Keynote Speakers

Keynote Speakers | Panther Leadership Summit 2021


Aleigha Cavalier

National Political Strategist


Aleigha has spent more than a decade working in Democratic politics and advocacy. She has held leadership roles in communications and public affairs at organizations like Planned Parenthood and NextGen America, and has been a spokeswoman for former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Gov. Deval Patrick, and Tom Steyer. Most recently, she was the Northeast States Director for Biden for President, securing wins in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, and Virginia. The first in her family to go to college, Aleigha is from Western Pennsylvania and received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her Master’s degree from The George Washington University.


Jim Earle, EdD

Associate Dean for Strategic Development and Operations, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine

In his role as Associate Dean for Strategic Development and Operations at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Jim Earle helps set the strategic direction for the School and insures operating efficiency and effective performance. Jim’s specific areas of oversight include marketing and communications, development and alumni relations, business and finance, human resources, and facilities management.

Prior to joining the School of Dental Medicine, Jim was the Associate Vice Chancellor for Business and Auxiliary Services at the University of Pittsburgh.  In this role, he oversaw all auxiliary operations for the University, which includes housing, dining, the ID Center, conference services, the campus stores operations, parking and transportation services, mailing, printing and copy services, and surplus property.  Jim managed a staff of over 300 employees in multiple facilities on campus including 20 residence halls, 24 dining locations, and four stores.

Jim is also an author, speaker, and leadership development coach.  His book, 100 Yards of Success: Leadership Lessons from College Football highlights 100 leadership lessons learned during Jim’s 11 years working in the Pitt Athletic Department.

Jim has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Miami University of Ohio and Masters of Business Administration and Doctorate of Education degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.


Julie Shepard

Senior Manager of Development and Events, Pittsburgh Promise

Education is Julie Shepard’s passion and at the core of her values. She believes not only in lifetime learning for herself, but that everyone around her is entitled to a quality education.  With that guiding principle, she completed both her bachelors and masters degrees at Pitt, has tutored adults through Literacy Pittsburgh for the last 11 years, and worked in higher education for 20 years before coming to The Pittsburgh Promise where she’s been helping Pittsburgh’s urban public school graduates get a post-secondary education degree so they can be powerful members of the workforce.

Julie was the first female Student Government Board president at Pitt. She served on the SGB Board prior to her year as president, was a writer for The Pitt News, was involved in the Resident Student Association, Pitt Program Council, and was a Resident Assistant in Holland Hall.

Julie is married, and has a daughter, son-in-law and her “Grandfurries” in Philadelphia. She enjoys adventures, international and U.S. travel, ballroom dancing, building things, cooking and baking, listening to podcasts, and reading. Julie is active in her church where she teaches Confirmation class, coordinates weddings, and has served on the Parish Pastoral Council. She’s an ardent supporter of Catholic Social Teaching and Social Justice, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.


Julie Crowell Varghese

Chief Administrative Officer, Atlantic Council

Julie Varghese has over 20 years of experience in a variety of non-profit, healthcare, governmental, political, and cultural organizations. Julie is currently senior management at the Atlantic Council, a non-partisan foreign policy think tank, where she joined in 2013 as the first Director of Events and has steadily taken on increased managerial responsibility leading to her promotion to Vice President for Global Events and External Relations in 2016, and eventually her promotion to Chief Administrative Officer in 2018. She came to the Council after ten years at New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital as Director of Special Events where she served as principal development officer and producer responsible for fundraising, design, and implementation of event programming for annual galas, golf classics and cultivation dinners. Julie brings diverse experience on project management, events, and protocol from her numerous positions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and as advance staff on official foreign and political domestic trips for President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, and Vice President Al Gore. Julie graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in political science and a minor in history and was Student Government Board President and the 1996 Omicron Delta Kappa Senior of the Year.


“Hearing accomplished professionals share their individual leadership journeys at the TEDx style talks was inspiring. All of their experiences were so different which gave me confidence in knowing that there’s diversity in leadership. I learned that there isn’t one specific path to leadership; everyone possesses unique backgrounds and skills that can make them strong leaders.”

– Jennifer Wallace, 2019 Panther Leadership Summit Attendee