Our Team

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The Spark Team

We are a passionate, innovative and collaborative team focused on celebrating students and promoting possibility.

Jim Schroder
Kathleen S. Caliento, PhD
Cristen Lain
Michael Kolodner

Jim Schroder
Head of Program

Jim leads the development and execution of Spark's Career Exploration and Self-Discovery Program.  Previously Spark's Executive Director in Philadelphia, Jim grew Spark's impact in the region and managed relationships with key stakeholders, from corporate and community organizations to partnering schools. A native of Atlanta and graduate of Williams College, Jim is dedicated to creating partnerships that provide excellent educational opportunities to students, a passion discovered during his work at Wesleyan University and with Hartford City Mission. Prior to coming to Spark, Jim worked as the Director of Corps Learning and Development for City Year Greater Philadelphia, and he recently completed his master's degree in Non-Profit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. Jim will continue his commitment to creating opportunities that reinvigorate students and inspire all of us.

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Kathleen S. Caliento, PhD
Outgoing Co-President and Chief Program Officer

Kathleen is the Chief Program Officer for Spark and is based in Chicago.  She oversees the evolution and implementation of Spark’s unique Career Exploration and Self-Discovery Program and serves on the organization’s Executive Team.  As the previous Executive Director of Spark in Chicago, Kathleen led program expansion by increasing student enrollment more than 30% each school year and establishing partnerships with companies and organizations across the city to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students through Workplace-Based Mentorships. Kathleen also expanded Spark's network of supporters to ensure a path toward financial sustainability.  Prior to her time at Spark, Kathleen was the Chief Program Officer for Project Exploration and Director of Program Investments for The Chicago Public Education Fund.  She also held positions with The Grow Network/McGraw-Hill and McKinsey & Company. She has also previously taught middle school and high school in New York. 

Kathleen’s commitment to urban education and student success spans more than a decade and includes service to The University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, Chicago Ideas Week, the Illinois Mentoring Partnership and Thrive Chicago.  A published author, Kathleen has written about STEM pathways for youth, parental engagement, urban science teaching and more.  

Kathleen earned her doctorate in Philosophy, Secondary Science Education and master’s degrees in Secondary Science Education and Science Teacher Education from the Teachers College of Columbia University.  She graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a minor in Biology.

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Cristen Lain
Director of Alumni Programming

Cristen's passion for education and her diverse background led her to Spark. Before joining the organization, she led a Chicago Public High School program for seventh and eighth grade students who were accepted into a unique selective enrollment high school program. She previously taught high school math for five years and also worked many years as a consultant. Cristen is excited to use her experiences in developing programs for students in the middle grades, designing curriculum and creating a program for Spark's alumni students. Cristen has a M.Ed. in Secondary Education with an endorsement in Middle School Education from DePaul University and a B.S. in Mathematics, with Minors in Statistics in Actuarial Science from Loyola University.

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Michael Kolodner
Director of Information Systems

Michael Kolodner spent much of his career designing and managing systems for tracking information. Most recently managing a Salesforce database for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and consulting with a sister organization, Michael has previously designed databases for organizing membership for a co-op swim club to tracking global responses to the 9/11 attacks for the US State Department. Michael earned his BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Amherst College and put that degree to work in the Foreign Service, serving in Sana’a, Yemen and Washington, DC. Michael moved back to his home town of Philadelphia, where he supports the local food movement, and enjoys photography. Michael is a member of Spark's Shared Services Team, based out of Spark’s Philadelphia office.

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Heather King, PhD
Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez
Rachelle Damminger
Yoon S. Choi, PhD

Heather King, PhD
Director of Evaluation

Heather began her career as a research scientist at the University of Chicago where her work and discoveries made international news. She was also a fellow in the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), which trains graduate-level scientists to integrate a wide range of disciplines into their research. Heather has been passionate about improving education since mentoring middle school girls as a graduate student. After completing her doctorate in evolutionary biology, she then transitioned to Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago. At Outlier, Heather studied the implementation of STEM high schools, the landscape of K12 computer science education in the United States, and also led an evaluation of Code.org’s national offerings. She was also an entrepreneurial lead in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps for Learning program (I-Corps-L), a seven-week entrepreneurial bootcamp for education researchers.

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Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez
Data Systems Support Specialist

An Indiana native, Amanda is a graduate of Indiana University with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish with minors in Latino Studies and Western European Studies. Amanda joined the Spark team in 2011 as an Americorps VISTA Outreach Coordinator excited to help bring Spark's unique model of individualized learning to Chicago. Prior to joining Spark Amanda volunteered with several organizations committed to improving educational opportunity for at-risk populations. Through her work with these programs, Amanda saw firsthand how critical volunteer involvement is in providing learning opportunities for youth in the community, as well as how one-on-one attention empowered students to achieve. Amanda firmly believes that all students should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and never ceases to be amazed by the incredible work of Spark students as they discover new possibilities for the future. After 3 years on Spark Chicago's program team, Amanda joined the National Team as Special Assistant to the CEO in 2014.

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Rachelle Damminger
Head of Communications

Rachelle brings more than 10 years of experience to her role at Spark. Her tenure includes both non-profit and for-profit work with Back on My Feet, Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA, Subaru of America and EwingCole, a national architecture firm. After several years of working with individuals experiencing homelessness, Rachelle is excited to return to a youth-serving organization. Her background includes branding, public relations, event planning, corporate relations and more. Rachelle has presented at the Eastern Communication Association Conference and is a Public Relations Society PepperPot Award recipient. She earned both her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Villanova University and currently resides in Collingswood, NJ.

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Yoon S. Choi, PhD
Interim President and Chief Strategy Officer

Yoon is the Co-President and Chief Strategy for Spark. Yoon joined Spark as the Executive Director of Spark LA in 2013, turning LA into a top-performing region in terms of fundraising, large-scale corporate partnerships, and fee-for-service contracts with local school districts. In 2015, Yoon was promoted to oversee Spark's work in the San Francisco Bay Area region as well, where she expanded the program into new districts and doubled the number of corporate partners. Today, as Chief Strategy Office, Yoon is leading the national growth and partnership development initiatives set out in Spark's recent 10-year strategic plan, while continuing to oversee the organization's work in the Bay Area. Prior to joining Spark, Yoon was Director of Foundation Relations at Para Los Ninos, a Los Angeles nonprofit that provides educational, family support and mental health services. A sociocultural anthropologist by training, Yoon has worked for several international NGOs throughout East Asia. She transitioned out of academia so she could make a more direct impact on closing the achievement gap in underserved communities.

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Francis Kevers
Dave Martin

National Board Members

Board of Directors
Alicia Winckler, President and CEO of A WIN Consulting, LLC; former Chief Talent Officer at Chicago Public Schools and Strategic Talent and Human Capital Executive in Private Sector Alyssa Rapp, Principal, AJR Ventures; Lecturer in Management, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business Ben Rowe, Board Treasurer; Managing Partner, KHP Capital Partners Chris Balme, Spark Co-Founder; Head of School, Millennium School Dr. Adrian K. Haugabrook, Board Chair; Vice President, Student Success and Engagement, Wheelock College Elena Gomez, Chief Financial Officer, Zendesk Holly Depatie, Board Chair Emeritus; Philanthropist, Advocate and Activist, Writer James Ramo, President, Allenwood Ventures James T. Reese, MD, Physician, Former Chief Operations Engineer and Head Neurosurgeon, Google Jesus Ramos, Spanish Instructor/Independent Study Coordinator, Sacred Heart Schools Rodney Prezeau, Consumer Platform, Managing Director at Aviva Sarah Friar, Board Vice Chair; Chief Financial Officer, Square

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