GWBPC PLS, Mt. Vernon, VA. National Archives, Washington, DC. Photo by Grant MIller

The Presidential Leadership Scholars program serves as a catalyst for a diverse network of leaders brought together to collaborate and make a difference in the world. As we reflect on the drastic change this year brought to all of our lives, we are proud to highlight some of the Scholars who continued to pave the way and lead in these uncertain times. Their accomplishments this year are a testament to their ability to affect lasting, positive change.

Meet a few of the scholars who made a difference this year.

Daniel Anello, Class of 2015: Advocating for Chicago’s students and their families

As the CEO of Kids First Chicago, Daniel Anello is working to improve public education on Chicago’s South and West Sides. Since 2015, he has supported parent-led and data-informed change to create a new system of school options for families and created better ways to measure progress for the students of Chicago.

This year, Daniel has continued to raise awareness for students’ most pressing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic through his work to close the digital equity gap for families across the region. Many students were required to participate in remote learning programs this year, and the need for expanded internet access was critical. In June, Daniel and Kids First Chicago joined partner organizations and the City of Chicago to launch Chicago Connected, a program that provides no-cost, high-speed internet service to Chicago Public School students in their households.

Lisa Atherton, Class of 2017: Combating the nationwide shortages of Personal Protective Equipment

At the helm of one of largest defense contractors in the country is Presidential Leadership Scholar Lisa Atherton. As the president and CEO of Textron Systems, she works to provide innovative solutions to the defense, aerospace, and general aviation markets. Under Lisa’s leadership, Textron Systems has been supporting COVID-19 response efforts across the country. To combat the nationwide shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies, the company has donated masks and other essential supplies to frontline workers.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Textron Systems employees have volunteered to help the Johns Hopkins Health System make face shields, PPE packs, and more for their hospitals across the United States.

Byron Sanders, Class of 2017: Closing the opportunity gap with high-quality education programs

Byron Sanders was inspired during PLS to leave his job in finance and devote his time to helping close the opportunity gap for youth in communities throughout Dallas, Texas. In his current role as president and CEO of Big Thought, he works with partner organizations to equip children in marginalized communities with the skills and tools they need through in-school, after-school, and community-partnership experiences.

His work has been recognized across the state and the country. This year, Byron was featured on the Dallas 500 – a list of the most influential leaders and top executives in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Renée DiResta, Class of 2017: Raising awareness about the spread of misinformation online

Renée DiResta is a leading expert on the effects of misinformation. She works with policymakers to devise responses to the spread of harmful narratives across social networks. Renée regularly writes and speaks about the role that tech platforms and algorithms play in the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

This year, Renée has helped raise awareness about the harmful narratives surrounding topics like the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the 2020 presidential election.

Dr. Pritesh Ghandi, Class of 2018: On the frontlines of COVID-19 care and prevention

On the frontlines of the country’s response to COVID-19 are our doctors and essential workers. Dr. Pritesh Ghandi remained steadfast in his commitment to care for the East Austin community. Throughout his career, he’s focused on community-based, poverty-reduction initiatives, and social determinants of health – all areas that were underscored by the impact of the pandemic.

The care and compassion that he displays as a doctor carried over in his run for election to the U.S. House to represent Texas’ 10th Congressional District.

Vivian Greentree, Class of 2019: Leadership with an eye towards inclusion

Vivian Greentree is a Navy veteran and the current senior vice president and head of Global Corporate Citizenship at Fiserv, a financial technology company. She leads the diversity and inclusion efforts at the company, working closely its veterans, women, Black, Latino, and LGBTQ members. When the COVID-19 threatened the security of small businesses, with a disproportionate impact on minority- and black-owned businesses, Vivian and the Fiserv team mobilized to provide grants to those at risk. She also ensured that Fiserv’s employees felt supported by soliciting their feedback and encouraging constant communication between associates.

Nona Jones, Class of 2016: Supporting faith leaders during a time of great uncertainty

As Facebook’s Head of Global Faith-Based Partnerships, Nona Jones helps faith leaders around the world leverage technology to grow their communities online. As many churches began virtual service because of enforced social distancing, Nona helped to launch the Faith on Facebook Resource Hub, a toolkit for faith leaders to connect with their communities during the pandemic.

This year, Nona began the “Faith and Prejudice” initiative, an effort to confront and eliminate racism in churches and throughout their communities. She organized this movement shortly after the killing of George Floyd to help heal the racial divide in the country.

Russ Kavalhuna, Class of 2016: Sending Michigan’s essential workers to college

Thanks to the work of Russ Kavalhuna, Eastern Michigan University, and Henry Ford College, many of Michigan’s essential workers who worked during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown are eligible for a tuition-free path to a degree. The “Future for Frontliners” program offers scholarships to essential workers without an associate or bachelor’s degree to earn one at no cost. As the president of Henry Ford College, Russ works closely with students and staff to build better futures through strong academic and workforce training programs.

Roya Mahboob, Class of 2019: Empowering women to design solutions for challenges posed by COVID-19

Throughout her career, Roya Mahboob has worked to build digital literacy for women and children in developing countries, and to bridge the gap between education and job markets by offering practical skills for women, increasing women’s technological literacy, and providing employment and educational opportunities for girls and children.

This year, Roya organized a series of projects that brought together a group of five girls from Afghanistan, aged 14 to 17, who designed and built emergency ventilators.

Daron Roberts, Class of 2015: On the importance of activism and empathy

As a former NFL coach and founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at the University of Texas at Austin, Daron Roberts is a leading voice in sports and advocacy. He used his expertise this year to raise awareness about the response to social injustice movements across sports organizations, the effects of COVID-19 on the future of sports, and the importance of activism. Daron’s book, A Kid’s Book About Empathy, is featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things holiday list.

Kristin Judge, Class of 2017: Giving a voice to the victims of cybercrime

Kristin Judge works to support consumers and small businesses affected by cybercrime in her role at the Cybercrime Support Network. As the founder and CEO, she works with federal, state, and local law enforcement, victim service organizations, and the private sector to create a national referral source for these victims. As a leading voice in the space, Kristin’s insights on the rise of cybercrime this year were shared at an event hosted by the World Economic Forum.

Marta Michelle Colon, Class of 2017: Combating the opioid epidemic

Marta Michelle Colon’s nonprofit, Be Gutsy, is a program designed to educate the Latinx community about the dangers of misusing opioids. Her team establishes tools to mitigate opioid misuse through local partnerships, mentorship opportunities, and healthcare programs. Marta was selected as a 2020 L’Oréal Women of Worth, an award honoring women who are leading non-profit organizations that are making a difference in their communities.

Sam Newman, Class of 2018: Increasing access to fresh food

Sam Newman and the Little Red Box Grocery team are providing access to affordable fresh food and pantry items for all residents of Galveston, TX. The store opened this year and offers shoppers the opportunity to order groceries online and pick them up curbside – an important feature that so many have relied on during the pandemic. Sam’s goal is to eradicate food deserts and increase access to fresh, healthy foods. 

Samuel Newman

Class of 2018

Food, Agriculture and Nutrition

With professional experience forged in politics, government, and the private and nonprofit sectors, Sam Newman has led teams and initiatives ranging from business planning and organizational expansion to international procurement and market development, to brand management and consumer research. He also comes from a line of restaurateurs dating back over a century, which has instilled in him a passion for food as it relates to culture and health and the impact that it can have on families and communities.

During PLS, Newman focused his efforts on how to effectively scale Brighter Bites, a nonprofit organization that delivers fresh produce and nutritional education into the hands, homes, and minds of the kids and families we serve, with the ultimate goal of ending childhood obesity.

Marta Michelle Colon

Class of 2017

Human and Social Services

Marta Michelle Colon is developing Gradum, a re-entry platform for Latinas. Gradum drives entrepreneurship in technology and social innovation through education and mentoring, which increases financial, emotional, and social possibilities and helps eradicate ineffective lifestyles and cycles of poverty.

Daron Roberts

Class of 2015


About His Project

Captains Academy trains high school varsity captains in critical leadership skills. The program, jointly crafted by Daron Roberts and Austin Independent School District, will provide leadership training to 140 captains during the fall of 2015. This training addresses the lack of consistent development programs in the areas of effective communications, human intelligence and decision-making for high school student-athletes. To date, AISD and the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation have signed a memorandum of understanding that will enable participants to undergo three days of training in September 2015. The program will scale up to include two additional districts in 2016.

Nona Jones

Class of 2016

Technology and Information

PACE Center for Girls provides critical academic and therapeutic interventions to girls experiencing failure in school due to underlying trauma, including sexual violence, family instability, poverty and more. PACE has provided a gender-responsive, trauma-informed and strengths-based environment that has helped 37,000 girls across Florida turn pain into triumph since 1985.

Due to the success of the organization, Nona Jones is leading its first cross-state expansion into Georgia and expanding its national reach as a policy leader on what works for marginalized girls.

Roya Mahboob

Class of 2019

Roya Mahboob is an entrepreneur and the CEO and President of Digital Citizen Fund, Bright Citizen (Coffee & Tea), and EdyEdy. Her primary goal through this work is to build digital literacy for women and children in developing countries, and to bridge the gap between education and job markets by offering practical skills for women, increasing women’s technological literacy, and providing employment and educational opportunities for girls and children in evolving countries like Afghanistan.

During PLS, Mahboob developed the curriculum and structure for the first school of STEM in Afghanistan. She also began building and equipping a top technology (STEAM) high-school and innovation center for Afghan students from the ages of fourteen to seventeen in Kabul, Mazar, Jalalabad, and Kandahar.

Daniel Anello

Class of 2015


About His Project

Today, Chicago’s poor children go to schools that are not preparing them for college, career, or life, and every day the discussion about education is focused on adult interests rather than the success of children. Through his role as Chief Executive Officer of New Schools for Chicago, Daniel Anello is creating a platform for parents and students to make school quality so resonant that decision-makers are compelled to support education policy that prioritizes the interests of children rather than the adults.

These efforts will ensure that more of Chicago’s poor children have an opportunity to go on to college and successful careers.

Lisa Atherton

Class of 2017

Military & Veteran’s Organizations

Lisa Atherton is working to eradicate homelessness among veterans in the city of Fort Worth, Texas through a coordination of efforts between nonprofit and defense-industry employees to service their physical, emotional, and employment needs. This effort will provide veterans a path forward, but also create a sustainable model to prevent homelessness among veterans going forward.

Byron Sanders

Class of 2017


Byron Sanders helped create Family University, a two-generation early childhood program that empowers families with young children to foster the highest quality early childhood experience in the impoverished community of South Dallas, Texas. This program will connect parents and caregivers to resources that address the barriers of concentrated poverty, thereby increasing kindergarten readiness in this underserved community.

Renee DiResta

Class of 2017

Technology and Information

Renee DiResta is working on mitigating the increasing prevalence of disinformation campaigns and computational propaganda on social networks. She works with teams of researchers and partner organizations to help legislators and tech companies understand the impact of these campaigns on policy and politics.

Pritesh Gandhi

Class of 2018

Health Care

Although trained as a general internist and pediatrician, Pritesh Gandhi has spent much of his career focused on population health and developing innovative programs that reduce poverty and address health inequities.

During PLS, Gandhi led a multidisciplinary team that developed a social determinants of health screening tool. Once adopted city-wide, the data from this tool will be accessible in real-time, uncovering geographic “hot-spots” of both community assets and obstacles. This program will lead to timely and focused community-based initiatives in identified neighborhoods of need.

Vivian Greentree

Class of 2019

Vivian Greentree is a passionate Navy veteran and military spouse with nearly two decades of leadership experience across public, non-profit, and private sectors. As an advisor for strategic philanthropic and community engagement, she is a champion of community and employee engagement, dedicated to creating positive spaces for citizens to thrive.

During PLS, Greentree focused on empowering Employee Resource Group leaders from across the private sector to connect and equip themselves with the resources, networks, and best practices they need to ensure all workplaces are open, inclusive, and encourage a sense of belonging.

Russ Kavalhuna

Class of 2016


Under Russ Kavalhuna’s leadership, Western Michigan University’s Flight School is developing a web-based safety reporting system that allows inexperienced pilots to anonymously report safety concerns, including their own mistakes, without fear of retribution, allowing the entire pilot community to learn from similarly situated student pilots while helping administrators identify vulnerabilities and craft responsive safety policies.

Kristin Judge

Class of 2017

Technology and Information

Kristin Judge founded the Cybercrime Support Network and is working with federal, state, and local law enforcement, victim service organizations, and the private sector to create a national referral source for cybercrime victims. Utilizing the existing United Way Worldwide National 211 system, the Cybercrime Support Network will bring together resources for victims so they can be served in a coordinated manner by calling one simple number.