Program Leaders

Program Leaders for TBB’s Gap Year Programs

Thinking Beyond Borders’ Program Leaders bring an outstanding array of skills, knowledge, and experience to their work educating TBB students. Strong program management skills, diverse educational backgrounds, impressive teaching experiences, and extensive international travel make each of these individuals a powerful addition to our gap year programs.

Global Gap Year West           Global Gap Year East


Global Gap Year West

Jessica Pezdek

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Jessie PezdekCaptivated by Spanish language and culture at an early age, Jessica traveled, on exchange, to Costa Rica for a year between high school and college. While in Costa Rica, she attended community meetings, learned about indigenous ceramic making, and developed her language and cultural fluency. She also volunteered in various capacities including working with Habitat for Humanity and serving terminally ill children, their families, and doctors at the Albergue de San Gabriel, a palliative care center based in San José.

Inspired by experiences during her gap year, she went on to study Spanish and Secondary Education at the State University of New York at Geneseo where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts and studied at the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain.

At Syracuse University she earned a Master of Arts degree in Spanish Language, Literature and Culture where she also instructed undergraduate students, acted as Graduate Student liason for the Program on Latin America and the Caribbean, and traveled to Madrid, Spain to investigate the experiences of contemporary poets and artists from Latin America.

Jessica believes that effective education is participatory, purposeful, and meaningful, and is excited to be joining the Thinking Beyond Borders community which blends her interests in critical global issues, inter-cultural studies, and pedagogy.

Most recently, Jessica has lived in Madrid, Spain and Westchester, New York where she has taught world languages in public schools. She is also a Yoga Alliance certified instructor.


Chris Morales

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Chris MoralesA native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris has spent much of his life exploring the rugged coastline and bountiful wilderness of Northern California.  He studied Biology at the University of San Diego to gain insight into the life of which he was so in awe before embarking on a career in biotechnology.  Feeling somewhat dissatisfied with work and life, he soon left behind the comforts of home, a society he knew, and his community of friends and family to gain a deeper perspective of life and sense of purpose while volunteering at an orphanage in Guatemala.  There, Chris found his passion for social justice, and after some more life-changing experiences, including a bicycle ride from San Francisco to Guatemala, he eventually returned to San Diego to obtain a Master’s degree in Peace and Justice Studies from the Kroc School of Peace Studies at his alma mater.

While in grad school, Chris immersed himself in social justice, living at a house of hospitality for the homeless, coordinating a service-learning program connecting undergraduates to foster youth, and volunteering with a grassroots low-income workers’ association.  Finding a pattern while studying many conflicts and being one to concentrate on finding solutions to root causes, he focused the bulk of his studies on development, deeply questioning an industry and idea in which there are many assumptions and assertions.  Interning and doing research with an indigenous coffee cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico, he focused his master’s capstone on how to create a positive peace in that region of the world by exploring the different worldviews of the indigenous and mestizo cultures in regards to development and natural resources.

Since grad school, Chris has been looking for ways to combine his love of the natural world with his passion for peace and justice by exposing people to the un-built environment.  An avid outdoorsman with a green thumb, Chris believes that by restoring our relationship with our environment through immersion and education, there is the potential to create a more sustainable and socially just world.  As of late, Chris has been guiding backpacking trips throughout California and kayak trips through the S.F. Bay for underserved youth and people of all ages with disabilities.  On his days off, he enjoys a surf in the Pacific, playing some music, and spending time with friends and family.


Vanessa Rhodes

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Vanessa RhodesVanessa grew up in a politically active household that valued political involvement and social justice. This upbringing developed into a lifelong dedication to community and political organizing. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, she focused on local level community development (B.A. in Community Studies). For her field placement, she traveled to Nicaragua where she taught English in the local high school and worked on a Sister City project that connected her hometown of Fresno California with Telpaneca, Nicaragua. At New School University in New York, she conducted a comparative analysis of historical strategies used to produce progressive change (M.A. in Historical Studies and Political Science).

Throughout the past eight years, Vanessa has worked on issues addressing workers rights and economic inequality. She has worked on dozens of local and statewide political campaigns. During her years in the Labor Movement, Vanessa organized and coordinated countless successful organizing and election drives, lobbied for Statewide policies and organized large rallies and events.

She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As the leader of several international delegations, she has served as a group leader to assist in teach-ins, logistics and one on one mentoring. In 2010, she hiked the entire John Muir trail traversing 247 miles and 12 mountain passes.

Vanessa served as a Program Leader with TBB’s 2012-13 Global Gap Year Program.


Global Gap Year East

Allison Irby

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Allison IrbyAllison hails from Washington, DC and grew up in an extremely diverse community. Because of her diverse upbringing and exposure to different cultures, she has always had an interest in learning other languages, exploring different religious and cultural practices, and understanding the social, political climates around the world to observe strategies that empower people and communities.

Allison’s passion for knowledge inspired her to pursue a triple B.A. from Mary Baldwin College in International Relations, Spanish, and Asian Studies, a M.A. from The American University in Washington, DC in Latin American Studies, and complete a second M.A. degree in International Education from the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT.

After graduating college, Allison taught 4th grade in Barranquilla, Colombia. It wasn’t until her experience living in Colombia that she truly understood the importance of a global community where all citizens are actively involved in pursuing social justice through experiential living and education.

To further the realization of her vision for global citizenship, Allison has spent the last six years between Washington, DC and Barcelona, Spain working in study abroad and on professional development initiatives with the U.S. Department of State that encourage cooperation, reciprocity and leadership through thoughtful cross-cultural exchange. Allison also founded Globally Grounded, an organization whose mission is to diversify global citizenship by both engaging underrepresented young adults and mentors in cross-cultural living opportunities, and by exploring countries that are less commonly visited by North Americans.

Allison has lived in and traveled extensively through Latin America and Europe. Some of her favorite adventures so far have been in Colombia, South Africa, Morocco and Iceland. Allison speaks fluent English and Spanish and studies Portuguese, Cape Verdean Creole, French and Arabic in her free time.

Allison’s mantra is “travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.”


Beth Warsof

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Beth WarsofBeth hails from Virginia Beach, VA, but has made Washington, DC her home for the past decade. She blames her family for her travel bug, but deeply appreciates the values they instilled in her for helping others. Beth believes that change begins with education and, as such, has immersed herself in teaching opportunities around the world. She has taught students with autism, English language learners abroad, and most recently, undergraduates at George Mason University. She completed her master’s in Educational Psychology at UVA and will be finishing her PhD in Developmental Psychology in July 2013(!).

Beth’s travels have taken her around North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand. Her love of travel, cultural immersion, and service blends perfectly with her experience in educational and psychological development. She is a firm believer in the power of service learning and cultural exploration to provide individuals with a greater sense of identity and purpose. She also knows the most important things we create are personal relationships and can’t wait to meet the 2013-14 TBB participants. Beth is thrilled to be a part of TBB and is counting the days to the start of an incredible year!


Stacey Williams

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Stacey WilliamsSan Diego native, Stacey had the privilege of beginning her travels and subsequent interest in cross-cultural experiences early in life through annual global adventures with her sister and grandparents. This background, coupled with a family who places great emphasis on service, was her entry point into the pursuit of social justice.

Throughout her undergraduate career, Stacey studied Social Science with an emphasis in Sociology at Westmont College, where she spent six months in rural Tanzania and first encountered the questions (and dilemmas) of understanding development. With a BA in hand, she moved to Pensacola, Florida and spent two years serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA and VISTA Leader focusing on collaborative efforts to streamline services and identify gaps in service for families living in poverty. Throughout these experiences, Stacey became convinced that there is a great opportunity within experiential education to cultivate social imagination and equip students to be effective change agents.

With this vision, Stacey returned home to complete a MA in Higher Education Leadership at the University of San Diego (USD). While studying, she served as a Graduate Assistant for USD’s Women’s Center, coordinating their leadership programming and researching the intersection of social justice education and human development. In this time, she fell in love with teaching and gained experience with a wide-range of pedagogies.

Stacey is spending the summer prior to TBB advising students on a community-design project in Rwanda that will wrap up just before the gap year begins. She is excited about the way that the TBB curriculum aligns and intersects with her diverse background, and looks forward to journeying alongside students throughout this transformative experience.