The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs recently gave its first Alumni Impact Award to Itha Cao who graduated in 2015 with a Master of International Development.

The Alumni Impact Award is meant to reaffirm to alumni that each contributes to a long successful line of changemakers whose impact reaches far and wide. There are currently 6,700 alumni worldwide.

“I am extremely grateful and humbled to receive this award. Due to the support from my friends, family, and mentors I’m able to be where I am today,” Itha said.

Itha is the Senior Civic Innovation Specialist at the City of Pittsburgh, Dept. of Innovation and Performance, where she manages the PGHLab government incubator program and the Inclusive Innovation initiative. She is the sole owner and chef of The Hungry Cao, LLC, a food business with the dual mission of education on regional Chinese dishes, while supporting nonprofits and social justice efforts with its proceeds.

Itha serves on Governor Wolf's Commission for Women, is the lead Curator for the Global Shapers- an initiative out of the World Economic Forum, and serves on the boards of Vibrant Pittsburgh, PUMP, Civically, and the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

Itha attributes her passion for service to her parents. She is a first generation American, born to Chinese parents from Northeastern China (Dongbei 东北).

“Despite not growing up with a whole lot, they always found it very important and very valuable to give back,” Itha said.

During the question and answer session of her virtual award celebration, Itha offered advice to attendees which included friends, family, and fellow alumni. 

GSPIA was a formative part of her story as well. Here she learned how to write concisely about policy to brief elected officials on projects and proposals. She also remembers fondly the passion, patience, and dedication of her professors.

GSPIA led Itha to Pittsburgh, where she found a plethora of opportunities for engagement as well as a vibrant and supportive community where she could start her own business.

“Pittsburgh is a medium-sized city but it’s actually a small town because there’s one or two degrees of separation between everyone. Once you meet the influencers, they can then direct you to experts in the field,” Itha said.  

“Now especially, we’re all thinking about how we can impact the world. My best advice is to lean into the things we are good at. All of you are good at something, be open to being able to use your skills and talents and superpowers to be able to give back.”