Egan Office > Who We Are > Our Team

Our Team

John Zeigler Jr., Director of the Egan Office of Urban Education and Community Partnerships

John Zeigler Jr. is Director of the Egan Office of Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP) and adjunct faculty in Community Service Studies. He provides guidance in the Steans Center’s goal of advancing DePaul faculty and student engagement with public agencies and community-based organizations and schools. John focuses UECP on critical social issues through innovative scholarship, technical assistance and educational programming in schools and communities.

John has worked with numerous grassroots organizations internationally and initiatives across the country helping to create change that speaks to the community’s values. He recognizes that the most effective solutions to community issues should be community-driven and believes in the power of building effective social networks and creating opportunities for community partners to share their practices, promising ideas and challenges. John’s research interests are interdisciplinary and range widely. He is currently finishing his doctorate in education where his research interest is focused on authentic participation of black community-based organizations in the privatized environment of public schools.

John teaches an Inside/Out class at Stateville Correctional Center and is faculty for the Asset Based Community Development Institute. He also co-chairs the Steering Committee of the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.​



Mónica Haydeé Ramos serves as the Associate Director in the Egan Office. Dr. Ramos oversees the urban school-based partnerships, family engagement, and community internships. She nurtures sustainable and successful community and university partnerships. Her areas of expertise are curriculum development, Latinx culture, heritage and identity, and community and family engagement.

Before Egan, she was the inaugural Latinx Cultural Center Coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success (OMSS) at DePaul University and has held positions at National Louis University, Harry S. Truman College, and Connections for Abused Women and their Children (CAWC) in the Greenhouse Shelter. She received a Fulbright International Education Administrators (IEA) award and a UNESCO CONFINTEA fellowship. At UNESCO, she researched intergenerational learning in immigrant communities. She contributed to the UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning with the publication Learning Together Across Generations: Guidelines for Family Literacy and Learning Programs.

She holds an Ed.D. in Teaching and Learning with a concentration in Curriculum, Advocacy, and Policy from National Louis University. Recently, she was awarded the inaugural Comunidades Latinas Académicas con Visión de Éxito [Latino Academic Communities with Vision of Success] postdoctoral fellowship. Her research focuses on family and community engagement and their relationship with higher education in Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Walidah Bennett, Director of the Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative

Walidah G. Bennett, is the founder and Director of the Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative (MVI), housed in DePaul University’s Egan Office for Urban Education & Community Partnerships. The initiative works citywide to integrate mental and behavioral health with faith institutions in developing community circles of support by linking veterans and their families to local services and resources available within the community. Walidah has worked with numerous non-profits and Faith-based organizations and has served as a mental health consultant at the local, state and National levels. In addition to her work with MVI, Walidah is on faculty in the Social and Behavioral Science Department South Suburban College.​​​​

Patricia Novick, Egan Fellow

For more than thirty years, as a consultant, trainer, training designer, and ordained minister, Rev. Patricia Novick has focused on issues of social justice, diversity, health, and the environment.  She holds doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and in ministry, as well as master’s degrees in sociology and divinity.

In 2018, she was one of three persons awarded the prestigious Belfer Fellowship by the Anti-Defamation League for her activities to combat discrimination and advance social justice. She is currently a research fellow at the Field Museum of Natural History as well as a returning fellow at the Egan Office for UECP at DePaul. In the past she has been a research fellow at Loyola, De Paul, and Harvard universities. 

She has provided extensive train-the-trainer workshops on mental health, resilience, and personal vitality to leaders from the Latinx, African-American, Asian, and other minority communities in Chicago and beyond. The self-care wellness program she designed has been taught to more than ten thousand people in the United States and other countries.


Sarah Alkyer, Jumpstart Coordinator

As the Administrative Program Coordinator, Sarah works directly with the Director and Associate Director of the Egan Office, working on different projects and tasks.

Sarah, is a second-year graduate student with a focus on School Counseling through the College of Education. She hopes to work with High School students and is very interested in assisting them in achieving academic success throughout their high school career and helping them transition to post-high school, whether that is a career, college, or other post-grad opportunities. She has a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Business and love fashion, art, and music. She loves to travel and went to Israel for a month in Summer 2022. She is from Skokie, IL but she currently live in Bucktown. 


Mary Pena, CPI

Mary Carle Pena Silfa is the Social Media and Communications Specialist in the Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships. She is responsible for planning, developing, implementing and managing strategies for all Egan social media accounts. She has worked closely with the Associate Director and the Urban Schools Coordinator to build and foster relationships with the Egan Office community partners. She helps supporting the asset-based approaches to community engagement and reflection opportunities in a social justice framework. She has a great passion for landscape and street art photography. She believes that having the opportunity to capture memories in a photo will help others see the world from a different perspective.

Prior to Egan, Mary has worked as a supervisor/coordinator where she utilized her sense of strong communication and empathy to lead teams. Also, as a Business Development Intern at Harlem United, she achieved her goal of providing supportive services to those in need. Mary always brings good energy, initiative, and a true commitment to what she does.

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Mary relocated to New York in 2009 and obtained her Bachelor’s in Business Management from Monroe College in 2017. In addition, she obtained her Master of Science in Marketing Analytics at DePaul University in 2022 and pursuing a second Master of Science in Sustainable Management from DePaul University. In 2021, she received the John N. Nicholson Fellowship was her community services engagement.


Danielle Zepeda, USI Coordinator

Danielle Zepeda was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating high school, she moved to Galesburg, Illinois to pursue her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Knox College. Upon returning to the city, she began a career with an education focused non-profit called City Year Chicago, where she has served as the Civic Engagement Program Manager for 5 years. Looking to return to the psychology field, Danielle is beginning her master's in clinical counseling program with DePaul this fall. She is also excited to be serving as the Urban School Initiatives Coordinator for the Egan Office and to continue supporting the amazing ongoing community initiatives happening everyday across the city.

Maria Fantozzi, Community Partner Internship Coordinator

Maria is the Community Partners Internships Coordinator in the Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships. She works closely with the Associate Director and the Urban Schools Coordinator to build and foster relationships with the Egan Office community Partners. She helps supporting the asset-based approaches to community engagement and reflection opportunities in a social justice framework. Maria is originally from a small town in northern Michigan called Petoskey. She moved to Chicago in 2021. She attended Syracuse University where she earned her undergraduate degree in Political Science and is currently pursuing a Master's in Public Policy at DePaul Univeristy. In her free time, Maria enjoys scrapbooking, trying new coffee shops around the city, and organizing with Starbucks Workers United Chicago. 

Alphonse Twizerimana, SCO

Alphonse Twizerimana, a Catholic Priest. He is a School Community Organizer (SCO) working at Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy.

He holds a master’s degree in Educational Management from the University of Zambia (UNZA), a bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology from Urbanian Pontifical University (Rome), Diploma in Philosophy from St. Augustine’s Major Seminary (Zambia). Father Alphonse Twizerimana has a French background, and he is a current Ph.D. student in Educational Leadership and Administration at DePaul University, Chicago, Il., USA.

Father Alphonse has held various positions in Rwanda and Zambia. The most current position held is serving as a School Principal for Groupe Scolaire de Janja, Saint Jerome.


Caity Gallagher

Caity is a second- year graduate student of Interdisciplinary Studies, primarily focusing on Philosophy, Sociology, and Political Theory. She is a School Community Organizer with Gale Community Academy in Rogers Park. Through the Egan office's practice of Asset-Based Community Development, Caity is able to bridge theory and praxis by becoming an active member of her own community. Originally from southern Applachia, Caity has been in Chicago since August 2020.



Sophia Edison, School Community Organizer

Sophia Eidson is the School Community Organizer at William P. Nixon Elementary School, and it is her first year with the Egan Office. She is also beginning a graduate program at DePaul, pursuing a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. 

Sophia grew up in Columbia, Maryland and then obtained her Bachelor’s in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Miami in Florida. There, she worked on research projects that investigated science learning in Hispanic/Latinx preschoolers. She moved to Chicago in 2022 for a year of service with City Year AmeriCorps, where she worked as a near-peer mentor and tutor to high schoolers at Orr Academy HS. 

When not in a school, Sophia loves exploring the Chicago food scene with friends. In the summer, she loves the beach, and in the winter, she loves cozying up with a book or TV show. 


Maya Bral, School Community Organizer

Maya Bral is a School Community Organizer at James Russel Lowell Elementary and it is her first year working with the Egan Office for UECP. She is a fourth-year history student and just began her graduate studies in secondary education through DePaul’s 4 + 1 BA/MA program.


Maya was born and raised in Skokie, IL and has been interested in working with youth as it relates to social justice since she was in high school. She worked with the Cities Project for three years where she organized and planned trauma-informed lessons, facilitated an after-school dance and movement program, and mentored junior high students at Scott Joplin Elementary School. She was a tutor for DePaul’s Education and Counseling Center as well as a Chicago Quarter Mentor for last year’s freshman class. She is also a dance teacher and enjoys introducing movement into classroom spaces.

George Rohde, Graduate Assistant

George Rohde possesses a great appreciation for giving back to those less fortunate. Whether it is through his philanthropic desire to help others who are stricken with poverty or animals that have been abandoned, George relishes the time he spends making other people and animals’ lives better.

It is fair to say that George is an educator through and through. A Double Demon in journalism, George spent two years in broadcast news in Tennessee before returning to Chicago---and back at DePaul. After accepting a teaching position in the College of Communication, George changed focus and earned a second master’s degree in higher education.

George is now pursuing his PhD in higher education at DePaul University. His research is centered on how to shepherd and empower foster children and children who are experiencing homelessness through to attaining a college degree. George’s goal is to establish an initiative that provides mentorship, advocacy, and educational opportunities.

In addition, George is working under the direction of Walidah Bennett to serve the Mulit-Faith Veterans Initiative. In conjunction with the College of Education, George has collaborated the Veterans Read program, an initiative that partners with Egan Schools to engage veterans while assisting grade-school students in reading fluency and provide students with consistent mentorship. Furthermore, George has served the communications committee, women veterans project and the veterans in higher education research study.

Combined with his work in higher education, Rohde turns to another passion to help him decompress-dogs. From the age of 10, George has been involved in breeding and showing collies. George competed in junior showmanship of the American Kennel Club and has a slew of best junior handler wins. George has bred multiple champions in both rough and smooth coat varieties. All this work culminated in 2020 when George’s collie, GCHS Country Cove Hay and Honey won Best of Opposite Sex at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show.