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
Senior Program Manager
Tiffany specializes in strategy development, project management, and process 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 genuine 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.
Dr. Stephanie Gardner is a life-long educator, change agent, and advocate. She has spent 20 years of her career focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion and belonging (DEI) initiatives while working with multiple sectors and individuals, including K-12, postsecondary education, workforce development, industry, state and federal agencies, elected officials and legislative bodies, and community-based organizations. Her personal story and intersecting self-identity as a woman of color, has influenced her resolve and passion for ensuring educational access, opportunity, and career success and mobility for those individuals who have been historically marginalized in the United States (U.S.) and farthest away from multiple forms of justice.
Her diverse experiences have informed her approach to complex problem solving in dynamic environments—with a focus on coalition building and stakeholder engagement, informing problems of practice through data and research, and designing solutions that have both utility and connectivity to identified strategies. Dr. Gardner attributes her success to anchoring her work “in the why”. She leads with the mantra of: we all have something to learn and something to teach. She approaches her work through an equity and justice lens—where those communities that are most impacted by policies and practices are elevated as key leaders and voices in the development of solutions and recommendations. Dr. Gardner focuses on systems-change work, with a focus on operationalizing and activating equity-from ideation to strategy, from strategy to case-making and implementation, and ultimately evaluation and assessment through monitoring. Her professional background and skill sets include strategy development, network and project management, higher education administration, policy advisory, assessment and evaluation, student retention and success (from recruitment to career and or graduate school transition), STEM education and administration, industry engagement, launching and leading large-scale initiatives, and event management.
Dr. Gardner currently serves as a Director at Sova. In her current role, she works to improve the quality and accelerating pace of complex problem solving in higher education and workforce development. She manages a suite of national projects that focus on strategic planning, process improvement, adaptive change leadership, network management, research, process mapping, implementation support, and DEI/B.
Prior to joining Sova, she served as the Director of Recruitment, Admissions, and Enrollment for a national non-profit. Her work focused on closing the opportunity divide by connecting young adults (18-24) with access to higher education and workforce opportunities which were primarily connected to business, banking, and technology industries. She also served as the Associate Director of Academic Affairs and Policy at the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC). This cabinet-level state agency focuses on strategic planning, oversight, advocacy, and program administration to support increased student success and educational attainment in Washington State. Her policy portfolio and bill analysis included utilizing an equity lens to establish how specific policy and bill proposals would accelerate and or derail access and opportunity for Washington State students.
Early in her career, Dr. Gardner held multiple positions at the University of Washington (UW) (Seattle). She initially served on a U.S. Department of Education (DOE) GEAR UP grant focused on college access, as well as a role in Admission and Recruitment. She would later go on to co-launch the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity Vice President Vice Provost’s inaugural Community and Public Relations unit. Finally, Dr. Gardner had the opportunity to lead a $3.5-million-dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) Pacific Northwest Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (PNW LSAMP) grant. The grant serves as a regional network and spans three states and thirteen institutions. The initiative focuses on diversification in the STEM disciplines.
During her tenure with the PNW LSAMP Program, Dr. Gardner led and managed a complex set of stakeholders including multiple boards and evaluators, as well as, facilitated extensive reporting and data requirements which were established by the sponsor. Through her visionary leadership and unwavering ability to establish equity as a key driver for change, across multiple initiatives, Dr. Gardner was able to co-develop (in partnership with UW College of Engineering faculty and staff) an inaugural international study abroad partnership with Queensland University of Technology. The program focused on students of color and first-generation students in STEM disciplines. Additionally, she was able to launch a new PNW LSAMP undergraduate student STEM center which is still in existence today.
Dr. Gardner started her academic journey at Seattle Central Community College. She would later transfer to the University of Washington (Seattle) where she earned three degrees, including a Doctorate and Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy and a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. Her doctoral research focused on diverse students in STEM with an emphasis on ecosystems, fixed-growth mindsets, and academic mindsets. She also holds certificates from Harvard University’s College of Education, Management Development Program and a certificate from the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace.
Dr. Gardner currently resides between Seattle, Washington and the Washington D.C. Metro area.
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.
Quintina Barnett Gallion
She has spent the last 10 years with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) where she developed and led the implementation of its communication department, technologies, and strategy. Previously at AACRAO she supported the development of training in International Admissions, advocated around issues related to the federal funding, privacy and data, program integrity, access and equal opportunity, veterans issues, immigration policy, and international policy — all as it relates to higher education.
In her work, Quintina focuses on uncovering insights from U.S. higher education using qualitative methods to develop guidelines and standards for higher education officials regarding the best practices in admissions, enrollment management, and student services.
As an “Army Brat,” Quintina traveled the world as a child changing classrooms, countries, and cultures regularly. As the daughter of a mother raised in poverty in Mississippi and an immigrant from Panamá, she is a first generation college graduate who discovered a love for ethnography through her undergraduate work in Sociology and qualitative research through her graduate work in Communication Strategy. She developed a true understanding of the challenges of student success through her volunteer work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and Vice President of the CASA DC Professionals Council where she works with Washington, D.C. foster youth to improve their access to resources, structure their home environment, and ensure they understand positive outcomes are achievable.
Quintina holds an MS in Mass Communication – Communication Strategy from Virginia Commonwealth University, a BS in Business Administration from Washington & Lee University as well as a Digital Marketing certification from Georgetown University.
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.
Verónica (Vero) Guajardo, Ph.D.
With over 25 years of K-12, higher education, civic and non-profit experience, Dr. Guajardo’s personal and professional work is always framed with the lens towards addressing inequity and expanding access and success, and commitment towards results-based, data-informed, and equity-focused access and change, while ensuring excellence.
Skills and experience includes robust program management in various states (WA, CA, TX, and OR), including diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging (DEI/B) and anti-racist training, development of team dynamics and competencies, equity-minded leadership development, staff coaching, small and large scale strategic planning and work plan development, legislative and policy advisory, STEM education and management (K-12 and Higher Ed), professional development training in MOCHA and RACI management styles, MBTI personality inventory facilitation, several years of teaching experience at the community college and university level, and within the education management, vast experience in direct student services, including outreach and recruitment, advising, completion, and re-entry work (including recently incarcerated and released students).
Dr. Guajardo has deep fiscal experience with oversight of multi-million dollar budgets and budget development with federal, state, foundation and private funding. The work is grounded in tracking measurable success and incorporating innovative and promising/best practices to develop and implement equity-based frameworks and action that is data-informed and research-based. She has done this work with various funders, settings and institutions, including Seattle Public Schools elementary, K-8, middle, high schools, community college, community health centers and community-based organizations and nonprofits, and most recently with the City of Seattle. In her current role, she is vice president of educational programs for a Washington-state based educational non-profit.
As an equity-minded leader and manager, she believes in a design-thinking approach with a servant and adaptive leadership disposition. To apply design principles to leadership and management in DEI work may seem odd, yet this simply means listening and ‘empathizing’ to understand and lead teams towards defining scopes of work to be done towards creating change, help identify strengths and needs, facilitate the ideation for solutions, coach through frequent iterations and improvement and loop-back, to foster consensus building to achieve benchmarks, goals and ultimately create change.
This approach is powerful because the work of DEI/B is hard work, must be done as a continuum and not just a checklist, and must be done in partnership and collaboration, grounded in accountability, and seeped in learning and continuous improvement and practice. These are the cornerstones to her approach and practice.
Her lived experiences also impacts her passion for the work. As a woman of color, information scientist and technologist, anti-racist and decolonizing researcher and practitioner, immigrant, poet and 1st generation learner, Dr. Guajardo values the opportunity to work in a complex setting because the national climate is ripe with discord and calls for justice—this is the time for true systemic change. She believes unequivocally that irrespective of zip code, race, gender, ethnicity, language or learning ability, everyone deserves to thrive, be safe and not be victims of racial profiling or race-based violence. As a migrant kid from the Central Valley with little aspirations, guidance or expectations, she takes nothing for granted and acknowledges her privileges, and feels lucky and passionate about being able to do this work. “I continue to do equity work in various professional settings, in partnership along this continuum, because this is urgent, necessary, work.”
Dr. Guajardo is a community college graduate and transfer student with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz, a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas, El Paso, and a Master of Science degree and Doctorate from the University of Washington. The title of her dissertation is “UndocuLives: Understanding the Information Behavior, Needs, and Networks of UndocuStudents in Higher Education.” She also has certificates in conflict resolution, contract negotiations and most recently, a certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace.
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.