Lauren BYRNE Connelly ’02 has dedicated her professional life to building better communities in her hometown of Pittsburgh. As the Business Development Manager at Allegheny County Department of Economic Development
, Lauren oversees grant programs, community development programs, and works with local businesses to assist with training, financing, and real estate decisions. Prior to working for the county, Lauren was the Executive Director of Lawrenceville United
where she worked with residents through the neighborhood’s resurgence to ensure they were empowered as stakeholders in the midst of heightened growth and development. As she celebrates her fifteenth reunion, Lauren shares how she lives the Ellis motto, Esse Quam Videri
, to this day and offers advice to the next generation of Ellis girls.
How did you get started in community development?
I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor in the community development field at a very young age. My grandmother worked in community development and I grew up shadowing her—I attended meetings, rallies, and workshops throughout grade school and high school. The work fascinated me and I could see that she was making a real difference in her neighbors’ lives, as well as her overall community and the region. I interned in positions during college that provided experience working in local government and community development. An internship led to a position in the Mayor’s Office where I worked in the Department of Neighborhood Initiatives, working closely with community organizations and coordinating community development programs across the city. This experience confirmed my interest and desire to pursue a career in this field. I left local government for Lawrenceville United in an effort to work at the neighborhood-level with the knowledge that I had gained by working within government. The on-the-ground community experience was one that I was missing.
Describe what your typical day looks like.
Every day is certainly different, and that is why I like this type of work. You spend a lot of time in different communities working with very diverse groups of people on interesting projects and ideas. During these past few weeks, most of my days have also included a number of conversations about the Pittsburgh’s application to be the home of Amazon’s second headquarters!
Have you sought out advice or mentorship from Ellis alumnae since graduation? How have other Ellis alumnae supported you professionally and/or personally?
I graduated from Ellis in 2002 with an extraordinary and amazing group of women. I know that every class at Ellis is special, but we really do have a unique group of women who appreciate one another and value what each of us brings to our group in unique and exciting ways. Conversations with these women have helped me to figure out how to persevere in the face of adversity, what direction I might want to take in my career, how to find work/life balance, and more. I also work with a fellow Ellis alumna, Erin DEASY ’98, who graduated just a few years ahead of me. While transitioning into my current role, it has been so nice having an Ellis friend and colleague who I can turn to for advice.
What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
First, meet people where they are. Try to really listen to your colleagues, clients, or constituents. Make an effort to really understand their perspective and where they are coming from and then meet them there. That’s how you will build relationships of trust and build coalitions and teams. Second, get things done! Don’t be afraid to speak up in a meeting if you know how to make something happen, and don’t be afraid to pitch an idea. You are smart, you have thought this out, it’s worth sharing. Finally, support women! I’ve encountered women who haven’t been as supportive or receptive of me or my ideas. I have learned in time that this is because society makes us think that there’s only room for some of us. I have seen men pit women against each other. But we know that when we work together and support one another, we make good things happen! We also know that there is room for all of us!
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
I am proud of the work that I have done with colleagues to put systems and processes in place that inform, engage, and empower residents to shape what is happening in their communities. During my time in Lawrenceville, there was a great deal of investment underway and we wanted to make sure that residents and stakeholders had a voice in what was happening. We were successful in stewarding responsible growth and development along the main street through these processes, as well as preserving green and park space, and creating standards related to affordability and accessibility. I am also proud of the work we did in local schools around parent engagement with the PEP Rally Program. Many times schools are not part of the community development strategy, but we recognized that a strong neighborhood needs a strong neighborhood school.
How did Ellis prepare you for college and beyond?
Ellis helped me find my own voice and taught me to use it confidently and effectively. At Ellis, I learned how to really think about all aspects of an issue in order to come to a conclusion. I learned how to gather information, identify stakeholders, and who to talk to in order to ensure my position or argument is informed and accurate. I also learned how to effectively communicate my positions and arguments through writing and speaking. These skills have helped me both in college and throughout my career. I write and speak to elected officials, residents of communities, developers, business owners, and more on a daily basis. At Ellis, I learned how to understand my audience and how to present information to that audience in compelling ways.
Was there a teacher or teachers who had a particularly strong influence on your life?
I learned so much from each of my teachers. I did get a chance to work closely with former Ellis teacher, Dr. Patrick Dowd, during my time in the Mayor’s Office and at Lawrenceville United. Although he had in many ways become my colleague after Ellis, he remained an important mentor. I sought advice from him regularly and still do in my current position and as I think about my future. I never hesitated to call him to discuss an issue, to bounce an idea off of him, or to ask for help and support when dealing with conflict and controversy.
For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
It’s all worth it. Be a sponge and soak in everything that you can, you won’t have any other opportunity quite like your time at Ellis—make the most of it! Tell your parents, guardians, or those who are supporting you during your time here that you appreciate it.
What does ‘Esse Quam Videri’ mean to you?
Be true to who you are. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Remember that your authentic self and the worlds within you are more interesting than anything that appears to be or seems to be. I actually have the Ellis Esse Quam Videri bumper sticker on my car as a reminder to live true to myself and my convictions!
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Passionate. Determined. Perceptive.
What woman inspires you and why?
I am so lucky to be surrounded by amazing women in my life and to have dozens to pick from. My mom is a rock star. She and my dad have worked so hard to give my brother, sister, and I opportunities that they may not have had but that they feel we deserve. My parents knew I would thrive at Ellis, so they worked to make it possible for me. I was the first person in my family to go to college. In my late 20’s when other family members asked me why I wasn’t married or had kids, my mom would interrupt them and ask if they were wondering about my new house, my job, or if I was still considering going back to school. She has been my biggest cheerleader and she gives me the advice that I need to hear whether I like it or not. She sees the best in people. From her, I learned how to work hard, keep a positive attitude, and how important it is to treat others how they would like to be treated.