Dr. Erin Wheeler, Executive Director
Erin Wheeler, Ph.D., is Executive Director of College Beyond, a New Orleans-based nonprofit whose mission is to help students get to and through college. A native of Amite, LA, and a first-generation college graduate, Erin earned a B.S. in biology from Southeastern Louisiana University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in STEM Education from Southern University and A&M College.
Erin has worked in higher education retention and success at Louisiana State University, where she led efforts to improve student success in STEM fields, and at Kentucky State University, where she was charged with re-envisioning the student success infrastructure to dramatically improve declining retention and graduation rates. As Assistant Provost for Student Success and Retention at KSU, she led the implementation of a multifaceted strategic plan based on research, high-impact practices and embodied innovation, and supported the institution to increase retention rates from 45% to 78% within two years.
As a social entrepreneur, Erin has founded a business, Be Preppy, as well as a non-profit organization serving the Amite area, each of which supports low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color on the journey to college access and completion.
Erin has also served her community through various civic and religious organizations since childhood. Currently, she is a board member and chief of staff of her mission-focused church, where she helps organize outreach events and capital campaigns. She is also a charter member of a new chapter of Delta Sigma Theta that emphasizes resourcing rural areas of North Tangipahoa Parish. She is a regular volunteer at local high schools to help improve college preparation as well as to provide general support and assistance.
Sarah Payne, Co-founder & Director of Strategy
Sarah Payne is Co-Founder and strategy advisor to College Beyond. Prior to College Beyond’s launch, Sarah served as the founding Director of College Counseling at New Orleans College Prep Academies, where she directed college readiness programs and served on the high school leadership team. Sarah has also worked in the Superintendent’s Delivery Unit at the Louisiana Department of Education and as Managing Director at the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition. She moved to Louisiana in 2005 to teach middle school as a Teach For America corps member, and holds bachelor’s degrees in International Relations and French from Wellesley College. She is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, where her research is focused on higher education and post-college outcomes.
Erica Martinez, Program Director & Founding College Success Coach
Erica brings more than 15 years of training and experience in clinical psychology and direct service with youth populations, and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Psychology from Mississippi State University. Specializing in trauma-informed care, case management, youth development, program development, and crisis support, Erica leads College Beyond’s coaching program development, direct student services, on-the-ground partnership management, data tracking, and student-facing communications.
Mia Gonzales Washington, College Success Coach
Mia Gonzales Washington is a native New Orleanian, a devoted military wife, and a passionate mother to her two young boys. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and a Masters of Arts in Teaching, both from Xavier University of Louisiana, as well as an M.A. in Romance Languages from UNO. An educator since 2008, Mia has deep experience serving first generation college students and students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, facilitating academic growth and self-reliance, while focusing her efforts on student retention and graduation. When not working, she loves talking with her mom, attending church, and enjoys listening to audiobooks, volunteering, and making memories with her family.
Michelle Anaba, Program Associate
Michelle Anaba is an Americorps VISTA member and current Program Associate at College Beyond. As Program Associate, Michelle evaluates data and works to strategically enhance College Beyond programs. She also assists college success coaches with student outreach and engagement. She graduated from Towson University with a degree in Community Health and relocated to New Orleans to follow her passion for helping under-served communities.
Board of Directors
Ben Kleban, President
Ben Kleban was the Founder & CEO of New Orleans College Prep (NOCP), a charter school network he founded in 2007 to provide a high quality college prep education to underserved children in New Orleans from birth through 12th grade. Under Ben’s leadership, NOCP achieved significant academic gains for its students, including two successful school turnarounds. Cohen High School improved from an “F” to a “B” letter grade with 100% college acceptance after the first four years of NOCP management, and Crocker Elementary School improved from an “F” to a “C” in only two years. In January 2017, after being elected to the Orleans Parish School Board without opposition, Ben stepped down from his position at NOCP. In addition to his service on the OPSB, Ben currently chairs the board of a new non-profit, College Beyond, which provides direct coaching, mentorship, and micro-grant financial support aimed at improving the college graduation rate for low-income, first generation college students from across New Orleans and our region.
Ben has prior experience as a high school math teacher in Philadelphia, and began his career in corporate finance at The Boeing Company. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School, completed the Teacher Certification Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. In his final years at NOCP, Ben served on the statewide MFP task force, an advisory council for the public school funding formula in Louisiana.
Sean Blondell, Vice President
Sean A. Blondell is the Managing Member/Attorney of Sean Blondell Law Firm, LLC. He concentrates his practices in the area of serious and complex personal injury matters, commercial litigation, business torts, and contract negotiation and drafting. Sean began his legal career as in-house staff counsel for one of the nation’s largest insurance companies. After his tenure in insurance defense, Sean worked for a highly regarded personal injury firm where he represented clients in serious personal injury matters. Prior to law school, Sean worked in real estate finance and banking. He also worked in public relations, sponsorship and marketing for two NBA franchises. Sean is a graduate of Howard University’s School of Business in Washington, D.C., and received a Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business and Marketing. He received his Juris Doctorate degree from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge. Sean is a resident of New Orleans East, where he and his wife Laci are raising their four children.
Malana Joseph Mitchell, Board Member
Malana M. Joseph Mitchell, a native of Edgard, LA, is an award-winning public relations professional. She is Vice President of Public Relations and Community Engagement for Spears Group, an-award winning New Orleans PR firm. Malana brings 10 years of public relations, media, journalism, communications and event planning experience to the company. Prior to joining Spears Group, Malana served as the Communications Specialist for Georges Enterprises, LLC, one of the largest private employers in Louisiana. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Dillard University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communications with a minor in Speech Communications. Malana earned her Master of Arts Degree in Mass Communication with a concentration in PR from Kent State University. She is a board member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau’s PR Council, the National Association of Black Journalists, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the all-female Krewe of Muses. Malana is also listed in the 2012 & 2013 Edition of Stanford’s Who’s Who.
David Page, Board Member
David Page is currently the Vice President of Enrollment Management at Dillard University. For more than twenty-one years, Mr. Page has worked in the financial aid arena in multiple capacities. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Oklahoma State University and his Master of Arts in Higher Education (College Student Affairs) from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Prior to his current position, he served as the Vice President for Enrollment Management and Director of Financial Aid at Philander Smith College where he oversaw the Office of Recruitment and Admissions, the Financial Aid Office and the Registrar’s Office. Prior to moving to Philander Smith College in 2005, he was the associate director of financial aid at Dillard University in New Orleans, LA for six years. He has also worked at the University of Tulsa. In 2006, Page was elected the 2008 president of the Southwest Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (SWASFAA) representing over 1600 financial aid members from the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
Gina Rachel, Board Member
Gina Rachel, CPA, is a Director in Postlethwaite & Netterville Tax Services Group. She has over 18 years of public accounting experience. Ms. Rachel offers extensive knowledge in the field of taxation, including preparation and review of individual, corporate, partnership, trust, non-profit, estate, and gift tax returns. Her experience extends to such industries as tourism (including restaurants, hotels and related services), real estate, and professional services (including physicians, attorneys, and consultants). She works with businesses and related individuals, assisting them with tax planning and consulting. She also has experience representing clients before the IRS, Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR) and parish agencies.
In addition to her focus on client service, Gina is active in the accounting profession. She is the current Chair-Elect of the Society of Louisiana Certified Public Accountants (LCPA), Past President of the New Orleans Chapter of LCPA, and has held various other roles.
Dr. David Robinson-Morris, Board Member
David W. Robinson-Morris, Ph.D. is the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Xavier University of Louisiana and serves an Adjunct Professor in the College of Liberal Arts Education, and Human Development at the University of New Orleans. Currently, David serves on the boards of the city of New Orleans Human Relations Commission, Forum for Equality Foundation (Louisiana), College Beyond, and is a member of the 2017 class of Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO). He is a former member of the Son of a Saint Foundation Advisory Board, and is a founding board member of Propeller (née Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans). David obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Communications – Public Relations from Loyola University New Orleans in 2006, Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the University of New Orleans in 2011, and Pholds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Research with a dual concentration in Higher Education Administration and Curriculum Theory, and an Education Specialist (Ed. S.) Certificate in Educational Leadership with a focus on applied research, measurement, and evaluation both from Louisiana State University (LSU). He is a native of Galveston, Texas.
Dr. Keisha D. Smith, Board Member
A New Orleans native, Dr. Keisha Smith currently serves as the Director of Products and Publications for The Data Center. She has worked in organizational design and evaluation for over ten years, including serving on projects for the U.S. Department of Education, Drexel University, Walgreens, and the National Institute of Health, and has more than seven years of experience as a non-profit leader focused on systems thinking and strategic planning. Dr. Smith holds a B.S. in Biology from Xavier University of Louisiana and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Research from Louisiana State University.
Katie Walmsley, Board Member
Katie Walmsley is the Chief Financial Officer of KIPP New Orleans Schools, which serves as the city’s largest network of open-enrollment public charter schools and educates over 10% of New Orleans’ public school students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. As CFO, Katie is accountable for an operating budget of $65 million that supports over 600 employees across the school support center and 12 schools and serves over 5000 students. Prior, she served as Finance and Administrative Officer of Teach For America-Greater New Orleans where she led efforts to raise and manage $58 million by aligning the priorities of funders with TFA’s strategy, bringing over 1200 education leaders to Greater New Orleans. Earlier in her career, Katie joined the founding team of a web-based talent recruitment startup, raising $5 million, growing registered users to one hundred thousand, and spearheading online marketing, communications and product redesign. Prior, she held managerial positions in finance and operations at McMaster-Carr, a large supplier to commercial facilities worldwide, increasing productivity and managing quality and profitability.
Katie began working in education to advance access to opportunity with the vision that New Orleans must become a more inclusive and equitable city. She furthered this commitment through her work on the Board of Directors of Propeller from 2011 to 2017, through which she oversaw the launch of their Accelerator programs and incubation of 100+ ventures tackling social and environmental disparities. In addition to supporting New Orleans youth to enroll and succeed in college through her board service with College Beyond, Katie also serves on the Board of Directors for the Crescent City Corps, which is building a talent pipeline that creates the next generation of law enforcement leaders. Katie graduated Magna Cum Laude from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Economics. She spent her childhood in New Jersey and lives in New Orleans alongside her husband Semmes and their two children, Stella and Semmes.