Build
Your
Future
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.
 
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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 Associate 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.

Executive Team

Rachael Smith-Ramos
Regional Director

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.

Chris Kennedy
Regional 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. Chris' previous roles include Program Coordinator at Johnson State College, Assistant Professor of Inclusive Elementary Education at Johnson State College, the co-founder of a non-profit organization serving students with disabilities in Cameroon, 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 wife and two young boys, playing music, and traveling.

Tori Milne
Director of Workforce Development

Much of Tori’s professional background focuses on developing and coordinating work experiences in the community. Tori has her Masters of Arts in the clinical psychology. Tori directs the Workforce Development team at College Steps. In this role, she meets with students and staff 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.

Denise Halter
Chief Financial Officer

Denise began her accounting career in the logistics industry at UPS. In 2000 she started her own consulting firm to focus on corporate projects, as well as provide accounting and human resource services to start-ups. Denise’s clients included an array of non-profits. In 2009, Denise began working with HelloWallet, where she not only served as Controller overseeing accounting and human resources, but also contributed to the product design and user focus with her extensive financial management experience and knowledge of enterprise payroll and benefits programs. Denise is a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she studied Economics and Accounting.

Brya Emery
Director of Admissions and Enrollment

Brya has considerable experience in higher education admissions and marketing. Her most recent role was as an Account Executive at Zone 5 where she supported the marketing and admissions needs of both institutions of higher education and not-for-profit clients. She has also served in leadership roles within admissions departments at Southern Vermont College as the Senior Associate Director and liaison for College Steps, and previously as the Assistant Director of Admissions at Lyndon State College and the Assistant Director of Admissions at Norwich University. Outside of work, Brya enjoys being outdoors and traveling.

Beth Frigola McGinn
Director of Marketing and Communications

Beth is a former political communications specialist who spent the last 14 years working on a variety of public policy issues both on and off Capitol Hill. She has served as a spokesperson for several elected officials and issue advocacy campaigns. Beth and her husband Michael also run a non-profit organization called “A Cure for Ellie,” which is named after their eldest daughter who suffers from a rare genetic condition affecting the brain and spinal cord. Together, with their youngest daughter Vivian, the family lives in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.

Kimberly Volitis
Community Coordinator

Kimberly Volitis is a hands-on project manager/coordinator with extensive experience in marketing, graphic design and executive support. Kim earned her undergraduate degree in Marketing from Penn State University and has worked for and supported individuals at other Vermont based companies such as; Burton Snowboards and Dealer.com. Since moving to Vermont in 2005, her focus has been helping team members and co-workers grow and achieve goals. Her unique skill set includes managing large and small-scale print/digital media projects, special events, presentation preparedness and executing them successfully in terms of budget, timelines and overall expectations. Kim is also a mother, loves being with family and friends, hiking, swimming, and smiling daily.

Dee Tippett
Staff Accountant

Dee Tippett has several years of experience working with young children with disabilities. She has a degree in Elementary and Special Education from Curry College and earned a graduate certificate in Early Intervention/Preschool Special Education from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to working with special needs children, she worked in Accounting and Human Resources. College Steps allows her to continue working in education while utilizing her accounting experience. In addition to working at College Steps, Dee plans on continuing to spend time in the classroom as a Special Education substitute teacher in the local public school system. Dee lives in Maryland, and when she’s not working, she is usually with her husband and three children on a lacrosse field somewhere!

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kathryn Dooley
Assistant Program Coordinator,
Northern Virginia Community College

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.

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.

Tommy Murphy
Instructional Coordinator NOVA/Loudoun

Tommy Murphy is the Instructional Coordinator for College Steps at the Loudoun Campus. He 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.

Carrie M. Buster
Assistant Program Coordinator - Westchester Community College

Carrie's professional experience has focused on working with individuals with special needs along with the homeless population. Prior to joining the College Steps team, Carrie worked for a nonprofit agency in Connecticut as a Director of Acquired Brain Injuries throughout the State of Connecticut. Carrie has a degree is Business Management from the University of Bridgeport and is currently earning her M.S. in Human Services at Albertus Magnus College. Carrie is passionate about spending time with family and helping others achieve potential.

Danielle Slauenwhite
Program Coordinator - Westchester Community College

Danielle was born and raised in New York. Her passion for working with students with disabilities began during high school while interning at Blythedale Children’s Hospital. She received her bachelors degree in psychology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. She went on to further her education at Mercy College where she received her certification as an occupational therapy assistant. Danielle has worked in numerous school districts throughout Westchester County providing services to students with disabilities. Outside of being a college steps program coordinator she enjoys participating in Zumba classes, yoga, and taking her four legged pal Ruby on hikes with friends and family.

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.

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.

Ted Young
College Steps Board Chair; 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.

George Daly
College Steps Board Treasurer; 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.

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.

Jennifer Markowitz
College Steps Board Member; Pediatric Speech Pathologist, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

Jennifer Markowitz, MA CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech language pathologist at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. Prior to joining MGUH in 2016, Ms. Markowitz worked as a clinician at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD. From 2010-2011, she completed her Clinical Fellowship (CF) year at Kennedy Krieger as a LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) trainee. Ms. Markowitz remained at Kennedy Krieger from 2011-2016 working as a clinician in the Outpatient Speech and Language Clinic and on the Inpatient Neurobehavioral Unit (NBU). During her tenure at Kennedy Krieger, Ms. Markowitz received training to administer the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2nd Edition (ADOS-2) and assisted with the diagnostic process. At MedStar Georgetown, Ms. Markowitz continues to function as part of an interdisciplinary autism diagnostic team. Ms. Markowitz specializes in the assessment and treatment of children with complex neurodevelopmental and communication profiles. Ms. Markowitz received her B.A. at the Pennsylvania State University in 2008 and her M.A. in Speech Language Pathology at the University of Maryland in 2010.

Dave Kearon
College Steps Board Member; Director of Adult Services for Autism Speaks

Dave Kearon is Director of Adult Services for Autism Speaks. His work focuses broadly on national initiatives promoting solutions for the needs of individuals with autism and their families across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan. Dave works to increase the quality and quantity of opportunities and resources available to adults with autism related to employment, housing and residential supports, postsecondary education and community integration. His team’s work in recent years has included the development of an autism-led corporate employment consultancy named ADVICE, an online jobs portal designed by and for people with autism called TheSpectrumCareers.com, and a small business accelerator pilot program. Prior to joining the Adult Services team, Dave worked at Autism Speaks in the role of Psychometrician for the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), which is now part of MSSNG. In that position, he visited children and families across the United States collecting clinical data. Previously, Dave attended the graduate program in School Psychology at Queens College in New York and spent 8 years working with children and teens with developmental disabilities in public schools on Long Island.

Jeff Schulz
College Steps Board Member; Principal at Bellwether Education Partners

Jeff Schulz is a principal with Bellwether Education Partners in the Strategic Advising practice area. Since joining Bellwether in January 2013, Jeff has helped school districts, charter management organizations, and service providers address a wide range of strategic issues, from developing five-year strategic plans to more targeted initiatives around personalized learning and teacher development. Before joining Bellwether, Jeff was a manager in Deloitte’s Strategy practice, with a focus on helping Fortune 500 clients identify opportunities to generate growth and improve profitability, especially through the application of advanced analytic techniques. He is also a proud Teach For America alum, former advocacy lead for a group of high-performing, nationally acclaimed Texas charter schools, and education analyst for the central Texas-based E3 Alliance. Jeff holds a master’s in public administration from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan. Experience at Bellwether: strategic planning, market assessment, growth and expansion strategy, teacher evaluation and development systems, project management and implementation support.