The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success Board of Directors
Dr. Ruth White spent 23 years as a Language Arts teacher at Washington High School, beginning as a 10th grade English teacher, and ending as an instructor of Advanced Placement Literature.
Dr. White also served as Academic Advisor to Minority Students, a position through which she learned much about the many minority and international students at Washington, and through which she developed and implemented the Diversity Workshop and Ethnic Week–including the Ethnic Food Fair and the Ethnic Fashion Show. She currently heads The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success; this program also emanated from her work as Academic Advisor to Minority students. Dr. White may be remembered by her former students as well as by current Academy students, for her many “Mantras”, which include:
“Attitude is Everything”
“There Is Always More to Know”
“Nothing Worth Doing Is Easy; Everything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing Well”
She is married to George Pope and is the parent of Travell Wright, a student at the University of Iowa.
Eric McKinley Thompson serves as Assistant Director for The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success whose mission is to instill pride in and understanding of African American culture as a tool to encourage academic achievement and positive behaviors, toward post-secondary matriculation and productive citizenship in all Black, Brown and Biracial students. He also serves as the Percussion Director and Community Program Coordinator for the Jane Boyd Community House where youth, family, and community are championed in order to cement academic achievement, enhance and support all families and promote inclusive growth and opportunities for families & neighborhoods to be successful, both in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Holding a Master’s Educators license, Thompson also possesses an Undergraduate Diploma with Distinction in Jazz Studies from the New England Conservatory of Music, a Bachelor of Science in African-American History with a minor in Political Science from Northeastern University, and a Master of Arts in Arts & Humanities with a Specialization in the teaching of Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. He is also a Marching Percussion Specialist with Vic Firth Sticks as a member of their Education Team.
Thompson is currently a Ph.D. student at The University of Iowa in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies: Schools, Culture and Society and is unconditionally honored join the AERA Graduate Student Council and to begin serving as Junior Representative in Division F.
Shirley ‘Charrisse’ Cox, veteran educator, has taught first through fifth graders at (JSA) Magnet School for the last 29 of her 30 year career with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Over the years, she has served in various leadership roles, most recently, for the past four years, on the Superintendent Teacher Cabinet. Upon her retirement at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, she will have gone well beyond her assigned duties, providing added assistance, guidance, and enrichment to students dealing with barriers to education.
Charrisse Cox is co-founder and director of The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success Expansion Program with Dr. Ruth White. For 15 years, she has worked after school with Black, Brown, and Bi-Racial third, fourth, and fifth grade Expansion Scholars to help them cultivate Cultural Pride, Academic Excellence, and Leadership.
She also works with The ASPS High School summer program as Administrative Assistant and Program Documentation Photographer.
Charrisse helped to start the JSA Gospel Choir after-school enrichment for 2nd-5th grade students over 26 years ago. They have performed annually in hospitals, local senior care centers, and for numerous school and community events throughout the greater Cedar Rapids Area.
She is also president of the Paul Engel Association For Community Arts (PEACA) Board of Directors. PEACA has naturally established a partnership with Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School, which aligns with its mission to inspire neighbors to interact, create, discover, express, explore, and broaden cultural and artistic talents.
Charrisse is also an active long time member of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where she taught Sunday School for over 25 years, directs the Mass and Youth Choirs, and leads the Vacation Bible School Music Ministry, encouraging young people to realize their potential through Christian education and the arts.
Amara Andrews is a mother, businesswoman, and community leader. Originally from California, she has lived and worked in Cedar Rapids with her family for nearly ten years.
Amara has had a long career in business development and entrepreneurship. Her newest endeavor is founding The ReCenter, a health and wellness spa in Coralville, IA. Prior to The ReCenter, Amara leads business development at TrueNorth Companies, Transportation Division. She also ran for mayor of Cedar Rapids in 2021 beating the incumbent but falling short in the run-off election. Before moving to Cedar Rapids, Amara held several positions at the University of Illinois including developing an incubator program for startup companies, Illinois Launch, as well as teaching entrepreneurship and advising MBA students. Amara is passionate about civil rights and equality. She is founding Vice President of the board for Advocates for Social Justice as well as Executive President of the board for The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and UCLA School of Law.
Her husband Kahlil is a surgeon who operates a small private practice in the Corridor. They have four kids: Amanda, Tyler, Aidan, and Hope. In addition, the Andrews’ family includes three dogs Willow, Luke, and Cali Bear.
Jillian Knutson grew up in Cedar Rapids and returned to the area in 1998 after living elsewhere for twelve years. She graduated from Cornell College in 1991 and was a bank examiner for the FDIC in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the past twenty years, she has been a stay-at-home mom, a community volunteer and the financial manager for Dermatology Clinic of Iowa. Her volunteer experience includes Junior League of Cedar Rapids, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, and the Cedar Rapids Community School District among other organizations. Jillian and her husband, David, have two children in college and recently added two puppies their empty nest.
Jessica Altfillisch is an accomplished performer, passionate educator, and active leader in arts education for social change. After twenty years of Suzuki violin and viola teaching, she founded the Harmony School of Music to bring high-quality music education to families with the greatest need. In addition to her work teaching and developing intensive music programs for under-served youth in Cedar Rapids, she maintains an active private lesson studio, teaching violin and viola students ages 4 through adult.
A strong advocate for creative community partnerships, Jessica has led collaboration efforts between Harmony School and other community organizations, including the National Czech/Slovak Museum and Library, Johnson STEAM Academy, The Academy for Academic and Personal Success, and other area music organizations. She is a facilitator for the El Sistema USA Small and Emerging Program Network and was a featured speaker in the National Guild for Community Arts Education Small Schools Network webinar series. She is an avid performer, and has appeared as a soloist, chamber, and orchestral musician in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia and across the United States. In addition to solo recitals and chamber recitals, she has performed regularly with the Des Moines Symphony, Orchestra Iowa, and Waterloo/Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestras, as well as appearing with many other regional performing organizations.
Rachel Collins works at Kennedy High School as a school counselor and has been connected with The Academy SPS for eleven years. She is returning to the board after a two-year break. She previously served on the board for nine years and is excited to renew her commitment to this fantastic organization. Though she took a break from the board, she has continued her commitment as the chief recruiter at KHS. She makes sure students know all about The Academy SPS and have access to the resources they need to apply.
Oather Taylor, III is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultant and Adviser based in Cedar Rapids, IA. In September 2018, Oather retired from Alliant Energy as their Director of Recruitment & Diversity. He was with Alliant Energy for 17 years previously holding the roles of Director of Security, Facilities & Continuity of Operations, and Director of Gas Engineering and Operations Support. Before joining Alliant Energy, Oather spent 14 years in the Oil, Petrochemical & Chemical industries in various engineering and management positions living most of that time in New Orleans, Louisiana, but leading large projects throughout Louisiana, Texas and in Trinidad & Tobago. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from The Ohio State University. Oather serves on the board of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and is a member of their Executive Committee. Oather recently stepped down as co-chair of the Iowa Energy Workforce Consortium, and from the Madison (WI) Regional Economic Partnership’s Labor & Diversity Committee. Oather also served on the Sector Partnership Leadership Council in Iowa. Oather was the first male to serve as a board member of Corridor Women Connect Organization. Oather has served as President of the Board of Directors for the African American Museum of Iowa, and also served on The Board of Trustees for the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art as a member of their Executive Committee and chair of the Buildings Committee. Oather was a Loaned Executive to the United Way of East Central Iowa in 2005, and is the co-founder and former Chair of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Employee Resource Group Consortium(ERGC). Oather was born and raised in Freeport, IL. He and his wife have a daughter at home and a son attending the University of Iowa.
Chanelle Thomas is an Engagement Specialist in the Learning Supports Department at Kennedy High School. She graduated from the University of Iowa Masters in Counseling Program. She has experience as an educator and counselor.
Sofia Mehaffey is an advocate, activist, and community servant. Originally from Queens, New York, Sofia spent her formative years in several Eastern Iowa cities and attended Kirkwood Community College, the University of Iowa, and Mount Mercy University. After completing her studies with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.B.A., she launched her career in community health, social justice, equity, and nutrition at Horizons, A Family Service Alliance. Sofia and her husband co-own Bulwark Consulting, LLC, a firm dedicated to progressive candidate and issue based campaigns and projects. Sofia resides in Cedar Rapids with her husband, three children, several fish, and a Russian tortoise named Ivan.
Flora Williams is a Marriage and Family clinical therapist that is dedicated to assisting clients reach their aspirations. Flora founded the Breaking Barriers Therapy Center, where she has the privilege of working with individuals, couples, and families to address concerns and make meaningful change. Her specialties include trauma, anxiety, depression, PTSD, grief, romantic and family relationships. She provides a safe and comfortable atmosphere for every person to address concerns regardless of creed, color, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Flora is currently in hot pursuit of her Doctoral Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at Mount Mercy University.
Al O’Bannon Throughout my professional career, I have demonstrated the ability to consistently elevate by building on prior positions and assignments. I have been able to do this because of five key characteristics: 1. Selfless, personal commitment to the professional goals of the organization 2. Highly articulated ability to communicate effectively, despite cultural, language or other potential boundaries 3. Capacity to effectively translate activity in one field to another, disparate field 4. Understanding that true growth requires learning from every single situation, and never allowing an opportunity to grow to go to waste 5. Unmatched optimism, which flows from my personal life to everything around me. While I am pragmatic, I believe in melding the power of positive thinking with determined action I have been able to effectively build this outreach into a global perspective as Head Coach with Trans Web Global and Transitions Lab University Prep School. Trans Web Global is a consulting practice focused on experience-based university admission counseling, which introduces students to the opportunities, training and review needed for an exceptional post-secondary education, while advancing the dialogue of a global education. This business allows me to grow a network throughout India, Africa, Europe and North and Latin America. Locally, as Co-Founder and President of the LBA Foundation I have effectively helped African-American students across the state of Iowa cut into the achievement gap. The goal of the LBA Foundation is to provide the tools and resources to Iowa youth necessary for success in all aspects of life by focusing on three primary areas of growth: character and leadership development, academic excellence, and healthy lifestyles and nutrition.
Pam Larson is an Executive Coach specializing in working with highly motivated leaders who are ready to make the changes necessary to achieve the goals that matter to them. She’s dedicated to helping people create meaning in their own lives and in their organizations. With over 25 years of boots on the ground experience developing, motivating, and equipping people to connect who they are with what they do her background encompasses a wide range of programs and initiatives for individual development, team building, and facilitation. She is currently enrolled at the University of Iowa pursuing a Masters Degree in Sociology.
Jane Hutchins after experiencing the life changing benefits of an established meditation practice, she is passionate about sharing the practice of meditation with others. She is a graduate of the Meditation Teacher Academy at the McLean Meditation Institute in Sedona, AZ. Jane is currently teaching mindfulness and meditation at Summit Schools in Cedar Rapids, IA and works with sports teams to add mindfulness, meditation, positivity and yoga to their routines. Prior to that, Jane trained with author and meditation teacher, Sarah Wood Vallely, to become a certified child meditation facilitator and mindfulness instructor.
As a conscientious observer of our educational system over the past years, Jane has seen that more and more of our kids (and their teachers) are under great stress. Pressures from school and learning, high expectations in competitive sports and family challenges have affected the learning process and the overall “happiness” level of our kids. Teachers are burdened with more responsibilities while given less money. Our kids and our teachers are burning out. Jane sees teaching meditation to both groups as a positive way to alleviate stress and transcend the classroom. Grounded teachers create a positive environment for our students to excel. Calm, centered kids are happier and learn at a higher level. Both affect the future of our world.
Stress is universal. Many parallels can be drawn between what our children and teachers are experiencing with what many of us are feeling. Meditation and mindfulness practices are transformative to our culture and the stresses societal norms have created within it. Jane is passionate about sharing her knowledge with children, athletes, teachers and anyone who is wanting to live a happier more fulfilling life.
Jane Hutchins has been a multimedia graphic designer for 31 years, a mom for 21 years, an organizer of spiritual enrichment classes for 14 years, a school volunteer for 16 years and a perpetual student all her life.
Sue Millar has been the owner of Millar Woodwind Repair in the Cherry Building near NewBo for over 30 years. She has repaired the majority of the instruments in Cedar Rapids, including the school district. Working at the Music Loft in Cedar Rapids is what gave her the passion.
George Anderson has been a Social Studies teacher for 16 years at John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. He was awarded the honor of being the Iowa Teacher of the Year in 2020 and has taught almost every subject in the department, but is currently teaching US History, African American History, Economics, and Philosophy. George is also a varsity assistant football coach for JFK. He was born in Peoria, Illinois but grew up in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school as an infantry rifleman and served 4 years, being honorably discharged in September of 1998. Shortly after, he relocated to Iowa and began his path to education. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in History and a minor in Political Science, then attended graduate school at the University of Iowa and earned his Master’s in Social Science Education. He studies jiu-jitsu and reads in his spare time. He is married to his best friend, Stephanie and has 2 daughters, Summer and Brielle.
Jordan Young is a Social Studies teacher with nine years of experience with the Cedar Rapids Community School District at Washington High School. Jordan also teaches AP World History, World History, and African-American History, and is a Sophomore/Freshman head football coach and men’s varsity track assistant. Jordan was born in Cedar Rapids and is a proud 2009 Washington graduate. Jordan earned his B.A. from Wartburg College with a degree in American and World History education in 2013 and an M.A. in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Iowa in 2020. Jordan loves to watch sports, read, and play video games in his free time.
Jordan is married to his wife Lindsay and has one son, Jordan Young Jr. (JJ), and two stepchildren, Grace, and Colton.
Dr. Charles Martin-Stanley II is the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In this role, he serves as a major University leader responsible for advancing the University’s mission and goals by providing strategic vision and administrative leadership for programs, policies, and initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
He earned his doctorate in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the University of Iowa, where he received the 2020 Phillip G. Hubbard Human Rights Award for his outstanding contributions in the area of human rights and impactful research and community service. Dr. Martin-Stanley’s area of research focuses on the persistence and retention of Black men at historically and predominantly white institutions. More specifically, his research agenda explores the complex set of factors that contribute to structural barriers and achievement gaps in higher education for Black men. Dr. Martin-Stanley has been recognized for this research by the Martin Luther King Jr. Research Symposium at the University of Iowa.
As a student affairs professional in higher education, Dr. Martin-Stanley is committed to helping institutions and organizations create diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments where all students can thrive and realize their full potential. His core values of social justice, leadership development, service, and a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity are deeply grounded in his personal and professional experiences.
Hemie Collier is the Senior Diversity Officer and Director of Intercultural Life at Cornell College. He also serves as an Assistant Lacrosse Coach for Cornell’s women’s program. Hemie has been with Cornell since 2016. He holds a Bachelors’ of Art from Luther College and a Masters of Science in Educational Leadership from Concordia University – Ann Arbor. He is currently a Doctoral Candidate with Concordia University – Chicago. Hemie has over 15 years of higher education experience. He has expertise in diversity, athletics, leadership, and organization building. He is committed to assisting faculty, staff, and students in their growth and development as professionals, learners, and global citizens.
Wes Butterfield oversees the consulting services division of RNL, which includes the areas of market research, financial aid services, student success, recruitment, and strategic enrollment consulting.
In addition to providing leadership for the division, he has served more than 50 small and large four-year public and private campuses across the United States throughout his consulting career at RNL.
Wes is a graduate of Cornell College and holds a master’s degree from the University of Iowa. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the University of Iowa.
Mari Hunt Wassink is a learner, educator, and aspiring activist. She grew up in Marion and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Spanish from Coe College. Since then, she has worked at various nonprofits in the Corridor, including the Catherine McAuley Center and Grow: Johnson County. Currently, she works in the field of organic and sustainable agriculture. Her passions include food sovereignty, environmental justice, antiracism, and carceral reform. Mari is excited to join The Academy SPS board and support the wonderful programs and resources ASPS offers in our community.
Barbara McElroy Knight has over 30 years of experience as a community organizer in Iowa and Texas. As a volunteer, she has served the community with groups including the: Board of Trustees CR Public Library, Board of Trustees Orchestra Iowa, Board of Trustees National Council on Youth Leadership, CR Museum of Art, CRCSD, CR Metro Area Catholic Schools, Governor of Iowa’s Commission on Flood Mitigation, Governor of Iowa’s Commission on Voluntarism, Junior League International-CR, The United Nations Association-Iowa, UWEI, U of I Presidential Advisory Board for International Students, U of I Presidential Commission on Teaching Excellence, and the Madge Phillips Center at Waypoint.
An advocate at the local, state, and federal level, Barbara has advocated for a variety of issues within education including: the enforcement of the McKinley-Vento Act (1987) ensuring free transportation to and from school for homeless children; access to quality behavioral therapies and treatment for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders; licensing for childcare providers; appropriate drafting and implementation of IEP/504 documentation for students promoting successful achievement outcomes; and ending institutionalized systemic racism in educational systems through recurring state-mandated professional development for teachers & administration in content specific anti-racist professional development.
Barbara holds a B.F.A. in media studies, production, communication, and studio arts from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas as well as an M.A. in Psychological and Quantitative Foundations specializing in instructional design from the U of I. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in the Education, Policy, and Leadership Studies department in the Schools, Culture, and Society program in the College of Education, U of I. Her research focuses on the philosophical, historical, and sociological underpinnings of education emphasizing lived experiences of marginalized individuals and communities. Formerly she was adjunct faculty at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, KCC-Iowa City, Iowa campus, and an instructor for preservice teacher preparation at the U of I, College of Education. Dedicated to promoting equity and justice in and out of the classroom, she is committed to the pursuit of truth, beauty, and the good.
Barb Osgood taught in the Cedar Rapids Community Schools for over twenty-five years as an Elementary teacher, including Nixon before she retired. She also has taught at Kirkwood Community College and worked with the Kids on Course program.
Ericka Heller is a committed leader with 25 years’ experience in contact centers. She has served in various roles in sales and service environments, most recently with Ferguson Enterprises as Quality Assurance Manager where she focuses on identifying gaps in employee performance and business processes. She is passionate about the Customer Experience; and is adept at enhancing customer response strategies and innovating new approaches to drive customer satisfaction. She currently is a board member for The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success, has served on the board for The Old Creamery Theatre and has been a mentor/“Big Sister” with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cedar Rapids & East Central Iowa since 2013. Ericka holds a B.S. in Biology and an M.B.A.