Beth Breger, Executive Director
Beth Breger joined LEDA as its Executive Director in September of 2009. Most recently, she served as the director of special projects in the Office of Student Enrollment Planning and Operations at the New York City Department of Education (DOE), where her responsibilities included developing and implementing enrollment policy reforms and managing enrollment issues for special population students. Prior to working at the DOE, she served as the director of the School Connection Center at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), where she launched a school admission office for court-involved students, the first of its kind, in partnership with city and state juvenile justice agencies. Before CASES she spent eight years working at the Open Society Institute (OSI), the foundation funded by George Soros. While at OSI she founded the Urban Debate Program and the New York Urban Debate League, initiatives that successfully reintroduced policy debate to underserved school districts throughout the country. She also managed the foundation’s educational grant-making. Beth received a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brown University and a master’s in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Rebecca Ervey, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives
Rebecca Ervey joined LEDA as its Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives in April 2017. She is responsible for developing and implementing a platform of growth initiatives that will position LEDA as a leader in the field and cultivate organizational sustainability. Prior to her work at LEDA, Rebecca worked at Prep for Prep for over ten years, most recently as Director of Professional Advancement, overseeing career programming and corporate engagement for 400 internship and full-time job placements with 170 companies annually. In addition to her work at Prep, Rebecca has extensive workforce development experience, including managing a tech internship program with CUNY schools, coordinating worker retraining, welfare to work, and public housing outreach programs with Bellevue College (Seattle, WA area), and serving as a job counselor with Washington State’s Employment Security Department. Rebecca received a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from New York University.
Cristina Morais, Senior Director of Development and External Relations
Cristina Morais joined LEDA as its Senior Director of Development and External Relations in November 2017. She oversees the organization’s fundraising and communications initiatives. Cristina most recently served as the Vice President and Chief Development Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Jersey and her fundraising career has included positions at World Vision, Breaking Ground, Delivering Good, and the YWCA of the City of New York. Cristina received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Theology, with a minor in Latin American Studies, from Fordham University and is currently completing a Nonprofit Management Certificate from Harvard University’s Extension School.
Kate Schuster, Senior Director of Finance and Operations
Kate Schuster joined LEDA as its Senior Director of Finance and Operations in September 2017. She oversees all aspects of the organization’s operations, including financial systems and budgeting, compliance and governance, information technology, human resources, facilities, and data management. Kate comes to LEDA from the Citizens of the World Charter School, where she was the founding Director of Operations for more than four years and the Founding ESL Coordinator. Kate has also served as an Adjunct Professor in the TESOL Department at Hunter College, as a Teacher Development Coach at the NYC Teaching Fellows, and as an ESL teacher and coordinator in the NYC public school system. Kate has a Master of Science degree in Nonprofit Management from the New School, a Master of Arts in TESOL from Hunter College, and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Michigan.
Joseph Lee, Development and Communications Officer
Joseph Lee joined LEDA in 2013 and provides support across a spectrum of development and communications efforts, including fundraising, database maintenance, event planning, grant proposals, organizational literature, website design, social media, and public engagement. He has previously worked for several nonprofit organizations that address a range of issues, including religious tolerance, mental health, homelessness, employment training, and access to the arts. Joe received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Brown University.
Vanessa Rodriguez, Operations Manager
Vanessa Rodriguez joined LEDA as its Operations Manager in June 2017. She is responsible for managing the organization’s day-to-day operations, including financial management, human resources, general office infrastructure and support, communications and technology. Vanessa also oversees all operations and administrative activities of LEDA’s Aspects of Leadership Summer Institute at Princeton University. Prior to joining the team, she worked at Prep for Prep for over five years, most recently as the Finance Assistant. Vanessa is a graduate of Hunter College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning & Economics.
Tara Gellene, Senior Director of Programs
Tara oversees all departments of the LEDA Scholars Program, including College Success, College Guidance, and Recruitment & Admission. She also directs LEDA’s academic departments, including the Aspects of Leadership and Writing programs. She is responsible for ensuring alignment between program goals, outcome metrics, and data management across all LEDA programs. Previously, Tara directed LEDA’s College Guidance department and Writing program and lent writing support to LEDA’s outreach and fundraising efforts. Before joining LEDA full time in 2014, she taught writing and literature courses at Columbia University, Barnard College, and New York University. She also developed writing curricula for the Education Program for Gifted Youth at Stanford University. She holds a Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University.
Amber M. Briggs, Project Director
Amber M. Briggs joined LEDA in February 2018 as the Project Director for LEDA’s new Advocacy Initiative; she previously worked at LEDA as a College Guidance Counselor. As Project Director, Amber is responsible for launching a new pilot program to train and position young leaders from underrepresented backgrounds to lend their voices to federal policy discussions pertaining to post-secondary education. Prior to her position as Project Director, Amber worked at The College Board as an Assistant Director in the Office of the Chief of Governance, Higher Education and Membership. Amber is an alumna of the College Advising Corps and completed her service at Alief Elsik High School in Houston, TX. Amber graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, a minor in Africana Studies, and a Certificate in Race and Ethnic Relations. She received her Master of Arts in Education Policy with a concentration in Higher Education and Law from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her culminating master’s project analyzed the outcomes and impacts of in-state aid and tuition policy for undocumented students.
Linh Tran, Program Assistant
Linh Tran joined LEDA in 2017 and provides administrative support to all components of the LEDA Scholars Program including recruitment and admissions, college guidance, college success, and the Aspects of Leadership Summer Institute. Linh graduated from Georgetown University, where she studied Government and Women’s and Gender Studies with a concentration in International Relations. Passionate about social justice and gender equality, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy or international affairs.
Iris Early, Director of Recruitment and Admission
Iris Early joined LEDA in November of 2008 as a recruitment and admission officer and became Director of Recruitment and Admission in 2011. In her role at LEDA, Iris has helped define LEDA’s recruitment and admission strategies and works to develop partnerships with schools and community-based organizations across the nation to identify and recruit LEDA Scholars. Prior to LEDA, Iris worked with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the National Conference for Community and Justice in Los Angeles. She brings her passion for racial justice and human rights to her work at LEDA. Iris graduated from Haverford College with a bachelor’s degree in political science, a minor in sociology, and a concentration in Africana studies.
Sayra Alanís, Community Outreach Officer
Sayra Alanís is a LEDA Cohort 6 Scholar and joined the LEDA staff in September 2015, first as the Program Assistant, then transitioning to her current position as Community Outreach Officer. Her work focuses on cultivating LEDA’s partnerships with community-based organizations and assisting in recruitment and admission. Sayra received a B.A. in Spanish and Portuguese and the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality from Rice University, where she conducted feminist-engaged research at Rice’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and managed the university’s IT help desk. Sayra has also been a member of LEDA’s summer staff – in 2014 as a Resident Mentor, and in 2015 as a College Guidance Coordinator. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in higher education administration.
Kara Daniels, School Outreach Officer
Kara Daniels joined LEDA as the School Outreach Officer in July 2017. Her work focuses on building relationships with schools and recruiting and supporting scholars through LEDA’s application process. Prior to joining the LEDA team, Kara worked with students for three years in public high schools in Boston, for two years as a College Adviser with the Boston University chapter of College Advising Corps and for one year as a math tutor. In addition to her work in the Boston Public Schools, Kara has supported youth as a counselor at a girls’ leadership camp, as a Let’s Get Ready SAT tutor, as a Generation Citizen Democracy Coach, and as a homework helper at 826 Boston. Kara has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Boston University and a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University.
Jahnelle McMillan, Director of College Guidance
Jahnelle McMillan came to LEDA in June 2016 as a College Guidance Counselor and became the Director of College Guidance in February 2018. She leads LEDA’s college guidance program overall while continuing to support Scholars through the college admissions process as a college guidance counselor. Prior to joining the LEDA team, she was an admissions officer at Prep for Prep for the PREP 9 program, of which she is also an alumna. She has also served as a Customer Services Representative at Metroplus Health Plan, an Academic Tutor with Figure Skating in Harlem, and a staff member in the Pre-College Division of Kaplan Test Prep. She has also worked as an independent college admissions consultant. Jahnelle received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature/Letters from Colgate University.
Jessica Macias, College Guidance Counselor
Jessica Macias joined LEDA in June 2017 as a College Guidance Counselor and supports Scholars through the college admissions process. She comes to LEDA from Amistad Achievement First High School in New Haven, CT, where she worked as a College Counselor for two years. She has also taught English as a Teach For America Corps member for several years in Miami. Jessic received her B.A. from the University of Miami in Broadcast Journalism and Latin American Studies.
Mahader Tesfai, College Success Counselor
Mahader Tesfai joined LEDA as the College Success Counselor in August 2017 and provides individual and group advising and counseling to LEDA Scholars while monitoring their academic progress, this includes academic advising, transfer planning, financial literacy education, financial aid assistance, academic skills and study strategies, career exploration, and personal support. Since 2002, Mahader has worked with not-for-profit organizations dedicated to improving the academic success and personal growth of low-income students. Prior to joining LEDA, Mahader worked as a student group advisor and archive editor at the University of California Santa Barbara. Mahader received a bachelor’s degree in Black Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara.