Nicholas Banovetz, Executive Director
Nicholas serves as the Executive Director of the Better Way Foundation. His career has encompassed leading complex strategies and building relationships to advance the mission of an organization, including 15 years across the business, philanthropy, and nonprofit sectors. Prior to the Better Way Foundation, Nicholas served as Chief of Staff for Great MN Schools—a venture philanthropy network of foundations and funders that he helped incubate at The Minneapolis Foundation to dramatically improve K-12 systems and to ensure all children attend excellent and equitable schools. At Great MN Schools, he led strategic priorities, finance and operations, budget and reserves management, communications, policy, and coalition development.
Prior experiences also include Director of New Sites & Expansion for 50CAN—there, he aligned philanthropy and communities to create state organizations to advance equity across PreK-12 systems—and Deputy Director for MinnCAN. While at MinnCAN, Nicholas was a founding Executive Committee member of MinneMinds, the successful statewide Pre-K scholarship campaign that has helped thousands of children from low-income backgrounds access high-quality early education and care. Nicholas started his career as a Senior Account Executive, Investor Relations for Padilla.
Nicholas serves on the Board of Directors for Elevating Education MN and the Friends of the Boundary Waters Action Network. He has degrees from American University—a master’s degree in Public Communication and bachelor’s degrees in Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government. Nicholas, his wife, and their three children live in Mendota Heights, Minn.; he frequents Minnesota’s Arrowhead region (where he’s from), including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and is an avid runner.
Mercedes Plendl, Program Manager
Mercedes Plendl joined Better Way Foundation as the foundation administrator in 2014. Mercedes manages foundation administration, communications, evaluation and learning and the grants process. She serves as the contact person for operations in collaboration with GHR Foundation support staff. She is currently pursuing a Master in Public Policy degree at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota with a focus on non-profit leadership and management. Prior to joining Better Way, Mercedes worked in Uijeongbu, South Korea developing curriculum, supporting organizational administration and teaching at the Sogang Language Program. Plendl earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in German and Theater Arts from the University of Minnesota, during which time she worked and studied abroad in London and Berlin.
Board of Directors
Dr. Cary Buzzelli
Cary A. Buzzelli, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at Indiana University. He was a preschool teacher in the Child Development Laboratory Preschool at Purdue University where he taught children aged 2 ½ to 4 years of age and supervised student teachers. From 1986-1993 Cary was a faculty member in the School of Education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he taught courses in early childhood teacher education and supervised student teachers in K-4 classrooms. From 1993-2019 he taught at Indiana University, and served as Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction from 2004-2010. He became Professor Emeritus in 2019. Cary co-authored with Bill Johnston a number of articles and the book, The Moral Dimensions of Teaching (Routledge/Falmer, 2002). His recent publications examine the implications of the Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach for early childhood education. Two ideas central to Sen’s Capability Approach are, firstly, that individuals have the freedom “to choose the lives they value and have reason to value”, and secondly, the importance of engaging communities and individuals as full partners. By examining the implications of Sen’s ideas for early childhood education, his recent publications outline ways teachers can increase the engagement of children and families in children’s agency in learning, assessment and evaluations practices and curriculum development activities. He received a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Dayton, M.S. in Child Development and Family Studies from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education from Georgia State University.
Judy Rauenhorst Doerr
Judy Rauenhorst Doerr is the founder of Teach Me, Inc. the publisher of 55 award-winning titles teaching children ten foreign languages using stories and songs. Teach Me was founded on the principle that a child’s early exposure to new languages promotes a better understanding of our world. Titles include Teach Me Spanish Spiritual Songs and Buon Natale, Learning Songs & Traditions in Italian. Judy received her Bachelor of Arts in Humanistic Studies from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame and her Master of Arts in Journalism from Marquette University. In 2006 she completed the Mini-MBA in Family Business from St. Thomas University. She enjoys serving on many boards and association, spending time with her family at the cabin, riding her horse and reading books.
After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Beloit College in 1971 and her law degree from Marquette in 1975, Geske became the chief staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, where she worked until 1979. She was an assistant professor at Marquette University Law School from 1978–1981. Beginning in 1981, Geske served in the Milwaukee County circuit court for 12 years, until she was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1993. She won election to the court in 1994 and resigned from the bench in 1998. From February to May 2002, she served as the interim county executive for Milwaukee County, and from 2002–2003 she served as interim dean of the Marquette Law School.
Geske held the Association of Marquette University Women’s Chair in Humanistic Studies in 2000 and 2001 and was inducted into the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters. She is an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa. The Milwaukee Bar Association twice honored Geske with its Lawyer of the Year Award, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. She has received honorary degrees from Marquette University, Marian College in Fond du Lac, Wis., and Mount Mary College in Milwaukee. She was recognized as Marquette Law School’s Alumna of the Year and Marquette University’s Alumna of the Year. Other awards include: the Marquette University High School Spirit of St. Ignatius Award; Archdiocese of Milwaukee Vatican II Award in communication; St. Thomas More Lawyer’s Association Faithful Servant Award; Woman of Faith Award from the Sisters of the Divine Savior; FBI Director’s Community Award; Thurgood Marshall College Fund Legacy Award; American Inns of Court 7th Circuit Professionalism Award; St. Norbert College Ambassador of Peace Award; Professional Dimensions Sacajawea Award; Legal Aid Society’s Equal Justice Award; Woman of the Word Award from Milwaukee Cathedral Place; and Alumni Service Award from Beloit College.
Geske is a board member of the Marquette University and the Better Way Foundation. She previously served as chair of the Marquette University High School Board and on the boards of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Beloit College and the OPUS Prize Foundation.
Patrice Kunesh, of Standing Rock Lakota descent, is the founder and director of Peȟíŋ Haha Consulting, a social enterprise committed to building more engaged and powerful Native communities by expanding assets, fostering social and human capital, and pursuing economic equity through research and advocacy. Previously, Patrice established and led the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, an economic policy research initiative dedicated to Indian Country issues focused on housing, education, and financial institutions. She also has held appointments as the Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development at the US Department of Agriculture and as the Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs at the US Department of the Interior. In addition, she’s served as in-house counsel to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and on the faculty at the University of South Dakota School of Law. Patrice began her legal career at the Native American Rights Fund and recently returned to NARF as the development officer.
Pete Mahoney is a Relationship Manager at Clearwater Analytics in Boise, Idaho. Previously he was the co-founder at Arise Capital, a Portland, OR-based impact investment firm which develops and manages regionally-focused investment products to promote positive economic development. Prior to launching Arise Capital, Pete worked for Morley Capital/Principal Global Investors, a stable value investment management firm in Portland. Positions Pete held included fixed income trader as well as assistant portfolio manager. He also served as an operations and trade support analyst for UBS Investment Bank in London. Pete was a long-time director of Enkel Foundation, and served as its chair for three years. He currently serves on the GHR Foundation Board of Directors and Program and Results Committee. Pete also has been active with De La Salle North Catholic High School and previously served on the University of Portland National Alumni board. Pete earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Portland.
Taylor Mahoney is currently the Owner and Principal Designer for Tailored Design Studio, an interior design studio that works in residential and commercial design. Prior to working for Tailored Design Studio she worked for the Opus Group and Baker Associates as a Commercial Interior Designer. She received her Associate of Applied Science in interior design from the Art Institutes International Minnesota in 2011. Prior to that she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studied Consumer Science, Retail. She currently serves on the Enkel Foundation board and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and children.
Shamsia Ramadhan is a Kenyan national and has served as a program manager for Catholic Relief Services since 2013. Shamsia leads a multi-country program called the Capacity for Inter-Religious Community Action (CIRCA), funded by GHR Foundation. In this work, Shamsia designs, develops, and delivers training curricula for Catholic organizations and their Muslim community partners in numerous countries around Africa. Her expertise in capacity building for community-based organizations will bring fresh and creative new perspectives to our work in Tanzania. Shamsia serves on the board of directors of the Uppsala, Sweden-based Life & Peace Institute, for whom she worked in East Africa prior to joining CRS. Shamsia is Catholic-educated at all levels of her education. This includes earning her B.A. from Tangaza College (Catholic University of Eastern Africa), her M.A. in Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and she is currently working on a Ph.D. in Social Transformation at Tangaza University College.
Having worked for over 10 years in program efficacy in PK-12 education systems, Gia brings a great deal of passion and background knowledge with her about improving the lives of children wherever she goes. Most recently the Senior Data Analyst for the New Haven School District in Union City, California, Gia focused on building statistical analysis skills and knowledge of assessments while supporting several projects including conducting the data collection and analysis for both the $30 million Race to the Top District grant and a $3 million California Math & Science Partnership Grant. Prior to working for NHUSD, Gia worked at Gibson & Associates, an Oakland based consulting firm focused on the education sector. For G&A, Gia developed evaluation and training tools, provided evaluation services for several early literacy programs, and worked on a wide range of projects for school districts and education non-profits. She holds a Masters of Education degree (MEd.) from Marymount University in Arlington, VA as well as a Bachelor of Business Administration degree (BBA) from the University of Notre Dame. Gia has taught in two states and multiple grade levels, as well as volunteered for several years as a faith formation and catechism teacher at her parish. Gia previously served as a board member for the Better Way Foundation from 2004 – 2010 and 2012 – 2013, service which included chairing the domestic (education) committee.
Karen Rauenhorst serves as the Vice Chair of the Catholic Relief Services Foundation. She is the secretary of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. She is also a board member of the National Catholic Education Association and Aim Higher Foundation, which supports Catholic Schools needs in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Rauenhorst focuses much of her volunteer time on helping families and children access educational and health opportunities in their communities.
Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné) is Founder of First Light Education Project, a consulting collaborative built on Indigenous principles with a mission to strengthen historically undeserved educational communities across the United States. Starting as a Toddler 2 teacher, Tarajean has built her career as a teacher, researcher, and nonprofit leader, guiding numerous tribal and national projects that have contributed to strengthening systems of care and learning within tribal and immigrant educational communities, centering change efforts within families, local communities, and early childhood systems. With expertise in early childhood education, Native education, teaching and learning, and community-centered research, Tarajean also serves as Project Director of the Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative, a national initiative implemented in partnership with the Brazelton Touchpoints Center of Boston, MA.
Tarajean’s research has been featured at national conferences and published in journals focused on PreK-12 education. Her expertise is sought out by foundations, national associations, and committees such as the Spencer Foundation, the National Indian Education Association’s Native Educator Education and Development (NEED) subcommittee, and the Early Learning Systems Committee of the National Governing Board and the Developmentally Appropriate Practice/Diversity and Equity Workgroup of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Tarajean earned a doctorate in education (Ed.D.) from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, which honored her with the 2016 Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contributions to Education. In 2020, Tarajean was named the 2020 Brock Prize in Education Laureate, in recognition of her contributions to the field of education. Deepening her commitments to supporting educational communities and expanding her practice in education, Tarajean and her work with First Light Education Project is headquartered in Denver, Colorado,