KC Scholars

Meet The Team

Board Of Directors

Earl Martin Phalen

CEO
KC Scholars

Michael Roane

Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer (ret.) JE Dunn Construction Company

Jeff Simon

Office Managing Partner Husch Blackwell

David Warm

Executive Director Mid-America Regional Council Board Secretary KC Scholars

Tammy Edwards

Senior Vice President, Community Engagement and Inclusion Division, and Director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Board Treasurer and Vice Chair KC Scholars

Michelle Kay

Vice President and General Manager Enterprise Holdings

Jan Kreamer

Chair, Kauffman Foundation (prev.) Board Chair KC Scholars

Beto Lopez

Chief Operating Officer Guadalupe Centers

Additional Contact Information

GreatJobsKC@kcscholars.org KC Scholars’ short-term, flexible, skills-based career training program.  Open to Kansas Citians age 17+ pursuing career training in the areas of healthcare, manufacturing, construction or information technology.

Are you an employer interested in accessing high-quality talent? The KC Scholars Employer Network is designed to connect employers in the greater Kansas City area to the scholars who are ready for internships, apprenticeships and jobs.  You can learn more from the employer network team by emailing EmployerNetwork@kcscholars.org.

As an alumnus, we remain invested in your long-term success personally and professionally. Find out about the support and community available to you by connecting with our Alumni Manager at alumni@kcscholars.org

Are you with a community-based organization that provides services to meet basic human needs or improve economic self-sufficiency? Our Scholars need you! Let’s talk about how we might work together. You can reach our Community Resource Navigator at CommunityResources@kcscholars.org

Do you have an amazing KC Scholars story to share? Would you like to help spread the word about our mission and our impact on the Kansas City economic and employment landscape? We would love to share our stories and to hear yours at info@kcscholars.org.

Are you a 9th grader, 11th grader, or adult learner looking to make your college dreams a reality?

Are you a current scholar with a question about your scholarship? If you do not know the email address of your advocate, you can email us, and your email will be routed to your advocate.

Do you have other questions about our scholarship program?

Be Bold. Be a KC Scholar. Contact us at scholarships@kcscholars.org

Our Talent team is ready to assist anyone interested in joining out team. This video (please insert the HR video) provides you with a brief overview of who we are and what we do at KC Scholars.

Want to invest in a program that creates change for thousands in the Kansas City region?  All donations KC Scholars receives are then reinvested in the community.  Email give@kcschoars.org today for more information on how you can make a gift.

Earl Martin Phalen - Chief Executive Officer

Earl Martin Phalen is the Founder & CEO of K-12 the public-school network, and the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA) named in honor of his parents. Under Earl’s leadership,

the Phalen Leadership Academies have grown from one school to a national network of 23 schools serving nearly 10,000 scholars. Helping the most vulnerable communities achieve exceptional educational outcomes is a passion Earl discovered in himself while studying at Harvard. PLA’s oldest school is 10 years old, and scholars at that school have outperformed the state average on both the ELA and math portions of the state test consistently for years. As an entrepreneur, Phalen is a nationally recognized leader in education with a track record of successful leadership and innovation. Phalen brings over two decades of executive experience to KC Scholars.

Phalen began his career in education while a law student at Harvard, where he founded Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), which operates after-school and summer education programs in several major U.S. cities. Under his leadership, the organization grew from a local community service project to a national non-profit educating 15,000 children annually and from an annual budget of $12,000 to $27.5M annually. He then founded Summer Advantage USA, a summer reading program that has served 20,000 children in six states since its inception in 2009. As a result of the impact of Summer Advantage, Phalen and his team were encouraged to expand their 25-day summer program model to a year-round school model.

In the ensuing years, a significant number of notable accolades have been bestowed and positions held, which surface in his eBook Giving My All, releasing mid-February 2023. In 1997, President Clinton awarded Phalen the President’s Service Award for his impact on the lives of children. Other honors and awards include: The Silver Anniversary Award from NCAA; Black Law Student Association Community Service Chair; Co-founder of the Charles Ogletree Scholarship Fund; Board Member of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Boston Uncornered Advisory Board Member; and Advisor for Coaching for Change. Phalen is also a Mind Trust and Ashoka Fellow. He was awarded the Black Entertainment Television (BET) National Hero Award and is a three-time recipient of Fast Company’s Social Capitalist Award. He has received recognition in numerous national media outlets, including TIME Magazine, FORBES Magazine, MSNBC’s Education NationParent Magazine, New York Times, Education Week, IndyStar, Black Entertainment Television and Education Week.

As the CEO of KC Scholars Phalen is on a mission to enhance the quality of life for KC Scholars and students worldwide. His prolific vision has redefined industry standards and revolutionized how we look at education. Inspired by his own commitment to positively impact the global landscape, his work in the last year with KC Scholars has helped make the organization one of the nation’s most effective college scholarship and support programs.

Phalen holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Yale and a law degree from Harvard.

Natalie Lewis - Chief Operating Officer

Natalie Lewis currently serves as KC Scholars’ Chief Operating Officer where she leads the Scholarship and Program team.   Her team is responsible for overseeing Community Engagement, Research and Evaluation, and Scholarship Programs (9th Grade College Savings Match, 11th Grade Traditional Scholarships and Adult Learner Scholarships). Lewis was motivated to join KC Scholars for its opportunity to serve others.

Lewis is highly regarded for her unwavering “can-do” belief in the mission, her expertise in tackling complex, multifaceted, systemic challenges facing young scholars and moving cross-functional collaborative teams beyond disbelief, past any history of failures, and in the face of conflicting agendas. She brings over 35 years of diverse experience in both for-profit and non-profit roles. Lewis has a unique combination of career experiences that perfectly prepares her for the work that she is called to do, experiences including strategic planning, workforce and college readiness, small business consulting, sales and marketing, PreK-16 public education, community engagement, and political leadership.

After spending over 13 years working as an engineer for Mobil Chemical and business leader for Hallmark Cards and Sprint, Lewis left her corporate career to pursue her passion for fighting for quality education for all children.  Her career journey in education began as a certified classroom teacher in the Kansas City Public Schools District and local charter schools.  She then spent seven years serving as a College Prep Education Coach with Kauffman Scholars, Inc.  In 2016, she expanded her impact and was elected Board of Directors for Kansas City Public Schools, where she served for three years.

Community service and leadership has always been a priority for Lewis. She has served in the roles of strategic advisor and board member for Green Works Kansas City, KC STEM Alliance, and a number of other community-based organizations.  She is most proud of her achievements as a long-term foster parent for a former student that she taught in the third grade.  At every stage of her life, Lewis has encountered those that were underserved by the existing system, it is those experiences that fuel her passion and commitment to fight for systemic change for ALL, where ALL means ALL.

Lewis has a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an MBA from the University of Texas in Austin, has studied at Manchester Business School in Manchester, England, and earned her Missouri Teaching Certification from Northwest Missouri State University.

Outside of work, Lewis loves traveling, wildlife animal adventures, live music, and spending time with friends and family.

Jessica Rhodes - Chief Development Officer

Jessica Rhodes is a first-generation college graduate who earned her Master of Science in College Student Personnel Administration from the University of Central Missouri. With over 15 years of diverse experience in non-profit development and administration, mostly spent at the director level, she has a demonstrated a history of relationship-building and fundraising across multiple industries. She is skilled in non-profit organizations, event and team management, philanthropy, and fundraising. In her current role, she develops and executes successful strategies to identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward major gift donors in support of KC Scholars. Rhodes has proven track record of success including the closure of numerous major gifts at the 1-million-dollar level and above. 

Rhodes’ diverse professional and academic experience has allowed her to work with individuals, organizations, and entire communities. Her tenure as Executive Director of Warrensburg Main Street, a non-profit organization that relies almost solely on the solicitation of donations, gave her an early understanding of the importance of fostering and maintaining relationships. Creating a compelling case for potential donors to contribute to the revitalization of historic structures was sometimes challenging, but cultivating relationships was one of her most rewarding aspects of the position.

Working on the University of Central Missouri campus for 10 years, first as Case Manager of the THRIVE program, followed by roles as Director of Development and Director of Annual Giving at the UCM Alumni Foundation, Rhodes understands the unique demands and challenges of obtaining a post-secondary degree. She has been awarded the Martin Luther King Community Service Award by the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce and UCM Center for Multiculturism and Inclusivity twice, an award that recognizes humanitarianism, leadership, and service.

Inspired by her husband Josh, and their twin daughters, Rhodes is dedicated to fostering lasting relationships with partners in their community. She is incredibly honored to be part of the KC Scholars Team – a place that truly embraces collaboration, team spirit, and recognizes each individual’s unique contribution. In her free time, you will find her boarding a plane with friends and family off to a new destination around the world or exuberantly supporting her three favorite sports teams – the UCM Mules, the Kansas City Royals, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Lilia Alvarado - Chief Talent Officer

Alvarado arrived in the United States in 1993 with the sole purpose of learning a new language and experiencing a different culture. She is a native of Ecuador, South America but since 2013 has lived in Des Moines, IA. She has two sons, Blake, and Braden. Through academic scholarships, she obtained an associate degree in Broadcasting and Media from Iowa Lakes Community College, a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Briar Cliff University, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication from the University of Arkansas.

Throughout her academic years, Alvarado became an advocate for human rights and integration. Through this advocacy, she entered the workforce as a Human Resources professional with Tyson Foods, Inc. in 1998. She became an emerging leader within the Tyson Foods organization allowing her to hold individual contributor roles and leadership roles within Human Resources and Marketing/Communications. She left Tyson Foods in 2005 and continued her Human Resources career in a variety of industries including manufacturing, research, technology, finance, and non-profit/education. 

Alvarado has experience leading people and culture for organizations in transformation, growth and start-up mode. She has successfully led teams in all aspects of Human Resources and technologies. She has worked for global companies like ADP, Inc. and non-profits like College Possible, where she managed and developed budgets of up to 28 million. She has been certified as a Human Resources Professional by The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) and is a Green-Belt Six Sigma.

In her spare time, Alvarado enjoys spending time with her boys, dancing, working out, playing music (guitar), and traveling. She previously lived within the Kansas City area (Blue Springs) and is excited to experience the community again. She finds in the KC Scholars’ mission an opportunity to give back and continue leaving a legacy of love, compassion, and empowerment.

Dr. Angie Besendorfer - Executive Vice President

Dr. Angie Besendorfer is known as an innovative educator who paves new ways to impact the future opportunities of individuals and families. Her career journey includes designing and piloting new endeavors which align with her new role at KC Scholars. Besendorfer currently serves as Executive Vice President and is responsible for leading the development of the newest KC Scholars’ programs including Great Jobs KC, the employer network, wrap around services network, and alumni network. She also leads the IT department.

Besendorfer previously served as Chancellor and Regional Vice President for Western Governors University, during her 8-year tenure and leadership the university grew from a combined 60,000 students and graduates to over 400,000. She also served Pre-K-12 students for over twenty years as teacher, principal, director of special services, and superintendent in Missouri schools. Notably, Besendorfer served as Assistant Superintendent for Joplin Schools when an EF-5 tornado hit 10 schools destroying 5.  She was instrumental in creating a road to recovery that included innovating instructional strategies and facility design in the newly built schools.

Besendorfer has been honored with many awards including the National Milken Educator Award, John C. Maxwell Leadership Top 100 Award, and was named as one of the 50 Missourians You Should Know.  She has been recognized as Teacher of the Year Nevada School District and finalist for Missouri Teacher of the Year.  Most influential woman was for the Tri-State Business Journal. Her board service has included the Joplin Museum board, the Kansas City Social Innovation Center, and the Jasper County Workforce Investment Board.  She has published numerous articles and book chapters as well as being featured in a documentary on the Joplin tornado. She has keynoted and presented at numerous convenings including national conferences.  Besendorfer holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Missouri Southern State College, a master’s degree from University of Central Missouri, and an Educational Doctorate from University of Missouri Columbia.

Besendorfer has spent her entire career focusing on breaking poverty cycles through education.  She began as Title 1 teacher hoping to close the achievement gap for her students.  As a public-school administrator, she worked to ensure that 12 years of education would lead students out of poverty.  She chose to serve at WGU because the innovative education model allowed individuals to earn a bachelor’s degree in 2.5 years on average.  Joining KC Scholars at this point in her career allows her to focus in on empowering individuals to take charge of their learning to ensure they have economic prosperity either through earning a degree or respected credential.  She is excited about the positive change KC Scholars will have on Kansas City.

Deekay Fox - Senior Marketing & Communications Director

As a member of the senior leadership team, Fox provides strategic communications and marketing direction to elevate KC Scholars’ vision. In this role, she leads strategic communications and brand strategy, implements and executes strategic campaigns across traditional, social and digital media, manages creative assets, local and nation media coverage, and oversees the web presence. 

Fox previously served as the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Uplift Education, the second largest #2 IB district in the nation. In that role she directed efforts that strengthened the charter schools’ brand and increased public awareness and engagement. She supported gains in both enrollment applications and retention. During her time with Uplift, Fox guided a collaborative plan that brought together leaders from across the 45 schools and created a strategic framework that grew efficiency, effectiveness, and impact through the modernization of marketing and communications that capitalized on today’s evolving markets and audiences.

Fox is a dynamic and results-driven marketing executive with 20 plus years of proven experience developing integrated strategies for large and small companies, telling compelling brand stories, and creating multichannel marketing plans that drive revenue and awareness. She is an innovative leader with the ability to build effective teams, create strong partnerships, and bring diverse stakeholders together to solve a variety of complex business problems. She has the experience needed to bring KC Scholars into their next phase of community support through launching new programs that support non-college bound adults while continuing to grow the cornerstone scholarships that KC Scholars built their foundation around.

Fox was born and raised in Canada, moved to California 7 years ago, and now resides in Dallas and as of a few months ago is officially a dual citizen. She has two boys who keep her very busy, and in her spare time teaches yoga, loves cooking up a storm, and is a devout Peloton devotee.

Fox believes that success can be achieved regardless of socioeconomic background. She personally struggled to access equitable learning and is a first-generation college graduate. Her belief is regardless of a family’s wealth, each child deserves a high-quality education. Her passion for education and growth is her motivation at KC Scholars. She considers this an opportunity not to think outside the box, but instead to break the box and reimagine how we, as a community and a nation, invest in learning to ensure that everyone, regardless of their zip code deserves the same chance.

Fox began her career in telecommunications after earning her bachelor’s degree in Business Communication from The University of Lethbridge in Canada.  

Emily Monchusie - Director of Finance and Business Operations

Emily Monchusie is responsible for the day-to-day and long-term financial health of KC Scholars. She is a Certified Public Accountant in Missouri and received her Master of Science in Accounting from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

As a first-generation college graduate Monchusie knows how much education made a difference in her career. Her 15 years’ experience has been primarily in the finance industry. Making the transition to the non-profit sector was exactly what her heart desired. Helping others become financially independent and better their life through is her passion. She not only applies this passion at work, but she enjoys helping family and friends reach their dreams to become more financially secure. In her free time, she stays active by running, playing volleyball, and experiencing anything outdoors.