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Cynthia Padnos,
MSIA ’80

Michael Tam,
MBA ’11

Sheila Brown,
MSIA ’84 and
David Brown,
MSIA ’85


Cynthia Padnos, MSIA ’80, has enjoyed a storied career in tech, from consultant to serial high-tech entrepreneur to founder and current managing partner of Illuminate Ventures. Her firm invests in early-stage enterprise software startups, while “intentionally expanding our deal flow to be inclusive of diverse teams,” she noted.

This high-tech success story came to the Tepper School with a liberal arts degree, attracted by the small, personal class size and eager to expand her talents. “I was specifically seeking to augment my skills on the quantitative and analytic side of the equation, and Carnegie Mellon was clearly one of the best schools to help me to do that,” Padnos said.

She gained the capabilities she sought, “but something else perhaps more important: the self-confidence that I didn’t need to be intimidated by new techniques or technologies. I learned how exciting and rewarding it was to leverage them.”

Padnos has given generously of both her time and support. She believes the two should go hand in glove. Seeking to ensure that more women were attracted to the program, she became involved early with the Tepper School Business Board of Advisors. She has also, among numerous other activities, served as an adviser to Project Olympus and participated in countless panels and student treks, and recently initiated an internship/student-in-residence program for her firm on campus.

In more than three decades, she hasn’t missed a single year of giving. “I have a great deal to be grateful for in my life, and Carnegie Mellon is a very significant piece of that,” she explained.

Padnos and her husband have made two additional and notable gifts.

She established the Cynthia Padnos Scholarship for Women in Business, which gives preference to women with liberal arts backgrounds. 

“It’s a myth that you need a technical degree to be an entrepreneur, to be successful in technology — or to be successful in the MBA program at Carnegie Mellon,” she pointed out.

More recently, Padnos named the director’s office of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship in the new Tepper Quad.

“I’m a big believer that we live in a world where technological innovation can enrich lives and democratize opportunity,” she said. “Pittsburgh is approaching a tipping point to becoming an entrepreneurial powerhouse, and both the new quad and entrepreneurship center will help the community achieve that. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to be a part of enabling that.”


Since his graduation, Michael Tam, MBA ’11, has been a dedicated supporter of the Tepper School, with both his time and his financial support. His most recent contribution — a gift to support the new Tepper Quad Alumni Bridge — was made to help build “a place students will call home for many years to come.” 

When exploring a graduate business degree, the Ohio native was drawn to the Tepper School’s small class size, flexible curriculum and opportunities for real-world application. His decision was cemented during Welcome Weekend, when he met highly intelligent future classmates with the “best values.”

“Being at Tepper was a transformational, invaluable experience that opened up a world of opportunities,” Tam stressed. “Because of it, I’m a better leader, more prepared to solve problems. It brought me into a career that could only be described as a dream come true.”

Today, as the senior director of planning and analytics at Major League Soccer, Tam is responsible for strategy development and project execution of the growing enterprise. He continues to seek opportunities to strengthen the Tepper School community, from advising students and speaking on campus to hosting events and donating.


Sheila Brown, MSIA ’84, and W. David Brown, MSIA ’85, came to the Tepper School to enhance their liberal arts economics backgrounds with cutting-edge quantitative skills from a leading graduate business school. They made the right move.

“It was a life-changer,” said David, now managing director of investment banking firm Red Hawk Associates. “It completely changed my business prospects and my earning ability. The connections I made and was able to make changed my life. It was fantastic.”

Sheila, now senior manager of risk management at Progressive Insurance, agrees. “My MBA really provided the tools for both my early McKinsey consulting career and the many roles that I’ve had at Progressive since then. It’s all been enabled by my Tepper MBA.”

The couple has remained active with their Cleveland-area alumni association and contributed continuously since their graduations. Most recently, however, they’ve given a special and particularly meaningful gift — to support the construction of the Tepper Quad with an Alumni Bridge donation.

“This physical bridge in the new business school is literally and figuratively bridging my earlier academic life with my professional passion, which is promoting innovation at work and in the community,” Sheila explained. David, who also maintains strong career ties with the entrepreneurial community, concurs.