From left: Danielle Mehlman-Brightwell, Chavaysha Chaney and Jordyn Gilliard are three of the 12 members of the World Affairs Council's first Global Citizens Fellows. The first cohort is composed entirely of women. Photo courtesy of the World Affairs Council.

Since 1931, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh has promoted the understanding of international issues. After a strategic review process in 2020, Executive Director Betty Cruz says the nonprofit found that many people it connects with are disconnected from the global economic impacts and communities in the Pittsburgh region.

“A lot of times, folks are thinking of global issues and how you have to go outside — and that is important and necessary — but also, what are the global opportunities that are happening in Pittsburgh right now, and how can we better connect folks to them?” Cruz says.

“How do we break down the divisions and misunderstandings that exist around the opportunities that are here right now?”

The review’s outcome was the Global Citizens Fellowship — a program that takes on cohorts of local leaders for approximately six months of training and workshops on how global issues like artificial intelligence, climate change and migration affect Pittsburgh.

Cruz says there will be a multitude of cohorts in the years to come, but the council’s first is entirely composed of women, reflective of its focus on women’s issues globally.

“One of the reasons women are a priority area in the world is because women continue to be under-invested-in in everything from pay to representation and C-level opportunities,” Cruz says. “We see the opportunity here to … broaden their connections, not only between each other and with the region, but also to leadership opportunities and this next-level education and awareness that they’d be bringing to their own institutions.”

The 12 cohort members are:

  • Courtney Abegunde, operations director at Steel Smiling
  • Annia Aleman, innovation director at Ascender
  • Susie Backscheider, youth mentoring coordinator at South Hills Interfaith Movement
  • Chavaysha Chaney, manager of advocacy and health policy at Women for a Healthy Environment
  • Caty Coleman, teacher and international student counselor at The Linsly School
  • Clare Drobot, co-artistic director at City Theater
  • Jocelyn Duffy, executive director of Global Communications at University of Pittsburgh
  • Jordyn Gilliard, constituent services coordinator at the City of Pittsburgh
  • Danielle Mehlman-Brightwell, assistant professor of public policy & communication and director of office of community outreach at University of Pittsburgh Greensburg
  • Raina Rippel, executive director of Communitopia
  • Ameeta Schmitt, Pittsburgh Public Schools world languages curriculum and instruction supervisor
  • Natalee Smith, senior scientist at Covestro

Chavaysha Chaney received newsletter and social media content from the World Affairs Council long before the call for cohort applicants went up in early March. When it did, the Hill District native was quick to apply.

“I thought it was a good opportunity for me to broaden my knowledge and skills in … international policy and the correlation that it has locally,” Chaney says. “To be able to do it with a cohort of women — and the program be designed for us — I just thought it was an opportunity that I could not pass by.”

Jordyn Gilliard, a Carnegie Mellon University international relations graduate and constituent services coordinator in Pittsburgh’s District 1, found the fellowship through independent searching and was drawn to the program’s theme of local responses to climate change and immigration.

“I feel like this is Pittsburgh’s U.N. because all of the cultures coming together,” Gilliard says. “I love, looking at the cohort, just how diverse our backgrounds are.”

The cohort kicks off this week with neighborhood tours introducing them to Pittsburgh's global community, a cooking class with Keyla Nogueira of the former Casa Brasil in Highland Park, and DEI and wellness training to ground the fellows in the work they will take on in the coming months.

Come August, the council will begin recruiting for the second cohort and will start its programming in November after the first cohort takes its capstone trip in November. Cruz says the destination will be announced at a future date and will complement the curriculum.

“Talking about global issues is not easy,” Cruz says. “It can feel very personal and it can challenge us. We need to make sure we’re not in an echo chamber and we are challenging one another and exhibiting openness to rethink what we may think we already know.”

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.