Xperitas Non-profit Board of Directors

Meet our Board of Directors

Supporting Non-profit Language and Community Immersion

Meet The Team
Leah Brink
Board Member

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!

Jane Ditewig
Board Member

Jane joined the Xperitas Board in 2021 but has been a beloved part of the Xperitas family for more than 25 years. Prior to her recent retirement, Jane taught high school and college level French in Longview, Washington for 45 years and during that time led students from R.A. Long High School on 19 programs to France with Xperitas. Jane had great undergraduate and graduate school classroom experiences but believes her most impactful education has been during her global immersion opportunities. From her study in Avignon during college to a year as a Fulbright teacher in Bethune and all the immersion experiences with her students, she gained an understanding of language immersion travel. She has seen firsthand how the Xperitas mission of Transforming lives through shared global experience and intercultural learning has enriched the lives of her students, people at her school and in their homestay community in France. When Jane looks back at her travel experiences and thinks of times that felt like cultural challenges in the moment, they now bring on smiles. She recalls her first dinner with her host family during her college study abroad when they were offering more food and she responded, “Non, merci. Je suis pleine” which literally means “full” but is colloquial for pregnant.

Lauren Eimers
Board Member

Lauren joined the Xperitas Board in 2021. She currently serves on the leadership board for the WILD Network, a social enterprise providing leadership and professional development programming for women in the global development sector and has also served on the volunteer leadership team for the Minnesota International NGO Network. Lauren received a bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas and is a huge advocate for language education and cultural immersion.

Gary Gardner
Board Secretary

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!

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.

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 Chair

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. 

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. 

Nick Vournakis
Board Member

Nick joined the Xperitas Board in 2021 and has worked in the travel and tourism industry for CWT (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel) for 20 years. CWT focuses on B2B business travel and is one of the largest global management travel companies, serving many of the worlds Fortune 500 companies. Nick is responsible for CWT’s top 350 client relationships, a portfolio of over $1B in annual revenue. Through his work at CWT, Nick has been able to travel internationally quite extensively and has gained a deep appreciation for the value of cultural diversity. Nick is also a dedicated community volunteer and focuses 100% of his efforts on K-12 education. He currently sits on the Career and College Readiness Advisory Board for St. Louis Park High School. Nick sees Xperitas’ work as sitting at the crossroads of his personal passion and professional experience, offering him the opportunity to contribute to the development of local youth and help provide rich, life changing experiences. Nick graduated Summa Cum Laude from Miami University in Ohio with degrees in both Economics and Management Information Sciences.

Patrick Wallace
Board Member

Patrick joined the Xperitas Board in 2021 and currently works as the Program Specialist for World Languages and Global Workforce Initiatives with the Georgia Department of Education. Prior to working for the Department of Education, Patrick was a German Language teacher in Georgia where he was twice named Teacher of the Year! As a student at Georgia Southern University, Patrick was the recipient of the first Fulbright Scholarship for a World Language student and was able to live and study in Vienna, Austria for a year. During that year he also volunteered as an English instructor at a local elementary school. The experience he had while in Austria was transformative for him. Patrick is a long-time advocate for making sure that international travel experiences are accessible to all students and is excited to bring his knowledge, experience, and perspective to the Xperitas Board.