This is Us

Making the hard things easy isn’t just a mission, it’s a promise.

We’re driven by the idea that every child deserves a safe and nurturing environment to thrive and reach their greatest potential.


Matt Baruch
Customer Product Advisor- NorthEast

Iris Garcia
Customer Product Advisor- Texas

Deb Simpson
Customer Product Advisor- SouthEast

Jim Simpson
Customer Product Advisor- SouthEast


Carol Baldwin
Educational Coach

In 2017, Carol found her great passion– working for Empower! Carol started her teaching career after earning her B.A. in secondary education with an emphasis in mathematics. She taught in the Coolidge School District in Arizona for one year, then transferred to the nearby Chandler School District where she taught for twenty-five years. She has taught everything from seventh grade general math to IB/AP calculus and statistics, and also has had extensive training in STEM courses. Carol decided to further her education by attending Northern Arizona University where she earned her M.A. in educational leadership. She has served on many curricula writing and mapping committees for a variety of school districts, the North Central Accreditation committee for Chandler School District, and as an AIMS committee member. She is certified in Structured English Immersion, K-12 and has vast experience as a mentor and coach to new and struggling teachers. In addition, Carol has received several awards for achievement in education such as the Intel Innovations in Teaching Grant, Arizona Department of Education Certificate of Achievement.

Phyllis Burks
Educational Coach

Phyllis has been an educator, trainer, coach, and consultant for over 25 years. As a K-5 math specialist and trainer, she has worked with teachers, principals, and district personnel to foster change and build math capacity to meet defined achievement goals. As a consultant and coach she aims to build trusted relationships, provide timely feedback, and model effective instructional strategies. She received her B.A. in math and philosophy from the University of Rochester, an M.A. in linguistics from UC Berkeley, K-8 teacher certification from California State University at Sacramento, a master’s in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University and certification to teach English as a second language from Cambridge University. She has her administrative credential and is fully endorsed for ESL, middle school math, and early childhood education.

Jennifer French Crone
Educational Coach

Jen has been an educational consultant for 9 years and knows how to work with students, teachers, and administration to improve instruction and student achievement. She figured out that this is done by working side by side with teachers and admin to develop and execute a coaching plan unique to their needs. In her work across the nation, she has helped schools raise their state grade levels by delivering dynamic professional development along with classroom modeling and coaching to help teachers become more successful and confident. Jen has been in education for more than 20 years. She has a master’s degree in education with ELL and early childhood endorsements and a specialization in Spanish. When Jen is not working in schools, she is a mom of 4 crazy adolescents, a wife, avid hiker, reader and aspiring gardener.

Cathryn Forney
Educational Coach

Cathryn has been working for Empower since 2015, and she thoroughly enjoys the opportunity to support administrators, teachers, instructional coaches, and students. She holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Concordia University, a reading endorsement from Northern Arizona University, and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Prior to beginning her consulting, Cathryn was in the classroom teaching students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Her passion for quality, effective instruction and desire to ignite a love of learning in students motivates her to continue to be a part of public education. When not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, hiking, playing sports, reading, and traveling.

Susette Gonzalez
Educational Coach

Susette is considered a “master teacher” with expertise in literacy, mathematics, bilingual education, and administration. She has been a classroom teacher, curriculum specialist, and reading specialist, and has served as a teacher trainer under the Bill and Melinda Gates School Improvement Initiative. She is the recipient of many teacher recognition awards. Susette’s bilingual skills, knowledge of best teaching practices, and expertise in classroom management make her an valuable asset to the Empower consulting team.

Vaneza Gonzalez
Educational Coach

Vaneza’s experience teaching multiple grade levels makes her a great resource for elementary and secondary teachers. She has served as a teacher trainer, reading coach, and reading specialist, and has traveled across the country with the Bill and Melinda Gates School Improvement Initiative. Vaneza is the recipient of many teacher recognition awards, and with her bilingual skills, knowledge of best practices, and classroom management expertise she isa great asset to the consulting field.

Peggy Gregory
Educational Coach

Originally a high school journalism and English teacher with a B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in secondary education, Peggy was trained by the New Teacher Center to mentor first, second, and third-year teachers. She did this for 10 years in the Glendale Union High School District, where she conducted extensive staff development sessions on classroom management and teaching strategies for new teachers district-wide. Following a brief retirement, Peggy resumed her career to work as the language arts specialist in another district, providing staff development for K-12 teachers in areas such as close reading, literary analysis, argumentative writing, DOK, questioning strategies, and more. Additionally, she led teams to create comprehensive curriculum for each grade level for the district curriculum tool and worked with teacher leaders to unwrap Common Core Standards. Peggy retired again, but after 40+ full-time years in education she found she just had to have that classroom connection. She consults for Empower, and also mentors new publications advisors as part of the national Journalism Education Association mentoring committee. In her “other life,” Peggy loves to travel, spend time with her family including four terrific grandsons, and stay up on the news!

Alicia Holt
Educational Coach

Alicia loves learning and takes great pleasure in her current role as an Empower coach. The opportunity to work with many different teachers in a variety of settings keeps her passion alive. As an Empower consultant she has worked in elementary, middle, and high school settings in Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia, and Mississippi. Alicia has been in education for 19 years and counting. Prior to her work for Empower, she was employed as a literacy coach, math coach, and special education teacher in the Phoenix and Chicago areas. She earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University and holds reading specialist, Structured English Immersion, and early childhood endorsements. In her free time, Alicia loves to hike, read, play games, travel, and spend time with her son and husband.

Julie Jones
Educational Coach

Julie’s motto is “Work smarter not harder!” Understanding the many challenges in education today, she works with educators to focus on their strengths, establish effective educational routines, and collaborate with colleagues. As an educator for over 35 years, she has been able to work with educators in New Mexico and Arizona. Julie has served as an instructional coach, ELL coordinator, technology coordinator, PLC staff developer and a high school biology teacher. She earned a degree from Northern Arizona University, and completed graduate work at Arizona State University and University of Phoenix. She holds Structured English Immersion and high school biology endorsements. Julie enjoys spending time with her husband of 35 years at their family cabin, hiking, reading and doing an endless list of projects. Her 2 adult daughters and their families bring her joy and her grandchildren keep her running!

Donnell Knight
Mind & Body Coach

Heather Lenon
Mind & Body Coach

Heather is a fitness expert turned educational consultant! After having 3 beautiful children of her own and watching them grow, she knew she had a new, “higher” calling in life. . . taking all her expertise from the gym and fitness world into the classroom! Heather is passionate about making sure every child knows their own strength: physical, emotional, and mental. She puts growth mindset practices into action every day through her fitness workouts for kids. Being the lead Empower Mind & Body consultant has been one of the highlights of Heather’s career. If Heather is not on a campus helping children and athletes become stronger and healthier, you can find her working out in the gym, hanging out with her husband and children, eating cheese curd in her home state of Wisconsin, or hiking in the beautiful mountains of Arizona.

Vicki Meyn
Educational Coach

Vicki received her Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, with minors in reading and biology. She began teaching kindergarten in 1998 in inner-city Philadelphia before deciding to head out west. Vicki has been with the Chandler Unified School District for the last 15 years and has taught kindergarten, first, second, third, and fifth grades. Vicki’s goal has been to help students discover their passion for learning through interactive and challenging experiences where they can explore their true potential at their own pace and level.

Laura Moore
Educational Coach

Laura is a veteran in the classroom and instructional coaching field, with expertise in elementary and middle school math. Her experience and leadership roles in Backwards Design Planning, the AZ Math Standards Review Committee, and District Curriculum Map Planning, as well as her position as a Lieutenant in the US ARMY complement her as an Empower consultant. Laura delivers positive feedback and instructional support to every teacher she works with. Laura hikes, vacations, and believes she could still be a professional golfer; however, her husband tries to convince her otherwise!

Jessica Nelson
Educational Coach

Melissa Nordquist
Educational Coach

Melissa is a veteran Empower consultant who shows her passion for education through supporting district personnel, administrators, teachers, and students to be the best they can every day. Melissa is well versed in all elementary academic areas, but particularly loves literacy at all levels. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a master’s in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in language and literacy from Arizona State University. Melissa has spent time teaching many different elementary grade levels, as an elementary literacy coach, and as a junior college adjunct instructor for teacher education. In her free time, she likes to spend time with her husband and three children, horseback ride, spoil her dogs, read, and go on adventures.

Robin O'Bannon
Educational Coach

Robin served in the Air Force from 1987 to 2005, retiring as a decorated, disabled Gulf War Veteran. Her career fields included dental technician and manager, leadership instructor/trainer and enlisted accessions recruiter. She has two associates degrees and an Occupational Instructor Certification from Air University, a BBA in training and leadership, and an MBA in training and development. Robin is the chief curriculum writer of the Promissory Note Project, a self-education initiative focusing on the Reconstruction Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.She is the Director of Community Outreach of Healing Arizona Veterans, a charitable organization that funds healing and restoration of veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other illness/injury from agents of war. Her favorite quote is “I believe we are each deliberately called to our individual missions at this time in history.We each have a powerful piece of the puzzle.”

Hector Ramirez
Educational Coach

After 25 years in the education system, Héctor has learned that as the world transforms teachers must transform as well. As a bi-literacy curriculum specialist, he understands the challenges and importance of delivering informed lessons driven by outcomes. When those that are learning experience productive struggle, they develop stamina. When students have agency, they accomplish more under the guidance of their teachers. Héctor travels around the world as a consultant, but spends most of his time in Latin America and the Middle East. He always focuses on American curriculum, while helping teachers of every background embrace researched instructional practices and routines that motivate and engage students. He believes that all students have the ability, they only need the opportunity.

Gabe Rogers
Mind & Body Coach

Gabe Rogers is a dynamic part of the Empower Mind & Body team.Prior to his involvement with education, Gabe played basketball for Northern Arizona University where he went on to lead the Big Sky Conference in scoring his senior year. He was drafted in the NBA D-League in 2012. Rogers started to play professionally overseas in 2014 with Marín Peixefresco in the Spanish LEB Plata. He promoted with the Galician team to LEB Oro on March 2016, finishing the league as the top scorer of the season and as a member of the All-LEB Plata Team. Gabe is full of energy, drive, and grit both on and off the court. He is an inspiration to all he meets. He shares his talents and love of the game by showering his educational teammates with kindness, a growth-mindset, and work ethic second to none.He is passionate about changing the way physical education and athletics look in our school systems. Gabe is the guy you want assisting you in all your dreams for the future!He currently lives in Gilbert, Arizona with his wife and can be found chillin’ with his friends, playing pickup basketball games with kids of all ages, or reading a great book.

Pat Scott
Educational Coach

Pat has taught high school and middle school mathematics and English for over 34 years. She received her Bachelor of Science in secondary education from Eastern Illinois University, a Master of Arts in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, and has an SEI Endorsement. She has served on numerous committees for the State of Arizona and Chandler Unified School District, and has received several teaching awards such as Teacher of the Year for Casa Grande Union High School District, Runner-up Teacher of the Year award for the Casa Grande Elementary School District, and AAA+ Teacher Awards for the Chandler Unified School District. Pat coached multiple sports, teacher interns, and student teachers for over 20 years and was a math department chair at Perry High School in Chandler, Arizona. Her favorite quote is by Rita Pierson: “Every child deserves a champion- an adult who will NEVER give up on them, an adult who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.”

Misi Tupe
Mind & Body Coach

Misi is full of life, light, and passion for education. His background is extensive and diverse. Before joining the coaching ranks, Tupe enjoyed an illustrious college football career. He played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Dixie State in its final years as a junior college, achieving first team All-WSFL and NJCAA All-Region honors. He then obtained a bachelor’s degree and played two seasons at Texas A&M, where he finished with impressive stats. Tupe earned Big XII Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors in 2006 and Team Defensive MVP honors in 2007. He then began his coaching career, first at the high school level before moving on to Snow College. While coaching at Snow College, the Badgers posted a 26-5 record in Tupe’s three seasons on the sidelines and claimed victory in the 2017 El Toro Bowl. He coached five All-WSFL honorees and two All-Americans, including the 2017 NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year. Most recently, Tupe joined the Dixie State Football coaching staff in 2019, where he serves as linebackers coach. Even with this extensive coaching career, his heart truly is in teaching. As a consultant for Empower, he shares his gift of team and relationship building, mentoring, and social/emotional growth with others in a powerful and hands-on way. Misi and his wife, Whitnee are the parents of four children: Pa’alo, Talimalie, Alai, and Satitoa.

Shawndra Reid
Educational Coach

Shawndra is a passionate educator with 17 years of school and district experience. She has been both an elementary and secondary classroom teacher, a Title I reading specialist, an instructional coach, a district ELA curriculum and professional development coordinator, and an adjunct faculty member supporting teacher preparation programs. Shawndra was an invited presenter at the Arizona Department of Education Leading Change Conference and was also invited to be a K-12 Reading Endorsement course writer for Rio Salado College.She was part of the ADE’s Literacy Leadership Team and had the opportunity to train hundreds of teachers and administrators across the state of Arizona on the implementation of the ELA standards. In 2017, Shawndra was nominated by her peers and recognized as Educational Mentor of the Year by the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce. She earned her master’s degree and reading endorsement at Arizona State University in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in language and literacy. In her free time she enjoys traveling with her daughter, trying new recipes, and spending time with friends.

Shelly Peckins
Educational Coach

Shelly believes that teachers are the most important factor in helping students be successful! Job-embedded coaching and training is where she has focused her time, attention, and training opportunities. Shelly is an Empower consultant who works with grades K-12 teachers and administrators. In addition to teaching elementary, middle, and high school, she has built and managed district curriculum, assessment, and coaching programs. She has a Bachelor of Science in business and a master’s in education. In her free time, Shelly likes to spend time with her family and friends, read, camp, hike, and play games.

Nancy Updegraff
Educational Coach

Nancy I Updegraff Ph.D. has a career in education that spans over 30 years. Beginning a teaching career in the city of Detroit, Nancy taught both high school and elementary grades. After winning a Ford Foundation Grant, Nancy completed degrees in reading, special education, urban education, and teacher training at the University of Chicago. After completing her doctorate, she worked in administration and curriculum in Chicago and Oak Lawn, Illinois. She completed additional graduate work in teaching English as a second language and special education. While working for a major publishing company, Nancy authored over 30 children’s books, co-authored 3 books on teaching reading and writing, and was an author editor on elementary reading programs. Additionally, she was a consultant/contributor for social studies programs and a science program.
Nancy has been a beloved keynote speaker at major educational conferences nationally and internationally. Working as a coach and mentor with teachers and principals in cities across the country has helped Nancy develop new techniques for working with students and teachers in urban and rural settings. Internationally, Nancy has worked with schools in South and Central America as well as China and the Middle East. She has presented at major conferences, worked with schools, and met with the Ministries of Education in six countries in the Arab world.
In addition to workshops, mentoring, and coaching, Nancy has worked as a grant writer and curriculum specialist. She has written and helped implement grants totaling over $100,000,000. Nancy counts as one of her proudest moments being named a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year.

Educational Coach

Chad comes from a family of educators, and he believes education is the most honorable profession. He has served as a teacher, coach, and principal for over 17 years. Chad holds a bachelor’s in history teaching from Brigham Young University; a master’s in organization, planning, and management in education from the University of Reading (Reading, England); and is almost finished with an MBA from Western Governors University. He coached junior high and high school varsity sports including football, basketball, baseball, softball, and tennis. Chad loves the performing arts and has worked with a local children’s theater group. He is very involved with church youth groups and the Boy Scouts of America, and is currently serving in his first term on the J.O. Combs Unified School District Governing Board. He and his wife, Crystal, have five children.

Chris Crain
Educational Coach

Christian is a life-long learner and career educator!He has worked in public schools in Arizona for the past 30 years.Christian was a classroom teacher for 21 years as a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade teacher.He also spent 3 years as an administrator and 6 years as an instructional coach.As a coach, Christian worked with all grade levels from kindergarten to 5th grade.From mentoring in classrooms, to providing professional development classes for teachers, to creating materials to plan and assess learning for his district, Christian has experience with all aspects of the elementary journey.In addition to working for Empower, he is a student teacher supervisor for Rio Salado Community College.Christian has degrees from Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.In his spare time, Christian loves to exercise, play golf, hike, and spend time with his family.

Josie Devlin
Educational Coach

Josie is a retired middle school educator.Her love of children and the belief that teachers can make a powerful impact on the lives of children drove her to quit her job in an international accounting firm to become a teacher.She earned her master’s in elementary education and educational leadership from ASU.Josie enjoyed 20 years in the classroom teaching middle school math, from 6th grade math to 10th grade honors geometry, with a few years thrown in that included teaching 6th and 8th grade science.She was a leader in her schools, serving as their math department chair, and she also served in various leadership roles at the district level.Josie was the first middle school math instructional coach to be hired in the Kyrene School District. She served as an instructional coach for 4 years before retiring and moving to Flagstaff where she enjoys the great outdoors every day.

Josie loves to hike and travel, as well as spending time with her husband, Matt, their dog, Blue, and their children and grandchildren.

Laura Brudvik
Educational Coach

Dr. Laura Brudvik has been working in the field of education since 2003. She is originally from North Dakota and, just like that other Laura from a little house on the prairie, she has always loved school.

Laura taught secondary English at two large districts in North Dakota before earning her master’s degree and transitioning into the college setting. Dr. Brudvik spent eight years at a small liberal arts university teaching composition and education classes. Her favorite part of teaching has always been working with others. She loves to watch students learn and develop, and to work side-by-side with tremendous teachers. After earning her doctoral degree and spending some time training teachers at a private college in Minnesota, Laura and her family decided to try somewhere with warmer winters.

Dr. Brudvik enjoyed teaching Dual Credit English in the Chandler Unified School District last year and she hopes that her variety of experiences will serve and support the schools she works with for Empower.

In her spare time, Laura enjoys spending time with her husband, her three children, and puppy dog, Tucker. As new Arizona residents, they have enjoyed traveling and seeing all the beauty found in the desert. Minnesota lakes country is their destination in the summer as their northern roots still have a little trouble with the extreme heat.:-)

Maria Plata
Educational Coach

Maria immigrated to Arizona from Mexico when she was eight years old. This experience led her to her passion for language learning and teaching. She truly believes that language can connect people, and she loves helping teachers and parents see the value of language. Maria graduated in 2009 from Arizona State University in a multilingual, multi-cultural program and holds an ESL/Spanish bilingual endorsement. She taught for 9 years in ELL classrooms and in a Spanish immersion program, so she has a deep understanding of second language acquisition and its importance for high-quality teaching and learning. Maria loves to read and write, especially about experiences that shape people’s lives. She also enjoys spending time with her family and creating Spanish learning materials from her watercolor paintings.

Matt Devlin
Educational Coach

Matt is a retired middle school science teacher and school principal with 30 years experience in teaching and leading elementary and middle schools with diverse student populations. He has a passion for providing staff development and collaborating in school planning, and is especially excited to support new teachers who will be working with the next generations of students. Matt is also an accomplished singer/songwriter, and he enjoys traveling with his wife, Josie, and their hound dog, Blue. He is excited to have the opportunity to work alongside Josie, as they have long held a dream of using their shared talents and love of education to support schools.

Tonja Yalung
Educational Coach

Tonja’s passion for equipping children for their future is evident in the way she empowers her students to tackle the challenges they face in the classroom. Tonja graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Science degree in education and has 30+ years experience in education in the state of Arizona. She began her career as a 4th grade teacher, then moved to other grade levels during her 14 years of teaching. When she took a year off from teaching to be a mom, Tonja decided she needed more of a challenge. She returned to school and graduated with a master’s in elementary education, along with a degree in educational leadership. During her teaching tenure, Tonja also became a math coach for the Kyrene School District and a math consultant for a major company. These opportunities led her into leadership, and she has most recently retired from being a principal of a Title I school.Tonja has been awarded the Tempe Diablos Excellence in Education Award for Achievement, and has also been honored as a RODEL Exemplary Principal through MCESA. Tonja truly believes that education is the pathway to opening doors for our children. This can be seen in her instruction, PD, and leadership skills.

Jaimie Weinberger
Educational Coach

As an educator with experience in K-12 education, Jaimie’s passion for inspiring others drives her work as an Empower consultant. She has the heart and niche for reshaping challenging behaviors, relationship building with staff and students, distributive leadership, and developing a positive school culture while maintaining a clear focus on students and their learning. Jaimie uses her child development and instruction expertise to ignite enthusiasm for learning in students as she works with teachers and administrators to build upon current teacher practice to acknowledge the whole child. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Arizona State University and her master’s in educational administration from Grand Canyon University. She has served as both a principal and assistant principal in two valley schools. Aside from consulting and continued learning, Jaimie loves to dance, exercise, and spend time with her husband, Cody, and their son, Axton.

Sue Yocum

Sue’s passion for education makes her a dynamic, powerful, and inspiring speaker. She began her career as a teacher, teaching for several years before accepting a job with a major publisher as a National Educational Consultant. In that position, she helped teachers all over the country and was mentored by the world’s most renowned educational researchers. Her mind now brimming with ideas, Sue used her knowledge to establish EEC. It’s her lifelong goal to help make every teacher a little better and to empower them with skills, strategies, and a desire to inspire their students.


Chris Fernandez
Distribution Assistant

Danielle Kesner
Lead Designer

Fred Lybbert

Jana Maughan
Editorial Team Lead

Tara Reading
Customization & Design Team Lead

Ron Shafer
Distribution Team Lead

Kelly Stevens
Customer Relations Team Lead

Randy Yocum
Customer Product Team Lead