Leadership Team

The Surge Institute leadership team is dedicated to the mission of developing, connecting and empowering emerging leaders of color across the education landscape. The overarching goal in all of our work is to transform education to better serve our youth and communities, who are too often ignored or misunderstood.

Visit our careers page to learn how you can join our leadership team.

Yaseen Abdus-Saboor

Channel and Design Coordinator


Yaseen Abdus-Saboor is a designer, storyteller and overall creative with a range of graphic design, visual arts and fashion design. After completing his Bachelor’s of Arts in graphic design at DePaul University in 2019, Yaseen has worked in the nonprofit space with Thrive Chicago and the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative developing and executing strategies to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color. Yaseen also has experience leading an education program focusing on youth media literacy and community engagement as the Education Program Manager and Storyteller with the nonprofit Public Narrative. His passion for equity for Black and Brown communities has led him to bring his creativity and skill set to organizations and initiatives that provide those resources and strategies.

Shaneé Adetunji

Operations & Development Coordinator


Shanee’ has over six years of supervisory and management experience in the banking industry. Two years ago, she transitioned her career to work in the non-profit sector upon completing her Bachelors of Health Science in Community Health in 2016.

Her non-profit work includes community outreach, event planning, office management, employee relations, recruitment and training of staff, and branding. As the Chicago Operations and Development Coordinator, Shanee’ brings her project and event management skills, strong organization skills, attention to detail, and service orientation to support and elevate the work and future plans of Surge in Chicago.

Amanda L. Aiken

Doctoral Resident, Innovation


Amanda is an experienced systems leader in education who is committed to developing thriving organizations and supporting thriving leaders. She is a Doctoral Candidate at Harvard University in the Doctorate of Educational Leadership Program and a social impact entrepreneur. She has had numerous roles in the education sector including Senior Chief and Schools Officer for NOLA Public Schools, Charter Leader, and started her education career as a 4th-grade Teacher. She is a proud Spelman Alumna, AKA, Link, traveler, and Pelotoner.

Soledad Alfaro

Chief Operating Officer


Prior to joining the Surge Institute, Soledad served as Chief Administrative Officer at Philadelphia International Airport. There she led several functions including strategy, human resources, information security, diversity and inclusion, and administrative operations. A mission-driven Afro-Latina with a passion for education, she first began her career as a biology teacher and has also served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Mastery Charter School Network. In addition, Soledad has experience working in non-profit education organizations to build internal capacity, develop systems, and advance strategy, all in support of educational equity for children and communities of color.

Juliana Atencia

Channel and Design Coordinator


Juliana Atencia is a dedicated writer, journalist, and storyteller that challenges herself to create impactful content to amplify voices in communities of color. Throughout her collegiate career, Juliana worked within different facets of journalism to expand her skill set. She created DePaul University’s first Spanglish News podcast for La DePaulia and delved into photojournalism, documenting Women’s rights protests and anti-police brutality rallies. She recently graduated from DePaul University with a Bachelor’s in Communications & Media in June 2022. Her passion for social justice led her to work within organizations that prioritize and uplift BIPOC.

Autumn L. Bryant

Alumni Program Manager


Autumn joins Surge Institute as the Alumni Program Manager where she will work with the Alumni Impact team to support and fuel alumni programming. Prior to joining Surge, she served as a Career & Alumni Program Coordinator for Kauffman Scholars, Inc. where she worked to re-engage their alumni community. She was a key asset to their team creating two new programs and building a connection with the alumni community based on her affinity as an alum of the Program.

Beyond the labels of professional titles, Autumn is a mother, daughter, honorable friend, and an advocate for self-healing. She enjoys journaling, car rides with the windows down, and being around good people.


TaraShaun Cain

Executive Director, Black Principals Network


An alumnus of Chicago Public Schools from K-12 grade and a first-generation college graduate with a BBA from Tennessee State University, TaraShaun has always known the important role that education plays in shaping the minds and opportunities of the youth. While working in the business field, TaraShaun’s most enriching experiences came from her volunteer work with various community organizations including her work as a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc. Her commitment to service led her to leave corporate America and follow her passion to serve students by joining Chicago Teaching Fellows as a middle school math teacher. Driven by her commitment to personal growth and excellence, Ms. Cain achieved National Board Certification in Math, Masters of Arts in Teaching from Dominican University, and a second Master of Arts in Education from National-Louis University. Her systems thinking and ability to build a professional culture of collaboration made her a natural match for educational leadership where she served as a math lead, TAP mentor teacher, assistant principal, and principal in CPS.

TaraShaun is committed to securing enriching opportunities that expand the educational experiences of the communities she serves with a heavy focus on climate, culture, and student agency. This is evident by her work with LEAP innovations in personalized learning, the Fund, the Middle School Project, and various other community-based organizations. Her work has focused on building the capacity of teachers, leaders, and students around high-quality instruction, student advocacy and engagement, personalized learning, student-centered design, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Her passion for liberatory and equitable learning conditions in schools led her to apply for the Surge fellowship in 2020. Empowered by her experiences and growth, TaraShaun continued to work to create affirming, learner-centered experiences within her school community. TaraShaun is a servant leader that is committed to excellence and assisting others in connecting to their own personal greatness through passion, press, productivity, and positivity.


William J. Collins

Chief Advancement Officer


William (Will) Collins is an educator and senior non-profit executive serving as the Chief Advancement Officer for the Surge Institute. The Surge Institute strengthens the diverse talent pipeline and ensures the next wave of leaders represents the populations that education reform and equity efforts seek to serve. As CAO, William is a key leadership team member and owner of developing and leading strategies that drive Surge’s revenue and growth. Since 2018, William has raised over $25M to support Surge’s programming and expansion.

Will’s career started in Corporate America. His relationship-building strengths, business acumen, faith, and commitment to developing others quickly advanced him through global retail merchandise planning assignments for Fortune 500 companies, including Target and The Home Depot. Despite his corporate success, he surrendered to his lifelong call to be an educator. With this career pivot, he entered the classroom and taught economics in the Chicago Public Schools for six years. During this time, he explored opportunities to lead high-impact initiatives that benefit urban youth and transform urban communities, and so began his journey into the non-profit sector.

William holds degrees from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, DePaul University and an executive certificate from Georgetown University. In 2021, he was named one of Chicago’s Top African American Leaders by Crain’s Chicago Business, and in 2022 he was named as one of Crain’s Notable Leaders in Community Development. He is also an alumnus of the prestigious Chicago Urban League’s IMPACT Leadership Development program, Education Pioneers Fellowship, and the Allstate Foundation’s Nonprofit Leadership Center Executive Leadership Program. He serves on the boards of Hopebound, Open Books Chicago, the national board of Democracy Prep Public Schools, and the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. William is an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and 100 Black Men of Chicago. He resides in the greater Chicago metropolitan area with his wife, Alicia.

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Andrea Black Evans, M.Ed

Executive Director, Surge Academy


Andrea is a former school principal of a high-performing elementary school in the city of Chicago. Andrea worked to create a strong instructional environment that supported the growth of a Golden Apple Award winner. Her career began in Atlanta, GA, as a Teach for America corps member. Her content knowledge, instructional aptitude, leadership dexterity, and commitment to excellence for all scholars, regardless of perceived deficits, quickly led her to aspirations beyond the classroom. When she started as a school leader it was classified as an underperforming school. Her efforts changed the school’s rating from Underperforming to Good Standing, brought in over $1 million of grant monies for campus beautification, and moved the 5essentials standings from Not Well Organized to Well-Organized.

Andrea holds a Master of Education degree from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University. She was selected as a TFA/Harvard Leadership Fellow via a partnership with Teach for America and Chicago Public Schools. Andrea values learning and professional growth, and sought our personal learning opportunities to continue to grow via fellowships with the Surge Institute, Cambiar, and Accelerate Institute. Her leadership mantra is, “If you base your decisions on what’s best for kids, you will never have to question your decision.”

Susan Garcia Jones

Program Director, Surge Academy


Susan Garcia Jones (she/they) is the Academy Program Director at Surge Institute. Her passion for education equity developed when she was an undergrad at Dartmouth College. The experience of going from a majority Latinx community to an Ivy League in New Hampshire made them realize the deep structural inequities in their own education. This experience led her to education and justice work. Susan has spent 10 years working in various educational settings from supporting after-school programs at the Boys & Girls Club in her hometown of Oxnard to most recently leading Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives at KIPP Northern California. Along with a passion for K-12 education, they are a lifelong learner, recently earning their MA from the Graduate Theological Union. Their research focuses on how Black sci-fi literature offers radical lessons for dreaming justice movement work.

Angia Kincey

Program Manager, Black Principals Network


Angia Kincey uses her background in social work to execute big-picture thinking and innovation. She joined the Surge Institute as The Black Principals Network Program Manager where she is dedicated to member engagement and program expansion. Her passion lies in intervening at state, local, and national levels of social injustices through grant writing, nonprofit management, and data analysis. Angia received her master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Houston in order to cultivate soft and technical skills for a heart-centered leadership practice.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento in Psychology, she became increasingly interested in personal development and metaphysics. As a result, she enjoys intellectual texts and books on spirituality. Angia’s spirituality is what guides her professional and personal life. She spends her free time outdoors exploring Houston, trying different foods, visiting art exhibits, and open mic nights.
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Janeen Lee

Program Director, Surge Academy Indianapolis


With a 20+ year career in education, Janeen Lee (she/her) has developed expertise in culturally sustaining curriculum design and instruction, designing and leading large-scale professional development, and managing high-impact teams. Prior to Surge, Janeen was the K-12 Social Science Manager for Chicago Public Schools and led the team that provided culturally relevant instructional coaching, professional learning and curriculum design support to all Social Science teachers across the nation’s third-largest district. Janeen’s experience extends to the out-of-school time space. While working at the Digital Youth Network, she designed and facilitated a virtual exchange program for students in Chicago and Morocco. Janeen views her 10 years as a high school history teacher as her most important work to date.  

A proud Afro-Latina from California,  Janeen is also an avid reader, loves tv, and finds that laughter and community make the world go round. She resides on the South Side of Chicago with her children (Xiomara, Stokely) and husband (Akili).

Janeen received a B.A. in African American Studies and Sociology from UCLA and holds a Masters Degree in Public Policy and a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Michigan. Janeen firmly believes that for youth and adults alike, “education is releasing what is already within” and actively leads with the love for the “babies” in all she does.

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Melorie Serrano Masacupan, M.Ed

Marketing Project Manager


Melorie Serrano Masacupan, M.Ed is a poet by day and a marketing leader by night. Melorie has managed marketing projects for startups, districts, and nonprofits advancing outcomes for children of color, including a $500,000 initiative from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation equipping educators at the intersection of racial identity and somatic practice with the mindfulness skills to embody personal, interpersonal, and systemic justice.

With a commitment to end-to-end integrity of programs going to market, Melorie leads a vertically-aligned approach to marketing project management— activating stakeholders across all horizontals to recognize the solutions that have always been at hand.

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, and an Oakland, CA teacher in a past life, Melorie represents her ancestors’ wildest dreams out of Laguna, Philippines.

Ameenah Muhammad

National Operations Coordinator


Ameenah is Family oriented, bilingual, loves nature and traveling. Ameenah found the Surge Institute through the Basta Fellowship which exposed her to a greater level of self awareness and her unique contribution to the workforce. She believes that we should surround ourselves with people and communities that we aspire to be like. As a Black Muslim woman who majored in Media Studies, Ameenah has  a deep passion for highlighting the common misconceptions of the rights of muslim women and empowering women like her to live fulfilling lives . She has spoken at diversity and inclusion panels like  Black Lives Matter summit and LatinX symposium and hosted events for her peers on topics like racism, mental health and women rights.

Her unplanned ethnographic travels led her to minor in Anthropology and to realise that no specific race/community is the same. There are a few differences due to the culture and circumstances that we encounter. Her interest in, and knowledge of different cultures are directly related to her research interests and communication style. She believes that having an inclusive workplace is important not only for interacting with a larger diverse audience, but also to be able to represent people in the best way possible.

She is looking forward to one day starting a business that positively impacts individuals like herself.

Kevin Oneale

National Operations Coordinator


Kevin graduated from Baruch College at the City University of New York in 2020, earning his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Born in Canada and raised in St.Lucia and the United States, he has enrolled in 11 schools across two countries. The constant moving equipped Kevin with the ability to adapt quickly sharpened his interpersonal and communication skills and allowed him to experience education in multiple cities and countries. Kevin enjoys coaching and playing in table tennis tournaments in his free time. His love for the game came about when a non-profit organization donated three tables to his middle school, where he went on to lead his team to second place in the 2012 NYC middle school championships. It wasn’t until Kevin’s sophomore year in college that he realized the impact the donation had on his life. He realized that having access to those tables led to travel, network, and exposure that he would have never even dreamt of having. This realization set Kevin on a mission to help in the effort to provide students of color access and exposure to opportunities, networks, and activities that they’ve been deprived of.


Janaia Nash

Chief Program Officer


Janaia is a seasoned professional with experience leading teams, developing strategy, and overseeing program implementation and expansion. Before Surge, she served as the Chief Program Officer for Travis Manion Foundation, national veteran nonprofit, championing causes that amplified the military and veteran community. As a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a combat veteran, she found renewed purpose in continued service in the nonprofit space to affect change and support marginalized communities.

A civil servant at heart, Janaia’s passion to give back extends outside of her professional career where she mentors BIPOC youth to guide and assist them to live up to their fullest potential. In 2020, as the United States faced a racial reckoning, Janaia felt compelled to do more for people of color.  She spearheaded the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts for her previous organization with a goal to build and shape a community focused on belonging through the training, educating, and empowering of staff and volunteers. Her innate passion for youth and desire to disrupt the system led her to Surge Institute.

Janaia is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Do More Together (West Point’s Black Alumni Association), Chief (network supporting women executive leaders), and volunteers with various non-profit organizations. She holds a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management from Webster University.  She spends her free time visiting and traveling with family and friends and trying to make the world a better place by living out the ethos of “If Not Me, Then Who”.  

Chris Paicely

Chris Paicely

Vice President, Marketing Strategy


Christopher Paicely has built a career in storytelling. As a journalist, Christopher saw his stories published in AOL News, Huffington Post, Uproxx and Chicago Parent before foraying into a new career. As a public relations consultant, Christopher worked with municipalities, school districts and businesses to help shape their public narrative.

Christopher’s passion remains in storytelling, with a specific focus on influencing the national zeitgeist so that people of color take center stage as credible voices. His goal with Surge is to grow the voice of the movement, to share the story and motivate support for the Surge mission to through strategic marketing efforts.


Tamara Prather

Executive Director


A mission-driven leader with a history of building effective teams and delivering top-tier results, Chicago Executive Director Tamara Prather is the chief brand ambassador for The Surge Institute in Chicago, responsible for building and maintaining relationships with partners and funders while ensuring exceptional delivery of the Surge Fellowship program. Tamara brings over 17 years of combined experience in the private sector and education through her past work at GE Capital, Kraft Foods, Chicago Public Schools and most recently, A Better Chicago.

As managing director and head of marketing at A Better Chicago — a venture philanthropy fund focused on improving educational opportunities for low-income youth — she led marketing initiatives to enable the organization to achieve its aggressive growth targets. While there, she developed and executed an inaugural education summit that convened over 260 business, civic and academic leaders and 30 world-class speakers to explore how philanthropy can accelerate change and deliver a high-quality education to every Chicagoan. Additionally, she was a member of A Better Chicago’s management team, working closely with the CEO and other managing directors on organization-wide strategies and decisions.

Tamara transitioned her career from the private sector to education when she was selected to participate in The Broad Residency in Urban Education program in 2013. She completed her residency at Chicago Public Schools, where she led initiatives to increase stakeholder engagement and developed a strategy to improve student achievement during school transitions, periods of time when students across the spectrum of achievement are more likely to fail without sufficient supports and interventions. Tamara also created the first-ever district-led student advisory council to provide a forum for the CEO and other district leaders to hear the voice of students directly and engage them in hands-on work to help solve problems that concern students most, such as violence, inequity, and lack of college preparedness.

Tamara is intimately aware of the opportunities education affords and is passionate about leading change that makes quality education accessible to all. As a first-generation college graduate, she has witnessed the widening gap between the opportunities available to her and those available to those closest to her – this gap she is committed to closing. Tamara holds a BS in business administration from Ohio State University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.


Milka Ramírez, Ph.D.

Director of National Programs


Afro-Caribbean queer healer, transformational  leader, cultural worker, mission, and value driven are ways to describe Dr. Milka Ramírez. Milka has extensive experience working as an educator, administrator, consultant, and healing practitioner in secondary academic settings, higher education, and community-based organizations. She is guided by community building, anti-racism, and anti-oppressive practices.

Milka pays homage to her parents who with a 1st and 2nd grade education journeyed away from Algarrobo Yauco Puerto Rico with a family of 12 in search of educational access and economic mobility. Milka honors her ancestors for guiding her to a path centered in education as a liberatory act, equity as a human right, and social justice-action for systemic and societal change.

Cecily Relucio

Program Director, Chicago


Cecily Relucio is an accomplished professional educator with nearly two decades of professional experience working in, with, and outside the Chicago Public Schools.  She believes that the challenges of fighting for an equitable, just and humane education for all Chicago youth—especially those who have been most systemically disenfranchised—are immense, and that educational leaders of color are critical to the transformation of the present system and conditions.

Cecily began her career in education as an elementary classroom teacher at a public school on the southwest side of Chicago. Since transitioning from the classroom, she has been privileged to serve as a professional developer, instructional coach, university-based teacher educator, and program leader.  She has served in leadership capacities in both teacher education and new teacher induction programming and policy, developing a specialized focus on diversity, equity, and social justice education.

Through her professional experiences, Cecily has developed a nuanced understanding of the educational system—the challenges as well as promising interventions—from a range of vantage points.  She brings her lived experience of the barriers that educators of color face on a daily basis and difficult lessons learned about leadership, as well as clarity about how her experiences and knowledge as a woman of color are an asset and strength that she brings to her work. 

In addition to her work with Surge, Cecily is a doctoral student in Curriculum Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Her research and teaching has been centered on using Critical Race Theory and praxis to critique and transform urban teacher education and teacher professional development. Her research seeks to identify interventions that contribute to diversifying the teacher workforce, by addressing structural barriers that interfere with the recruitment, preparation and retention of preservice and in-service teachers of color.

While her identity and experiences as an educator are central to who she is and how she hopes to make an impact upon the world, Cecily’s most cherished, important and challenging role in life is mothering her two biracial daughters, Vanessa and Mia, ages 14 and 9.


Aeriell Robinson

Chief of Staff</span


Aeriell Robinson joined the Surge Institute leadership team as Chief of Staff on December 1, 2020 bringing over a decade of experience as a strategist, process improvement and project management to the role. She has worked in leadership positions in major school districts across the country, where she drove transformation through strategic planning, organizational effectiveness and enhancing intergovernmental relationships.

In her prior role, she served as the Director of Resource Strategy in the office of the Chief Financial Officer at Atlanta Public Schools. She is also the founder and President of Sharp Exchange Consulting where she has worked to guide and support districts and nonprofit organizations across the country seeking to effect positive change in public education.

Before transitioning to public service Aeriell worked as an Industrial Engineer and Management Consultant in the private sector. Aeriell holds a master’s degree in Education Leadership from The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. She is a graduate of The University of Florida and The University of Central Florida where she obtained a master’s and bachelor’s degree respectively in Industrial Engineering.

Aeriell is a native of Florida where she currently lives and enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling and doing community service work with her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated.


Yvonne Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Director of National Program Impact and Talent


Yvonne started her education as a first generation, re-entry student with three children. Back then, she had dreams of becoming a world-famous Chicana poet.  Instead, she ended up with a doctorate degree in physics.  Although trained as a physicist, Yvonne has extensive experience in nonprofit leadership and programming and is committed to creating pathways for advancement for People of Color that are free of obstacles and full of support

Yvonne chose to join Surge in its commitment to strengthening the educational leadership landscape by supporting Leaders of Color from the community.  She is happy to work with Surge Fellows and Alumni as they take their skills to the next level on behalf of the youth of Oakland and the Bay area.

Sandra Rush

Development Manager


Before deciding to bring her expertise to the nonprofit sector, Sandra held numerous management positions, both in academia and at Fortune 500 companies, gaining valuable experience in talent acquisition, project management, training and development, compliance and governance, and management and supervision in human resources.

As a project manager at BMO Financial Group, where she was a senior advisor in Diversity and Inclusion, she developed new start-up guidelines for Employee Resource Groups. Her coaching of BMO emerging leaders and committees, from seven corporate groups, led to the development of highly successful enterprise-wide sponsored events and programs to highlight, recognize, celebrate and engage the diverse employee workforce.

Prior to BMO, as a talent acquisition manager at AT&T and its spin-off companies, she developed and implemented new employee recruiting strategies and designed databases, utilized by a team Recruiters and Researchers, as well as process improvement and territory management tools. She led multiple cross-functional teams on organizational initiatives, resulting in implementation and standardization of team’s quality improvement recommendations.

Her contributions to the community include leading a Professional Women’s Network committee that culminated in annual 5K scholarship awards to female high school seniors; a former Firman Community Services board member and committee chair; and Chicago Chamber of Commerce, Youth Motivation Program, Corporate liaison and facilitator for CPS High Schools.

Sandra holds a master of science degree in education from Chicago State University. She is a Chicago native, avid jazz lover and a collector of African sculpture, African-American art and literature.

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Kelsey Scott

National Operations Coordinator


Kelsey Scott is the National Operations Coordinator at Surge. She has worked in Affinity Program Building, Development, and Event Management. When she was released from my previous work experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the abrupt transition led her to explore what it meant to feel fulfilled and how she could cultivate that professionally and personally. During that time of reflection, she became curious about how art and media could be powerful tools for exploring and celebrating black excellence across the diaspora. Following an art residency, she began embracing the power of education and entertainment to foster intergenerational healing and encourage self-exploration and acceptance within her community through art and immersive events. She is excited to continue this work at Surge, where she could learn from educators, activists, and community leaders looking to increase educational equity. She believes that working at Surge will do more than help her hone her professional skill set. It’s the opportunity for her to grow personally, expand her understanding, and be exposed to not just issues around educational equity but to intersectional approaches and methodologies that can create a lasting impact and positive change in her life, community, and the world.

Carmita Semaan

Founder and Chief Executive Officer


Carmita’s superpower is to be a mirror for others. She supports and elevates the genius of emerging and seasoned leaders and shines a light on the brilliance and ingenuity too often overlooked and untapped in solving systemic issues.

After starting her career as an engineer and strategist for multiple Fortune 500 companies, corporate America could not contain Carmita’s desire to lead initiatives that benefit youth and revitalize communities – so she blazed a trail within the non-profit sector, primarily in K-12 education.

Though an adopted Chicagoan, Carmita proudly hails from Birmingham, AL. Birmingham’s history has greatly shaped what she feels called to do and the hustle, horsepower, and heart she exhibits.

Alicia Spurlark

National Operations Manager


Alicia Spurlark has served as an educator in the city of Philadelphia for over a decade, gaining versatile experience and a first-hand understanding of student needs. Prior to joining Surge, she led the School Counseling Department at Esperanza Charter High School to provide social, emotional and academic support to 800 students.  Being trained as a Counselor, Alicia’s work prioritizes the importance of responding to individuals’ unique and specific needs by meeting them where they are.

She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Spanish from Temple University and a Master of Education in School Counseling from West Chester University.  In addition, she is a Certified Yoga Teacher with specialized training in Yin Yoga & Meditation.  Since relocating from the D.C. area, she has volunteered in and across Philadelphia, as well as studied and worked internationally in educational programs, towards the advancement of vulnerable populations.  Alicia takes pride in being a fierce advocate for student success and a strong supporter of the critical nature of mental wellness – two elements which Surge amplifies in their work on a daily basis.


Carlos Trejo, CFRE

Director of Development


Carlos is a fund development professional and DEI advocate in the nonprofit sector. In his role as the Director of Development at Surge Institute, he works to manage and enhance individual giving through fundraising campaigns and donor engagement opportunities. Before joining Surge in October 2021, he worked for Marillac St. Vincent Family Services, a social service organization, where he established a sustainable annual giving program and strengthened communication with donors.

Carlos is an active member of the nonprofit community. He has been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals since 2012 and joined the Chicago Chapter’s Board of Directors in 2019. In 2020, he served as the Vice President of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access. He is also the founder and now co-chair of AFP Chicago’s Latinx Affinity Group, which provides a space for Latinx-identifying fundraising professionals to come together to network, share resources, and build community. He is an experienced public speaker and facilitator and a proud alum of the YNPN Chicago Executive Board.

His career in the nonprofit sector began through various internships as a student at DePaul University, and he has maintained an interest in social justice issues around the world. His hobbies include traveling, learning new languages, hearing live music, finding new restaurants and foods to eat, going to the movies, and playing video games. A lifelong Chicagoan, he resides in the Gage Park neighborhood on the southwest side of the city.


Taliyah Trueheart

National Operations Associate


Taliyah is an National Operations Associate at the Surge Institute, where she works across the organization to ensure that all programming reflects Surge Excellence. She joined Surge full time in April 2022 after working closely with the company for months as a contractor.

She is a Cornell University graduate, having received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Performing & Media Arts in 2021. She is passionate about filmmaking and film theory, and the ways in which People of Color and women are depicted, hired and regarded in the industry–a passion that was only further fueled after having connected as an advisee under the sole Black woman professor in the department faculty. Her collegiate experience and the support of her advisor demonstrated the significance of representation in educational spaces, which is one of the reasons that she is driven to push the Surge movement forward.

Additionally, she is a proud Philadelphia native and attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls. Here, she learned alongside fellow women of color about the importance of sisterhood and community in learning environments, under the guidance and leadership of a Black woman principal. This firsthand experience witnessing strong Black and brown educators of color is what brings Taliyah to this work, and why she is excited to be a part of the Surge family and play a part in the growth of the organization.


Tiara Wheatley

Vice President, Alumni Impact


Tiara Wheatley, an educator, mentor, equity advocate and lifelong Chicagoan, is the Vice President of Alumni Impact at the Surge Institute where she leads all alumni programming and is responsible for developing the strategy and ensuring the successful execution and measurement of alumni programming.

Tiara joined the Surge Institute in February 2022 after a successful career in school leadership, spending ten years transforming teaching and learning at Chicago Tech Academy High School (ChiTech). In her former role she served as the Senior Director of Philanthropy and Corporate Engagement at ChiTech where she was a key member of the school’s leadership team and led fundraising, real world learning, and corporate engagement. Prior to that role Tiara served as the Assistant Principal where she led the school’s transition to Restorative Practices and led the school’s elimination of exclusionary discipline practices for students of color and organized the school’s first Race & Equity Working Group. It was at ChiTech and through this work that Tiara developed her first professional passion – serving Chicago’s youth at one of the city’s most dynamic schools.

Tiara is also the creator of and brains behind the Young Women’s Leadership Society (YWLS) and the annual Little Black Dress Night (LBDN). YWLS and LBDN bring together Chicago’s female STEM and business community members and celebrate women who are recognized as emerging women in tech and whose efforts are turning the tech industry on its heels and challenging the status quo!

Tiara is a Chicago native and a proud product of the Chicago Public School system. Tiara completed her undergraduate degree in Business Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), received her Master’s Degree in Educational Policy Studies from UIC as well and holds a certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from Loyola University. Tiara is also a 2020 Alumna of the Surge Institute Fellowship (Chicago).

In her free time, she enjoys baking, shopping, traveling, and spending time with her parents, four sisters, and two nieces.

Sam Wong

Special Projects Coordinator


Sam is the Special Projects Coordinator at Surge Institute. His four years of working in Diversity & Inclusion in Chicago made him curious about the underlying causes of gaps in representation in leadership in major corporations in the US. This curiosity led him back to school where he majored in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego in order to gain a better understanding of the histories and ongoing effects of racism in this country. Until 2019, Sam served as the Development Database Manager at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. Sam is passionate about overturning the status quo in public education and is so excited about getting to do work that does just that at Surge.