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 20 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 significant growth of the Forté Foundation. From 2003 to 2007 Mariska led Forté’s marketing efforts, creating and growing the organization’s brand equity. From there she shifted her attention to managing Forté Foundation’s corporate accounts, serving as the first Corporate Relations Director from 2007 to 2010, directing programs that would help recruit and retain top female talent. Mariska recently returned to Forté as Director of Marketing, overseeing a much bigger organization with over 56,000 members and 100 events annually.
Before returning to Forté, Mariska consulted with a variety of organizations including Zehno Cross Media Communications, a firm specializing in branding and marketing for colleges and universities as well as GMAC, the Graduate Management Admissions Council, and the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University. Her consulting services included strategic marketing, business development, account management, program development, and speaker recruitment. Mariska also consulted with Forté during the last 4 years, most notably to create and jump-start MBALaunch, a 10-month curriculum designed to help women get through the MBA application process.
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. 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.
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.
Digital Marketing Manager
"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 is a Microsoft Certified Professional with over 16 years of web technology experience and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese Language and Culture from The University of Texas at Austin. Her websites have been Notable Achievements at the Texas Interactive Media Awards and a finalist in SXSW Web Awards. Bianca was a finalist for the Dewey Winburne Community Service Award and is a member of the Leadership Austin Emerge class. Bianca specializes in non profits and enabling technology as a tool and not a hindrance. 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. Bianca served on the City of Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission. She is a dedicated Texan.
Program and Events Manager
Jamie Bratcher is an event professional with over eight 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 Meeting Planners International. She currently resides in Prosper, TX with her husband Scott and two boys, Brayden and Brody. Jamie is proud to be a native Austinite.
Associate Director, College and Early Career Women
"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.
"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. Michelle is a Career Adviser and Relationship Manager who brings 10+ years of higher education experience to Forté, most recently as an integral member of the of the Babson College, Undergraduate Career Development team. Her expertise spans from day to day college student advising and personal branding, to career program development and management including launching the Peer Career Ambassador program, to corporate relations and outreach. Michelle has a passion for college student success and sees value in cross-campus collaboration in an effort to connect a community of students around an area of interest while aiming to bring an inclusive, strategic, 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 lives just outside of Boston, MA with her husband, Matt and two young children Luke and Brooke and is surrounded by family and friends.
Corporate Relations Manager
"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 with online events and assists the Director of Corporate Relations in administrative and marketing 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.
As a strong advocate for organizations that empower women to reach their full potential, Lauren Marve has been putting her marketing skills to work in multiple nonprofits in the Nashville area.
Upon graduating from her Masters program at Vanderbilt University, Lauren worked as the Program Coordinator at Girls on the Run of Middle TN, leading their efforts in recruiting new program sites and volunteers to help girls unleash their limitless potential. Lauren volunteers as an emerging leader board member for charter school KIPP Nashville. In her spare time, she also enjoys running, kickboxing, baking, and trying new restaurants. Lauren lives in Nashville with her husband Chris and their dog, Ava.
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
A strong theme throughout Kelly Ogiba’s professional experience has been empowering women, in both the academic setting, and in the workplace. First at the Tepper School of Business, then most recently as Associate Director at UCLA Anderson School of Management, Kelly has grown her experience in MBA Admissions, and has traveled the world while doing so. As the primary contact for women applicants and women recruiting initiatives at UCLA Anderson, she become very passionate about inspiring women candidates, and supporting their success. Focusing on event planning and recruitment, Kelly enjoyed her time most when working alongside the Forté Foundation, and assisting the team to fulfill their mission.
Kelly joined the Forté Foundation team in December of 2015, as Program Manager, focusing on College and Early Career Women. She earned her Masters degree in Student Affairs and Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and graduated with a BA from St. John Fisher College, where she studied Public Relations and Marketing. Originally from the east coast, Kelly recently moved to Seattle, Washington. Not afraid of a little rain, she is looking forward to exploring the city and discovering the hiking trails. In her free time she also enjoys yoga, running, and attempting Pinterest crafts.
Associate Director, Student and Alumnae Relations
"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 20 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. 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 volunteers as the lead coordinator for the Math Pentathlon Team and annual Science Fair at Clayton Elementary School. She enjoys hiking, baking, movies, and genealogy with an emphasis on her European roots. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband Ben and their two children, Alex and Kaylee.