Cecilia Orellana-Rojas joined the National Diversity Council in 2013 as vice president of strategy and research. In this role, she provides direction for the NDC leadership by planning, defining, and articulating the execution of the organization’s strategic goals. She leads consulting efforts and innovative, high quality educational and research initiatives in diversity and inclusion. She is the creator of the DiversityFIRST™ Toolkit, a unique diversity reference portal and research consolidator, and the DiversityFIRST™ Certification Program curriculum, which prepares professionals for successful careers in the D&I space.
Cecilia brings 15 years of experience at AT&T, where she started as a manager in diversity marketing. She spent most of her career at the telecommunications giant as associate director and lead consultant of corporate diversity. In this role, she offered support in the formulation, implementation and direction of AT&T’s diversity and inclusion strategy including metrics, communications, and training. She also provided consulting in all aspects of workforce diversity. Prior to her corporate role, she worked as a journalist and later taught in academia for more than 10 years in the area of sociology, with emphasis on U.S. race relations, gender, Latin America, and research methods.
Cecilia is a passionate advocate for diversity. She was instrumental in the launch of the Texas Diversity Council and served as the first president of the San Antonio Advisory Board. As a founding member of the Texas Hispanic/Latino Summit, she played a leadership role in establishing the mission of the summit as a venue for Latino/a voices within the Texas Leadership and Diversity Conference. She has been recognized numerous times with the Diversity Champion Award and Diversity Leadership Award for her commitment and dedication to diversity business practices.
A native of Chile, Cecilia earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of New Mexico. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota. She resides in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, Henry, and their son, Rodrigo.
Melanie Masessa (she/her/hers) is a systems thinker, analytical nerd, and mentor with a value of quality at her core. With people, she champions quality by establishing meaningful and genuine relationships, advocating for empathy, and framing learning with curiosity to maximize action potential. This humanistic focus on quality intersects her passion for data through information mapping principles, designing systematic approaches to uncover root causes of issues, and disseminating complex subjects in understandable ways.
Prior to becoming the manager of strategic initiatives at the National Diversity Council, Melanie managed quality assurance and quality control on big data mapping projects and developed technical training programs in the geospatial technology industry. She won five awards for honesty, passion, contribution, and perseverance for her leadership on challenging projects, such as the post-Hurricane Maria mapping project of Puerto Rico, post-Hurricane Harvey coastal shoreline mapping project of Texas, and the Alaska statewide digital mapping initiative. Her process improvement efforts and learner personalization programs were recognized by government stakeholders and senior leadership for their impact on data mapping product quality. Melanie is most proud of her accomplishment of leading the Everglades National Park elevation modeling project and trend analysis research, focused on mapping habitats of the endangered bird — the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.
Melanie is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace learning with Boise State University, and acquiring training credentials to become an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator. Some of her most recent learning journeys include instructional design, people analytics and evidence-based management, and coastal shoreline restoration. She has an undergraduate degree from Eckerd College in environmental studies, with minors in anthropology and geology.
Melanie is also a published children’s book author, collaborating on a book about wildlife with her father that was sold at Scholastic Book Fairs. She enjoys creatively connecting seemingly disconnected concepts and writing about them in her Bloticles. The word bloticle is a portmanteau word formed from combining blog and article. Her bloticles blend research and reflection into a seamless style of writing, expanding opportunity for information permeation and rumination.
In her spare time, Melanie participates in citizen scientist community projects. She has a passion for accessibility, sustainability, environmental and wildlife conservation, and is part of the LGBTQ+ community. Melanie lives in St. Petersburg, Florida with her wife, bundle of cats, and scooter named Micah.
Jason deGroot currently serves as the Chief Financial Officer for the National Diversity Council (NDC) and has been with the organization since 2007. As Chief Financial Officer, he is responsible to the CEO and Board for all financial matters. He establishes the overall financial and administrative objectives, policies, programs, and practices which insure the organization’s sound financial structure. He also controls the cash flow in the organization and maintains the integrity of funds by both overseeing the accounting group and the annual external audit. Jason assisted the founder and CEO with the formation of the NDC and he ensured that the organization received and maintained its 501c3 Nonprofit Status.
In addition to his finance and administrative responsibilities, Jason also is responsible for business development and has been instrumental in membership growth of both the Texas market and other state councils throughout the country. When he first joined the organization back in 2007, Jason played an active role in developing the Florida Diversity Council. In addition, Jason has helped lead fundraising efforts for the NDC by securing sponsorships for the various programs and events of the organization.
Prior to the National Diversity Council, Jason worked as an accountant and financial analyst in the Tax Reporting and Analysis Center for Exxon Mobil Corporation. In this role, he was responsible for minimizing the tax liability for the organization in the upstream, downstream, and chemical sectors of the business. He was also responsible for compliance with both federal and state governments. Jason also led multiple teams within the group that focused on improving the internal processes and efficiency of the organization.
Prior to ExxonMobil, Jason was employed with Warren Electric Group. As a Supervisor for the Corporate Process and Systems Group, Jason worked to improve operational efficiency and gained widespread exposure to various departmental projects including: accounting, MIS, sales, purchasing, inventory control, and human resources. His experience in these areas assisted him with being responsible for improving synergy between all departments. He was also chosen to oversee several inventory projects in Trinidad, gaining valuable international business experience.
Jason graduated at the top of his class from the University of Houston with a degree in Finance. During this time, he received numerous academic and athletic awards. He also participated on the football team as a wide receiver and managed to maintain a perfect 4.0 grade point average at the Bauer College of Business. He is also active in several community and alumni associations, some of which he holds leadership roles. Jason currently resides in Houston, Texas with his wife Brandi and their three children Dayne, Dawson, and Delaney.
Sofia Anthony joined the National Diversity Council’s team in 2011 as the Coordinator for the Florida Diversity Council (i.e., FLDC). The FLDC grew and developed significantly under her leadership and continues to gain momentum. In 2012, Sofia was promoted to the Senior Coordinator position and was given the Tri-State Diversity Council (i.e., TSDC) to grow and develop. In 2013, Sofia became the first Regional Manager for the National Diversity Council (i.e., NDC) and in 2015, she became the first training and development lead as the Manager of Training, Development, and Regional Operations. The state diversity councils that primarily fall within her region include Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York. Sofia works very closely with multiple teams of Board members who oversee diversity councils throughout the NDC.
As the Assistant Vice President, Sofia Anthony strives to ensure that Coordinators, Senior Coordinators, and other staff members receive the proper support they need to fulfill the NDC’s mission, vision, and goals to the best of their abilities. Not only does Sofia assist with training and development, recruitment and selection, and operational management, but she also helps with business development as well. Some of Sofia’s key contributions to the NDC include formalizing on-boarding and training documentation and processes for new employees developing, communicating, and launching a 360 performance appraisal process establishing metrics and developing feedback surveys to obtain valuable data for evaluation and improvement purposes conducting the organization’s first training needs analysis to identify Coordinator¹s primary training needs creating an online database of sample email templates for external communication purposes and raising over $250,000 in new corporate partnership dollars since joining the Council, amongst others.
Sofia Anthony graduated magna cum laude from Brown University, where she obtained a B.A. in Anthropology and Ethnic Studies. While working for the NDC, Sofia obtained an M.S. in Human Resource Management from Nova Southeastern University in 2013 and in 2014 obtained her PHR and SHRM-CP credentials. Sofia was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, yet spent the majority of her life in Tampa, Florida. She has always had a deep passion for diversity and inclusion efforts, and feels incredibly fortunate to have found a job that allows her to fulfill her passion each and every day.
Darlene King began her career with the Michigan Diversity Council-MIDC (a division of the National Diversity Council) in 2015. As the Executive Director, her charge is working with corporations and organizations in developing Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, programs, processes and procedures. Growing the organization in the area of business development as well as growing the organization throughout the entire state of Michigan.
Prior to her tenure with the MIDC, she held the role as Director of Event/Consultant Services/Training and Development for all 34 school districts under the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency for over 10 years. Her territory covered implementation and execution of all workshops and conference as well as maintaining CEU’s for teachers and administrators within Wayne County MI. Although she managed more than 60+ consultants, county wide events such as the Teacher Job Fair, County K-12 Art Fair and the Cultural Collaborative for Learning were signature events managed by her department as well. Darlene was also an inaugural member of the Diversity Strategic Planning committee which rolled out a county wide Diversity plan for all districts. Darlene’s background is widespread. She spent 6 years as a national concert promoter, traveling around the world with some of today’s most popular artist in the industry. She has produced and promoted shows at every concert venue in Detroit and beyond.
In 2008 she launched her consulting company, Life’s Journey Training and Consulting. They are competing in today’s competitive global market – in industries ranging from education, automotive, medical, non-profits and manufacturing. Their area of expertise consist of diversity and inclusion, leadership development, marketing and public relations.
Life’s Journey has provided service deliverables to: Wayne County Head Start Programs, Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, The Order of the Fisherman, The Detroit Medical Center, Revival Home Health Care, RTM Music Group, Real Times Media, Stonecrest Behavioral Health, Detroit Area Agency on Aging, Universal Studios, Detroit Community Schools, MASCO Corporation, Diversity Lansing plus many more.
She is a native of Michigan and enjoys spending time with her family, nephews and niece. She says her faith in God, family, passion for people and her love of traveling and gardening are the dri Darlene has a passion for people and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations and Marketing from Wayne State University, Detroit MI. She has been operating in this capacity as well as education and organizational development for 25 years.
Alexis recently graduated from the George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs, with her bachelors degree in International Affairs and Middle East Studies. During her time in D.C., Alexis worked for various organizations that focused on Middle Eastern political research, served as a criminal defense legal intern and served as the president for two large organizations on campus. During her junior year, she spent a semester abroad in Jerusalem at Hebrew University and simultaneously worked for Defense for Children International. Alexis was eventually granted a scholarship to return and study in a Palestinian University, where she was able to advance her Arabic skills, allowing her to reach a more fluent proficiency.
Alexis’ passion for diversity and inclusion led her to join the National Diversity Council in June 2017, supporting the Tri-State Diversity Council. She is responsible for coordinating events and meetings, along with managing corporate partnerships to allow companies to succeed through diversity and inclusion efforts. In 2017, Alexis became CDP Certified (Certified Diversity Professional) and is continuing to use her knowledge to grow the Tri-State Diversity Council.
At the age of five, Emily Pickett was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma - a rare, cancerous tumor affecting the retina of the eye. After surgery and treatment, her eye was removed and replaced with a prosthetic. Emily’s visual disability, while traumatic, did not stop her drive and dreams. Emily, now a 25-year old college graduate, is happily living life in remission as a cancer survivor. By the time she finished high school, Emily had raised over $18,000 for the American Cancer Society, received the Female Scholar-Athlete Award, was recognized as a Broward County All-Star Athlete and received the Most Valuable Player on her volleyball team. She went on to graduate Cum Laude from the University of South Florida (“Go Bulls”) where she also mentored students with disabilities at The Learning Academy, tutored underprivileged students at Starting, Right Now, and served as Vice President of Programming and Director of Chapter Activities for Delta Gamma Fraternity. Along the way, she was awarded a scholarship from the National Collegiate Society of Scholars for going above and beyond to give back to the community. She also received the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute Scholarship Award and was awarded the Inspire Panhellenic Award, both of which recognize distinguished and inspirational leaders within the Greek-letter organizations. And if that weren’t enough, Emily was honored to be officially published as a TED.com speaker for her TEDx talk “Limitless: cancer does not define who I am, perseverance does,” presented at the University of South Florida, an event that brought together the world’s best thinkers to promote inspiring ideas.
Emily now works as a Senior Event Programmer for the National Diversity Council. Through this role, Emily continues her work to encourage and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by transforming our community into an environment where individuals are valued for their talents and empowered to reach their fullest potential.
In December 2007, Mae was offered the opportunity to join the Texas Diversity Council (TXDC), a non-profit organization that promotes and advocates diversity and inclusion, as a Program and Event Coordinator. From 2009 to 2015, she served as the Program and Event Manager for the TXDC. In 2016, Mae was promoted to the position of Director of Programs, Events & Membership. She continues to be responsible for providing assistance and support relative to the planning, scheduling, facilitation, and implementation of meetings as well as quarterly and annual programs and events of the Council, and she is the primary staff point of contact for the Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio markets along with providing support for the Texas Board of Directors.
Mae retired from SBC/Southwestern Bell Telephone Company after having been employed with the same company for more than 31 years. She began her career as an Operator in Corpus Christi, Texas – her hometown. During the remainder of her career, she held numerous positions as a supervisor and manager in the business units of Network Administration and Network Services in Corpus Christi, Houston and Dallas. Prior to her retirement, Mae’s position was one of an Account Manager-Select Accounts in Industry Markets.
She has been an active community volunteer for more than three decades. Her service and involvement have included nonprofit, community-service organizations, such as the AT&T Pioneers Community NETwork, African American Telecommunications Professionals of AT&T (The NETwork) the Urban League Guild of Greater Dallas & North Central Texas United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Big Brothers/Big Sisters and The Bridge Homeless Assistance Shelter. She remains an active member of several organizations, where she participates in both leadership and support roles.
She is a graduate of Del Mar College (now Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi) having achieved an Associate of Arts degree in Nursing. Mae completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Arlington in Business Administration, where her major was Business Management with a minor in Marketing.
On a family note, Mae is the very proud mother of one daughter, Krishna, fondly known as “Angel”, and the “Nana” of a granddaughter, Maya, and two grandsons, John and Maurice II.
Her hobbies include reading and traveling. Her passion is reaching out to help others.