Our Board is comprised of dynamic business, education, and community leaders who generously volunteer their time and expertise to guide the Education Alliance in its mission. Three permanent members include the Superintendent of the Washoe County School District, and both Presidents of the University of Nevada, Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College. We are thankful for our Board’s 100 percent financial support!
Kristen McNeill, Ed.D.
Interim WCSD Superintendent
Marc Johnson, Ph.D.
Karin Hilgersom, Ph.D.
Construction Engineering Manager, Truckee River Flood Management Authority
Mr. Bianchi, a second generation Nevadan, currently serves as a Senior Financial Advisor at Northwestern Mutual. He earned his finance degree at University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and has a strong commitment to the community as a founding president of the Boys and Girls Club and help found Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful. With a wife as a retired educator, a daughter who is a principal, and two grandsons in the Washoe County School system, Bianchi knows the importance of a quality and engaged educational system.
A teacher that inspired him: I was inspired in high school by two teachers, one of English and the other of Government, who made learning fun. The Education Alliance provides an opportunity to make a difference in the educational life of our community.
Debra Biersdorff serves as the Chief Academic Officer of the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada. Mrs. Biersdorff’s responsibilities include the leadership of numerous District departments including Curriculum and Instruction, Gifted and Talented Education, Career and Technical Education, Professional Learning, English Language Development, Title I federal grant programs, and Education Alliance. Mrs. Biersdorff’s experience in the District also includes service as a high school principal and area superintendent. In these roles, Mrs. Biersdorff was responsible for the development and deployment of the District’s nationally-recognized strategic plan, which includes collaborative efforts with local college and university faculty in lowering remediation rates. Recognized as Nevada’s High School Principal of the year in 2011, Mrs. Biersdorff has been a proud member of the northern Nevada community for over 35 years.
Communications consultant Brent Boynton is well known in northern Nevada as a television journalist and as an emcee. The son of two teachers, Brent has utilized his master’s degree in education as a journalism instructor at the University of Nevada and conducts communications analysis, training and coaching with Boynton Communications. He serves or has served on the boards and councils of Step 1, Inc. and Make-A-Wish, and he began volunteering for Partners in Education more than 20 years ago.
Melissa Burnham, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Burnham is the Associate Dean for the College of Education and a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Early Childhood Education. Dr. Burnham obtained her Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of California, Davis.
Most memorable experience as a volunteer in education: Being involved directly with students and teachers by volunteering in my son’s classrooms throughout his education in the district.
Joe Cline, Ph.D.
Dr. Cline is a professor of chemistry and vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Nevada, Reno. As vice provost, Cline oversees University assessment and accreditation, the development of academic curricula, and the periodic review of all instructional programs. The Advising, Writing, Math, and Tutoring Centers, the Honors Program, the Intensive English Language Center, Service Learning, and the Core Curriculum report to the vice provost for undergraduate education.
Dr. Cline earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at the University of Virginia and a Doctorate in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. As a professor of chemistry, Cline’s expertise is in molecular spectroscopy and dynamics and he has mentored numerous undergraduate and graduate researchers in his research activities.
Melissa earned her B.S. in Biology and French from Albertson College of Idaho and Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Nevada, Reno. She joined the Biology Department faculty at Truckee Meadows Community College in 2005. Seeing the need to broaden students’ perspectives and opportunities in health, Melissa co-developed the Associate of Science in Community Health Science degree and returned to UNR to earn an MPH, Epidemiology so that she would have expertise in the discipline. Melissa has since transitioned to administration and serves as TMCC’s Associate Dean of Assessment and Planning. Melissa is married with two children and loves soccer.
Bill Fong was born and raised in Reno, Nevada. From an early age, he was drawn to working with children and working in a helping profession. Bill has been involved in working with youth for over 20 years. He has instructed many motion-based sports including Sailing, Windsurfing, Snowboarding, Strength Training, and Volleyball.
Bill’s passion for connecting youth with opportunity led him to his current career as a School Counselor. He has been a School Counselor for 17 years, including work with Career and Technical Education, serving as Director of Dean’s Future Scholars and 15 years working with area Middle School Students. Bill received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in School Counseling from the University of Nevada, Reno.
Most memorable experience as a volunteer in education:
Volunteering time to teach/coach volleyball to low-income students. Being able to watch them grow and gain confidence in something they had never done before was incredibly rewarding!
Ms. Garcia currently serves as the Director for the Dean’s Future Scholars program at UNR. In her role, Garcia works with low-income, first-generation college students in a variety of settings to focus students on achieving college success. She earned her master’s degree in School Counseling from the University of Nevada, Reno, and is currently working on her doctorate in Equity & Diversity.
Most memorable experience as a volunteer in education: Volunteering for the AmeriCorps program for one year in Longmont, Colorado.
Lauren Garfinkel moved from Las Vegas to attend the University of Nevada, Reno in 2004 and takes great pride in calling “The Biggest Little City” her forever home. Her professional career began while earning her undergraduate degrees, working in casino marketing positions for two of the region’s largest resorts over the course of nearly a decade. In early 2017, she made the industry switch from tourism to technology, accepting her current position as Recruitment and Branding Specialist for Panasonic Energy of North America, inside the Tesla Gigafactory. Lauren wears many hats, overseeing all marketing and public communication functions for Panasonic, including community engagement. She has made workforce development and corporate philanthropy for the Reno/Sparks community primary pillars of her role, with a large passion for being the bridge between Panasonic and Washoe County Schools.
Most memorable experience as a volunteer in education: Volunteering for the Skills USA competition! What an experience to interview so many inspiring young adults!
Karen Hilgersom, Ph.D.
Prior to joining Truckee Meadows Community College, Dr. Hilgersom served as the president of Sullivan County Community College, SUNY Sullivan, in Loch Sheldrake, New York. Dr. Hilgersom earned her master’s degree in Rhetoric and Communication at and a doctorate in Educational Policy and Management from the University of Oregon. She began her community college career as a faculty member in 1986, which included full-time faculty and chair experience at Spokane Community College in the Communication Studies department.
Marc Johnson, Ph.D.
Dr. Johnson’s tenure as president of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) has been marked by record student enrollment and academic achievement, the advancement of the University’s research and innovation agenda and a deep commitment to partnering with the state of Nevada and its communities to further business, industry and economic diversification.
A career as a faculty member, researcher, and administrator – including roles at several notable land-grant universities – led Dr. Johnson to the University, where he was named the institution’s 16th president in April 2012.
Prior to joining UNR, Dr. Johnson was dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University. Johnson received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Emporia State University, a master’s degree in international development from North Carolina State University, a master’s degree in economics from Michigan State University, and a doctorate of agricultural economics from Michigan State.
Landon Miller currently anchors KTVN 2 News at 5:00, 2 News at 6:30, 2 News at 7:00, and 2 News at 11:00. He joined the KTVN 2 News team in 2014 as a weekend video journalist. Landon worked his way up, joining the 2 News This Morning team as the show’s live reporter. Born in Northern Nevada, Landon is proud to call Reno home. He graduated from Wooster High School’s International Baccalaureate Program and went on to pursue a degree in Journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. During his time at school, Landon won first place in the Hearst Collegiate Journalism awards in television reporting. Landon minored in Spanish.
Since joining the 2 News team, Landon has won two EMMY awards as a reporter and anchor. At 2 News, Landon has anchored live coverage of wildfires to elections, to other breaking stories. He also reports politics for 2 News by fact-checking political advertisements in his ‘Reality Check’ series. Perhaps, though, Landon is most known for his daily segment, ‘Your 2 Cents,’ where viewers call and give their opinions on the day’s news.
Most memorable experience as a volunteer in education:
“Being on the Outstanding Educator Selection Panel was a great reminder of the important work the Education Alliance does,” he said. “We can talk about school budgets and teachers spending their own money on supplies all the time, but actually reading teachers’ stories and truly experiencing the need was eye-opening.”
Mr. Morgan currently leads the Mobile Lab Program for Deloitte’s Leadership Center for Clients in the United States. In the Lab, He applies design thinking and research-based content to create immersive, interactive facilitated sessions to help teams achieve breakthrough solutions to their most complex strategic and adaptive challenges. Mr. Morgan has accelerated the performance of over a hundred teams from around the U.S., Canada, Europe, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, and India. Mr. Morgan completed his undergraduate studies in economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Institut d’Etudes Politique in Grenoble, France and his master’s degree from the Haas School at the University of California, Berkeley.
Early education included a deep appreciation of the book “Where The Wild Things Are” which fed his imagination and gratitude for home.
Charles began his career in Reno, Nevada as a drafter in 1985. After building his career in the Sacramento area market, Charles returned to Reno in 2014 and is currently Project Manager with Verus AEC whose core design services include Electrical and Technology Systems design with market sectors in High Tech, Education, Healthcare, Commercial and Industrial systems automation.
Charles brings hard work, drive and a passion for what he does to the Education Alliance Board and is proud of his upbringing in Reno, attending Elmcrest Elementary, Clayton Middle School, and Procter R. Hug High School graduating with honors in Metals and Architectural Drafting. He cites the programs that were in place when he went to school afforded him career options right out of high school and hails the faculty and members in the construction industry for taking an interest in his success.
Ms. Sanchez-Bickley joined Renown Health in 2002 and has been the vice president of Human Resources since 2008. She has more than 20 years of HR leadership experience and 14 years have been in healthcare. Prior to joining Renown, Michelle was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and worked in consulting and financial service industries. With a bachelor’s degree in political science and justice studies from Frostburg State University in Maryland, Michelle earned her Master’s Degree in Human Resource Development from Georgia State University in Georgia. She is a certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR) and a Senior Professional Human Resources Credential (SHRM-SCP).
A teacher that inspired her: There have been several teachers that have inspired me throughout the years, but the very first one I remember well was my first grade teacher who always greeted each student every day with a smile, and told us we could do anything we put our minds to.
Ann Silver was born and raised in New York City as the oldest of five. She’s been a resident of Nevada for over 20 years, with positions in government, the private sector, and non-profit organizations. Since January 2017, Ann has been the CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce, the largest business organization in northern Nevada with 1,500 members employing over 75,000 individuals.
In conjunction with NNHRA and TMCC, the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce conducts “HR Boot Camp” twice each year to assist small business professionals with education and information regarding recruitment strategies, onboarding, development of personnel policies, employee performance evaluations, and termination procedures.
Ann previously served as the Executive Director of J.O.I.N, the WIOA-funded career training organization that serves 8 counties in Nevada. Its mission is to link out-of-school youth, eligible adults, veterans, and underemployed individuals with the skills and education needed to meet employers’ growing needs. In this capacity, she founded the “Workforce Consortium”, now grown to over 50 organizations representing employers, training organizations, educational institutions and non-profit groups that meet quarterly to identify critical workforce challenges, employer needs and career opportunities that provide for sustainable careers.
Ann’s professional career includes serving as the Sr. VP and General Manager of Radio City Music Hall in New York City where she produced the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” for seven (7) seasons, negotiated collective bargaining agreements with stagehands, electricians, costume makers, the orchestra, and famous Radio City Rockettes. Ann later served as Sr. Vice President of Human Resources & Labor Relations for Compass Group, an international foodservice, cafeteria, and public restaurant company.
Ann is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and Notre Dame Law School in South Bend, Indiana and maintains Sr. Certification as a Human Resources Professional. She presently serves on the Governor’s Energy Choice Committee and the Governor’s Workforce Development Board, the Board of the Northern Nevada Literacy Council, The Eddy House, and the Women’s Fund, and as a Trustee of the Nevada Art Museum.
Jill Tolles has lived, learned and worked in Nevada for over 20 years and proudly calls the Silver State her home. In 2005, she began teaching at TMCC and soon after at UNR where she has taught Communication Studies for the past 10 years. In 2013, she also joined the faculty of the National Judicial College. This led her to open her own small business leading trainings and consulting with companies and individuals on effective communication strategies.
Throughout her life Jill has been passionately engaged in giving back to her community and serving others. Jill has also become an outspoken and staunch advocate for the safety of one of our most vulnerable populations, our children. She served on the Task Force for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, established by the 2013 legislature, and developed and lobbied for the successful passage of SB394 which established statewide curriculum standards to teach personal safety to children in 2015.
Jill is passionate about high-quality education to ensure a sound economic and socially stable future in Nevada. As a private citizen and now as a Nevada State Assemblywoman, Jill has successfully advocated to improve the state of public education and is proud of the reforms passed during the 2015 session and others impacting the safety of our students, such as AB362, in the 2017 session. Jill loves to spend time with her family, run, hike, and fly fish.