Dr. Kathi Elliott, DNP ’14, knows something about role models. Her mother, Gwendolyn Elliott, started her career with the United States Air Force in 1964. In 1976, she became one of the first African American female Pittsburgh police officers, eventually becoming the first woman promoted to Sergeant and, ultimately, Commander. But “Miss Gwen,” as she was affectionately called, found time to give back to the community. Her daughter, Dr. Elliott, says “My mother was involved as a victim advocate with the Center for Victims, and that showed me that talking to people and helping them was what I wanted to do.”
Dr. Elliott received an associate’s degree in nursing from Community College of Allegheny County, and went on to complete three degrees at the University of Pittsburgh: A bachelor’s in psychology, and a dual masters in nursing and social work. In 2014, she completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Chatham.
During her 26 years on the Pittsburgh Police force, Miss Gwen saw the struggles of young women and girls who came to the attention of law enforcement, and was determined to help them have a better quality of life. Her dream came true in 2002 when the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families funded the creation of Gwen’s Girls, an organization that works to empower women and girls.
After her mother’s death in 2007, Dr. Elliott became a board member of Gwen’s Girls, and was recently named executive director. “I plan to continue my mother’s legacy by exposing girls to opportunities and experiences that they traditionally would not have access to,” she said.
“Never let society define you. Discover and work to develop your own individuality. Be confident in who you are and your contribution to the world.” – Dr. Kathi Elliott
Dr. Elliott’s primary goal as the new executive director is to improve girls’ access to education, social services, and workforce development. “It is my hope that with greater access the girls will become self-sufficient and empowered, so that the girls will advocate for themselves and others.”
Still, Dr. Elliott believes, advocacy is not enough. “There are so many negative attributes and risk factors that are already known to exist,” she says. “But there is very little research about what makes a girl resilient. We want to look at what helps them survive by looking at similar situations with different outcomes. We look at holistic programming: mental health, nursing, education, and case management. How can we help girls become resilient?”