Elissa Ellis Sangster
Elissa Sangster serves as Executive Director for the Forté Foundation and brings to the role extensive knowledge of issues affecting women’s abilities to seek, prepare for and attain business leadership positions, drawn from her prior experience as Assistant Dean and Director of the MBA Program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. There she oversaw all activities related to the full-time McCombs MBA program including marketing, admissions, student services, and alumni relations.
Elissa received her MBA and her B.A. in English from Texas A&M University, where she was the Assistant Director of the MBA Program until 1997. She is past Chair of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Annual Industry Conference and formerly served as chair of the MBA Student Services Professionals (MBA SSP). Elissa sits on the board of the Forté Foundation as an ex-officio member. Elissa enjoys reading, running, cooking, and Aggie football. She lives in San Antonio with her husband, Jeremy, and their daughter, Anna Leigh.
Vice President, Partnerships & Programs
"As a diversity practitioner, progress can seem painfully slow. Working for Forté has brought me closer to issues effecting the pipeline and it is empowering to see the impact one organization can make."
Denise has an extensive background in Human Resources with over 20 years experience in leading firms including Philip Morris (now Altria), Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank. For over 10 years, Denise has focused on Diversity and Inclusion, starting the first Diversity function at Citibank and managing Diversity in the Americas for Deutsche Bank. Her expertise includes developing and enhancing the effectiveness of Diversity programs and strategies, consulting with senior leaders to develop practical solutions to business issues, enhancing the effectiveness of employee resource groups, and implementing professional development programming for diverse populations. In addition, Denise has experience in HR Legal Compliance, Recruiting, Generalist and Employee Relations functions.
She has a J.D. from New York Law School and a B.S. from Pace University. She lives in Harding Township, New Jersey with her husband Steve and Bichon Frise, Maddie.
Vice President, Marketing & Operations
Mariska has 23 years of experience in marketing, management, programming, and business development with for-profit and non-profit organizations. Since 2001, Mariska has played a key role in the start-up and evolution of Forté. As Vice President of Marketing, Mariska drives growth in the areas of brand awareness, membership, engagement, and revenue support. In addition to marketing, Mariska served as Forté’s first Corporate Relations Director helping companies recruit top female talent, and has led the development of signature Forté programs including the Financial Services FAST Track program, MBALaunch and Rising Stars.
Prior to Forté, Mariska led the Women in Business Initiative at Michigan’s Ross School of Business and also worked for 5 years with two different direct marketing agencies. Additionally, Mariska was a consultant to a variety of organizations including Zehno Cross Media Communications, the Graduate Management Admissions Council, and the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University. Her consulting work included strategic marketing, business development, account management, program development, and speaker recruitment.
Mariska earned her B.A. degree from Boston College, lives in New Orleans with her husband and three children and is involved in a variety of philanthropic and community activities.
Vice President, Programs
Amy is the Vice President of Programs at Forté, a role in which she exercises her passion for inspiring people by introducing them to new ideas and deep networks. Amy is constantly finding new ways to leverage and extend Forté's current, extensive programming to provide additional impact on women in college, pre-MBA, MBA, and professional audiences.
Prior to Forté, Amy was the Director of Professional Education and Training at the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), managing a portfolio of onsite and online conferences, symposia and training events. Prior to that, Amy was the Director of the MBA Program Office and Student Services at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Throughout her career, Amy has also worked as an educational consultant, providing clients with program design and delivery, assessment and strategy input, and workshop facilitation and leadership program development.
Director, Corporate & Major Investors
Ana Duarte-McCarthy has more than 30 years of experience as a subject expert and thought leader, dedicated to fostering equality, respect and ensuring individuals can achieve their full potential. Most recently, Ana was managing director and chief diversity officer, Citi, from 2002 through 2016, and led the development and integration of Citi’s global workforce diversity strategy for hiring and developing diverse talent, fostering an inclusive work environment and ensuring management accountability. During her tenure as managing director and chief diversity officer at Citi, Ana established a framework of policy and practices that advanced the organization’s recognition as a top company for diversity and inclusion. Ana joined Citi in 1995 and held previous roles within global diversity.
Before coming to Citi, Ana held leadership positions within educational opportunity and higher education at Passaic County College and the new School for Social Research. Ana left the New School in 1994 when she joined Kidder, Peabody, Inc. as Assistant Vice President of Compliance and Diversity Programs. Ana received her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Lafayette College and a master of education degree in Counseling Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Among other recognitions, Ana has been named to Hispanic Business Magazine’s 25 Elite Women, was the YWCA of NYC’s Women of Influence and received Out & Equal Workplace Advocates’ Champion Award for her support and advocacy of workplace equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Ana currently resides in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, with her husband and daughter.
Director of School Relations
"The late Fred Rogers once said, "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." At Forté, we celebrate the fact that we work with the heroes who make it possible for us to achieve our mission and inspire/support women."
Laurie Stewart has over 20 years of admissions experience. Laurie was executive director of masters admissions at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School, where she spent many years in graduate admissions and student services. Laurie began her professional career in product engineering at General Motors. She holds an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University and later earned her MBA at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business before returning to GM and the automotive industry. An MBA project on marketing the b-school to women led to the opportunity to work for her alma mater and provided a catalyst for her career-long focus on inspiring women to earn their MBA and pursue business careers.
Laurie has served as a primary representative to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and as a Board Member for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. She has also enjoyed collaborating with many industry colleagues on various committees for Forté, the Consortium and GMAC over the years. She is into technology and gadgets, enjoys golf and divides her time between Florida and northern Michigan.
Associate Director, MBA and Professional Programs
"One of my favorite quotes is ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’ and I believe it so aptly describes the work we do at Forté. We help women to persist toward their goals despite the many obstacles, setbacks, barriers, and naysayers they may face."
Amber Acosta serves as the Associate Director for MBA and Professional Programs for the Forté Foundation and brings to the role an intense passion to serve students. She is specifically charged with building the community for the Forté Fellows, which includes over 1600 female MBAs from 51 sponsor schools throughout the globe. She has a passion for meeting students where they are and challenging them to exceed even their own expectations.
Amber received her master’s degree in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University in 2007. After completing her degree, she stayed in College Station and continued to serve students, including undergraduate and graduate students. She most recently served as the Associate Director for the Full-Time MBA Program at Mays Business School at Texas A&M. She now serves on the FTMBA Advisory Board for this same program. She also received her undergraduate degree in Communication from the University of Texas at El Paso, which is in her hometown. Amber now calls Austin home with her husband, Julian, and their 3 young children, Jillian, Alex, and Jacob.
Digital Marketing Manager
Dave Behr turned his love of telling stories into a career as a professional communicator. Over the last four years he has found a calling helping his community by working with nonprofit organizations to spread the word of their mission. As a nonprofit marketing professional, Dave has developed a love for website development, analytics, and the never ending search for the perfect email.
Dave graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Florida. After working in the newspaper industry for six years, the altruism of the nonprofit world compelled him to make a career change. Dave lives in Austin, TX with his wife Haley. He enjoys anything outdoors and active, playing with his dog Indy and working on his house.
Associate Director, Digital Marketing
"My favorite part of my role at Forté is interacting with our community. When women reach out to ask a question, share their accomplishments, or make a statement, I feel a sense of pride that Forté encouraged their career goals."
Bianca Bickford has over 20 years of experience in the technology and marketing spaces, where her combined knowledge makes her a savvy marketing technologist for non-profits. Bianca excels at aligning marketing technology with organizational goals. Bianca has a solid background in building social site presence, digital user experiences, membership (brand) strategies, and email marketing specialization. She enjoys spring cleaning CRM data and finding automation opportunities to increase team efficiency. Bianca was a finalist for the Dewey Winburne Community Service Award and is a member of the Leadership Austin Emerge class. She recently worked as a community manager and in annual giving at her alma mater.
Bianca has volunteered with organizations including Austin Free Net, Knowbility, Girlstart, and Animal Trustees of Austin. She served on the City of Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission. Bianca is proud to call herself a geek and can often be found hiding behind her desk from the Texas heat.
Program and Events Manager
Jamie Bratcher is an event professional with over ten years of event planning and management experience in both the nonprofit and for profit sector. Jamie is a logistical guru with an extensive background in coordinating projects, planning successful meetings and events, fundraising, donor recognition and the cultivation of events on a national and international level.
Prior to joining the Forté team, Jamie provided strategic development and programming of multiple meetings around healthcare industry conferences in both North America and Europe for one of the largest knowledge brokerage and primary research firms in the country.
Jamie is passionate about serving her community. She was a member of the Junior League of Austin for 6 years and served in a leadership role within the league for 4 of those years. She is now an active member of the Junior League of Collin County and is a member of the Prosper Ladies Association. She currently resides in Prosper, TX with her husband Scott and their children Brayden, Brody and Anndalyn. Jamie is proud to be a native Austinite.
Director, College and Pre-MBA Programs and Outreach
"I am thrilled to be part of an organization whose mission I connect with so deeply. I believe the work we do at Forté will help to provide information, access, and empowerment to women who may otherwise not reach their fullest potential. This support can change the business landscape not just now, but for future generations. Forté's motto is 'Inspiring Women Business Leaders.' I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do meaningful work that inspires me."
Krystal Brooks has nine years of MBA admissions experience cultivated in varying roles at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. Most recently as Director of Masters Admissions, she led all admissions marketing and outreach efforts including web site content and design, communication planning and CRM software implementation and management, and digital, print, and social media oversight. She has also taken lead roles in event planning, distance education admissions, and technology based initiatives. For many years, Krystal was the primary point for all women's recruitment activities, including the launch and planning of the Tepper School's first women's recruiting workshop and visit days specifically for promising pre-MBA women.
Krystal earned an MA in Student Affairs and Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Finance and Music from Lycoming College. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her husband Ryan, two children Hannah and Oliver, and overly active Shih Tzu Laney. She enjoys music and the arts and has been a member of several choirs in and around Pittsburgh.
Coordinator, College Programs
Nicole joined the Forté team in March of 2017, as a Coordinator, College Programs. She is passionate about working with students and empowering them to achieve their goals. Many mentors have helped her shape her journey to date, and she wants to do the same for others, especially young women.
Prior to Forté, Nicole worked in MBA Admissions at the Tepper School of Business. There, she enjoyed working as an advocate and lead for underrepresented minorities. Nicole holds an MBA and a BBA in Marketing from Radford University.
Originally from Harare, Zimbabwe. Nicole calls Northern Virginia and home with her husband, Brian. Spending time with family, cooking and checking out high end luxury car shows are some of her favorite things to do.
Associate Director, Event Marketing & Partnerships
Rebecca Dahl joins the Forté team with nearly a decade of marketing, communications, and operations experience focused on not-for-profit and education. Prior to joining Forté, Rebecca spent 7 years at Columbia Business School’s Marketing & Communications team, specializing in marketing and growing prospects for school’s Executive MBA programs. She also worked (and volunteered) for many years at HandCrafting Justice, a fair trade, not-for-profit organization focused on empowering women globally and lifting families out of poverty.
Rebecca graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communication from St. Bonaventure University. She is proud to call herself a DIY maven and has an unquenchable passion for dreaming big, learning new skills, and bringing new life to old treasures. Although a born-and-bred Buffalonian, she currently lives outside of Providence, RI with her husband and DIY partner-in-crime, Matthew, and their adorable — but loud — beagle, Buckley.
Email Marketing Specialist
Frank Dorval took his love of visual design and passion for marketing and set forth into his career in 2014. His journey started when he opened his own business in San Marcos, TX, eventually moving on to work in the e-commerce and tech industries; an insatiable need to learn allowed him to pick up the best parts of each endeavor. Frank took the opportunity to join Forté Foundation in June of 2018, realizing that his desire to help those around him aligned perfectly with Forté’s mission.
Frank lives in Austin, TX with his partner Joseph and their fur-baby Noodles. In his free time, he thoroughly enjoys camping, hiking, cooking and all things geeky! You’ll often find Frank out in the wild with a sketchbook where he records his thoughts, ideas and drawings of the observable world.
"Forté means working in for an incredible organization that promotes the best kind of girl power! Forté, I feel, is the vehicle that motivates, educates but most importantly empowers women to make the leap into pursuing an MBA. I have seen Forté provide invaluable information at our live and online events that contribute to women being confident and successful in a male-dominated business culture. Long story short — Forté rocks!"
Melissa Graham is a is a certified legal administrative assistant with over 12 years of experience. Prior to becoming a legal administrative assistant, Melissa was in a program that provided instruction on becoming an effective teacher for missionary-like work. Melissa continues to actively volunteer her time to help teach people the Bible.
Melissa spent 12 years at Westgate Pet & Bird Hospital where she provided direct administrative support to the Hospital Administrator, Hospital Director and four other physicians at a busy hospital.
Melissa, her husband William, their daughter Madison and several pets enjoy life in a small town outside of Austin, Texas. In their free time, they volunteer with a building committee in their region that helps to rebuild and build houses of those affected by natural disasters as well as Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls.
Associate Director, College Outreach
Michelle Lederhos joined the Forté Foundation in January 2016 as the Associate Director of College Outreach and Programs. Michelle is a Career Adviser and Relationship Manager who brings 10+ years of higher education experience to Forté, most recently as a member of the of the Babson College, Undergraduate Career Development team. Her expertise spans from undergrad career advising and program development to corporate relations and outreach. Michelle has a passion for college student success and sees value in cross-campus collaboration to effectively connect a community of students around a passion. She is MBTI® certified and aims to bring a thoughtful, inclusive, and entrepreneurial approach to everything she tackles.
Michelle earned an MA in Higher Education Administration and BA in Human Development and Elementary Education from Boston College. She resides just outside of Boston, MA with her husband and two children and loves to be surrounded by her family and friends.
Associate Director, Corporate Relations
"What excites me most is being a part of team that goes well beyond the Forté staff to include our sponsors, Fellows, members and other partners, who are all working towards the common goal of promoting women to succeed as leaders in business."
Veronica Lee maintains over seven years of diverse project management experience with exceptional multi-project management abilities and vendor and client relations expertise. Veronica is a logistics maven and analytical problem-solver with vast experience in project/program development and execution. Innately an initiative-taker with strong sales and customer-service credentials, Veronica has an entrepreneurial drive and a deep understanding for cultivating community.
Prior to working for Forté Foundation, Veronica was an Event Manager for the largest Association Management firm in Texas, CMP Management. With both local and national events for seven different clients under her direction, she was integral in ensuring that revenue, attendance and educational goals were consistently met or exceeded. Veronica is a graduate of the University of California at San Diego with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. A born and bred Californian, she now loves living in the quaint town of Dripping Springs, Texas with her husband Justin, son Gunnar and their two dogs, Daisy and Beau.
Corporate Relations Coordinator
"Working with Forte for many years I’ve had the privilege to meet many woman at our events who were contemplating business school and have now started or completed their MBA. Their heartfelt appreciation for the guidance they’ve received from Forte and our sponsors makes me proud of the work we do and happy to see our work impact the lives of these inspiring women."
Beth Lopez specializes in data management, provides technical support to Forte’s Job Center and assists the sponsor relations team in administrative support. Beth excels in the ever-changing non profit environment and is an avid learner.
Prior to working for Forté, Beth spent seven years at Executive Association Management Incorporated. She was the executive and publications assistant to seven local, state and national associations. Beth volunteers with her church giving bible lessons and is waiting for her first assignment to help with constructions of kingdom halls and homes afflicted by disasters.
Beth lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband Alex and enjoys baking, sewing, and hanging out with her little munchkin Gabe.
Program and Events Coordinator
"Someone once told me that a woman is a full circle – she has the power to create, nurture and transform. The Forté Foundation is certainly transforming the way women approach careers in business, and I'm thankful to be an integral part of this important process."
Kelli O'Donnell has been planning corporate events for the past five years and is excited to bring her organizational and management skills to the nonprofit sector. Before joining the Forté team, Kelli coordinated large and small-scale events for a major primary research firm focused on professional learning. She enjoys the ins and outs of planning each individual event and seeing the impact Forté events have on our members makes every small detail worth it.
Kelli is passionate about animals, routinely volunteering at the Austin Animal Center. She is also a member of Meeting Planners International. Outside of work, Kelli can be found running on Town Lake trail with her English Springer Spaniel Jackson.
Program Manager, College and Early Career Women
"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!"
A strong theme throughout Kelly Ogiba's professional experience has been empowering women, in both the academic setting, and in the workplace. First in the MBA Admissions Office at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business, then as Associate Director at UCLA Anderson School of Management, Kelly gained five years of experience, and traveled the world while doing so. As the primary contact for women applicants and women recruiting initiatives at UCLA Anderson, she became very passionate about inspiring women candidates, and supporting their success.
Kelly joined the Forté Foundation team in December of 2015, focusing on the MBALaunch Program and future MBA candidates. As the program grows she continues to advise the launchers, and develops strategy with the program partners. Kelly earned her Masters degree in Student Affairs and Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and prior to this, graduated with a BA from St. John Fisher College, where she studied Public Relations and Marketing. Originally from the east coast, Kelly lives in Seattle, Washington. As most do in the Pacific Northwest, she enjoys hiking and camping. In her free time she can be found at yoga, running, or traveling around to new countries (suggestions welcomed!).
Director, MBA and Professional Programs
"One of my favorite quotes is “Opportunities don’t happen, you create them.” At Forté, I believe we provide the resources to help women create their own opportunities and better their future."
Arrion brings more than 25 years of experience in graduate business education including university admissions, marketing and recruiting, student services, alumni relations, event and conference planning, and content development for live and online programming. Since 2007, Arrion has held a variety of programming roles with Forté from the infancy of college pipeline programming to the early days of forums and Financial Services FAST track. Today her focus is on MBA and professional women, delivering a variety of live and online programming for these audiences.
She was previously the Director of MBA Admissions at The Cox School of Business at SMU where she oversaw the marketing and recruiting for the full-time MBA program. Prior to that, she worked at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin in Graduate Alumni Relations and at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in MBA Student Services. Arrion is a co-founder and former chair of the MBA Student Services Professionals and has served on various Graduate Management Admissions Council program committees.
Arrion earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. She enjoys hiking, baking, movies, and genealogy with an emphasis on her European roots. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband Ben, their two children, Alex and Kaylee, and their havaton puppy Bandit.