The Walking Classroom Board of Directors
- Ms. Rani Dasi (Board Chair) currently serves as Chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. She also serves as a board member of the Public School Foundation and the Family Success Alliance. Rani has more than twenty years of experience in corporate finance and strategy. She earned an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering and Management Science from Northwestern University and an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Chicago.
- Ms. Karen Curtin is President of the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library, and a member of the Board Audit Committee for Carolina Friends School. She was previously Director and Non-Executive Board Chair of Electro Rent Corporation, a Los Angeles-based public company acquired by investment firm Platinum Equity in 2016. From 1998 through 2002, she served as Executive Vice President for Bank of America in Chicago, responsible for Midwest commercial banking activities. Prior to that she served as Division Manager of Bank of America’s Leasing and Transportation Divisions.
- Ms. Deepika Gandhi is a marketer and an entrepreneur focused on enabling technology in business. With her most recent start-up, Marque360, her team helps businesses digitally transform and modernize their business model through creation of Web and Mobile Apps. In addition to app creation, Marque360 provides their clients with go-to market strategies and change management techniques for successful usage and monetizing return on investment. Prior to this, she founded and ran another tech start-up (Vibrant Fusion), which was acquired in April of 2016. Before focusing her career on start-ups, Deepika spent most of her corporate life at Microsoft focused on sales and marketing of a portfolio of products along the East Coast.
- Mr. David (Dave) Halstead has over 40 years of experience in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. He currently serves on the board of Industrial Steel Corporation, a fabricator of steel bridges, in Gary, Indiana. Dave spent 25 years in investment banking before entering private equity in 2001, serving as a Managing Partner with a middle market size firm until his retirement in 2009. A graduate of Cortland College with a BA in economics, Dave holds an MBA from Cornell University in finance and accounting.
- Mr. Chris Harris currently serves as Customer Success Manager, Principal at Blackbaud, Inc. Immediately prior to joining Blackbaud in March 2007, he served as Director of Major Gifts for the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School for over three years. He has a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill, an MEd from the University of Virginia, and an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
- Mr. Brian Jenkins is a technology entrepreneur who has founded several startups and spent over 20 years with innovative, VC-backed high-tech companies in Silicon Valley before returning to North Carolina in 2013. Brian is currently the founder and CEO of Auger Labs and was previously with SkyPilot (acquired by Trilliant), Turnstone (IPO), and Whitetree (acquired by Ascend). Since returning to NC, Brian has won an NC IDEA award for tech innovation, was accepted to The Startup Factory incubator, has been involved with Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, was an advisor to The Iron Yard code academy, and was involved with the Groundwork Labs startup accelerator. Brian earned a double major from Duke in computer science and electrical engineering and an MBA from UC Berkeley.
- Ms. Rachel Mandell is currently Vice President and General Counsel at KBI Biopharma, Inc. She has over twenty years of experience as a transactional lawyer in private practice and as in-house counsel, advising companies on corporate governance, strategic transactions, and operational issues in a variety of industries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Duke University and a juris doctor from the University of Maryland.
- Ms. Erin McElligott currently works as a business consultant creating growth strategies and tactical plans for small businesses and start-ups. Prior to this, she served as the director of donor relations and the executive director of corporate and foundation relations at UNC Kenan Flagler where she was responsible for donor satisfaction and raising funds by matching corporate interests with academic needs. Prior to joining the nonprofit world, Erin began her career at Deloitte Consulting where she focused on project management, process improvement, and change management. She holds an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler.
- Mr. Joseph Tarica has 30 years of professional experience in various industries, including the steel, energy, manufacturing, and semiconductor industries. Joe started his career performing failure analysis for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. For the last 15 years he has concentrated on Supply Chain Management and currently serves as Senior Director for Cree, Inc. in Durham, NC. Joe earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Metallurgical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
The Walking Classroom Staff
- Laura Fenn
Chief Executive Officer (although Laura prefers “Chief Enthusiasm Officer!”)
“When I was in fourth grade, we had recess twice a day. I remember the morning recess being particularly rambunctious, and Jeff Barnes and his crew regularly set me as their target during games of Chase. Well, one morning I had just had it with Jeff and his antics, but I let the game of Chase begin per usual. As Jeff approached me full-throttle, I turned around, grabbed both of his arms, and used the momentum between us as launching energy. We spun in a circle a few times and then I released him. He soared almost as high as my spirit, and from that day forward, we only played Chase when I wanted to. Unstructured recess teaches many life-lessons. Today Jeff is happily married and the father of 4 children. I like to think I taught him at an early age the importance of respecting women.”
- Natalie Dekle
“My first foray into organized physical activity (in the spring between fourth and fifth grade), was not particularly positive. Even my memory of it is painful. I managed to slam a finger or two in a car door the first day and spent the entire practice focusing on my throbbing and (at least in my imagination) soon-to-be-deformed digits. I stuck it out (striking out at nearly every at bat!) through nine long weeks. For that and other reasons, including a pathetic lack of hand-eye coordination and yet-to-be diagnosed near-sightedness, I never returned to the sport. Instead, I decided that a far better past-time was tucking myself in a cozy nook among the branches of the sturdy maple tree alongside our driveway, hidden from the view of others, whiling away an hour or two with a good book—preferably something with a spunky female protagonist through whom I could vicariously experience all kinds of adventures. That summer spent digesting the details of my literary pals’ pursuits empowered me somehow, and by the time fifth grade rolled around, I confidently ventured down from my nest and proudly rode around the neighborhood on the best birthday present a ten-year old in the 1970’s could get—a brand new spider bike with a banana seat—reliving my favorite characters’ adventures and imagining some of my own. These solitary rides kept my brain moving as much as they did my feet; they energized me and made me feel capable of amazing things. My fifth grade favorites—my books and my bike—provided me with lifelong memories, as they took me to new places, allowed for novel (pun intended!) experiences, and taught me about myself and the world around me. Clearly, physical activity awakens our minds, opening them wide so we can learn!”
- Debra Ives
“There is a widely held belief at The Walking Classroom that I started shopping for business attire starting in fifth grade! Budgets and spreadsheets were nowhere on my radar screen back then… I was a tomboy! I loved kickball, tag, bicycling, badminton, swimming in the ocean, and running. Now we call this unstructured play, but I called it fun… especially if I could beat my brothers. I was pretty fearless and anxious to try new things! Later in life, this made it possible for me to make all kinds of adventurous decisions about life. Who knew fifth grade was so important?!”
- Carolyn Kern
“In 4th and 5th grades, the highlight of my day was recess!! We had the opportunity to be part of an organized group game or have free time. I always chose the group activity my favorite being kickball. Teams were usually chosen by a “school-yard pick,” and most of the time I was chosen towards the beginning. I LOVED being thought of as one of the better girl players. I have always enjoyed being part of a team and being active.”
- Lee Ann Obringer
“When I was in fifth grade, my best friend and I wrote a play. It was a satire based on some current crime drama on TV like Baretta or Columbo. We titled it “This Is an Up-Stick” (we were so clever), and we even added commercial breaks between scenes. Our fabulous 5th grade teachers, we had three, agreed to let us put the play on for the entire school. It was a huge success, particularly the commercials, which were for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hai Karate aftershave, and Oscar Mayer Bologna (the commercial that taught us all how to spell bologna). Not only did our teachers agree to let us take time out of class to do it, they also brought in KFC and bologna for the commercials (no Hai Karate, too dangerous). Writing and then directing the play, we learned a lot of things that we probably wouldn’t have touched on in the classroom. We were very lucky to have teachers who understood the value of learning from doing!”