Staff & Board
Get to know the team behind the magic at CU.
The CU staff approaches our work with spirit, joy, and a deep responsibility to each other and to the civic health of our nation. We bring enthusiasm and ingenuity to our work. We ask each other, why does democracy matter? We work with incredible people and each strive to live like citizens the best we can each and every day.
Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder
Eric Liu is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen University. He is also the founding director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program. Liu is the author of numerous acclaimed books, including most recently You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen and Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy — a New York Times New & Notable Book. He is featured in the PBS documentary American Creed and is a contributing writer at The Atlantic.
Liu served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and as the President’s deputy domestic policy adviser. He was later appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service. In 2020, Liu was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where he serves on its Trust and is co-chair of its Our Common Purpose commission on democratic citizenship. He is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, and a member of the Yale University Council. Liu and his family live in Seattle, where he has served on the boards of the Seattle Public Library and the Washington State Board of Education, and co-founded the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. His work as a civic innovator was recognized in 2020 with an Ashoka Fellowship.
To reach Eric, please email [email protected].
Meet the Team
Executive Assistant and
Special Projects Manager
Brooke Prieskorn brings a love of puzzle-solving, a commitment to inclusive decision-making, and a passion for community building to her work at Citizen University. Her background in science means she is easily excitable by words like “survey”, “SOP” and “data”, and she readily applies that excitement to everything from community engagement to workflow development. Brooke also holds a Master of Communication in Communities and Networks from the Communication Leadership program at the University of Washington. Outside of CU, she invests her time in her P-Patch garden and garden community, in making her kombucha and sourdough bread from scratch, and in caring for her many pets including dogs, cats, chickens, a scoby, and a barm. (And yes, she considers those pets).
Charisma C. Thomas
Communications and Marketing Manager
As a creative with a passion for storytelling and desire to make an impact, Charisma C. Thomas contributes to the CU team as the Communications and Marketing Manager. She’s contributed to organizations fueled by purpose, including AmeriCorps VISTA, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Emory University, United Way of Greater Atlanta, and more. With a resourceful and brand-driven mindset, she’s developed strategies to promote events, managed multiple social media accounts, enhanced programs and built statewide partnerships. Charisma earned her B.A. in Media Studies and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Nonprofit Management from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is based in Atlanta, GA and lives with her Standard Poodle, Legend.
Chief Administration Officer
Chris Hayashida-Knight directs administrative operations at Citizen University. He has worked in nonprofit administration for 20 years and taught US history at California State University, Chico. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, daughter, and Chihuahuas. Chris has always looked for ways to put idealism into practice and is proud to be a part of the CU team. He holds a PhD in US History and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies from Penn State and an MA in American Studies from the George Washington University.
Christy Decker brings a passion for structure and harmony to her work as Finance Director for Citizen University. She has worked with nonprofit organizations in the region and is happiest when transforming systems for greater impact and efficiency. Her admiration for Nelson Mandela prompted civic engagement and academic pursuits related to international human rights. Christy is a graduate of Harvard University, University of South Africa and the University of Washington with degrees in International Relations, African Affairs and Political Science.
Davis Endava manages our Youth Collaboratory and Citizen Redefined programs. She is a changemaker, an educator, lifelong student and social justice advocate deeply committed to connection and community. Growing up homeschooled in Duwamish territory, she was able to participate in various programs that taught her civic engagement, environmental justice and intentional relationship building, which later fueled her passion as an Environmental Science major at the University of San Diego. Davis has led in EMPOWER Women of Color retreats, created curriculum for Wilderness Awareness School, most notably their Wild Women of Color program, and started a nature connection school in North Seattle called Barefoot. Her roots come from the Hopi and Purepecha people, and also from Northern Scandinavia. When not working at Citizen University, Davis can be found camping, engaging in community, journaling, cooking, reading, or standing up for what she believes in.
Igor leads our community department—currently a department of one. As a first-generation American and son of an Egyptian-Armenian mother and French-Russian father, Igor’s work is personally motivated to celebrate cultural diversity and build strong community bonds through the power of our shared human experience. His background is in traditional community organizing and deep canvassing. Drawing from his personal meditation practice, Igor actively explores the connection between mindful contemplation and collective community action.
Chief Program Officer
Kayla DeMonte leads the Citizen University team, and oversees the development, strategy, and operations for our national slate of programs. Previously, she worked on community programs and partnerships at the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce and managed sponsorships for Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival at One Reel. Kayla currently serves as a member of the Seattle Arts Commission and has served in volunteer leadership and board roles for a variety of arts and civic organizations including The Vera Project, 4Culture, ArtsFund. She is a proud graduate of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
Events and Hospitality Coordinator
Pronouns: she/her, they/them
All events have behind the scenes magic that participants have no idea exists – Natalie G. is the CU wizard that helps orchestrate that magic and keep our events running smoothly. Natalie started her work career as a professionally trained Chef and a Culinary Experience Educator. Seeking a slower pace and organizations with purpose, she moved in to working with nonprofits in education and nature connection. She enjoys creating experiences for others, be it high-end, cool and casual, social or educational. Natalie strives to bring heart-based communication to all aspects of her work with the hope of spreading the practice to others. An intuitive person with high attention to detail. In her off time, she loves puzzles, reading, crafting and art, cooking and giving back to her community.
Natalie J. Valentine
Communications & Marketing Director
Natalie J. Valentine brings a passion for storytelling, strategy, and community connection to her work of directing Citizen University’s communications team. She cares deeply about amplifying the voices of changemakers and sharing the ideas of organizations, which she’s done with other nonprofits. Natalie holds a Master’s degree from the Communication Leadership program at the University of Washington and is a graduate of Whitman College. In her spare time, she serves on the board of AGE UP — a youth leadership and social justice organization — and spends lots of time working in her garden.
Talya Gillman develops resources and experiences that spark and support powerful citizenship, rooted in the CU tenet that “we’re all better off when we’re all better off.” Many experiences and relationships have fueled her commitment to building eco-systems of dignity, equity and belonging: designing and leading experiential learning initiatives with organizations including Jewish Family Service, University of Washington, and Repair the World; receiving a Covenant Foundation Pomegranate Prize for emerging Jewish educators; completing an M.A. in Transformational Leadership through Seattle University; organizing with anti-racist and immigrant justice community networks in Seattle; and serving as an AJWS World Partners Fellow doing harm reduction work with Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust in Mumbai.
Senior Program Manager
Vicki Rubio manages our National and Local Civic Collaboratory programs. She brings experience in leadership development, partnership building, and process creation to this role. Vicki is committed to supporting community impact and has demonstrated her passion to contribute to positive social change through her past experiences as program director of Public Allies Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center and development and communications manager at College Mentors for Kids. She currently serves as a board member for the Peace Learning Center.
Zoey Cane Belyea
Zoey Cane Belyea develops curriculum and guides experiences that support young people and educators to step into their role as powerful, responsible citizens. She is a theatre artist and has spent many years as an educator integrating the arts with STEM curriculums. Zoey brings the same sense of playful imagination and creativity to her work at Citizen University. Zoey has worked as a program manager and curriculum development specialist for several organizations in Seattle, Austin, and her current home of Ashland, OR including Seattle Children’s Theatre, Arts Corps, The Paramount Theatre School, and ScienceWorks Hands On Museum.
Board of Directors
Diane Douglas | Diane Douglas Consulting
Kristen Cambell | PACE Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement
Eric Liu | Citizen University
Jená Cane | Citizen University
Katie Hong | Principal, KH Consulting
Martin A. Rodgers | Accenture
Rich Tafel | Pepperdine School of Public Policy
James Williams | Perkins Coie
Stephanie Ybarra | Mellon Foundation