As the Partnership for College Completion team grows, we want to share new stories about our organization as well as about the people critical to the work. By sharing our stories of what we do, how we got to our current positions, and why we find ourselves dedicated to this work, we realize our journeys aren’t linear and, in many ways, look like those of the students we advocate for every day. When we’re open about how we got to where we are today, we’re able to bridge that gap for those around us and help students and others feel more connected to us and our work.
And when we share our stories, we invite others to connect with us in a more authentic and personal way. This is especially important in higher education equity work where working together with a shared understanding of why we’re dedicated to this mission is critical.
In the spirit of sharing stories, we invite you to learn more about our team members’ stories and why each of us is committed to the work of ensuring that every student who aspires to earn a college degree in Illinois has the resources they need to pursue and complete that journey.
Lisa Castillo Richmond, Executive Director
What I do: 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. This means attracting and retaining a talented and diverse team and Board that represent the diversity of college students in our state, building consistently excellent programming, ensuring PCC is responsive to the growing demand for our work, and securing the financial resources we need to support our mission.
Why I do it: 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.
How I got here: 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.
Kim Everett, Managing Director
What I Do: My work focuses on supporting the team by making sure that they have the resources they need to carry out the PCC mission. Additionally, I’m a thought partner with the Executive Director and the leadership team as we chart the organization’s path forward.
Why I Do It: As a first generation student, I was only able to be successful because of the community that I stumbled upon. Success in college shouldn’t be a convergence of grace. Rather the result of demonstrated institutional commitment to equity and student success coupled with student-centered policy that make a community of care possible and accessible to all who desire it.
How I Got Here
Prior to joining the Partnership, my work focused on supporting and advocating for minoritized students in a variety of campus settings in a number of student affairs departments, most recently as the Director in the Office of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University.
Jonathan Lopez, Senior Manager of Operational Effectiveness
What I do: I oversee the implementation of effective operating standards across all PCC departments and ensure PCC meets financial, development, audit, and HR compliance.
Why I do it: 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.
How I got here: 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.
Cameron Heimann, Operations Associate
What I Do: I am responsible for supporting the implementation of consistent operating standards, office management, and managing our Executive Director’s calendar.
Why I Do It: After witnessing inequity throughout my primary and secondary scholastic career growing up in the Metro East area and attending the University of Missouri, it became a passion for me to prevent these injustices from continuing to occur.
How I Got Here: I studied Political Science and German at the University of Missouri with a focus on American government and bureaucratic structures. After working in operations at different public service businesses, I saw the opportunity to work for PCC and take my talents to an organization that is making real change in Illinois to make higher education more equitable across the board.
Bravetta Hassell, Senior Communications Manager
What I Do: Since 2019, I’ve been supporting PCC’s mission and vision by identifying strategic approaches for raising public awareness about the barriers students face to completing their degree and telling the story of PCC’s work to remove those barriers through both policy advocacy and institutional partnerships.
Why I Do It: I don’t take lightly the privilege of being a third generation college grad. The fact that that was then and continues to be considered a privilege as opposed to a right for people who look like me underscores the heart and hard work still needed to ensure that every student with college aspirations is met with a higher ed system that supports their ambition rather than hinders it.
How I Got Here: I arrived at my current role through journalism study at the undergraduate and graduate level, at Hampton University and Northwestern University’s Medill School, respectively. I have joyously applied my skills and experience to mission-driven communications since 2013.
Lauren Grimaldi, Communications Associate
What I Do: 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.
Why I Do It: 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.
How I Got Here: 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.
Policy/Research and Data
Mike Abrahamson, Senior Manager of Research and Data
What I Do: 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.
Why I Do It: 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.
How I Got Here: 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.
Danielle Stanley, Government Affairs Manager
What I Do: 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.
Why I do It: 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.
How I Got Here: 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, Policy Analyst
What I Do: I support PCC’s policy and practice work with research and data analysis to advance evidence-based policy recommendations, reports, and legislative priorities.
Why Do It: 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.
How I Got Here: 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.
Sonianne Lozada, Community Engagement Manager
What I Do: 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.
Why I Do It: 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.
How I Got Here: 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.
College and University Partnerships
Joseph Saucedo, Senior Partnerships Manager
What I Do: 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.
Why I Do It: 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.
How I Got Here: 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.
Tanisha Earwin, Program Manager
What I do: My work allows me to support equitable implementation practices of state legislation for students participating in developmental education courses. Partnering with state coordinating agencies such as ICCB and IBHE to build collaborative support programs to uplift scaling practices at colleges and universities in Illinois, specifically those utilizing Corequisite scaling models.
Why I do it: As a higher education professional, I have witnessed the inequities students face when trying to attain a postsecondary education certification and degree. This work allows me to be an advocate for change and inform key stakeholders at the faculty and administration level on how they can be more intentional about supporting student needs.
How I got here: I have worked in the higher education setting since my time as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and went on to pursue a Masters degree in Education with a specialty in College Counseling and Student Affairs.
Paula Hanley, Senior Partnerships Manager
What I Do:
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.
Why I Do It:
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.
How I Got Here:
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.
Mercedes Terrazas, Equity Program Manager
What I Do: As the Equity Program Manager, I implement equity-centered coaching and support to our college and university partners that are working on institutional change to ensure equitable outcomes for students, faculty, and staff. I facilitate professional opportunities to promote a community of practice that promotes evidence based practices to advance equity in higher education.
Why I Do It: I have seen firsthand the detrimental effects of structural racism and inequities that hinder the educational and social advancement of diverse first generation college students and the BIPOC community. At PCC, I have the opportunity to work towards equity and justice in higher education while having a greater impact in society.
How I Got Here: I earned a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. My work has focused on improving the campus racial climate for diverse students while offering them holistic advising to reach their aspirations. As a proud Latina and a TRIO Alumni, my passion is to advance racial and socioeconomic equity for diverse first generation college students.