodegenerative diseases could conceivably be eradicated.
Joe authored his graduate thesis on the topic and, after earning his PhD and completing his postdoctoral studies, he opened his own lab at Northwestern University to further his research.
Burnin’ Love: Wood-Fired Pizza at Gus Franco’s of Lower Burrell is Hot Item
Orders at Gus Franco’s Pizza should be made in advance because the artisan pies are hot — real hot. Boasting a top-of-the-line, wood-fired pizza oven from Italy, Gus Franco’s sizzles dough with an air temperature reaching 900 degrees, which is more than 100 degrees higher than many commercial pizza ovens. The light and crispy pizzas that emerge from the blistering heat are the product of handmade dough that ferments for 48 hours, said Patrick Elston, who owns the Lower Burrell shop with his wife, Mandy. They opened in mid-October.
“Just one little dough ball turns into somebody’s happiness on a Friday night,” said Elston, 45, of New Kensington.
But residents looking for pizza happiness, especially on a Friday night, are wise to call starting at 3 p.m. to claim a pie. The pizzas are hot, in another sense of the word. They often sell out every night, Tuesday through Saturday.
The Elstons spend a good deal of time explaining why reservations are recommended at their takeout-only shop. The reason: Only so many artisan pizzas can be made in one day — eight pies every 20 minutes, to be exact. Each pizza bakes for 90 seconds to 2 minutes. The homemade dough recipe has evolved to allow a crispy exterior while not drying out. The specialty wood-fired oven with a stone bottom cooks the pizzas within inches of the wood fire, without a barrier.
Using special kiln-dried oak supplied by Vaughan’s Tree Service of Tarentum, the pies rise faster on the fireside of the oven, Elston said. He spins the pies in the oven for even baking. “It requires constant attention,” he said. “You’re dancing with the oven when you are cooking.”
Given the tight baking schedule and a finite amount of dough, the shop turns any leftovers into buns for meatball sandwiches and pepperoni rolls. The wood-fired oven caramelizes the homemade Italian meatballs, made with a blend of beef and pork.
At the end of the day, just about everything sells out, Elston said. “We don’t have a lot of waste,” he said. When the pizza shop makes fresh buns with leftover pizza dough, they alert their patrons on Facebook and Instagram.
The success of the Elstons’ craft pizza is not surprising. He began selling wood-fired pizzas, with a different oven, from a trailer four years ago. A frequent vendor at festivals and private events, he took that success to another level and looked for a building to buy. “We wanted to be a neighborhood pizza shop,” he said. “We like meeting the customers and just getting to know them, just like when we were on the road with the trailer.”
He settled in Lower Burrell because the former dentist’s office at the corner of Leechburg Road and Michigan Avenue fit their needs. Plus, the two parking lots make it easy for patrons.
Elston quit his job at Westmoreland County’s parks department last year to pursue his pizza adventure full time. He always wanted a small place like Andy’s Restaurant in New Kensington, which his grandfather Francis Datres owned until the mid-1990s. A black-and-white photo of Datres in a kitchen apron hangs in the waiting area of Gus Franco’s.
The Elstons named their pizzeria after their two sons. Francis (“Franco”) is 7 and August (“Gus”) is 4. Opening the Lower Burrell shop was part of a four-year plan the couple devised. “We had a small taste of success,” Elston said. “People enjoyed what we were creating and we just grew from there.” He credits his family and staff for making it happen: Elston gave a shoutout to his aunt Nancy Alfera of Arnold; sister Sarah Yurga, who is a new member of the New Kensington-Arnold school board; and neighborhood kids Nick Sofaly and Karly Wass of Lower Burrell.
Gus Franco’s is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The phone line, 724-212-3758, opens at 3 p.m. for reservations.
People can still stop in for a pizza without calling, Elston said, but they run the risk of waiting a little longer based on the volume of other reservations — or hearing, “Sorry, we’re sold out for the evening.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or
New Kensington Native Shares Inclusive Love of Dance at Starlight Studio of Dance
Brittany Dilliott was 6 years old when she discovered her love of dance while watching musicals such as “Annie,” “Oklahoma!” and “The King and I.” “They looked like they were floating. It looked like magic,” she said. “I was sucked in. I never looked back.” But when she started taking dance classes as a child, the studios were focused on competition. “I found I didn’t love competition,” she said. “I just loved to dance.” That’s why Dilliott’s dance studio, Starlight Studio of Dance, isn’t about competition. “I just want them to dance and move and have a safe place to go to,” she said. Dilliott, 25, opened Starlight last August. It’s in the basement of the New Kensington Arts Center at 950 Fifth Ave.
Dilliott was still working as a preschool teacher assistant in Jeanette for the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit when she decided last April to launch her business. “I got tired of waiting for the right timing,” she said. “Was it the best idea to start it in the middle of a pandemic? Probably not. But we’ve been making it. I consider that a win.”
After seeing Fifth Avenue begin to change, New Kensington was where she wanted it to be. “I grew up looking at all these empty buildings. I never knew New Kensington in its heyday,” she said. “I see people walking around town, coffee shops, activity, it’s so good for the community, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
For children, she offers ballet and jazz dancing. For the very young, movement is the focus. For adults, classes cover ballet, flexibility and core strengthening. Classes cost $17 per hour.
Valley Grad with Desire to Help Others Readies for Global Adventure
A vacation to Kathmandu, Nepal, planted the seed of adventure in Valley High School graduate Skylar Houck. “I went there to study Buddhism, but I developed this itch to travel,” said Houck, 23. “I really enjoyed the culture shock and experiencing things that are completely different from what I’m used to.” Houck, who graduated from Chatham University in 2019 with degrees in English and political science, is gearing up to spend two years in Taiwan.
This fall, she’ll study international communications at National Chengchi University to earn her master’s degree. She’ll live in Taipei City on her own, not part of any U.S. university program. “I really wanted to go back to Asia and experience different facets of culture throughout the huge continent,” she said. Born and raised in New Kensington, Houck said traveling across the globe has her eager and apprehensive.
“I am a bit nervous about traveling this time around,” she said. “I’m really just jumping into a situation in which I have no idea what to expect, but that sort of adds to the excitement.” In 2018, when she spent part of the summer in Nepal, Houck studied at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute to learn about Buddhism and traditional meditation from local monks.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that was funded through a Pittsburgh scholarship, Houck said. “I had never experienced life outside of the U.S. before, and, most of all, I really wanted to learn more about Buddhist tradition,” she said. Houck credits her years at Valley High School for laying a solid foundation of wanting to continue learning.
“I had so many great teachers. I was mostly inspired by my English teachers and learned that writing is foundational to any career path,” she said. “The teachers and other students at Valley really made me who I am today.”
Houck said a dream of hers is to help younger Valley students through a local scholarship or similar program. “I want Valley students to thrive,” she said. “They deserve it.”
Once she returns from Taiwan, Houck aspires to work with refugees in Pittsburgh or elsewhere across the country. Working as an adjunct professor is also a possibility, she said.
Houck already has been helping people through her job at Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum, where she coordinates the Clothes Closet. Houck works four days a week organizing bags and boxes of donated shoes, shirts, pants and coats to be resold at bargain prices to those in need.
An internship with the church’s communications team parlayed into a job, and Houck said her time at the Tarentum site has reinforced her career path.
“This service is important because every week the clothing ministry serves people who are struggling and helps make them a little less stressed about life’s challenges,” she said.
“It’s grown my desire to forge a career working with refugees.”
Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, [email protected]
Valley Alumni Volunteers Sought To Be Career Coaches to Today's Students
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected]
Ron Eckman Jr. took off from New Kensington and 25 years later landed in Las Vegas. Eckman, 48, enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from Valley High School in 1991. He was an aircraft electrician, working on fighter jets at bases around the world and even traveled with the heralded Thunderbirds aerobatic team.
Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion Monica Monroe to become the new Dean of Harvard Law School’s Office of Community Engagement, Equity, and Belonging
Monica Monroe, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s first Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion, has accepted a position as Dean of the Office of Community Engagement, Equity, and Belonging (CEEB) at Harvard Law School (HLS).
Monroe has played an integral role in the Law School’s Office of Equity & Inclusion (E&I) since its inception in 2019. During Monroe’s tenure the Office has focused on establishing mechanisms to connect and collaborate with the many stakeholders in the Law School’s community, developing educational programs that examine substantive issues of equity and justice, as well as training programs focused on the skills needed to overcome bias and advance inclusion. The Office has also offered focused support to those historically underrepresented in the law and legal profession.
As Associate Dean of E&I, Monroe worked to cultivate several programs aimed toward building a safe and collegial environment for all law students. During her time in the position, she established the Office’s student advisory board, developed relationships and supported programs for Law School affinity groups, counseled student groups that sought guidance and training on issues of equity and inclusion, and organized collaborative networks across peer schools, the Law School, and the University.
“Monica has been an invaluable thought partner as we grew this office from the ground up,” said Rivera Finkelstein. “She intuitively understood the need to build community around our efforts and spearheaded a coalition of peers across our University and across our peer law schools. Her collaborative instincts will ensure an ongoing partnership even, or especially, as she embarks on her new role at Harvard. I am thrilled for Monica and excited about the chance to expand our collective DEI work well beyond the work of any one institution.”
Kalpana Kotagal L’05, Co-Chair of the E&I’s Alumni Advisory Board, echoed Rivera Finkelstein’s praise for Monroe’s outstanding contributions and dedication. “I have loved working with Monica as we’ve built the Alumni Advisory Board on Equity and Inclusion,” said Kotagal. “Her commitment to supporting students from under-represented backgrounds and advancing the Law School’s commitment to meaningful equity, inclusivity, and accessibility is deep.”
Prior to her role in E&I, Monroe served as the Law School’s Dean of Students, where she prioritized caring for students’ mental health.
“Recognizing the importance and impact of good mental health in law school and every stage of life, I worked with Law School and University administrators to bring a CAPS embedded counselor to the Law School to create greater access to these services,” Monroe said. “I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments during my time as Dean of Students.”
Monroe’s commitment and enthusiasm will be greatly missed by the entire Law School community.
“Monica has been a vital part of the spirit and soul of the Law School since the day she arrived,” said Wolff. “Her singular capacity for intuition about people in a community, the maturity of her judgment, the care and empathy she brings to all she does; in a word, she is indispensable. Harvard is both wise and lucky to have stolen her away from us.”
Monroe will assume her new position at HLS on February 22.
“It is my sincere hope that the CEEB team and I will continue to support all members of the HLS community and together celebrate and embrace difference in a constructive and impactful way,” Monroe said. “The goal is for all of us to feel that we belong at HLS while affording one another grace and an equal opportunity to engage in the full vibrancy of the institution while embracing our authentic selves.”
On a personal note, Monroe, who earned her undergraduate degree from Boston University, is eager to return to New England.
“This period at Penn has been one of the most enlightening seasons of my life,” Monroe said. “While not without disappointment and discomfort, my time here has offered me my most significant growth and necessary knowledge for this next journey. It has been my honor to partner with, learn, and serve students at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School in this vital work. For that, I am eternally grateful.”
Monroe also holds a JD from George Washington Law. After clerking for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, she spent six years with a private practice in Washington, D.C., practicing real estate, housing, employment, and commercial law. In 2004, Monroe returned to GW Law to teach Legal Research and Writing, ultimately also serving as the school’s Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Associate Dean. Monroe joined the Law School in 2016 as Dean of Students, a position she held for three years until becoming the Associate Dean of E&I.
Creating Human, a Novel by 2012 Valley Graduates, Eric Beck and Kylee Danko
Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, [email protected]
The first novel from the New Ken native, E.B. Andrews (Erik Beck), is now available for presale on Amazon! Kylee Danko (KyleeRose Art) designed the cover. Paperback copies and an audiobook will be available Saturday, January 29th. Please help support them by enjoying the book for yourself or sharing it with anyone who enjoyed Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or A Wrinkle in Time.
Follow the link to preorder!
Description - "From the Windlebees perched in the window displays, to the Tamblers winding across the carts of street peddlers, the town of Shinar is full of strange and mysterious oddities, but none so great as the cursed black bag of Leonard Bravecci. Well - that is of course with the exception of the man himself. No one knows how Leonard made his way back into town, or why he would ever dare to return, but one thing is certain; life in Shinar has only gotten worse since he came around. When he reappears after almost sixteen years in exile, everyone turns him away. Everyone except for Pooka. A con artist down on his luck, Pooka is desperately looking for a way to make some extra money... and flee town. Whether or not Leonard is cursed, the boy knows an opportunity when he sees one. Cursed, however, is an understatement. From selling elixirs at Estacion de Commercio to a prison cell in Katorga, nothing goes as either of them planned. Such is life in Shinar. But maybe life can change for an outcast and a swindler, assuming they can do the impossible; cure the plague and save the city that despises them."