Akoyans Volunteer at Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank

A team of Akoyans and their kids volunteered at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in early April.

After an inspiring Round One in Washington, DC, a team of Akoyans supported the fight against hunger with a volunteer event at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Together, we rolled up our sleeves and in just a few hours bagged and packed an estimated 3,200 pounds of dry pasta for distribution. Special thanks and commendation goes to Ike, Roy, and Fiona, whose youthful energy helped keep the old folks in gear!

The Food Bank was founded in 1980 to help families affected by the closing of Pittsburgh’s famous steel mills. Today, its reach extends across 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, providing healthy food to more than 360,000 people each year — people who often have to make daily decisions about which essential items they need to sacrifice just to buy food. And well over 90,000 children in the area are food insecure, defined as having limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Consistent hunger and worrying when their next meal will be — especially in summer months when school meals are not available — impacts not only children’s physical health, but also their mental and emotional health, leaving scars that can last a lifetime. For these reasons alone, it’s clear the work of the Food Bank is far from over.

Akoya is grateful for the work and commitment of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The team was proud to participate and looks forward to our next staff-wide volunteer event, planned for later this year.

Akoya Wins 2018 Communitas Award for Excellence in Community Service

Under the leadership of Chief Creative Officer Nancy Reese, Akoya’s pro bono work with the Women’s Law Project has won a 2018 Communitas Award for excellence in company community service. Administered by the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals, the Communitas Awards honor excellence in social responsibility and community service among individuals and organizations.

Akoya was recognized for its work on FAIR:PLAY, a website designed to help parents, students, and communities advocate for a fair share of sports opportunities for girls in Pennsylvania’s public secondary schools. The concept was born when Nancy – also a Women’s Law Project board member – identified that the Department of Education’s abundant but unwieldy raw data made it nearly impossible to determine if a school is out of compliance with Title IX law.

After collaborating with WLP on the game plan, Akoya created the website’s branding and homepage design; recruited volunteer mentors, programmers, and coders (nearly all women); and, with support from the FISA Foundation, hosted a weekend-long hackathon to crunch the data and create an easy-to-use interface. And while ultimately the result was a website providing meaningful and actionable information, the hackathon itself was a remarkable STEM learning experience showcasing the region’s technical talent and the participants’ dedication to fairness and equality.

The Communitas Award is a testament to Akoya’s ongoing commitment to giving back and using its talents to help nonprofits and organizations that may not have the funding or resources to do so. We are grateful for the honor and for the opportunity to bring attention to the advocacy work of the Women’s Law Project.  

D.C. Akoyans Enter the Ring for the Fight Against Hunger

Akoyans and friends volunteer at DC Central Kitchen.

One evening in late January, Akoyans from our Falls Church office laced up their proverbial gloves and entered the ring to battle a formidable foe: systemic hunger in the Washington, D.C. area.

At DC Central Kitchen—the nation’s first and leading community kitchen—food isn’t just used to nourish and strengthen bodies. It is central to breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty. DCCK’s holistic strategy diverts millions of pounds of food waste toward millions of meals for homeless shelters, schools, and nonprofits; expands access to healthful, local options in urban food deserts; and develops meaningful career training and job assistance for at-risk individuals.

DCCK’s mission resonates with Akoyan Katie Walker, who grew up volunteering, often to help the food insecure. As a first year student at American University in 2001, Katie lived on a floor dedicated to students interested in volunteering locally. DCCK was among the different locations students on the floor were introduced to each week. It wasn’t long before Katie started volunteering there regularly—sometimes several times a month.

“The people who work, train, and volunteer there have—and continue to be—a great source of inspiration for me,” Katie says.

Katie decided to introduce Akoyans to DCCK not only because she has a strong connection to the organization but also because it’s a great place for groups to volunteer. “It’s a chance to interact with coworkers, other volunteers, and the people who work there,” she says. “You’re helping others, having fun, and as an added bonus, learning new skills in the kitchen.”

And in true Akoya fashion, we had a good time for a good cause: we rolled up our sleeves, donned our hairnets, and joined the ranks of volunteers who’ve dedicated time to fighting hunger in the nation’s capital.

Akoyans get some “Facetime” in Pittsburgh

When Akoyans suggested during our August retreat that making trips to our Pittsburgh office would be beneficial, we made it happen. In November, December, and January, small groups of Akoyans based outside the Steel City made overnight trips to visit home base.

The meetings, dubbed Facetime @ Akoya, were a fantastic way for coworkers to further solidify connections made with each other in August and gave us the opportunity to brainstorm ways to make those connections even stronger. Discussions centered around how to improve the onboarding process for new employees working outside Pittsburgh and ways to replicate Akoya’s company culture at a client site where many of us work in Falls Church, Virginia.

Akoyans appreciated the opportunity to see Akoya headquarters, work with Pittsburgh staff, and learn firsthand why Honest John’s is so special to our president, Holly Wray. We look forward to making Facetime a regular gathering.

Fifteen Years of DOE SSL R&D Workshops

A few shots of Akoyans behind the scenes of a DOE Solid-State Lighting workshop.

Remember where you were in November 2003? A few of us at Akoya do, as that was when DOE’s Solid-State Lighting program held its very first R&D Workshop, in Crystal City, VA. Fast-forward to today, and we’re proud to say we’ve just returned from working our fifteenth R&D Workshop – every one of them under the leadership of account manager Karen Marchese.

What began as a small two-day gathering with a dozen speakers has grown into one of the lighting industry’s most venerable conferences and spawned other SSL workshops as well. This year’s R&D Workshop, in Nashville, spanned three full days, welcomed fifty speakers, and hosted a bustling poster session enhanced by an assortment of cutting-edge product demos and four talented winners of the third-annual student poster competition. And believe it or not, a few of those inaugural participants and speakers have made it a priority to return year after year, because they value the robust and candid exchange of information and ideas that happens at a DOE SSL workshop.

As the workshops have expanded, so has Akoya’s role in them. Multi-city site search? Sure. Tour organization? No problem. Speaker outreach? Notetaking? Video production? All in a day’s work. After over fifteen years working with the DOE SSL program, we’re proud of the integral role we play in these workshops, and the role they play in shaping the future of lighting.

Villarreal, Goldberg Join Akoya MHS Team

Laura Villarreal and Ari Goldberg

We’re glad to have recently welcomed two new Akoyans to our Military Health System team.

Laura Villarreal joined the Health.mil writing team at the Defense Health Agency in November. With more than a decade of health care communications experience across the public and private sectors, Laura crafts compelling stories for Military Health System beneficiaries about health, wellness and the latest innovations across the MHS.    

Laura is no stranger to the MHS: from 2009 to 2012, she served as a senior strategic communications consultant to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. She has also worked as an account director for a communications contract at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and as a communications consultant for UnitedHealth Group. 

Ari Ben Goldberg joined the strategic communications team last month as a senior communications consultant, bringing more than 20 years of experience in speechwriting, op-eds, and media relations. Ari’s role involves applying all these skills to special projects that strengthen the Defense Health Agency’s communications and outreach efforts.

Ari’s previous work has included writing speeches and op-eds focused on health, world hunger, global poverty, and peace for high-profile individuals, including former Irish president Mary Robinson, former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, the president of Radio Free Europe, and U2’s Bono. He has also served as a producer for BBC News and C-SPAN.

Tuning the Light in Senior Care

LED lighting can do far more than save energy. As a recent pilot by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) demonstrated (download report), tunable white lighting with LEDs can dramatically improve the wellbeing of dementia patients and the working conditions of caregivers. Akoya’s video team got the story from Connie Samla of SMUD, catching up with her at the Solid-State Lighting Program workshop held by the Department of Energy in Denver, Colorado.

The pilot installation in a hallway at the ACC Care Center in Sacramento showed that “tuning” the color temperature of the new LED lighting to match circadian rhythms improved sleep patterns and nighttime safety for residents, significantly reducing falls, use of psychotropic and sleep medications, and agitated behaviors. At the same time, tuning the lighting better equipped the staff with the levels of task lighting needed to provide excellent care.

The outcome of he study revealed the powerful potential of LED to improve healthcare and quality of life, as well as saving energy. The full video produced by Akoya, “Tuning the Light in Senior Care,” is available at the DOE website.

Honest John’s Is a New Pittsburgh Favorite

Akoya designed Honest John’s logo, which includes a playful nod to the restaurant’s Eighth Avenue location.

At Honest John’s, good food and a memorable dining experience come honestly—and Pittsburgh agrees. The casual dining spot, which opened in Homestead in November 2016, won public endorsements in both the Pittsburgh City Paper and The Pittsburgh Business Times this fall.

For three weeks over the summer, Pittsburgh City Paper readers had the chance to vote for their favorite restaurants in the ‘Burgh, and they selected Honest John’s as Pittsburgh’s Best New Restaurant and Best Contemporary American Restaurant.

City Paper staffers declared Honest John’s “an awesome place” that’s helped revive Homestead’s downtown scene. They praised the Eighth Avenue eatery’s candied-bacon BLTs, blackened tilapia fish tacos, and pimiento mac and cheese.

The Pittsburgh Business Times polled their readers too, asking for their favorite restaurants in the region. Of the 240+ restaurants mentioned in responses, Honest John’s was voted one of the top 50 restaurants, which were published alphabetically.

Having designed the restaurant’s website and logo, we’re glad that Pittsburghers are fans of Honest John’s. And perhaps no one is more thrilled than Akoya President Holly Wray, who is both mom and business partner to son John, Honest John’s owner and manager.  

Holly is a frequent visitor to the restaurant, and she loves bringing fellow Akoyans with her. During recent trips to visit our Pittsburgh office, Akoyans from Falls Church have all had the chance to savor this honestly good fare.

Akoyans from Falls Church and Pittsburgh break bread at Honest John’s.

“Marvelous” Reviews in Portland

Lighting expert Steve Paolini presents a light source spectrum demo in this colorful photo from this month’s U.S. Department of Energy Solid-State Lighting Technology R&D Workshop in Portland.

Enthralling! Energizing! Marvelous! These aren’t words most people associate with technical meetings. So imagine how gratifying it was to get reviews like this for the U.S. Department of Energy Solid-State Lighting program’s 12th annual Technology R&D Workshop in Portland, Oregon. During the second week of November, an intrepid team of Akoyans trekked to the Pacific Northwest to support the event, the culmination of six months of agenda crafting, tour planning, speaker coordination, and promotion. Akoya’s efforts were key to a smooth rollout for 25 speakers and 100+ attendees, setting the stage for a lively and engaging meeting of the minds on the latest lighting technology advances and trends.

Without missing a beat, we continue planning our client’s next event, the flagship SSL R&D Workshop, coming January 29–31, 2018. Stay tuned for more exciting SSL developments!

Once a Marine, Always a Marine

Wearing his Dress Blue-Whites, Neal Fisher awaits giving a speech at a Memorial Day celebration in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands during his final year in the Marine Corps.

Our Akoya Military Health System team wouldn’t be complete without veterans, whose unique perspectives on military life and operations are a crucial component of our success in working with the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency (DHA). This month, in recognition of Veterans Day, we will profile Akoyans who have served our country.

Neal Fisher joined our team in 2015 and writes and implements communications plans for DHA’s communications shop.

Neal’s military story started in 1992, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves. He spent five years as a member of Company A, 863rd Engineer Battalion in Kankakee, Illinois, and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant before requesting an inter-service transfer to the active duty Marine Corps and Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. He was commissioned in April 1998 and was selected to serve as a Field Artillery Officer following his completion of The Basic School in October 1998.

In 2001, the Marine Corps offered Neal a tour of duty in Public Affairs. “I thought Public Affairs/Communications would be a relaxing tour of duty after three hard years in artillery,” he says. Then 9/11 happened.

“After receiving orders to the Pentagon, and then experiencing the terrorist attack on September 11 from just 25 miles away at the Defense Information School, my misguided impression of Public Affairs as an easy job changed very quickly,” Neal says. 

Neal returned to artillery after his time as a public affairs officer at the Pentagon and says that he was fortunate to experience “the challenge and honor” of commanding a field artillery battery, leading 155 Marines for 14 months.

But Neal’s interest in public affairs never waned. “Though I considered commanding Marines the highlight of my military career, the daily challenge of public affairs and communicating with the public on behalf of the Marine Corps was unmatched,” he says. “In 2007, I committed to Public Affairs full time, relinquishing Field Artillery as my primary specialty.”

In 2015, Neal left the Marines with the goal of becoming a civilian public affairs professional. Someone directed him to Akoya two weeks after he and his family moved to northern Virginia, where his wife Yvonne had accepted a new job.

Neal appreciates the challenge and reward of working in dynamic and highly visible communications environments. “I have always loved the adrenaline rush of responding to a crisis situation, or the challenge of developing a communication plan that immediately produces ‘something,’” he says.

Working for DHA has been an enriching opportunity for Neal. While his military experience informs how he communicates with the military community and TRICARE beneficiaries, he had never previously worked in military medicine. Joining the Washington, DC, chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives helped him gain a different perspective on healthcare management and administration, and he credits Yvonne, a healthcare administrator, with helping him understand the language and mindset of healthcare outside of the military. “This has been very valuable in working the accounts I’ve been assigned here in the DHA Communications Division,” he says.

Outside of the office, Neal is an avid motorcyclist. He and Yvonne both have their own Harley-Davidsons and they are members of the Harley Owners Group (HOG). They also rode with Ma’Gachong, a  motorcycle club for married couples, when they lived in Guam. Neal recommends riding along the southern stretch of Route 1 in Guam, between the villages of Agat and Talofofo, for its amazing views of mountains and the ocean.

Neal is the proud father of two teenage sons, three adult stepchildren, and two adopted daughters, ages 11 and 7, whom he and Yvonne fostered while stationed in Guam. And of course, Neal is “once a Marine, always a Marine.”

Neal and his wife Yvonne at Talofofo Falls Park in Guam

Akoya Wins MarCom Awards

We are pleased to announce that our work has earned recognition in the 2017 MarCom Awards, an annual creative competition for marketing and communications professionals.

Three of our projects were selected as MarCom Gold Winners: a fundraising report for The Midwife Center of Pittsburgh, a benefits awareness campaign for Puget Sound Military Health System, and the feature article “D-Day Through the Eyes of Combat Medic, 73 Years Later” for the Military Health System.

Additionally, our 2017 National Nurses Week campaign for the Military Health System earned an honorable mention.

MarCom is sponsored and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. A full list of winners can be found on their website.