Our Team

Board Members

Dr. Hawani Negussie 

Dr. Hawani Negussie has been in the field of Early Childhood Care and Education for over twenty years holding various positions in the birth-21 (PK-16) educational settings. Her practice is informed by her wide range of experiences, education and training with leading institutions such as UCLA Early Intervention Program, UCLA Children’s Hospital, Early Childhood Foundation at Cedar Sinai Medical Center and California State University Long Beach-Department of the College of Education.


Dr. Negussie offers expertise within Early Childhood Education, Child Development, Special Education, Infant Mental Health, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Indigenous Education Systems, International Research, Program Development and Administration. She has demonstrated knowledge in transformational leadership, statewide program/project oversight, organizational management, teacher training, assessment/outcome including ECE curriculum and instructional design.  She has provided strategic and operational leadership in the implementation of effective early learning program standards at the state and international levels.

Her extensive work with children and families from various backgrounds and settings, especially those coming from underserved communities continues to influence her outlook on how to address the compounding challenges children and families face due to inequitable opportunities. 

Dr. Negussie holds a B.S., in Child Development, Minor in Psychology, M.A., in Early Childhood Education, Certificate in Infant Mental Health  and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership with an emphasis on PK-12 learning environments. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education. 

Dr. Ann Nkiruka Ifekwunigwe

Dr. Ann Nkiruka Ifekwunigwe is an administrator with Petersburg City Public Schools in Petersburg, VA. As a Harvard Presidential Fellow, she earned an Ed.D. in the Urban Superintendents Program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Her research and dissertation focused on the development and implementation of a strategic plan for increased middle school mathematics achievement.


Before attending Harvard, Dr. Ifekwunigwe taught elementary school for 14 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (twice renewed) and was the co-director of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Project at UCLA for five years. Dr. Ifekwunigwe is an ASCD Faculty Member, has been a scholar at the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and has worked in the United States Senate as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow.

In 2019, Dr. Ifekwunigwe became the Vice-Chair of the Virginia NBCT Network and an NBCT LEAP Grant Instructional Designer. As a member of the Instructional Design Team, she collaborated to create professional learning modules built on the National Board’s Five Core Propositions. She is also the Petersburg Team Leader for the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network (VaLIN).

In addition to her doctoral degree, Dr. Ifekwunigwe holds a bachelor’s in human development from the University of California, Riverside; a master’s in education from UCLA; a master’s in administration from Pepperdine University; a master’s in education policy and management from Harvard University; an MBA from the Sloan School of Management at MIT; and an endorsement in Gifted Education from the University of Virginia. Dr. Ifekwunigwe is the 2019-2020 fellow for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Dr. Jyotsna Pattnaik

Dr. Jyotsna Pattnaik is the director of the Master’s in Early Childhood Education program at California State University Long Beach. Previously, she served as an Assistant/Associate professor of early childhood education at Central Missouri State University. 


Dr. Pattnaik is an award-winning instructor, leader and researcher. She is involved in several international early childhood education projects including teacher trainings, expanding educational opportunities to underserved children in India, and is involved with organizations such as  Read India,Balwadis (preschool programs) and Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). Her research explores multicultural and international education,childhood in South Asia, early childhood education, father/male involvement in young children’s lives, quality of schooling (private and government) for low-income children, the education of girls, and children’s issues in developing countries.

Dr. Pattnaik has delivered a lecture to a 17-member delegation from the He’nan Family Planning Commission, Yima City, China on the theoretical and empirical underpinnings of development of the whole child, different types of early childhood education programs, the importance of professional credentials for early childhood education programs, and the need for training (preservice and in-service) of early childhood educators. Dr. Pattnaik is involved in two research projects titled:  Girls’ Education in South Asia: A Multisite Case Study of Pakistani Elementary Schools, and Paternal and Maternal Involvement: A Qualitative Study with Hispanic Parents of Infant/toddlers.

Dr. Yodit Belew

Yodit Belew, MD, is an infectious diseases specialist and a senior medical officer at FDA, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). Dr. Belew earned her medical degree from Cornell University Medical College. She completed general pediatrics residency at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, then continued her post-graduate training as an infectious diseases fellow at Children’s National Medical Center. Dr. Belew is Board certified in general pediatrics and pediatric infectious disease.

Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Gonzalez

Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Gonzalez is an experienced administrator with over 17 years of experience (including oversight, administration, coordination and supervision) of various education programs (PK-16) that integrate students, family engagement, and community services (school district and non-profit).


Dr. Gonzalez’s experience includes strategic planning, program design and management, budget planning and management, and leveraging resources to optimize service delivery. She has a successful track record of developing management systems,  grant writing, expanding and developing programs, and facilitating school readiness services with measurable outcomes. An area of specialization includes child development, early intervention, and special education services. Sandra’s early part of her career included working with Regional Center’s as a Counselor for Early Start and as a Disabilities Specialist with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. As a current school district administrator, Dr. Gonzalez facilitates services for over 500 disadvantaged students and families. 

Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology, Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences, Minor in Education, Master of Arts in Psychology with an emphasis on human behavior and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

 Endale Dasso

Endale is a highly motivated and dynamic humanitarian aid worker with extensive experience and leadership skills in Programme Management in Ethiopia and overseas. He is currently working for Action Against Hunger (ACF) with the capacity of Department Head for Mental Health, Care Practice, Gender, and Protection programming. He is passionate and devoted to saving the lives of children and their families by improving the mental health status of the crisis-affected population. With a strong hands-on knowledge and experience, he also serves to prevent malnutrition and negative consequences of malnutrition on children


In addition, Endale has worked for over 9 years in the education sector. He has served as a dedicated teacher, principled, caring, and known to be a great planner. Endale has worked as a unit leader, a teachers’ development vice-Director and Director in public and private charity schools (Preschool, Primary, and Elementary) where he contributed for the schools to become centers of children’s development, utilizing their intellectual powers and transform them to be reliable citizens. 

Endale holds M.A., with a specialization in Social Psychology, Bachelor of Education Degree in Chemistry and a B.A Degree in Psychology.

Elaini Negussie, MPH

Ms. Negussie has over a decade of experience in community based participatory research and education programs both nationally and internationally. Her work focuses on health disparities and disruptive innovation strategies to address them. She has been forming active community partnerships to disseminate information, raise awareness about health disparities and support healthy living in communities of color, specifically through addressing social determinants of health.


She collaborates closely with a wide group of advocates and health professionals to create community-driven health solutions that are intentional and support community leadership. Ms. Negussie earned her B.A from UCLA and her MPH from Boston University.

Tsehay Asfaw / Board Treasurer

Tsehay has over 20 years of experience in the retail business industry.  Tsehay started her career as an Assistant Buyer with Robinsons May department store where she was responsible for 76 store locations across the US with volume over $10MM.  She continued her career as an Allocation Analyst with Anna’s Linens, a home décor retail store, responsible for merchandise allocation for across 200+ store locations.   


After a few years with Anna’s Linens, Tsehay ventured into becoming an entrepreneur and started a home-based online retail store focused on personalized/promotional gifts and awards. This entrepreneurship opportunity gave Tsehay the flexibility to spend quality time with her two children during their early childhood years. Aside from her career, Tsehay has done several volunteering activities in the Ethiopian Church Community, One Voice LA and LA Regional Food Bank.  Among many current issues we are facing today’s world, Tsehay is most passionate about child hunger and early childhood education.

Currently, she works at JPMorgan Chase as Relationship Banker/Small Business Specialist/Registered Representative. Tsehay holds a B.S., in Business Administration and Management. 

Tiara Stevens / Board Secretary

Tiara Stevens is a  Business Manager at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a leading early childhood education provider with programs operating worldwide. She has over 14 years of experience in early childhood care and education administration, with expert knowledge in human resources, fiscal management, state, federal and  regional licensing policies. Tiara is a master multi-tasker, exceptional at organizational management techniques, with excellent communication skills.


Prior to joining Bright Horizons, Tiara worked as a Field Director for Young Champions that provided enrichment programs to youth in the community. She has held an internship position as a Public Relations Assistant for the Magic Johnson Foundation which works to develop programs and support community-based organizations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities. Tiara is a graduate of UCLA,  where she earned a B.A., in Anthropology/Language and Communication. 

FikreYesus Mesfin

  Fikre-Yesus Mesfen is a registered Practicing Professional Architect,  practicing architecture since 2001 in the United States and now in Ethiopia.  

He is involved in overseeing complete design, providing construction supervision on various projects including residential, commercial, financial institutions, educational facilities, healthcare, religious, industrial facilities, restoration of historical buildings and convention center in addition to the council’s office. 


He worked as a project architect on the Gullele Botanical Garden- Agora 2 project which was a first prize winner in an international contest design. Grand Palace New Guest House (Prime Minister Residence) for The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE). Currently he is a managing partner and architect at Bigar Builders and Developers PLC which he co-founded with three other partners in 2012 in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. FikreYesus holds a Bachelors of Architecture from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

David Mesfin / Communication Director

David Mesfin is a Creative Director with 15+ years’ experience with award-winning integrated campaign background including Super Bowl, FIFA, NFL, and global brand launch campaign.

Lead manager in key accounts and creating global partnerships to increase brand awareness through traditional, digital, social media, and experimental marketing campaigns. His experience include collaborating with such brands as Genesis, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Isuzu, Farmers Insurance, Neutrogena, Sony, and Adidas to communicate their company’s vision through creative marketing strategies. 

Sihin Tamene 

Sihin Tamene was always drawn to the Arts and during her formative years, she excelled in the field. This early experience has continued to influence how she approaches and introduces art to young children.

She pursued her passion and received her B.A. in Fine Arts and has been engaged in several large and small projects including album covers, city murals, book covers, to name a few. She has combined her talents for the arts and teaching children and has volunteered in several non-profit organizations such as Coach Art delivering weekly individual art lessons for kids with chronic diseases, and Girls on Run, as a team mentor. She uses Fidel (the Ethiopian alphabet), indigenous symbols and culturally relevant materials in her abstract medium. In addition, she enjoys teaching children language and cultural education. Currently, she works at NRG as a Senior Manager in Los Angeles. 


Advisors and Idea Bloomers

Dr. Charles Slater

Dr. Charles Slater is a professor of Educational Leadership at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). He previously served as a professor at Texas State University San Marcos and was superintendent of schools in Texas and Massachusetts. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his MAT from Occidental College, and his B.A. from the University of Minnesota.

He teaches in the Master’s and Doctoral programs at CSULB and has directed doctoral dissertations in educational leadership, counseling, and early childhood education.


He conducts research in educational administration in Latin America and served as visiting professor at the University of Barcelona in 2013 and the Autonomous University of Madrid in 2019. He taught in the doctoral program at la Universidad del Valle de Mexico for five years and has collaborated with colleagues to publish comparative studies of Costa Rica, Mexico, and Spain as part of the International Study of Leadership Development Network (ISLDN).

Dr. Xin Li

Dr. Xin Li is a professor in the College of Education at California State University Long Beach. An important part of her teaching and research is in language diversity, second language acquisition and teaching, multicultural education, cross cultural education, and global education. She speaks, reads, and writes in English and Chinese. Based on her international life experiences in China, Canada, and the United States, she has researched and published extensively in this field in both English and Chinese.


Amy Fougy

Amy Fougy is an award-winning early childhood educator and administrator with over 17 years of experience in the field of child development and early education. Her program provides high-quality care and education learning environment for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Amy’s leads a program that is founded on the constructivist approach using play as the primary method for both interaction and instruction. Her site has been used as a place to train teachers, grow leaders, and guide for new centers. Amy’s expertise includes curriculum and instruction for the growing infants and toddlers, kindergarten readiness strategies for preschoolers, parent engagement and community partnership. Further, Amy has demonstrated knowledge on program accreditation, state licensing laws, health and safety regulation as it relates to ECE programs.


Currently, Amy Fougy is the Program Director at Mattel Child Development Center, located at Mattel Inc., headquarters in Southern California. Amy holds a B.A., in Early Childhood Education

Laila Ramji

Laila Ramji has a strong background in Child Development, with a Master’s in Education & Child Life. Laila has worked in hospitals and schools.  Currently, she is a certified child life specialist (CCLS) with UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. Laila has worked at UCLA since 2001. Laila has introduced and built child life services for UCLA Santa Monica for the last 9 years. Prior to this, her experience was in after school and elementary programming, as well as, early childhood education. 


Laila has experience presenting at conferences, in student training, and program development. Highlights include collaborating with multidisciplinary teams to increase awareness of children’s grief and supporting families during stressful times. Laila has been an integral member of the palliative team; focusing on the quality of life and resources available to families. A more recent focus has included self-care and resources for medical staff experiencing stress and burnout.