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Our Team

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Rachel Barra

Foundational Community Assistance Associate

Rachel is the Foundational Community Assistance Associate at RISI providing support to both the Broadband and Rural Innovation Initiative consulting teams as they help rural communities expand access to broadband internet and develop digital tech economies.

During college, Rachel worked as a project manager at an incubator/accelerator called Invent@NMU helping community members, faculty, staff, and students launch their low-tech, physical product ideas. After graduating she joined the team at Innovate Marquette SmartZone, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering awareness of tech-based entrepreneurship and supporting its growth in the Marquette community. In partnership with coworkers and community advocates, Rachel was part of a team in Marquette that received technical assistance from RISI’s Rural Innovation Initiative team in early 2020. She is excited to use this experience to help other rural communities navigate the process of growing their own digital tech economies.

Rachel grew up in a rural community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and received a B.S. in Entrepreneurship from Northern Michigan University.


Chen Chen

Data Analyst

Chen Chen is a data expert who applies data analytics to enhance our internal knowledge on rural economies and produces tools to share data-driven insights with community partners. He also owns multiple data visualization products which facilitate external community outreach.

Prior to joining the team, he worked at the International Council on Clean Transportation, an environmental think tank in Washington, D.C., focusing on estimating ship emissions and their related impacts to both climate and human health. He has led multiple projects to fight against the emerging climate and air pollution issues globally, and has extensive experience working with geospatial data and web map development. Chen holds a B.S. with honors in Marine Science and Chemistry from the University of Miami, and an M.S. in Environmental Science from Emory University. He currently resides in rural New Hampshire.

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Mike Chirico

Americorps VISTA - Corporate Partnerships Manager

Mike is a recent graduate and New England native now serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Springfield, Vermont, supporting the Black River Innovation Campus’s efforts to connect economically disadvantaged rural job seekers with high-tech careers.

Mike previously interned at the Business Development and Strategic Initiatives Department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he conducted health services research. He has also worked as an instructor for an introductory Python programming course focused on generating excitement about computer science in elementary and middle school students. For several years, Mike has been a lead volunteer for Calling All Crows, a Boston-based non-profit that has musicians and fans come together to work for social change. Mike holds a B.A. in Computer Science and Chinese from Middlebury College.


Rebekah Collinsworth

Communications Director

Rebekah Collinsworth is a strategic communicator and storyteller committed to shifting the narrative about rural America and broadening the conversation about what’s possible in small towns and communities across the country.

Before joining the team, Rebekah was the managing director of a strategic growth marketing firm that serves underrepresented founders and rural innovators. In previous roles she has served nonprofit organizations and startups to expand their impact and highlight their work. Rebekah also has worked in the publishing world, where she helped people across the country preserve and share their histories, working with authors and historians to champion the unique experiences and heritage found in every community, from mushroom farming to world fairs.

Rebekah grew up in rural New Hampshire and holds a B.A. in English from the University of New Hampshire, where she also studied journalism and linguistics.


Austin Danforth

Communications Specialist

Austin Danforth is a seasoned storyteller, photographer, and editor who honed his skills over more than a decade as an award-winning journalist.

Prior to joining the team, Austin spent eight years on the staff of the Burlington Free Press. His work there spanned multiple beats and included longform narratives, features, analysis and multimedia content, twice earning him the title of Vermont’s sportswriter of the year from the National Sports Media Association. Austin has also been a writer and photographer for the Bennington Banner, the Alexandria (Va.) Times and Vermont Business Magazine.

Austin holds a B.A. in history from the University of Vermont, where he also ran the student newspaper. A native of the Green Mountain State, he grew up in the small but historic town of Hubbardton, a short walk from the site of the only Revolutionary War battle fought on Vermont soil. He now lives in White River Junction.

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Kate Duffy

Development Director

Kate engages individuals, foundations, and corporations to build and leverage philanthropic support for RISI's mission. An experienced resource and relationship development leader, Kate has raised millions of dollars to support big ideas and the organizations that advance them.

She came to the team from a senior development role at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she led fundraising efforts for the school’s intellectual property and health law centers. With a career spanning the arts, politics, and education, Kate brings broad experience working with donors to achieve their philanthropic goals, as well as a knack for uniting diverse public and private partners around a common mission.

Originally from a small town in western Massachusetts, Kate spent more than a decade in Minneapolis before returning to New England. She holds a B.A. in English from Haverford College and a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Minnesota.

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Matt Dunne

Founder and Executive Director

Matt is the founder and executive director of Rural Innovation Strategies, which he launched in 2017 to reverse the nation’s growing rural opportunity gap and create economic prosperity for small town residents across the country.

Prior to founding RISI, Matt began his career by serving 11 years in the Vermont House and Senate, enacting the state’s first broadband grants, brownfields revitalization funding, and downtown redevelopment program. He helped grow a Vermont-based software company to over 100 people and was Associate Director of the Rockefeller Center on Public Policy at Dartmouth College.

In 1999, Matt was appointed director of AmeriCorps*VISTA under President Clinton, where he led PowerUp — one of the first national efforts to bridge the digital divide — and launched an Entrepreneur Corps to focus on micro-finance in high-need communities.

In 2007, he started Google’s Community Affairs division out of a former bread factory in White River Junction, Vermont, where he led all local US philanthropy and engagement, including the Google Fiber rollout and orchestrating educational and development initiatives in Google’s data center communities across rural America. Matt has also held an appointment at the MIT Media Lab.

Matt holds a B.A. from Brown University, and is a lifelong Vermonter who lives on the 100 acre farm where he was raised.


May Erouart

Community Manager

May helps guide communities participating in RISI's Rural Innovation Initiative through the process of developing strategy for thriving digital economic ecosystems.

Prior to joining RISI, May led school partnerships and professional development trainings around trauma sensitivity across the New York City public school system. She has also worked in systems transformation and service design efforts in healthcare settings.

May holds a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University with a focus on health promotion and multi-level intervention design. She lives in Bethel, Vermont.

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Nora Foote

Community Manager — Rural Innovation Initiative

Nora works directly with communities to help them develop strategies for building thriving digital economy ecosystems. She’s a rural community enthusiast, and loves getting to discover new and diverse communities across the country.

She comes to her role as Community Manager after having spent three years supporting RISI’s operations teams. Before joining RISI, she worked on various local and statewide campaigns, at an environmental planning and consulting firm in the Pacific Northwest, and in the communications department at a political action committee. She also served one year as a City Year Boston Corps Member. A native of Hartland, Nora lives in Windsor, Vermont and holds a B.A. from Lewis & Clark College.

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Thomas Franco

Broadband Assistant

Thomas is an experienced public policy professional working at the intersection of economic development, emerging technology, and equity-focused social policy.

A graduate of Case Western Reserve University, Thomas holds a B.A. in Cognitive Science. He completed postgraduate studies at Loyola Marymount University as a 2017 Teach for America corps member, and he currently works on data, research, and technology projects at the Virginia Department of Education. In March 2021, Thomas was elected as one of the youngest, the first openly gay, and the second BIPOC to serve on the Rutland City Board of Aldermen in Vermont. He was later appointed to represent his city’s interests with the Otter Creek Communications Union District (OCCUD).

Thomas is also a Master in Public Policy student at Harvard Kennedy School, where he serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, the school’s oldest student-run journal. His studies focus on the ethical use of artificial intelligence and big data, and his views have been published domestically and internationally.

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Rachael Grainger

Americorps VISTA -- Recruitment and Cohort Development Coordinator

Rachael is a California native now serving as a AmeriCorps VISTA member in Springfield, Vermont, supporting economically disadvantaged rural residents as they connect to the future of work.

Prior to her AmeriCorps VISTA service, Rachael served as a Peace Corps volunteer (2018-2020) in Ukraine, where she organized trainings for teachers, taught English lessons, organized youth camps, helped support education reform, and was a mentor in the Technovation Girls Challenge 2020.

Rachael currently lives in Springfield, Vermont and holds a B.A. from UC Santa Barbara.

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John Hall

Software Developer

John has been coding professionally and personally for over a decade. Although he has specialized in web mapping and visualization for most of that time, his skills range from scripting simple utilities to crafting fullstack applications to spec.

Originally from Santa Monica on the California coast, John has lived in both large cities and small towns throughout his life, fostering a unique perspective on urban and rural social environments. He earned his B.S. in information technology from Western Governors University, settling on the IT field after many years of studying different disciplines, including music theory and cognitive psychology.


Rebecca Huenink

Director of Capacity

Rebecca helps communities build the capacity they need to make their visions a reality. She joined the team after a successful career as a strategy and development consultant for institutions, researchers, and communities across the country.

She has a deep background in program design and grantseeking, including many years of experience teaching grantseekers how to approach and manage the funding process — from idea to impact. Before she was a consultant, Rebecca was a nonprofit manager, working on the ground with rural community development organizations. Rebecca holds a B.A. from Brown University. She grew up on a small farm in southern West Virginia, and she now lives in a small village in southern Vermont.

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Veronique Husser

Finance Manager

Veronique manages the finances, payroll, and accounting for the RISI teams and strives for her work to empower all team members to become positive contributors to the organizational mission.

She has years of experience in financial management and reporting with organizations from small start-ups to multinational corporations. Prior to joining the team, she spent almost two decades as a translation consultant and corporate accountant. She is fluent in French and German.

Veronique lives on her beloved farm in Springfield, Vermont, with her husband, daughter, and many animals. She holds a university degree in Economics from Université Louis Pasteur in her native France.


Myles Kamisher-Koch

Broadband Analyst

As a member of RISI's broadband team, Myles actively engages with public and private stakeholders in the development of broadband solutions to serve rural communities across the country.

Prior to joining RISI, he worked as a project manager in the design and construction industry, and has a professional background in worlds food, agriculture, and sustainability. Myles holds a B.A. from Middlebury College and is based in Hardwick, Vermont.


Alex Kelley

Senior Broadband Consultant

Alex leads RISI's efforts to help communities plan new fiber networks by building feasibility models, creating business plans with capital stacks that take advantage of state and federal subsidies, and devising partnership structures that align the incentives of public and private entities.

Previously at RISI, he has worked on mapping and data consulting projects as well as “future of work” and workforce development activities. Alex’s career before joining RISI was split between professional services in Silicon Valley and rural organizing and political strategy. He served as a Project Manager and then Creative Manager at the global branding firm Catchword, based in Oakland, California, where he worked with Fortune 500 companies in the food and beverage, e-commerce, and automotive sectors, among others.

Alex has also served as senior staff in various capacities on four political campaigns in New England and upstate New York. Alex holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University.

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Dolley MacDermot

Research Associate

As a Research Associate, Dolley supports web development, mapping and data visualization efforts, along with general IT infrastructure. Dolley has years of experience working with web based technologies and social impact organizations.

Before joining the team, Dolley worked on various projects with Singularity University, an organization dedicated to anticipating how AI and machine learning will shape our lives. Previously, she provided software consulting support and customer service management for social impact oriented organizations.

Dolley holds a B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. She was also a licensed EMT for nine-plus years operating in both Connecticut and New Hampshire.


Catie Michael

Operations Assistant

Catie is a member of the Operations team, helping with scheduling, development, and organization. She has a background in political organizing and policy work, including most recently working as the field director for a statewide gubernatorial campaign.

She holds a B.A. from the University of Vermont with focuses in Latin and political science. She grew up in Vermont and currently resides there today.

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Zack Nolan

Finance and Operations Specialist

Zack leads special projects related to finance, operations and organizational strategy. Zack’s prior experience spans both the nonprofit and private sectors. Most recently, Zack worked at EY-Parthenon as a strategy consultant.

While based in New York, Zack primarily led growth strategy and commercial due-diligence projects in EY-Parthenon’s technology practice. Previously, Zack was a teaching fellow at African Leadership Academy (ALA), a two-year, pre-university program for aspiring leaders from across Africa. After teaching at ALA’s campus in Johannesburg, South Africa, Zack transitioned to African Leadership Foundation, ALA’s sister organization based in San Francisco, to manage support programs for graduates of ALA studying at U.S. universities.

Zack has a B.A. in Economics and International Studies from Northwestern University and an MBA from Yale School of Management. Zack lives in rural New Hampshire.


Molly Pyle

Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development Lead

Molly supports rural communities as they develop and grow strong entrepreneurial ecosystems, creating scalable tech startups in rural America. Prior to joining RISI, she worked with social impact startups at MIT Solve, worked with international women leaders in STEM and entrepreneurship with the State Department, led the Incubator and Accelerator programming at Singularity University.

She also co-created and led Singularity’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and contributed to the design and execution of International Summits for executive and startup audiences of 2,000-plus attendees per event across 15 countries.

Molly holds an M.S. In Social Work from Columbia University focusing on Social Enterprise Administration, International Social Welfare, and Services to Immigrants and Refugees, along with B.S. degrees in Social Work and International Affairs from Florida State University. She grew up in the historic small town of Saint Augustine, Florida.

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Matt Rogers

Data Engineer

Matt is a Data Engineer who develops tools and infrastructure to make high-quality data available across the organization. His career has centered on helping companies of all sizes leverage open-source tools and custom technical solutions to solve business problems.

A lifelong resident of rural New England, Matt is passionate about rural living and small town issues. He holds a B.A. degree in Sociology from Saint Michael’s College and an M.A. degree in Sociology from the University of Connecticut.


Chris Rowe

Geospatial Products Manager

Chris leads the organization’s mapping and data analytics team projects, provides strategy and support to digital tools and websites across the organization, and manages computing infrastructure. He has worked as a product owner, project manager, and digital strategist for over 10 years with a focus on building web-based tools.

In that time, he has worked with a wide range of organizations from small nonprofits to Fortune 50 companies on distributed teams spanning six continents. Collecting, analyzing, and using data have been core to his work throughout the career, including GIS mapping, IoT data logging, server monitoring, and web analytics. Chris is a certified Scrum Product Owner with experience managing agile teams, process improvement, and continuous integration.

Chris holds a B.A. from Hampshire College and an M.Ed. in Educational Technology from University of Texas at Brownsville, with a year at University of Bergen (UiB) in System Dynamics. Chris lives in rural Vermont.

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Sydney Stearns

Rural Innovation Initiative Assistant

Sydney grew up in Norwich, Vermont. She loved growing up in a small community and is passionate about learning more about how they work and ways in which they can develop. Sydney is a junior pursuing a B.A. in economics at Wellesley College where she is also involved in environmental activism and is the Organizations Chair on college government.

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Mike Tavilla

Regional Economic Data Specialist

Mike works to provide advisory and strategy consulting services to rural communities with data-driven, fact-based research and analysis, and overall program support. Mike joins the team with more than 10 years of professional experience in regional economic development and strategy with prior roles in academia, management consulting, Fortune 500, and in the public sector.

Most recently, Mike was the lead research associate for Professor Michael Porter at the Institute for Strategy & Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, where he supported the Institute’s work in national and global economic development projects in the US, EU, Israel, Peru, and Guyana. Mike has also worked as a Senior Consulting Analyst in McKinsey & Company’s Public & Social Sector Practice serving local, state, and federal clients to provide guidance on regional assets and opportunities to drive long-term growth strategy and implementation processes.

In addition, Mike has experience in corporate site location and global planning in the EU and Asia-Pacific in high-tech with Oracle Corporation. Mike holds a B.A. from The George Washington University in Economics and Political Science and did graduate-level study and research in US policy and government at American University.


Leah Taylor

Manager, Rural Innovation Initiative

Leah leads RISI's Rural Innovation Initiative, providing technical assistance for rural communities to build place-based digital economy ecosystem strategies and obtain the funding and resources needed to create real impact.

Leah’s career has been dedicated to community development through a variety of economic and social change projects with communities across the United States and Canada. As Senior Associate for I DO BUSINESS. Inc., Leah managed the development and implementation of Indigenous youth entrepreneurship programs with First Nations across Canada, as well as supporting Indigenous and far north businesses in developing their capacity to bid on government and corporate procurement opportunities. Her most recent role was with America’s Warrior Partnership, managing a nationwide, community-based veteran suicide study in collaboration with 14 U.S. communities.

Leah grew up on a small farm in rural Canada and immigrated to the United States in 2010, where she now lives in rural Vermont. She has a B.A. in International Development Studies from York University and an M.A. in Globalization Studies from McMaster University.

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Alex Tenenbaum

Director, Technology and Data Analytics

Alex is a data scientist whose career has focused on renewable energy and entrepreneurship. He provides guidance to enhance data utilization, collaborates with critical stakeholders to operationalize data, and oversees the development and implementation of data-driven solutions to meet strategic objectives of the organization and its partners.

Before joining the team, Alex served as a Senior Analyst for a variety of energy and environmental clients. His prior roles include co-founding a technology start-up that created, designed, and developed low-energy environmental sensors for everyday use, and serving as a quantitative analyst for The Brattle Group, where he contributed to software and economic analyses that informed integral energy decisions across the country.

Alex holds a B.A. from Connecticut College and spent two years at the Yale School of Management and School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Born and raised in rural Vermont, he currently lives in the Green Mountain State with his wife and two dogs.


Rose Vieland

Entrepreneurship Programs Specialist

Rose designs and implements programs and content to instigate rural tech startup creation and scale. Prior to joining RISI, Rose supported translation of federally-funded science and engineering research to commercialization through entrepreneurship accelerator programs. Rose has produced policy briefs on health and climate innovation policy for parliamentary bodies, and performed consultations with underserved communities to secure significant community development grants.

Rose has a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Edinburgh focused on Carbon Innovation and Climate Change Policy. She also holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Economics and Social History from the University of Edinburgh, concluding with a dissertation on the Historical Economics of the Global Pharmaceutical Industry. Rose lives in the town of Leverett, Massachusetts.


Jacob Wildfire

Summer Associate

Jacob is a creative problem solver with more than seven years of experience in project management; strategy development; diversity, equity, and inclusion; research, data analysis, and writing; policy analysis; curriculum development, training, and facilitation; and team-building. At RISI, he is splitting his time between the Broadband team and the Rural Innovation Initiative.

Jacob is a former Strategy Consultant in Deloitte’s Government and Public Services practice in Washington, D.C. He is also an alumnus of the Teach for America program, having served in Eastern Kentucky as a sixth- and ninth-grade English teacher. Jacob graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in International Studies and Spanish. In September 2021, he will begin a Master of Public Policy program at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz School.