Meet Merit America’s Newest Board Members

We are thrilled to welcome four new members to our Board, whose collective experience and expertise will help guide us on our path to generate $1 billion in wage gains by 2024. These individuals all have personal and professional interest in expanding opportunity and supporting alternative pathways to success. Our new Board members will be joining Chair Norman Atkins and Stephanie Dodson Cornell, bringing a diverse range of professional backgrounds, including academia, advocacy, business and consulting. 

In fewer than five years, Merit America has grown from 15 to 2,000 learners, from $250K to $80M+ in funding and built a talented 100+ person team – growing our Board is our latest effort to continue our mission of providing pathways to family-sustaining careers for working Americans.

Join us in welcoming Byron Auguste, Naomi Bagdonas, Ahmmad Brown and Yin Lu!

BYRON AUGUSTE

Byron Auguste is president and co-founder of Opportunity@Work, a civic enterprise which aims to rewire the U.S. labor market in ways that enable more Americans to achieve upward mobility in the job market and workplace. Byron was inspired by a diverse set of experiences to conceive and co-found Opportunity@Work – from his large extended family to a diverse range of friends in his “hometowns” of Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona, Byron knew many people who found themselves stuck and unable to contribute their full talents at work.

As an economist, Byron sees this waste of talent as a classic market failure. From his extensive work advising businesses, Byron has expertise in the internal processes, constraints and risk aversion that shape employer behavior. Prior to co-founding Opportunity@Work, Byron served for two years in the White House as Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, where his policy portfolio included job creation and labor markets, skills and workforce policies, innovation, investment, infrastructure, transportation and goods movement. Byron also contributed over 20 years at McKinsey, working primarily in the fields of technology and communications, information and media, services-based businesses, education, economic development and innovation. 

“In 2018, I was delighted to speak at the graduation of Merit America’s first cohort of scholars, whose motivation, commitment and achievement inspired me. Since then, Merit America has changed the career trajectories of nearly 2,000 working learners who are STARs: skilled through alternative routes, rather than bachelor’s degrees. While these STARs enter with valuable skills they’ve already gained in their prior jobs, Merit America’s “special sauce” of cohort-based online learning and superb coaching offers fast, flexible, and credentialed pathways to family-sustaining careers, with nearly $19,000 wage gains on average. I’m so impressed by what Merit America’s team has accomplished and learned, and I’m excited to join its Board of Directors as we work to scale up the impact of this successful model.”
Byron Auguste

NAOMI BAGDONAS

Naomi Bagdonas is an executive advisor, Lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and leading expert in the intersection of humor and business. She facilitates interactive sessions for the boards and leadership teams of Fortune 100 companies and nonprofits. Versed in behavioral science and human perceptions, Naoimi advises executives and celebrities on topics ranging from leadership presence to media appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Today Show, to political campaign strategies and creative marketing assets.

Naomi’s work on the power of humor has been widely featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Forbes, on Good Morning America and TED, and her executive coaching was featured in Sports Illustrated. Her pioneering research on team chemistry was the cover story of the Harvard Business Review and led to Naomi co-producing a music video on the topic.

At Stanford, she teaches courses including Humor: Serious Business focused on how to harness humor as a secret weapon in business and life, Rethinking Purpose, focused on how to create positive, meaningful, and lasting impact in the world, and A New Type of Leader, focused on how leaders can bridge the trust gap and unlock radical agility in the face of change. Naomi is also the national bestselling co-author of Humor, Seriously.

“I’m thrilled to join the board of Merit America, a wildly inspiring team of change makers on an inspired mission: to close the opportunity gap at scale. Most innovative and impactful organization I’ve seen in years, and I couldn’t be more honored to be on this journey with them.”
Naomi Bagdonas

AHMMAD BROWN

With academic training in sociology and a professional career as an operator and consultant, Ahmmad Brown has developed a deep working knowledge and command of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) best practices. Ahmmad’s accomplishments in the DEI space include leading a team of senior administrators and faculty at a private college of performing arts to develop a sociocultural pre-orientation program for Black students, the development and analysis of a novel survey distributed to roughly 2,500 employees of a large municipality to assess workplace culture and the efficacy of recruitment, hiring, advancement and retention policies from a DEI perspective, serving as the primary author of an internal document for The Bridgespan Group to integrate racial equity into its strategy work and case team processes and serving as the Diversity Recruitment Director at Williams College, where he defined institutional priorities with the College’s senior administration and managed three staff to lead institutional efforts for the recruitment of first-generation, low-income and student of color populations.

In addition to leading EBDI and serving as a senior advisor to nationally-recognized DEI consultancy Working IDEAL, Ahmmad is an Assistant Professor of Instruction at the Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy where he leads the Leading Equity and Inclusion in Organizations (LEIO) certificate program in the Masters of Science in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) program.

Merit addresses inequality in the ability to access the training necessary to succeed in many contemporary workplaces. It’s a privilege to support the Merit Team in maximizing its impact on the students and communities it serves.”
Ahmmad Brown

YIN LU

Yin is a partner at MCJ collective, an entrepreneurial commons that enables the flow of information, ideas, and capital necessary to advance collaboration and solutions to make a dent in the climate crisis. Yin previously worked on DEI efforts at Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation and was General Manager of Khan Academy’s international business, where she and her team scaled Khan Academy’s content into 30 languages and launched offices in Mexico, Brazil, Peru and India. Yin also built up the first community, international and marketing teams at Coursera. She began her tech career at Google and Microsoft. Outside of work, Yin is a mother, mountain biker, singer and skier. 

“Growing up in an immigrant household, I had parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet. They lacked upward economic mobility paths. Merit America is offering these paths to families like mine and so many others to have a shot at better educational & ultimately, financial outcomes. I’m thrilled to support the Merit team on this journey.”
Yin Lu