Meet our team

We envision a state where all residents are educationally equipped and equitably resourced to obtain careers that will financially sustain their overall well-being. 

Watch our team in action at the official launch event below.

Core team

Danielle North

Chief Executive Officer & Partner

Danielle North is the Chief Executive Officer of Degree Forward and Partner of Diploma Equity Project. North is a wife, mother of three, long-distance runner, author and serial entrepreneur. North is a first-generation college graduate and holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Sociology from Central Michigan University. In 2008, North became a community developer with Warren-Conner Development Coalition in Detroit to make a lasting impact in her hometown. She became a charter school authorizer as the Deputy Director of Charter Schools at Detroit Public Schools in 2011. North launched her education consulting firm – EdReform Partners – in 2015 serving authorizers, schools and nonprofits across Michigan.

As a serial entrepreneur, North has successfully founded several initiatives: Kidz Kingdom, Detroit’s first indoor playground, which is also a licensed child care center; Detroit Women’s Leadership Network, which has grown to nearly 10,000 members on its Facebook platform; and Biz Kidz – to enhance her commitment to mentoring future entrepreneurs. She is a proud 2012 alumni of the prestigious German Marshall Memorial Fellowship. In 2019, she became a Detroit Free Press, Shining Light Mayor Dave Bing Future Leader Awardee. In 2021, North was awarded the honor and distinction of Crain's Detroit Business 40 under 40.

Ebony Jennings

Associate Director of Enrollment

A lifelong Michigander, Ebony Jennings holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Michigan State University and has built her career by offering creative, strategic marketing and communications solutions to nonprofits and community-driven organizations. Jennings is passionate about the empowerment of underserved and historically excluded communities. Because of that passion, she has served on various DEI and advocacy teams throughout her career, with a focus on identifying advancement pathways and professional development opportunities for people of color.

Jennings carries with her an enthusiasm for arts, crafts, and design. With childlike curiosity, she regularly seeks out ways to continue learning and growing, often finding her next lesson right in her hometown, Detroit. Jennings is a 2015 BUILD Institute graduate and in 2019, she completed Michigan Women Forward’s “Woman Up and Grow” Entrepreneurship Program. She is the owner of Alvin & Dianne Design Studio, and in 2020, some of her recent artworks were featured in exhibits at Michigan State University's Kresge Arts Center.
Jennings' has a genuine heart for encouraging others to boldly pursue their goals and is committed to furthering the mission of Degree Forward.

Dr. Raylynn Henry

Director of Academic Success

Dr. Henry is an experienced Student-Centered Educational Leader with a demonstrated history of working in K-12 schools, non-profit organizations, out-of-school time sectors and various colleges. She has been in the Educational Field for 15+ years and has worked for well known organizations such as Focus: HOPE, Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP), Wayne County Community College and Cornerstone Schools.

Dr. Henry has a strong educational background with an earned Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational & Educational Leadership from Oakland University. The knowledge and skills gained in the doctoral program enhanced the academic training she received earning her Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree (also from Oakland University), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and Bachelor of Science in Accounting degrees from Wayne State University.

Dr. Henry is a hardworking and dedicated professional that strives to produce excellence driven outcomes. She has been recognized for her leadership skills, organizational skills, project management abilities and overall character.Dr. Henry states that she is a firm believer in active learning; teaching is not about lecturing to students, it’s about presenting material to students in a way that they can apply the information in the real world. She incorporates tactics that make learning fun, but at the same time make sure each student grasps the material. Being a role model, positive influence and molding students into successful individuals, is her desire.

Dr. Naimah Wade

Director of Teacher Pathways

A lifelong Michigander, Ebony Jennings holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Michigan State University and has built her career by offering creative, strategic marketing and communications solutions to nonprofits and community-driven organizations. Jennings is passionate about the empowerment of underserved and historically excluded communities. Because of that passion, she has served on various DEI and advocacy teams throughout her career, with a focus on identifying advancement pathways and professional development opportunities for people of color.

Jennings carries with her an enthusiasm for arts, crafts, and design. With childlike curiosity, she regularly seeks out ways to continue learning and growing, often finding her next lesson right in her hometown, Detroit. Jennings is a 2015 BUILD Institute graduate and in 2019, she completed Michigan Women Forward’s “Woman Up and Grow” Entrepreneurship Program. She is the owner of Alvin & Dianne Design Studio, and in 2020, some of her recent artworks were featured in exhibits at Michigan State University's Kresge Arts Center.
Jennings' has a genuine heart for encouraging others to boldly pursue their goals and is committed to furthering the mission of Degree Forward.

Laura Polega

Huron County Program Director

A lifelong Michigander, Ebony Jennings holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Michigan State University and has built her career by offering creative, strategic marketing and communications solutions to nonprofits and community-driven organizations. Jennings is passionate about the empowerment of underserved and historically excluded communities. Because of that passion, she has served on various DEI and advocacy teams throughout her career, with a focus on identifying advancement pathways and professional development opportunities for people of color.

Jennings carries with her an enthusiasm for arts, crafts, and design. With childlike curiosity, she regularly seeks out ways to continue learning and growing, often finding her next lesson right in her hometown, Detroit. Jennings is a 2015 BUILD Institute graduate and in 2019, she completed Michigan Women Forward’s “Woman Up and Grow” Entrepreneurship Program. She is the owner of Alvin & Dianne Design Studio, and in 2020, some of her recent artworks were featured in exhibits at Michigan State University's Kresge Arts Center.
Jennings' has a genuine heart for encouraging others to boldly pursue their goals and is committed to furthering the mission of Degree Forward.

Talisha Brown

Student Support Specialist

Talisha Brown is the the first graduate of the Degree Forward program – earning her bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management in October of 2022. Prior to earning her BA with Southern New Hampshire University, Talisha had already earned an Associate’s degree in science from Wayne County Community College District. Additionally, she received her nursing license from Detroit Business Institute.

Talisha most recently worked as a school nurse for Detroit Public Schools Community District. Her career in nursing has spanned across serving in various industries including, education, corrections, mental health and clinics. Talisha is a lifelong learner and prides herself in taking on challenging opportunities. She set records with her accelerated persistence in our program by completing a total of 50 competencies in one term, with only 10. competencies remaining in the subsequent term – her coursework was completed within the first week of her second term. Talisha is the perfect example of the level of commitment, hard work, and rigor it takes to succeed in this program. In her role as Student Support Specialist, she coaches students to reach their goals.

Nkosi Mason

Academic Coach

Nkosi recently started as an academic coach for Degree Forward. Before he began his DF journey, he was a new and used car salesperson with LaFontaine Automotive Group for nearly 2 years. He has 15 years experience in retail and sales management. Through the years, Nkosi had the pleasure of pursuing post-secondary education in the field of music education. Though he was unable to complete his B.A. in Music Education, through Degree Forward he has the opportunity to return to learn and pursue education again.

Some of his hobbies include traveling and performing music. He is a jazz musician. He specializes in woodwind instruments (namely saxophone) though he plays some brass instruments, guitar, bass and piano. He enjoys performing in both private and professional settings.

What he hopes to gain from his journey at Degree Forward is an opportunity to reach people and help them pursue their dreams. With his educational background, he has had experience working with students of variable walks of life. From those experiences and more, it became his passion to help shine the light on people who have a desire to learn and pursue their goals.

Megan Richards

Admin to the CEO

Nkosi recently started as an academic coach for Degree Forward. Before he began his DF journey, he was a new and used car salesperson with LaFontaine Automotive Group for nearly 2 years. He has 15 years experience in retail and sales management. Through the years, Nkosi had the pleasure of pursuing post-secondary education in the field of music education. Though he was unable to complete his B.A. in Music Education, through Degree Forward he has the opportunity to return to learn and pursue education again.

Some of his hobbies include traveling and performing music. He is a jazz musician. He specializes in woodwind instruments (namely saxophone) though he plays some brass instruments, guitar, bass and piano. He enjoys performing in both private and professional settings.

What he hopes to gain from his journey at Degree Forward is an opportunity to reach people and help them pursue their dreams. With his educational background, he has had experience working with students of variable walks of life. From those experiences and more, it became his passion to help shine the light on people who have a desire to learn and pursue their goals.

Jauleesa Taylor

Coaching Assistant

Nkosi recently started as an academic coach for Degree Forward. Before he began his DF journey, he was a new and used car salesperson with LaFontaine Automotive Group for nearly 2 years. He has 15 years experience in retail and sales management. Through the years, Nkosi had the pleasure of pursuing post-secondary education in the field of music education. Though he was unable to complete his B.A. in Music Education, through Degree Forward he has the opportunity to return to learn and pursue education again.

Some of his hobbies include traveling and performing music. He is a jazz musician. He specializes in woodwind instruments (namely saxophone) though he plays some brass instruments, guitar, bass and piano. He enjoys performing in both private and professional settings.

What he hopes to gain from his journey at Degree Forward is an opportunity to reach people and help them pursue their dreams. With his educational background, he has had experience working with students of variable walks of life. From those experiences and more, it became his passion to help shine the light on people who have a desire to learn and pursue their goals.

Partners

Doug Ross

Partner


Melissa Hamann

Partner

Melissa Hamann serves as Partner and Executive Director of Diploma Equity Project. Hamann has nearly twenty years of experience working in education reform and school management.  Most recently, Melissa served as the Co-Founder, President and CEO of Promise Schools, a nonprofit school management company launched in 2013 which operates schools in and around Detroit to prepare students for success in college and beyond. Prior to launching Promise Schools, Melissa served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Detroit Public Schools Emergency Managers Robert Bobb and Roy Roberts from 2009-2013. Before returning home to metro Detroit in 2009, Melissa led education reform initiatives through her roles with the New York City Department of Education, Boston Public Schools, and Chicago Public Schools.

Melissa began her career as a management consultant for Bain & Company in Chicago. She then worked as a consultant for the Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago where she supported strategic initiatives in community development, public housing, public parks, and education, and found her life’s passion to support public education reform. Melissa has an MBA from the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, and a BBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Melissa is also a graduate of the Broad Residency in Urban Education, and a proud mom to her four-year-old son Ben.