1. Carlos Menchaca

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    Former New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca has more than 18 years of New York City government experience. As an elected official and senior staffer, he developed strong relationships with city agencies, direct service providers, and advocates who continue to shape the life of immigrant New Yorkers; organized successful multi-sector partnerships to tackle endemic issues; grew and trained grassroots community leaders; and engaged immigrant activists to build coalitions and effective advocacy campaigns to win critical budget and legislative victories. He recently taught at Pratt Institute to share his experiences in civic engagement and value-driven placemaking in communities confronting inequality caused by gentrification.

  2. Thomas Yu

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    Thomas Yu is the Executive Director of Asian Americans For Equality (AAFE) a 50-year old NYC-based community development organization serving the 1.3 million New Yorkers of Asian descent, and all those in need regardless of background. Under his helm, AAFE has achieved development of over 1,200 units of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families, provided crucial social services to over 35,000 individuals annually, assisted over 10,000 small business entrepreneurs with over $66 million of direct capital, and aided 5,000 first time homebuyers in achieving their American Dream with counseling and securing of $250 million in sustainable home mortgages. Thomas also leads AAFE’s grassroots policy advocacy, urban planning and infrastructure capital investment in AAPI and other communities, with a goal of advancing community revitalization through local arts and space activation.

    Thomas has served on various mayoral taskforces and had been a long-time member of Manhattan’s Community Board #3, specifically on the Parks, Waterfront Development, Landmarks and Housing committees.  Thomas is a director on the board of Hester Street Collaborative, a NYC non-profit which aims to use architecture and design to help NYC residents become civically engaged in community planning. Thomas also sits on the advisory boards of Low Income Investment Fund’s New Market Tax Credit team and Valley National Bank, and was the past Board Co-Chair of National CAPACD. Thomas received a Bachelor’s Degree in Government from Harvard University and a Masters in Urban Planning from the New York University Wagner School of Public Service.

  3. Katie Swenson

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    A nationally recognized design leader, researcher, writer, and educator, Katie Swenson has served as a Senior Principal of MASS Design Group since 2020. Katie’s work explores how critical design practice can, and should, promote economic and social equity, environmental sustainability, and healthy communities. Katie has over 20 years of experience in the theoretical and practical application of design thinking and is a talented global public speaker and thought leader. A prolific writer, she authored Design with Love: At Home in America, and In Bohemia: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Kindness, both published in August 2020. She co-authored Growing Urban Habitats: Seeking a Housing Development Model with William Morrish and Susanne Schindler. She is a contributing author to Activist Architecture: Philosophy and Practice of Community Design and Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism. Katie was awarded the AIA Award for Excellence in Public Architecture in 2021. Prior to joining MASS, Katie was the vice president of Design & Sustainability at Enterprise Community Partners. An alumni of the Enterprise Rose Fellowship’s second class, Swenson was tapped to lead and grow the program in 2007. Katie also helped found the Charlottesville Community Design Center in 2004.

  4. Kia Weatherspoon

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    As the design voice of impact and change, Kia Weatherspoon, NCIDQ, ASID, has spent the last 15 years defying every design stereotype. The most damaging: interior design is a luxury reserved for a few. Her voice, advocacy for Design Equity™, and design practice have shifted the narrative, making interior design a standard for all. Kia is challenging the lack of these standards in economically challenged communities. Her presence and leadership have created ripples, prompting housing developers, agencies, and industry partners to not just take notice of her work – but to do better.

    As an advocate and educator in business leadership, equity, and diversity, Kia has been recognized by Interior Design Magazine as a HiP Design for the Greater Good – Small Firm and selected as a Real Estate Forum 2020 Woman of Influence. She was honored as part of the 40 under 40 classes for both Washington Business Journal and BD+C Magazine. She also received the International Interior Design Association Luna Textile/ Anna Hernandez Visionary Award and the CREW DC Raise Up Your Voice Award.

    For over a decade Kia has led her firm, Determined by Design, in creating elevated equitable design outcomes for over 3,500 hundred families, 25 communities, and designed over 165,000 sq.ft of interior spaces for affordable and low-income housing. Communities where the average median income was below $35,000/year per family. Communities that mirrored her, with 95% of the residents being black and/or of color. Kia believes Interior Design should be in service to all people, so every person and community is uplifted by the spaces they inhabit. No matter the project type, her focus is elevating communities—a path that requires advocacy and empathy!

  5. Latoya Kamdang

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    Latoya Nelson Kamdang is a U.S. Fulbright Senior Scholar, Registered Architect, Certified Interior Designer, LEED Accredited Professional, and a Visiting Associate Professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Latoya has developed her career in practice while maintaining a connection to academic research and teaching. She has a research focus on rapidly expanding urban areas, neighborhood gentrification, passive sustainable technologies, and indigenous architecture. Beyond teaching and research, Latoya is a practitioner with experience that spans architecture, planning, exhibit design, and industrial and interior design. She has executed projects in design and project executive capacities in hospitality, aviation, retail, museums, workplace, education, and institutional. Latoya was on the design team for the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture. She was an interdisciplinary team member from RFP submission through construction documents. Her spatial focus was the Slavery & Freedom History Gallery.  She has also worked on overseas federal projects while a consultant at the Overseas Buildings Operations. Latoya earned a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and a Certificate in Real Estate Design & Development from the Wharton School of Business. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing from Georgetown University.  She currently sits on the board of Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, The New York State Board of Architecture, The First 500, ACE Mentor Program NY, and the Van Alen Institute.  She serves on the DEI Committee for NCARB.

  6. Carol E. Rosenthal

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    Carol E. Rosenthal is a partner specializing in land use and development at Fried Frank. She has guided developers, businesses, and nonprofit institutions in some of New York City’s most significant development projects and through numerous discretionary land use approvals. She also advises on city and state public-private initiatives, housing, transportation, and other development, and regularly represents clients in the transfer of development rights, government acquisitions, and turnkey developments. In addition to her legal practice, she is trustee and on the executive committee of the Citizens Budget Commission; a council member of Van Allen Institute; and serves on the Advisory Board for Cityland, a publication of The Center for New York City Law of New York Law School. She is also on the board of the Citizen’s Housing and Planning Committee.

  7. May Lee

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    May Lee is Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Institutional Impact at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where she is guiding the development and implementation of the Institute’s next 10-year strategic plan. Prior to joining RPI, she was a partner at The Seelig Group (TSG), a family office, where she focuses on incubating new companies in new media, entertainment, marketing, and technology—combining her background in finance and law (Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Federal Reserve Bank of New York) and as an entrepreneur and educator. May previously spent ten years as a leader in higher education where she led two groundbreaking initiatives: the founding of NYU Shanghai and ShanghaiTech. May began her career in China and has three decades of experience in the private and public sector, amassing a deep understanding of the cross-cultural aspects of innovation ecosystems in China, Europe, and the U.S. She currently serves as a Lifetime Trustee at the NYU School of Law, Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for the National Partnership for Women and Families, and Treasurer for the Guild of Future Architects, as well as senior advisor to a number of start-ups in Shanghai. May is recognized as a global leader in innovation and international education, and speaks frequently on these topics.

  8. Allison Freedman Weisberg

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    Allison Freedman Weisberg is the Principal of Round Peg, where she consults and collaborates with colleagues holding one another accountable to change through work and play.  She is the founder of Recess, a nonprofit arts organization that partners with artists to build a more just and equitable creative community.  Allison approaches all of her work through a racial justice lens, working alongside radical thinkers who reimagine an equitable future.  Prior to founding Round Peg and Recess, she worked in the Education Department at the Museum of Modern Art and then at the Whitney Museum of American Art, managing youth and community programs. She has given lectures and presentations at colleges, universities, arts institutions, and museums, and has curated performances for the Brooklyn Academy of Music and The Museum of Modern Art. She has contributed writing to publications ranging from artist books to Art in America.  She is on the advisory board of Art+Feminism, the Board of Van Alen Institute, and she is a Studio Museum Critical Dialogue Partner.  She holds a BA from Wesleyan University, and an MA in Visual Culture Theory from NYU.  Allison lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her two children, and a disgruntled mutt named Edgar.

  9. Casey Jones

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    Casey Jones is the firmwide Director of Civic Projects at Perkins and Will. For over 20-years, Mr. Jones has been a leader in the movement to improve the quality of civic architecture and the built environment. Before joining the firm, Mr. Jones was Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations at the U.S. Department of State (a Deputy Assistant Secretary-level position) where he was responsible for a $13 billion design and construction portfolio that included the renovation of the Department’s historic properties worldwide, as well as their new embassies and consulates. At State, he helped create the Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities initiative, which ushered in a new era of diplomatic facilities aimed at elevating the quality of embassy projects while simultaneously ensuring their cost effectiveness.

    Prior to serving as the Deputy Director, Mr. Jones worked simultaneously as the Director of Design Excellence at both the U.S. General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of State—the only person in the history of the federal government to hold both positions at the same time. At GSA, he oversaw the development of the U.S. Government’s courthouses, federal office buildings, and border crossings, fostering excellence in federally-commissioned architecture and design nationwide. During his tenure, the agency won more awards for design quality than at any point in its history

    Earlier in his career, Mr. Jones was the first Associate Director of Van Alen Institute, a leading architectural and urban design research center in New York City, which sponsors design competitions, workshops, research initiatives, public lectures and forums aimed at improving urban environments. Mr. Jones is also a fellow of the Design Trust for Public Space, where he teamed with Friends of the High Line to produce “Reclaiming the High Line,” the study that convinced the City of New York to save the derelict rail line on Manhattan’s West Side and led to the creation of the now-celebrated park.

    He is a former principal in the design consulting firm of Jones|Kroloff, which he established with Reed Kroloff in 2005. During his tenure with the firm, he assisted numerous universities, cultural institutions, and civic organizations in crafting or strengthening their design and construction initiatives. Among his accomplishments, he conceived, directed, and hosted the History Channel’s visionary, two-year “City of the Future” competition, helped the cities of New Orleans and San Antonio launch design initiatives for new city parks, guided numerous universities and cultural institutions through their architect selections, and worked with Global Green on sustainable housing and infrastructure for post-Katrina New Orleans. In 2008, Jones|Kroloff collaborated with architect David Rockwell to design the lead exhibition for the Venice Biennale “Out There: Architecture Beyond Building”—a digital installation in the historic Arsenale entitled “Hall of Fragments.”

  10. Nnenna Lynch

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    Nnenna Lynch is the founder of Xylem Projects, a new real estate venture dedicated to preserving housing and creating mixed-use projects throughout the tri-state area. She joins the board in the capacity of a VANguard Board Member for a two-year term. VANguard Board Members are emerging professional leaders who help connect the board and Van Alen Institute as a whole to some of the most interesting work being done in the field.

    Ms. Lynch’s career has spanned both public service and private real estate entities. She served as a Senior Advisor to Mayor Bloomberg on economic development. She is a Rhodes Scholar and a five-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion. Currently, she is a trustee of Villanova University, a board member of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars, and serves on the New York Road Runners Executive Committee. Previously, she was on the board of New York City Housing Authority.

    Ms. Lynch was born and raised in New York City. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Villanova and earned her Master of Letters from Oxford University.