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.
Washoe County School District Superintendent
Brian Sandoval, J.D.
University of Nevada
College of Education Professor
Board of Directors
John Ahdunko has been an active community member in Northern Nevada for the past 20 years. He began his career in the banking industry while earning his Bachelors degree from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2006. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the financial industry and has lead with the passion of helping more people live Greater in the various roles he has held. In his current role, he serves on the Senior Leadership team for Greater Nevada and has successfully built programs that focus on financial wellness by building strong partnerships with local and community organizations through engagement, recognition, and a passion to help more people live Greater.
Why I support education: Supporting education is very important because as individual’s access education, they are preparing to address today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. It’s my belief that when our students become lifelong learners, it puts them in a position to be successful, adapt, evolve, and ultimately, contribute greatly to our communities.
Mr. Bianchi, a second generation Nevadan, previously served as a Senior Financial Advisor at Northwestern Mutual. He earned his finance degree at University of Nevada 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.
Why I support education: 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 Deputy Superintendent of the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada. Mrs. Biersdorff’s experience in the District includes service as a high school principal, area superintendent, and Chief Academic Officer. 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, Debbie has been a proud member of the northern Nevada community for over 35 years.
Melissa Burnham, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Burnham is a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Early Childhood Education. She obtained her Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of California, Davis in 2002, her Master’s degree in HDFS from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1996, and her Bachelor’s degree in HDFS from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1994. She has been a faculty member with the HDFS program since the fall of 2001. She also served as Associate Dean for the College of Education from 2015-2019.
Dr. Burnham’s research interests focus on the examination of infant and child development in context, with specific expertise in infant and child sleep development. She is also interested in and has studied the impact of quality early care and education on development and PreK-Third Grade educational reform efforts. Dr. Burnham has taught courses in the HDFS undergraduate and master’s degree programs as well as in the Early Childhood Education track of the Integrated Elementary Teaching Program (IETP).
Dr. Burnham has served the College of Education as Division Director for Teacher Education and Human Development, the chair of the IETP Steering Committee, and program coordinator for the HDFS program. She serves the Reno/Sparks community as the chair of the local Washoe County Early Childhood Advisory Council and as a member of the Nevada Registry Advisory Committee. She serves the state of Nevada as the President of the Nevada Commission on Professional Standards in Education and is the current President of the Nevada Association for Colleges of Teacher Education.
Kristine Brown Caliger
Kristine Brown Caliger is proud to have been raised and educated in northern Nevada, and takes even more pride in doing her part to ensure a new generation will be able to say the same.
After earning a B.A. in Music at the University of Nevada, Kristine began her career in communications, digital media, and graphic design, working with several area non-profits.
Kristine’s trajectory changed when she was hired at News 4-Fox 11 in 2013. She eventually became the station’s first Managing Editor, overseeing newsroom, editorial, and digital operations. Kristine’s leadership guided the station’s work during several election cycles, community triumphs and tragedies, and natural disasters. But the goal was always singular, though times and circumstances differed: advocating for the community, and keeping people informed.
Kristine now serves as Director of Member Engagement at the Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce, where the goal remains much the same. She advocates for and informs the business community of policies that impact them, creates ongoing educational opportunities for members, and unifies members and partners in the spirit of good business citizenship and generosity. She believes this is what serves as True North in good times and challenging ones.
Why I support education: The teachers who have made the most impact on my life are those who believed in who I could be before I did. Thank you, Mrs. Knazovich, for asking to hold my hand in our class picture because you believed I would ‘be something someday’. Thank you, Mrs. Galloway, for telling me you thought I could be the first woman to be president. Whether or not those things are true, the empowerment you gave me – and all your students – is true. I am forever grateful and will do the same for others.
Joe Cline, Ph.D.
Dr. Cline is a professor of chemistry and vice provost emeritus for undergraduate education at the University of Nevada. As vice provost, Cline oversaw 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 Deadmond, Ph.D., MPH
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. 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 University of Nevada 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.
Mariluz Garcia, Ph.D.
Mariluz Garcia currently serves as the Director for the Dean’s Future Scholars program at the University of Nevada. 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, and recently completed her doctorate in Equity & Diversity.
Lauren Garfinkel, M.B.A.
Lauren Garfinkel moved from Las Vegas to attend the University of Nevada 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 manufacturing/technology, accepting her current position as Senior Talent Acquisition and Brand Specialist for Panasonic Energy of North America, the battery-supplying partner for Tesla inside the Gigafactory. Lauren wears many hats, overseeing all marketing and public communication functions for Panasonic, including community engagement. She has made workforce development and corporate social responsibility for the Reno/Sparks community primary pillars of her role, with a large passion for being the bridge between Panasonic and Washoe County Schools.
Why I support education: Principal for ½ Day has been one of my favorite Education Alliance events for the last three years. 2020’s event in February was particularly special as Panasonic was honored with the coveted Partner in Education (PiE) Award. My leadership team was present to accept the award not only from the incredible Education Alliance staff, but from our Governor as well. The award was so meaningful to me personally and professionally, however, the experience the next day of getting to shadow WCSD’s Superintendent, the wonderful Dr. Kristen McNeill, was so impactful – I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity. Being “in her shoes” for just four hours painted a clear picture of how important volunteering and supporting our school district is. I look forward to this event and all the others for years to come!
Phil Kaiser, M.A.
Phil Kaiser serves as the president of the Washoe Education Association, which advocates for a great public education system for every student and educator. The WEA represents certified teachers, counselors, school nurses, speech-language pathologists, and occupational and physical therapists employed by the school district. He has been a teacher in the Washoe County School District for twenty years, and achieved National Board Certification in 2006.
As a native Nevadan, Phil was born and grew up in the Reno area. He received his BA from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and his MA from George Washington University in Washington, DC. He then worked in the D.C. area first on Capitol Hill, then for the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service, and finally in the private sector.
Engaging the community in support of public education is a crucial endeavor, and Phil has pursued this in many ways including serving with groups advocating financial literacy, school safety, and efforts to address the chronic shortage of resources. His goal is to achieve the best possible learning conditions for our children and the best possible working conditions for our educators. He strongly believes that education is the key to economic development and diversification, and personal intellectual growth.
Landon Miller, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno studying Spanish in the World Languages and Literatures program, has called Northern Nevada home his entire life. 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 Nevada. Landon has taught journalism at the Reynolds School since 2016. Landon currently teaches Spanish at the university.
Landon also works for Reno Media Group as an on-air host for 95.5 Alice and 101.7 Juan. Landon is excited to enter the bilingual broadcasting market. Prior, Landon was the evening news anchor at KTVN 2 News, anchoring newscasts between 5:00-11:00 p.m. During his time at 2 News, Landon earned two EMMY awards. Landon ultimately wants to combine his love of broadcasting and Spanish on a larger platform to reach and help a new audience.
Why I support education:
Being on the Outstanding Educator Selection Panel was a great reminder of the important work the Education Alliance does. 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.
Chris Morgan, M.B.A.
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.
Why I support education:
To quote one of history’s great philosophers, Whitney Houston, ‘I believe the children are our future.’ It’s our children who will be our community’s, our country’s, and our world’s next leaders. It’s our responsibility to provide our kids with an unparalleled education so that can take care of themselves and our world. There’s no greater investment than ensuring at-risk kids get the support they need to thrive, that talented kids get support they need to reach their full potential, and that all kids graduate with the skills to provide for themselves and our society. I’ve been blessed to have great educational opportunities – every child should have the same good fortune.
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.
Why I support education: The programs that were in place when I went to school afforded me career options right out of high school and I hail the faculty and members in the construction industry for taking an interest in my success.
Michelle Sanchez-Bickley, MS, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
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).
Why I support education: 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.
Eric Scheetz, P.E., CFM
Mr. Scheetz was born and bred here in the Reno Tahoe area. He enjoys always working, investing, and giving back to the community (10+ boards). Mr. Scheetz started off at the University of Southern California getting an undergraduate in Civil Engineering with Architecture and a Masters in Civil Engineering. He then worked primarily in Southern California as a professional Engineer for two of the largest engineering and construction firms in the world on more than 10 projects of which he calls once in a lifetime opportunities and of which 5 were valued at over a billion dollars. These projects include: the LA Cathedral; Pier S, Pier T, Pier 300, and Pier 400 in the Long Beach and LA Harbors; LAX Taxiway C; the California High Speed Rail; the Sprinter rail line of North San Diego County; other light rail commuter lines in Southern California such as MetroLink; and the Alameda Corridor/ East lowered rail project. He then had the opportunity to come home and work on projects such as: the ReTRAC- project which is the lowered railway project in downtown Reno; Land Development projects throughout Northern Nevada; Lake Tahoe Environmental water quality projects and; the Bear River Levee. Currently, he works at the Truckee River Flood Project which includes elements such as the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Floodwall and Levee, the Hidden Valley Home Elevations, and the new Virginia Street Bridge in Downtown Reno. Mr. Scheetz prides himself on managing projects throughout their implementation from design though construction and operation while helping to save billions of dollars of tax payer funds.
Why I support education: I have the wonderful reality of being able to work doing what I dreamed of as a young boy in playing with huge tractors and building huge structures that baffle the imagination and I want to see young children have that same opportunity. I believe education is critical to that goal and I will stop in my tracks to show a young kid how they can become a part of the next generation of leaders while engaging with their everyday community.
David Shintani, PhD
David Shintani is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. He previously served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources at the University of Nevada, Reno where he is a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. David earned his B.S degree in Genetics from the University of California, Davis and his PhD in Botany and Plant Pathology from Michigan State University. In addition to the WCSD Education Alliance Board, David also serves on Washoe County School District Career and Technical Education (CTE) Advisory Technical Skills Committee.
Jill Tolles, M.A.
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 University of Nevada 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.
Why I support education: Education literally changed the direction of my life. I am grateful for a few very special teachers who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and gave me the confidence to cross the finish line and stretch further than I ever expected.