PCC’s team is small but mighty. Many of us were once the students for whom PCC fights today. Calling on our unique talents, experiences, and points of view, we take bold and strategic action to effect systemwide change that supports greater college access and greater college success for underrepresented students across the state.

Meet the PCC Team

Meet the PCC Team


Lisa Castillo Richmond, Ph.D.

Executive Director

I see my role as continuing to build the organization’s impact as a powerful advocate for students and a force for advancing racial and socioeconomic equity in Illinois Higher Education.

As the first in my family to attend college, I have seen the many ways in which higher education has erected barriers for students that have nothing to do with academic ability and must be intentionally dismantled. I have been fortunate to work in a number of incredible organizations, but none that has the potential for systemic impact on the scale that PCC does.

I grew up in Illinois, the daughter of small business owners and descended from generations of blue collar workers. My parents made it possible for me and my siblings to attend college, and it fundamentally changed the trajectory of my life. At a time when a college degree has become even more necessary but the cost to earn one has become prohibitively expensive, we are working to ensure PCC’s efforts meet the urgency of this moment.

Blanca Jara. Chief of Staff.

Blanca Jara

Chief of Staff

In my role, I will work collaboratively across the organization to execute PCC’s ambitious mission to eliminate disparities in degree completion along racial and socioeconomic lines in Illinois. I will serve with a particular focus on people and culture, programming, and streamlining internal systems and processes.

I have seen the many ways systemic barriers in higher education impact student outcomes.  As a servant leader, I committed to diversity and inclusion to help accelerate advanced solutions that address inequities and achieve significant impact in higher education equity in Illinois.

My journey through higher education was nonlinear, and through my family’s support, I have continued that journey. I take pride in giving back to the community that has given me so much. I have a responsibility to provide space and pathways to achieve higher education equity.

Christian Perry

Director of Policy & Advocacy

I oversee PCC’s state policy & advocacy agenda and have the great privilege of leading the dynamic individuals on our policy team. I see my role as being an effective collaborator and fierce champion for equitable higher education policy in Illinois.

If not for the GI Bill, I would not have been able to obtain a college degree. While the Navy was the right choice for me, I’m in this fight to ensure every student that desires to continue their education has multiple pathways to access college completion.

I grew up on the Southside of Chicago the son of teachers, nurses, and police officers. I joined the Navy and have been a public servant ever since. Having worked in politics and government at every level I’m excited to bring my relationships and expertise in service to the Partnership.

Jonathan Lopez

Senior Manager of Operational Effectiveness

I oversee the implementation of effective operating standards across all PCC departments and ensure PCC meets financial, development, audit, and HR compliance.

My college experience is a story full of challenges as an undocumented student. I graduated after nine  years experiencing all systemic barriers in higher ed, which still exist today. Working at PCC represents my opportunity to join an organization driving change so others don’t have the same college experience I had.

After growing up impoverished in Mexico, I moved to Chicago to realize my dreams of a college education. I have worked in the nonprofit sector for 12 years developing my skill set in operations. At PCC, I get to utilize my diverse talents towards a mission I believe in.


Mike Abrahamson

Senior Manager of Research and Policy

PCC strives to be deeply evidence-driven in all it does, and I help with the research and data efforts that can keep us grounded in work that can measurably improve equity in both higher ed policy and practice. 

I am passionate about helping to remove barriers and reverse historical inequities for students. I believe that we have a moral imperative to do so, but also feel that economics, data, and research can be utilized in advocating for change, and I hope to add that lens throughout our work.

After working in communications for an educational institution, I wanted the skills to analyze policy through a quantitative lens. I earned a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, and worked with City Colleges of Chicago through a Mayoral Fellowship, before coming to PCC in 2018.


Paula Hanley

Senior Partnerships Manager

I help design strategies, coordinate professional learning opportunities for staff and faculty, and provide coaching supports to our college and university partners to help them achieve equitable outcomes. I also serve as the point person for ILEA on Summit, Equity Institute, Equity Circles for Change, PDP and Newsletter.

I believe we have an obligation to create student-ready institutions to support today’s students. We need to shift our thinking and focus policies and practices with an equity lens for all students, especially Black, Latinx and low-income so that their path to completion is clearly defined and supported.

I spent 30 years working in HE across all sectors and areas such as advising, enrollment management, transfer student services and one stop services before coming to the PCC. I have been with the ILEA Initiative since the start, am a former CC student and a proud Bradley University alum.


Joe Saucedo

Senior Partnerships Manager

As part of the College and University Partnerships team, I bring my depth of direct student services, social justice education, and other professional experiences to bear on guiding higher education teams toward centering Black, Latinx, and economically-disadvantaged students in their decision-making. I curate learning and development opportunities driven by evidence-based practices and institutional gaps in serving students appropriately.

The work of interrupting the systemic exclusion of economically-disadvantaged and racial-minoritized communities is ongoing. The stories shared among the students that our nonprofit strives to uplift resonate with me on a personal level. I choose to engage the work of equity and organizational change because our students throughout Illinois deserve better.

My village of support has origins in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and extends across the country. As a proud Mexican American with parents who never earned a college degree, my journey toward PCC was nonlinear and supported by a legacy of hard work, resilience, and love.


Sonianne Lozada

Community Engagement Manager

I support my team’s work by bringing the research and data to life and making sure it translates to communities. All while educating and empowering stakeholders to take this information, fuse it with their own lived experiences and elevate their voices to end the inequitable disparities that have burdened Illinois college students.

I’m a second generation college graduate and don’t take that privilege lightly. I want to make sure my work creates pathways for those coming after me. It is my duty to raise my voice and advocate for injustices and inequities even if the issue doesn’t directly affect me.  

I wanted to be a voice, so I studied Journalism at Columbia College Chicago. Working with high school students and witnessing their struggles, I had to do more. Knowing my work couldn’t just impact one student, but many, I pursued a Master of Arts in Public Policy from National Louis University. 

Monique Bowman

Senior Communications Manager

I am responsible for strategically and creatively telling the PCC story, by sharing its mission within policy, institutional change, and data and research. That’s done through PCC digital channels, relationships with media, and community engagement.

Throughout my life, I have been the “only.” The only person of color in the classroom. The only woman in the decision-making table. I want to make sure others that look like me have opportunities to complete their educational journey and advance in their chosen career.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Capital University, and my master’s degree in education from Bowling Green State University. I have spent most of my career on university campuses in a marketing communications capacity.

Lauren Grimaldi headshot

Lauren Grimaldi

Communications Associate

I find effective and meaningful ways to communicate PCC’s research, practices, and policies to higher education professionals, advocates for equity in college access and attainment, and the general public. 

Earning a degree was life-changing for me, and my undergraduate institution afforded me countless opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Too many students do not receive this same level of support, and I want to ensure more students from underrepresented backgrounds are able to access, persist, and complete their degree.

I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Roosevelt University, a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from DePaul University, and worked in politics for national and statewide candidates and causes. 

Danielle Stanley

Government Affairs Manager

As the Government Affairs Manager, I educate members of the Illinois General Assembly on issues that impact equitable college access and completion. I also monitor the political environment, manage relationships with state policymakers, and identify opportunities to promote state and local policies that improve equity in higher education.

I’m a higher education advocate because I know the power of an advanced degree. For too long, Black, Brown, and low-income people have been locked out of higher education because of the soaring increase in tuition, looming student loans with high-interest rates and fees, and minimal support in state and federal aid.

I first became interested in higher education policy as a Research Associate for CTBA. Seeing the disparities among the public universities during the budget impasse, I co-authored a report to highlight the decade trend of disinvestment that predated it. Years later, I’m still passionate and committed to making higher education obtainable, accessible, and affordable for those who seek it.

Caitlin Power Headshot

Caitlin Power

Policy Analyst

I support PCC’s policy and practice work with research and data analysis to advance evidence-based policy recommendations, reports, and legislative priorities. 

As a policy researcher and organizer, I understand the importance of community voice, needs, and experiences in dismantling racist systems and practices. My role at PCC allows me to support the work of advocates and students pushing for racial justice in higher education with a strong research base.

I received my Master’s in Education Policy at Loyola University Chicago, where my research focused on student voice and structural barriers to racial justice. Before joining the Partnership, I worked on projects related to racial equity in K-12 and postsecondary education with Loyola’s School of Social Work and NORC at the University of Chicago. 

Veronica Villanueva

Development Manager

As the Development Manager, my role is to build strategy, systems, and structures for PCC’s fundraising efforts. In my role, I will be responsible for collaborating across the organization to capture all the work PCC does to share with external stakeholders and funders.

As a first-generation college student, I know first-hand the struggles a student can go through. My hope is to be part of the change that is needed to make higher education more accessible, affordable, and equitable for students.

I started my education journey as a community college student at Harold Washington College, transferred and then earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from DePaul University. As a higher education advocate, I earned a Master’s degree in the Engaging Latina/o/x Communities for Education (ENLACE) Higher Education Leadership Program at Northeastern Illinois University.

Lissette Cardona

Office Manager

As the Office Manager, I work tirelessly to ensure exceptional operations. Passionate about fostering team personal growth, I recognize its impact on a positive work atmosphere. In collaboration with the Senior Manager of Operational Effectiveness, my role is pivotal in supporting all PCC initiatives, offering professional growth opportunities, equipping our staff through strategic partnerships, and fostering a supportive and impactful environment that drives PCC’s mission forward.

I am driven by the recognition that many, like me, find navigating the path to and through higher education a challenging experience. Completing a degree often necessitates careful planning, financial resources, scholarships, or having a supportive network guiding the way. I understand the hurdles firsthand, having faced the challenges of pursuing education without a predetermined financial safety net. This personal experience fuels my commitment to creating a more accessible educational landscape.

My journey is a tapestry woven with pride as a Latina and the first in my family to earn an associate’s degree—a significant accomplishment. However, my path extends beyond personal achievement, deeply rooted in finding purpose and serving underserved communities and populations. Recognizing the ongoing work needed to complete my degree isn’t just for personal fulfillment; it’s a commitment to setting an example for my children about the value of lifelong learning and pursuing higher education, regardless of age.

Giselle Palacios

Research and Data Associate

I assist the Research and Data team with researching evidence-based
practices and policies as well as help analyze state and institutional
data. I am also responsible for providing the CUP team insights that
can help our institutional partners narrow their completion
disparities by race and income.

I have always been passionate about education. I initially wanted to
be a math teacher, but seeing how systemic barriers in higher
education hindered many, especially low-income and minority students,
I want to utilize my research and data analysis skills to support work
that is focused on making higher education equitable for all.

My parents, who are immigrants from Mexico and have no college degree,
worked hard to provide their children the opportunity to pursue higher
education. I started my college journey at Saint Xavier University,
where I received my Bachelor’s in Mathematics. I then earned my
Master’s in Mathematics at Governors State University.

Lee Roe

Academic Program Manager

I am the Academic Program Manager and responsible for supporting colleges and universities in Illinois through the implementation of the Developmental Education Reform Act (DERA) in an effort to create equitable access and increase degree attainment for students of color.

I have been personally impacted by the disparities that existed for me as a Black, low-income, first-generation student who almost gave up during my undergraduate experience. Through the support of a few, I was able to persevere and complete but many of my peers did not which makes my work so critical.

After reflecting upon my own experience early on, I have been determined to help students be successful in their higher education pursuits. I completed my doctorate at Governors State University and began to put my research into practice to create change and move the needle on support for students and their college completion.