Our Team

Meet our Staff and Board of Directors


Propeller Team

Andrea Chen

Executive Director

(504) 345 - 9836

Andrea oversees the Propeller team, operations and strategic direction.

Andrea began her career as a high school English teacher at John McDonogh Sr. High School and subsequently trained teachers at the University of New Orleans and The New Teacher Project. She has worked at the Louisiana Association of Charter Schools where she oversaw grantmaking for over $5 million in charter school startup funds and launched a $1.5 million below-market rate Bridge Loan Fund. She was named “40 Under 40” by Gambit Magazine, 2010 City Business Women of the Year, World Economic Forum Young Global Shaper, and is an appointed board member of the New Orleans Business Alliance, the official economic development arm of the City of New Orleans. She graduated from Stanford University, attended Harvard Graduate School of Education and the University of New Orleans, and was trained in business at Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business.

Sydney Gray

Senior Director, Impact and Operations

(985) 326 - 9484

Sydney is an internationally recognized social entrepreneur and feminist activist. Since joining Propeller in 2014, Sydney developed and built out Propeller’s impact and operations departments, laying the foundation for Propeller’s growth into an industry leading social accelerator with nationally recognized best practices. She also founded Mama Maji, an award winning social enterprise dedicated to empowering women in marginalized global communities through water and social entrepreneurship. Through her work with Propeller and Mama Maji, Sydney has honed her expertise in business development, systems engineering, impact investing and advancement, design thinking, and lean data.

Sydney believes that it is possible to fundamentally change who builds our world. She strives every day to manifest a world where all entrepreneurship is “social” entrepreneurship.

Sydney has been recognized by Ashoka as an Emerging Innovator and received the Creating Shared Value award from Nestle in 2018. The United Nations selected Sydney as an innovator and presenter at their annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation and the Embassy of the United States, Islamabad selected her as the youngest entrepreneur for their Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, where she shared best practices in entrepreneurial curriculum with universities across Pakistan. Sydney received Bachelor’s degrees in immunology and environmental biology from University of California, Berkeley and a Master’s in global development from Tulane University.

Crystal McDonald

Entrepreneur in Residence

(504) 641 - 4357

Crystal McDonald serves as Propeller’s Director of Entrepreneurship, overseeing Propeller’s portfolio companies and all entrepreneurship services, such as Impact Accelerators, the Social Venture Fund, and pitch competitions.

She is the former Founder and CEO of Acrew, a pre-employment screening platform that connects employers and job seekers using brief on demand video interviews. Acrew makes it simple and fast for employers to gain a snapshot of a candidate’s personality motivation, fit and skillset in just a few minutes. With several years of experience in recruiting and as co-owner of a multi-unit franchise restaurant, Crystal founded the company out of a need to gain more information about a candidate beyond the resume or application.

Crystal graduated from Dillard University with a degree in Economics and Finance and received her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She currently serves as the immediate past President of the Women’s Professional Council of Greater New Orleans, is an Executive Board Member of the Louisiana Children’s Museum, Junior Achievement Board Member, Venture For America Board Member, a member of the New Orleans Chapter, The Links, Inc, and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

She received the first Ada Lovelace Woman of the Year in GNO Tech award, is part of the Silicon Bayou 100 for leaders in Technology, Gambit’s 40 Under 40, Dillard University 40 Under 40, Outstanding Millennial in Technology, Biz New Orleans New and Notable, Winner of the Steve Case (co-founder of AOL) Rise of the Rest Pitch Competition, Winner of the Jim Coulter Idea Pitch Competition for New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and Winner of the Black Women Talk Tech Pitch Competition. She’s been featured on CSNC and Yahoo Finance highlighting her work in Human Resources Technology. Crystal is the mother of two children under the age of five and spends most of her spare time crafting new ways to entertain them through cooking, reading and play.

Crystal is excited to join the Propeller Team and looks forward to leveraging her personal experiences to elevate other entrepreneurs.

Claude McField

Donor Engagement Manager

(504) 683 - 2068

Claude McField is a seasoned fundraising professional who has partnered with non-profits, hospitals, churches and universities across the country to raise money for worthy causes, including nearly a decade working as the fundraising Executive Director for CCS International Fundraising. McField moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and served as the Director of Student Engagement for Dillard University. McField returned to major gift fundraising with the New Orleans Black Chamber of Commerce, Guidance in Giving and Changing Our World International Fundraising, conducting a number of successful campaigns with goals ranging from $500,000 to $75 million. As an individual or part of a team, McField has a proven track record for delivering results and he knows that connecting the mission of an organization with the people you’re trying to help is what truly drives all facets of major gifts and strategic fundraising. This has led him to successfully securing at least one gift of $5,000,000 from an individual donor.

Examples of McField’s successful campaigns and major gift efforts include:
St. Peter Claver Catholic Church and School in New Orleans, Louisiana ($2,300,000)
Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church and School in Mandeville, Louisiana ($5,000,0000)
Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester, Michigan ($14,000,000)
Diocese of Sacramento in Sacramento, California ($65,000,000)
MRC Mentoring Program in Binghamton, New York ($3,000,000
Archdiocese of St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri ($100,000,000)
St. Francis de Salles High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ($4,000,000)
Ascension Catholic Church and School in Louisville, Kentucky ($1,800,000)
Diocese of Oakland in Oakland, California ($80,000,000)

McField received his Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Louisiana State University and is currently pursuing graduate work. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, traveling, volunteering, and exercising.

Kir Selert

Senior Storytelling Manager

(504) 356 - 1987

Kir’s development expertise lies in grant writing and management, prospecting research, and donor cultivation. In her prior three roles, Kir has: managed the foundation pipeline for a $20 million+ organization; developed a database system to effectively track donor outreach across an organization; planned and executed high-performing annual fundraising galas, the largest of which raised over $900,000; designed and implemented a comprehensive development program; and written numerous grant proposals.

Kir is driven by the desire to use her skills, experience, and privileges to elevate and empower others. Trained in neuroscience, Kir ultimately left academia because of the disconcerting disconnect between scientific research and making meaningful contributions to people’s lives. Working in development for causes she believes in for the past 5+ years has filled this void, and she is honored and thrilled to join Propeller’s mission-fulfilling work. Otherwise, she can likely be found running (a lot), planning the next travel adventure, or reading on her porch while three cats lurk in the window.

Monique Thomas

Talent & Culture Manager

(504) 509 - 5286

Monique works to ensure the Propeller team is a well-rounded group of energized, excited, and productive professionals who have the tools they need to excel in each of their roles. This includes recruiting, hiring, culture management, and other talent cultivation processes.

Monique is a New Orleans native who grew up in New Orleans East. She graduated from Amherst College in 2013 earning a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology. Monique is currently pursuing a Masters of Business Administration at Loyola University, with a concentration in operations and organizational behavior. She has also completed coursework at Tulane University in Psychology and Business. She has served at Propeller in different capacities, from overseeing Salesforce and data management, accounting and HR compliance, managing board relations, report-writing and evaluations, and overseeing office operations.

Monique was drawn to and inspired by Propeller’s purpose and commitment to change. She’s excited to apply her skill in organization and process design to furthering Propeller’s vision.

Erik Paskewich

Senior Manager of Entrepreneurship

(504) 475 - 6598

Erik grew up on the West Bank of New Orleans and attended Tulane University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Management in 2013. After graduation, Erik served with a variety of socially minded organizations in New Orleans while working towards earning a Master of Business Administration from Loyola University in 2016. Passion for both entrepreneurship and for helping to spark positive change in his community led Erik to joining the Propeller team. Erik is excited to use his experience to help others build strong, sustainable organizations.

Catherine Gans

Senior Marketing & Communications Manager

(504) 302 - 3747

Catherine manages Propeller’s communications and outreach. Reach out to her for questions about press, partnerships, events, or to learn more about what we do.

Catherine came to New Orleans through the Venture for America fellowship, a 2-year program that brings young professionals to American cities to work at startups and create jobs. Her publication on the 300-year history of racial inequities in entrepreneurship will be published in The Data Center’s Tricentennial Prosperity Index in April 2018. Outside of Propeller, she serves on the board of the Justice & Accountability Center and is studying digital and graphic design with The New School. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and French from Vanderbilt University and has studied journalism and democracy at the London School of Economics.

Katie Lyon-Hart

Impact Manager

(504) 517 - 2238

Katie leads Propeller’s evaluation and data management. Reach out to her if you want to know more about our organization’s impact and our metrics for success.

Prior to joining Propeller, Katie worked as the Development Director for Step Up Louisiana, a grassroots organization dedicated to economic and education justice, and supported policy work at the Crescent City Community Land Trust. Prior to moving to New Orleans, Katie worked for 10 years as a data, communications, and fundraising specialist​ at Make the Road New York, a northeast regional membership organization dedicated to building ​​power ​for working class and Latino communities.​ She holds a Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the City University of New York-Hunter College, with a concentration in affordable housing and climate justice. While in graduate school, Katie served as a policy fellow at the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and the Center for Community Planning, researching progressive policy solutions to address gentrification and the legacy of residential segregation. Outside Propeller, Katie continues to lead capacity building and data initiatives for Step Up, and spends her free time biking, hiking, and swing dancing. Katie is excited to bring her knowledge of community development and planning to support Propeller’s social change and racial equity goals.

Kristine Creveling

Senior Food Program Manager

(504) 507 - 0498

Kristine manages Propeller’s Food Sector accelerator, special programs, and policy initiatives. This includes managing the LPHI Healthy School Food Collaborative Evaluation Study, spearheading the New Orleans Healthy Corner Store Collaborative, and the Farm to Institution Initiative. Reach out to her if you are interested in pitching your food related start-ups at PitchNOLA, if you want to apply for the Accelerator Program, or if you are interested in collaborating on food access related projects.

As a clinic manager in Malawi, Africa and a nutrition volunteer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Kristine has been involved with food and nutrition research around the world. Here in New Orleans, she has worked on research studies related to food access, obesity prevention, and nutritious foods in schools. Kristine is the Public Policy Coordinator for the Louisiana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and she also serves as a steering committee member for the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee.

Kristine has a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition from California Polytechnic State University, a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Tulane University, and she is also a Registered Dietitian. In her free time she loves to garden, hang out with her backyard chickens, and cook. Kristine is excited to work with Propeller where her strong passion for local food systems and food equity can be realized.

Jess Allen, MPH

Senior Health Program Manager

(504) 408 - 1386

Jessica manages Propeller’s Health Sector accelerator program and strategy. Reach out to her if you want to apply for the Accelerator Program or if you are interested in collaborating on health access and workforce related projects.

Throughout her career, Jessica has focused on preparing future healthcare providers to serve medically underserved populations and deliver culturally competent healthcare. Previously, she managed the reproductive health externship program at Medical Students for Choice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the inclusion of all aspects of reproductive health in medical school curricula. Most recently, she managed the Primary Care Leadership Program, a national service-learning program that provides minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged health professional students with an opportunity to examine the challenges and rewards of working in community health centers across the United States.

Jessica earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Bryn Mawr College and a Master’s in Public Health degree from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine with a focus in Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences. She is an advisory board member of the New Orleans Chapter of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and a member of the Louisiana Clinical & Translational Science Center Community Advisory Board in New Orleans.

Allison DeJong, AICP

Senior Water Manager

(504) 475 - 4388

Allison DeJong is Propeller’s Senior Water Manager, focusing on water policy and strategy, special projects, and supporting Propeller’s entrepreneurs and accelerator programs. Allison comes to Propeller from GCR, where she was a Senior Planner and a leader in local economic development efforts; she co-authored the City of New Orleans strategic plan for economic development, ProsperityNOLA, and led the recent update to JEDCO’s Jefferson EDGE 2020 strategic plan. She has also contributed to numerous housing, transportation, and economic development plans and analyses throughout Louisiana. Most notably, Allison and her team at GCR secured over $240 million in CDBG-DR awards for their clients from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition. Allison developed benefit-cost analyses, application narratives, and contributed to community outreach strategies, resulting in millions of dollars in funding for innovative water management and coastal resilience projects. Allison is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and holds a BA in Economics from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Louisiana State University.

Trace Allen

Community Economic Development Program Manager

(504) 264 - 1360

Trace works to support businesses in the neighborhoods surrounding Propeller through the South Broad Business Initiative (SBBI). The SBBI provides business owners of color located on and around South Broad Street with short-term technical assistance and long-term comprehensive support in areas including marketing, financials, legal assistance, and updating technology.

Trace has always held a deep passion for empowering others. This passion led him to complete coursework in Psychology, Sociology, and Business at Mississippi College. Trace comes to Propeller with experience empowering at-risk youth through recreational and educational programming in St. John the Baptist Parish where he served as Assistant Director at Kids on the Move Summer Camp. He was involved with the Young Fellowship Program of the Portland Leadership Foundation, where he had the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of local nonprofits, develop leadership capacity among student athletes, and work with an Ugandan-led NGO to serve vulnerable children and orphans in Jinja, Uganda. Trace is also a proud StartingBloc Fellow (NOLA ‘17)!

Trace is thrilled to be a part of the social entrepreneurship movement that Propeller is leading in New Orleans.

Sean Kline

Incubator Manager

(504) 338 - 8688

Sean manages the Propeller Incubator, focusing on business development, member and community relations, facilities management, and financial management. Reach out to him if you are interested in becoming a co-working member or renting out event space.

Sean was born and raised outside of Cincinnati, OH in the small town of Miamisburg. He has spent the majority of his career working for the YMCA as a program manager, primarily focused on working with Youth and Families in the immediate and surrounding communities. Coming from a small, Midwestern town, Sean looks forward to integrating himself into New Orleans culture, and working with Propeller to fight the inequalities faced within the community every day.

When he’s not working, Sean enjoys running, spending time with his dog Leo, cheering on the Pelicans, and exploring everything New Orleans has to offer.

Melissa Alba

Program Coordinator

(504) 867 - 9099

Melissa grew up on the Westbank of New Orleans and graduated from Loyola University New Orleans where she earned her Bachelor’s in Political Science in 2018. She was also the recipient of the competitive Young People For Fellowship at People For the American Way Foundation, where she received training in social justice leadership, coalition building, workshop facilitation, and donor cultivation. Her passions include mentorship, immigrant rights, and exploring new local businesses. Propeller’s vision of a more equitable New Orleans attracted her, and she is very excited to help create sustainable change in the city.

Cierra Chenier

Senior Communications Coordinator

(504) 208 - 8523

Cierra works to maximize Propeller’s brand reputation and reach through communications logistics, processes, timelines, and events.

Cierra graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in African American Studies. Born and raised in New Orleans, she has a strong passion for the city’s people and culture. Driven by this passion, she created NOIR ‘N NOLA, a brand and blog highlighting the “history, politics, lagniappe, and soul of Black New Orleans.”

Cierra aims to ensure social justice to disenfranchised communities through writing, activism, and service.

Kaitlin Morris

Newman's Own Foundation Fellow, Policy Outreach Coordinator

(504) 300 - 9268

Kaitlin is the current Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow, whose role as Policy Outreach Coordinator grants her the opportunity to brief staff on sector-specific policy matters, cultivate new and existing community partnerships, and aid in the execution of Propeller’s Accelerator Program.

Kaitlin grew up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia roughly an hour outside of Washington D.C. Living on the border between impoverished, rural Appalachian communities and the wealthy suburbs of the D.C. metropolitan area quickly taught her how drastically something as simple as place of birth can influence someone’s economic opportunities and overall quality of life. She studied Communication and Business Administration with a concentration in Food Studies at Berea College in Kentucky. While there, she served as a Bonner Scholar, a fellow of the Entrepreneurship for the Public Good program, and student director of Berea’s community service center. Kaitlin spent her summers studying the intersections between food, entrepreneurship, and social justice everywhere from the mountains she calls home, to a food incubator in San Francisco, to right around the corner at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. During her senior year, she conducted a research study on how social media as an affordable and accessible marketing tool could help create a more inclusive food economy for minority, female food entrepreneurs which she later went on to present at the National Communication Association’s annual undergraduate honors conference.
When not working, you can find her cooking, scuba diving, or dancing.

Kaitlin is incredibly excited to continue working in small business development and social reform with Propeller this upcoming year!

Anjali Prasertong

Food Systems Coordinator

(504) 298 - 9229

As the Propeller Food Systems Coordinator, Anjali is the program coordinator for the Healthy Corner Store Collaborative’s Good 2 Go program and supports the Food Sector accelerator, special programs and policy initiatives. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Film Production from the University of Southern California and a Tulane University Master of Public Health degree in Nutrition. Prior to pursuing her graduate studies, she was an editor for the award-winning cooking website, The Kitchn, and her articles and recipes have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, TIME.com, and other publications across the country. A native of Los Angeles, she has lived in New Orleans since 2014. While in school, she was a research assistant at Tulane’s Center for Healthy Food Access and an intern with the Healthy Corner Store Collaborative during its pilot year.

Camille Seyler

Operations Manager

(504) 264 - 1528

Camille is a New Orleans native who has returned home after spending time in Vermont, Texas, and Argentina. She attended Middlebury College and is a member of the Venture for America class of 2014. Prior to joining the Propeller team, Camille worked at Joule Energy where she supported the construction of 10 MW of solar energy, redesigned the website, and grew the inside sales team by 300%. Camille also helped Geekdom, a San Antonio coworking space, grow membership from 500 to 1,000 and create the summer internship program, Students + Startups. Outside of work, Camille volunteers for WRBH Reading Radio, enjoys outdoor adventures, and roots for the Saints. As Operations Manager, she is excited to contribute to Propeller’s mission of equitable futures for entrepreneurs and businesses. Reach out to Camille for questions about building operations, coworking, or the Marie Kondo organizational process.


Adelina Kaliba

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Data and Evaluation Associate

(985) 602 - 9462

Adelina is from Baton Rouge Louisiana. She received her Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Louisiana State University and her MBA from Southern University. Adelina has experience working in law and the financial services sectors, with a strong passion in nonprofits and social services. Before working for Propeller, she worked for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge in volunteer management and development. Adelina’s nonprofit experience also includes working in various capacities with Susan G. Komen, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and March of Dimes.

As the Data and Evaluation Associate at Propeller, Adelina assists in building capacity of the development systems and processes that help track and analyze the impact of services that Propeller provides to the social entrepreneurs of New Orleans.

Ather Ahmed

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Development Associate

(504) 662 - 1885

Ather Ahmed is a Development Associate serving through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. His main objective for his service year is capacity building for Propeller’s Development Team.

Ather spent his formative years in a small town in Indiana whose main attraction was a solitary tumbleweed rolling along a dusty road at the gentle pace of the wind. In addition to playful self-effacement, growing up in a slow-walking, farm-adjacent town in the Midwest imprinted long-lasting values on Ather. Values like thinking reflectively, meaningfully engaging your neighbors, the small but cumulative difference of a day’s work, and a deep-seated respect for what the earth provides and withholds. These unadorned values and a headstrong desire for challenge drew him to Propeller’s innovative work with social entrepreneurs. Ather is looking forward to a year of doing work that matters in a way that matters.

Ather Ahmed’s professional life has previously taken him to Boston, Indianapolis, New Delhi. This is his first year in New Orleans. Every day he feels lucky to be here at Propeller.

Board of Directors


Stephanie Barksdale

Manager of Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives - Tulane University

Stephanie Barksdale is the Director of University Partnerships and Social Innovation for Tulane President, Emeritus Scott Cowen. In addition, she is an adjunct lecturer who teaches the Leadership and Senior Seminar courses in the Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Minor (SISE) at Tulane University. Stephanie has led efforts to bring social innovation programming to Tulane since beginning in President Cowen’s office in 2009. Barksdale helped develop a partnership with Ashoka, making Tulane one of the first AshokaU Changemaker Campuses and numerous programs including the NewDay Speaker series, the NewDay Social Innovation Challenge, the Changemaker Institute – a student venture incubator program, and numerous other student programming. Barksdale also helped in securing resources and support for the SISE minor and the creation of the Taylor Center.

Stephanie Barksdale holds a Masters of Public Administration from NYU Wagner School of Public Service. Prior to coming to Tulane, Barksdale worked for The Low Income Investment Fund, Upwardly Global, and the King Hussein Foundation International. Along with being the Chair of the Propeller board, she is also a founding Board Member and Chair of Grow Dat Youth Farm. She and her husband, David Barksdale, are the proud parents of three boys.


Ava Rogers

Director of Strategic Partnerships - New Pathways New Orleans

Ava Rogers is the founding Director of Strategic Partnerships at New Pathways New Orleans. Ava is a values-driven leader who has successfully mobilized governments and institutions to better serve communities. She has an extensive achievement record in breaking down silos and integrating the work of entire systems to get results. Prior to joining NPNO, Ava worked as an independent consultant, serving international and domestic constituents. She was the lead consultant for the “Global Resilience Partnership,” an innovative partnership of public and private organizations that launched with an initial capitalization of $150 million, dedicated to helping vulnerable peoples better adapt to chronic and acute shocks. Domestically, she supported a New Orleans-based non-profit to retool its HIV/AIDS strategy to better target groups at highest risk. From 2013-2016, Ava served as the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for the City of New Orleans, directing city-wide operations and providing essential services for a municipality of 400,000 full-time residents and 10 million+ annual tourists. Ava took pride in leveraging city operations to achieve broader strategic goals. For example, she developed a workforce initiative that employed over 1,000 previously incarcerated individuals seasonally on city projects. She also spearheaded a neighborhood stabilization project that employed homeless and opportunity youth to combat blight, while also providing them with wrap-around social services. Ava spent the vast majority of her career – 20 years – as a U.S. diplomat. She specialized in conflict and emergency settings, serving primarily in Africa and the Middle East. While with the U.S. State Department, Ava earned numerous awards for her negotiation skills and advancement of humanitarian principles. She earned the Department’s highest honor for her efforts to rescue American citizens following the outbreak of civil war in Congo-Brazzaville, which included her being taken hostage. Ava also earned an “Innovation in Government” award from the independent think tank, the Bureau of Governmental Research, for her work with the City of New Orleans. She currently serves on the boards of the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies, Propeller, and the New Orleans Arts Education Alliance. Ava was raised in New Orleans and is a proud alumni of New Orleans public schools. She holds an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and has a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.


Andreanecia Morris

Executive Director - HousingNOLA

Andreanecia M. Morris serves as the Executive Director for HousingNOLA, is a 10-year partnership between the community leaders, and dozens of public, private, and nonprofit organizations working to solve New Orleans’ affordable housing crisis.

A native of Edgard, Louisiana, began working to support creation of affordable housing opportunities in the Greater New Orleans Area in both the public and private sector after graduation from Loyola University New Orleans. Morris has created opportunities for approximately 500 families to become first time homebuyers after Hurricane Katrina, and she was lead organizer for Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA) when it started in 2007 as collaborative coalition of non-profit housing builders and community development corporations who work to rebuild the City of New Orleans.


Jonas Chartock

Independent Consultant - Chartock Strategies LLC

Jonas Chartock is an Independent Consultant at Chartock Strategies LLC. Jonas’ previous tenure as the first CEO of Leading Educators including overseeing the organization’s operations, strategy, outreach, and grown. Leading Educators became a key resource to school districts, charter networks, and policy makers in their efforts to maximize the leadership development of highly effective teachers.

Jonas came from the Charter Schools Institute of the State University of New York where he served as Executive Director of the nation’s largest university-based charter school authorizer. Previously, he served as the Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the Charter School Policy Institute (CSPI) in Austin, Texas, and as Executive Director of Teach For America in Houston, Texas. Jonas began his career as a teacher with Teach For America in the Compton Unified School District. He holds a B.A. from Cornell University, M.A. from Chapman University, Ed.M from Harvard University, and earned his Ed.D. in educational leadership at the University of Texas at Austin. Jonas is an amateur musician, and resides in New Orleans, LA, with his wife and daughter.

Board Members

Ella Delio

Director of Environmental and Regional Initiatives - Greater New Orleans Foundation

Ella Delio brings deep global experience working within and with organizations that tackle issues at the intersection of climate change and communities to bring about greater justice and prosperity. She started her career in the private sector where she saw the important role that businesses played in equitable and sustainable development. This prompted her move to the non-profit sector in 2004, where she supported the growth of women-led and environmental enterprises. In 2014, she brought her expertise to the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) where she has been building the “living with water” movement in Southeast Louisiana in collaboration with partners from the non-profit, public, and private sectors

Ella Delio currently oversees GNOF’s programs and grantmaking in the areas of urban water management, water economy, sustainability, and coastal resiliency with a focus on equity.

Prior to moving to New Orleans, Ella worked in Washington, D.C., at the World Resources Institute, an international environmental think tank, where she served as Global Director of the New Ventures program. In that role, she provided business development and investment facilitation services to innovative environmental enterprises in Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Mexico. In this capacity, she worked with various funders from the philanthropic and public sectors. Ella began her career in the private sector working for several firms in the Philippines including Procter & Gamble.

Ella currently serves as a board member of the Environmental Grantmakers Association and of Propeller, a New Orleans-based social enterprise accelerator. She is a co-chair of Urban Water Funders working group of The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and a co-chair of the Greater New Orleans Funders Network’s Coastal Action Table.
Ella received her MBA and MPA degrees from the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School and her Management Engineering and Economics degrees from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. She was awarded the Don K. Price Award by the Harvard Kennedy School for academic distinction and leadership in public service.

Alvertha B. Penny

Principal - Alvertha Penny and Associates, LLC

Alvertha B. Penny is the Principal of Alvertha Penny and Associates, LLC. Through February 2014, she served as president and CEO of The Community Foundation of South Alabama. Ms. Penny’s background includes more than 35 years of development, management and administration of community development and human services programs in the nonprofit and public sectors nationally and in Louisiana, California, Washington, D. C. and Alabama. Previously, Ms. Penny worked as Senior Vice President of Programs at the California Community Foundation where she oversaw the planning, strategy development and distribution of a $20-million annual competitive grants budget, a $16-million program related investment portfolio and more than $3 million in special initiatives and supporting organization grant portfolios. Additionally, Ms. Penny was the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation President’s Senior Advisor on community development issues and the Family and Community Development Program Director. This included leading the Hewlett Foundation’s $30 million, comprehensive multi-year urban community revitalization demonstration effort. Prior positions also include serving as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the National Congress for Community Economic Development in Washington, D.C.; Program Officer for Urban Affairs at the San Francisco Foundation; and the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Planning and Community Services with the City of New Orleans. Ms. Penny is a member of the Association of Black Foundation Executives and chairs its Governance Committee. She has served on various national, regional, statewide and local boards of directors including the National Community Development Institute, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, Southern California Grantmakers, Northern California Grantmakers, Alabama Giving, VOICES for Alabama’s Children, and the Mobile Area Education Foundation. She holds a Master of Science in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans.

Jamar McKneely

Former Chief Executive Officer - Inspire NOLA Charter Schools

Jamar McKneely’s educational philosophy is derived from Marian Wright Edelman’s special quote: “The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to”. He earned both a bachelor’s degree in Finance and a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Southern University in Baton Rouge. Prior to becoming an educator, Jamar worked in the field of finance as a budget analyst for two non-profit organizations in Baton Rouge. After serving for seven years as a teacher and Assistant Principal at Edna Karr High School, he transitioned to the position of Principal of Alice Harte Charter School. In 2013, together with the principal of a nearby high school, he formed InspireNOLA charter schools, a new Charter Management Organization in New Orleans focusing on educating the youth of our city.

Under Jamar’s leadership, Alice Harte and its students experienced great success, including: increased School Performance Score by 25 points. For the 2013-2014 school year Alice Harte was ranked as an A school and top gain school proving that students with high-poverty can excel.

As the Chief Executive Officer of InspireNOLA, Jamar managed two of the highest performing open-admission schools in New Orleans and focused on creating a pipeline for leadership, supervised administrative and instructional personnel, established a clear vision for the organization’s mission and goals and branded the new CMO.

Paula Estrada de Martin

Of Counsel - Baker Donelson

Paula Estrada de Martin is a life sciences and biotechnology patent attorney at Baker Donelson’s New Orleans office and a member of their Intellectual Property Group and the Global Business Team.

Dr. Estrada de Martin focuses her practice on U.S. and foreign patent prosecution in the life science, biotechnology and plant fields, patent
interferences, patent portfolio growth and management, patentability assessments, biosimilar assessments and strategy, non-infringement and invalidity opinions, IP due diligence, pre-suit investigation and litigation support for life sciences and plant matters. In addition, she represents small to mid-size businesses, educational institutions and nonprofits in intellectual property transactional and licensing matters.

Dr. Estrada de Martin was formerly with WilmerHale in New York and was adjunct faculty at New York Law School, where she served as the patent law mentor in the IP Jobtrack at the Institute for Information Law and Policy. Prior to joining WilmerHale, Dr. Estrada de Martin was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, where she investigated the sorting and targeting of apical membrane proteins in RPE and MDCK cells in the laboratory of Dr. Enrique Rodriguez-Boulan.

She graduated as a Harlan Scholar of New York Law School and also holds a PhD from Yale University in Cell Biology. She received her MS and BS at California State University in San Bernardino.

Calvin Mackie

Founder & CEO - STEM NOLA

Dr. Calvin Mackie is one of the nation’s most prolific young STEM and Educational Motivational Speakers and Leaders. He is an award winning mentor, an international renowned motivational speaker, and a successful entrepreneur. His message as a mentor, speaker, entrepreneur and former engineering professor continues to transcend race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and time. His passion and talent is totally devoted to helping people unleash their greatness and transcend personal and societal barriers. Operating under the premise that exposure and experience are two important parameters of success, he utilizes unique strategies and methodologies to motivate and inspire. Calvin Mackie has lectured widely throughout the United States, helping people change the way they think about achieving their lifelong dreams through education in general, and STEM specifically.

A professional speaker, in 1992 he co-founded Channel ZerO, an educational and motivational consulting company and has presented to numerous civic, educational institutions and Fortune 500 corporations. Over the last 16 years, Dr. Mackie has presented to numerous school districts, educators, universities and corporations across the America. In 2004, Dr. Mackie received the 2003 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in a White House Ceremony. In 2005, he was the featured speaker for the six regional forums for The College Board and the opening speaker for the 50th Anniversary of Advanced Placement (AP) Conference. Mackie has addressed the National School Board Association, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) , National Science Foundation (NSF) and is a frequent speaker at national teacher trainings, school districts, mentoring and technical development conferences. Most recently, Mackie has been lecturing internationally in Kuwait, Nova Scotia and Quebec Provinces of Canada. More at calvinmackie.com.

Peggy Welsh

Attorney - Gordon Arata Montgomery Barnett

Peggy Welsh is a member of Gordon Arata Montgomery Barnett’s New Orleans office who focuses her practice in the areas of corporate, real estate, oil and gas, financing and securities transactions as well as handling regulatory issues before Federal agencies. Her experience encompasses participating in every stage of many high-profile and challenging corporate transactions including the representation of several U.S. and foreign companies in international and domestic, private and public transactions and joint ventures. She advises numerous companies and organizations on general corporate matters, including entity formation, contract negotiations, corporate restructurings and general corporate governance matters. She also has experience in other related transactional practices, including cross-border acquisitions, high-yield debt issuances, real estate, bankruptcies and restructurings, financing arrangements and securitizations. Peggy serves as the Assistant Chair of the Commercial Transactions section of the Firm.

Before joining Gordon Arata Montgomery Barnett, Peggy worked as a corporate associate in New York at a London-based firm where she represented high-profile Fortune 500 corporations and pharmaceutical companies. She routinely handled the negotiation and drafting of restructuring, shareholders, license, merger, joint venture and asset and share purchase and sale agreements. She advised on New York law matters for the purchase and sale agreement of Mitsubishi Corporation in its multi-billion dollar investment in a new partnership. This transaction won the Global M&A Deal of the Year, Chile (The American Lawyer’s Global Legal Awards, 2013).

Prior to law school, Peggy taught math and science for three years at a local high school in New Orleans. Upon graduating law school, she founded the education advocacy arm of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and training for public defenders who work with children and advocates for law and policy reform to build a juvenile justice system that is fair, compassionate and supportive of positive youth development.

Peggy earned her J.D. from Tulane University Law School, magna cum laude, in 2009, where she served as a Managing Editor of the Tulane Law Review. She was also inducted into the Order of the Coif and received a Dean’s Scholarship. She earned her B.S., with honors, in Geology-Physics/Mathematics from Brown University in 2002.

Deirdre Johnson Burel

Program Officer - W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Deirdre serves as Program Officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of OPEN (Orleans Public Education Network). Under her leadership at OPEN, the organization has launched programmatic anchors like the Parent Leadership Training Institute, engaged more than 3,000 New Orleanians, and successfully advocated for development of the ONE APP and increased transparency in the charter application process. A native New Orleanian and product of the city’s public schools, Deirdre Johnson Burel recognizes the importance of investing in public education. Johnson Burel attended Eleanor McMain Magnet Secondary School and went on to attend U.C. Berkeley for undergraduate study and New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service where she earned a Master of Public Administration in public policy and non-profit management. She brings a career deeply rooted in social justice via educational programming (founding staff member for New Orleans’ first Americorps program, former Director of Franklin Summerbridge, Director of Programs at Urban League of Greater New Orleans) and education policy (Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget Policy Analyst, and Policy Director for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education) to OPEN.