Meet the 2018 Oklahoma Fellows
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Owner/Operator, Courier Wizard LLC
James Rowe Connaughton was born in Oklahoma City in 1979 to devoted parents Cynthia Louise Rowe Connaughton (Wilmington, Delaware native) and James Anthony Connaughton (Fort Smith, Arkansas native). James Rowe Connaughton worked in his youth for the Connaughton Landscaping company, a small business ran by his father and mother. Connaughton Landscaping worked under contract for the Veterans Administration in the lawn management of repossessed houses across the State of Oklahoma. This experience informed James the younger of the value of and need for hard work and cooperation among team members. James learned about leadership by watching his parents train and work with various lawn care professionals and clients throughout the years. James became further interested in business and employee management watching his father's career develop in the airline industry at Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines developed and blossomed as an employee-centric organization during the industry deregulation.
After studying small business in action, James attended the University of Oklahoma to expand his world perspective and knowledge of the opportunities that exist in the art community of Oklahoma. James was offered a position upon graduation at the Norman, Oklahoma bronze foundry, the Crucible. At the Crucible, James was taught bronze statue production by national industry leaders and given the opportunity to work on the Oklahoma Land Run monument. During this time, James was blessed with the birth of his first son and found employment as a manager at Norman's favorite classic car themed restaurant, the Service Station. James managed the kitchen at the Service Station for seven years. He then became inspired to start his own medical courier service after a family member was diagnosed with cancer. This was the beginning of James's current company, Courier Wizard LLC. During the seven years James grew his courier service he realized the gap in his business knowledge was too great to successfully expand the company to employ the number of Oklahomans he had originally hoped. Seeking more knowledge and mentorship, James enrolled in the MBA program at Mid-America Christian University.
Government Affairs Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma
Anna Facci received her Master of Science in Sociology from Oklahoma State University in 2014, where she focused her research on identity, social movements, and social media. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Sociology and Political Science from Oklahoma State University.
An activist and advocate with over 10 years of experience, Anna has been involved in numerous protest groups, social organizations, and political campaigns focused on restoring and ensuring justice and equality for all Oklahomans. Passionate about matching her personal convictions and her professional work, Anna currently serves as the Government Affairs Director for the Council on American Islamic Relations Oklahoma.
In her position as Government Affairs Director, Anna represents the interests of the Oklahoma Muslim community as a legislative advocate. Anna actively works to build network and coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding to support policies that promote civil rights, diversity, and freedom of religion, and oppose policies that perpetuate inequality, permit racial, ethnic or religious profiling, or prevent Muslims and others from fully participating in American civic life. Previously the Operations and Events Coordinator for CAIR-OK, Anna has organized events for thousands of individuals in the Oklahoma Muslim and broader interfaith communities. She has been at the head of organizing events such as Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol, Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium, Oklahoma Muslim Gamechangers, and CAIR-OK’s Annual Ramadan Iftar.
Prior to joining the CAIR-OK team, Anna worked as an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University and Program Manager for Women Lead Oklahoma, an OKC-based nonprofit that encourages women to find leadership roles within their communities.
Physical Therapy Assistant-Staff Therapist, Valir PACE
Chaunte’ Gilmore is a 36-year-old transplant Oklahoma native from Ft. Worth, Texas. Ms. Gilmore majored in athletic training at Oklahoma State University and is currently is pursuing her masters of business administration at Mid-American Christian University. Professionally Ms. Gilmore is a physical therapy assistant at Valir PACE, a nonprofit organization for the underprivileged geriatric community in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, she active in her church, her sorority, and other community civic organizations. She prides herself on being a servant leader born to uplift and make her community better. Her life motto and how she has chosen to live her life is a quote by Deepak C. "I am here to SERVE. I am here to INSPIRE. I am here to LOVE. I am here to live my TRUTH."
Program Director, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Lani Habrock is the KIDS COUNT Director and Advocacy Coordinator at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. She had a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from The King’s College in New York City. She enjoys Netflix, running, and rabblerousing on social media. You can listen to her host Oklahoma’s KIDS COUNT podcast.
Tobacco Use Prevention Program Coordinator, Oklahoma State Dept. of Health - Center for the Advancement of Wellness
Chantel Hartman currently serves as the Tobacco Use Prevention Program Coordinator for the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s (OSDH) Center for the Advancement of Wellness in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a content expert in tobacco control best practices, she provides technical assistance to agency partners and assists in the coordination of collaborative tobacco prevention initiatives. She is also responsible for leading the Project C.H.A.T. (Combatting Heavy Advertisement of Tobacco) statewide tobacco retailer and point-of-sale assessment initiative, which focuses on collecting data to illustrate licensed tobacco retailers proximity to at-risk communities and vulnerable populations. This initiative aims to prevent youth initiation and increase cessation through policy and environmental interventions that revolutionize how tobacco products are sold and marketed in Oklahoma’s retail environment. Chantel is the recipient of the OSDH Community Service Award, was selected to participate in the CDC Office on Smoking and Health’s Leadership & Sustainability School (Class of 2016), and recently completed the Oklahoma Public Health Leadership Institute.
Prior to joining OSDH, Chantel was a National Diversity Inclusion Program intern with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Clinical Public Health and Office of Health Equity in Washington, D.C. During her time with the agency, she worked on HIV/AIDS and influenza virus prevention health education material development, waitlist quality improvement projects reports, coordinating the final phase of HIV Care Continuum Quality Improvement projects, and creating the Veterans Health Administration: Health Equity Summary to highlight health disparities and health equity issues impacting the health care outcomes of vulnerable Veteran populations. Chantel’s other public health experience includes serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with a substance abuse prevention nonprofit organization in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama and coordinating the Alabama Department of Public Health’s inaugural statewide Men’s Health Symposium/Road to High Quality Healthcare conference, which led to recognition as a Emerge Montgomery River Region Young Professional of the Year finalist.
Chantel earned a master's degree in public administration, with a concentration in public health administration, from Troy University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Auburn University – Montgomery. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the American Public Health Association, and the Association of Certified Nonprofit Professionals. Her areas of interest include improving health literacy in low-income communities and communities of color, addressing health equity issues, and learning how to advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Child Welfare Assistant III, Oklahoma Department of Human Service
Cicely Johnson, an Ardmore, Oklahoma native is currently residing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma, majoring Human Relations, counseling emphasis. She is working towards receiving licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor. One of her focuses is to advocate, cultivate, empower and educate the multicultural community about mental health. She hopes her testimonies of her battle with mental illnesses help others find hope and seek help.
Health Education Specialist, Youth Services of Tulsa
Samantha Johnson is a Health Education Specialist at Youth Services of Tulsa. She assists young people in the Tulsa area access services for their sexual health and also supports parenting and expectant teens in accessing care for healthy pregnancies. After graduating with her B.S. in Human Development & Family Science from Oklahoma State University (OSU), Samantha moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked at a residential rehabilitation center for adults with mental illness. It was in D.C. working at the rehabilitation center where she gained her understanding of the impact policy has on the individuals and often dictates how they live their lives. Her D.C. experiences led her to move back to Oklahoma to pursue a master’s degree to enhance her understanding of advocacy and outreach. Samantha graduated with her Master of Science in Human Development & Family Science from OSU in 2017. During her time as a graduate student, Samantha worked as a research assistant for National Core Indicators where she conducted home visits with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to identify and measure core indicators related to quality of life for individuals receiving state waiver services. In her free time, Samantha volunteers with Together Oklahoma where she serves as the Tulsa Co-chair, spends as much time with her family and adorable niece and nephew as she can, loves attending concerts with friends and is always on the lookout for a new favorite podcast.
Recognizing the need of black communities to address holistic healing as a part of movement building, her high-frequency programming emphasizes creativity to empower, educate, and uplift. She is creator of AfroDGak, a black erotica, offering encouraging sex-positivity, body consciousness, and liberation through movement and performance within safe, artistically-inclined spaces. Additionally, her innovative program Tabernacle takes a revolutionary approach to self-care by incorporating proven strategies to reclaim ownership of our health.
She is the founder of #ProjectBlackbird -- a digital advocacy organization dedicated to the freedom and liberation of communities most impacted by Oklahoma’s cash bail system. Through her work she helped magnify an effort to have over 600 warrants removed from Tulsa County. She is the founder of OKC Artists for Justice which advocated heavily on behalf of the survivors of serial convicted rapist Daniel Holtzclaw. As an activist, she has focused on encouraging intersectional approaches to challenge systems of oppression with a particular focus on racial justice, healing justice, and incarceration.
Through her work and community involvement, she was awarded the 2016 Community Impact Award presented by Perry Publishing and Broadcasting, the Woman of Action Award from the National Organization of Women, and the 2017 ACLU Angie Debo Civil Libertarian award.
Smart Justice Campaign Manager, ACLU of Oklahoma
Nicole McAfee joined the ACLU of Oklahoma in August of 2017 as the Smart Justice Campaign Manager. Nicole has a variety of organizing experience, including working on coordinated DSCC and DCCC races in Colorado, running field programs in the Cherokee Nation, and serving as the 2016 Oklahoma campaign manager with Hillary for America. Her campaign passions include engaging the electorate in advocacy and the electoral process, and recruiting a diverse field of candidates who are reflective of their constituencies.
Born in Austin, and raised in South Central Texas, Nicole graduated cum laude from Texas A&M University in 2011 with degrees in International Studies and French. Though her focus had long been foreign policy, while watching Texas State Senator Wendy Davis fight for access to basic rights from her apartment in Poland, Nicole felt called to return to the United States, and ultimately her family’s home of Oklahoma. She was committed to being a part of the fight to ensure folks didn’t lose access to their rights. Nicole continues to be motivated by her passion for voter access and engagement, criminal justice reform, and working to elect officials who serve the interests of their constituents.When she’s not talking to voters, Nicole enjoys live music, college football, and exploring local restaurants.
Medical Practice Administrator, Retina Vitreous Center
Originally from Mumbai, India, Bansari Mehta is a multifaceted healthcare executive with experience in highly-skilled and competitive research, administrative and clinical positions with national and international health organizations. A respiratory therapist, she came to the United States of America to acquire her Master in Health Administration and Policy from the University of Oklahoma where she was conferred the Outstanding Multicultural Student award among seven colleges. She has been instrumental in meeting and exceeding operational goals for projects across varied healthcare administration specialties with strong program development, implementation, and performance improvement background skills.
Ms. Mehta works as a Medical Practice Administrator for Retina Vitreous Center (RVC) in Oklahoma City managing three physicians, five locations and a staff of 25. RVC is the state’s youngest and fastest growing retina practice where she is constantly setting and achieving goals for superior patient care, increased profitability and staff stability. She believes in training her employees to be excellent leaders who will take these leadership skills wherever they go. Ms. Mehta is the youngest professional to have conducted a teaching webinar for the American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives on best practice methods. She is also the West South Central Regional Lead for four states; a feat reserved only for seasoned administrators.
Ms. Mehta is active in the community and serves on various nonprofit boards. She is the VP of Membership for United Nations Association-OKC which connects issues confronted by the UN from global health and human rights to the spread of democracy, equitable development and international justice. She is a board member for an organization called Suited for Success which helps women achieve self-sufficiency by providing professional clothing and career development services, at no charge, and that empowers women to find and keep jobs that provide them with economic independence. She also serves on the University of Oklahoma MHA Alumni Advisory Board. Ms. Mehta has served on the board of World Experiences Foundation that fights racism and bigotry through anti-bias education. Ms. Mehta mentors low income, first generation, minority students who are preparing for jobs in the real world- a cause for which she identifies as being an immigrant with similar issues.
In 2017, Ms. Mehta was selected from many global applicants to serve as a Youth Mentor for the United Nations Youth Assembly at UN headquarters, NYC. She helped mentees develop and present social ventures for sustainable development. She is also active with Shot@Life: Childhood Immunizations of the UN Foundation and lobbies in Washington DC.
Ms. Mehta has been awarded Oklahoma’s 30 under 30 award by NextGen. She also received The Business Times Top 20 under 40 award and furthermore the Oklahoma’s 40 under 40 award by The Gazette. She has received a formal citation for professional achievements and community service from the State and Governor of Oklahoma.
Ms. Mehta speaks seven languages and is an active member of Toastmasters International. She is well known for her avocations of adventure sports, archeology, astronomy and air flight.
Project Coordinator Pearson Public Affairs
Rylee Sivertsen is a lifetime Oklahoma native, currently serving as the Senior Project Coordinator at Pearson Public Affairs, a regional advocacy firm. Rylee is a coalition builder, grasstops and grassroots awareness builder, and a lover of public policy. Her work on federal issues has been local in Oklahoma, as well as in Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, and California. Her span of work includes partnering with nonprofits, business, and trade associations on national and local programs with particular emphasis on technology, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure, and retail and trade. Rylee’s passion for politics and nonprofits began at a young age, when her hometown, Moore, experienced serious loss after a tornado, and Rylee was able to hit the ground running as a coordinator for disaster relief with multiple community-building nonprofits.
HR Specialist, Pratt & Whitney
Mary Smith is passionate creating continuous improvement within organizations and leadership development with young professionals. Mary currently is the Human Resource Specialist with the Military Engines division of Pratt & Whitney. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations for the HR department while establishing a new Share Services function for the business. Mary has a Bachelor in Business Administration with a focus in Human Resources from the University of Central Oklahoma.
Prior to working at Pratt & Whitney, Mary spent five years of her professional career at TechnipFMC, formally known as FMC Technologies. She was able to work in areas such as onboarding, drug testing compliance, employment law, process improvement and business alignment. During her time at FMC Technologies, she was able to strengthen her knowledge in employment law working with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Affirmative Action reporting, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and American Disability Act (ADA) compliance and processing. Mary was able to assist in an organizational alignment with four business units to include policy development and procedure placement. She managed and oversaw the local Health and Wellness Council while supporting Corporate Benefits objectives and initiatives. Mary continued on her expertise in HR and received her certification from the Society of Human Resource Management as a Certification Professional (SHRM-CP) in June 2016.
While Mary is passionate about employment law and being a resource in the workplace, her passion and love for people and culture is much deeper. In April 2017, Mary established an event planning business in Oklahoma City called A Pearl Event, LLC. She expresses her servant heart to assist couples and organizations in bring their dreams and goals to reality. A Pearl Event, LLC was established to not only plan and celebrate events throughout Oklahoma, but to bring more love and attention to those with cultural traditions that one may wish to include and showcase on their day.
With her full-time career in HR and operating a small business, Mary ensures to spend time within the community volunteering at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and local church. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, running half marathons and designing. She is the wife of a Texan, Jason Smith, and mother to two fur babies, Lady and Simba.
District Executive, Last Frontier Council
Jonathan Still is a native of Midwest City, OK and serves as the District Executive for the New Horizons District of the Last Frontier Council. The Last Frontier Council is one of 300 Local Councils of the Boy Scouts of America, serving over 11,000 youth in 24 Counties across Central and Southwest Oklahoma. The New Horizons District includes Northeast Oklahoma City, Spencer, Forest Park, Downtown Oklahoma City, and portions of Northwest Oklahoma City. Mr. Still’s primary responsibilities include working with a Committee of volunteers to enhance the local Scouting movement, recruiting key volunteers to assist youth, keeping accurate records, assisting in district fundraising efforts, and promoting the overall mission and vision of the Boy Scouts of America.
In addition to these professional duties, Mr. Still serves in the Oklahoma Army National Guard as a Motor Transport Operator (88M) and as a member of the Oklahoma Military Funeral Honors Team. He also serves an Assistant Minister with the Green Pastures Church of Christ in Spencer, OK. He is married with two boys. He also serves as a Den Leader for Cub Scout Pack 3277 in Del City, OK. Mr. Still has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Phoenix, and currently finishing a Masters of Divinity Degree from Oklahoma Christian University.
CEO/Founder, Helping Women Win Inc.
Charise Walker is the CEO and Founder of Helping Women Win Inc., an Oklahoma-based 501(c)(3) public charity, providing culturally-competent programs and housing to at-risk women and girls affected by violence. The organization began as a survivor-led support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) women of color who have experienced dating, domestic, and/or sexual violence and has since expanded to include crisis intervention, youth prevention, and senior programs. As a survivor of violence, Charise uses her experience to advocate for an improved, coordinated response to all survivors of violence regardless of how they identify. She directs the daily operations of Helping Women Win while collaborating with individuals, businesses, and other nonprofits to help meet critical needs within the community.
Charise recently managed the winning political campaign of a candidate running for municipal office. She credits the experience for her increased hope in a more progressive, political future with the help of her peers. Charise is an entrepreneur with over five years in developing, implementing, and managing programs for underserved populations in Comanche County.
In addition to her efforts to prevent violence and end poverty in her community, Charise is also a partner at Walker Page Consulting, a one-stop agency providing professional media, administrative, and management services to for-profit and not-for-profit clients of the Great Plains region.
In her free time, Charise enjoys creative expression and reflection through writing, photography, and other arts. She also loves to unplug from the fast-paced life of an entrepreneur with a great book or a getaway with her supportive wife. Charise is currently preparing to manage her next political campaign. Stay tuned for the results!
VetHERO Coordinator, University of Central Oklahoma
Brad Ward is combat veteran who served eight years in the United States Army as a Military Police Officer. His assignments include a deployment to Afghanistan, where he earned special commendation for his actions. He is an alumnus of the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), holding a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice Police and a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) from UCO. Brad maintains an active and highly-visible research agenda focusing on policy issues in higher education, state government, international security, public administration and human rights.
Brad is currently pursuing his doctorate in public policy. He has presented over 10 keynotes and invited lectures across the country regarding higher education, veteran transitioning, international relations, and more. Brad is a two-time recipient of the Oklahoma 30 under 30 Award (2016 & 2017) in both categories of Education and Nonprofit. Brad also received the 2017 Oklahoma Higher Education Student of the Year Award. Recently, Brad was accepted into the elite 2017 Veterans in Global Leadership Fellowship at Georgetown University to address global issues. Brad joined the UCO Veteran Student Support Office in November 2015 as the VetHERO Coordinator. At UCO, Brad is focused on developing innovative programs and services to better serve the veteran community in higher education.
Media Officer, Planned Parenthood Great Plains
Aaron Wilder is the Media Officer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Before stepping up in this role, Aaron was the Oklahoma Organizer for the organization. He is a prominent public affairs staffer in the Planned Parenthood federation having presented and trained at national advocacy and organizing conferences.
Before joining the reproductive rights movement, Aaron was a Democratic Party leader and staffer. Aaron has served on the central committee and as Development Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party where he won a “Pollie” for Best Fundraising Effort from the American Association of Political Consultants. He has also served as a member of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Advisory Board, a national board member of the College Democrats of America and a member of the Leadership Council for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Aaron is a former board member of both OKC Pride and The Equality Network, an LGBT advocacy organization that preceded Freedom Oklahoma.
In his free time, Aaron is a comedian and was named 405 Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Comedian of 2017. He has opened for Lizz Winstead, Sam Jay, Byron Bowers and Cameron Esposito. Aaron calls Oklahoma City his hometown and currently resides in Tulsa.