Barbi Brown joined the THEI Team in the role of Re-Entry Coordinator in 2020. She works closely with THEI students as well as our community partners to build a bridge of successful transition for students who are returning to the community post incarceration. Barbi brings with her a Bachelor Degree in Professional Studies from Lipscomb University as well as a deeply rooted passion for perpetuating the success and growth of higher education within prison. She is actively engaged in diminishing cultural and systemic barriers faced by the formerly incarcerated individuals within our community. Prior to coming to THEI, Barbi gained a plethora of experience navigating our justice system and incarceration paradigm and uses this knowledge in service to those leaving these systems.
Levi Dillard joined THEI in 2020 as the Operations Manager. He works to provide internal operational and administrative support to the organization. Having spent most of his professional life working either in charter schools (in both instructional and operations roles) or with social service organizations as a case manager, Levi brings along years of experience in collaborating with and supporting individuals, both within organizations and with the individuals they serve. Levi earned a Master’s of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2016, during which time he interned in the Street Outreach Program at The Oasis Center, providing resources and assistance to unhoused young people, and he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible from Lipscomb University.
Karla Coleman García
Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships
Karla Coleman García is the Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at THEI. Karla works to advance the strategic policy agenda of THEI in the field of prison higher education at the state and federal level. Prior to joining THEI she served as the Director of Strategic Alignment for Adult Learner Initiatives for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and as the Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Conexión Américas. Karla was born in México and raised in Texas. Karla earned her Master’s of Education from Vanderbilt University and her Bachelor of Arts from Baylor University. She currently serves on the boards of Moves and Grooves Inc. and the Maddox Charitable Fund, and is a Commission member for the Nashville Community Education program. Karla is currently a Higher Education Advocacy, Equity, and Policy Fellow with the Education Trust and was a member of the Nashville Emerging Leaders 2018 cohort, and the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute 2017 class.
Chris joined the THEI team in 2019 as Academic Coordinator, collaborating with our corrections and college partners to manage and facilitate academic programming. Prior to joining THEI, Chris taught writing classes in central Ohio prisons with Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black. During that time, he also coordinated prison college classes with collaborators from Otterbein University. Prior to working in prisons, Chris worked in education at The Columbus Museum of Art. He earned bachelor's degrees in English and Studio Art from Denison University. In off-hours, you will most likely find him hiking at a park or reading on his porch.
Molly S. Lasagna
In 2018 Molly S. Lasagna began serving as THEI's Executive Director. Molly joined THEI in 2016 as the Program Director, and has been instrumental in changing the lives of our students. She brings to the position Master's Degrees in Divinity from Vanderbilt University School, in Urban Education Policy from Brown University, and in Teaching from the University of Virginia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia University. In 2015, Molly worked as a chaplain intern for Family Reconciliation Center at the Tennessee Prison for Women. Previously, she served as a Research and Policy Analyst for the American Institutes for Research (AIR), providing technical assistance for the Educator Quality Team. She is the co-author of Improving Teacher Quality: A Guide for Education Leaders.
Ka-Rhonda Porter joined THEI in 2019 as the Program Coordinator. She works closely with our partner prisons and our partner colleges to facilitate the operation and administration of the THEI college programs. Ka-Rhonda brings to the position a lifelong dedication to the field of education through attending the University of Houston for doctoral level education within the field of Curriculum & Instruction- focused on minority's higher education experiences. She also earned her Master's Degree in Education from Texas Southern University and a Bachelor's of Science in Elementary Education. Ka-Rhonda brings to THEI 16 years of teaching and research in secondary education in urban areas.
Director of Student Success & Re-Entry Services
Rachel Zolensky joined THEI in 2016 and is responsible for re-entry services for students who are transitioning back to the community after incarceration, in addition to providing administrative and operations support for the organization. In 2015 Rachel earned a Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship from USC Marshall School of Business, and in 2012 she earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity from the University of Southern California. Previously, Rachel worked for Project Return, where she assisted men and women returning from incarceration in overcoming barriers to employment. Rachel has also served as a college counselor for The Oasis Center, providing first-generation college students with support in their pursuits of higher education.