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They heard from experts on issues such as the global economy, international diplomacy, energy, and the environment. In addition to meeting regularly as a class, they worked on individual projects with Council experts to examine key global challenges.

This cohort of leaders from around Chicago was chosen by an independent selection committee from a highly competitive pool of applicants.

Learn more about the Emerging Leaders Program.

Class of 2015

Amer Abdullah

Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen

Alongside his father and brother, Abdullah launched the Cedars dream in college in 2001. Shortly thereafter, a fast-casual child of Cedars named Mezza Mediterranean Grill was born. Amer now heads the marketing strategy at Mezza. From 2002 to 2012, Abdullah was an executive director at JP Morgan in the investment bank, focusing on rates and derivatives products. Abdullah received an AB in economics from the University of Chicago in 2002. Beyond business, he is a founding member of the Chicago Community Trust's Pillars Fund, a donor-advised fund that targets a better understanding of the Muslim-American culture.  He also performs and produces various improvised theater pieces and, during his career break, worked with the US Consulate in Jerusalem to articulate his personal story to audiences of Palestinian businesspeople and entrepreneurs.

Ikbel Achour

Senior Research Scientist
University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System

Achour is passionate about translating cutting-edge science into patient care.  She is a senior research scientist in genomics and molecular medicine with a focus in innovation in precision medicine. She leads and manages the R&D team in translational bioinformatics in Yves Lussier’s group at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As an active member of Women in BIO, Achour engages both the academic and private sector community in Illinois, empowering and creating a dynamic professional environment to enable career development and promote entrepreneurship and innovation. Additionally, she is deploying initiatives to promote economic development in North Africa, tackling global health care challenges and social causes. Achour earned her PhD in immunology (immunogenetics) from the Institute Pasteur-University Paris VII and BE in biotechnology and bioindustry from the National Institute of Applied Science and Technology in Tunisia.

Roseanna Ander

Executive Director
University of Chicago Crime Lab

Ander serves as the founding executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab which was launched in the spring of 2008 in partnership with the City of Chicago. In January 2010, Ander was appointed to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Research Advisory Committee and to the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. In March 2011, Ander was named cochair of Chicago Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel's Public Safety Transition Committee. Prior to joining the Crime Lab, Ander oversaw the Joyce Foundation’s gun violence program and served as the developer and lead program officer for the Foundation’s grantmaking on early childhood education. Prior to joining Joyce, she was a Soros Justice Fellow with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, where she helped develop and implement the nation's first child safety gun regulations. Ander has also worked for the Harvard Injury Control Center, the Harvard Center for Children’s Health, and the Harvard Project on Schooling and Children. She holds a BA from Boston University and a MA from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Benjamin Bader

Executive Vice President
Jones Lang LaSalle

Bader leads the transaction advisory services group for Jones Lang LaSalle. In his 15-year tenure at the firm, he has extensive experience managing global relationships and has executed transactions on five continents. He has twice been recognized with the firm’s LaSalle Club award, won the 2008 JLL Collaboration Award, and has twice earned CoStar’s “Power Broker” award. Prior to joining JLL, he worked at China Enterprises, Inc., an import-export company trading Chinese goods with US and European customers, including three years living and working in Qingdao, China. He was a summer associate at Andersen Consulting’s China Strategy Group. Bader serves on the board of the British-American Business Council of Chicago, is a licensed broker in the State of Illinois, and holds a Six Sigma Green Belt certification. He earned a BA in international studies from Vassar College, and an international MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. 

Mary Barnicle

Managing Director, Regulatory Affairs
United Airlines

Barnicle holds the position of managing director of regulatory affairs at United Airlines. She advocates for the company’s interests before multiple government regulatory agencies, particularly regarding taxation and economic liberalization. Barnicle’s responsibilities cover both policy and compliance with economic and consumer regulations. She has also represented United in international aviation negotiations and was formerly United’s director of international affairs. Prior to joining United, Barnicle was a career diplomat with the United States Foreign Service. She served at the US embassies in Rome and Mexico City and in economic positions in Washington DC, including as director for Central America and the Caribbean at the White House’s Office of the US Trade Representative. Barnicle is a graduate of Georgetown University. She completed studies in international economics at the Foreign Service Institute at the International Monetary Fund Institute and undertook graduate work in finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Brian T. Edwards

Director, Program in Middle East and North African Studies, and Associate Professor of English, Comparative Literary Studies, and American Studies
Northwestern University

Edwards has been on the Northwestern faculty since 2000, where he helped develop the program in Middle East and North African Studies; he was appointed its founding director in 2011. In the past several years, he has focused on creativity and cultural innovation in contemporary Morocco, Egypt, and Iran, and changing attitudes toward American culture. He is the author of Morocco Bound: Disorienting America's Maghreb, from Casablanca to the Marrakech Express, as well as numerous essays and op-eds in scholarly and trade publications. Named a 2005 Carnegie Scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of NY and a 2008 New Directions Fellow by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, he has lectured extensively in the United States and abroad, including in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, India, Qatar, and throughout Europe. He earned his BA, MA, and PhD from Yale University.

Sarah Herda

Graham Foundation


Herda is the director of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Founded in 1956, the Graham Foundation is one of the most significant funders in the United States of projects by individuals and organizations working to address issues in architecture and its role in the arts culture and society. In addition to the grant program, Herda curates a vibrant public program of exhibitions, lectures, and publications produced at the foundation’s headquarters in the historic Madlener House in Chicago's Gold Coast. Herda was the director and curator of the Storefront for Art and Architecture, an experimental nonprofit exhibition space in New York City from 1998-2006. Herda was also the director of marketing and sales, worldwide, for The Monacelli Press. She is active in the design community and serves on numerous advisory boards and review panels related to architecture, art, and design.

Sarah Elizabeth Ippel

Founder and Executive Director
Academy for Global Citizenship

In 2008, the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), a Chicago public elementary school, opened on the city’s underserved Southwest side where Ippel serves as its founder and executive director. AGC was established with an ardent commitment to environmental sustainability and is internationally recognized for its model green school initiatives combined with unprecedented academic results. As an international learning laboratory and incubator of scalable innovation, AGC is dedicated to transforming education, with an unwavering vision to impact 20 million students by 2020. Since earning a MA in philosophy from the University of Cambridge in England, she has traveled to over 80 different countries across six continents, extensively immersing herself in educational philosophies and world languages, as well as creating international alliances that have informed the design and culture of the Academy for Global Citizenship.

Kevin Johnson

Senior Manager, Mergers & Acquisitions
Acciona Energy North America

Johnson is the senior manager of mergers and acquisitions and leads federal market business development for Acciona Energy North America Corporation. Prior to joining Acciona, Johnson served as a captain in the United States Army and deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery Regiment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. His subsequent assignments included a two-year tour to Bamberg, Germany and a one-year assignment at the US Military Academy at West Point. Johnson earned his MA in business administration from Cornell University where he was a Park Leadership Fellow, and a BS in systems engineering from the US Military Academy. He is also a Truman Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, a member of the National Defense and Security Advisory Committee for the American Council on Renewable Energy, and a member of the Veterans Leadership Program at the Executives’ Club of Chicago.

Ashish Lal

Vice President
BDT & Company

Lal is a vice president at BDT & Company, a Chicago-based merchant bank that combines a $3.0 billion investment fund with advisory services to address the long-term strategic and financing needs of family and/or founder controlled companies. He was involved in establishing BDT’s strategic joint venture with one of India’s most highly regarded conglomerates and continues to spend a portion of his time establishing new relationships with family business owners outside of the United States. Prior to BDT, Lal spent six years at Charlesbank Capital Partners, the former private equity arm of the Harvard Management Company. He began his career at L.E.K. Consulting, where he divided his time between the Chicago, London, and Tokyo offices. Lal holds a BA from Northwestern University with a double major in applied mathematics and economics and an MBA from Wharton. He is a member of Northwestern University’s Chicago Regional Council and is former president of Northwestern’s New York alumni chapter.

Mark Palchak

Infinium Capital Management

Palchak is currently president at Infinium Capital Management, a Chicago-based proprietary trading firm with offices in both New York and London. Palchak has extensive experience with leading growth in the high tech competitive trading industry, working with his team to take multiple groups from start-up to major profit center. He has pursued his passion in small business development as the managing director of ARG Capital, a venture capital fund with holdings in industries including natural gas, military security, financial news, and Chinese infrastructure. Palchak has a passion for improving educational outcomes in Chicago as well as across the country. He serves on the board of directors for Amandla Charter School, an organization dedicated to improving outcomes for students in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Palchak frequently attends the Aspen Institute, including the executive seminar and seminars on foreign affairs. Palchak earned an MBA with honors from Notre Dame in 2009.

Alison P. Ranney

Midwest Lead, Nonprofit and Education Practice
Russell Reynolds Associates

Ranney leads the nonprofit and education practice in the Midwest for Russell Reynolds Associates, the global executive search firm. She recruits senior leaders to nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education in the United States and internationally. Ranney has placed CEOs and other senior leaders at many of Chicago’s major cultural, civic, and educational institutions. Prior to her executive search career, Ranney was in business and law and she began her career as a corporate attorney at Skadden, Arps. Committed to civic engagement, Ranney serves on the board of Chicago Public Media and on the Alumni Council of Phillips Andover Academy. She has been a director of City Year Chicago and the Ryerson Woods Conservation Area and on the visiting committee of the University of Chicago Law School. Ranney is also a director of the Lake Forest Bank & Trust. She received her BA in urban studies from Brown University and her MBA and JD from the University of Chicago.

Alexander Ross

Financial Adviser
Credit Suisse Securities USA

Ross is a financial adviser at Credit Suisse, managing the global assets of his clients. He is also a sponsor of Cornerstone Angels, which provides capital to start-up businesses. Prior to a career in finance, Ross was a strategy consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He received his MBA with a concentration in finance from Duke University after living in China for four years managing a joint venture transportation company. He has a BA in economics with a concentration in international studies from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, and is conversant in Mandarin Chinese. Ross, a Winnetka native, currently resides there with his wife and two children, staying active coaching his children’s sports and leading Cub Scouts.

Ross Shelleman

President and Chief Executive Officer
Target Data

Shelleman serves as president and CEO of Target Data, a venture-backed "Big Data" and analytics company focused on the life event of moving. Prior to founding Target Data, Shelleman held various senior business development positions across a multitude of industries including technology, healthcare, and managed services. Shelleman also cofounded Australian Portable Storage, a holding company that owns and operates PODS moving and storage franchises throughout Australia. Additionally, he serves as chairman of ARCO Capital Partners, an investment holding company that makes angel investments and leads small private equity transactions. Shelleman is a director at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. Shelleman earned a BA in English from Franklin and Marshall College.

Linhard Stepf

FrankfurtRhineMain Corp.

Stepf, a 10-plus year veteran in foreign direct investments and economic development marketing, is currently the president of FrankfurtRhineMain Corp. His responsibilities include promoting the Frankfurt region (Germany) in North America and Brazil to recruit and attract companies for relocation or expansion. His industry focus includes corporate and regional headquarters and convergent technologies including software, banking, and logistics. He has assisted startup companies as well as globally recognized companies in their relocation and expansion to Frankfurt, including Nike, American Axel Manufacturing, SonoSite, and Tesla Motors. Stepf has lived and worked extensively in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil. He is a chairmen's advisory board member of Big Shoulders Fund. Stepf holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He also earned a JD from the Saarland University Law School (Germany) and studied international law at Keio University (Japan).

Lisa G. Thomas

Director of Investments – Asia
Equator Capital Partners LLC

Thomas is the director of investments – Asia for Equator Capital Partners LLC (ECP), a fund management company for social impact private equity funds focused on investments in microfinance institutions and small business banks in developing economies. Thomas is responsible for sourcing and managing attractive investment opportunities that fit the company’s social mission. She is also a board director for Khushhali Bank Limited, the largest microfinance bank in Pakistan. Prior to joining the investment team, Thomas was vice president of capacity building and operations for CapitalPlus Exchange, ECP’s capacity building partner. In this role, she was responsible for developing the infrastructure of socially oriented financial institutions in Asia and Africa to meet profitability and impact goals. Thomas has also worked in investment banking, research, and consulting in New York and Chicago. She holds a BS (honors) in finance from the University of Oregon and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Shalini Unnikrishnan

Boston Consulting Group

Unnikrishnan is a core member of BCG's healthcare and social impact practices.  In healthcare, she advises clients in the biopharma, medtech, and payer space on a broad range of strategic issues. In social impact, Unnikrishnan serves as BCG Chicago's office node and works across public education, global health, and economic development teams globally. Unnikrishnan has also worked for former Prime Minister Tony Blair's nonprofit, Africa Governance Initiative—first, as a private sector development adviser to Rwanda's largest government agency RDB in 2009-2010. Most recently in 2012, she was a special adviser to the president, serving President Joyce Banda in Malawi and the country head of Blair's Malawi team. In these roles, Unnikrishnan was embedded within the government and worked alongside the core members of the president's team. Unnikrishnan earned a BA in economics and sociology from Davidson College in NC, an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA in international relations from SAIS, Johns Hopkins University.

Kuliva N. Wilburn

Senior Program Officer for Health
The Chicago Community Trust

Wilburn is the senior program officer for health at the Chicago Community Trust. Before working at the Trust, Wilburn worked at Access Community Health Network as their manager of planning and development, at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a technical writer, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a science policy analyst, and with Merck & Co. Inc, as a protein biochemist. Wilburn holds a BS in biochemistry from Drexel University and a MA in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently a doctoral student in the DrPH division at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

Endy Zemenides

Executive Director
Hellenic American Leadership Council

Zemenides is the executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national Greek-American advocacy organization dedicated to promoting human rights and the rule of law internationally, and building bridges between communities here in the United States. Prior to joining HALC, Zemenides practiced law in Chicago for over a decade, specializing in municipal law and government relations. Zemenides serves on the editorial board and board of advisors of the National Strategy Forum, and has lectured in international relations and American foreign policy in DePaul University's political science department. He received a BA from DePaul University, an MA from the University of Essex (UK), and his JD from the Georgetown University Law Center.