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The Spark Team

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

Caroline Kim Palacios
Amarrah Campbell
Jamaria Williams 
Asha Barnes

Caroline Kim Palacios
Executive Director

Caroline Kim Palacios is a native Angelena and social change sector disruptor committed to promoting agency, equity, and opportunity for all. As a career nonprofit professional, she has successfully led fundraising and program transformations for several L.A.-based organizations. Caroline brings a track record of securing major funding and strategic partnerships for programs that advance juvenile justice reform, healthcare and education access, and immigrant rights campaigns. During her time at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (BBBSLA), she led the creation of the College PAC (Preparation, Access, Completion) program, which expanded the agency’s mentoring model to help first generation college students achieve degree attainment. She also helped build signature programs to improve health outcomes among girls of color, advance policies to support the success of boys and young men of color, and connect youth to workplace mentoring opportunities. Caroline received her Master of Public Administration and Certificate of Public Policy degrees from USC’s Price School and her bachelor's degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College. 

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Amarrah Campbell
Program Fellow

Raised in the Sunflower State known as Kansas, Amarrah attended Kansas State University where she obtained a B.S. in Human Development and Family Sciences with a specialization in the French language. As a self proclaimed adventurer she relocated from a small town to the bustling city of Los Angeles, California in order to take on the role of a City Year AmeriCorps member. While serving the vibrant community of South Central as a tutor and mentor, she realized that she didn’t hold an eagerness to preserve the normative methods and standards for education. Amarrah soon developed a passion in providing students and community members with experiences that are not just educational but culturally relevant, immersive, and applicable in a global sense. This year she is excited to bring her passion in providing a more diverse experience to students into her role as a Program Fellow with Spark. 
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Jamaria Williams 
Program Fellow

Jamaria Williams is currently completing her BBA and MBA through Robert Morris University's dual degree program. Before Spark, she spent three years in the CPS setting, working as a City Year mentor, then Team Leader, as well as a Recess/After School manager at Jordan Elementary School. Jamaria looks forward to continuing to support students of her hometown reach their highest potential by joining the Spark team, as its newest program fellow.

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Asha Barnes
Program Fellow

Asha Barnes graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2018 where she studied Anthropology and Africana Studies. Her experience as a CPS student and her year of service with City Year Chicago in Deneen Elementary solidified her need to take action in urban communities regarding youth development, education, urban planning, and environmental psychology. She hopes that Spark will allow her to further impact children of color in Chicago.

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Nicole Bruno
Jesse Dueñas Delgadillo
Meera Patel
Claire Newfeld

Nicole Bruno
Development Manager

Nicole is a New York native, who came to San Francisco in July of 2018 after graduating from Binghamton University with her B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature. She will also complete her M.A. in Public Administration in December 2018. Nicole has worked in development in a variety of capacities, including fundraising for her alma mater. She hopes to one day attend law school and continue working to promote a more equitable society. 

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Jesse Dueñas Delgadillo
, Fellow

Raised in San Bernardino Jesse graduated from the University of California, Berkeley where he studied Cognitive Science with an emphasis in education. He became interested in education when he learned about the various disparities currently present in the educational system. He then became involved with educational research that focused on Adaptive Pedagogy, a student centered approach to teaching. In addition, he worked on creating material for a Gratitude intervention that aimed to help probation and parole officers reduce work burnout and reduce bias practices. He is currently looking to becoming a teacher in one of the STEM fields with the end goal of opening a new school that takes a holistic approach to education. Jesse also enjoys playing soccer, meditating and drinking Slushies from time to time.
 
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Meera Patel
, Development and Operations Associate

Originally from England, Meera packed up her bags and moved to the Bay Area shortly after graduating from Flagler College, located in the oldest city in America. There, she received her BA in Criminology and Law. Meera’s future endeavors lie in public interest law. However, her pull towards children and empowerment through education brought her to Spark, where she hopes to learn about the inter-workings of a non-profit organization. Meera will be attending law school next fall and intends to return to serve the Bay Area and its community upon graduation. 
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Claire Newfeld
, Fellow

Originally from Tempe, Arizona, Claire graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in Philosophy in May 2019 and joins Spark as a Program Fellow during her gap year between college and law school. Her professional mission is "to enact the greatest change through its most fundamental catalysts," and this mission has guided her through various positions with non-profit organizations such as Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona and Amnesty International. She believes that education is one of those fundamental catalysts for change and is excited to pursue educational equity and enrichment through her work with Spark. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, art museums, traveling, and spending time with loved ones.  
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Robin M. Keefe
Michelle Stearn
McKenzie McFee
Akua Maat

Robin M. Keefe
Executive Director

Robin M. Keefe was the founder and President of BookEnds. Through her passionate and focused leadership, Robin developed a community of people to grow BookEnds as a distinguished Los Angeles leader in introducing children to philanthropy as they worked to fill the barren bookshelves in their neighborhood schools and youth organizations. More than one million children learned the power of community service through the donation of over three million books to create nearly 700 libraries throughout Los Angeles.

BookEnds’ programs were successfully transitioned into three nonprofit organizations in 2015 to drive scale and economy in support of the national initiative for sustainable nonprofit organizations.

Robin then assumed the position of Interim CEO for The Beauty Bus Foundation and then for Karma Rescue, tasked with reorganizing these emerging nonprofit organizations to position them for strength and scale in the delivery of their missions.

Robin’s early career was in the real estate development and finance field, including industrial brokerage, corporate site acquisition for a national bank and a national restaurant chain and commercial real estate development. But she found a growing passion for philanthropy and children as she served on numerous community boards of directors. Robin joined these passions in 1998 with the founding of BookEnds.

Robin continues to focus her passion on the development of our youth in community service.  She is an active participant and guest lecturer at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Policy and Pepperdine University’s School of Business and Communication, engaging students in entrepreneurial nonprofit leadership. Robin has served on the boards of directors of 14 diverse nonprofit organizations.

Among her numerous honors is her most cherished:  “The Angel Award for Service” presented to Robin by Oprah Winfrey.

Robin graduated from California State University Northridge with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration, Finance and a minor in Art History.  Robin joined Spark in the Bay Area as Executive Director in 2018.

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Michelle Stearn
Program Lead

Michelle graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2015. Michelle got her start in education while in college by becoming a mentor and coordinator for D.C. Reads, a literacy intervention program that serves underserved youth in Washington, D.C. She then combined her passions for environmental education and community development by creating a youth urban agriculture summer and after school program in Ward 7 of D.C. More recently, Michelle pursued a Fulbright interdisciplinary research scholarship in Chile, where she created a pilot program to help youth understand and design their own renewable energy systems. Michelle is super excited to be returning to her hometown of Chicago to continue inspiring students and working with schools as a Spark Program Lead.

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McKenzie McFee
Senior Program Fellow

McKenzie’s passion for positive youth development and education lead her to Spark. She is a Delaware native and holds a Bachelors of Science in Applied Psychology from New York University. During her time in New York City, McKenzie volunteered with many New York City public schools working with students ranging from Pre-School to High School. McKenzie is excited to bring her past experience into her role as a Spark Fellow and continue to make a positive impact. 

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Akua Maat
Program Fellow

Akua Maat recently graduated from Wake Forest University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Latin and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. After college, she wanted to contribute to the fight for education equity and moved to Philadelphia to complete a year of service with City Year Philadelphia. In her role as a tutor and mentor in a 9th grade English class she developed a greater passion for working with students and supporting youth development beyond the classroom. Akua brings this passion and her experience working within Philadelphia public schools to her role as a Program Fellow with Spark.

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Jessica Sloan
Jazmine Sanders
Yozaima Escobar
Katey Frederking

Jessica Sloan
Head of Development and Communications

Jessica joins the Spark team as Head of Development and Communications, helping the organization advance its mission through nationwide revenue generation and brand awareness strategies. With over 15 years of nonprofit experience, Jessica is passionate about creating equitable opportunities for today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders and breaking down community silos that act as barriers to success. Jessica’s early career began as the Clinical Director of programs working with formerly homeless adults addressing mental health issues and most recently as External Relations Director of a youth organization leading fundraising and communications initiatives and implementing organization-wide strategic plans. Jessica has a BA in Psychology and Criminology from the University of Maryland, and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University’s Teachers College. Outside of work, you can find Jessica out and about in New York City and talking about her super cute dog, Zimmie. 

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Jazmine Sanders
Program Fellow

Jazmine Sanders is the new program fellow, she is currently finishing her B.A in Communication from Loyola University Chicago. She has a strong passion to empower young people of color to reach beyond the daily barriers and help them use their communities as support. Before joining Spark she worked at City Year Chicago as a team leader, where she was a support system for students to realize their full potential and plans to continue within Spark.

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Yozaima Escobar
Senior Program Fellow

Yozaima Escobar is a Mexican-American graduate from University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology. Combined with her personal and academic awareness, she holds herself accountable to actively investing into positive social change. Eager to make the world a better place, she began her non-profit experience in 2016 when she worked to ban plastic bags from California. Her role as an afterschool tutor served as a catalyst to invest into the future by providing opportunities for low socio-economic students. Working as a Program Fellow for Spark, Yozaima is excited to come back home and empower youth in hopes of creating a self-sustaining community.

 

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Katey Frederking
Development and Communication Manager

Katey manages Spark’s fundraising and donor management process and creates branding and marketing initiatives to raise awareness about Spark for the national team. Katey started her career at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France and worked at Chicago Community Loan Fund, as well as at Chapman and Cutler, LLP (a Spark Corporate Partner).  Throughout her career, Katey has managed a number of communications plans, including: redesigning an entire corporate website, planning and managing a social media campaign at a large international forum, and creating and designing high level external collateral pieces for a variety of clients.  From a young age Katey recognized the importance of education and has worked in a variety of roles with children, including after school programs, summer camps and teaching swim lessons.  Katey, a proud Chicago resident, received her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Carroll University in Wisconsin and her Master’s in Global Communication and International Development from the American University of Paris, in Paris, France.

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Hannah Wheeler
Lea Henry
Ashley N. Leonard
Cassidy Leighton

Hannah Wheeler
Corporate Partnerships Coordinator

Hannah graduated from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College with a B.S. in Human and Organizational Development. She moved to Chicago with one goal in mind: tackling inequality in education. Serving as a Math Tutoring Fellow with SAGA Innovations, Hannah saw the impact one-on-one relationships can have on students' lives. After working with high schoolers at Wendell Phillips Academy and seeing their lack of opportunities, she is excited to be able to show Middle Schoolers their potential through Spark and watch them succeed in high school and beyond!

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Lea Henry
Program Fellow

Lea graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she studied Business Marketing. She found her passion for working with middle school students while serving for City Year Chicago as a tutor and mentor in a seventh and eighth math classroom in Englewood. Her time spent with students at Stagg Elementary helped her realize the lack of knowledge about opportunities available to black and brown communities in Chicago. She joined Spark to help bridge the gap and help students see their possibilities.

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Ashley N. Leonard
Executive Director

Ashley began her career in the private sector when she was selected as one of 15 individuals to participate in a two-year management development program at Kraft Foods. After four years gaining expertise in sales, customer service, consumer analytics and category management, Ashley acted on her long-standing passion for educational access and equity and pursued a full-time career in education. Prior to joining Spark, Ashley was with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) where she led the successful launch of Mentoring the Next Generation, a district-wide initiative that paired more than 500 kindergarten and eighth grade students with caring adult mentors.  Most recently, she served as Special Projects Manager at The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund) where she was responsible for collaborating with CPS leadership to support principal talent management and developing the strategy to support fundraising efforts for the next phase of The Fund’s work.  Ashley holds a Masters of Education in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Vassar College. She is also a Surge Fellow and was part of the inaugural Education Pioneers Yearlong Fellowship.

 

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Cassidy Leighton
Development & Communications Coordinator

Cassidy’s passions for education and building community connections drew her to Spark. She earned her Teacher’s Certification and BA in History from Dickinson College before teaching Social Studies to ninth grade students in Carlisle, PA. Prior to joining Spark, she served two years as an AmeriCorps Member with City Year Philadelphia. In her roles with City Year, she mentored middle school students and planned large-scale school beautification volunteer events across the city.

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Jim Schroder
Heather Lewis-Weber
Deirdre Hake
Melvin Noriega

Jim Schroder
Head of Program

Jim leads the design and implementation of Spark’s Career Exploration and Self-Discovery Program. With more than 10 years of experience in the education sector and a passion for creating diverse partnerships that provide excellent educational opportunities for students, Jim drives program quality, innovation, operations and scalability across the organization. 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. Prior to Spark, Jim worked as the Director of Corps Learning and Development for City Year Philadelphia. A native of Atlanta and graduate of Williams College, Jim worked at Wesleyan University and Hartford City Mission before completing his master's degree in Non-Profit Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. 

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Heather Lewis-Weber
Program Director

A South Bronx native and graduate of Haverford College in the Greater Philadelphia area, Heather commits to program excellence! Her own experience having strong mentors open doors to a top-notch education experience inspired her to dedicate her career to helping youth realize their full potential. Prior to joining Spark, Heather honed her skills in education, volunteer management, and strategic partnerships through service with City Year Greater Philadelphia and AmeriCorps VISTA, and through helping Community Partnership School advance its mission to provide a high quality education to children in North Philadelphia. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering, cooking, doing yoga, and working not to injure herself while running! 

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Deirdre Hake
Executive Director

A results-driven community leader with a proven track record, Deirdre works to grow support for Spark in Philadelphia,  oversees program execution and expands regional partnerships.  Deirdre is familiar with the education and mentoring sectors having spent more than six years in a variety of roles with Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA.  Her background directly supporting children and mentors, as well as building corporate and school partnerships, provides a solid foundation for her career evolution into development, events and annual giving. Deirdre also served as Program Director at Great Dames, Inc. and obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Pennsylvania State University. With a passion for people, process and organizational growth, Deirdre will help Spark create sustainable impact in the Philadelphia region.

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Melvin Noriega
Senior Program Manager

Melvin’s journey into higher education began at Los Angeles City College. He then transferred to the University of California, Irvine, where he developed an interest for student services. Upon graduation, he received an Outstanding Contribution to the School of Social Ecology award for his commitment to enhancing the Field Study Program which connects more than 900 students to over 225 community partners annually. Melvin went on to serve as a proud City Year AmeriCorps Member mentoring middle school students in his childhood neighborhood of Westlake, Los Angeles. He then joined City Year’s Civic Engagement Team, and helped execute over 20 large-scale beautification events at different schools throughout the city. Now with Spark, Melvin aims to continue helping students actualize their own potentials.

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Gilma Guerra
Michael Kolodner
Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez
Anna Clabaugh

Gilma Guerra
Program Director

A first generation college graduate born and raised in Southeast LA, Gilma has seen firsthand how low socioeconomic status affects a person’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. While completing her B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Northridge, she focused her studies in better understanding the different cultural and social factors that affect a person’s development. In the spring of 2015, Gilma began her journey with Spark as a Volunteer Program Intern where she assisted with dispatch logistics. Soon after, she became part of the Spark team again, but this time as an AmeriCorps Vista Public Allies Fellow. Gilma is happy to continue with the Spark team in a full-time role. She is an advocate for higher education and is committed to inspiring youth to realize their full potential, despite whatever obstacles may come their way.

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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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Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez
Manager, Special Projects

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. A founding member of Spark's Chicago region, Amanda joined the 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. 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 the Chicago program team, Amanda joined the Shared Services team in 2014.

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Anna Clabaugh
Manager of Corporate Partnerships

Anna received her undergraduate degree from Scripps College in Environmental Analysis, cum laude, with a concentration in environmental education and policy. During college, she worked at male juvenile detention camps to provide lesson planning and teaching assistance in Earth Science, Nutrition, and Career Pathways. After graduating, she co-directed the Los Angeles office for a nationwide nonprofit focusing on public health and environmental advocacy campaigns. Anna then went on to organize recruitment and strengthen partnerships for Los Angeles’ region of the California Conservation Corps, a youth development program which offers high school diploma assistance and paid working opportunities. She developed a strong sense of devotion for the nonprofit sector and connecting youth to meaningful possibilities. As the Manager of Corporate Partnerships, Anna supports Spark LA's corporate partner portfolio by bringing experience and enthusiasm to fortify and expand partnerships increasing visibility of Spark’s powerful program. When she’s not at work, you can find her rescuing, rehabilitating and fostering dogs.

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Board Members

Executive Board
Aaron Meyerson, Managing Director, Qualia Legacy Advisors Alan Braverman, Founder & CEO, Textline Amanda Valentino, Head, Talent Acquisition and Mobility at Genentech, Inc. Anjai “AJ” Gandhi, Vice President, Sales Strategy & Operations at RingCentral Antonio Jackson, Cincinnati Insurance Company Brad Lundy, Portfolio Manager, Butler Hall Capital, LLC Britton Picciolini, Google for Education Charles Calloway, Chapman & Cutler LLP Christina Kosmowski, Head of Customer Success at Slack Christopher Rosenbleeth, Chair, Real Estate and Partner, Real Estate and Finance, Stradley Ronon David Furlin, U.S. Trust David Leiter, KPMG LLP Greg Nathan, Portfolio Manager, First Pacific Advisors, LLC Hanh Dao, Senior Product Manager, Capital Group James Evans, Entertainment Cruises, Inc.; Executive Board Chair Jeffrey Ryan, Senior Vice President of Professional Operations and Business Development, Cancer Treatment Centers of America - Eastern Regional Medical Center Jessica Mulholland, Chief Financial Officer, Exude Inc. Joan Chu Reese, Director, Vision To Learn Madeleine Durkin, Board Chair; Partner, Social Venture Partners Melissa Govette, Vice President, Commercial Real Estate, M&T Bank Michael Schlesinger, Principal, Cambra Realty MR Macgill, President, MRM Consulting Nancy Corshen, Senior Vice President, Technology Legal, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Nayan Shah, Deloitte Paul Melchiorre, Chief Revenue Officer, Anaplan Prakash (Venkataraman) Raman, Senior Consultant, Executive Development at LinkedIn Principal Cleophas (CJ) Rodgers, Dewey School of Excellence Sam Pambah, KPMG LLP Susan Salop, Director, APAC and Japan Advertising Cloud, Adobe Timothy Jones, Motorola Solutions Titus Campos, Instructional Director, Los Angeles Unified School District Valerie Brown, Employment Counsel, Comcast Cable
Advisory Board
Abraham El, Chair Emeritus: Staff Engineer, Pennoni Associates Alison Rikson, Board Chair: Senior Manager, Audit & Assurance Learning, Deloitte & Touche LLP Anna-Claire Whitehead, Noah’s Arc Foundation Anthony Overstreet, Product Specialist, Facebook Ashley Quintana, Community Outreach Coordinator, Facebook, Spark Alumna Atul Deshmukh, Senior Manager, Solution Delivery, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates Ben Allen, California State Senator Brendan Chan, Program Manager, Google Bunny Tucker, Intern Architect, DIGSAU Casey Hatch, BMO Chris Hammond, CEO, Corporate Giving Connection Christopher Hill, Principal, Comcast Ventures; Board Member, Workforce Investment Board Collin Starkweather, Charles River Associates Elizabeth Ko Youn, Managing Director, Crescent Capital Group Erin Carlson, Board Chair; Specialty Consultant, Jazz Pharmaceuticals Gabriel D. Torres, Associate Vice President, Morgan Stanley Garen Corbett, Board Chair; Director, California Health Benefits Review Program, University of California Gianna Tripodi-Bhise, Board Vice Chair, Director, Foundation & Corporate Relations, WHYY Gordana Radmilovic, West Monroe Partners Jahan Hardy, Director of Finance, CBS Television Distribution Jamye LambornDesigner, Gensler Jennifer He, Program Manager, Visa's Innovation Center Joaquin Fernández-Castro, Educator/AP Team leader, Harvard-Westlake School Kai Lee, Associate - Customer Solutions, KPMG Kalpana Chandrasekhar, VP of Customer Experience, HotelTonight Kristina Choo, IBM Kristina Oderinde, KPMG; Advisory Board Vice Chair Luis Narvaez, Chicago Public Schools Matthew DeGrand, Gartner Michael Davis, Healthcare Risk Advisory Manager, Wipfli LLP Odette Go, VP and Treasurer, Lam Research Paige Lipman, Program Manager, Cornerstone OnDemand Paul Warkins, EY Rich Hurh, LinkedIn Robert Nieves, Operations Manager, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Samantha CardenasEmployee Experience Coordinator, Cornerstone OnDemand Samuel Powel, Creative Technical Consultant, Google Sara Ridenour, Associate Principal, Ballinger Shireen Javandel, Research Coordinator, UCSF Spencer Anderson, Business Operations, Atrium LTS Stephen Harris, Boeing Teresa Lopez, Content Strategy Lead, SEER Interactive Tiffany Bristol, Google Tina Lambert, Tyson Foods Tom Yankowski, President, Center for Career Evaluation
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 Elena Gomez, Chief Financial Officer, Zendesk Jeff Markowitz, Partner, Greylock Jesus Ramos, Spanish Instructor/Independent Study Coordinator, Sacred Heart Schools Maureen Lang, Gartner Perry Wallack, Co-Founder, Cornerstone OnDemand

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