Holly McIlwain is the founder and chief cheerleader of the Brave Women Project. She is the author of “For She Who Leads: Practical Wisdom from a Woman Who Serves” and leads the Talent Development platform at Winner Partners. She is a subject-matter expert in the usage of behavior assessments as part of coaching and development plans, in addition to talent acquisition engagements. As a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, working with individuals and organizations to build a better world and sustainable business solutions is her passion. What’s not exciting about that? This enthusiasm comes with Holly into each coaching session, team workshop, search opportunity, and speaking engagement. It carries right over into the Brave Women Project. Nothing excites Holly more than inspiring women to do brave things.
Developing leaders who change lives is Holly’s passion and professional purpose. She has studied and written about topics such as: Leadership and Mission, Bravery in Business, and Managing Human Relationships. As a recognized subject matter expert, Holly has spoken at numerous conferences and on Sirius XM Radio. She holds an advanced degree in Organizational Leadership from Robert Morris University, and is certified as a DISC Behavior Analyst and a Driving Forces Behavior Analyst.
After studying with Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, she invested her time and professionalism in the Pittsburgh region, consistently seeking ways to challenge leaders to become fully engaged in transformation. In 2020 she served as Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation Faculty and became a DDI Certified Facilitator. Holly is an expert in the value of dynamic onboarding as part of the foundation for fully engaged employees and is the Human Resources Business Partner for Talent Management at Robert Morris University.
Holly invests herself to expand the reach of those organizations she serves and has a long record of engagement in the region. Holly functioned as a lead consultant in Organizational Management and Leadership Development for one of the largest non-profits in the world and spent 15 years in the non-profit sector. Recruiting and developing the talent pool for the non-profit sector soon led her to engage as a full-time consultant, and director of leadership development and talent acquisition for a local firm.
Holly has worked with and served on the Boards of Directors for foundations and non-profits, and continues to be a frequent speaker and trainer on topics of leadership and living at Universities, Churches, Conferences, and Workshops. She and her husband, Kevin, are raising two young boys and residing in the greater Pittsburgh, PA area.
When we think about women doing brave things, Morgan Null demonstrates bravery as a 1L at the Duquesne School of Law, in Pittsburgh! Morgan graduated in May 2021 from The George Washington University, double majoring in Communication and Organizational Science. Her time in Washington, DC gave her the opportunity to intern with many companies in PR, like Keybridge Communications, as well as in legislation on Capitol Hill. She comes to the Brave Women Project with the tenacity of a law student who lived in Washington, DC during the start of the coronavirus!
We love Morgan because she uses her strong communication skills to make an impact and do brave things. She has been working with Holly for many years and helped to get BWP off of the ground, from the beginning. One of those original brave women creating a space for women to do brave things.
Morgan loves to workout, golf, spend time with friends and family, and pretend she knows what she’s doing when assigned any BWP task. She loves being back in Pittsburgh as an "adult" now, even though she grew up here, getting to know restaurants and fun places around the city.
chair of the board
Mary Richter has a great appreciation for the link between community and bravery—growing up with Italian immigrant parents, Mary witnessed firsthand how the gathering of a community (usually around a great meal) bolsters bravery. As Mary recognized her talents, she pursued a degree in Accounting from Duquesne University, became a Certified Public Accountant, and is now a tax shareholder with a 25 year history of serving tax clients.
Professionally, Mary has worked in both public accounting and private industry and has a diverse tax background. Her experience in federal, state and international tax and business issues has provided dedicated client service to multinational manufacturing and service entities in all phases of the business cycle, from start-up to exit strategy. Mary's experience includes domestic and international tax planning, tax credits, accounting for income taxes and specific transaction planning and implementation for both public and private companies. Daily, as a tax shareholder at Schneider Downs, Mary focuses on helping clients with international tax issues and opportunities.
Mary earned her degree in accounting at Duquesne University, and in addition to her professional leadership, has many ties to the local and global community in serving as Chair for PrimeGlobal International Tax Group (North America), as Board Member for Magee-Women’s Research Institute & Foundation and Western Pennsylvania District Export Council (DEC), and as past Board Chair for ACHIEVA and Co-founder of Western PA Global Business Forum. She serves on the Executive Team for United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania Women’s Leadership Council and is a member of the American and Pennsylvania Institutes of Certified Public Accountants. We are so very grateful for Mary’s experiences as she joins the Board for Brave Women Project. She’s also been involved in mentoring for both women and men and is involved with her firm’s women’s leadership initiative.
Mary Richter has been a champion for Brave Women Project since the very beginning, and brings so much more than deep experience and knowledge from her industry—she brings her seemingly boundless energy, passionate commitment to providing opportunities and a model for professional women to demonstrate bravery, love of dogs and NHL hockey and unmatched expertise in Italian cooking!
Melissa “Mel” McKernan is the Director of Commercial Market Finance at Highmark, Inc. As one of America’s leading health insurance organizations, and a Pittsburgh landmark, Highmark has been leading the way to create a remarkable health experience, freeing people to be their best. Mel brings a deep understanding of operational efficiencies and improvement, financial best practices, and the value of total personal wellness to Brave Women Project. In addition to the traditional finance background, Mel has extensive experience designing and implementing employee engagement programs, and managing, mentoring, and developing emerging leaders,
Mel’s experience in finance began early on, with an internship at PNC, which brought about a later return professionally to become a valued member of corporate finance for the large banking institution. One of her brave actions, early in her career, was leaving PNC and Pittsburgh weather for an experience as a Private Equity Analyst for the highly coveted Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although Mel didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh, it became her home, and she returned as many Pittsburghers do, to transition her career into Healthcare at Highmark. Through this transition is where she found her passion and dedication to the healthcare industry, in a role where she could use her financial expertise coupled with her calling to help improve the lives of members of our community.
With a degree from Duquesne University in Accounting and Finance, Mel pursued additional professional development and became a Certified Public Accountant in 2014. After a career primarily based in Pittsburgh at several top name organizations, Mel made big changes. 2020 changed the landscape of many organizations and provided for extended remote work experiences, so Mel decided to take another brave action and relocated, escaping long Pittsburgh winters and enjoying bright Florida sun. Naples, Florida is her new home!
When Mel is not building financial empires or identifying critical organizational and operational efficiency opportunities, she can be found hanging by the pool with her mini golden doodle, Piper, or taking a spin class. She enjoys staying active and will try any workout (at least once). Mel is also a big traveler and foodie. She loves trying new restaurants in any city she visits.
Serving Brave Women Project as Treasurer, Mel’s hope is that the professional women we reach will be afforded more opportunities to develop into the greatest versions of themselves, while experiencing support and understanding from other women with a wide-range of experiences, but with the same underlying desire to be brave.