Author Archives: Akoya

Akoya Produces

Akoya director of media Robert Matzen recently directed six local actors, nine extras, and a crew of 10 through a week of video shoots at locations throughout Pittsburgh. Akoya managed all production aspects for two courses of training and development videos for Development Dimensions International, a worldwide leader in talent development and management based out of Pittsburgh. Learn more about our video development and other core competencies.

Akoya Expands GSA Schedule Offerings

Government Speak: Under GSA Contract GS-07F-062AA, Akoya was awarded a full suite of special item numbers (SINs) covered by the Advertising & Integrated Marketing Solutions (AIMS) Schedule for services, including public relations, commercial art and graphic design, video/film production, web based marketing, and conference, events, and tradeshow planning.

Plain Speak: Federal customers can tap Akoya’s expertise in public relations, commercial art and graphic design, video/film production, web based marketing, and conference, events, and tradeshow planning through a new contracting vehicle.

Learn more about Akoya contracting.

Initiative Launched for Expert Advanced-Energy Workforce

Making commercial buildings less energy intensive will deliver savings to American businesses as well as reduce carbon emissions. It will also create jobs for American workers with the right skills and credentials. But what are the “right” credentials? Today, there are no consistent, industry-recognized definitions of quality for training and professional certifications. Akoya is excited to be supporting a new initiative being launched by the U.S. Department of Energy to address this issue: the Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines. Learn more at

Akoya wins 5-year HHS Contract

Akoya will continue to work with the great team at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Transplantation to increase the number of designated organ, eye, and tissue donors nationally. In September, we were awarded a 5-year contract to provide communications, program support, and stakeholder engagement services to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Workplace Partnership for Life initiative, a program we’ve been supporting since its inception in 2001. Learn more about our work with HHS.

New Senior VP of Business Development Joins Akoya

Akoya welcomed Karen Oleyar to the firm in August 2013, to spearhead our business development efforts in the Federal, commercial, and nonprofit sectors. Karen brings over 20 years of experience in the healthcare field, where she held positions in business development, account management, people management, sales leadership, and direct pharmaceutical and medical device sales.  An avid cyclist, Karen is looking ahead to completing a century ride in 2014.

Toots & Sophie: A Holiday Adventure

Move over Charlie Brown. Move over Ralphie and Randy. There’s a new holiday classic in town. Or should we say, in tahn. In honor of our base of operations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we present Toots and Sophie, two hometahn gals, in their first video adventure written, produced, and directed by Akoya and starring our very own Amy (as Toots) and Sophie (as herself). Rich Schutte was the director of photography and dialogue coach. We hope you enjoy our three minutes of yuletide cheer, Pittsburgh-style.

Oh Deer

My brothers piled into the car with our opened gifts and Ziploc bags of mashed potatoes and Christmas cookies. I climbed into the driver’s seat, waved bye to grandma, and we started for home.

Road: desolate. High beams: on, and in the snow-speckled darkness they didn’t seem to make a difference. I still saw the full-racked buck the same way. We were in a strange snowglobe with the snow on the outside and the deer looking in.

Swerve. Impact. Hazard lights.

I found the buck laying peacefully next to pieces of the car. Wait a minute. Maybe it was whiplash or too much turkey, but this looked like Comet. Or Cupid. Or Donner. Or Blitzen. Whoever it was, I knew there had to be serious repercussions for hitting a Reindeer, especially on Christmas day.

My brothers assessed the damage. After some debate, we all agreed that the car was fit to drive home. That’s when I saw a pickup truck pull over. A man got out and walked across the road.

He walked toward us, as if he knew what had happened. Oh heavens. He knew. He knew what I did. It was pretty obvious what had happened—I was cruising home and murdered one of Santa’s reindeer.

The man stopped by our car. He reached down toward the deer. That’s when I realized he didn’t stop out of concern for us. He wanted the deer I had done him the favor of, uh, making available. Evidently no self-respecting western Pennsylvanian hunter could pass up an opportunity to harvest, not a reindeer, but a white-tailed stag with an enviable rack.

I was relieved that someone else was going to be responsible for the victim. I mean, it still could’ve been Blitzen (or Prancer… it’s not like they carry ID). But if it was, at least I knew the presents had already been delivered the night before.

Making the Season Bright

Every year, I haul out the holiday lights from their peaceful slumber. Part of the process has always been to plug ‘em in and see if they still work—inside, before braving the cold. Invariably, half—just half—of the old strings of incandescent mini-lights would work consistently. As a result, more and more strands were ending up in a landfill until I made the change to LEDs about three years ago. Now, the colors are brighter and the whites are warmer. LEDs are more efficient, too. But the best part is that, so far, every strand I bought lights up completely. I’m not adding to the landfill, I can string more lights end to end, and I’m saving energy. I’m also adding more sparkle to the season.

Is Santa Real?

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately; my kids are growing too fast. The other day my daughter Jordyn and I were out, and I got to thinking about the day she asked me that dreaded question feared by all parents around the holidays: “Is Santa real?”

This question came as we walked around a department store and ooh’d and aah’d over the Christmas displays. I knew this was a test! I was being asked by my beyond-her-years daughter who already knew the answer! So, in the most casual way I could muster, I replied with that standard response I believe (or hope) most parents use when caught unprepared: “What do you think?”

“I think it’s you and Dad,” she answered. “All the kids say so, and the thought of flying reindeer is just a little too far-fetched to believe.”

Willing myself not to cry at that moment, I told her the truth: Yes, her parents may eat the cookies and leave the presents, but it’s Believing that’s the special part of Christmas. It’s Believing that puts the excitement into the preparation, the anticipation of Christmas morning, and the joy that’s shared all day long. That’s Christmas. As soon as she was satisfied with our discussion, she looked at me and asked, “Does this mean there’s no tooth fairy either?”

Now that Adam, my baby, is at that same age now, it’s sad to think I’ll be having this conversation again soon. It takes away that innocent, full-of-wonder part of the season that I find myself desperately trying to hold onto.

Editor’s Note to Santa: The opinions of this writer are not necessarily shared by the Nitty Gritty.

The Art of Brewing at Home

Since moving to Pittsburgh and patronizing fantastic local craft breweries as well as sampling outstanding imports from countries like Germany and Belgium, I have come to enjoy beer in the way others enjoy fine wines. Perhaps it was inevitable that I would be drawn to homebrewing. If you are curious about trying it yourself, here is a rundown of my forays into the art and science of brewing.

The first beer I brewed was a Belgian wit; I used a “no-boil kit” in which the wort—the mixture of malts and adjuncts that eventually ferments into beer—was already created and sold to me in cans. All I had to do was add water and yeast, then wait. While easy and fun, it was not true homebrewing; I had very little control over the strength of the beer, the types of hops being used, and the strains of yeast. The science was already done. Like a paint-by-numbers creation, no-boil homebrews can be a great place to start but are not something you would show to your friends as an example of your artistic skill.

After a year or two, I bought a full set of supplies (a brewing vessel, a bottle capper, some measuring devices, and other such items) and prepared for my first real homebrew. Again, I bought a kit with a recipe, but the wort had to be created from scratch this time. I steeped my grains, mixed in liquid malt, added the hops, and timed my boil to ensure the mixture was properly prepared for fermentation. Three weeks later, I had two cases of a homebew Oatmeal stout. It wasn’t fantastic, but friends and family enjoyed every last bottle.

I have done three batches since then, all of different styles: a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, an Imperial Stout, and, my most recent composition, a Bavarian Dunkelweizen. All are ales, which require a week or two for one fermentation cycle at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with the yeast fermenting from the top of the beer down. In contrast, lagers require colder temperatures and longer fermentation periods, with the yeast fermenting from the bottom up. To do lagers (eventually), I will need a refrigerator devoted to nothing but brewing.

For now, I am very satisfied with ales. It is fun to try to recreate the tastes and appearances of some favorite beers while also adding my own little touch. For my Dunkelweizen—a German or Bavarian ale that uses wheat along with or in place of barley as the main malt—I created an experimental recipe. Here is a step-by-step view of the two-week process , with a few recipe secrets.

Homebrewing requires a lot of patience, but pays off when you open the first bottle of a new batch and find it to your liking. Depending on the strength, your beer can be stored for months or years. Because a small amount of yeast remains in suspension in homebrewed ales, it is a “live beer” and its taste can evolve over time. Very strong beers can change drastically over the course of a few years. So I try to put aside a few bottles of each batch, letting it mature (fingers crossed) like a fine vintage.

Peace Corps Service as a “50+” Volunteer

Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) from 2004 to 2006 was the experience of a lifetime—challenging, surprising, and inspiring. After receiving my assignment to Guatemala as a Municipal Development volunteer, my first question was “Where’s Guatemala?” I soon learned it is a Central American democracy, located directly below Mexico and also bordered by Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, with coastal areas on the Caribbean and Pacific.

As I began my service in May 2004, I was especially excited to be included in the 10 percent of “50+” volunteers among thousands of PCVs worldwide. Most PCVs are in their early 20s, fresh from college and pre-career/family. With my three daughters grown and more than 30 years of satisfying work behind me, the anxieties of “What will I do with my life?” were resolved. I was ready for some adventure! Training for service took place over three months, at an in-country facility near Antigua, Guatemala. Even though the next oldest trainee was in his early 30s, PC service proved to be such a unique bonding experience that volunteers younger than my own adult daughters ultimately became, and remain, among my closest friends.

In my class of 28, volunteers were assigned to work in four programs: municipalities, agroforestry, rural youth, and community “technology” projects (which in Guatemala meant building stoves, constructing wells, and repairing bridges). Training – eight hours a day Monday through Friday and a half day on Saturdays – encompassed improving our Spanish language skills, preparing for our responsibilities within our specific program areas, and understanding and appreciating the cultural realities of our prospective site assignments. We each lived with a host family, conversing in Spanish, sharing meals, and swapping stories of Guatemala and home.

The mission of the Peace Corps is threefold: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.  We learned that democracy had come to Guatemala only recently, following a very long and bloody civil war. Self-governance and elections were new developments, and the “Munis,” as those of us in the Municipal Development program were called, were responsible for working with newly elected officials in our community’s towns and villages, explaining democratic basics including running meetings, setting agendas, prioritizing community needs, and raising funds to meet those needs.

Once we completed our training, we were sworn in as official “PCVs” by the U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala and received our site assignments. I was assigned to the city of Tecpán, a proud Mayan community in the country’s Central Highlands, in the “Departamento” (state) of Chimaltenango. We had to get to our sites on our own, make our own living arrangements, and outfit our homes from small “start-up” stipends. Based on our location, each of us then received a small monthly allowance to cover all needs at very basic levels.

In such a poor country, our expenses were very low, and we lived simply, as the Guatemalans do. Farmers’ markets in every community offered wonderful fresh vegetables and fruit for little cost, along with beautiful handmade blankets, rugs, and other necessities.  Buying clothing was easy, too – throughout the country, vast parking lots host vendors at “Ropa” markets.  “Ropa” is Spanish for clothing, but in this case “Ropa” meant American clothing donated to U.S. charities in amounts so mind-boggling that it is stored in huge shipping containers and sold at very low cost to other countries. Going to the Ropa markets in Guatemala certainly gave me a new sense of how much we have and discard in our country (not to mention how many dumb T-shirt slogans there are!). As a Pittsburgher, though, it was always fun to locate Steelers and Pirates gear to wear!

In Tecpán, I worked in the office of community development in the “Municipalidad” (municipality) building, under the supervision of two Guatemalan officials. Each “aldea” (village) surrounding the central town had a council of elected representatives and we worked closely with these groups in training, helping assess and prioritize village needs, and researching funding possibilities.

Tecpán is a predominantly Mayan community known as the “first capital of Guatemala.” More than 90 percent of the residents are descendants of the Kaqchikel Mayan people. The remains of their pre-16th century capital city, Iximché – the center of pre-Spanish Mayan culture – are nearby; it’s a peaceful and mysterious site that local families and tourists regularly visit to picnic, explore, and ponder this lost civilization in the hills of Guatemala.

During service, each PCV is encouraged to develop an independent “secondary” project, so I began networking with a group of Mayan women in the aldea of San Lorenzo who wanted to start a business to help raise funds for their families. We first considered chickens or woven items, but the women were seeking something new and different, so ultimately they chose the “Proyecto de Hongos” – the Mushroom Project. Mushrooms are readily available in the wild, in season, in Guatemala, but domestic cultivation is a new concept that the University of Guatemala has been promoting, and they provided assistance to residents interested in exploring this possibility. We submitted a proposal for funding to USAID and secured a grant of $3,000 to build an “invernadero” (greenhouse) in which to cultivate oyster mushrooms, with the labor and love of the women as the key ingredient for success.

Peace Corps Volunteers in other programs, including business development and marketing, joined me in providing training to the women on aspects of creating and running a successful enterprise, and construction began on the invernadero amid much anticipation and excitement.

The opening ceremonies, in March 2006, were a highlight of my years of service. I had never in my life been part of the creation of an actual building before! The women of the community who played central roles were prominently featured, making speeches (very unusual in this historically macho Central American culture) and preparing a wonderful meal shared by all.

I especially treasure the beautiful, hand-stitched needlework “recuerdo” I received that day, presented to me in a handcrafted wooden frame. It states:  “La Asociacion San Lorenzo Agradece a: Bette Hughes por su apoyo en el Proyecto de HONGOS Tecpán G.  15-03-06.” It hangs in my office today, reminding me daily of the life-changing and soul-enriching years when I was privileged to represent our country as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Peace Corps Service