2018-2019 Aspen institute ascend fellows
Meet the 2018-2019 class of Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows.
Chairman and CEO
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.
The problem I am focusing on solving is breaking the economic disparity cycle afflicting people of the African diaspora. I call my bold vision 100X100. It is a vision of 100 Black investment managers who will each manage $100M innovation funds by 2025. I believe we can use technology (investment, creation, and deployment) to radically shift the disparities seen in wealth, health, education, and opportunities on a global scale. (read more)
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.
Having spent the bulk of my career in human services and child welfare, I know the deep need for effective programs, but I also know that many of those programs simply don’t work as well as they could. Applied behavioral science offers some answers to that issue. Using behavioral insights, we can improve outcomes for people by accounting for the quirks of human cognition: everything from implicit bias, to limited attention, to loss aversion, to stereotype threat can have deep impacts on how (or whether) people get the things they need. (read more)
Senior Vice President, Advocacy & Policy
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.
The bold vision for change is moving state advocacy leaders from focusing on access and quality alone in early childhood to an integrated system focused on the whole family that dismantles the structures that have led to generational poverty. I believe that if we are successful in embedding a whole family approach in early learning while simultaneously embedding early learning in a whole family approach, states will finally begin to see the needle move on positive outcomes for all. (read more)
Matthew Biel, MD, MSc
Division Chief and Associate Professor
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.
Child mental health services are not meeting the needs of the children of this country. While we have made very significant strides in understanding the neuroscience of development, mental health, and mental illness in childhood and adolescence, and in designing interventions that can significantly reduce suffering and improve functioning, we have been failing in several critical areas. First, our models of care are very pathology-focused, with inadequate attention to factors and strategies that enhance emotional, behavioral and relational wellbeing and have the potential to prevent or mitigate the onset of mental health problems in children. (read more)
Vice President, Birmingham Divison
Myla E. Calhoun is vice president of the Birmingham Division, where she is responsible for the company’s operations, sales, economic and community development, and external affairs activities for more than 430,000 customers across six counties in north central Alabama.
Calhoun most recently served as president of the Alabama Power Foundation and vice president of Charitable Giving for Alabama Power, awarding grants to Alabama nonprofits, education institutions and community organizations. Prior to joining Alabama Power, Calhoun was general counsel and senior vice president of Regional Development and Public Policy for the Birmingham Business Alliance.
I lead a foundation that is mission focused on elevating Alabama. Through the work of the Foundation across the state, I am very aware of the often-intractable nature of problems that arrest development for many who live here. It can be overwhelming, but it seems to me that our best course in addressing our many social, economic and educational gaps is to invest in ideas and programs deeply before investing broadly. This comes with its own challenges because the needs are many and the resources are limited. To better address this, we have recently established a division on strategic initiatives. (read more)
Wendy Ellis, DrPH, MPH
Dr. 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 Post, US News and C-SPAN.
In collaboration with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the BCR teams in Dallas, Cincinnati, and Portland have begun to build links to their public health departments. These linkages provide an entrée into city government as well as access to other community organizations and agencies within the cities. Furthermore, the linkages with public health departments provide a potential pathway to sustainable funding. Each BCR site has distinctive characteristics, although commonalities have emerged across sites. The next leap in this work would be to provide a deeper understanding of the linkages between individual and community adversity, inequity and resilience. (read more)
Chief of Staff
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.
The challenge and opportunity that I am interested in solving is that of equity in service delivery design, implementation, and execution. I believe we will achieve equity when we have supportive services that address the whole family and does so with an eye on the long game. We all have very specific needs, desires, and wishes. An equity design thinking approach would amplify the voice of families seeking assistance. Addressing equity through gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation lens is of utmost importance to me. (read more)
Joseph Hobot, DrEd
President and CEO
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.
The Indigenous people of the United States are in need of creating and sustaining our own variant of the public education system. In so doing, our community will serve to stabilize student participation (attendance), achieve higher completion rates (early childhood reading comprehension and mathematic competencies, secondary graduations), and reinvigorate the ability for our students to better prepare and transition into post-secondary programs or career pathways. (read more)
Laura Huerta Migus
Laura Huerta Migus was appointed Deputy Director, Office of Museum Services, in July 2021. She comes to IMLS following her tenure as Executive Director of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) in Arlington, Virginia, the world’s largest professional society promoting and advocating on behalf of children’s museums and children’s museum professionals.
Throughout her career, Laura has been devoted to the growth and education of children, particularly those from underserved and under-resourced communities. Under her leadership, ACM pursued innovative and effective partnerships to leverage the power of children’s museums worldwide.
Our connected world presents us endless opportunity to access to information and research in every part of our lives. However, this expansive access to information does not always make knowing how to use this information any easier. Parents, especially, are bombarded by a constant stream of new research studies, parenting techniques, data on student achievement, parenting blogs, etc., which compounds the already historically high levels of anxiety involved in parenting in the modern world. (read more)
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.
While behavioral science and economics are softer scientific fields, we have not leveraged the science in the delivery of social services with desired outcomes. And we have not been able to clearly articulate to stakeholders (taxpayers) the overall impact of social programs. I want to be able to articulate economically how investing in kids and family, significantly reduces the overall economic burden to the taxpayer, both directly and indirectly. (read more)
Founder and CEO
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.
The problem I am trying to address is the seemingly intractable generational poverty of urban communities with a goal of not just putting band-aids on poverty but obliterating it with a focus on family and with an intentionality of including men within the family by creating scalable pathways to family stability and economic success for individuals and families. (read more)
Ariel Kalil, PHD
Director of the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy & Daniel Levin Professor
Dr. Ariel Kalil is the Daniel Levin Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy. Dr. Kalil is a developmental psychologist who studies economic conditions, parenting, and child development. At Harris, she directs the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy and co-directs the Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab. Her current research examines the historical evolution of income-based gaps in parenting behavior and children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills. In addition, 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.
I am trying to close the gap between aspirational and actual parenting in low-income families. The problem I am trying to solve is that low-income parents, like all parents, many times do not follow through on their good intentions to interact with their children in ways that promote their children’s development. (read more)
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.
A free college degree for any American who wants it. High quality, aligned with workforce needs, and accredited, this would be a respected and valuable degree – based on our pioneering College for America degree program – with a proven track record. To do it, we will need to think through the eco-system in which it is offered: what community- based partners, what civic institutions with which to partner (Libraries? School systems?), use of machine learning in assessment, workforce/ employers partners, infrastructure, and more. (read more)
Dr. Jennifer Lee
Dr. Jennifer Lee serves as a medical analyst for CNN and as an emergency room physician. Previously, Dr. Lee served as the Director of Virginia’s Medicaid agency, where she was responsible for overseeing a $10 billion budget and providing health coverage for over 1 million Virginians. Prior to her role in Virginia, 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.
The challenge of poverty sometimes seems too daunting to confront and overcome directly, whereas the opioid epidemic simply cannot be ignored. My proposal is to leverage the opioid crisis in communities that have been disproportionately affected to first unite multidisciplinary stakeholders around a common goal—reducing opioid abuse and overdose— but then to build on the momentum of success by providing community coalitions with a toolbox of two-generation approaches that will help lift families out of poverty. (read more)
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.
Services and systems that are disconnected and difficult to navigate so often provide tremendous barriers to families and children in their efforts to move out of poverty and toward economic stability. Siloed interventions in the realm of early childhood, employment, or adult education do not have the long-term impact and leveraging effect that taking a two-generation, an integrated approach can have. In my work on the front-lines for over a decade developing, piloting and sharing the model of a two-generation approach to ending family and child homelessness, I saw the measurable impact that a holistic approach can have. (read more)
Nitzan Pelman founded and serves as CEO for Climb Hire, which prepares working adults for jobs that require a background in Salesforce. Previously, at LinkedIn Social Impact, Pelman explored innovative ways to expand social capital for people who do not 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.
Having completed an Entrepreneur in Residence role at LinkedIn this past year, I now know that people are 8 times more likely to get jobs through referrals. Bootcamps and training programs have focused specifically on skilling up, not recognizing that social capital building is a key part of the equation. Eric Schmidt, the Shusterman Foundation, and Google.org have committed $2 million to help launch Climb Hire. Climb is a new workforce initiative focused exclusively on working with people who systematically face economic barriers, have taken some college credits, and are underemployed nevertheless. (read more)
Chief of Programs and Policy
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.
While it is widely acknowledged that economic stability and success is a prerequisite to child, family, and community well-being, state efforts to reduce poverty and invest in the opportunities that all Washingtonians need to thrive remain fragmented and under-resourced. The good news is progress is underway – Governor Inslee recently formed an Interagency Workgroup on Poverty Reduction, which was followed by the passage of legislation creating an executive-legislative taskforce with a primary focus on intergenerational poverty. These aligned efforts require that a comprehensive strategic plan for poverty reduction be developed by December 1, 2019. (read more)
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.
Disparities in health and well-being in American Indian and Alaska Native communities are driven by serious structural barriers, as well as by the intergenerational effects of historically traumatic events on tribal communities and individuals. At the same time, American Indian and Alaska Native communities are rich in spirit and resolved to create environments in which their citizens thrive. My bold vision is to harness the power of community-engaged research to gather and disseminate data to tell a rich story of the challenges and triumphs faced by American Indian and Alaska Native children, families, and communities, and the early care and education systems that support them. (read more)
Chief Community Impact Officer
New York, NY
Lorelei Atalie Vargas serves as chief community impact officer at Trinity Church Wall Street, which has been a part of New York City history for over 300 years. Trinity has evolved into a global institution leading advocacy around social and racial justice; partnering with nonprofits; offering grants to support mission aligned programs; and, having developed high quality music, educational and social programming. Prior to her current appointment, Lorelei served as deputy commissioner for child and family well-being with the City of New York’s Administration for Children’s Services where 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. Lorelei also ran 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 over $1 billion annually, where she successfully led reforms, including expanding access, implementing a trauma informed care model across the system, and developing two-generation programs. Lorelei has over two decades of executive-level experience in the non-profit sector with a strong focus on creating community-level opportunities and helping to strengthen the lives of children and families. Fully bilingual in English and Spanish Lorelei earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Bryn Mawr College and holds two Master’s 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.
Building on the success of two-generation initiatives focused on early care and education, the launch of CFWB will position ACS as being the first child welfare agency in the nation that has invested in primary preventive services for children and families. Charged with leading this effort, I envision developing a trauma-free New York City. A city where regardless of what zip code you’re born in, your religion, color of your skin or socioeconomic status, children and families will have the opportunity to thrive. I envision building protective factors among children, families, and communities, with the goal of minimizing high ACE scores and mitigating toxic stressors for parents, leading ultimately to child and family well-being. (read more)
United States Senator (D-GA)
Senator Warnock was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in the January 5, 2021, special election runoff, and took the oath of office on January 20, 2021. Senator Warnock is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, where he chairs the important Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade, as well as the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, where he chairs the key Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection subcommittee; Senator Warnock also serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the Senate Aging Committee, and the bicameral Joint Economic Committee. He also serves as senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which 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.
I want to develop a set of strategies and networks that will catalyze a national, multi-faith movement to end mass incarceration in the United States of America. I aim to build on the work that my church is already doing in this area, as we have coordinated various entities of our local county government in massive one-day criminal arrest record expungement events in our church, changing the lives of hundreds of citizens who were previously barred from housing and employment opportunities. Those in the interfaith community are uniquely positioned to draw upon their ancient traditions, moral vocabulary and the institutional strength of collective witness to address this human rights catastrophe in a way commensurate to the depth of the problem. (read more)