After receiving an undergraduate degree in History and a graduate degree in Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Jeff taught for six years in Massachusetts, Texas, and New Hampshire. During that time, he organized and led group ski trips to Vermont and Quebec City. Since graduating, Jeff read about the education gap in Nicaragua and founded Amped for Education to close it. In 2010, he called on his teaching and tourism experience to create an educational opportunity for his high school students, in what was the first of many voluntourism experiences created for Amped for Education volunteers. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys coaching baseball, hot sauce, straight shaves, and gallo pinto.
After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in Communications in 2008, Sarah took an extended trip to Ghana to volunteer in a school, and this sparked her interest in traveling and education. She began working with Amped for Education shortly after its creation in December 2009, while simultaneously teaching preschool and running a business selling her art. As the Director of Operations, her current work with Amped involves organizing volunteer trips, alumni relations, and running the sponsorship program. Sarah’s favorite things about Nicaragua are the vibrant colors, cheap fruit, and friendly people.
A Tufts University graduate, with degrees in International Relations and Spanish, Katy has 12 years of experience in fundraising, strategic program implementation, and project management at an education-focused non-profit in the United States. Through her travels through South and Central America, Katy has witnessed firsthand the value of education in transforming communities and firmly believes in Amped for Education’s mission. Katy is grateful for her chance encounter with Amped for Education’s founder, Jeff Pluta, on a boat in Honduras that resulted in a chance to move to Nicaragua to join the team.
Cameo met Jeff early on at UMass and was inspired by Amped’s vision, work, and never ending projects to support education. After many long distant phone calls, Cameo joined Amped in the fall of 2014 to volunteer full-time. Before moving to Nicaragua, Cameo lived in San Francisco, working as a business development intern for Educents, an e-commerce start-up that focuses on making education affordable. She has more than 5 years of experience working with children and found her niche designing a recreation program for the underprivileged students in Nicaragua. Cameo can usually be found relaxing in a hammock or haggling fruit and veggie prices in El Mercado.
Kate is a recent graduate from Emmanuel College with a B.A. in International Relations and Spanish. Taking a trip with Amped in 2012 before studying and volunteering in Spain sparked her interest in international education. After learning about fundraising, development and strategic planning in a nonprofit consulting position, she joined Amped in Nicaragua in September of 2014 to plan and teach at the Learning Center, Aprendiendo para la Vida. Kate runs off tea, puns, and pancakes, and enjoys improving her Spanish every day in the community of Pantanal.
Dan joined Amped for Education during the summer of 2014. Just one month after graduating the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in Communication, Dan leaped at the opportunity to apply his creative, technical, and marketing skills to an organization he found to be doing positive work in the world. Dan took hundreds of captivating photos during his time in Nicaragua, many of which can be found on our website and social media accounts.
Kim was a graduate of Umass Amherst, where she studied History and Spanish. After graduating, she moved to Colorado and currently attends the University of Colorado Denver. She is enrolled in the urban teaching program, where she will graduate with a teacher’s license in Secondary Social Studies and a Masters in Education. After student-teaching in an urban school and learning about the social injustices in education, she made it her goal to become an activist and fight for equality in education. She joined Amped in June 2015 as a Learning Center Coordinator. She lives off music, dancing and, of course, tacos.
Lilliam studied at La Universidad Hispano Americana de Granada. She has worked as a librarian and taught children within the community of Granada. She is also certified to teach English as a second language. Lilliam lives in San Ignacio neighborhood of Pantanal and joined Amped for Education through a mutual friend who spoke highly of Lilliam’s commitment to education within her community. She has two children of her own, a son Alex and a daughter, Nathaly. She enjoys spending time with them and helping with their classes. Amped for Education now sponsors Lilliam’s college education.
Joe Costello has taught English at Frontier Regional High School in Massachusetts since 2008. In addition to Amped for Education’s board, he also serves on the board of another non-profit organization, Valley Ultimate, where he helps promote the growth of ultimate frisbee in Massachusetts and Connecticut. After meeting Jeff Pluta in graduate school, followed Amped for Education’s progress from afar. In 2013, Joe organized a service-learning trip to Nicaragua for his students, where they supported Amped for Education’s mission through the construction of a classroom. Building on the success of that first trip, Joe led groups in 2014 and again in 2015. We are confident in Joe’s ability to help us create the best service-learning experience possible, while also adding insights on delivering effective instruction to our Nicaraguan students.
Eric Dorne, Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer at United Natural Foods Inc., brings more than 35 years of executive level experience to Amped for Education’s board. With degrees in Business Administration and Economics from Sacred Heart University, and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts, Eric formerly served as a board member of the Massachusetts and Connecticut Food Associations. Currently serving the Genius Central Systems Board of Directors, Eric has twice traveled to Nicaragua; once for the grand opening of the high school in Nueva Esperanza, and a second time with a small group to complete repairs at Learning for Life. He also advised Jeff during Amped for Education’s earliest stages. We are certain that, with Eric’s guidance regarding organizational strategy, we will continue to expand our reach while creating educational opportunities in the developing world.
David J. Hill, a certified public accountant with more than five years of experience, brings his professional skills to the Amped for Education board. David first met Jeff during his undergraduate studies at the University of Massachusetts before moving on to obtain his Masters degree in Accounting from the University of South Carolina. David has provided tax advice to Amped for Education since 2013 and sees education in a different light after having a son of his own. Amped for Education’s directors look forward to working with David and benefitting from his guidance as tax filings become increasingly important as the organization grows.
Nick Luise, a widely recognized benefactor and (together with his wife, Ernie) one of Amped for Education’s largest and longest-standing donors, brings a wealth of humanitarian and executive experience to the board. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Nick received his degree in Finance from Rutgers University, and has since built an incredible resume with diverse experiences including serving as the vice president of United Parcel Service (UPS). As active Rotarians, Nick and Ernie were recipients of the Charles H. Flynn Humanitarian Award from the Valley United Way (CT) and have facilitated Amped for Education’s involvement with Rotary clubs worldwide. Nick has served on the boards of the Valley YMCA, Birmingham Group Health Services, Hewitt Foundation, and the VNA of South Central Connecticut, and serves on the Shelton, CT Ethics Commission. Nick also supports projects in Mexico, Haiti, India, and the Dominican Republic. We are extremely fortunate to have someone of Nick’s background and character join us, and we look forward to his continual involvement with Amped for Education’s progress.
Kristen Raney, a Program Officer of Strategic Innovation at the University of Arkansas, joins Amped for Education’s board with a extensive education and nonprofit experience. In her current position, Kristen integrates service-learning into the University’s Sam M. Walton College of Business. With degrees in business and public service, she has leveraged her skills to work in international development in India. Kristen and Jeff became acquainted while teaching gifted and talented high school students through a program at the University of Texas in Austin. After initially traveling to Nicaragua with Amped for Education in 2010, she returned in 2012 to help facilitate the organization’s inaugural service-learning trip. We have already begun tapping into Kristen’s past experiences in education, service-learning, and international development to help us continue our growth.
Doug Taylor has served as the Financial Director of Amped for Education since 2011 and now will transition to serve on Amped for Education’s board. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Massachusetts, he received a Graduate Certificate in Biomedical Communication from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Doug has worked full time for Amped for Education in Nicaragua since June of 2014 and now returns to the United States to finish his Masters of Business Administration from Saint Joseph’s University, and to continue as a Senior Medical Analyst at the Institute for Evidence-Based Medicine. Doug first familiarized himself with Amped for Education in 2011, traveling to Nicaragua with Jeff to learn more about the organization. His work since then has been broad and extensive, and we know that Doug will use his deep knowledge of the organization to provide advice, support, and business services for Amped for Education in the future.