Micah Anderson

Micah Anderson

Program Manager


Micah supports MDC's Network for Southern Economic Mobility initiative by developing deeper partner relationships, providing support, and researching and writing about its learnings. He brings to MDC experience training advisors in rural high schools to help them direct more students to postsecondary education.

Micah worked more than two years as assistant program coordinator for N.C. State University's College Advising Corps, leading training programs for 21 college advisors working to increase college enrollment in rural N.C. high schools. In this role, he worked with administrators and staff at 11 partner high schools to improve key college enrollment indicators. His efforts yielded a 7 percent increase in Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion and a 5 percent increase in college applications in one year.

Before his work at N.C. State, he served as program manager for College Bound St. Louis, leading a team of five AmeriCorps college coaches and managing programs serving more than 100 11th graders, helping them with college access, test preparation, and summer programming.

An Atlanta-area native, Micah attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he majored in Women and Gender Studies, and is an active volunteer. He has been a volunteer team member and trainer for the National Coalition Building Institute at N.C. State, where he led training programs for students, faculty, and staff to build skills in communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution. He has also volunteered with the Neighbor to Neighbor organization in Raleigh and with his church community in St. Louis and now in Durham.

Jenna Bryant

Program Director


Jenna brings her leadership and analytical skills to programs that improve the economic security of families and young people through the implementation of equity-based policies and practices at community colleges and other institutions. Her work entails changing mindsets and focusing on creation of equity agendas that lead to fundamental, systemic change. Jenna’s programmatic areas include student supports, the social determinants of health, and aligning education with a community’s opportunities for family-sustaining employment. In building networks, she makes it possible for communities and institutions to learn from each other about improving and supporting the economic success of their constituents, students, and families.

Jenna’s experience at MDC includes helping communities in Arkansas and Mississippi develop strategies that align educational programs to meet employer needs in a way that enhances the economic outcomes for job seekers. She’s especially proud that her Arkansas work helped lead to creation of the Expect More campaign to encourage investment in advanced-skills training and education.

She also has provided technical assistance to community colleges on the implementation of strategies and support services to help lower-income people get work and improve their financial security as part of the Integrated Services Delivery Collaboration initiative, the Financial Empowerment for Student Success program, and MDC’s affiliation with the Working Families Success Network—including co-authoring a guidebook on how colleges can effectively implement and scale these strategies.

Prior to joining MDC, Jenna worked for Regional Technology Strategies (RTS) as a senior research analyst focused on cluster-based occupational analysis, the development of regional economic development profiles, and measurement and assessment of local regional economies. Before that, she worked at the N.C. Department of Commerce as an economist focused on analyzing North Carolina's economy, and at the Labor Market Information Division of the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina in the Policy and Program Evaluation department, where was responsible for the communication and statistical analysis of the North Carolina State Training Accountability and Reporting System.

Jenna grew up in Somerset, N.J., and Columbia, Md., and has deep roots in rural North Carolina, where she spent summers visiting extended family.

Jenna has a B.A. in international business and finance from Howard University and a Masters of Applied Economics from N.C. State University. She currently serves on the Durham Technical Community College Board of Trustees.

Kierra Clark

Program Associate


Kierra works with the Economic Security team, providing planning and implementation support for initiatives, community-based partnerships, and learning networks. Her primary focus is MDC’s initiative in Guilford County, N.C., to build a network of for service providers connecting low-and moderate-income families with available resources using integrated services delivery. Kierra also manages aspects of The Benefit Bank of North Carolin, providing technical assistance and training for affiliate organizations.

Prior to joining MDC, Kierra worked for NeighborWorks America in the Field Division, where she provided technical, operational, and event planning assistance to regional staff and a network of housing and community development nonprofits. Kierra also provided program management assistance and coordinated with service providers for a program focused on intergenerational connections to childhood literacy. She has been a community organizer in a neighborhood experiencing the effects of disinvestment, and an AmeriCorps VISTA, where she worked to build the capacity of a nonprofit that was focused on volunteer engagement and nonprofit staff development.

Kierra comes to MDC and the Triangle most recently from the Washington, D.C., area. Her work and volunteer history are reflective of the values of truly helping people and bringing efficiencies to programs. Kierra's line of thinking usually begins with the question: "How can I make this happen?"

Educational Background: Coursework in Management Studies; Sociology and Family Studies (University of Maryland University College; Bowling Green State University)

John Cooper, PhD

Research Fellow



John focuses on community development, environmental justice, dispute resolution, public policy research, emergency management, and land use planning. He is an associate professor of practice in the Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning at Texas A&M University and serves a dual appointment as the associate director of Outreach and Community Partnerships for Housing and Urban Development and the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.

In his previous position as MDC program director, John managed the FEMA Emergency Preparedness Demonstration Program, a $2.5 million effort to understand barriers to increased disaster awareness and preparedness in marginalized communities, and managed MDC's role in the Rural People, Rural Policy initiative.

John has provided consultation to community development advocates on issues of planning and civic engagement, and been a visiting lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC). He is a past member of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation's Advisory Panel and currently serves on a number of boards including The Community Home Trust (Chapel Hill, NC) Board of Directors, the Board of Visitors for the UNC Institute for the Environment, and the Advisory Board for the DHS Center of Excellence - Natural Disasters, Coastal Infrastructure, and Emergency Management (DIEM) at UNC.
John received his bachelor’s degree in economics and urban planning from Texas A & M University and a doctorate in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Carolyn D'Amelio

Senior Financial Analyst


Carolyn supports MDC’s Chief Financial Officer, members of the executive management team, and MDC program directors by providing financial analysis for contract and administrative budgets and financial reporting.

Before coming to MDC, Carolyn held accounting and senior accounting positions with both large corporations and small, privately held businesses, including 13 years working in accounting for John Hancock Financial Services.

Educational background: BSBA in Accounting (Northeastern University, Boston, MA)

David Dodson



David sets MDC’s strategy, shapes its portfolio of work, and serves as one of its principal representatives to partners and the public about the urgency of creating a South where disparities are eliminated so all its people can thrive.

Since joining MDC in 1987 he has led place-based work to address stalled economic mobility and build leadership to tackle unmet challenges on issues including rural development, community college reform, and postsecondary attainment. He has co-written MDC’s State of the South reports and co-created with Joan Lipsitz MDC’s "Passing Gear Philanthropy" practice that focuses philanthropic investments on the upstream causes of social disparities, notably working with the Jacksonville (Fla.) Community Foundation, the Danville (Va.) Regional Foundation, and the John M. Belk Endowment in Charlotte, N.C.

Prior to joining MDC, David served as executive director of the Cummins Engine Foundation and director of corporate responsibility for Cummins Engine Company in Columbus, Ind., a corporate innovator in creating workplace democracy and corporate responsibility under its legendary CEO, Irwin Miller, who showed how institutions can harness economic and institutional power to tackle barriers to shared wellbeing.

As a member of the boards of the Public Welfare Foundation and the Center for Law and Social Policy he works to stay in touch with broader trends and expand his understanding of how institutions engaged in social, cultural, and institutional change can advance justice and equity through policy change. He is a eucharistic minister at his local Episcopal Church and has been singing since childhood, currently with the Choral Society of Durham, its chamber choir, and The OK Chorale, an elite Durham a capella group that sings once a year at his neighborhood’s Fourth of July celebration.

David is a graduate of Yale University, where he received a B.A. in Architecture and Urban Policy and Master’s degrees in Divinity and in Public-Private Management.


Scott Edmonds

Program Manager


Scott primarily supports MDC’s employment security portfolio by providing project management, policy research, data analysis, and program design expertise for projects that seek to eliminate the underlying barriers to an individual or family’s success in securing postsecondary education and employment. He brings experience working with community-based nonprofits and community colleges to identify policy and programmatic obstacles preventing success and then shaping effective solutions.

Scott also serves as MDC’s GIS analyst, examining business opportunities for MDC’s place-based services across the South and informing community-based interventions that address poverty.

He joined MDC in the summer of 2009 as a student intern while in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Scott holds a bachelor’s degree in political science (cum laude) from the University of Missouri and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cate Elander

Program Manager


Cate joined MDC in the fall of 2015 to support the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust Great Expectations initiative. She is identifying best practice and emerging research in the early childhood field to inform the initiative’s strategy, and helping shape a family engagement strategy that brings family voices to the center of systems change work in Winston Salem and Forsyth County.
Cate most recently managed outreach and community-based programming at the East Durham Children’s Initiative, and has 10 years of experience supporting community engagement at place-based community development initiatives in Durham, Delaware, and New York City.
She is a founding member of the Durham Touchpoint’s Collaborative, where she trains early childhood providers in strength-based parent support strategies.  Cate is also a blogger for the UNC School of Government’s Community Engagement Learning Exchange, where she focuses on issues of community representation, race and gentrification. 
Cate received a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and master’s degree in Urban Affairs and Public Policy (specialization in Community Development), both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Ralph Gildehaus, JD

Senior Program Director


Ralph leads MDC’s Family Economic Success (FES) practice, which partners with communities to design, build, and demonstrate systems for connecting economically vulnerable households with available supports and integrated services. In this work, Ralph and his team help communities understand financial stability issues faced by families and how leaders can mobilize and take action to change and improve systems.

MDC’s FES practice provides coaching, training, and expert programmatic assistance to communities to expand and scale effective approaches. Ralph provides expertise in devising innovations to complex systems that provide support to families and connecting local systems with larger government systems to leverage funding and policy changes. He also has expertise in community-based use of online technology.

The FES team’s major accomplishments include the launch of outreach and enrollment efforts using The Benefit Bank technology in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia; co-founding the North Carolina Navigator Consortium that connects households with Affordable Care Act health insurance and financial assistance; and completed the NC VetsCorps demonstration project which connected economically vulnerable veterans and military families with resources and services.

His team recently developed the Integrated Services Delivery (ISD) Network model, envisioned as a technology-enabled network of service providers working together to connect more low-income families with integrated supports and services that are proven to reduce poverty, improve social determinants of health, and advance family economic success. MDC is already engaged with the United Way of Greater Greensboro in piloting the first ISD Network in Guilford County, North Carolina, with plans to replicate the ISD Network model with other communities across the South.

Before joining MDC, Ralph co-founded and served as director of The Ohio Benefit Bank (OBB) in Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. According to an Ohio University report, the OBB in its first two years helped Ohioans apply for over $38 million in work supports. The OBB grew into the largest effort of its kind in the United States, with more than 1,000 sites and 3,000 counselors, and helping Ohioans apply for over $1.6 billion in work supports since 2006.

Prior to joining Gov. Strickland’s staff, Ralph was a litigation law firm partner with Porter Wright Morris and Arthur. Ralph also served as a law clerk for Judge Lawrence S. Margolis of the U.S. Claims Court in Washington, D.C.; on the legislative and political staffs of former U.S. Rep. Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania; and as issues director for Sam Beard for U.S. Senate in Delaware.

Ralph received his bachelor’s degree in political science and law from Amherst College and a juris doctor from George Washington University Law School. When not working, Ralph serves on the personnel committee of the Durham Friends Meeting (where he also mows the grass weekly). He recently served for three years as a high school girls’ tennis team coach. He is also a state-ranked tournament tennis player and captains and participates in several USTA tennis teams.

Ferrel Guillory

Senior Fellow



In addition to serving as a senior fellow at MDC, Ferrel founded and directs the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a professor of the practice at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is a co-author of the State of the South series, as well as the book, The Carolinas: Yesterday - Today - Tomorrow.

Ferrel serves on the board of trustees of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. He was formerly southern correspondent, Washington correspondent, editorial page editor, and columnist at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He also has written for The EconomistThe New York TimesGoverningThe Washington PostAmericaThe New Republic, and a variety of Southern magazines, journals, and newspapers. He is a contributor to books on public policy, tobacco in transition, and the politics of race.

Ferrel received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University and his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Richard E. Hart

Communications Director


Richard specializes in making complex issues surrounding poverty and opportunity in the South vivid and palpable to a wide range of audiences so they can be informed and inspired to redress the barriers that prevent the South from working well for everyone.

As Editor-In-Chief for all MDC communications products, Richard oversees the writing and production of major reports, curates our website, and maintains our social media presence. Richard is especially proud of having shepherded to completion five installments of MDC’s signature publication, State of the South, along with other major MDC publication on economic mobility, rural poverty and development, postsecondary attainment, and economic security.

He's a native of New Orleans and before landing at MDC was a reporter, editor, and columnist for newspapers across the South for more than 25 years. Beginning at his hometown newspaper, The Times-Picayune, covering the city's historic preservation movement, he continued to focus on planning and environmental concerns in reporting, editing, and management positions and went on to work for high profile papers across the region including The Miami Herald, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, and the Independent Weekly of Durham. 

Active in Durham community affairs, he works on interfaith outreach through Beth El Synagogue and serves on the board of the innovative Central Park School for Children, where his son was in the first kindergarten class. He also has a daughter, and his wife, Sally Hicks, is an editor at Duke University. Richard brings the spirit of his hometown to imaginative cookery and is co-host with Sally of Durham’s most popular annual Mardi Gras party and parade.

Richard has a B.A. in Urban Studies from Columbia University, where he was editor-in-chief of The Columbia Daily Spectator.

Brittany Jeatter

Program Associate


Brittany provides research, team management, and logistical support across her project teams while also providing operation support throughout the entire organization. She brings substantive research expertise in the area of early childhood education and has conducted research and developed issue briefs on universal pre-K, teacher quality and job satisfaction, and continuous improvement models in preschool education. In operations, she continually develops and refines MDC’s internal processes related to hiring, telecommunications, and racial equity.

Brittany is deeply passionate about promoting economic and social equity, with a particular focus on gender, racial and educational equity. Her previous work experience includes an internship with Planned Parenthood, and while mentoring at a high school in South Africa, Brittany founded Just Girls, a safe space for female high school students to discuss healthy relationships, peer pressure, and other pertinent topics related to their personal wellbeing and educational success.

In Durham, Brittany serves as a volunteer, mentor, and adviser at the Emily Krzyzewski Center, a nonprofit founded by Duke Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski that serves as a college access hub, propelling academically focused, low-income, K-12 students and graduates toward success in college through its K to College programs. Brittany, also a graduate of this program, regularly parlays her personal experience with upward economic mobility and her continued engagements with students to enrich and strengthen the MDC project teams on which she serves.

Brittany received a B.A. in Psychology from Elon University, where she was a recipient of the Elon Commitment Scholarship. A major focus of her undergraduate studies included research on intercultural discrimination in higher education with a focus on retention.



While in college, Brittany founded and coordinated a women’s empowerment program, called Just Girls, in Cape Town, South Africa. She has served as a volunteer, mentor, and tutor to high school students at Durham’s Emily Krzyzewski Center, an organization that also supported her as a first-generation college student.

A major focus of her undergraduate studies included research on intercultural discrimination in higher education with a focus on retention.

Brittany received a B.A. in Psychology from Elon University, where she was a recipient of the Elon Commitment Scholarship.

Carol Lincoln

Senior Fellow


Carol has more than 45 years' experience at MDC working on issues of educational access, workforce development, and rural community development. In addition to being a senior program manager, she was national director of Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count while MDC was the initiative's managing partner and currently serves as the organization's senior vice president.
From 1994 through 2003, Carol directed the Rural Community College Initiative's (RCCI) national demonstration program to increase educational access and economic opportunity in distressed rural communities. From 1998-2004, she co-led MDC's international work in Namibia and South Africa, where lessons from RCCI were used to help four-year institutions become catalysts for development in impoverished rural regions.
Carol coauthored Let's Do It our Way: Working Together for Educational Excellence and America's Shame, America's Hope: Twelve Million Youth at Risk, which led to a national PBS television project to raise public awareness of the large numbers of youth leaving school unprepared for postsecondary education or careers. Previous experience includes the New York State Manpower Resources Commission and New York State Manpower Planning Council and later the National Commission for Employment Policy. 
Educational background: Mathematics and sociology (State University of New York at Albany).

Joan Lipsitz, PhD

Senior Fellow



Joan focuses on philanthropy and education and is an advisor to foundations and nonprofits on school improvement and youth development. Formerly, she served as program director for elementary and secondary education at Lilly Endowment from 1986 to 1995, where she specialized in youth development, research, and middle-school reform initiatives. Prior to that, she established and directed the Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was a faculty member of the Bush Institute for Child and Family Policy, and was a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health.

Previously, she was a program associate at the Learning Institute of North Carolina, a member of the College Board's Commission on Precollegiate Guidance and Counseling, a research associate at the National Institute of Education, a member of the governing board of the Annenberg Rural Challenge, a founding director of the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute (NCCAI), and a founding member of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. Joan served on the boards of the Hershey Trust Company, the Milton Hershey School, NCCAI, the Executive Service Corps of the Greater Triangle, and DonorsChoose NC. She is now on the boards of the Chatham County Literacy Council and Student U in Durham, NC. She began her career as a secondary school English teacher.
Educational background: English and education (Wellesley College, University of Connecticut, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Julie Mooney

Senior Program Director



Julie Mooney serves as a senior program director at MDC since rejoining the staff in 2015.  She leads significant place-based initiatives focused on building the systems and structures that link young people to educational and economic opportunity. She currently oversees MDC’s support of Great Expectations, a 10+ year initiative of the Kate B. Charitable Trust that aims to ensure that low-income young children in Forsyth County, N.C., are ready to succeed in school.  Most recently, she led the development and incubation of Made in Durham, a community partnership building an education-to-career system for youth in Durham, N.C., MDC’s hometown.  

In her previous work at MDC, Julie directed local, regional and national projects designed to advance strong education, workforce, and economic development initiatives in economically distressed communities throughout the South. She is coauthor of several MDC publications, including Building Communities By Design: A Guidebook for Community Change and Walking the Talk: Increasing Educational Options for Southern Youth.

Prior to returning to MDC, Julie was the founding director of Blueprint NC, a partnership of state policy advocacy nonprofits focused on building the civic engagement and communications capacity of nonprofits and building their collective impact on state policy. She also served as the initial coordinator for Grantmakers for Southern Progress, a network of funders with the goal of increasing funding for social change in the South. She served for many years as a visiting lecturer in the Hart Leadership Program at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, and she worked previously as a community development planner and a community organizer.

She holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters in City and Regional Planning (with a Community and Economic Development concentration) from the University of California at Berkeley.

Mark Motamen

Chief Financial Officer


Mark Motamen oversees the finance and accounting functions at MDC.  He has over 25 years of accounting experience, including eight as the senior finance executive with three different organizations.  He has worked in organizations as small as four employees and spent 10 years in various accounting roles with IBM. Recently, Mark served as Interim CFO for a Brooklyn, NY nonprofit and before that spent seven years as the founding CFO for Achieving the Dream.

When not at work, Mark enjoys spending time at the North Carolina coast with his wife and three teenaged children, attending Carolina Hurricanes hockey games, and recreational swimming.

Mark has a Master’s Degree in Accounting from North Carolina State University; Bachelor’s Degrees in both Accounting and Business Management from North Carolina State University and currently holds both the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified in Financial Management (CFM) designations. He recently completed the Executive Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership program at Duke University.

Abby Parcell

Program Director


Abby leads MDC’s knowledge development team, managing internal and external learning and framing an economic mobility agenda in the South. She contributes research and writing across projects, including MDC’s 2014 and 2018 State of the South reports. She translates learning from our place-based work into tools and frameworks that support our community partnerships; for example, she developed More to Most, a guidebook and accompanying workshop to help community colleges and community partnerships scale effective practices, and has led workshops on how to use the guidebook with multiple audiences.  Abby also leads the design and facilitation work for many of our peer-learning networks and events, which bring together leaders across education and employment sectors to learn from each other and experts in the field.

Before joining MDC in 2008, Abby worked as a program evaluator and research analyst within local and state government, including the North Carolina General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division, the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government. She served as an AmeriCorps volunteer with Public Allies and the Durham Literacy Center from 2002-2003.

When not at MDC, Abby enjoys the Triangle’s live music offerings and supporting local bookstores that support her love of poetry. She feeds her love of baking as a volunteer with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels program.

Abby holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mia Peters image

Mia Peters

Executive Assistant to the President


Mia Peters provides administrative and organizational support to MDC’s president, senior staff, and Board of Directors. For the President she manages correspondence, maintains his calendar and travel schedule, and provides general support.

She serves on committees including the Executive Cabinet, External Advancement, Operations, and Development; supports the human relations manager; and maintains MDC’s Customer Relationship Management system, eTapestry.

Prior to coming to MDC, she was a campus administrator supporting the vice president of live online operations at MyComputerCareer; the Director of Youth Ministry at New Horizons Fellowship in Apex, N.C.; wrote standards of operating procedures and trained staff at N.C. State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital; and worked as a coordinator and writer in clinical trials.

Herareas of interest are children and families, public health, and the theatre. She is the president of the Board of Directors of Forest Moon Theatre Company, a founding member of Stageworks, and has been a director, costume designer, stage manager, and actor with a number of Triangle theater companies, including The Women’s Theatre Festival, Cary Players, Stars Theatre and Encore Youth Productions.

She holds an associates of applied science degree from Central Virginia Community College and a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies degreee in organizational management and labor relations from the New York Institute of Technology.

Trina Stephens

Program Manager


Trina is MDC’s program manager providing local leadership and program support to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust’s Great Expectations initiative, which works to ensure that children in Forsyth County, NC, enter kindergarten ready to learn and leave set for success in school and life. In this work, Trina and other MDC Great Expectations team members will work closely with grantees of the Trust, key organizations supporting the early childhood system in the county, and other community leaders in implementing the Great Expectations strategy and emphasizing equity within the early childhood system.

As a native of Forsyth County, Trina is a dedicated and experienced leader with more than 25 years of successful practice in the areas of early childhood education and community engagement. She began her early childhood education career as a preschool teacher in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC. She continued her work in this area upon returning to Forsyth County. In 2000, Trina became a home visitor with the Parents as Teachers program. After many advancements within the organization, Trina’s last contribution was as program director for two place-based initiatives serving families with children ages birth to eight.

She is an executive member with The Forsyth Promise, which facilitates education-focused collaboration, community-wide planning, and action. The Promise provides a framework to help all community stakeholders work together toward the goal of improved educational outcomes for Forsyth County’s students from cradle to career.

She has dedicated her life to be the best teacher for her daughters, Kyla and Dasia, and to the community as an advocate for social justice.

Educational and Professional background: Sociology (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Center for Creative Leadership: Community Leadership Training, Wake Forest University Nonprofit Essentials Program, Asset-Based Community Trained, Training from Racial Equity Institute and Institute for Dismantling Racism

Certifications and Accreditations: Triple P Accreditation – Positive Parenting Program, Certified Doula (DONA), Childbirth Educator, Facilitator for the National Strengthening Families Program

Cay Stratton

Senior Fellow


Cay joined MDC as a senior fellow in 2010, following her return to the United States from London, where she held leadership positions in workforce development policy and delivery. While in the United Kingdom, Cay served as special advisor to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, as special advisor to three Secretaries of State for Employment, and as director of the National Employment Panel, and was awarded the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by the Queen in 2005. 
Before moving to the UK, Cay served as associate secretary for economic affairs under Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and as founding executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council. 
Educational background: Stanford University

Mala Thakur

Senior Program Director


Mala oversees strategy, program design, fund development, and management of MDC’s talent development portfolio. The portfolio includes initiatives focused on workforce development, post-secondary attainment, economic mobility, and related state policy—all of which contribute to expanding opportunities for underserved populations.

Mala is a social change agent who has spent her career working on the alignment and implementation of education and workforce policy, systems, and practice. She specializes in comprehensive, multi-sector approaches to helping youth and adults prepare for careers at a family sustaining wage, and in identifying the best ways to inform philanthropy and government to scale the approaches that work.

An educator by training, she has held a number of leadership roles at the intersection of family support, education, and workforce development. Most recently, she served as executive director of the Children’s Opportunity Fund at the Greater Washington Community Foundation in Montgomery County, Md. The fund is a public/private partnership designed to support innovation and investment in the well‐being of children, youth, and families. She served as the executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition and director of Workforce Development at the New York Citywide School to Work Alliance, working nationally and locally to identify and implement policies and practices that help youth and young adults connect to opportunity and to thrive. She served as a senior fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and taught English as a Second Language to immigrant populations.

Mala has testified and conducted briefings on workforce development and education issues before members of Congress, as well as state, and local elected officials. In 2013, she was a keynote speaker at Secretary of State John Kerry’s Forum on Youth Employment, a seminar for representatives of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium. She also has served in a number of advisory roles, including the National Assessment of Career and Technical Education Independent Advisory Panel to Congress (2007- 2012) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Forward Promise Initiative Advisory Board (2012-2014). Mala currently serves on the board of directors of the National Human Services Assembly.

She holds an M.A. in education from New York University and a B.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Katie Toles

Autry Fellow


Katie is MDC’s Autry Fellow for 2019-2020, the 20th person to be selected for the competitive fellowship program aimed at college graduates committed to supporting equity in the South and that honors MDC’s founding president, George Autry. Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Katie has lived in Carrboro, N.C., for more than a decade and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Pogue Scholar, a full, merit-based scholarship awarded to young people with a commitment to diversity and changing perspectives of those around them. She graduated with honors from UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health with a B.S.P.H. in Health Policy and Management in May 2019.

Katie is committed to learning how to best advocate for access to healthcare, particularly in her beloved, home state of North Carolina. Throughout college, she volunteered and worked in an array of positions and organizations in order to gain a well-rounded understanding of what it means to be an advocate. Some of these perspectives include the academic research environment as a social science research assistant (N.C. State), the private sector as an intern for a major healthcare provider (Kaiser Permanente), the policy and law environment as an intern for a national health law advocacy group (National Health Law Program), the public sector as an assistor for health insurance marketplace open-enrollment (Certified Application Counselor), and finally on the community level at a local nonprofit advocacy group for community members at or near homelessness (Community Empowerment Fund).

Living in a time of insecurity, Katie’s biggest fear is indifference as a barrier to change and movement building that she sees within herself, peers, and community. In an effort to combat indifference and successfully lead social change, she has prioritized participation in organizations that work toward justice and equitable social reform.

During her Autry year, Katie hopes to broaden her understanding of the social determinants that adversely affect the health of Southerners. Additionally, she looks forward to gaining inspiration, connection, and friendship with individuals committed to social reform.



Stephanie Walker

Program Director


Stephanie is a Program Director at MDC and leads projects focused on organizational learning, network-building for systems change, and collaborative community change. She works to help communities find and use their assets to create meaningful change where they live and work. Stephanie brings facilitation, coaching, and programmatic expertise to her work, and has years of experience in collaborative processes designed to bring diverse perspectives together to forge solutions that benefit the whole. In addition to her project-based work, she is focused on effective learning, design and engagement strategies across MDC projects which advance community and institutional change.

Stephanie currently leads an MDC partnership with Oak Foundation to support a learning and action network of thought leaders and advocates to address equity issues faced by students of color with learning differences. This work is rooted in her belief in the strength and wisdom inherent within communities to direct the changes they seek to make in their community. She also serves as an advisor to MDC’s work to build a network of human service providers to advance family economic security.

She recently served as the MDC project lead supporting the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Collaborative Problem-Solving strategy to support North Carolina communities. She served on the MDC team to assist its partner, United Way of Greater Greensboro, scale the Family Success Center model by adapting and applying MDC’s More to Most scaling methodology

Stephanie joined MDC after many years as a principal consultant with Walker & Associates Consulting Inc. and has a deep background in nonprofit work with experience and expertise working in community engagement, strategic planning, organizational development, capacity building, training, and coaching. She developed IMPACT Greensboro, a joint program between the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro to help develop emerging leaders in the community. She also served as adjunct faculty for the CCL Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-sponsored Community Health Coalitions Leadership Program; as deputy director of the Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; and as executive director of the Mental Health Association of Greensboro.

She served as chair of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits and as a board member for six years. She also served on the boards of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research and the Changemakers Foundation in San Francisco, Calif. She received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Gov. James Hunt for her service to the State of North Carolina.

Stephanie has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed coach training with the Institute for Life Coach Training. When not at work she enjoys assisting her church with various teaching and leadership development efforts. In her spare-time she also enjoys knitting.

Amber Wells, PhD

Program Manager


Amber provides research and data analysis across projects to frame MDC’s equity agenda and help community partners see the social and economic conditions that hold inequality in place. Her quantitative and qualitative analysis and practical applications of current research enrich MDC’s print publications and public presentations.

You can see her leadership on data collection and analysis throughout Recovering Our Courage, our 2018 State of the South report. Amber supports collaborative learning for staff and external partners by compiling messaging, implementation, and measurement resources related to all aspects of MDC’s programmatic work. Working with program staff and community partners, Amber enjoys exploring meaningful markers of social change, including in her role on the Made in Durham Data Working Group; these local practitioners provide expert advice and technical assistance to Durham’s public/private partnership to improve education and employment prospects for local youth and young adults.

Before coming to MDC, Amber worked as a research analyst and project coordinator for university and government-funded projects. And when not at MDC, Amber can be found at her local CrossFit gym or catching up on the latest science fiction books and television.

Amber holds a BA in sociology and Spanish from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



Bonnie Wright

Senior Fellow



Bonnie brings 30 years of success as a leadership coach, organizational consultant, and innovative social entrepreneur to her work as an MDC senior fellow. Bonnie leads the Passing Gear Philanthropy work at MDC, working to expand social venture capital and accelerate change through strategic work with foundations. She also worked as a coach in Memphis and Kentucky with MDC’s Latino Student Success initiative.

As a leadership coach and consultant beyond MDC, Bonnie works with leaders primarily in the nonprofit and government sectors, in organizations ranging from the KIPP Foundation to the University of North Carolina to the U.S. Department of Justice.  

In 1996, Bonnie was founder of the Maureen Joy Charter School, one of the first charter schools in North Carolina. Joy Charter successfully educates more than 300 K-8 underserved students annually. Prior to that, Bonnie co-founded the Center for Community Self-Help and Self-Help Credit Union, nationally recognized nonprofit organizations that promote economic development for low-wealth communities. Self-Help provides deserving families with homeownership and small business loans that enables them to build family wealth. Self-Help also advocates for fair banking practices that ensure family security and community vitality.

Bonnie received her bachelor’s degree in economics and urban studies from Davidson College and her master’s degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Organization and Management.