Impact Studio Coaches

Want to know more about the coaches for the Impact Studios for Fall 2019? Scroll below: 

Samantha Brown


Samantha Brown currently works at Alight (formerly the American Refugee Committee) as a Project Manager, with a focus on implementing small-scale and high-impact projects with refugee communities. Samantha developed a particular interest in the forcibly displaced during graduate school and uses skills developed there to think creatively about solutions in Alight’s programs now. In the past year, Samantha has led projects in Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, Somalia, and Uganda, across a number of fields such as food security, agriculture, livelihoods, education and staff support. In addition to this, she has a particular interest in forced displacement, food, identity and Scandinavia.



Neal Cuthbert

Since his retirement from The McKnight Foundation Neal Cuthbert has been consulting with various nonprofits and businesses and recently served as the Interim Co-Executive Director of the Cedar Cultural Center. While at the Cedar Neal helped stabilize the staff and operations and managed the hiring of a new executive director. During his last decade at McKnight Neal was the Vice-President of Program, and helped create a workplace that received Great Place to Work awards, national recognition for a highly regarded approach to philanthropy, and led the creation and oversaw the management of several of McKnight’s intermediaries such as Youthprise. 

He also oversaw the expansion of McKnight’s artist fellowship programs, established the Distinguished Artist Award, and co-developed the artist website, He was formerly the director/publisher of the monthly art and culture journal, Artpaper, and a planner at the Metropolitan Council in the arts program and housing program. Neal was born and raised in Detroit and in addition to his consulting work exhibits artwork and curates exhibitions and programs at Homewood Studios on the northside of Minneapolis.


Tom Fisher



Thomas Fisher is a professor in the School of Architecture and the director of the Minnesota Design Center at the College of Design. The former dean of the college, he was recognized in 2005 as the fifth most published writer about architecture in the United States, and was named a top-25 design educator four times by Design Intelligence. He has written extensively about design thinking, in books like Designing our Way to a Better World (Minnesota, 2016) and about ethics, in books like The Architecture of Ethics (Routledge, 2019).



Anita Pagey



Anita is a design coach and oversees Impact Studios at Acara. A human-centered designer by training, she has over 10 years experience leading and managing cross disciplinary design & development teams. Her experience includes building & managing the User Experience Architecture team at Thomson Reuters and designing legal research & practice management software. She holds a M.Des in Human-Centered Communication Design from Institute of Design, Chicago.

Anita is an active community volunteer, using her design thinking skills to kick start placemaking initiatives and to help local organizations better understand and serve their clients. She grew up in Indore, India and is fluent in English, Hindi, and Marathi.



Cheryl Robertson


Cheryl Robertson is a Public Health Nurse, Professor, and Chair, Population Health and Systems Cooperative Unit at the School of Nursing University of Minnesota. Cheryl’s program of scholarship and research relates to conflict, displacement, trauma and recovery. In recent years, she has developed several interdisciplinary research partnerships to study eco-system health and climate driven conflict and displacement in Africa. She uses strengths based approach to investigate and understand refugee displaced persons’ health, trauma, and coping. Based on the findings of her early work, she and her interdisciplinary research team have designed, developed, implemented and evaluated the effectiveness of community-based interventions that support healthy coping and healing. Cheryl is currently leading a multidisciplinary team of university scientists and young African scholars to study climate-driven conflict, displacement, and health at the human-animal-environment intersection in the Horn of Africa Arid Lands. This research builds on her scholarship and supports the Grand Challenges priority research agenda of the University of Minnesota.



Fred Rose


Fred Rose is IonE Impact Goal Manager, Graduate Faculty at the Science Technology and Environmental Policy program at the Humphrey School and the lead instructor for all Acara courses. He provided entrepreneurial training for students at ten Universities in central and eastern sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia as part of a USAID funded One Health Workforce Initiative that is aimed at developing interdisciplinary teams of professionals to handle pandemic threats.

Fred has 40 years of experience in a wide range of technology research and development, emerging markets and global development teams, including as Director of Technology Strategy, Honeywell where he was responsible for strategy and development programs in India, US and China. He was also the co-founder of the non-profit, High Tech Kids.



Vanessa Tennyson


Vanessa spent 32 years as Partner in charge of Business Operations for a large consulting engineering firm, with revenues of $20 million. Responsibilities included long term strategy and strategic implementation, audit, compliance, human resources, compensation, business & personnel problem solving, and executive development, holding the titles COO, CHRO, CFO and CAO. 

She has Graduate School Certificates from Columbia, Harvard and Stanford Universities in Business Excellence and Leadership Coaching, Innovate Thinking and Social Entrepreneurship respectively, a Fellowship with the University of Minnesota Advanced Careers Initiative, and has degrees in Business and Liberal Arts from the University of Minnesota.


Megan Voorhees


Megan’s career has primarily focused on leading interdisciplinary campus-community higher education partnerships that provide engaged scholarship and leadership opportunities for students and faculty seeking to address complex social and environmental issues. She was the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Public Service Center at the University of California, Berkeley and the Community Service Coordinator for Lewis & Clark College. She also has led youth development and youth employment programs in the non-profit sector. She is now the Acara Director. Megan has a BA in Sociology/Anthropology from Lewis & Clark College, and a Masters in Theological Studies from the Graduate Theological Union. She completed a New Leaders Fellowship with the National Youth Employment Coalition and is currently working on completing her Coaching Certificate from the Coaches Training Institute. Megan is also Affiliate Faculty at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and teaches courses in the Grand Challenge curriculum, the Leadership Minor and for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.


Justin Baker

Justin has created ad campaigns for Fortune 500 companies and founded a start-up with two people. He has convinced masses to buy products they don’t need, and trained educators and other professionals to manage their emotions and lead others in ways very much needed. Today, Justin is working toward his Ph.D., studying psychology, design, behavioral science, meditation, and whatever else will help him design the schools needed to inspire the next generation and move the world forward. He leads workshops on mindful leadership, speaks to parents about learning, development and helicopter parenting, and will have coffee with anyone who wants to change the world and has an idea.



Rob Gradoville

Rob is coming off of four years with as Senior Portfolio Manager for the Amplify program. Built upon the creativity & experimentation that made the IDEO design consultancy famous, design-inspired incubator for social sector ideas; a laboratory for new ideas and new takes on old ideas. The Amplify portfolio of innovations have reached millions of people and sprouted new businesses in areas that large potential for positive impact. He spent his last year with living in Nairobi helping to get their first international design studio launched.

Before Rob focused on the international water & sanitation field for nearly a decade – as a Peace Corps volunteer, with Engineers Without Borders, as the founder of a nonprofit organization, as a Fulbrighter, and through varied positions at He served in roles with international oversight at through scale-up of the “WaterCredit” lending methodology, which has now reached over 20 million people with clean water. His three years spent living in the Dominican Republic and Peru with the Peace Corps and Fulbright taught him a lot about the challenges of the poor and gave him a passion for truly purposeful work.”