Meet the People Behind the Transformation
Our team includes a community of educators, business leaders, and post-secondary partners who help guide our mission.
Matthew Boone, Director of Finance, Openpath Security
Matthew Chasin — VE Board of Directors, Vice Chair
Michael Coneys, Chairman & President, The Leo House — VE Board of Directors, Recording Secretary
Joseph Delaney, Director of Northeast Alumni Relations, Deloitte LLP (ret.)
TJ Durkin, Managing Director, Angelo, Gordon & Co.
Ashley Fina, Consultant — VE Board of Directors, Chair
Gregg Fisher, Founder & Portfolio Manager, Quent Capital, LLC
Morris Fodeman, Partner, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
Mary Haggerty, Managing Director, JPMorgan Chase (ret.) — VE Board of Directors, Treasurer
Dylan Huang, Senior Vice President, Head of Retail Annuities and Wealth Management Solutions, New York Life
Steve Israel, President and CEO, SMI Properties
Sandra Krasnoff, Senior VP, Corp. Secretary and General Counsel, Pall Corporation (ret.)
Dean McGee, Assistant Superintendent, Kern High School District
Evan Mittman, President, Cipriani Accessories (ret.)
Jay Novik, Principal, Black Diamond Capital Partners
John Partilla, CEO, Screenvision Media
Jeffrey Taylor, Sagent
Cesar Gonzalez, CEO, Sailfish Royalty Corp., Advisory Board Member
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.
Nick Chapman, President
Nick is passionate about empowering people to be the best versions of themselves. Over the past 12 years, he has seen every aspect of VE—as a teacher, administrator, program director and now, as president of the organization. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operation of the organization, Nick travels the U.S. and the world to meet with students, educators, and business leaders from a multitude of backgrounds to bring best practices and experiences back to VE’s students, teachers and staff.
Nick began his career in education as a New York City Teaching Fellow assigned to teach high school mathematics in Coney Island, Brooklyn while attaining an M.Ed. from Brooklyn College. Prior to teaching, Nick earned his B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Florida and spent five years working in the media industry in New York City. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, golfing, and playing the piano. Nick and his family currently live in Brooklyn, NY.
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.
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.
Wendy Schmitt, National Program Manager
Wendy has spent her career working in education, serving as a business education teacher, career and technical education coordinator, and in various management and support positions. She first joined VE as a classroom facilitator and then accepted a concurrent leadership role as the Michigan State Coordinator. Because she considers the VE model to provide project-based learning at its absolute finest, she now works full-time for VE as the National Program Manager and Great Lakes Regional Director. Outside of work, Wendy enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, hiking, scrapbooking, and singing.
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.
Mohammad Hossain, Finance & Operations Manager
A former VE student, Mohammad has a great passion for VE and wanted to work for VE as an accountant ever since he graduated from high school. After completing his BBA and earning his CPA certification, Mohammad joined the VE team full-time as the Finance and Operations Manager. During Mohammad’s free time, he enjoys working in real estate, doing personal and business tax consulting, providing immigration services, and working on his family businesses. Mohammad is also working on his MBA in accounting. Mohammad works hard to provide for his family, who immigrated from Bangladesh and provided Mohammad with an education so that he could be the person he is today.
Gina Pol, Program Support Manager
Gina’s journey with VE started as a high school student serving as the COO of a financial services firm, then as an intern at the VE office, and now as the Program Support Manager. 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 actions. Gina graduated from Connecticut College with a B.A. in Economics and Sociology in 2016. When she is not coordinating events or responding to student and teacher questions, Gina can be found eating extra spicy food, taking a stroll in her lovely Brooklyn neighborhood, or traveling out of the country.
Amina Music, National Operations Coordinator
Amina started her VE story in the Human Resources department of her VE company. She continued that path through to Brooklyn College, where she obtained her B.A. in Human Resources. Interning at the VE office throughout her college years, Amina joined the VE team once she graduated. The shared belief that all students deserve opportunities has driven her passion for VE. Amina got her first taste of travel in her high school VE classroom, representing her firm and attending a Trade Show in California. Amina was the first VE intern to work with EUROPEN-PEN International, living in Europe for three months. In her free time, Amina continues to travel the world with the people she loves.
Abril Peña, Engagement Coordinator
Inspired by her experience as a VE student, Abril joined the VE team in 2015 as a Fellow while studying at Baruch College. During her time at VE, she has interned as a Program Associate for the Director of Communications and as a Marketing Specialist for EUROPEN-PEN International, a global network of practice enterprises. Today, she is excited to develop and maintain relationships with VE’s partners, volunteers, and donors as the Engagement Coordinator. A native New Yorker, Abril loves trying foods from different corners of the world, meeting new people, and complaining about the MTA.
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.
Sonja Visser, Program Associate
Throughout her journey from VE student to Fellow to Program Associate, Sonja has enjoyed applying her interests in design, marketing and communications to support youth empowerment. During her time at VE, she also worked for PEN Worldwide in Germany as a Project Coordination Intern. Sonja graduated with a B.A. in Business Communications with a concentration in Graphic Design from Baruch College. When she’s not building landing pages or designing annual reports, she can be found reading, baking or doing various arts and crafts.
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.
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.
Meghan Foley, PA/NJ Program 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.
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.
Irv Wortman, Long Island Program 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
Wendy has spent her career working in education, serving as a business education teacher, career and technical education coordinator, and in various management and support positions in her home school district in Highland, Michigan. She first joined VE as a classroom facilitator and then accepted a concurrent leadership role as the Michigan State Coordinator. Because she considers the VE model to provide project-based learning at its absolute finest, she now works full-time for VE as the National Program Manager and Great Lakes Regional Director. Outside of work, Wendy enjoys spending time with family and friends, downhill skiing, boating, reading, and singing.
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.
Cindy Boyd, Southern Regional Director
Cindy’s career has been spent in education at the high school and community college level as well as in the business world. In searching for a capstone course to complete an Academy of Business pathway, she found VE and has continued her journey with the program since 2002. Serving as an educator, state coordinator, regional director, and now Southern Regional Director, Cindy continues to enjoy the opportunities that VE provides to introduce students and teachers to a lifelong learning experience. Cindy enjoys free time with family and friends, traveling, owning a bed and breakfast/wedding venue with her husband, and restoring a house in Florida.
Jillian Berg, Florida 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.
Penny Riddle, Southern Program Coordinator
After 10 years working in the nursing home industry, Penny was hired as the business education teacher at Monterey High School in Tennessee, where she still teaches. After teaching for 15 years, she discovered VE. Penny was rejuvenated to teach a course that provides such a practical experience for students to enhance their business skills to align with their career pathways. After teaching VE for seven years, Penny joined the team as the Southern Region Program Coordinator. Outside of work, Penny loves spending time with family and friends and being Gigi to her four precious grandchildren.
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.
Lisa Bonelli, Technical Support Staff
Lisa began her involvement with VE as a business education teacher. Working with diverse school populations—from an academic magnet school to a Title 1 school—Lisa enjoyed watching students flourish while solving real-world business issues in a virtual environment. Although Lisa is currently an assistant principal in Nashville, Tennessee, she still serves as technical support staff for VE’s South region in order to “keep the saw sharpened.” In her free time, Lisa enjoys camping, boating, and spending time with her rescue dogs.
Teri Jones, California 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.
Sandra Gutierrez, California Program Coordinator
Sandra started with VE as a high school student serving as CEO of her VE business. It was through this experience that she learned that true growth and success comes as a result of doing the things you are afraid of. She is excited to continue her VE journey as Program Coordinator dedicated to empowering students to realize their full potential. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in Business Administration with an emphasis in Operations Management from Cal Poly Pomona and is expected to graduate in 2021. In her free time, Sandra enjoys making music, photography, and eating mint chocolate chip ice cream.