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 Associate Professor within the Department of Psychiatry at Georgetown University where he has previously led efforts to reform school-based mental health within underserved communities of 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 disabilities. 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

Mindy Cohen
Regional Director

Mindy earned her Master Degree in Social Work and Post Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy at Fordham University. Her focus has been on engaging individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities and their families over the past 20+ years. She has worked as Director of Special Needs Programs at the Shames Jewish Community Center developing unique and inclusive recreational programs including after-school, weekend and camping programs as well as peer support and internship programs. She has also worked as the Director of Respite and Recreational Programs at The Arc Westchester managing a Respite House and multiple recreation/summer programs and community events. Mindy loves working with individuals and their families, supporting and promoting successful experiences at home, at school and in the community. In her spare time, she bikes, hikes, gardens and dances whenever an opportunity arises.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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 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.

Chris Ryan
Program Coordinator,
American International College

Much of Chris’ professional background focuses on the field of education. For the past 9 years, Chris has served the needs of special education, low income and first generation students of all ages within a variety of educational settings. As a graduate from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelors in Human Services, he is also a recent graduate from American International College with his Masters of Arts in Psychology. 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.

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.

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.