Keynote Speakers

Opening Keynote: Friday, February 17

Maria Bezaitis, Opening KeynoteMaria Bezaitis, Opening Keynote
Principal Engineer at Intel

Maria Bezaitis is a Principal Engineer with Intel’s Communication & Devices Group where she leads the User Experience Pathfinding team. Her team is responsible for identifying the key shifts in the social and ecosystem landscapes that will provide fertile ground for 5G business models and technologies. Maria’s own research has focused on the changing nature of the smart technology landscape and the rise of technologies that augment human skill. She finished her Ph.D. in French Literature at Duke University. Maria started her post-academic career at E-Lab, a firm that pioneered the use of ethnography and design planning for product development, where she became Managing Partner. Before coming to Intel, she was a Vice President at Sapient and co-led its global Experience Research organization, the first of its kind in the technology industry.  Maria is a member the Advisory Board of TTI Vanguard, a global technology thought leadership organization and is the President of the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference.

Session Topic

From “Me’” to “Us”: Shaping the Social Future of Tech Innovation in the Private Sector
For over four decades, the tech industry has developed technologies for people conceived as individual units. This work gets done at least in part by taking advantage of social insight that provides a view to “user needs” as a basis for technology development. The resurgence of AI, the prospect of smart autonomous systems in our everyday lives, and the massive amount of disruption underway in traditional industries create an important opportunity for us to think differently about people; to bring productive new fundamentals about people into our innovation frameworks and processes as these apply to new business models, technologies and even organizations. In this keynote, Bezaitis will discuss how we can imagine people together with new categories of technologies and technical systems to ensure a future that works well for people and for the social world we inhabit. Learn how the hard technical problems in the design of smart and autonomous systems have as much to do with thinking through how machines cooperate together as they do with how individual machines perform. This keynote will challenge you to consider how understanding of social phenomena can be applied to any present-day innovation initiative, including organizational priorities such as diversity and leadership.


WE Local Celebration: Friday, February 17

Audrey Russo, WE Local Celebration Keynote SpeakerAudrey Russo, WE Local Celebration Keynote Speaker
CEO and President Of Pittsburgh Technology Council

Since 2007, Audrey Russo has served the technology business sector for southwestern PA as President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council (www.pghtech.org), the oldest (1983) and largest technology trade association in North America. In this role, Russo facilitates strong interaction across all sectors of the regional economy, which she believes will only succeed and grow through technology innovation and commercialized disruptions across every platform and experience. With a background in information technology, operations and finance, Russo previously worked for large multi-national Fortune 500 companies (Alcoa, Reynolds Metals), as well as at MAYA Design, and in an adjunct faculty and project role at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Session Topic

Crafting Meaningful Work in a Non-Linear Career
When Audrey assumed the helm at the Pittsburgh Technology Council, the oldest and first tech council in the world, she had not built her career on the platform of a trade association. Instead, she built her life on doing work which stretched across technology, public corporations, start-ups, product innovation, finance, organizational development and business, paired with a short burst of time in human services working to dismantle broken systems. A career is not linear and is filled with pivots. Audrey will share a bit of her journey, her iterative approach to personal development and leave you with an understanding that complexity is the world we live in – hence the opportunities are endless to craft meaningful and fruitful work in technology and innovation.


Lunch Keynote: Saturday, February 18

Dr. Elayne Arrington, Lunch Keynote Speaker

Dr. Elayne Arrington, Lunch Keynote Speaker
B.S.M.E, M.S., PhD. Assistant Professor of Mathematics at University of Pittsburgh

Since earning her doctorate, Dr. Arrington, has been employed in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh. To date, she has been the only full-time African-American faculty person in the Mathematics Department. She is now semi-retired.Dr. Arrington has earned the bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, aeronautical option, and the master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees in mathematics. She is the first African-American female (and the third female) to graduate from Pitt’s Engineering School and only the 17th African-American female in the history of the United States to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. Upon graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, Elayne was employed at the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) as an aerospace engineer. She is the first female employed in such a capacity at FTD.Dr. Arrington has been listed in American Men and Women of Science and The World Who’s who in Women.

Session Topic

The Eyes of a Legacy – Looking Back, Looking Forward
This is a 60-year journey of one woman – from student to retired professional – as she looks back at the beginning and evolution of the attitude toward women in the STEM community from 1957 to the present date. Personal experiences document the marginalization of the past. Yet, despite the undeniable evolution in attitudes by and about women in such disciplines and their present acceptance, women remain a significantly underrepresented group in STEM fields. A forward look addresses the battles of curriculum and culture that must be won for the absolute inclusion of the woman in the future STEM community.


Closing Keynote: Saturday, February 18

Barbara Vankirk, WE Achieve Keynote SpeakerBarbara Vankirk, WE Achieve Keynote Speaker
President at IQ, Inc.

In 1994, Barbara founded IQ, Inc. in her Murrysville home when her two children were young.  The company provides creative software engineering solutions and consulting services to a myriad of clients, plus staff augmentation, contract-to-hire, and direct placements.  Barbara has developed a rewarding, fun, collaborative, and flexible work environment while providing challenging projects and countless opportunities for her employees’ professional and personal growth.Barbara VanKirk has been recognized as one of “Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business” by the governor in 2003 and in 2008 as an Enterprising Women of the Year Award winner.  In 2007, Barbara received the Monroeville Chamber of Commerce ROC’s (Recognizing Organizations and Companies that Shine in our Community) Entrepreneur of the Year Award.  Barbara was also awarded Point Park University’s Distinguished Alumni Professional Achievement for 2010, Seton Hill University’s 2009 E-Magnify ATHENA® Award, and 2009 Friend of the Family by the Parental Stress Center of Pittsburgh.

Session Topic

The EQ of IQ
When Barbara VanKirk branded her software development and engineering consulting services company “IQ Inc.” two decades ago, she wanted her clients to think of her new venture as having smart people, to make smart choices and provide smart solutions. In essence, a company characterized by high human intelligence, often associated with technical expertise. As she launched and grew her company into a multi-million dollar, well-respected enterprise, she realized that her success has been realized in large part from the strength of her Emotional Intelligence or EQ strategic leadership. Join Barbara as she shares her journey from the corporate world to entrepreneurship and how emotional information practices guide her company culture and delivery systems. Develop an understanding of emotional intelligence and learn how cultivating EQ characteristics can catapult you to greater success.