Our Team



Laura & John Arnold

Co-chairs

Headshot of ArnoldsLaura and John established the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2008. They believe philanthropy should be transformational and should seek through innovation to solve persistent problems in society. As co-founders, Laura and John actively engage in the organization’s overall direction and daily execution. Laura is an attorney and a former oil company executive. John is an investor. They have three children and reside in Houston, Texas.



Matt Alsdorf, J.D.

Director of Criminal Justice

Headshot of Matt AlsdorfMatt is an experienced attorney who comes to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation from Jenner & Block LLP, where he represented both victims and defendants in federal white-collar criminal cases and litigated multiple high-profile cases of financial fraud. Matt also led the trial team that secured the largest arbitration award in the history of the Financial Institution Regulatory Authority. While working at J&B, Matt taught criminal procedure at Fordham Law School and served as a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, where he supervised students’ clinical work. During law school, Matt also developed and taught a Yale College seminar on constitutional law. Matt served as a law clerk for Judge Denise Cote of the United States District Court in Manhattan. Before becoming a lawyer, Matt worked as a journalist, covering political stories such as the 2000 Democratic and Republican Conventions. Matt holds degrees from Williams College and Yale Law School.


Cali Apodaca

Administrative Assistant & Receptionist

Headshot of Cali ApodacaCali provides administrative support and assistance with special projects. She has worked with several nonprofit groups, including a Houston-based foster care and adoption agency, where she helped recruit and train foster parents, and a community development organization in Bogota, Colombia. Most recently, she served as the executive assistant at an organization that is working to promote economic development through the expansion of affordable housing options for working families. Cali is currently pursuing a degree in Journalism.


Elizabeth Banks

Controller & Grant Manager

Headshot of Elizabeth BanksBeth is a certified public accountant with experience in budgeting, general accounting, and internal audit in the private sector. Prior to joining the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Beth worked as a Financial Analyst III at an energy company where she was responsible for a wide range of financial management matters with a national organizational scope. Beth also worked as a Manager at Ernst & Young, LLP (E&Y). During her time at E&Y, Beth led internal audits and control reviews at several Fortune 500 companies. Beth was also an active participant in the E&Y People Advisory Council, E&Y Women's Advisory Group, and E&Y sponsored volunteer activities such as Junior Achievement and United Way. Beth holds a B.S. and M.S. in Accounting from Louisiana State University and is a C.P.A. with the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.


Virginia Bersch

Deputy Director of National Implementation, Criminal Justice

Headshot of Virginia BerschVirginia helps manage the nationwide rollout of the Foundation’s pretrial risk assessment, the PSA-Court, as well as other tools and reforms developed by the Criminal Justice team. Prior to joining the Foundation, she spent nine years developing innovative, data-driven approaches to improving government systems. As chief of policy, research, and training at the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention, Virginia led teams of policy, legal, research, and information technology experts in the implementation of new laws impacting public safety. With a focus on law enforcement, justice information systems, forensic sciences, and domestic violence, Virginia managed multi-agency efforts to integrate systems in a streamlined effort to reduce violent crime. She spearheaded an anti-human trafficking initiative within the Maryland Governor’s Office that is mobilizing state government agencies to formalize response protocols in partnership with law enforcement and victim service providers. In addition, she managed the rollout of Maryland Safe Streets, an offender-based model now being replicated at the national level, to facilitate collaboration, information sharing, and risk-based decision-making in local criminal justice systems. Virginia also implemented a number of initiatives for the city of Baltimore during her tenure as an assistant coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods. Virginia graduated summa cum laude from Boston University with a degree in English and Film Production.


Lesley Briones, J.D.

Chief Operating Officer & General Counsel

Headshot of Lesley BrionesLesley is responsible for managing the Foundation’s day-to-day operations and overseeing its legal matters. Before joining the Foundation, Lesley was an attorney at Vinson & Elkins, LLP, where her practice primarily focused on tax-exempt organizations. Before becoming a lawyer, Lesley taught at-risk public high school and middle school students in her hometown of Laredo, Texas, on the United States-Mexico border. Lesley holds degrees from Yale Law School and Harvard University.  Lesley currently is a Director of the Texas Lyceum and serves on the Loan Committee of the Evalee C. Schwarz Charitable Trust for Education and the Advisory Board for the Bi-National Center for Research, Education, Leadership and Public Service at Texas A&M International University.


Stuart Buck, J.D. & Ph.D.

Vice President of Research Integrity

Headshot of Stuart BuckStuart is an attorney and research expert with a background in education policy. Prior to joining the Foundation, he was a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow and Research Associate in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.
Stuart has written and co-written numerous scholarly articles on subjects such as teacher merit pay, the impact of vouchers on racial balance, special education scholarships, and an experimental evaluation of teacher risk averseness. His work has appeared in scholarly journals such as the Harvard Law Review, Education Next, Phi Delta Kappan, and Review of Public Personnel Administration. Stuart has testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and has been a panelist at major academic conferences, including the Association for Education Finance and Policy, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance. He is the author of a Yale University Press book on education in the African-American community, Acting White, and has given several lectures around the country for the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession.
Stuart holds a Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Arkansas, where he studied econometrics, statistics, and program evaluation; a J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review; and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music performance from the University of Georgia.


Denis Calabrese

President

Headshot of Denis CalabreseDenis Calabrese leads the Laura and John Arnold Foundation by employing strategic entrepreneurial philanthropy to address some of society’s most complex and urgent challenges. In his career as a public policy expert and strategic communications advisor, Mr. Calabrese founded and led a national consulting firm, advising clients ranging from Fortune 500 businesses, international law firms, professional associations, and prominent individuals including federal elected officials and CEOs. He began his professional career as the Chief-of-Staff for a United States Congressman. Mr. Calabrese is also an entrepreneur with multiple successful business startups to his credit. He is a graduate of Rice University (Economics and Political Science) and has taught a course on policy and political communications at his alma mater.


Asa Craig

Education Research and Policy Analyst

Headshot of Asa CraigAsa is a research and policy analyst for the Foundation’s Education initiative. Prior to joining the Foundation, he worked as Development Associate for Community Relations for an international nonprofit organization in New York City where he specialized in communications and public outreach. Asa holds a degree in Government and Africana Studies from Cornell University, where he served as the only undergraduate student on Cornell University’s Board of Trustees. As an undergraduate, Asa was recognized as a Cornell Urban Scholars Fellow and interned in the Policy Department of the New York City Office of the Public Advocate where his primary responsibility was evaluating public transportation. He was also a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at Princeton University.


Tim Dierks

Senior Director, Technology & Innovation, Criminal Justice

Headshot of Tim DierksTim is enabling positive, transformational change in the criminal justice system by developing solutions that leverage data, software, and other powerful technology. He joins the Foundation with extensive experience in the technology industry as a software engineer and manager. Most recently, he worked at AOL and managed the technology teams that delivered the company’s media content, including the Huffington Post. Prior to that, Tim spent seven years at Google. He led teams and built products used by hundreds of millions of people in Google’s e-commerce business, TV and print advertising, content syndication, and internal software for security recruiting. Tim also helped to establish security standards for the Web. He was the Chief Technology Officer at Certicom, which commercially developed elliptic curve cryptography, a process for encoding and decoding online information. Tim began his career working on operating systems at Apple. He has five U.S. patents and holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.


Danielle Durbin

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Communications Associate

Danielle is an award-winning writer and an experienced project manager. Prior to joining the Foundation, she served as a city public information officer in central Texas, where she acted as a liaison to the media and developed and managed internal and external communications campaigns for a variety of platforms, including print, the Web, television, and social media. Danielle directed emergency communications during high-level, breaking events; provided editorial guidance; and supervised city programs, committees, and special projects. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Texas at Austin.


Elena Farah, Ph.D.

Director of Sustainable Public Finance

Elena is a public policy expert and a political scientist who specializes in the fiscal sustainability of public institutions. Prior to joining the Foundation, she was a Senior Fellow at the Hobby Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston. While serving in that role, she led the effort to create a public pension sustainability practice to help cities and states address challenges associated with their pension debt. She has also worked as a public finance analyst with Moody’s Investors Service in New York, where she assessed long-term credit strength for a portfolio of 300 municipalities. Elena has a proven track record of engaging the public, government officials, financial advisors, industry analysts, and the investor community, and she has written extensively about the nation’s pension problems.

Elena has a Ph.D. in political science and an M.A. in political science from the University of Houston, as well as a master’s of public affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and an M.A. in eastern European studies from the University of Texas at Austin.


Erica Gersowitz, J.D.

Criminal Justice Manager

/sites/default/files/images/Erica%20Gersowitz.jpgErica is an attorney experienced in complex legal, regulatory and policy issues. Prior to joining the Foundation, Erica practiced at Kaye Scholer LLP, where she represented individuals and companies in federal and state criminal investigations, developed corporate compliance programs for Fortune 500 companies, and represented a New York State Senate special investigative committee. She also served as a staff member to the New York Attorney General’s Criminal Justice Transition Team. Before law school, she was a grant writer at the Exploratorium museum, in San Francisco, California. Erica holds a J.D. from Fordham University, where she was a member of the Stein Scholars Program for Public Interest, and a B.A. in History from Wesleyan University.


Rachele Grieco

New York Office Manager

/sites/default/files/images/RGrieco.jpgRachele manages the day-to-day operations of the Foundation’s New York office. She previously worked  as an office manager and an executive assistant at an investment bank that specializes in technology mergers and acquisitions. Rachele holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Georgian Court College and a master’s degree from The General Theological Seminary. She actively volunteers with several nonprofit organizations in New York City.  


Sam Mar

Venture Development Manager

Headshot of Sam Mar

Sam helps manage the Foundation’s Venture Development portfolio and works to analyze high-leverage philanthropic opportunities in emerging areas of strategic interest. Prior to joining the Foundation, he held various positions globally in technology consulting, banking, private equity, and product innovation. Sam has been actively involved in the entrepreneurial community as a startup founder, advisor, and institutional investor. He began his career as a consultant with IBM implementing enterprise software solutions for Fortune 500 clients. Most recently, he led a product development team for an international media company launching a mobile application for the consumer and small-business markets. Sam graduated with an MBA from IE Business School in Madrid, Spain and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Texas at Austin.


Emily Magid

Manager of Criminal Justice Communications and Special Projects

Headshot of Emily Magid

Emily helps manage communications and special projects for the Foundation’s Criminal Justice initiative. She joins the Foundation after working in the financial services industry, where she designed and managed leadership development programs at Morgan Stanley. In that role, Emily also assisted with the development of strategic communications for the firm’s senior leadership and internal audiences. Her interest in criminal justice stems from a graduate internship at the Robin Hood Foundation that involved analyzing workforce development models serving formerly incarcerated individuals. Emily has held leadership positions with a number of New York-based and international nonprofit organizations. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brandeis University.


Josh B. McGee, Ph.D.

Vice President of Public Accountability

Headshot of Josh McGeeJosh is an economist and public policy expert. Prior to joining the Foundation, he was a Doctoral Fellow and Research Associate in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. He currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Rice University where he teaches in the Summer Institute for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program at the Jones Graduate School of Business. In addition to his experiences in academia, Josh brings multi-dimensional entrepreneurial and business skills to the Foundation, having spent some of his early career as a charter school administrator and engineering consultant. Josh has produced high quality, policy relevant research spanning a number of important areas, including public pension cost and labor market effects and K-12 education policy. His work has appeared in scholarly journals such as Education Finance and Policy and Education Next. He has presented his work at several major academic conferences such as the meetings of the American Economic Association, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, the Association for Education Finance and Policy, and the American Statistical Association. Josh has also worked actively to shape public policy. While at the University of Arkansas, he provided expert testimony and policy advice in several states on the topics of K-12 education policy and public pension reform. During his tenure with the Foundation, Josh has focused primarily on addressing the public pension crisis by educating the public and policymakers throughout the country about the nature and size of the problem as well as potential structural reforms that would create a pension system that is comprehensive, sustainable, and fair. Josh holds a B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Arkansas.


Anne Milgram, J.D.

Vice President of Criminal Justice

Headshot of Anne MilgramPrior to joining the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Anne served as New Jersey’s Attorney General where she headed the 9,000-person Department of Law and Public Safety. As New Jersey’s chief law enforcement officer, she oversaw hundreds of prosecutors and approximately 30,000 law enforcement officers. Anne implemented a statewide program to improve public safety through prevention of crime, law enforcement reform, and re-entry initiatives. Anne also served as a member of the United States’ Attorney General’s Executive Working Group on Criminal Justice and as a co-chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Criminal Law Committee. Prior to becoming Attorney General, Anne served as First Assistant Attorney General and, before that, was Counsel to a United States Senator. Anne also previously served as a federal prosecutor in the Criminal Section of the United States Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, prosecuting complex international sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude, and hate crimes cases. In 2004, Anne became the lead federal prosecutor in the country for human trafficking crimes. Anne was also awarded the United States Department of Justice Special Commendation for Outstanding Service and the United States Department of Justice Director’s Award. Anne began her prosecution career as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. She graduated summa cum laude from Rutgers and holds a masters of philosophy degree in social and political theory from the University of Cambridge in England. She received her law degree from New York University School of Law and clerked for United States District Court Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton, New Jersey from 1996 to 1997. In addition to her work with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Anne serves as a Senior Fellow at the NYU Law School Center on the Administration of Criminal Law and teaches a seminar course on Human Trafficking at the Law School. Anne is also a member of the Covenant House International Board of Directors.


Rebecca Neusteter, Ph.D.

Director of Criminal Justice

/sites/default/files/images/Rebecca%20Nuesteter.jpgRebecca is an experienced researcher and practitioner in the field of criminal justice. Rebecca has worked with numerous units of local and state government, assisting jurisdictions in understanding their criminal justice populations and implementing measures to enhance public safety and increase efficiency. Prior to joining the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Rebecca held a variety of positions, including Research Associate for the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, Director of Criminal Justice Programs for The Doe Fund, Senior Analyst for the New York City Office of Management and Budget, and Deputy Director of Planning for the Center for Employment Opportunities. In these positions, Rebecca implemented, managed, and evaluated various programs designed to improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. While at the Urban Institute, Rebecca worked with local government leaders and policymakers to implement justice reinvestment and transition from jail to community strategies, as well as conducted research on behalf of the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and National Institute of Corrections. Rebecca holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from John Jay College of the Graduate Center CUNY, an M.S. in Urban Policy Analysis and Management from the Milano Graduate School of the New School University, and a B.A. in Sociology from Chapman University.


Megan O'Flaherty

Executive Assistant

Megan O'Flaherty

Megan provides administrative support for LJAF’s Co-Chairs. She previously worked as a business development coordinator at an international corporate law firm, where she prepared proposals, coordinated events, and helped manage marketing initiatives. She has held a variety of positions in the legal field over the past five years and has served as the project manager for a number of high-profile conferences. Megan graduated from Sam Houston State University. She has a degree in Political Science and served as the president of the Political Science Junior Fellows, a civic organization that promotes public service, education, and professionalism.


Justine Palacios, J.D.

Special Projects Associate

Justine provides grant development and management support to LJAF’s Public Accountability department and assists other initiative areas with research, communications, and compliance projects. She received her J.D. from Tulane University Law School, where she specialized in international and comparative Law. During law school, she worked for entities such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New Orleans Immigration Court, and The Bronx Defenders, where she developed her knowledge of and interest in public policy and public interest law. Before law school, Justine worked as a Development & Communications Associate at Fifth Avenue Committee in Brooklyn. She holds a B.A. in International Studies and in Spanish from Kenyon College. As part of her undergraduate and law school education, Justine studied in Spain, Chile, Argentina, and Denmark.


Kim Plemel

Office and Grant Management Associate

Headshot of Kim Plemel

Kim helps manage the Foundation’s grants, contracts, and special projects. She has experience conducting research and analyzing data related to political trends and partisan affiliations. Prior to joining the Foundation, she served as a research assistant in the Political Science department at Stanford University, where she earned her master’s degree. She received her bachelor’s degree and graduated with honors in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame.


Kelli Rhee

Director of Venture Development

/sites/default/files/images/KRhee.jpgKelli Rhee is responsible for identifying and pursuing new, high-leverage philanthropic opportunities for the Foundation. In addition, Kelli manages certain current charitable investments and prospective projects for the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Prior to joining the Foundation, she served in numerous strategic and entrepreneurial roles in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.  Kelli began her career as a management consultant with Bain & Company and The Bridgespan Group.  After graduate school, she worked in both entrepreneurial and venture capital settings as an operational leader, strategic investor, and advisor. Most recently, Kelli was a part of a team that developed the business plan for and raised the funds to open a new academic medical center for Baylor College of Medicine. Kelli holds a Master of Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a Master of Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Northwestern University.


Karla Sainz

Public Accountability Manager

Headshot of Karla SainzKarla is a research and policy analyst for the Foundation’s public accountability initiative. Prior to joining the Foundation, she provided research and outreach support as the graduate intern for the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) where she advocated for legislative change in Pennsylvania. Karla was also recognized as a Fels Public Policy Challenge finalist for her proposal on improving the walkability of Philadelphia for senior citizens. Prior to working with PICC, Karla was an integral part of the management team of The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia. She spearheaded projects such as strategic planning, board relations, staff and volunteer recruitment, grant writing, and outreach. During the 2010 Census and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, she helped coordinate a campaign to engage the Latino community. Karla holds a liberal arts degree from Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, Venezuela and an M.S. in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania.


Esther Tricoche

Education Program Manager

/sites/default/files/images/Esther%20Tricoche.jpgPrior to joining the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Esther worked as a policy researcher for a Fortune 500 company focusing on international human rights and corporate sustainable development. She also served as a cultural affairs policy researcher through a partnership with the Houston Mayor's Office and is a former member of a Rice University research team that focused on memory and cognition in relation to learning. As a Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans National Scholar, community volunteer, and speaker for at-risk students, Esther brings deep passion to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to transform the United States’ public education system. Esther holds a degree in Cognitive Science from Rice University, with a concentration in Neuroscience.


Leila Walsh

Director of Communications

Headshot of Leila WalshLeila is a former journalist with experience producing award-winning television reports, leading complex multimedia campaigns, and developing internal and external communications strategies. Prior to joining the Foundation, she was a senior manager in the Office of Communications at one of the largest school districts in the country. Leila served as the project manager for some of the district's largest communications initiatives and provided editorial direction across multiple platforms, including the Web, print, television, and social media. Leila began her career as a radio and television news reporter and spent 13 years reporting in San Antonio, Texas, and upstate New York. She graduated cum laude from Syracuse University with a degree in Political Science and Broadcast Journalism.


Joanna Weiss

Director of Criminal Justice

Headshot of Joanna Weiss

Joanna is an experienced attorney and project manager who joins the Foundation after a varied career in New York City government, where she held legal, operational, and policy roles. Joanna worked in the Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator improving efficiency, transparency, and fairness in administrative courts. She also served as the Chief Program Officer for the City’s Business Integrity Commission and oversaw the implementation of the City’s first agency-wide cloud-based data management system. Prior to that, she worked in the Office of the Mayor as the Executive Director of the New Business Acceleration Team, a group dedicated to simplifying and accelerating the process of opening a new business in New York City. Joanna began her career in the New York City Law Department and served as a Senior Counsel representing the City in 9/11-related litigation and policy decisions. She holds a J.D. from the George Washington University Law School, an M.A. from the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, and a B.A. in Political Science from Bryn Mawr College.


Michelle Welch

Public Accountability Research & Policy Manager

Michelle is a research and public policy expert who specializes in topics related to financial stability. She joins the Foundation after serving as a Senior Research Assistant at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., where she conducted rigorous research and policy analysis on the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery. As one of the first members of the Office of Financial Stability and Policy, a newly created department with the purpose of implementing Dodd-Frank regulations, Michelle was part of the team that modeled and evaluated bank stress tests and developed the framework for designation of systemically important non-bank financial institutions. She also pursued research on topics such as the impact of rising student loan debt on the broader economy and the ability of macro-models to forecast bank balance sheets.

Michelle received a master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in economics from Duke University, where she was a James B. Duke Fellow. She graduated cum laude with a B.A. in economics and a minor in mathematics from Trinity University.