Meet the Team: Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson is the Manager of Operations for the Center for Machine Learning and Health. Heather has been with Carnegie Mellon University for almost 15 years and has been a part of the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance since day one.

Where are you originally from?

I grew up in a rural part of Greensburg, which is east of Pittsburgh. I left to pursue my undergraduate program at Kent State in Ohio. I moved back to Pittsburgh when I met my husband, who lived here at that time. We have been married for 18+ years now, so I know it was a good decision! I was also considering a Masters’ Program, and while working at CMU, I took evening classes to earn an MPM from the Heinz College.


What led you to the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance?

In 2015, I was working for the Tepper School of Business and was considering a career move to expand my knowledge into other areas. When I heard about the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance being formed between CMU, Pitt, and UPMC, I knew it would be exciting and a completely different path for me. I found a great new position with the School of Computer Science (SCS) and the PHDA, and am thankful to be part of this exciting alliance. I love being with SCS because it is recognized around the world as a leader in computer science, machine learning, robotics, and AI. I strongly believe that these emerging technologies will change digital health and health care exponentially, and will benefit all of us.


What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?

In both my career and life in general, I strongly believe that we need to be kind to one another. Being respectful and kind goes a long way in building professional and personal relationships. I always say “In a world where you can be anything…be kind”.


What have been your biggest takeaways from the PHDA?

I often feel that we take our exceptional health care opportunities in Pittsburgh for granted. There are so many areas in Pennsylvania and the tri-state region that don’t have reasonable access to good quality health care. People have to drive hours and book overnight stays in hotels just for appointments with doctors or specialists. We simply take a short drive to Oakland to find the top hospitals and premier physicians and clinicians. I see the PHDA as an innovator in expanding technology in health care so that everyone has access to the best options, no matter where they live.


Where do you see Pittsburgh in the next 5 – 10 years? Where do you see the PHDA?

One of the things that I really like about Pittsburgh is that we never know what will happen here next. It’s a constantly evolving city, and a hot bed for innovation. Pittsburgh has gone through an unbelievable renaissance from the time when I was growing up. I’ve seen it completely transformed into a vibrant, eclectic city that still maintains a strong sense of community. I predict a bright future for economic growth in the city, with advancements in technologies, sustainability and green initiatives, and tech-based products. I’m excited to see the PHDA play a key role in the ground-breaking innovations in health care and life sciences research that bring together the best of CMU, Pitt, and UPMC.


What’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I am a certified scuba diver, and have been diving around the Caribbean and Mexico for about 17 years. My husband and I love the ocean, the underwater animals, and fish. I love spending my vacations with sea turtles!