Our Team

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The Spark Team

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

Lance Russell
Michelle Stearn
Hannah Wheeler
Josh Keller

Lance Russell
Chief Financial Officer, Executive Director: Spark Chicago

Lance brings a unique set of entrepreneurial, educational and non-profit experiences to Spark Chicago. Most recently, Lance served as the board chair and CEO of Chicago Tech Academy, a STEM-focused contract high school. Under his leadership ChiTech created the first school-based internship program in Chicago Public Schools, increased both its freshman-on-track and high school graduation rates by over 25%, and grew freshmen enrollment by over 60%. Before transitioning to the non-profit sector, Lance spent 20+ years in the technology sector, including co-founding and growing PointBridge into one of the leading Microsoft consulting firms in the country. He is a board member at Cara Chicago, a graduate of Indiana University, and the son of two retired middle-school teachers.

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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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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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Josh Keller
Development Director

Josh comes to Spark with nearly a decade of experience in the education and youth development space. He began his career serving two years as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Los Angeles at a middle school in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Josh then joined their development team where he spent three years managing foundation relations and corporate partnerships. A native of Chicago's northern suburbs, Josh then returned home to run Camp for All Kids, a camp scholarship program, where under his leadership the organization increased its students served by 40% over two years and partner camps by 20. Josh most recently worked as a Director of Development at KIPP Chicago Schools.

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Jazmine Sanders
Jamaria Williams 
Asha Barnes

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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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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Chicago Board Members

Executive Board
Britton Picciolini, Google for Education Carolyn Jones, Perkins Bass Elementary School Charles Calloway, Chapman & Cutler LLP David Furlin, U.S. Trust Griffin Gordon, Oasis Financial Jonathan Brown, JPMorgan Chase Karen Davis, Tyson Foods Inc. Katherine Patch, BlackRock Krystin Hernandez, McDonald's Corporation Moni Pawlowski, McKinsey & Company Nayan Shah, Deloitte Sam Pambah, KPMG LLP Sara Wasserteil, Cara Chicago Tamara Roberts, Gogo Commercial Air Tiffany Bristol, Google
Advisory Board
Allison Toussaint, Schneider Anslem Gardner, Genesys Works Blair Sucher, ExecOnline Collin Starkweather, Charles River Associates Daniel Kogan, KPMG Hattie Winter, West Monroe Partners Jessie Schreier, Bain & Company Kristina Choo, IBM Paul Warkins, EY
Board of Directors
Britton Picciolini, Google for Education

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