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
Maya Jones
JJ McNeal
Michelle Stearn

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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Maya Jones
Program Fellow

A dedicated restorative justice practitioner, before coming to Spark Maya worked as a restorative justice coordinator at an elementary school on Chicago’s South Side. Her work with youth is guided by her commitment to equity and empathy, a belief in the unique power that youth hold and a desire walk alongside them as they figure out how to harness it.  She looks forward to bringing her dedication to community and relationships as units of action to Spark and meeting some amazing youth in return. Maya graduated from the University of Chicago in 2019 with a B.A. in Public Policy, specializing in Social Welfare. In her free time Maya is an enthusiastic knitter, a cross-genre reader and a cat-less cat lover.

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JJ McNeal
Program Fellow

JJ (he/they) is the newest program fellow to join the Spark team in Chicago. After serving as an education specialist for the Office of Equity at Northwestern University in 2018, JJ was inspired to make the shift into similar independent education consulting. They’ve provided professional development in justice oriented curriculum design and instruction, as well as tailored support for team and organizational culture. 

Most recently, they were a program manager for the Woods Fund youth-led racial justice institute. JJ is looking forward to the opportunity to facilitate with middle school students again, after a few years focusing on high school youth and the adults who partner with them.

They have been in the Chicago education landscape for 8 years, and are now pursing an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. After Spark, JJ plans to return to instructional coaching with a refreshed perspective on engaging middle school students in virtual learning spaces.

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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
Josh Keller
Jazmine Sanders

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
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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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 Charles Calloway, Chapman & Cutler LLP Griffin Gordon, Oasis Financial

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