Our
Team

Our team is passionate about what we do. Our growth, progress, and contribution to the improvement of our nation’s educational quality have been the work of a creative, energetic, and responsible team committed to excellence. Click on our photos to learn how we came to NAF and go to naf.org/careers to learn more about joining the team!

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Lisa Dughi Chief Executive Officer
Lisa Dughi
Lisa Dughi
Chief Executive Officer

After starting pre-med and changing my major three times at Cornell University, I graduated with a major in Marketing and a minor in Fashion. Fittingly, my career began in the fashion industry at Chanel developing marketing strategies using customer data. I went on to receive my MBA at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where I developed strategic, marketing, and analytical skills that I applied to management consulting, with projects spanning a range of industries and functions often with a data-driven solution. This gave me a great deal of experience affecting change within organizations large and small, but also made me realize that I wanted to use my experience to help make a difference. In 2012 I applied these skills to the nonprofit world by coming to NAF as a consultant to help use student data to tell the NAF story. I then served as Vice President of Marketing & Communications and led a full rebranding of the national organization and was responsible for planning, executing, delivering, and evaluating all aspects of marketing & communications. I moved through different functions in the organization COO then President. In my current role as CEO, I oversee all functions responsible for supporting a network of over 600 college preparatory, career-themed academies serving over 117,000 students in 34 states, plus DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

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Brenda Barry Chief Program Officer
Brenda Barry
Brenda Barry
Chief Program Officer

Dolphin Trainer, Astronaut, News Anchor were all on my list of desired occupations growing up. In high school I excelled at math and science so I my high school guidance counselor guided me to pursue a major in Engineering. I attended UC Davis and after one semester in the School of Engineering, I knew I needed to change my path. Three declared majors later, I graduated with a degree in Economics and a minor in Psychology. I landed my first job through an internship I had with a national marketing consulting firm. Six years later, I changed course when an opportunity arose to help create a non-profit focused on bringing business and education together to better prepare students for 21st Century jobs. I’ve been invested in working with public-private partnerships to better the lives of young people for over 25 years. I joined NAF in 2010 and am honored to work with amazing people committed to helping students realize their full potential and helping employers find diverse, qualified talent.

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Colleen Devery Chief Strategy Officer
Colleen Devery
Colleen Devery
Chief Strategy Officer

I went to American University and studied areas that interested me without a very clear view of how they would lead to a career. I started out as Russian major after learning the language in high school and doing a home stay there. Pretty early on, I decided to change my major and ended up earning B.S. in Computer Science. While I was in college, I had a work study job with a center within the university that brought together UN agencies, NGOs and government officials around a wide range of international development issues. From that experience, I decided to focus my career in the nonprofit sector and dedicate my energies to making the world more of the place I want it to be. I worked at Girls Inc. for nine years and learned so much about fundraising, strategy development, and nonprofit management. I joined NAF in 2006 and have been lucky to play many different roles as the organization continually grows its impact and ambitions.

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Valaida Wynn Guerrero Chief Advancement Officer
Valaida Wynn Guerrero
Valaida Wynn Guerrero
Chief Advancement Officer
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Craig Love Chief Financial Officer
Craig Love
Craig Love
Chief Financial Officer

Beginning in the third grade, I had two primary ambitions in life – becoming a member of the KISS Army (official card-carrying devotees of the rock band KISS) and competing on the professional bowlers’ tour, passions that haven’t wavered much over the course of my lifetime.  What I learned most from both experiences is that success doesn’t come easy, and you only get out what you put in (no matter what it is), but at least you never have regrets when you know you gave something 100%.  While I never became a household name on the PBA Tour (despite averaging 221 over 1,000 games in my very best year), I have seen (and met) KISS well over 50 times so at least I’ve got that going for me!

After spending six years at a Christian Brother’s run Army ROTC prep-school, I left my small-town Upstate NY life to head South to attend college at Saint Leo University in Tampa, Florida.  Upon graduating, I returned to the Albany area to “settle down” and began what became a nine-year career as an auditor and consultant with KPMG, dedicated to working exclusively in the not-for-profit sector, while obtaining my master’s degree at SUNY Albany during that same time.

Over the next 20 years, upon moving to Manhattan, my focus evolved even further towards working for organizations dedicated to the education and empowerment of women and children, especially in underserved communities in the U.S. and other impoverished areas of the World (primarily Africa). This journey ultimately led to my joining NAF in the middle of 2019, first as a consultant and now as Chief Financial Officer.

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Elizabeth Perez Chief Partnership Officer
Elizabeth Perez
Elizabeth Perez
Chief Partnership Officer

I started out thinking I wanted to be a social worker or rehabilitation counselor. Shortly thereafter realized that I also really enjoyed creative problem solving (and was going to have a lot of loans to pay off). A social worker’s salary would make those loans challenging.  I took some business courses, enjoyed them, and ended up graduating with a business major, which I felt could mean likely pay off my student loans faster.

A year later I went on to Columbia Business School to pursue my MBA with a focus on Marketing.  I found something I really enjoyed and began a brand management career after graduate school. I worked at major packaged goods companies and held various positions moving up from an assistant to managing a P&L and major brands.  It was fun while also challenging.  During my tenure at Kraft Heinz, I co-chaired an employee giving program where I saw first-hand proposals from non-profits that needed funding to support their mission.  That was when I first started to think about a nonprofit career.

Shortly after a re-organization at Kraft, I began to seriously develop my vision for what I wanted to do most.  I realized that I wanted to be in a position that supported women, girls, and BIPOC folks, especially in underserved communities.  A few years later I joined Girl Scouts of the USA where I stayed for over 9 years. Throughout my career I didn’t see many BIPOC individuals in leadership positions until joining GSUSA.  Today I see more but there aren’t enough. Given the kids we reach, I know that the work NAF is doing is changing that and that’s a big reason I joined the organization in 2022. We are providing students in underserved communities with invaluable experiences that will inform their future choices and lay the foundation for helping them become their best selves. It’s exciting to know that we are making such an impact and I am looking forward to helping reach more kids in the years to come.

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Mary Adams Executive Assistant
Mary Adams
Mary Adams
Executive Assistant

Since high school my passion has always been to work with kids. At one point I wanted a career in the juvenile justice system working with at-risk juveniles and went to work in the Criminal Records Division for Los Angeles County Superior Court. This is where my administrative career began and also took a detour. Working full-time and going to school part-time for business administration, I left Superior Court to pursue opportunities working as an administrative assistant for business management firms in the entertainment industry until I relocated to Northern California. Living in the Silicon Valley, I continued my career as an administrative assistant and then an executive assistant to the Chairman and CEO for various high-tech and startup companies in the semiconductor industry. I was honored when I received an opportunity to join NAF in 2008 as the Executive Assistant to the President. I have been with NAF since 2007 and continue to be impressed and inspired by the students.

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Don Applyrs, Ed.D. Managing Director, Network Expansion
Don Applyrs, Ed.D.
Don Applyrs, Ed.D.
Managing Director, Network Expansion

As a young boy growing up in Brooklyn, NY, I had dreams of becoming a professional baseball player and a computer programmer.  However, by my sophomore year at the University at Albany (UA), I realized that neither of these occupations was right for me.  A volunteer opportunity at a local afterschool youth outreach center working with middle and high school students was the catalyst for my interest in education and serving young people.  I earned a bachelor’s degree in information science and policy followed by a master’s degree in the same area of study with a focus on school library media from UA and began my journey as an educator in a non-traditional subject.

From there, I began my journey working to eliminate education and opportunity gaps faced by youth and families in diverse and under-resourced communities. I spent over a decade in K-8 urban public education, where I have served as a school library media specialist, an assistant principal, and a school principal leading one of the top-performing middle schools in Albany.  I also co-founded a K-4 elementary school while earning a doctor of education in executive leadership from Saint John Fisher College.  These rich experiences have led to leadership positions in state government at the New York State Education Department overseeing the NYS My Brother’s Keeper initiative and at the Department of Labor overseeing programs in workforce development.

I am excited to join the NAF team and have the opportunity to ensure that today’s youth gain transformative experiences that will positively impact their ability to live fulfilled lives in the future.

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Alina Arutyunyan Manager, Development
Alina Arutyunyan
Alina Arutyunyan
Manager, Development

Growing up, I went through different phases for my career dreams – singer, teacher, psychiatrist. In high school, an economics class piqued my interest enough to want to keep studying that subject. I attended the University of Michigan and majored in Economics. During college, my early interest in teaching reappeared; I joined a work-study program where I tutored elementary school students. After graduation, still unsure of my career plan, I became a volunteer tutor at a nonprofit called KidsFirst. I volunteered for many months and then was at the right place at the right time when a six-week staff position became available. That temporary gig was such a good fit that it turned into a full-time position, and I became a grant writer for over four years at KidsFirst. As a grant writer, while submitting proposals to different funders, I developed a fondness for community foundations. This led to my next position as I joined the grants management staff at the Boston Foundation. Working in philanthropy deepened my appreciation for nonprofits, and this perspective guided me towards NAF’s important mission.

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Marcy Aycock, Ed.D. Managing Director, Network Expansion
Marcy Aycock, Ed.D.
Marcy Aycock, Ed.D.
Managing Director, Network Expansion

As a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a teacher, then a principal – in fact, I liked to play school, but always wanted to be the principal!  Coming from a poor family of eight children, college seemed an impossible dream.  In fact, my high school counselor told me I wasn’t “college material” even though I had a high grade point average!  I set out to prove him wrong.  I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and became an art teacher.  Next, I completed a Master’s in Education Administration and became a principal.  Then, I completed an Ed.D in Educational Leadership.  During my tenure in K-12 education I worked at all levels, and always in schools with a high “at-risk” population.  After 16 years as a principal, I was selected to develop an Early College program for a community college.  This exciting work led me to NAF.  I joined NAF in 2014 as an Academy Development Manager for Region 3.

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Catherine Brandli Director, Development
Catherine Brandli
Catherine Brandli
Director, Development

When I was young, I remember wanting to be a lawyer or journalist, but as a teenager, I was less certain. An avid reader, I didn’t think twice about majoring in English while at the University of Vermont. As graduation neared, I was overwhelmed with what career path to choose. I saved up money working temp jobs to travel to Europe. Despite not knowing the language, I, fortunately, found work in Italy as an au pair so that I could live and travel there for two years.

Back in the U.S., I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit although I only had a vague idea of what that might entail. A recruiter connected me with the San Francisco Boys & Girls Club, and while I had little office experience, they believed in my potential and set me on my career path in fundraising. It was a great match as I loved the different aspects of the job, including writing, research, donor relations, event planning, data management, and budgeting.

After relocating to NYC and working at a couple of nonprofits, I decided to go to graduate school, potentially to pursue a doctorate. I focused on gender studies and earned an M.A. in Modern European History from Columbia University. I loved being back in school, but I realized that academia wasn’t the path for me. With renewed enthusiasm, I returned to the nonprofit sector, heading the development departments of several small to midsize nonprofits. My work supported a variety of causes that I care about including NYC public schools, youth development and women’s and girls’ rights, and access to education.

I’m excited to be a part of the NAF team as I deeply connect with NAF’s mission and efforts to ensure that students have the tools and experience they need to be Future Ready.

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Vikki Basilico-Covarrubias Director, People Operations and Talent Management
Vikki Basilico-Covarrubias
Vikki Basilico-Covarrubias
Director, People Operations and Talent Management

I went through my undergrad years pretty directionless. I graduated with a Liberal Arts degree, concentration in Literature, because that’s where most of my credits happened to fall.  I remember going to my college’s Career Services office in the last few months of my senior year, having had no such resource back in high school, looking for guidance as I’d only held temporary summer and campus jobs up until that point. I was given another student’s resume and told to copy the format because it was laid out well…and that was it! The sum total of career readiness direction I received before entering the post-collegiate world.

I spent my early 20s bouncing from one job to the next, working everywhere from a brewery to a publishing house to a city government agency. My luckiest break came in 2003, when I contacted a former colleague at a non-profit youth services organization to ask if I could use her as a job reference. She invited me to interview for an entry-level HR position. I got the job—and finally found something that resonated with me. I stayed for 14 years, advancing to lead their HR department and earning a Certificate in HR Management from NYU School of Continuing & Professional Studies; a Masters in Industrial and Labor Relations from Baruch College; a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and the Society for Human Resource Management’s Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) certifications.

My own winding path to my career makes me appreciate NAF’s mission all the more. Particularly as an HR professional, I can appreciate that giving students the tools and support they need to be Future Ready is a win-win.

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Tara Bellevue Vice President Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) Strategy
Tara Bellevue
Tara Bellevue
Vice President Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) Strategy

I was a little girl from South Carolina with big dreams and an adventurous spirit. Future Teachers of America, Debate Club, French Club, Marching Band and the Math Club were all indicative of my future endeavors. I graduated high school wanting to be a business executive. I obtained a degree in Business Administration, and worked as a Marketing Communications Manager for an international telecommunications company. With a shift in the economy, I pursued a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education with a focus on business education and mathematics. This led to a series of opportunities to shape the minds of young people as an award winning teacher, building level administrator, district level administrator and most recently President Elect for Business Teachers Association of New York State. I have had the pleasure of working for the largest school district in the US where I was responsible for aligning operating policies and procedures to federal legislation, state grant funds and NYSED policies. Through NAF, I am dedicated to engaging and empowering all students through STEM education.

 

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Joshua Benfield, Ed.D. Director, Technology Experience & Training
Joshua Benfield, Ed.D.
Joshua Benfield, Ed.D.
Director, Technology Experience & Training

I was attending Appalachian State University majoring in Business Administration focusing on banking and finance when I realized that I wanted to work with young people and have a positive impact on the next generation. After college, I was able to use my degree and interest in helping young people by becoming a high school business and marketing teacher. During my time as a teacher, I led a NAF Academy of Hospitality & Tourism. After completing a Master’s Degree in School Administration from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, I took the NAF educational design to the next level in my district, becoming an Academy Coordinator and overseeing the opening of five additional academies in three years. I joined NAF in 2015 because I believe in NAF’s mission and am excited to see the impact our network is going to have in preparing students across the country to be future ready.

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Umang Beri Senior Director, Data & Systems
Umang Beri
Umang Beri
Senior Director, Data & Systems

I was born in India where the education system was all about exams. As a child, I lived briefly in Baghdad where I attended an international school before moving back to India. In my teenage years, my family moved to Amsterdam where I studied in the IB system, and realized the importance of a really good education. I moved to the United States in 1999 and decided to go to the University of Rochester, New York, to double major in Computer Science and Economics, where I developed my passion for building online tools. Shortly after I graduated, I joined NAF in New York City. During my time here, I have helped develop multiple online systems including data tracking systems and databases to better serve our network and our staff. Through these systems, NAF has been able to track the growth, success and challenges of its network to better provide support to academies, as well as develop proof points to support NAF’s continued success.

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Rey Bermudez Managing Director, Network Expansion
Rey Bermudez
Rey Bermudez
Managing Director, Network Expansion

Far too many students graduate high school without a plan. I was one of them. Fortunately, a few mentors saw my potential and created opportunities for me to discover a passion for the arts and education while working in youth development. As a result, I was able to grow professionally as an administrator and entrepreneur.

After about 2 decades of working in human services, I decided that I would complete my bachelor’s degree at Springfield College.  I then went on to pursue my master’s from Liberty University in counseling. While studying, I had the privilege of serving as an academy director at two NAF academies in Hartford Public Schools. In this role I was able to use my skills, training, and experience to develop meaningful relationships with school and district staff, local employers, community partners, and students. In some cases, I was able to utilize the power of the NAF network to bring national resources to the local level to enhance the student experience.

I am honored and privileged to be a part of NAF in helping students explore, discover, and prepare for a future narrative they can use to inspire others.

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Helen Blanch Vice President, Curriculum & Instruction
Helen Blanch
Helen Blanch
Vice President, Curriculum & Instruction

As the daughter of Cuban immigrants, my life has been filled with many “firsts”.  First generation American (who didn’t learn English until I started school); first in my family to graduate from high school…then college…then on through two more degrees.  I grew up in Miami, enrolled in the very public school system from which I would eventually retire as an Assistant Superintendent after a 30 year career.  Along the way I had mentors who provided guidance at key life-junctures, including the high school counselor who convinced me I was college material, then helped me attain a scholarship, the administrator who insisted I did have leadership potential and promoted me to my first supervisory position, and the superintendent who charged me with leading the district’s secondary school reform effort.  I joined NAF in 2013 because I believe in our mission that preparing young people for future success should not rely on a serendipitous route such as mine, but be purposefully guided.

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Zach Bokuniewicz Assistant Director, Creative
Zach Bokuniewicz
Zach Bokuniewicz
Assistant Director, Creative

When you’re young and decide you want to be a designer, the first vision you have is working at a big marketing firm with well-known brands. When I moved up to Rochester, NY to get my BFA in graphic design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, that was what I aspired to do. What I didn’t count on in that time and what my family likes to tease me for is that I went to college…then never left! Needing an internship to complete my undergraduate degree, I found one in 2013 at the University of Rochester, a neighboring college which would eventually lead me to an 8-year career in designing for higher education.

After completing my BFA, I continued my college journey by getting my MS in Marketing Communications at Nazareth College in 2020, and while my weekdays are spent here at NAF helping students be future ready, I spend my weekends teaching Nazareth students as an adjunct professor in the Visual and Marketing Communications program. Thanks to one internship in 2013, I found that my passion wasn’t working with a well-known brand, but instead bringing together my newfound passion for education and design to help students’ brand themselves as the change-makers and leaders of tomorrow.

 

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Rebecca Bostwick Assistant Vice President, Community Impact
Rebecca Bostwick
Rebecca Bostwick
Assistant Vice President, Community Impact

I grew up in Syracuse, NY with parents who were teachers in the Syracuse City School District (of which I am a proud alum!). I had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to be when I “grew up”, including a jazz singer or a physical therapist, neither of which came to fruition! I graduated from Le Moyne College, a small liberal arts college, with a BA in Sociology, with ideas of going into law, but no concrete sense of where my education and career would take me.

It wasn’t until a couple of years post-college, after moving back to the Syracuse area (with no intentions of staying) that I took a job with a small nonprofit and found my passion in community health. My early professional career started in HIV/AIDS advocacy and research, which led to me going back to get my Master of Public Administration from Syracuse University. My career interests broadened over time to focus on the social determinants of health and organizational strategy, working in a variety of sectors. Fifteen years after receiving my MPA, I then earned an MBA from Syracuse University.

It is my passion to support people, organizations, and communities to reach their fullest potential. I strongly believe the most sustainable solutions come from diverse voices, including those on the ground and in the communities in which we serve. I am excited to be at NAF and to work closely with its partners and students across the country.

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Cari Caballero Manager, Partnership Activation
Cari Caballero
Cari Caballero
Manager, Partnership Activation

I’ve always had a passion for education but never quite knew what that was going to look like. Up until middle school, I always said I would become a teacher. Once I got into high school, that dream changed when I was accepted into the Fashion Retail Marketing magnet program at Thomas Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida. I was able to build a resume, job shadow in the Fashion industry, mock interview, and complete an internship in retail all by my senior year!

Once I started college at the Art Institute of Tampa, I knew something within Fashion Marketing and Management is what I wanted to pursue. I was able to obtain several internships in retail, host gallery events, and participate in multiple fashion shows. I worked my way up from an associate to manager in various retail corporations, one being Justice – a tween clothing brand for girls, that molded me to have the confidence and work ethic to continue striving for more. After working 10 years in a customer service-driven world, I then landed at a newly built charter high school with a new opportunity to help shape our future leaders, and the privilege to initiate their NAF Academy of Information Technology. Once I realized what amazing opportunities NAF provided students, similar to the ones I had, I knew that this was an organization to which I belonged. Communication and relationship building are skills that I pride myself in and will always implement for the betterment of our students and their futures!

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Dee Chambliss Director, Network Evaluation
Dee Chambliss
Dee Chambliss
Director, Network Evaluation

I knew early on that I wanted to be a teacher, but entered college with plans to become a pharmacist after being told by my high school counselors, “You can do so much more than teach!”  Pursuing a liberal arts degree in Biology, I worked with young people in summer camps, prepared science labs for my department, and conducted research.  I realized that I was meant to be a teacher and added a teaching credential to my B.S. degree.  I taught high school and college science classes for many years before transitioning to various leadership positions in education at the district level, in government, and in the non-profit community supporting STEM education with Communities Foundation of Texas.  Along the way, I obtained additional credentials, including a Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology, a Specialist’s degree in Education Leadership, and a Doctoral degree in Education. I guess, in a way, my high school counselors were right.  As a teacher, I would indeed do so much more than teach!

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Susan Climan Manager, Alumni Engagement
Susan Climan
Susan Climan
Manager, Alumni Engagement

I have loved the arts from a young age, and it led me to pursuing a B.A. in Art History from Boston University. After working in a fine art gallery on Fifth Avenue after graduation, I realized that the art world was not for me. My career really started to take shape while I was booking group tours for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and I saw the impact that visiting the museum had on students of all ages. I have now held several positions related to education, but I’m not a teacher! I love when my work impacts the lives of students – it is what I am most passionate about, professionally. I have had the pleasure of running a leadership program for high school juniors, organizing career fairs for juniors and seniors, and – most importantly for this role – working with the students at Johnson & Wales University – North Miami and alumni from all of the JWU campuses. I am proud to be joining NAF as Manager, Alumni Engagement after three years of serving as the Advisory Board Chair in Broward County, FL. I have seen firsthand the impact that NAF academies provide, and I am excited to help guide students and alumni to great careers.

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James Cole Senior Director, Partnership Activation
James Cole
James Cole
Senior Director, Partnership Activation

Unsure of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I decided to study something I thought would valuable in any career, landing on business and marketing at Sacramento State (California State University-Sacramento). During college, I held administrative roles in Public Relations before shifting to a role in the education field, working for LEED (Linking Education and Economic Development). Over the next few years, I continued to explore my interest in effective communications between business and education. Before joining NAF, I worked for the San Francisco Unified School District supporting career and technical education programs, including NAF academies to help bring the business and education worlds together through work-based learning and business engagement in their future employee pipeline. I also consulted organizations creating employer manuals and state-level work-based learning plans and implementation toolkits. I continue this work today as a member of the corporate engagement & relations team.

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Camille Currie Vice President, Marketing and Communications
Camille Currie
Camille Currie
Vice President, Marketing and Communications

Education is my foundation. As the daughter of a 30-year public school educator, my mother instilled the power and importance of education in my sister and I as children. I started college as an Elementary Education major with a desire to positively impact the imaginations and lives of students and to follow in my mother’s footsteps. Through my coursework, I discovered a true joy and fire for expressing myself through writing. I true solace in putting pen to paper – whether it was a poem, feature story, or a speech, it became clear that communications was my passion. “Now if I could figure out how to merge this love with supporting others, it would be perfect,” I told myself.

After earning a Bachelor’s in Mass Communication from Delaware State University and a Master’s in Public Relations from West Virginia University, I took my passion for writing and communications to the sports and fashion industries. After a decade, I wanted more. I wanted to align my personal beliefs with my career and dedicate my work to impactful outcomes and solutions for under-resourced communities and individuals. The idea of supporting others and utilizing communications to serve as an advocate and conduit was ever more present. This was the catalyst that helped me transition my career to mission-based work.

Joining NAF is the next chapter in a career committed to supporting opportunity and access for students. Helping young people during a pivotal time in their lives, like high school, is a great honor.

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Margaret Deason-Coughlin Policy Analyst
Margaret Deason-Coughlin
Margaret Deason-Coughlin
Policy Analyst

When asked in high school about my career aspirations, I would say that I wanted to be a social worker, though I had a limited notion as to what that entailed. In my first year at the University of Alabama – Birmingham, I was still contemplating social work when I took my first sociology course. My professor instantly garnered my interest, and I thought I had finally figured it out– I wanted to be a professor of sociology. As an undergraduate, I worked as a Research Assistant for my university’s Sociology Department, reinforcing my interest in the field. I interned on the successful reelection campaign of Congresswoman Terri Sewell and for the Alabama Association of Nonprofits, training local nonprofits in best practices. After college, I worked at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) on a fellowship program that supports graduate student fellows as they matriculate through PhD programs. This experience gave me an inside look at the process for earning a PhD and becoming a professor, along with the realization that this career path wasn’t for me after all.

What I liked about my work at SSRC was the opportunity to encourage and witness our fellows’ progress and subsequent scholarly work. This interest in supporting the educational advancement of students is what drew me to NAF, and I’m excited to be working for a cause that I’m passionate about.

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Lindsey Dixon Assistant Vice President of Innovation
Lindsey Dixon
Lindsey Dixon
Assistant Vice President of Innovation

In my K12 years, I thought I would grow up to be everything from an astronaut to an anthropologist to an IT network administrator (the last one was based solely on a charismatic guest speaker on career day in my junior year, and had nothing to do with my actual interests). In truth, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, except that I desired to use my skills in communications and creative problem solving to help other people. I wish my high school had made this essential aspect of career identity development and work-based learning a central element of my educational experience, but they didn’t. A big part of my career, as a result, has been in pursuit of that aim—a better, more relevant high school design. After high school, I joined the U.S. Air Force where I was a satellite communications journeyman technician and earned my AAS in electronic systems technology and a BA in English.

After the Air Force, I moved to New York City and became a high school English teacher. Several wonderful years of teaching in the Bronx later, and after earning my master’s degree in education, I pivoted my career to educational technology and learning design at Columbia University Teacher’s College. There, I helped build 2D and 3D educational games, took courses with my professors in virtual worlds, and explored exciting new technologies that could be used to support learners of all ages. I later went to work for a game-based learning company that taught students how to code and program using video game design. And for the past decade, I have worked for several amazing nonprofits like Year Up and the Urban Assembly, to help schools and training programs ensure that students are future ready, with the in-demand skills, networks, and knowledge of their own interests and goals that leads to socioeconomic mobility. Recently I earned an Entrepreneurial Studies: Product Design certificate at the NYU Tandon Future Lab. And I’m currently pursuing my doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I’m writing my dissertation on the uses of emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, to help young people choose and succeed in strong-fit careers.

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Jessica Dunson Digital Marketing Specialist
Jessica Dunson
Jessica Dunson
Digital Marketing Specialist

After graduating with a BA in Telecommunications – Video Production from Ball State University, I worked for a production company that I previously interned with during my senior year of high school. This internship was key to discovering my passion for video and eventually MarCom. As a freelance video editor, I enjoyed the challenge of piecing together video clips into a cohesive and creative story. After a few years in this field, I desired to use my talents to serve my community, leading me to join AmeriCorps VISTA in 2018. AmeriCorps VISTA provided the opportunity to serve in my first MarCom role at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis. Upon completing my year of service, I joined an arts education nonprofit in my hometown of Indianapolis for 3 years as their Marketing and Communications Specialist. As I begin the next chapter of my professional career at NAF, I am excited to use my experience to continue supporting better futures for youth.

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Erica Eddins Innovation Coordinator
Erica Eddins
Erica Eddins
Innovation Coordinator

I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia surrounded by wildlife and pets. I loved animals so much as a child that I declared I would be a veterinarian when I was just 3 years old. But once I got to high school and mentored with a veterinarian, I realized how emotionally taxing working with animals and owners could be and for the first time in my life I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When it was time for college I went in undecided. While taking my core classes I fell in love with anthropology and ended up declaring my major to take a museum exhibition course. Taking that course afforded me the opportunity to help design the Exploring Virginia exhibit for the Virginia Museum of Natural History and to have many opportunities to intern and volunteer with the Virtual Curation Lab, creating 3-D printed replicas of artifacts. My heavy involvement with the lab and events associated with it earned me the Anthropology Community Outreach and Engagement Award upon graduating.

During college, I worked as a tutor at VCUs Campus Learning Center and I started working as a counselor at Camp Sequoia, a summer camp for boys with ADHD. Many of my tutees were underprepared for college and my campers struggled with life and social skills. These jobs highlighted many disparities in the educational system that I wanted to help solve.  I loved working with children to help them achieve their goals, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. Before the pandemic, I had been questioning where to go next and stumbled upon UI/UX work and the impacts anthropologists were making in the field. So once the pandemic hit I started taking courses in UI/UX at Thinkful. I successfully graduated in February 2021. I thought after that I would go into a career where I would be able to exercise my anthropology skills and stretch my creative muscles. I didn’t think I could find a way to combine creativity, anthropology, and making an impact on kids. But turns out I was wrong and I’m glad I was!

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Alyssa English Manager, Academy Development
Alyssa English
Alyssa English
Manager, Academy Development

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. Who didn’t? I was in awe of my teachers! Fast forward to high school, my interests turned to business. I loved keyboarding and accounting, which helped me land part-time jobs as a teller and later assistant to the business manager in an optometrist’s office. I remember taking surveys to figure out my career path. All roads pointed to Business, specifically, Marketing.

I attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC, leaving family in Harrisburg, PA. I majored in Marketing, loved my classes, professors, and the American Marketing Association (AMA). I had internships every summer in insurance and banking with major corporations. I was encouraged and supported. I LOVED IT!!

Those high school surveys never led me to believe I would exercise those business/marketing skills over 24 years in Career & Technical Education. I enjoyed my career as an educator. I developed curriculum products, took on leadership roles in my school, the district, and state. I certified twice as a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) and earned other certifications. In addition to establishing relationships with business partners and developing infrastructure for work-based learning opportunities, I earned my Masters Degree in Management and Leadership. Fun fact, I took a small detour, becoming a licensed esthetician, servicing clients in a med spa. In 2016 I was introduced to NAF as an Academy Coordinator. This relationship provided several opportunities to engage and ultimately led me to accept the offer to become a team member. I am thrilled to be a part of this network! I am committed to developing space and opportunities for students to become Future Ready!

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Jennifer Geisler Director, Emerging Academies
Jennifer Geisler
Jennifer Geisler
Director, Emerging Academies

I graduated from William Paterson University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. I originally planned to study broadcast journalism, but ultimately decided to concentrate my studies on interpersonal communications. This change in focus led me to my first job in the human resources department of a large financial institution, Bankers Trust. I spent eight years in the finance industry before making the difficult decision to leave the workforce to focus on raising my three young children. After eight years at home, I was excited for the opportunity to join NAF in 2010 — a new commitment for me, supporting both education and the future of underserved children. Since 2010 I’ve been fortunate to support academies in many capacities, including those new to NAF. I am thrilled to collaborate with academies across the network to ensure our students are future ready.

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Soley Gonzalez Director, Partnership Activation
Soley Gonzalez
Soley Gonzalez
Director, Partnership Activation

When I was nine years old, I would ask my parents to take me to Costco so that I could purchase candy to resell at school. As I marked up the prices to generate a profit, I didn’t realize that I was embarking on a journey of business. At 18, I enrolled at FIU to major in business, but after almost failing Microeconomics, I changed my major to Communications. It was then that life afforded me the opportunity of interning at Estefan Enterprises, FJ560, and Ocean Drive Magazine and I fell in love with Marketing. The internships exposed me to careers in the entertainment, fashion retail, and magazine publishing industries. Upon graduation, I couldn’t find work in entertainment, so I accepted a position at Chase. I quickly realized how much I still loved business and finance and returned to college to obtain my MBA at the University of Miami. I still didn’t feel content and left Chase to work at South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union (SFEFCU) where I was able to merge my love for finance and experience in marketing to develop products and services for the new Gen-Y market.

My involvement with NAF began in 2007 when I began my tenure as an Advisory Board Member for Miami’s Academy of Finance. At SFEFCU, I developed a financial literacy program and work-based learning opportunities for thousands of students. I have mentored and hired over 200 interns and pioneered the opening of 13 student-run high school credit union branches with 100 students across Miami-Dade. I have seen firsthand the results of NAF’s educational design through my former interns, who now as working professionals pay it forward by hiring interns of their own.

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Stefanie Hausman Director of Digital Instructional Design
Stefanie Hausman
Stefanie Hausman
Director of Digital Instructional Design

Hours of play with my Fisher Price schoolhouse was my first entry into the world of teaching. I used the pull-down chalkboard to teach the ABCs to the wooden peg dolls and rotated the hands of the clock at the start and end of each “school day.” Since then, my “eduventures” have taken me into a wide variety of learning scenarios. In high school, I was fortunate to continue my schooling in the UK, where I realized the influence of people and place, beyond the four walls of a school, on my educational experience. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin (Madison), I dabbled in immersive journalism; meeting a wide range of people and telling their stories. After this detour, I taught junior high school students in rural Japan, where—in addition to learning judo—I was treated like a local celebrity and soaked in the culture through Japanese onsens (hot springs).

Back in the states, I was compelled to devote myself to teaching and was drawn to Stanford University’s education program for its experiential approach and focus on school reform. Teaching in the Mission District of San Francisco satisfied my personal “mission” of working with urban students and engaging them in project-and service-based learning. Next, I found myself in Boston, Massachusetts, putting the theories I learned to the test by working at an organization focusing on comprehensive school reform around the country through the integration of technology.

From Girl Scouts patenting their products, to students in the Bronx growing aeroponic gardens, to teachers in Ireland piloting project-based learning, I’ve since witnessed the impact of teaching and learning when augmented by technology. For the past 25 years, I’ve been devoted to designing innovative digital-age educational opportunities so that students can realize their amazing potential! I am thrilled to continue my journey with NAF.

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Kate Haydon Managing Director, Academy Development
Kate Haydon
Kate Haydon
Managing Director, Academy Development

I started as a Finance major at Oklahoma State University, ended up with a Clothing, Textiles & Merchandising degree. Discovering retail wasn’t for me, I returned to college and got my Master’s degree and teacher’s certificate in Family and Consumer Sciences. Finally, after several years, I was in the right spot, doing something I loved.

I wasted a lot of money and time chasing careers I was not cut out for. What I lacked throughout my education was career guidance. Not one person tried to help me match that with career possibilities with my interests. I finally became a teacher at the age of 32 with a clear mission: To help students find their way. And as a CTE teacher in Oklahoma, that’s just what I did. When I found out our school was going to become a career academy, I loved the idea: an even BETTER way to help kids find their way. I became the site coordinator, gathered up a team and launched the health sciences academy at my high school.

By 2014, the Oklahoma City Public School District had 10 open academies and decided they needed someone at the district level to provide support and equity among all schools. So I jumped – what a great way to help MORE kids find their way. We launched two more academies as well as a district advisory board.

I am thrilled to be a part the NAF family to provide support and tools to help academies achieve their goals and to help their students find their way to the perfect match.

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Brendon Henson Communications Coordinator
Brendon Henson
Brendon Henson
Communications Coordinator

Coming from a single-parent household, my siblings and I were not afforded some of the same opportunities I saw in my more affluent classmates. From an early age, I knew that I wanted to give back to students from similar backgrounds to mine. My passion for being a mission-based communicator began junior year of college, while attending the University of South Florida where I received a degree in Public Relations. While attending classes, I became involved with local grassroots nonprofit organizations donating my time to help expand their social media presence. That is where I got a taste of the real impact an effective communications strategy can have on under-invested communities. After seeing the positive impact of my contributions, I decided that I wanted to expand my efforts and reach national audiences. I began interning at College to Congress, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a more inclusive and effective Congress by providing Pell Grant-eligible students with fully-funded congressional internships. I am living proof that internships change lives; upon graduation, I was hired by the organization to work on their communications team. This experience provided life-changing opportunities to students, including myself, ultimately leading me to NAF. I instantly connected with our mission and am excited to support NAF’s talented students.

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Mike Henson Director, Professional Learning
Mike Henson
Mike Henson
Director, Professional Learning

Athletics have always been a huge part of my life, so becoming a teacher/coach when I graduated from Fresno State was a natural transition. After coaching football for 17 years, with a slight detour in elementary education and receiving my Masters in Education Administration, I became an administrator in 1990 in the Porterville Unified School District, which provided me with a range of experiences and exposure to leadership methods and styles directed at meeting the educational needs of disadvantaged students.  I returned to PUSD in 2004 as Principal of Strathmore High School and began my journey in the development of career-themed academies.  I was fortunate to be involved in the development of Harmony Magnet Academy, one of the NAF’s first 13 Academies of Engineering.  I retired from PUSD in 2010 and came to NAF to lead the regional team pilot in California. I joined NAF in 2010 and look forward to meeting the upcoming challenges of our ever-growing network.

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Ellen Huggins Development Associate
Ellen Huggins
Ellen Huggins
Development Associate

I began my college career hoping to one day manage a political campaign staff for a national election. My courses in the Political Science program at the University of Cincinnati got me started almost immediately by requiring volunteer hours with any campaign I aligned with. After interning in a city council office and for a U.S. Senate candidate, I realized I didn’t see myself working in the political sphere long-term. I sought out mentors in varying career fields panicking to figure out what I wanted to do after I graduated. Thanks to these connections, I was able to channel my passions for writing, organizing, and advocating for my community through non-profit work. I spent my early post-grad years with the Cincinnati-area Freestore Foodbank working to create meaningful connections with donors and decision-makers to fuel their mission further. Without these mentors, I would have never opened my eyes to other career trajectories, including the one I am on now. I’m grateful for the experiences I had and am excited to be a part of the NAF team to ensure young people have the same opportunities.

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Ravi Hunter Network Specialist
Ravi Hunter
Ravi Hunter
Network Specialist

After graduating from high school, I worked as a Mail Room Clerk for a financial bank. My responsibilities ranged from handling incoming, inter-office, and outgoing mail to maintaining mailroom equipment, postage, and related supplies, and managing the maintenance of general office equipment and inventory. As my time with the bank progressed, additional responsibilities came under my task list, including reception and record keeping duties. I came on to NAF as a temp in April of 2014 before joining full-time in September 2015 where I apply these skills to the nonprofit world as an Operations Associate. This position maximizes operating efficiency by providing the highest level of customer service and identifying and implementing process improvements that result in a more productive and cost effective work environment.

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Gloria Jimenez Senior Manager, Digital Curriculum Development
Gloria Jimenez
Gloria Jimenez
Senior Manager, Digital Curriculum Development

As a first-generation college graduate, I experienced first-hand what it feels like to struggle every step of the way towards your dreams. I was unsure of what to study at the University of Southern California and found that public policy fed my desire to learn and be part of social change. Throughout college, I worked at my former school as a tutor and later as a Site Coordinator. What transpired in the following years was working together with communities addressing a variety of important social problems. After getting a master’s degree in International Affairs, my work took me around the world from Nicaragua to Uganda, but eventually, I grew weary of being so inaccessible to my family and decided to return to the U.S. My life has had a common thread and it is the gift I inherited from my father: deference and passion for education. Not surprisingly, I found myself teaching Computer Science and serving as a NAF Lead Teacher at Miami Southridge. This is how my NAF story begins.

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Laurie Johnson, Ph.D Director, Evaluation Services
Laurie Johnson, Ph.D
Laurie Johnson, Ph.D
Director, Evaluation Services

I grew up on a farm in Kansas and spent a great amount of time at my grandparents’ house as a kid. My interest in understanding human behavior can be traced back to conversations I had with my emotionally intelligent grandmother. She was always helping me consider other peoples’ viewpoints and I think this led me to want to be a school counselor as my initial undergraduate path. While I never quite made it to a counseling position, I am still very interested in understanding human behavior and the underlying mechanisms that guide it.  I have worked as a paraprofessional, taught third grade, and taught undergraduate psychology courses but it was not until I began my graduate work that I understood my true passion. I love turning messy data into usable information. The messier, the better!

To help me hone my data and research skills, I earned a master’s degree in Educational Psychology and a Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology, both from Wichita State University in Kansas. Prior to joining NAF, I was employed by the largest school district in Kansas, Wichita Public Schools, where I spent 15 years conducting research, analyzing data, and engaging in evaluation and performance management at the district level.

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Karla Kiefer Research & Evaluation Coordinator
Karla Kiefer
Karla Kiefer
Research & Evaluation Coordinator

I was born in Ecuador to a mother and father who were determined to set me and my brothers up for success. My father, a neurosurgeon, moved us to Argentina and then ultimately to the United States when I was 8 years old. He believed that here in the USA we had the best chance of becoming successful doctors. I knew no English when I arrived, and as I worked my way through my grade school years (and the US Immigration System), I wondered if college was even a reality for me, let alone a career in medicine. It was thanks to a number of mentors and advocates who saw my potential that I was accepted into Franklin & Marshall College where I dutifully signed up for the pre-med studies track. It took countless hours behind the lab bench, in class, and through extracurricular research, for me to realize that my heart wasn’t in medicine. Instead, I majored in Spanish with a concentration in Neuroscience and set out to follow my true passion: advocacy work in support of young people who went through similar experiences to my own. I worked for a nonprofit organization leading medical mission trips in Honduras, I tried sales in IT (an interesting and informative career tangent), I became the Statewide Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, I returned to my alma mater as an Assistant Director of Admissions, and I discovered NAF, the organization that brought it all together for me. NAF is where I can put my entire skill set to work: my analytical skill and my advocacy work combined. I’m so excited to be able to dedicate my energy to helping young people find their path; the one that really gets them where they want to go!

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Ji Kim Senior Director, Digital Product Management
Ji Kim
Ji Kim
Senior Director, Digital Product Management

Like many children of immigrants, I was expected to become one of the following professions: Doctor, Lawyer, or Engineer. This caused some serious dilemmas for me during high school because I loved studying history, taking photos, being obsessed with music, and doing graphic design for my school yearbook. Let’s just say, my parents weren’t the biggest fan of my passions.

After high school, I ended up attending the University of California at Santa Cruz (go Banana Slugs!). The biggest reason why I chose this college was that they allowed undergrads to take classes from any program. This allowed me to explore areas that were foreign but exciting to me (like Anthropology, Sociology, New Media Arts, etc.) while majoring in Economics and Computer Science. During college, the internet was just taking off and I was fortunate to get an internship at one of the first internet music startups. This experience opened doors for me to work at other early internet pioneers while still in college! Although it took a few more years to complete my degree with honors, this experience was the key contributor to discovering my purpose.

As an adult, I was able to apply multiple passions to successful career paths: engineer, designer, entrepreneur, teacher, and product management leader. I learned that you don’t need to pick just one thing in your career. Some of us were meant to have one thing driving us in our lives and get really good at it. Some of us were not – and that’s okay.

I am excited to continue my next journey with NAF and help the next generation of youths to discover their professional paths and calling.

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Kirsten Kirby Director, Work-Based Learning
Kirsten Kirby
Kirsten Kirby
Director, Work-Based Learning

Professionally and personally, goal setting is important but it is also beneficial to be open to unexpected opportunities that arise. If something piques your curiosity, follow it. You never know where it might lead and the profound impact it may have on your life. As a student at Smith College, taking an introductory literature course led me to discover an interest in Beowulf and other poetry from that time period. I went on to major in English and studied Old English and Old Norse. This prompted me to consider getting a Ph.D. and becoming a professor. Other possible career paths emerged as I continued to explore different interests. Each summer, I completed marketing internships including an impactful opportunity at Spalding Sports, and began to consider positions in Sports Marketing. Multiple leadership roles on campus opened my eyes to the possibility of a career supporting and empowering students. I ultimately chose this career path and earned an MSEd in Higher Education Management at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Since then, my career has taken me on an interesting journey, from helping students explore many different career paths to advising students seeking to enter the healthcare field to working with physician leaders to writing a book, Your White Coat is Waiting: Vital Advice for Pre-Meds. I deeply believe that everyone deserves the chance to find and have a career that is meaningful to them and where they can make a difference while also continuing to learn and grow.

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Stephanie Lapera Manager, Work-Based Learning
Stephanie Lapera
Stephanie Lapera
Manager, Work-Based Learning

Teaching was the first profession I remember wanting to pursue, however, my high school chemistry teacher inspired me to take a different path. With the intention of going to pharmacy school, I declared my major in chemistry at San Diego State University. By my senior year in college, I had started working in a research lab and all dreams of pharmacy school faded away. Not feeling fully prepared to enter the workforce, I applied to graduate school to get more hands-on experience in the lab. Graduate school also exposed me to teaching, as I worked through graduate school as a teaching assistant. After graduation I became a senior research associate for a small biotechnology company exploring the synthesis of small molecules, formulating synthetic processes for replication, and documenting data for future use. At night, I taught chemistry part-time, which later evolved into a full-time job as an adjunct professor at multiple community colleges. As an educator, I seek to instill students with practical and useful skills they can apply in the workforce. My position at NAF enables me to merge my background in science, education, and passion for student success to help better prepare students for their college and career goals.

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Mike Lee Network Administrator
Mike Lee
Mike Lee
Network Administrator

In my early teens, my uncle introduced me to race karting and fueled (pun intended) my interests in potentially becoming a professional driver. The national competition quickly made me realize that the path would be too difficult and expensive to pursue though my passion for competitive driving still exists.  As a lifelong New Yorker, I attended Adelphi University for Business but quickly realized that business wasn’t going to be my intended career path. Soon I discovered my passion for technology and a knack for fixing things. I was at my previous software company for 12+ yrs in the IT trade and am very happy to be finally be working at NAF.

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Marc Lesser Vice President of Research & Technology
Marc Lesser
Marc Lesser
Vice President of Research & Technology

Growing up, I understood that creative people “do art.” What I didn’t know then was that the creative challenges that engaged me the most had little to do with my own self-expression. Through funding from the National Corporation for Communities and Service, I became an AmeriCorps Member in my early twenties, realizing a passion not for storytelling or painting, but for improving our shared experience. How might creative approaches within all of our learning institutions play out to the benefit of future generations? Professionally, I became an educator, a technologist, and a champion for social impact.

I’m a specialist in digital age learning with broad experience in the design of programs and research to explore new solutions to education’s seemingly intractable problems. My experience is shaped by previous roles as an educator, trainer, and specialist in project learning and youth development. I’ve served as an advisor to corporate and federal foundations, led teams working to catalyze national change in education, and have loved mentoring young professionals in the social impact sector.

I hold a Master’s degree from NYU’s Digital Media Design for Learning program and a B.S. in Cinema and Photography from Ithaca College. I co-founded Emoti-Con, the NYC Youth Digital Media and Technology Festival and, in 2012, was named a National School Boards Association “20-to-Watch” among national leaders in education and technology. I served as the first Practitioner Fellow at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Youth Studies Program, and currently produce No Such Thing, a podcast about learning in the digital age. Above all, I’m a learner, like you.

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Megan Marx, Ed.D. Assistant Director, Academy Development
Megan Marx, Ed.D.
Megan Marx, Ed.D.
Assistant Director, Academy Development

I am a classicist turned career technical education (CTE) enthusiast.  I studied Latin and classical traditions at Princeton University.  Believing in the power of education and driven by a desire that all students should have access to great learning opportunities, I completed a Master of Science in English Education from Syracuse University and have taught in middle and high school in rural, suburban, and urban districts.  Born a Jersey girl, I happily returned to New Jersey after working in Syracuse for a few years.

In 2010, Elizabeth Public Schools, a K-12 urban school district in New Jersey, hired me as an English teacher; I immediately took interest in NAF academy implementation and began working on the district’s design team.  Additionally, I completed my doctorate at Seton Hall University in Education Leadership, Management, & Policy.

As a Language Arts coach overseeing cross-curricular, business-themed instruction in her school’s Academy of Finance (AOF), I grew with Elizabeth’s NAF program.  After a year as the vice principal of the school’s AOF, which achieved NAF model status, in my first year as principal, I opened Elizabeth’s 7th public high school as a whole school AOF program that shortly after became a Distinguished AOF.

I enjoy learning and life experiences, love and laughter.  I like to travel with my husband and two children, and serve as sous chef to my daughter and Lacrosse mom to my son.  Formula One is a great passion and I would love nothing more than to someday see a race on the streets of Monaco.

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Sarina Mathai Assistant Director, Partnership Activation
Sarina Mathai
Sarina Mathai
Assistant Director, Partnership Activation

Like many kids growing up with Boston sports, I wanted to be a sportswriter. I went to Tufts University and majored in English and History with that in mind. Thanks to the connections I made at a summer journalism program, I had the opportunity to work in the Boston Globe’s Sports department starting my freshman year of college and I continued to work there through college and after graduation. During my senior year at Tufts, I worked for Jumpstart, an early education organization that recruits and trains local college students to work with preschool children in low-income neighborhoods. My time as a Jumpstart corps member sparked an enthusiasm for the education field. I moved to New York knowing how many opportunities there were in the education field in the city, and was lucky enough to discover NAF.

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Jacob Macdonald Full Stack Developer
Jacob Macdonald
Jacob Macdonald
Full Stack Developer

I’ve lived in NYC my whole life, growing up in the East Village. I initially became interested in programming in high school when I took a game development class – a hobby which has stayed with me to this day. I attended the NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn majoring in Computer Science. During college, I interned for Pentagram Design building email templates. I learned everything I know on the job, spending most of my first few months on Google. Learning practical skills at Pentagram while simultaneously getting a classical computer science education gave me an interesting perspective, and I was fortunate enough to continue working there as a contractor until my graduation. I then spent some time contracting for another design firm before moving on to a full-time position at a startup involved in the competitive e-sports industry. After six months there, I decided I needed a change in pace, leading me to explore opportunities at more socially aware institutions. I’m excited and honored to be working for NAF, and I hope to make as much of an impact here as I can.

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John Marchiano Full Stack Developer
John Marchiano
John Marchiano
Full Stack Developer

I became interested in computer science sophomore year of high school when I took it as a free elective. I seemed to have a knack for it since I aced the class. In junior year, I enrolled in AP computer science. I was a competitive swimmer at the time and had qualified for the Junior Olympics, but I blew out my shoulder before I was able to compete. I was still healing and on all sorts of medications when I was back at school taking the AP exam. Amazingly enough, I managed to get a 4 on it. My teacher was impressed and suggested that I stick with computer programming. I took her advice and majored in computer science in college before changing to a newly emerged major: information technology. I was sold me on the fact that I would only need to take up to Calculus 2. I took a slight reprieve for a few months after graduation before entering the workforce. My first job was as an iOS developer at EarthCam. I wound up liking mobile application development and continued to do that at my next two roles at Mediacom and The Learning Experience before joining Brimar Industries where I strictly did server-side programming and a little bit of front-end development. After Brimar, I took about six months off and pursued making holistic, vegan, fluoride free, toothpaste, and really started getting into holistic health remedies before returning to my technical roots and lending my talents to NAF’s mission.

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Nicholas Minar, Ph.D Director, Research & Reporting
Nicholas Minar, Ph.D
Nicholas Minar, Ph.D
Director, Research & Reporting

I have always been interested in what makes people the way they are. The complex collection of factors that influence human behavior is something I have always been interested in studying. I grew up near Cleveland, Ohio and my plan in high school was to gain a better understanding of human behavior by studying and teaching history. However, during my senior year I was exposed to my first psychology course and never looked back; from that point forward I knew I wanted to study psychology.

In my pursuit to better understand what makes us who we are, I began to study child development. I gained a new appreciation for the importance of early life experiences and how they influence who we grow up to be. I graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the Ohio State University in 2010 but wanted to further explore child development by pursuing a postgraduate degree. During graduate school, I worked as a research and teaching assistant at Florida Atlantic University while studying perceptual development in typically developing children. I went on to graduate in 2015 with a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology. Before joining NAF, I worked within the Department of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School where I conducted research involving both typically and atypically developing children. During this time, I gained additional teaching experience at the graduate level.

I am honored and thrilled to be a part of NAF and am excited about the important research being conducted. I hope to contribute to NAF’s strong research agenda and help make the current generation of students, and many generations to come, future ready.

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Melanie Newell Director, Partnership Activation
Melanie Newell
Melanie Newell
Director, Partnership Activation

I was raised in England by American parents who were academics and educators. They modeled to me the importance of travel, education, and building friendships across the globe. My early career musings were simple — I wanted to help others and I wanted to travel. For my undergraduate studies, I attended Seattle Pacific University and majored in Theology and Sociology. During this time, I spent two summers working at an ecumenical monastery in France (Taizé) where my roommates hailed from India, Uganda, Rwanda, Brazil, and the Philippines. My life was forever changed by their stories of poverty, loss, inequality, as well as hope. Through meeting people who had lived a different reality than mine, my classroom learning was translated into real life. After graduation, I moved to Belize, Central America and taught night school at an adult literacy program leading me to later pursue an MA in Development Studies in The Hague, Netherlands. My career thus far has included university study abroad programming, academic success coaching, community advocacy, and a detour at a tech startup to learn project and portfolio management. Now I am merging my experience with my desire to create opportunities and positive change for underserved students through facilitating high school internships with NAF.

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Natasha Orbis Manager, Partnership Activation
Natasha Orbis
Natasha Orbis
Manager, Partnership Activation

Education has always been very important to my family and me. Being a daughter of an accountant, financial education was also very important. He taught me the importance of managing money at a very young age. So when it came time after high school to choose a career path, it was a difficult decision to make. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education and then got my MBA in Finance at Florida International University.

NAF has been a part of my professional career since 2010. I first started my journey with NAF when I was a liaison for Educational Federal Credit Union to start a school branch that would be run by Academy of Finance students at Coral Gables Senior High School in Miami, FL. This opened my eyes to the possibility of teaching. I have always wanted to experience living abroad and so I decided to start my teaching career in Seoul, Korea teaching English. Korea has a lot of private English schools, so I was able to find a teaching position fairly quickly. It was a bit nerve recking at first, especially because I did not know the language. But, the students I was working with and a lot of my Korean co-workers spoke English. After a year in Korea  I came back to Coral Gables Senior High and became the AOF coordinator. As the Academy of Finance coordinator I learned the importance of empowering and inspiring students to Be Future Ready and I am honored to continue to be a part of that vision.

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Joseiry Perez Marketing Specialist
Joseiry Perez
Joseiry Perez
Marketing Specialist

Graduating from Seekonk High School in Massachusetts, it was always my dream to come to New York to study and establish a career, although as a freshman I believed that the career would be in law. I applied to St. John’s seeking a degree in Pre-Law. But as I began to establish myself, I realized my creativity and care for others is what would ultimately land me in a place where I could excel, so I explored my options.

As a recent graduate of St. John’s University, I attained a degree in Communications while working part-time at T.G.I Friday’s. In addition, I held internships during the school year with Coburn Communications, The Baddish Group, a Public Relations firm and finally with Effie’s Paper as their Social Media Intern. I also had a healthy amount of extracurricular activities where I held chairs on executive boards, volunteering my time and creativity to the American Cancer Society – Relay For Life at St. John’s as first their Social Media Co-Chair and then their Publicity Chair. Global Goals at St. John’s was another great group with which I spent time educating my peers to the seventeen goals the United Nations wanted to eradicate by the end of 2030, such as gender equality, quality education, climate action, and more. We also completed community service projects around these goals to better our community.

From what I was interested in college, I should have known from a young age that I would be at my happiest working in non-profit, with people who genuinely want to see other humans, especially high school students succeed.

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Julissa Perez Senior Director, Strategy and Stakeholder Engagement
Julissa Perez
Julissa Perez
Senior Director, Strategy and Stakeholder Engagement

As a child, I always gravitated towards writing and journalism. My family highly discouraged these aspirations because where we come from, there’s no such thing as freedom of the press. I then went to a career and technical education high school with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Pretty quickly I was on my way to become an Industrial Engineer. It wasn’t until I participated in the Model New York State Senate project that I discovered my passion for public policy and building systems that support humanity. After finishing my bachelor’s in Political Science at Baruch College, I had my eyes set on law school. Then I had the opportunity to work in economic development and I quickly realized that building pathways to economic prosperity was my calling. After finishing a master’s degree in Public Administration at New York University, I also became a career coach and an instructional designer, working with young people to build a more equitable and sustainable economy. As for that eight year-old version of me who loved writing and journalism, I’ve channeled that energy into every policy brief, grant proposal, and opinion piece I’ve had the pleasure of producing over the last decade. This non-linear career trajectory is what fuels my passion for experiential learning and stackable credentialing and what makes me really excited about joining the team at NAF.

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Nitita Pongsanarakul CRM Administrator
Nitita Pongsanarakul
Nitita Pongsanarakul
CRM Administrator

Upon graduating high school, I thought business school was the smart and safe career choice since I grew up with parents who owned a restaurant, and I had to work there as soon as I could reach the cash register! I graduated from Bentley University with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and International Studies minor. After graduation, I spent two years sitting in a cubicle crunching numbers. One day I thought to myself, “Is this really what I want to be doing for the rest of my life?” And it clearly wasn’t.

I left my first job to teach English as a Second Language to elementary students in Thailand for a year. It was easily the scariest and best decision of my life. It was such a fulfilling learning experience, and I wanted more of it. I returned to the U.S. determined to find a job in the education or non-profit sector. Without much of an education background aside from a year of teaching abroad, I got my foot through the door by becoming an AmeriCorps servicemember for a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship to low-income high school students. Since then, I have spent the last 10 years dedicating myself to serving students and communities across various sectors, specifically through the use of data and technology, to which I attribute my foundational skills and training from my background in business! I am a Salesforce Certified Administrator and plan to become a Salesforce Certified Non-Profit Cloud Consultant in the near future. I’m excited to be leading NAF’s Salesforce implementation to improve relationship management and coordination across departments, academies, and stakeholders and ultimately improve services and experiences for NAF students and alumni.

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John Poulos Full Stack Developer
John Poulos
John Poulos
Full Stack Developer

I attended the University of Notre Dame and New York University, where I received degrees in English and Journalism respectively, before transitioning from a career as a music critic and magazine editor to one in web development. After a short time, as web developer and technology coordinator for an educational collaborative, I worked as an intranet developer for a tech company outside of Boston. Additionally, I developed sites for writers, actors, artists, and comedians in Los Angeles. I had always wanted to return to New York and decided I wanted to work for an organization that was contributing some good to our increasingly troubled world. As the son of a second-grade teacher and as someone who has helped raise a child with learning disabilities, I’ve always valued education and have always had a great admiration for educators. I am honored to join the Information Technology team at NAF!

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Fred Press Manager, Academy Development
Fred Press
Fred Press
Manager, Academy Development

I knew in 7th grade that I would be a high school teacher, but my dad wasn’t happy with that choice; “Teachers don’t make no money”, he said.  My mother, a school clerk, opined that I’d probably make a good principal since I spent so much time in the principal’s office. Miss. E, my Latin and English teacher became my mentor. She encouraged my desire to be a teacher and planted the seeds that I would cultivate and nurture into a successful and satisfying career in education.  Years later, as a high school teacher, I became a mentor to those students I refer to as “good bad kids”. I spent 35 years in urban high schools, 25 years teaching.  My most memorable experience was 33 years teaching ESL, 3 hours a night, 3 nights a week to foreign adults.  I took that position at $5.00 an hour to supplement my $4,000 teacher salary.  My father was right; teachers didn’t make a lot back then.  It was a labor of love for someone who loves teaching.

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Nora Proujansky Manager, People Operations
Nora Proujansky
Nora Proujansky
Manager, People Operations

I grew up in rural Western Massachusetts and my own education experiences led to my interest in education. While at Eugene Lang: The New School for Liberal Arts as an undergraduate, I focused my studies on 19th-century American history, specifically early feminism and the Second Great Awakening. I interned at two schools — one public and one private — and also interned at the New York Historical Society. I learned a lot at my internships, mainly that I didn’t want to be a historian or a classroom teacher! But I would never have known that without the hands-on experience. Following graduation, I worked in restaurants and eventually rose to become the general manager of a small Brooklyn-based restaurant group. My experience there taught me many skills I use here at NAF, like patience, empathy, and the ability to think on my feet (literally and figuratively!)

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Dana Pungello Senior Director, Marketing & Communications
Dana Pungello
Dana Pungello
Senior Director, Marketing & Communications

From a love of creative writing, grew a passion for all things communications. After graduating with honors early from the University of Massachusetts -Amherst with a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and minor in Spanish, I was lucky enough to find my place in the non-profit community early on, beginning with an editorial internship in college with Alcoholics Anonymous before launching my career at a county-wide arts organization working in the communications department. I then joined a communications consulting firm serving many non-profits’ strategic communications’ needs before bringing my expertise in-house at NAF where I have been a leader in growing awareness of a national brand since 2010. I’ve continued to grow in communications and received a Master’s degree in corporate communications from Baruch College in 2016.

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Brooke Rice, Ed.D. Senior Director, Work-Based Learning
Brooke Rice, Ed.D.
Brooke Rice, Ed.D.
Senior Director, Work-Based Learning

As a child, I loved to play school with my friends, but the thought of becoming a teacher did not occur to me until my guidance counselor encouraged me to apply for a teaching scholarship to pay for my college education. I always had an interest in advertising and a visit to North Carolina State University showed me that I could combine these two options into one major: Business and Marketing Education. My passion for education served as the impetus of various degrees (including teaching and school administration) with the goal of serving in the area of educational reform. After 10 years of teaching marketing and opening a NAF Academy of Hospitality & Tourism in my school, I decided to join NAF in 2013 and currently serve as the Senior Director of Work-Based Learning.

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Christine Rodriguez, Ph.D. Director, Instructional Services
Christine Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Christine Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Director, Instructional Services

Frank Rhodes, the former president of Cornell University, so perfectly described teaching as “the cultivation of not only the mind, but also the heart…it is a vocation because it is a calling and not simply a job.” When I ponder on his words, my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Bing-Malecka, comes to mind. Early on, she sparked in me a passion for teaching, and in the fifth and sixth grades, I joined Teachers of Tomorrow and was able to shadow her a few days each week. Because of her and my early immersion in teaching, I have embraced my calling with a big bear-hug! 

Before joining NAF, I served as an educator for 25 years in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, during which time I earned a Master’s in Education Technology and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Florida Atlantic University.  I worked with NAF and an amazing academy team while at Hialeah Gardens High School, serving as a Language Arts teacher and the Academy Coordinator. When I attended the NAF conference in 2011, my philosophies of future-readiness crystallized.

I have seen firsthand, within our schools’ walls and out in the community, how the collaboration of teachers, administrators, advisory boards, industry leaders, and the NAF staff truly cultivates the minds, hands, and hearts of our future.

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Melanie Sacca Controller, Expenses & Financial Reporting
Melanie Sacca
Melanie Sacca
Controller, Expenses & Financial Reporting

My interest in accounting started in high school when I enrolled in the NAF Academy of Finance at Northport High School. After high school, I attended St. John’s University’s Tobin School of Business as an Accountancy major. Being introduced to accounting and other business topics at such a young age set me apart from my peers and gave me a competitive edge. Having gained so much knowledge and experience through my NAF academy experience, I knew I had to give back to this incredible organization. During my sophomore year at St. John’s, I joined the Advisory Board for the Academy of Finance at Northport High School as their Secretary and Alumni Coordinator. Through this experience, I attended several NAF Next conferences, which gave me an inside look at all the incredible things NAF has accomplished. I’m excited to be taking my dedication to this organization and its mission to the next level.

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Matt Sanchez Web Support Specialist
Matt Sanchez
Matt Sanchez
Web Support Specialist

Growing up I always knew whatever career path I pursued would be one that allowed my mind to analyze and solve problems. From an early age, I had a knack for trivia, games, and most things involving competition. When I got to college my initial plan was to major in Business Management with a minor in Psychology, in hopes of one day helping businesses connect with their employees on a deeper level. However, life had a different plan for me and I developed a new passion: cooking and the hospitality world. I ended up graduating with a degree in Hospitality Management from Western Kentucky University in hopes of working in the challenging world of resort management. This eventually led me to a job in Sales, which is never where I intended to be. In 2020, amidst the beginnings of the COVID pandemic, I had a change of heart. My dad always had me in front of a computer from a young age and I realized this was something I was passionate about: working with computers and technology. I also got to know myself much better in a post-pandemic world and really pinpointed my desires and strengths in the professional world. This prompted me to change my career and pursue IT work in some form. I’m still not 100% sure where I’m headed but I feel like I’m on the right path.

When I found NAF, I fell in love with its mission. To go from the corporate world where all that matters is the bottom line and profit, to a company that truly strives to benefit the society it exists in has been a huge win for me. I’m beyond excited to be a part of NAF and look forward to helping improve the young lives that shape our future.

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Sandra Greer-Sanders Vice President, DEI and Talent Development
Sandra Greer-Sanders
Sandra Greer-Sanders
Vice President, DEI and Talent Development

Growing up I was going to find the cure for sickle cell anemia when I found out about the devastating effects it had on my community. I graduated from Tufts University, not pre-med, but with an undergraduate degree in community mental health. However, life does come full circle. Although I did not find the cure for sickle cell anemia, later in life I did have the honor of serving on the board of a regional sickle cell association. After graduating from college, I spent a couple of years as a social worker at a Head Start program and went on to receive my Master of Public Health from Yale University. I spent the next several years in managed behavioral health and medical surgical, and Medicaid managed care before I had an “aha” moment that led me to my career in human resources. I started as a training manager and took advantage of the opportunity to grow and develop in my career. I soon became a HR business partner and diversity and inclusion leader. I wore three hats and loved each one of them. My goal was, and still is, to keep the “human” in human resources to ensure all have the opportunity to develop and grow throughout their career journey.

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Courtney Savoia Assistant Director, Communications
Courtney Savoia
Courtney Savoia
Assistant Director, Communications

I had a knack for asking questions since I was young. When it came time to choose a college major, I knew that journalism was the correct path for my future. I’d be able to document unique experiences, speak to decision makers, and take a journey through all the disciplines I was interested in, all with just a pen and paper in hand. After graduating from Marist College in 2010 with a degree in Communications and a few internships in media under my belt, I began working in the non-profit practice of a public relations firm with clients such as the Alzheimer’s Association, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, Citymeals-on-Wheels, and the Fortune Society. I was proud to play a part in telling their story and bringing much needed recognition to their efforts and achievements. I am pleased to continue my career in the nonprofit arena and shine a spotlight on NAF’s mission and prestigious work and accomplishments.

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Colleen Smith Assistant Director, Academy Development
Colleen Smith
Colleen Smith
Assistant Director, Academy Development

Growing up in a family of educators, the importance of learning and having a unique skillset was engrained in me.  I attended NC State University, earned my degree, and began my career in the business industry. After one year, I decided to enter graduate school and pursue a Master’s degree in Counseling & Development, realizing I had a desire to teach, nurture, and inspire students.  I earned my graduate degree from Winthrop University and was offered a position as a high school counselor at a NAF academy.  My best moments there were building meaningful relationships with my students and helping them discover their own passions.  From the experience as an academy counselor, I witnessed firsthand the impact that a rigorous, relevant curriculum, career exploration, work-based learning, and college preparation had on our students’ lives. The NAF academy gave them the resources they needed to find, plan, and pursue their career dreams. Viewing the NAF experience through the students’ eyes inspired me daily. I am pleased to be a part of the NAF team and have the opportunity to make the difference across our network, as we prepare students for the future!

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Cassandra Soler Executive Assistant
Cassandra Soler
Cassandra Soler
Executive Assistant

During my senior year in high school, I thought I wanted a career in the federal government. After graduation, I began my journey working full-time as an office secretary for U.S. Customs Service. During that time, I attended University of the District of Columbia part-time, taking coursework and switching majors not sure if I wanted to pursue Personnel Management as a profession. Dissatisfied with government life, I wanted to make a career change. So, I quit my government job and during my soul-searching, I worked as record store clerk. During those 3 months, a unique opportunity opened for me there as an Administrative Assistant to General Manager and Record Store Manager. For 3 years, this experience gave me better appreciation for record retail operations while still enjoying the office administration side for one of the most successful brick and mortar stores during its time, Tower Records. After 3 years’ there, I left the retail business to work in the administrative offices for a student hosteling organization in DC. Eventually I decided to move to NYC in 2001, so I packed my bags and continued my journey in the office administration field. My experiences lead me to various great opportunities in the for-profit and non-profit world in the arts, investment consulting, children’s social services before joining NAF, a great organization enhancing college and career readiness of future leaders and entrepreneurs.

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Danielle Spitzer Assistant Director, Development
Danielle Spitzer
Danielle Spitzer
Assistant Director, Development

I distinctly remember standing at my University orientation when a counselor asked me, “What is your major? What would you like to do for your career?”  I already answered her silently in mind: I’m 17 and I don’t have a clue. She said, “you seem to be a people person and very outgoing, how about Mass Communications?” That’s how I landed in the Public Relations track with a Communications Studies minor. I wasn’t entirely in love with either, so I chose to get a Marketing Certificate. I knew the only way to see if I was a good fit within the PR field was to experience it. Two PR internships later, it still didn’t feel completely right. Through my internship at a boutique PR firm I became close with one of their clients who asked me what I really wanted to do. I told her I think I’d like producing events for a great cause. She connected me to her friend who worked at a major event company. I interned there for several months and was connected to their client, Keep a Child Alive (KCA). I went to work at KCA planning their annual gala, the Black Ball. This opportunity led to an expansion of my responsibilities to include community events and working with major donors for over 10 years in support of children and families internationally. I’ve always been passionate about education and when I discovered NAF, I immediately connected with the mission as I personally know how valuable work-based learning can be in a student’s future.

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John Stegner Manager, Development
John Stegner
John Stegner
Manager, Development

My first experience with the nonprofit and education worlds began at the University of Virginia, my alma mater. My mother was an educator. That combined with my love of literature inspired me to study English Education. While in college, I volunteered in local secondary schools during the year and taught songwriting and fiction in academic camps over two summers. I loved every minute of it, and even though I didn’t pursue teaching as a career, I carried the memories of hard-working English teachers with me to New York City. My career started down a different path with academic and trade publishing, but I continued to volunteer my time through the pro-bono organization Catchafire, copywriting and promoting events for small regional groups. After three years, I decided I wanted to spend my time doing something more meaningful than simply pursuing profit (however wonderful the product was!), and began seeking positions in nonprofits, particularly those in education. I’m thrilled to work with the institutional advancement team at NAF, and love that I can continue to explore effective educational solutions and rally to raise funds for this terrific organization.

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Bill Taylor Vice President, Outreach & Partnership Development
Bill Taylor
Bill Taylor
Vice President, Outreach & Partnership Development

I graduated from high school thinking I wanted to be a professional musician, so I majored in music at the University of Central Florida. I spent my days playing music, sports, and pledging a fraternity, but failed to have an academic focus. After 3 semesters of struggle I went to work for Disney World, where for the first time in my life I was given responsibility of other employees. I blossomed in this role and was sent to France to open Euro Disney where I lived and worked for three months. Coming back home, I went back to school graduating with a sociology degree from State University of New York Geneseo. I wanted to pursue a career where I could make a difference in the world, particularly for those who have historically been underserved and denied opportunity. I moved to NYC where I taught high school, then was hired by NAF in 2000 to help launch the Academy of Information Technology.

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Keisha Taylor, Ed.D. Senior Director, Alumni & Postsecondary Engagement
Keisha Taylor, Ed.D.
Keisha Taylor, Ed.D.
Senior Director, Alumni & Postsecondary Engagement

Throughout my secondary school years, I participated in many activities that offered an opportunity to reach young people. I studied English and Secondary Education at Rowan University and continued my studies there, pursuing a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, thinking that I wanted to become a Dean of Student Life. After a few interesting events, I decided to turn my focus back to my first passion — teaching. I spent eight years as a high school English teacher before becoming a curriculum supervisor and completing my Doctorate in educational leadership and innovation. I enjoyed training teachers so much that I became an education consultant for four years. From there, I realized I wanted to have the opportunity to not only work with teachers, but to provide opportunities for corporate employees to work with teachers and students. Working at NAF since 2012 has provided me the opportunity to combine my love of curriculum, training and development to support the NAF Network.

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Alex Torres Manager, Network Support
Alex Torres
Alex Torres
Manager, Network Support

I’ve always known that my career would involve helping those who would come after me. It’s just always been through different avenues. Initially, it was through sports as that will always be my first love. I went to the Business of Sports School (now a NAF academy) for high school before attending college at St. John’s University where I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Sports Management. While in high school, I was part of the NFTE program and in college, I had the opportunity to intern for the organization, where I helped students launch their businesses. Once I graduated college, I had the opportunity to become a NYC NAF Future Ready Lab facilitator. It was a blessing to be in the Lab with 20-25 interns working on their business development skills and watching them grow. I then became the CTEISP Industry Partnership Coordinator which allowed me to help students obtain internships with amazing companies in the business and hospitality sector. That was the official stamp that verified to me that I will focus on helping our future leaders.

 

Coming from a school that is now a NAF academy, there’s a lot of pride that comes along with it. NAF has always blessed me with the opportunity to give back even before I officially came on board. It’s always a great feeling knowing that our students see me and have the feeling that they can make a difference too.

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Candida Vazquez People Operations Associate
Candida Vazquez
Candida Vazquez
People Operations Associate

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and I am the youngest of 4. During my public-school years, I would audition for all the school plays and would always land the lead roles. After graduating from Louis D. Brandeis High School, I went to Long Island University’s CW Post where I majored in Public Relations and took a ton of theater electives. In 2006, I transferred to The City College of New York to be closer to my family and started working at a nonprofit off-Broadway theater as an usher which allowed me the flexibility to take acting classes and attend college full time. After a year and a half of being back home, I became a mom and took some much-needed time away from school and acting classes to focus on working hard to provide for my son. In 2014, I went back to finish school. I switched my major to Theater with a minor in Public Relations. I was in my element during those last two years of college. I learned how to write screenplays and even directed two one-act plays. I graduated in 2016 with my bachelor’s degree. After graduation, I worked on a few shows but quickly realized that I needed something more stable to provide for my son. I knew that a nonprofit organization that focused on youth would be a better fit for me. I joined the Professionals for Nonprofits temp agency in 2017 and was placed in jobs that ranged from charter schools to organizations that provided opportunities to underprivileged kids. Now to have this opportunity to work at NAF, knowing that I am part of a team that is focused on the betterment of students truly brings me joy.

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Reedy Wade Vice President, Academy Engagement & Impact
Reedy Wade
Reedy Wade
Vice President, Academy Engagement & Impact
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Kim Warren Manager, Network Engagement
Kim Warren
Kim Warren
Manager, Network Engagement

I always had a passion for social justice and intellectual discovery. When I was 14, I became an educational and social activist in my hometown of Freehold, New Jersey and in my high school, which set the stage for my eventual calling — to inspire young people to reach their full potential. My interest in equity, learning, and personal development grew when I enrolled at Kean University. While at Kean University, I immersed myself in my studies with a focus on social work, group dynamics, and empowerment. I received my BSW in social work with the foresight in knowing this was only the beginning of my educational and social justice journey.

I began my professional work with children at New York City’s premier agency for the advocacy and rights of adolescents at The Door. I later went on to become a faculty member at the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School where I implemented and developed the school’s counseling program for teens. In 2000, I was recruited by the Boys’ Club of New York, where I developed and implemented the organization’s counseling program for 1,600 disadvantaged males. In February 2011, I became a faculty member of the Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance as the NAF and Work-Based Learning Coordinator, and served as the facilitator for their Advisory Leadership Team.

In 2014, I completed the Momentum Basic and Advanced Workshop and recently completed my Discipleship Ministry Training at the Greater Allen Cathedral, which strengthened my purpose, passion, and dedication to my life’s work. I’ve learned one thing for certain from my life’s accomplishments: the only time I took a detour in life was when I wasn’t in alignment with my divine purpose.

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Angela Watson Contracts Manager
Angela Watson
Angela Watson
Contracts Manager

After graduating high school I followed a family tradition spanning 4 generations by joining the United States Army. During my tour I travelled the world working as a Broadcast Journalist for American Forces Network. One day, my co-worker brought his children in to meet me. I let them do some voice-overs for me and they were thrilled. Next thing I knew, other coworkers were bringing their kids in so I decided to start a job shadow program. I knew then that whatever career path I chose, it would have to involve young people.  After leaving the Army, I earned my BFA in Communication Arts and found my way to NAF. As the Membership Services Coordinator, I juggle many responsibilities but my most rewarding experiences come from my work with the scholarship and internship programs. This allows me to stay connected with our students and witness first-hand the impact NAF has on their lives.

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Jillian Wertheim Manager, Development
Jillian Wertheim
Jillian Wertheim
Manager, Development

For me, being Future Ready means finding new ways to apply my strengths to an ever-changing world—a philosophy I’ve subconsciously been living out since college. My majors in rhetoric and art history from U.C. Berkeley didn’t spell out an obvious career trajectory, but I was passionate about the subject matter and found value in the analytical and research skills I developed along the way. Thinking I’d pursue a curatorial path, I went after jobs in museums—first, on a collection move project at Berkeley’s Hearst Museum, and then, as a development assistant at the Ashmolean Museum while I completed my master’s degree at Oxford. Both roles solidified my enthusiasm for mission-driven organizations and helped broaden my professional ambitions.

By that point, I knew the nonprofit sector was where I wanted to build my career and that working in development struck harmony between the creative and methodical sides of my brain. I moved to New York and continued this work at the Guggenheim, leading cross-departmental efforts to produce the museum’s signature fundraising events. Then in 2020, drawn to NAF’s vision for young people and eager to impact meaningful change, I joined the Institutional Advancement team.

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Arlene Williams, Ed.D. Director, Community Impact
Arlene Williams, Ed.D.
Arlene Williams, Ed.D.
Director, Community Impact

As a military brat, our family moved around the country often.  One of my most memorable moments was when we were stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where I attended a Department of Defense elementary school.  I can recall my third-grade teacher conferencing my parents to discuss how to channel my energies because I completed assignments quickly and then disturbed others. A month later the teacher assigned me the role of “peer tutor” explaining that I did a better job than she did in helping students understand their lessons. At that moment, my love for education was born.

During high school, I found my niche in the Fashion Marketing Pathway which led to an internship at a boutique in Virginia, and later, the position of store manager.  While working, I pursued a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Marketing/Education at Old Dominion University with an option upon graduation to teach Fashion Marketing or transition to the business sector. A month after graduation, I moved to Detroit and accepted a Fashion Marketing teaching position at Randolph CTC.  Along my educational journey, I earned a Master’s in Career Technical Education, Certification in Educational Leadership, and a Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Wayne State University.

I became passionate about NAF upon following the notable Finance Academy at Golightly CTC in Detroit. Following NAF’s educational design shaped what I provided to students as I climbed the career ladder as a Curriculum Leader, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Director of Career Technical Education for the largest school district in Michigan. Pathways work!

All in all, I am blessed  to join NAF’s best and the brightest in the quest to resolve challenges that will bring key stakeholders together for children.

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Jessica D. Williams Assistant Director, Academy Development
Jessica D. Williams
Jessica D. Williams
Assistant Director, Academy Development

I had no idea what I wanted to be growing up. You could say I was designed to be a teacher. When I was younger, I loved finding out about things and sharing what I learned with others. As I got older, I knew I was destined to “save the world”. How I was going to do that didn’t become evident until I gained career experience. After being a parks/recreation camp counselor, a dance teacher, a fast food employee, a felony/misdemeanor Trial Clerk, a high school math teacher, and an administrator for career and technical education (CTE), I knew I was called to serve the public. From these career experiences, and from the scholastic earnings of a BS in Business Administration (University of South Florida) and an MS in Management (University of Central Florida), I was able to both apply and challenge the experiential and imparted knowledge. From the schools of academia and life, I learned that I like helping people help themselves. I enjoyed sharing what I knew and facilitating others in accessing the resources they needed to be successful.

 

While I still don’t know what I want to be, I know I’m supposed to be an example. I’m blessed to be able to learn something new about myself and share my expertise with others along this journey. NAF enables me the opportunity to teach, grow, learn, and build relationships. NAF enables me to exercise my own version of saving the world. I look forward to working with anyone who can help me do it.

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Cassandra Yung Manager, Work-Based Learning
Cassandra Yung
Cassandra Yung
Manager, Work-Based Learning

I spent many summer afternoons playing school with my friends, teaching anyone who would endure being lectured to during their highly-anticipated break. This early start grew into a passion for learning and education, leading me to study secondary education with focuses in English and science at Oklahoma Baptist University. After graduation, I taught a variety of high school courses in an urban school setting in Oklahoma City, where many of my students had unique learning needs. Studying two drastically different subjects during college instilled an appreciation for integrated learning in my teaching style and pushed me to consider non-traditional types of instruction to meet the diverse needs of my students. I was introduced to NAF in 2014 when asked to be the director of our school’s Academy of Health Sciences, where I quickly came to enjoy the more focused opportunity to help students with post-secondary preparation. As we dove into cross-curricular instruction, internships, and countless work-based learning experiences, I knew students were truly engaged and making progress toward their future goals. I am excited to be a part of the NAF team, supporting academies as they develop programs focused on ensuring each student is college, career, and future ready.

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