By Rich Cholodofsky
Working at the Private Industry Council was the only work Shujuane Martin has known.
Fresh out of California University of Pennsylvania where she starred on the basketball court, Martin started her career in 2003 as a caseworker at the tri-county agency based in Hempfield that helps low-income families navigate through early childhood schooling, assisting homeless families to find places to live and retraining workers for new professions.
A decade-and-a-half later, Martin, 40, of East Huntington, is now the heir apparent to run the $23 million agency that operates 25 programs and has more than 350 staffers.
In May, she was promoted to serve as the agency’s chief operating officer.
“I literally grew up with the agency, and I want to keep it moving forward,” Martin said.
The Private Industry Council of Westmoreland and Fayette Inc. operates early education programs such as Head Start, the agency’s welfare to work programs and promotes workforce development including commercial driving license training. It provides services to residents in Westmoreland, Fayette and Beaver counties.
Martin moved steadily through the organization, from caseworker, a supervisor and director of the agency’s Head Start Program and until her latest promotion served as its vice president for early childhood development.
Overseeing social services programs in Westmoreland County, though, wasn’t what she originally envisioned for herself while growing up in West Mifflin and even through her school years.
“I wanted to be a manager, a top officer with lots of windows around looking out at the city, but the reality was that I had to do something I loved,” Martin said.
Her first floor office now has windows that look out to a parking lot and neighboring school on Donohoe Road in a rural area of Hempfield.
Still, Martin said the work is what continues to drive her and stories such as an experience she had with one of her first clients is an example of what the job and the agency can do.
She advised the client, a single woman pregnant with her first child, to go to school to better her life.
“We tested her and she qualified for and went on to be a certified nurse in 2004. I ran into her in 2012 at the mall and she said I was the first person that told her she should go to school. She went on to be a LPN, is married with another child. You’re thrilled when you hear that,” Martin said.
In her new role, Martin will be somewhat removed from the direct involvement in some of the programs she previously worked on but she said she will still go out into the field to see first-hand results of the agency’s efforts.
Tim Yurcisin, president and CEO for the Private Industry Council, said Martin brought structure to the organization and he expects she will continue to do so in her new role.
“She has pretty much climbed the ladder here in our organization,” Yurcisin said. “We do a lot of succession planning here and hopefully the board will look at her as the heir apparent.”
Martin, married and mother to three children ages 14, 10 and 4, still returns home to serve as a co-minister at the Zion Apostolic Assembly of McKeesport as a way to give back to the community.
She said her role at the Private Industry Council allows her to better the community.
“At the end of the day, it is all about education and having a sustainable life. Our programs certainly have impact on people’s lives. I want to continue the legacy PIC has always had to help build the community,” Martin said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, email@example.com or via Twitter.