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Our Staff

George Vander Veer

Executive Director

George Vander Veer is a graduate of Southwestern Adventist University (B.S.), Walla Walla University (M.S.W.), and South Texas College of Law Houston (J.D.). George has ten years of experience in the nonprofit sector. The majority of George's nonprofit experience has been developing, piloting, and growing direct service programs serving disconnected opportunity youth in a high school and college setting. George has also served as a grant officer for a large Houston area nonprofit where George raised and managed over $2.5 million in grants annually. As a first-generation college student George greatly believes in the power Fantastic Learning Opportunities can have in giving students perseverance and helping them to develop a vision for their future. George credits his own mission work in Africa and Asia during high school as the fantastic learning opportunity that steered his professional career towards the nonprofit field. As Executive Director George is charged with managing and fundraising for the organization and is committed to DiscoverU's mission of providing resources and learning experiences that broaden the worldview of economically disadvantaged youth, while equipping them with the attitudes and skills to become advocates for their own success. 

Emily Sketch Haines

Director of Programs

 Emily Sketch Haines is a graduate of Cornell University (B.A.) and the University of Washington (M.F.A.), and has ten years of experience teaching in a variety of settings, from low-income public high schools to private tutoring programs and undergraduate courses. As a Teach For America Houston alumna who has held a number of program leadership roles since her time in the corps, Emily has ample experience in working with disadvantaged youth, establishing and sustaining strong working relationships with schools and community-based organizations, and managing complex projects with strategic, measurable outcomes. Emily works closely with DiscoverU’s school partners and FLO Coordinators to ensure that students gain the personal, social, and emotional skills they’ll need for college success, through FLO participation.

Ashley Laumen Willett

Director of Development

Ashley Willett has over fifteen years of experience in the education and nonprofit fields.  She is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas (B.A.) and Texas Christian University (M.A.). She taught for five years at Lee High School in HISD (now Wisdom), serving students who hailed from all corners of the globe.  She then helped to found KIPP Generations Collegiate, where she served in a variety of leadership roles including teacher, department and grade level chair, district curriculum lead, instructional coach, and even as FLO Coordinator and, later served as DiscoverU Director of Programs.  She firmly believes that it is through FLO participation that students develop the grit, savvy, and courage to allow themselves to seize the opportunities that can open doors to their futures.

Whitney Casey Griffin

FLO Program Manager

Whitney Casey Griffin is a proud product of Houston ISD and is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University (B.A.), Sam Houston State University (M.Ed), Northcentral University (Educational Specialist), and is currently pursuing her Doctor in Education degree.  With over ten years of experience in college and career readiness and post-secondary student success, she served for four years as College Access Coordinator and AVID Coordinator at the Houston Academy for International Studies helping hundreds of students into great colleges and career readiness programs, and one year as 9th-11th Grade College & Career Readiness Advisor at her alumni high schools, Washington HS and Waltrip HS. Whitney believes in building and strengthening the mindsets of teens through building relationships, advocating and empowering them towards personal and future professional goals.

Abigail Molloy

FLO Access Manager

Abby Molloy is a graduate of Southwestern Adventist University (B.S.) and has 9 years of experience working as a teacher of special populations at Title 1 campuses in Humble ISD and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. She has a passion for working with youth to empower them to reach their full potential. She has experience collaborating with campus staff to create individualized plans to meet student needs. Having worked with special populations has equipped Abby with the skills and understanding to be a powerful advocate for youth and their families. 

Presley Liesman

FLO Program Coordinator

Presley Liesman is a graduate from the University of Houston (B.S.), Go Coogs! With her background in Human Development, she understands the importance of social-emotional learning and the impact it has on the lives of students. She is passionate about equal educational opportunities for all students and believes that everyone should have access to experiential learning programs. Being a part of the DiscoverU family allows her to work with her passion for education and impact the lives of Houston students. 

Esther Argueta

FLO Advisor

​Esther Argueta is a graduate from Texas State University (B.S.W) and the University of Houston (M.S.W). She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has worked with at-risk youth and their families for the past 10 years. Esther has provided case management and counseling services to youth on juvenile probation and unaccompanied immigrant minors while working in non-profit organizations. She has previously worked providing experiential education groups and mentoring to students in HISD (Las Americas Newcomer School, Jane Long Middle School) and PISD (Pasadena High School, Southmore Intermediate) by helping students build leadership skills. Esther believes in advocating and empowering youth to assist them in reaching their personal and educational goals. Esther sees that opportunities such as FLOs can help youth create attainable goals, build relationships, strengthen their community, and build leadership skills.

Julius Bayone

FLO Advisor

Julius Bayone is a graduate from the University of Central Arkansas (BS), with his background in nonprofit management, he understands the needs of the youth, parents, and communities. He has a passion to develop, empower, and inspire youth in academics, in community, and the world. Having worked in corporate america for the last four years, he has turned his passion to service and community initiatives in the greater houston area. Together we can change lives! 

Rosalva "Rose" Castillo

FLO Advisor

Rosalva "Rose" Castillo graduated from Southwestern Adventist University with a B.S. in Psychology and earned her M.A. in Human Services Counseling from Liberty University.  Since she was a little girl, Rose had a passion and desire to serve at-risk youth in an effort to provide them with a bigger picture of how having a higher education can propel them to greater things.  Rose believes that providing youth with Fantastic Learning Opportunities can equip them to reach their higher potential and become successful and more productive members of society.  She will be serving Madison, Westbury, Sharpstown, and Wisdom High School and is eager to be a powerful advocate for the youth and their families.

Lynda Daniel

FLO Advisor

A passionate advocate for experiential equity, Lynda spent 16 1/2 years at YES Prep Public Schools, first as the Student Opportunities Coordinator at YES Prep Southeast then as the Student Opportunities Manager at the District office. She has been with DiscoverU since 2017 where she continues to send students on adventures, while taking many of her own to destinations such as Scotland, Antarctica, and the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

Rodrick Hawkins

FLO Advisor

Rodrick is a graduate of Texas A&M University (B.S.). He has two years of experience in HISD high schools as a college advisor to underserved youth. Integrity, self-advocacy, resilience, and selfless leadership are a few of the many moral values he stands on as he serves a very diverse population of students.   Rodrick believes everyone should have equal opportunity access to various personal, career, and educational pathways through FLOs while also building interpersonal relationships skills, giving back to their community, and investing in themselves.

Nyra Tanner

FLO Advisor

Nyra Tanner  is a graduate of Texas State University (B.A). During her time at Texas State University, she served as a peer mentor, guiding students through their first year of college. She is an energetic individual with a passion for instilling self confidence and ambition in students, as well as establishing individualized relationships with the student and their families. DiscoverU gives her the special opportunity to positively impact students' lives by helping them see the greatness in themselves.

Maria Thompson

FLO Advisor

Maria is a passionate proponent of self-discovery through meaningful opportunity. She aims to use her background in Sociology to eliminate the social determinants that hinder most underserved communities in career and personal advancement. Maria has worked for DiscoverU in Summer Participation Support, Logistics and now serves EMERGE and Houston Academy for International Studies as their Direct Service FLO Advisor.

Stephanie Turcio

FLO Advisor & Development Coordinator

TBD

"DiscoverU mixes experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to push forward a team that believes in students and their potential to achieve. We consider each other and our communities when we do this work!"

Maria Thompson

DiscoverU FLO Advisor