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The Vanguard conference is a gathering of rising urban innovators working to make change in cities. Designed to bring together professionals working across disciplines and sectors, each Vanguard class includes policymakers and politicians, architects and urban planners, artists and mediamakers, all selected through a competitive application process. After more than a decade of Vanguard conferences, the Vanguards number more than 400. Learn more about Vanguards past and present on this page, where you can search for Vanguards and Vanguard alumni by discipline, geographic area and more. Find your next collaborator or just learn about these rising leaders.
Betty Cruz founded Change Agency, a social enterprise that elevates civic initiatives, in September 2016 where she leads implementation of a countywide immigrant integration plan. Previously, Betty was Deputy Chief of Special Initiatives for City of Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto. Originally from Miami, Betty is the daughter of Cuban immigrants.
Gerald S. Dickinson is a law professor and lawyer focusing his advocacy and writing on the intersection between constitutional property, land use law, housing and urban development. A former Fulbright Scholar, he advocated on behalf of inner-city squatters in unlawful removals in South Africa and, while practicing at Reed Smith LLP in Pittsburgh, he founded and coordinated the firm’s Housing Rights Project representing indigent tenants in eviction proceedings.
During her first term as a Wilkinsburg Councilwoman, Marita Garrett founded “Community Conversations”, an initiative to connect and empower residents to work together for neighborhood improvement. In furtherance of that goal, Ms. Garrett co-founded the Free Store Wilkinsburg, where donations of material goods are thoughtfully paired with families and residents.
Kristen Michaels is the Executive Director of the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT) which brings together the City of Pittsburgh and 43 surrounding communities to collaboratively address common policy issues. She’s the Co-Founder of For Good PGH which works to promote tolerance and inclusion and support underserved populations, and Free Store Wilkinsburg which serves neighbors in need.
Bhavini Patel is the CEO and co-founder of beamdata, which merges data science with social issues to build accessible data tools for community-level organizations. She also volunteers her time on the Boards of several nonprofits including the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh and Civically Inc, a Wilkinsburg-based nonprofit dedicated to community development. As a Pittsburgh native, Bhavini serves as the Vice Chair of the Edgewood Democratic Committee.
She graduated from the University of Oxford as a Rotary Global Grant Scholar and was recognized as 30 Under 30 by the Pittsburgh Business Times and The Incline’s Who’s Next: Politics 2018.
Kathy Risko currently services at the Chief of External Affairs at Adagio Health. In her position, she provides leadership, direction and oversight in the implementation of Adagio Health’s strategic plan focusing on positioning the organization for sustainability and future growth. She develops and implements Adagio Health’s policy and advocacy agenda to preserve and expand access to quality healthcare for women and their families in Western Pennsylvania. Prior to joining Adagio Health, Kathy served as founding Executive Director of the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT). Kathy was charged with building the organization, whose mission is to bring together the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding municipalities to identify common public policy challenges and advocates for collective change on behalf of Allegheny County’s urban core. Kathy holds a Master of Public Policy and Management (with a concentration in Nonprofit Management) from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently running to be a member of Wikinsburg Borough Council and has served on multiple boards and commissions.
Abby Wilson is a Deputy Director at the Allegheny County Health Department, where she leads a team of lawyers, preparedness experts, and communications professionals advancing measurable health outcomes among the 1.2 million people living in and around the city of Pittsburgh. She is a lawyer, an anthropologist, a lover of public radio and, most importantly perhaps, a rustbelt loving urbanist.