About LEDA

Our Staff

Meet the LEDA Team

Recruitment and Admissions

Iris Early, Senior Director of Recruitment and Admissions

Iris joined LEDA in November 2008 as a recruitment and admissions officer and became Director of Recruitment and Admissions 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.

Ashlea Faith Haney, Senior Recruitment and Admissions Officer

Ashlea is a multimedia creator and writer who joined LEDA in 2013 as a Cohort 9 Scholar and in October 2018 as part of the recruitment team, supporting the recruitment of new LEDA Scholars and the cultivation of relationships with schools and community-based organizations. Before joining the LEDA team full-time, she worked at various organizations, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she developed strategies to engage and connect with communities historically left out of the curation in Smithsonian institutions. Ashlea graduated from Stanford University, where she majored in African American Studies and self-published a book, When We say Bitch: a Black Womxn’s Dealing, the culmination of her undergraduate research and creative practice.

Isabel de León, Recruitment and Admissions Officer

Isabel joined LEDA in October 2021 as a Recruitment and Admissions Officer, supporting all recruitment efforts for LEDA programs and the cultivation of relationships with schools and community-based organizations. Prior to LEDA, Isabel worked at a marketing agency in Dallas, TX, that worked exclusively with charities and nonprofit organizations. As a college student, she worked with the Title IX and Equity Compliance office on campus to implement a grant from the U.S. Office of Violence Against Women in order to pursue her passion for equality and equity. Isabel graduated from Fairfield University with a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor in Public Relations.

LEDA Scholars Program

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.

Nick McMahon, Data Systems Administrator

Nick joined the LEDA team in May of 2019. As the Data Systems Administrator, Nick is responsible for the performance, integrity, and security of LEDA’s Salesforce database. He implements, tracks, and oversees changes and implementations within the system and maintains a “healthy lifestyle” for LEDA’s data. A strong supporter of helping not-for-profit organizations excel in the digital world, Nick’s prior role was as both database administrator and membership manager for the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, NJ. He graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies.

College Guidance
Jahnelle McMillan, Director of College Guidance

Jahnelle 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 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. Jessica received her B.A. from the University of Miami in Broadcast Journalism and Latin American Studies.

Pedrum Mardan, College Guidance Counselor

Pedrum joined LEDA as a College Guidance Counselor in June 2020. Through a dialectical, intersectional, and person-centered approach, Pedrum advocates for Scholars throughout the college admissions process. Prior to LEDA, he supported every facet of NYU Opportunity Programs’ admissions efforts as an Admissions Assistant while simultaneously completing clinical hours at New York City public high schools as a Bilingual School Counselor-in-training. With his parallactic, professional background and lived experience as a first-generation college graduate, Pedrum has navigated college admissions from multiple vantage points. He holds a B.A. in Literature with a Concentration in World Literature and Cultural Studies from University of California, Santa Cruz, and an M.A. in Counseling and Guidance: Bilingual School Counseling, Grades Pre-K–12 with an Advanced Certificate in LGBT Health, Education, and Social Services from NYU.

Whitney Call, Program Assistant

Whitney joined LEDA in 2016 as a Cohort 12 Scholar and then again in 2021 as a Program Assistant after assisting with the 2021 Aspects of Leadership Summer Institute as a College Guidance Coordinator. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a double-major in English Literature and in Marketing. Prior to her position with LEDA, she worked at a number of organizations, including: Forefront (a St. Louis start-up) as a Marketing and Social Media Fellow; Evolvez as a Brand Ambassador; and Welk Resort Group as a Marketing Agent.

College Success
Nada Abdelaziz, Director of College Success

Nada joined LEDA as the Director of Residential Life in June 2018, then became the College Success Counselor in August 2018 and the Director of College Success in August 2021. In her current role, Nada is responsible for overseeing LEDA’s support services for the academic and socio-emotional needs of LEDA Scholars in college. Nada’s experience includes working in TRiO, residence life, and student government at a number of institutions, such as Harvard University and the University of Florida. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Rutgers University and a Master of Education from the Student Personnel in Higher Education program at the University of Florida.

Aracely Mondragon, College Success Counselor

Aracely joined LEDA as the College Success Counselor in October 2021, supporting Scholars throughout their college careers. Before LEDA, Aracely worked as an academic advisor at the University of Arkansas and taught Composition courses at NorthWest Arkansas Community College. They received a B.A. in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa. Previously, Aracely was a community organizer with Faith in Action Bay Area in California, doing housing justice work.

Career and Alumni Services

Keisha J. Taffe, Senior Director of Career and Alumni Services

Keisha joined LEDA as its Senior Director of Career and Alumni Services in May 2018. She oversees all aspects of the Career Network initiative, which includes cultivating strategic employer partnerships and developing programs and services to engage LEDA Career Fellows, Scholars, and alumni. Keisha comes to LEDA from New York University, where she recently served as the Senior Assistant Director at the Wasserman Center for Career Development. During her career in higher education, she has held positions focused on international education, leadership development, and access to global internship opportunities. Keisha has a B.A. in Journalism and English Writing Arts from SUNY Oswego and a Master’s Degree from the College of Communication at Boston University.

Elena Barrera-Waters, Manager of Alumni Engagement and Impact

Elena joined LEDA as the Manager of Alumni Engagement and Impact in April 2022. Prior to working at LEDA, Elena worked on career development, mentorship, and diversity & inclusion programs in corporate, higher education, and nonprofit settings. She has a B.A. in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago, where she focused much of her coursework on educational inequality and much of her research on racial biases in collegiate dating app use.

Amber M. Briggs, Director of Public Service Pathways and Strategic Partnerships

Amber joined LEDA in February 2018 as the Project Director for the launch of the LEDA Policy Project and became the Director of Public Service Pathways and Strategic Partnerships in 2021. She previously worked at LEDA as a College Guidance Counselor in 2015. Amber is an alumna of the College Advising Corps and completed her service at Alief Elsik High School in Houston, TX. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. in Sociology, a minor in Africana Studies, and a Certificate in Race and Ethnic Relations. She received her M.A. 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 policies for undocumented students.

Kelly Penn, Career Counselor

Kelly joined the LEDA team as a Career Counselor in May of 2021. As the Career Counselor, Kelly supports LEDA Scholars, Career Fellows, and Alumni with all aspects of career exploration and career readiness. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology, a minor in Psychology, and a certificate in Leadership Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. Kelly’s passion for leadership development and maximizing students’ potential led her to earn a Master of Education degree from the Student Personnel in Higher Education program at the University of Florida. A quote that guides Kelly’s work is, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Her goal is to empower students to lead with intention, make meaning out of their experiences, and to follow a career path that reflects being the change they want to see in the world.

Kennedy A. Turner, Director of Graduate Education and Fellowships

Kennedy joined LEDA in 2018 as an Aspects of Leadership Facilitator and became Director of Aspects of Leadership in November 2019. In September 2020, Kennedy assumed the position of LEDA’s first Director of Graduate Education and Fellowships. She leads the development of LEDA’s new initiative to provide graduate school and fellowship advising to LEDA Scholars. Kennedy earned her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Sociology from the University of Michigan. Her dissertation work focused on the racial identity development of Black college students. She earned her B.A. in Political Science from Howard University.

Development, Communications, Finance, and Operations

Cristina Morais, Senior Director of Development and External Relations

Cristina 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, has completed a Nonprofit Management Certificate from Harvard Extension School, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Management from Harvard Extension School.

Joseph Lee, Development and Communications Officer

Joseph 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.

Maricor Santiago, Senior Operations Manager

Maricor joined LEDA in June 2022 as the Senior Operations Manager, overseeing day-to-day operations and providing additional capacity for finance and development needs. Prior to LEDA, she taught history, government, economics, and social science research at Forest Hills High School for 13 years in addition to serving as Program Director for their Academy of Public Service. She is passionate about college access and empowering students to make proactive choices about their academic trajectory. Maricor received a B.S. in Political Science and Secondary Education and an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Secondary Education from Queens College CUNY and an M.Ed. in School Counseling from Hunter College CUNY.

Louis Wu, Senior Operations Manager

Louis joined LEDA as its Senior Operations Manager in June 2018. Prior to LEDA, Louis worked at Success Academy, an education-management organization which runs and operates New York City’s largest charter school network. At Success, he worked in its business operations division, helping manage the day to day business, finance and operations of a local Brooklyn school. Prior to Success, Louis worked at BTE Corp, as a member of its supply chain and logistics team based out of New York. Louis graduated with a degree in Economics and English, and is a member of the Princeton AlumniCorps Emerging Leaders 2019 Cohort.

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