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. In addition to his role at College Steps, Aaron is also an Assistant Professor within the Department of Psychiatry at Georgetown University and co-founded and manages InSite Solutions, 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 Institutes of Mental Health, Children’s National Health System, The Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Vermont.
Lauren Merritt, Chief Operating Officer. Lauren is a founding member of College Steps. She has devoted her career to creating sustainable systems of care to support access to education and employment for individuals with disabilities. Under Lauren's leadership, College Steps has grown from a single school partnership to a leading national model for inclusive post secondary education. Before joining College Steps, Lauren spent over a decade working to improve community health care systems across New England. She is an alumnae of the University of Vermont and Johnson State College where she holds a master's degree in mental health counseling. Lauren serves on the Board of the Green Mountain United Way and the Waitsfield Children’s Center, and lives in Vermont with her husband and two daughters.
Rachael Smith-Ramos, Regional Director, New England Much of Rachael's professional background focuses on disability services and higher education. Rachael has previously been involved in establishing a post-secondary education program for high school students with disabilities at the University of Massachusetts flagship campus in Amherst, MA. In addition to her role at College Steps, Rachael is also a yoga and nutrition enthusiast, vocal guitar performing artist, volunteer coach for Girls on the Run, and mother to a beautiful daughter.
Tori Milne, Director of Workforce Development Much of Tori’s professional background focuses on coordinating work experiences in the community. Tori meets with all College Steps students weekly to foster a connection between student and community employers. Tori has been previously involved in directing the Women’s Center at Saint Michael’s College and working as the Assistant Director for the North Eastern Family Institute group home. In addition to Tori’s role at College Steps, Tori is completing her Masters of Arts in the clinical psychology.
Maria R. Goebert, Virginia Transition Director Maria is an expert in healthcare policy and implementation with more than 20 years of experience as a Social Worker and Healthcare Regulatory Researcher. Inspired by her youngest of five sons, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder in 2009, she’s also mastered the art of finding and securing appropriate resources for children and young adults with ASD. Maria understands the challenges many families face today as an exponentially growing population of high school students with ASD are aging out of traditional educational, medical, and financial supports that had only been available to them as children. She is dedicated to bridging the gap of necessary supports that make a college educated, self-determined career possible for young adults with ASD through alternative funding navigation, community outreach, and advocacy.
Chris Kennedy, Program Coordinator, Johnson State College and Vermont Transition Director Chris Kennedy is a founding member of College Steps. Chris earned his graduate and undergraduate degree in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin. He currently serves as the Program Coordinator at Johnson State College and the Director of School Transition for College Steps in Vermont. Chris' previous roles include Visiting Assistant Professor of Inclusive Elementary Education at Johnson State College, the co-founder and executive board member of a non-profit organization serving youth with disabilities in Africa, as a special education teacher in both public and private schools, and in various residential and support services for individuals with disabilities in the United States as well as abroad. In addition to his work with College Steps, Chris enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, and traveling.
Chris Ryan, Program Coordinator, American International College Chris Ryan is the Program Coordinator at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. 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.
Darcy Oakes, Program Coordinator Southern Vermont College and Director of Community Engagement Darcy Oakes earned her Master’s from the University of Vermont and her undergraduate degree in Psychology, Elementary and Special Education from the College of Saint Elizabeth. She currently serves as the Program Coordinator for College Steps at Southern Vermont College, in addition to parenting three amazing young girls. Prior to working with College Steps, Darcy worked as an elementary, early childhood, and special educator in both the public and private school settings. Darcy also served as a civil rights advocate for people with disabilities as well as managed a youth leadership program for young people with disabilities across the State of Vermont. At present, Darcy serves on the conference planning committee for VWHE (Vermont Women in Higher Education), serves on the BCCTT (Bennington County Core Transition Team) and with her local CWS (Creative Workforce Solutions).
Henekis Stoddard, Program Coordinator, Lyndon State College Henekis Stoddard is College Steps' Program Coordinator at Lyndon State College. Henekis joined College Steps in the summer of 2014 and launched the program’s pilot year at Lyndon State College. Henekis has over ten years experience in program coordination, education and providing support services. Henekis has previously served as the Academic Director at a residential treatment program for young women, as an adjunct teacher at Lyndon State College in the Human Service and Social Science departments and as the program coordinator for a non-profit organization supporting survivors of abuse. In addition, Henekis is a committee member for Lyndon FAIR; which promotes Fairness, Awareness, Inclusion & Relationships in the LSC community. She has been very active in providing education and support to promote social justice. Henekis earned her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Human Service at Lyndon State College.
Nicole McCullough, Program Coordinator, Northern Virginia Community College - Loudoun Nicole is the Program Coordinator on the Northern Virginia Community College- Loudoun campus. She earned her Bachelors degree in Health and Human Services with a concentration in Community Mental Health as well as her Master's degree in Disability Studies from the University at Buffalo. Nicole's professional background focuses on the field of Human Services. For the past six years, Nicole has worked in various residential and support services for individuals with disabilities in Western NY and Washington DC/VA area. Nicole has also worked for the District of Columbia Public Schools; assisting with students with learning disabilities and Autism. In addition to Nicole's work with College Steps, Nicole enjoys spending time with her family and traveling.
Patty Moore, Program Coordinator, Castleton University Patty Moore 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.
Tim Pearson, Program Coordinator, Norwalk Community College Tim is the Program Coordinator at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, CT. 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. He currently teaches at New Milford High School where his students won the MAC Indoor Percussion Championship in 2010 and 2014 and has previously taught at Norwalk High School winning the "Best Percussion" title at the 2015 National Championships and the Silver Medal at the 2016 WGI World Championships. Tim is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and is a concert and roller coaster enthusiast!
Leyla Haznedar, Assistant Program Coordinator, Norwalk Community College Leyla earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology with a specialization in developmental disabilities and human services from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Much of Leyla's undergraduate studies focused on social justice and education equity. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Leyla worked for a post-secondary education program for high school students with disabilities. Leyla has worked with individuals with disabilities of varying ages in the public school setting. In addition to her role at College Steps, Leyla is currently earning a Master of Arts in teaching students with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism at the Teachers College of Columbia University.
Angeliki Parashis, Program Coordinator, Westchester Community College Angeliki earned her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from New York University. She has over 25 years of experience in the human services field supporting children and adults with specialized needs. She has served as an ADA Coordinator, Information and Referral specialist and Case Manager in County Government, Director of a non-profit organization servicing Deaf and Hard of Hearing young adults seeking employment, and Coordinator for several organizations in secondary and post-secondary educational settings. In addition to her work with College Steps, Angeliki is the Coordinator of Sign Language Interpreter Services at WCC, Counselor for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and American Sign Language Instructor. She resides with her husband and two daughters in Westchester, NY.
Board of Directors
George Daly, College Steps Board Chair Dean Emeritus of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University George Daly is Professor and Dean Emeritus of the McDonough School of Business in Washington DC. Prior to joining Georgetown he served as Dean and Professor of the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University and, earlier, in the same role at the University of Iowa. He has also served roles in non-academic institutions including as an Associated Director at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington and Chief Economist for the Office of Energy Research and Development in the White House. He has served as a consultant to a number of organizations and has served on the boards of both profit and non-profit enterprises. He holds an A.B. degree from Miami University (Ohio) and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University. He and his wife Barbara divide their time between Manhattan, Vermont and Washington DC.
Ted Young, College Steps Board Treasurer Chief Financial Officer of Dorian LPG Ltd. Ted Young is Chief Financial Officer of Dorian LPG Ltd., a NYSE-listed owner and operator of Very Large Gas Carriers. Mr Young has worked for Dorian and its predecessors since 2011. From 2004 to 2011, Mr. Young was a Senior Managing Director and member of the Investment Committee at Irving Place Capital (“IPC”), where he worked on investments in the industrial, transportation and business services sectors. Prior to joining IPC, Mr. Young was a principal at Harvest Partners, a New York-based middle market buyout firm, from 1997 to 2004. There, he was active in industrial transactions and played a key role in the firm’s multinational investment strategy. Prior to his career in private equity, Mr. Young was an investment banker with Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. and SBC Warburg Dillon Read and its predecessors in New York, Zurich, and London. Mr. Young holds an AB from Dartmouth College and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a major in accounting. Mr . Young and his wife Cyndi are also the proud parents of 3 children, including his eldest son who is autistic.
Patty Prelock, College Steps Board Secretary Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences University of Vermont Patricia Prelock, Ph.D., is Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders, and Professor of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. Dr. Prelock coordinates parent training programs designed for caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorders and has been awarded more than 11 million dollars in university, state and federal funding as a PI or Co-PI to develop innovations in interdisciplinary training supporting children and youth with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families, to facilitate training in speech-language pathology, and to support her intervention work in autism spectrum disorders. She has over 150 publications and 469 peer-reviewed and invited presentations in the areas of autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities, collaboration, language assessment and intervention, and language learning disabilities. Dr. Prelock received the 1998 Friends Award through the Vermont Parent Information Center and the first annual Autism Society of Vermont Excellence in Service Award in 2000. She also received the University of Vermont’s Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award in 2000. Dr. Prelock was named an ASHA Fellow in 2000 and a University of Vermont Scholar in 2003. She was awarded the Puppets Choice Award through Kids on the Block of Vermont in 2010 for her work in autism. In 2011 she was named the Cecil & Ida Green Honors Professor Visiting Scholar at Texas Christian University and in 2014, she and her colleagues received the Editor’s Award for the best paper in Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders. In 2015 Dr. Prelock was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Prelock earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kent State University and her doctoral degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a Board Certified Specialist in Child Language, and a Hanen certified SLP for It takes Two to Talk, More Than Words and Talkability. She was the 2013 President for the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, a member organization of more than 175,000 speech-language pathologists and audiologists and served as Immediate Past President in 2014.