Alumni on the Move

Alumni On The Move - October 2019

Joe Darza

Puget Sound Leadership Discovery, Class of 2014

EDI: Hey Joe! CONGRATULATIONS on your new job AND your recent move across the country. Tell us more about it.

Joe:  I recently took a new role within my current company as an Enterprise Account Manager with BlackLine, where we sell Month-End Close Automation software. In my new role, I manage our Fortune 500 companies located in the New York area which necessitated the move to be closer to them.

EDI: How did this opportunity present itself?

Joe:  I restarted my career at BlackLine and took an entry-level role in the business development team in 2017 in order to break through into sales. One thing I learned at EDI was that your career is never a straight line, and when I saw opportunities, I took them (e.g. Being onsite with clients and experienced executives, cold calling CFOs to set up business meetings, etc..). I went to every company networking event I could and introduced myself to every single C-Suite at the company.

Joe (blue suit left of center) with his BlackLine team in NYC.

The natural progression of someone in business development would be to work in Inside Sales, but when this role opened (typically reserved for someone 10+ years of sales experience) my mentors advocated to senior leadership to look at me for the position.  

EDI: From the short amount of time since going through the EDI program in 2014, you’ve moved around (geographically) quite a bit. What were the driving forces that led you to these opportunities?

Joe:  When I graduated from EDI in 2014 – My biggest takeaway was to take control of my career. Having spent about 7 years of my career in Finance and Accounting roles, I came to the realization that I wanted to work in sales. My opportunity to pivot came when a chance happy hour with a friend who worked at BlackLine, a FinTech Company.

The driving force for me was realizing that in order to drive significant change in my career trajectory I had to do things that felt uncomfortable and reorient my thought process. These moves have really helped me continue to grow and think as a professional.

Joe flew back to Seattle from Los Angeles to be a speaker at the Summer Search gala!

EDI: You’ve stayed engaged in the Seattle community (even though you moved to Cali a couple of years ago) and we noticed that you came back to Seattle and helped out with supporting Summer Search. Why is that important to you?

Joe: Organizations like EDI and Summer Search mean a lot to me because they have shaped the way I think about things personally and professionally. They’ve opened up doors that I might not have seen for myself, and I want others from my community, whether that’s ethnic, socio-economic, etc… to be afforded the same opportunities.

EDI: Is there anything from your EDI learnings that you’ve been applying to your new job?

Joe: Something I find myself quoting a lot to my colleagues is Vanna’s Speak to Persuade™ class. Vanna’s main message was that every SINGLE conversation, no matter how small, should be a persuasive one. In sales, a lot of people think of making a sale as this singular event. In reality, it’s the culmination of many discussions with various stakeholders that lead you to the sale. When the time comes to ask for the order, 95% of the work should already be done. I think about this even in simple emails back and forth with clients.

EDI: If you could give one piece of advice to the 2019 EDI class what would it be?  

Joe: Take chances and take control of your career. It really is about defining your brand and deciding where you want to go which just so happens to be two of the classes in the discovery program. In the end, if you make a mistake you can always pivot. But, if you don’t decide, and just allow events to guide your career, you’ll find that others are more than happy to define your trajectory for you.  

Joe Darza

Puget Sound Leadership Discovery, Class of 2014

EDI: Thank you, Joe! We love seeing your adventures in Cali and can’t wait to see what you end up doing in New York!

Joe: Thanks! I enjoy seeing what all the alums are up to and going to events like Inclusion Fusion always reminds me why I continue to be involved.


We are proud of our alums and the impact they are making around the world. Each month we feature an alum that we have heard is making waves in their company or in their communities on our Alumni On The Move series. If you’re an alum or know one that is really making a positive impact for those around them let us know! We feature anything from alums starting their own companies or side hustles, receiving a promotion, taking a risk and trying a new industry or organization within their own company, joining non-profit committees and Boards, or winning awards! Contact us at to be featured!!

Alumni On The Move - September 2019

Mae Numata

Puget Sound, Class of 1994

EDI: Hi Mae! CONGRATULATIONS on being honored as a Director of the Year from the Puget Sound Business Journal! That’s huge!

Mae:  Thank you very much!  I have been fortunate to have many wonderful mentors and coaches in my life – including many associated with EDI.  I am quite humbled.

EDI: How did you first get involved with serving on Boards?  

Mae:  My first involvement on boards was in the nonprofit world in 1986 when my then banking CEO asked that I take his place on the Ryther Child Center board.  That is where I found my love for community service and it simply grew from there through my involvement in many other nonprofit boards and their capital/endowment campaigns.  I firmly believe my involvement with nonprofit boards provided me with a great baseline of board education and leadership experience that prepared me for the for-profit board world.  There are definite differences between the two, but the governance issues, growing shareholder/organizational value and board dynamics can be similar.

EDI: What would you recommend to EDI alums about how they can start getting involved? And what’s in it for them to serve on Boards?

Mae: I am frequently asked: how do I join a corporate board?  My initial return responses are: what nonprofits are you involved in and what leadership positions on those boards have you had?  I recommend getting one’s feet wet first by joining a nonprofit board whose mission he/she is passionate about.  It is important to learn about governance, strategic planning and demonstrating collaboration and leadership.  Nonprofit boards are also comprised of diverse professionals, so it is a great opportunity to expand one’s network and learn from others’ perspectives.

EDI: Why is it important to you to serve on Boards?

Mae:  I have always loved sitting on nonprofit boards as I wanted to give back to my community.  It also provided me with a safe haven to experience chairing various committees and collaborating with a diversity of professionals and personalities for an organizational mission I was and am passionate about.  I now thoroughly enjoy sitting on corporate boards, but again, they are ones that I firmly believe in their “mission” and strategic direction.  For example, I am a former banker with over 20 years of experience in the industry.  Having grown up in banking, I felt I had come home when I joined the Columbia Bank board.  When I joined the Oberto Brands board, I wanted to support a family-owned company whose products were part of my childhood and always in my golf bag! 

EDI: Why do you think it’s important to have diversity on Boards?  

Mae: Diversity brings better performance to a company/organization as it adds different perspectives and voices to be shared and heard at a strategic level.  I believe that companies/organizations truly want their personnel to reflect the communities and customers they serve in order to be more effective and successful.  It is therefore incumbent on boards to do the same.

EDI: You were a part of the first EDI cohort in 1994. You’ve served as a volunteer (program chair) and then on the EDI Board. You recommended your daughter-in-law, Ashlyn, to go through EDI’s Leadership Discovery program in 2018. What is it about EDI that keeps you involved and engaged over the years?

Mae: Back in 1994, I was a SVP with KeyBank of Washington and had just moved away from the Finance area into Corporate Development – a newly created position reporting to the then CEO, Debbie Bevier.  Debbie encouraged me and supported me in my executive leadership development as she saw something in me that I did not know myself.  She was my ultimate female executive role model and it was also through her support that I chaired the program for three years – so in essence I went through the EDI program for four years!  I attribute my leadership accomplishments to Debbie, subsequent (and many) other mentors, and EDI.  Having gained so much, it only made sense that I give back and remain involved with EDI in its growth and strategic direction as a board member.  I am very proud that Ashlyn went through the program and I hope Boeing will support her in also participating in Leadership Navigation in the future.  I continue to encourage my son, Jerry and my daughter, Kristen to attend EDI, along with my nephews.  Hopefully soon!

EDI: If you could give one piece of advice to the 2019 EDI class what would it be?  

Mae:  Be passionate about what you do – whether it is in your personal life, in business and/or in community service.  Life is short -- so make certain you truly enjoy what you are involved in!

EDI: Thank you Mae, for all that you do for not just EDI but all of the communities that you serve! Feel free to give a shout out and moment of recognition to any/all of the organizations that you’re currently supporting.

Mae: I am privileged and grateful to sit on three corporate boards: Columbia Bank, OSCCorp Inc. (the successor board to Oberto Brands after its asset sale last year), and GeoEngineers, and also two nonprofit boards: EDI and Girl Scouts of Western Washington.  This would not have happened without the guidance and support of many individuals over the years, but more importantly, I am very thankful to my family:  my husband Larry of 34 years, my son Jerry and his wife Ashlyn who is a 2018 EDI graduate, and my daughter Kristen.  I want to continue to make them proud.

Alumni On The Move - July 2019

Carmen Marttila

Puget Sound Leadership Discovery, Class of 2013

EDI: Hi Carmen! We heard about your recent career change and would love to learn more about it. Help tell our readers, what’s the recent change that happened?  

Carmen: Recently I decided to take a leap of faith and make a complete career change. After being in the banking industry for over 15 years, I accepted a position with Junior Achievement (JA) of Washington as Regional Director for their Northern Region.

EDI: How did this opportunity present itself?

Carmen: I have been a JA volunteer for many years, in addition about 4 years back I joined their Regional Board and become their Board Chair in 2017. Right about this time JA went through some Executive level leadership changes and the new JA WA State President and CEO, Natalie Vega O’Neil approached me with the opportunity to join her leadership team.

EDI: What made you decide to change from the banking industry to non-profit?

Carmen: After much thought and consideration, I decided to accept because I am at a point in my life where it has become more and more important for me to give back in more significant ways. After volunteering with a number of nonprofits, teaching financial literacy to at-risk youth and low income adults, I realized the importance of reaching individuals earlier and in my opinion, no organization does that better than Junior Achievement. With their pillars of success – Financial Education, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Readiness JA teaches K-12th grade kids the skills needed to own the economic and financial success in a global economy.

EDI: Did you face any challenges along the way? If so what?

Carmen: Many factors made this transition a challenge. Number one being the fact that I had never worked for a nonprofit organization.  

EDI: How did you overcome those challenges?

Carmen: I tapped into a lot of what I learned going through EDI- I put my Behavior Styles learning to work as I needed to understand and adapt to my new team’s diverse learning styles to be the effective communicator and leader JA hired me to be. Banding and Networking has been critical to my transition and success as I am responsible for raising the funds needed to bring JA programs to my region’s schools and youth. Speak to Persuade has been critical to my focus on bringing in new donors and supporters.   

Carmen (center) at the JA Bowling Classic fundraising event

EDI: How are you able to apply your experience from KeyBank to JA?

Carmen: I would say that my results driven mentality, my ability to adapt to change and I must thank KeyBank for giving me opportunity in 2013 to participate in EDI’s Leadership Discovery. This most of all has given me the tools to be a successful leader at KeyBank and now Junior Achievement.  

EDI: What do you hope to accomplish in your new position?

Carmen: I hope to continue to be successful in bringing awareness to the community of the value of teaching the JA curriculum at our schools to empower our youth to become the entrepreneurs and leaders we know they can be, while engaging the business community to give their financial support to a nonprofit invested in the youth that will become the workforce of the future.

EDI: If you could give one piece of advice to the 2019 EDI class what would it be?  

Carmen: Keep looking forward, learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to propel you to becoming the leader you know in your heart is waiting to take flight.

EDI: Thank you so much for your time today, Carmen! We miss seeing you at our EDI Board Meetings!

Alumni On The Move - June 2019

Cecille & Florexis Velasco

Leadership Navigation, Class of 2012 & 2011

You’re known at EDI as the family that’s gone through the program (with both of you going through the Leadership Navigation Program & your brother Barney Herrera a graduate as well). What was it that appealed to you to go through the EDI program?

Florexis: I was looking for a leadership program tailored towards minority leaders and also saw the track record of some of the alumni.

Cecille: I noticed positive changes in Florexis' career and he was always talking about how he was applying the training in his career and personal relationships.  The training really helped him elevate his leadership and interpersonal skills.

What was it about EDI that made you think to recommend it to your brother, Barney?

Florexis: I conveyed how much the program helped me in my career and in my business ventures and how it helped me to fine tune and develop my leadership skills further. 

Cecille:  It was easy for me to recommend to Barney because the training helped me so much in having more self awareness and having awareness with others I work with in and outside of Boeing, both professionally and personally.  Plus, the people I've connected with in the program are amazing!  We still meet up every year and are known to be 'the best' class in EDI history (that was self proclaimed lol).

You’ve recently opened a gym! What made you decide to open your own gym?:

Florexis: Both of my Grandfathers were farmers and supported their families by having their own businesses, so I've always had the entrepreneur spirit.  The Anytime Fitness Franchise just made sense for us to dive into because of our passion towards fitness and since turning pro as a competitive bodybuilder and physique competitor.  I've been coaching many clients on nutrition and competition prep and I love helping people reach their health and fitness goals! 

Cecille:   I love doing group fitness and training in large groups to keep me motivated and to make connections with other fitness minded individuals.  Florexis and I researched several businesses and franchises to start and the Anytime Fitness business model made the most sense because we both love to work out and commit to a healthy overall lifestyle which includes training, flexible nutrition (we are both foodies) and sharing this passion with others.

What steps did you take (or goals did you set) to make this happen?:

Florexis: I did a lot of networking and connecting with other Anytime Fitness owners and other gym owners as well to get their feedback on the business model, understanding what it takes to start up, operate and sustain a gym business.  I did a lot of studies on the track record of the company and franchises, demographics, competition, pricing, and development plans of the cities we wanted to purchase our franchise territories in. 

Cecille: I'm very numbers oriented so I did a lot research on the Anytime Fitness' overall past performance and the how the average franchises have performed nationwide and worldwide.  I researched the revenue, expenses and profit averages to help us create our pro forma statements and to help fine tune our business plan and year to year projections.  After more due diligence the numbers and averages just made a lot of sense and we decided to move forward.

How were you able to apply your prior work experience at Boeing to going the entrepreneurial route?

Florexis: I am able to apply a lot of my experience from Boeing into our gym business.  Project management and financial management are key elements, but most importantly being able organize and prioritize what seemed to be an endless list of action items has helped to ensure we have a plan and keep things progressing.  Conflict management and problem resolution has also helped in dealing with overwhelming tasks and difficult people.

Cecille: I am able to apply my customer service and customer management skills into our gym business, especially now so as we are enrolling members and setting up personal training programs.  I also deal with a lot vendors at Boeing and I am able to apply these skills when working with our Anytime Fitness vendors.  We have several vendors we have to work with concurrently and my Boeing experience really comes in handy to stay organized

Have you faced any challenges along the way? If so, what?:

Florexis: This whole business has been a major challenge since it's been our first time setting up a franchise and there are so many steps in opening up a gym.  

Cecille: Not knowing what to expect has been very challenging and there have been many unforeseen events along the way.

How did you overcome those challenges?:

Florexis: Staying organized and knowing who to reach out to for guidance and help has really helped overcome the challenges we've faced.  The franchise has a great support system and I constantly reach to those that have already done this successfully and that have opened up several gyms. 

Cecille: We have franchise business consultant that has helped us overcome challenges but not being afraid of asking the right people for assistance also has helped overcome these challenges.  Leveraging our network and contacts has helped us deal with specific challenges and we continue to build on these relationships knowing that we will need their additional guidance.

What do you hope to accomplish on your new journey?:

Florexis: I hope to launch and operate our first gym and be able to scale all the experience and learnings into our next few gyms.  We want to build an awesome fitness community in our Lynnwood gym and help as many people as we can along their health and fitness journey! 

Cecille: I want to help women and moms find a community in our Lynnwood gym and have a place where they can connect and have fun while training.  Too often I feel like women in general are always putting others first and I want to help them make their physical and mental health a priority, so they can continue to give to others.  We're also aiming to set an example to our 3 kids to live a healthy lifestyle while also building a business you're passionate about...while helping others!  But what I'm most looking forward to is getting my parents in the gym.  With the right support and guidance, I'm ready to see my Dad running around the soccer field with all the grandkids!

Is there anything from your EDI learnings that you’re applying to your current position? (if no, that’s fine!)

Florexis: Emotional intelligence is very critical and being able to adapt to situations that are high pressure and dealing with a diverse set of people.  I am able to be self aware and approach situations with the right leadership style and continue to make progress. 

Cecille:  The skill to adapt in difficult situations and being able to deal with customers is where I apply a lot of my EDI learnings.  We are in the service and people business and having the emotional intelligence and having self awareness and awareness of others styles really helps.

If you could give one piece of advice for the 2019 EDI class what would it be?:

Florexis: Go after your passion and make a career from something you love to do and apply your EDI learnings! 

Cecille: Take a chance on yourself but continue to seek advice and guidance from those that have already accomplished what you are aiming to do.

If you’re interested in more information or applying for a membership to Florexis & Cecille’s gym, we’ve linked to their membership page in the button below.

Alumni On The Move - May 2019

Jeff Racicot

Portland Leadership Discovery, Class of 2016

EDI: Hey Jeff! We heard about your recent promotion into management. CONGRATULATIONS! We would love to learn more about it. Help tell our readers, about the recent promotion.

Jeff:  As of December 2018, I began my leadership position as the manager of metering services at BPA.  This is a great opportunity to use my newly established tools recently acquired through the EDI program.  This opportunity requires the ability to provide good customer service, along with using technical skills to solve complex problems.  I’m excited!

EDI: How did this opportunity present itself?

Jeff:  I put my name in the hat when the position became available.  One thing EDI helped me with is to “put myself in the pipeline” and continue looking for opportunities to improve.  After leadership training and taking on increasingly challenging projects/roles, this was a chance to put myself out there and it worked out nicely.

EDI: Where there any intentional steps that you took to prepare yourself for a management role? If so, what where they?

Jeff:  Constantly finding opportunities to lead projects, give presentations, or take leadership training were all intentional steps that have prepared me to move forward.  In addition, while in EDI I sought the guidance of a mentor.  All of these steps helped propel me forward and gain the confidence needed to move into leadership.

EDI: Now as a manager, have there been any challenges that you’ve faced? If so, what?

Jeff:  Being a first time manager is a huge paradigm shift.  All of a sudden, you are noticed at every step.  What you say matters more.  How you act leaves stronger impressions.  These are all challenges, but I also find them as opportunities to continue using leadership skills and self-awareness to lead effectively.

EDI: How do you overcome those challenges?  

Jeff:  I like to treat challenges as opportunities.  As taught in EDI, you have to lean in.  Lean in to the hard talks, the difficult conversations, the conflicts, etc.  These all are opportunities to leave a positive outcome.

EDI: What do you hope to accomplish in your new position?

Jeff:  In my new role, I hope to make a positive difference with my staff, the organization, the agency and ultimately the Pacific Northwest.  As a manager in a large Power Marketing Agency that serves the Pacific Northwest, I hope to use all of my leadership potential to make a positive difference.

EDI: Is there anything from your EDI learnings that you’re applying to your current position or during the transition? (if no, that’s fine!)

Jeff:  Understanding behavioral styles has been a nice tool to have.  Behavioral Styles were taught in EDI, and I have embraced the fact that my personality and behavior are two different things.  You can adjust your behavior to adapt to other behavioral styles, and this has been helpful.

EDI: You balance a lot having been promoted to management, being a family man with a wife and three kids, volunteering for EDI as a program chair this year and last year…how do you ensure you have work/life balance?

Jeff:  I make it a priority to make sure I’m focusing on the right things in life.  It’s like brushing your teeth – as soon as you make all the important things in your life a priority, it becomes easier because you now know where you put your energy.  Being an EDI program chair is great by the way.

EDI: If you could give one piece of advice to the 2019 EDI class what would it be?  

Jeff:  Enjoy the ride!  Leadership and growth is a never-ending journey.  Embrace the journey and always keep learning.

EDI: Thanks so much for your time, Jeff! Congratulations again on your promotion and we can’t wait to hear more from you as your journey unfolds!

Jeff:  Thank you!


We are proud of our alums and the impact they are making around the world. Each month we feature an alum that we have heard is making waves in their company or in their communities on our Alumni On The Move series. If you’re an alum or know one that is really making a positive impact for those around them let us know! We feature anything from alums starting their own companies or side hustles, receiving a promotion, taking a risk and trying a new industry or organization within their own company, joining non-profit committees and Boards, or winning awards! Contact us at

Alumni On The Move - April 2019

Alisa Yannello accepts her AEA award

Portland Leadership Discovery, Class of 2011

EDI: Hi Alisa! We had a lot of Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) alums circle the new to us about you receiving the Administrator’s Excellence Award (AEA). It’s BIG NEWS! CONGRATULATIONS! We would love to learn more about the award. Can you let our readers know what the AEA is?

Alisa: Absolutely, the Administrator’s Excellence Awards (AEA) honor employees, individuals and teams whose initiative, innovation, superior service or exemplary acts have made an exceptional contribution to BPA’s mission, the electric utility industry or to the communities we serve. AEAs are the top awards at BPA. This year, there were over 100 nominations and so it was a tremendous honor to be an awardee.

EDI: Could you share with our audience why you were nominated for the award?

Alisa: I was nominated for and selected for the Meritorious Service Award, which is BPA’s highest honor award of the 12 categories. The criteria is extraordinary contribution to BPA’s mission through; unusual initiative, innovation, outstanding customer/client service, enhanced BPA relationships with customers, management and supervisory skills, devotion to duty, advancement of equal employment opportunity etc…

I was nominated for several initiatives and projects that I led over the years and the primary focus was related to the BPA-wide culture initiative to drive the development and adoption of the leadership behaviors and working side by side with the Administrator to ensure his vision for leadership at BPA came to fruition. There was a five-page write up and I was just blown away by the testimonials from my colleagues. It’s still a little bit difficult to talk about because I feel like I am tooting my own horn and feel so honored to have been selected and humbled by all of this!

EDI: Was receiving an AEA a goal or did it come to you by surprise?

Alisa: The AEA award and selection was a complete surprise!  It’s something that everyone during their career at BPA aspires to achieve, but it wasn’t something that I set out to do intentionally. My broader goal today as it’s been throughout my entire career is to provide the very best service to my customers, to be the best leader that I can be for my team and colleagues and to strive for continuous learning and to make sure that I am meeting the needs of the business and executives to achieve the mission. I really love my career here at BPA and am driven by our public stewardship and mission for the people of the pacific northwest.

EDI: You’ve made great strides in your career over the years. What has been a challenge that you’ve faced and had to overcome?

Alisa: One challenge that I faced early in my career and one that I continue to overcome is to find ways to ensure that my leadership doesn’t become invisible. It’s so easy in a large organization to work really hard, put your head down, focus on the task or project at hand and shut the rest of the world out (so you can get the work done).  When you’re in a leadership role it’s important not only for yourself, but for your team, colleagues and your bosses to always see you showing up as a strong, consistent, competent, passionate and forward thinking leader.

As an introvert I am most comfortable keeping to myself. But I have to remember to not get too caught up on my own head and to show up demonstrating my capabilities, skills every day. This means connecting with my team, talking to the customers, listening to different perspectives, valuing people, and trying to find ways to help the team, and customers achieve our goals. I find time to mentor others, to be a role model and set the tone by leading by example and lead by leaning in and showing up, thus not becoming invisible.

EDI: How do you overcome those challenges?  

Alisa: I always remember that you can’t do everything yourself.  When I am feeling challenged in my leadership role, I turn to my mentors for advice. Or I talk to a trusted colleague to get advice – typically through the lens of professional development and being a better leader.

One of the biggest take away from the EDI program was the value of networking and building collaborative relationships.  After graduating from the EDI program in 2011, that is what I set out to do and having a strong network of advocates and a strong support system is invaluable.

EDI: Is there anything from your EDI learnings that you’ve been applying in your career? (if no, that’s fine!)

Alisa: LOL, YES and I actually answered that above.  Additionally I learned that I was fairly risked adverse especially when it came to my career and so in the last 8 years I have really pushed myself to try different things, take on new jobs, new roles that I had very little experience in. By doing this, I grew professionally and technically in the HR field.  And knowing that when I failed (which happens often) that I am much better off and learn from that  experience. Because of EDI I remind myself to practice resilience.    

EDI: Since going through the program, you’ve been a huge supporter of EDI and you’ve helped to continue sending BPA employees through EDI each year. What is the biggest reason for your support?

Alisa: I will always support and sponsor the EDI programs because of how I’ve seen the program impact my own career and how I have evolved as a leader.  So many of the “a-ha” moments have really positively impacted not only who I am as a person but how I lead as a leader at BPA.  I see our up and coming emerging leaders here at BPA and I really want them to experience the EDI way and hope they will take away as much, or more than I did and apply it back to their career trajectory.

Every year we send talented employees to EDI and believe this 6-month program will make a difference for them!  And I am just so excited that they get this wonderful opportunity to explore, learn, network and make those leadership adjustment to help them get to the next phase in their career.

EDI: You’re a role model to so many people in your company (whether you acknowledge it or not 😊). What do you hope to instill in those that look up to you?

Alisa: I hope that my leadership demonstrates our core leadership behaviors at BPA. And…I am not sure if there are people who look up to me (I am not that tall ) but if they are, I hope that I instill in them a sense of purpose, and drive to be the best in whatever job they’re in. This includes taking care of the team and supporting the successes of others.

EDI: If you could give one piece of advice to the 2019 EDI class what would it be?  

Alisa: I have more than once piece of advice – I would say , be open to feedback, be resilient, and never give up! 

And, always remember to be kind and good to the people you work with. With that, here is one of my favorite quotes:  “The most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people.”  Barbara Bush

EDI: Thank you, Alisa! Congratulations again on your Administrator’s Excellence Award. It’s well deserved!

Alisa: Thank you so much and feel so fortunate to be an EDI Alum!  I have met so many amazing people through EDI and look forward to our continued partnership. Go EDI!!!

Alumni On The Move - March 2019

Hong Chhuor

Puget Sound Leadership Discovery Class of 2016

My very first opera ever was La bohème. Someone from Seattle Opera came to my high school senior literature class to invite us to see a performance of one of Puccini’s most enduring favorites – for free! This last part is important to mention because I would not have been able to go otherwise.

When I was growing up, my parents worked long hours at low-paying jobs to support their five children so we could all become doctors, lawyers or engineers one day. They fled the Khmer Rouge, which means they left their country, families, and dreams behind. In the U.S., they lacked a community where they could celebrate their culture, including dance, art, and other traditions. It should come as no surprise that instilling a love of opera was not a priority for them.

And so it was that through Seattle Opera, I came to learn about an entire world of music, stories, and art beyond Wagner’s magnificent Valkyries, whom I really only knew about because I saw caricatures of them in episodes of Looney Toons as a kid. I don’t remember much about how my first opera went, but I do remember falling asleep in the cool, dark performance hall as I experienced this uniquely western art form for the first time (shhh – don’t tell my employer).

I could never have imagined that one day, I would help lead Seattle Opera’s fundraising team. Prior to my current role as Associate Director of Development, I served as the Marketing and Communications Manager at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), which is a social justice focused health and human services nonprofit that serves immigrant, refugee and native-born Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) and others. You may be wondering about my transition from 1) social services to the arts 2) marketing and communications to fundraising and 3) a manager level role to a director-level role. I’ll share my thoughts on each, but to be honest, it was not a path that I could see very clearly while I was walking on it. Hindsight is 20/20, they say.

Firstly, my experience with EDI’s Leadership Discovery program at the same time that I was working at ACRS helped me to connect the dots in terms of my heritage and identity as an Asian American refugee. All of the combined learnings and insights I gained as a result of the program as well as my growth at my job helped me identify what I wanted from my career. I gained clarity about my values, which made it easier to make choices when I found myself at significant crossroads.

I realized that I found fulfillment in connecting people with causes and issues they care about and helping them to invest their time and resources in ways that are meaningful to them.

While I still care very much about advocating for and empowering AAPI immigrants and refugees, moving to Seattle Opera was about recognizing the power of stories, music, and art to change hearts and minds, and helping us find meaning in our lives. Leaving ACRS was very difficult and what helped me with the decision was the realization that I can continue to love ACRS and be a part of its strong community without working there.

My job title at ACRS hid the fact that some of my primary responsibilities included fundraising as well as managing people and processes. I was fortunate to have support from my manager and my organization to build up my professional experience through hands-on learning, formal training, and coaching and mentorship from others in my field. Attending conferences by and for professional fundraisers really helped me to learn what skills I needed and wanted to develop. It also helped me feel like I was part of a community of people with whom I shared a calling.

In more ways than one, the experiences I gained through ACRS and EDI laid the groundwork for my role at Seattle Opera – almost as if the role was written for me. My overarching goal right now is to help people connect with and find meaning and connection through opera and the community around it. This is not so different from helping people connect with their desire to be part of a larger social justice movement. Through managing people and processes (which is a central part of my role at Seattle Opera), I have an appreciation for how doing these things well contributes to the ability of an organization to achieve its mission and vision. And just like ACRS did a few months ago, Seattle Opera is about to get a new leader. That will bring a whole host of change that will need to be thoughtfully navigated. Thanks to ACRS, I have experience with that, too!

I’m excited for the challenges of my new role, which includes an expanded fundraising team doing things I really only have textbook knowledge about (like major giving, capital campaigns and planned giving). I recently earned my Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation and am thrilled to continue my journey as a professional fundraiser – not to mention all of the opera I’ll get to enjoy. Ask me about my friends and family discount – I’d love to welcome you to an upcoming opera.

If I were to leave the 2019 EDI class with some advice, it would be this: push yourself out of your comfort zone and GROW. Don’t let superficial things like job titles limit your dreams. Network, network, network. Find a mentor and serve as a mentor to others.

Hong Chhuor

EDI Class of 2016

Alumni On The Move - February 2019

Urmi Kavi

Puget Sound Leadership Discovery, Class of 2008

I started a new leadership role at Puget Sound Energy when my manager at the time recommended EDI’s Leadership Discovery Program. In 2008, I completed the program. It was an amazing journey of several personal discoveries and insights. Reflecting back on all the things I learned, people I met and how that program has helped me is simply amazing. I acquired skills on how to be a good leader, a good presenter, how to create my own brand, build relationships, and most importantly how to distinguish myself from the rest while still being myself.

I volunteered off and on over the years and in 2018, I led the EDI Alumni Ambassador Board as EDI was celebrating its 25th year in operation. As a group of volunteers, we helped with fundraising, created awareness about EDI offerings, recruited new candidates for the programs, and volunteered at Inclusion Fusion (EDI's benefit dinner and auction). While serving as the President on the EDI Alumni Ambassador Board, I had the opportunity of working closely with the EDI Board of Directors.

During my 2018 experience, I learned that in the entire process I had received more in return than what I gave back. Patience is a key skill that I developed while working with an all-volunteer run group. This is an important skill in today’s world of real-time, all of the time 24x7 availability. Another key skill I developed was being considerate of when people are able to deliver things (since we're all working on projects at different times).

For EDI’s milestone 25th year fundraising campaign I asked alums for contributions and was surprised at the response I personally got back from people thanking me for reminding them about EDI. That was a first for me. In the process, I learned how to ask for money. Initially, I was shy when it came to asking for money. I thought it would come across pushy or something I didn't want to do because I didn't have experience in fundraising.

I also learned how to play well in the sandbox. It was a team effort; no one person could do it all. Understanding each other was critical. We were a virtual team of volunteers and we worked well to accommodate each other's ideas and thoughts. I met new people, networked, and much more.

At the volunteer celebration, EDI co-founder Vanna Novak asked me if I would consider joining the EDI Board of Directors in 2019. I instantly said yes! It is an awesome opportunity.

Why join the EDI Board of Directors? I am a believer in life long continuous learning and by joining the EDI Board I plan to keep improving and growing my skills and promoting EDI as an organization I care for. I am looking forward to a great experience this year by working on the EDI board. It is a win-win opportunity. If anyone is looking for opportunities to grow and improve their talents and skills they will benefit from volunteering on EDI’s Board. We are always recruiting and fundraising so please reach out for more information.

- Urmi Kavi


In 2019, EDI also welcomed Barney Herrera, Kumi Baruffi, & Gina Walker to the EDI Board of Directors. For a full list of our Board members please visit Our Team page.

Alumni On The Move - January 2019

Greena George

Leadership Navigation, Class of 2018

Working Through Stagnation

Throughout my life, from kindergarten through to high school and then in college, the expectations were clear; study, then graduate. The buildup through the time always had the same crescendo – graduation. The expectation with regards to performance was simply to exceed. As an Indian, exceeding was important, especially since I would be competing with another billion Indians.

That changed once I entered the workforce. I started working in Boeing, and things were different. Set milestones aren’t really what I’m graded on. Excelling didn’t result in clear quantifiable promotions. In the workforce, everything is qualitative and relative to another person. I thought I was doing the right things, and things were going well for a few years, but then I started stagnating. My career was not on the trajectory I expected. I worked incredibly hard, only to get frustrated. My managers and peers kept telling me I was doing all the right things, but to me, my career was stagnating. I was frustrated, miserable and considering quitting my job because I just didn’t feel appreciated. I decided to give it six more months before leaving the company I truly enjoyed.

Then things changed. I decided to do EDI’s Leadership Navigation and the course opened my eyes to the perception my peers and I have of me versus the perception Boeing’s leaders have of me. Fundamentally, my interactions with managers gave them a perception that I wasn’t someone who would do well in advanced opportunities, including management. Hearing that was painful, but seeing it reinforced through 360 survey results was eye-opening. I knew that unless I corrected that perception, I would never have the career projection I wanted.

After multiple coaching sessions with my EDI coach, I had several conversations with key influential individuals in the Boeing Company. I realized by building relationships with these influencers, they would advocate on my behalf. By strengthening the relationships I already had, and by getting several advocates, I changed the perception the leaders had of me. With that change in perception, a leader decided to take a chance on me. Halfway through the EDI program, I received a promotion into management. I’m 100% certain that it wouldn’t have happened unless I had participated in EDI. The conversations I had strengthened my relationship with my managers and leaders and resulted in me not only staying with the company but also earn that much sought after promotion, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Now, I take the lessons I learned in EDI and apply them diligently for myself and my team.

EDI helped me understand this key concept – while there is no clear roadmap in the workforce, with deliberate thought and care, one can have their desired outcome. Thank you, EDI!

Alvin Lai

Leadership Discovery, Class of 2015

I graduated from the EDI Leadership Discovery Program (Class of 2015) and recently transitioned into a finance management role at the Boeing Company. My team of Estimating & Pricing Specialist protects the Enterprise and strives for sustained business growth through business case development and financial analysis.

As I reflect back on my journey as an individual contributor into a formal management role – below are 3 takeaways that I have acquired through EDI and other development avenues that I have found valuable in my career thus far:

1) Intentional Branding: Apple, Tesla, and Uber are viewed by the public as innovative and game-changing. Every company and product has a brand and believe it or not, so do YOU. What’s your brand? Every action that you take or don’t take shapes someone’s perception of you. Your actions can determine the difference between being viewed as smart, influential and inspirational vs. deficient, ill-prepared and average. As a leader, don’t leave those perceptions to chance. Be intentional about your Leadership Brand. Below are a few tips on how.

a. Step #1 (Intentional Brand): Gather an intentional collection of characteristics (start with 3) that describes how you would like to be perceived and always ensure that these characteristics align with your core values (ex. Humble).

b. Step #2 (Develop Plan): Be strategic and determine what you need to do each day to demonstrate your intentional brand (Ex. When supporting individual or team projects I will always compliment and recognize team members for their success)

c. Step #3 (Take Action): Take action and provide the public with evidence of your brand each day. Be intentional with every action that you take and your intentional brand will come across.

2) Being Extraordinary: Every moment, we have an opportunity to generate an experience, reputation, and a better relationship. Becoming extraordinary doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and is something that needs to be tackled one day at a time. Below are a few tips on how.

a. Tip #1 (Generate an Experience): Let others experience what it feels like to work with someone that is extraordinary. When you are given a task, do it well but also do one thing that no one expects you to do. For example - If you’re tasked with answering question XYZ, anticipate follow on questions and answer those as well.

b. Tip #2 (Reputation): Figure out if there are negative perceptions of you due to age, gender, ethnicity, experience, etc. Once you figure out the negative perceptions – prove the audience wrong immediately. For example – if you’re perceived as lazy you could 1) volunteer for a project that no one wants 2) ask others if they need help 3) be the first one in the office and last to leave.

c. Tip #3 (Relationships): Invest in relationships and make friends. Compliment someone who doesn’t expect it and make an effort to connect on more than just work-related items because relationships are important. Why? Keeping everything the same (skill set, experience, etc.) who do you think the Board of Directors will elect as the next CEO - someone they have known for the past 15 years and have a great relationship with or someone they barely know?

3) Be Authentic: Never try to be someone that you’re not because we are not very good at being someone else and will come off as fake. Instead be your authentic self because it’s what we do best. At the same time, be mindful of the perceptions that others have of you and take intentional actions if needed to impact those perceptions.

As we start a new year I am renewing my commitment to being an authentic leader and also being intentional each day. I challenge you to do the same. Happy New Year to the EDI Family – Cheers!!

Alumni On The Move - December 2018

Jacob Gonzalez at a recent planning commission meeting.

Puget Sound Discovery, Class of 2018

Authenticity was a concept mentioned early and often throughout the EDI experience. Learning about who we are at our “Authentic Best” had a lasting impact on me as I started a new role just after graduating from the 2018 Leadership Discovery Program.

In September, I began my new role as Senior City Planner for the City of Pasco. Pasco is a mid-sized city that has been one of the state's fastest growing communities for over a decade. This new opportunity will allow me to work on various long-range plans but, I am most excited about the chance to work as a planner for the City I have known my whole life. The EDI program coincided with my job search, from dusting off my resume and searching for jobs to the interview and offer process. The timing was perfect. Engaging with my classmates as we learned from our facilitators helped me throughout the process of identifying specifically what I wanted from my next role, and why. The projects and plans I will be working on will allow me to use my analytical background combined with my passion for public involvement. Working with numbers is fun, however it is important to understand that these numbers represent real people in our community. I accepted the new opportunity with a humble appreciation for the responsibility it brings.

So, who am I at my authentic best? I am a compassionate and enthusiastic believer that our city and community members deserves equitable access to the things that some of the world's most livable cities and neighborhoods have. EDI taught me to channel my passion vocally with clear intent while remaining true to myself. I look forward to utilizing the skills I gained from EDI as our city plans for the future.

Mariam Abarientos

Leadership Navigation, Class of 2018

“If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley – but be the best little scrub by the side of the rill; be the bush if you can’t be a tree”.

I remember putting this poem up on my wall the very first time I walked into my place of work 22 years ago. At that time, I was young, starting out in my career and happy to be doing what I was doing. I landed a job as an Accounting Assistant for a general contractor in the Pacific Northwest, and I know I must earn my keep. That poem by Douglas Malloch was my guide. I knew I was young, full of potential, yet I understood that I had to start somewhere. At that stage in my life, I gave it my best, worked with excellence and put in 150% of whatever my present task was. I was the youngest employee in the company.


Fast forward 20 years later… I have gone through role changes in my career, and have been continuously promoted to increasing levels of responsibilities. I got promoted from Accounting Assistant to Staff Accountant, to Accounting Supervisor, then to Accounting Manager. I became the co-chair of the company’s Lean Committee. I grew up, got married, started a family. I am no longer that youth from years ago. I am still authentic, and only better. Outside of work, I serve the community as Board Director for both the Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics and the International Community Health Services Clinic boards. In those leadership roles outside of work, I learned a great deal from other leaders – CEOs, CFOs, principals of the Seattle business community and learned best practices from other companies and industries which I can then apply to my professional role. It’s like landing a job in other corporate settings and learning best practices without having to leave my current work. In all these years, there is one common denominator. I have kept that poem, in the original stationery where I printed it 22 years ago, and it served as a reminder for me that at whatever stage I am in my career, I am giving my best and excelling in what I do.

Mariam Abarientos (top right) with the Lease Crutcher Lewis Seattle Accounting Team at the Washington State Fair.

Leadership Navigation, Class of 2018


EDI came at a time when I was at the pinnacle of my career and ready for the next step. I have everything that I need, as well as the soft skills, but I needed that final push, that final formula. The EDI Leadership Navigation Program has filled that void and enabled me to take the next step forward and find my voice. The seven-month journey with my cohort and intense training with executives sharing their real-life key moments and leadership journey were invaluable. The seven months with the EDI Leadership Navigation program was very transformative, to say the least. It gave me the exposure to real-time, real-life executive perspective, insights and soft skills that not even an undergraduate degree will prepare me for. The topics discussed are things that are not necessarily taught in business schools, those are the things and knowledge that can only come from experience. I had several key takeaways, and if I have to drill it down to the top three, these are it:

1) Intent vs. Impact – EDI allowed me to become fully self-aware of my blind spots. I realized that even with good intent, my impact, or others’ perception of my actions, may come across differently. EDI helped me to see those blind spots and navigate through it so that my intent is reflective in my impact.

2) Polarity Management – this is about choosing between two good qualities, but conflicting ones. An example is being authentic and effective. As Colleen Yamaguchi shared, this is about finding the balance between the two areas and being intentional and self-aware so that you balance out the qualities without leaning in too much to one at the expense of the other.

3) Leading Change - at this capstone session, we were given the toolkit to successfully navigate through large-scale organizational change. Change is the only thing that will remain constant in any organization and in life in general. My ah-hah moment is the realization that leading others through organizational change will only be effective if you’ve done the background work to prepare the people for it. Without that key step, the highest level of performance won’t happen. If you’ve worked with the people through the process and brought them to the higher level, they can successfully navigate through anything that comes their way.

A wise person once told me: Don’t aim for perfection. Instead, aim for the relentless pursuit of better. Why not perfection? Because perfection is a destination. Once you reach it, what would be next? Instead, aim for the relentless pursuit of better. Why? Because it’s a journey, you always innovate, improve and grow, and continuously pursue to be the best of whatever you are.


“There’s big work to do and there’s lesser to do… and the task we must do is the near”

I was recently promoted to the role of Seattle Controller of Lease Crutcher Lewis, a regional leader in general construction in the Pacific and I am embarking on a new path in my leadership journey. I bring to this role my diversity of thought, first-hand experience, best practices from other organizations, and my collaborative leadership style. I see my current organization, already high-functioning and effective, and I can only see that it gets better from here! EDI has prepared me for this role, and I can’t wait to pour out the goodness and excellence that lies ahead. I still have that poem on my desk from 22 years ago, and I look forward to the positive impact that I bring which will benefit and contribute to the organization’s success. I wanted to end this by quoting the last lines of Malloch’s poem, “If you can’t be a sun, be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or fail, be the best of whatever you are!”