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GetReady helps prepare students from low-income families with college planning, tutoring, & information on career and higher education options.

Our Staff

  • Samina Ali

    High School Counselor
    Johnson Aerospace and Engineering High School

    Samina Ali has been a school counselor with St. Paul Public Schools for nine years and was previously a school counselor in Phoenix, Arizona.

    She enjoys working with students of all ages, ranging from elementary to high school, and provides guidance on social/emotional issues, academic achievement, and career/college goals. Working with Get Ready has been a wonderful opportunity to work closely with families and students, preparing them for college and higher education by providing classroom lessons, individual advising, group work, college fieldtrips, and much more!

    Samina earned her master's degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and did her undergraduate work at the University of Iowa for her teaching license. Besides being a school counselor, she has also taught high school social studies and ELL.

    Samina was born near Chicago, Illinois, and moved across the United States as well as several countries while growing up. She experienced her elementary and secondary education in a diverse range of locations, such as the American International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Davis County Community Schools in Bloomfield, Iowa. These interactions in her formative years laid the foundation for an appreciation of all cultures and a desire to learn new languages. Samina can speak Urdu/Hindi and English. She has taken course work in Spanish and French.

    When Samina lived in Arizona, she frequently went camping and hiking with her family and friends. Upon moving to Minnesota, she was introduced to gardening and has looked forward to enjoying that hobby in our warmer months. She also enjoys traveling with her husband, daughter, and son.

  • Tom Bartholomay

    Evaluation and Research Manager

    Tom Bartholomay conducts program evaluation and research for the Get Ready program. He has been involved in education-related evaluation and research for fifteen years, after teaching general and special education for six years in the Minneapolis area and overseas. Previous to Get Ready, Tom was an evaluation and research specialist for University of Minnesota Extension for seven years. Prior to that he was a research fellow at the Institute on Community Integration, affiliated with the University of Minnesota. He holds two degrees, M.A Evaluation and M.Ed. Education, as well as multiple teaching licenses. Tom is an avid bicycler, biking year round to work most days. He has a wife, Kearn, and two kids, Derek (age 12) and Cameron (age 6). He lives with his family in Roseville, with 2 cats – named "Wonderful" and "Gypsyking" - and among neighbors and a park reserve in which Tom and his family regularly explore. Tom's favorite activity with Get Ready is working with its great staff and leadership and learning about the program.

  • Lisa Englestad

    Education Liaison
    Washington Technology Magnet

    Lisa Engelstad has been a School Counselor in St. Paul for 15 years. Her experiences include both elementary and high school counseling. She currently works at Johnson Aerospace and Engineering High School where she is working with 9th graders for her 2nd year. She is looking forward to supporting 9th graders with their school success and talking with them about options after high school.

    Additionally, she thinks professional development is critical and has obtained certificates in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Bullying Prevention. This fall, she plans on pursuing a certificate for College Admissions Specialist as well. She is also looking forward to being an advocate for bullying prevention as she works with the School Safety Technical Assistance Council that was established at the Minnesota Department of Education this year.

    In her time outside of working with Get Ready, Lisa spends time with her husband, her 2 boys who are in 5th grade and Kindergarten, and her dog, Mara. Her outside interests include road trips, reading, walking her dog, listening to music, exercising and spending time with family and friends.

  • Nina Englund

    Brooklyn Center and Minneapolis Supervisor

    Nina Englund was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota. After high school, she attended the University of Wisconsin- River Falls and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and a Spanish Language minor. While she was in college, she played on the Women's Varsity Golf Team and took part in lots of intramural sports that she still loves to play to this day!

    Nina is an avid runner and is always looking for a fun race to complete in around the cities, whether it's just a 5K or a marathon. In her spare time she likes to spend time with her dog named Asher who takes up a lot of her time and attention, "But I sure do love that little guy!" she says. Nina also likes trying new foods and cooking, and is really into Greek food for the moment. Someday, she would love to travel to Australia or Greece and explore the sights and meet new people.







  • Mark Forsberg

    Education Liaison
    Andersen United Community School

    Mark started his work as an Education Liaison in the fall of 2011. He works with 7th and 8th graders and has a particular interest in networking with businesses and taking small groups of students on career field trips.

    Originally from Maple Grove, MN, Mark went to St. Olaf College and triple majored in history, sociology/anthropology, and American studies.

    Before Get Ready, Mark was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala from 2009 - 2011 and worked in primary schools to train teachers in implementing basic health education and healthy habits in their schools.

    Mark is a long-distance runner and in his spare time trains for races. He loves traveling to new places, throwing spontaneous and abstract parties, listening to existential music (including the great Mumford and Sons and The Head and The Heart), speaking Spanglish, and grilling up the increasingly popular FORS-burger with his initials branded on the bun.

  • Esther Garubanda

    High School Associate
    Johnson Aerospace and Engineering High School

    Esther was born in Uganda and grew up in Saint Paul. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. Her parents moved to the United States from Uganda to pursue graduate studies when she was four years-old. Esther brings the dual perspective of someone who was the first person in their family to apply to college in the US.

    She keeps college and college access front and center. From her previous work with the Banyan Community, a small community development organization in the Philips neighborhood in south Minneapolis, and being a College Possible College Coach, the paths of getting to college is one thing she is well versed in. She has worked with youth as young as kindergarten and helped them think about their plans for higher education. She enjoys working with middle school students and high school students, helping them make their dreams of a college education realities. She is excited to bring her knowledge, compassion and humor to helping students reach their goals.

    When she is not working Esther enjoys playing basketball, watching crime-related shows, and being outside. She loves to cook and find new recipes to try based on the season. She is always creating something, either sewing it, making it, or cooking it. She is usually never bored.

  • Kelly Gibson

    Competitive Grants Admin Assistant

    Kelly has been working part-time with Get Ready for 4 ½ years now, and at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education for 7 ½ years working with various state and federal grant programs. She has worked for the State of MN at various agencies since 1985. Currently, she works closely with Joanna Schwarze in college field trip planning, making sure the buses are ordered for the college visits, lunch is ordered for all students and chaperones, and packets of information regarding the college visit are prepared for the Education Liaisons.

    Kelly is a native St. Paul resident, born and raised in the St. Paul/Maplewood area and still lives in Maplewood. She has two children--a daughter that just got married in September 2012, and a son that is currently serving in the Air Force in Japan. She also has two dogs (Shelties) that are 13 and 12, and a cat that is 17 years old!

    Her passion has and always will be music. She loves singing karaoke on the weekends with her karaoke friends! She also loves to travel to warm, tropical places, and has been seen visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico quite often these past few years. She believes there is nothing better than 80 degrees in the middle of winter! She loves to swim and enjoy many summer activities. She also enjoys concerts, especially 80's bands, and tries to get to a few every year.



  • Amie Jannetto

    Program Assistant

    Amie became the Program Assistant in January of 2004. In her own words, "I handle the odd and ends of Get Ready's! randomness." She also works with GR's! Evaluations Team and handles most of the paperwork that comes through our office. But her work with the Office of Higher Education started long before Get Ready Amie started working at the Office of Higher Ed in January of 1998 as the front desk receptionist, from there she went into the MnLINK Department and then on to the Communications Director's office. Before that, she did some waitressing, delivered auto parts, worked in a flower shop and a bakery. Because of all of this background, Amie has become known as the "go-to girl" for pretty much everything. If you have a question, you go to Amie. She says, "When new people start with our office, I tell them I know everything, and I'm right!" And she usually always is.

    Amie grew up in Newport, MN and remained around the south-east metro area. In her spare time she competes on a local softball team, plays pool and is the lead singer of a band called Blind River. She loves traveling around to sporting events with her two boys who also play on teams. Besides sports and finding new and interesting music, Amie also has a weakness for bad reality TV and crime shows.

  • Joe Kane

    Education Liaison
    Brooklyn Center Secondary

    Currently in his second year with Get Ready, Joe works at Brooklyn Center High School with grades 6 and 8. He is passionate about helping students be set up for academic success and is excited to be working with an innovative community schools model at Brooklyn Center High School.

    Previously Joe worked as a middle school special education teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana having moved there to work through a placement with Teach For America. Before that, he graduated from St. John's University with a degree in Political Science.

    In his spare time, Joe enjoys long distance running, biking, and cross country skiing. He has completed 8 cross country ski marathons and is looking to one day ski the famous races in Europe. He also enjoys live music and sports, especially college football. Geaux Tigers!

  • Sandra Kroger

    High School Counselor
    Roosevelt High School

    Sandra Kroger, nee Fabrizi, is a licensed school counselor working with the Get Ready Program at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis since 2009.

    Her goal as a counselor is to collaborate with students, families, community members and school personnel to assure that all students realize and integrate their academic, career, and personal/social potential in order to develop and achieve an individualized vision of success.

    Prior to becoming a counselor she was an English teacher and a French teacher. She has taught in Minneapolis since 1992. She has taught English Language Arts (ELA) for grades 6-12 and French Level 1 and 2 in both middle and high school.

    Sandra is originally from Ontario, Canada. She received an Honors Bachelor of Arts from York University and she spent one year studying at the University of Bordeaux III, France. Sandra's Bachelor of Education is from the University of Toronto. Her Master of Arts in Education is from Hamline University. Her Master of Science in Education is from the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. Sandra is also a National Board Certified Teacher.

    She lives with her husband, two sons, and a dog in a suburb of St. Paul. She enjoys bicycling, movies, and spending time with family and friends.

  • Pa Ku Lee

    Education Liaison
    Brooklyn Center Secondary

    Pa Ku Lee is a daughter to two parents, a sister to six siblings, and a fiancé to one man. In 2011, Pa Ku graduated from St. Olaf College with her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work. During her undergraduate career, she had the opportunity to travel to Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and India; and will not stop traveling until she can add France, Australia, and South Korea to her list (we are starting a Pa Ku travel fund).

    When Pa Ku is not found chasing after 114 seventh graders and talking with them about college preparation work, she enjoys singing along to episodes of Glee and losing herself in the wonders of a fun and adventurous book. Pa Ku also finds comfort in cooking a meal (food for the body), taking a quick nap (food for the mind), or making a stop to the mall (food for the soul).

    In June 2014, Pa Ku plans to graduate with her Masters of Social Work so that she may one day be the founder of her own Immigration/Refugee Resource Center. When you get the chance, ask her about it. It is truly an amazing dream that she has envisioned since she was 14.

  • Tobias Leuthner

    Education Liaison
    Hmong International Academy

    Tobias is a graduate of St. John's University with a Philosophy degree. His time spent tutoring High School students in central Minnesota led to a passion for helping youth develop into their fullest selves--hence, his current work with Get Ready

    He and his lovely wife Lili live in North St. Paul with Loki, their Siberian Husky dog, who looks and howls like a wolf. When he is not running with Loki, Tobias is an occasional martial artist and loves to read outdoor survival manuals and just about anything else. He will eat just about anything, too, but especially craves cornbread and pozole. He would love to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico someday as well as to backpack through Southeast Asia. If he could have a superpower, he would like to be able to switch in and out of animal bodies.

  • Sheila Nelsen-Amado

    Education Liaison
    Andersen United Community School

    Sheila Nelsen is constantly in awe of the students she works with as the 5th grade Get Ready teacher at Andersen United Community School. She has held this position with Get Ready for 10 years, long enough that she has gotten to see her students graduate from high school and go on to college! Sheila loves the Andersen community and enjoys teaching lessons about going to college and helping out with the after school program by teaching classes in comic book arts and robotics.

    Sheila graduated from St. Cloud State University in 1986 with a degree in Social Science. She has had many interesting work experiences before landing here at Get Ready, including running a very successful restaurant in Minneapolis and working as a community organizer for a nationally renowned peace group. Sheila decided she wanted to work with kids and went back to school in 2001 at Metropolitan State University. She joined Americorps, and her journey with GR began as a tutor with the program.

    Sheila loves her Powderhorn community in South Minneapolis. She loves that she lives close enough that she bikes to work most days. She likes to garden, play in the yard with her two dogs and try to cook new recipes from the many places she has traveled around the world.

  • Tenzin Nordon

    Education Liaison
    Washington Technology Magnet

    Tenzin, though ethnically Tibetan, was born in Chandigarh, India and lived there until she immigrated to the United States with her family in 1998. Since then, she has been living in Minnesota. She attended Carleton College and graduated in 2011 with a B.A. in Biology.

    In college, Tenzin helped co-found and establish a program called Lamton, meaning guidance in Tibetan, in which college students from various colleges in Minnesota tutored and mentored Tibetan middle and high school students living around the metro. After almost 6 years since its inception, the program has greatly expanded and is now an integral part of the Tibetan community. She is currently the advisor for the program.

    After college, Tenzin decided to serve two Americorps terms with College Possible: a non-profit organization that seeks to help highly motivated, low-income students gain admission into, and succeed in, college. College Possible's impact on its students is what made it possible for Tenzin to reach her full potential and go to college, as she was a College Possible student herself in high school. Tenzin served at Columbia Heights High School and coached 39 wonderful students while there.

    Tenzin is very grateful for every opportunity that she has been able to seize and in turn, hopes to create these opportunities for others who may not have had such opportunities to expand their horizon, to gain a college education and to follow their passions!

  • Karlee Nussbaum

    Education Liaison
    Farnsworth Aerospace

    Karlee is a recent transfer from Chicago, Illinois. She graduated Cum Laude from Northwestern University with a degree in International Studies and Spanish in 2012. She continued her education at Dominican University receiving a Master's Degree in K-12 Spanish Education. Karlee recently completed two years teaching high school Spanish in Chicago. Karlee is incredibly excited to be working with fifth and sixth grade students to create achievement-oriented mindsets and to set them on the path to success!

    In her free time, Karlee loves to do puzzles and complete various projects including scrapbooking her travel experiences. She loves to explore and go camping as well as to just sit and read a book by the lake. She is always looking for new things to try and new recommendations!

  • Becky Schmitz

    High School Counselor
    Washington Technology Magnet

    Idea girl, artist, and Get Ready Counselor at Johnson High School; Becky Schmitz is a country girl wannabe, a lover of cheesecake, a mother to one cupcake eating toddler and one lazy dog and wife to the best Wheel of Fortune playing husband ever. Her love for education and working with youth bloomed while enrolled at Bemidji State University.

    After graduating with a Master's Degree in School Counseling from Bemidji State, Becky made a few twists working as an art teacher, an admission counselor and international teacher in London, England. These fine careers not only introduced her to new people, big ideas and driving on the other side of the road, but have also helped shape her into the person she is today.

    Becky does not solely spend her time as a GR Counselor, she also won a local coloring contest at age 6, was a regional championship bowler at age 10, and swam with Great White Sharks off the coast of Africa at age 24. Nowadays, she can be found perusing Pinterest and food blogs while drinking coffee, and planning out her next 5K race.

  • Charlee Thao

    Education Liaison
    Olson Middle School

    Born and raised in Saint Paul, MN, Charlee loves that his position with Get Ready gives him the opportunity to work with students and watch them change and grow into future citizens of the world. Prior to joing the GR team, Charlee received his Bachelor of Science degree in Teaching from Saint Cloud State University. He really enjoys his job as an Education Liaison, but has also held positions as an Usher at Mall of America Theaters and a Computer Networking Assistant at Gemini Digital Products.

    In his free time Charlee loves writing stories and filming quick flicks. He is also an avid pc gamer. While in college, Charlee spent a semester in South Korea and would love the opportunity to someday travel there again to visit. "I wish to see my old friends and places again," he said.

    Currently, Charlee still resides in Saint Paul with his wife and Parson Russel Terrier, Tydus, who loves digging holes. He and his wife hope to someday have kids and will celebrate their second anniversary this June!

  • Chingla Thao

    St. Paul Supervisor

    Greetings Friends! I grew up living in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. I graduated from Patrick Henry High School in 2001. Then, I went on to attend college at Gustavus Adolphus College and graduated in 2005 with a degree in Political Science. However, I always had a knack for education and learning, so a career in education was never out of the question. Currently, I am a graduate student at University of Wisconsin, River Falls, pursuing a master's degree in Education in School Counseling. My career goal is to continue my work in advising students, and striving to work on a college campus someday.

    I was a first-generation college student, and truly believe in the mission and vision of Get Ready! As a product of this education system and community, and I saw the importance and benefits of obtaining a higher education. I am an advocate for life-long learning, personal development and strong mentorships.

    Outside of work, I have my real full time job with 6 kids. After I have attended to all their needs, I try to find some time for my favorite activity - bass fishing. Now I know why fishermen go early in the morning – it's the only time when the kids are asleep!

    As I gain more experience with life, work, family and relationships, one thing remains constant - you must have a thirst for learning that can never be quenched.

    "Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can, there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did." - Sarah Caldwell

  • Thown Thor

    Education Liaison
    Hmong International Academy

    Thown Thor is a Get Ready Education Liaison at Hmong International Academy in Minneapolis, MN. He works with 5th through 8th graders. This is his second school year at Get Ready and Hmong International Academy.

    Thown grew up in Minneapolis, and earned his Bachelor's Degree at St. Olaf College in 2007. Shortly after college, he became a High School Social Studies teacher in the Twin Cities.

    Thown enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, such as tennis, basketball and football. He is also a huge sports fan and enjoys traveling.

  • Amanda Twite

    Program Associate

    Amanda Twite works as an education liaison at Farnsworth Aerospace upper campus. As an EL her job duties include tutoring, presentations and making connections with students and families. Her favorite part of the job is when students have those "ah-ha" moments.

    Amanda was a graduate of Chisago Lakes High School in '03 where she was on the diving and gymnastics teams. She then graduated from Saint Cloud State University in 2009 with a degree in Elementary Education.

    Outside of work, Amanda loves to spend time with her husband Scott, baby Avery and Brisa-the-Puggle. She loves to watch the Travel Channel and one day hopes to travel to Australia.

  • Chang Dao Vang

    Education Liaison
    Hmong International Academy

    Chang absolutely loves higher education! Like many of his students, he was the first one in his family to go to college which is one of the reasons he enjoys working for Get Ready As an Education Liaison, Chang loves that he gets to help students like himself get to college.

    Chang attended St. Olaf College and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work. While in college, he had the opportunity to study abroad in China and Tibet for a month. Now he can't wait to travel more! His destination wish-list would include: Hawaii, Australia and Thailand/Laos. His favorite hobbies are football and cars. Chang's all-time favorite food is pho, a delicious Vietnamese soup. If Chang could have any superpower, it would be instant teleportation.

  • Jill Vestrum

    Education Liaison
    Washington Technology Magnet

    Jill is starting her second year as a school counselor with Get Ready! at Washington Technology Magnet in St. Paul. After earning her master's degree at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls 8 years ago, Jill has worked as an elementary, middle, and high school counselor in St. Paul Public schools. She misses working with our younger students, but has found her most meaningful work in removing barriers to college and career readiness with our high school students.

    Her passion for working as an educator started as a child of two elementary school teachers. She saw how they made a difference in her small community and she hoped to do the same. Many opportunities shaped her growing up. Jill loved helping young children learn to play tennis at a free tennis camp every summer, she strapped on her nordic skis every day for practice in the cold Minnesota winters, and she marched in the Rosebowl parade as a snare drummer. That love of music and percussion helped lead her to the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities to join the Golden Gopher Marching band drumline and study in the College of Human Ecology.

    Before her days as a counselor, she worked as a server, summer camp counselor, Americorps volunteer with College Possible, and college admissions representative. Jill decided to pursue school counseling after serving with College Possible during two of their first years operating. Jill is excited to again be counseling high school students to be college and career ready!

  • Nick Walker

    High School Counselor
    Patrick Henry High School (HHS)

    This is Nick's second school year working with the Get Ready Program. Prior to working with Get Ready, he worked as a middle school math teacher and counselor.

    Nick grew up in Minnesota and completed his Bachelor's Degree at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Shortly thereafter he and his wife moved to Texas and he started his Master's Degree at the University of Texas, Brownsville. After a few years they returned to Minnesota and he later completed his Master's Degree at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

    Nick values spending time with his wife Leann and son Christian. Together they enjoy biking, downhill skiing, going to movies, traveling and many other activities. They recently bought a "fixer upper" cabin in Northern Minnesota that was originally built in 1940 and have spent the much of the past year and a half working to make it usable once again.