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How $4 Million from one CEO is Transforming Southwestern PA’s Workforce

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By Positive Energy Hub staff


Mentoring youth to discover their individual paths in life is essential not only for personal prosperity, but also for bridging the existing skills gap faced by the Appalachian region and America as a whole.

For the last three years, the CNX Foundation’s Mentorship Academy has been doing just that: opening career doors for local youth, helping them learn from the region’s best and brightest to become impactful citizens, workers, and family members – without needing a college degree.

It was the brain-child of CEO Nick Deiuliis who, having grown up in a working-class environment south of Pittsburgh, realized many high schoolers – particularly those in underserved rural and urban communities – aren’t aware of the vast career opportunities available out of high school and right in their backyard. In order to reach those students and bridge them to family-sustaining careers, they needed to be matched with mentors with whom they could connect with and seek guidance on a regular basis.

It’s the very embodiment of CNX’s company-wide Appalachia First strategy, which invests in the people, resources, and talent locally to improve the lives and communities within.

“We are on a mission to change the trajectory of our region and to improve the lives of our neighbors in communities left behind by a system focused on talk and abstract concepts rather than real outcomes,” Deiuliis said of the Academy’s initial launch.

“This commitment is not about words; it's about the people who make western Pennsylvania and the broader Appalachian region such a special place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The Mentorship Academy is funded through executive compensation reductions, where $1 million from Deiuliis’ salary launched the program in 2022. In 2023, $1.5 million was contributed and helped expand offerings, such as adding a healthcare-focused career track with UPMC and establish the Youth Education Partnership with CCAC, as well as other programming enhancements.

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Yesterday, CNX’s Board of Directors approved Deiuliis’ request to once again make a $1.5 million donation to the CNX Foundation, which will expand the Mentorship Academy and boost offerings with CCAC, support community-directed projects, and boost existing partnerships in underserved rural and urban communities across Appalachia.

The $4 million investment from Deiuliis’ compensation over the years has helped the Mentorship Academy grow by leaps and bounds. Since the very first class stepped foot at CNX Center in 2021, the Mentorship Academy has gone from 11 students to a class size of 45 in 2023.

Now in its third year, the 2023-2024 cohort is made up of 80 students from across the region and covers career paths ranging from energy and manufacturing to healthcare, hospitality, real estate and the building trades.

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Other additions include Dr. Shani Yeldell, Psy.D., who was brought on last spring as the Academy’s Community Relations Manager to help students and their counselors determine post-high school career and educational paths.

“One of the goals I want to focus on with the MA students is helping them understand what resources they need to achieve their goals – whether that means getting their driver’s license or ensuring they have their birth certificates – whatever they need to start their lives after high school. These may seem like small steps, but they matter greatly and can often feel daunting,” Dr. Yeldell said.

The impact of the Mentorship Academy program is far-reaching. High school students can gain experience in a college environment as well as a pathway to a lifelong career. ​ Future employers receive access to a diverse, innovative and previously untapped talent pipeline of skilled workers. The economic health of the region’s communities also improves as Mentorship Academy students are provided with new entry points into corporate careers that were previously inaccessible.

These proven outcomes of the CNX Mentorship Academy directly engaging and supporting entry into the industry – creating life-long employment opportunities – represents the ability for CNX’s human capital efforts to unlock barriers for underserved rural and urban communities across the region.

“We said when we created the CNX Foundation that the approach would target community investments that are Tangible, Impactful, and Local. That effort has been a great success, and I can’t think of anything more impactful than the virtuous circle of investments in our communities in need that, in turn, pay dividends to our company and our industry,” Nick Deiuliis said.

“So, I am happy to help fund the expansion of the successful efforts of the CNX Foundation in a way where it is most beneficial to the region and to the shareholder owners of CNX.”


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A CNX news hub highlighting all aspects of our Appalachia First vision. Subscribe for insights on energy innovation, advocacy, and community engagement across the region.