Meet the People Behind the Transformation
Our team includes a community of educators, business leaders, and post-secondary partners who help guide our mission.
Chair of the Board: Sandra Krasnoff
Vice Chair: Paul Cronin
Treasurer: Mary Haggerty
Founder: Iris Blanc
Ritu Banga, Co-Founder, Zoomdojo
David Banks, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
Iris Blanc, VEI Founder
Matthew Boone, Head of Finance and People, Openpath Security
Matthew Chasin, SVP, Institutional Consulting Director, Financial Advisor, Stanley Graystone Consulting
Paul Cronin, Managing Director and Partner, Three Keys Capital Advisors
Wyatt Crowell, Group General Manager, Head of US Commercial Banking, HSBC
Joseph Delaney, VEI Executive Committee, Deloitte LLP (ret.)
Stacy DeNoyior, Global Head of Lead Generation and Client Insights, Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc.
TJ Durkin, Co-Head, Structured Credit, Head of Residential & Consumer Debt, Angelo Gordon & Co.
Ashley Fina, Founder/CEO, I.E. Ventures
Gregg Fisher, Founder, Quent Capital, LLC
Morris Fodeman, Partner, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
Maureen Gillan-Myer, Chief HR Officer, Community Bank System, Inc.
Mary Haggerty, VEI Treasurer, JPMorgan Chase (ret.)
Dylan Huang, SVP & Head of Retail Annuities, New York Life
Steve Israel, President, SMI Properties Group, LLC
Roman Kogan, Portfolio Manager, PIMCO
Sandra Krasnoff, VEI Chair of the Board; Pall Corporation (ret.)
Dean McGee, Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services and Innovative Programs Division, Kern High School District
Marie Moody, Founder, Stella & Chewy’s
Jay Novik, CEO, Managing Principal, Diamond Capital Partners (ret.)
John Partilla, CEO, Screenvision Media
Cesar Gonzalez, VEI Advisory Board Member, Sailfish Royalty Corp.
Jay Lewis, VEI Advisory Board Member, Nathan & Lewis (ret.)
Musa Ali Shama, VEI President
Eduardo Beltre, Chief Finance & Operations Officer
Elizabeth Pooran, VEI Corporate Secretary & Project Manager
Iris Blanc, Founder
As VE’s founder and longtime Executive Director, Iris leads the organization’s curriculum, instruction, and fundraising efforts. Under her leadership, the VE team has continuously developed new strategies for providing real-world learning and opportunities for all students, including the recent addition of the VE-JV Middle School Career Academy. Prior to her current role, Iris was the Director of VE for the New York City Department of Education, which piloted the VE high school program in seven high schools in 1996.
Iris has over 35 years of experience working at all levels of public education as a teacher, assistant principal, central district administrator, and author of computer technology textbooks and reference guides. She began her professional career in marketing research for a New York City advertising agency. Iris holds two master’s degrees—an M.S. in Education from Baruch College and an M.S. in Education and Administration from New York University. Outside of work, Iris enjoys spending time with family, reading, playing tennis, and going to the theater.
Musa Ali Shama, President
Musa Ali Shama is the President of Virtual Enterprises International, a national educational non-profit that provides a multidimensional, experiential learning model for global business, entrepreneurship, finance, and technology to schools across the U.S.
A seasoned educator with 27 years of leadership experience in New York City public schools, Mr. Shama served as assistant superintendent to the deputy chancellor, superintendent of a charter network, and principal of Francis Lewis HS in Queens NY, which served over 4,000 students. There, he offered an array of programs, including three successful VE programs. Mr. Shama was also the assistant principal of John F. Kennedy HS, where he led the development of career and technical education programs. He began his career as a teacher at Lehman High School in the Bronx, his alma mater, where he taught fine arts and graphic design.
In 2021, Mr. Shama continued his professional journey as vice president of programs at VEI, where he further refined the organization’s goals related to program growth, curriculum and resource development, assessment, research, and professional development. In 2022, Mr. Shama was named President of VEI and has been focused on developing new strategies for marketing, finance, fundraising, program expansion, and professional development. His expertise as an educational leader uniquely positions him to work with state and national leaders in education, business and industry and contribute to the national conversation around college and career preparation as well as career and technical education.
Mr. Shama holds a master’s in fine arts from CUNY-Lehman College, a master’s in educational administration and supervision from Queens College, City of New York, and a bachelor’s degree in art education from C.W. Post College/Long Island University.
Eduardo “Eddie” Beltre, Chief Finance and Operations Officer
With over a decade of nonprofit leadership experience in building and implementing financial and operational systems that support stability and growth, Eduardo “Eddie” Beltre joined VE in August 2022 as Chief Finance and Operations Manager (“CF&OO). In his role, Eddie oversees the organization’s financial stewardship, operational, legal and compliance activities in order to position VE for continued growth. As a VE alum, Eddie is intimately knowledgeable on the value-add of our model, and its commitment in developing the up and coming workforce with hands-on high quality experiences.
Outside of VE, Eddie volunteers as a board member of organizations that allow him to continue his dedication to helping pave the way for a better future for our youth, through high-quality education and experiences.
Jillian Berg, Managing Director of Network Development • Southern Regional Director
As a former business and marketing teacher, Jillian was enthusiastic about VE as soon as she learned about it because she understood that real-world experiences and hands-on learning are the key components to successful classroom instruction. After graduating from the University of Florida, Jillian began teaching with Broward County Public Schools and spent 15 years as a passionate educator. In 2014, she accepted a position as a curriculum supervisor for Career and Technical Education and was excited to bring the VE curriculum to classrooms. In her free time, Jillian enjoys traveling and having new cultural experiences around the globe.
Wendy Schmitt, Managing Director of Teacher Training & Development ⋅ Midwest Regional Director
Throughout her 30+ years in public education, Wendy served in various support and management positions before finding her passion in teaching. As a business education teacher and CTE coordinator, Wendy fell in love with the VE program, considering it to be project-based learning at its absolute finest and the highlight of her teaching career. She happily joined the staff first as the Michigan State Coordinator, and later full-time in concurrent roles as National Program Manager and Great Lakes Regional Director. With staffing updates now allowing Wendy to focus on the Great Lakes, she is excited to support VE programs throughout the region, bringing learning to life through VE! Outside of work, Wendy enjoys spending time with her family and friends, downhill skiing, doing anything artsy, boating, singing and reading mysteries.
Shari Linker, Director of Marketing & Communications
Shari spent the majority of her career in corporate America with 15 years at the Walt Disney Company as Vice President of Integrated Marketing and Sales working with Fortune 100 companies to develop custom programs. Most recently, she was at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post as Director of Marketing & Communications responsible for branding, public relations, ticket sales and community engagement.
She joined VE in October 2023 and is responsible for all branding efforts, developing and implementing marketing strategies and communications, creating and managing social media content and anything the team needs help with for success! She is thrilled to bring her business background to an organization that prepares students for success in the business world. Outside of VE, Shari volunteers at a local food pantry and spends time with her husband and 3 children.
Michael Brownstein, Director of Strategic Growth
Inspired by VE’s many successes in helping secondary school students prepare for the future of work, Michael joined VE to increase student access to the educational experiences offered through VE’s programs. Over the past 20 years, he has worked with diverse stakeholders (e.g., educators, policymakers, community members, business partners, families, and students) to create education programs that help young people to develop the skills, knowledge, and habits they need to succeed in work and life. When not at work, Michael enjoys following his young daughter’s lead in making inventions and exploring new places with his family.
Gina Pol, National Program Director
Gina’s journey with VE started as a high school student serving as the COO of a financial services firm, progressing from coordinator to manager at the VE central office, and now as the National Program Director. As an alumna of the program and a strong believer in youth empowerment, it is very fitting that she works at an organization enabling students to be creative, independent, and accountable for their work. Gina is currently pursuing an MPA in Public/Nonprofit Management and Policy at NYU Wagner and graduated from Connecticut College with a B.A. in Economics and Sociology in 2016. When she is not working, Gina can be found trying new extra spicy food, taking her dog Coco for a walk, or planning her next travel adventure.
Will Wilson, National Middle School Program Director
Nothing is more satisfying to Will than talking to teachers, parents, and business professionals who say, “I wish I had VE when I was in school!” Prior to joining VE, he was a Curriculum Facilitator in the Career and Technical Education Department at Broward County (FL) Public Schools, where he supported the middle school VE-JV teachers as they guided their students through the VE-JV curriculum. In his free time, he loves to relax with his daughter Emery and wife Nicole, play soccer, and go mountain biking.
Richard Wells, National Middle School Program Associate
Richard comes to VE motivated by a desire to close equity gaps in education. With 19 years of experience in public schools as an English and Reading teacher, Curriculum Facilitator, and Professional Development Specialist, he views career and technical education programs – particularly in middle school – as integral to ensuring students are authentically engaged in their learning and prepared for college and careers. When he’s not building professional learning opportunities or working to increase access to VE-JV programs, Richard enjoys trying new food with his wife and two children, listening to his favorite podcasts, publicly advocating for social causes, and suffering as a long-time fan of the Miami Dolphins.
Elizabeth Pooran Persaud, Associate Director of Programs, Long Island
As a former VE student, intern, and volunteer, Elizabeth continues her journey with VE as Project and Support Manager. With a background in nonprofit management and a passion for making a difference, she’s excited to manage projects related to curriculum, programmatic experiences, resource development, and more. Elizabeth graduated from Pace University with a BA in International Management and a Masters in Public Administration from Baruch College. Outside of work, Elizabeth loves eating and crafting new dishes, rock climbing, and solving complex math problems.
Tyesha Arnette, National Middle School Program Manager
Tyesha has been a part of the nonprofit sector for over 7 years. Upon completion of her studies at Stony Brook University, Tyesha realized that she had a passion for working with students in underserved and underrepresented communities. She has since dedicated her career to serving these students by exposing them to vocational enrichment outside of the classroom norm. Her desire to supplement the student experience is what led her to join the team at VE as the National Middle School Program Manager. When Tyesha is not serving the VE community, you can find her traveling or teaching the professional sport of Double Dutch to children and adults in the NYC region.
Lily Thompson, National Program Coordinator
Prior to VE, Lily graduated from Vassar College with a BA in Political Science and Education. During that time, she also worked and volunteered for Conversations Unbound coordinating and managing their Programs connecting language learners with tutors from forcibly displaced backgrounds. Passionate about hands-on learning, Lily joined VE to empower students as facilitators of their own education. In her spare time, Lily enjoys volunteering, playing music, and sailing on the Maine coast.
Alexa Salazar, Operations Associate
Alexa joined VEI as an Operations Associate in March 2023 to provide support in both Financial and Operational tasks within the central office. Alexa graduated from Baruch College with a BBA in Finance. Before joining VEI, she worked as a Business Analyst for an IT Company that provided training to post-graduates and ex-military alike. She also worked for a public charter school in New York City as an Operations Associate. From her experiences, she saw the impact of having quality training and education available to all people of diverse backgrounds. Inspired by her co-trainees and the children she worked with, she hopes to continue working within the education sector in providing resources to students so they may apply their learned knowledge in the real-world. Outside of work, Alexa likes hiking with her dogs, reading, and going to art museums.
Nimisha Budhwani, Technical Support Consultant
Nimisha has had a passion for analytics since her time as an undergraduate at Baruch College. She majored in Computer Information Systems with a concentration in Data Analytics. She is enamored by the power of data and turning it into something that is meaningful that will impact the society in which we live. Living in a data-driven global society she seeks to answer questions to solve problems that exist in our education system through VE. In her free time, Nimisha enjoys going on long drives. listening to music, and exploring the outdoors.
Paul Presti, New York Metro Regional Director
As a VE facilitator, Paul saw the opportunities for students to advance their writing, speaking, creative, and critical-thinking skills that can’t be matched by any other program. He was appointed the New York Metro Regional Director shortly after retiring as a teacher. The New York Metro Region is currently comprised of schools spanning from Washington D.C. to Connecticut. Paul visits the schools in his region and supports all the teachers and students in an effort to elicit maximum results from each program. After 10 years in banking, Paul started his teaching career in 1990. The skills and experiences Paul learned in banking helped inform his 27-year tenure as a business teacher and VE facilitator. When not on the job, Paul enjoys playing chess online, watching the New York Yankees, and attending New York Rangers hockey games as a season ticket holder.
Lindsay Dewey, NY Metro Program Coordinator
Lindsay’s VE journey began as a student at New Dorp High School, where she excelled as the Director of Operations for her firm. In 2013, she achieved regional and city-wide championships and was a National Business Plan Competition finalist. She holds a BBA in Business Management with a focus on Human Resources from the Zicklin School of Business. Now, she’s back in the VE community, working alongside her former VE Coordinator, Paul Presti, to inspire students to embrace the real-world opportunities VE offers. Lindsay’s own journey in VE ignited her passion for business, and she hopes to kindle the same enthusiasm in current VE students. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing poetry, spending time with family, and traveling.
Ellen Palazzo, Long Island Regional Director
A longstanding CTE advocate, Ellen appreciates the power of student engagement and applied academics in learning. The outgrowth of the quantifiable student success VE produces is the Long Island Virtual Enterprises network, which has grown organically into the vibrant region Ellen now directs. During her non-work hours, Ellen is passionate about relationships, nature, gardening, cooking, and traveling.
Kathy Gielow, Northeast Regional Director
Kathy loves working at VE because of the unique opportunity to interact with students, support teachers, and work with an incredible team that has a common vision. Prior to joining VE, Kathy worked for the Buffalo Public Schools–including a role as a CTE Coordinator, founded Empower Youth Entrepreneurs Inc., which trains hundreds of high school students to start their own businesses, and consulted with State Department heads from countries all over the world. In her free time, Kathy enjoys ballroom dancing, acoustic guitar, artistic endeavors, musical theater, and travel.
Kendra Lee, Illinois State Coordinator
In 2008, Kendra was introduced to VE as a classroom teacher and has had the wonderful opportunity to implement VE in the classroom over the last 10 years. As VE’s Illinois network grew, Kendra was so impressed by the program and the work VE was doing that she joined the team as Illinois State Coordinator. She has spent 20 years in education, including positions as a classroom teacher, Director of Teaching and Learning for 7th-12th grades, and the Illinois State Coordinator for VE. In her free time, Kendra enjoys running and spending time with family.
Mandy Bowlin, Southern Region Program Coordinator
Mandy was first introduced to VE in 2000 and has enjoyed volunteering and judging at various events over the years. Her passion for educating and empowering teachers and their students led her to join the VE team in 2021 as the Southern Region Program Coordinator. After running her own business for almost two decades, she knows how important real-world, educational experiences are and looks forward to helping teachers create those opportunities for their students.
When Mandy is not working you can find her volunteering at her childrens’ schools or cheering her kids on at the ball field. She is an artist at heart and when time allows you will find her working on one of her many projects from graphic design to pottery.
Rochelle Stanfill, Southern Region Program Coordinator
After 27 years as a CTE teacher and 8 years as a VE teacher, Rochelle knew her passion was to be part of the VE team. It brought her prior management retail experience full circle with teaching to continue to help guide students develop business skills with an entrepreneurial spirit. Rochelle enjoys traveling, especially to the mountains and the beach, plus anything that involves being around her 3 grandchildren.
Teri Jones, Western Regional Director
Teri is honored to work for VE, having experienced firsthand the incredible impact the VE program has on students. Her background includes 30 years of teaching, working as lead teacher for LA County, writing curriculum for several entities and working on personal business ventures. She has fun supporting teachers and students and having a front-row seat to watch their challenges turn into success. Because of Teri’s entrepreneurial background, she understands the importance of giving students VE’s internship-style opportunity. For fun and challenges at home, Teri enjoys practicing yoga and spending as much time as possible outdoors hiking, biking, and jogging with her 95lb Catahoula Leopard dog, Thor.
Vaishvi Joshi, Western Region Program Intern
As a former VE student and the CEO of a state and national champion team, Vaishvi feels privileged to be involved in this highly influential program. As she continues her journey toward pursuing post-secondary educational leadership, being a part of VE allows her to empower students through a learning-by-doing methodology. She is currently studying at Chapman University on a four-year track to graduate with her B.S. in Business Administration and MBA. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, being outdoors, traveling to new places, and looks forward to her annual Mission: Impossible marathons.