Colorado GEAR UP staff bios


Executive Director


Program Director

CHRISTINA INGRUM is a Colorado native who has spent the past 15 years working with students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. In Denver Public Schools, she served as an adult education counselor, career counselor, high school guidance counselor and postsecondary enrollment counselor for low-income and minority students. She also served as a college transition counselor for first-year college freshmen and helped develop two online college and career readiness courses for high school students. She joined Colorado GEAR UP in 2006 and has been the program director since 2008. Christina has a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a master’s degree in educational counseling from the University of Phoenix.

Quote - "I have been lucky enough to spend my professional life helping students realize their potential and reach their dreams of a college education. I believe with genuine motivation and encouragement, students with any academic background can reach success and prosper."

Director of College Pathways and Communications

MEGHAN CAVE earned a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources from Colorado State University in 2003 and a master’s degree in education, also from CSU, in 2007. In 2008, she earned a Certified College Planning Specialist Certificate from the National Institute of Certified College Planners. Meghan worked for three years in the admissions and financial aid offices at the Colorado School of Mines, and then joined the Department of Higher Education in 2007 with CollegeInvest to provide higher education outreach across the state. She joined Colorado GEAR UP in January 2010.  In her spare time, you can find her hiking, camping, listening to or playing music.

Favorite Quote - "What I spent is gone, what I kept I lost but what I gave away will be mine forever.” – Ethel Percy Adams

Application Developer

PAYCE ENGLISH was born in Albany, New York and came to Denver in 2003 to pursue her bachelor’s degree at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. She taught herself to code at the age of 12 and has been passionate about the craft of web development ever since. In her free time, you can find her outside – be it hiking, biking, or running, she can’t get enough of the Colorado sun!

Favorite Quote - “If you want to achieve greatness stop asking for permission.” – Eddie Colla


Project Administrator

SUNNY STANINGER is a Colorado native who grew up on the eastern plains as a proud farmer’s daughter. She graduated from the University of Phoenix in Business Administration in 2000. Sunny has more than 20 years’ experience in financial aid working at various Colorado colleges and universities. Most recently, she served as the Assistant Director of Financial Aid for the Colorado Community College system. In 2012, she and her team earned the Enrollment Service Award in for their work in developing a centralized servicing model for the rural community colleges. She is thrilled to join the Gear UP team and be a part of assisting students reach their educational goals.

Favorite Quote - “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where this is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson



Alamosa/La Jara

JASMINE CAMPONESCHI earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Fort Lewis College in Durango, graduating magna cum laude. While attending Fort Lewis, she volunteered throughout the community, including working with Durango middle and high school students in after-school tutoring programs. She also spent a year studying abroad in Costa Rica, where she volunteered at an orphanage and a local elementary school teaching English. After graduation, Jasmine taught English to sixth-graders in Mexico before moving to the San Luis Valley and beginning work at State Farm in Monte Vista as a bilingual agent associate. She also taught Spanish to adults in the evenings.

Quote - "I am excited to be back in the education realm on a full-time basis and even more enthused that I get to spend my days improving the lives of the students ... There is never an hour of the school day that at least one of them does not put a smile on my face."

ALFONSO CASIAS was born and raised in the San Luis Valley, graduating from high school in Antonito in 2006. He earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and secondary education, with an emphasis on social studies, from Adams State University in 2010. He then earned his master's degree in school counseling from Adams State in 2013. Alfonso says that, throughout high school, undergraduate and graduate school, he worked on a local railroad to earn money to pay for college. For three years, he also coached junior high wrestling and worked with students while completing his student teaching in history in Alamosa. While in college, Alfonso traveled to Europe three times to attend model United Nations conferences. "I have always known I wanted to work with middle school and high school students," Alfonso said, "since every student could use someone to guide.

Favorite quote - "My purpose is not to change your mind, but to educate. It is only through education that we can create dialog and communicate, and it is only through communication that we can truly make change." - Dr. Sut Jhally



KRISTIE HOLLON is a Colorado native who grew up in Colorado Springs. She attended the University of New Mexico through the Colorado-New Mexico Reciprocal Program. She received a bachelor’s of science in anthropology with an emphasis on archaeological studies in 2012. While attending UNM, she worked in Residence Life and Student Housing for three years as a Resident Advisor and Student Hall Director. Kristie then returned to Colorado for graduate school at CU Denver where she received a master’s of arts in anthropology in 2015. Before joining GEAR UP, Kristie served as the coordinator of the Scholars Program as part of the CU Denver Center for Pre-Collegiate and Academic Outreach Programs. She is also active within the archaeological community conducting research in Belize and Mexico. "Not all those who wander are lost." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Quote - "I enjoy working with students and their families to create access to college."

CINDY NGUYEN is an Aurora native and a graduate of Hinkley High School.  As Vietnamese refugees, her parents were very supportive for her to be the first in the family to attend and graduate from college. She attended the University of Northern Colorado and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.  Prior to GEAR UP, Cindy worked as an admissions counselor for Metropolitan State University of Denver for seven years, where she worked closely with underrepresented students in their pursuit to attend college.  She also earned her master’s degree in educational psychology with a teaching applications emphasis from the University of Northern Colorado.

Quote - “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

PHYLLIS WASHINGTON is originally from Wesel, Germany and has lived in Colorado on and off for the past 14 years. Her father’s military career originally brought her to Colorado and it also allowed her the opportunity to live and travel abroad extensively. Phyllis earned a a bachelor’s degree in speech communications from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a master’s degree in liberal studies, with a linguistics emphasis, from City University of New York at Brooklyn College. Before working for GEAR UP, she worked for a number of organizations, including the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York City, a Japanese public school district, Colorado State University’s Global Campus and the University of Colorado at Denver.

Favorite quote - "Life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing." - Teddy Roosevelt

Colorado Springs

ANGELA FICCADENTI is a native of Minnesota who moved to Colorado Springs ten years ago for her first teaching job. She earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish from Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Carolina, and holds two master's degrees - one in curriculum and instruction and the other in educational leadership. Both are from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Angela's started her career in education as a Spanish teacher in Academy District 20, north of Colorado Springs. She later served in various roles at a K-10 charter school in the Falcon 49 School District, including Spanish teacher, director of gifted education and assistant principal. Later, she became a senior consultant for the Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the Colorado Department of Education, working on increasing the graduation rate and decreasing the dropout rate across the state. Before joining GEAR UP, Angela served as director of postsecondary readiness for the Adams 14 School District, serving Commerce City. "The reason I do this work," she said, "is because there is nothing more rewarding than seeing small successes after what seemed like an impossible task."

Quote - "Every day you have the ability to make a difference in a positive way. Student success and the newfound hope they experience fuels my passion as an educator."


Commerce City

DAWN GALLARDO DE ROMERO is a proud graduate of Denver's North High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in history, with an endorsement in elementary education, from Metropolitan State University and a master's degree in non-profit management from Regis University. Prior to GEAR UP, Dawn worked at Regis University helping college freshmen and their families navigate the financial aid process. She also managed the student financial services and scholar relations components of the Daniels Fund scholarship program in southern Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. When Dawn is not helping students, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two little ones as well as training for her next 10k or half-marathon. In 2012, she accomplished her goal of completing her first half-marathon.

Motto - "Greatness is earned, never awarded."

ANJEL CARBAJAL was born and raised in Denver, graduating from Skyview High School in Adam’s County. He earned his bachelor’s degree in International Studies from the University of Denver with the help of the prestigious Daniels Fund Scholarship. After graduation, he worked at Daniels Fund, providing support for nonprofits throughout Colorado and the Midwestern region. Anjel is passionate about his work at Adams City High School and enjoys working with at risk youth. During his free time, he enjoys hiking, running, and spending time with his family. He recently completed his first half-marathon and is excited to compete again. He looks forward towards seeing what his students accomplish once they graduate from Adams City.

Favorite quote - “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” - Nelson Mandela


LORI TREVINO Lori is a New Mexico native, born and raised in Las Cruces. She graduated from New Mexico State University and worked with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Las Cruces,NM, TRiO/Student Support Services at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM, and TRiO/Educational Talent Search at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, CO before joining the CO Gear Up Team. As a first-generation college student, Lori's passion is motivating and mentoring underrepresented individuals in their quest for higher education and success. In her "free" time, Lori enjoys spending fun and crazy times with her husband, Marc, and their two amazing and talented children Milena and Anton. Their two hilarious dogs, Buster and Charlee, round out their beautiful family and make for fun times!

Favorite Quote - “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”- Wendy Mass, The Candymakers

DALIA FLORES was born in Liberal, Kansas and moved to Colorado at age 6. She graduated from John F. Kennedy High School and received her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Colorado State University. She is currently enrolled in her master’s degree program at CU Denver for School Counseling. Prior to Gear Up, Dalia worked as an Educational Intervention Specialist with Colorado Youth for a Change at North High School and Abraham Lincoln High School. She will always be dedicated to the success of students, wholeheartedly and for as long as she is able to. She sees our youth “at-potential,” not “at-risk”- and as believes that as educators, it is our job to awaken that potential in our students.

Favorite Quote - “If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” –Von Goethe 

KELLY BATT was born in Garden City, Kansas and moved to Pueblo in 1991 when her father’s job transferred him to Colorado. She earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary social studies education, with a minor in athletic coaching, from Adams State University. Before GEAR UP, she worked as a substitute teacher, basketball and volleyball coach, and was Pueblo’s summer recreation program director. She also worked as a league director for youth sports for the Pueblo West Recreation Department.

Favorite quote - "Not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but children have the equal right to develop their talent, their ability and their motivation." – John F. Kennedy

Ta'qwasha Robertsis a Denver native who recently graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo. Though she a bachelor’s in Sociology, she fell in love with education while interning for the Gear UP program at Rangeview High School. Since TaQwasha is a Gear Up student herself working with Gear Up students allowed her to be influential to others as her prior advisors had been. TaQwasha is also a part of the Gear Up Alumni Leadership Academy. In June of 2015, she traveled to Washington D.C. to promote the importance of Gear Up to politicians and educators.

Favorite quote - "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." – Joseph Chilton Pearce

Fort Morgan

KRISTEN MILLER is a Colorado native who grew up in Fort Morgan. She attended Waldorf College on a volleyball scholarship where she graduated with her Bachelor's Degree in Communications. Kristen earned her Master's Degree in Education Administration from Lindenwood University and has spent the last six years in education. Before joining GEAR UP, Kristen spent three years in College admissions and recruitment including coaching Men's and Women's volleyball. She spent the last three years as a secondary teacher in Fort Morgan.

Favorite quote - "Even if you're on the right track you'll get run over if you just sit there." Will Rogers

ERIKA SERRANO was born in El Paso, Texas. A couple years after, her family moved to Fort Morgan Colorado where Erika graduated from the Fort Morgan High School with the respected Daniels Fund Scholarship. Being the first in her family to attend college, Erika decided to pursue her bachelor degree close to home. She majored in Secondary Education with an endorsement in Spanish and Teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Northern Colorado. Shortly after graduation Erika was offered a teaching position at Abner Baker Central School in Fort Morgan, Colorado. She taught the language of English to newcomers for three years before joining the GEAR-UP Team. Currently Erika is working on her Master of Higher Education Administration and Leadership at Adams State University. Erika’s passion is to help students succeed, and offer the necessary tools for them to get there.

Favorite quote - "Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi


SOFIA PORTILLO was born in Durango, Mexico and has lived in Colorado since she was 2. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Northern Colorado and her master’s degree in school counseling from the University of Phoenix. Prior to 1999, Sofia worked in short-term positions in many different types of fields, including aircraft, business administration and medical records. But in 1999, when she began working in education with at-risk youth, she says “I found my passion … helping at-risk youth see their ‘true potential’ and see all the opportunities they too could have!”

Favorite quote - "Treat a man (at –risk student) as he appears to be and you make him worse but treat a man as if he were already WHAT HE COULD POTENTIALLY BE and you make him what he should be." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


GABE BEARD was born and raised in Lamar, Colorado. I graduated from Lamar High School in 2012 then went on and graduated from Lamar Community College in 2013 with my Associates in Arts. I then transferred to Adams State University where I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. Upon graduation, I entered the Law Enforcement Academy at Otero Jr. College where I received my P.O.S.T Certification. I enjoy talking to people and helping out when I can. GEAR-UP helped me receive the higher education that I did and I am excited for the opportunity to actually be a part of this organization and to give back to the community where I am from as it did me while I attended school.  

Favorite quote - "This is your world. Shape it or someone else will." - Unknown

La Junta

KATIE CARROLL was born and raised in Boone, Colorado and graduated from Pueblo County High School.  She received her bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications with a minor in Reading from the University of Southern Colorado and master’s degree in Language, Literacy, and Culture from Adam’s State University.   Katie taught at Swink Elementary for the past 16 years.  Her love of teaching reading encouraged her students to explore and find their own love of reading.   She married her best friend 17 years ago and they have two children.  Her time is mostly spend following her kids around to rodeo arenas in many states.  Through her new career path with Gear Up, Katie has enjoyed every aspect of working with students to prepare them for their life after high school. 

Favorite quote - "A book is a dream you hold in your hands when you're wide awake." — Neil Gaiman

MOLLY BORTON was born and raised in La Junta. After college, she taught English for a year in Chile - when the year in South America was up, she knew she wanted to return to the community "that had given me so much support and encouragement while growing up," she said. "Sometimes there's just no place like home!" Molly earned her bachelor's degree in secondary education, with an emphasis in theater arts, from the University of Northern Colorado. She was recently accepted to Adams State University's graduate program in school counseling and will begin work on her master's degree this fall. Molly has spent the last three years teaching language arts in upper elementary and middle school grades in La Junta and says she's excited to help the students she got to know as fifth-graders when they enter the GEAR UP program as "big, bad, super-cool eighth-graders!" Through her work with GEAR UP, Molly said she hopes to give students the confidence to follow their dreams.

Favorite quote - "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." - Henry David Thoreau

SHAUNNA SCHROCK was born & raised in La Junta, Colorado and graduated from Swink High School. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Adams State College. She has taught 2nd, 3rd & 4th grade for the past 12 years. She has been married for 18 years and we have 3 amazing, busy children. Her oldest son is a junior in high school, her middle son is in 8th grade & my daughter is in 4th grade. All of her free time is spent following them in their many activities.


CRAIG PENA is a Denver native and Denver Public Schools graduate. He received his bachelor's in social work from Colorado State University and his master's degree, also in social work, from Columbia University in New York City. Craig has extensive clinical experience working with homeless and formerly homeless chronic mentally ill people, veterans and children and adolescents in psychiatric inpatient settings. While in New York, he served as the deputy director of the office that oversaw all of the support services for homeless and formerly homeless mentally ill people in New York City. Upon returning to Denver, he worked briefly as an administrator in Denver Public Schools and was manager of the social services division of Servicios de La Raza. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Denver Inner City Parish. For the past 15 years, Craig also has founded and operated several apparel companies in Denver. He and his wife have two sons, one serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and the other a senior at a Denver high school.

Favorite quote - "It is not death or dying which is tragic, but rather to have existed without fully participating in life is the deepest personal tragedy." - Edward Abbey

DUANE AKERFELDS was born and raised in Colorado, graduating from Columbine High School in Jefferson County. He enrolled in Rangeley Junior College to play baseball for a year, then transferred to Mesa State University to play baseball for another two years. He earned his bachelor’s degree in human performance and secondary education from Mesa State. After graduation, Duane became involved in real estate, owning several mortgage companies. He continued coaching high school baseball and said he “always wanted to get back to working with high school students. I am the type of person who enjoys working with kids.” He said he jumped at the chance to join GEAR UP six years ago because it gives him the chance to work at the high school level.

Favorite quote - "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle

DESARIE WHEELER was born in Denver and raised in Commerce City, CO where sh graduated from Adams City High School. She went to Colorado State University and received her bachelors degree in Communications with a minor in Ethnic Studies. After college, she worked for Educational Talent Search in the Greeley school district with The Greeley Dream Team where she was able to provide mentoring support for students to continue their education after high school. She knew from high school that she wanted to work with low-income and first generation students because her background was very similar and she was the first in her family to go to and graduate college. She wants to be able to teach students that they are in control of their future and have the power to change the world, all they have to do is to believe in themselves.

Favorite quote - “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela


KATIE PHILPY has been Lamar’s GEAR UP advisor since 2000. She earned two associate’s degrees, from St. Johns River Community College and from Colby Community College, before returning to school more than a decade later to earn her bachelor’s degree from Regis University in Denver. Her degree emphasis was teacher education at the middle school level. Katie has more than 20 years of experience as a small business owner and worked as a teacher and substitute teacher for Kiowa County schools before joining GEAR UP. She also has volunteered for Lamar Community College and the Daniels Fund. Her peers in Lamar Public Schools honored her with the ExCell Award for her service to students in the district.

Quote - "The things I enjoy most about my job are the direct teaching that I do with students through the GEAR UP curriculum, assisting student with college access when they are seniors, and encouraging students to dream bigger than they ever thought possible."

JANELL MARTIN was born and raised in Colorado. She received her bachelor's degree in marketing and merchandising from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. After 20 years of retail management experience, she earned her secondary teaching and vocational license. Janell has worked at Lamar High School for the past nine years, teaching marketing, careers and a class called Senior Seminar. She also was sponsor of the school's DECA club. Janell has a son in high school and a daughter who graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with the help of a GEAR UP scholarship. She is excited about joining GEAR UP to help students explore careers, get ready for life after high school and be successful in the future.

Favorite Quote - "The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary."


TANYA GREGORY was born and raised in Colorado and has spent the last 20 years working in the field of education. She received her bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University-Pueblo and her master's degree from Adam's State University in English Language Learners. As a teacher, she is highly qualified in the areas of English, special education, media specialist and English language learners. As a participant in the National Institute of School Leadership, she also recently earned her principal licensure. Tanya worked as a GEAR Up advisor during the first grant and spent the last five years working at a middle school in Pueblo City Schools as a media specialist, instructional coach and AVID coordinator. She is excited to return to GEAR Up and continue helping students recognize their potential.

Favorite quote - "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." -Thomas Edison


MONICA MOORE is a native of Pueblo who earned both her bachelor’s degree in administration and her MBA from Colorado State University-Pueblo. She has more than 25 years of managerial experience and 15 years in postsecondary education. Monica has served as business manager of Pueblo’s Rosemont Museum and as adjunct instructor and academic advisor at Pueblo Community College. She also was associate director of Colorado GEAR UP and director of Gateway to College for Pueblo Community College. She then came back to GEAR UP to work with middle and high school students in Pueblo. Monica is active in several community organizations, including Pueblo Juneteenth and the Pueblo City Schools Accountability Committee. She and her husband Van have three children.

Favorite quote - "For these are all our children, we will all profit by or pay for what they become." - James Baldwin