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We will be closed Monday, May 27th for Memorial Day. We will re-open on Tuesday, May 28th.

Our Team

Our Staff, Your Support

We speak 28 languages and represent numerous countries from around the world. Many of our staff members are also refugees or immigrants who bring their own lived experience and perspective to support our clients in their journey to becoming New Americans.

Choose a department to learn more about our staffers or find direct contact information.

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Kara Green

Employment Counselor

Kara Green is an Employment Counselor for the Nursing Assistant program.  Kara received her Bachelor’s degree from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, KS and her teaching degree from Augsburg University in Minneapolis.  She recently joined the Institute after spending 9 years in education.  Most recently, she worked as a teacher imparting wisdom into the curiously brilliant minds of 3rd graders in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Kara has a true passion for helping others.  She is excited to assist New Americans as they work towards setting and achieving their employment goals.  In her spare time, she enjoys walking around the Twin Cities’ lakes, seeking out the best street tacos and hanging out with family and friends.


Delaney Bluhm

Case Manager

Delaney graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, MN with degrees in Political Science and Peace, Justice, & Conflict Studies (and a minor in African & African Diaspora Studies). During her college career, she studied U.S. and international human rights policies during the PPIA Junior Summer Institute and post-genocide restoration and peacebuilding while abroad in Rwanda. They conducted an independent study project focusing on the healing process of genocide trauma survivors while abroad and wrote their thesis on domestic refugee politics in the United States, Australia, and Türkiye. She has a strong sense of justice and immense care for others that has set her on the right path to help others.

She is excited to be working as a Reception and Placement Case Manager with the Institute so she can help newly arrived refugees feel welcome from the moment they arrive until they are confident in their self-sufficiency.


Hassan Hersi

Preferred Communities Case Manager

Hassan is a dedicated humanitarian professional with an extensive experience in refugee assistance, community outreach, and case management. Hassan holds a master’s degree in international development from Clark University, specializing in Forced Migration and Refugee Studies. His expertise extends to field research, having worked as a Field Researcher at Tufts University’s Refugees in Towns Project, where he collected qualitative data on refugees’ socio-economic situations and integration processes. Hassan also served as a Community Mentor with Save the Children, offering crucial support to unaccompanied minors and facilitating access to essential services.

Before his current role at the Institute, he interned at the International Rescue Committee in Manhattan, New York. He played a crucial role in the Preferred Communities team, ensuring clients received essential services efficiently. With a background as an Interpreter with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Cairo, Egypt, Hassan is proficient in English, Arabic and Somali, providing vital linguistic support for refugee registration and status determination processes.


Cheela Lao

English Instructor

Cheela Lao is an English Language Instructor at the Institute. He has international experience in Japan and over 6 years of English teaching experience.

As an immigrant himself, he is very excited to come full-circle and work with the Institute to help students.


cheela smiling at camera

Najma Mohamed

Reception and Placement Case Manager

Najma Mohamed graduated from the University of Saint Thomas with bachelor’s degree in public health and a minor in sustainability, her academic journey was complemented by internships and volunteer work with local organizations in Minnesota, where she engaged and worked with diverse communities from various backgrounds and walks of life. Through these experiences, she has developed an understanding that each community and individual’s journey is unique and the importance of applied client assessment in crafting service plans tailored to specific needs.  Najma’s approach emphasized holistic solutions that address immediate needs while also considering long-term goals.

Najma is dedicated to fostering self-sufficiency, resilience and resourcefulness that go beyond addressing immediate challenges. She recognizes the significance of cultural sensitivity in the resettlement process and is committed to mitigating potential barriers faced by the refugee population in their new home. By prioritizing personalized service and strategic planning, Najma strives to ensure positive outcomes for the individuals and communities she serves.

Najma looking at camera

Anni Clark

English and Community Workshops Instructor

Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Anni came to Minnesota seven years ago to study Human Rights and Linguistics at Macalester College. They are honored for the opportunity to share their knowledge and love of language with new Americans, and to support people as they settle into their new lives.

Outside of work, you can find Anni reading some poetry or walking around a lake.

anni smiling

Bilsuma Admea

Women’s Health Educator

Bilsuma is the Women’s Health Educator in the FGM/C Prevention Program at the Institute. Her life’s purpose revolves around improving the health and well-being of others. Dedicated to empowering everyone, she encounters the resources and support they need to thrive. She draws inspiration from her early life in a refugee camp and the shared experiences of family members who have lived there. Bilsuma’s profound empathy for those with similar backgrounds drives her to extend genuine happiness by offering support to individuals navigating similar paths.

Her academic journey led her to Concordia University-St. Paul, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in public health. Throughout her education, Bilsuma developed a passion for equipping individuals with vital health knowledge to help them lead healthier lives.


April Grabner

Refugee Cash Assistance Coordinator

April started working at IIMN summer of 2021 as an Americorps Emergency Response Initiative member but was quickly hired as a part time Housing Case Aide in the fall during her final year of studying. After graduating in 2022 from the University of Minnesota with a degree in German and Linguistics, April left IIMN to teach English in Austria for a year.

She couldn’t stay away for too long because she’s excited to be back and learn more about the services we provide to clients as a Refugee Cash Assistance Coordinator. Getting to work with such dedicated staff and motivated clients brings her joy and energy to her work.



Shelton Ingram

Facility Custodian

Shelton Ingram has over 30 years of experience in the cleaning industry. He is a reliable and competent custodian who ensures that the Institute is in pristine condition every day for our community. He has built positive and long-lasting relationships with the Institute’s staff and all the people we serve.

Shelton believes that when we all do our part to improve the workplace, everyone enjoys greater overall success. He continues to serve in his current position by identifying and responding to the needs of the Institute regarding health and wellness.



Rose Marry

Front Desk Receptionist

Rose is often the first person you’ll see at the Institute’s front desk, as she greets people with a smile and desire to help. Every day she makes the Institute a welcoming place for our community.

What motivates Rose is being able to welcome and interact with people from all over the world. As the first point of contact for anyone who comes to the Institute, she wants them to know and experience the warmth and friendliness of Minnesota.



Cameron Larson

Data & Reporting Coordinator

Cameron graduated from Bethel University in 2012, with majors in both Psychology and Philosophy. Since graduating, he has spent the last 10 years in various data analyst roles, with much of that time at 3M. Cameron enjoys working with data (especially Microsoft Excel!) and is energized when he can remove data-related roadblocks for others.

Cameron is excited to bring his skillset to a non-profit with such an incredible mission. Being able to see the direct impact the Institute has on so many individuals’ lives is inspiring, and he looks forward to contributing to the Institute’s present and future successes in his role.


Ervin Kwia

Finance Assistant

Ervin began his career as an accounting assistant at a not-for-profit organization, where he quickly demonstrated his skill and knowledge. He later joined Access Bank Liberia as a Junior Internal Auditor and quickly rose through to the ranks to become head of the audit function. He worked as lead revenue auditor and audit supervisor, conducting and supervising tax audits for several companies, and gained experience in various industries and sectors. Throughout his career, he has become a trusted and reliable financial personnel.. His passion for numbers and meticulous attention to detail have helped him become a top-performing accounting professional.

The opportunity to work with the International Institute of Minnesota (IIMN) as the Accounting Assistant, given its different programs and diversity of clients as advertised, was inspiring for him due to his desire to help people whenever he can, irrespective of their race, color, religious background, and political affiliations. Ervin holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting with distinction (cum laude) from the University of Liberia.


Cheng Lee

Data and Evaluation Coordinator

As a child of refugees and a first-generation Hmong American, Cheng Lee feels at home at the Institute. She started at the Institute as an AmeriCorps member, helping Nursing Assistant students with employment services, and then as Financial Assistant, where she discovered her love for Microsoft Excel and databases.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” is the motto Cheng lives by and carries over into her role. The best part of her job is training and interacting with staff members. Outside of work, you can find Cheng taking long walks or working on personal projects through Microsoft Excel.



Kate Raleigh

IT Manager and Executive Assistant

In her 20+ years in nonprofit administration, Kate Raleigh has built her career by seeking and addressing gaps that need filling and problems that need solutions. This pursuit led to her current position. Kate’s stellar communication skills, ability to figure out any problem placed in her way, and 10+ years at the Institute have established her as a “first point of contact” for staff questions on all things administrative and operational.

Always seeking to help wherever she can, Kate is motivated by the incredible work her colleagues do to support Minnesota’s New American community. Ensuring they can do their work efficiently and effectively is what brings her back to the Institute each day. On a personal note, Kate seeks to honor her grandparents who emigrated from Ireland to find opportunities in the U.S. They were inaugural members of the Shamrock Club, an Irish cultural organization that began in Milwaukee with help from the International Institute of Wisconsin (a connection Kate was delighted to discover!).



Ted Hewes

Senior Accountant

Ted Hewes holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Maryland. He spent much of his career working as a financial professional for various educational organizations. Prior to joining the International Institute of Minnesota, he had been working as a Senior Grant Accountant at Literacy Minnesota.

Ted believes this work is critical to the well-being and happiness of all of us. He feels privileged to have met so many wonderful people through his involvement.


ted hewes smiling

Dana Onato-Pannkuk

Human Resources Generalist

Dana Onato-Pannkuk is a Human Resources professional with over eight years of experience. In 2022, Dana joined the Institute as she was inspired by the work the organization does by serving New Americans.

As part Hawaiian, Dana values the Aloha Spirit because Aloha is more than a word of greeting or farewell. Aloha means mutual respect, affection, compassion, and kindness – expecting nothing in return. She firmly believes that everyone has a right to be heard, seen and advocated for – no matter who they are. Dana believes that adding a personal touch to people’s places of work can boost performance and culture at the same time. She strives to live by these values in work and her personal life by bringing the Aloha Spirit to everyone she meets.



Lisbeth Samaniego

Case Manager

Lisbeth Samaniego’s background includes significant experiences as a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Azuay in Cuenca, Ecuador. In her role as a Case Manager, she strives every day to offer comprehensive support to survivors, contributing to the creation of a more compassionate and understanding environment. Her professional work is a testament to her dedication to facilitating access to resources and emotional support, especially for those navigation challenges within the system.

Her commitment to the Spanish-speaking community is reflected in her work “ No eres tu, no soy yo, es la ansiedad” (It’s not you, it’s not me, is the anxiety), a book born from her desire to address the challenges faced by immigrants in an often-chaotic system..

By sharing her experience and knowledge, she aspires to provide resources and a beacon of hope from her position at the International Institute of Minnesota.


Abbey Weiler

Case Manager

Abbey Weiler is working on a new pilot program called Project Thrive. She provides extended case management to refugee families who have lived in Minnesota for about one year. The goal of the program is to assist refugees past the point of initial resettlement services so that they aren’t just surviving here in America, but thriving.

She loves getting to support these families in reaching long-term stability, self-sufficiency and success. This position aligns with her background in youth development, teaching English as a foreign language, sustainable community development and capacity building.



Fahima Dawid

Refugee Cash Assistance Coordinator

Fahima is the Refugee Cash Assistance Coordinator at the Institute. What she likes most about the position is that she can help by offering assistance and providing a resource for individuals to meet their needs. Seeing those individuals thrive is what motivates her to work. Their success stories from resettling in a new country, to finding a job, to becoming self-sufficient inspire her most. She likes that she can help and be a part of her clients’ journeys.



Maryna Kyrylkova

Preferred Communities Case Manager

As a case manager and recent arrival from Ukraine, Maryna Kyrylkova uses her knowledge and experiences of navigating the systems of a new country to make the transition easier for others. Maryna found safety and support at the Institute and wants that for other new arrivals. She connects clients to different types of services, such as work authorization, public benefits and referrals for employment.

Working at the Institute empowers her to help people who are going through the same experiences as she did with her family.



Zamzam Hussein

Refugee Cash Assistance Coordinator

Zamzam Hussein started at the Institute as an immigration legal intern and has also previously worked as a Preferred Communities case manager for Afghan, Somali and Ukrainian clients.

Her own experience as a refugee motivates her work at the Institute.



Mohamed Abdinur

Business Pathway Instructor

Since joining the Institute in 2021, Mohammed has worked in Refugee Services and now teaches Professional Leadership Training & Entrepreneur Class in the Business Pathway. He has more than 20 years of experience working with immigrants, refugees and non-profit organizations in different capacities. Before joining the Institute, Mohamed was an instructor and business coach at Neighborhood Development Center in Saint Paul. He helped emerging entrepreneurs, newly arrived immigrants and refugees learn the fundamentals of running a business in Twin Cities and assisted clients in developing business plans.

 Mohamed studied Economics at Cairo University in Egypt and Leadership studies at Augsburg University in Minneapolis Minnesota. He is fluent in English, Arabic, Somali and basic Spanish. 


Yuliia Cold

Matching Grant Employment Counselor




Ram Adhikari

Matching Grant Case Manager

As a former refugee from Bhutan who arrived in Minnesota in 2010, Ram experienced firsthand the invaluable support provided by the International Institute of Minnesota. They assisted him in finding a part-time job and enrolled him in school, which eventually led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in International Studies at the University of Wisconsin.

Motivated by his own journey, Ram is a passionate Matching Grant Case Manager, dedicated to helping refugees from diverse backgrounds who arrive in Minnesota. With a deep understanding of the challenges and struggles refugees face, he is committed to making a positive impact and providing support to individuals seeking to rebuild their lives in a new country.



Sado Ahmed

Matching Grant Case Manager

In 2021, Sado Ahmed started as an intern in Refugee Services at the Institute. After her wonderful experience as an intern, she returned to the Institute in 2022 to work full time as part of the Refugee Services team.

In her work, Sado helps new arrivals settle into their new home in Minnesota. As a refugee herself, she feels a personal connection to the work she does. Being part of her clients’ journeys is what motivates her. Sado holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from St. Cloud State University.



Hassan Alasow

Matching Grant Case Manager

Hassan’s degree in General Studies from Central Maine Community College is a solid foundation for his professional life. His commitment to helping others was evident through his work as a case manager at Catholic Charities of Maine, where he assisted newcomers to the country, specifically refugees. This role involved providing critical support to individuals and families during a challenging transition period. After working in Maine, Hassan transition to working at the Institute as a Refugee Resettlement Case Manager.

His current role as a Matching Grant Case Manager demonstrates his continued growth and leadership in the field. Matching grants are an essential part of refugee resettlement programs, and managing these grants effectively ensures that refugees have access to necessary resources for their successful integration into American life. Hassan’s hobbies and interests reveal a well-rounded and adventurous personality. Engaging in sports like soccer, enjoying outdoor activities such as hiking and swimming, and having a passion for travel and experiencing diverse cultures show a love for exploration and personal growth.



Zahra Gaal

MNsure Navigator

Zahra Gaal is the Student Service Assistant at the Insitute. She works on enrolling and connecting students to different classes found at the Insitute. She decided to work at IIMN because of her experience as a refugee and remembers watching her mother go through the steps of adjusting to living in the United States. She is very enthusiastic about uplifting immigrants/refugees by helping them find resources to help them achieve their goals as well as adjusting to live in the US.

In her role as a Student Service Assistant, Zahra has the opportunity to engage with students, answer questions and find what they need. Outside of work, she likes to spend lots of time with her cat, painting or drawing and reading a nice book.



Abebe Dashew

Employment Counselor

Abebe Dashew has a background in law but has returned to working with newly arrived immigrants and refugees to provide crucial support and navigate challenging transitions. As the child of refugees from Ethiopia, Abebe understands the hurdles immigrants face both in the short and long term. He is familiar with the various facets of the immigration process, and work that the Institute does resonates deeply with his passion to help the immigrant population.

Abebe received his Juris Doctor from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and, prior to that, his Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Most recently, he worked at a legal tech company, where he helped highlight impactful values of the company’s legal research platform to the legal community.


Ian Erickson

Employment Counselor

Ian Erickson is an Employment Counselor with the Institute’s refugee services. He helps refugees find their first job in the United States. His role as an Employment Counselor enables him to help people meet their financial goals and achieve self-sufficiency in their new country.

Ian’s dedication to his job stems from his passion for the international community and his heart for the disregarded and displaced. He enjoys encouraging people in difficult circumstances, empowering them to build endurance in the workplace and allowing them the opportunity to provide for their family and future.


Hussein Abdi

Employment Counselor

Hussein Abdi is an Entomologist by profession but chose to work in a different field after realizing the importance of helping refugees arriving with a lack of skills and language barriers. Hussein, who was himself a refugee, knows well the barriers refugees face and what they strive to achieve immediately after arriving in the U.S.

He enjoys working with refugees and is proud to work at the Institute. He devotes his time and energy to helping others. What motivates him to do his job is his deep knowledge and connection with the immigrant population. He always reminds himself to be kind and helpful to others.



Shukria Yassin

Matching Grant Case Manager

Shukria Yassin is dedicated to supporting new immigrants in Minnesota, having experienced firsthand the challenges and hardships of being a refugee herself when she arrived in Minnesota from Ethiopia in 2007. This personal journey has given her a profound understanding of the struggles and pains faced by new arrivals.

As a case manager, her role is to assist in the resettlement process, providing guidance and support in finding employment, housing, healthcare, education and public transportation. She is passionate about making a positive impact on the lives of individuals seeking refuge, helping them build a new home and future in Minnesota. Shukria is fluent in English, Oromo, Amharic and Kiswahili.



Courtnie Georgalas

Reception and Placement Case Manager

Courtnie Georgalas is new to the Institute and serves as one the Reception & Placement Case Managers. She is from Ohio and attended The Ohio State University – go Buckeyes! – where she majored in Political Science and International Studies. While there Courtnie interned for Senator Sherrod Brown as well as with the Department of State Crisis Management and Strategy team.

After college she spent a year as a Team Leader with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps where she served in multiple communities leading teams on different community service projects. Courtnie hopes to use her experience in crisis management and team building at the Institute and is excited to get started in this new role and begin assisting clients!



Sara Assefa

Reception and Placement Case Manager

Sara has more than six years of experience working with humanitarian organizations, and refugee services in different roles. She studied for a bachelor’s degree on DVM/DR, and earned a Master’s degree in Applied Human Nutrition with Saskatchewan University of Canada. Sara graduated with a diploma certificate in Medical Administrative Assistance from Summit Academy OIC.

In October 2021, she joined the Institute working with Refugee Services in Resettlement and Placement as a case manager, working on resettling the new refugees from their first day in the country until they reach self-sufficiency. She is multilingual, speaking Amharic, Oromo, English and basic Somali languages. Sara volunteers on different community-oriented organizations, such as THMWGO as a board member, and Teqwa Youth association as a founder.




Sarah Burbage

Volunteer Coordinator

Sarah Burbage began her work at the Institute in January 2022 during the height of the Afghan housing crunch. She uses her past experiences in quality assurance and compliance to secure high-quality housing at favorable lease terms for New Americans.

Sarah loves children and always makes sure to place toys on each child’s bed when setting up a home for a family.



Dmytro Toporynskyi

Housing Case Manager



Emmanuel Hakizimana

Housing Case Manager

Emmanuel Hakizimana is a driven and confident Institute team member with a passion for community engagement. He has international experience working in East Africa, and in Minnesota, providing services and support to immigrant and refugee communities. At the Institute, he helps recently arrived refugees find a place to call “home.”

Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Emmanuel grew up in Rwanda and he was resettled to the United States in 2019. He is fluent in English, Swahili, French and Kinyarwanda.



Grace Walton

Arrivals Coordinator

Grace Walton is the refugee resettlement arrival coordinator at the International Institute of Minnesota. She works in preparations for the incoming refugee and immigrant arrivals. She studied at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public health and community health education.



Zahra Halboon

Social Services Program Manager

Zahra Halboon started working at the Institute in 2012 as a case aide, assisting refugees with resettlement. Working here fulfills her passion to help and assist New Americans thrive in Minnesota.

Being able to see the tremendous progress families make during a short time, and the positive team environment at the Institute motivates and encourages Zahra to keep doing the work.



Aziza Mama

Senior Manager, Resettlement & Matching Grant Program

Aziza moved to the US from Ethiopia in 2008. She speaks Oromo, Amharic and English languages. With an educational background in human services and administration related work experience, she was first connected to the Institute as an intern.

Aziza has now been working at the Institute for the past 10 years and has held multiple positions within the Refugee Services Department serving New Americans. Aziza currently works as a Senior Manager for Resettlement and Matching Grant programs, leading the resettlement team and supporting the department director. Aziza is a mother of 3 and enjoys spending time with her family and long walks by the lake.



Michelle Eberhard

Director of Refugee Services

Michelle joined the Institute in October 2023, bringing with her several years of refugee resettlement experience from having previously served as a Reception and Placement program director at another local resettlement agency.  More recently, Michelle has worked in employment immigration and as a consultant.  Guided by the personal belief of “do with, not for,” Michelle is humbled, grateful, and excited for the opportunity to return to the incredibly important work of welcoming New Americans to Minnesota and partnering with organizations and individuals in our communities to do so with dignity and thoughtfulness.

Michelle earned an M.A. in Human Rights Studies with a concentration in genocide and atrocity prevention from Columbia University in the City of New York.  Prior to that, she received a B.A. in each French and Peace Studies from the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University.  In her free time, Michelle enjoys running, writing, gardening, and playing competitive broomball.


A white woman smiles.

Arhyel Ngada

Anti-Trafficking Case Manager

Arhyel Ngada is a trainer of trainers on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) case management with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Originally from Nigeria, he has experience in implementing and coordinating gender-based violence prevention and response programming in community and emergency settings.

He is currently a doctoral student in business administration researching the socio-economic impact of intimate partner violence and gender inequality.


Jaime Macias

Unaccompanied Minors Case Manager

Jaime Macias works with children who are detained at the U.S./Mexico border with family or legal guardians in Minnesota. Jaime relates to the minors and their families and understands their personal stories and journeys to the U.S. because some of her family members immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. She builds rapport and trust with her clients while supporting them during difficult situations.

Her connection to the Institute started in 2006. She was a foreign exchange student in Copiapo, Chile in 2003. Her host brother came to Minnesota in 2006, and he took English classes at the Institute. Her motivation to do this work is to help families become more independent and advocate for themselves while adjusting to their new lives here in Minnesota.



Emily Lindell

Case Manager

Emily received her bachelor’s in international studies through the University of North Texas, where she was able to exercise her Spanish speaking capabilities amongst the diverse population. People are truly her passion and drive, which led her to the major. She deeply enjoys learning about different backgrounds and ways of thinking from around the world.  Emily’s background is in dealing with trauma in many different forms, and specifically worked as a Transitional Living Assistant at a program house for women who have been sex trafficked.

It is an honor to be able to stand alongside victim-survivors in their personal journey towards safety and healing. Throughout her educational career in international studies and trauma background, she learned the importance of the balance between supporting individuals while also giving them autonomy over their healing. That is why she closely aligns with the values of International Institute of Minnesota, and their vision of helping New Americans achieve self-sufficiency. She is proud to be an Anti- Trafficking Case Manager for such a multi-faceted, well-run organization.


woman smiling

Andrea Kittleson

Program Manager

Andrea Kittleson leads a wonderful team that provides trauma-informed services to survivors of trafficking and unaccompanied refugee youth. Andrea and her team recognize the dignity and worth of each individual survivor and young person, and work in partnership with them to achieve their goals and dreams.

Andrea is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker with a background in family case management, youth development work and community-based research. Her career began as a volunteer with youth programs in Morelos, Mexico. She has also worked for Lutheran Social Service of MN, the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board and Minneapolis Community Education. Andrea hopes that her work at the Institute will inspire hope, justice, and compassion towards all New Americans.


Alisa Blackwood

Communications Specialist

Alisa Blackwood serves as the Institute’s press contact and oversees communications. She strives to share stories about the Institute’s mission in ways that educate, inform and inspire the community. Alisa’s favorite parts of her job are meeting Institute clients, learning about their lives and celebrating their successes. She approaches each interview from a trauma-informed lens, following the lead of the storyteller and writing stories that reflect how the Institute has impacted clients’ lives.

Alisa’s work at the Institute comes after years of journalism work for organizations such as The Associated Press, O, The Oprah Magazine and more. Her nonprofit experience began at mothers2mothers in Cape Town, South Africa, where she worked as a communications volunteer in 2006. She hopes her writing about the Institute’s clients, students and staff brings to life the stories behind the news headlines.



Zinzile Sibanda

Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Zinzile Sibanda is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the Institute. She moved to Minnesota from Zimbabwe in 2014 to pursue an undergraduate degree at Hamline University, where she majored in Political Science and Economics with a minor in Women’s Studies.

Her journey from student to immigrant has influenced her passion for working with immigrants and refugees and community building.



Rachel Kennedy

Volunteer and Community Partnerships Manager

Rachel joins the International Institute of Minnesota team with 15 years of experience in volunteer management and community engagement, with a focus on the intersections of housing/homelessness, hunger, and immigration. With a passion for supporting connections between people, organizations, and ideas, she works with volunteers to meet them where they are to encourage growth, learning, and community.

In the role as the Volunteer & Community Partnerships Manager with the Institute, Rachel will work with volunteers and community partners to engage in meaningful, mutually beneficial ways for the volunteer, the Institute, and those we serve.


Emily Kleinschmidt

Annual Giving Manager

Emily Kleinschmidt manages the Institute’s annual giving campaigns, fostering relationships with individual donors. Formerly a dance artist, she found her way to development while working in the arts sector.

Emily believes that the heartbeat of any nonprofit is in the programs and the subsequent effect they have on participants. This is what inspires her to support the Institute’s mission in her current role.


Portrait of Emily Kleinschmidt

Greg Gramza

Grant Writer

Greg Gramza has been the Grant Writer at the Institute since December 2019. In his role, Greg leads funding proposal projects to foundations and government agencies with the support of program managers and directors. He crafts each application. He also provides funders with grant and outcome reports and provides grant and agency revenue projections to the Development Director.

As parts of both sides of his family fled Eastern Europe during World War I, Greg was raised with the family stories of seeking refuge in the United States and the challenges of simultaneously navigating a new home, a new language and employment. Inspired by those events and the stories from other New Americans, Greg works to increase the capacity of the Institute’s programs to welcome and serve New Americans as they adjust to life in a new community and begin a pathway towards self-sufficiency.



Sarah Pradt

Online Evening English Instructor

Sarah Pradt teaches Advanced Pronunciation, a class for proficient speakers of English who want to be well understood at work, school and in the community. She loves working with students on the sounds of American English. Her class includes training in both speaking and listening for pronunciation.

Sarah developed “Be A Better Listener,” a workshop for native speakers on how to be more effective communicators with people whose first language is not English. She introduces monolingual English speakers to features used in English by speakers of Spanish, Hmong, Somali and other languages widely spoken in Minnesota.



Kaija Bergen

Community Orientation Workshop Instructor and Program Support

Kaija Bergen has worked as an adult educator in the Twin Cities since 2013. At the Institute, she teaches Community Orientation Workshops for new arrivals in Minnesota. These workshops help people learn the systems of life in a new country, including navigating transportation, housing, finances and more.

She loves working with adult learners because they bring their knowledge, skillset and motivation to the classroom. She believes that all people have a right to learn, which is one reason why adult education is so invaluable.



Carrie Mann

Career Advancement Specialist

Carrie Mann’s background includes ESL teaching, International Environmental Policy, and German language and policy. Most recently she worked in evaluation and strategic planning training in refugee resettlement.

Carrie has taught English to adult learners both in California and Poland, as well as living and doing environmental work in Germany. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley. She then worked on her California teaching credential at San Francisco State University, and has a graduate degree from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.


Woman smiling

Dani Saunders

Community Orientation Workshop Instructor

Dani Saunders is an English and Citizenship educator at the Institute. Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, she appreciates being able to aid and assist her community through her work preparing New Americans for the citizenship test.

Dani recently completed the graduate Adult Basic Education licensure program at Hamline University.



Mary Ellen Kavanaugh

English Instructor

Mary Ellen Kavanaugh, originally from New York state, brings years of experience as an educator to her teaching. She taught high school for many years and has been teaching English to New Americans since 2004. She started at the Institute as a volunteer in 2019 and is now a happy staff member.

She delights in coming to work each day alongside excellent colleagues and students who are hard-working, eager to learn and great fun to be with. When she’s not at work, she volunteers with Standing Up for Racial Justice, practices the concertina and is part of three reading groups.



Liz Reid

English Instructor and Intake Specialist

Liz Reid enjoys welcoming new arrivals at intake and helping them grow in her intermediate English classes. Seeing students grow in confidence and community together is always a rich reward for her. She is passionate about helping students harness the power of words and gain a voice in their new home.

Liz gained an increased empathy and passion for helping new arrivals after three years of living and teaching English in Thailand. Every gesture of kindness and welcome had a profound impact on her, and she feels privileged to extend that to others at the Institute. Before becoming an English teacher, Liz worked as a writer and writing coach.



Quyen Dang

English Instructor

Quyen Dang works directly with adult language learners from varying backgrounds and English proficiency levels, ranging from intermediate to advanced. Originally from Rochester, Minnesota, she has lived and worked in the Twin Cities since 2003. She holds an Adult Basic Education Teaching License, Advanced Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate, an M.Ed., and an MS in Educational Leadership, and has over 15 years of experience in the field of adult basic education.

Being passionate about changing and enriching the lives of adult language learners, particularly immigrants and refugees, Quyen feels deeply honored and motivated to be working for an organization that shares the same perspective and goal.



Stacy Dietrich-Varney

Languages Program Manager and English for Work Instructor

Stacy Dietrich-Varney has been the program manager for education since 2016. She has worked with students ranging from pre-literacy to advanced, but specializes in pre and low literacy education.

She takes pride in developing new materials to meet student needs and fosters an environment of creativity and adaptability within the department.



Emily Loesch

ELL Instructor

Emily Loesch is an experienced educator who has been working at the Institute for two years. Emily holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. As a dedicated professional, Emily is passionate about education and teaching English as a Second Language. Emily teaches remotely, using several edtech platforms to engage and educate her students.

She is committed to creating an inclusive and welcoming learning environment that helps students achieve their goals of becoming certified Nursing Assistants.


A blonde woman in a gray sweater

Heidi Anderson

Academic Support Instructor and Data Specialist

Heidi Anderson is an academic support instructor, employment counselor and data specialist with the nursing assistant training program. She has been working as an ELL instructor, abroad and in the United States, for over five years. Heidi also has extensive education in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

At the Institute, she assists nursing assistant students develop academic skill sets, such as studying and test-taking strategies. Heidi also assists students with finding employment after they become certified nursing assistants. She enjoys helping students achieve success by helping them find employment at facilities that best fit their needs and goals.



Faith Loggers-Jamnik

Lead Employment Counselor

Faith Loggers-Jamnik works with Nursing Assistant students, helping them one-on-one or in the classroom to increase their employability, find gainful employment and ultimately strengthen their financial stability. She has an extensive background in human resources and finds sharing that knowledge with students and staff rewarding.

Faith’s parents were immigrants to the U.S., and she enjoys being around people that come from other cultures and backgrounds. Over the years she has had different jobs at the Institute, being able to meet staff from other departments and share in travel and food experiences. She also has enjoyed bringing in flowers from her garden and sharing her plants with the Institute.



Valerie Geary

Nurse Instructor

Valerie Geary is a Minnesota native and one of its biggest cheerleaders. She thoroughly enjoys getting to share her favorite place with some of its newest residents, often helping them better understand such things as the awesomeness of a parking lot full of snow. In return, she gets to vicariously experience the rest of the world through her students.

After graduating with a degree in nursing from Winona State, teaching has been a mainstay of Valerie’s career both in and out of healthcare. The connection between teaching and healthcare is by far what excites Valerie the most.

She trains over 100 students each year to become dynamite nursing assistants, using her skills to put the most caregiving out into the world as possible. Being able to do that within an extraordinary organization like the Institute, with truly remarkable students, is just icing on the cake.


Julie Garner-Pringle

Nursing Assistant Training Program Manager

Julie Garner-Pringle is originally from Canada and came to the Institute after teaching English in Hungary and Egypt. Twenty years later, Julie is now the Manager of the Nursing Assistant Training Program and feels inspired by the brilliant and caring students and coworkers who all want to give back to their communities.

The Institute has been her only workplace in Minnesota and she can’t imagine being anywhere else.



Anna Benker

Employment Navigator

Anna Benker has been with the Institute since 2019. In her current role, she supports graduates from the Housekeeping, Dietary Aide and Cashiering programs reach their employment goals. She is passionate about working with New Americans and enjoys supporting people wherever they are in their employment journey. The best part of her work is getting to meet people with many different experiences.

Anna has a background in sociology, refugee and migration studies, and teaching English as a foreign language.



Kate Carter

Career Advancement Specialist

Kate Carter grew up in St. Paul and started her career in the St. Paul Public Schools. Later she moved to Maryland and became a work-based learning coordinator. Her role was to offer career guidance and future planning to high school students, as well as support them in employment, helping them develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and work habits so they could move successfully into the world of work.

She now teaches the Institute’s Professional Leadership class. It is a privilege to work with business, medical, engineering and educational professionals, learning from them and helping them develop leadership careers, earn promotions or change professions.



Lynn Thompson

Hospitality Program Manager and Instructor

Lynn Thompson began working at the Institute in 2015 as an AmeriCorps Opportunity Corps member in the Nursing Assistant Training program. Wanting to continue serving adult learners, she pursued her TEFL certificate and began teaching in the English department.

In 2018 Lynn became the Program Manager and Instructor for the Hospitality Career Pathway. She is passionate about helping New Americans to overcome barriers to employment through education, empowerment and advocacy.



Irina Gornovskaya

Financial Coach

Irina relocated to the Unites States from the picturesque region of Abkhazia, nestled in the southern part of the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea. Having undergone the immigrant experience firsthand, she empathizes deeply with the journey.

With an extensive background in mortgage origination and underwriting, she is well-versed in the intricacies of the application process, securing approvals, establishing, developing, and fulfilling financial goals. Beyond her professional pursuits, she cherishes spending quality time with her son – engaging in biking, hiking, paddleboarding and tennis.



Jimmy Chien

Financial Coach

Jimmy Chien’s parents were immigrants to the U.S. so he is aware of the challenges and struggles immigrants face daily. Because of his parents’ immigrant background, saving and budgeting were habits he grew up with. His interest in personal finance and investing started in college and he has successfully invested in the stock market for the past decade.

In his previous role, Jimmy successfully coached clients from around the world on how to manage their portfolio risk, develop plans to achieve their financial goals and stay level-headed during turbulent times in the stock market. Jimmy is also a certified homebuyer advisor and helps clients no matter where they are in the home-buying process.



Norzin Waleag

College Coordinator and Navigator

Norzin Waleag immigrated with her family to Minnesota, where she was raised from the age of nine. She completed her undergraduate degree at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and pursued her graduate degree from Boston College.

Having gone through the higher education system herself and working with college access programs targeted toward first-generation students, Norzin knows just how crucial it is to provide support so that students persist once in college



Giovanna Antrop-Colón

College Navigator

Giovanna Antrop-Colón is a Minnesota transplant who was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During her sociology studies at Metropolitan State University, she volunteered in English language and citizenship classes. She then spent three years at the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and a corporate law firm before deciding that serving adult learners is where her passion lies.

Giovanna’s experience as a student of color navigating the Minnesota state system has proved invaluable during her time as a college navigator for the Institute. She understands how overwhelming the world of higher education can be for adult learners facing multiple barriers and is proud to serve the Institute’s mission of making higher education more accessible for all.



Luke Kretchmer

College Readiness Academy Instructor

Luke Kretchmer has over 10 years of teaching experience both in the United States and abroad, having taught children and adults in public, private, and organizational settings. He formerly taught with the Peace Corps in China and with Teach for America in Mississippi.

He has taught middle and high school in the Twin Cities and has been a volunteer adult ESL tutor with Literacy MN and here at the Institute. In addition to his teaching background, Luke has worked in sales and the service industry.


Jamie L. Wright

College Readiness Academy Instructor

Jamie L. Wright teaches integrated academic skills in her intensive courses and is the curriculum specialist in the program. Given her life experiences, Jamie empathizes with her students feeling “out of place” or that they need to prove or explain themselves. She truly enjoys connecting with each of her students individually and helping them to work towards their dreams and goals for their college education in the United States.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Jamie L. Wright is the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of immigrants from China, Canada, and Italy. She spent many years living in various places outside of the state, including two years in Seoul, South Korea. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and Bilingualism: Language and Culture from St. Olaf College, and an M.S. in Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University.



Ollie Schiefelbein

Internationally Trained Professionals Navigator

Ollie Schiefelbein helps internationally trained healthcare professionals continue their healthcare careers in the United States, either by relicensing or continuing their education. Ollie especially enjoys building relationships with their clients and helping them choose the right path forward, whatever that might look like. Their favorite part of their job is celebrating successes with their clients.

Ollie attended college at UW Madison and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, Africa before moving to Minnesota.



Dr. Nicholas Bubak

International Medical Graduate Coordinator

Before coming to Minnesota in the autumn of 2022, Nick Bubak lived in Liverpool, UK earning his Ph.D. in History/Political Science and working as an instructor and researcher at the University of Liverpool. While he enjoyed his career in academia, time spent with a university outreach program in which he worked directly with immigrant students led him to change gears and pursue a career in international policy.

Nick Bubak works with internationally-trained physicians who want to relicense and practice medicine in the U.S. Nick enjoys the diversity of his job, which allows him to work in international and healthcare policy, but also directly with clients in the day-to-day. The camaraderie and support of his colleagues, as well as the unwavering commitment to supporting immigrants’ transition to the U.S. by everyone at the Institute, motivates Nick to continuously improve his department and advocate for his clients.



Sarah Corrigan

Medical Career Advancement Navigator

Sarah Corrigan’s work at the Institute is the convergence of two professional paths. After completing her master’s degree in biology, she advised students at the University of Minnesota for 13 years. From 2015 to 2022, she taught English language learners from different immigrant communities in the Twin Cities. This work inspired her to find a position that combined her passion for supporting New Americans with her academic and career coaching experience.

She learned as a first-generation student that success in college depends on a community of support, and Medical Career Advancement is part of that larger community. Sarah is motivated and inspired by the Institute’s clients, who are working hard to achieve their goals of becoming nurses and other health professionals.



Gabby Zuerlein

Medical Career Advancement Navigator

Gabby Zuerlein started working as a case manager at the Institute in 2022 after leaving her job as a special education teacher. She transitioned into the Medical Career Advancement program a few months later. In her role as a navigator, she works closely with immigrants and refugees who have been accepted into medical career training courses at their not-for-profit universities. She helps clients find tuition assistance, provides writing tutoring, problem solves, and makes referrals for any hardships a client may experience while in the program. She also assists with employment searches, applications, and interview prep.

Her favorite part of working with immigrants and refugees pursuing medical careers is supporting them through obstacles in their life and getting to experience the joyful moments with them when they reach their goals.



Brooke Anttila-Escoto

Medical Career Advancement Program Manager

Brooke Anttila-Escoto oversees the Medical Career Advancement, Internationally Trained Professionals, and International Medical Graduates programs. Brooke is a graduate of Macalester College and attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota and Hamline University.

She has worked for the Institute since 2001 in a variety of roles, walking alongside clients and encouraging them as they realize their educational and career goals. She loves working with clients and colleagues from all over the world. Brooke also enjoys building connections with employers and education partners across the state as she advocates for clients and participates on advisory committees.



Blaine Joseph

Citizenship Case Aide

Blaine Joseph is a Citizenship Case Aide working in the Immigration Services department. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Coming from a family who went through the Institute’s Immigration Services department, she can relate to most of her clients as they go through the journey of becoming U.S. citizens.

She finds it very rewarding and exciting to watch her clients accomplish their goals.



Emily Linder

Legal Assistant

Emily Linder provides intake and case management support to all the immigration services provided by the Institute. She also serves as the primary Afghan Legal Services contact and works to connect Afghan clients to appropriate legal services. Emily has a background in anthropology.

Following herundergraduate studies, she completed a year of service in Minneapolis, where she worked with refugee clients in both refugee resettlement and immigration. She continued to work with refugees in the Twin Cities until she moved to Chicago to pursue her master’s degree in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at DePaul University. Upon completing her master’s degree, Emily moved back to Minnesota.


Eh Pho Say

Legal Assistant and Immigration Intake Specialist

Eh Pho Say is a Legal Assistant and Intake Specialist with the Immigration Services Department. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work.

As a refugee herself, she finds it rewarding to help people, give back to communities and motivate them to move forward with their lives.



Rachel Kohler

Immigration Services Attorney

Rachel Kohler joined the Institute in October 2022. Before joining, Rachel was an immigration attorney for a nonprofit providing legal assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence. She carries forward her passion for working with immigrants in Minnesota, providing legal advice and representation to people applying for their green cards and U.S. citizenship.

She also continues her work with victims/survivors of abuse by leading the effort to provide immigration assistance to victims of human trafficking.



Kristin Nelson

Immigration Services Manager & DOJ Accredited Representative

Joining the Institute in 2018, Kristin Nelson assists clients in achieving immigration benefits such as naturalization, permanent residency, work authorization and family reunification.

Kristin is committed to immigration reform and client advocacy and seeks to connect and collaborate with New Americans in achieving full membership in the U.S. She holds a BA in Sociology from the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University.



Corleen Smith

Immigration Services Director & DOJ Accredited Representative

Corleen Smith is proud of her almost 25 years of employment with the Institute. She has a background in legal interpretation and education, enjoys using her Spanish-speaking skills and teaching skills every day on the job.

Corleen grew up in Minneapolis but now calls St. Paul home after having lived and worked in Guatemala and Mexico. Her Swedish great-grandfather became a naturalized citizen in 1920 at the age of 32 and her work in Immigration Services acknowledges his immigrant spirit of determination. She believes in working together with clients to remove the barriers that too many people still face to reach their dream of U.S. citizenship.



Janet Berg

Development Officer

Janet joins the International Institute with over 15 years of fundraising experience. Much of her career was spent fundraising for healthcare programs and education where she raised funding for initiatives that fostered diversity equity and inclusion. Janet moved to the United States during her middle school years. Her experience as a new American helps her understand the importance of the Institute’s mission.

Her primary responsibilities are to grow and support relationships with major donors and present opportunities for new donors to make a positive impact in the lives of newly arrived Americans and their path to self-sufficiency.



Elizabeth Fontaine

Director of Education

Elizabeth Fontaine’s career in teaching, adult education, program management and leadership spans 30 years. She has taught at adult education centers, colleges and universities, and directed programs at the college and Adult Basic Education levels. In all of her roles, her focus has always been to help integrate New Americans into the workforce and educational systems. Along with this, she has strived to help eliminate the barriers that learners face as they gain access to the opportunities they deserve.

As the Director of Education, Elizabeth continues to advocate for systems to evolve with the needs of the changing population, to help staff connect to students authentically, and to support the incredible programming at the Institute.



Tanya Battista

Director of Operations and Economic Empowerment Programs

Tanya Battista is the Director of Operations and Economic Empowerment Programs. In this role, she can share her passion for helping others achieve their goals. Tanya started at the Institute as a financial coach and managed the youth and financial coaching programs, where she was able to use her experiences as a business owner, teacher and nonprofit program administrator.

As her roles expanded, she was able to dig into her love of learning to grow into managing the Institute’s operations, human resources, IT, building rentals, and Economic Empowerment programs. The best parts of coming to work each day are meeting people from all different backgrounds and handling whatever comes her way.



Cori Ertz

Development Director

Cori Ertz joined the Institute as Director of Development in 2017. Her primary responsibility is to support the Institute’s donors and community as they contribute to helping New Americans make a new start in Minnesota. In this role, she provides leadership for the team responsible for fundraising, marketing, communications and volunteer programs.

Cori began her career as a program manager and director in the fields of public health, health equity and public policy. She has worked as a fundraiser for nonprofit missions and community foundations operating in nine countries.


JP Holwerda

Senior Director of Workforce Development

JP joins the International Institute with 10 years of experience in workforce development and has overseen the launch of a variety of innovative program pathways, including at Chrysalis. He brings a broad range of leadership experiences in both the non-profit and for-profit industry.

Most recently, he worked in the tech start-up and green jobs sector, where he led financial and operational expansion across the Midwest.



Micaela Schuneman

Senior Director of Immigration and Refugee Services

Micaela Schuneman has been interested in telling stories about immigrant experiences since college when she made a documentary film about a Mexican bakery in rural Iowa. She is proud to work at the Institute which is a “one-stop shop” for immigrants in Minnesota. It is the sort of place that she wishes her Abuelita could have turned to when she came to the U.S. many years ago.

Micaela received her Juris Doctor and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Iowa. She is the author of “Seven Years of Bad Luck: How the Government’s Delay in Issuing U-Visa Regulations Further Victimized Immigrant Crime Victims,” published in Volume 12, Issue 2 of The Journal of Gender, Race, & Justice.




Michael Donahue

Associate Director

Michael Donahue has been working at the Institute since 1999. Before moving to Minnesota, Michael worked for 20 years in New York City as a high school and middle school teacher, in church ministry, and at a social services and political asylum office. His undergraduate degree in psychology and philosophy is from Fordham University. He has a Master of Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley and a Master of Science degree in Urban Affairs from Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Michael is humbled and honored to work on behalf of the New Americans who receive services at the Institute and to share their life stories and dreams. He is also delighted to work alongside so many extraordinary co-workers.



Jane Graupman

Executive Director

Jane Graupman is the Executive Director of the International Institute of Minnesota. During her more than 30 years with the Institute, Jane has been instrumental in creating a nationally recognized Medical Careers Pathway, a top performing refugee resettlement department, and anti-human trafficking services that help New Americans maximize their talents and become fully contributing members of American society.

Jane continues to be a tireless advocate for New Americans in our community. She has led the Institute through participation in more than 90 community outreach events, reaching more than 4,000 individuals in the last two years. Jane holds a BA in Organizational Communications from the University of Minnesota.

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Work with Us

View our open positions, and apply now to make an impact.

Join Our team

Our Board of Directors


  • Mary Miklethun


    SVP Business Segment Strategy Coordination and Support, U.S. Bank

  • Elaine De Franco Olson

    Vice President

    Assistant Vice President, Chief Privacy Officer and Managing Assistant General Counsel, Cargill Incorporated

  • Kevin Barton


    Business Intelligence Manager, Land O’ Lakes Inc.


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    Jon Justin


    Managing Director, Accenture


Kitty Gogins

Business Consultant, Self-Employed

Charles Horwitz

Director, Government Contract Compliance, 3M Company

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Sam Myers

Attorney, Myers Thompson P.A.

Blessing Osibodu

Registered Nurse, North Memorial Medical Center

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Nassim Rossi

Small Business Owner/Maker, Self-Employed

Paramita Sarkar

Vice President, Product Management, Ameriprise Financial

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Evan Doran

President, The Doran Group

Board Committees

Chair: Mary Miklethun

Members: Kevin Barton, Kitty Gogins, Jon Justin, Elaine De Franco Olson

Summary: Guide and direct the overall governance of the board and organization and ensure current operations conform with articles and bylaws.

Chair: Kevin Barton

Members: Paramita Sarkar, Kitty Goggins, Evan Doran

Summary: Assist the Board in discharging its responsibilities relating to the fiscal and administrative management of the Institute.

Chair: Nassim Rossi

Members: Blessing Osibodu, Cassie Bean, Sam Myers, Charles Horwitz

Summary: Support fundraising, events and public relations for the Institute.