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 programs for gap year students.

Global Gap Year West      Global Gap Year East    South America Gap Semester     Asia Gap Semester

Global Gap Year West

Yvonne Mbewe

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Yvonne MbeweOriginally from Lusaka, Zambia, Yvonne Mbewe traveled to New York City with her parents and five siblings at the age of four while her father pursued a PhD in Education and Sociology at Columbia University.  Raised in an environment of unyielding passions for education and social justice, Yvonne developed into a catalyst for social change at an early age, working with young adults from impoverished communities while at Hunter College, CUNY, where she received a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and Black and Puerto Rican Studies.

Continuing her dedication to youth empowerment, Yvonne worked extensively with adolescent girls who were victims of sexual human trafficking with the organization Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) as well as young adults in the juvenile justice system while at Esperanza, New York. These transformative experiences reignited her activist inclinations, culminating in Yvonne’s completion of a Masters in Social Work at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work.  Additionally, internships at both the In-Patient Pediatrics Department at Harlem Hospital Center and Harlem United Community Aids Center soon followed.  Most recently, Yvonne was employed with African Services Committee (ASC) where she served as the Supervising Family Social Worker in the Family Case Management program. In this role, Yvonne provided case management services to African and Caribbean immigrants and refugees while supervising the family case management team.

Yvonne is committed to young adult issues as well as gender rights on both a domestic and global level. She spent considerable time in locations as varied as Zambia, Ghana, Israel, and the Dominican Republic working on issues such as commercial sexual exploitation of children, sexual abuse & rape, and HIV/AIDS prevention and education.  Yvonne is an aspiring playwright, voracious reader and avid lover of meditation.  She also enjoys exploring new cuisines, traveling, Bikram yoga, dancing, and doting upon her young niece and nephews.

Joshua Monthei

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Joshua MontheiBorn in Southeast Michigan and raised on a sailboat the first year of his life, Joshua continues his pursuit of unique experiential learning opportunities to the present day. As an undergraduate student at Kalamazoo College, he studied with the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute in Chiang Mai, Thailand and quickly fell in love with Thailand and Southeast Asia. His passion for this part of the world motivated him to complete an MA in Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, specializing in urban planning and development. As part of his MA thesis, he conducted fieldwork in Bangkok focusing on access to public transportation services and social equity.

Over the past decade, Joshua has professional experience as an Asia Pacific Leadership Fellow and Research Delegate with the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and as a Fulbright-Clinton Fellow working with the Thai Ministry of Transport on high-speed rail development. He is also an avid Thai language learner and a runner, having competed in races in Hong Kong, Thailand, and India.

From living with a multitude of exchange students as a child to couchsurfing the far corners of Asia and Latin America as an adult, Joshua is a passionate believer and a personal testament to the life changing power of international exchange and cross cultural sharing. He is thrilled to lead a new group of talented young adults to thriving and challenging parts of the world that make for an ideal classroom.

Stacey Williams

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Stacey WilliamsA San Diego native, Stacey had the privilege of beginning her travels and subsequent interest in cross-cultural experiences as a child through annual adventures with her sister and grandparents. This background, coupled with a family who places great emphasis on service, was her entry point to 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. She then served as an AmeriCorps VISTA and VISTA Leader coordinating community-based services for families living in poverty. These experiential learning opportunities prompted Stacey to think about the transformative power of education, leading her to pursue a MA in Higher Education Leadership at the University of San Diego (USD). At USD, she served as a Graduate Assistant and Interim Director for the Women’s Center. In these roles, she coordinated leadership programs and researched the intersection of social justice education and human development.

Stacey has advised college students on a summer program in rural Rwanda and served as a Program Leader for TBB’s Global Gap Year last year. She loves international education for the ways that it challenges people to think about their role in a complex and interconnected world. She is excited to return to TBB to continue the practice of realizing change within herself and others through inquiry and dialogue.

Global Gap Year East

Abby Hardgrove

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Abby HardgroveAbby grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. As an undergraduate, she studied psychology and planned to pursue an academic career as a teacher-scholar of child and family development. A trip to the eye doctor derailed her domestic career plans and launched her interest in international development. While waiting for an eye exam she picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest that featured Angelina Jolie’s work with the United Nations and with refugees. Bartering ensued at the reception desk, where she promised to return for an annual check-up in exchange for lifting the magazine from the premises. Article read, and mind buzzing with questions about the implications for children who grow up in situations of forced displacement, Abby conducted her master’s research with Liberian refugees living in Ghana. She went on to pursue a DPhil (PhD) in International Development at the University of Oxford, where she turned her attention to the topic of conflict and ex-combatant reintegration. Her ethnographic research looked at the life chances and trajectories of former child and youth soldiers who fought in the civil war in Liberia. She completed her thesis, Life after Guns, in 2012. Since then she has continued to research and write about the social and economic limitations and possibilities that affect the lives of young people around the world.

Abby joins Thinking Beyond Borders with a love for travel, adventure, and critical reflection about persisting, global inequalities and social justice. She believes that the best way to learn about something is to experience it first-hand, and that effective, sustainable change is the product of much experience, reflection, and empathy. She is excited to bring her enjoyment of learning, teaching, and mentoring into a dynamic, shared experience on the Global Gap Year Program.

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.

Chris joined TBB as a Program Leader with the Global Gap Year in 2014. He’s excited to be returning for a second year.

Emily Rosser

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Emily RosserDespite her land-locked Colorado upbringing, Emily has always been drawn to the coast and the mysteries of ocean life. Her passion for water was fueled by an uncle who made sure she had regular adventures on the Outer Banks. This experience inspired her to leave Colorado behind and attend The University of North Carolina – Wilmington to pursue a B.S. in Marine Biology. After a particularly fascinating course in ichthyology, the study of fishes, Emily decided to continue her education at The University of New England where she earned a M.S. in Marine Science focused on environmental conservation and fish diversity on the coral reefs of Belize. Alongside all of this, her experiences in Residence Life and a graduate teaching assistantship sparked her love of teaching and working with students.

After a year teaching environmental education at the Don Lee Center in North Carolina, Emily accepted an invitation to the Peace Corps where she taught biology for two years at a secondary school in rural Mozambique. Despite the many challenges associated with “mato” living and giving lessons in a second language, Emily developed a strong bond with her community and considers the tiny village of Dombe a second home. This experience cemented her love for travel and helped her understand what it means to truly immerse oneself in another culture. After spending the summer of 2013 in Rwanda advising students on a community-design project, Emily decided to continue to blend her love of the environment and the physical world with her passion for teaching by working with groups like TBB that value social change and personal growth in addition to international development.

She feels that living and working abroad is a necessary supplement to a good education as young people begin developing their sense of self and their awareness of the world around them. Emily looks forward to traveling and learning with a passionate group of students!

South America Gap Semester

Maru Gonzalez

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Maru GonzalezA native Georgian, Maru discovered her love of travel and cross-cultural exchange at an early age. From her travels, she developed a deep sense of inquiry about the world and her role as an agent for social change. Maru spent much of her adolescence and early adulthood volunteering and engaging in service learning projects focused on education as a tool for social justice. In particular, Maru’s experience as an academic mentor for homeless youth and as a teen facilitator at a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth center motivated her to pursue a Master’s of Education in School Counseling at Georgia State University. After working as both an elementary and high school counselor, Maru pursued and subsequently obtained her doctorate in Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in order to focus her social change efforts more broadly.

An expert on educational policy and educational practice, Maru has worked to improve bullying policies and legislation at the local, state, and national levels. She is the co-founder of Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, an organization dedicated to creating safe and affirming school climates for all students. Maru also serves on the Board of Directors for Soulforce and as a member of the National Advisory Council for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). In addition to her social justice work domestically, Maru serves as an international consultant for Todo Mejora, a Latin American educational foundation. She has also been invited as a United States speaker by the Embassies in Chile and Peru for week-long programs aimed at bullying prevention and cultivating more respectful and affirming schools in the region.

Aside from grass roots level advocacy and activism, Maru serves as a blogger for the Huffington Post and appeared as a frequent political commentator on CNN and CNN Espanol during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and the 2010 midterm elections. An avid hiker, Maru has trekked over 3,000 miles across Europe. She also enjoys reading, running, vegan cooking, and losing at Scrabble.

Lisette Rodriguez

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Lisette RodriguezA native of Los Angeles, Lisette is motivated by her adventurous spirit and passion for education and social justice. She has a graduate and undergraduate degree in Sociology with a minor in Latin American Studies. It was during her undergraduate studies that Lisette had her first opportunity to travel outside of the country on a study abroad program in Spain. The experience ignited her love of travel, and to date she has traveled to nineteen countries and five continents.

Lisette has over ten years of experience working with university students in higher education both inside and outside of the classroom. Her professional experience entails working as a sociology faculty, coordinating educational equity, multicultural education and service learning programs in higher education as well as working in community based non-profit management and international development.

Looking to combine her passion for education, travel and social justice she has done long term volunteer programs in Ghana, Africa and most recently in the Dominican Republic where she worked with an international humanitarian organization. Lisette has devoted her personal and professional time to making a positive social impact and affecting change wherever possible. She also loves yoga and dancing.

Asia Gap Semester

Nora Falvey

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Nora FalveyHailing from northeastern New Jersey, Nora Falvey grew up in a family which placed great value on serving others. Thus, Nora identifies strongly with TBB’s service-learning platform. Through her volunteer work, she has had the honor of meeting Mother Theresa, traveling to Guatemala, and receiving a Pax Christi Award for community service. As an undergraduate student at Penn State University Nora participated in an intensive language and culture curriculum, studied in France, and returned there to teach upon graduation. These experiences stimulated her enthusiasm for intercultural studies.

Nora graduated in 2004 with Bachelor of Science degrees in International Business, Logistics, and International Studies, as well as a minor in French. She has worked at a number of Fortune 500 companies and a small start-up firm, maximizing efficiency across business units and partner organizations.

Motivated by a desire to work with students and learn Spanish, Nora moved to Puerto Rico in 2007. At the University of Puerto Rico, she taught undergraduate writing and literature, mentored students, began an initiative to increase participation in study abroad, and enjoyed being immersed in Puerto Rican culture. In January 2011, she graduated summa cum laude with a Master of the Arts in English Education, having completed research in the areas of cultural studies, socio-cultural theory, critical pedagogy and linguistics.

Nora first joined TBB in the fall of 2011 as a Program Leader with the Global Gap Year. After two years with the Global Gap Year, she now joins the Asia Gap Semester.

Laura Ribitzky

Gap Year Programs Leader Staff Laura RibitzkyLaura has cultivated a spirit of adventure and cross-cultural understanding from a young age. Originally from Israel, she immigrated to the United States and grew up in suburban Boston and Atlanta. She has also lived in New York City and San Diego.

She began traveling and studying abroad when, as a senior at the Atlanta International School, she participated in the Model United Nations conference in the Netherlands. As an adult student, Laura has pursued interdisciplinary, collaborative, and experiential approaches to her education. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Social Thought & Political Economy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After participating in a study abroad program at Tel Aviv University, where she tutored immigrant college students in English and Economics, she took a summer to teach international high school students at a residential program on the Yale University campus. She went on to earn a Juris Doctorate from the City University of New York, a public interest law school, where she served as a mediator and mentor in the Mediation Clinic.

Continuing to pursue an interest in conflict management and international affairs, she earned her Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts Boston. As a graduate student, she worked with a non-governmental organization in Rwanda, focusing on post-genocide reconciliation. She then volunteered on various development projects in Haiti with a local non-profit organization. She also interned at the U.S. Embassy in Mauritius, where she earned a commendation from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for her work supporting a counter-piracy operation within the Seychelles. Upon returning to the U.S., she participated in a pilot program at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the U.S. Agency for International Development, where she supported policy efforts to combat human trafficking abroad.

More recently, Laura worked in international education administration, first as a registrar and then as a housing coordinator, at a school for international students in Boston. In this capacity, she enjoyed facilitating and enhancing students’ experiences. Laura loves film and theater, having partly grown up on a film production lot as a kid, and having studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute and HB Studio in New York City. She is very excited about joining TBB out in the field with students as they explore new places and make new personal connections.