Academy Group Team
The Academy Group was established by respected educators Shayne Evans and Timothy Knowles and is supported by a world-class team of educators, mentors and staff.
Meet the team charged with bringing to the fore a new generation of leaders and innovators.
Previously, Evans served as the CEO of the University of Chicago Charter Schools and as a managing director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. Evans began his career running an award winning male mentoring program while an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. Working in Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Public charter schools and an orthodox Jewish high school, Evans has been a teacher, instructional coach, assistant principal, school principal, and middle school founder.
Born on the south-side of Chicago and the first in his immediate family to graduate from college, Evans has worked relentlessly for 25 years to eliminate “the belief gap” about what is possible for students of color and enhancing their sense of agency to become independent thinkers and leaders.
Previously, Knowles founded and served as Director and Chairman of the The University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. Knowles also founded and served as Director of the University of Chicago Urban Labs, which works globally to design, test and scale policies and programs that are effective, humane and cost-efficient. Knowles also served as the John Dewey Clinical Professor of Education.
Prior to his work in Chicago, Knowles served as the Deputy Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools and co-directed the Boston Annenberg Challenge, a nationally regarded initiative to improve literacy. Knowles also served as Director of a full-service K–8 school in New York City, founding director of Teach for America in New York, and a teacher of African history in Botswana.
Knowles has started multiple social sector organizations, holds appointments at the University of Chicago and has written and spoken widely on education and entrepreneurship.
EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT & OFFICE COORDINATOR
Brenda Bedolla is the Executive Assistant and Office Coordinator at the Academy Group. She is an experienced administrator and the first person in her family to graduate from college. Brenda received her Associates of Arts Degree from Morton College and her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies from Northeastern Illinois University. Brenda is passionate about immigrant rights and gender equity. While at Morton College, she co-founded the first ever undocumented student scholarship fund that has assisted dozens of students pay for college. Brenda grew up in the Little Village neighborhood and enjoys volunteering in underserved communities, spending time with her family and running during her spare time.
Kathleen St. Louis Caliento
CHIEF OF LEARNING & DESIGN OFFICER
Kathleen St. Louis Caliento is the Chief Learning and Design Officer of the Academy Group.
Previously, Kathleen held several leadership positions at Spark, including Executive Director in Chicago and leading program strategy and growing corporate partnerships nationwide. Prior to Spark, Kathleen was Chief Program Officer for Project Exploration, Director of Program Investments for The Chicago Public Education Fund, and taught in New York City.
Kathleen has spent two decades committed to urban education and student success. A published author, she earned her doctorate and master’s degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University and graduated with a Bachelor’s from SUNY Stony Brook. Kathleen enjoys running, playing the guitar, and traveling with her family.
Nick Davis works with the Academy Group on predictive analytics, machine learning and program design. Nick is a Posse scholar from Northwestern University, computer scientist, expert in hydroponics and community activist. Nick also volunteers as a peer advisor with the Obama Foundation, coaches basketball, and works with artists to hone their trajectories.
CHIEF OF STAFF
Carmen Echevarria is Chief of Staff of the Academy Group. Prior to serving as Chief of Staff, Carmen served as Senior Project Manager for the Academy Group. Previously, Carmen served as an Executive Assistant and Project Manager for The University of Chicago Urban Labs and the Urban Education Institute. Carmen is passionate ensuring students from underserved communities receive an excellent education and the resources necessary to reach their full potential. Prior to The University of Chicago, Carmen worked at Hyatt Hotels Corporation in various management roles.
Carmen earned her M.A. from Northeastern Illinois University and a B.A. from DePaul University.
In her spare time, Carmen mentor’s youth in several city programs. She is an avid Cubs fan and loves spending time with her close-knit family and puppy.
Vernon Fleming is the Technology Manager at the Academy Group.
Vernon has worked in the technology field since 14, building, rebuilding and programming computers. Vernon is a world traveler, and spent considerable time in Japan studying Business Ethics. After matriculation from College, Fleming assumed a position at Venmo as a Technical Specialist. Vernon was an award winning debater in high school and likes Piña colada and getting caught in the rain.
He earned his B.A. from Oberlin College.
DIRECTOR OF COLLEGE ATTAINMENT
Taaha Mohamedali is the Director of College Attainment of the Academy Group. Previously, Mohamedali served as coordinator of diversity recruitment at his alma mater, Lafayette College. There he worked on college access, affordability, and success – increasing the percentage of students of color attending the College from 12% to 29% during his tenure. As a beneficiary of the Posse Scholarship, Mohamedali is wholly dedicated to building systems of support for historically marginalized students to persist and succeed in higher education.
Mohamedali received his Ed.M in Higher Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2017.
CHIEF PARTNERSHIPS OFFICER
Halleemah Nash serves as Chief Partnerships Officer of the Academy Group.
She has led and established a broad range of social impact and education organizations serving Chicago students. Halleemah managed charitable programs for the Chicago Bulls, developed partnership strategies in service of over 9,000 public housing youth at Chicago Housing Authority, and serving as Executive Director for NFL veteran Israel Idonije’s Foundation. Halleemah most recently served as Executive Director of iMentor Chicago, the organization’s first expansion site.
Halleemah is a proud Compton, California native and avid California based sports and music fan. She is an author and first generation college graduate, with degrees from Howard University and a Masters in Divinity and Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University.
CHIEF STRATEGY & INNOVATION OFFICER
Matt Rogers is the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for the Academy Group. Previously, Matt was at the Boston Consulting Group where he served as a Project Leader and member of BCG’s social impact team. While at BCG Matt developed expertise in non-profit strategy, programming design and implementation, and due diligence. He has worked across k-12, higher education and the public sector leading teams in developing approaches to improve the performance of chronically under performing schools, designing new approaches to measuring and monitoring impact, and assisting leaders to launch initiatives focused on reducing urban violence. Matt is a Teach for America alumni and served as high school Physics and English teacher on Chicago’s west side at Pritzker College Prep. He also served as assistant director of development for Cheshire Academy and worked in Hollywood as a production assistant at Imagine Entertainment.
Matt received his MBA from the Duke University and his undergraduate degree from Stanford University
Justin Sankara is Project Manager for the Academy Group. Justin’s focus in his role is helping develop partnerships with parents and schools and creating extraordinary experiential learning opportunities for Academy students.
Prior to joining the Academy Group, Justin was with KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles where he began his teaching career as a Kindergarten Apprentice Teacher. After achieving very strong academic gains – including nearly 2 years of average growth in reading in one year – Justin was promoted to Lead Teacher. He subsequently transitioned to lead teacher of second grade and his students scored in the top 15 schools statewide. After leaving the classroom, Justin joined Teach For America’s Admissions Team and then spent over a year travelling and working in Asia, Europe and Africa.
Justin is a Southside of Chicago native and is a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate. He earned his B.S. in Psychology.
Akanksha Shah is Program Specialist with the Academy Group. She graduated from the University of Chicago, majoring in Economics and Statistics. While at the University, she founded and ran Maroon Tutor Match, which provides affordable one-on-one tutoring to students on the Mid-South Side. MTM has served over 350 students and hired 150 University tutors.
In addition to her work with MTM, Akanksha worked as a Resident Assistant at the University and served as Chair of the Community Service Fund for Student Government. She has also worked with DC Public Schools, doing data analysis to support teacher recruitment and selection. In her spare time Akanksha performs Indian classical dance.
CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
Sundeep Vira is a Chicago based social entrepreneur and Chief Operating Officer for The Academy Group. Vira is also scaling sustainable clean water solutions for excess Arsenic and Fluoride removal, with an international consortium of partners in India. Vira serves on the board of Morgan Stanley Global Impact Funding Trust (GIFT), advisory board for Sattva Consulting and member of the INREM Foundation. Prior work in the social impact sector spans five years of projects in Cambodia, India, Nepal and Vietnam.
Previously, Vira had a successful 20-year career in financial investment management, including 14 years with Chicago based Nuveen Investments and subsidiary NWQ Investment Management, 3 years with a Singapore based Family Office, Oclaner Asset Management and 4 years with Morgan Stanley’s Consulting Group in Los Angeles.
Vira has an MBA with the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, where he currently serves as teaching coach for the Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP) course.
Anna Wilson is the Senior Accountant at the Academy Group. Anna is an alumnus of the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign and has been working in finance since graduation.
Anna previously served as Senior Accountant at Enablon, a global software and consulting company. While attending the University of Illinois Anna worked full time and served as a mentor for the Illini Mentor Program through the Champaign Boys and Girls Club.
Anna spends her spare time traveling and reading.
Sunray wright is the Lead Advisor at the Academy Group. Sunray is first in her family to graduate from college and began her career in education as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia. She continued to follow her passion for teaching as a middle school English/Language Arts teacher with the Baltimore City Teachers Residency. She also worked as an instructional efficacy researcher for Johns Hopkins University. Most recently, she served as a Program Manager of Workforce Mentorship with Strong City Baltimore, where she empowered program participants, oversaw community outreach, created and implemented innovative workforce development programs, and strengthened adult literacy programming.
Sunray recently earned a Masters’ in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a specialization in Higher Education. While completing her degree, Sunray worked as a graduate intern for Harvard Law School Admissions as well as with local Boston nonprofits to develop a new civics K-12 education curriculum. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Ball State University, with a major in Psychological Science and research in Industrial Organization Psychology and Primatology.