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2021 Forté MBA Women's Leadership Conference
Featured Presenters

The conference brings you more than 100 speakers and presenters. In addition to our amazing featured presenters, speakers include MBA alumni, experts, and representatives of Forté partner companies and schools.

Cassie McLean

Group Vice President, Operations, DaVita
(MPA, New York University)

Mrs. McLean is a Group Vice President of Operations with Davita Kidney Care, an operating division of DaVita Inc, a Fortune 500 company. DaVita Kidney Care is a leading provider of kidney care in the United States, delivering dialysis services to patients with chronic kidney failure and end stage renal disease. DaVita Kidney Care operates or provides administrative services at close to 3000 outpatient dialysis centers located in the United States serving approximately 225,500 patients, representing ~$9B in net revenue. Mrs. McLean oversees operations and growth of clinics in the Southeast United States, a ~$1B service line. Prior to her work with DaVita, Mrs. McLean worked with Accenture Consulting focusing on revenue cycle improvement opportunities within the healthcare provider space. She also worked as a Hospital Administrator at New York University School of Medicine. Mrs. McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Colorado College and a Masters in Public Administration with a focus in healthcare finance from New York University.

Ciera Crawford

Group Regional Operations Director, DaVita
(MBA, Duke University – Fuqua School of Business)

Ciera began her career at DaVita as a Redwoods Summer Associate in 2017. After a great summer internship experience, she joined DaVita full-time via the Redwoods Resident program. As a Regional Operations Director she oversees the operations and growth of 12 DaVita facilities in the Atlanta and Northeast Georgia market.

Prior to joining the Village, Ciera was a human capital consultant within a Big Four consulting practice. Ciera received Bachelor degrees in Business Administration and Healthcare Management from the Ohio State University. She received her Master of Business Administration from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. In her free time Ciera enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and French Bulldog Pepé; exploring her new city of Atlanta; being active at Orangetheory and hot yoga; and growing her plant collection.

Elissa Sangster

CEO, Forté
(MBA, Texas A&M University)

Elissa Sangster serves as CEO of Forté 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. Before McCombs, Elissa was Assistant Director of the MBA Program at Texas A&M University’s Mays School of Business.

Elissa currently serves as Treasurer and Board Member for the Thirty Percent Coalition. She also sits on the Women’s Initiative Council of the CFP Board (Certified Financial Planning Board). She is past Chair of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Annual Industry Conference and formerly served as chair of MBA Student Services Professionals (MBA SSP). Elissa sits on the board of Forté as an ex-officio member. She enjoys reading, running, cooking, and Aggie football. She lives in San Antonio with her husband, Jeremy, and their daughter, Anna Leigh. Elissa received her MBA and her B.A. in English from Texas A&M University.

Chandra Holt

Executive Vice President, eCommerce, Walmart
(MBA, University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management)

Chandra Holt is the Executive Vice President, eCommerce. In this role, she is responsible for delivering a frictionless digital shopping experience for customers on

Previously, she oversaw the integration of our stores and eCommerce merchandising divisions during Walmart’s first omni merchandising integration as the eCommerce Chief Merchandising and Integration Officer for Chandra joined the team in 2020 after spending two years leading as its Chief Operating Officer. Before that, Chandra was SVP, GMM – Grocery, where she transformed a declining business into one of the fastest growing businesses at Sam’s Club.

She joined Sam’s Club in 2015 as Vice President of Proprietary Brands, where she led product development, global sourcing, quality assurance and packaging teams to elevate Sam’s Club private brand offerings. Chandra was named the 2017 Private Label Executive of the Year by Store Brands Magazine.

Prior to joining Sam’s Club, Chandra held various leadership roles in merchandising at Walgreens including DMM of Food. While at Walgreens, Chandra also led the first US “Red Nose Day” which raised $20M for charities around the world. Prior to working at Walgreens, Chandra spent ten years at Target in both merchandising and inventory management leadership roles. Chandra started her career at Campbell Mithun (McCann Worldwide), a marketing agency in Minneapolis, MN.

Chandra holds an MBA in Marketing and Strategy from Carlson School of Management. Chandra earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

Karen Williams

Chief Program Officer, Thrive Scholars
(MBA, University of California – Los Angeles – Anderson School of Management)

Karen Williams is a seasoned executive with diverse experience in both the private sector and social impact space. Karen currently serves as the Chief Program Officer for Thrive Scholars, where she leads the strategic positioning and delivery of the organization’s portfolio of College to Career Programs and Services. Prior to joining Thrive Scholars, Karen served as the Director of Rising Leader Professional Development at Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) where she led the design and delivery of career accelerating programs for the organizations 8000+ alumni. Prior to MLT Karen served as Executive Director for the UCLA Anderson School of Management Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports. In this role Karen led the strategic oversight, management, and implementation of fundraising, student events, industry conferences, and research initiatives.

Karen spent twenty years in the private sector holding senior marketing roles at industry leading companies including Disney-ABC, Warner Media, Hearst and Johnson & Johnson. Karen’s prior positions include Vice President, Sales and Marketing for Essence Magazine. At Essence, Karen launched a number of the brands top-tier programs – including the annual ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon and ESSENCE Black Women in Music Grammy salute. Karen also led the development and launch of Essence’s industry leading proprietary research studies including Smart Beauty, Smart Style, and Black Women Revealed. Prior to joining ESSENCE, Williams was the Vice President, Integrated Marketing for Disney-ABC Television Group’s ABC Family Cable Network. In that position, she managed ad sales promotional partnerships, trade marketing and sales development for the channel. Williams began her career in brand management, working at both Johnson & Johnson and Sara Lee.

Karen is on the advisory board of Women in Cable Telecommunication (WICT) Southern California and National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC). She served on the UCLA Anderson Alumni Board and was President of the UCLA Anderson African American Alumni Association. Williams graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and received her MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. She resides in Los Angeles.

Val Kaplan

Chief Marketing Officer, Headspace
(MBA, Harvard Business School)

Val is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Headspace, a global leader in mindfulness and meditation, where she leads a cross-functional marketing team with shared responsibility for acquisition, conversion, and retention. Joining the company in 2021, Val drives Headspace’s vision, strategies and the overall brand forward to achieve its powerful mission of improving the health and happiness of the world.

Prior to Headspace, Val was Vice President of Growth Marketing for Hulu, where she led marketing efforts across the full subscriber lifecycle, including media, acquisition, lifecycle, and product marketing. During her tenure, she helped drive record-breaking growth for the streamer, more than doubling their subscriber base in under 3 years. Before Hulu, she led growth efforts for both direct-to-consumer and media businesses. Val built the business development function at Helix Sleep, an e-commerce mattress company, and worked on monetization at Instagram. She also worked in a variety of sales and marketing positions at HBO to drive growth of their subscription businesses. Val holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a degree in Economics and Literature from Duke University.

Val lives in Los Angeles with her daughter where in her free time you will find her outdoors and on the beach as much as possible.

Nogie Udevbulu

Managing Director, Head of Investment Research – EII, BlackRock
(MBA, University of Virginia – Darden School of Business)

Nogie is the Head of ETF and Index Investment Research where she leads a team that delivers world-class index data and thought leadership to BlackRock’s portfolio management teams globally. Prior to joining BlackRock, Nogie was Global Head of Data & Innovation Markets Strategy at Bank of America where she oversaw the quantitative, index and markets strategies within the Global Banking and Markets division. Nogie and her team provided thought leadership on global markets to index providers, industry expertise to asset management firms and produced products and solutions that combined equity index and ETF knowledge with trade execution flow intelligence.

Nogie is a member of the Forté Board of Directors. She earned a BBA from Baruch College (City University of New York) and an MBA from the Darden School of Business at University of Virginia. Nogie currently resides in Long Island, New York. She is married and the mother of two children.

Sonnia Shields

Senior Vice President, Global Campus Recruiting & Program Management Executive, Bank of America

Sonnia Shields is the Global Campus Recruiting & Program Management Executive responsible for managing the enterprise-wide campus talent strategy across all lines of business for intern and full time programs, with a focus on campus talent attraction, identification, selection, integration and retention.

Sonnia joined Bank of America in November 2020, with over 19 years of experience in the financial services industry. Most recently, Sonnia was Managing Director, Global Head of Talent Development for the Asset & Wealth Management business at J.P. Morgan Chase, where she was responsible for the talent management, diversity & inclusion and professional development strategies, in addition to the management of the global analyst program. Prior to J.P. Morgan, she was Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at an international law firm, and Managing Director of the Leadership Institute at the Council of Urban Professionals (CUP). Prior to CUP, Sonnia spent over a decade at Goldman Sachs, most recently serving as the Americas Head of Targeted Pipeline Development within the Office of Global Leadership and Diversity. Previous roles at the firm include serving as the Head of Diversity Recruiting for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Global Manager of the Investment Banking Division new banker training programs. Before working in HR, Sonnia started her career as a campus program analyst in Investment Banking, providing her with firsthand experience of the campus process and lifecycle.

Outside of her corporate career, Sonnia has operated as an entrepreneur, previously serving as the co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of SoRen Tea, LLC, a luxury lifestyle brand she launched with her sister in 2011. In 2012, Black Enterprise Magazine named Sonnia to its list of “Top 40 Rising Stars Under 40.” Sonnia earned a B.S. in finance from Hampton University and resides in the Charlotte area with her husband and two children.