Xperitas Non-profit Board of Directors

Meet our Board of Directors

Supporting Non-profit Language and Community Immersion

Meet The Team
Leah Brink
Board Secretary

Leah joined the Xperitas board in 2017 and currently works at the U of M as a Director in the Global Opportunities (GO) Minnesota program. The Xperitas mission, transforming lives through shared global experience and intercultural learning resonates deeply with Leah. Her first time out of the country was a summer study abroad to Mexico when she was 16 and it changed the trajectory of her life and led to her love for, and career in, international education. Leah went on to earn a BA in International Studies from the University of Iowa and an MA in Comparative and International Development Education from the University of Minnesota.   Having studied abroad in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ireland and traveled to 20+ countries for work, Leah understands the deep impact experiencing another culture can have. She believes in today’s world it is more important than ever for young people to be able to understand issues from both local and global perspectives. She is honored to serve on the Xperitas board and help young people have the transformational experience she was able to have.

Katherine Buzicky
Board Member

Kate joined the Xperitas board in 2019 and currently works as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Minnesota, prosecuting crimes against children and computer-facilitated crimes. When Kate was in high school, she was a student traveler with Xperitas (then known as Intercultural Student Experiences) which sparked a love of foreign travel and learning about other cultures. She is a graduate of Princeton University, the University of Oxford, and Harvard Law School and is a US Army veteran who deployed twice to Iraq. During law school Kate had an internship in Chile with a legal reform organization and got to experience life, and working in the legal system, in Santiago de Chile, which she loved!

Dave Ernst
Board Member

Dave joined the Xperitas Board in 2015 and is currently the Chief Information Officer in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota and also the Executive Director of the Open Education Network – a consortium of more than 1,400 colleges and universities.  Dave first became involved in Xperitas in 2008 as a volunteer because he could see the organization’s commitment to cultural competency and respectful engagement with people around the world. He has traveled extensively internationally, most recently to Nepal, Tanzania, Japan, China, Thailand and Peru. He holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies, as well as a M.S. in Education and a B.S. in Physical Science. Dave shared that through his intercultural experiences, he has learned that global citizenship is a journey, not a destination.  He has also learned to be open to understanding others and has grown more committed to the wellbeing of all.

Gary Gardner
Board Member

Gary joined the Xperitas Board in 2020. Prior to retiring, Gary was the Vice President of Human Resources for Valspar, a multinational corporation, which gave him a very great appreciation for the value of language training as part of an ever-expanding global business community. Gary studied French in high school and college so when Valspar acquired a company in France, he was able to read all the documents with reasonable proficiency. He was also able to sit in meetings and understand everything that was being discussed. Though he lost the ability to speak the language, having the understanding provided context for the discussion. The general manager of the French operations told him, “you have the music, but you forgot the words.” Gary’s daughter Brenna is a German language teacher and has been involved with Xperitas for the entire time that she has been teaching. She has taken twelve groups of students to Germany for language immersion and everyone at Xperitas loves working with her and with her students!

Madeline Graham
Board Chair

Madeline joined the Xperitas board in 2017 and currently works as a Software Engineer at Irish Titan but has also worked in nonprofit communications and in her own web development business. As a high schooler, Madeline took her first trip abroad to Germany where she stayed with a host family and tried her best to speak German. This experience profoundly changed her life. Madeline went on to graduate from Macalester College where she minored in German studies. After college she moved to Austria for a year to continue improving her German.  She believes that a global perspective gives young people a broader and more empathetic outlook. As a lifelong language learner and traveler, she believes deeply in authentic, intentional immersion experiences. Madeline is grateful to have spent extended time in Germany, Austria, Botswana, and Japan. These experiences helped her build confidence, independence, and a broader view of her own life and culture. She said she feels privileged to be able to help provide these experiences to others by serving on the Xperitas Board.

Pam Harens
Board Member

Pam joined the Xperitas Board in 2019 and is currently a high school Spanish teacher at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, MN. Her first trip to Spain was with Xperitas (then ISE) when she was a sophomore in high school and the friendships made on that trip continue to this day. Pam went on to St. Olaf College where she graduated with a BA in English and also received a BS in Spanish and Education and an MA in Education from the University of Minnesota. She has traveled to Mexico, Colombia, and various European countries, including Spain, where she lived and studied after graduating from college. She learned that immersing herself in Spain’s culture helped her understand that people basically are the same no matter what language they speak or where they live.  Immersion has transformed her view of the world. As a Spanish teacher, Pam has taken her students to Spain and Mexico with Xperitas. Pam told us that, “Being able to serve as a board member seemed like one small way that I could pay back this organization that has enriched my life in such meaningful ways.”

Mike Hirschberg
Board Member

Mike joined the Xperitas Board in 2018 and currently works as a Director for Northborne Partners, advising clients on mergers and acquisitions. Mike has served on the nonprofit Board of Directors for the Association of Corporate Growth’s Minnesota Chapter and recently joined the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group (CDRG). Mike received his Bachelor of Science from Indiana University in Bloomington and an MBA in Finance from American University’s Kogod School of Business. During his MBA program Mike was able to study and travel in Brazil, which was a great experience. He found that meeting people of various backgrounds and from various areas in Brazil helped awaken him to the vast cultural diversity within countries. Mike fell in love with the culture of Rio De Janeiro; it is his favorite city the in world.

Neha Markanda
Board Member

Neha (Nay'-ha) joined the Xperitas Board in 2018 and currently works as a management consultant advising clients on strategy, operational excellence and executing sustainable change. Because of her father’s job, Neha had the privilege of living on three continents and visiting 40+ countries while growing up. She found that each move or visit to a new country was a language or cultural learning experience, which taught her to be resilient and appreciate the diversity that surrounds us. It also helped her to develop fluency in three languages. Neha holds an undergraduate degree in Finance and Business Management from the University of Minnesota (Morris) and an MBA from the Carlson School. In her spare time Neha likes to travel, run, volunteer and cook.

John Mattes
Board Vice Chair

John joined the Xperitas Board in 2017 and recently retired after more than thirty years as a business executive holding leadership positions in the areas of strategy and corporate development at Taylor Corp., Liberty Enterprises, Matrix Financial and First Bank Systems. He comes to Xperitas with significant nonprofit experience as well, having held leadership positions on the boards of Lutheran Social Services, Simpson Housing, Temple Israel and the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir. John is a graduate of the University of Minnesota.

Kurt Rempe
Board Member

Kurt joined the Xperitas Board in 2019 and is an attorney at Fredrikson & Byron working primarily with renewable energy developers and investors to construct and finance solar and wind projects. Kurt received his undergraduate degree in history from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. After college, he taught English in Japan. Before he left, someone gave him three tips: 1) always smile, 2) always try the food, and 3) never be shy about practicing the language. On his first day in Japan, the principal picked him up at the airport and drove him straight to the school where unbeknownst to him, everyone was gathered in the gymnasium waiting for him to give a speech. He smiled, used the three words of Japanese that he knew, and got a big round of applause. That night the principal took him out for a big feast of sea urchin and raw horse, and he ate everything. It was quite a day. Those three tips got him through, and he had the best year of his life. Kurt told us that the most memorable and transformative experiences of his life were from traveling, studying and living abroad. He joined the board because Xperitas makes traveling and studying abroad much more accessible to students of all backgrounds, and he wanted to be a part of that.

George Saad
Board Member

George joined the Xperitas board in 2020, and in addition to leading a start- up, PULSE Performance Systems, he currently serves on the boards of three other nonprofits, the Canada Minnesota Business Council, Young Presidents Organization (YPO) Twin Cities and MOT Minnesota. He received a BA from McGill University in Montreal and has master’s degrees in economics, education leadership, finance and law. George is a citizen of three countries, speaks four languages and has traveled to all continents except Australia and Antarctica. He is a firm believer in lifelong learning who feels his life has been exponentially enriched by opportunities for international exposure to different cultures, beliefs and lifestyles. He told us, “Joining Xperitas was an opportunity for me to be a part of something meaningful where I can contribute my time to making such experiences possible.”

José Schimming
Board Chair Emeritus

José joined the Xperitas Board in 2014 and is currently a Vice-President of Mortgage Insurance Relations at Wells Fargo where he helps enable the dream of home ownership. José has been involved with various community organizations, including United Way, Centro Legal, La Escuelita and Early Resource and Training Center. José grew up in Mexico and was exposed to global volunteers who came to his community to volunteer for community projects.  That experience created a passion for improving cross-cultural learning and understanding. Jose got his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. He is passionate about traveling, improving cross-cultural understanding and community involvement. 

Patricia Thornton
Board Member

Patty joined the Xperitas Board in 2014 and has worked in many different areas of business and education. She is a past Director of Programs for Concordia Language Villages, where she still serves as a mentor to programs and works on special projects. After graduating high school, Patty spent a year in Japan. Living in Japan with Japanese families at age 18 rocked her world view and eventually changed her career trajectory. She would love for every student to have the chance to see the US from another part of the world, or at least, through the perspective of another language. Patty holds a B.A. degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Minnesota with a double major in Japanese and East Asian History, and an M.A. from the University of St. Thomas in teaching.  She has been involved in international and international-cultural education for decades and is a strong believer in abroad experiences for youth and in language education, so Xperitas’ board seemed a natural fit.

Carolyn Vanous
Board Treasurer

Carolyn joined the Xperitas Board in 2017 and currently works for 3M leading a team in the Global Strategic Sourcing organization. Carolyn has her undergraduate and MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of MN. During college, she spent a semester studying abroad at University Maastricht in the Netherlands which was a formative experience that underscored the value of intercultural understanding. Carolyn recently returned from two and a half years living and working in Singapore on a team made up of people with seven different nationalities. This experience underscored the importance of diversity in thought and cultural understanding for strong, dynamic teams. Carolyn is drawn to Xperitas’ mission to promote global connection and citizenship. She is eager to support opportunities for people to learn about other cultures, as she knows the first step to working together, is seeking to understand each other.