STEM Talks

STEM professionals from a variety of industries, and often some of the same neighborhoods as the students, share what inspired and motivated them in both their life and career journey. Through this experience, students can begin to visualize their future differently.

Meet the Lumity STEM Talk Speakers

Haroon Arrasheed

“You can overcome challenges at all levels”

Haroon is a South Side Native from the City of Chicago. He is also a graduate of Chicago Public Schools. Growing up, Haroon was very inquisitive when it came to electronics, remote controlled cars, stereos etc.  His curiosity on how his toys and electronics worked assisted him with his engagement in the area of Information Technology.

Haroon worked in the Technology Industry for several years.  Some of his roles include, Network Administration, IT Infrastructure Lead, IT Business Analyst and Project Manager.  He’s worked at Ernst & Young LLC, Blackwell Consulting Services, Smartechs, Catalyst Consulting Group and now Chicago Public Schools.  After working in the Technology Industry, Haroon decided to leave the Technology Industry and give back to his community by teaching technology at two STEM High Schools in Chicago.  Haroon now manages IT Programs at Career and Technical Education and STEM High Schools for the Chicago Public Schools District.

Believing that anyone can overcome obstacles no matter what background or socio-economic status, Haroon overcame several obstacles in his life to attain his goal of having a career in Information Technology.  One interesting and fascinating goal of Haroon’s is that he’s a six time college graduate!  Even with six degrees under his belt, he is not done!  He would like to soon become Dr. Haroon.  Becoming Dr. Haroon will be another goal that he’ll attempt to accomplish while still overcoming whatever obstacle that stands in his way.  Haroon loves to learn and is very comfortable at being a life time learner.

Beth Bond

“Your perspective can change the world”

Raised in a military family of nine, Beth has first-hand experience of the power of service, innovation and collaboration as key drivers of positive change.

Working with her first startup at the age of 19, Beth has spent the past decade building systems for nonprofits and businesses to engage communities around a cause. As a social entrepreneur, she sees incredible value in the insights and inspiration she gets through volunteering in the community.

Beth is Founder of ForGoods, a mobile app that tracks and rewards users for shopping local, volunteering and civic engagement. Like frequent flier miles — for people who do good. She also runs Community Startups, an incubator and accelerator program for CPS youth.

Seli Cerda

“You are important enough to make an impact”

Seli talks about growing up as one of five girls, with feelings of being “less than” and not good enough, and how she turned her thinking around to become confident in herself and her work.

As Supervisor of Application Support, Seli is responsible for supporting and deploying production code for CDW’s internal corporate applications. Seli currently manages four teams comprised of fourteen people working from different remote locations. In addition to supporting internal applications, Seli also manages the Change Management processes for moving code into production.

Prior to joining CDW, Seli worked as a paralegal for various Chicago law firms and prepared depositions, court pleadings while assisting in trials. Seli also served as court interpreter assisting non-English speaking defendants. Concurrently, she served as an IL State Senate Legislative assistant to IL State Senator Don Harmon (39th District). Some of her responsibilities included in-taking constituency concerns and assisting with drafting of IL State Bills.

Seli holds a M.S. from DePaul University College of Computing and Business and a B.A. from Dominican University.

Tyrone “Tye” Clark

“Resiliency: A life skill and a business need”

Tyrone Clark is currently Director of Business Continuity Management at CNA Insurance. At his previous job as a Senior Manager at Intuit, Inc., Tye was responsible for Finance Incident Management, Business Continuity and Supplier Relationship Management programs. Tye spent 12 years in government and high technology industries which include Misys Healthcare Systems, Canyon Ranch Health Resort, Texas Instruments and Pima County government operations. He has held a variety of management positions in Information Technology, Client Services, Manufacturing, Supply Chain and General Management.

Tye is also currently serving in the United States Navy (Reserves) and has over twenty-eight years of services. He is currently the Regional Information System Officer of the Southwest region of the Navy Reserve Information Dominance Corp. This organization is responsible for delivering information, intelligence, counterintelligence, human-derived information, networks, space-technology, and oceanographic warfighting capabilities.

Tye is a Chicago Vocational Career Academy graduate and is thrilled to return and share his experience with current students.

Danny David

“You’ve got nothing to lose”

Danny talks about a life of love, hate, passion, cheating, faith, broken promises, and expectations. He briefly touches upon his struggle to freedom, struggle to empowerment, struggle to be loved, struggle for trust, and struggle for education and how it was fueled by his mantra, “You’ve got nothing to lose.”

Danny David prefers identifying himself as a Fellow Human rather than a Manager with Ernst & Young (EY). EY is one of the largest professional services firms in the world and is one of the “Big Four” firms. Prior to joining EY, he had a variety of roles during his time at Tata Consultancy Services, including Software Programmer, Testing Lead, Technical Lead, Business Analyst, Project Manager, Portfolio Manager and Relationship Manager.

Danny finds happiness in mentoring his team and students in the community to achieve their goals. He strives to be a trusted member among his friends and colleagues and is quick to offer an ear and a shoulder for anyone who wants to be comforted and motivated. He is an active member of Vaazhai Foundations, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide an equal education to children in rural parts of India and help them to be independent, as well as an active volunteer for SAT tutoring, Meals on Wheels and soup kitchens in Chicago. He is always ready to take up a new challenge as he still believes that he’s got nothing to lose.

Bobby J. Ford

“Being Hungry”

Bobby talks about the challenges in the early part of his life that led to his first career choice and how being hungry, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, propelled him to where he is today.

Bobby J. Ford is the Division Vice President for Information Security and Risk Management. Prior to joining Abbott, he was the Chief Information Security Officer for Exelis Inc., a diversified, top-tier global aerospace, defense and information solutions company.

With a diverse background in cyber assurance, Mr. Ford has worked with the JTF-GNO, DoD CERT, and the DOE Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence Information Security Division. Mr. Ford began his career in cyber assurance as an analyst for the US Army. As a soldier in the US Army he was one of the charter analysts for the Pentagon Computer Incident Response Team (Pen-CIRT).

Mr. Ford has a Bachelor of Arts degree from George Mason University, and a Certificate in Executive Leadership from the University Of Maryland Robert H. Smith School Of Business and from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Charles Gill

“Whatever life throws at you, be prepared”

Charles uses his life experiences and lessons he learned from his father as he talks about using a problem-solving methodology as a pathway to success and achieving one’s life goals.

Charles Gill is a senior manager in IT for Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), a Chicago native, born in the Ida B. Wells projects and alumni of Keller Graduate School of Management, where he earned his MBA. In addition to his 25+ years at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL), Charles served in the U.S. Army National Guard for 20 years, retiring in 2004 with the rank of Sergeant First Class.

He started at BCBSIL as a machine operator in the Graphic Arts Department, where he was the creator of the award winning Diversity Calendar. While working full time at HCSC and part time in the military, he completed his Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Information Systems from DeVry Institute of Technology in 3 years. After graduation, he transferred into the IT organization of HCSC, where he has been recognized for his talents in leading people and successfully implementing large scale, complex projects. He believes in collaborative methods to influence corporate cultures and promote financial success for any business.

As the youngest of 14 children, Charles learned to follow the leader, and now leads by example, works to achieve goals, helps as many people as he can, and maintains that we can all grow and learn from each other.

Miguel Guerra

“The choices you make determine the life you live”

Miguel speaks about growing up in Chicago and dealing with the consequences of making the wrong choices early in life. He also shares what it took to go from being a single father of three with no money for formula to a successful IT consulting engineer deploying wireless networks around the world.

Miguel Guerra is a Senior Network Solution Architect at American Digital Corporation. He has been a member of a group of IT network engineers who specialize in wireless network communication. His team designed, deployed, and upgraded Wi-Fi networks for many different organizations. Guerra has performed services for food manufacturers, aerospace, education, NFL stadiums, and most recently, worked on optimizing Microsoft’s global wireless network. His work has resulted in opportunities to travel as far away as Tokyo, Japan. He now works for ADC as technical lead in charge of growing their new professional services organization.

Andee Harris

“Don’t get furious, get curious!”

Andee utilizes her life experiences to deliver a message that resonates with students on turning negatives into positives and creating the life you want to live.

Andee Harris brings more than 20 years of experience to Highground, where she is responsible for providing strategic direction and day to day operations for the sales and marketing team. In this role she is a proven leader who is responsible for business, marketing and operational strategies, revenue management and thought leadership.

Prior to Highground, Ms. Harris spent 15 years as an Equity Partner and head of the Human Capital Management practice for Emerging Solutions. She focused on the evaluation and implementation of Peoplesoft, Workday and Success factors for Fortune 500 to midsize companies. Before joining Emerging Solutions, Ms. Harris worked with Accenture as part of the company’s Software Intelligence Group. She consulted on many strategic accounts, including the Department of Defense, Aon and Chicago Tribune.

Ms. Harris believes in strong community service and the ultimate responsibility of business to give back to the community, and sits on the executive board of Children’s Memorial Hospital. In addition, she is an active member of Chicago Ideas Week, Raise Your Hand for Fair Education and works as a mentor to young women in technology and science through the STEM program. She has a master certification in Executive Coaching and Leadership from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

Sara Hruska

“Taking control of your personal brand”

Sara talks about starting her sales career as a child in the midst of a family of small business owners, how she got an early start in developing her personal brand and how that brand has helped her build a successful career.

Sara Hruska is a Senior Sales Executive for NTT Data, a global Information Technology (IT) services firm, where her efforts are focused on expanding their business supporting the healthcare insurance industry in the Midwest. Unlike many people who find themselves ‘stuck’ in a sales role after college, Sara (outside of a brief obsession of dinosaurs and paleontology in the first grade) never wanted to be anything but a sales professional.

After receiving her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in Speech Communications, Sara has worked for both big and small companies to learn the sales profession inside and out. She began her professional career selling IT equipment to a small territory in the downtown Loop for Canon Business Solutions, but quickly learned that her passion was selling IT services to the rapidly changing healthcare industry.

Previously, Sara held positions at DPSciences, a mid-sized IT services firm, where she founded their healthcare practice in Chicago by finding and selling all of their local managed services contracts to physician-owned practices; and Computer Sciences Corporation, a global IT services firm, where her sales quota jumped from $375,000 to $40,000,000 as she focused on selling much larger, more complex services contracts to the nation’s largest healthcare institutions.

Aaron Hutchens

“Passion Speaks”

Aaron will be the first to tell you that he has not always made the right choices. That life is not always easy or without challenges. But, more importantly, he wishes to impart the understanding that failure is never final nor are challenges ever insurmountable.

Aaron is currently working as the Regional Unix Supervisor for the global automation giant IPsoft. He currently manages a staff of nearly 30 supporting the company’s largest client. He is also, currently standing up a whole new division to support AI solutions.

The pathway to this success has not been textbook. It has not been easy. He has found his way while balancing the call of his career and the challenges offered daily as a single father (Two beautiful and brilliant girls)

Aaron firmly believes that he can offer help, and well, if not easily learned, wisdom to people from all walks of life.

“Success stories are great. I am very grateful for, and proud of, my own. The best of them, however, are the ones where the challenges are the greatest. I am honored to be a part Lumity not only because I am firmly committed to growing our communities STEM capabilities but even more because those who are served. People like me.”

Vernon Johnson

“Finding the right track”

Vernon talks about his journey to finding the right major to align with his interests and how it wasn’t the path he thought it would be. 

Vernon Johnson is an up-and-coming public health and youth development professional. He received his bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management and his master’s in Public Health with an emphasis in Community Health Education, both from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Vernon hails from Flossmoor, IL and currently lives in Chicago. His specialties & interests include youth development, diverse and inclusive methodologies in employment and program development, environmental justice, community health, decreasing health disparities within marginalized groups, volunteering, poetry, art, and a wide spectrum of music.

Mr. Johnson has had the esteemed pleasure in previously working for the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent as a Youth Development Coordinator, a Youth Initiatives Coordinator at the Illinois African-American Coalition for Prevention, a Youth Coach at Employment & Employer Services Inc., and currently serves as the Diversity & Inclusion Academic Relations Specialist at BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois where he is charged with coordinating an enterprise-wide STEM program for young people. Mr. Johnson refers to himself as an interdependent ally, and seeks to have an everlasting effect on the communities he serves.

Greg Jones

“The Sum of my experiences”

Greg believes it is the sum of his experiences that led him to become a thought leader in diversity and inclusion. He shares his journey and how it shaped who he became.

Gregory (Greg) Jones, a Chicago native and Navy veteran, is the chief diversity officer for United Airlines. He is charged with developing strategic and executive plans for embedding diversity & inclusion principles, polices, training and behaviors throughout the global airline and among its more than 87,000 employees.

Greg has extensive experience engaging with senior management in diversity & inclusion at Bank of America, UBS, Egon Zehnder and General Electric. He also is an engineer by training and started his career with General Electric Medical Systems. Greg attended Tuskegee and Stanford Universities, where he received his undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively in electrical engineering. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Advisory Board Member for the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) and a member of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC).

Andy Khorshid

“A purpose-driven life”

Andy uses his narrative to help students see how purpose and focus can lead to success, no matter the area of life to which it is applied.

Andy is one of five siblings who grew up in the inner city of Chicago. He attended Von Steuben High School and went on to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since his academic days, his background has lent itself to both business and technology. He received a degree in Finance from the U of I and was an inaugural graduate of the Business and Technology Management Program. Andy has spent over 20 years in the technology industry in various capacities ranging from software development to consulting, and most recently, as a Digital Transformation thought leader with Pivotal, which is “transforming the way the world builds software.”

Andy prides himself in having the focus it takes to overcome hurdles, he moves forward with purpose and he’s been often known to infect a room with his energy. His personal transformation over the years has relied on the sound mind and body approach. One of his passions is fitness training and bodybuilding – he takes great pride in the personal training of others, as well. Through it all, humility has been a key to his success – “confidence is earned, vanity is taken.”

Kyle Lucas

“Education doesn’t stop at graduation”

Kyle brings a unique prospective of a young person who is just beginning his professional career and now looks to guide younger students aspiring to pursue similar career paths. He shares what he has learned along the way, including overcoming his own challenge of being an introvert.

Growing up with a passion for science and discovering how and why things work led Kyle Lucas to study chemistry and mathematics at Loyola University Chicago. As a millennial, he experienced the challenges of an increasingly competitive job market first-hand. Now, as one of the youngest researchers at USG Corporation, North America’s leading producer of high performance gypsum wallboard (drywall) and a vast array of products for the construction and remodeling industries, Kyle has learned the importance of gaining experience that makes a candidate stand out from the rest. In addition, he proudly enjoys sharing how USG is a practical example of an extraordinary application of science and research that is driven by a desire to help architects, contractors, and workers not only build better structures, but to build a better world.

In March of 2017, Kyle is set to begin classes towards achieving a Masters in Business Administration at University of Chicago Booth School of Business in order to gain more well-rounded business knowledge, become a better problem solver, and develop important leadership and teamwork skills.

Arunashish Majumdar

“Change is the only constant”

Arunashish Majumdar (Arun) works at TATA Consultancy Services (TCS) where he heads the technology practice for the insurance business unit in North America. He leads a team that is responsible for analyzing emerging technology trends, incubating and evangelizing innovative solutions and advising clients on strategic initiatives. Arun has won the Tata Innovista award two years in a row, which is an initiative by TATA Group Innovation Foundation to inspire and encourage innovation across the organization.

Born and educated in India, Arun loved math as a child and studied Engineering, but went on to pursue a career in Information Technology. While as a student, he travelled across many states in India, his job has taken him across the globe as he worked with clients in South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. A strong believer in change, Arun believes “One should never shy away from a new challenge, because it can only mean a missed opportunity.”

Vericia Miller

“Helping people find their future”

Vericia uses her personal life experiences and testimony to encourage and motivate others from similar backgrounds to stay hopeful, encouraged, and live a life of hard work and expectation.

Born and raised in the inner-city of Los Angeles, Vericia not only has the knowledge, but life experience to contribute to her field of social work. As a social worker, victim’s rights advocate, and social entrepreneur, Vericia loves working in the helping profession of human services. With a bachelor’s degree in social work from Grambling State University and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Boston University, Vericia has spent most of her professional career working with at-risk youth and adults.

She is now the Founder and Executive Director of a new nonprofit organization called House of Overcome, where she works with victims/survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence, as well as facilitates community workshops on these issues. Vericia believes her own personal life experiences and passion for social justice contributes to her love of social services and helping others get back on their feet. She believes it’s a great profession that’s oftentimes overlooked and underappreciated, and she believes if you are sincere about the work you’re doing in the field of social work, many lives can be changed.

Tyler Mose

“Measuring time with a calendar instead of a stopwatch”

Tyler Mose is an advertising & marketing industry veteran with over eight years of digital marketing and advertising experience with brands small to Fortune 500.  Tyler has worked directly with brands to define campaigns and branding content ranging from recruitment, large/ small scale local to national advertising campaigns both on and offline. Tyler thoroughly understands story selling and connecting with consumers through campaigns and multiple touch points. His strong points are finding areas that assist brands with telling their stories and connecting with their consumers through video campaigns via online and offline channels. Tyler is known to work directly with sales teams and directors to understand the sales process and how their teams can develop and use video / interactive content to help build better relationships and sell more product/services directly.

Diana Mucci

“All Roads Lead to STEM”

Diana has nearly 20 years experience in IT software & Cyber security services sales. She is a former high school teacher of private schools & CPS, and is an accomplished writer, playwright and Indie film producer. Diana was born and raised in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood and graduated from a CPS school, Jones High School as valedictorian.

Diana has a great love for students who want to succeed, especially those that come from minority homes. Having bilingual ethnic parents from Puerto Rico and Haiti, she understands and appreciates the blessings and challenges students face growing up in a multicultural environment.

In her current role Diana works as a Cyber Security Sales Director at NTT Data, helping corporations protect private, customer information. In her spare time, she is publishing her first children’s book and is relaunching her play in 2018.

Victoria Ocholla

“Fearlessly Chase Down Your Biggest Goals in Life”

Victoria Ocholla is Corporate Counsel at a global technology giant in Chicago. Her practice includes complex commercial transactions involving various Cloud and Licensing technologies as well as Data Privacy and Security matters. Prior to her current role, she was Corporate Counsel at Northstar Lottery Group, LLC, the private manager of the Illinois Lottery where she worked on general corporate law matters. She also worked for the Illinois Department of Human Services where she was Assistant General Counsel for six (6) years.

Victoria received her B.A. in International Studies from DePaul University and her Juris Doctor from the DePaul University College of Law.  She is also a Certified Information Privacy Professional.  She is admitted to practice in the State of Illinois as well as the United States District Court for Northern District of Illinois. Victoria was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. She moved to Chicago to attend College and now calls Chicago home.

During her spare time, Victoria enjoys reading, working out, cooking, nights at the Chicago Symphony, binging on her favorite Netflix and Amazon shows, watching professional sports and attending sporting events, exploring Chicago’s fantastic dining scene and world travel. In addition, she is committed to motivating and inspiring Chicago area youth towards excellence in education. She particularly enjoys speaking to the youth about her journey as an attorney enjoying a career in the tech industry, helping students develop good study habits, and encouraging them to consider careers in STEM.

Ahmed “Flex” Omar

“Making connections”

Flex talks about how his innate ability to make connections between people and organizations has helped fuel his success in technology, sales, event production and in his nonprofit efforts.

A native of Somaliland, Ahmed (entrepreneur/activist) grew up in the UAE before immigrating to Chicago as an adult. He’s worked at UBS Wealth Management Group, American Express, RSM Mcgladrey and Deloitte before founding “Global Eventz,” an event marketing company that has organized over 500 corporate, nightlife and charity events. In 2015, he co-founded the Muslim American Leadership Alliance and was a delegate at the 2015 United Nations NGO conference. He was a speaker at the UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women, 60th Session. Ahmed also implemented nationwide screenings of the critically acclaimed documentary film, He Named Me Malala by Participant Media. He’s an active member of the Chicago Leadership Alliance.

David Pelot

“A direction, not a destination”

David uses his story of education and job experiences to show how your passion for a subject provides a direction, but may not lead to the destination you had imagined.

I am a product formulator and fluids scientist. This role consists of everything from ensuring everyday products are made to specifications, to creating new business by developing platform technologies. Being a subject matter expert in fluids means that I am a resource for other projects to use, which allows me to see a lot of the interesting technologies being developed. One of the rewarding aspects of my position is that I lead small scale laboratory testing from initiation all the way through  to installation on a job site.

I earned by bachelors degree in physics teaching and mathematics at Western Michigan University and a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Having a diverse educational background has allowed me to broaden my perspective and enables me to take on many different technical challenges.

Luna Rajbhandari

“From BASIC to big data”

Luna illustrates the rapid changes in technology with her journey from her first computer classes to big data driving business decisions today.

Luna is the Director of Data Management and Platforms at As a technologist, her interest lies at the intersection of business, data and technology. Prior to joining, she led data management and engineering teams at Northwestern University, Encyclopaedia Britannica and Orbitz Worldwide.

Luna has an undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, and an MBA from the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.

Luna grew up in Nepal and attributes her successes in life to all the educational opportunities she received. She is a firm believer in the power of education to improve the human condition around the world and wants to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science and technology, as well as to embrace lifelong learning.

Ajith (AJ) Rao

“Learning is the most useful skill”

AJ uses his life and work experiences to talk about how change is constant and how it inspires him for a lifelong pursuit of learning.

Ajith Rao is a Senior Researcher with the Building Science & Technology Commercialization group at USG Corporation, based at their Corporate Innovation Center, located in Libertyville, IL. He is an architect by training, and has a PhD in Architectural Sciences from Rensselaer.

As a professional in the buildings arena with experience on both technical and policy issues, he has been involved in numerous regional and international efforts to help shape the movement toward energy efficiency and clean energy. His core expertise lies in the development and application of technologies, standards, and sustainability indicators related to the environmental impact of buildings. At USG, he works at the intersection of architecture, engineering, computation and material science, on developing next generation building materials and systems.

William J. Reed

“Finding the best job for me”

Bill didn’t think technology was his future when he was thinking about becoming a doctor. He shares his journey on how he got to the job that was the best for him.

William J. Reed is a HP Inc. Commercial Account Manager calling on Commercial Customers (>500 employees) in the Chicago Metro area.  He has been with HP for eight years managing HP Client and Print Solutions for Commercial Accounts.  This role includes calling on customers directly and working with HP Certified Partners to uncover technology opportunities that improve customer’s business operations.  In this role, William provides subject matter expertise and vision regarding HP’s Printing & Personal Systems business. William’s expertise includes Mobility, Virtual Reality solutions, Security, Managed Print Services, and new product introductions.

Prior to HP, William worked for Heidelberg USA and Eastman Kodak in a variety of Digital Print Production roles. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry from the Rochester Institute of Technology and Masters of Business Administration from DePaul University.

Jeff Rosset

Networking for life

Jeff is a sales strategist and big picture thinker, innately drawn to the excitement and challenge of scaling companies, which relies on his ability and passion for networking. Jeff talks about the importance of networking while you’re still in school and illustrates its benefits through stories of his experiences, which span the gamut of the business spectrum, from teenage entrepreneur to tech start-up executive to non-profit director.

Jeff graduated with a degree in Business from Northern Illinois. After spending the first part of his career working within both large and small professional service firms and doing consulting work, Jeff developed a passion for tech start-ups and hasn’t looked back. In 2015, Jeff joined the fast growing Chicago start-up Kapow Events to help develop and grow the newly formed national sales division. After Kapow, Jeff co-founded VOR Consulting which is a marketplace that connects early stage B2B start-ups with vetted 1099 sales consultants to help drive top line growth for the company. Jeff also advises and consults with many startups and smaller technology companies.

Vip Sandhir

“You don’t have to be the smartest – you just have to work the hardest”

Vip tells the story of how the defining experiences of his life and applying a strong work ethic helped transform him into the successful technology businessperson he is today.

Vip founded HighGround in 2012 with a mission to change the way companies develop and engage their employees. He has vast experience building start-ups from the ground up and growing them significantly. Vip is also a Co-Founder of the corporate food technology platform, Fooda. He previously worked as the Executive Vice President and Founding Executive at Echo Global Logistics (Nasdaq: Echo), the COO and Co-Founder at The BusBank, and the VP of Sales and Operations at Iexplore.

Karriem Shakoor

“Technology Gave Me a Future”

As VP, CIO Karriem Shakoor holds global responsibility for strategy, development and management of the company’s technology and information assets including enterprise architecture; data/analytics, systems development and technology operations.

Mr. Shakoor has more than 18 years of IT management experience in a variety of industries. Before joining UL, he was VP, Information Technology for Ameriprise Financial with responsibilities for IT service delivery for their property & casualty insurance division.  Before joining Ameriprise, he was CTO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of MI.  Mr. Shakoor has held positions of increasing responsibilities at Electronic Data Systems, Sprint E-Solutions, and Arvin Meritor.

Mr. Shakoor holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Information Technology and a Master of Business Administration from Walsh College in Troy, MI.  He is a member of the National Black MBA Association, Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF), Black Data Processors of America, and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.  Mr. Shakoor was recognized in 2009 as a Crain’s Detroit 40-Under-40 leader, in 2010 as a Michigan Chronicle FP30 rising leader in Detroit, and in 2012 as a Top100 Under 50 emerging leader by DiversityMBA Inc.

Alok Sharma

“Change: the only constant”

Alok or as his close friends refer to him as Baba, is full of interesting experiences. Having lived in India, Singapore and multiple spots in the United States; he has anecdotes to accompany the accents. His passion for public speaking and youth education coincide with Lumity’s charter. A yogi and meditator, he preaches about the power of conscious thinking and manifesting a reality that one sees fit.

His current role supports a digital product at startup. This involves problem solving, team coordination as well as having fun. Culture at Arity is very important as we spend a third of our day at work. Baba Alokananda leads meditation, open mic nights, tours among other creative tasks.

He strongly believes that the only thing in your control is happiness. Achieving it should be the primary objective, other things naturally will follow.

Jack Shedd

“An unnecessary amount of hard work”

Jack talks about the insanity of self-made obstacles, the gifts of good luck and the miracle of how hard work can pay off.

Jack Shedd is the co-founder of Mess, a fiercely independent design and development agency located in Chicago whose clients have included Microsoft, Amazon, Burger King, Penguin Publishing and numerous other enterprises, small businesses and startups. Having started his career at 16 as a high-school drop out fixing Macs in the back of a CompUSA, he has spent the last 20 years teaching himself everything from how to wire up a network, graphic design, user experience design and software development.

He believes that creative technology is a unique, rewarding and accessible career for anyone with a passion for problem-solving, self-expression and craftsmanship.

Paul Shipp, P.E., Ph.D.

“Engineering life”

Paul talks about how a love of cars led him to seek a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and the beginning of how he came to engineer his life. 

Dr. Shipp is Principal Research Associate in the Building Science and Technology Commercialization Laboratory at USG’s Corporate Innovation Center. He holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and is a licensed Professional Engineer. Paul has found joy and satisfaction from a career in research at industry and government labs. This has provided opportunities for him to travel widely to speak and work with fellow engineers and scientists throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

 Paul is continually fascinated by the unexpected turns life can take and how challenges ultimately turn out well as long as you strive to keep a positive attitude and realize that the most valuable lessons will sometimes come from your biggest mistakes if you’re willing to learn from them.  This is part of the scientific method, and it’s a good rule for life, too.

Chandrika Shrinivasan

“Dare to dream and never lose hope”

Chandrika speaks to the importance of dreaming of a future that seems beyond reach today. Her talk also touches on the benefits of being persistent in working towards the dream.

Chandrika Shrinivasan is a Client Partner in TATA Consultancy Services (TCS). As part of this job, she works with multiple customers of TCS to provide IT/Consulting services. Her experience includes Customer Relationship management, Account Management, Large Program Management and Sales. She works with her customers to provide thought leadership on their IT/Business needs, project conception and delivery of these projects.

Ms. Shrinivasan has been with TCS for the past 13+ years and has played several roles from being a software programmer, technical lead, project manager to a Client Partner.

She received a scholarship from Lila Poonawalla Foundation, which helped her complete her Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Pune, India.. The foundation later published her story in a book called “21st Century belongs to them.”

Aaron Sims

“Making the most of your failures”

Aaron D. Sims is a 14-year reformed banking executive, locally with LaSalle Bank, MB Financial and Associated & nationally with GE Capital, turned consultant-focusing on preparing small business owner and operators for banking relationships by advising them through the capital acquisition process and empowering them to be more favorably received by lenders.

Aaron is a serial philanthropist and has always been passionate about improving Chicagoland’s most challenging communities, dedicating several hours each month volunteering with local philanthropic organizations whose missions are centered around promoting & improving access to education, enhancing exposure to opportunities, and encouraging an alternative mindset for students of a suppressed social-economic status.

Rosemary Swierk

“The Power of Your Strengths.”

Rosemary Swierk is the founder and President of Direct Steel® and Construction. Direct Steel and Construction is a General Contractor, Construction Management, and Owner’s Representative firm. Her team provides services which facilitate optimal end results with regard to project scope, budget, schedule, and quality.
Rosemary holds a BS from Indiana University, Dartmouth “Tuck” Executive Degree and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Certificate. Rosemary has decades of experience in real estate development and construction. Additionally, Rosemary contributes her time in several community initiatives. She is a State of Illinois appointee to the Small Business Development Center Advisory Board. Rosemary has received recognition for her accomplishments from many organizations including:
 Manufacturers,
 Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity,
 Today’s Chicago Woman magazine,
 Athena International,
 Small Business Administration
 Chicago Sun Times
She was awarded 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year by the national Women’s Business Development Center. Rosemary is also the recipient of the 2016 EW Enterprising Woman of the Year award.

Chris Thomas

“Use passion as your primary guide to following your dreams.”

Chris Thomas grew up with his mom and stepfather and had to move around quite a bit at a young age, due to his stepfather pursuing his dream to be a doctor. This undying desire to succeed demonstrated by his stepfather led Chris to develop a passion of his own. That passion, combined with his ability to adapt to any environment, has propelled him to the point that he is in his life currently.

As Sr. Technical Search Consultant, Chris is responsible for anywhere between 5-10 clients and 10-20 positions weekly. This entails finding the clients, finding the candidates, and walking the candidates through an interview process to accepted offer stage.  Prior to his role at Advanced Resources, Chris worked for a boutique staffing firm, where he worked his way up from a front desk admin, to  managing a team of 9 recruiters and managing a $1.8M book of business.

Prior to joining the corporate world Chris was a Marine, business owner, personal trainer, and child & elderly care provider, where he learned to be of service to others.

Chris holds a B.S. from Northeastern Illinois University with a major in psychology and minors in philosophy and Spanish. He volunteers as a guest speaker with YearUp & i.c.Stars, and truly has a passion for helping others.

Ken Townsend

“Preparing for success in an unknown world.”

Kenneth Townsend is the Assistant Vice President of information security supervision at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.  Kenneth has more than 20 years of experience in IT and cyber security.  In his current role, Kenneth creates a vision and executes strategies to help supervisory teams appropriately asses cyber risk.  Kenneth also leads a team of cybersecurity specialist to provide effective supervision for financial institutions and financial service providers.

Prior to joining the Federal Reserve, Kenneth was a cybersecurity consultant where he has developed an executed IT and security strategies for numerous clients that cut across many verticals.  Kenneth experience and key focus areas includes, threat and vulnerability management, data protection, security architecture, network security, threat modeling and penetration testing.

Chris holds a B.S. from Northeastern Illinois University with a major in psychology and minors in philosophy and Spanish. He volunteers as a guest speaker with YearUp & i.c.Stars, and truly has a passion for helping others.

Paula Tripp

“Seventh grade science fair launches a 6 figure career.”

Thirteen year old Paula didn’t classify her “Which Chocolate Chip Cookie Tastes Best” Science Fair project as a market research study and she didn’t know that designing experiments using people as her subjects would become her career.

Paula’s official title is Consumer Insights Director for McDonald’s Corporation, where she has worked to bring new products to restaurant menus and create relevant advertising for over 12 years. As Consumer Insights Director, Paula uses analytical, communication and critical thinking skills to understand WHAT people are doing, WHO is doing what, WHY they do what they do and HOW we can help them accomplish their goals, all while making money for the company, the individual McDonald’s owners, and our shareholders.


Paula has a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Illinois, a Master of Science in Marketing Research from the University of Wisconsin, experience maintaining data quality at IRI and launching global brands into new categories at Unilever. Paula has been in her current role of Consumer Insights Director at McDonald’s for almost 10 years.

Nicole Walker

“Staying True to What You Enjoy”

Nicole shares her story about the importance of staying true to what you enjoy and the detour she took to get back to what she loves to do.

Nicole Walker is the Innovation Platform Consultant at Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), the largest non-investor owned health insurer in the country. In this role, she gets to be an entrepreneur everyday nurturing ideas that can become a success through the HCSC Incubator. Over her 12 year career at Health Care Service Corporation, Nicole has held various roles in Product Development, Project Management, Corporate Strategy, Sales Operations, and Government Programs Marketing. She has a passion for helping others and is genuinely excited about inspiring youth to be excited about the possibilities life has to offer.

Nicole is a wife and mom of two and was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Master’s in Health Services Administration from the University of Michigan.

Bryant O. C. Wallace

“Turning obstacles into opportunities”

Mr. Wallace is the President and CEO of WallScott Solutions which he founded over 10 years ago. He is a native of Davenport, IA, and worked at Greatest Grains and Happy Joe’s Pizza, where he learned the value of being your own boss, working and keeping up with his academics. He also played football and was a varsity wrestler. He attended the University of Northern Iowa with the idea to become a sports coach; however, he was drawn to the growing computer industry and graduated from Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in business and started his technology career at John Deere.  He always had a dream to own his own business, so he moved to Chicago, where he started the computer consulting firm called WallScott Solutions. Mr. Wallace found a way to combine his love of both coaching and technology through the founding of his company and has become a leader in coaching businesses on how to use technology to grow.

He credits all the people who gave him guidance, direction and encouragement in his life and is grateful they helped him learn the value of overcoming obstacles. He believes that opportunities are open to everyone, no matter their race, sex, economic situation or age.  All you need is the drive to find the right tools and the desire to make your dreams come true.

Salena Whitfield

“A passion for winning”

Salena calls on her rich educational and career experience to show how her passion for winning has resulted in being able to bring her interests together in a job that allows her to do what she loves.

As a Marketing Manager with Abbott Diagnostics Division, Salena focuses on supporting their third party, global distribution channel that complements Abbott’s direct sales force. During her employment with Abbott, Salena has been able to create a path that has melded strategy and science. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Salena is a proud graduate of the Chicago Public School System. She received a B.S. in chemical engineering from Florida A & M University (FAMU). Her graduate degrees from University of Michigan include an M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemistry and a Graduate Certificate in Science, Technology, and Public Policy.

Salena’s zeal for STEM subjects and programs started at an early age with a love for math and science. She’s a proud alum and former summer faculty of a STEM program, (MS)^2, Math & Science for Minority Students. Independently, Salena has mentored other young ladies and youth regarding her own personal and professional journey. Besides strategy-focused management positions in life-science and healthcare, her journey has included consulting at McKinsey & Company and an extraordinary honor as a featured scientist in a permanent exhibit, Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology, at Wright Museum of African American History. Salena hopes to continue to inspire others that STEM can be as broad as their imagination allows and more exciting than they’ve ever imagined.

Caren Young

“If I can do it, so can you!”

Caren shares her journey of someone who doesn’t look like the stereotype of someone in a technology company and the long hill she climbed before she got to a place where she wasn’t climbing alone. 

Caren Young is a Product Manager for Pivotal Labs where she helps organizations, such as Ford and Allstate, learn to build the right products for their customers. She is passionate about research and asking the right questions to get results.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she spent 6 years in Seattle working for advertising agencies and as a vendor for Microsoft before heading to Chicago, where she continued to lead teams in creating digital products from healthcare marketing tools to a distributed speaker system.

Caren is also deeply committed to showing young people that tech is not just coding. Technology is open and available to so many people including careers in design, QA, product and so much more.