Thank you for making our World Affairs Institute a success!


March 5, 2024, 8AM-3PM | William Pitt Union, University of Pittsburgh



THANK YOU to everyone who joined us at the World Affairs Institute: Navigating Climate Intersections!


Over 300 members of our community joined together to learn from our expert speakers about climate impact around the world and here in Pittsburgh.


Global challenges like climate can be daunting. But when we see so many globally minded people in one room, committed to building partnerships and working together to take action, we know that our vision of an equitable and just world is possible.


Thank you to our expert speakers for sharing their insights, and to our cohosts Sustainable Pittsburgh and Rotary International for making this event a success.


The Changemakers Across Sectors track was made possible in part by support from the John T. Ryan Memorial Fund.


Recordings, resources, and photos will be available soon!


2024 Speakers


Dr. Joylette Portlock is the executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh. Joylette has always cared about the natural world. Her dad was a science teacher, so she was used to backyard field trips, and she co-founded her high school’s Earth club. She then went on to an extensive career in science, earning a Ph.D. in genetics from Stanford University. As her career progressed, she found it most rewarding to not just understand how things work, but to make that information available to others. Her work focuses on building community around sustainability topics, with a particular interest in making important scientific, technical, or complex information accessible and useful. Read more about Joylette.


Jonathan Foley, Ph.D., is a world-renowned environmental scientist, sustainability expert, author, and public speaker. His work focuses on understanding our changing planet and finding new solutions to sustain the climate, ecosystems, and natural resources we all depend on. Jonathan’s groundbreaking research and insights have led him to become a trusted advisor to governments, foundations, non-governmental organizations, and business leaders around the world. He and his colleagues have made major contributions to our understanding of global ecosystems, food security and the environment, climate change, and the sustainability of the world’s resources. He has published over 130 peer-reviewed scientific articles, including many highly cited works in Science, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2014, Thomson Reuters named him a Highly Cited Researcher in ecology and environmental science, placing him among the top 1 percent most cited global scientists. Read more about Jonathan.


Sundaa Bridgett-Jones is vice president for the Americas and chief partnerships officer for the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, a new enterprise to accelerate and scale equitable energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries. She leads a new partnership construct for the Alliance, spearheaded by The Rockefeller Foundation, the IKEA Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund, in support of ending energy poverty and spurring just energy transitions in developing and emerging economies. Read more about Sundaa.



Amali Tower is founder and executive director of Climate Refugees. She has extensive global experience in refugee protection, resettlement, forced migration and displacement contexts, having worked for NGOs, the UN Refugee Agency, and the US Refugee Admissions Program. Years of interviewing refugees fleeing conflict allowed her the chance to hear their stories of also fleeing climate change. Through this, Climate Refugees was born. She has conducted research in climate displacement contexts, including in urban and camp settings. Her case study on climate, conflict and displacement in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin was presented as evidence of loss and damage at COP26. Read more about Amali.



Sherry Zalika Sykes is a senior level career Foreign Service Officer with over twenty-four years of experience at the U.S. Department of State.  She is currently the Diplomat in Residence for Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where she seeks to inspire and inform on careers, internships, and fellowships with the Department of State.  Her diplomatic assignments have included being the Director of the Office of Environmental Quality, Deputy Director of the Office of Conservation and Water, and Scientific Affairs Officer in the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She brings a love of the arts, a passion for environmental and scientific affairs, and an eagerness to help the citizens of this region where she was born to learn about career opportunities with the Department of State. Read more about Sherry Zalika Sykes.


Jake Werner is acting director of the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute. His research examines the emergence of great power conflict between the US and China and develops policies to rebuild constructive economic relations. Prior to joining Quincy, Jake was a Postdoctoral Global China Research Fellow at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center, a Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago, a Fulbright Scholar at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, and a Fulbright-Hays Fellow at East China Normal University in Shanghai. Jake is also a cofounder of Justice Is Global, a grassroots organizing project that advocates for reforms to the global economy. Read more about Jake.




Jack McCaslin is a policy advisor on the energy team in the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Prior to joining the State Department, Jack was a research associate for Africa Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. He received his MPA in international relations and climate from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and his BA in international relations with a minor in Russian from Colgate University in upstate New York.



Matthew Mehalik is Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communication platform, the Breathe Project, beginning in September 2016. From 2007 – 2016, he served as Program Director of Sustainable Pittsburgh where he created Pittsburgh’s sustainable business network, Champions for Sustainability, and its performance programs and networks. Matt has been teaching sustainability and environmental policy at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, since 2008. He has published multiple peer-reviewed articles in sustainability, design and education and has co-authored “Ethical and Environmental Challenges to Engineering” with Michael E. Gorman and Patricia Werhane. Matthew’s Ph.D. is in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. For the past 25 years, Matthew has dedicated himself to creating and managing networks that transform systems for a sustainable, just, fair and hopeful future. He serves on the Phipps Conservatory Board of Trustees. Read more about Matthew.


Aimee Curtright is a senior scientist at RAND and a professor of policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. With more than two decades of experience in energy, infrastructure, and environmental policy analysis, her work often explores research, development, and adoption of energy technologies and tradeoffs in their costs, technical performance, environmental impact, and social and economic implications. Areas of expertise include solar PV, unconventional shale gas, and building efficiency, and her work has evaluated the impacts of these technologies on sustainability, resilience, and equity in a range of contexts and for a range of sponsors. Read more about Aimee.



Nisha Blackwell is a purpose-driven Entrepreneur and Chief Creative Officer of Knotzland Bowties, an environmentally and socially sustainable company that sources, rescues, and repurposes discarded textiles into stylish bowties intentionally made through providing flexible work-from-home sewing opportunities to people around the region. Since 2015, Knotzland has rescued over 7,000lbs of textiles and materials from entering landfills and has cultivated a community of mentors, sustainability advocates, and loyal customers through participation in Pittsburgh’s ecosystem of creative hubs, accelerators, and business incubators in the city and abroad. Read more about Nisha.




Lydia Morin brings over a decade of community building experience to her role as Executive Director of the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT). Before CONNECT, Morin spent three years leading community engagement and development in the Sto-Rox area, where part of her mission was shifting neighborhood partners from a competitive mindset to a collaborative one.



Miguel A. Sagué Jr. is the community outreach, cultural and historical education representative for the Speaker’s Bureau at the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. He is a member of the Taino Indigenous nation of the Caribbean Islands off the coast of Central America. He emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10 and grew up in western Pennsylvania. He worked as an elementary school teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School District until he retired in 2010. He has been a member of the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center since 1977. As a representative of the Indian Center he has offered historical and cultural presentations all over the western Pennsylvania region for over three decades. His presentations are featured at conventions, schools, community groups and cultural organizations of all kinds.


Marita Garrett was born into a family that firmly believed in exercising their civic duty and spirit of volunteerism, and her drive and commitment to serving underinvested communities is palpable. As an undergraduate, Marita became immersed in the community and public sectors, as an Outreach Coordinator with University of Pittsburgh’s Alzheimer Disease Research Center. In 2017, Marita launched Civically, Inc, a social enterprise that focuses on community development by promoting civic and social literacy to instill self-reliance. Initiatives include Free Store Wilkinsburg, Fresh Market, Civically Speaking, and Wilkinsburg Community Conversations, as well as initiatives for health literacy and education. Advocating for women in leadership, Ms. Garrett was the co-host of Shattered Glass stories of extraordinary women shattering the glass ceiling are highlighted.


Jessica Mooney has a background in public policy with a focus on sustainability. Currently she works at Duquesne Light Company on the Transportation Electrification team where she implements the DLC Community Charging Program.  Jessica has her master’s degree in public policy and management and previously worked for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Chatham University’s School of Sustainability and the Environment, Allegheny County Economic Development and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.




Vanessa G. is a member of Pittsburgh Youth for Climate Action (PYCA), is a youth group hosted by Communitopia that provides high school students from across Southwestern PA a chance to collectively take action on climate change. She is a senior at Winchester Thurston School.





Mathilda T. is a member of Pittsburgh Youth for Climate Action (PYCA), is a youth group hosted by Communitopia that provides high school students from across Southwestern PA a chance to collectively take action on climate change. She is a junior at Pittsburgh CAPA.





Dan Davis has over 35 years of experience as an environmental consultant with work involving Industrial Hygiene, Air Quality, Brownfields, and Site Remediation throughout Allegheny County and the Northeast region of the United States. He is a Board Member of CONNECT, President of the Pittsburgh Post of Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), Board Member of Southwest Pennsylvania Engineering Outreach (SPEO) Vice-President of South Hills Area Chamber of Governments (SHACOG), and Director on the Allegheny County Borough Association (ACBA). He is also a West Miffling Borough Council Member, which has made strides in sustainability, including the first municipal EV charging station in Allegheny County that is also open for public use.


Ilyas Khan is a local Youth Climate Activist in Pittsburgh. Originally from Buffalo, New York, Ilyas was the lead organizer for the Youth Climate Strikes there and helped establish the Western New York Youth Climate Council, (WNYYCC) a youth led organization dedicated to political climate action. The WNYYCC successfully passed a climate resolution in the City of Buffalo, and were later recognized by Erie County for their work. Ilyas moved to Pittsburgh in 2020 and has since been an activist with Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh, a chapter of the national Sunrise Movement. Ilyas took part in the planning of the March 19th, September 24th and Earth Day Pittsburgh Climate Strikes and other local actions. They have also worked as part of House on Fire Studios, a youth climate art collective, as the acting director. They are currently serving their second term as Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh Coordinator. Ilyas is a Winchester Thurston alum, and is currently studying art at Carnegie Mellon.


Chad FitzGerald is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Public Affairs at Eos Energy Storage where he leads state, local and federal government relations activities, public relations, and key partnerships that span the Eos Energy platform. Mr. FitzGerald was previously Managing Director in the Investment Banking Division at B. Riley Financial where he built on a successful 20-year track record in raising capital for alternative investment funds with a particular expertise in growing emerging managers.  He led B. Riley’s Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) and Private Equity/Credit Funds Placement Group which was centered on raising capital for funds that invest in small and middle market American businesses. Mr. FitzGerald also served as a Senior Public Affairs Advisor to both B. Riley Financial, Eos Energy, and as a Senior Advisor to the President of Third Way drawing on his prior experience in Washington where early in his career, he led political and public policy initiatives for Rep. John Tierney, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Tom Daschle, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Third Way.  Mr. FitzGerald earned a B.A. in political science from Georgia Southern University.


Rho Bloom-Wang served as Allegheny County’s 2022-23 Youth Poet Laureate and is a 2024 National Youth Poet Laureate runner-up. Passionate about social and environmental justice, they view creative expression as a means for both individual growth and interpersonal change. Rho is Editor-In-Chief of Plaid Magazine, a winner of the Oakland Sidewalk Poetry Contest, and has been nationally recognized by YoungArts, DePaul’s Blue Book, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. You can find their work in Lumiere Review; the tide rises, the tide falls; and Eunoia Review. Rho loves long hikes along trails with wild blueberries.



The Institute is a partnership among Rotary International, Sustainable Pittsburgh, and World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.  


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