Kristen Soares
President

Kristen Soares is the fourth president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. As president, Soares works in partnership with leaders around the state to shape policy for California’s independent colleges and universities. Soares serves as the chief spokesperson for the Independent California College and University sector, comprised of over 80 California independent, nonprofit institutions, all dedicated to the public good. Under her leadership, to advance new policy initiatives to address the needs of today’s students, the Association adopted its first formal agreement with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to adopt the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway, a groundbreaking program to improve community college transfer for students. Soares serves on several boards including: the California Education Round Table; the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) State Executives Council; the NAICU committee on Student Aid Policy; the Board of Trustees for the California Museum; the Better Together California Teacher Summit Steering Committee; the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Higher Education Center; and chairs the California Intersegmental Coordinating Council.

Soares has extensive background in higher education, policy, administration, and governmental advocacy. Before coming to AICCU, Soares spent nearly twenty-five years at the University of Southern California (USC). She served as the senior associate vice president for government relations and civic engagement, where she provided strategic direction and leadership for USC’s government and community relations offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C.

Kristen is a graduate of the University of Southern California where she earned a Bachelor of Science in public administration.

 

Susan Cotton
Executive Manager 

Susan joined AICCU in January 2016. Susan is responsible for administrative support, and AICCU financial operations. AICCU also functions as the fiscal agent for several entities and Susan is responsible for administrating their funds.

Susan comes to AICCU from Ascension Resource Group, a longtime business partner of AICCU. At Ascension she oversaw benefits administration for Ascension’s clients, including systems and interface development with carrier and payroll systems and was responsible for the development and management of tools to enhance Ascension’s benefit practices.

Susan majored in Marketing and Management at University of Arkansas and is a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Executive Program.

 

Amber Gonzalez
Executive Assistant 

Amber joined AICCU in April of 2014. She is the Executive Assistant to the President. Before finding her home with AICCU, she provided administrative support to Environment California, Fund for the Public Interest, and managed the office of California Paint Recycling, an environmentally friendly local paint recycling company.

Amber is currently a student at Sacramento City College, where she is eagerly preparing to transfer to California State University – Sacramento to complete her undergraduate studies in Political Science and Public Administration. During her time at Sac City College, she co-founded the 2013 Feminist Club and acted as treasurer.

 

Alex Graves
Vice President for Government Relations 

Alex joined AICCU in January of 2019. As Vice President for Government Relations, he is the chief lobbyist and is responsible for legislative advocacy and public policy leadership in support of independent higher education. Alex serves as the liaison between AICCU and the Governor’s Office, the California Legislature, California Student Aid Commission, and others public bodies.

Prior to joining AICCU, he worked as the Legislative Advocate at the California State University Office of Advocacy & State Relations, and previously as the Legislative Assistant at the Alzheimer’s Association. In addition, he worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy. He received his B.A. in Politics from Occidental College, and his Master’s in Public Policy & Administration from Sacramento State University.

 

Danyelle Okamoto
Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives 

Danyelle joined AICCU in July of 2009. As Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives she is responsible for the development, management and implementation of comprehensive marketing, branding, strategic initiatives, and research projects that advances the strategic goals of AICCU. Okamoto works with national and state associations and agencies that include, but are not limited to, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities State Executives (NAICUSE), and the California ICC Transfer Days/College Nights Subcommittee. Prior to her role as Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives, Danyelle served as Director of Research & Publications, where she was responsible for data collection and analysis of member colleges and universities, developing formats and data for use in publications, advocacy efforts, media, and testimony.

Danyelle earned her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of the Pacific and a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration from Drexel University.

 

Randy Tarnowski
Director of Research 

Randy joined AICCU in May 2019. As Director of Research, he develops the organizational research agenda and leads the collection and analysis of institutional data to produce clear and actionable reports for association stakeholders and policymakers. He is also responsible for the development and management of the AICCU longitudinal data system.

Before joining AICCU, Randy served as a Research Associate at School-to-School International, where he worked with a wide range of educational stakeholders to conduct impact evaluations in over 20 countries throughout Africa and Asia. He has also worked as administrator at the Korean-American Educational Commission in Seoul, where he managed the Fulbright fellowship between South Korean and United States research recipients. He was also an analytics consultant with the Foundation for Students Rising Above, where he provided insight into the College2Careers online hub, a platform for high school students to receive guidance for applying to and navigating higher education institutions.

Randy received his Bachelor of Arts degrees in International Studies and Communication from the University of Tampa and a Master’s in Education from Harvard University.

 

Thomas Vu
Vice President for Policy 

Thomas Vu joined AICCU in January 2014. As Vice President for Policy, he develops and manages the execution of AICCU’s agenda on state and federal policy. This includes outreach and engagement responsibilities between federal and state policymakers; providing original policy development; and cultivating and managing the internal and external stakeholders required for successful policy development and implementation. He conducts policy analysis, develops policy recommendations, and drafts reports, articles, and regulatory comments.

Tom’s career has been spent in government relations and public policy. Prior to joining AICCU, he worked at the California Chamber of Commerce as a policy advocate with a portfolio that included transportation and infrastructure, workers’ compensation, and international relations and trade. Tom was the legislative director for the California Special Districts Association, where he lobbied on local government-related policy issues and managed the department. He also has policy experience in healthcare, land use, and economic development.

Tom graduated from UC San Diego with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Economics, and a minor in Literature. He has a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California.

 

Kathleen Wilson
Membership Services Manager

Kathy has been with AICCU since 1997. She manages AICCU membership services programs, including utilization to sending out key updates. Kathy was born and raised in Southern California and has lived in Washington D.C., British Columbia, and Oregon. She has two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Kathy attended La Sierra University and Southern Oregon University.

 

Ana Estrada Daniels
Project Coordinator

Ana Estrade Daniels is AICCU’s project coordinator for California’s annual Better Together Teacher Summit.

Aram Nadjarian
Media Contact, 323.533.4523