Our Team

Heather Adams
Senior Program Manager
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Heather Adams is a senior program manager at the College Excellence Program, leading the development of transfer initiatives. Prior to joining CEP, Heather served as the director of the UCLA Transfer Student Center and director of UCLA College Learning Communities. Heather’s​ work has centered on generating institutionalized receptivity, support, and policy restructuring for underserved student communities through strategic partnership and practice. Heather advocated for the establishment of the UCLA Transfer Center and transformed a program serving 300 students annually to a thriving and collaborative campus center that provides resources and support to over 27,000 transfer students each year. A proud community college transfer student, Heather earned an A.A. in psychology from Santa Monica College, and transferred to UCLA, where she obtained a B.A. in psychology and an Ed.D. in educational leadership.
Ben Barrett
Program Manager
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Ben Barrett is a program manager with the College Excellence Program. Prior to joining CEP, Ben supported higher education research and data sharing at the National Student Clearinghouse. Ben also previously worked in higher education policy research at New America with a primary focus on improving financial aid systems. Ben holds a Bachelor’s degree in Government and Plan II Honors from the University of Texas at Austin.
Millicent Bender
Millicent Bender is a director at the College Excellence Program, where she oversees the development of curricula for leadership programs, including the Aspen Presidential Fellowship, and synthesizes learning across the program into practice-focused tools and other resources for the field. Before coming to CEP, Millicent taught kindergarten in public and charter schools in Baltimore and D.C. She has designed and delivered professional development experiences for new and veteran teachers through Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, and Baltimore City Public Schools. Millicent holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and an M.S.Ed. in urban education from The Johns Hopkins University.
Imani Benjamin-Johnson
Executive Assistant
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Imani Benjamin-Johnson is the executive assistant to the executive director at the College Excellence Program. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Imani worked at Martha’s Table supporting the chief administrative officer. Imani also worked with the Department of Defense to run a website focused on finding childcare for military families. Imani holds a B.S in speech pathology from Howard University.
Monica Clark
Director
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Monica Clark is a director for the College Excellence Program. Prior to joining CEP, Monica was program director for the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, where she managed exchanges for humanities scholars, advocated for higher education funding, and administered programs for a network of 24 Overseas Research Centers. Monica has previously served as an associate director for the Community College Initiative at the Education Advisory Board and as program manager for Central and West Africa for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. She completed her B.A. in public policy from Duke University and received an MPA and master of arts in international relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
Kimbell Dobbins
Program Associate
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Kimbell Dobbins is a program associate on the Rising Presidents Fellowship team. She went to Furman University for undergrad. While there, she was a classics major (Latin and Greek history, language, and literature) and developed a passion for higher ed. She then went to Clemson University for grad school and received an M.Ed. in counselor education with an emphasis in student affairs. Before coming to Aspen she worked in the Clemson University School of Health Research as a program coordinator.
Rachel Edwards
Operations Coordinator
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Rachel Edwards is the operations coordinator at the College Excellence Program. In this role, she provides project management and administrative and logistical support to streamline workflow across CEP. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, she worked in both programmatic and strategic communication roles within the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Rachel is globally minded, justice-driven, and passionate about advancing education equity and access for all. In her spare time she likes to eat, travel, and adventure with friends and family. Rachel holds a B.A. in sociology with a minor in African American studies from Boston University.
Benjamin Fresquez
Program Manager
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Ben Fresquez is a program manager with the College Excellence Program, where he supports the American Talent Initiative and other innovative new programs addressing quality, equity, and efficiency in higher education. Ben’s responsibilities in the American Talent Initiative (ATI) include: growing the membership base of high-graduation-rate four-year institutions committed to doing more for lower-income students; organizing ATI’s practice-sharing community focused on community college transfer; and collaborating across other two- and four-year schools and community-based organizations to improve institutional practice. As a collective impact professional, Ben has experience in setting strategy and executing activities for backbone organizations and cross-sector partnerships. Prior to joining Aspen, Ben coordinated major projects for a binational youth engagement initiative across southern New Mexico, west Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Ben holds a B.S. in health promotion from the University of Texas – El Paso.

Maria Harper-Marinick
Senior Fellow
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Maria Harper-Marinick served the Maricopa Community College District in Arizona for almost 30 years in a variety of leadership roles, including nearly four years as chancellor. Maria has served on the boards of the American Council of Education, American Association of Community Colleges, Excelencia in Education, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and many other organizations. She chaired the Federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance and is an Aspen Institute Ascend fellow and a distinguished fellow of the Arizona State University Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education named Maria one of 25 exceptional women leaders who have made a difference in higher education. Maria is originally from the Dominican Republic and came to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar. She holds masters and Ph.D. degrees in educational technology from ASU.
Tess Henthorne
Program Manager
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Tess Henthorne is a program manager at the College Excellence Program. She leads research and workshops aimed at helping community colleges drive strong labor market outcomes for students, including projects on college – employer partnerships and excellence and equity within career and technical education. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Tess supported teaching pedagogy workshops for graduate students at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. Tess holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of Wooster and a master’s degree in English from Georgetown University.
Désirée P. Jones-Smith
Senior Program Manager
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Désirée P. Jones-Smith is a senior program manager with the College Excellence Program, where she co-leads the Aspen Prize and the Aspen Rural College Excellence Initiative—a new project designed to deepen rural community college success. She brings over a decade of commitment to work that grows people and organizations so that they can most effectively build their own communities. Désirée has shared and honed her skills within several leading organizations, including two land-grant universities, a nonprofit management services organization, and two regional chambers of commerce. She is a National Boren Scholar and Lyman T. Johnson Fellow and received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Kentucky.
Chadol Kim

Program Assistant
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Chadol Kim is a program assistant with the College Excellence Program, supporting CEP's role as an intermediary partner in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Frontier Set initiative. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Chadol worked as an education consultant under Teach for America, promoting place-based instruction and supporting postsecondary transitions in Texas and Indiana. Chadol holds a B.S. in human and organizational development with a concentration in education policy and political science from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.
Amanda Kirsch
Program and Operations Manager
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Amanda Kirsch is the program and operations manager at the College Excellence Program. In her role, Amanda supports all of CEP's initiatives by providing operational, administrative, and logistical support to the program as a whole and to various projects as needed. Before joining the Aspen Institute, she worked as the program manager at Brainfood, a nonprofit serving teens and young adults through youth development and job training programs in Washington, D.C. Amanda has also previously worked as a food and nutrition educator for the Latin American Youth Center and completed two years with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, a service-learning and leadership program partnering with a diverse group of social impact organizations across the nation. She holds a B.A. from Northwestern College in psychology with a minor in cultural studies.
Amy Kurz
Director
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Amy Kurz is a director at the College Excellence Program, where she leads strategy and operations. Prior to joining CEP, Amy was the chief administrative officer at Martha’s Table, where she was responsible for the strategy, infrastructure, and systems that supported education, food, and family supports for children and families in D.C. She also previously served as the managing executive director of the Nonprofit Roundtable, which united nonprofit leaders in order to address pressing social and economic challenges. Amy is a graduate of George Washington University, where she received her MPA with a focus on nonprofit management. 
Rebecca Lavinson
Senior Program Associate
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Rebecca Lavinson is a senior program associate with the College Excellence Program, working primarily on the Aspen Prize and Tackling Transfer projects. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Rebecca worked on Federal and state-level education policy at the American Youth Policy Forum in Washington, DC. Previously, Rebecca worked on international education policy at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO in Paris, France, where she focused on college affordability and equity. Rebecca holds a master's degree in Economics of Public Policy from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics in Barcelona, Spain and a bachelor's degree in Economics from Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
Tania (Nguyen) LaViolet
Director
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Tania LaViolet is a director at the College Excellence Program, where she co-leads the management of the American Talent Initiative and CEP’s work on transfer. Prior to joining CEP, Tania led best-practice research at the Education Advisory Board, where she published work on timely degree completion and strategic allocation of financial aid to encourage persistence of low-income students. As a Ph.D. student, Tania served in one of the tutor cohorts at the Brilliant Club, a British nonprofit that leverages the research community to support young people from underrepresented backgrounds access highly selective universities. Tania holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Oxford and graduated with a B.Sc. in biology from Mount Allison University.
Jessica Leacher
Program Manager
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Jessica Leacher is a program manager with the College Excellence Program, where she supports initiatives focused on leadership development and equity in higher education. Prior to joining Aspen, Jessica worked at the Council of Chief State School Officers, where she supported state education agencies’ efforts to attract, support, and retain effective educators in K-12 schools. Jessica has also served as a college adviser through the College Advising Corps and AmeriCorps to support underserved populations and first-generation college students in navigating the college-going process. Jessica holds a B.A. in social relations and policy from James Madison College at Michigan State University.
Shiran Mack
Finance Manager
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Shiran Mack is the finance manager at the College Education Program, where he supports financial management, grant management, and other essential operations. He also acts as a liaison between CEP and Aspen Financial Services. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Shiran worked at the United Nations Foundation and at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, where he gained valuable experience in nonprofit financial management. Shiran is passionate about maximizing donors' return on investment by improving financial processes and creating program synergies within nonprofit. Shiran holds a B.S. in accounting and a M.S. in accounting and financial management from the University of Maryland Global Campus. In his free time, Shiran likes traveling, exploring new places, and making fusion recipes between different cultures.
David L. Marcus
Senior Editorial Manager
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David L. Marcus, senior editorial manager for the College Excellence Program, has been a journalist, a teacher, and a communications consultant. David covered education and immigration as a reporter for the Miami Herald, Boston Globe, Newsday, and U.S. News magazine. As a foreign correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, he was based in Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. He shared the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for a series about violence against women. David wrote a book about struggling teens, What It Takes to Pull Me Through (Houghton Mifflin), as well as a book about college admissions, Acceptance (Penguin Books). Before joining Aspen, he was a high school teacher and an adjunct professor. He volunteers as a board member of Career Day Inc., which introduces young adults to professions. An honors graduate of Brown University, David was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He studied Spanish at a community college in Florida.
Jaime McCarthy
Program Coordinator 
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Jaime Miguel McCarthy is a program coordinator with the College Excellence Program. Prior to joining CEP, Jaime worked in the offices of Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham and Senator Tom Udall. Jaime holds a B.A. in International Studies from the University of New Mexico. While in college, Jaime supported programs at the UNM Department of Equity & Inclusion and mentored Albuquerque students through the ENLACE New Mexico High School Success Program.
Gelsey Mehl
Senior Program Manager
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Gelsey Mehl is a senior program manager at the College Excellence Program, where she supports the American Talent Initiative and Tackling Transfer projects. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Gelsey conducted best-practice research at the Education Advisory Board. She published research on increasing the enrollment of low-income and underrepresented minority students and on improving financial and administrative operations. Gelsey holds a bachelor's degree in English and political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Stephanie Montaño 
Program Manager
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Stephanie Montaño is a program manager with the College Excellence Program, where she supports the New Presidents Fellowship and other innovative programs addressing access and equity in higher education. In her free time, she supports the Dream Lead Institute, which equips Dreamers and DACA recipients with the skills to become effective leaders in the 21st century. She is passionate about eliminating educational inequities for historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. Prior to joining Aspen, Stephanie worked for Public Broadcasting Service, where she managed leadership development programs, community engagement initiatives, and station sustainability for local PBS stations. Stephanie holds a M.A. from University of California, Berkeley in education policy and a B.S. from the University of Arizona in business administration with a minor in education.
Travis Olson
Program Manager
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Travis Olson is a program manager for the College Excellence Program. He helps to design and implement strategies to support improvements in institutional practice and leadership, including through CEP’s role as an intermediary support partner in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Frontier Set initiative and the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Travis worked in student life and served as a lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University. He brings to his role expertise in leadership development, organizational change, global education, and equity in higher education. He holds bachelor’s degrees in sociology and environmental studies from Loyola University Chicago and a master of arts in higher education from The Ohio State University.
Yazmin Padilla
Program Associate
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Yazmin Padilla is a program associate within the College Excellence Program, where she provides support to the American Talent Initiative (ATI). Prior to joining Aspen, she interned at the Peace Corps within the Volunteer Recruitment Services department. When she is not working Yazmin loves to FaceTime with her four younger siblings and dogs in Arizona. Yazmin holds a B.A. in international studies with a concentration in peace and conflict resolution in Europe from American University.

Emily Parrott
Senior Program Manager
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Emily Parrott is a senior program manager with the College Excellence Program, leading CEP’s learning agenda and direct support as an intermediary partner in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Frontier Set initiative. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Emily was managing director of evaluation at Teaching Trust in Dallas. She brings expertise in applied education research and translating research into action as well as program management, evaluation, and capacity-building. She received a Ph.D. in human ecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she focused her dissertation on social mobility for first-generation college students, and has published peer-reviewed articles in several journals.
Linda Perlstein
Director
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Linda Perlstein, a director of the College Excellence Program, has consulted for the program since its inception. Before coming to Aspen, she was lead curator for the Amazon Books retail chain, a consultant to think tanks and philanthropies on K-12 and postsecondary issues, the public editor of the Education Writers Association, and a staff writer at the Washington Post. Linda is a member of the board of directors and past president of the professional mentoring organization Friends of the Children-Seattle. She has written two books, Not Much Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers and Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade, and edited many others. Linda holds a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.
Alison Quint
Senior Program Manager
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Alison Quint is a senior program manager with the College Excellence Program, leading the development of a new Aspen Presidential Fellowship for recently appointed community college presidents. Prior to joining CEP, Alison spent seven years at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) where she provided leadership development programming and capacity building support to state education agency superintendents and their senior leadership teams. Alison holds a B.A. in psychology and business administration from Western Washington University and completed her MPP from American University.
Adam Rabinowitz
Communications Manager
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Adam Rabinowitz is communications manager at the College Excellence program, focused on showcasing and amplifying the American Talent Initiative (ATI)’s work to increase graduation rates nationwide for low-income students. Prior to joining Aspen, Adam served as media and strategy director for Collaborative Communications Group, supporting organizations as varied as the University of Virginia, City Year, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Jobs for the Future. He also brings communications and strategic planning experience from work with assorted education nonprofits in the New York and New England regions. Adam holds a B.A. in political science from Brandeis University and an M.P.A. from Brown University.
Ammarah Rehman
Program Coordinator
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Ammarah Rehman is a program coordinator within the College Excellence Program, where she supports the development of curricula for leadership programs, including the Aspen Presidential Fellowship. Prior to joining Aspen, she taught English in Bukittinggi, Indonesia, as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She supported the development of a first-year transition course at American University and facilitated dialogue on Islamophobia. Ammarah holds a B.A. in international studies with a concentration in identity, race, gender, and culture from American University.
Mary Rittling
Senior Fellow
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Mary Rittling is a senior fellow at the College Excellence Program, focusing on the preparation of the next generation of community college leaders. Mary served as president of Davidson-Davie Community College in Lexington, North Carolina, from 2003 until 2018. Prior to her DDCC presidency, Mary served four years as regional vice president of West Virginia University, where she also was president of Potomac State College of West Virginia University, and spent seven years as a senior administrator at the State University of New York at Delhi. She completed the Harvard University Institute for New Presidents and earned a doctor of education degree in higher and adult education from Columbia University in New York City.
Lenore Rodicio
Senior Fellow
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Lenore Rodicio is a nationally recognized leader in higher education. A native of Miami, Florida, Lenore is an educational strategist who, in addition to her role as a senior fellow with CEP, is a senior fellow for transformation initiatives funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a Complete College America Fellow. Lenore previously served as executive vice president and provost at Miami Dade College. Most of her work has centered on equitable student access, success, and achievement; the recruitment of minoritized populations to the STEM fields; increased access to liberal education for all students; and continuous improvement of the teaching and learning process. Outside of her professional work, Lenore is married to her husband of over 20 years, is the mother of five children, and is an avid baker. 
Bob Templin
Robert G. Templin, Jr.
Senior Fellow
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Bob Templin is a senior fellow in the College Excellence Program, focusing on the preparation of the next generation of community college leaders. He has particular interest in cultivating leaders who seek to achieve extraordinary credential completion and labor market outcomes for students through the creation of collective impact partnerships. Bob served as president of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) from 2002 to 2015. During that time, NOVA became Virginia's largest public institution of higher education, one of the nation’s largest and most diverse community colleges, and one of the leading associate degree-granting institutions in the United States. Since 2010, Bob has served as the chairman of the board of directors of Achieving the Dream, a national community college reform network. Bob also serves as a professor in the community college leadership program at North Carolina State University.
Marcus Ware
Program Manager
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Marcus Ware is a program manager with the College Excellence Program, where he primarily supports the American Talent Initiative (ATI), leading a national network of four-year college presidents around equity and access issues. Marcus’s responsibilities include facilitating relationships among groups of presidents through cohorts, collaborative projects, and shared interests in core focus areas; synthesizing and packaging research and information to share with executive partners; and working with ATI partners to improve institutional practice to increase graduation rates for students from low-income backgrounds. Prior to joining Aspen, Marcus served as associate director of advising at the George Washington University, worked as a senior program manager at the United Negro College Fund, and led development of a global leadership academy at Howard University. Marcus holds a B.A. and JD from Howard, where he served as a member of the board of trustees.
Joshua Wyner
Vice President, The Aspen Institute
Founder and Executive Director, College Excellence Program
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Joshua Wyner is founder and executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, where he also serves as a vice president. CEP aims to advance college and university practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, with a focus on students who are historically underserved in higher education. Josh has spent the past two decades designing and building new organizations that promote talent development and social mobility. He has authored numerous publications about education, including a book, What Excellent Community Colleges Do: Preparing All Students for Success (Harvard Education Press, 2014). He has a B.A. from Vassar College, a MPA from Syracuse University, and a J.D. from New York University School of Law.