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Our TEAM

Vincie
Kristelle
Thomas
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Vincie Ho 

Executive Director

Vincie (she/her/hers), a humane educator and social justice advocate, founded RISE Travel Institute in June 2020 with the commitment to engage young people in important conversations around human rights, animal protection and environmental sustainability in the context of travel. She is also the creator of Paths Crossing, a card game designed to foster cross-cultural connections and inspire mindful travel decisions. She has been involved with Impact Travel Alliance since 2018 and currently holds the position of Chapter Engagement Lead on their global team.

Before Vincie started working in the nonprofit world, she was a university French lecturer and linguist for over a decade. As an academic, she had the opportunity to travel around the world for conferences and fieldwork. In 2010, she left academia to work in the area of refugee empowerment in Senegal, a transformative experience that motivated her to pursue a second career in international peace and human rights, as well as sustainable travel.

 

Vincie has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Hong Kong and a Master of Arts degree from University College London. She has also obtained various graduate certificates and diplomas from the Institute for Humane Education and New York University in the United States, the United Nations University in Japan, and l’Université de Franche-Comté in France. In 2021, Vincie has successfully completed the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training Program and obtained the GSTC Professional Certificate in Sustainable Tourism. She is based in the Greater New York City Area.

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Kristelle Aisaka 

Impact Evaluation Specialist

Kristelle Aisaka (she/her/hers) was born and raised in 'Aiea, Hawai'i, where she was first exposed to the challenges of and opportunities for sustainable travel and witnessed firsthand how travel and tourism directly impact individuals, communities, ecosystems, and economies. She relocated to the midwest for college and moved through upstate New York before settling in the New York metro area. Her passion for travel, love of food, and curiosity about the world brought her to join the RISE Travel Institute team, where she is excited to be contributing to the organization's mission, vision, and impact as an Impact Evaluation Specialist. Outside of work and volunteering, she loves to spend time practicing yoga, trying new arts and crafts, and hanging out with her two cats, Marvs and Barty.

 

Kristelle has a BA in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, as well as Master of Public Health and Master of Social Work degrees from WashU's Brown School of Social Work.

Thomas Kalchik

Thomas Kalchik

Senior Manager of Curriculum Development

Thomas (he/him/his) is currently assisting in the opening of a small lodge on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. With a degree in Sustainability from Arizona State University and working experience in the hospitality industry, he brings great enthusiasm to the mission of sustainable travel practices. While working in Accounting for an international hotel brand he also led the Washington, D.C. hotel’s Sustainability Committee through various Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Thomas’ passion lies in making and maintaining strong relationships, and his life’s mission is to bring people together through travel. A Chicagoan at heart, Thomas is currently based out of Washington, D.C. 

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Cathy Ji

Corporate Engagement Manager; Finance and Fundraising Lead

Cathy Ji is a software engineer and environmentalist with a passion for environmental justice, food justice, mental health advocacy, and travel. She previously led the LinkedIn New York office's "Go Green" sustainability group and served as Corporate Engagement chair for Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, an NYC-based nonprofit dedicated to reducing food waste and alleviating urban hunger. While earning her degree in computer engineering & computer science at the University of Southern California, Cathy was fortunate to have been able to travel extensively across the US for various technical opportunities, as well as across the world as part of her language and cultural studies. She has since become an avid proponent of slow travel and loves exploring new places and cultures by bus, bike, and train. Though she typically calls NYC home, she has been spending much of the pandemic exploring the US again (socially distanced, of course) in a camper van.

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Tara Busch

Experiential Travel Manager

Tara is a proud history buff, aspiring foodie with a perennial obsession for travel. Her superpower is organization, and she loves to opportunity to get lost in research. Always looking for a creative and elegantly solution, she is a natural problem solver. Tara has worked in the education and travel industries. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in History, and recently completed a certification in Sustainable Destination Management from George Washington University.

Tara flew by herself for the first time at only 5 years old to visit family, ever since finding confidence in herself as an adventurous, independent and curious traveler.

Tara is passionate about creating connections between people, cultures, history, and our world, and believes in travel and education as a way to learn and to discover ourselves. Tara embraces travel that is respectful of people, heritage, and our planet. A native of southern California, she now calls Brooklyn home, and has fallen in love with having seasons.

Emma Chen

Emma Chen

Project Manager

Emma’s (she/her/hers) passion for travel started with a graduation trip with her best friend Janie since junior high school. Today, Emma is an enthusiastic traveler who particularly enjoys traveling with her corgi puppy. With their memorable journeys, they both experienced happiness and witnessed unsustainable tourist behaviors, which motivated Emma to join RISE Travel Institute and help advance our mission.

 

Emma received her BA in History and MS in Public Relations. As a history major from a liberal arts college, her education and experience encourage her to critically explore and study issues that concern the marginalized in society. She is excited to immerse herself in the community, culture, and history of every destination. On top of that, Emma is dedicating herself to helping people, to the service to humanity, and making the world a better place to live.

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Celestina Hendrickson

Sustainability Officer

Celestina Hendrickson (she, her, hers) was born and raised in Seattle, WA and currently resides in Kirkland, WA (about 15 minutes away). She is in her final stages of her graduate program through Colorado State University’s online Master in Tourism Management (sustainable tourism emphasis). As a co-chapter lead for Impact Travel Alliance Greater Seattle chapter, Celestina brings a fresh, young, and scholarly perspective to dialogue around sustainability, inclusion, and responsibly driven travel.

 

Celestina has focused her studies around the cultural and social sector of sustainable/responsible tourism and is fighting for an industry which
accommodates and empowers diverse and indigenous voices and is anti-oppressive. With her experience in community outreach, Celestina is dedicated to mainstreaming the sustainable and ethical travel narrative through advocacy, outreach, education, and awareness.

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Matthew Lesperance

Senior Digital Content Producer

Matt (he/him/his) has a diverse and accomplished 20 plus-year tourism career as a hotelier, traveler, and photographer/videographer. He has been a major part of the opening team for two Las Vegas premier hotels. He has also lived and worked throughout the world, including spending nearly five years in South Korea and South Africa. Just before moving back to the U.S., Matt received his master's degree in Sustainable Tourism from Arizona State University.

 

He loves all kinds of adventure, both above and below the water. You may find him diving with thresher sharks in the Philippines or trekking through the jungles of Argentina in search of a lost civilization. He is an enthusiastic, inquisitive individual at heart, who loves discovering the world one step at a time. He believes travel is meant to inspire and create new stories while discovering the world from a different point of view.

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Kara King

Digital Content Producer

Kara (she/her/hers) is a traveler and writer who strives to enhance the voices of others. She has developed travel content for Thrillist, Wanderful, and Unearth Women. In addition, she has worked extensively with underprivileged communities, most recently at the Brooklyn-based non-profit, CAMBA, where she managed instructional services and designed holistic programming for young adults, immigrants, and newly arrived refugees. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a degree in Comparative Literature.

 

Currently, in addition to developing content for RISE Travel Institute, she is using her content creation skills on The Hill's Events Team, where she crafts virtual event programming and acts as an extension of the newsroom, bringing thought leaders together and important issues to light.

 

She’s lived in multiple cities including Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York. But she now calls Washington, D.C home.

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Devon Barker

Art Director and Communications Product Ethicist

Devon works at the intersection of art, science, and technology through multi-dimensional storytelling in traditional and emerging technologies. Armed with a degree in photography and film, and a technical background in developing B2B solutions with Apple, Devon founded Wave3.studio to focus on multi-sector collaborations that bring together keyboard jockeys, Sci-Comm nerds, and researchers to build bespoke products and engage diverse audiences. Currently as Co-Founder of the 501c3 Pravasana.org, Devon directs community-driven media frameworks to build capacity and foster understanding between stakeholders across the coffee value chain. If you are a coffee nerd, hit him up on slack to chat extraction ratios and his favorite varietals.

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Natalie Amezcua

Curriculum and Content Developer

Natalie (she/her/hers) is an educator and solutionary writer from Los Angeles.  Her early profession in education combined with her unabated passion for travel lead her to opportunities to teach in Asia for several years in both rural and metropolitan cities of South Korea and China. 

 

What was meant to be a short and simple endeavor, working abroad and the travel opportunities it offers led to a transformative experience that greatly shaped her passion of teaching towards animal protection and environmental sustainability. With great understanding of the importance of pushing the boundaries necessary to promote progressive and healthier changes for all beings involved, she continues her studies and is currently earning a Masters degree in Antioch's online Humane Education program where she focuses on understanding the intersectionality of systemic issues that are detrimental to humans, animals and the planet and challenging the status quo in a solutionary and sustainable manner. While a traveler at heart, Natalie is passionate about influencing social justice for both human and nonhuman animals through community education and solutionary writing in creative and nontraditional spaces. 

 

Although her passions and professional experiences are continuously growing, one thing that happily remains in plateau are her hobbies which include her adoration for her dog Phoebe, sitting at a café with a book or friends, and watching Netflix with a facemask on.

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Jay Morgan

Written Content Producer and Copywriter

Jay (he/him) is a writer and marketer from New Jersey. With a background in content marketing ranging from digital advertising to B2B thought leadership, he brings extensive copywriting experience to the RISE team. Above all, Jay wishes to have a positive impact on the environment and communities locally and throughout the world. Outside of advocating for sustainable and ethical tourism, he enjoys hiking, backpacking, plant based cooking and playing guitar. Jay has a BA in English from Rutgers University and is always looking for book recommendations.

Carly Oduardo

Carly Oduardo

Curriculum and Content Developer

Carly (she/her/hers) is on a mission to create equity in the world through literacy. She works as a freelance content writer and copywriter, summoning her twelve years of experience as a K-8 reading teacher to design and evaluate written work.

 

She is a homebody-turned-international-traveler who has firsthand experience with the transformational power of travel. A life-changing trip to Guatemala to visit Mayan artisans in 2016 catalyzed her desire to be a more active member of our global community.

 

Carly received her Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction with a focus on Elementary Literacy from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She lives in Colorado with her husband, his grandmother, two young children, dog, and chicken.

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Ashely Gavilanes

Social Media Coordinator and Content Producer

Ashely (she/her/hers) started her career in a nonprofit as a human resources coordinator in NYC before switching careers and moving to Santiago de Chile to teach ESL. For the past 2.5 years, she has been teaching ESL, started a blog and a YouTube channel. Ashely began her passion project a year ago due to the lack of transparency of the ups and downs of moving and navigating life abroad. She has traveled to over 21 countries and prefers to slow travel or live abroad. Ashely has a passion for creating content that tells stories and educates. Ashely will be moving to Barcelona in early 2022 to pursue a Master's in Travel Journalism. She is excited to continue learning more about sustainability and help educate travelers who want to be more mindful, responsible, and ethical travelers through RISE Travel Institue's social media

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Kristen Barron

Social Media Coordinator

Kristen is a native-born Texan with a passion for travel and a heart set on making a positive impact. With her extensive travel experiences spanning over 25 countries, she's become keenly aware of the importance of responsible travel and sustainability. From embarking on a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain, to participating in wildlife conservation efforts in Africa, she's driven by a thirst for connection and a desire to protect our planet.

 

One of her favorite quotes is “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then, when you know better, do better,” by Maya Angelou.  By continuously seeking knowledge and understanding, she strives to make informed choices and inspire others to do the same.  Armed with 15+ years of product marketing experience, she's ready to channel her expertise into creating positive change in the travel industry.

 

When she's not immersing herself in transformative travel experiences, you'll find her leading a restorative yoga class, reading a good book, practicing her photography skills or just savoring the great outdoors!

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Suzanne Rommelfanger

Senior Manager of Communications and Events

Suzanne (she/her/hers) has spent two decades working at global non-profits, international educational organizations, and in academia, inspiring both students and adults to partake in life changing experiences. She has studied, lived, and worked abroad; backpacked around the world; and traveled to more than 60 countries. She volunteers with the United Nations Association of Greater Boston, and is committed to the UN Sustainable Development goals.

 

Her firsthand experience visiting remote and sacred places from the Amazon to Uluru, learning about indigenous cultures from the Quechua in Peru to the Lakota in South Dakota, and participating in biodiversity conservation projects working at Earthwatch Institute, fuel her interest in supporting and promoting sustainable tourism.

 

One of her core values is making an impactful difference in the world. She shares RISE’s vision, and is eager to communicate the organization’s mission, goals and programs.

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Peter Mofokeng

Sustainability Officer

Peter (he/him/his) was born and raised in Plainfield, NJ, and currently resides there. He is now in his senior year at Montclair State University about to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in sustainability science focusing on Green Construction, Sustainable Transportation and Development, and ESG. While working and volunteering in the New York Metropolitan area, he has worked in; he has experience in the Hospitality and Retail industry. After years of working in those areas, he decided he needed a career change. He returned to school after several years of working and living in St. Martin and South Africa. He realized he needed a career change. He pledged himself to climate change and did whatever he could to promote sustainable living and lifestyles.

Jodi Suckle

Jodi Suckle

Experiential Travel Manager

Jodi (she/her/hers) is a travel and event logistics professional with nearly 10 years of student travel experience. Despite the stress of managing high school students traveling in blizzards, she loves enabling students to explore and learn about the world. Jodi is currently exploring the intersection of sustainable travel and student travel, aiming to incorporate responsible travel practices into the field of study abroad and international education.

 

Jodi has a BA in History and International Relations from the University of Delaware and an MA in International Affairs, concentrating on conflict and security, from the New School. In 2021, Jodi has finished the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training Program and successfully obtained the GSTC Professional Certificate in Sustainable Tourism. When she’s not thinking about travel, Jodi loves sailing, reading historical fiction, photography, and winning pub trivia. Jodi has lived in New York, Tel Aviv, and Thailand, and is currently drinking way too much coffee in Antigua, Guatemala.

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Madoka Yamaji

Manager of People and Culture

Madoka Yamaji (she/her/hers) was born and raised in Hyougo, Japan. She spent four years in the UK in her teens which was her first experience living abroad. Madoka came to the US in 2018 and is currently studying human resource management at a community college. She is interested in working with people and planning and implementing cross-cultural training as a HR specialist in the future. Madoka has also completed her TESOL certificate in May 2021. She has been a member of the non-profit organization TORUS since February 2021, and has been facilitating a Japanese conversation group to give learners a place to learn language and its culture and connect them with other learners.

 

Madoka loves meeting new people, getting to know them and helping them to learn new things! She also loves visiting new places and meeting new people because she can broaden her view and feel empowered. Madoka is excited to work with RISE Travel Institute in order to protect beautiful places and people in the world for our future generations.

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Uma Bharathy Neelamraju

Information Technology Specialist

Uma Bharathy Neelamraju (she/her/hers) joined the RISE Team in May 2021 as our Information Technology Specialist. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering in India, and is currently living in the United States. She joined RISE Travel Institute because she believes that sustainable travel education is crucial to saving our only planet - the Earth.

 

Uma traveled to more than 8 countries and lived in various countries like India, United Kingdom, Belgium, apart from living in 5 different states within the United States. She has previously volunteered for a company that promotes eco-friendly products. Besides work and volunteering,
she enjoys gardening and watching TV. She always looks for opportunities to help others through community service. She also wishes to become a mentor in an organization where women and girls are encouraged to opt for technology-related careers in future.

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Aline Moura

Editor-in-Chief and Content Lead

Aline Moura (she/her/hers) is a bilingual Portuguese/English language and culture professional with over fifteen years of experience. Currently affiliated with Brown University, Rhode Island, she researches how literature affects our bodies and minds via neuroscientific findings. She holds a Ph.D. in Literature, Culture, and Contemporaneity and published several articles. Apart from academia, she uses her written communication skills and passion for storytelling as a content writer, editor, proofreader, and translator. Her goal is to foster connections and help people express their ideas to the world. As a Brazilian hailing from Rio de Janeiro, she experienced firsthand how tourism transforms communities, environments, and economies. At Rise Travel Institute, Aline is committed to inspiring more sustainable, responsible, and ethical travel experiences through her words.

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Tye Tavaras

Strategic Partnerships Manager

Tye Tavaras is the Strategic Partnerships Manager. She brings years of experience in global strategy, human rights, and international education to RISE.
Prior to this Tye worked in higher education and nonprofits, including at Emory University, Louisiana State University, The Carter Center, and the American Councils for International Education. While studying in the MENA region, she was also a contributing writer for Mic and Ramel Media. She was published in 2015 as a co-author of the article, “Indiscriminate Power: Racial Profiling and Surveillance since 9/11” in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Social Change. 

Tye earned her BA in international studies from Emory University, her MA in international human rights law from The American University of Cairo, and her JM from Emory University School of Law. She has lived across the Southeast U.S. as well as abroad. Tye is passionate about music, wine, food, and travel. She currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards and a member of the board of SommFoundation.

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Taryn Yamauchi

Human Resources Administrator

Taryn Yamauchi (she/her/hers) was born and raised in East Honolulu, Hawaii to 4th generation Japanese and Okinawan parents. Growing up in Hawai’i she experienced first-hand the impacts of the tourism industry on the local community. Throughout her schooling, she learned more about sustainability and began educating herself on how to be a more sustainable person on this earth.

She went to Portland State University where she graduated with a B.A. in Business Management and Leadership with an International Business Certificate and Asian Studies Certificate. During her time at PSU, she lived in Osaka, Japan for studying with classmates from 15+ different countries. It was there that she became more passionate about learning about other cultures and languages through travel.

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Dorcas Agbogun

PR and Content Strategist

Dorcas is a content marketing professional with robust agency experience spanning over five years during which she has helped top brands in Sub-Saharan Africa create positive content-led digital experiences for their audiences. Her interests in sustainability and anti-oppression is inspired by her life experiences living in Nigeria. 

 

As a life-long storyteller, she is passionate about using stories to create impact toward causes she cares deeply about, and her work in Content Marketing and Public Relations at RISE is one way she is presently doing so. 

 

Before joining RISE, Dorcas has led content and media relations for a TEDx Community in Nigeria, served as an SDGs advocate in underserved regions of Nigeria and has been published in anthologies including the recent Dangerous Women project by The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

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Kristin Olivieri

Social Marketing Manager

Kristin (she/her) is a travel and tourism industry professional, currently working as a trainer at one of the largest corporations in the industry. She is an alumna of California State University, Fullerton holding a Bachelors of Arts in Communications, concentration in Entertainment and Tourism. In addition, she is the founder of her blog The Sustainable Explorer and has written content for travel blogs Hidden Lemur and The Budget-Minded Traveler.

 

She participated in the Spring 2022 cohort for the RISE Travel Institute Flagship program and wrote her capstone project based on research around how travelers and tourists view animals while traveling.

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Mieka Bourne

Accountant

Mieka is a financial management certificate and lean six certificate holder in the government sector. Currently, she is adding a BS in accounting to her long list of accolades and accomplishments. Before earning her BS, Mieka earned her MBA.

 

Mieka's educational background and experience allow her to be a leader in her career and as a volunteer with nonprofits.

 

Mieka has a passion for volunteering and giving back to the community, America's veterans, and working for nonprofits. In her off time, she enjoys professional development, mentoring, and coaching others.

 

She enjoys learning about different cultures from all over the world, an interest that she grasped from her BA in Sociology. Taking an interest in cultures, she began to partake in cooking various types of food for her family and traveling. 

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Kate Valentine

Written Content Producer

Kate Valentine (she/her) is a performer, director, writer, and producer of live events.  She grew up in Boston in an artistic family.  Her first trip overseas was to perform as the lead in an original theatre production at the historic Théâtre Royal in London.  After graduation from NYU as a double major in Dance and Cultural Anthropology, she toured extensively as a performer.  She married a native of Milan, Italy and her bicultural family is fortunate to be able to travel to see relatives.  In addition to her work as an actor, she is also a director and producer. Her local events include the monthly supper club Jazzlounge series at Union Arts Center/Roost Restaurant in Sparkill, NY. She has joined RISE as a Written Content Producer to both spread the word and continue to learn about building a more sustainable environmental future both for herself and her children.

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Steve Tichenor

Written Content Producer

Steve grew up at the Jersey Shore and resides just outside NYC in Westfield, NJ. He has worked professionally in the media and hospitality businesses where he has written and developed many audio and video productions along with owning and operating bars and restaurants. Steve loves the ocean and surfing and travels to beaches all over the world with his wife, two children, and friends. He is also a wine and beer enthusiast and enjoys visiting wine regions and breweries here and abroad.

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Ellie Hansen

PR Strategist 

Ellie (she/her/hers) is passionate about creating connections with citizens of the world. In 2019, she studied with Semester at Sea, where she traveled to Poland, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, and Costa Rica within four months. These travels enlightened Ellie as she began to develop friendships across these continents. Later that year, Ellie traveled to Thailand, where she built a connection with her (current) employer in Bangkok. In May 2021, Ellie graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.S. focused on consumer journalism. Upon graduation, she reconnected with her Thai friend and moved to Thailand to pursue her journalism career. 

 

Ellie has been living in Thailand since November 2021 and is passionate about encouraging people to travel and develop their own beliefs about a country. She is excited to work with RISE because she has seen the adverse effects of under-educated travelers and the detriments it generates for many people and communities. Ellie hopes to become a friend first and an educator second. She is inspired to share responsible and sustainable travel methods with people of the world through her friendship. 

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Emilie Ehrman

Student Engagement Coordinator

Emilie (she/her/hers) is a tourism professional whose interest in sustainability as it relates to tourism began while she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Myanmar and a Fulbright Grantee in Bulgaria. Originally from Flint, Michigan, Emilie has lived on four different continents, though she is currently based in Phoenix, Arizona as she completes he Masters degree in Sustainable Tourism and Sustainability Solutions from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. She also currently serves as the Sustainability Program Director for the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. Whenever possible, Emilie prefers to be outside, either hiking, camping, doing yoga, or riding horses. Upon graduation, she plans to move abroad once more to work with hotels, DMOs, and other stakeholders within the tourism industry to help them find success as they navigate a strong and sustainable post-pandemic tourism boom.

 

Emilie participated in the Spring 2022 Flagship Program, where she completed a capstone project detailing the gentrification of modern Morocco.

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Berni Bustillos

Sales Manager

Bernarda (she/her/hers) has been a tourism professional for more than ten years, specializing in the sales area. She worked in the best tourism companies in Ecuador, where she has successfully developed in the field of sales, closing deals through negotiations, and successful sales strategies. Customer service is another of her strengths. She is an expert in creating relationships of trust with her clients, helping them solve their doubts and requirements. Bernarda strongly believes, "A happy customer is the best strategy of all."

She has participated as an exhibitor in international tourism fairs, such as the WTM (World Travel Market) in London and the MITM Americas (Meetings and incentive travel market) in San Salvador. These events allowed her to network and meet the world's most successful entrepreneurs and tour operators.

In parallel to her work in the sales area, she led tourism projects and worked with local indigenous communities. She trained them on topics such as inventory and ranking of tourist attractions, creation of self-guided trails, sustainability, design of tour packages, and more. She also worked with entities of the Ecuadorian State to create the whole Tourism value of chain.


In 2015 she participated in the call for Scholarships for Latin Americans granted by Fundación Carolina of Spain, where she won a scholarship to study her master's degree in Tourism Management and Planning at Girona University. During her year of studies, she did professional internships at Patronat de Turisme de la Costa Brava, where she developed a methodology to evaluate event results organized by this institution. This experience was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. She had the opportunity to visit several European countries and learn about different cultures.

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Hannah Lambert

Student Engagement Coordinator

Hannah is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and later moved to Colorado to attend Colorado State University, where she graduated with a degree in Natural Resource Tourism and Business Administration. Hannah spends her winters as a snowboard instructor, and her summers fly fishing, camping, and wake surfing. She currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand, teaching English and interning for the Adventure Travel Trade Association and the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund. Hannah is always looking to expand her worldview and believes tourism has the power to do good and empower communities.

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Vanessa Quintanilla

DEI Strategist

Vanessa was born in Colombia and currently resides in New York. She is passionate about working on social and educational projects with a focus on inclusion and equity issues. Vanessa has worked as a producer of audiovisual content on diversity, and her work seeks to break through stereotypes and myths about different cultures and communities. Her work experience has been focused on the coordination of educational projects, and writing academic texts on inclusion.Vanessa deeply loves teaching and has been a professor at different universities in Colombia and Argentina, she firmly believes that education is the key to progress. In her free time, she enjoys art and meditation, as well as traveling and exploring various cultures. 

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Lauren Handler

Impact Evaluation Specialist 

Lauren lives in Brooklyn NY and works in data & strategy within the media industry. As an avid traveler she is passionate about the intersection of sustainability, travel and empowering communities through tourism. She received her degree in International Relations and Social Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship from Tulane University.

She is enthusiastic about helping others learn and embrace traveling in an impactful and responsible way. At RISE she will be working on evaluating and sharing the impact that we are having on students and communities.

When not traveling or planning her next trip, you can find her skiing (usually working on ski patrol in Vermont!), running outdoors, knitting and cuddling with her pup. 

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Nicole Melancon

PR Specialist 

Nicole Melancon is a freelance travel and social good writer based in Minneapolis. Nicole has over a decade of experience writing travel stories with a focus on sustainable, adventure, and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Her work can be found at www.thirdeyemom.com and in other publications.

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Anna Jiang

Intern

Anna Jiang (she/hers) was born and raised in North China. She got a B.A. degree in recreation management and urban planning from Arizona state university and Hainan university, then moved to Newyork to continue her M.S degree in Travel and tourism. While living in Newyork, she worked as a Global risk Research Assistant. Anna like skilling and swimming and also loves to travel and has been to over 10 countries. She is passionate about working on sustainable projects and meeting with high-standing people and learning from them at RISE institute.

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Maddie Macdonald 

Fundraising Manager

A sustainability and conservation-minded advocate, Maddie joined RISE Travel Institute in 2022. She received her M.S. in Sustainable Destination Development (focusing in Applied Heritage Politics) from Uppsala University in Sweden and a B.A. in Social Entrepreneurship from Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Her most recent professional experience was in international campaigns with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Prior to that, she worked in development for a non-profit focused on land conservation. Maddie is a communicator with comprehensive knowledge of conservation and development issues with a focus on equity. She lives in Nashville with her husband and her dog, her two favorite travel partners. 

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Zaina Laaroussi

Social Media Coordinator

Zaina was born in Astoria, Queens, a neighborhood known for its cultural diversity and abundance, giving her the opportunity to observe and participate in a wide range of cultural practices from a young age. In her quest to become a future physician, she has become aware of the value and necessity of cultural competence in healthcare providers in order to close gaps in the system. She believes that sustainable travel is one of the many ways one can increase their cultural competence. As a first generation American Muslim, she understands the importance of being exposed to traditions and cultures other than one's own in order to reduce prejudice and eliminate preconceived notions.

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Barbara West 

Partnerships Manager

Barbara (she/her/hers) has spent the past two decades working in higher education global mobility designing and launching international work and educational travel programs in 13 different countries. She has extensive experience in travel product development, global partnerships, and growth strategy. 

 

Her passion in helping the culturally curious experience the world through immersive opportunities stems from growing up in a German-American family. Barbara began her world travels at the age of 2, which led to participating in multiple study abroad experiences, including living, studying, and working in Germany for a year. She has visited 26 countries and counting. 

 

Barbara believes that the travel and tourism industry has room to make major strides in the fight against climate change through implementing sustainability initiatives, which is what led her to volunteer some time in helping spread RISE’s mission, goals, and programs. In addition to travel, Barbara is an advocate for women in leadership, the creative arts, and nature.

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Barbara Zerbe 

DEI Strategist

Barbara Zerbe (she/her/hers) is a consultant specializing in project and change management for small organizations that are scaling up.

Barbara’s enthusiasm for travel has her exploring new regions as much as possible. Her primary home is in Ventura, California, and she spends a quarter of the year in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She loves to be outdoors, active, and in the sun. A few of her passions include playing soccer, surfing, and section hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Authentic leadership is one of her core values, and she is dedicated to creating systems and processes that promote health, achieve success, and foster a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. She loves making sense of the chaos and creating a structure that simultaneously promotes flexibility. 

Barbara is the former COO of HealthMeans. Her business career began in 2000 when she launched BZ Design, a long-standing graphic design business specializing in non-profits. She transitioned into project management and business leadership obtaining her Master of Science in Project Management in 2015 from Boston University. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Magazine Journalism from the University of Oregon and utilized that knowledge as Art Director of Men's Fitness magazine.

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Jih Wang

Marketing & Creative Services Manager

Jih is a seasoned marketer with over seven years of experience in the travel industry. His multicultural background, having been born in Taiwan, raised in Chile, and educated in the United States, has helped define his many interests, in particular his love for travel. He is passionate about exploring new cultures through food and travel. His most recent adventure took him to Banff, Alberta, where he fell in love with crystal blue lakes and the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Jih holds a Master of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and a Bachelor of Art from the University of San Diego. He and his wife have two beautiful daughters and reside in the Los Angeles area.

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Kate Mulvihill

Video and Podcast Producer 

Kate's (she/her/hers) love for travel began during her junior year in college, which she split between the Dominican Republic and France. She received her BA in French and Masters in Education from the University of Pittsburgh before spending a year teaching English in France. Kate has over a decade's experience working in international exchange at the K 12 and university levels, and has led multiple programs abroad with US students. 

Kate works as a freelance digital product designer and podcaster and lives in Brooklyn, NY. When she is not practicing French and Spanish, she enjoys running, baking, and exploring NYC.

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Wilma Comenat

Event Manager

Wilma (she/her/hers) was born in the Philippines but raised in the U.S. She is very proud of her Filipino heritage and loves to share, um, her Mom’s Filipino cooking. Professionally, she has worked in the non-profit industry for the past 25 years and loves working for organizations that make this place a better world. If she’s going to work long hours, she wants to make sure it’s worthwhile! Her degree is in Business Economics from U.C. Santa Barbara.

Personally, Wilma loves travel and sports. She has been to over 35 countries and enjoys going to countries that most people don’t visit such as Bhutan and Papua New Guinea. Wilma was competitive lightweight rower (yes, there are two weight divisions in the sport) and still dabbles with the sport. As a true sports fanatic, she is absolutely glued to the TV during the Olympic Games – both the Summer and Winter Games.

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