Staff

National

Kathleen S. Caliento, PhD, Chicago Executive Director, Co-President, Chief Program Officer

As Executive Director of Spark Chicago, Kathleen is leading program expansion by increasing student enrollment by over 30% each school year and establishing partnerships with companies and organizations across the city to provide hands-on learning opportunities for Spark students through workplace-based apprenticeships. She also focuses on expanding Spark's network of supporters to ensure a path toward financial sustainability. Kathleen earned her master's degree summa cum laude and her Ph.D. in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She graduated with her B.S. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.  Prior to Spark Kathleen served as Chief Program Officer at Project Exploration and Director of Program Investments at The Chicago Public Education Fund.

Yoon S. Choi, PhD, Co-President and Chief Strategy Officer

Yoon S. Choi is the Co-President and Chief Strategy for Spark. Choi joined Spark as the Executive Director of Spark LA in 2013, turning LA into a top-performing region in terms of fundraising, large-scale corporate partnerships, and fee-for-service contracts with local school districts. In 2015, Choi was promoted to oversee Spark's San Francisco Bay Area region as well, where she expanded the program into new districts and doubled the number of corporate partners. Today, as chief Strategy Office, Choi is leading the national growth and partnership development initiatives set out in Spark's recent ten-year strategic plan, while continuing to oversee the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Prior to joining Spark, Choi was Director of Foundation Relations at Para Los Ninos, a Los Angeles nonprofit that provides educational, family support and mental health services. A sociocultural anthropologist by training, Yoon has worked for several international NGOs throughout East Asia. She transitioned out of academia so she could make a more direct impact on closing the achievement gap in underserved communities. 

Rachelle Damminger, Director of Communications

Rachelle brings more than 10 years of experience to her role at Spark. Her tenure includes both non-profit and for-profit work with Back on My Feet, Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA, Subaru of America and EwingCole, a national architecture firm. After several years of working with individuals experiencing homelessness, Rachelle is excited to return to a youth-serving organization. Her background includes branding, public relations, event planning, corporate relations and more. Rachelle has presented at the Eastern Communication Association Conference and is a Public Relations Society PepperPot Award recipient. She earned both her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Villanova University and currently resides in Collingswood, NJ.

Francis Kevers, Managing Director of Program, San Francisco Bay Area, and Strategic Projects

Before joining Spark, Francis Kevers spent over six years at C2 Education, a nationwide tutoring and college prep program, where she focused on building strong program teams and driving growth through operational excellence and student results. As a certified college counselor, Francis loved helping hundreds of students expand their college admissions potential. Francis also guided students in career exploration by drawing from her experience in education management and finance. Francis holds a Bachelor of Science from MIT and a M.B.A. from INSEAD, and she has been on the MIT Educational Council since 2012.

Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez, Data Systems Support Specialist

An Indiana native, Amanda is a graduate of Indiana University with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish with minors in Latino Studies and Western European Studies. Amanda joined the Spark team in 2011 as an Americorps VISTA Outreach Coordinator excited to help bring Spark's unique model of individualized learning to Chicago. Prior to joining Spark Amanda volunteered with several organizations committed to improving educational opportunity for at-risk populations. Through her work with these programs, Amanda saw firsthand how critical volunteer involvement is in providing learning opportunities for youth in the community, as well as how one-on-one attention empowered students to achieve. Amanda firmly believes that all students should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and never ceases to be amazed by the incredible work of Spark students as they discover new possibilities for the future. After 3 years on Spark Chicago's program team, Amanda joined the National Team as Special Assistant to the CEO in 2014.

Heather King, PhD, Director of Evaluation

Heather began her career as a research scientist at the University of Chicago where her work and discoveries made international news. She was also a fellow in the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), which trains graduate-level scientists to integrate a wide range of disciplines into their research. Heather has been passionate about improving education since mentoring middle school girls as a graduate student. After completing her doctorate in evolutionary biology, she then transitioned to Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago. At Outlier, Heather studied the implementation of STEM high schools, the landscape of K12 computer science education in the United States, and also led an evaluation of Code.org’s national offerings. She was also an entrepreneurial lead in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps for Learning program (I-Corps-L), a seven-week entrepreneurial bootcamp for education researchers.

Michael Kolodner, Systems Administrator

Michael Kolodner spent much of his career designing and managing systems for tracking information. Most recently managing a Salesforce database for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and consulting with a sister organization, Michael has previously designed databases for organizing membership for a co-op swim club to tracking global responses to the 9/11 attacks for the US State Department. Michael earned his BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Amherst College and put that degree to work in the Foreign Service, serving in Sana’a, Yemen and Washington, DC. Michael moved back to his home town of Philadelphia, where he supports the local food movement, and enjoys photography. Michael is a member of Spark's National Team, based out of Spark’s Philadelphia office.

Cristen Lain, Director of Alumni Programming

Cristen's passion for education and her diverse background led her to Spark. Before joining the organization, she led a Chicago Public High School program for seventh and eighth grade students who were accepted into a unique selective enrollment high school program. She previously taught high school math for five years and also worked many years as a consultant. Cristen is excited to use her experiences in developing programs for students in the middle grades, designing curriculum and creating a program for Spark's alumni students. Cristen has a M.Ed. in Secondary Education with an endorsement in Middle School Education from DePaul University and a B.S. in Mathematics, with Minors in Statistics in Actuarial Science from Loyola University.

Dave Martin, Director of Talent and Human Resources

Dave brings to Spark more than 15 years of diverse and extensive experience in people management and operations with such companies as Netflix, Inte Q and Avatar Solutions.  A true champion of his coworkers and their respective talents, Dave excels at communicating effectively with all levels of an organization - building trust and commitment as well as driving operational efficiency, job satisfaction and productivity that are natural outcomes of a connected and engaged team. As a leader, Dave is most proud of his work strategizing, collaborating and enabling others to succeed and thrive in their careers. Dave holds a B.A. in English Composition from DePauw University and is a Certified Professional with the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM).

Spark inspires 7th, 8th and 9th grade students to succeed in high school and beyond by connecting them with mentors in leading workplaces and supporting their academic journey with skill-building and resources. By engaging working professionals and connecting businesses with local communities, Spark empowers the next generation to perform better in school, graduate on time and lead fulfilling careers and lives.

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