August 02, 2023
A Career Grows in Pittsburgh
CMU alumna Catherine Qureshi is leading Pittsburgh’s parks toward a more equitable future
By Kelly Rembold
When Carnegie Mellon University alumna Catherine Qureshi accepted a job right out of college at Pittsburgh’s CitiParks, she didn’t plan on turning it into a career.
She enjoyed the role in her hometown, but soon moved on.
Now, more than 20 years later, she’s returned to her roots in the parks system as Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s president and CEO.
“In a way, it feels very linear, but it’s really not,” says Catherine, a 1998 Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy graduate who holds a master’s degree in public management. “It’s like the reversion to the mean. You end up where you’re supposed to be or where you started, and that’s where I am. It’s been exciting and really interesting along the way.”
“The classes and guest speakers gave me a full understanding of what public management looks like beyond an individual focus. I appreciated that, because public management isn’t only about city government. It’s also about nonprofit management and many other things that make a city work.”
Catherine Qureshi (HNZ 1998)
Growing Her Roots
At CitiParks, Catherine saw the city’s parks with fresh eyes.
“I have always loved nature and green spaces but sort of took it for granted until I started working for CitiParks,” Catherine says. “Since then, I realized how truly special they are.”
The job sparked her interest in public management, and then CMU showed her how to turn that interest into a career.
“The classes and guest speakers gave me a full understanding of what public management looks like beyond an individual focus,” Catherine says. “I appreciated that, because public management isn’t only about city government. It’s also about nonprofit management and many other things that make a city work.”
While at Heinz College, she continued working for the city, serving as the director of the summer food service program and as a budget analyst in the mayor’s office.
“By the time I got to CMU, I was much more honed in on what was interesting to me,” Catherine says. “That was really influential because I had an undergraduate degree in history and sociology from the University of Richmond, I had the work experience, and it was an opportunity to really coalesce my interests.”
After graduating from Heinz College, Catherine left Pittsburgh for a job at the Government Finance Officers Association in Chicago.
The position jump-started her career, and she credits CMU for helping her get there.
“That job catapulted me forward,” Catherine says. “Perhaps I wouldn't have done that, if I didn't have the confidence and the experience from completing that CMU degree. It was an important time in my life.”
Catherine’s experience working in Chicago was very different from her experiences in Pittsburgh.
“When I was working in the mayor's office in Pittsburgh, there was such a connection to really big things that were going on,” Catherine says. “You could open the newspaper and see things where you were involved. It was really exciting, and it wasn’t like that in Chicago.”
She returned to Pittsburgh.
“Sometimes, you have values that you don't know exist until they are removed from you,” Catherine says. “I really wanted to come back where I felt there was more opportunity to be involved and engaged with things that were growing the city.”
Since then, she has worked in the administrations of two Pittsburgh mayors, held positions on Pittsburgh City Council and at the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, and served as the assistant finance director for the city.
“The special moments are engaging with people in parks — and with all different people. We have 170 parks, and they're all very different. It's really amazing to meet people where they are and see what energizes them about nature and their contributions to it.”
An Organic Opportunity
In 2014, Catherine accepted a job as the director of finance and administration at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of Pittsburghers by providing safe, clean and accessible green spaces.
“It seemed almost organic or meant to be,” Catherine says. “City finance is public management, but so is park management. We interface with our partners at city hall a lot, and we serve constituents and citizens. It was a very natural cadence for me.”
Catherine held several positions at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy before becoming president and CEO in 2021.
“The conservancy works closely with the City of Pittsburgh, where Catherine was known and respected from her earlier positions there,” says Dr. Millie Myers, vice chair of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy board of directors and fellow Tartan who graduated from Margaret Morrison College in 1964 and Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1981. “When we needed a new president and CEO under trying circumstances, including COVID, Catherine's steady hand at the helm and the confidence she engendered in staff and board made her the natural choice.”
Her role gives her the chance to not only visit the parks but interact with the people who use them. It’s her favorite part of the job.
“The special moments are engaging with people in parks — and with all different people. We have 170 parks, and they're all very different,” Catherine says. “It's really amazing to meet people where they are and see what energizes them about nature and their contributions to it.”
The Gift of Green Space
Although Catherine didn’t work for the parks until later in her career, her passion for them began when she was a child.
She grew up on Beeler Street near CMU’s campus. Since her family didn’t have a car, she often walked to Schenley Park to enjoy the trails and woods.
Today, her favorite park is Ormsby Park in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.
“It is one of the most densely urban areas of the city, but it's where I raised my children,” Catherine says. “It's just special to me. It's like an oasis. We had somewhere we could go, somewhere my children certainly felt belonged to them. This was their space.”
Catherine wants all city residents to have the same feeling. Her goal is to make green space in Pittsburgh more equitable for all.
“That green space, nature, it's important for the body, the soul, one's emotions. Like many things, it's been historically inequitable,” Catherine says. “For me, it's about making that more equitable across the whole city. That children and people and families, no matter where they live, no matter their Zip code, that they have local access to green, safe, accessible spaces. That’s my passion.”