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Our Team

Rukiya Curvey Johnson, MBA

Executive Director, Rush Education and Career Hub
Interim Vice President
Community Health Equity, Rush University Medical Center

Rukiya Curvey Johnson, MBA

Executive Director, Rush Education and Career Hub
Interim Vice President
Community Health Equity, Rush University Medical Center

Rukiya Curvey Johnson serves as executive director of REACH and interim vp, community health equity for Rush University Medical Center.

Rukiya previously served as executive director of STEM and strategic initiatives at Chicago Public Schools, where she led the development and execution of the district’s K-12 STEM strategy and the design of the CPS STEM Standards for Success. As champion and architect of a strategy to increase success for underrepresented students in STEM-related fields, she also led the district’s Early College STEM initiative to successfully graduate its first students with dual high school diplomas and associate degrees in information technology.

Rukiya is a member of the Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative Steering Committee, the West Side United Education Steering Committee and several Chicago Public Schools advisory groups, and is a board member of Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center. With a commitment and passion for providing equitable access to high-quality education and career opportunities, Curvey-Johnson believes in the power of collective action to make a difference for our youth and the communities we serve.

Rukiya earned her MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia.

Natalia A. Gallegos, MPH

Director, Engagement and Impact

As REACH’s director of engagement and impact, Natalia works to expand programs, build relationships and develop tools that increase educational attainment and support a cradle-to-career pipeline to STEM and health care fields.

Her REACH portfolio includes overseeing the expansion of the mentoring program and establishing an approach for evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of programs. She also supports the development of innovative ideas for high-quality implementation and execution of the REACH Strategic Plan.

Before joining Rush in 2018, Natalia was the manager of community engagement at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, Ill., where she was responsible for leading and coordinating public relations, community wellness and education initiatives. She also managed more than 150 hospital volunteers of diverse ages and ethnicities who contributed to community, hospital and support activities.

Natalia earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and a bachelor’s degree in health care management from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Heather Hampton, EdD

Director, Education and Pathways Programs

Heather G. Hampton, the director of education and pathways programs, holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology, a master’s degree in education and a doctoral degree in educational leadership.

Her experience includes working as a chemist in a research and development facility and teaching every grade from kindergarten through 8 as well as at the university level, where she taught teachers who aspired to integrate the arts into STEM education.

Heather also served as an elementary school principal on Chicago’s West Side. While there, she built a number of community partnerships, improved her school’s rating from a 3 to a 2+, brought more technology into the building and introduced restorative justice practices. She worked with West Side United to bring a medical clinic to the neighborhood, and with the James Jordan Foundation to bring mental health services and STEM programming into the building.

As a REACH partner long before she joined the team, she helped implement Future Ready Learning Labs in her school and hosted an award-winning chapter of HOSA Jr. In her role as REACH’s community education director, she works to support students’ academic success, preparing them to be successful in any career they choose.

Darius Caffey, MPA

Project Manager, IT Pathways

Darius is the IT Pathways project manager for REACH, working to increase REACH programs’ impact on social justice and education equity.

Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Darius attended the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU), where he earned dual bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology. Throughout college, he served as a program assistant for the Mizzou Black Men’s Initiative (MBMI), which introduces first-year students to leadership, involvement and development opportunities. He was selected for a Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program internship, where his research project was entitled “Black Collegiate Males and the Influence of High School Experiences on Higher Education.”

After graduating from MU, Darius spent two years as a college advisor with the Missouri College Advising Corps, helping students and families navigate the complexities of college admissions, financing and planning. He then returned to MU, where he earned a master’s degree in public affairs with an emphasis in nonprofit management. In addition to his work with REACH, Darius is also an Education Pioneers Impact Fellow.

Kimberly Bailey

Community Education Associate, 3rd-5th Grade

Kimberly is a lifelong resident of Chicago and attended elementary and high school in the Chicago Public School system. She decided to pursue a career in education and working with families, so she earned her Bachelor of Science in Human Resources and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While teaching for the Chicago Public School system, she attended Loyola University / Erikson Institute and earned her Master’s Degree in Education. With over 20 years of teaching experience, Kimberly provides STEM instruction, STEM and wellness materials for home use, professional development for educators, family and community outreach, including assisting with food security efforts. She hopes to continue to educate, inspire, and transform lives in the spirit of the Rush mission and values.

Nia K. Benton

Program Development Associate, High School and College

Nia manages and supports several of REACH’s high school and college programs. Her work includes recruiting, onboarding and providing support services and advocacy for students; helping to create professional development curriculum; supporting data collection and REACH marketing; and acting as a liaison inside and outside Rush University Medical Center to help provide students with quality internship experiences.

Nia’s Rush experience began when she was a high school student: She’s an alumna of the SAME Network, the predecessor of REACH. She began her career in youth education and development during her undergraduate study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and also worked to provide professional development workshops for students in SAME/REACH programs.

Nia is currently working on her master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice, focusing on educational and workplace inequalities; youth and community development; policy analysis and application; and system analysis and evaluation.

Deon Brown, JD, MS

Student Success Coach

Deon serves as REACH’s student success coach, providing college coaching and planning assistance to students and their parents. His focus is on college access, retention and graduation in STEM and related academic areas.

He has more than 30 years of experience in the administration and development of educational opportunity programs. Before joining Rush, Deon was associate director of the Center for College Access and Success at Northeastern Illinois University, where he was responsible for supervising program directors in the ongoing development and management of academic support projects.

While at the center, he also served as director of the Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search programs, where he worked with low-income, first-generation students and their families with a focus on college access and graduation. He was an adjunct professor in the NEIU Department of Leadership, Literacy and Development, specializing in school law and the law of higher education, and an adjunct instructor in economics and statistics at Triton College.

Deon earned a JD from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, a master’s degree in economics from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a bachelor’s degree in economics from DePaul University.

Angela Freeman, MPH

Impact Analyst

Angela works with REACH leadership and external partners to develop tools and gather data to inform operational and strategic outcomes. She also leads and supports a wide array of projects, including informing a continuous improvement strategy for new programs and building tools that measure implementation and impact.

Before joining REACH, Angela served as a project manager in the Department of Health Systems Management in Rush University’s College of Health Sciences, where she holds an adjunct faculty appointment. She oversaw the Building Healthy Urban Communities initiative to improve education, employment and health outcomes on Chicago’s West and South sides through strategic partnerships with the Medical Home Network and City Colleges of Chicago.

Angela earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Purdue University and a master’s of public health in community health sciences from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health; she’s currently a doctoral student in health sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Her research interests include epidemiology, sociology and geography in health disparities research; social and health policy; and workforce development in the health sciences.

Caroline Kerr, MAT

Program Development Associate,
Middle School STEM Specialist

Caroline serves in the role of Middle School STEM specialist and program development associate with the REACH program at Rush. She is an experienced elementary and middle school educator with a focus in urban education. Prior to joining the Rush team, she worked at elementary schools on the Southwest and West side of Chicago for 7 years as a dedicated and passionate educator committed to educational equity and school improvement. During her time in Chicago Public Schools, she demonstrated distinguished performance in curriculum differentiation, data-driven instruction, school leadership, and establishing a strong classroom culture for learning centered around social emotional competencies.

Caroline completed her bachelor’s degree in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, then went on to pursue her Master of Arts in Teaching degree at National Louis University in Chicago. She completed her teaching residency through the Academy for Urban School Leadership, AUSL, an intensive urban education master’s program designed to promote a school turn-around model and focus on improving student opportunities and learning outcomes in underserved communities in Chicago.

Ellen Vigil

Community Education Associate, PreK-2nd Grade

Ellen has been affiliated with Rush University Medical Center since 1982. Her career began at Rush’s Laurance Armour Day School, where she worked as a teacher, services coordinator, assistant director and educational consultant. Later, she was an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Early Childhood Education at Oakton Community College, and worked as an accreditation facilitator helping early childhood programs in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools achieve national accreditation.

In 2006, Ellen returned to Rush, where she focuses on providing STEM and health care learning experiences for students in preschool (PreK) through second grade. She also provides REACH partner programs with services that include professional development workshops, high-quality equipment and materials, education outreach sessions, parent involvement opportunities and curriculum loan kits.

Ellen earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the National College of Education and her master’s of education in advanced studies and child development from the Erikson Institute.

Lauren White, MPH

Program Coordinator

Before joining REACH, Lauren was a program manager for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. She managed the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill., running day-to-day operations and providing a home-like space for families with sick children in the hospital.

Lauren received her bachelor’s degree in health care leadership from Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., and her master’s degree in public health from Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. A resident of the West Side of Chicago, Lauren is passionate about helping to provide valuable experiences and opportunities for our future leaders in health care.

These five values guide our work:

Empower through education.

We help our students see education as fuel for a fulfilling, impactful career, and teach them the skills, resilience and accountability they need to turn their dreams into reality.

Strive for excellence.

We push ourselves and our students to see more, do more and be more. We take accountability for our actions through research and practical application, and we ask the same of our students so they can take what they learn into real-time experiences that make a difference.

Lead with equity.

Students of color are highly underrepresented in STEM and health care fields. We must actively interrogate our roles in perpetuating inequitable systems and work together to develop better practices, systems and structures within education and workforce development.

Commit to community.

The more organized and connected we are, the greater our impact on our students. That means leveraging the expertise, resources and contributions of our partners rather than reinventing the wheel. We work collaboratively and take the time to listen to each other, to our partners and to the communities we serve.

Center the student.

While the outcomes of our work have a meaningful impact on Chicago’s economy, at the center of it all are young people with unique aspirations and challenges. What we do directly affects their lives, and we never lose sight of that.