The Literacy Matters Board of Directors and Advisors
Deb Mallin, Board of Directors Chair & Chief Executive Officer
Deb leads Literacy Matters, balancing her skills in education & curriculum development, and business and marketing, with a deft ability to guide where needed and to follow her peers’ expertise.
In addition to being a certified Orton-Gillingham/Wilson literacy instructor with decades of teaching experience, Deb draws on her experiences as a leading sales person at Colgate-Palmolive and Oatmeal Media, a published author, and countless hours as an empathetic volunteer to inspire the organization and those it serves.
Associated with both corporate and non-profit organizations, Deb’s breadth of impact spans from her role as an educator for over 25 years, work with the Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, Hospice Care, Meals That Heal, and Minneapolis Children’s Hospital.
Outcome-focused and results-oriented, while being compassionately relentless, are personality traits that reinforce Deb’s skills as a leader. Deb is always seeking the best from those around her and fair in setting others up for success. At the helm of Literacy Matters, Deb prioritizes integrity in meeting the needs of students and the overall success of schools, in an effort to see that there is Literacy And Justice For All.
David Brookins, Board Member
David Brookins is a Private Wealth Advisor, BMO Private Bank. He has over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry in the areas of lending, investments, mortgage, and insurance.
David is passionate about the arts, and has served on several boards of organizations that help promote the arts within the community. David currently serves on the Executive Committee of the MN Fringe as board secretary.
Marc Dispensa, Advisor & Chief Technology Officer
Marc leads development of the Monkey Doodle instructional program for Literacy Matters.
With over 15 years of experience in technology, Marc found his calling as an expert in Marketing Services and AdTech. Marc built and grew NetGI, a BI platform for the media industry that was acquired in 2007 by IPG’s Mediabrands. Marc later founded Irgonomic, a digital marketing and technology company serving some of the world’s largest advertisers, which he later sold to Magnet 360. Most recently, Marc is the Founder and CTO of Equals 3 Media, a business whose vision is to transform the world of marketing through cognitive intelligence.
Jill Field, Board Member
Jill Field was the longtime director of communications for Breck School and has also worked as a magazine editor, associate television producer, corporate communications manager and freelance copywriter. She has been a board member and active volunteer for many community organizations including MinnPost, Planned Parenthood and the city of Golden Valley. She is a native of northern Indiana and a graduate of Princeton University.
Beth Brozic Gleekel, Board Member
Beth Gleekel brings more than two decades of experience helping non-profits overcome obstacles and achieve their core mission and goals. Her experience includes the full spectrum of non-profit roles including service as a volunteer, Task Force member, Board member, employee and founder to organizations that include Hoopology, Breck School Parent Association Board, NEDA Walks, Emily Foundation Board, and Children’s Hospital.
Compassionate, committed and practical, her achievements include key roles in the execution of fundraising, planning, and implementation of events. She looks forward to advising Literacy Matters to continue and define the processes and programs needed to expand community connections and fulfill its founding vision.
Wayne Hawkins, Board Member
Wayne Hawkins is currently CEO of iDrive Athletics an organization that supports fundraising for school athletics. A proven leader with more than 20 years in multiple industries. Wayne’s entrepreneurial spirit began in 1997 when he started a job training program for low income unemployed adults coming off of welfare called ASCEND. This program led to his next venture being an employment agency called Goodworkers where he continued to train and place this population with local businesses. He then formed a cleaning business, which he currently owns and operates today.
Wayne’s current interest is helping kids with learning differences and educating the faculty and parents on how to best work with them. He helped form a parent support group. His participation with this group assists in coordinating events and educational sessions that will help parents become more knowledgeable about what their kids are experiencing and how to help them.
He was an All-America athlete at SMSU in both football and track. A 1992 NFL draft pick of the New England Patriots, he was one of the most decorated football players in SMSU history holding several school records and earning numerous post-season awards.
Dr. Katherine M. Kowalchyk, Board Member
From 1991 to the present, Ms. Kowalchyk has been practicing intellectual property law with Merchant and Gould, P.A. She is a partner at the firm. Her practice has an emphasis in chemical and biotechnology patent matters. She has worked with a wide variety of clients ranging from small startups and University clients to major corporations. She brings significant experience in advising clients in strategic patent portfolio management, foreign filing strategies, product clearance matters, patentability searches and opinions, validity and non-infringement opinions as well as technology transfer and patent licensing transactions.
Ms. Kowalchyk has worked on a range of technologies concerning medical devices, chemistry, and biologic pharmaceuticals. She is well versed in all aspects of the science of genetics, recombinant products including proteins, antibodies, DNA vaccines, viral vectors, and vaccines. She is also well versed in the science of microorganisms and infectious disease.
Ms Kowalchyk is currently the Secretary of the Board of the American Intellectual Property Foundation having served 4 years on this board. The mission of this Foundation is to increase the diversity of the intellectual property law by providing scholarship money for law students of color interested in intellectual property law.
She has provided pro bono legal assistance for inventors through LegalCorps.
She has worked on fundraising for two local nonprofit organizations; World Mission Prayer League and Global Health Ministries. She has been successful in securing a grant for Global Health Ministries that allowed the construction of two surgical suites at a hospital in Cameroon. She worked with World Mission Prayer League on a grant from USAID for LAMB Hospital Bangladesh.
She assisted in fundraising for and contributed to the development of Livingstone School, Bangladesh. Livingstone School is a K-10 private school that serves students of all faiths and that aims to increase the quality of education for students in rural areas. The curriculum includes the Bengali National curriculum as well as elements of the British national curriculum and US curriculum. English is taught to provide the students with advantages in finding jobs. The school has about 200 students.
She was on the Board of the Goldie Hawn Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to create and validate a mindfulness curriculum for use in schools.
She was on the Board of Groves Academy for ten years. Groves Academy is a non-profit private school that serves kids with a broad range of learning disabilities. She chaired the Board from 2001 to 2004, and led the school through a period of growth. She has been involved in a capital campaign fundraising effort. She also dealt with governance issues, strategic planning and mission drafting. This experience has provided her with an understanding of mission centered learning institutions.
Bruce Langer, Board Member
Bruce Langer joined the Literacy Matters board in 2016 and is honored to be a part of this amazing group of change makers.
In 2012, Mr. Langer founded EPIQ Partners, LLC – a boutique investment office for successful families and their related interests – as the next phase of his financial services career. Bruce has been an active member in the financial services industry since 1993 including extensive experience in accounting, business and investments while advising serial entrepreneurs, institutional investors and complex, multi-generational families.
Bruce leads a full life with his family and friends. In particular, his wife and three boys fill the days with adventure and laughter. As a parent of children with learning differences Bruce’s understanding allows for alignment and commitment to the mission of Literacy Matters.
Bruce attended the University of Minnesota as an Evans Scholar and graduated with a B.S. in accounting from the Carlson School of Management. He is a member of the Minnesota Chapter Board for the Positive Coaching Alliance and immediate past Chair. He serves as a Director of the Western Golf Association and is a past president of the Minnesota Evans Scholars Alumni Association. Bruce is an active member of the Minnesota CFA Society and a member of the Lake Country School investment committee.
Dan Mallin, Advisor Innovation & Strategy
Dan serves as a key advisor to Literacy Matters.
A force in technology-based entrepreneurship, Dan creates transformative tools and repeatedly breaks new ground in the technology services space. He has grown and sold four businesses and built forward-thinking tech platforms used by some of the world’s largest brands, agencies, and media firms.
Dan sits on multiple boards, bringing a differentiating viewpoint, helping companies evaluate opportunities and facilitating governance oversight as an agent of change. His pedigree has been recognized by some of the most respected institutions, including multiple 3M awards, Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Business Journal’s 40 under 40, Twin Cities Business 200 people to know, and the Minnesota Business’ Real Power 50. Dan has also served as a chief officer at multiple companies recognized as ‘best places to work’ in multiple markets nationally. The aggregate speaks to Dan as a practitioner, a visionary leader, an intuitive businessperson, and a mentor to many.
Efonda Sproles, Board Member
Efonda Sproles, Vice President of Scouting at Life Time. Efonda has had a front row seat of over 30 years industry experience, working closely with the founder of Life Time in building a their brand. His broad expertise includes leading and working in every facet of club management, from club presales to grand openings, to daily operations at single locations to multiple and across geographies. Additionally, he has significant experience in leadership growth, sales training and coaching, public speaking and talent recruitment.
To date, Efonda has placed individuals in key leadership positions across the country for Life Time, including general managers, operations, spa, personal training, group fitness, child center, sales and business administration.
Efonda has lent his talents to non-profit boards, including The Sanneh Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
John Thomas, Board Member
John Thomas is the Vice President of Community Engagement, Minnesota Timberwolves & Lynx, which is a natural fit for this former Center of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and team captain of the Minnesota Gophers. John brings his experience in business, including his tenure with Life Time Fitness as National Training Manager, to the Literacy Matters Board of Directors.
His natural leadership and compassionate nature exhibit themselves with his passion to help young people during their early educational years. John understands the importance of helping all kids to overcome illiteracy at a young age, and his work with the Minnesota Timberwolves & Lynx make this a slam dunk.
John has had tremendous impact on and off the basketball court, here in Minnesota and on teams across the country and around the world. We feel that we have gotten a first-round draft pick by having John join our Board.
Sonia Ungerman, Board Member
Sonia Ungerman is currently the GSM of both myTalk107.1 and 1500 ESPN at Hubbard Broadcasting. Her long-time experience and knowledge of helping businesses succeed will be a great benefit to Literacy Matters Board of Directors. Her passion and energy will help Literacy Matters succeed and will add proven leadership in addressing marketing challenges. She is widely known and respected in the business community so her ability to recruit support will benefit our mission.
Sonia brings her deep commitment to literacy and her support for other non-profit organizations to our board.
Elizabeth Villifana, Board Member
Elizabeth Villafana works for Baird Private Asset Management for business development and relationship management in Minnesota. Elizabeth received her BBA in Finance from the University of Iowa in 1980. She earned the CFA designation in 1985 while working as a securities analyst at Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis. Her work included supporting corporate finance and institutional sales as well as the sizable retail brokerage operation. Elizabeth has been very committed to serving her community. Her philanthropic involvement has included Investment Committee and board positions in both New York and Minneapolis: the Board of Advisors for the Tippie College of Business of the University of Iowa, Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club of New York, The Minneapolis Club Board of Governors, The Collegeville Institute and the Breck School Parent Association Board.” Elizabeth and her husband have also been active angel investors and mentors for start-up medical technology companies.
Amy Walstien, Advisor Governance & External Affairs
Amy Walstien has spent over 15 years at the intersection of law and public policy as an attorney, government relations professional, and education policy advisor. Experienced in a wide range of legal and government matters and known for her subject-matter expertise in education issues, Amy helps Literacy Matters define and execute it’s mission.
Previously, Amy served as the Director of Education & Workforce Development for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, where she developed education policies and lobbied at the State Capitol. Amy also served as the Director of Government Relations for the Minnesota Department of Education and as the Committee Administrator for the Senate Finance Committee. Amy currently serves on the Wayzata Public Schools Legislative Advisory Committee, the Plymouth Creek Elementary PTO, and the Minnesota Excellence in Public Service Series Board of Directors.
The Literacy Matters Advisors
Eric Corndorf, Advisor
Eric Corndorf is an R&D Director of Product Development for Medtronic, Plc. Following a childhood of tinkering and inventing, he attended the University of Michigan to (formally) learn about, and receive his BS in, electrical engineering. Delaying entry into the real world, he then went to Northwestern University to earn a PhD in electrical engineering, studying quantum optics and quantum cryptography.
For the past 11 years he has worked for Medtronic, the world’s largest and leading medical technology company. Starting off as a security and communications engineer, he has moved through various technical and people leadership roles, and is now a director of product development for Medtronic’s implantable defibrillator business. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Hill Country Science Mill outside of Austin, TX.
Heather Corndorf, Advisor
Heather Corndorf is a professionally trained dancer and choreographer. She has over 15 years of experience instructing fitness classes throughout the country, creating program content for various fitness corporations, training instructors, and filming virtual and home DVD programs. Heather is a Wellbeats Coach, ACE-certified instructor, and health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Heather’s mission is to lead people of all ages and sizes to embrace their bodies through movement that inspires physical as well as mental growth. Joining the Literacy Matters Foundation is a perfect opportunity to teach kids how to learn, grow, and thrive using a mind-body connection.
Dr. Zach Eakman, Psy.D., Advisor
Dr. Zach Eakman is a well-regarded practitioner of neuropsychology and brings great insight to our organization, specifically in the area of understanding student behavior and factors which may indicate learning differences. His experience in performing psychoeducational evals for people of all ages. Dr. Zach (as we affectionately call him) is passionate for everything sports, as including the Brain-Behavior relationship. He has worked with students and families who are struggling with post-concussive syndrome. Both from a diagnostic perspective and subsequent rehabilitation. He has been a frequent speaker, including on ESPN, on all of these topics, including the neurobiology of Stress and Anxiety. All of these components of Dr. Zach’s specialties affect the students the Literacy Matters Foundation hopes to help.
Married for nine years, his family includes two young sons, who witness his lifelong, pathological loyalty as a Vikings fan. You’d never know he is a daily Olympic weightlifting routine, but he is as intelligent as he is healthy. The Literacy Matters Foundation is lucky to have his brains and brawn to close the gap.
Lisa Owens, Advisor
Lisa Owens is a wife, parent of two fun, sweet and crazy young children and a Occupational Therapist. As a graduate of the College of Saint Catherine in St. Paul, MN with a bachelors degree in Occupational Therapy she has provided pediatric services privately, through the school district, and in the hospital and outpatient clinic setting. For the past 17 years Lisa has worked at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota providing services to children weeks old to 21 years of age that have neurodevelopmental disorders (such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, fetal alcohol syndrome, Down syndrome, William syndrome, etc.), congenital heart defects, cancer, autoimmune diseases, physical disabilities, or have sustained significant injuries or infectious diseases. Often times these diseases and diagnosis impact several or a few components of a child’s development; for example, gross and fine motor coordination, strength and endurance, visual perception, cognition, sensory processing and modulation skills.
As part of Lisa’s commitment to the children she serves, and relevant to her work for Literacy Matters, she has attended continuing education courses to gain a greater understanding of the development of handwriting skills, ocular-motor skills, sensory integration, and interventions to improve literacy and learning for children with dyslexia, ADHD and executive function deficits.
Betsy Weiner, Advisor
Betsy Weiner has dedicated her life to the study and practices of yoga, mindfulness, and integrative health and wellness. She has over 1000 hours of training in yoga, with 500+ in the tradition of Parayoga. A veteran teacher of 16 years, Betsy she has developed curriculum for teacher training, as well as leading workshops in the Yoga of Fulfillment. Inspired by the Literacy Matters Foundation mission to teach to the whole child, Betsy shares the vision of the organization by providing young students with the positive effects of mindfulness, in support of emerging student learning.
Providing regular intervals of mindfulness, and opportunities for students to re-engage, as more focused learners, is a critical component of the Literacy Matters Foundation curriculum. Emerging learners who may be challenged with acquiring new skills, can more effectively hit the reset button for their brain, body, and mind. Breathing in a conscious and mindful way has the ability to give children the time & space to de-escalate from a frustrated feeling, and can teach them valuable coping skills for life. Numerous studies have proven that teaching children mindfulness facilitates better conflict resolution through age appropriate introspection and self-awareness. Betsy supports all elements of the Literacy Matters Foundation core values, including the benefits for children K-3 who will take newly acquired mindfulness skills outside the classroom, beyond the playground, and into all aspects of their lives.
Michelle Abellera Wright, Advisor
Michelle has committed her professional adult life to studying, assessing, supporting, providing therapeutic services, conducting parent/provider trainings and psychoeducation to children and families.
She has facilitated both parents and professional groups on various topics covering areas of passion such as challenging behaviors, tantrumming, developmental childhood trauma, early signs of autism and social emotional developmental testing.
Currently she has been employed with Hennepin County for th last 2 decades. She has worked in both early childhood public health side of development and child access services where a fundamental part of the services s she provides directly involves children/teens and their families.
She has obtained degrees in psychology, early childhood special education and early education and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Due to her varied yet related degrees in the area of childhood mental health, she has had the opportunities to work across settings and aross the continuum of early intervention services . She also hold certifications in downhill ski instruction for the past several years and has accreditation as a children’s ski specialist also in downhill ski instruction.
Getting involved with the early literacy movement with the aim to close the literacy gap is an opportunity to increase public awareness with the importance of a language-rich environment, both orally and in written forms, early in a child’s life and with these early intervention efforts, our young children and their caregivers, ensures more successes in their lives and benefits our society.