2023 Presenter Bios

Charlotte Alverson

Research Associate Professor, University of Oregon


Dr. Alverson is a research associate professor in the Secondary Special Education and Transition research unit in the College of Education, University of Oregon. She is a technical assistance provider for the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: the Collaborative (NTACT:C) and Director of Technical Assistance and Training for the Oregon Youth Transition Program. Prior to completing her PhD, Dr. Alverson taught students with moderate and severe disabilities for thirteen years.

Nessa Ankney

Student Artist, Washington State University


Nessa is from central Washington and is an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. Currently, she is a student attending Washington State University in their ROAR program, a residential, inclusive postsecondary education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Nessa has been drawing since she was young and has taken fine arts classes at WSU. As an illustrator, she has drawn in many different styles but most of her work is digital illustrations. She enjoys vibrant colors and whimsical characters.

Sam Blazina

Transition Services Program Manager, ESD 105


Sam is the Transition Services Program Manager at ESD 105. Sam completed her undergraduate degree in public health, and her master’s degree in special education at Central Washington University. Sam brings with her 25 years of experience in the fields of high school transition, vocational rehabilitation, state education mediation, public health, independent living, social service, and postsecondary academic and career counseling supporting youth with various abilities. As a parent of a young adult with a developmental disability, Sam understands how to navigate through systems and most effectively bridge them so that students can fully participate in the decision-making impacting their future.

Lauren Bruno

Assistant Professor of Special Education, Washington State University


Dr. Lauren Bruno is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Washington State University. Her work broadly focuses on improving transition outcomes for young adults with disabilities. She is focused on supporting and enhancing pre-service and in-service teachers’ use of evidence-based and high-leverage practices in secondary education settings. In addition, she enjoys supporting students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with their transition into postsecondary education programs.

Bri Durham

Director of Business Engagement and Programs, AJAC


Bri has over 20 years of experience in the private and nonprofit sectors, including manufacturing training, human resources compliance, workforce development, opportunity youth program development, and K-12 educational pipelines. Bri holds a bachelor’s degree in business and organization leadership from Northwest University and certificate in Developing Occupational Curriculum and Occupational Analysis (DACUM) from Ohio State University. Prior to coming to AJAC, she was a manufacturing teacher and program manager in Seattle at Pioneer Human Services, a social-enterprise in manufacturing firm that serves justice-involved individuals releasing from the system. She led numerous strategic planning and partnership building efforts to expand wrap-around services, pre-employment, and job opportunities for barriered youth and adult populations.

Cynthia Gale

Special Education Educator and Consultant, Issaquah School District


Dr. Gale has extensive experience in K-12 education, postsecondary education, and human resources, providing a unique understanding of the challenges and opportunities individuals with disabilities face as they transition to young adulthood. Dr. Gale has experience teaching diverse student populations with unique and varied needs and provides counsel to students and families on transition services and opportunities. Dr. Gale received her Doctorate of Education (EdD) in 2022 with a dissertation focused on factors that impact the graduation of students with disabilities in Washington state. Her research focuses on improving student outcomes through programmatic recommendations to educational leaders.

Nick Harris

Regional Transition Consultant, Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation


Nick Harris is a Regional Transition Consultant for Washington State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. He’s worked for DVR for 11 years, and in a variety of roles throughout his career including as a job coach, caregiver, licensed mental health counselor associate, vocational rehabilitation counselor, and rehabilitation technician. His previous work experience primarily centered around working with students and youth transitioning from school to the adult workforce. A lifelong Washingtonian, Nick has worked in multiple offices and regions within Washington state. In his spare time, he can be found working on his hobby farm in Bellingham, Washington.

Cinda Johnson

Principal Investigator, Center for Change in Transition Services


Cinda Johnson, Ed.D., is Professor Emerita at Seattle University and the principal investigator for the Center for Change in Transition Services. She is a national leader in the area of transition from high school to post-high for young people with disabilities. She has a particular interest and passion for supporting children, adolescents, and young people with mental health conditions to ensure that they are provided the best opportunity to be successful after leaving high school. She is the co-author of Perfect Chaos: A Daughter’s Journey with Bipolar, A Mother’s Struggle to Save Her (St. Martin’s Press, 2012).

Katie Leppanen

Special Education Teacher, Granite Falls High School


Katie is a Special Education teacher at Granite Falls High School. She’s worked for 15 years in education as a Special Education teacher, with the last 10 years focused on high school and transition. She also holds a certificate in Employment Development.

Elaine Marcinek

Co-Investigator/Director, Center for Change in Transition Services


Elaine attended the University of Washington, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in business. She also holds an MBA and has spent the majority of her career in proprietary education, with opportunities to work in financial aid, operations, and as Campus Director. Her passions include sailing, spending time with her family, and being creative in the kitchen.

Tania May

Assistant Superintendent of Special Education, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction 


Dr. Tania May is focused on collaborating with schools, community partners, families, and students in support of improved outcomes for students with disabilities in Washington. Tania has been with OSPI since 2014, and her teaching experiences include elementary inclusive practices, high school co-teaching, multilingual supports for students with disabilities, and behavioral supports in non-public agencies. She also has a deep, personal connection to special education as the parent of an autistic teenager.

Beth Mills

Director of Student Services, Granite Falls School District


Beth is the Director of Student Services in Granite Falls School District. She’s worked for over 30 years in education, most of that time dedicated to special education, with significant focus on high school and transition.

Monique Patel

Community Transition Program Teacher/Work-Based Learning Coordinator, University Place School District


Monique Patel is the Community Transition Program teacher in the University Place School District. She is certificated in Special Education and Career and Technical Education. She previously worked as a secondary special education teacher in Tacoma Public Schools and Denver Public Schools. She has served as a department chair, PLC leader, BEST Mentor, and in district level advisory roles. Monique is passionate about postsecondary transition, inclusion, community partnerships, and culturally responsive family engagement. Monique completed her Master of Science in Education in Special Education and Graduate Certificate in Secondary Special Education and Transition at the University of Kansas.

Chris Pierson

Director of Operations and Funding, AJAC


Chris has over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, including workforce development, philanthropy, youth development, and education. Chris holds a master’s degree of public administration from the University of Washington, and a Bachelor of Arts in history from Ohio University. Prior to coming to AJAC, he was the Program Manager at SkillUp Washington, a workforce funder collaborative at the Seattle Foundation, where he led numerous strategic planning and partnership building efforts to expand economic opportunities in the Puget Sound region for low-income communities and provide opportunities for youth in the manufacturing, aviation, and retail industries.

Marcus Poppen

Assistant Professor of Special Education, Washington State University


Dr. Marcus Poppen is an Associate Professor of Special Education at Washington State University. His work is focused on supporting positive postsecondary outcomes for young adults with disabilities through the implementation of evidence-based transition services and supports. He is particularly passionate about school and Vocational Rehabilitation collaboration, and the ways that schools and local VR agencies are ensuring the coordination and delivery of pre-employment transition services to improve transition outcomes for youth and young adults.

Nora Sehnert

Resource Room Teacher, Yakama Nation Tribal School


Nora Sehnert is a mother of four kids: Kelsey, 22; Karen, 21; Chad, 7; and Abigail, 5. She was born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. She is bilingual, speaks, reads, and writes in both Spanish and English languages. Nora’s son was diagnosed with autism and ADHD when he was three years old. She worked for the Yakima School District for six years as a substitute paraeducator and one year as a substitute teacher. Currently, Nora works with the Yakama Nation Tribal School as the resource room teacher.

Anya Sheftel

Research Assistant Professor, Washington State University


Dr. Anya Sheftel is a Research Assistant Professor in Special Education at Washington State University, and a motivational interviewing practitioner and trainer. Dr. Sheftel is a member of the WSU Washington Transition Program leadership team. In this capacity she is supporting the availability, accessibility, and coordination of pre-employment transition services in Washington and is serving as a technical assistance provider for a high school in Eastern Washington. Dr. Sheftel also designed a career development intervention (Motivational Enhancement Group Intervention; MEGI) that is currently being used in Oregon and Washington as a pre-employment transition service, focused on self-advocacy. Additionally, as a licensed psychologist, Dr. Sheftel has worked with youth with disabilities in educational and community settings. Throughout her experiences as a mental health provider and a researcher, Dr. Sheftel remains passionate about centering youths’ voice in transition planning processes and using culturally sustaining practices to support self-determination of youth with disabilities.

Jay Shepherd

Director of Digital Content and Accessibility, Center for Change in Transition Services

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Jay Shepherd is the Director of Digital Content and Accessibility with the Center for Change in Transition Services. Jay joined the CCTS team in 2016 and values the continued opportunities to learn from and support educators and administrators throughout Washington. At CCTS, Jay draws on over 15 years of experience in the arts, education, and nonprofit worlds to deepen their understanding and implementation of accessible design practices. Jay has a graduate degree in arts administration and an undergraduate degree in elementary education. Previous work experiences include: Marketing Director, Theater at Monmouth and Outreach Programs Coordinator, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Julia Shoots

Project Coordinator, Center for Change in Transition Services


Julia comes to CCTS with a background in Communications and Psychology, after obtaining her Bachelor of Arts degree at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is enthusiastic and passionate about serving students who experience mental health needs in an evolving virtual world. Throughout her college career and beyond, she has contributed to technical and informational operations that support educators to include and empower youth. Behind the scenes, her personal passions include boating, hiking, cooking, reading, animals, and plant-caretaking.

Alexandra Toney

Special Education Program Supervisor, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction


Alexandra Toney is a Special Education Program Supervisor for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), supporting students with disabilities, families, educators, and systems. Her work experience includes being a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and supporting regional transitional care programs as a Program Manager. Alexandra is passionate about supporting equity and inclusion as well as aligning systems to support student outcomes and readiness for their postsecondary goals.

Holly Whittenburg

Assistant Professor of Special Education, Washington State University


Dr. Whittenburg is an assistant professor of special education at Washington State University and the co-director of the Washington Transition Program. Her research focuses on interventions to improve employment outcomes for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the impacts of vocational rehabilitation and special education policy on the transition of youth with disabilities from school to employment.

Erin Williams

Regional Program Manager, AJAC


Erin has over ten years of nonprofit experience including global healthcare, economic development, and Washington state policy. She earned her degree in Communications and Public Relations from the University of San Francisco. After teaching 4th grade in an orphanage in Ghana for a year, she returned to the workforce with a continued passion in helping others. Prior to AJAC, Erin was the Membership and Events Manager for Washington Business Alliance. During this time, Erin focused on advocating for Career and Technical Education and promoting Career Pathways for Washington state trades. She joined AJAC in 2017 as a Business Developer and was promoted to Regional Program Manager in 2021. Erin primarily covers the North Sound region extending to Skagit and Whatcom counties.