Staff and Board

We’re a group of passionate individuals working to help build tomorrow’s workforce.

Mary Menell Zients

Board Chair, Urban Alliance

Mary was a founding member of Urban Alliance in 1996, and currently serves as Board Chair. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Mary spent her early career in strategic management consulting for Fortune 500 companies at Bain and Company in Boston. From 1991 to 1999, she worked in Washington, D.C. on post-conflict community development projects throughout Southern Africa.

Mary is also a founding board member of City Year South Africa, a youth service community program in Johannesburg. She is the chair of the board committee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund-USA and serves on the US Advisory Council of the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. She also sat on the board of the independent K-12 Maret School from 2006 to 2018, serving as Chair from 2013 to 2018. She joined the board of Women for Women International in 1999, chaired from 2005 to 2012, and continues to serve as Chair Emeritus.

Mary was nominated by President Obama to chair the Commission on White House Fellows from December 2013 to January 2017. She graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Arts in social studies in 1985, and received a Master of Science in industrial relations from the London School of Economics in 1986. Mary and her husband Jeff have four children and live in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Plepler

Vice Chair of the Board and Founder, Urban Alliance; Global Corporate Social Responsibility and Consumer Policy Executive, Bank of America

Andrew helped found Urban Alliance through a simple, thoughtful gesture. In 1996, then an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, Andrew met with students at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington, DC. During his visit, he asked the students what they needed to succeed, and one young person simply replied: “I need a job.” That summer, Andrew found internships for that student and five classmates, thereby initiating our flagship High School Internship Program. Today, Andrew spearheads Bank of America’s focus on environmental, social and governance factors to help inform and shape the bank’s strategies, policies, practices and programs. Andrew chairs the bank’s National Community Advisory Council, which for more than ten years has brought together public and private sector leaders to provide external perspective and advise the bank on responsible business practices. From 2003-2009, Andrew was the President of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Prior to joining Bank of America, Andrew served as senior vice president of Housing and Community Initiatives with the Fannie Mae Foundation. Andrew also previously served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Andrew earned a Bachelor of Arts in government from Franklin & Marshall College and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law.

Gregory Desautels

Managing Vice President of Strategy, Capital One

Greg has worked at Capital One since 1999, first as an associate with the Risk Management Group, then as a Manager with Treasury Strategy, and he served as Chief of Staff to the Executive Vice President/Treasurer from 2001-2003. He was a senior director with Capital One’s Strategy and Corporate Research team covering Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Boston for fifteen years, and became Managing Vice President of Strategy in 2020. Greg has a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Spanish from the University of Richmond, and a business degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Linda Assante

Former Managing Partner, Jasper Ridge Partners

From 2008 to 2020, Linda was a Managing Partner with Jasper Ridge Partners, a discretionary management firm, where she led the real assets team in which she was responsible for developing investment strategies in real estate and natural resources. Previously, she served as a Principal with The Townsend Group where she constructed real estate investment portfolios that included funds and co-investments, and at J.P. Morgan Chase as Vice President, Head of West Coast Real Estate, Lodging & Gaming Investment Banking. Currently, Linda is a Senior Advisor at Azimuth Capital Management, and serves on the Board of Directors of the James Campbell Company, The Swig Company, Terreno Realty Corporation, and the Pension Real Estate Association (PREA) Foundation. Linda also serves on the Advisory Board of Catalyst Housing Group and is Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for Lafayette College. Linda earned her BA in Economics and Business from Lafayette College.

Kelly Dibble

Senior Vice President and Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Northern Trust

Kelly is the Senior Vice President and Director of Public Affairs at Northern Trust. Previously, Kelly served as the Executive Director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority. As a deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Kelly created initiatives to stimulate the residential and commercial development on the city’s near west and south sides. She was also director of Chicago’s Hyatt Development Corp from 1995 to 2000. She serves as a board member at the Ounce of Prevention Fund and Washington Performing Arts. Kelly earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Wellesley College and a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School, where she was president of the Harvard Real Estate and Urban Development Forum.

Kevin Greer

Partner, New Profit

Kevin oversees New Profit’s Learn to Earn College Access & Success Learning Lab, a network of the nation’s leading college access and success nonprofit organizations, funders, and researchers. He also manages Learn to Earn’s fundraising, finance, and talent operations, and is deeply involved in the design and execution of other Learn to Earn initiatives, including the Postsecondary Innovation for Equity Initiative, the Future of Work XPRIZE, and the College Success Award.  Before coming to New Profit Kevin worked in the research division of CEB (now Gartner), a best practices research and consulting firm. Kevin sits on the board of Eye to Eye, a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides mentors to middle school students who learn differently. Kevin graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a dual Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Policy degree. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Wake Forest University.

Christine Gregory

Former Executive Director, Urban Alliance; Chief Operating Officer, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

Christine is the Chief Operating Officer at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. Previously, Christine was the Assistant Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Diversity, and Title IX at Marymount Manhattan College, where she provided executive leadership and support to the President. In 2006, Christine was appointed the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Michigan Law School where she helped establish the strategic vision for institutional diversity and inclusion when minority enrollment dropped by 42% due to a constitutional amendment that banned affirmative action in the state of Michigan. Christine pioneered cultural competency training for law students, co-creating and co-teaching the law school’s first cross-cultural lawyering course. She also led in the development of accountability measures to assess how faculty approach issues of race and identity in classroom discussions. Christine holds a Bachelor of Arts from Hampton University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School.

Deborah L. Harmon

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Artemis Real Estate Partners

Deborah is an industry leader and entrepreneur with more than 30 years of experience in real estate. Along with Penny Pritzker in 2009, she co-founded Artemis Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment firm that has raised nearly $4.6 billion of institutional capital since its inception. Prior to co-founding Artemis, Deborah spent 17 years establishing and leading the principal investing business at J.E. Robert Companies, Inc., a global real estate investment firm where she was President and Chief Investment Officer from 1997 until her departure in 2007. Deborah was previously appointed by President Obama to serve as a Commissioner for the White House Fellows program and was a member of the Board of Directors for Forest City Enterprises and Avis Group Holdings. Deborah currently serves as Chairperson of the Pension Real Estate Association Foundation, as a key leader and former trustee of the Urban Land Institute, and as a member of the Advisory Board of Jasper Ridge Charitable Fund and the Advisory Board of the BlackIvy Group. She also serves on the Board and Executive Committee for Women for Women International, on the Advisory Council for the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Deborah was recognized in 2020 by Barron’s on its inaugural list of the 100 Most Influential Women in U.S. Finance, and was recognized by EY as an Entrepreneur of the Year® 2019 Mid-Atlantic Award winner and National Finalist. She was included in Real Estate Forum’s Women of Influence Hall of Fame in 2018. Deborah earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from The Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Business Administration from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Nick Kilavos

Managing Director - Asset Management, Alliance Partners

Nick is a Managing Director in the Asset Management group at Alliance Partners, responsible for sourcing, underwriting and managing loans. Prior to joining Alliance Partners, Nick was a director in the leveraged lending business at CapitalSource where he was responsible for the origination and execution of senior and mezzanine loans and equity investments in middle market companies. Previously, he worked in the Investment Banking and Merchant Banking Departments of Alex. Brown and Sons (later renamed Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown). Nick received his Bachelor of Arts in business administration from the University of Michigan Business School.

Thomas Nides

Managing Director and Vice Chairman, Morgan Stanley

Tom has served as Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley since 2013. Previously, Tom was appointed by President Obama in 2010 as Deputy Secretary of State, serving as Chief Operating Officer of the State Department. For his service, Secretary Hillary Clinton awarded him the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the nation’s highest diplomatic honor, in January 2013. Previously, Tom was the Chief Operating Officer of Morgan Stanley from 2005 to 2010. Before joining Morgan Stanley, Tom served as Worldwide President and Chief Executive Officer of Burson-Marsteller and as Chief Administrative Officer of Credit Suisse First Boston, the investment banking division of Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group. Tom serves on numerous non-profit boards including the International Rescue Committee, the Partnership for Public Service, and the Atlantic Council. He is a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is the former Chairman of the Board of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a leading non-partisan think tank. Tom received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Veronica Nolan

Former CEO, Urban Alliance; CEO/Managing Partner, Illumascent Strategies

Veronica led Urban Alliance as Executive Director and CEO from 2002 to 2014. Veronica earned several recognitions for this role including Washingtonian of the Year, the Meyer’s Exponent Award, and Washington Business Journal’s “Real Women Who Mean Business” and was a finalist for the Washington Post Nonprofit Excellence Award. She also participated in the 2010 Class of Leadership Greater Washington. Veronica began her professional career working with foster care youth and adjudicated youth in Charlottesville, Virginia. She then went on to teach Spanish for four years at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC through the Teach for America program. Since 2015 Veronica has been an adjunct professor at Trinity University teaching Critical Reading – a course specifically designed to prepare first generation students for their university experience. Veronica currently oversees her own firm that provides management consulting and leadership coaching to nonprofits in a moment of significant transition. She was elected to the Alexandria City Public School Board in 2016. Veronica received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia and a Master of Arts in teaching from Trinity University – Washington.

Shahin Rezai

Retired, Senior Vice President, Chief Counsel, Transactions, Securities and Finance, Capital One

Shahin worked at Capital One for nearly 19 years, retiring as Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel in 2018. He was previously an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Shahin has a Master of Arts in International Relations and Affairs from Georgetown University, and a JD from American University.

Eshauna Smith

Former CEO, Urban Alliance; Director of Community Mobilization, Ballmer Group

Eshauna joined the Ballmer Group in 2021 as their first national Director of Community Mobilization, where she helps to improve economic mobility and reduce racial disparities at scale through place-based partnerships with a specific focus on building talent pipelines to accelerate progress. Previously, Eshauna served as President and later CEO of Urban Alliance from 2013-2021. Under Eshauna’s leadership, Urban Alliance strengthened and grew its operations across three new cities, developed new national corporate partnerships, and expanded its workforce readiness programming to serve younger high school grades,– more than doubling the number of youth served each year. Eshauna has received numerous recognitions and awards for her leadership and advocacy work on behalf of youth and families, most recently being named a 2019 Murdoch Community Hero and a Women Who Mean Business honoree by the Washington Business Journal. In 2015, Eshauna conducted a TEDx talk entitled the “Lucky Ones” to shine a light on the uneven distribution of access to opportunity within underserved communities.

Prior to joining Urban Alliance, Eshauna was Senior Policy Advisor for Disconnected Youth and Workforce Development in the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education where she led the development of Raise DC, the District’s first cradle-to-career partnership focused on improving educational and workforce development outcomes for DC youth from 0-24. Between 2006-2010, Eshauna served as the founding Executive Director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, a coalition of over 100 youth-serving organizations focused on youth employment, youth homelessness and strengthening out-of-school-time supports. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Texas, Austin.

Zed Smith

Chief Operating Officer, The Cordish Companies

Zed Smith is the Chief Operating Officer for The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based real estate development firm. Prior to joining The Cordish Companies in 2002, Zed was the founder and President of Urban Asset Management, a Baltimore-based real estate development firm that specialized in retail development in urban communities which included project work in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Zed began his real estate career with The Rouse Company in Columbia, Maryland. Zed holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting from Morgan State University, and currently serves on the Boards of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, and University of Baltimore School of Business.

Marta Urquilla

President, Centri Tech Foundation

Marta is President of Centri Tech Foundation, where she leads a social impact strategy focused on leveraging digital technologies to advance social and economic outcomes. She has over 25 years’ experience managing programs and leading results-oriented policy approaches to improve lives. Previously, she was chief program officer at Education Design Lab, directing the creation of new education models toward the future of work. Previously, she was Deputy Director at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, where she led efforts to scale social change. Under President Obama, Marta served as Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and as Senior Advisor for Social Innovation at the Corporation for National and Community Service, where she built and implemented the first Social Innovation Fund in the U.S. Government, a model adopted across federal agencies. She served on the advisory board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, Technology, Innovation and Government Reform working group. An Echoing Green Fellow, Marta is a social entrepreneur who has designed community solutions to connect low-income youth and communities to the digital economy, promote public health through grassroots organizing and policy change, and build the capacity of girls and young women of color to be creative agents of change. She serves on the boards of Education Design Lab, Green Schoolyards America, and Urban Alliance. Marta holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature and visual arts from Duke University.

Jeanna Vidale

Senior Human Resources Director, Turner Construction Company

Jeanna was UA’s longest consecutively-serving mentor, having mentored DC interns for 13 years. Currently serving as Senior Human Resources Director at Turner Construction Company, she began her career with Clark Construction in 2004 as a Human Resources Generalist andworked heavily with college recruiting, Clark’s internship program, training, talent management, Clark Corporate University and eventually added employee relations to her roster. Jeanna was promoted and oversaw all HR-related employee matters for Clark’s Northern regional office located in Chicago, IL, Clark’s Southern regional office in Tampa, FL and served in the same capacity for the Texas regional offices in Houston and San Antonio. She was also the HR Director for Clark Concrete and Clark Foundations, Clark’s self-perform entities, in the Mid-Atlantic. She also serves on the board for TeamBuilders Academy Workforce Development and Continuing Education Program through Prince George’s Community College. Jeanna earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and her master’s degree in human resource development at Towson University. She also earned the designation PHR, Professional in Human Resources. Jeanna was recently selected to be in the inaugural coaching cohort to earn an Executive Certification in Diversity Coaching (ECDC) at Howard University in conjunction with CoachDiversity.

DeLinda Washington

Interim Senior Vice President, Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente 

DeLinda has served as the Vice President of Human Resources at Kaiser Permanente since 2014. She has had a distinguished career as a Human Resources leader in both the public and private sectors, holding senior positions at Honeywell, PepsiCo/Frito Lay, Berkley Point Capital LLC, and Fannie May. A respected lawyer, DeLinda worked for the U.S. Postal Service, Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office, and Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Prior to law school, DeLinda worked as a high school teacher and basketball coach in the Washington D.C. Public School System. DeLinda grew up in the Southwest D.C. Housing Project and graduated from Howard D. Woodson Senior High School. An All-Metropolitan Basketball Player honoree, DeLinda attended college with a basketball scholarship. DeLinda holds a B.S. in English from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, MN.

Jeffrey Zients

Founder and Board Member Emeritus, Urban Alliance; COVID-19 Response Coordinator and Counselor to the President, Biden-Harris Administration

Jeff was part of the founding group of Urban Alliance in 1996. Prior to serving as President Biden’s COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Jeff served as CEO of the Cranemere Group and as the Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council. Jeff previously served as the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget and also was responsible for the technology turnaround of healthcare.gov. Before serving in government, Jeff served as the Chairman, CEO, and COO of the Advisory Board Company and Chairman of the Corporate Executive Board. During his tenure, these companies created more than $2 billion in equity value for shareholders. Jeff also founded Portfolio Logic, an investment firm focused on healthcare and business services, serving on several portfolio company boards. Jeff graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree from Duke University.