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.​

Dr. Monica Ramos, Assistant Director

Mónica Haydeé Ramos serves as the Assistant Director in the Egan Office. In collaboration with the Director, she guides the Egan Office's work in supporting community-driven efforts to achieve equity and justice. Dr. Ramos oversees the school-based partnerships, family engagement, and coalition initiative, and nurtures sustainable and successful partnerships within diverse communities in the city and the university. 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.​​​​

Jeanette Estrada

As the Site Manager of the Jumpstart Program at DePaul, Jeanette builds and maintain relationships with preschool centers, schools – private and public, and community centers. She is responsible for training and preparing DePaul Jumpstart Students to go into under resourced preschool classrooms and help develop children’s language and literacy skills, as well as help support their social emotional development. Jeanette also provides DePaul students with the opportunity to develop and grow their leadership skills. 

Areas of Consultation:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Trauma-informed care 
  • ​Social Justice
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.

Cree Noble

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

Prior to the Egan, she has worked at various organizations such as Mission and Ministry at DePaul University, DePaul Housing, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre Company, and New York University. These positions magnified her understanding of social justice, artistic activism, community engagement, and administrative and communication skills.

Cree received her B.A. in Journalism and Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies with a minor in Performance Studies at DePaul University in 2018. She then earned her M.A. in Performance Studies at New York University in 2019. She currently is a M.Ed candidate in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at DePaul University, where she plans on combining both of her Master's degrees to become a Registered Drama Therapist.


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.

Jennifer Honycutt

Jennifer is in the Business Analytics program in DePaul's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. She is a 2021 summa cum laude graduate of DePaul's Public Relations and Advertising undergraduate program, with an emphasis in public relations research. As program coordinator of Egan's Urban Schools Initiative, Jennifer supports an excellent team of school community organizers and tutors in their work with communities and community partners. She also chairs the Office's Data and Council of Elders committees and supports the Communications and Newsletter committees with graphic design and article writing. Her research interests lie in communications, marketing, and linguistic analysis.

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. 

Mia Andersen, EFECT Coordinator

As a first generation Latina college student, Mia strives to work with families and children to achieve their utmost potential. She is currently pursuing a Master's is School Counseling. She holds a position as the Coordinator for the Family Engagement and Coalition Initiative. Being raised in a single parent household, Mia deeply believes in the mission of working with families to build beneficial relationship building, reciprocal learning and professional development for parents and guardians.

Mia has volunteered as the president of the Junior Associate Board for In Her Shoes Foundation non-profit and has case management experience with populations who experience homeless and a severe mental illness diagnosis. 

Mia obtained her Bachelors from The University of Illinois at Chicago in Psychology. She aspires to work as a School Counselor in disparaged communities.


Sarah Alkyer, Jumpstart Coordinator

Sarah, 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. She is excited to join the Jumpstart team to help both preschool and college students learn valuable skills they will use for the rest of their lives.

Kasey Davis, School and Community Organizer

Kasey Davis is a School Community Organizer in the Egan Office. Kasey works with Gale Community Academy in the growth of family, student, and community outreach and engagement.

Kasey is a writer, director, producer, photographer, and content creator. Before making the life changing move to Chicago, Davis was a graduate assistant at her Alma mater. There, she hosted two 1-hour radio talk-shows; one which was award-winning at the Michigan Student Broadcasts Awards. With that, she was a teaching instructor for audio production to undergraduate students. Kasey also contributed her time to work with student success by being a student mentor.

Kasey holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts and Journalism, and a Master of Arts in Electronic Media Management, both from Central Michigan University. She is currently in the Master of Science path in Film and Television, with a concentration in Cinematography at DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts. She hopes to shift gears next year and enter the Master of Fine Arts path in Film and Television Directing.

Violet Esho Jumpstart Assistant

Violet Esho is a Jumpstart Program Assistant and Jumpstart AmeriCorps tutor. She is the assistant to Jumpstart's director, contributes to the session planning guidance papers, supports the packing and unpacking materials for activities to supplement the reading, and receives training to support children in their social, emotional, and language learning skills.

Her passion is to serve children and contribute to them reaching their full potential while also addressing political issues that impact children's lives. She is working on a dual degree, a bachelors in Political Science with a minor in Community Service and a masters in Public Policy.

Alphonse Twizerimana, SCO

Alphonse Twizerimana is a School Community Organizer (SCO) working at Leif Ericson Elementary Academy.

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

He has held various positions including School Principal of a coeducational boarding secondary school in Rwanda.

Diana is in her second year of her masters program here at DePaul. She is getting her MA/MEd in Secondary Education to, one day, be a high school English teacher. At the Egan office,She is the SCO (School Community Organizer) for Nixon Elementary School. It is her job to be the middleman between the Egan office and Nixon Elementary to ensure that we build community within the school, and within the Hermosa area in the northwest side of Chicago. When Diana is not working, She enjoys hanging out with friends, watching her tv shows (FRIENDS is the BEST), and working out!

Hiba Zakai, MVI graduate assistant

Hiba Zakai is a PhD student at the College of Education, DePaul University with research interest in Civic Engagement and Social Impact, experiential-learning pedagogy. She has joined the Multi-Faith Veteran Initiative (MVI) at the Egan Office, DePaul University. Hiba has experience of curating and teaching the course, Civic Engagement and Social Impact: Grassroot Narrative of Pakistan with Service Learning and Global Citizenship Education as core pedagogy at a university in Lahore, Pakistan. She has collaborated in this field with institutions in Turkey including the Social Impact Lab at KOC and in Pakistan with Karakorum International University, Gilgit-Baltistan. The goal of the initiative is to provide a fusion of Eastern and Western perspective to enhance students’ critical thinking and cultural competencies as the ‘hidden agenda’ for global citizenship. Hiba holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership Policy from University of Wisconsin Madison with BA from University of Arizona, USA. 

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.