Virtual Programming Panel
Aisha Ali serves as Executive Director of Career Girls. Aisha studied business at New York University and is currently based in Washington, DC. Throughout her career she has created and implemented programs fostering equal access and empowerment of young people. As a professional equestrian, Aisha fostered collaboration among her students and developed inclusive opportunities to break long-standing boundaries and allow children from all backgrounds to participate and successfully compete. As a businesswoman Aisha created and implemented national and international events for industry leaders such as Vespa, Nike, Fox Entertainment and NASA. She demonstrated her leadership and commitment to social justice as a founding member of the NAACP in Central Oregon and a Board member of a local BIPOC organization. She continues to donate her time to help BIPOC organizations fund and produce successful events.
Esther Obonyo, Ph.D.
Esther Obonyo is the Executive Director of the Global Building Network and an associate professor of engineering design and architectural engineering with affiliate status in the College of Medicine, College of Arts and Architecture and the African Studies Program. She is also an associate in the Institute of Computational and Data Sciences. Under her tenure as Executive Director since 2019, the GBN has established more than 35 industry, non-profit, and higher education partnerships and affiliations across North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia to collaboratively catalyze research and education to advance climate action within the built environment in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreements. Dr. Obonyo’s contributions to climate change-related research includes her Lead PI role in an international, Penn State-led consortium funded under the Belmont Forum Collaborative Research Action on Disaster Risk Reduction. In addition to her academic career, Dr. Obonyo brings more than two decades of globally-focused work experience on buildings, including working as a US Department of State Jefferson Science Fellow and senior policy adviser for USAID, innovation analyst with Balfour Beatty Group, and construction engineer/ project manager for an emergency retrofit project for the U.S. consulate in Nairobi, Kenya.
I’ve been working in the blockchain space for the past two years although I’ve been programming since I was about 12. In this time, I worked at an early stage startup on education tools, advised for crypto climate projects, and engaged in research on cryptographic automation and SMS based blockchain implementations. At the moment, I’m developing my technical skills in AI and exploring climate tech while of course learning from some incredible people like you!
Sara Golshahr, Vice President at BlackRock, is a member of the US Private Credit team within the Global Credit Platform. Sara helped launch BlackRock’s Investment Grade Private Placement business, an investment strategy which directly lends to both private and public companies on behalf of insurance mandates. Prior to joining Private Credit, Sara previously worked on the Portfolio Management team supporting BlackRock’s High Yield strategies.
Sara received BlackRock’s 2021 Heart of BlackRock Award, given to individuals who best embody BlackRock’s culture holistically and demonstrate inclusive behaviors. She serves as a leader on the Global Credit Human Capital Committee, BlackRock’s Women in Investments and Women’s Initiative and Allies Network (WIN), and Credit’s Alliance for Racial Equity & Sensitivity (CARES).
Prior to joining BlackRock full time, Sara co-oped with BlackRock’s Alpha Strategies Group where she supported the Global Opportunities team in equity research. Sara earned a B.S. degree, summa cum laude, in Business Administration with a major in Finance from Drexel University, where she swam on Drexel’s NCAA Division I Varsity Swim Team.
Liz Ryan is a production manager who Co-Chairs the DGA Women’s Committee, and sits on both the boards of the Directors Guild-Producer Pension and Health Plans and the Directors Guild-Producer Training Plan. She has served as a member of the National Board, and on the Guild’s Negotiating Committees responsible for the collective bargaining agreements with the AMPTP in 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2020. In 2008 Ryan received the DGA’s Frank Capra Achievement Award in recognition of her career achievements and service to the Guild.
Starting as a Directors Guild of America Trainee in New York City, Ryan has since worked on over 70 movie and television productions throughout the world as a director, producer, production manager or assistant director. Her credits include the movies The Green Mile, Alien 3, Brokedown Palace, Waiting for Guffman, and the television series Station 19, Crazy Ex Girlfriend, The Office, and Freak and Geeks among others. She is currently developing her own projects. Prior to her work in Hollywood, she worked as a reporter and photographer for Time Magazine and the New York Times.
Role Model Panel
Beverly Thompson, Ph.D.
Dr. Beverly Thompson is a Senior Scientist in the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Accelerator for Leidos, where she develops AI/ML solutions in computer vision, geospatial and multimedia exploitation applications. For over 23 year she has conducted image and signal exploitation and rapid prototype development in multiple areas to include atmospheric and terrestrial remote sensing, global monitoring and instability forecasting, and biomedical imaging and cancer detection. Dr. Thompson is a Leidos Technical Fellow. Her current research is focused on methods to improve resilience, security, assurance, and user trust in AI and ML. She is currently focused on the development and integration of Ethical frameworks to support Trusted AI platforms and leads the Ethical AI Working Group.
Dr. Thompson’s contributions as a technical leader are only part of her broad and positive impact. She is a tireless champion of STEM efforts both in the U.S. and abroad. As a role model, board member, and Africa Lead for Career Girls (careergirls.org), the largest online video platform to scale and amplify the voices of diverse and successful role models, she found a way to combine her career with her expertise in humanitarian efforts for women and girls in several African countries. She supports several global women and youth empowerment projects including Harare and Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe, and Starlight Africa and Women For Women International in Rwanda. She also brings her technical expertise to her humanitarian work, and is interested in the use of geospatial technology for human rights documentation and conflict early-warning prediction and prevention. She is a part-time peacebuilding and community engagement consultant, and prior associate for the Institute of World Affairs.
Geeta Mehta, Ph.D.
Dr. Geeta Mehta is an adjunct professor of urban design at Columbia University, where she has worked on projects in eight countries in the Americas, Asia and Africa. Women’s eNews recognized her as one of the 21 Leaders of the 21st Century.
Geeta is the founder of Asia Initiatives (www.asiainitiatives.org), a non-profit organization that works in underserved communities to help improve livelihoods, education, environment and water access. She is the innovator of Social Capital Credits (SoCCs), a virtual currency for social good that has won the World Changing Idea award from the Fast Company, has also prizes from MIT SOLVE, General Motors, Vodafone and others.
Geeta is also the co-founder of URBZ: User Generated Cities (www.urbz.net), an organization that works with grassroots organizations to improve well being.
Geeta serves on the New York City Mayor’s Waterfront Management Advisory Board and served as the president of the American Institute of Architects’ Japan Chapter while she lived in Tokyo.
More about her is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geeta_Mehta and at https://www.arch.columbia.edu/faculty/52-geeta-mehta
Jessica Buchleitner is an author, journalist, and media innovator who focuses on how the internet and its portending technologies intersect with systemic cultural, societal, and policy issues. Her award-winning anthology series, “50 Women,” details living accounts told by 50 Women from 30 countries who overcame gender-based violence, armed conflict, health afflictions, and other challenges. She has served as a United Nations NGO delegate for 10 years and is currently plotting the relaunch of the Women News Network as a CUNY Entrepreneurial Journalism Creator.
Suzanne Basalla is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC). The Council is an educational non-profit that promotes people-to-people relationships to strengthen ties between the United States and Japan, bringing together leaders across sectors, generations, and regions.
Suzanne is also a member of the Japan Society of Northern California Board of Directors and Special Advisor to Career Girls. She rejoined USJC from her role as Chief of Staff at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), a Silicon Valley-headquartered subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation that develops automated driving, robotics, and other human amplification technology for Toyota.
Prior to TRI, Suzanne had served from 2012-2017 under USJC’s Founder, Irene Hirano Inouye, as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. She helped lead USJC through people-to-people connections, with a focus on investing in next-generation leaders through the public-private TOMODACHI Initiative, which was established in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Suzanne is a former Navy officer and her assignments included duty in Japan, the Pentagon, and Diego Garcia. Following her naval career, she was Director for Japan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Washington, DC. She subsequently was appointed Senior Advisor to John Roos, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, working at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo from 2010-2012. In that capacity, she supported Ambassador Roos on the full portfolio of security, economic, political and cultural issues in the U.S.-Japan relationship. Suzanne graduated from the University of Virginia and received a master’s degree in Asian Studies from George Washington University. She spent two years at Keio University as an Olmsted Scholar. In 2008, she received the inaugural Ryozo Kato Award for service to the U.S.-Japan Alliance. In 2021 she received the Nakasone Yasuhiro Award of Excellence.
Men's Fireside Chat
Jason Ambrose is a Managing Director at Motive Partners, a private equity firm focused on fintech. At Motive, Jason is responsible for building and applying capabilities within the Motive Create Team to assist portfolio companies and the Investment Team with Go-To-Market strategy and execution.
Prior to joining Motive, Jason was the Senior VP of Strategy and Corporate Development at Unqork. Before Unqork, Jason was the VP of GTM Strategy at Anaplan. Prior to Anaplan, Jason was a member of McKinsey’s Digital Labs, incubating their CRM practice and working with their Sales and Channel practice, building on 12 years’ experience in the CRM SaaS market.
Jason began his career as a Network Engineer at Stanford University, where he also earned his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. His first manager at Stanford was one of the few women in network engineering in the days before HTML.
Jorge Montañez, Jr.
Jorge Montañez currently serves as the Client Experience Channel Leader for the Financial Institutions Group at BlackRock. He is responsible for driving the service delivery strategy and maintaining the scale and efficiency of the client coverage model. He is the middle child of Caribbean parents who pushed him and his two sisters to academic excellence to become the first generation to graduate with a college education. Mr. Montanez graduated from Bucknell University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and currently holds both FINRA series 7 and 63 licenses. He is a strong believer in coaching individuals to bring out their best talent and develop skills that maximize their impact as well as their personal growth. Mr. Montanez continues to support his 6-year-old daughter to encourage her interests in technology as well as her newfound hobby of skateboarding.