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 also directs the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program. He is the author of several books, including The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker; The Gardens of Democracy (co-authored with Nick Hanauer); You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen; and his most recent, Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy. Eric served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the President’s deputy domestic policy adviser. He has served as a board member of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Washington State Board of Education, and the Seattle Public Library and is a co-founder of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. He has been selected as an Ashoka Fellow and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A regular contributor to the Atlantic, Eric can be found on Twitter @ericpliu. Learn more about Eric Liu.
To reach Eric, please email [email protected].
View Eric’s official headshot & bio →
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.
Senior Manager of Finance and Operations
Christy Decker brings a passion for structure and harmony to her work as the Senior Manager of Finance and Operations 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.
Chief Administration Officer
Chris Hayashida-Knight directs finance, human resources, and operations at Citizen University. He has worked in nonprofit administration for nearly 20 years and teaches US history at California State University in Chico, California, where he lives 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.
Cornell Woolridge manages our Civic Saturday Fellowship program. He got his start in civic engagement in 1988, volunteering for a school board campaign and he has spent most of his life since then committed to civic engagement. His community service includes leadership roles with NAACP, Rotary International as well mentoring, and various boards. As Founder and President of CivicSolve LLC, a civic empowerment consulting firm, Cornell has worked with the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disability, Close Up Foundation, Generation Hope, Austin Independent School District, and various non-partisan campaigns. He has a B.A. in English from Skidmore College, M. S. in Ethics and Public Policy from Suffolk University, and Graduate Certification in Transformative Leadership from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Mr. Woolridge has also managed successful political and issue campaigns in Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Cornell lives in Austin with his partner Candace and their dogs Jack and Falkor.
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.
Chief Strategy 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
Director of Communications
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.
Director of Learning Experiences
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.
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
Senior Manager of Learning Experiences
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.
Youth Collaboratory Alumni Advisor
Maxwell Forman is an alumni of Citizen University’s Youth Collaboratory and a current mentor for youth in the program. He is particularly passionate about environmental and food justice, and currently holds a B.A. in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Marine Biology. His course of study has offered a systems-oriented approach to social issues, as well as a considerable amount of time outdoors on the Salish Sea. In his free time, Maxwell enjoys writing op-eds, volunteering for local food organizations, and farming. He is dedicated to supporting youth in the development of their civic voice and empowering their abilities as citizens of the world.
Youth Collaboratory Alumni Advisor
Shreyas Parab recently graduated from Stanford University where he majored in biomedical computation. He got his start by selling funny neckties in his first venture, NovelTie — which he scaled into an official supplier to Walmart, earned $75k in annual revenue, and got into the hands of the current President of the United States, Joe Biden. His next venture was an ed-tech company which was acquired in 2017. At Stanford, Shreyas helped invest in early stage startups at Dorm Room Fund and was the Senior Class President. He also co-authored a book with his instructor on the intersection of regulation and AI. Additionally, he served on the Vice Provost’s Student Advisory Group and was confirmed to be a student representative on the Board of Trustees. Through school, Shreyas has been able to nurture his love of service through volunteer projects for the EPA, Department of Defense, National Center for State Courts, and the Governor of California.
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 | Baltimore Center Stage