Ellis School

Success stories dominate 100-year history of The Ellis School

As a Washington, D.C., attorney, Tomar Pierson-Brown spent five years representing the interests of children suffering abuse and neglect.

Now 36, Pierson-Brown credits much of her successful trajectory — from law student to attorney to her current role as assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh — to her own childhood at The Ellis School.

Ellis School
Tomar Pierson-Brown

“Confidence in myself and my ability to take on tasks and experience success even through trial and error is something I learned at Ellis,” says Pierson-Brown, who graduated from the Shadyside school in 1997. “I’m an Ellis girl; who am I not to take on this challenge?”

As The Ellis School celebrates a century of educating girls to become leaders, its Centennial Gala on Oct. 15 will showcase some of the institution’s shining success stories: women making a difference around the world and right here at home in the realms of medicine, finance, media and the performing arts.

Since Sara Frazer Ellis opened the school with three teachers and 41 students in 1916, the Shadyside landmark has evolved with the times.

Robin Newham, current Head of The Ellis School, began her tenure there as an art teacher in 1981. In the past 35 years, she says she’s seen the school’s enrollment evolve — the student body current numbers close to 400 girls — as well as the level of student engagement.

“It’s not just about knowing facts, but it’s about being a good connoisseur of those facts,” Newham says. “Through technology, we’re teaching students how to discriminate well the information that’s coming at them.”

Newham says her proudest accomplishment while at Ellis is the opening of the school’s first regulation-sized athletic field in 2014, which sparked a renewed interest in athletics among the students. Ellis team participation far exceeds the national average, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, with 70 percent of its middle and upper school students playing team sports.

In its 100-year history, a dozen women have led Ellis through the 20th century and into the millennium. The school is currently searching for a new head of school, as Newham plans to retire at the end of this school year.

“There’s an opportunity for new leadership to look at some new facilities, to look at how we might create an environment to engage in the kind of 21st-century education,” Newham says, adding that the school administration will announce major news at the Oct. 15 event.

The Centennial Gala will also highlight the range of interests, talents and accomplishments of 13 alumnae ranging in graduation years from 1964 to 2012.

Before the celebration begins, meet some of the well-known graduates of The Ellis School:

Ellis School
Eileen Halpern Lane

Eileen Halpern Lane has dedicated herself to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and the region’s Jewish heritage as an advocate, volunteer and writer. She’s served on many nonprofit boards, including the founding of the Komen Race for the Cure, as chair of the Family Health Council (now Adagio Health) and as chair of the Ellis Board of Trustees.

Dr. Diane Marchbein, the U.S. president of the Board of Directors of Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders, recently retired as an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. She’s devoted to providing care to patients across the globe who would otherwise go without care.

Carol Ostrow is the producing director of The Flea, an off-off-broadway theater in New York City. She’s served as an adjunct professor of theater at Vasser College, Chatham College and McGill University.

As the president of CBRE’s Global Workplace Solutions, West Division, Darcy Frank Mackay is responsible for the firm’s global occupier clients headquartered in 13 western states.

Ellis School
Kelly Brent Schoeneman

Kelly Brent Schoeneman is COO and partner at WorldDealer Inc., a Pittsburgh agency providing multi-channel marketing to the retail automotive industry. A 1989 graduate of Ellis, Schoeneman is the director for Women-Drivers.com, a subsidiary of WorldDealer that provides data for marketing to women who are shopping for cars. Before helping to found WorldDealer, she was a media buyer for JW MEsser, a Michigan-based advertising agency.

Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a career website for telecommuting, flexible, free-lance and part-time jobs.

A clinical assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, Tomar Pierson-Brown has served as an attorney with the Children’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. She has represented the interests of students with disabilities and otherwise advocated for the rights of children and families.

Ellis School
Jean Yang

After finishing her postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School, Jean Yang joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, where she is an assistant professor in the computer science department. She completed her Ph.D. in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was recently named by MIT Technology Review to its annual list of Innovators under 35.

As assistant professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Ross Radigonda teaches musicianship, jazz musicianship, jazz vocal improvisation, and runs the Jazz Singers Ensemble. She also performs regularly as the leader of the Elizabeth Ross Quintet.

Boston Globe political editor Shira Toeplitz Center oversees a team of reporters covering City Hall and the presidential election. Center regularly appears on cable news and radio programs to offer political analysis.

Ellis School
Lani Lazzari

Lani Lazzari founded Simple Sugars, a company that makes handmade, all-natural skincare products specially formulated for sensitive skin, in 2005 at age 11. As president and CEO, Lazzari catapulted the Pittsburgh-based company to international success after she appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2013. With 22 employees, Simple Sugars sells products online and in more than 700 retail locations.

A committee chose the 13 distinguished Ellis alumnae, which also includes Kathleen McMorran Murray and Barbara Aaron Rosston, through an agonizing process, Newham says.

“No matter who you select, you can think of another 20 that you could choose,” Newham says. “We see this as the launch of an ongoing way of celebrating alumnae.”