Aaron Thompson, Ph.D.
Chair of the Board
Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer,
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
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.
Christina R. Milano
Treasurer of the Board
Associate, Strategy + Action/Philanthropy
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.
Lisa Brady Gill
Secretary of the Board
President, Gill and Associates
Lisa Brady Gill is a strategic, results oriented Education Management leader passionate about leading and growing teams and organizations with the mission of success for all students regardless of status, circumstance or age. She has spent her career leveraging a broad national network spanning the business, policy, education, foundation and non-profit sectors.
Most recently, Ms. Gill served as Senior Director, External Engagement, Public Affairs, ACT, Inc. In this capacity, she led a team of strategists and policy researchers in the areas of K-12, PSE and Workforce responsible for creating innovative alliances and partnerships that led to actionable research, policies, solutions and new revenue opportunities serving ACT’s strategic agenda outside of the traditional assessment space.
Prior to joining ACT, Ms. Gill enjoyed a long-term career at Texas Instruments, serving in multiple senior leadership roles. During her tenure at TI, she was responsible for policy, marketing and field marketing, public relations and communications, professional development, systemic initiatives and strategic partnerships to name a few. She created the first research department for TI’s Education Division, as well as led the team pioneering early support of GEAR UP and NCCEP which continued and grew throughout her tenure. Ms. Gill partnered with a local school district to create a research based pre-algebra solution that once proven effective, was scaled nationally.
Ms. Gill’s previous roles include serving as a founding member of the national education start-up, Voyager Expanded Learning, as well as an educator in the Richardson Independent School District. She has valued her service on multiple national and local boards and committees throughout her career. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education from Texas A&M, Commerce and a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with honors.
Sean P. "Jack" Buckley
Senior Vice President, American Institutes for Research
Sean P. “Jack” Buckley is senior vice president at the American Institutes for Research. 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.
Martha A. Cantu, Ed.D.
Executive Director of College and Career Readiness, Texas Valley Communities Foundation
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.
Statewide Director, GEAR UP Massachusetts
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.
Scott A. Giles, Ph.D.
President and CEO, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation
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.
Mary Sylvia Harrison, J.D.
Vice President for Programs, Nellie Mae Education Foundation
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.
Lillian Radford Distinguished Visiting Professor of Practice, Trinity University
Juan currently serves as the Lillian Radford Distinguished Visiting Professor of Practice at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
Prior to Trinity University, Juan was PBS’s Senior Vice President for Station Services where he led a team focused on strengthening local PBS stations nationwide by activating the PBS network across the country so local staff and volunteers could meet and build relationships, share ideas and experiences, strategize, act together on key public media issues, and help drive innovation system-wide. His team introduced a new set of programs and activities where local member station staff, volunteers, and community partners participated in regional network meetings, national action summits, leadership and professional development, and strategy work.
Prior to PBS, Juan served as the Senior Advisor for Hispanic Affairs at the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He led the DNC portion of the Latino Obama 2012 team, helped build a national Latino community leaders network, and helped set record-level Hispanic participation in the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
In the Obama Administration, he served as Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, where he designed and led the first-ever White House Hispanic Policy Conference along with a series of Hispanic Community Action Summits across the country that brought together representatives of White House offices, federal agencies with Latino community leaders to build relationships and partnerships to tackle key community issues.
Before joining the Obama Administration, Juan was a senior executive, strategist, and advocate in the nonprofit and philanthropic communities, with a focus in community development, capacity building, leadership development, and transformational management for more than 20 years. He was president of The Common Enterprise, which he founded in 1995 as an outgrowth of a national Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help build stronger communities across America by making nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, governments, businesses, and communities more effective as they tackled significant critical social issues in more than 35 states and nationally.
Juan is the third Latino ever awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. He graduated from Harvard College with a B.A. in Government and also holds a M.A. in Politics, Philosophy & Economics from The Queen’s College, Oxford University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.
Associate Vice President, Access, Innovation, and Research &
Executive Director, Center for College Access and Success,
Northeastern Illinois University
Dr. Stack is the associate vice president for Access, Innovation and Research at Northeastern Illinois University and the director of The Chicago GEAR UP Alliance and The Center for College Access and Success. Stack has directed Chicago GEAR UP since 1999, currently serving over 15,000 students and their families. Stack holds degrees from McGill and McMaster University and received her Doctorate of Philosophy in leadership and from Antioch University. Stack’s dissertation focused on the impact of parent involvement on student success in Chicago’s GEAR UP communities. Her leadership in STEM initiatives and college success led to recent grant awards from National Science Foundation, a Title III HSI-STEM, and a Title V grant.