Board of Directors 2023

Afsheen Shamsi, Vice President Communications and Marketing at Union Theological Seminary

Afsheen Shamsi has over a decade of experience in communications in the non-profit sector and has served as Director of Communications and Marketing at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at Rutgers University for the last five years. Under Afsheen’s leadership, Rutgers GSE has become nationally recognized for its excellence in communications and has won several awards for many projects that she has led. She has been instrumental in developing and articulating the communications strategy for various non-profits and achieved greater visibility on the national and international stage for her non-profit clients and employers. Afsheen has worked with non-profits focused on health care, civil rights, education, hunger and homelessness. She has a long record of public service and was elected to the Board of Education for Princeton Public Schools where she was an advocate for equity and worked to address bullying...

Alexa Smith – Chief of Staff & VP, Special Initiatives, Manhattan School of Music

Alexa Smith is the Chief of Staff in the Office of the President and Assistant Vice President for Special Initiatives at Manhattan School of Music. After receiving her from Master’s Degree from MSM in Voice, she pursued a career in opera before becoming the Marketing Director at New York City Opera. There she led marketing efforts and planned special events with partners including The Mexican Cultural Institute, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, Rosa Mexicano, The Ucross Foundation, and Passport Magazine. As Chief of Staff she oversees special projects for the Office of The President. In 2022, Ms. Smith received the Sphinx Venture Fund award to develop a new voice competition with MSM and New York City Opera for Black and Latinx emerging singers.

Amy Hawley Alvarez, Assistant Director of School and Community Partnerships

Amy Hawley Alvarez has been with Teachers College for more than 6 years. She currently serves as the Assistant Director of School and Community Partnerships as well as the Teachers College Community School Liaison. In these roles, she supports a wide range of programming, including all TC programming at TCCS. Ms. Alvarez is also Co-Director of TC’s Staff Advocacy & Support Council. Prior to TC, she was a senior managing editor at Cambridge University Press.

Arthur Gianelli – President of Mount Sinai Morningside

Arthur Gianelli is the current President of Mount Sinai St. Luke's. Prior to joining St. Luke's, Gianelli worked at the Nassau Health Care Corporation, a publicly run healthcare delivery system that provides high-quality care to Nassau County's most vulnerable populations, first as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and then as President and CEO. Gianelli has served or currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Long Island Association, Island Harvest, and Regional Policy Board 2 of the American Hospital Association, and he also serves on the Executive Committees of Healthfirst and America’s Essential Hospitals. Gianelli holds degrees from St. John's University, Brown University, Dowling College, and Columbia University and also teaches graduate students about hospital management and health care at Hofstra, Dowling, St. Jospeh's, and Columbia.

Brian Simpson – Director of Communications & Strategy at Riverside Church

Since 2015, Brian Simpson has served in a variety of director-level communication and information technology roles at The Riverside Church in the City of New York, playing a key role in Riverside's branding efforts and new website launch. He came to Riverside from Arizona, where he served as director of communications at the Association of Arizona Food Banks (AAFB). Brian spearheaded all marketing, public relations, and outreach efforts on behalf of AAFB, which provides public policy advocacy and logistics services to five member food banks and their network of 1,200 partner agencies in all fifteen Arizona counties. Brian received his MBA from Ottawa University, where he also worked as a Marketing Manager, and he graduated with a BA in Communication from the University of Arizona.

Emma Wolfe, Senior Advisor to the President for External Relations and Leadership Development

Barnard welcomed Emma Wolfe in January to serve as the first Senior Advisor to the President for External Relations and Leadership Development. Wolfe, who served as Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor in Bill de Blasio’s administration, will enhance Barnard’s relationships with government officials and expand leadership development opportunities. She majored in urban studies and sociology at Barnard and is deeply passionate about community organizing and politics. For the past 12 years, she helped craft and implement Bill de Blasio’s agenda, first during his tenure as Public Advocate and then for the entirety of his two terms as Mayor, serving as his highest-ranking staffer. Prior to her work in city government, she worked for the Working Families Party, Service Employees International Union, and Acorn.

Isadora Wilkenfeld – Director of Cathedral Programming & Communication at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

Isadora Wilkenfeld is Director, Cathedral Programming and Communications. A native of Connecticut, she has been part of the Cathedral staff since 2012.

James Gandre – President of Manhattan School of Music

Dr. James Gandre, an educator and musician with a deep commitment to students and the development of American conservatory learning, returned to Manhattan School of Music to assume the presidency in May 2013. He had previously served the School for fifteen years. In 2000, Gandre became Dean of Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where he ultimately went on to serve as the University’s Provost and Executive Vice President. As a performer, Gandre has appeared as a tenor soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra, London Classical Players, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and members of the San Francisco Symphony. His professional choral engagements include more than 175 performances. He is currently a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (GRAMMYS) and the Recommendation Board of the Avery Fisher Artist Program and holds degrees from Lawrence University, the San...

Lawrence Palfini – Vice President of Facilities Management and Site Operations at International House

Lawrence M. Palfini is the Vice President Facilities and Site Operations of International House. In this role, he is responsible for the strategic planning and execution of the capital improvement plan and facilities management requirements for International House’s non-profit educational residential community of over 700 students, scholars and interns from over 100 countries around the globe. The Morningside Heights campus consists of over 350,000 square feet of both dormitory and apartments as well as a full service cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasium, fitness center, various study centers, meeting entertainment, parking garage, and administrative office support spaces. Lawrence leads and guides a team of approximately 50 maintenance and housekeeping professionals which support the mission of International House. Prior to joining International House, he worked for the iconic jewelry brand Tiffany and Company for 25 years as a Vice President of Global Real Estate...

Loftin Flowers – Associate Vice President for Government Relations at Columbia University

Loftin Flowers is the Associate Vice President for Government Relations and leads the University’s engagement and advocacy efforts with federal, state and city government. Loftin holds a B.A. in History from Haverford College and an M.P.A. from Columbia University. Prior to his role at Columbia, Loftin worked in Washington, DC at the national offices of the Children's Defense Fund, the Democratic National Committee, and John Kerry’s 2004 campaign for President.

Matthew J. Camp – Director of Government Relations at Teachers College

Matthew Camp is a government relations expert with 15 years of experience in politics, public policy, and advocacy and is currently the Director of Government Relations for Teachers College, Columbia University, where he cultivates relationships with government officials, develops innovative education programs, and secures funding for the College. He is also completing a Ph.D. in Politics & Education at Columbia University. In the past, Camp has taught political science at Columbia University, political advocacy at Teachers College, and SAT, ESL, GED/TASC courses though organizations including New York Cares, the New York Public Library, and Columbia Community Impact. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from Rutgers University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware with a double major in political science and psychology. Camp currently serves on boards of Community District 9 in Manhattan and Good Shepherd Services...

Nicole Mirando – Assistant Dean for Academic Administration, Union Theological Seminary

Nicole is an experienced professional with a demonstrated history of working in the higher education industry. She has served as Assistant Dean and Registrar at UTS. Prior to working at UTS, she held administrative positions at University of Loyola MD. Ms. Mirando’s skills span Nonprofit Organizations, Customer Satisfaction, Data Reporting, and Management.

Paula Mayo – President and Executive Director of The Interchurch Center

Paula Mayo is the President and Executive Director of The Interchurch Center, a position she has held since 2008. Ms. Mayo has over thirty years’ experience in the non-profit sector as a senior executive professional. Ms. Mayo has held prominent positions at United Way of New York City and South Street Seaport Museum, where she served as Executive Director for the last five years of her seventeen-year tenure. She has also held positions at Lincoln Center and the 92nd Street YM-YWHA. She holds degrees from Hunter College, and certifications in fundraising and real estate and property management from New York University. Ms. Mayo is a board member of The New York Women’s Agenda and National Executive Service Core Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Salvation Army, East Harlem Citadel Corps.

Phoebe Arnold – Director of Community Affairs at Columbia University

A proud Harlem native, Phoebe-Sade Arnold is Director of Community Affairs for Columbia University. Phoebe's responsibilities include project tracking, constituency outreach, and oversight of special projects and programs that relate to matters of urban planning, land use, and community affairs. Working in conjunction with the Associate Vice President of Planning and Community Affairs, Phoebe attends Community Board meetings, public and private forums, and other community oriented events on behalf of the University. Phoebe’s portfolio also includes managing the University’s portion of the West Harlem Development Corporation in-kind space process. Phoebe received her Bachelors in Political Science from the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, and her Master’s in Public Administration from Baruch College.

Rev. Michael Livingston – Executive Minister of Riverside Church

The Rev. Michael Livingston is the Executive Minister at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. He is the former Interfaith Worker Justice National Policy Director and served as the Director of IWJ's Washington, D.C. office from 2012 until 2014. He served as IWJ's voice in the halls of Congress and with coalitions advocating for national policies that advance the rights of working families. Prior to IWJ, the Rev. Livingston spent years in executive leadership in the context of deep ecumenical and interfaith engagement with the International Council of Community Churches (ICCC) and the National Council of Churches (NCC). His leadership with the National Council of Churches took him around the world on missions of peacemaking, reconciliation, interfaith dialog and prophetic engagement. The Rev. Livingston is a graduate of theological education at Princeton Theological Seminary. He began his ministry in service to...

Sebastian Fries, PhD – President & CEO, International House New York

Sebastian Fries joined I-House as President and CEO in May 2021. Prior to I-House he served as the inaugural Executive Director of Corporate Partnerships at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, where he led industry relations between Columbia faculty and Fortune 500 corporations. Prior to Columbia, Fries was the Chief Giving Officer at TOMS Shoes in Los Angeles, CA, where he led the company’s social impact strategy with partnerships in more than 70 countries. Earlier, he held various international leadership positions at Pfizer, including Senior Director of Global Access and Director of Strategic Planning for the Emerging Markets Business Unit. He received a PhD in International Relations from the Free University in Berlin, spent three years as a graduate student at Harvard University as part of his doctoral studies and holds an MA from the University of Cologne. Born and...

Serene Jones – President of the Union Theological Seminary

The Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is the 16th President of the Union Theological Seminary. The first woman to head the 182-year-old institution, Jones occupies the Johnston Family Chair for Religion and Democracy. She is a Past President of the American Academy of Religion, which annually hosts the world’s largest gathering of scholars of religion. Jones came to Union after seventeen years at Yale University, where she was the Titus Street Professor of Theology at the Divinity School, and Chair of the University’s Program in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of several books including Trauma and Grace, and, most recently, her upcoming memoir Call It Grace: Finding Meaning in a Fractured World.  Jones holds degrees from the University of Oklahoma, Yale Divinity School, and Yale University.

Shailagh Murray – Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at Columbia University

Shailagh Murray is currently the Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at Columbia University. She earned her BA from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and her MS in Journalism from Northwestern University. She began her career in journalism, spending more than two decades covering local, national, and international stories for The Tampa Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Her areas of focus included the transition from communism to democracy in Eastern Europe, the rise of the European Union, four United States presidential elections, and major legislative and political developments in the U.S. Congress. In 2011, Shailagh was appointed Communications Director for Vice President Biden and shortly thereafter became his Deputy Chief of Staff. She then served as Senior Advisor to President Obama for the final two years of his presidency.

Shuly Rubin Schwartz – Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary

Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Irving Lehrman Research Professor of American Jewish History, a groundbreaking scholar of American Jewish history, and a visionary institutional leader, is the eighth chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary. She is the first woman to serve in this role since JTS was founded in 1886. Chancellor Schwartz is devoted to building on JTS’s unique strengths as a Jewish institution of higher learning that trains future leaders through deep study—with both head and heart—of Jewish texts, ideas, and history. In JTS’s thriving community, students develop the creative ability to imbue others with the intellectual, cultural, and religious sustenance that our tradition offers, and they enrich every community of which they are a part. Previously, Dr. Schwartz played a central role in shaping and strengthening JTS’s academic programs, while teaching and mentoring countless students....

Sian Leah Beilock – President of Barnard College

Sian Beilock is the 8th President of Barnard College. A cognitive scientist by training, she is focused on further developing Barnard as a singular institution. Prior to her appointment, Beilock spent twelve years at the University of Chicago and served in a variety of roles, such as the Stella M. Rowley Professor of Psychology, Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives, and the Executive Vice Provost. In her research, Beilock focuses specifically on success in math and science for women and girls and the impact of performance anxiety. Beilock earned her bachelor's at the University of California, San Diego, and her master's and two doctorates from Michigan State University. She has published two books and more than 100 papers and won the 2017 Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, she is a fellow of the American Association for...
Victoria Benitez

Victoria Benitez, AVP Communications and Community Affairs

Victoria joined Columbia University’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs in 2007, after more than 25 years of media management experience working with national and international not-for-profit organizations, corporations, and New York City community-based institutions.
Before arriving at Columbia, Victoria held multiple directorships at several cultural institutions, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Museum for African Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. During her extensive career in public relations and marketing, Victoria has also represented prestigious institutions such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Romare Bearden Foundation, El Museo del Barrio, and the Smithsonian Institution. She also worked internationally with governmental projects in Austria, Germany, and the Dominican Republic.
Victoria is currently an Associate Vice President for Communications and Community Affairs at Columbia, where she serves as the lead in promoting the University’s community-based programs. Victoria Benitez...

Vincent Melito – Director of Facilities & Site Operations at International House

Vincent Melito holds a degree in Architecture from New York Institute of Technology and has completed Graduate studies at Adelphi University and Harvard Graduate School. His 27 years of experience in Design, Construction, Facilities Management and International Business has led him to a successful career holding positions at NatWest Bank, British Airways, Tiffany & Co and now, International House. His design and construction experience varies from residential design, luxury retail, commercial real estate, health & wellness and hospitality design. He has also worked on numerous LEED certified projects and energy reducing initiatives with a continued interest in driving sustainability. Vincent’s role within International House is Group Director, Facilities & Site Operations, in which he manages the day to day operations, facilities & project management for both the North and South buildings. His team of over 45 dedicated staff maintains the...

Virginia Connor – Head of School at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s

Appointed in 1993, Virginia Connor is the longest serving female head of an ongoing school in New York City through her role as Head of School at St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's. Virginia has taught every elementary grade and has been a director of lower school, a director of middle school, an admission officer, and a director of curriculum development. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Childhood Education from Wheelock College and her Master's from Teachers College, Columbia University. Currently, she serves on the Board of Trustees of The Brearley School, the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), and the Independent School Admission Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY).