The success of College Dreams and it’s students would not be possible without our amazing management team and staff members.
Seattle Pacific University: English Literature
Kurt grew up in Medford. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in English from Seattle Pacific University, he worked in copywriting, editing, and media relations. He then did research for the University of Washington on the foster care system. In 2006 he moved to Haiti to do research and grant writing for the National Human Rights Defense Network. In 2009, he became the Haiti director for MCC, a relief and development organization. He oversaw projects in education, reforestation and disaster response, including the 2010 earthquake. He returned to Oregon in 2016 and joined the College Dreams team. In January 2018 he succeeded Tom and Judie Drummond, who retired after 20 years of visionary leadership. Kurt loves the spirit of collaboration and innovation in the Rogue Valley. He lives in Medford with his wife and daughter. They miss Haiti’s beaches, but enjoy the trees and tide pools of the Pacific Northwest.
Kim DeSimone, MSW
University of California, Santa Cruz: Psychology and Women’s Studies
Syracuse University : Masters in Social Work
Kim joined College Dreams in 2011. She has her Bachelor’s in Psychology and Women’s Studies from UC Santa Cruz and her Master’s in Social Work from Syracuse University. Kim has over 20 years of experience in positive youth development work. She worked in New York City with Big Brothers Big Sisters Corporate Mentoring Program and then for the Children’s Aid Society and then as the Director of the Community School program in Spanish Harlem, New York. She then went to work for The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, Connecticut and supervised after school programs, Family Resource Centers and truancy prevention projects. Kim is passionate about providing positive opportunities for youth and helping them create a path that fits their dreams for their future. She lives with her husband and two children on a 36-acre farm in the Applegate Valley and has 17 cows and over 40 chickens.
Jenifer Perry, BS
Southern Oregon University: Psychology, Minor Health Education
Jen grew up in the Rogue Valley and attended Grants Pass High School. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Southern Oregon University she had the opportunity to join the College Dreams team and has gratefully served youth in the Rogue Valley there for 13 years. Jen is a certified Suicide Prevention Trainer and an Oregon Certified Prevention Specialist. After working as a College Preparation Specialist she began managing the Career Build Program where she connects youth with opportunities to explore a variety of career paths through paid work experience and innovative community connections. Jen brings a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion to our work at College Dreams and is involved in several local Collective Impact projects serving alternative education students. Jen enjoys camping, fishing, and spending time with her local extended family. She is thankful to be raising her two children with her husband in Southern Oregon.
Frank Boothby, MA
Clackamas Community College: AAOT
Portland State University: BA – History
Portland State University: MA – Education, Policy, Foundation and Administration
Frank joined College Dreams in 2015 as program specialist for the IDA (matched college savings) Program. He attended and received his Bachelor’s in History and a Master’s in Education from Portland State University in 2005 and 2006. Prior to his work at College Dreams, Frank worked for several colleges and universities, mostly in financial aid and veteran affairs. Before his career in higher education, Frank spent nearly a decade in the US Navy as an Aerographer’s Mate, better known as a weatherman. He was fortunate enough to travel the world and had the opportunity to live and work in Japan for four years. Frank recently became the IDA Program Manager and is excited about the future of College Dreams. Frank is passionate about helping students avoid the pitfalls of student debt. Frank lives with his partner and his twin boys who recently graduated from high school.
Brenda Aguilera, BA
Southern Oregon University: English/Writing
Rogue Community College: Transfer Degree
Brenda moved to Southern Oregon in 1993 with her husband and four children. In 1998, she began volunteering at Allen Dale Elementary School which lead to her first job as an Educational Assistant for Grants Pass District 7. Throughout the years, she changed schools and positions which lead her to go back to school to receive her Bachelor’s degree in Writing with a Minor in Spanish from Southern Oregon University so that she could become an English Language Learner Teacher. She taught for three years at Grants Pass High School where she started the MECHA Club. Thus began her passion for being an advocate for the Latino Community in Josephine County. She began working for College Dreams in 2011 where she can focus on working and supporting all students and families.
Rebecca Clark, BA
Eastern Washington University: Applied Psychology
Rebecca has worked for College Dreams since 2001. She is passionate about working with young people and helping them achieve their dreams. She graduated from Eastern Washington University with a Bachelor’s in Applied Psychology and played four years of college basketball in her time there. Rebecca worked for juvenile justice centers in Kennewick and Bellingham Washington for nine years. And then worked as a school counselor for nine years at Glendale Schools, Fleming Middle School, Eagle Point Junior High and Evans Valley Elementary School. Rebecca has been coaching Lady Caver’s Tennis since 2009. Rebecca love spending time with family. She loves travelling and playing tennis and golf with her husband. .
Rene Cardiff, MA
Oregon State University: Physical Education
University of Oregon: Athletic Administration, Administrative License
Rene is an Oregon native and grew up in the Willamette Valley. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University, he began his career in education at Roseburg High School. In 2013 after 34 years in education he retired from Grants Pass School District where he was an administrator. Along the way he picked up his master’s degree and Administrative License from University of Oregon. As principal at South Middle School he saw up close the impact that College Dreams had on students and wanted to be a part of it. He joined College Dreams the fall after his retirement. When Rene is not working as a College and Career Specialist, he enjoys music, fishing, kayaking, golf and most outdoor activities. His true enjoyment is hanging out with his family that includes his wife Mary (45 years), 2 adult children, and 2 awesome grand kids. He loves his Gramps time!
Tobin Mikels, BS
Southern Oregon University: Communication Studies
Tobin joined College Dreams in 2015. He attended Rogue Community College and went on to earn his Bachelor’s of Science in Communication Studies at Southern Oregon University. Tobin is passionate about seeing youth grow and meet their boundless potential, so working as a College and Career Preparation Specialist with College Dreams has been a great fit for him. He also serves as the Work Experience Project Coordinator – helping students to complete internships, connect with local businesses, and learn vital job skills. Tobin has enjoyed growing up in southern Oregon and plans to raise his family in the Rogue Valley. During his free time, he enjoys travel, sports, swimming, and spending time with his wife, Taylor, and young daughter, Mia.
Jann Taylor, MA
Jann is a graduate of Illinois Valley High School. She obtained a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Education from Southern Oregon University. She taught middle school where she was named as an Oregon Teacher of the Year. She attended the University of Oregon where she received her administrator certification and served as a middle school principal and a curriculum director for both Three Rivers and Grants Pass school districts. Upon retiring, Jann came to work for College Dreams, deeply committed to helping low income students navigate the challenges of college enrollments, financial aid and scholarships. Jann’s husband, Scott, is part of the Taylor Sausage family in Cave Junction. Jann and her husband are avid travelers with a special interest in wildlife photography. She also enjoys rafting, backpacking, showing horses, and scuba diving.
Elyse Bowler, BA
University of Alaska, Anchorage: English
Elyse grew up in the great outdoors of Alaska playing broomball on the ice and found herself happiest when serving her community. Throughout college, she worked as a Student Union Resource Assistant and Student Life Resident Adviser running community events to promote a sense of belonging on campus and to provide a space for all students to connect. After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Alaska Anchorage her craving for adventure and serving communities in need led her to join AmeriCorps. First stop was Austin, Texas where she discovered her passion for nonprofit work. Elyse chose to serve another year as an AmeriCorps member but this time adventure took her back to the Pacific Northwest. Immediately falling in love with Southern Oregon and the College Dreams mission, Elyse finished her year of service with an opportunity to officially join on staff the summer of 2015. For the past three years, Elyse has been working as a College & Career Prep Specialist at Lincoln Savage Middle School, South Middle School, and Hidden Valley High School, where she also runs an after-school hour class.
Randi Stuart, MA
Portland Sate University: Pshychology
Portland State University: Master’s in Education
Randi is a Southern Oregon native, born and raised in the Valley. Upon graduation from Rogue River High School, she found herself moving around Oregon and eventually settling in Portland to continue her studies. Randi graduated from Portland State University with a BS in Psychology and later a Masters of Science degree in Education. She has worked at a variety of jobs ranging from UPS runner to RCC History instructor. Randi currently works with students at GPHS and Gladiola campus as well as being an assistant Cross Country coach at GPHS.
Katarina Smith, BS
Western Oregon University: Economics
Katarina graduated from Western Oregon University’s Honors Program with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. While business and behavioral economics are interests of hers, after being a Resident Assistant in her senior year of college, she discovered her true passion: serving students. Katarina, a graduate of Rogue River High School, recently joined College Dreams after working at Rogue River for a couple of years in the Special Education department and with the GEAR UP program. She approaches her work with a student-first mindset and a commitment to finding the best path for her students based on their needs, goals, and abilities. Traditional college might not be for everyone, but having a post-secondary plan is, and she enjoys helping students and families through that process. Katarina enjoys spending time with family and friends, planning events, cooking, and gardening.
Jose Medina, BS
Southern Oregon University: BA/Marketing
Rogue Community College: Oregon Transfer
Emmaus Bible College: Certificate
Jose was born in California, but moved to the Rogue Valley when he was five. Jose attended South Medford High School and after graduating he went to Rogue Community College. After RCC, Jose lived in Iowa where he attended Emmaus Bible College. After his time in Iowa, Jose studied at Southern Oregon University where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Jose now works for College Dreams as an IDA Specialist and is excited to work with students and their families as they save money for college and careers after high school. Jose enjoys playing sports and spending time with his family, friends and church.
Erica Ledesma, BA
University of Oregon: Cultural Anthropology Ethnic Studies & Spanish
Erica is a first-generation Latinx woman born and raised in Jackson County. She graduated from Phoenix High School and pursued her bachelors at the University of Oregon, triple majoring in Anthropology, Ethnic Studies, and Spanish. During her time at U of O, she spent her time getting involved on campus and became the CoDirector of the Multicultural Center allowing her to develop a social justice lens that she uses to understand and work with students from all backgrounds. For the past three years Erica has been working for College Dreams a College and Career Preparation Specialist.
Troy McNichols, MA
Puget Sound Christian College: Christian Education
University of Phoenix: Master’s in Organizational Management
Troy graduated from Crater High School in 1988 before attending Puget Sound Christian College that next fall in Seattle, Washington. Troy obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from PSCC in 1993. Troy then served as the Athletic Director and Men’s Basketball Coach at PSCC until Feb 2002. He then worked on and obtained his Master’s Degree in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix in 2003. Troy moved back to the Rogue Valley to work for Crater High School in 2005 as a Transition Specialist. As a Transition Specialist, Troy’s role was to assist students in the Modified Diploma program find meaningful work experiences and also assist in equipping them with necessary life skills. Troy began his time with College Dreams in February of 2015 and he has been instrumental in assisting with the development of a “College Going” culture at Central Medford High School.
Monet Talty, BA
Southern Oregon University: Human Communication, Minor Psychology
Monet began her career with College Dreams in May of 2000. She often describes her work as the “dream job”. She feels very blessed to have worked with so many incredible students over the years and can’t imagine doing anything else. Monet first started working with youth as a college intern at Crisis Intervention Services in Jackson County. During her senior year at Southern Oregon University, she became the coordinator of the CIS Personal Safety Program, a child abuse prevention program. She held that position until joining the College Dream team. Monet is married, with two sons and two grandsons. She lives in the Illinois Valley with her husband and youngest son. Monet and her husband, Tim recently purchased the historic Odd Fellows lodge in Kerby, Oregon. Built in 1876, this is one of the oldest existing buildings in Josephine County. They are working to restore this historic landmark to its former glory.
Valeria Carrillo, BA
Texas State University: Spanish
Valeria Carrillo Garcia migrated from Mexico City, Mexico at the age of five and was raised in Galveston, Texas. Her desire to retain and own her heritage propelled her to complete her Spanish degree at Texas State University with the intent of becoming a Spanish teacher. However, she has found passion in the work she does as a College and Career Prep Specialist in College Dreams. During her time at Texas State University, she was actively involved in the community as a member of the prestigious Student Foundation and as the president of the Bilingual Education Student Organization Chapter. She was a presenter at the National Association for Bilingual Education Conference on topics such as, “How to Incorporate Leadership in the Bilingual Classroom,” and developed her own curriculum, “Bilingual Yoga in the Classroom.” She recently served as an AmeriCorps with College Dreams in Grants Pass, as a College and Career Prep Coach, and decided to stay full time. Her goal is to learn from the community and become an asset to both the organization and Rogue Valley Community. She is a member of the National Association for Bilingual Education and is a part of the UNIDOS cohort 7th. Her role as an aunt motivates her to make this world a place where children are given equal opportunities to be successful, regardless of their socioeconomic status, abilities and/or race.
Adele Garcia, BA
University of New Mexico: Psychology
Adele was born and raised in Southern New Mexico. After graduating high school, she attended the University of New Mexico where she obtained a Bachelor’s in Psychology, with a focus on child psychology. While attending college, Adele volunteered at Agora Crisis Center which helped develop her passion for advocating for mental health. Adele found herself relocating to Southern Oregon getting a job at North Middle School. While working there, Adele was exposed to the work that College Dreams was doing for this community. As a child of a low-income, Latinx family, the work that College Dreams was doing spoke to her passion. As of 2018, Adele began working for College Dreams through Americorps, where she can focus on helping students with similar backgrounds.
Alyssa Mikels, BA
Southern Oregon University: Language and Culture with a concentration in Spanish
Alyssa was raised in the Illinois Valley, and graduated from Illinois Valley High School in 2008. She is an alumni of the College Dreams program, and began in the program in the 6th grade at Lorna Byrne Middle School. Being a low-income, first-generation college student, College Dreams was an integral part of her journey to and through college. After graduating from Southern Oregon University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish Language and Literature, and a minor in Anthropology, she began working for College Dreams and found that she could use her love for Spanish language to help students access college. She began working as the College Dreams Office Assistant, and now she currently an IDA Specialist. Alyssa not only brings perspective as a former College Dreams participant and IDA recipient, but also uses her experiences to partner with students and families in their pursuing their post-secondary plans and dreams. Alyssa enjoys being active, travelling and spending time with her husband and three children.
Katie Howitt, BA
Katie grew up in a small town in rural Minnesota. After graduating with her Bachelors of Arts in Communication Studies, Katie moved to Ashland, Oregon to work for a local youth nonprofit organization as the Volunteer Coordinator. After a year in that role, Katie was offered a job with a local youth shelter to work as the Education Coordinator and Aftercare Case Manager. Through her role, Katie discovered her love for helping low-income and at-risk youth through the trials of high school. At the start of the 2019 school year, Katie began working for College Dreams as a CCPS at Ashland High School and Armadillo Technical Institute. Katie is honored to work for an organization that empowers young people in the Rogue Valley. In her free time, Katie enjoys traveling, scuba diving, hiking, cooking, and learning new skills.
Jean E. Whalen, BS
Jean E. Whalen attended Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University, graduating with Honors in 2016. At Rogue Community College she served on the Diversity Planning Board as the only student member and was also involved in the Black Student Union at Southern Oregon University, serving as Vice-President her Junior year. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a focus on Race and Ethnic Studies as well as Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. Jean has a passion for helping others and after working for some years in Children and Adolescent mental health services, found she has a particular ability in relating to and building strong relationships with teenagers. Jean is committed to serving students in a trauma-informed manner and sees barriers to secondary education and gainful employment through a social justice lens. She is currently serving students at Butte Falls Charter School. A native Oregonian, Jean was born in Portland and grew up in Central Point. She now lives in Ashland with her ten-year-old son and cat, Rae. She enjoys traveling with her family from camping on the Oregon Coast, attending Blazer games in Portland, to visiting Disneyland.