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Beating the Heat: Speaker Information

Michelle Blaise

Michelle Blaise (panelist), Senior Vice President of Technical Services, ComEd
Prior to her role as Senior Vice President of Technical Services, Blaise served as vice president of Engineering and Project Management and oversaw maintenance, reliability, and capacity planning. She was also responsible for planning and execution of transmission and substation projects as well as execution of Energy Infrastructure Modernization (EIMA) program.

Blaise has held a variety of positions with increasing responsibilities in customer operations, strategic planning, distribution operations and engineering including manager of Construction and Maintenance, Manager of Strategic Planning, and Manager of Business Planning.

Blaise serves as a member of the board of directors for the Women’s Business Development Center and the board of directors for the Energy Foundry. She also serves on the Industry Advisory Board of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Industry Advisory Board of American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

Darlene Hightower

Darlene Hightower (moderator), President & CEO, Metropolitan Planning Council
Darlene Oliver Hightower, J.D., began her tenure as President & Chief Executive Officer of Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), an independent nonpartisan regional planning organization, in January 2022. Darlene leads the organization’s strategic vision, shaping ambitious goals that will strengthen the impact of MPC’s work within the region.  

Throughout her career, Darlene has been a tireless advocate for equity. Previously, Darlene served as Vice President, Community Health Equity at Rush University Medical Center. In that capacity, she oversaw the Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement, which included 3 school-based health clinics; Rush University community outreach programs, community benefit reporting, and Rush’s cradle to career healthcare pipeline programs. Darlene also led the development of West Side United, a cross-sector, collaborative aimed at improving health and economic vitality on Chicago’s West Side. 

Katanya Raby

Katanya Raby (panelist), Vice President of Planning & Development, Far South Community Development Corporation
Katanya Raby is an urban planner, artist, and activist with over ten years of professional experience in the non-profit, government, and corporate sectors. Katanya focuses on equitable planning with communities in Chicago. She serves as the At-Large Officer with the American Planning Association Illinois Chapter, is a board member for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and is a member of Lambda Alpha Land Economics Society. She is an alum of the Chicago United for Equity Fellowship, co-founder and former president of Society of Black Urban Planners at UIC, and is founder of the Al Raby Foundation. She is an alum of AmeriCorps VISTA and City Year Chicago. Katanya is committed to planning for equity, providing service to underserved communities, and encouraging youth to consider their roles in the future of their own communities.

Additionally, Katanya is the mother of two and a proud graduate of Chicago Public Schools, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, a Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy, and a Master’s in City Design from the University of Illinois-Chicago. She previously served as an associate planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and as a policy advisor to City of Chicago Mayor Lightfoot’s administration. She currently serves as the Vice President of Planning and Development at Far South Community Development Corporation and is founding principal planner of Urban Dreams, LLC.

Rachel Scheu (panelist), Principal Director of Research & Innovation, Elevate
Rachel is a Principal Director of Research & Innovation Director at Elevate. Her team leads initiatives that make the case for equitable and substantive U.S. climate investments that address the most urgent climate issues and achieve the most equitable 2030 outcomes through researching, incubating, and demonstrating strategies around building electrification, healthy homes and indoor air quality, and energy and water security and resiliency. Rachel has led the transformation work at Elevate since 2012 and joined the organization in 2004.

In Rachel’s previous roles, she managed residential and commercial energy efficiency programs and research for Elevate (formerly CNT Energy) and its affiliate at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). Prior to working at Elevate/CNT Energy/CNT, Ms. Scheu worked for several architecture and design firms.

Rachel has a Master of Urban Planning and Policy degree with a concentration in transportation planning and physical design from the University of Illinois at Chicago; a diploma in Design and Architecture from Archeworks; and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Melissa Washington (keynote), Senior Vice President. Customer Operations and Chief Customer Officer, ComEd
Melissa Washington joined Exelon in 2003 and has held several roles of increasing responsibility for Exelon and ComEd throughout her tenure with the company. She most recently served as Senior Vice President of Governmental and External Affairs at ComEd, where she led legislative affairs, external affairs, large customer services and economic and workforce development and managed ComEd’s relationships with civic and charitable organizations. 

Prior to that role, Melissa served at ComEd as Vice President of Governmental and External Affairs, and, before that, as Vice President of External Affairs and Large Customer Services. 

Melissa oversees all aspects of ComEd’s customer operations, including its energy efficiency programs, customer channels and related technology, large customer services, customer call center, field operations, customer financial operations, and marketing. Melissa serves as board chair of the Metropolitan Planning Council and is a board member of the Illinois Manufacturing Association (IMA), the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center and Intersect Illinois. She is also a board member and fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago. In addition, she serves as the executive sponsor of Developing Young Professionals Chicagoland, an Exelon employee resource group.