Our hands-on model relies on the expertise of our team and strong community partnerships. All members of our team share a deep commitment to our community partners, our mentors and, the students themselves.
Managing Partners

Aaron Rakow, Chief Executive Officer. Aaron is a clinical psychologist and co-founder of College Steps. He has devoted his career to improving educational accessibility for students living with disabilities across a variety of categories.  Aaron is also an Assistant Professor within the Department of Psychiatry at Georgetown University and co-founded InSite Solutions, a school-based mental health consulting and direct service non-profit serving communities of poverty in Washington, DC. Collectively, Aaron has fifteen years of experience working within the behavioral health field including at the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Children’s National Health System, The Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Vermont. Aaron oversees all aspects of College Steps strategic planning, communications, and stakeholder relations.

Lauren Merritt, Chief Operating Officer. Lauren is a founding member of College Steps and has overseen the growth of College Steps partnerships from a single college program in Vermont to a comprehensive model featuring partnership sites throughout the northeast and Mid-Atlantic States. Lauren is identified as a national leader in post-secondary education for individuals living with disabilties. Lauren’s professional memberships include the Post-Secondary Education Consortium, Autism Advisory Council for Connecticut, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts (Chairperson), Ability Now (Chairperson), Waitsfield Children’s Center (Board of Directors), Green Mountain United Way (Board of Directors), Autism Speaks, and Connecticut Association on Higher Education and Disability. She leads and manages all aspects of College Steps operations, human resources and community relations.

Leadership Team

Rachael Smith-Ramos
Regional Director - NE

Chris Kennedy
Regional Director - VT

Tori Milne
Director of Workforce Development

Denise Halter
Chief Financial Officer

Brya Emery
Director of Admissions

Dee Tippett
Staff Accountant

Mindy Cohen
Regional Director - NY/CT

Kimberly Volitis
Community Coordinator

On-campus Staff

Chris Ryan, Program Coordinator, American International College Much of Chris’ professional background focuses on the field of education.  For the past 8 years, Chris has served the needs of special education, low income and first generation students within a variety of educational settings.  In addition to his role at College Steps, Chris is also an avid do-it-yourselfer (DIY), woodworker, and sports enthusiast.  He is also a loving husband to his wife Kim and father to his son Jack.  Chris is also an active member of both the NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) and NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) organizations, as well as a Master Mason within the Freemason Fraternity.

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Amy Mitrani, Assistant Program Coordinator, American International College Amy has over thirty years experience working in human services and education.  She has a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in education from Antioch Graduate School, and post graduate certification in family therapy. She has broad experience working with students and their families supporting them in accessing services and creating helpful strategies for strong outcomes.  Amy also has a great deal of experience in the classroom as a teacher of various ages, abilities, and subjects.  She is passionate about learning and sharing this passion with others.  In her free time she enjoys hiking, tennis, singing and spendingtime with her two children.


Patty Moore, Program Coordinator, Castleton University Patty earned her degree in Education and Sociology from Castleton University. She currently serves as the Program Coordinator for College Steps at Castleton University.  Prior to working with College Steps, Patty worked as a Service Coordinator for the Community Access Program in Rutland Vermont.  Patty is an active community member in her hometown of Brandon Vermont, where she lives with her husband, two daughters and two dogs.


Nancy Tichenor, Program Coordinator, County College of Morris Nancy is a New Jersey and Morris County native.  She earned her degree from Montclair State University and began her career in education in New Orleans during the rebuilding of schools following Hurricane Katrina. Prior to working with College Steps, Nancy worked as an educator and leader in various charter schools including Uncommon Schools in Newark, NJ.  Nancy currently lives in beautiful Lake Hopatcong with her husband and three-year-old daughter. 


Kali Brgant, Program Coordinator, Northern Vermont University - Johnson Kali is a trained mental health counselor and a yoga and mindfulness practitioner. She holds a Master of the Arts degree in Counseling Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Public Communication and Community and International Development. Previously Kali has worked as a VocRehab Transition Counselor, Counseling Intern at Johnson State College, Behavior Interventionist for an alternative program, and in community support for a mental health agency. Kali is passionate about her work, an avid traveler and enjoys yoga, hiking, biking, camping, dancing, and laughing with friends.


Maria Coviello-Gould, Program Coordinator, Northern Vermont University - Lyndon Maria earned her BA in Psychology from the College of New Rochelle and her Masters in Education with a focus in Mental Health Counseling from Plymouth State University. Prior to working with College Steps, Maria has experience working as a Mental Health Clinician, was the Director of School Based Services at a local community mental health center, and has been an Adjunct Faculty in Human Services for the past several years. In her free time Maria loves visually creative pursuits, hiking, adventures with her Australian Shepherd puppy, baking, gardening and spending time with her family.


Taylor Bryant, Program Coordinator, Northern Virginia Community College - Loudoun Taylor earned her Bachelors in Psychology as well as her Master's  degree in Special Education with a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from George Mason University. She was born and raised in Northern Virginia and is also a Northern Virginia Community College alumni. Taylor previously served as the Employment Liaison for the Mason LIFE (Learning Into Future Environments) Program - a postsecondary program serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to her role at College Steps, she enjoys spending time with her family and being outdoors. 


Tommy Murphy, Instructional Coordinator, Northern Virginia Community College - Loudoun  Tommy Murphy received his Associate of Arts degree from NOVA and then went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts in English/Creative Writing at George Mason University. Tommy taught eighth grade religion and English for three years and has facilitated online English instruction, earning his Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Mary Washington, writing his thesis on providing effective postsecondary programs for individuals with autism. Tommy is thrilled to be a part of the College Steps team. In his free time, he enjoys being with his wife and sons, and also writing, playing guitar and composing music. 


Andrew Falion, Program Coordinator, Northern Virginia Community College - Annandale Andrew earned his B.S. in History from the University of Vermont and his M.S. in Special Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His graduate worked focused on supporting individuals with significant disabilities in cross-categorical K-12 settings in Madison, WI. While at UW, he was a trainee with the interdisciplinary leadership program Wisconsin Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND). Andrew has worked in various post secondary transition programs for college student with disabilities in different regions of the country. He brings his passion for education equality and disability rights to the team. In his free time he enjoys watching/playing sports, traveling, and spending time with his family.


Kathryn Dooley, Instructional Coordinator, Northern Virginia Community College - Annandale While earning her PhD in History from Harvard University, Kathryn developed a love of teaching and a passion for expanding equity and accessibility in higher education. She led workshops designed to help students develop study skills and received a Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from Harvard's Bok Center. Kathryn has also worked providing direct support to adults with developmental disabilities in a residential and vocational setting. Outside of College Steps, she volunteers as a Program Co-Director for Minds Matter DC helping to prepare students from low-income families for college. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband, Andrew, and their dog, Shorty.


Tim Pearson, Program Coordinator, Norwalk Community College Much of Tim's professional background focuses on advocating for and supporting individuals diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Tim has previously worked for a large non-profit agency in Connecticut where he was the Program Manager for a Community Experience program for young adults diagnosed with autism that were looking to obtain employment. In addition to his role at College Steps, Tim is also an avid percussionist and dedicates some of his free time to teaching marching percussion to high school students. In his free time Tim teaches at New Milford High School and has previously taught at Norwalk High School winning the "Best Percussion" title at the 2015. Tim is a graduate of the University of Connecticut.


Gail Makuch, Program Coordinator, Southern Vermont College Gail has been a passionate advocate of a person-centered approach to serving others for years, including as a paraprofessional, community and home support professional, and for educational events at UVM Extension in Brattleboro. Prior to College Steps, she worked as a Service Coordinator at Families First in Wilmington, VT. She earned her undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Latin American Studies from the University of Connecticut. She is currently an MBA candidate at Marlboro College, where she has already earned a Certificate in Non-Profit Management and Certification as an RBA trainer. Gail lives with her husband, their adopted pets and bees, plus wildlife visitors on the edge of the national forest. She enjoys spending time outside, creative arts endeavors, DIY projects and volunteering.


Ellen Wasserman, Instructional Coordinator, Westchester Community College  Ellen Wasserman, the Instructional Coordinator at Westchester Community College, is a passionate educator who believes in the power of a growth mindset.  As an Adjunct Professor of English and a Writing Tutor at WCC, Ellen also works with the Office of Disabilities as a one-on-one tutor for many students with autism.   Ellen applies her past business management and adult education skills to every aspect of her teaching, organizing, and mentoring role at College Steps.  Ellen holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Manhattanville College.  Ellen enjoys hiking in the Hudson Valley, and live music performances of all types. She lives in White Plains, NY with her husband and children.


Rob Carlucci, Program Coordinator, Westchester Community College  Rob has been working with people with disabilities for approximately with a focus on teaching and facilitating independence. Prior to College Steps, Rob worked at a large non-profit organization in Connecticut where he held various positions. Some of which included Day Program Manager, Director of Mobility Services, and others. In his free time, Rob enjoys music, cooking, sports, and spending time with family and friends. Rob is a graduate of the University of New Haven and lives with his wife in Milford, CT. 

Board of Directors

George Daly
Dean Emeritus of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University

Washington, DC

Pamela Gertz
Parent Advocate

Akron, OH

Dave Kearon
Director of Adult Services for Autism Speaks

Long Island, NY

Jennifer Markowitz
Pediatric Speech Pathologist, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

Washington, DC

Patty Prelock
Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences University of Vermont

Burlington, VT

Jeff Schulz
Principal at Bellwether Education Partners

Chicago, IL

Seth H. Wohlberg
Senior Managing Director at Far Hills

New York, NY

Ted Young,
Chief Financial Officer of Dorian LPG Ltd.

New York, NY