Past Programs

Illinois Early Childhood Senior Leader 2014 Cohort


Milagros Fernandez

Milagros Fernandez

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Vice President of Family Services
Infant Welfare Society of Chicago
[email protected]

“It was gratifying to find a program that could lead me in the direction of finding information about other states that have been implementing ideas I too have been considering. It was an awesome experience.”

For more than 20 years, Milagros Fernandez has championed the cause of under-served families living in high-risk neighborhoods. Even as a top administrator overseeing child development and adolescent counseling services for a large Chicago child welfare organization, she is able to call on her skills as a licensed clinical social worker to maintain a small caseload and provide staff with reflective supervision. Among her signature successes has been adapting and implementing an innovative treatment model for mothers experiencing post-partum depression to meet the needs of low-income Latinas. She holds a Master of Arts in Social Work from the University of Chicago, a Certificate in Infant Mental Health from Erikson Institute.


Azucena Gonzalez

Azucena Gonzalez
Director of Home-Based Children’s Services
Gads Hill Center
[email protected]

“As part of the leadership program, I was able to enhance my knowledge in early childhood policy and expand my professional network.”

Azucena Gonzalez has made it her life’s work to shape the futures of young children and their families. Over the last decade, she has assumed increasing levels of responsibility in overseeing both home- and center-based programs on Chicago’s West and Southwest Sides that enhance the development of children from birth to age five. Her leadership has helped foster healthy habits in countless families and inspired them to play a pivotal role in supporting their children’s learning. She received a Master of Arts in Education from American Inter-Continental University and a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Roosevelt University.


Anita Harvey-DixonAnita Harvey-Dixon
Implementation Adviser, Educare Learning Network
Ounce of Prevention Fund
[email protected]

Anita Harvey-Dixon has devoted herself to transforming children’s lives through education. With more than 20 years in the field, she has developed a resume that’s impressive in both its depth and diversity. She has worked as an administrator for a network of schools that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable children, served as a teacher in Head Start classrooms, taught high school English and adult learners and produced educational programs for public television. Anita holds a Master of Arts in Literature from Yale University, a Master of Science in Child Development from Erikson Institute and a bachelor’s degree from the City College of the City University of New York.

Dawnielle JeffreyDawnielle Jeffrey
Director of Education, Early Childhood Services
Children’s Home + Aid Society of Illinois
[email protected]

“In Erikson’s program, I had the opportunity to become a reflective leader, work collaboratively with peers and expand my professional networks and relationships. It helped build my professional capacity in early childhood policy and participate in child advocacy within my agency.”

Dawnielle Jeffrey is committed to guaranteeing that every child, no matter their family challenges or income level, has the opportunity for educational success. A native of Oklahoma, she directed curriculum instruction for an anti-poverty agency in that state before moving to the Chicago area, where she has endeavored to ensure that dual-language learners and children with special needs receive the appropriate educational services and support to succeed in school and in life. She received a Master of Science in Teaching, Learning and Leadership with an emphasis in Special Education from Oklahoma State University and a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from Langston University.

Toni Porter

Professional Development Manager
Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
[email protected]

Thanks to her longtime association with Illinois’ Gateways to Opportunity program, Toni Porter can see clearly the vital importance of building a professional development support system that provides guidance, encouragement and recognition to individuals and programs serving children, youth and families. By assisting with credentialing, career guidance, education and training resources, peer networking, scholarships, and more, she and her colleagues provide a lifeline to more than 100,000 practitioners working in the fields of early care and education, and school-age and youth development. Toni focuses on what matters most: helping childcare professionals help children achieve greater academic and social success in school and in life. She received a Bachelor of Science in Family and Consumer Science from Illinois State University.

Leticia Ramirez

Director of Early Childhood Services
SGA Youth & Family Services
[email protected]

As a first-generation college graduate, Leticia Ramirez is intimately familiar with the value of a good education. Her personal perspective has fueled her passion for providing quality services to children and families during her 16 years working in the fields of early childhood education, disabilities, and advocacy. In addition to directing early childhood and Head Start programs in the Chicago area, Leticia has been a dynamic advocate for increasing the number of Latinos in higher education, in leadership positions, and as policymakers at the local, state and national levels. She received a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Roosevelt University, a Certificate in Infant Mental Health from Erickson Institute, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Scott SeftenbergScott Seftenberg
Manager, Data Systems Improvement
Illinois Action for Children
[email protected]

“Working on a policy action plan was a great opportunity. We initially approached it as an academic exercise, but knowing that it actually might be viewed by policy influencers made it worth the effort.”

Scott Seftenberg has found the best of both worlds: jobs that allows him to combine his computer programming and data analysis skills with his commitment to early childhood education. In one, he works as a systems analyst with an Illinois children’s advocacy organization; in the other, he acts as an eligibility specialist for a government program that serves low-income families in northern Illinois. But even that is not enough to feed his passion for helping others. Scott, who lived abroad in Europe and Mexico for many years, also volunteers with several educational and social service organizations that address the needs of a diverse clientele. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pamela StaplesPamela Staples
Site Manager, Baby-Toddler Nursery
Infant Welfare Society of Evanston
[email protected]

“Becoming an Illinois Early Childhood Senior Leader has allowed me to elevate my understanding of early childhood policymaking and systems. I feel this program has given me the tools to help me feel comfortable as well as confident when advocating for children and families.”

As the site manager for an agency’s baby-toddler nursery in Chicago’s northern suburbs, Pamela Staples has become a master juggler. Whether monitoring and maintaining compliance standards set by oversight organizations, motivating her staff through thoughtful mentoring or fostering positive relationships with parents by truly listening to their questions and concerns, she acts as an inspiring leader who stays focused on what matters most: the educational development of the children she serves. Pamela holds a Master of Science in Child Development from Erikson Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy from Kendall College.

Aminah Wyatt-JonesAminah Wyatt-Jones
Assistant Director of Community Systems Development
Illinois Action for Children
[email protected]

“The Senior Leaders program provided me with a wealth of policy-focused development opportunities. In addition, networking with proactive, early learning professionals and organizations was an invaluable learning experience. The program will certainly help to advance my work and enable me to be more effective in improving the efforts of our state’s early learning priorities for our most vulnerable children and families.”

Aminah Wyatt-Jones works tirelessly to improve the lives of children and families in Chicago’s North Lawndale community. In addition to developing pilots to help guide the state of Illinois in determining the most effective early-learning programs for high-needs children, she has played an instrumental role in connecting families to formal early learning programs, has served as a literary coach working in tandem with home child care providers and has been a devoted preschool teacher.

As Assistant Director of Community Systems Development at Illinois Action for Children, Aminah leads the agency’s development of strong early childhood systems at the community-level.  She also provides leadership to the recruitment and data entry functions in the Early Learning Programs.  She received her Master of Arts in Early Childhood Development from the University of Phoenix and her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Development from Northern Illinois University.

Jay YoungJay Young
Political Director
Common Cause Illinois

Jay is the political director at Common Cause Illinois and is responsible for tracking, analyzing, and building campaigns around legislation on issues concerning open governance and money in politics.

 Prior to that, he served as the director of community impact at Children’s Home + Aid Society of Illinois. He is a highly respected leader who managed his agency’s key partnerships with government and community stakeholders and works collaboratively with other Chicago agencies to promote the healthy development of young children. His many professional contributions have earned him a reputation as a valued thought leader in the child welfare arena.

Jay holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law and practiced commercial litigation for over a decade. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Studies and Philosophy from Duke University.


Tracey Young

Tracey Young
Senior Director of Early Learning Programs
Marillac St. Vincent Family Services

“The hands-on experience I received with federal and state early childhood funding and programming systems allowed me to become a global-thinking manager. It is that type of professional development that a middle-level manager needs to become an agency leader.”

Tracey Young prides herself on being a lifelong learner, and one look at her resume will easily explain why. She has extensive experience in managing and training teachers, has designed and implemented dual-language and service-learning curriculum, has led a large staff through accreditation processes, and has taught early childhood education as a college instructor. An ardent believer in the philosophies of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky — that one constantly constructs knowledge through interactions with people and environment — Tracey likes to credit these developmental psychologists with helping guide her career. She received a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from Erikson Institute and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Loyola.

Illinois Early Childhood 2009-2013 Fellows

Erikson Institute is now home for the leadership development initiatives that were formerly known as the Illinois Early Childhood Senior Leader and Fellows programs. Erikson continues to connect with and build the alumni community from these and our new early childhood leadership programs.


Sergio Hernandez Jr.

Sergio Hernandez Jr.
Principal Consultant
Illinois State Board of Education
[email protected]

“My experience as a bilingual educator gives me a unique perspective on the effects education policies have at the school — and classroom — level and will be a great asset as I work to design policies that are practical and sustainable.”

Sergio Hernandez Jr. has first-hand experience with the challenges children with limited English proficiency face in the classroom, which has made him a strong advocate for bilingual education. His commitment to helping parents understand how to best support their children has made him a trusted partner and educator.

Sergio completed his Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at Voices for Illinois Children and now works as principal consultant at the Illinois State Board of Education. In his current role, he conducts grant reviews and program evaluations and provides technical assistance to Pre-K for All programs, Prevention Initiative programs, and pre-k expansion grant programs. He is a lifelong bilingual educator and advocate for family- and community-informed educational practices, policies and systems change. He holds an M.S. in Elementary Education with Bilingual-Spanish and ESL certifications.

At Voices for Illinois Children, Sergio wrote comments on Rule 228, Illinois’ bilingual pre-k mandate, advocating for financial and professional development support for community- and district-based programs that serve language minority students other than Spanish speakers to ensure their retention in high quality early childhood programs. He also investigated chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and expulsions in pre-k to third grade classrooms. He conducted focus groups with parents and educators in various Chicago early childhood and primary grade programs to learn about community challenges and strategies in response to school attendance problems. The research has been used to inform policy recommendations and as part of a public awareness campaign funded by the Anne E. Casey Foundation about the importance of consistent attendance for better literacy outcomes by third grade.

When Sergio isn’t advocating for families and communities, he can be found giving his undivided attention to his three sons, Matias, Emiliano, and Khalil, and his wife, Alejandra L. Ibanez. He can also be heard as a DJ playing Chicago deep house records and other forms of global dance music on his bimonthly broadcast on MixIr.

Today, Sergio serves as principal consultant at the Illinois State Board of Education where he provides technical assistance to Pre-K for All programs, Prevention Initiative programs, and Pre-K expansion grant programs.  In January 2017, he was unanimously voted to serve on the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education, where he was assigned to the Finance Committee.  Sergio’s term will run until the 2019 election and, as a board member, he plans to work with his colleagues and the community in efforts focused on racial and cultural equity, parental engagement, reducing the achievement gap, and serving families using a two generation model.


Edna Navarro-Vidaurre

Edna Navarro-Vidaurre
Manager of Family Engagement
Chicago Public Schools
[email protected]

“Helping shape public policy aimed at strengthening families and improving children’s lives is one of the most important things I can do to influence change that will benefit young children and their families and communities for years to come.”

Edna Navarro-Vidaurre wants to make her mark beyond her community and classroom, where she has been a change agent. Before becoming a bilingual educator in Chicago prekindergarten programs, Edna was a powerful community activist leading efforts to improve living conditions for children and families throughout her neighborhood.

Edna current is the manager of family engagement at Chicago Public Schools. She manages a team of 13 family engagement coordinators to support school principals and staff on implementing a new universal family engagement standards in partnership with DFSS and the Mayor’s office.

She completed her Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at Illinois Action for Children and, after, served as assistant director of community systems development. She excels at building relationships that are rooted in community and focused on families’ cultural and linguistic strengths. She adeptly facilitates cross-sector engagement and translates shared community priorities in public policy discussion.

In collaboration with the other members of her Illinois Early Childhood Fellows cohort, Edna managed and launched the Illinois’ Early Childhood Program Inventory, an overview of the state’s early childhood system that includes programs offered by DCFS, IDHS, IDHFS, IDPH, and ISBE.

At Illinois Action for Children, Edna built her expertise in community organizing, direct classroom experience, dual language education, and special education. She coordinated the Early Childhood Innovation Zone in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods using a community systems development approach. She led Illinois Action for Children’s internal and external initiatives to embed a coherent community systems approach in policies, practices, and technical assistance and training strategies in the early childhood professional field.

Edna believes that communities that engage residents in building a place they want to live are imperative to the well-being of children and their families. She is an activist in her Portage Park neighborhood, where she founded a local park advisory council and was instrumental in the allocation of $1.3 million dollars in capital improvements to her local Chicago Park District facility.

Edna aspires to formulate policy solutions that result in a stronger, more coordinated Illinois early childhood system and empower leaders as they support families’ choices.


Christine BrambilaChristine Brambila
Family Case Manager
Safe Babies Court Project (Department of Children and Family Services)
[email protected]

“Early childhood education is not baby-sitting: It is an opportunity to expose children to new skills and knowledge and support their social-emotional development. It can also provide critical support needed to lift families out of poverty.”

Christine’s passion for early childhood is personal and dates back to her own early experience in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Her story began with a hard-working mom and the support of an outstanding child care program. With deep experience in research, advocacy, and case management, she has become a champion of families across the state.

Christine is currently a community of practice coordinator at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She completed her Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at the Latino Policy Forum, where she worked as an early childhood policy analyst. Her advocacy interests include teen parents, child welfare, and education.

As a graduate research intern with Illinois Action for Children in 2013, she co-authored “Nontraditional Work Hours Influence Child Care Choices for Working Families.” At the Latino Policy Forum, she completed a policy brief synthesizing best practices for teachers and administrators in preparing Latino children for the transition from early childhood programs to kindergarten. In 2016, she presented her brief at the 35th Annual Illinois ASCD Statewide Conference for Pre-Kindergarten And Kindergarten Educators. She also has written blogs discussing the Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship and her experience transitioning from direct service to public policy. In addition, Christine drafted two fact sheets about the increase in English learners across the state and the implications of stagnant investment of bilingual education in Illinois.

Christine is an executive board member for the Carole Robertson Center for Learning where she and her siblings participated in early childhood education and after school programming. She also mentors a recipient of the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund, an organization that provided Christine with a high school scholarship. Her career goals focus on creating responsive feedback loops across systems, including direct service staff and administrators, to improve service delivery for underserved families.

She earned a Master of Arts in Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology at Franklin and Marshall College.


Liliana VelázquezLiliana Velázquez
Senior Policy Associate, Illinois
Council for a Strong America

“Given the recent national attention to early childhood education, this is an exciting and crucial time to be actively working to ensure that all low-income African-American and Latino children receive a high quality early childhood education.”

Liliana is currently the Senior Policy Associate for Illinois at the Council for a Strong America where she divides her time between two programs, Mission: Readiness and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois. She previously worked at The Children’s Partnership as associate director of policy.

Her voice is well known in the early childhood community. The diversity of her experience as well as her background is reflected in her policy analysis, advocacy, and program design and administration in support of Illinois children and families.

She completed her Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at Illinois Action for Children, assisting them with analysis of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 and participating in the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Child Care Advisory Council. She also drafted an Illinois Budget Primer, reflecting her interest in analyzing budgetary policy.

Post fellowship, she worked as program implementation associate at the Council for a Strong America in Washington, D.C. Her work advocating for young children is informed by her love of community engagement and research. She created organizational visibility and maintained oversight of the organization’s policy progress.

Liliana began to work in early childhood education as the project manager for the Head Start Ambassador Program of Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). She piloted and led COFI’s Walking Preschool Bus in Chicago Public Schools and was a local parent organizer in the Austin, Humboldt Park, and North Lawndale communities. At COFI, she provided training on parent engagement for many groups, including the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program and the Hard-to-Reach grant sites statewide.

She earned a Master of Arts degree in Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Latin American Studies at Grinnell College.


Melanie Garrett

Melanie Garrett
Director of Programs
New Moms, Inc
[email protected]

Melanie Garrett served her Fellowship at HealthConnect One, where she supported advocacy work at both the state and federal levels. Melanie was co-coordinator of the group’s National Action Summit held in February 2012, she also coordinated HC One’s meetings with federal officials at the Health Resources and Services Administration in November 2011. Melanie also worked to promote the community-based doula model both through HC One and through assistance to the National Community-Based Doula Leadership Institute Advisory Board. In addition, Melanie staffed the Policy Work Group for Training and Certification Project for the Chicago Community Health Workers Local Area Network.

Melanie has an AM from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, a BA from Lafayette College, and an Infant Mental Health certificate from Erikson Institute.

She currently serves as the Program Director for New Moms Inc. In this role, she oversees all programming for the teen parents New Moms serves, including: Parents as Teachers, transitional housing, workforce development, and a small child care program.

We have a changing demographic here in Illinois and we have a changing demographic across the country. If we don’t have people from different communities represented at the tables, then we’re not going to hear their voices, we’re not going to be able to understand their culture and their experience.


Angela Hubbard

Angela Hubbard
Program Officer for Projects and Partnerships
Association for Library Service to Children
[email protected]

Angela Hubbard served her Fellowship at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, where she engaged in several policy-related efforts. She was the lead editor for the group’s policy newsletter, Early Edition, and staffed its internal Policy Workgroup. Along with Fellow Artishia Hunter and 2009-11 Fellow Candace Williams, Angela was part of a team working with early childhood experts to draft Early Learning Guidelines for Illinois children ages zero to three, which will become part of Illinois statewide standards.

Angela holds an MAT from National-Louis University and a BSBA from Washington University in St. Louis.

Post Fellowship, Angela worked with the Ounce’s National Policy Team to learn the role of Secondary Consultant with the goal of helping advocates develop and implement policy agendas.  She also helped organize the Ounce Advocacy Day. Angela remained at the Ounce for an additional two years, serving as the Educare Chicago Alumni Network Family Engagement Manager, where she planned and implemented programs to engage Educare alumni in activities to benefit alumni families and current program participants, all the while furthering the Ounce of Prevention’s strategic goals. Most recently, Angela joined Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association. As the Program Officer for Projects and Partnerships, she oversees ALSC’s robust projects and partnership activities including grants, Dia, advocacy, and early literacy projects.

The Fellowship has been an amazing experience. Through the Early Learning Challenge Collaborative, I was able to provide support to one of the state teams that vied for the recently awarded Early Learning Challenge Grant. Never have I been so awestruck and inspired by the caliber of thinkers and proven experience within one room.


Artishia HunterArtishia Hunter
Senior Education Associate
[email protected]

Artishia  is senior education associate at BPI, a public interest law and policy center working on issues of social justice and quality of life in the Chicago region. Prior to joining BPI in September 2017, she was director of the Evanston Community Foundation’s Two Generative Initiative—a three-way partnership among ECF, Ascend at the Aspen Institute, and Northwestern University designed to increase early learning opportunities for young children and career opportunities for their parents.  In this work, Artishia partnered with more than 30 community-based organizations to support the program’s successful implementation.

Artishia Hunter served her fellowship at Positive Parenting DuPage, where she worked with communities including Grundy County, Northwest Cook County, and the City of Elgin on collaborative systems building. Along with Fellow Angela Hubbard and 2009-11 Fellow Candace Williams, Artishia was part of a team working with early childhood experts to draft Early Learning Guidelines for Illinois children ages zero to three, which will become part of Illinois statewide standards. After completing her Fellowship, Artishia worked with the Community Systems Development Workgroup on updating its Resource Toolkit.

She has a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Administration from National Louis University Chicago and a B.S. in elementary education from Illinois State.  She’s been a preschool, kindergarten, and fourth grade teacher in Evanston and Bloomington, IL, and a nursery director in Oak Lawn.

There is a parallel of how you support young children and at the same time, how you support leaders who want to make an impact in the lives of young children and change their trajectory, too.

TeeNeka Jones-GueyeTeeNeka Jones-Gueye
Program Manager for the Family Support Program
Infant Welfare Society of Evanston
[email protected]

TeeNeka Jones-Gueye served the second year of her placement at Health Connect One, where she helped integrate aspects of development, advocacy, communications, and program in early health and early learning community health workers and peer-to-peer support programs. TeeNeka’s first-year placement in 2011-2012 was at Health and Disability Advocates.

TeeNeka holds an MSNM in Human Services Administration from Spertus College, a BSW from Southern Illinois University, and an Infant Specialist certificate from Erikson Institute.

After her Fellowship, TeeNeka chaired a subcommittee on Assessment Team Design and Logistics, part of the Chicago Public Schools Early Childhood Evaluation Advisory Group. She also worked on the Planning Coalition for FACT (Family Assertive Community Treatment Project). She now works as a Program Manager for the Family Support Program at Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, where she oversees and coordinates all aspects of the Family Support Program including outreach, home visiting, supervising, parent groups, screening, scheduling, and reporting.

The brand of leader that I think I am and that I aim to be is a more transformational leader, someone who engages all stakeholders in the conversation.


Saleem Hue PennySaleem Hue Penny
AVP of Community and Education Partnerships
Chicago Children’s Museum
[email protected]

Saleem Hue Penny served his Fellowship at Illinois Action for Children, where he helped expand the Teen Parent Project and developed community outreach strategies for the new Family & Neighborhood Partnerships Department.

Saleem holds an AM in Social Work, with a specialization in community schools, from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and an MA in Psychology from Catholic University.

After completing his Fellowship, Saleem worked at Illinois Action for Children as the Project Development Manager, Oral Health and Families. His work there focused on the areas of community organizing, planning, and development, with an emphasis on early childhood health and education, childcare policy, and family supports for pregnant/parenting teens. Saleem recently transitioned to Chicago Children’s Museum as AVP of Community and Education Partnerships serving Illinois children and families.

It’s been very important for me to sit myself at those tables and have the opportunity to shadow great leaders and great mentors.


Arianna Cisneros

Arianna Cisneros
Program Officer
Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Arianna Cisneros served her Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, where she worked with the National Policy Consultation team and translated the organization’s Guía para la promoción del desarrollo infantile temprano (Early Childhood Advocacy Toolkit) to help extend the organization’s work in Latino communities.

Arianna Cisneros is a Program Officer in the Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s Communities Program. Her responsibilities include managing relationships with corporate partners and assisting them in developing, implementing, and evaluating grant strategies in their local communities to alleviate poverty and advance equity. She also supports the Communities Program’s place-based initiative in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood.

Prior to joining the McCormick Foundation, Ms. Cisneros was a Program Officer at the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation, focusing on the integration of children’s mental health services in community settings, and an Associate Director at Arabella Advisors, advising funders on grant-making, program implementation, and evaluation. She has experience in early childhood development and education, policy and advocacy, and research and evaluation. Ms. Cisneros holds a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Studies and Spanish Literature and Culture from the University of Michigan, and a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, where she was a McCormick Tribune Fellow in Urban and Community Leadership. She also served as a volunteer collaborator the International Center for Research and Policy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, publishing an article on the importance of research giving voice to children and youth living in street situations.


Cemeré JamesCemeré James
Vice President of Policy
National Black Child Development Institute
[email protected]

Cemeré James served her Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at Illinois Action for Children where she supported the Vice President of Strategic Planning and Implementation, helped plan its internal Leadership Institute, and coordinated seminars in early care and education policy for Teach for America Corps members. During her Fellowship, Cemeré collaborated with Fellow Christine Tran, working with the Carole Robertson Center on its Bilingual Immersion Pilot Project, presenting the results at the National Association for the Education of Young Children conference in November 2010.

Cemeré received her Master of Public Policy from the Chicago Harris School of Public Policy Studies in 2009. She also holds a Master of Science, Industrial Engineering and Management Science from Northwestern University.

After completing the Fellowship, Cemeré became Public Administrator Operations Expert at the Illinois Department of Human Services. There she worked with local Family Community Resource offices around the state to improve service delivery to increase access to Medicaid, TANF, and childcare benefits for families. Cemeré then served as Deputy Director of the Work Support Strategies Project (WSS) and Senior Policy Analyst at the Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP). In that role, she managed day-to-day operations of the WSS, including the project’s many participants and partners. Her responsibilities included policy analysis and program development. She also was in charge of identifying new opportunities for policy advocacy at the state or federal levels based partners to develop those areas of work, through research, writing, convening, and developing plans for funding and implementation. Today, she serves as vice president of policy at the National Black Child Development Institute in Washington, D.C.

My career and my life’s work will be dedicated to using innovative methods to create sound public policies that improve the well-being of families and their children. I am in this field for the long haul.


Christine TranChristine Tran
Institute of Education Sciences/CREST Doctoral Fellow
University of Washington in Seattle
[email protected]

Christine Tran served her Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at the Latino Policy Forum, where she designed and administered the regional implementation of Abriendo Puertas, a parent leadership engagement program for Latino parents of young children. She also developed a toolkit to help early childhood service providers better understand Latino families. With Fellow Cemeré James, Christine helped support the Carole Robertson Center for Learning’s Bilingual Immersion Pilot Project and developed a case study on the results.

Christine holds a MA in Sociology from Columbia University in New York. Christine earned her Master of Education degree and teaching credentials at UCLA where she also completed bachelor degrees in English and Asian American Studies.

After the Fellowship, Christine embarked on a Ph.D. program in the College of Education’s Organizations and Education Policy program at the University of Washington in Seattle. She has been awarded a CREST (Collaborative Researchers for Educational Sciences Training) predoctoral fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, to conduct P-20 research. In addition to currently finishing her dissertation, Christine serves as a Program Officer for First 5 LA, where their work is grounded in the belief that the first five years of life establishes the foundation for the future success of children.

I hope to find common and connective grounds to start closing gaps for our young children so that they can thrive from the very beginning and accomplish their dreams in the future.


Candace WilliamsCandace Williams
Associate Director, Enrollment and Career Services
Erikson Institute
[email protected]

Candace Williams served her Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship at Positive Parenting DuPage, working to support collaboration among organizations, agencies, and resources serving parents and young children.

Candace received a Master of Social Work from Loyola University Chicago and a Master in Child Development from Erikson Institute. She also has a BA in psychology from Spelman College.

Following her Fellowship, Candace stayed on board with Positive Parenting DuPage, serving as Director of Special Initiatives. In April 2012, she became Director of Family and Community Partnerships at Erikson Institute, where she worked to help several Chicago communities build systems to address the twin issues of poverty and poor education. Today, she serves as Associate Director of Admission and Career Services at Erikson Institute.

Professionally, the Fellowship has provided a space for me to take the experience that I had working directly with children and families and link that with the policy and advocacy side of the work. We have to change the perception around children just being too little to understand and to learn. And we need people to understand that if you change the foundation, then the other problems won’t be there.