Our Leadership
Ascend Educational Fund is lead by a diverse group of professionals who serve on the Board of Directors and Advisory Council.

Our Board of Directors

Julissa Arce, Chairman of the Board, is originally from Mexico, and immigrated to San Antonio Texas at the age of eleven. She is a national speaker, writer and advocate for immigrant rights and education.  She is the author of “My (Underground) American Dream and “Entre Las Sombras del Sueño Americano”  Previously, she was the Director of Development at Define American, a media organization that uses the power of story to change culture around immigration, citizenship and identity in America.  Prior to joining Define American, she spent nearly ten years on Wall Street as a vice-president at Goldman Sachs and a Director at Merrill Lynch focused on derivative structuring, marketing and product development.  Julissa has served on the board of the Esperanza Educational fund, and is a board member of the National Immigration Law Center and CollegeSpring.  She loves crossfit, traveling, her two cats, Nikko and Pancho and her dog Papa Chief. Julissa attended the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin where she graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Finance.

Celeste Everett Castaneda, Secretary of the Board, grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, and her grandparents immigrated from Mexico. Celeste is currently a Vice President at Goldman Sachs in Corporate Treasury, where she leads budget planning across the firm’s balance sheet, funding, and capital allocations, in addition to management and execution of the share repurchase and dividend programs as part of capital planning. She previously focused on Asset Liability Management and Funds Transfer Pricing in Corporate Treasury, and also worked in Global Investment Research, covering High Yield Gaming Lodging, & Leisure and Consumer Products and Apparel companies. Celeste attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with both a Master in Professional Accounting and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees.

Diana Melencio, Fundraising & Gala Chair, is a venture investor for WISE Ventures, a New York based venture fund focused on early and growth stage technology companies across sports, media, entertainment, real estate, and adjacent industries. Prior to that, she co-founded two retail technology companies and lent her expertise as an advisor to several venture backed consumer brands and early stage start-ups. Diana began her career in finance, spending nearly 9 years at reputable firms including Cramer Rosenthal McGlynn, Morgan Keegan and Robertson Stephens where she focused on investing and consulting on Retail and Consumer companies. She is passionate about technology and food. Diana attended San Francisco State University, College of Business, where she graduated with honors with a degree in Corporate Finance and was an NCAA Student Athlete for her involvement in Track & Field.

Erika Zamora, Treasurer of the Board, is originally from Mexico, and immigrated to Dallas, Texas at the age of 8. She is an Assurance Associate in the Asset Management practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). At PwC, Erika actively participates in several initiatives including promoting PwC diversity programs, minority recruitment and charitable projects. Erika is a graduate of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) where she earned her M.P.A and B.B.A in Accounting. While at UT, Erika was an active leader and held many leadership roles within various organizations including ALPFA, the largest Latino association for business professionals and students, and continues to be a member of the ALPFA New York chapter.

Robert J. Stenz, Technology Director, has grown up and lived throughout the New York City area his entire life.  He is a Vice President in the Technology, Media and Telecommunications group at Lazard and a recent MBA graduate from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Prior to Booth, Rob was a Business Planning & Operations Manager at Flurry (acquired by Yahoo!) specializing in mobile applications and monetization. Rob attended Cornell University where he graduated with a degree in Operations Research & Information Engineering.

Daniel M. Kokini, Mentorship Chair, is a Managing Director in the Corporate Finance & Restructuring practice at FTI Consulting where he advises senior lenders and companies in complex Chapter 11 and out-of-court work-out situations. Daniel also serves on the Board of Directors of California Pizza Kitchen. Previously, Daniel held positions in investment banking with Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc., and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Daniel attended the Smeal College of Business at the Pennsylvania State University where he earned a degree in Finance, Cum Laude, and was a recipient of the Ralph H. Wherry Smeal Student Service Award.

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill, Co-Chair, Scholarship Committee, was born in London, grew up in New York City (ages 6-16) and finished high school in Ghana, where his family is from. Nii Ato currently runs his own business, Avenir Careers, as the founder/Head Career Coach helping mid-career professionals successfully navigate their job search processes. Prior to that, he spent 5+ years at Ivy Exec where he served as Sr. Career Advisor, providing career guidance to mid to senior-level executives. He then transitioned into a Sr. Content Manager role, in which he developed and produced content for the company’s career advice blog, online classes portal, and his CEO’s Forbes.com column. Nii Ato earned a BA in Psychology from Hamilton College and MA & Ed.M. degrees in Counseling Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Advisory Council

The Advisory Council for the Ascend Educational Fund consists of thoughtful leaders who are instrumental in ensuring the longevity of our organization by providing advice and guidance to the Board of Directors. The commitment of the Advisory Council is to raise a minimum of $2,500 annually.

The Advisory Council is also encouraged to:

1. Advise the Board of Directors on the fundraising strategy and contribute their expertise and thinking to the current and future work of Ascend Educational Fund

2. Attend two Board of Directors meetings per year (including the Annual Report meeting held in February)

We recognize our Advisory Council by:

1. Naming a scholarship in their honor (or name of their choice)

2. Inviting them to an exclusive event once per year

3. Acting on their advice and guidance

Our Current AEF Advisory Council Members:

Adrienne Amin – Adrienne is an Advisor to and a co-Founder of the Ascend Educational Fund. Professionally, she is a Partner and head of Marketing and Investor Relations at The WindAcre Partnership. She has previously managed Strategy and Business Development at a startup investment firm, and she began her career at Goldman Sachs in New York City. Adrienne is deeply passionate about supporting education initiatives and is currently the Chairwoman of the Houston Classical School Board. Adrienne received a B.B.A. with honors from the University of Texas at Austin.

Danaus Chang – Danaus is the Senior Director for AnswerLab, a leading user experience research consultancy with offices in San Francisco and New York and Fortune 500 clients across the U.S. Danaus leads AnswerLab’s New York office, where he brings more than a dozen years of consulting experience. AnswerLab’s clients include PayPal, Genentech, FedEx, Amazon.com, Facebook, Walmart, Google, Citi, and Honda. In addition to his experience at AnswerLab, Danaus has led various external and internal consulting projects at Deloitte, a top global consulting firm, Pulte and Lennar Homes, national real estate developer/home builders. Danaus graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Finance. He is an avid traveler of small towns and loves local food.

Arthur Li – Arthur currently serves as Head of Finance for Altamarea Group, a highly respected and industry recognized events and hospitality group that owns and operates restaurants in New York and New Jersey (including Marea, Ai Fiori, Osteria Morini, Nicoletta and Due Mari). Prior to joining Altamarea Group in January 2011, Arthur worked as an associate at Wasserstein & Co., a middle-market private equity firm, and as an analyst in the Consumer Retail Investment Banking group at J.P. Morgan. Arthur graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with Masters of Professional Accounting (MPA), Business Honors and Plan II Honors degrees. Arthur enjoys running and CrossFit and is currently training for his fourth New York City Marathon with Fred’s Team, which is affiliated with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

If you are interested in joining our Advisory Board, please contact us at info@ascendfundny.org