In September 2018, Ryan Banks Academy opened its doors with our first class of 7th grade students. We prepare motivated students from Chicago neighborhoods to graduate from college, enter into meaningful careers, and be the catalyst to bring positive change into their communities. Join us as we transform urban education!
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Join Our Team

Ryan Banks Academy is looking for leaders with a passion for youth education and social justice to serve on our Board of Directors! We’re actively looking to increase the range and diversity of skills, perspectives, and experiences on our board. Interested in joining our team as a Board member, volunteer, or intern? Please click the blue button below and use the online form - or email info(at)ryanbanksacademy(dot)com and we would love to speak to you further!


Audrey Bland Hampton, MS, EdS
Head of School

Audrey Bland Hampton is deeply committed to being a positive role model for children and guiding them to persist through adversity​. ​Her desire to help disadvantaged youth stems from her discovery of the overrepresentation of African-American students in special education across the country. This led her to pursue a B.A. degree in Psychology at Spelman College, a Historically Black College for women​ in Atlanta, Georgia, and afterwards, a M.S. and EdS. degree in Education from Indiana University-Bloomington. Audrey firmly believes that non-traditional education models can help break barriers that hinder educational equity. She has extensive knowledge in program development and student support services through her work in both day and boarding schools around the country, and is adept at implementing curricular and instructional changes.  Audrey and her husband are excited to move back to the Chicago area and hope to positively impact their community.  

Jacob Deems, MA, PhD candidate
Director of Education/Humanities Lead Teacher

Jacob Deems is passionate about transforming education through innovation and the elimination of systemic racial achievement debt. After completing a B.A. in English Writing at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, he worked with special education students in the primary grades, gaining experience with diverse learners. Shortly after this he completed his Masters of Arts in Teaching at National-Louis University in Chicago. After a move to Minneapolis, he began teaching middle school English where he helped lead a digital personalized learning initiative and a district strategic plan. Next, he transitioned to coaching and evaluating teachers, focusing specifically on racial equity practices in pedagogy as well as the classroom environment. During this time he began pursuing his Ph.D in Educational Policy and Leadership at the University of Minnesota. After moving back to the Chicago area, Jacob continued to teach both English and social studies at an International Baccalaureate school where he also served as the MYP Coordinator. Jacob believes strongly in the power of education to transform lives and is excited to bring that passion to Ryan Banks Academy. 

Alexandra (Sasha) Vasilou
STEM Lead Teacher

Alexandra (Sasha) Vasilou cares deeply about providing high-quality education to all students regardless of their achievement levels, learning needs, and educational history. Sasha is excited to develop a curriculum that integrates the arts into the STEM fields and vice versa. Sasha received her B.S. in Biology from Loyola University Chicago with a minor in Philosophy. Sasha aims to use her scientific background in conjunction with her training in dance and music to create unique lesson plans to make the STEM fields both engaging and accessible. Sasha has spent the past few years educating students of a wide age range with various learning differences. Sasha is looking forward to working with the students at Ryan Banks Academy to inspire a love for both Art and Science.

Founder & CEO

Valerie Groth, MSW, MA, CV ACC
Founder & CEO

Valerie Groth received her Bachelors degree in Psychology from Indiana University, attended Dominican University where she received her Masters in Social Work, and most recently received her second Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University.

For many years, Val worked as a school social worker on the west and south sides of Chicago in CPS. She provided social/emotional support for individuals, groups, and families, and she also provided crisis and grief counseling.

Valerie is also an executive life coach, internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, and the author of The Power of the Possible:  The Dire State of Inner City Education and One Woman's Revolution to Fix It.


Board of Directors

David Anderson, JD, MA
Vice Chair, Board of Directors

David B. Anderson  is the founder  and CEO of Great Lakes Regional Center, LLC, and HCE INTL, LLC, and has extensive experience as a C-level executive, business strategist, development officer and General Counsel. He has led several multinational corporations including Inland Steel Industries,  GATX Corporation and American Hospital Supply Corporation. For the past 15 years, he has been involved in international consulting and was founder  and managing partner of New Pacific Consulting (China) and a partner at The Parthenon Group. His extensive relationships with major private equity firms in the U.S. and China provide the capacity  to source private capital and to provide strategic advice to Chinese and Western companies seeking to expand  their international business. Mr. Anderson  served as a Captain in the U.S. Army and is an active attorney and member  of the Illinois Bar Association. He has held multiple public and private advisory positions and currently serves on the boards of Advocate Aurora Healthcare, ViMedicus and Chicago Local Initiatives Support  Corporation.

Tom Churchwell, JD
Chair, Board of Directors

Tom Churchwell is the founder and CEO of ViMedicus, Inc. ViMedicus develops and markets patient centric care coordination solutions. Previously, he was President and CEO of ARCH Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the University of Chicago, which commercialized technology from the University and Argonne National Laboratory. Prior to that, he was President and CEO of Calgene Fresh, Inc., a 1992 start-up company which produced and marketed the MacGregor’s FLAVR SAVR tomato, the world’s first biotech food product.  Prior to joining Calgene Fresh, Mr. Churchwell was Vice President of ARCH Development Corporation Development.  Before starting Calgene Fresh, Mr. Churchwell held several senior management positions at the NutraSweet Company, including Vice President, Sales and legal positions at G.D. Searle & Co., American Hospital Supply Corporation and The Coca-Cola Export Corporation. He holds a BA degree from DePauw University and JD degree from Northwestern University School of Law.  He also is a Graduate of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.

Jeff Garlin (Honorary Member)

Jeff Garlin is a comedian, actor, producer, voice artist, director, writer, podcast host and author. He is known for his role as Jeff Greene on the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm, for which he was nominated for seven Emmys in his role as Executive Producer and two wins for Producing from the Producers Guild of America. He currently stars in the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs.

Andrea Hunt, MBA

Board Member for public and private companies. Proven healthcare executive with over 25 years of management experience in regenerative medicine, cell and gene therapy, biologics, and medical devices across a wide spectrum of therapeutic areas. Successful corporate entrepreneur specializing in the commercialization of new products and solutions. Partnered with start-ups to take them to the next level. Created and deployed novel corporate innovation processes to increase organic and inorganic growth. Skilled at leading and motivating global cross functional teams to achieve business objectives through the development of customer oriented solutions.

Sandee Kastrul, MA

Sandee Kastrul is the president and cofounder of i.c.stars;  founded in 1999 i.c.stars provides opportunities to break the cycle of poverty that limits inner-city youth.  Through training in technology, in leadership and in business skills i.c.stars prepares change-driven, inner city future leaders to develop skills in business and technology for high-level careers in information technology (IT) and community leadership.  Sand’s career in education has included focused work on cross-curricular arts integration strategies, diversity training and curriculum development. She worked as a teacher and consultant from early childhood classrooms through adult education affording her a wide perspective in effective project based learning techniques, leadership development, reverse mentoring and asset based pedagogy.

Jane Kiernan
Vice Chair, Board of Directors

Jane E. Kiernan is an experienced public company Board Director with American Medical Systems and was recently CEO and President of Salter Labs, a privately-held medical device company with revenues of $85 million. Ms. Kiernan has more than 30 years of executive and management leadership with both public and private companies in the health care field. She has excellent financial expertise to support her strengths in strategy, mergers & acquisitions, and scaling for global growth. As a community leader, Ms. Kiernan served as Committee Chair and on the board of directors of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. In addition, she is a past-President of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), Chicago Chapter.

Ryan Lazarus
Secretary, Board of Directors

Ryan Lazarus is a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He is the CMO for Blacknight Holdings as well as the Co-founder and COO of Vue Capital, an early-stage venture capital fund. He is also a co-founder of Windo Global Partners, a consulting firm that works primarily with U.S. companies looking to expand to India and vice versa. Ryan is involved with multiple civic organizations in Chicago, and was the first board member to join our founder Valerie back in 2014.

Kerris Lee, MBA
Treasurer, Board of Directors

Kerris Lee was first propelled into entrepreneurship at the young age of 14 when he started an apparel company called Mosayk. He attracted venture capital funding from an NFL athlete, Torry Holt from the St. Louis Rams, and sold his products in London, Japan, and the US. He later made an exit from the apparel industry and went into technology as a Business Development Executive at a research company named Cazoodle where he brokered deals with companies such as, US Army and E-Bay. Since then he has consulted for the world’s largest bank; ICBC with assets of 4 Trillion headquartered in Beijing, China, Empresario a multi-media company previous asset of Mark Cuban, several startups, and Parkland College in Champaign, IL as an endowed adjunct professor in entrepreneurship. Mr. Lee has been featured in over 30 publications and has been recognized as Central Illinois Business Magazines 40 under 40, University of Illinois Innovation Celebration awardee, and Mistrial Alliance awardee. He holds an MBA from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a certification in agile project management from Northwestern University.

Richie Marrero

Richie Marrero, is a Employee Benefits Consultant at 360 Benefits where he partners with middle market companies helping to design employee benefit programs that control costs, guarantee compliance and help attract, retain, and develop top talent.  Richie is an alumna of the Posse Foundation and now serves on the Chicago Board. Richie has a BSW from University of Wisconsin-Madison and did his MSW work at Loyola University.  Richie was born and raised in Chicago, and firmly believes that education is the great equalizer. 

Zeb McLaurin

Zeb McLaurin is the CEO and Founder of McLaurin Development Partners (MDP), a full-service commercial real estate property development, disposition, brokerage, and management company. Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, MDP has successfully developed a national reputation committed to its core mission of developing and enhancing value from previously underutilized and de-valued assets. McLaurin’s background of developing in the urban core of major cities has shaped his integrity, sense of responsibility, and ingenuity with which he now runs MDP. His team’s focus on restoring urban markets has resulted in hundreds of acres of revitalized and redeveloped land sites, the creation of 1.5MM+ square feet of new commercial retail and mixed-use spaces, thousands of new jobs, and new investment resources measured in the hundreds of millions.

Lori Moreno

Responsible for leading a team of commercial lines professionals with the goal of delivering high quality service and in-depth knowledge to clients. Leading the local Hub vertical focused on educating and servicing life sciences companies on risk management techniques through various phases of development from start-up through IPO. Highly skilled in the placement of global clinical trials, exposure mitigation in the clinical trials supply chain,product liability and complex drug/medical device property exposures.

Clarence Nixon, PhD

Dr. Nixon is a founder and CEO of t.Lab an accelerated learning center for families and students in grades K-12. t.Lab was established to increase the competitiveness of US based students while leveraging a global leadership model.

Dr. Nixon was the Chief Information Officer and Process Improvement Executive for Ball Park Brands (a division of Sara Lee); Chief Information Officer for the Worldwide Automotive Division of ALCOA; and the Director of Strategic Leadership at American Cyanamid Company. Prior to American Cyanamid, Dr. Nixon spent a total of 19 years developing business acumen within the automotive industry including Ford, General Motors and Chrysler Corporation.

Building on a strong foundation of an accomplished career within several industries, demonstrating proactive leadership strengths and perfecting key technological solutions throughout his career, Dr. Nixon is a leading force in change management and the continued emergence of digital technologies.

Dr. Nixon is a member of several Boards of Directors including Advocate Health Care, Woodland Community Development, and Technology Laboratory and Professional Development Center. He is a Life Long Member of the NAACP. Dr. Nixon holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Wayne State University, a M.A in Logistics from Central Michigan University and a B.S. in Business Administration from Upper Iowa University.

Dr. Nixon is the Dean of the Joseph Business School at Detroit Worship Center, an adjunct professor at Colorado Technical University, the University of Detroit Mercy, and The University of Windsor.

Dr. Nixon is the author of several books to be published in 2018 and 2019 including: The Leadership of Hope, From CIO to CEO and Shifted Paradigm; Education in the 21th Century.

Naz Saleem, MBA

A Business Executive who provides vision and delivers performance excellence through expertise in strategy, product development and management, operations, technology, and change management. Unique breadth of experience includes Fortune 50 and 100 companies, as well as start-ups across retail, healthcare, technology, financial services, and consulting in both business and consumer focused industries. Uses exceptional communication, relationship building, and leadership skills to effectively partner across all functions and levels of the organization. Builds credibility by quickly learning industries, functional areas, and organizational dynamics, which combined with diverse background, leads to a fresh problem solving approach that drives transformative results.

Susan Templeton, MBA

Susan is currently the CEO and Founder of Stafford Wells Advisors, a fee only registered investment advisor serving high net worth families and individuals. Stafford Wells, based in Chicago coordinates all aspects of retirement planning, investment and portfolio management, tax management and philanthropy planning. Susan Templeton also serves on the board of directors for Claridges Trust Company. She sits on the audit committee and investment committee. Susan is also on the advisory board of Seyen Capital, a venture fund investing in technology and communication companies. Susan earned her MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School and her BSBA from the University of Denver and pursued a second major in accounting at College of DuPage. She teaches part time for The University of Chicago Booth Executive Education teaching investments, portfolio management, family leadership and succession.

Venkat Veeramani, PhD

Venkat is currently SVP Risk Strategy and Analytics at Wintrust Financial Corporation. He is an accomplished enterprise-wide analytics thought leader and a subject matter expert on risk management life-cycle. He has successfully led several high visibility risk and financial analytical initiatives at multinational and midsize financial institutions. He is a published author and frequent speaker on topics related to game theory, risk & financial analytics, macro, and microeconomics. He has previously worked at Morgan Stanley, Discover Financial Services and HSBC.  Venkat Veeramani holds a Ph.D. in Ag Economics from the University of Kentucky. 

Ann Zeiler
Vice Chair, Board of Directors

Ann Zeiler is a senior leader at Northern Trust where she works with investment managers and fund companies.  She was a major contributor to identifying, building and growing this new market segment for Northern and is presently responsible for its business development activities.

Advisory Board

Samantha Allen

Samantha currently works at an elementary school in Indiana.  Samantha strive to make sure her students' learning environment is safe and fun for all of them with quality materials for them to receive the best education they can.

Cecilia Bissoli, MFA

Cecilia has several years of design work in the US and South America. She obtained experience that prepared her to be a rigorous thinker and a good problem solver. She strives to develop solutions that are inviting and interesting but also mirror her core values. She strongly believes that designers have the mission to create graphic solutions that inspire others and give back to the community.

Kendra Bostick, LCSW

Kendra Bostick is a passionate Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has four years of school social work experience and two years of experience within inpatient child and adolescent behavioral health units in Chicago. Kendra is bilingual in Spanish and has immersed herself in many global endeavors including working in a therapeutic day center in London, teaching English in Thailand and coordinating mental health workshops in Ecuador. Kendra is currently obtaining her second Masters degree in Education with a focus on how to use Adventure Programming and Experiential Education to build a compassionate community that maximizes meaningful learning within the education system.

Corey Brooks

A Pastor, a businessman, a philanthropist, a mentor and a visionary, Pastor Corey B Brooks Sr. founded New Beginnings Church of Chicago, an urban, non-denominational inner city church on Chicago’s south side with 250 members in November of 2000, now supports over 2000 members. Affectionately known as the HOODologist for leading impactful community efforts to address the educational, economical, social and spiritual ills that burden inner city communities, Pastor Brooks has made national and international news for his unconventional, yet effective stance against the senseless killings of young people by gun violence.

Allison Bush

Allison Bush has many years of fundraising experience having worked for Butler University and Riley Hospital for Children Foundation in Indianapolis, IN and Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.  Her experience include annual giving, major gifts and corporate and foundation relations.  She has also done freelance work for several other non-profits. 

Katie Cahnmann, LPC

Katie Cahnmann is a Master's level Certified School Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor with almost two decades of providing individual, group, and family counseling; mentoring; tutoring; advocacy; fundraising; event planning; and more. She is also the founder of, one of the top Chicago events calendars.

Adrienne Colvert, MBA

Adrienne Colvert has experience in both the professional and nonprofit arenas.  She worked for many years as a financial consultant with Deloitte and then continued as a sub-contractor with the firm while raising her children. She is currently working part-time as Manager of Research and Administration with Cambridge Consulting (an Executive Search Firm) as well as serving as the President of Hope’s Front Door, a human services agency in DuPage County.  Adrienne holds an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago. 

Francia Harrington, MS

Francia currently works in civic engagement and strategic partnerships at Fifth Third Bank.  Previously, she worked as the president and chief development officer at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and the director of civic affairs at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Steven Kuemmerle, PhD

Steven Kuemmerle, Ph.D., Special Adviser on Innovation and Industry Partnerships to the EVP of Research, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. Steve came to RFUMS from the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation where he was Senior Director, Industry Relations. He joined the University of Chicago in 2013 in a leadership role to manage technology licensing and commercialization.

Steve has nearly three decades of healthcare industry experience. Most recently, as Head of Venture Investments, Abbott Biotech Ventures, Inc., he led the evaluation and execution of equity investments in emerging pharma companies. Before that, Steve served as a director in Abbott’s Global Pharma Licensing Group. Steve first joined Abbott in 1987, where he managed various diagnostic R&D units before moving to the Pharmaceutical Division in 1997.

Steve received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Northwestern University. He serves as an advisor on various healthcare focused boards, and is Past-Chair of the Life Sciences Executive Committee for the Licensing Executive Society. Steve is a licensed airplane pilot, and enjoys hiking and sailing.

Ron Manderschied, MBA

Ron Manderschied became President of Northwestern Settlement in 1981. During his tenure as president, the Settlement’s annual budget has grown from $200,000 to $14 million.  He has led the founding and development of many of the Settlement’s largest programs including Rowe Elementary charter school, the internationally-recognized Adventure Stage Chicago theatre, AmeriCorps Project YES!, Family CARES Center, and a nationally-accredited Early Childhood Center.  He also grew the Settlement’s food pantry and after-school programs, and instituted year-round STEM programming at its House In The Wood summer camp in Delevan, Wisconsin.  He became President and CEO of Noble Street Charter School when it opened in 1999 and served as President and CEO of the Network through 2009, where he was responsible for the general administration and fundraising for this $55 million organization. Ron currently serves on several boards including the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a national membership organization of over 400 child welfare and community based organizations.

Sanchit Mulmuley

Sanchit Mulmuley is an entrepreneur with experience in operations, business development, food & beverage investments, government relations and public policy. He is currently working on a product to reduce friction in the local food economy out of the Polsky Exchange Business Incubator at The University of Chicago. He is a former policy researcher for the Wisconsin State Senate, where he focused on Higher Education and Agriculture. He has been actively involved with various startups since 2011, and his experience investing in local food businesses led to the founding of Banyan Technologies, a B2B marketplace for local food based in Chicago. Sanchit holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison

Dr. David W. Magill, EdD

David W. Magill, EdD is the Director Emeritus of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, one of the country’s largest and most widely recognized independent schools. For twenty years, he led two Pennsylvania school districts as the superintendent of schools and served as a trustee on the Educational Records Bureau for 18 years. David is also on the Board of a charter school in Chicago and is presently the Interim Head at the International School of Denver.

Fred O'Connor, CFP®, AEP®, RICP®, ChFC®

Fred O'Connor has more than 25 years of professional services experience serving corporate and individual clients in North America and Europe. Work experience has ranged from Wall Street, where Mr. O’Connor spent five years in fixed income institutional securities sales for Salomon Brothers, Inc in New York -- to risk management advisory, insurance brokerage and post merger integration management for Aon Group in London, Düsseldorf and Chicago -- to business strategy and technology solutions advisory consulting with DiamondCluster International. Mr. O’Connor holds a Master of Management degree in finance and marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. He received a BA in Economics from The College of the Holy Cross and studied at the London School of Economics. He also serves on a number of civic organizations and boards, including: The Big Shoulders Fund's Chairmen's Advisory Council, The 100 Club of Chicago, and St. Therese's Chinese Catholic School Board of Specified Jurisdiction. He has in the past served on The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations' Chicago Committee, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Corporate Relations Committee, The Young Leaders’ Board of The Chicago Community Trust, the Economic Club of Chicago, the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board and The American Marshall Memorial Fellowship selection committee. He has both participated in and spoken at Young Leader Forums with The Atlantik Brücke, The American Council on Germany and The Aspen Institute. Competing in marathons and triathlons in the US and Europe, varsity football in college and a stint with the USMC provided an important foundation.

JD Pirtle, MFA

JD Pirtle is an artist, educator, and technologist living in Chicago. He is currently the director of innovation at Catherine Cook School, where he founded and directs the IDEA Program and adjacent laboratory. Before joining the administration at Catherine Cook, he was an associate researcher focused on virtual reality, spatialized audio, and HCI at the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He holds a BFA from the Center for Digital Art and Experimental Media (DXARTS) at the University of Washington and an MFA from the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Kaitlin Reimann

Kaitlin is a business and community leader who left consulting to co-found a company she felt would make a difference. This company, uBack, is changing the giving conversation so we can all change the world. Kaitlin believes that we each have the power to create the change we want to see and her desire is to make getting involved as easy as possible. Kaitlin and her husband are proud new parents to a loveable little boy and are learning what it is like to function on little to no sleep! Any tips are welcome. When she is not spending time with family, friends or working she loves to be outdoors and enjoys anything to do with sports.

Michele Baker Richardson, JD

Michele Baker Richardson is founder and principal of Higher Education Advocates, LLC, a college consulting and coaching firm whose domestic and international client base includes the families of Fortune 500 C-suite executives, and top-ranked colleges and universities. Her expertise includes strategic advising and counsel regarding development and presentation of credentials and yield management. Her experience as a corporate health lawyer, health law professor and dean for over 600 law students prepared her for the complexities and challenges of board work in the ever changing the health care industry. Ms. Richardson began her board service in 2004 as a member of the Governing Council for Advocate South Suburban Hospital, at a time when the small community hospital was first integrating into the Advocate Health Care Network. After two years, she was asked to join the system Board of Directors (Advocate Health and Hospitals Corporation) where she has served in several leadership roles, and currently serves as Chairperson (since 2014). Ms. Richardson has also chaired the strategic planning committee, the executive committee, and the compensation and benefits committee, and has previously served as vice-chair and as a member of the finance and audit committees.

Dr. Kiley Russell, MA, EdD:

Kiley worked for many years as a teacher as well as an assistant principal and also the Chief Academic Officer for a charter school.  She now works as an educational leadership consultant and also runs her own business, and her success has been featured on Oprah.

Richard San Juan, MBA

Richard San Juan is a market research professional with experience in business intelligence and project management. He is passionate about leveraging data to provide actionable insights and tell stories. It is his belief that it is much easier to process information when it's visualized in the form of charts and graphs, instead of purely just words or numbers.

Jon Schickedanz

Jon is president and founder of The Alliance Labs has been selling, managing, and producing creative projects for Fortune 1000 industries for the past two decades. The mission of the lab is to solve a persistent problem within the creative technology community; How does one get a job without experience, but get experience without a job. Since it’s launching in April of 2015, the mentors and residents of TAL have worked with over 30 companies and organizations providing web-development, design, creative consulting and web strategy services, while providing real-world training and mentoring dozens of emerging, untapped creative young adults for full-time careers in creative technology.

A. J. Stich

A.J. Stich is a principal for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).  In 2007 he began his teaching career with the national organization Teach For America before moving on to teach at KIPP charter school.  He completed his masters in school leadership degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education.  He has worked for CPS since 2012 as a resident principal, assistant principal, and principal.  In 2017-2018, he completed a CPS principal Fellowship through Northwestern Kellogg School of Management.

Aaron Sims

Aaron D. Sims is a 14 year reformed banking executive, locally with LaSalle Bank, MB Financial and Associated & nationally with GE Capital, turned consultant-focusing on preparing small business owner and operators for banking relationships by advising them through the capital acquisition process and empowering them to be more favorably received by lenders.

Aaron is a serial philanthropist and has always been passionate about improving Chicagoland's most challenging communities, dedicating several hours each month volunteering with local philanthropic organizations whose missions are centered around promoting & improving access to education, enhancing exposure to opportunities, and encouraging an alternative mindset for students of a suppressed social-economic status.

Michael Soguero, MEd

Michael Soguero has been a leader in education reform since 1993 when he was a founding member of Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center (PDC) development team in Estes Park, Colorado. Michael became the Co-Director of the School for the Physical City in New York City and later the Founder and Director of the Bronx Guild where his work was held up as an exemplar of effective small school leadership.

Susan Stearn

Susan Stearn is a licensed architect, mother of three, and concerned Chicagoan. Professionally, Susan has worked as a leader of design and construction projects in commercial and healthcare arenas for 25 years. Personally, she and her husband have raised three daughters through Montessori, Chicago Public Schools, and various universities. Philanthropically, she has served on the building committees of Near North Montessori school and the board of Beacon Academy, the latter a recently established Montessori-based high school where she facilitated the build-out of their first and second homes within three years' time. She co-founded and chaired the Walter Payton High School Wellness Council and Wellness Fair. Susan is passionate about sharing her skills, creating exciting environments, and finding meaning in everyday experiences. 

Dr. Trudy Taylor, MA, PhD

Dr. Trudy Taylor has worked as an administrator, teacher and parent volunteer in Chicago and Flossmoor, Illinois. While principal of Jesse Owens Community Academy students achieved gains that ranked in the top quartile and the top third in reading and math, respectively in the network. While at New Sullivan, a school with a focus on the arts, as assistant principal Dr. Taylor wrote and received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, The MacArthur Foundation and Ballroom Dancing, which allowed an arts-in-residency creative writing program, band performance in Florida and an appearance on WGN News 9 Chicago. Dr. Taylor's work was awarded First Place with The Chicago Area Alliance for Black School Educators Award; The Cindy Brinkley Parent Volunteer Award in Flossmoor School District 161; and was named teacher of the year at the former Spalding Branch School for children with special needs and at Vanderpoel Magnet School. Her career spans thirty years. Currently she is working in South Holland, IL, serving students with special needs.

Steve Wasko, MS, MBA

Stephen Wasko is the owner of Wasko Associates, an operations and financial consulting firm specializing in driving the growth of small to mid-sized companies in the life science, advanced materials and nanotechnology, software, telecommunications and aerospace industries. He also serves as President, COO and CFO of ViMedicus, Inc., a healthcare IT firm providing clinical intelligence and collaboration solutions so providers can realize the promise of coordinated, patient-centric care. Mr. Wasko has extensive experience in public/private technology commercialization, both in private company and public entity situations.  Mr. Wasko previously served as Vice President and CFO for Nanosphere, Inc., a life sciences company which uses breakthrough applications of nanotechnology to create new standards in medical care. At Nanosphere, he was responsible for overall financial management, raising over $100 million of investment capital to bring the Company’s products to the medical diagnostics marketplace. Mr. Wasko served as President and COO of Molecular Diagnostics, Inc., a developer of cancer diagnostic systems; as CFO and head of business development for Perceptual Robotics, Inc., a developer of Internet video software systems; and as Senior VP, Corporate Development and founding CFO of Illinois Superconductor Corporation, where he led the company’s successful Initial Public Offering on the Nasdaq National Market. An engineer by training, Mr. Wasko holds a B.S.E. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, an M.S. in the same field from the University of Southern California, and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.

Rufus Williams

Rufus is the President and CEO at BBF Family Services. He is the former President of the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education and former CFO for Harpo Studios.

Christopher Ziobehr

Christopher is a Futurologist and Technologist. Owning his own business in the technology space, he focuses on developing opportunities to grow his network and connect people for the success of the Chicago. Additionally he consults business owners who need assistance in scalability and operational strategies. He helps with RBA as an advisor of connectivity. 

Media Kit
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Reality in Chicago.
Overview of Academic Curriculum and Social Emotional Learning.