Meet the People Behind the Transformation

Our team includes a community of educators, business leaders, and post-secondary partners who help guide our mission.

Board of Directors and Officers

Board of Directors and Officers

Iris Blanc, Founder & Executive Committee, VEI 
Musa Ali Shama, Acting President, VEI 
Sandra Krasnoff, Chair & Executive Committee, Pall Corporation (ret.)
Mary Haggerty, Treasurer, JPMorgan Chase (ret.) 
Michael Coneys, Recording Secretary, The Leo House 
Ashley Fina, Past Chair & Executive Committee, Profi 
Joseph Delaney, Executive Committee, Deloitte LLP (ret.)
Matthew Boone, Executive Committee, Openpath Security

David Banks, New York City Department of Education
Matthew Chasin, Morgan Stanley Graystone Consulting
Paul Cronin, LDCRE & Highgate Capital Partners
TJ Durkin, Angelo, Gordon & Co.
Gregg Fisher, Quent Capital, LLC
Morris Fodeman, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
Maureen Gillan-Myer, Community Bank System, Inc.
Dylan Huang, New York Life
Steve Israel, SMI Properties
Roman Kogan, PIMCO
Dean McGee, Educational Services and Innovative Programs Division, Kern High School District
Evan Mittman, Cipriani Accessories (ret.)
Marie Moody, Stella & Chewy’s
Jay Novik, Black Diamond Capital Partners
John Partilla, Screenvision Media
Jeffrey Taylor, Mphasis Digital Risk
Wyatt Crowell, HSBC

Cesar Gonzalez, Advisory Board Member, Sailfish Royalty Corp.
Jay Lewis,  Advisory Board Member, Nathan & Lewis (ret.)

National Staff

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 a seasoned educator that has served as superintendent, principal and digital media teacher over his 27-year career in New York City schools. In his role of Executive Vice President of Programs, Mr. Shama will spearhead VE’s organizational goals as it relates to program growth, curriculum and resource development, assessment, research and professional development. Ali began his career as a teacher at Lehman High School in the Bronx, his alma mater, where he taught fine arts and graphic design. After 12 years as a teacher, Ali took on his first role as a school administrator at Kennedy High School as assistant principal. In this capacity, he led the development of career and technical education programs in a variety of technology related fields.

Ali later took on the leadership of Francis Lewis High School in Queens, one of the city’s largest and most successful schools. After leaving the principalship he became the DOE’s director of principal evaluation, overseeing the citywide principal evaluation process, both evaluating principals directly and providing professional development to superintendents before serving as deputy superintendent for high schools. He most recently served as the Superintendent of New Visions Charter High Schools where he led the network through significant changes that resulted in highest student outcomes in regards to graduation and college readiness rates in the network’s history.

He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from CUNY-Lehman College, a master’s degree 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.

Doris Thomas, VP of Engagement

Doris Thomas is currently the acting Vice President of Engagement for Virtual Enterprise International. Doris comes to VEI with an extensive background in corporate fundraising in the non-profit sector, being adept at closing six-figure gifts and driving revenue. Having spent the early part of her career working in the telecommunications field, Doris has applied for-profit strategies in the non-profit environment to increase donations, engagement, and acquisition. 

For nine years, she was responsible for managing the multi-million dollar annual workplace giving campaign for United Way of Northern New Jersey. Most recently Doris was the Director of Corporate Relations and Sponsorships at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), in Newark NJ. There, she maintained and grew the corporate base of roughly 100 donors, raising 2 million dollars annually for the Arts Center. In addition to fundraising, Doris managed and led NJPAC’s Business Partners committee who curate monthly panel-style conversations with various industry executives for donors.

Doris has a BS in Marketing from Miami University, in Oxford Ohio. She lives in Jersey City with her two daughters, Whitney and Charlotte. She is an avid runner, and enjoys playing tennis and other racquet sports in her spare time.

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.

Tyler Fugazzie, Director of Communications

Tyler enjoys working at VE because the program is hands-on, project-based, and relevant to students. He also appreciates that the people involved with VE are a never-ending source of inspiration. Tyler joined the VE team in 2013 as a Digital Communications Coordinator, growing alongside the organization into his current role, which includes sharing stories of student transformation. Outside of work, Tyler likes spending time with friends and family, reading, writing, working on creative projects, and exploring the internet for the next great meme.

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.

Susan Chan, National Events Manager

As the National Events Manager for VE, Susan enjoys working closely with schools and vendors to help create memorable experiences at student business-related conferences and exhibitions around the country, including the annual Youth Business Summit. She developed a deep interest in events and education when starting her career in higher education managing academic and alumni events for seven years. Susan earned a B.S. in Hospitality Management and an M.S. in International Communication from St. John’s University. In her free time, you can find Susan learning about different cultures through food and travel, reading, and spending time outdoors.

Erika Apupalo, Engagement Coordinator

Erika is the Engagement Coordinator responsible for managing a comprehensive volunteer engagement program, designed to provide meaningful opportunities for VE’s partners and stakeholders. Prior to joining the VE team, she managed college volunteers across the country at Project Sunshine. She is highly committed to volunteerism and giving back to her community. Erika received her BA from Baruch College and is a VE alumni from Academy of Finance and Enterprise.

Kayele Spencer, Engagement Coordinator

Kayele is the Engagement Coordinator responsible for developing and implementing programs designed to provide meaningful opportunities for VE alumni. Kayele graduated from SUNY Oswego with a B.S. in Human Resources where she was a student leader on campus cultivating relationships with current and former Oswego students through their mentorship program. She is a VE alumni from the High School of Economics & Finance.

Alexis Montano, Accounting Assistant

Alexis started her VE journey as a former VE student. During her Senior year in high school, she was given the opportunity to begin an internship at the VE national office. Since then, Alexis has joined the VE family working alongside our Finance and Operations Manager. Alexis is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s in accounting at Brooklyn College and is expected to graduate in 2022. During her free time, Alexis enjoys spending time with her loved ones, reading, listening to music, and rewatching Disney classics.

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.

Regional Staff

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 started her VE journey as a student in the program. She was the Director of Operations for her firm at New Dorp High School. She was a 2013 regional and city-wide champion, as well as a National Business Plan finalist. Lindsay is a Zicklin School of Business graduate, where she obtained her BBA in Business Management with a concentration in Human Resources. Coming full circle working with her previous VE Coordinator, Paul Presti, she is excited to encourage students to take advantage of the real-world experience Virtual Enterprise offers. Her inspiration to pursue a career in business blossomed in her VE program and hopes to inspire other VE students to obtain similar insights. In free time Lindsay loves to read, write poetry, spend time with family, and travel.

Elizabeth Pooran, NYC Program Coordinator

As a former student, intern, and volunteer, Elizabeth continues her journey with VE as Program Coordinator. With a background in nonprofit management and a passion for making a difference, she’s excited to support VE teachers and students in NYC. Elizabeth graduated from Pace University with a BA in International Management and is pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at Baruch College. Outside of work, Elizabeth loves eating and crafting new dishes, rock climbing, and solving complex math problems.

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.

Meghan Foley, Long Island Regional Coordinator

Meghan works at VE to make a difference in the lives of young students and give them opportunities they may not get in a regular classroom setting. Prior to joining the VE family, Meghan was a student leader at her college in upstate New York, where she enjoyed encouraging her peers to be their best selves while balancing class, work, internships, and club participation. In her free time, Meghan enjoys listening to podcasts and spending time with her family and friends.

Irv Wortman, Long Island Program Support Coordinator

As an educator for over 40 years, Irv knows VE is a program that prepares students for a successful future. During his career, he taught students in high school, college, and adult education, but his most rewarding experience has been working with VE since 1998. Irv earned a B.S. in Business Education from Baruch College and an M.S. in Educational Leadership and Administration from Long Island University CW Post. Outside of work, Irv enjoys spending time with family and friends 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.

Wendy Schmitt, Great Lakes 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.

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.

Carrie Smith, Michigan State Coordinator

As a business teacher in a career center where many classrooms are turned into working labs, Carrie struggled with only using a textbook and class projects and spent 10 years searching for a way to give students real-world experience. When VE was introduced to her, she knew it was the answer. Being part of an innovative staff and watching VE evolve to meet the needs of future businesses have allowed her to experience personal growth and expand the knowledge base of all Michigan teacher facilitators.

Jillian Berg, 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.

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.

Mark Jones, North Carolina State Coordinator

Mark works at VE because he has seen first-hand the positive impact it has on the lives of students. Prior to teaching VE, Mark taught for five years in Upstate New York and eight years in North Carolina. Before that, Mark was involved in running his family’s auction business for 15 years. In his free time, Mark loves watching his two daughters do what makes them happy: soccer and jujitsu. If there’s any free time after that, he enjoys cycling and anything outdoors.

Brad Redd, South Carolina State Coordinator

After graduating from Clemson University, Brad spent 12 years in the corporate world before turning to the education industry, where he was quickly immersed in the world of VE. Now in his 6th year of VE, he believes the real-world experience students gain is unparalleled and leads to graduates with business skills that very few others attain while in high school. When not in the classroom, Brad enjoys traveling with his wife and two kids with some of their favorite spots being Colorado and Disney World, coaching his son’s various sports teams and when time permits, playing golf.

Teri Jones, Western Regional Director

After 30 years as a CTE teacher and 14 years as a VE teacher, Teri is honored to work for VE, knowing the incredible impact the program has on students. 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 spends as much time as possible outdoors hiking, biking, and practicing yoga.

Amy Risner, California Coordinator

Amy started her VE journey as a former VE student for the first team to compete at her high school. She was in the Human Resources department of her VE company and continued to pursue this path in college. She is currently in her third year at California State University Fullerton earning her B.A in Human Resources Management and Finance. Amy is passionate about the VE program, sharing the belief to give all students opportunities to become successful. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, dancing, and cooking new recipes.