Matt Coleman headshot

Matt Coleman

Executive Director and Chief Academic Officer
What path brought you to your current role at EPIC?

I spent 21 years as a public educator. Fifteen of those years were in an administrative role, nine as a building administrator and six at the district level. Relatively early in my administrative career, I was exposed to Dr. David Conley’s work, specifically what is now referred to as the Four Keys to College and Career Readiness. We applied it as a framework in our efforts at both the school and district levels and found great success in its use. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I was excited to join the EPIC team as executive director and launch a focus on school-based efforts and district-level work in the micropolicy environment. Because of my positive experience and results with the Four Keys, it couldn’t have been a more natural fit.

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What are you most passionate about professionally?

Making a real difference for kids who have historically been underserved. I think a big factor in that, and an angle that’s a little bit unique, is that I’ve played almost every role at the secondary level. I’ve been an instructional assistant, a middle school teacher, a high school teacher, a high school vice principal, a middle school principal, a high school principal, and in the district office. I’ve played nearly every role within the system, so I’ve got a sense for what needs to happen from a systems perspective to support all kids.


Describe an educator from your past who had a profound effect on you.

When I was a first-year teacher, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Charlie Harper, a physicist at Cal State Hayward. During the summer, he ran camps for kids from Oakland and Hayward. This physicist, who cared deeply about affecting young minds and inspiring kids to aspire to STEM fields, fascinated me. Beyond the science, he helped me discover that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He taught me that if you observe the whole, and you begin to recognize that whole in each of the individual parts, you can start to appreciate the roles that each of these individual parts play. So, as a young educator, I began my journey toward becoming a “systems thinker.” I became acutely aware of the big picture and the role that I played as a teacher. Being able to break down the parts to see how they work off of each other, and what is or isn’t effective, has become an invaluable tool as we work toward achieving something great like student success.


Where can we find you when you’re not working?

Hanging out with my four kids doing something totally unrelated to work. When I’m not working, I’m probably with at least one of my kids at some kind of activity or sporting event. We’re either at gymnastics, or a choir concert, or a basketball game, or, or, or…


What have you liked best about your life so far?

I have had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some really great, passionate, and creative people. It’s those people who have truly influenced who I am, what I do, and how I go about living my life. I referenced Dr. Harper earlier, but he’s only the first in a long list of people who have affected my life in different ways. People like the late Toni Painter, who hired me at Whitford Middle School and taught me a lot about administration and leadership. To principals Len Case, Sue Tarrant, Ralph Riden, and Debbie Sember, who all helped me uncover the values and beliefs that drive me as a school leader and who helped shape my own personal leadership style. To Nancy Golden and Jerry Colona, the superintendents whom I’ve worked with. I think about my friends, colleagues as a teacher, and people like Lupe, Carmen, Sho, Keith, Jerry, the list goes on and on…just quality, quality people all along the way. The list grows every day and I love it!


What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?

I was young and dumb and thus a little bit brash, especially in my early administrative years. I wish I would’ve slowed down a little bit and tried to gain a broader sense of what was actually going on at a deeper level, rather than feeling the need to try and quickly be the “answer guy” early on. I also wish I knew politically what I know now about how to set things in motion to bring about change.

Kirsten Aspengren

Kirsten Aspengren

Senior Director, AP Course Audit Division
What path brought you to your current role at EPIC?

After almost a decade of advocating for marginalized populations and as a leading spokesperson for access to healthcare in NYC, I returned to Oregon to be closer to my first nephew. I joined the EPIC team in 2005, designing and implementing the AP Course Audit that launched in early 2007. With a strong interest in staff professional development and a keen eye toward efficient project management, I became an early executive leader at EPIC. I hope to continue cultivating an environment that keeps us marching toward our mission—college and career readiness for every high school student, focusing on bridging the divide between high schools and community colleges through authentic collaboration.

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What are you most passionate about professionally?

My father, my hero—my inspiration—lost his battle with cancer in 2014. His quiet strength, grit, and quest for equity in education and human rights lives on in me. Dad was a first generation college-goer who believed in fostering critical thinking in youth through his role as a father, a science teacher, and a community member. I am honored and determined to carry on his legacy by being a part of building bridges between high school and higher education, from technical programs to college toward graduate degrees.


Describe an educator from your past who had a profound effect on you.

Mr. McCrath, a veteran Latin teacher at my high school who, late in his career, went to a summer live-in Spanish language program where he was required to only speak Spanish. He shared stories during Spanish class of attending this program as a 50-year-old that fascinated my 16-year-old brain. Every time I think I’m too old to learn something, I think of Mr. McCrath, a life-long learner who taught by example.


What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend or a Sunday afternoon?

Taking long walks around Portland. In March 2015, I participated in a commemorative walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to remind myself and others of the importance of protest and full participation in democracy. Preparing for walking the 54 miles and then the march itself inspired me to continue walking. I like to get in 20 miles on weekends.


What do you think the turning points have been in your life?

In the mid-1990s, I worked on a mobile unit in NYC providing harm reduction services to street-based sex workers. Witnessing the institutional barriers they faced at every path toward traditional success, all the while maintaining their strength and senses of humor, inspired me to focus on macro-policy while earning my Master’s degree in Social Work. I will never look at the world the same. As far as we have come in this country, we cannot be done fighting for human rights, with quality education leading toward a career being one of those rights.

Kristine Chadwick

Kristine Chadwick

Senior Director, Programs
What path brought you to your current role at EPIC?

I have spent my professional life as a program evaluator. During the past 12 years, I have been spending more and more time evaluating programs that address the college and career readiness needs of students. EPIC was a perfect fit for me to expand on that theme.

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What are you most passionate about professionally?

I love studying advances in interdisciplinary STEM education. The fusing of disciplines creates opportunities for students to think more creatively and deeply about real-world applications of academic knowledge and skills. Whether this happens in traditional basic education courses or career and technical education, the relevance and rigor of applied, content-rich coursework allows our students to develop knowledge and skills for whatever future they imagine for themselves.


Describe an educator from your past who had a profound effect on you.

I met Mr. Paul Beidler during summer theatre camps when I was in middle school. An awkward and shy girl, I loved theatre but did not know if I could perform in front of people. Mr. Beidler saw the strength and talent lurking below the introverted surface and helped me realize my love for the stage. During high school, I was his assistant director and a student in his AP European History class. His respect and belief in me had a profound effect on my confidence and success.


What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend or a Sunday afternoon?

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I can be found curled up with my dog and a good book. In better weather, I’m often out biking, hiking, practicing archery, or exploring Oregon with my family.


What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?

I was so driven to do more and be more, so focused on a single vision for my future. I wish my younger self could have taken a few more deep breaths and relaxed. Life has not turned out as I planned; it’s richer and far more interesting!

Carmen Bio Photo Edited-2863

Carmen Gelman

Director, Epic School Partnerships
What path brought you to your current role at EPIC?

I had a difficult life growing up and had little success in school, which led me to a life of poverty and bad decisions. When I moved to Oregon I began working for the juvenile department as a secretary. Because of my Spanish speaking abilities I was asked to help with monolingual Spanish speaking families and incarcerated youth. I quickly learned that I really understood these families and what they were going through because of my own experiences, which sparked my interest in going to college so that I could work with, support, and advocate for them as they navigate the systems.

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After I graduated from the University of Oregon (U of O) I became a juvenile counselor carrying a caseload of predominantly urban youth and kids of color. I absolutely loved this work but I quickly discovered that I had very little impact when it came to how successful my kids were in school. Knowing that education is the great equalizer, I knew that something had to change. Many of these kids felt marginalized, excluded, and were not set up for success in their schools. As a matter of fact, many times they were kicked out without an attempt to really get down to the root cause of why they were acting out, failing, or not attending. This experience inspired me to go back to school and become an administrator in the hopes of being able to have more of a systematic influence to positively shape the outcomes of struggling students.

After graduating from the admin program at the U of O, I became the assistant principal of Springfield High School and six years later the principal. Matt Coleman was the assistant superintendent at the time and with his support we were able to make significant changes with high school graduation, discipline, an increase in AP and honors courses, attendance, and creating a college going culture for kids who traditionally have been underserved. After Springfield, I landed a job in Portland at an alternative school with the task of building and revamping a program for underserved and struggling students. My belief is that if you involve community organizations, parents, and volunteers it’s much more effective in accomplishing this mission.

Why EPIC? I know that there are many people in schools and communities who are working tirelessly in an attempt to figure out solutions to best meet the needs of traditionally underserved students so that they can too have a successful and fulfilling life after high school. This type of work is extremely exciting for me and I want to be a partner in finding a solution.

 


What are you most passionate about professionally?

I am a change agent. Equity and diversity drive my work and are embedded in all of my decisions. I love to take a “wicked problem”, work with folks, and come up with a solution. I have a “can do” attitude and am a true believer of “if there is a will, there is way.” I believe in being creative and am very open to non-traditional approaches – an outside of the box thinker. I believe in people from all walks of life and enjoy being a part of something that is greater than “I” and help transform lives


Describe an educator from your past who had a profound effect on you.

I have participated in this activity many times and I am often surprised that I’m usually the only one in the room that cannot tell you about an educator from my childhood that had a profound effect on me. I’m the kid that slipped through the cracks and because of this and how painful it was; I have made it my life’s mission to work hard to ensure that students don’t have similar experiences. I often think of where I would be today if I had the support from educators at a young age, but then again, it’s my experiences that have shaped who I am


Where can we find you when you’re not working?

When I am not working you can find me on the lake fishing, at a night club dancing, on a trip experiencing the world in all it’s beauty and most importantly spending time with my friends and family. I love to learn about and be immersed in different cultures. The way people live, eat, celebrate each other has such an appeal to me. My world and my friendships consist of people from all walks of life, experiences, races and so forth. I look for strengths in everyone.


What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?

Education is the Great Equalizer. I know this may sound corny but it’s so true. I know what it’s like to live a life of poverty, to struggle paycheck to paycheck, sometimes not having enough food to feed my children. I know how powerless it is to advocate for your children when you don’t feel you have a voice or that it is heard. Having an education has dramatically changed my life.

Education is powerful beyond all measures and no one can ever take it away from me. Through education I have not only transformed my life and the lives of my children but I have been able to be instrumental in helping thousands of students transform theirs.

Jeanne Wolfe

Jeanne Wolfe

Director, Fiscal and Business Services
What path brought you to your current role at EPIC?

It was mostly happenstance. I had been working remotely from California for a Eugene-based research company and decided to make a change. I applied for a position with a hiring firm and they called me five minutes later to say I was a perfect match for EPIC. The rest is history.

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What are you most passionate about professionally?

I love to assess systems and ensure that each part of the organization supports the overall mission with the minimum amount of administrative fuss, while still getting us the information needed to make informed and timely choices.


Describe an educator from your past who had a profound effect on you.

In K–12, courses and testing had always been easy for me, but when I went to college, I recognized immediately that it was a whole new playing field and began experiencing anxiety. My professor, Helen Gernon, a no-nonsense woman of substance, advised me to “use my fear to motivate me.” That has always stayed with me.


What’s the one challenge you are best at solving?

Setting aside the chatter to get to the root of a problem and then addressing it head on.


What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?

Oh, so much! But, in general, I’d say realizing that very few things in life are black or white.