Ryan Pavel serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s chief executive officer, channeling a deeply-held conviction that enlisted veterans have unlimited potential to leverage military service into enormous impact in higher education and beyond.
At the age of 17, Ryan enlisted in the Marine Corps, culminating in two non-combat deployments to Iraq. Ryan then earned his B.A. from the University of Michigan and J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, leading Student Veterans of America chapters at both institutions. His teaching experience includes working as a Teach For America corps member at an inner-city Detroit high school and as an adjunct instructor at Virginia Military Institute. Ryan has also worked for a variety of legal institutions, including legal aid organizations and a large national law firm, and has provided pro bono legal services to veterans.
In addition to his ongoing work at WSP, Ryan serves as the vice president of partnerships of the Veterans Leadership Council, a working group lead of the Bush Institute’s Veteran Higher Education Task Force, and council member of the Teach for America Military Veteran Council.
Ryan loves spending time with his beautiful wife and energetic sons. As a family, they enjoy escaping to the outdoors to conquer swing sets or climb mountains.
Robert Haywood serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s chief operations officer.
Robert retired from the Marine Corps as a Master Gunnery Sergeant in 2019, serving for 25 years. His career allowed him to enable thousands of Americans to begin their service to our country and gave him the opportunity to empower those around him to achieve their goals. After retiring from active duty, Robert worked as a defense contractor supporting the Marine Corps’ Ground Based Air Defense program before finding his home at Warrior-Scholar Project where he can continue to serve those that have selflessly served our nation.
While on active duty, Robert earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Operations and his Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. He is an advocate for veterans and is passionate about showcasing the value veterans add to organizations and society at large.
Melanie Hicks serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s chief program officer where she combines her two decades of expertise in nonprofits and education with a passion for veteran services. She currently serves on the Military Spouse Career Coalition, Mayor’s Civic Fellows, Institute for Economic Evolution Board of Directors and Humanity Del Sol Board of Trustees.
Melanie formerly served as the Vice President, Education Solutions Group at MGT Consulting, Assistant Provost at the University of Tampa, the Director of Research for the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.
Melanie holds a doctorate from the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University, a M.P.A. from the University of Miami and B.A. from the University of Central Florida. In addition to her formal degrees, she is also a SHRM Senior Certified Professional, two Diversity, Equity and Inclusion certifications and a lean six sigma yellow belt from the University of South Florida, and a Business Analytics certificate from Harvard Business School.
Writing her first book at 10 years old, she has now been published in numerous magazines and websites including Forbes.com, Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, The District, Doctor’s Life, Journal for Research Administration and Moc Ideja, a grassroots policy manual for lawmakers in Bosnia funded by the US Department of State. Her debut memoir will be out in 2023.
Outside of her professional activities, her hobbies include biking, hiking, running, and yoga. She also enjoys spending time with her husband Randy and her fur babies, Eva & Molly.
Jeremy Bradford serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of operations.
Jeremy is responsible for managing and directing day-to-day operations and leading the operations team. Jeremy became involved with WSP in 2014 and helped create the organization’s STEM curriculum. He has worked full time for WSP since 2019.
Jeremy worked in IT until enrolling at Central Connecticut State University where he obtained bachelor’s degrees in both physics and mathematics in 2012. He then went on to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Yale University in 2018.
After receiving his Ph.D., Jeremy joined the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning as the assistant STEM education program director. In his role, he helped manage the Summer Institutes on Scientific Teaching with STEM faculty across the country. During this time, he also helped found the Research Experience for Veteran Undergraduates (REVU) program with Yale Prof. Marla Geha, which he still helps to direct.
In addition to his work supporting student veterans, Jeremy is an adjunct professor at Tunxis Community College where he teaches film appreciation. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, an English department chair, and daughter, a voracious reader. He loves video games, escape rooms, and electronics.
Whittney Gould serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of communications and marketing.
Whittney is passionate about higher education, drawing her to her current role at WSP. Before joining WSP in 2019, Whittney’s work experience was in higher education communications and marketing. She has held roles at the University of New Hampshire, where she served in the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, and Pennsylvania State University, where she worked at the Penn State Press, the College of Agricultural Sciences, and the Eberly College of Science.
Whittney has a B.A. in English from Penn State and an MBA from the University of New Hampshire.
LeNaya Hezel (she/her) serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
As a military spouse of color, LeNaya advocates for services and resources for the military-connected community that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive. With over a decade of higher education experience serving underrepresented student populations, LeNaya collaborates with other members of the WSP team to intentionally cultivate a DEI culture among WSP’s community.
LeNaya is a Ph.D. candidate in public sociology at George Mason University where her dissertation research focuses on how military-connected students accrue social and cultural capital in higher education. LeNaya is a 2021 Veterans Leadership Program scholar with the George W. Bush Institute and a Pat Tillman Foundation scholar.
While in coursework for her Ph.D. program, LeNaya founded NayceQuest, a DEI organizational strategy consulting company that guides organizations to go beyond one-and-done DEI training to embedding DEI practices in everyday interactions. Previous to WSP, LeNaya served as the inaugural Veterans Office director at Georgetown University and a certifying official at The George Washington University. She holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration from The George Washington University and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Maryland, College Park. LeNaya is a proud military spouse to a U.S. Navy officer and mother to three spirited children.
Michelle MacNevin serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of human resources.
Michelle joined WSP in 2019 as human resources and operations coordinator. She has nine years of experience in human resources, payroll processing, and administering benefits. She previously worked for a global youth sporting logistics company where she served in a human resources capacity. Prior to that, she worked for Automatic Data Processing (ADP) where she was a payroll service representative with 142 base clients.
Michelle is originally from Massachusetts where she attended Bristol Community College and earned her associate’s degree in deaf studies. After graduation, she moved to New Hampshire and attended the University of New Hampshire at Manchester with a sign language interpreter major. She graduated with a B.S. in communications and started a company teaching American Sign Language to those that wanted to learn.
Michelle currently resides on the seacoast of New Hampshire. She enjoys participating in a variety of sports in an adult league. You can also find her working out at Pure Barre and may recognize her from the organization’s May 2018 national campaign.
Yared Negash serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of finance.
Yared joined WSP in October 2021 and brings more than a decade of finance and accounting experience working with nonprofit organizations and state government. Originally from Ethiopia, he attended Addis Ababa University, majoring in English literature before leaving to come to the U.S. He earned his B.S. in business administration from Washington Adventist University and MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University.
In his spare time, he enjoys baking cakes, cooking, and gardening, and is a volunteer with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program.
Yared lives in Alexandria, Va., outside of Washington, D.C., with his wife, four rescued cats and two dogs.
Cassie Sanchez serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of education.
Cassie oversees all of the organization’s curricular efforts, including developing, implementing, and evaluating the curricula, plus training academic staff. Cassie helps to ensure that WSP’s academic programming provides participants with the skills and support necessary to successfully transition to college and the workforce.
Cassie first became involved with WSP as a writing instructor in 2017 while working as a senior associate at Amherst College’s writing center, a position she held for 10 years. In 2020, Cassie was invited to join WSP’s Academic Advisory and welcomed the opportunity to rethink and revise the humanities and writing curricula. She is deeply committed to WSP’s mission to support the transition to college and beyond for enlisted veterans and transitioning service members.
Cassie holds a Ph.D. in education policy, research, and administration from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research focuses on higher education access and academic support for students from underrepresented groups and nontraditional backgrounds. In addition to teaching for WSP, Cassie’s work in this area includes teaching for Upward Bound and the Noonan Scholars program, as well as for Amherst College’s summer bridge program. Cassie also has decades of experience developing courses and academic support structures for students in transition, including community college transfer students and first-generation and low-income students. Throughout her graduate studies and professional career, Cassie has remained committed to learning about and supporting students from groups who have historically had barriers to accessing and succeeding in higher education. Cassie considers it a privilege to put her experience, interests, and skills in higher education, teaching and learning, and academic support to work for WSP.
Lisa Stein serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of outreach and admissions.
Lisa started her career at Fort Myer, Va. in the Military District of Washington, D.C. as an MP. For the last 16 years, she has been part of the admissions process at Chadron State College, in the northwest corner of Nebraska. While at Chadron State College, she was a non-traditional student who earned both her B.A. in interdisciplinary studies and a Master of Organizational Management. During her tenure as director of admissions, she was responsible for the Veterans Service Office and acted as the school certifying officer at different times. Military personnel and higher education are two of her biggest passions. Lisa looks forward to serving our veterans as they attain their college education dreams.
Although originally from Nebraska, Lisa spent 20 years in California, and says one of the best decisions she’s made is to return home. Reconnecting with her family, making her own family, and marrying her best friend, Adam, made her decision to return to Nebraska more impactful. Lisa has two adult daughters and three grandchildren. In her spare time, you can find her with her nose in a book, watching her brothers coach football, cheering on her nieces and nephews, and overall, enjoying life.
Gina L. Taglieri
Gina Taglieri serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s director of development.
Gina is deeply interested in promoting the goals of Warrior-Scholar Project, especially as they relate to creating opportunities in higher ed for talented and ambitious enlisted veterans and transitioning service members who are eager to shape a successful future!
A development professional with more than 20 years of experience, Gina is responsible for raising over $75 million – either as director of a team or frontline fundraiser – for nonprofits in human rights, LGBTQ rights, higher education, medical research, youth services, and the performing arts. Working at institutions as varied as Columbia and Cornell Universities, Human Rights First, MADRE, the Astraea Justice Foundation, Manhattan School of Music, and the New School, Gina has successfully raised 6- and 7-figure gifts from individuals, foundations, and corporations, as well as from state and federal funding sources.
Prior to her work in development, Gina was an associate professor of English at the State University of NY (Fashion Institute of Technology). She holds a bachelor’s degree in English & German literature from Stanford University and a Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She also studied German literature and Slavistics at the Freie Universität Berlin. She is a former fellow for the New York State Council for the Humanities, a volunteer mentor for Women in Development, and recently presented on fundraising for the Association of Fundraising Professionals-NYC.
A New England native and unrepentant Red Sox fan, Gina lives in Westchester County, N.Y., with her husband and dog.
Jodi Katherine Black serves as the Warrior-Scholar Project’s manager of institutional development.
With nearly 10 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector, Jodi has served as a frontline fundraiser for several national nonprofit organizations, including the USO world headquarter office where she helped raise money for its capital campaign, Operation Enduring Care.
Jodi has also fundraised for domestic and international policy initiatives, having previously worked at the Bipartisan Policy Center and Atlantic Council before spending a few years with the federal government in a senior communications role at the Peace Corps.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of St. Thomas and a master’s degree in Asia-Pacific studies from the University of Leeds. She also earned her certificate in grant proposal writing from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.
Jodi currently resides in Aurora, Colo., where she enjoys hiking, cycling and exploring the great state of Colorado with her husband.
Amber Bolstad serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s operations assistant.
Amber is responsible for supporting the operations team with organizational goals, logistics, and day-to-day tasks. She has a variety of experience in sales, business development, and office administration. Amber joined the WSP team in 2022. Previously, she served as the office administrator for a CPA firm, managing all internal processes and daily operations of the firm. Prior to that, she worked for Automatic Data Processing (ADP) as an outside sales representative, serving small business owners in the Coastal Carolina region.
Amber is originally from Los Angeles and attended California State University, Chico, graduating in 2019 with a B.S. in business management. In her undergraduate studies, Amber was extremely involved on campus as a resident advisor, where she found her passion to advocate for diverse groups of students throughout their college experiences. Upon graduation, she relocated to North Carolina where she currently resides with her fiancé who actively serves in the United States Marine Corps. In April 2022, she continued her education and earned her MBA with an emphasis in project management from Grand Canyon University. She now looks forward to serving veterans in finding success in their own educational journeys.
Living only ten minutes from Topsail Island in North Carolina, Amber and her fiancé enjoy evening runs on the beach, tackling their next DIY home project, or attending concerts together.
Cassie DiMeglio serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s admissions and student veteran recruitment manager.
Cassie served four years in the Marine Corps as a Combat Engineer from 2006-2010. She deployed twice to Iraq and spent some time on Team Lioness, a female engagement team. It was during this time that she was able to interact with many Iraqi locals and when she first decided she wanted to focus on social justice.
Cassie graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan in 2013. She spent the next five years raising her two children and working for different social justice initiatives. She helped organize and execute Warrior-Scholar Project’s pilot program at the University of Michigan in 2014 and continued in this endeavor for the next five years. Cassie also functioned as a fellow for The Mission Continues and extended her services at an organization called Focus: HOPE in Detroit, Mich. There, she empowered young children to read and helped instill in them a love of literacy. In 2021, Cassie graduated with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan. Cassie hopes to continue her service to others in any capacity, and she especially loves working with and alongside veterans, helping them in their transitions as they reintegrate back into society. She hopes to empower veterans to realize their potential and understand that they are capable beyond what they ever could have imagined.
Cassie lives in Chelsea, Mich., with her two children, four cats, and dog. She loves reading, playing board games, and crafting of all kinds. She also enjoys spending time outside and playing with her kids and teaching them about the world around them.
Arjang Eliasi serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s development associate.
After completing his B.S. in economics at NC State University in Raleigh, N.C., Arjang took his love of data analytics and forecasting to the world of E-commerce in his hometown of Charlotte. After relocating to beautiful Southern California in 2015, a chance meeting brought Arjang to the development world — and he hasn’t looked back since.
Arjang joined WSP in 2022 after learning about the worthy mission of supporting our veterans and the exciting growth ahead for the organization. He is honored to contribute to WSP and grow its wonderful base of supporters. Arjang enjoys time with his family, hikes by the beach, anything and everything to do with technology, and expanding his culinary palette.
Joseph Estevez serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s recruiting coordinator.
Joseph retired from the Marine Corps as a Master Sergeant in 2020 after 18.5 years of service. He began his enlistment as an Infantry Marine serving in various combat arms roles with several overseas deployments.After receiving his second Purple Heart, Joseph transitioned to the Marine Corps Recruiting Command where he ultimately completed his active duty service as a Career Recruiter, serving at various levels of command and holding billets from Canvasing Recruiter to Assistant Recruiter Instructor. His career empowered him to help pave the way for thousands of young Americans to begin their service to our country and achieve their personal goals.
Joseph is passionate about Warrior-Scholar Project because he recognizes the value of education and the need to bridge the gap between military service and higher education for military veterans.
Joseph is engaged to his fiancé, Jesse, and their blended family includes five children and two step-dogs. They will reside together in Columbia Station, Ohio after their wedding in June 2023. They share many outdoor hobbies including hunting, fishing, and boating and are continually seeking out new adventures together.
Mike Lanpolsaen serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s military and veteran organization recruitment manager.
Mike joined Warrior-Scholar Project after retiring from the United States Marine Corps. During his 30 years of service, he held several positions from squad leader to recruiter, instructor at Marine Corps Engineer School, Company First Sergeant, and most recently as the Sergeant Major for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. He had the honor of deploying twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
Mike earned his Bachelor of Arts in General Studies (Summa Cum Laude) from American Military University. He is an advocate for veterans and is passionate about higher education and training. Mike is married to Kham, and they have three children. The family loves to travel, enjoys the outdoors, and continually seeks new adventures.
Samantha Locke serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s operations coordinator.
Samantha is responsible for managing the logistics and coordination of WSP programming. She also assists the operations teams in coordinating day-to-day organizational performances. Samantha joined the WSP team in 2022.
Samantha attended Asbury University, graduating in 2012 with a B.A. in applied communications. Since her graduation, Samantha has experience working within the healthcare, higher education, nonprofit, and corporate sectors. She has overseen the event and operation logistics for events ranging from youth conferences, fundraising events, health and community impact seminars, post-conference after-parties, and nationwide conferences.
Samantha finds great joy with her partner and his children, her pit-bull puppy (Gator), family, friends, a good book, the great outdoors, and working out!
Rebecca Mills serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s education programs coordinator.
Rebecca joined the WSP team in August 2022 and is responsible for assisting in developing, coordinating, and executing education programs and events.
Rebecca attended Rockhurst University, graduating in 2015 with a B.A. in secondary education and history. Following graduation, she taught history and civics at the secondary level and served as a varsity basketball coach. During that time, she earned her master’s degree in education from the University of Missouri-Columbia in positive coaching and psychology and her specialist degree in education from Arkansas State University in Educational Leadership and Administration. During her time in the classroom, Rebecca focused on building trusting relationships with her students and making lasting connections.
Rebecca lives in Kansas City, Mo., with her husband and golden retriever named Oakley. She is an avid KC sports fan…Go Chiefs! She enjoys spending time with her family, hosting cookouts, and playing cornhole.
Robert (Bob) Saitta serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s accounting specialist.
Bob was raised in New York and attended the State University of New York at Oneonta. While attending, he was accepted into an exchange program in Japan for a one-year overseas study program at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Japan. Upon returning, he completed at Oneonta, graduating with a B.S. in comparative literature and a minor in Japanese.
In 1983 he was accepted into a two-year YMCA teaching program in Kitakysuhu, Japan where he taught English and literature while continuing to work on becoming fluent in Japanese. He again returned to Japan from 1987-1992, teaching English and literature at a variety of schools, ranging from kindergarten through university. He also worked as a business manager at Win Corporation in Fukuoka, Japan, running the company’s language and translation department.
From 1985-1987 and from 1992-2013, Bob owned and managed a family business, El Sol Cigars, in Tampa, Fla. He sold the business in 2013 and then went to work for a friend from his days as an exchange student in Japan, Robert Haupt of Haupt Law. From 2014-2017, Bob helped Mr. Haupt build up National Litigation Law Group (NLLG) as the director of finance; the company generated $25 million in revenue in 2017. Mr. Haupt sold NLLG in 2017, and Bob returned to Florida in 2018 — where he presently resides outside of Tampa with his two children, Marty and Carol.
Alyna Suarez serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s alumni engagement and outreach fellow.
Alyna was born and raised in Santa Ana, Calif., where she enlisted into the Navy Reserves directly out of high school and attended Santa Ana Community College. Just before earning her associate degrees in political science, sociology, and liberal arts, Alyna participated in WSP’s humanities boot camp in the summer of 2021. After falling in love with the mission and impact of WSP, she came back to serve as a fellow during the 2022 boot camp season and has now joined WSP’s staff full-time.
She is currently still enlisted in the Navy Reserves, where she serves as a Career Counselor for her unit based out of Bremerton, Wash. She will graduate from California State University, Chico in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Alyna enjoys trying new coffee shops in her local area, reading, swimming, and working out in her free time.
Patrick Trujillo serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s marketing coordinator.
Patrick served in the United States Marine Corps, where he deployed five times, twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. After departing the military, Patrick attended WSP as a participant in 2017. He also interned at the organization where he worked on the marketing and communications team. Patrick believes strongly in the mission and appreciates the opportunity to give back to other veterans. Patrick earned his B.S. in business management from San Diego State University in 2021 and credits much of his academic success to Warrior-Scholar Project.
Patrick enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and woodworking in his free time. He is especially passionate about health and wellness.
Lillian Wilkins serves as Warrior-Scholar Project’s system administrator.
Lillian is responsible for configuring and managing Warrior-Scholar Project’s system infrastructure, including all of the hardware, software, and operating systems that are necessary to support the organization’s productivity. She began her professional career as an elementary teacher through Teach For America. She was committed to having a direct impact as an educator, inspiring future generations in the classroom, and empowering students with the tools, resources, and knowledge to become successful. After four years of teaching, Lillian transitioned into a recruiting capacity at Teach For America, followed by Success Academy Charter Schools, helping to find and cultivate other passionate educators. She credits her commitment to educational equity and social justice to her roots growing up in the Chicago area where she observed the staggering disparities between resources, facilities, and opportunity within education.
Lillian is a first-generation college student and holds a B.A. in psychology and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame. She is a loving wife to her husband, Mark, and a doting mother to their children, Zai, Zayn, and Zeik.