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.

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. 


Kerri Thompson Frank, Director of Development, Chief Executive Officer of Leonardtown Grants, LLC. Leonardtown Grants, LLC uses a unique business model to partner with College Steps and other 501c3 nonprofits to streamline development services. Harnessing the power of technology and green commuting, Leonardtown Grants, LLC, deploys a team of grant developers, writers and editors with over sixty years’ combined writing and fundraising experience. Past and current Leonardtown Grants, LLC clients include hospitals, schools, social service agencies and churches. Kerri holds a BA in English from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and lives and works in Leonardtown, Maryland with her husband.


Denise Halter, Director of Finance Denise has more than 25 years experience overseeing accounting and human resources.  She has extensive financial management experience with both for profit and non-profit organizations.  Denise is a graduate of the University of Maryland in Economics and Accounting.  She lives in rural Frederick Maryland with her husband, two children, two dogs, and chickens.  


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.


Courtney Pike, Executive Assistant Courtney earned her Bachelors of Science Degree in Public Health from Colby-Sawyer College and a Master of Education from Northeastern University. Courtney previously worked at Dartmouth College in Alumni Relations and has held various leadership positions fostering entrepreneurship and education. Courtney is passionate about learning and teaching others. In her spare time, she enjoys taking road trips, exploring new restaurants, and reading. 

Program Coordinators

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.


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. 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. Darcy serves on the conference planning committee for Vermont Women in Higher Education, serves on the Bennington County Core Transition Team and volunteers with her local Creative Workforce Solutions.


Henekis Stoddard, Program Coordinator, 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 degree in Psychology and Human Service at Lyndon State College.


Kali Brgant, Program Coordinator, Johnson State College 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.


Leyla Haznedar, Program CoordinatorWestchester Community College Leyla has a 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.


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.


Teondra Holley-Beckford Assistant Program Coordinator Norwalk Community College/Westchester Community College Teondra has worked in the social service field for sixteen years. Teondra worked with children and families, parolees, and women in recovery, all of whom were either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Teondra provided case management services and eventually transitioned to become a program manager. In 2016, Teondra started a nonprofit organization, Project Overcome Inc., where she connects individuals and families to services in order to prevent homelessness and improve housing for the homeless. Teondra and her husband have three beautiful children, two of whom have a learning disability. 

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Amy Mitrani, Assistant Program CoordinatorAmerican 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.

Workforce Coordinators

Maria R. Goebert, Workforce Coordinator 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 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.


Carrie M. Buster, Workforce Coordinator 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.

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.


Jennifer Markowitz, College Steps Board Member, Pediatric Speech Language 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 MGUH, 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.