Sarah is engaged in all aspects of program support. Providing direct support to the program team and the students, she is responsible for student communications, data management and programming execution. Passionate about working with students, she has a breadth of experience aligned to support their college and career success. With her BA in communications and collaborative work style, Sarah is positioned to keep our students and team connected, informed, and organized. Outside of work, she loves spending time with her two little boys and enjoys music and dance.
Kolani is dedicated to our students’ college start, persistence, and completion. Focused on connecting our first-year students with resources and opportunities to advance their goals, she provides a breadth of direct support. Advising the upperclassmen, she guides them through Backpack2Briefcase, Building STEPS curriculum for preparing for and securing their first college-level job. With her bachelor’s degree in psychology and experience in college support services and crisis management in education settings, Kolani is dedicated to youth’s professional and personal growth. Outside of work she enjoys reading, trying new foods, and spending time with family and friends.
Andrea van Wyk is a Building STEPS alumna and serves as Chair of Building STEPS Young Professional Council, creating and implementing alumni events and programs that create relationships and rapport among program graduates. She has a passion for educating, engaging, and empowering diverse, urban communities. Andrea is the Baltimore Community Project Manager at The Nature Conservancy where she strives to enable equitable access to nature for Communities of Color, and foster their connection to nature for improved emotional, mental, and physical well-being. She spends her free time outdoors, gardening and exploring local green spaces.
Jennifer is the Head of People Strategy Execution, US at MilliporeSigma. In her role, she supports the recruiting, retention, and wellbeing of over 600 site employees. Her favorite part of the role is building partnerships with the community and working with early talent to help them grow in both their education and careers. Prior to this role, she served in the federal government for just over a decade in various HR leadership roles. In her spare time, you can find her out and about with her two young daughters or at home with her pets.
Anna guides our high school seniors through the college access process, ensures students have college options that support their interests and goals. With her support in identifying prospective colleges, submitting competitive applications, and securing financial aid and scholarship, students are prepared to review and accept their best matched college offer. As a former Baltimore City Public Schools teacher, she is experienced working with students and committed to their success. Outside of work she enjoys spending time with family and friends, hanging outdoors, and staying active.
Debra launched Building STEPS in 1999 with the purpose of creating a college pathway for underrepresented students to become STEM professionals. Today, she oversees all aspects of this Baltimore not for profit from developing and maintaining corporate and institutional partners to advising the Board on creating and implementing growth strategies. She is a graduate of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s The Leadership and has been honored by the Baltimore Business Journal as Maryland’s Top 100 Women. She earned her Project Management Professional certification in 2020. Outside of work, Debra can be found hiking the trails of Maryland’s parks.
Allyson is dedicated to our students’ college persistence, completion and transition to young professional. Through proactive direct support, she helps students navigate first year opportunities and challenges, ensures students maximize campus resources and prepares them for the backpack to briefcase transition. With her experience as a non-tradition college student and background as a social worker and working with middle school students and their families, Allyson’s goal has been to work with college students. Outside of work, Allyson enjoys gardening, spending time with her cats and husband and rewatching 2000’s teen dramas!
Erika guides our students through the college access process. She helps them explore the breadth of college options, complete and submit competitive college and financial aid applications, and prepares them for first year opportunities and challenges. A former educator and first-generation college student, Erika is motivated to impact large scale change in education equity. She is committed to aiding underrepresented students realize and actualize their full potential. Outside of work, Erika is invigorated by travel, family, and learning and sharing history in a way that informs all facets of her life.
Jen is integral to all aspects of our organization. She is engaged in donor cultivation, volunteer experience and Board development. Skilled in marketing, social media, and customer service, Jen brings a breadth of expertise to Building STEPS. Jen spends her spare time with her husband, two teenage children and her dog, Stella. Her favorite place to relax is at the beach and she loves to watch scary movies with her daughter.
Program Associate Outreach and Exploration
Asia is dedicated to new student outreach, recruiting, onboarding and STEM Seminars. Integrated throughout her work is creating and supporting a culture of belonging, responsibility and connectedness among our students and program team. Focused on increasing the number of Baltimore City students who earn a college degree, Asia is pursuing her passion for reforming education and providing resources for college and career success. When not at work, Asia spends her time working out, watching movies, and playing with her nephews.
Chief Program Officer
Sheyna oversees all aspects of student engagement, from recruiting to the Alumni Council. Guiding the program team, she ensures they have the support and resources necessary to deliver engaging, effective and consistent programming. With expertise in education and student counseling, Sheyna is skilled at curating and linking program components, enabling students to move seamlessly through Building STEPS successive core components. Since college, Sheyna has known that she wanted to work in education with a focus on college completion for underrepresented students. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling and crocheting.
Kieara Thomas is a customer-centric Technical Project Manager and UX Designer with 9 years of experience overseeing the delivery of successful software products. Kieara passion for strategic design, organization, problem solving, and analytics lead her to manage solution driven products and programs that enhance customer experience. Kieara is meticulous about projects and applies an empathic attitude to solving customer pain points. In her spare time, Kieara enjoys traveling, fitness, mentoring high school/ college students, and spending time with family.
Dr. Vernon J. Hurte is the Vice President of Student Affairs at Towson University, a member of the president’s cabinet and an officer of the university. He provides university-wide leadership on all-inclusive services and programs that promote student engagement and success. With nearly 20 years of experience in higher education, in addition to his professional practice, Vernon has served as a consultant to several institutions on topics such as diversity and inclusion initiatives, staff support and engagement, student success, and sexual misconduct policy and protocol. As a leader in the field of student affairs and the local community, Dr. Hurte served on the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region IV-East Executive Board and the Board of Directors for ACCESS, a nonprofit offering services for survivors of abuse and those in housing crisis. Recently, Dr. Hurte was appointed to serve as a member of NASPA’s Future of Student Affairs Task Force, the Governing Board of the Baltimore Collegetown Network, and represents President Kim Schatzel on the Collegebound Foundation’s Board of Directors. A husband and father to two, Vernon enjoys traveling, playing golf, and working out in his free time.
Matthew Weinberg is the ProPharma Group Global Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and the Chief Executive Officer of The Weinberg Group, the U.S. regulatory consulting arm of the ProPharma Group. In these roles, he is both responsible for the growth of regulatory efforts worldwide and the specific growth of The Weinberg Group. His tasks include strategic planning, marketing, business development, and overall coordination of worldwide regulatory efforts.
Matthew is heavily involved in a number of community efforts. He is a graduate of the Wexner Heritage Program and has served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Bender Jewish Community Center, and the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, chairing a number of task forces and community efforts.
As vice president of guest services and information technology at the National Aquarium, Sam Tawiah provides high-level technical guidance and advice to the organization’s leaders and strategic planning for all aspects of the National Aquarium’s technology infrastructure spanning business applications, physical hardware, internal and customer-facing networks, and audio/visual technology. He is also responsible for all aspects of daily guest operations spanning guest services, guest engagement, building safety & security, custodial services and all on-premise partner operations.
Sam is a passionate technology strategist with PMP certification and more than 25 years of experience in a variety of industries including nonprofits, banking and finance, and federal, state and local government.
He loves music and dancing, and is a closet DJ with a small studio at home. He never hesitates to sing his own funky and customized version of the Happy Birthday medley for anyone interested (at no cost!). He is also a new grandpa and enjoying every minute with his granddaughter. His favorite phrase is “Make every day count.”
Candace is the Executive Vice President, Global Chief People and Diversity Officer with Catholic Relief Services. She is a respected thought leader with 30 years of business experience in large to mid-size for profit and non-profit organizations, providing guidance and leadership to senior managers in startup, growth and stable organizations. She is an experienced leader of transformational change, a skilled developer of high performing teams, and a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategist. She is a certified Senior Human Resource Professional, Non-Profit Standards of Excellence Consultant and a certified Leadership Coach.
Candace was recognized as the Non-Profit CHRO of the year and most recently as one of the top 100 Women in Maryland. She is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Executive Alliance, and the Women’s Business Council. Candace is an engaged Board Member with several Baltimore community organizations and a committed volunteer with mission-based organizations focused on improving education outcomes for under-served students.
Dave Lockhart is a retired US Army Officer and Senior Manager with the Boeing Company. He represents a range of Boeing products and services aligned to US Army needs in the communications, command and control, sensors, global positioning systems, cyber, testing, training, and unmanned aircraft systems. Dave sits on several boards in the local area dedicated to improving collaboration and interaction between industry, APG, and local community leaders, helping people and organizations collectively realize their full potential. Dave is an avid reader, enjoys tennis and cruising, is an active tennis player, and strong advocate for lifetime learning.
Brooke Lierman is an effective and passionate advocate in the Maryland General Assembly and a modern-day juggler: she is a mother of two, a wife, a state legislator, and a disability rights and civil rights attorney. Brooke was elected to represent Maryland’s 46th Legislative District in the House of Delegates in 2014. She spent her first five years on the House Appropriations Committee. In 2019, Brooke was awarded a leadership position by the new Speaker, Adrienne Jones, on the Environment & Transportation Committee. This committee oversees all policies related to the environment, transportation, housing, land use, ethics, and more.
Currently in her second term, Brooke has earned a reputation as an effective advocate and skilled legislator who works tirelessly on behalf of her constituents and on a variety of issues that get at the root causes of poverty and inequity in Baltimore, including education, transit, and environmental and social justice. Brooke has successfully passed legislation to invest in and improve public transit; fund evidence-based gun violence prevention programs; end cash bail; eliminate sex trafficking in Maryland and aid victims; stem the school-to-prison pipeline by prohibiting suspensions and expulsions of pre K-2nd graders in Maryland public school; close loopholes in our family & paid leave laws; increase access to financial aid for undocumented immigrants; tackle housing discrimination; and so much more. Notably, in 2019 she passed the nation’s first statewide ban on foam food containers.
Outside of the legislative session, Brooke maintains an active presence in her neighborhoods – visiting schools, meeting with business leaders, and acting as a convener and networker for communities and organizations. She is also a candidate for State Comptroller.
Stuart Kaplow is an attorney and a founding board member of Building STEPS. He represents a broad breadth of business interests in a varied law practice based in Maryland, concentrating in real estate and environmental law with focused experience in sustainability and green building. Stuart was selected by the American Bar Association as one of ten Legal Rebels for his work in creating and advancing the emergent body of law that is green building and sustainability law. When not volunteering with Building STEPS, in an effort to gain perspective and, admittedly to recreate, Stuart has trekked to some of the wildest real estate on the planet from Kilimanjaro to K2 and Everest, with many summits and mountaineering adventures in between.
LTC (R) Kevin Jennings is the Co-Founder of Millennium Corporation, a cyber security and system engineering firm driven to help customers achieve mission success. As CEO, Kevin is responsible for the strategic vision and the short and long-term profitability and growth of the company. A U.S. Army veteran, Kevin brings more than 25 years of senior-level experience in program management, strategic planning, system engineering and operational execution. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys the outdoors, fishing, hunting, boating, mentoring young entrepreneurs and spending time with family, especially grand kids.
Dr. Vernon Hurte is the Vice President of Student Affairs at Towson University, a member of the president’s cabinet and an officer of the university. He provides university-wide leadership on all-inclusive services and programs that promote student engagement and success. With more than 18 years of experience in higher education, Vernon is a leader in campus-wide initiatives including the Critical Incident Readiness Team, Sexual Misconduct Leadership Committee, Academic Success Center, Multicultural Student Affairs, Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success and Veterans Center. An active member of the professional community, Vernon serves on the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region IV-East Executive Board and the Board of Directors for ACCESS, a nonprofit offering services for survivors of abuse and those in housing crisis.
Hava is the Executive Director for the Middendorf Foundation. In this capacity she leads the foundation’s grantmaking efforts supporting the arts, education, historic preservation, health, environment and social services largely in the Baltimore area. Her support to Building STEPS draws from a former role, as a research and policy analyst for education research and policy philanthropic efforts at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. She is a member of Maryland Philanthropy Network and Exponent Philanthropy. She enjoys book clubs, writing groups, creative projects, travel, and spending time with her eight year old bundle of joy. She learned Spanish as an exchange student in Valdivia, Chile and as a second grade teacher in Cancun, Mexico.
Dr. Richard Edlow was, most recently, Senior Advisor to EyeCare Services Partners, a consolidator of vertically integrated eye care platforms including Katzen Eye Group, encompassing 150+ providers and 50+ locations throughout the US Mid-Atlantic Region, California, Illinois and Colorado. He recently retired from clinical care and his partnership in Catonsville Eye Group in the Baltimore market.
Richard frequently writes and lectures on EYECONOMICS: business and market issues surrounding the eye care profession, market trends and workforce issues. He previously served as Chair of the AOA’s Information & Data Committee for over 15 years compiling the American Optometric Association’s State of the Profession Report. He has served on a variety of boards & committees including the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Integrated Ophthalmic-Managed Eyecare Delivery (IOMED) Committee. Dr. Edlow was one of the early developers of comprehensive managed eye care programs in the United States. He and his wife enjoy camping with their grandchildren.
Jamie is a communications and marketing professional who joined the Building STEPS board in 2014 after providing public relations and marketing guidance to the organization. Jamie is Senior Vice President at Baltimore-based marketing, communications and events firm, PROFILES. At PROFILES, Jamie has been highly successful in advancing client messages through strategic communication and marketing programs. Jamie manages media relations programs, coordinates special events, develops grassroots marketing initiatives and handles social media efforts for a variety of clients in addition to supporting the business’ daily operations and business development efforts. She is from Harleysville, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia and now resides in Crofton, Md. Jamie has two children—Averie and Will—who keep her busy.
Focusing primarily on our high school students, Courtney plans, implements and oversees all aspects of the Junior Seminars, Internship Workshops and College Workshops. Joining Building STEPS in 2016, she is instrumental in ensuring that each high school senior prepares and completes their college and financial aid applications. As a former teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools and Team Leader for Youthworks, Courtney is uniquely qualified to create exposure and prepare our students for college success. She graduated from Loyola University Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing.
Dunbar High School, 2005
Johns HopkinsUniversity, BS 2009
Rutgers University, BS 2014
Drexel University, MS 2016
Tierra works at the Johns Hopkins Health System in the supply chain department as an administrator coordinator. In January, she is moving to New Orleans to pursue her master’s in public health (maternal and child health) at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Much of her spare time is spent completing her current thesis for a master’s of biomedical sciences. Tierra also enjoys spending time with family, traveling, and reading.
As a first generation college students, Tierra says, “Building STEPS was a great part of my high school years. I am glad for its help with SAT prep, college tours, and college applications. Having exposure to different aspects of the sciences was awesome and it made me want to do research. This program provided great support, love, and networking opportunities. I am really thankful to be part of Building STEPS.”
Digital Harbor High School, 2012
Stevenson University, BA 2017
Shane serves as a tank platoon leader, ensuring that every member of the 16-person platoon who operates an M1A2 main battle tank is prepared to defend against threats commonly identified on the battlefield. Shane enjoys spending time with his significant other, Terry, and his Siberian husky named Sig Sig.
A first gen college students, Shane recalls that Building STEPS helped him from the very beginning. “I lacked guidance and felt unable to pursue anything further than a high school degree,” Shane says. “Building STEPS not only taught me that I was able to do anything that I could put my mind to, but they also provided me with educational lessons on several different career fields on top of college prep. Without the countless resume-building hours and SAT prep, I could have been overlooked by many collegiate institutions.”
Patterson High School, 2011
Goucher College, BS 2015, MS 2019
Tihitina is a management and program analyst at the Department of Health in D.C. She spends her spare time with family and enjoys exercising and traveling.
Tihitina has partnered with Teach for All and is working on developing a program called Teach for Ethiopia. The goal of the program is to expand educational opportunity in Ethiopia by increasing access to and work surrounding education equity.
“I believe Building STEPS guided me through the college process,” Tihitina recalls. She was the first person in her family to attend college in the United States and admits she had no idea how the college application and financial aid system worked. “My first year as a Building STEPS student I didn’t have a Social Security number because my residency case was pending,” she says. “However, Building STEPS helped me and answered any questions I had.”
Woodlawn High School, 2010
Ithaca College, BS 2014, MS 2016, DPT 2016
Christina is a physical therapist and she and her husband recently celebrated their one-year anniversary. Both are involved with church activities, and enjoy spending time with family, visiting new places, and trying out new recipes.
Christina and her husband give back to their community by volunteering at a senior center facility, for people who are in hospice care. She plays the djembe, and he plays the guitar and ukulele—and both love to sing. Through their music, they hope to support those who may be feeling lonely and isolated.
“Building STEPS helped me see outside of the four walls of high school and set me up with tools for college,” she says. “After graduating from high school, Building STEPS continued to provide resources. Through social gatherings we catch up with people in the program as well as our sponsors. Building STEPS is not a program just in high school—it follows us through our life journey.”
Dunbar High School, 2002
Johns Hopkins University, BS 2006, MHS 2007
University of Rochester, MD 2012
Theophilus completed his residency at Florida Atlantic University and is an attending physician with Banner Medical Group.
Theophilus and his wife, a family medicine resident, spend much of their free time visiting exhibits in the area with their 3-year old son. They also travel back to Maryland to visit family. On their next trip, they hope to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History among other sites in Baltimore and D.C.
“Building STEPS was an eye-opening experience for me, and it came at the perfect time when I began thinking of what I wanted to do with my life,” Theophilus, a first generation college student recalls. “The program was critical in helping shape my future and provided me with the roadmap and resources to get there. Having exposure to different professions was helpful in solidifying my interest in medicine. Building STEPS was very critical to my success today. I’m forever grateful to Building STEPS and I hope to help further the growth of other students within the program.”
Digital Harbor High School, 2013
Morgan State University, BA 2017
Kimani works for Sony Pictures Entertainment as an assistant on an upcoming Amazon-produced television series, as well as a feature film production based in Berlin, Germany.
When Kimani is not working, he spends time perfecting his craft as a writer and networking with peers in the entertainment industry. As a mentee of the Hillman Grad Network, an entertainment industry initiative for up-and-coming black creatives, Kimani volunteers for nonprofits and works closely with industry professionals. He has also created a writer’s group that serves as a supportive sanctuary for other promising writers of color.
“Building STEPS taught me how to take the reins of my career and mold it into what I needed to succeed,” Kimani says. “While there was no direct pipeline for entertainment in the curriculum, I did, however, observe and learn valuable career and life skills from the program and its affiliates, many of which I continually utilize in my daily life.”
Chesapeake High School, 2010
Stevenson University, BA 2014, MS 2017
Dominic is a third-year medical student and will be applying for anesthesia residencies next year, followed by a one-year fellowship in pediatric anesthesia.
Dominic is president of the Men’s Health Organization and works with a urologist to bring awareness to men’s health issues. He is vice president of Student National Medical Association, an organization that promotes the importance and retention of underrepresented minorities at his medical school. When Dominic has free time, he enjoys returning to Baltimore to spend time with his family.
Dominic, the first in his family to earn a college degree, credits Building STEPS for achieving his goal of getting accepted to Johns Hopkins University and going to medical school. He recalls, “I have always been horrible at keeping up with paperwork and deadlines, but Building STEPS sat down with me to write a beautifully worded personal statement and assure a prompt application submission. Not only was I accepted to one of the nation’s best colleges, I was accepted to the number one biomedical engineering program in the country from an early decision application.”
Patterson High School, 2012
McDaniel College, BS 2016
University of Cincinnati, Certificate in progress
Hawa was recently promoted to a clinical research professional for a public health program and works in the emergency room of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. She also conducts HIV and hepatitis C testing, providing linkages to care for the diseases. Hawa, the first in her family to earn a college degree, is completing a graduate certificate in clinical and translational research and plans to enter a master’s of public health program at the University of Cincinnati. She is married with one daughter, Fatima.
Hawa is passionate about advocating for justice for those back home in her country, Mauritius. She is organizing a gathering to mark the assassination of 25 black Mauritanians, and in celebration of the country’s Independence Day.
“Building STEPS has greatly influenced who I am as a person today and the career path that I have chosen,” says Hawa. “The program helped me with my college applications, financial aid, and even helped me receive the full ride to attend McDaniel College. Building STEPS is an amazing program that I hope will be implemented throughout the country. Every underrepresented student will benefit from it.”
Woodlawn High School, 2003
UMBC, BS 2007
Medical University of South Carolina, MDPhD 2013
Vondina is a science teacher at Palmetto Scholars Academy—rated the number two high school in the state—where she teaches a high-achieving group of students who earn college credits while still enrolled in high school.
Vondina married a fellow Woodlawn High School and they have three children who keep them very busy. The family spends as much time as possible outdoors, especially in their garden, enjoying their chickens and dogs. Vondina feels strongly that she must lead by example. She helped organize a toiletry drive for Lowcountry Orphan Relief with a strong emphasis on products that are not often donated, specifically hair care items for diverse hair types because up to 85% of the orders filled are for children of color.
“Building STEPS gave me a sense of belonging,” Vondina, the first generation college students says. “To this day, I am so grateful for the opportunities I was given because I don’t believe I would have pursued science without the support of Building STEPS, which provided a safe space for me to explore my interests and meet my goals.”
Dwight is a user support specialist providing technical support to attorneys and staff at the firm Robinson Bradshaw. He and his fiancé, Christopher, plan to wed in 2020. They have a 3-year-old lab/pit mix named Milo, and in their spare time, they enjoy traveling, cooking, and attending live music events.
Dwight volunteers for Time Out Youth, an organization dedicated to offering a safe space for youth, fully respecting the journey of the LGBTQ community—and anyone who wants to support a community of belonging.
“Building STEPS provided a great deal of exposure to college environments that helped me gain a perspective and understanding of how college would shape my future.” Dwight remembers Building STEPS as a time when he gained confidence in his academics and career choices. “It was also a time that allowed me to interact with like-minded individuals and receive so much inspiration and support to achieve anything I desired,” he says.
Leah joined Building STEPS in 2009, responsible for program design and implementation. Today, she manages all aspects of programming, including developing curriculum. She is the lead on special projects, including the oversight of a designated college scholarship. Leah’s background as a Program Data Coordinator for Teach for America and an Academic Advisor for University of Maryland University College set in motion her expertise with college access and completion. She received a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from James Madison University.