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 the Assistant Director for The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success in Cedar Rapids, IA 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.
Holding a Master Educator Teaching License: 5-12, 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/Zildjian Sticks & Cymbals as a member of their Education Team.
Thompson is a fourth-year Ph.D. student at The University of Iowa in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies with a concentration in Schools, Culture, and Society. He serves as both the departmental assistant and a primary instructor for the course Foundations of Education. As a socio-historian, Thompson’s writings and research concentrate on colorism, passing, and the academic stigmas experienced by Biracial students in American public education.
Shirley ‘Charrisse’ Cox is a veteran educator who taught first, second, and fourth graders at Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School for 29 of her 30 year career for the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Her first year was at Hiawatha Elementary as a first grade teacher. Over the years, she served in various leadership roles such as the Multicultural Nonsexist Advisory Council, District G.A.I.N.E. Mentor for 9th Grade Girls, District Curriculum Council, Building Leadership Team, Magnet School Leadership Team, and most recently, four years on the Superintendent’s Teacher Cabinet and advocate for a District Affinity Group for Black staff under the late Noreen Bush. Upon her retirement at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, she has gone well beyond her assigned duties by providing added assistance, guidance, and enrichment to students dealing with barriers to education.
She helped to start the JSA Gospel Choir after-school enrichment for 2nd-5th grade students over 27 years ago. Prior to the 2020 Pandemic, the choir performed annually in hospitals, local senior care centers, and for numerous school and community events throughout the greater Cedar Rapids Area. She plans to go back to Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School in the 2023-2024 school year to start up the choir again.
Charrisse is Co-founder and Director of The Academy SPS Expansion Program with Dr. Ruth White. For 16 years, she has worked with Black, Brown, and Bi-Racial third, fourth, and fifth grade Expansion Scholars (after school) to help cultivate them in the areas of Culture Pride, Academic Excellence, and Leadership. She is also on the ASPS Board of Directors and works with The ASPS HS summer program as Administrative Assistant and Program Documentation Photographer.
She is the current 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 a long time active member of the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. She has been teaching Sunday School for over 25 years, is current Music Ministry Director, Lead Director for the Mass and Youth Choirs, and leads the summer VBS Music Ministry encouraging young people to realize their potential through Christian education and the arts.
She is the recipient of the 2017 Women’s Equality Coalition Woman of the Year Award and Waypoint’s 40th Annual Tribute to Women of Achievement Award in 2022 for Arts, Education, and Culture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
George Anderson has been a Social Studies teacher for 17 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.
Amara Andrews is a mother, businesswoman, entrepreneur and community leader. Originally from California, she has lived and worked in Cedar Rapids with her family for nearly ten years.
Amara is currently the founding executive director of The ReCenter Wellness Spa in Coralville. Her husband Kahlil is the founder of Dr. Andrews Plastic Surgery. They have four kids: Amanda, Tyler, Aidan, and Hope. Amara currently serves as president of the board for the Advocates for Social Justice and board member for The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success.
After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Amara went on to receive a law degree from the UCLA School of Law.
She has served as a public school teacher in the inner city. She has mentored entrepreneurs at the University of Illinois. She has built a grassroot organization right here in Cedar Rapids that empowered the voices of thousands of people, all of whom came together to demand change. Amara is a natural leader and made history as the first woman of color to run for mayor of Cedar Rapids. While she beat the incumbent mayor, she lost in a run-off election in November of 2022.
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.
Mari Hunt Wassink is a farmer, educator, and activist. She owns and operates a local, sustainable farm, Black Earth Gardens, which specializes in growing vegetables, herbs, and fruits that are culturally important to Black communities in Eastern Iowa, with a dedication to challenge food apartheid and improve food sovereignty in our community.
Mari grew up in Marion and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in History and Spanish from Coe College. She has worked in various nonprofits in the Corridor, including the Catherine McAuley Center. Her passions include environmental justice, antiracism, and carceral reform.
Mari lives with her husband and dog in Cedar Rapids’ Wellington Heights neighborhood.
Mari is excited to join The Academy SPS board and support the next generation through the wonderful programs and resources ASPS offers in our community.
Jane Hutchins has been a multimedia graphic designer for 35 years, a mom for 25 years, a volunteer in the Cedar Rapids Community School District for 15 years and a perpetual student all her life. As a certified meditation facilitator and mindfulness instructor, she is passionate about sharing these practices with others, particularly students, athletes and teachers. Jane currently resides in DeLand, Florida, where she is enrolled in the MFA of the Americas creative writing program.
Barbara McElroy Knight has over 30 years of experience as a community organizer and volunteer in Iowa and Texas. She 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 University of Iowa. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD in the Education, Policy, and Leadership Studies department in the Schools, Culture, and Society program in the College of Education, University of Iowa. Formerly, she was adjunct faculty at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, Kirkwood Community College-Iowa City, Iowa campus, and an instructor for preservice teacher preparation at the University of Iowa, College of Education.
Her research focuses on the philosophical, historical, and sociological underpinnings of education emphasizing lived experiences of marginalized individuals and communities. Using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in her work, she uses the most current data to promote equity and justice in and out of the classroom. Her research is committed to the pursuit of truth, beauty, and the good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.