Board of Directors


Aaron Thompson, Ph.D. - Chair of the Board
Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education


Christina R. Milano - Treasurer of the Board 

Strategy + Action/Philanthropy


Lisa Brady Gill - Secretary of the Board
Senior Director, External Engagement, Public Affairs
ACT, Inc.


Sean P. "Jack" Buckley

Senior Vice President

American Institutes for Research (AIR)


Martha A. Cantu, Ed.D. 

Executive Director for College and Career Readiness
Texas Valley Communities Foundation


Robert Dais

Statewide Director
GEAR UP Massachusetts


Scott A. Giles, Ph.D. 
President and CEO
Vermont Student Assistance Corporation 


Mary Sylvia Harrison, J.D.
Vice President for Programs
Nellie Mae Education Foundation


Juan Sepulveda
Lilliam Radford Visisting Professor of Practice
Department of Education

Trinity University-San Antonio, TX

Wendy M. Stack, Ph.D.
Associate Vice President for Access, Innovation and Research, Northeastern Illinois University
Director of Chicago GEAR UP Alliance and the Center for College Access and Success


Ranjit Sidhu
President & CEO
National Council for Community and Education Partnerships


Aaron Thompson, Ph.D.

Chair of the Board

Aaron Thompson is the Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. He is also a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. He was the former Interim President of Kentucky State University.

Dr. Thompson has a Ph.D. in Sociology in areas of Organizational Behaviour and Race and Gender relations. He has over 27 years of leadership experience in higher education and business. In addition, he has spent numerous years serving on non-profit boards in leadership roles. Thompson has researched, taught and/or consulted in areas of diversity, leadership, ethics, multicultural families, race and ethnic relations, student success, first-year students, retention, cultural competence and organizational design throughout his personal career. He has over 30 publications and numerous research and peer reviewed presentations.

Thompson has travelled over the U.S. and has given more than 800 workshops, seminars and invited lectures in areas of race and gender diversity, living an unbiased life, overcoming obstacles to gain success, creating a school environment for academic success, cultural competence, workplace interaction, leadership, organizational goal setting, building relationships, the first-year seminar, and a variety of other topics. He has been or is a consultant to educational institutions (elementary, secondary and postsecondary), corporations, non-profit organizations, police departments, and other governmental agencies. His latest authored or co-authored books are: Changing Student Culture from the Ground Up, The Sociological Outlook, Infusing Diversity and Cultural Competence into Teacher Education, Peer to Peer Leadership: Changing Student Culture from the Ground Up. He also co-authored Thriving in College and Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success, Thriving in the Community College and Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success and Personal Development, Diversity and the College Experience, Focus on Success and Black Men and Divorce.

>Back to Top

Christina R. Milano

Treasurer of the Board
Christina Milano has a significant track record working with non-profit organizations throughout the nation. These include college access programs, statewide networks, as well as arts, health and education-focused groups. Her expertise is in program evaluation and management, strategic planning, replication, organizational development, fund raising and fiscal management. Tina has authored guidebooks and provided counsel on creating local programs and regional and statewide networks.

Milano was executive director of the Cleveland Scholarship Programs (College Now) for 14 years where she worked closely with the Cleveland schools and numerous community partners. She co-founded and became the first executive director of the National College Access Network. During her tenure, that organization’s membership grew from 28 to more than 250 organizations. Tina has been instrumental in helping create dozens of college access programs in cities and states as well as in under-resourced rural areas throughout the country through needs analyses and providing blueprints for creating each organization.

She has worked with organizations around the country in helping raise millions of dollars from government, foundation and individuals. These efforts range from advocating with federal and state officials to grant writing to advising on direct mail outreach.

Milano recently served as the CEO of a non-profit health provider where she conducted an evaluation of all client services. This evaluation led to the reconfiguration of most existing client services and introduction of new, more impactful, evidence-based programs – and a stable financial scenario for the organization’s future.

A resident of Moreland Hills, Ohio, Tina serves as an officer of the National Community and Education Partnerships and formerly served as a board member of Citizens Academy, the Cleveland Bar Association and other non-profit organizations. She holds a degree in accounting from the City University of New York.
>Back to Top

Lisa Brady Gill 

Secretary of the Board

Lisa Brady Gill currently serves as Senior Director, External Engagement, Public Affairs for ACT. In this role she leads a strategic team of experts focused on building innovative cradle to career engagements with organizations, institutions, businesses, foundations and government agencies.

Previously Ms. Gill served as Executive Director of the Education Division, Texas Instruments, Inc. until 2015. At TI, she led strategic teams focused on influencing STEM education policy and successfully translating policy to practice in the areas of teacher professional development, systemic interventions and marketing and communications. During her 15-year tenure at TI, Ms. Gill had extensive P&L responsibilities and impacted organizational growth by leveraging a broad network spanning the business, education, policy and non-profit sectors.

Prior to TI, Ms. Gill held a number of leadership positions in education management, including serving as a founding member of the entrepreneurial start-up Voyager Expanded Learning. She led Newspapers in Education (NIE) for both the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald. Early in her career she was an educator for the Richardson Independent School District.

Ms. Gill has leveraged her broad education management experience and network as a consultant with national non-profits, such as Change the Equation (CTEq) and the National Math Science Initiative (NMSI). Ms. Gill has consistently served on non-profit boards striving to achieve and sustain positive social impact.

She currently serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the National Council of Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) and is the Fund Development Committee Chair. In 2015, she joined the Teaching Channel Board of Directors.

Ms. Gill holds a B.S. with honors from the University of Texas at Austin and received her M.Ed. from Texas A&M Commerce.

>Back to Top

Sean P. "Jack" Buckley

Sean P. “Jack” Buckley is senior vice president at AIR. He leads AIR’s Research and Evaluation area where he oversees projects across our entire range of subject areas including education, health, and the workforce both in the United States and internationally, always with the goal of expanding our knowledge about how best to improve people’s lives, particularly the disadvantaged.

Dr. Buckley has a deep background in applied statistics and education research. Before joining AIR, he helped lead the redesign of the SAT at the College Board, where he served as senior vice president of research and was responsible for all research and psychometrics across their entire range of products and services. Before that, he served as Commissioner of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In that role he was responsible for the measurement of all aspects of U.S. education, including conducting the National Assessment
of Educational Progress and coordinating U.S. participation in international assessments. While at NCES he also acted as a senior technical adviser to Department of Education leadership and co-chair of its Data Strategy team. Additionally, he served as Deputy Commissioner of NCES earlier in his career.

Dr. Buckley is known for his research on school choice—particularly charter schools—and on statistical methods for public policy and education. He has researched and taught applied statistics as a tenured associate professor at New York University and as an assistant professor of education research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. A former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer and nuclear reactor engineer, he holds doctoral and master’s degrees in Political Science from SUNY Stony Brook and a bachelor’s degree in Government from Harvard.

>Back to Top

Martha A. Cantu, Ed.D.

Dr. Martha A. Cantu currently serves as the Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for the Texas Valley Communities Foundation. She most recently served as the Vice President for Student Affairs at The University of Texas Pan American. Prior to her appointment as vice president, Cantu was the director of UTPA's Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). The UTPA GEAR UP Project was the second largest grant in the nation and under Cantu's leadership was recognized nationally as a model of best practices by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Her professional experience at UTPA began over twelve years ago as an adjunct faculty member teaching graduate classes in the College of Education.

Her passion for students began in 1985 as an educator in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District and later served as the director of special education for the McAllen Independent School District. Her extensive professional working experience with principals, superintendents, teachers and families in the Rio Grande Valley K-12 school districts has been an important component of student success in the Rio Grande Valley. Cantu received her bachelor, master and doctoral degrees from UTPA.

>Back to Top


Robert Dais

Robert Dais is the Statewide Director of GEAR UP Massachusetts. At its height, his program served over 7,000 students throughout the Commonwealth. GEAR UP MA operates in seven high need cities throughout the state. Robert brings over twenty years of experience in the areas of educational leadership, curriculum development and management to his position. He began his teaching career at The Nativity Preparatory School of Boston, MA. He has served as Coordinator of Diversity at Proctor Academy in Andover, NH, Principal of the Epiphany School located in Dorchester, MA and mathematics teacher at City on a Hill Charter School and Roxbury Preparatory Charter School. At Roxbury Prep he co-authored the textbook entitled, Calculated Success: A Step by Step Guide to Balanced Math Instruction that Works. Additionally, Robert hold licenses as a financial specialist in the area of investments and insurances. A native of Philadelphia, PA and graduate of Villanova University, Robert holds a B.S. in Business Administration and a M.A. degree in Middle School Education from Clark Atlanta University.


>Back to Top

Scott A. Giles, Ph.D.

Scott Giles is President and CEO at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC).  He previously served as Vice President for Operations, Social Marketing and Strategy.  Prior to joining VSAC, Mr. Giles served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the House Committee on Science. In that role he advised the Chairman on education, space and research policy and managed the Subcommittees on Research and Space and Aeronautics. From 2008-2009 he served as Chair of the Federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance where he was regularly consulted by Congress and the executive branch on matters related to access and affordability. Giles has also served on the professional staff of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions where he advised the Chairman on budget, education and research policy.

Prior to joining the Committee, he worked for ten years as a Senior Associate and team leader at Cassidy & Associates where he provided government and public affairs services to colleges, universities, hospitals and non-profit organizations. From 1982-1986, he served as legislative director for the Honorable Frank Horton (R-NY).

He holds a BA in religious studies from St. Lawrence University and an MA in religious ethics from the University of Virginia. He holds a doctoral degree in ethics from the University of Virginia.

>Back to Top

Mary Sylvia Harrison, J.D.

Mary Sylvia Harrison is Vice President for Programs at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Prior to joining the Nellie Mae Education Foundation in 2008, Harrison was President and CEO of The College Crusade of Rhode Island. Under her leadership, the organization became the state's most comprehensive college readiness and scholarship program for students in low-income urban school districts. Harrison served on the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education from 1994 to 1999, and represented The College Crusade as Core Partner with the Providence Public Schools in a Carnegie Corporation-funded High School Redesign initiative.

Prior to joining The College Crusade, she was Executive Director of Times2, a nonprofit provider of math and science enrichment programs for underserved learners. Harrison holds a B.A. from Villanova University and a J.D. from Antioch School of Law.

>Back to Top

 Ranjit Sidhu

  President & CEO

Ranjit was appointed President & CEO of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) in May of 2015.  He has a long history of service to NCCEP and its primary constituency, GEAR UP, having served on NCCEP’s Board of Directors, and years prior as a member of the staff executive team. His career has been consistently anchored in creating opportunities for students from low-income families, and in leading organizations to enhance social impact and growth.

Prior to assuming this role, Ranjit served as senior vice president for strategy and new product development at the College Board.  There he was responsible for the development and integration of the organization’s comprehensive strategy, working across the organization to determine how all current and future work can achieve significant and positive social impact.  Ranjit also directed new product development, including career and technical education work, and higher education product strategy and offerings.

Ranjit’s previous roles include serving as senior vice president for strategic initiatives at ACT, where he played a significant role in developing the education division’s strategic plan and future product development efforts.  He led ACT’s national efforts focused on policy development, advocacy, and partnerships in the education and workforce development arenas.  Ranjit also served as executive vice president at NCCEP, and as executive vice president & COO at the National Association of Partners in Education. Early in his career he was a high school social studies teacher in the Washington, D.C. and Prince George’s County, Md., public school districts.

Ranjit holds a master’s degree in education from George Washington University, a master’s degree in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh, and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Mary Washington.

>Back to Top





GEAR UP Program Locator

Are GEAR UP services available in your state or region? You can find out by clicking on this interactive map. Here you will find where GEAR UP programs currently serve students, the size of their grants, how many students they serve and a link to their website for more information.