Kenny Donaldson

A dedicated advocate for students and families in under-resourced Pittsburgh schools, Kenny Donaldson is passionate about improving students’ lives. As Associate Director of Strategic Programming and Initiatives at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban Education, he oversees the Heinz Fellows Program. He’s also completing an EdD program in Pitt’s School of Education, and is an active mentor and board member with numerous nonprofits. A native of sunny Los Angeles, Donaldson lives in Greenfield with his family.

What upcoming events are you excited to attend?

The Black Manhood Summit at the August Wilson Center on September 1. A panel for Hispanic Heritage Month on Oct. 11 co-hosted by Pitt’s School of Education and Center for Urban Education. The Center for Urban Education’s Fall Speaker Series on Oct. 16.

Best part of your job?

I’m blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a diverse group of great people and collaborate with educational leaders, teachers, and administrators to advocate for students and families in under-resourced Pittsburgh schools, particularly Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) in the Hill District.

What is your long-term vision for the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban Education and Heinz Fellows Program?

I would like for our Center to be seen as a key educational hub in the city of Pittsburgh that brings attention and strategic interventions to educational inequities both through research and practice.

I would like the Heinz Fellows Program to serve as the actual practitioners of the Center’s mission, working with the community, educators, students and families to improve opportunity gaps and help increase educational outcomes for the most marginalized students in Pittsburgh.

Do you have particular issues that you rally around?

Educational equity, mentoring, community engagement, civic and political advocacy.

Kenny with his colleagues at Pitt’s Center for Urban Education.
Kenny with his colleagues at Pitt’s Center for Urban Education.

What significant differences and similarities have you experienced working in your field in Pennsylvania and California or elsewhere?

The biggest difference I have noticed is the unique ability to mobilize those who have authority and influence to create transformational change in a relatively smaller city like Pittsburgh as opposed to Los Angeles. I have been able to meet with people in positions in Pittsburgh and have important conversations that I probably would not have had the opportunity to do in Los Angeles.

The similarities are my unending respect for those in the teaching profession. My mother was a teacher and Pittsburgh has only reinforced to me that teaching is one of, if not, the hardest professions in the world.

Who should be the unofficial Mayor of Pittsburgh?

Brian Burley or Chase Patterson

Kenny with his wife, Dr. Gina Garcia, and their sons Jovan (9) and Jaren (6).

What is the one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?

I am probably one of the biggest fans of ’80s – early 2000s hip hop music.

What book is on your nightstand or in your e-reader right now?

Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classroom by Rich Milner, and “Testimony and Guide to Overcoming Adversity” by Leon Ford.

What is the biggest challenge you’ll face this week?

As a father of two PPS kids and regarding my job, the start of school brings a whole set of challenges regarding logistics and scheduling for both my family and the Heinz Fellows.

What songs in your playlist are on endless repeat?

How Much a Dollar Cost” (Kendrick Lamar), “Album of the Year” (J Cole) and “Strange Fruit” (Jasiri X).

Fill in the blank: In Pittsburgh, I can’t live without my___:


What’s your Pittsburgh comfort food?

Uncle Sam’s Subs.

What question do you wish we had asked?

If you could have dinner with one Pittsburgher, who would it be? Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments.

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Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.