Our Team

The BUILD Initiative team of early childhood professionals brings a commitment to building and sustaining comprehensive child development systems.

Effective systems emphasize continuous learning, collaboration, diversity and equity, child- and provider-focused reform, and innovation. Our team has decades of high-level experience with state and local early childhood, education reform, human services and political campaign and messaging work. Each team member has a deep understanding of how to engage disparate constituencies and forge common ground to advance a comprehensive policy agenda.

Learning Community Project Manager

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Jenn Bender is the Learning Community Project Manager for the BUILD Initiative.  Before joining BUILD in October 2015, she most recently served as the Registry Manager for the Pennsylvania Key where she implemented and managed the Early Learning Workforce Registry for Pennsylvania. She has more than ten years’ experience in early childhood education and more than fifteen years’ in the non-profit sector where she focused on community education and workforce development.

Jenn has a B.H. in American Studies with a women’s studies concentration and an M.A. in Humanities from Pennsylvania State University.

Communications Director
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Mariana Florit under construction

Mariana has ten years of experience as a communications expert in the early childhood nonprofit field. 

Learning Community Specialist

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Jonathan Scott Chapman is the Learning Community Specialist of the BUILD Initiative. Prior to his hire, Jonathan worked closely with Sherri Killins Stewart as a consultant in an extensive early care and learning project in Georgia. What initially brought him to the state was Morehouse College, where he earned a B.A. in Drama with a minor in English. To BUILD, Jonathan brings creativity, writing talent, a passion for human rights, and a global perspective acquired through world travel. New Jersey and Connecticut, he fondly calls home, but currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Gerry Cobb, state services director of the BUILD Initiative Director of State Services
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Gerry Cobb is the director of state services for the BUILD Initiative. She supports state leaders in the design and development of effective early childhood systems, designs learning community activities and heads-up the BUILD Initiative National Meeting. In addition, Gerry led our quality rating and improvement systems work during her first year with the BUILD Initiative.

Gerry came to BUILD from the Smart Start National Technical Assistance Center, where she served as director. Gerry conceived, developed, implemented and directed the center and its programs and secured more than $6 million in funding. The center assisted communities and states in the development, implementation and integration of comprehensive, community-based early childhood systems.

While directing the center, Gerry also directed the SPARK Initiative, a $5 million grant program funded by the Kellogg Foundation, led the development of a set of school readiness indicators for North Carolina and directed the annual National Smart Start Conference which annually drew 2,000+ attendees. She also assisted with the Smart Start legislative advocacy efforts, drawing on her experience as a legislative assistant to a U.S. congresswoman.

Gerry earlier served as Smart Start's development director, as executive director of the American Council of Young Political Leaders and as an international program coordinator at the Asia Foundation. She brings a broad array of experience in nonprofit management and political advocacy to her BUILD work.

Gerry has a B.A. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Finance and Contracts Manager

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Jim Gutierrez serves as finance and contracts manager for the BUILD Initiative. He brings over 20 years of finance and accounting experience, of which 17 were spent in the non-profit sector. Working together with the BUILD team and its fiscal sponsors, Jim provides financial planning and management, budgeting and analysis, and contract management.

Prior to joining the BUILD team in 2015, Jim worked with a variety of non-profit organizations, holding several positions in finance and fiscal management. His roles included director of finance to chief financial officer. Jim’s experience ranges from local community-based organizations to international NGOs, supporting work from HIV/AIDS prevention to efforts around the world to bring safe, clean drinking water those most in need. He has the unique perspective of working with various types of missions, budgets, funding and cultures. While under his stewardship, these organizations developed sound fiscal foundations and flourished in achieving their organizational goals.

Jim is a graduate of St. John's University with a M.A. in business administration and a B.S. in accounting.

Susan Hibbard, deputy director of the BUILD InitiativeExecutive Director
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Susan Hibbard, executive director of the BUILD Initiative, has more than 20 years of experience in the areas of early learning, early childhood systems, and social change with a focus on research and analysis, strategic planning, project management and skills training. As BUILD’s executive director, she  oversees its daily operations, directs the BUILD staff team, and coordinates governance and financial management with fiscal sponsor Third Sector New England.

Susan also designs a vibrant learning community for state leaders to foster peer-to-peer networking and information sharing on a wide range of early childhood topics. She additionally oversees BUILD’s research and evaluation efforts, and manages the publication and dissemination of the BUILD Initiative’s research and policy briefs.

Susan did her undergraduate work at Bryn Mawr College and received her M.A. from the New School University.

Sherri Killins, BUILD Initiative ConsultantDirector of Systems Alignment and Integration
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Sherri Killins, Ed.D. is the Director of State Systems Alignment and Integration for the BUILD Initiative and an independent consultant.  She is responsible for working directly with state leaders to advance early childhood systems efforts in health, early learning and family support. She is leading work to define and create intentional practice regarding equity in early childhood system practice, policy and leadership within the work of the BUILD Initiative. In her current work with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, she is the campaign state liaison for Mississippi, Michigan and New Jersey.

 Dr. Killins was the former Commissioner of Early Education and Care for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Under her leadership, Massachusetts secured the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge to provide financial resources to accelerate the work already underway in Massachusetts.

 Dr. Killins resides in New Haven, Connecticut with her husband and is the mother of three daughters.

Director, QRIS National Learning Network
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Debi Mathias serves as the director of the QRIS National Learning Network with the BUILD Initiative. She works with a broad cross-section of partners at the state and national level focused on the development and implementation of quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS).

Previous to her work in with the BUILD Initiative, Debi was the director of early learning services in the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) for the Departments of Education and Public Welfare in Pennsylvania. Her responsibilities included design, implementation and accountability for teams responsible for a variety of programs and initiatives.

These programs included Keystone STARS – QRIS, Family Support programs (NFP, MIECHV, EHS Grantee, PCHP), the state pre-K program, the state Head Start program and the Head Start State Collaboration Office. Debi also oversaw the PA Professional Development system, standards aligned systems (learning standards, etc.), the PELICAN data base system, program evaluation and research.

Debi also served as program director of SUM Child Development Inc. from 1978 to June 2005. She began a child care program that grew into a multi-site NAEYC Accredited early care and education program serving 800+ children from six weeks to 12 years. She also led a talented staff of 95+ at six early learning and 11school age sites while collaborating with Head Start and Early Intervention.

Assistant Director of State Services

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Carey McCann is the assistant director of state services for the BUILD Initiative. She supports state leaders to design and develop effective early childhood systems, set policy that guides implementation of services, and advocate for children birth to age five. Carey came to BUILD from more than 12 years at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, where she served as senior manager for the National Policy Team and led its consultation practice and peer learning with 18 states on early childhood policy and advocacy strategies.

Prior to her national work, Carey coordinated the Ounce’s Birth to Five Project, a statewide effort to identify system gaps and barriers, develop solutions, and link the many efforts that were already underway for children birth to five in Illinois. Carey developed expertise in social-emotional development and early childhood mental health policy. She advanced the mental health consultation model developed by the Early Childhood Committee of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, and managed implementation of the Assuring Better Child Health and Development Initiative with the Illinois Medicaid agency, which focused on primary health care’s role in developmental, social-emotional, and maternal depression screening. 

Carey started her career with six years in child welfare in Rochester, New York. She is a board member of the Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health. Carey has a B.A. in psychology from the University of Rochester, and a M.A. from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration with a concentration in policy and non-profit management, and a family support fellowship.

Special Projects
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Karen W. Ponder helps states develop comprehensive early childhood systems with state and local components.

Karen has been involved in all aspects of early care and education, as a teacher, preschool director, board member, teacher trainer and policymaker. She is the former president of Smart Start, which she helped to create. She worked for the North Carolina Division of Child Development, overseeing programs for children with special needs.

Karen has worked with 46 states in some area of early childhood. She has made presentations to seven state legislatures and the National Governors Association, and has testified before three U.S. Congressional Committees and the National Summit on America’s Children.

Karen is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the McCormick-Tribune Center for Early Childhood Leadership, the Frank Porter Graham Executive Leadership Board, and serves on the National Advisory Panel for the FirstSchool Initiative. She is a recipient of the James and Carolyn Hunt Early Childhood Award, and Governor Mike Easley conferred upon her the Order of the Longleaf Pine, the highest civilian honor in North Carolina.

Upon her retirement from Smart Start, the Karen W. Ponder Leadership Award was created and is given annually to a community early childhood leader. Karen graduated from North Carolina State University and completed studies at Anderson University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Aisha Ray is on the faculty of the Equity Leaders Action Network (ELAN) and is co-leading the project with Sherri Killins. Her BUILD work focuses on racial equity, teaching and learning and professional development. In addition, Aisha is part of the BUILD team working with the National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance. Aisha has taught at the Erikson Institute for 20+ years. She was named Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty on July 1, 2009. Her areas of research include cultural and situational contexts of child development, early childhood professional development, father-child relationships in urban communities, and early childhood services for immigrant children and families. She is currently leading a project with Barbara T. Bowman to understand and improve teacher preparation to successfully educate children of diverse cultural, linguistic, and economic backgrounds.  Dr. Ray also serves as a Senior Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania's National Center on Fathers and Families. She has previously held faculty or research appointments at DePaul University and the University of Chicago. In addition, she has served as a consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Chicago Public Schools, Council of Great City Schools, the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, National Center for Strategic Nonprofit Planning and Community Leadership, FirstSchool of the University of North Carolina, BUILD, Ounce of Prevention and Child Trends.

Ruth Trombka, Program ManagerEditor and Writer
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Ruth Trombka became the BUILD Initiative's in-house editor and writer in 2015. In addition to drafting various BUILD communication pieces and editing staff and consultant writing, Ruth maintains a blog calendar, which includes suggesting, writing, and collecting blogs to post on BUILD’s website. From 2009 to 2015, Ruth served as BUILD’s program manager. In this capacity, she played a role in grants management and contract oversight and also acted as liaison between BUILD’s fiscal sponsor and the initiative’s consultants, funders, and staff.

Prior to joining BUILD, Ruth was the director of the State Improvement Grant in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C. There she oversaw the implementation of K-12 reform efforts, supervised or presented workshops aimed at retooling teachers to address student behavior, promoting literacy instruction through strategies based on evidence-based practices, and engaging parents in their children’s education.

Before moving to Washington, D.C., Ruth was the manager of early intervention programs for preschool children with autism in New York City, where she was born and raised. She has a B.A. in Spanish literature and an M.S. in education from the City University of New York.

Special Projects
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Deborah Stahl manages a number of BUILD's special projects and learning community activities, including serving as technical assistance liaison for the New Jersey BUILD team. She also provides ongoing consultation and project support to the Early Childhood Funders' Collaborative, a national network of foundations supporting early learning initiatives.

Earlier Deb served as vice president of foundation programs and secretary of the Lucent Technologies Foundation. She was deputy to the foundation president and provided oversight for Lucent's $48 million annual giving programs. She led five foundation program areas, including early childhood education.

Deb also served as director of the AT&T Family Care Development Fund. She developed a path-breaking grants program, which invested $25 million during its first six years to support community-based child care and elder services available to AT&T employees across the United States.

She is a board member of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey. Deb graduated from Ball State University with a B.S. in psychology and journalism.

Research and Evaluation Partner
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Michelle Stover-Wright works with the BUILD Initiative through the Child and Family Policy Center. Her work with BUILD focuses on national evaluation efforts and working with the network of BUILD state evaluation partners.

At CFPC, Michelle is the director of research and advocacy where her work focuses on program and systems evaluation and early childhood and family policy work. She works closely with BUILD’s head of research and evaluation, Dr. Charles Bruner, who is also executive director of CFPC. Michelle has created a number of insightful briefs and reports on early care and education with Charlie and others.

Michelle received her B.A. in sociology with a concentration in women’s studies from Drake University and earned her M.S. in sociology from Iowa State University. She currently serves on several Iowa leadership councils including the Iowa Early Childhood Advisory Council’s Steering Committee, the Project Launch State Young Child Wellness Council, the Central Iowa ACEs Steering Committee. Michelle was recently appointed to the Iowa Department of Public Health's Maternal and Child Health Advisory Council.