Our Staff

CollegeSpring’s staff is smart, hardworking, and dedicated to the belief that all students should have the opportunity to choose a four-year college education. As members of a small team, we thrive in a fast paced environment where initiative and creativity are the norm.


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Garrett Neiman

Co-Founder & CEO

Garrett Neiman is CEO of CollegeSpring, a national nonprofit organization he co-founded that is closing the college readiness and graduation gap in high-poverty American schools. As CEO, Garrett sets CollegeSpring’s vision in collaboration with the Board of Directors, develops and manages annual performance objectives, and serves as CollegeSpring’s primary representative to the external community.

Since 2008, 15,000 students have completed CollegeSpring’s programs. Currently, the organization serves 4,000 students annually from 40 high schools in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City. CollegeSpring closes half of the college readiness gap as measured by SAT scores for the entire junior class at partner high schools, and participants are much more likely to matriculate and persist in college than their peers.  Under Garrett’s leadership, CollegeSpring’s budget has grown 20x since 2010 and 3x since 2012.

Garrett and CollegeSpring have been featured in The White House Report “Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students,” The New York Times, Forbes, BusinessWeek, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Education Week, and Sheryl Sandberg’s #1 bestselling book Lean In.

Garrett is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Milken Institute Young Leader, Hitachi Foundation Young Entrepreneur, Goldman Sachs Intriguing Entrepreneur, and Forbes 30 Under 30 Education honoree.


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Matt Aguiar

Chief Operating Officer

Matt joined CollegeSpring after spending nine years with Reading Partners, a national elementary literacy nonprofit. Matt served as Chief of Staff from 2014-2016, leading a number of strategic initiatives and facilitating leadership groups and cross-functional projects. Prior to that, Matt led the organization’s field operational expansion from the San Francisco Bay Area into six states. Before joining Reading Partners, Matt was the director of scholarships at the University of California Berkeley Alumni Association where he built and managed the largest alumni volunteer program in the country.

Matt has a degree in economics and business administration from UC Berkeley. He attended Harvard Business School’s executive education program on performance measurement, and completed the Society for Nonprofit Management’s certificate series.

As COO, Matt leads CollegeSpring’s core business infrastructure functions and serves as a critical partner to the CEO, leadership team, and board.


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Julie Bachur Gopalan

Senior Vice President of Strategy & Impact

Julie began her career in education as a teacher at an independent high school in Houston, where she witnessed first-hand the advantages given to wealthy students in the college admissions process. While teaching, she took on an additional role as a mentor teacher and Dean of Faculty with Breakthrough Houston, where she coached high school and college students in their roles as classroom instructors and mentors to low-income middle school students. Since joining CollegeSpring in 2010, Julie has led the expansion and codification of the organization’s programs. She currently leads the strategic development of CollegeSpring’s programs, including program model development and refinement, curriculum and training, partnership development and retention, program expansion, and impact analysis. Julie holds a BA in History from Rice University and an MA from the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies program. She served as a 2010 Bay Area Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellow.

 

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Krystal O’Leary Flores

Southern California Executive Director

Krystal graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in History and minor in Education Studies. After earning her teaching credential from UCLA, she began her education career as a History teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Krystal went on to receive a Master’s Degree in Education from UCLA, where she studied urban education. During her second year of teaching, Krystal moved into education management when she became the Lead Teacher and Coordinator of a media-based California Partnership Academy. Under her leadership, the academy saw an increase in student population, graduation rates, and business/educational partnerships.

Krystal came to CollegeSpring in 2011 to launch academic year programs in the Los Angeles region.  The success of that initial program allowed CollegeSpring to nearly double the number of students served in its second year of AYP implementation.  Since then, Krystal has launched our Los Angeles office, codified our core program model, and standardized our seasonal staff training curriculum.  Upon moving to the National Strategy and Impact Team, Krystal led the conceptualization and design of high-quality, data-driven, and innovative programs, supported program staff and program sites organization-wide, and developed systems and designed programming to ensure the successful onboarding and professional development of full-time programs staff across the organization.   With ten years of experience in education and a deep passion for CollegeSpring’s mission, Krystal is the perfect fit to lead the Southern California team.


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Matthew Phifer

New York Executive Director

Matthew Phifer’s passion for youth development began in 1999 at Binghamton University. As an undergraduate, he was a teaching assistant for numerous Sociology and Africana Studies courses. Working as a Family Life Specialist for the Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference, Matthew saw the connections between his coursework and the harsh realities of poverty, marginalization, and lack of resources. These experiences helped solidify his perceptions about the importance of education, critical thought and social emotional learning, particularly within young inner city communities of color. Upon graduation he joined the Henry Street Settlement as a case manager for the New Beginnings Alternative High School at the Boys and Girls Republic. He was responsible for counseling youth with severe attendance issues and one-year suspensions, as well as providing referrals and managing academic interventions with students. Most recently, Matt served as Director of Education Services where he oversaw Henry Street’s adolescent, early childhood and after-school elementary educational services, which provide results-driven academic enrichment programming to more than 2000 inner-city youth annually.

In his current role as CollegeSpring New York Executive Director, he oversees partnership development, fundraising, site management, and program execution.  Matthew holds bachelor’s degrees in Sociology and in Africana Studies, and a master’s degree in Social Sciences with a concentration in Public Administration, all from Binghamton University.


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Kate Schwass

Bay Area Executive Director

Kate Schwass is the Bay Area Executive Director of CollegeSpring.  Previously, she served as the Director of Development for Envision Education, a Bay Area charter school network and was responsible for a $2M annual fundraising budget.  During her tenure at Envision, Kate raised over $1.1M for new school growth in 4 months, as well as executed a new event that has raised over $500k in two years.  Before her time with Envision, Kate served in various leadership roles in the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), ultimately serving as the Regional Director of Northern California and overseeing fundraising and health care services at three district offices and five health care clinics. Prior to MDA, she worked at the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in Santa Barbara and the United Way of Santa Barbara County. Kate has a B.A. in Religious Studies from Westmont College.

Kate oversees partnership development, fundraising, site management, and program execution for the Bay Area region.

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Andrea Vernitsky

Director of Curriculum & Training

With more than seven years experience in education, Andrea has dedicated her career to the belief that strong curriculum is the backbone of academic success for all students. After receiving her degree in English and linguistics at NYU, she entered the NYC Teaching Fellows program, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Education and applied her education and training to creating rigorous and engaging curriculum for a diverse group of students while teaching high school English in Brooklyn. She also served as a Literacy Coach, developed curriculum for an afterschool program, coached aspiring teachers as part of the New Teacher Project and held the position of program manager with a literacy nonprofit organization before joining CollegeSpring.

Andrea oversees the development of CollegeSpring’s curriculum materials and content-related staff training materials.


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Tania Davila

Programs Data Manager

Tania began her career as a development associate at a domestic violence services agency in New York City where she parlayed her knowledge and experience in program planning, evaluation, and grant writing to help diversify funding sources. In this role, she was uniquely positioned to understand the importance of data in securing grants, obtaining contracts, and building community partnerships.  Thus, she began to look for better ways in which to manage and incorporate data across systems and was tasked with building platforms to collect, record, track, and manage client outcomes in an efficient and cohesive manner. Tania’s shift into research and evaluation grew out of this experience and as Programs Data Manager at CollegeSpring, she oversees the quality of data collection and reporting efforts.  Furthermore, she is in charge of ensuring staff is properly trained to administer and use data collection systems and tools.  In this capacity, she supports the Strategy & Impact team to improve and broaden the scope of CollegeSpring’s reach through data-informed program planning, curriculum design, communications, and development.

As a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Social Work, Tania holds a Master of Science in Social Work degree and has worked in both clinical and administrative settings on issues pertaining to domestic abuse, family violence, HIV/AIDS, immigration, and alcohol & drug dependency. In the years prior to working at CollegeSpring, Tania was a Personal Advisor for Employment & Training for homeless youth in the United Kingdom.  She also holds a Master of Arts in Literature degree from San Diego State University and has taught English as a Foreign Language in Japan.


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Katie Duffy

Curriculum Coordinator

As a classroom teacher for over five years, Katie has dedicated herself to creating strong, engaging and interactive lessons in a variety of content areas. After graduating from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology with a concentration in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, Katie moved to the west coast to attend Loyola Marymount University through the PLACE Corps program. She graduated from LMU with a Master’s Degree in Education as well as her California Teaching Credential. She has served as a curriculum coordinator for third through fifth grade at one of her school sites, developed Junior High Reading and Writing curriculum in alignment with the Common Core State Standards as well as a Junior High Science Curriculum in alignment with both the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards. Katie strongly aligns with CollegeSpring’s mission and has spent her career advocating for students and their success. She is passionate about designing meaningful learning experiences and engaging educational materials to ensure that all students have access to education.

As CollegeSpring’s Curriculum Coordinator, Katie creates and develops curriculum for all of CollegeSpring’s programs. 


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Amanda Prufer

Development & Grants Manager

Amanda is deeply motivated by her ability to increase the impact of non-profit organizations through fundraising and strategic development. Her passion for this work began as an undergraduate at Boston University, where she founded a nonprofit that raised funds solely from student donations to build freshwater wells in Darfur. After graduation, she taught English in Shenzhen, China and was later awarded a fellowship in São Paulo, Brazil through Princeton in Latin America, where she designed and implemented a college admissions prep program for underserved students seeking admission to universities in the U.S. Following her fellowship, she moved to San Francisco, where she spent several years as an Institutional Giving Officer for United Way of the Bay Area and, most recently, as a Grants Consultant for San Francisco State University’s first-ever capital campaign.

At CollegeSpring, Amanda manages development operations and institutional fundraising efforts.


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Martin Sanchez

Communications Manager

Martin’s interest in education began while working as a writing tutor in college. He then served with the Peace Corps in Namibia, where he taught English as a Second Language and organized after-school programs for at-risk youth. Before joining CollegeSpring, he spent several years in marketing and public relations in Silicon Valley. He holds a BA in English from UC Berkeley.

Martin manages CollegeSpring’s communications and marketing efforts.


 

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Megan Fisher

Development Coordinator

Megan’s motivation for ensuring greater access to educational opportunities was instilled while working as an Associate Project Director for Amigos de las Americas, developing service-learning trips for U.S. high-school students in Latin America. After working abroad, she relocated to the Bay Area and joined a social enterprise start-up centered on connecting marginalized artisans in the developing world with resources to grow their businesses, invest within their local economies, and provide skilled trainings and greater educational opportunities for the next generation. Most recently, Megan focused her skills on fundraising for non-profits throughout the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Megan holds a B.A. from UC Santa Barbara in Political Science and Spanish.

In her role as CollegeSpring’s Development Coordinator, Megan manages the donor database as well as gift processing.


 

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Karen Rodriguez

Controller

Karen has spent the last 20 years in service of various nonprofit organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has most recently been Director of Finance & Operations for Amazon Watch, as well as Chief Financial Officer for California Humanities. She appreciates the opportunity to learn about varied causes and missions, and the creative strategies that intrepid nonprofits employ to advance them. She enjoys helping fledgling organizations negotiate the challenges of growth, and she is excited to have joined CollegeSpring at this very juncture in its own development. She holds a BA in International Relations & Economics from San Francisco State University, and enjoys singing in her spare time.

At CollegeSpring, Karen oversees financial operations and strategy.


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Helen Wong

HR Administrator

Helen brings a unique mix of experience in Human Resources in corporate environments and Clinical Social Work in community mental health.  As a first generation college student, she understands the value of a college education and the opportunities it can open up.  She is deeply committed to social justice and equity and strives to weave it into her work, whether that is in direct service or in administrative support.  Helen earned a BA in Psychology from UC Davis, and a MSW from the University of Washington.  

 At CollegeSpring, Helen is responsible for supporting administrative functions on the Human Resources Team.

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Janna Stucky

Southern California Senior Programs Manager

Janna earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Montana with a minor in Human and Family Development. After graduating, she moved to Los Angeles to serve as a City Year Americorps member, where she provided tutoring and after-school programs for low-income students.  Her work in schools in Los Angeles inspired her to want to make an even greater impact on students, which led her to become a Teach for America teacher in Chicago. She brings to CollegeSpring her passion for education and desire to help students meet their full potential.

Janna assists with CollegeSpring’s Southern California programs and operations. She helps with mentor recruitment, training, and support; and ensures quick turnaround of test results to students and partner organizations.   


Jennifer Torres

Southern California Associate Programs Manager

Jennifer never expected to attend college because work rather than school was a priority in her family. However, due to the influence and support of a close friend who encouraged her, she is now the first college graduate in her family.

She received a B.S. in Business Administration, specializing in Marketing with a minor in Economics from California State University of Los Angeles and now has over five years of experience in product, service and project management.

Her most recent endeavor was working with the United Peace Corps in Cameroon, Africa as a Community Economic Development Consultant. During her two years with the Peace Corps, Jennifer worked in youth development and focused on education, volunteerism and economics. Projects with these young people were most fulfilling because of her own experiences. The impact and importance of this work while in Cameroon gave her the incentive to continue on the same path when returning to Los Angeles.

Jennifer strives to be as influential as the person who encouraged her to continue her education and who mentored her during her college years. Jennifer is dedicated to finding a way for underserved young people to gain access to higher education. She works closely with CollegeSpring’s Southern California’s Programs Team, helping with mentor recruitment, training and support, and ensures quick turnaround of test results to students and partner organizations.


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Ashley Soto

Southern California Associate Programs Manager

Ashley is committed to uplifting communities of color. She’s worked as a science teacher in critical needs high schools of Mississippi through the Mississippi Teacher Corps and was the Site Director for a free SAT prep program in Holyoke, MA. In addition to her work in education, she’s managed marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies.

Ashley earned a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Ole Miss (hotty toddy!) and graduated from Amherst College, double majoring in Neuroscience and Latin@ Social and Cultural Identities.

Ashley helps with CollegeSpring’s SoCal programs and operations.


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Amy Sims

Southern California Associate Programs Manager & Development Coordinator

Amy graduated Magna Cum Laude from Loyola Marymount University with a B.B.A. in Marketing and a B.S. in Economics. While completing her undergraduate degree, Amy began working with CollegeSpring as a Mentor, a Lead Mentor, a Campus Recruitment Director, and a Programs Intern. Social justice became a passion for Amy during her studies at LMU. During her senior year, Amy led an Alternative Breaks trip to Haiti, which inspired her to write her thesis on the ethics of international aid in Haiti for the University Honors Program. As a Mentor, Amy worked with over 100 students from low-income backgrounds on SAT preparation and college readiness. She also supported LMU Mentor recruitment efforts for CollegeSpring as a CRD and helped support the Programs staff as an intern.

Amy supports Southern California development efforts with grant writing, research, event planning, and board development. She also works with CollegeSpring’s Southern California programs team to ensure quality mentor recruitment, training, and support; and ensures quick turnaround of test results to students and partner organizations


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Nia Hill-Perry

Southern California Programs Associate

Nia graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in Spatial Arts and a Minor in Business. She strongly believes that the outreach programs she was involved in as a child opened her eyes to the opportunities that college offers. The product of a successful inner-city charter school, Nia reaped the benefits of smaller classroom sizes which created a communal environment. Nia aspires to continue her education with the goal of becoming an Art Therapist. This will allow her to invest much of her time developing low-income student programming, and to become an inspiring figure in her community through the healing power of the arts. CollegeSpring’s mission to provide mentors to high school students so that they can achieve their educational goals not only reflects Nia’s upbringing but matches her belief that the life of a child can be changed with one devoted role model.

Nia supports the Southern California team in assisting with all aspects of Southern California programs.


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Valerie Morishige

Southern California Office Manager

Valerie believes that if you are mindful about what you feed your mind and body, then that emergent property called a soul will take care of itself. To that end she has worked in the education sector; previously at a nonprofit that provides anti-bias training for the K-12 community and before that at a nonprofit theater group that made classic literature accessible for young students. While transitioning from California State University, Los Angeles to University of California Los Angeles, Valerie took 2 years off and worked at the largest Japanese restaurant distributor in the nation before finishing her Bachelor of Arts in English.
Valerie manages the day-to-day operations in the Los Angeles office and uses her logistics experience to make sure everything runs smoothly.


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Allyson Cook

New York Programs Manager

Allyson began her career as an educator as an Americorps Member and full time teacher in Paterson, New Jersey for a yearlong service commitment. Working as a dedicated Language Arts teacher, academic tutor, founding Dance Team coach, and parent liaison, Allyson was able to see the benefits of community outreach within educational institutions. Allyson completed her term of service and shifted her focus to educational leadership and supporting schools by assuming the role of Deputy Campus Director of Citizen Schools, in the New Jersey region. After growing and learning how to best support teachers, parents, and scholars Allyson has thus worked in other school districts in New Jersey as an Academic Counselor for a TRIO program at Rutgers University-Newark Campus, where she managed undergraduate and graduate students who supported a total of 500 students. Allyson completed her master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, NJ.

Allyson views herself as an integrated change agent who is committed to: empowering all scholars to build character, ensuring they develop mastery in 21st century skills, and providing access to high quality colleges and professional careers by creating diverse, engaging learning opportunities. She strives to guide youth to their full potential, meanwhile engaging families and community members to be more involved in the academic success of the youth. She is an advocate for education reform with the hope to narrow (and one day close) the opportunity and achievement gaps in America.

Allyson assists with CollegeSpring’s New York programs and operations. She helps with mentor recruitment, training, and support; and ensures quick turnaround of test results to students and partner organizations.


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Samee Muhammad

New York Associate Programs Manager

Abdul Samee Muhammad (“Samee”) graduated from Georgia State University with a B.S. in Psychology. After graduation he moved to Los Angeles to work with underserved youth via City Year. He worked at William J. Clinton Middle School for two years mentoring, tutoring and impacting youth and other AmeriCorps members. Samee’s passion to work with low-income youth all around the world through financial literacy, performing arts education, youth development, and college readiness, led him to CollegeSpring. He believes in the words of activist Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Samee assists with CollegeSpring’s New York’s programs and operations. He conducts mentor recruitment, training, and support; and ensures quick turnaround of test results to students and partner organizations.   


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Siettah Parks

New York Programs Associate

Siettah graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.A. in Sociology. Upon graduating, she relocated to Newark, NJ to serve as an AmeriCorps member in the Tutor Corps at Great Oaks Charter School. Siettah provided the students with daily small group tutorials and assisted the administration with the execution of programs that focused on homework help and test-prep.

Siettah’s experience in Newark sparked her interest in education. Upon completing the AmeriCorps program, she moved to the New York area and continued her work with students at VOICE Charter School. Her time spent with students, teachers and administrators inspired her to enter a program at a research institution focused on equality in education. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Sociology and Education with a concentration in Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. She plans to conduct research that will inform policy makers and positively affect our public school system.

Siettah assists with the day-to-day operations in the New York office and has broad interaction and responsibility across the programs team as a whole.


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Alex Lujan

Bay Area Senior Programs Manager

As a first generation college student and former foster youth, Alex has firsthand knowledge of the difficulty of navigating the college admissions process. Her childhood has inspired her to make education accessible to anyone. Alex graduated from UC Berkeley with her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. During college, she mentored youth in social skills, science, and math in multiple bay area schools. Shortly after graduation she joined Citizen Schools, an Americorps extended day teaching program that partners with middle schools to build students’ skills and boost their confidence to succeed in college and beyond. Alex’s commitment to empowering youth to have agency in their educational trajectories is what brings her to CollegeSpring.
Alex assists with CollegeSpring’s Bay Area programs and operations. She helps with mentor recruitment, training, and support; and ensures quick turnaround of test results to students and partner organizations.


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Melissa Thiriez

Bay Area Talent Coordinator

After serving as a summer SAT instructor for CollegeSpring, Melissa joined the team as Talent Coordinator. She is responsible for recruiting exceptional undergraduate mentors and establishing relationships with universities in the Bay Area. Her summer experience gave her a unique understanding of the mentor-student relationship which informs her efforts at her current position.
With over ten years of teaching and mentoring experience, she is excited to collaborate with a team focused on improving college access and working towards social justice in education. She received her B.A. from Scripps College in Psychology and her M.A. from Claremont Graduate University in Education. She is also a Fulbright scholar.
Melissa is responsible for the recruitment, selection, and on-boarding of all seasonal staff for the Bay Area region.


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Natasha Blackadar

Bay Area Programs Associate

Natasha graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Development Studies and a focus on international education. After running a volunteer program in South Africa, she completed the Residence in Social Enterprise (RISE) Fellowship with New Sector Alliance in San Francisco. Natasha believes that higher education is an extremely powerful tool for changing the lives of young people and volunteers locally and virtually as a college adviser. Her passion for the nonprofit sector and college access led her to CollegeSpring, where she is excited to contribute to making college a reality for students across the Bay Area.

Natasha provides programmatic and operations support to the Bay Area team.