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Power Moves: Meta Mesh named an ED and Aurora has a new advisory council

Meta Mesh's former interim executive director, Samantha Garfinkel, is stepping up. Here are six promotions and new hires across the tech industry as Pittsburgh companies solidify growth plans for the next year.

Sam Garfinkel will leave her position as executive director of Meta Mesh Wireless Communications. (Courtesy photo)

Power Moves is a column where we chart the comings and goings of talent across the region. Got a new hire, gig or promotion? Email us:

Samantha Garfinkel, previously the interim executive director of Meta Mesh Wireless Communications, was recently promoted to full executive director of the nonprofit after eight months in her former position. Under Garfinkel’s supervision this year, Meta Mesh successfully launched its Every1online program to bring free internet connection to residents in Coraopolis and Homewood.

“I’m honored to continue the work that Meta Mesh has begun to bridge the digital divide in Southwest Pennsylvania. Our organization has the unique privilege to put people before profit in our pursuit of increased digital equity for our region,” Garfinkel said in a press release. “It’s my intention as Executive Director of Meta Mesh to demonstrate that compassion has a place in Internet service provision. By keeping collaboration and distributed leadership at the heart of our work, we can take down the barriers to affordable and accessible Internet that have existed for too long in our communities.”

Ahead of the expected federal infrastructure bill, which will allocate more funding to broadband than ever before, Garfinkel led Meta Mesh through infrastructure developments for the nonprofit’s wireless internet service provider technology. She also finalized key board members for the organization, including representatives from Carnegie Mellon University and the City of Pittsburgh Department of Innovation and Performance. Looking to the rest of 2021 and beyond, Garfinkel told that Meta Mesh will be focused on recruiting residents for participation in Every1online, and continuing to expand that program to new neighborhoods.

A Meta Mesh tower. (Courtesy photo)


Autonomous vehicle company Aurora recently announced the formation of an Industry Advisory Council made up of six members with expertise in transportation and trucking. The company, which made Pittsburgh its full headquarters earlier this year, has released a series of other news over the past few months as it prepares for the vote on its SPAC deal with Reinvent Technology Partners Y at the start of November. This new council will advise on product offerings, go-to-market plans and regulatory strategies, a company press release said.

The six members of the advisory council are:

  • Former White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Transportation Andrew Card
  • DPX Consulting CEO and Principal Richard Stocking
  • Breakthrough Fuel founder and chairman and Titletown Tech Managing Director Craig Dickman
  • Texas Trucking Association President and CEO John Esparza,
  • Clarendon Capital Strategic Advisor and Advisory Board Chair John Larkin
  • University of Pennsylvania Faculty Fellow and Lecturer Steve Viscelli

Viscelli is also the author of “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.”

“This country’s ability to grow and sustain economic growth has always been on the back of freight,” Esparza said in a statement. “The ability to move goods efficiently and expediently is critical to the health of all our communities and automation is one of the solutions to the challenges we are seeing in supply chain logistics today.”


East Liberty-based language learning company and renowned unicorn Duolingo will add former children’s television executive Linda Simensky as the head of animation and scripted content, a new position at the company. Previously, Simensky held executive roles at PBS Kids and Cartoon Network.

(Image via

Her role will largely involve story development around the many characters that appear in Duolingo’s lessons (see Lin at right) and will focus on expanding the animation and writing material in the company’s Stories product and on its Duolingo ABC app for children, per a company press release. The move shows a renewed commitment to the development of features for children and to broadening the scope of language learning opportunities available through the main app, as outlined in announcements and S-1 filings when the company was readying to go public this summer.

“Over the past few years, Duolingo has been busy adding a whole cast of characters and hundreds of stories to their app, and it’s astonishing how many millions of people in countries all over the world are engaging with them every day,” Simensky said in a statement. “I’m excited by the storytelling opportunities that are possible as Duolingo creates stories for learners of all ages around the world.”


Gur Kimchi. (Courtesy photo)

Homewood-based autonomous drone startup Near Earth Autonomy announced a new addition to its board of directors. Gur Kimchi, the cofounder and former VP of Amazon Prime Air — a small drone delivery service from tech giant — will bring his industry experience to advise on Near Earth’s autonomous aviation goals. Outside of his role at Amazon, Kimchi was also a part of the Federal Aviation Administration Drone Advisory Committee from 2016 to 2020.

“Near Earth Autonomy is setting the industry-standard for safe and efficient autonomous flight,” said Kimchi in a press release. “I’m thrilled to help them on their journey making both crewed and autonomous aerospace systems safe for all stakeholders: operators, passengers, and bystanders.”


Alka Patel announced that she would join Comcast as VP for government and external affairs after leaving her role as the inaugural head of artificial intelligence ethics policy at the Department of Defense, where she spent 20 months. According to her LinkedIn, Patel is based in Pittsburgh, and previously worked at Carnegie Mellon University as the executive director of the Risk and Regulatory Services Innovation Center.

“Today concludes the first week of the next chapter in my journey, joining a company that is focused on #CommunityInvestment and advancing #DigitalEquity, ensuring our communities are connected through a commitment to provide #DigitalAccess, resources and support for *all*, particularly underserved members of our community,” Patel wrote in a post on LinkedIn announcing her new role. “This work has never been more critical for the people in our region with the shift toward remote education and employment, and the desire for 24/7 connectivity.”


Pittsburgh Regional Alliance announced earlier this month that it hired former founder and startup advisor Lynsie Campbell as the organization’s inaugural startup czar. Her role will be focused on building connections within the startup ecosystem, as well as with public, private and nonprofit partners in the area who can help the young companies grow. spoke to Campbell about her background and plans for the role earlier this week; read that story here.

Lynsie Campbell. (Courtesy photo)

Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Pittsburgh Regional Alliance / Meta Mesh Wireless Communities / Near Earth Autonomy / Duolingo / Aurora / Comcast
Series: Power Moves

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