Founded by the daughter of a refugee of war and the 5th-generation son of Kentucky dairy farmers, Sova exists to help America fulfill its social contract to provide real upward mobility for more people through higher education. The word “Sova” means “Owl” in Czech, a nod to our founding partners’ families and rural roots, and is a symbol of wisdom and good judgment in cultures across the globe. Our name signals our belief that ultimately all true wisdom is practical, and our team reflects a commitment to harnessing cross-disciplinary expertise to accelerate the pace and improve the quality of large-scale, student-focused change.
Anchored in our commitment to improving the lives of working people, and oriented by decades of experience helping solve hard problems, our team is composed of former faculty members, higher education administrators, operations specialists, community organizers, researchers, and on the ground technical assistance providers. We are tested professionals who understand how change really happens, and we are tireless in our support of those who are committed to achieving significantly better and more equitable outcomes for today’s students.
Alison Kadlec, Ph.D.
Alison Kadlec specializes in building cultures and climates for innovation in higher education and workforce development.
She has worked with dozens of colleges and universities across the country to support the capacity of institutional leaders and faculty at every level to effectively engage members of their communities as constructive partners in the hard work of change on behalf of student success. Alison and her team also work with the U.S. Department of Education, state policymakers and system leaders in more than half the states in the U.S. to help improve the quality of policy development and implementation around higher education and workforce issues.
Before launching Sova, Alison was Senior Vice President at Public Agenda, a visiting professor in the political science department at Macalester College and an adjunct professor in the political science departments at the University of Minnesota, Baruch College and Hunter College.
Alison is the author of a book on the democratic theory of John Dewey, Dewey’s Critical Pragmatism. She is also the author or co-author of a number of articles on subjects related to stakeholder engagement and public deliberation both within and outside of higher education including: “Putting it All Together: Strengthening Pathways Between Comprehensives and Community Colleges”; “Deliberative Democracy and the Problem of Power”; “Changing the Conversation About Productivity”; and “Play and Public Life.”
She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota and BAs from Michigan State University in Political Theory, Constitutional Democracy and English Literature.
Paul Markham, Ph.D.
Paul’s work focuses on building and sustaining cultures for innovation and change.
Prior to launching Sova, Paul served as Vice President for Organizational Strategy at Public Agenda and Vice President for Strategic Partnerships & Development at Achieving the Dream, Inc. Paul also served as Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he led the Foundation’s work focused on Developmental Education redesign and the creation of Pathways for student success. As a faculty member, he served as Associate Professor of Education at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) and Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Kentucky University (WKU), both broad access universities committed to the success of all students who seek a postsecondary education.
Paul has extensive experience in building capacity for social change organizations and initiatives through his roles as Director of Strategic Partnerships & Community Engagement at UWB and Director of the ALIVE Center for Community Partnerships and Director of the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility at WKU. In all these roles, Paul focused on developing organizational capacity to contribute to healthy communities, strong economies, and an engaged democracy.
In the private business sector, Paul has led a number of implementation and improvement efforts as both a Process Engineer and Quality Assurance Manager.
Paul’s academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Western Kentucky University. He also completed a Master of Arts in Social Ethics from Asbury Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. in Social and Moral Development from Durham University (UK), and post-doctoral studies in Sociology from Western Kentucky University.
Tiffany Yoon, MBA, PMP
Strategic Operations Manager
Tiffany specializes in process and operations design for organizations working to ensure economic opportunity and mobility.
Prior to joining Sova, Tiffany served as a Senior Program Manager at Opportunity@Work, where she was tasked with identifying opportunities for strategic partnerships to achieve collective collaboration around building inclusive hiring ecosystems. Previously, as a senior manager at the Aspen Institute, Tiffany led a portfolio of projects aimed at significantly improving student success outcomes at community colleges across the nation. Tiffany also served as an Office Manager for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, where she built operational systems to maintain the daily functions of the office.
As a child of immigrant parents, Tiffany has personally experienced the power of opportunity and has lived to see the full potential of people who are given a shot at success. She has since dedicated her career to supporting and growing organizations that ensure such opportunities for all, and especially for those who are often overlooked or marginalized.
Tiffany is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and holds a BA from Georgetown University and MBA from American University.
Stephanie Gardner, Ed.D.
Senior Program Manager
Stephanie is a life-long educator. Her personal story and self-identity have influenced her resolve and passion for ensuring educational access, opportunity, and success for those individuals who have been historically underserved in the United States (U.S.).
Stephanie has spent more than 20 years focused on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within higher education and workforce development. Stephanie has served on multiple committees that have enhanced institutions and opportunities for diverse college-going populations. Prior to joining Sova, Stephanie worked for a national nonprofit-Year Up, where she served as the Director of Recruitment, Admissions and Enrollment for Puget Sound. Stephanie also worked on Washington State education policy during her time at the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) in Olympia, Washington. Her portfolio and bill analysis included secondary to post-secondary transition, college academic distribution requirements (CADRs), dual credit and smarter balance assessment (SBA). During her tenure, Stephanie was part of a collaborative team who launched a state-wide college in the high school (CiHS) evaluation process.
Additionally, Stephanie spent fifteen years working for the Vice President of Minority Affairs and Vice Provost of Diversity at The University of Washington (Seattle). She initially worked on a U.S. Department of Education (DOE) grant focused on college access. She later had the opportunity to lead a $3.5-million-dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that spanned three states and thirteen institutions. The initiative focused on diversification in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. During her tenure she was able to co-develop an international study abroad partnership with Queensland University of Technology and launch a new student STEM center.
Stephanie holds three degrees from the University of Washington, including a Doctorate and Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy and a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. She also earned a certificate from Harvard University’s College of Education, Management Development Program. Stephanie’s doctoral research focused on diverse students in STEM with an emphasis on ecosystems, fixed-growth mindsets and academic mindsets.
Ashmi Patel, M.A.
Ashmi’s work focuses on equity, inclusion, and diversity within higher education.
Prior to joining Sova, Ashmi served as the Director of the Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity at Eastfield College, where she developed programs to enhance students’ social and intellectual development, eliminate barriers to student access and success, and develop a culture of equity-mindedness and inclusivity.
Previously, as a Program Associate at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, Ashmi worked on executive leadership development for aspiring community college presidents.
As a first- generation child of immigrant parents from India, Ashmi has experienced the importance of student success support structures and identity development within colleges.
Ashmi holds a BA from Southern Methodist University and an MA from Rutgers University.
George L. Mehaffy serves as a senior advisor at Sova.
Prior to joining the Sova team, he served for 20 years as the Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in Washington, D.C. He was responsible for developing and managing programs for member institutions in areas such as leadership development, undergraduate education, technology, international education, teacher education and student success. Each year his division organized a number of national conferences and meetings, including two conferences each year for AASCU chief academic officers, as well as a civic engagement national conference.
He has also designed and managed a number of innovative national projects. In 2003, he launched the American Democracy Project, a civic engagement initiative. Most recently, he created a series of national projects around student success, with more than $ 13 million in external funding. Before coming to AASCU, he had more than twenty years of teaching and administrative experience in higher education in Texas, New Mexico, and California. In addition, he served for 33 years in the United States Coast Guard Reserve, retiring as a Captain in 2000.
Annabelle Allard, PMP
Annabelle’s work focuses on helping programs run more efficiently while improving performance and reducing risk. With almost twenty years of experience advising federal, state and private sector clients in the affordable housing and disaster recovery fields, Annabelle brings real-world experience developing, assessing and managing projects and programs aimed at creating significant positive change in lower-income communities.
Annabelle’s experience includes assisting in designing and managing the USDA’s Rural Development Voucher program which provided over 4,000 low-income households with subsidized housing. She also conducted start-up operations for the Louisiana Road Home program, which managed over $9 billion in federal recovery grants to over 120,000 individual homeowners. This role included managing a Road Home Housing Assistance Center with a team of over thirty staff, as well as providing technical expertise, training, and policy and procedure development. In addition, she has worked with HUD and PHA’s to perform assessments and trainings involving housing vouchers and public housing.
Annabelle holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from the College of William and Mary, as well as a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
Mina Dadgar, Ph.D.
Mina is an independent higher-education strategy consultant and a Research Fellow at Sova. Mina’s passion is to close the gap between education policy, research and on-the-ground practice. She has over 15 years of experience researching equity centered post-secondary reform efforts and has partnered with policy makers and practitioners to strategize around implementing them.
As the Associate Vice Chancellor for Guided Pathways at the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, she helped shape California’s regional strategy for guided pathways’ design and implementation, and oversaw the work of its 18 Guided Pathways Regional Coordinators. Her other previous experience includes leading quantitative and qualitative studies at the Community College Research Center and West Ed. At the Career Ladders Project, Dadgar worked directly with college and K-12 administrators, faculty and teachers to design evidence-based reform strategies and implement them.
In 2014, Mina published a study of the labor market value of community college credentials and encouraged states to invest in long-term credentials and degrees, instead of short-term certificates. The study was covered by over a dozen media outlets and was recognized by NPR among the most influential educational publications of the year. She holds a PhD in Economics and Education from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College.
Esteban Maldonado, M.Ed.
Esteban’s work centers on his ongoing commitment to support historically marginalized students within the secondary and postsecondary sectors.
With over 20 years of experience, Esteban brings an equity lens to his professional roles. Esteban has acquired valuable knowledge from the different roles he has held, including Program Office on the Postsecondary Team with the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, Director of Grants at Seattle Central College, Program Evaluator/Grant Writer at RGI Corporation, and Director for the University of Washington’s Educational Talent Search Program.
Esteban is a current doctoral student in the University of Washington’s Educational Leadership and Policy Program and is currently in the written exam stage of the program. His research topic examines the paucity of Latinx community college presidents and the community college president pipeline. He holds a Master of Education degree with a focus on Counseling Psychology from Heritage University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Washington.
Dogs of Sova
Bailey is a 1 year old something (we think Bernese, Aussie, Lab, Poodle). His favorite things in the world are being with his family and riding in the truck. He also likes to chew up anything that will fit in his mouth, steal food from the youngest daughter, and sneak into his parents’ bed to sleep.
Aka Love Bug Aka Monster
Grizzly, a Bouvier des Flandres.
Grizzly weighs about 95 pounds and is a very kind soul with a good heart. Normally very relaxed but fiercely protective. Thinks that deer and crows are threats, at least judging by the loud and threatening barking when they show up.
Like most other dogs, sleeps most of the day. Loves peanut butter. Tolerates the cat.
Mike is an American Staffordshire Terrier mix and rescue alum from Rural Dog Rescue (DC). A classic mama’s boy, Mike loves to model good behavior for his little brother, Lincoln, and go exploring in the woods with his family. Mike’s contributions to the team include alerting the team to when the mail is dropped off and trying to keep Lincoln on track during conference calls.