2018-2019 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows

Kwame AnkuKwame Anku
Chairman and CEO
Black Star Fund
Sacramento, CA
The Black Star Fund is an early stage innovation fund investing in the United States and Africa. Prior to the Black Star Fund, Kwame Anku was the Principal of the Black Angel Tech Fund, a pioneering investment fund he co-founded that focused on capitalizing Black technology entrepreneurs. Recently named “One of the Top 25 Black Venture Capitalists to Watch in 2018” by Pitchbook, Anku has worked extensively in business development and media marketing blending entrepreneurship, social impact, and corporate engagement for over two decades. Anku entered into the tech industry after being personally recruited by the late legendary rock star Prince to develop his mobile app. He later went on to serve as the National Director of Strategic Development for the Prince-inspired #YesWeCode initiative, supporting youth of color empowerment through the creation of technology. Kwame has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC Worldwide, SiriusXM, and National Public Radio and is a mentor for both the AT&T Aspire Accelerator and Founder Institute Sacramento.

Anthony BarrowsAnthony Barrows
Managing Director
New York, NY
At ideas42, an applied behavioral science firm, Anthony Barrows focuses on domestic poverty, local government, post-secondary education, and civic engagement. Barrows previously worked over ten years in child welfare, spanning positions in direct service, supervision, training, advocacy, project management and system improvement. He is also a practicing artist and has led art classes and arts-oriented youth development programming. Anthony holds a BA in Philosophy and Art from UMass Boston, an MFA in Printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he was a Gleitsman Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership.

Kristin BernhardKristin Bernhard
Senior Vice President, Advocacy & Policy
Ounce of Prevention Fund
Chicago, IL
Bernhard leads the advocacy and policy strategy at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, where she oversees the National Policy Team and the Illinois Policy Team. Prior to joining the Ounce, Kristin served as the Deputy Commissioner for System Reform at the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, where she led the implementation of the state’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, Quality Rating & Improvement System, Early Head Start Child Care Partnership Grant, Early Childhood Integrated Data System, and other initiatives to strengthen the state’s early learning system.  Her career has also included serving as the Education Policy Advisor to Governor Nathan Deal and time in the policy office of Governor Sonny Perdue. Prior to joining the team at DECAL, she served as Education Policy Advisor to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and also in the policy office of Governor Sonny Perdue. She is a member of the inaugural class of the Governor Zell Miller Foundation Leadership Institute and the University of Georgia’s 40 under 40 class of 2018. Kristin is a graduate of the University of Georgia and Georgia State University’s College of Law.

Matthew BielMatthew Biel
Division Chief and Associate Professor
Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Georgetown University School of Medicine/MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
Washington, DC
Dr. Matthew Biel directs an academic medical division engaged in clinical work, education, and research. The clinical program he built includes inpatient and outpatient clinical care, a training site, advocacy efforts, and community-based services focused on improving access to mental health care for underserved children in Washington, DC. They have created more than 30 partnerships with DC public charter schools to provide in-school mental health clinical services; collaborate with primary care clinics to integrate mental health care within pediatric centers; and designed and operate a telehealth consultation program to help pediatricians citywide address mental health concerns within the pediatric primary care setting. Biel also co-directs the Early Childhood Innovation Network, a cross-sector and multi-stakeholder effort to design and implement multi-generational strategies to enhance developmental outcomes for children in DC.

Myla CalhounMyla Calhoun
Alabama Power Foundation
Birmingham, AL
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the Alabama Power Foundation has awarded more than $200 million dollars in grants to Alabama nonprofits, education institutions and community organizations. It is the largest corporate foundation in the state and ranks among the top 2 percent of corporate foundations nationally. Prior to joining Alabama Power, Myla Calhoun was the General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Regional Development and Public Policy for the Birmingham Business Alliance, where she led diverse teams focused on regional revitalization, workforce development and education initiatives, and young professional engagement. She is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and The University of Alabama School of Law.

Wendy EllisWendy Ellis
Project Director and Co-Principal Investigator
Building Community Resilience, George Washington University
Washington, DC
Wendy Ellis has spent the last decade developing a national ‘resilience movement.’ She created the Building Community Resilience process and collaborative, now being implemented in five metro regions, to address systemic inequities driving disparities and a range of poor outcomes transmitted in families and communities across generations. BCR is framed around what Ellis describes as the ‘Pair of ACEs’ – adverse childhood experiences in the context of adverse community environments. Previously, as a journalist, Ellis saw multiple systems – from juvenile justice to health care – fail the very children and families they were meant 
to serve. The BCR work has garnered $1.6 million in funding, including from the Kresge Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Ellis has been featured in Congressional briefings and in the Washington PostUS News and C-SPAN.

John FarnamJohn Farnam
Community Investment Liaison
Morgridge Family Foundation
Denver, CO
John Farnam works to advance the mission of the organization by aligning resources and innovation around social issues. Farnam began his work in education when he raised $6.5 million to build Vanguard Classical School, one of the first charter schools approved by Aurora Public Schools. Prior to his work in education, Farnam served as Vice President of Marketing for Goodwill Industries of Denver where he supported the retail and human service efforts of the $40M organization. Farnam has also served as the Executive Director of the Northern Colorado AIDS Project. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor of Science in Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Joseph HobotJoseph Hobot
President and CEO
American Indian OIC
Minneapolis, MN
Dr. Joseph Hobot is a descendant of the Hunkpapa Band of the Lakota Nation from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation – where his Grandfather and Mother are both enrolled members. He previously held the positions of Lead Teacher and Director of Education at AIOIC. In those roles, he was responsible for the effective oversight and progress of the agency’s alternative high school, its Adult Basic Education/GED program, and its accredited career college. Additionally, Hobot serves as an adjunct faculty member of the Falmouth Institute and as a consultant with the National Urban Indian Family Coalition. Hobot was recently appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to serve on the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership’s Board of Directors. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Minnesota, a Master’s Degree from the University of St. Thomas, and a Doctorate of Education from Hamline University.

Laura Huerta MigusLaura Huerta Migus
Executive Director
Association of Children’s Museums
Arlington, VA
ACM is the world’s largest professional society promoting and advocating on behalf of children’s museums and children’s museum professionals. Under Laura Huerta Migus’ leadership, ACM pursues innovative and effective partnerships to leverage the power of children’s museums worldwide. In 2016, she was recognized as a Champion of Change for Summer Opportunity by the White House. Previously, Huerta Migus served as the Director of Professional Development and Equity Initiatives at the Association of Science-Technology Centers, Inc. and also held positions at the National Multicultural Institute and the National Association for Bilingual Education. Huerta Migus earned a B.A. in Spanish from Texas A&M University and an M.S. in Organization Development and Leadership from Saint Joseph’s University.

Chris JonesChris Jones
Executive Director
North Dakota Department of Human Services
Bismarck, ND
Chris Jones brings 19 years of experience in health service operations, strategy, technology and consulting to his role as Executive Director. The agency he leads is responsible for Medicaid, children and family services, economic assistance, behavioral health and other services for people with disabilities, and includes a statewide system of public behavioral health clinics and two institutions. Previously, he served as a division senior vice president of strategy and business development for Catholic Health Initiatives. Prior to that role, he spent several years as a manager, director and analyst in CHI’s Strategy and Business Development function and worked as a consultant for Allina Health System and Vizient. Jones earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis and has undergraduate degrees in health care administration and Scandinavian studies from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.

Joseph JonesJoseph Jones
Founder and CEO
Center for Urban Families, Inc.
Baltimore, MD
The Baltimore-based Center for Urban Families was established to empower low-income families by enhancing both the ability of women and men to contribute to their families as wage earners and of men to fulfill their roles as fathers. Prior to founding CFUF, Joe Jones developed and directed the Men’s Services program for the federally funded Baltimore Healthy Start initiative and replicated the Baltimore affiliate of the nationally recognized STRIVE employment services program. Jones has received numerous awards and honors for his leadership and programming including the Johns Hopkins University Leadership Development Program’s Distinguished Leadership Award, an honorary Doctorate in Public Service from Morgan State University, the Walter Sondheim Public Service Award, the White House Champion of Change, and was a 2013 CNN Hero.

Ariel KalilAriel Kalil
Director and Professor
Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
Chicago, IL
Dr. Ariel Kalil is a developmental psychologist who studies economic conditions, parenting, and child development. Her current research examines the historical evolution of income-based gaps in parenting behavior and children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills. In addition, at the Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab, she is leading a variety of field experiments designed to strengthen parental engagement and child development in low-income families using tools drawn from behavioral economics and neuroscience. She also holds appointments as an adjunct professor in the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, Norway and in the School of Business Administration at the University of Stavanger, Norway. Kalil received her PhD in developmental psychology from the University of Michigan.

Paul LeBlancPaul LeBlanc
Southern New Hampshire University
Manchester, NH
Under the 15 years of Dr. Paul LeBlanc’s direction, SNHU has more grown from 2,800 students to over 135,000 and is the largest non-profit provider of higher education in the country. SNHU pioneered the first full competency-based degree program untethered to the credit hour or classes approved by the US Department of Education. In 2012 the university was #12 on Fast Company magazine’s “World’s Fifty Most Innovative Companies” list and was the only university included. Forbes Magazine has listed him as one of its 15 “Classroom Revolutionaries” and one of the “most influential people in higher education” for 2016. In 2018, Paul won the prestigious IAA Institute Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in Higher Education, joining some of the most respected university and college presidents in American higher education.

Jennifer LeeJennifer Lee
Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services
Richmond, VA
As the Director of the state’s Medicaid agency, Dr. Jennifer Lee is responsible for overseeing a $10 billion budget and providing health coverage for over 1 million Virginians. Previously she served as Deputy under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services and Senior Advisor to the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. From 2014-16, Dr. Lee served as Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources for Governor Terry McAuliffe. Dr. Lee has also served as a White House Fellow, a health policy fellow on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and a Policy Research Scholar and Associate Professor at George Washington University. She received her bachelor’s in biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University, her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine, and completed her residency at Johns Hopkins. She is a board-certified, practicing emergency physician.

Georgia MjartanGeorgia Mjartan
Executive Director
South Carolina First Steps
Columbia, SC
South Carolina First Steps is a state agency and nonprofit committed to ensuring that all of South Carolina’s children are prepared for success in school. As the leader of the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, with nonprofit affiliates in every county, Georgia Mjartan is linking public, private and nonprofit systems to ensure whole families are supported in their efforts to become successful in school, work and life. Previously, she served for 12 years as the Executive Director of Our House, a nationally-recognized social services agency in Arkansas that successfully moved homeless and near-homeless families and individuals out of extreme poverty by taking a two-generation approach. She was a George Mitchell Scholar, graduating from the University of Ulster (UK) with a MSc. in Political Communication and Public Affairs. She is a graduate of the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program.

Nitzan PelmanNitzan Pelman
Entrepreneur in Residence
LinkedIn Social Impact
Berkeley, CA
At LinkedIn Social Impact, Nitzan Pelman is exploring and piloting innovative ways to expand social capital for people who don’t have robust networks and come from disadvantaged communities. In 2015, Pelman founded ReUp Education and served as its founding CEO. ReUp partners with universities to re-enroll students who have dropped out of college. ReUp has successfully brought back nearly 4,000 students to college. Prior to ReUp, Pelman founded the New York region of Citizen Schools and served as its first Executive Director for six years. Citizen Schools is a hands-on learning program. During Pelman’s tenure, the program expanded by 3x and student outcomes improved dramatically. Earlier in her career, Pelman held leadership roles at Teach For America, KIPP Academy, and the New York City Department of Education.

Lori PfingstLori Pfingst
Chief of Programs and Policy
Economic Services Administration, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
Olympia, WA
Dr. Lori Pfingst oversees policy and program development for the state’s social benefit programs and supports efforts to reduce poverty and increase intergenerational well-being for kids and families. Her work has spanned a broad range of areas, including poverty, income inequality, labor markets, P-20 education, criminology, and epidemiology. She is a published author and storyteller, using the power of data paired with community voice to foster long-term, systems-level policy and program change for children and families throughout the state. Prior to her current role, Pfingst served as the Research & Policy Director for the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, as a research scientist with Public Health-Seattle & King County, and Assistant Director of Washington KIDS COUNT in the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. Pfingst received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Washington in 2010.

Michelle SarcheMichelle Sarche
Associate Professor
Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health, Department of Community and Behavioral Health
Aurora, CO
Dr. Michelle Sarche is a licensed clinical psychologist and has worked with both urban and reservation American Indian and Alaska Native communities for over 25 years. Her work has focused on children’s development, parenting, and early care environments such as Head Start, home visiting, and child care. Her current projects include the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center, the Native Children’s Research Exchange, the Buffering Toxic Stress Consortium, the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey Workgroup, the Multi-site Implementation Evaluation of Tribal Home Visiting, the Maternal and Child Health Link program, and two recently funded alcohol-exposed pregnancy prevention projects. Sarche is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe, where her grandmother was born and raised.

Lorelei VargasLorelei Vargas
Executive Director
Trinity Commons
New York, NY
Prior to her current role at Trinity Commons, Lorelei Vargas was the Deputy Commissioner for Child and Family Well-Being at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. There she was responsible for administering the agency’s first division dedicated to using a two-generation approach to strengthen programs, leverage existing resources, and build on the assets that are inherent in the children and families of New York City. Vargas also oversees the country’s largest publicly-funded subsidized early care and education system, serving the needs of close to 110,000 children with a budget of close to $1 billion annually, where she has successfully led two-generation reforms, including expanding access, implementing a trauma informed care model across the system, and creating a program that pays for and encourages parents to pursue careers in child care. Prior to her current appointment, Vargas served as vice president and chief strategy officer for the non-profit Andrus. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bryn Mawr College and two Master degrees, one in Public Policy and one in Education Administration and Policy, both from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.

Raphael WarnockRaphael Warnock
Senior Pastor
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Atlanta, GA
The historic Ebenezer Baptist Church is the spiritual home of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A preacher known for his activism and voice in the public square, Dr. Raphael Warnock is the author of The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety & Public Witness (NYU Press, 2014). Before coming to EBC, “America’s Freedom Church,” Warnock was blessed to study and serve within the pastoral ranks of leading congregations also known for their deep spiritual roots and strong public witness. Warnock holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Morehouse College and a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Warnock continued his graduate studies at Union, receiving a Master of Philosophy degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the field of systematic theology.