Executive Officers

United by a shared commitment to student learning, our senior leaders provide the direction and strategic vision necessary to help kids and educators around the globe.

Chris Minnich - Chief Executive Officer

Chris Minnich leads the organization to deliver insights that help educators maximize their time and improve learning for all students. His focus on putting teachers and students at the forefront has created new partnerships, products and opportunities designed to help all kids learn.

Before joining NWEA in January 2018, Chris held several key leadership roles in the education industry. Most recently, Chris served as the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. While there, he led the organization to ensure all students in the public education system—regardless of background—graduated prepared for college, careers, and life. A critical part of his role was working with states to upgrade their standards and assessments, transform educator preparation programs, design new approaches to teaching and learning, and implement and sustain promising reforms across the country. He also directed the organization during its involvement in the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.

Previously, Chris held multiple positions at Harcourt, all of which focused on the advancement and improvement of assessments as well as helping teachers understand how to use assessment data. Before joining Harcourt, he served as the director of test design and implementation at the Oregon Department of Education. While there, he effectively led the statewide implementation of Oregon’s online assessment.

Chris holds a BS in political science from the University of Washington, Seattle, as well as an MPP from the University of Maryland, College Park. He currently serves as co-chair on the Oregon Business & Industry Education Committee and is a member of the University of Oregon President’s Diversity Committee.

Melissa Johnston - Chief Strategy Officer

Melissa Johnston oversees fulfilment of the organization’s strategic plan, competitive intelligence and strategic partnerships.

Before joining NWEA in April 2018, Melissa held several key leadership roles in education associations and non-profits. Most recently, Melissa served as deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), overseeing strategy development, strategic plan implementation, partnerships, and core operations. Melissa initially joined CCSSO in 2003 to help chiefs develop and implement policies and programs that would support education leaders. She continued to grow at the organization, becoming the director of strategy and implementation, then chief operating officer, and then deputy executive director. A notable part of her role was ensuring CCSSO not only had a strategic plan—focused on ensuring all students who graduated were prepared for college, careers, and life—but had a plan that drove staff work every day.

Prior to serving 15 years at CCSSO, Melissa held various programmatic roles at the Public Education Network, the National Association of School Psychologists, and Reading is Fundamental. Each of these roles helped refine her strategy development and execution skills to create impactful work to benefit children.

Melissa has a BA in American studies and black world studies from Miami University and an MS-SSA from the University of Chicago, with a concentration in policy analysis and nonprofit management.

Hunt Winston - Chief Operating Officer

Finance, human resources, partner services, product engineering, data operations and enterprise quality all come together under Hunt Winston’s lead. His focus is the quality development, timely delivery, and operation of all NWEA products.

Prior to joining NWEA in 2017, Hunt founded Agile Technology Services (ATS), Inc., a business strategy and technology startup based in Phoenix, AZ. Prior to ATS, Hunt led the combined $160M Americas industrial & discrete and aerospace business segments for the $8B global technology services firm, Infosys.

Hunt previously held senior technology leadership roles during his 15 years with Honeywell International, including the role of chief information officer for Honeywell’s defense & space business unit. Additionally, Hunt served four years in the United States Marine Corps. Hunt holds a BS in computer information systems from Park University and an MBA from Webster University. Additionally, he holds a Blackbelt Six Sigma certification.

Jason Mendenhall - President, State Solutions Division

Jason Mendenhall leads the organization in developing statewide assessments that go beyond measuring whether learning happened to supporting educators in fostering it. With a focus on student-centered, instructionally relevant test designs, the division works in partnership with states to develop innovative solutions that produce timely, high quality data to support accountability purposes as well as information that teachers can use to take impactful action and improve educational outcomes for all students.

Jason joined NWEA in 2003 after a career in the classroom as a secondary and post-secondary educator. He has served in a number of capacities at NWEA, including chief product officer and executive vice president of research, vice president of publishing and test development, senior director of strategic implementation, director of alternative markets and supplemental service programs, and director of product strategy.

In 2014, Jason joined Rubicon International as a partner and later founded Argo Advisors, an education consulting firm focused on student-centered learning system. In 2016 he returned to NWEA as the sr. vice president of strategic solutions and before assuming his current role.

Jason has BA in biology and literature and a master’s in teaching from Pacific University where he currently serves on the advisory council for the College of Education.

Geri Cohen - Executive Vice President of Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer

Geri Cohen joined NWEA in 2005 and brings over 30 years of diversified experience in the financial, software, and online services industries. NWEA benefits from her strong emphasis in business line management, technology-based product development, and organizational turnarounds—a unique combination of skills and insights acquired from working in both Fortune 500 companies and successful start-ups.

Prior to NWEA, Geri progressed through two turbulent decades in the financial services industry, helping major banks navigate through rapid deregulation, massive shifts in the economic environment, and emerging technologies with innovative and profitable services. She started in the advanced technology group with First Chicago and ultimately served as vice president and manager of card products at US Bank and vice president and manager of consumer loan products at Wells Fargo. From there, Geri launched a new career in Portland’s nascent software industry, most recently serving as director of solutions engineering at Unicru (now Kronos) delivering psychometrically validated workforce assessments and analytics.

Geri received her MBA in finance and BA in psychology from the University of Chicago.

Brent Lieberman - Executive Vice President Partner Accounts

Brent Lieberman leads the sales and account management teams responsible for both acquiring and successfully managing partner accounts. Brent’s teams focus on providing partners the solutions they need to ensure that students and teachers succeed in achieving growth for every student.

Prior to joining NWEA, Brent’s career spanned from the classroom to the boardroom. Brent began his career as a 3rd and 4th grade elementary school teacher. Since moving to the high-tech world and acquiring an MBA, he has amassed over 25 years of diversified experience in sales, account management, and delivery of technical business solutions for the public and private sectors. He is experienced in complex consultative and solution sales, resulting in multi-million-dollar software and services deals. His extensive experience in negotiating successful business transactions and contracts has served him well at a number of organizations over the past decades, including US Bancorp, Crown Zellerbach, James River, Claremont Technology Group, Covansys, Computer Sciences Corporation, Saber Government Solutions, Electronic Data Services, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services.

Brent holds a BS in elementary education from Portland State University and an MBA from the University of Portland.

Dr. Fred McDaniel - Executive Vice President, Assessment and Professional Learning

Fred McDaniel leads the publishing, psychometrics, and professional learning teams at NWEA. Fred has worked in the education and educational assessment arena for many years, beginning his career in Virginia as a boarding school counselor for students with emotional disturbances and learning disabilities. He also worked as a teaching parent in residential facilities in North Carolina for children and adolescents in trouble with the law. It was during this time that he became interested in educational assessment and research while trying to advocate for the students he served. Fred has managed accountability and assessment systems as well as served as the chief planning officer for a large public school system in South Carolina. Fred has previously served as the director of test development and the vice president of operations for NWEA.

Fred received his BA from the University of Montana’s Davidson Honors College and holds an MEd in educational research and measurement and a PhD in educational psychology and research from the University of South Carolina.

Throughout his career, Fred has volunteered for a variety of organizations, including Friends of Epworth, a private, not-for-profit organization devoted to raising funds in support of The Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia, South Carolina; the Richland Two Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising funds to support educational initiatives for Richland School District Two; Leadership Columbia; and as a volunteer coach for youth football and soccer programs.

Katie Topping - Executive Vice President of Marketing & Communications

Katie Topping’s career encompasses both education and technology marketing. She leads the marketing, public relations, advocacy, and internal communications teams in championing the NWEA mission to audiences around the world.

Katie’s marketing career spans twenty years in the technology industry. At the international public relations firm Text 100, she led strategic communications for blue-chip clients such as Microsoft, Intel, and Orange. She helped to oversee the expansion of the company from fifty employees to over 300. As executive vice president at the US agency Waggener Edstrom, Katie led Asian expansion, managed business development and marketing, and played a key role on the Microsoft leadership team.

Prior to joining NWEA, Katie taught third, fourth, and fifth grade at Mill Park Elementary in Portland, OR, where she also developed partnerships and programs to enrich students and engage parents.

Katie holds a BA in journalism from the University of Oregon and an MA in teaching from Willamette University.

Joanne Luzietti - Executive Vice President of District Product Strategy

Joanne Luzietti is passionate about driving strong collaborations between educators and business leaders to provide the best opportunities for kids. She leads the District Product Management team, which is focused on eliminating pain points for district partners by enhancing our core products and bringing new solutions to market.  She also directs the Partner Experience team, charged with defining the top experience needs of our partners and working across the organization to make them a reality.  Joanne previously served as Vice President of Strategy, defining and implementing the organization’s strategic plan. She began her NWEA career in Professional Learning, where she led a large team of Professional Learning Consultants who delivered professional development workshops and courses around the world.

Prior to joining NWEA, Joanne held several leadership roles in educational organizations including KinderCare Learning Centers and a network of online schools.  She began her career in management consulting and taught courses in strategy at Portland State University.

She received her BA with honors in economics and mathematics from Vanderbilt University and her MBA with an emphasis in Strategy from The Anderson School at UCLA.

Dr. Aaliyah Samuel - Executive Vice President, Government Affairs & Partnerships

Dr. Aaliyah Samuel has experience in policy development and implementation at the local, state, and national level. With expertise from early childhood through higher education, Aaliyah leads a team driving an ambitious state and federal education agenda.

Prior to NWEA, Aaliyah was the Director of Education at the National Governors Association. In this role, she informed state policy agendas, assisted with developing cross systems approaches to create policy solutions to support children and families and drove strategic planning efforts. lead systems-level change.

Aaliyah holds an undergraduate degree from Tuskegee University, a master’s from University of South Florida, and specialist and EdD degrees from Nova Southeastern University. In 2019, she was appointed as a Fellow to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

Dacia Hopfensperger - Executive Vice President of State Solution Delivery

Dacia has dedicated her professional career to improving educational outcomes for K-12 students across the country.  At NWEA, she leads the team responsible for managing, supporting, and delivering unique solutions for our state partners.

Prior to joining NWEA in 2016, Dacia served in diverse roles in education. She’s worked as a high school special education teacher, school psychologist, building leader, district administrator and in the assessment space. These roles refined her passion and commitment to positively influence and shape learning systems for all students.

Dacia has a BS in education from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a master’s in Education – School Psychology from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. She also maintains her teacher, principal, curriculum director, and student services director licensures earned through the Education Leadership and Policy Analysis master’s program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Dr. Beth Tarasawa - Executive Vice President of Research

Dr. Beth Tarasawa is committed to using data-driven insights to transform education and eliminate structural barriers to achieve equitable outcomes for all students. Beth oversees the Center for School & Student Progress and Collaborative for Student Growth. These research teams are devoted to advancements in assessment and growth measurement, answering fundamental questions to inform policy and practice, and drive educational innovation.

Beth’s research focuses on issues related to educational equity, particularly those concerning social class, race, and linguistic diversity. Her work has been featured by PBS’s NewsHour, Children’s Institute, The Hechinger Report, The AtlanticEducation Week, and New America. 

Prior to joining NWEA, she was a faculty member at Washington State University and St. Norbert College.

Beth earned her PhD and a master’s in sociology of education with a concentration in education policy at Emory University. Passionate about community engagement, Beth serves the region as a volunteer and advocate for Open School East, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Friends of the Children, Resolutions Northwest, Portland Housing Center, and Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.