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.

Executive Leadership

Chief Operating Officer
Soledad Alfaro
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.
Chief External Affairs Officer
William J. Collins
William J. Collins
Chief External Affairs Officer
William (Will) Collins is an educator and senior non-profit executive serving as the Chief External Affairs 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.

Chief Program Officer
Janaia Nash
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”.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Carmita Semaan
Carmita Semaan
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Carmita Semaan is founder and CEO of The Surge Institute. After starting her career as an engineer and strategist for multiple Fortune 500 companies including Procter & Gamble and Danaher, corporate America could not contain Carmita’s desire to lead initiatives that benefit youth and transform urban communities – so she blazed a trail within the non-profit sector, primarily in K-12 urban education. Carmita’s commitment to empowering our country’s most under-served young people led her to over a decade of executive service, driving results for visionary leaders including Alma Powell, Gen. Colin Powell and Arne Duncan, the former US Secretary of Education.

Carmita’s expertise is supporting and elevating the genius of emerging and seasoned leaders - particularly women and people of color - and shining a light on the brilliance and ingenuity that is too often overlooked and untapped in solving systemic issues. Her guiding principle is the connection of head, heart, and soul in leadership to drive sustainable impact and lasting partnerships.
Though an adopted Chicagoan after 18 years, Carmita was raised in Birmingham, AL and proudly professes that her hometown made her who she has become. Birmingham’s history has greatly shaped what she feels called to do and the hustle, horsepower and heart she exhibits.

Carmita holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She received a 2016 Chicago Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award, was recognized as a “40 Under 40” Procter & Gamble alumnus and was selected as a 2013 Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund. She was also a 2010 Pahara Aspen Fellow, a 2009 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow and is a graduate of the Broad Residency in Urban Education.

Program

National

Director, National Program
Yvonne Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Yvonne Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Director, National Program
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.

Director, National Curriculum & Instruction
Susan Garcia Jones
Susan Garcia Jones
Director, National Curriculum & Instruction
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.
National Programs Coordinator
Elham Mohaba
Elham Mohaba
National Programs Coordinator
Elham Mohaba is the National Programs Coordinator at the Surge Institute, where she oversees the recruitment, application, and selection processes for Surge programs to ensure excellence and consistency across all program sites. Elham is a proud DMV native, and previously worked as the Associate of Program at CityBridge Education in Washington D.C. prior to joining the Surge team. Elham has experience in education, policy, and the nonprofit sector, where she has utilized her superpower of creating systems and processes that further programmatic capacity for equity-centered results.

Elham received her B.A. in Government and International Politics from George Mason University as a first-generation college student, and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Social Justice and Human Rights. Elham is currently working on her graduate thesis, which is about the experiences of Black women in Higher Education and explores how trauma is often at the center of these experiences. Elham’s dedication to furthering equity in education stems from her belief that education is a powerful space and tool where marginalization can either be reproduced or reimagined.

Chicago Fellowship

Executive Director, Chicago
Ulric Shannon
Ulric Shannon
Executive Director, Chicago
Ulric currently serves as the Executive Director at Surge Chicago, drawing on more than 15 years of leadership in education management. His career in education began as a Chicago Public School teacher, and most recently, he held the position of Director of Purpose at LiberatED Way (AUSL). In this role, he led initiatives to dismantle systemic barriers, working towards providing equitable opportunities for K-12 students. Ulric's commitment to mission-driven leadership is evident in his efforts to develop and manage strategic partnerships on both local and national levels.

As an alum of the Surge Institute (Class of 2020), Impact Fellow at the Chicago Urban League, Posse Scholar through the Posse Foundation, and Civic Leadership Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ulric has consistently demonstrated a deep dedication to fostering positive collective impact. Chicago Scholars recognized his contributions, honoring him as one of the city's impactful professionals under 35. Academically, Ulric holds three Master’s Degrees in Political Science, Education, and Business Administration from the University of Illinois and National Louis University, showcasing his multidimensional expertise.

Outside of his professional endeavors, Ulric embraces the spirit of Chicago, savoring the city's tavern-style pizza and upholding culinary traditions—no ketchup on hot dogs. He also immerses himself in the local dance scene, enjoying stepping and footworking. During moments of relaxation, Ulric's adventurous spirit comes to life through global travel and culinary explorations, complemented by the simple joys of Law and Order: SVU marathons. Ulric's impactful journey is defined by his dedication to education and a zest for life's diverse experiences.

Surge Academy

Executive Director, Surge Academy
Andrea Black Evans, M.Ed
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.”

Program Director, Surge Academy
Janeen Lee
Janeen Lee
Program Director, Surge Academy
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.

Alumni Impact

Vice President, Alumni Impact
Tiara Wheatley, M.Ed
Tiara Wheatley, M.Ed
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.

Program Director, Alumni Impact
Jose M. Andre Iniguez
Jose M. Andre Iniguez
Program Director, Alumni Impact
Born in East LA and raised in the rural farm town of Tulare in California’s Central Valley, Jose M. Andre Iniguez has dedicated his professional career to developing students and young adults toward achieving their full potential in and out of the classroom. Before consulting, he most recently served as Site Director for Year Up San Francisco where he oversaw the site’s programmatic and operational efforts toward bridging the opportunity divide for talented young adults by training and then matching them for internships at top finance and tech companies in the Bay Area. Previously, he served as the Director of High School Preparation and Alumni Programs at Equitas Academy Charter Schools, where he oversaw the strategy development, implementation, and evaluation of the inaugural alumni program providing the network’s scholars and families with support through pathways toward college and career success.

As Senior Program Manager at City Year Los Angeles, he led and implemented school transformation efforts inside K-5th grade classrooms that empowered students to get back on track to graduate high school. He has also led youth development and digital media efforts at MTV, Participant Media, and Swipe Out Hunger, among others. Raised by Mexican immigrant parents and the first to attend college in his family, Jose graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and earned a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is also a graduate of the Broad Residency in Urban Education, earning a master’s degree in education leadership from The Broad Center. He is a proud member of the Beyhive, is inspired by Sonia Sotomayor and Paulo Freire, and enjoys creating memories with his eight nieces and nephews. He lives in Tulare with his husband, Rafael.

Program Manager, Alumni Impact
Autumn L. Bryant
Autumn L. Bryant
Program Manager, Alumni Impact
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.

Black Principals Network

Executive Director, Black Principals Network
TaraShaun R. Cain, M.Ed
TaraShaun R. Cain, M.Ed
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.

Program Manager, Black Principals Network
Angia Kincey
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.

Operations

Director of Operations
Alicia Spurlark
Alicia Spurlark
Director of Operations
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.

National Operations Coordinator
Ameenah Muhammad
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.

National Operations Coordinator
Kevin Oneale
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.
National Operations Coordinator
Kelsey Scott
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 her 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.

Business Operations Analyst
Taliyah Trueheart
Taliyah Trueheart
Business Operations Analyst
Taliyah is a Business Operations Analyst 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.

Marketing & Communications

Vice President, Marketing and Communications
Andre Smith
Andre Smith
Vice President, Marketing and Communications
André spent 17 years as a full-time journalist including an 11-year stint at The News Journal, Delaware’s state newspaper, serving in several management, production and strategic positions. There, he established himself as a leader in digital strategy and storytelling. He spent three years as a sports reporter at The Rockford Register Star and also served as sports editor at three community newspapers.

Most recently, he spent seven years managing digital communications for the University of Delaware’s College of Arts & Sciences. There he led a national award-winning team for work in digital design and e-newsletter communication. He also developed successful strategies and campaigns for the college’s department.

Andre serves as a board member for the Local Journalism Initiative. He served as vice president and Diversity and Inclusion chair for the Public Relations Society of America (Delaware chapter). He also served on the national PRSA D&I Committee.

Andre holds an undergraduate degree from Missouri Southern State University and a graduate degree from the University of Delaware. An Emmy Award-winning videographer and avid photographer, André enjoys capturing personalities and sports in his free time.

Digital Strategist
Stephanie Ogbogu
Stephanie Ogbogu
Digital Strategist
Stephanie Ogbogu is an accomplished journalist, speaker, and content creator known for her insightful, engaging presence in the digital landscape. Her dedication to storytelling and keen eye for detail and accuracy shine through in her digital marketing, branding, and social media work. Stephanie's career highlights include her role as Associate Director of Editorial Operations at Blavity, Inc., and Head of Content and Social at Venture Noire. Beyond her role as a digital expert, Stephanie has extended her expertise and shared thought-provoking perspectives to platforms such as AfroTech Conference, Google Black Publisher’s Summit, CNN, Indiewire, TMZ, Huffington Post, and more. With a reputation for integrity and a commitment to delivering balanced and informative content, Stephanie Ogbogu continues to make her mark as an influential figure in the world of digital media.
Channel and Design Coordinator
Yaseen Abdus-Saboor
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.

Development

Institutional Giving Specialist
Divinity Pittman
Divinity Pittman
Institutional Giving Specialist
Divinity Pittman is the Institutional Giving Specialist for the Surge Institute. With over a decade of experience fundraising on behalf of young people, Divinity’s mission-driven approach is shaped by her time in government at the New York State Assembly Committee on Children and Families, as well as conducting IRB approved qualitative research on child abuse at Syracuse University.

During her fundraising tenure she has generated and stewarded funds through grant-writing; individual donor cultivation and board management; event management; direct mail campaigns; and development operations. With a lens toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), she applies a strengths-based approach to donor communications.

Divinity is a proud Syracuse University graduate, holding a B.A. in sociology with a minor in African American Studies, as well as an MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management. Divinity was named a Syracuse University Graduate Scholar, as well as an African American Studies External Fellow.

Development Manager
Sandra D. Rush
Sandra D. 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.

Director of Development
Carlos A. Trejo, CFRE
Carlos A. Trejo, CFRE
Director of Development
Carlos is a fund development professional and racial equity advocate in the nonprofit sector. With over a decade of experience, his career has centered on the alignment of values and interests between people and the causes they care about. He excels at establishing sustainable fundraising practices within organizations and is a leader in the sector’s efforts to make the fundraising profession more diverse and inclusive.

He brings his strengths in communication, visioning, and analysis to his role as Director of Development at the Surge Institute. He joined Surge in 2021 and works to manage and enhance individual giving through fundraising campaigns and donor engagement opportunities.

His nonprofit career began as a student at DePaul University, where he took on multiple internships at various organizations. Today, Carlos is an active member of the nonprofit community, committed to the fundraising profession and helping others grow. In December 2022, he achieved the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential. In addition to his dedicated involvement with the Association of Fundraising Professionals since 2012 and joining the Chicago Chapter’s Board of Directors in 2019, he is proud to serve as President of AFP Chicago in 2024, demonstrating his commitment to advancing the field of fundraising.

In his free time, Carlos enjoys traveling, hiking, and spending time with loved ones. A lifelong Chicagoan, he was raised on the city’s southwest side, which he continues to call home.

Special Projects Analyst
Sam Wong
Sam Wong
Special Projects Analyst
Sam is the Special Projects Analyst 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.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Jean-Claude Brizard

President and CEO
Digital Promise

Darryl Cobb

President
Charter School Growth Fund

Maria Heredia

Chief Legal Officer
Rocketship Public Schools network

Paula A. Sneed

CEO
Phelps Prescott Group LLC

Ana Martinez Shropshire

Partner
Charter School Growth Fund
& 2015 Surge Alumna

Margarita Florez Vasconcelos

Managing Director
Crankstart Foundation

Teresa Ward-Maupin

Senior Vice President, Digital and Customer Experience
Comcast Business

Chicago Board

Rudy Lozano Jr. – CHI18

VP of Global Philanthropy
Fellowship Initiative

JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Celia Lozano – CHI20

Grants Specialist
Tides Foundation

Candace Moore – CHI15

Chief Equity Officer
City of Chicago

Michele Rogers

Clinical Assistant Professor of
Non-Profit Executive Education

Director of Chicago Partnerships
Kellogg School of Management

A.J. Watson – CHI18

National Director of Becoming A Man (B.A.M)
Youth Guidance
Founder & Principal Consultant
The Ascendancy Group.