FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA Member Bios
Lindsey Castellon, FIRST VISTA Leader, ME
Lindsey (Wright) Castellon served as a FIRST VISTA in 2012 and continues her service in August 2013 as a FIRST VISTA Leader. Castellon is a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems. With her intense curiosity about the world, her background in scientific research and her desire help others find their passions, Castellon has been able to build community in her area through sharing her love of STEM with others.
Lauren Tello, FIRST VISTA Leader, Chicago, IL
Lauren Tello graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Sociology. Tello has had a very exciting start at FIRST, working at headquarters starting in April 2013 during the finalization of Championship activities. Tello has also helped manage the new VISTA expansion. She is currently helping with the recruitment of 48 new VISTAs that FIRST hopes to place by the end of August.
Kassandra Cossette, VISTA, Chandler, AZ
Kassandra Cossette has dedicated much of her time to serving immigrant communities through non-profits around the Midwest. Much of Cossette's leadership experience comes from serving as an elementary education educator, as well as a liaison between families and government providers through various amazing organizations.
Caitlin Rusch, VISTA, Chandler, AZ
Caitlin Rusch has extensive work experience in non-profit organizations and in scientific fields. Rusch received her B.S. in Environmental Studies from Northern Arizona University in 2012. She is interested in non-profit administration and public outreach, which her time with the Ecological Restoration Institute cultivated. Rusch is passionate about science and increasing literacy among the general public.
James Lin, VISTA, Los Angeles, CA
James Lin has comprehensive work experiences in developing, implementing, and evaluating educational programs. As a Research Intern at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), Lin has served and worked with students, faculty, and campus staff to develop educational programs that encourage and promote healthy workplace and academic environments. Lin looks forward to continue his services with FIRST as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
Paulene Rejano, VISTA, San Jose, CA
Paulene Rejano’s experience in education as Paraeducator provided her the opportunity to work alongside faculty and staff to support the educational growth of high-school students at Leadership-Public Schools-Richmond in Richmond, CA. This experience has sparked within her the desire to continue work with the youth.
Owen McKenzie, VISTA, Hartford, CT
Owen McKenzie received his M.F.A in Studio Art from the University of Connecticut. McKenzie's experiences in non-profit administration and education have been in the visual arts, and he is excited to expand the scope of his work in the field. In his previous capacities he has coordinated programs with statewide educational organizations and accrediting agencies, worked in fundraising and event management, as well as programmed and scheduled workshops for students.
Luke Farrell, VISTA, Washington, DC
Luke Farrell graduated from the University of New Hampshire. His career-path searches brought him to the FIRST VISTA program. Farrell has a strong desire to help and serve his country and to be in a position to better the lives and opportunities of those less fortunate than he. Farrell is proud and excited to be representing FIRST in our nation's capital.
Lauren Sadler, VISTA, Washington, DC
Lauren Sadler graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy and a Minor in International Studies from American University. Sadler has experience on Capitol Hill as a legislative intern where she did work on both policy and reaching out to constituents. She also has extensive experience working with youth. Sadler has a passion for education and competition, and is excited to be working with FIRST to encourage STEM education in young people.
Kushboo Brahmbhatt, VISTA, Miami, FL
Khushboo Brahmbhatt recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Biological Engineering. Brahmbhatt was fiercely involved with her university chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) where she was elected as the Vice President and PR Representative. STEM subjects played a pivotal role in her day to day classes. This inspired her to apply with FIRST where she would be able to help get younger kids involved those same subjects that she grew to love.
Joel Croteau, VISTA, Tampa, FL
Joel Croteau was a founding member of the FIRST robotics team, Team Duct Tape #2845. It was during this time with FIRST that Croteau realized his passion for helping students and furthering education. While in FIRST, he served as his team's public relations and human resources director. Croteau hopes to reach out to other students the way that FIRST was able to reach out and help him.
Loridee Wetzel, VISTA, Moscow, ID
Loridee Wetzel has been a wildlife and fisheries biologist, computer programmer, lunch lady, historian, writer, and science, engineering, and technology associate for Idaho 4-H. While at Idaho 4-H, she recruited and trained volunteers, organized regional FIRST competitions, and coached a Jr.FLL team. She also coordinates volunteers and fundraising efforts for Moscow Charter School Parent Action Team, in Moscow, Idaho.
Katrina Adams, VISTA, Chicago, IL
Katrina Adams hopes to continue with her passion of servicing others through positive community service. As the founder of STARR (Striving to Achieve Righteous Realities), Adams strives to make a positive contribution to society through education, positive entertainment and productive community services. Being a native of Chicago, Katrina feels confident that her contributions to FIRST will be productive, supportive, yet compassionate and successful.
Mari Miller, VISTA, Chicago, IL
Mari Miller has extensive project management experience from qualitative and quantitative research projects, as well as from leading small production workgroups and not-for-profit service teams. She recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a M.A. in Social Sciences emphasizing Psychological Anthropology and Biopsychology in 2013 and earned a B.S. in Biology from UNC Charlotte in 2012. Miller is dedicated to facilitating discovery and inspiring students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Renee Becker, VISTA, Indianapolis, IN
Renee Becker is an alumnus of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 1675 from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Becker earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Scientific and Technical Communications at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. After college, Becker became the FIRST Senior Mentor in Minnesota. Becker is the FIRST Fundraising Toolkit Coordinator, a member of the Non-Engineering Mentor Organization (NEMO), facilitator of Roundtable meetings at regionals and off-season events in the Midwest, co-founder of Assisting Creative Energy (ACE).
Winfred "Win" Turner, VISTA, Indianapolis, IN
Winfred “Win” Turner has been hooked on the FIRST Robotics since he attended his first Regional Competition in 2006. Turner has tried to grab every opportunity to give students and adults the chance to be a part of FIRST since. Turner believes being a FIRST VISTA is the best chance yet to expand the FIRST program to underserved and underrepresented populations. He is eager to get started with this program and spread the word about FIRST to everyone. Turner is a retired machinist and electrician for the Rolls Royce Corporation as well as a veteran of the US Air Force.
Ebbie Njoku, VISTA, Baltimore, MD
Ebbie Njoku is a graduate of Emory University and is a first generation Nigerian-American whose devotion to service is reflected in organizational memberships she has held including: Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Habitat for Humanity, the UPS Foundation Corporate Charitable Grant Committee, and Atlanta Urban League of Young Professionals. Njoku's previous work with the Georgia Institute of Technology GO STEM Pathways Gwinnett and Georgia Internships and Fellowships for Teachers through Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) makes her well suited for the partnership with FIRST.
Connor O'Neil, VISTA, Baltimore, MD
Conner O’Neil recently graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor's of Arts in Physics. While at the University of Wisconsin, he tutored at-risk high school students in math and science through the PEOPLE program. O'Neil enjoyed the opportunity to inspire interest in the natural sciences, a topic that he is always willing to discuss.
Jason R. Barnes, VISTA, Boston, MA
Jason Barnes graduated from Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA with a B.S. in Biblical Studies. Barnes has extensive experience working in non-profit organizations involving community outreach and working with youth. As the Tech Coordinator for Boston's B-SAFE program, Barnes was responsible for teaching computers and technology to 122 students weekly ranging from K2-8th grade.
Ashley Brueske, VISTA, Boston, MA
Ashley Brueske has extensive experience working in nonprofit agencies and academic setting in direct service and outreach capacities. Brueske has served as a crisis counselor, an employment coach, and an advocate assisting people in accessing and securing community resources. As a part-time graduate student in mental health counseling, Brueske is training to become a therapist and also hopes to continue to involve herself in research.
Malcolm Strickland, VISTA, Kansas City, MO
Malcolm Strickland’s experience working with teams and helping them develop has molded him into the technical leader he is today. As a mentor for many different teams, Strickland has demonstrated problem solving and time management skills to help teams become successful. Through time and volunteering, Strickland has helped run and create many different functions throughout the Greater Kansas City region. He is excited for his new role.
Angela Mayes, VISTA, St. Louis, MO
Angela Mayes has been an AmeriCorps member four times. Mayes has been a tutor and mentor for the past five years in the St. Louis Public Schools and has tutored students in elementary, middle, and high schools in reading and math. Mayes was also responsible for starting and maintaining the operation of after school programs at Dunbar and Jefferson Elementary schools. Mayes has also worked with the University of Missouri-St. Louis as an AVID tutor at various high-schools and middle-schools throughout the St. Louis city area and is currently a senior Fine Arts major there as well.
Bailey Lindgren, VISTA, Lincoln, NE
Bailey Lindgren has completed extensive work with different non-profit organizations. She has also created two curriculums to teach during the summer that promoted equal gender roles in the career fields and changes stereotypes.
Jennifer Vetter, VISTA, Durham, NH
Jennifer Vetter comes to AmeriCorps with a wide variety of experience in the fields of higher education and nonprofits, especially as it relates to outreach, promotion and branding. Earning her undergraduate degree in graphic design from the University of Georgia opened up a world of opportunity. Vetter decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of New Hampshire, which led to an interest in AmeriCorps. Vetter is very happy to be a part of FIRST.
Casey Linden, VISTA, Manchester, NH
Casey Linden is a recent graduate of Saint Anselm College where he received a degree in Criminal Justice. As a volunteer at Manchester Child and Family Services, Linden received experience working with homeless and at-risk teens. Linden is currently working with FIRST to build the capacity of the FIRST Youth Protection Program.
Riley White, VISTA, Manchester, NH
Riley White has extensive FIRST experience. White has been on a FIRST Lego League (FLL) and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team. White has also mentored her local FLL teams. White has extensive fund raising experience, helping teams get the funds and the help needed to grow their teams.
Sam Alexander, VISTA, New York City, NY
Sam Alexander recently graduated with dual bachelor's degrees from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. During his college years, Alexander volunteered at FRC district, regional and off-season events in roles such as Field Reset, Team Queuer, Referee and Safety Advisor. Beginning in 2011, Alexander was a Mentor for FRC Team 395, 2 Train Robotics in the Bronx, New York and was a facilitator of non-technical projects and team administrator. Alexander is excited to introduce the excitement and community of FIRST to students and schools new to the organization as well as to support existing FIRST teams.
Alicia Brown, VISTA, New York City, NY
Alicia Brown has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Criminal Justice from the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Brown has extensive experience working with at risk youth in a variety of settings. Brown has demonstrated her commitment to serving and enhancing the lives of the youth, in therapeutic school settings, and outdoor leadership training.
Amanda Clapper, VISTA, Upstate NY
Amanda Clapper has headed up multiple programs in robotics while at Clarkson University. Clapper was the President of the FIRST Robotics Living Learning Community, Micro robotics Speed Team, and Team Leader for the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) mentoring program. Clapper is currently an FRC Mentor and is looking forward to getting more students involved in FIRST programs.
Andrea Byrd, VISTA, Greensboro, NC
Andrea Byrd attended Howard University where she received her bachelor’s degree in Biology/Chemistry. Byrd completed medical school at the same institution. She is currently completing her MBA at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Although her professional background is primarily in medicine and clinical research, her passion for STEM education reaches back to her adolescent years. Byrd's enthusiasm for engaging youth in STEM fields has guided her career pursuits and eventually led her to FIRST.
Amber Williams, VISTA, Greensboro, NC
Amber Williams is a graduate from North Carolina A&T State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She has worked for the Greensboro Area Math and Science Center, Sylvan Learning Center and currently a tutor for Club Z Tutoring. As a mentor/tutor, Williams has had experience with kids of all ages from Middle School to the collegiate level.
Julia Barrett, VISTA, Portland, OR
Julia Barrett has worked in non-profits volunteering with organizations such as Write Around Portland and the International Carpe Diem Foundation. Barrett has experience with grant writing and volunteer recruitment, and is still active with the Girl Scouts. Barrett is excited not only to make a difference in a community, but to serve youth. Barrett is looking forward to being part of the FIRST team.
Diana Stephens, VISTA, Portland, OR
Diana Stephens’ background in architecture has developed her interest in working with diverse humans, for creative problem solving, and the merging of art and technology. Stephens has worked with several Oregon non-profits, medical facilities, businesses and families to imagine and build a place that suits their varying needs and dreams. Stephens has maintained a commitment to volunteering in her community, with the 1% org, The Architecture Foundation of Oregon, Habitat for Humanity, and several non-profits enabling the Arts.
Rita Allishaw-Wall, VISTA, Philadelphia, PA
Rita Allishaw-Wall has extensive experience in a variety of leadership roles as member of the Penn FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Regional Planning Committee, the Event Coordinator for Eastern Pennsylvania FLL competition events, program manager and Expo Event Coordinator for Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL) in eastern Pennsylvania. Allishaw-Wall also serves as a teacher, Mentor, and Coach for various FIRST teams. Allishaw-Wall also serves as a Volunteer for multiple regional and national non-profit organizations.
Amanda Gordon, VISTA, Philadelphia, PA
Amanda Gordon is a graduate from Temple University with a degree in Human Resource Management. During college, Gordon worked in the recruiting department of the Temple Athletic Department. Gordon also worked at the Salvation Army of Pennsylvania in the Human Resources department. Gordon is passionate about serving the community and is excited about working with FIRST as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
Emily Harrison, VISTA, Providence, RI
Emily Harrison has considerable experience in problem solving, critical thinking, conducting research, and communication, not only in writing and speaking, but also in engaging and inspiring people. Harrison holds significant experience interacting with peoples of diverse cultures, belief systems and social backgrounds.
Paul D. Membere, VISTA, Providence, RI
Paul Membere has extensive work experience as a Manufacturing Engineer at Boeing and Raytheon Aircraft Company. Membere was responsible for bringing a product from concept to design and fabrication and to meet design specifications and fit a particular market niche as perceived and mandated by corporate.
Rena Clay, VISTA, Memphis, TN
Rena Clay is a part-time student at Ole Miss University where she studies integrated marketing communication. This is Clay’s second time as a VISTA member. Clay has also held roles as a property manager in both residential and commercial buildings supervising hundreds of units and staff members, and as a real estate agent who is now retired and ready to start the next chapter in her life. Clay will be working with FIRST and the Shelby County Schools in Memphis, TN.
Dustin Maki, VISTA, Memphis, TN
Dustin Maki has a wide breadth of knowledge and aptitudes in mechanical, electronic, and computer systems. He is largely self-taught with concentration in robotics and embedded systems. He is currently working toward B.S. degrees in Computer Engineering and Engineering Technology. As a member of IEEE he works with a team building competition robots, has served as robot chair, and treasurer. Maki's work with FIRST began as mentor during quick builds, kickoffs, and summer camps at the University of Memphis.
Ben Nelson, VISTA, Austin, TX
Ben Nelson has been involved with many different organizations over the years, including Boy Scouts of America, AFS, and the Missionaries of the Poor. Graduating in 2013 with a degree in Information Systems, Nelson hopes to hit the ground running with FIRST, doing anything he can to help. Nelson chose to get involved with AmeriCorps, and in particular FIRST, because he is anxious to share his love of technology with others.
Clare Entwistle, VISTA, San Antonio, TX
Clare Entwistle graduated from Kalamzoo College with degrees in Math and Biology in 2012. After graduation she signed up to work as a missionary with the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Entwistle is passionate about educational and environmental justice. She has worked in many social justice groups throughout college and is excited to continue service work after college.
Nickita Sancho, VISTA, San Antonio, TX
Nickita Sancho has a vast work experience in counseling/therapy, teaching and administration. In order to put her experience and skills to good use, Sancho accepted an assignment in San Antonio as a FIRST VISTA. There Sancho will be inspiring youth to achieve higher education and raising their awareness to educational opportunities. Sancho will also serve as a recruiter and volunteer coordinator for FIRST teams.
Mariah Noelle Villarreal, VISTA, San Antonio, TX
Mariah Noelle Villarreal is formally trained in public policy and entrepreneurship through the UNCFSP Institute for International Public Policy Fellowship and Global Entrepreneurship Institute Fellowship as well as the St. Mary's University Entrepreneur Scholars Program. Villarreal's work with FIRST is a continuation and a strengthening of her trajectory of supporting underrepresented students in constructionist learning environments.
Delilah Gilliam, VISTA, Chesapeake, VA
Delilah Gilliam, Virginian and recent graduate of the University of Virginia, joins FIRST this year. Gilliam's experience in project research and development prompted her interest in FIRST, and she is confident that FIRST programs can provide students in Virginia and abroad with the necessary skill set to succeed amongst the academically elite and develop a transformative approach to learning.
Jessica Edgecomb, VISTA, Ellensburg, WA
Jessica Edgecomb has a passion for education and science. As a peer tutor at Boston University, she tutored college students in chemistry, physiology and math. She also volunteered as a math tutor with Let's Get Ready, a program that works on preparing at risk youth for college.
Darek Czarnecki, VISTA, Fairmont, WV
Darek Czarnecki graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in business and sustainable Design, and has done work on historical restorations in southern West Virginia. He is also an active member of the community, who has served as a volunteer firefighter, and has taken a hands on approach to local watershed issues by volunteering with Friends of Cheat and American Whitewater. Czarnecki will be working in the ERC (Education Resource Center) at NASA’s IV&V facility in Fairmont, West Virginia this year.
Ryan Headlee, VISTA, Fairmont, WV
Ryan Headlee is a graduate of Penn State and member of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, a Reserve of the Air Force. After college Headlee began serving at his local church as a Leader in the Royal Ranger Program, a mentoring program for boys, much like Boy Scouts. Headlee gained leadership experience by planning lessons and activities, teaching, and distributing work between the leaders.
Lydia Roussos, VISTA, Madison, WI
Lydia Roussos is a graduate of Marquette University with degrees honors in English literature and Philosophy. After graduation she completed two years of post-bachelor's work in art history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During this time she volunteered in the Catholic Multicultural Center's food pantry garden, volunteered with children through the YWCA, became Little Free Library's Book Acquisitions Director and was the Associate Director of Instillation and Membership for the Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee.