Our Leadership Team


Doug Tuthill, President

Doug Tuthill has been president of Step Up For Students since August 2008. He is a former high school teacher, college professor, and teacher union president. Doug is married with two adult children. He graduated from the University of Florida, where he was student body president.

Joe Pfoundz
Joe Pfountz, Chief Financial Officer

Joe Pfountz leads the team that oversees Step Up For Students’ accounting, finance, treasury, risk management and knowledge management functions and ensures the highest level of fiscal accountability and transparency at Step Up For Students and the programs it administers.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Joe spent 29 years in various leadership roles including Chairman of the Board, Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer and Director of Finance for not-for-profit and for-profit enterprises in the healthcare and manufacturing sectors. Joe began his career in the assurance group of KPMG as an auditor of manufacturing, healthcare, construction and banking companies. Joe received his bachelor’s degree from Christian Brothers College in Memphis, TN.

Lesley Searcy, Chief External Relations Officer

For over 20 years, Lesley has provided transformational, executive leadership to large scale nonprofits. At Step Up for Students, Lesley leads the fundraising, policy, and state partnership teams. Her experience in aligning boards, donors, employees, and communities to a mission has helped to build strong, outcome-based nonprofits. Additionally, her entrepreneurial vision has helped create social enterprises and diverse funding streams for multiple organizations.  Lesley is a veteran in public affairs developing critical relationships with media and elected officials leading successful policy results. Lesley earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Alabama and a Master of Arts in Public and Private Management from Birmingham Southern College. She is also a John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer, and coach.

Alissa Randall, Chief Marketing Officer

Alissa has served as a marketing leader with Step Up For Students since 2009, holding multiple roles within the marketing department. In her current role as CMO, she leads a team spearheading strategies to increase student acquisition and growth. 

Alissa serves as committee co-chair for the Nonprofit Committee with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). She was recently asked to join the USF Digital Marketing Steering Committee. 

Prior to joining Step Up, Alissa devoted 10+ years in key account strategy and business development, most recently as Cox Target Media director of key accounts. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Roger Williams University, a master’s in media from The New School for Social Research, and a master’s in computer animation from William Paterson University.

Anne White
Anne White, Chief Administrative Officer

Anne White provides leadership support for our human resources, organizational and professional development teams as well as our compliance, risk management and purchasing functions. She has been with Step Up since 2010.  Previously, she served as the organization’s Chief Operating Officer, responsible for scholarship operations and employee resources.

Prior to joining the staff, Anne spent more than 15 years in the global business process, hospitality and higher education industries, most recently as Director of Global Client Services and Operations at Convergys Corporation.  Anne received her bachelor’s degree from The American University in Washington, D.C.  She holds a coaching certification from the Institute of Social and Emotional Intelligence and is a certified John Maxwell speaker and coach, as well as a member of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Lauren Barlis, Senior Director, Student Learning & Partner Success

Lauren Barlis has been with Step Up For Students since 2013. In her current role as Senior Director of the Student Learning and Partner Success department, she manages a team of educators who support school improvement by connecting schools and families to high quality educational resources. The SLPS team leverages relationships and outreach to almost 2,000 K-12 private schools across Florida who serve our scholarship students to drive mobilization and advocacy. She has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida and has been working in the classroom since 2004. Her dissertation research focused on resilience and how teachers can support Black students from low-income families in pursuing academic success.

Kym Beelman, Senior Director, Scholarship Operations

Kym Beelman is the Senior Director of Strategic and Scholarship Operations at Step Up For Students.  Prior to joining Step Up For Students, she spent more than 20 years in the customer care industry in various roles including underwriting, care center leadership, sales leadership, and quality assurance leadership. Kym is responsible for driving and executing strategies for operational efficiencies.  Kym’s focus is on customer satisfaction and working on processes that will improve the experience for our families, schools and providers.

Susan Dugan, Vice President, Finance

Susan Dugan is the Vice President of Finance and has been with Step Up For Students since 2013. She leads all financial functions of the organization and its affiliates. She is responsible for the organization’s assets and the programs Step Up For Students administers.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Susan’s career has predominantly been in the non-profit arena as well as working in the public accounting sector auditing non-profits, manufacturing, construction, and banking companies. Susan received her bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville University.

Anne Francis, Vice President, Development

Anne Francis began working for Step Up For Students in 2010 and has held multiple roles within the Development Department. In her current role as Vice President, she is responsible for driving and executing strategies to secure philanthropic and tax-credited contributions.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Anne worked in multiple arenas of nonprofit development, including collegiate athletics, higher education, and health and human services. Anne holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in psychology and visual arts from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Craig Gonsalves, Vice President, IT Solutions

Craig Gonsalves joined Step Up For Students in 2014 and currently leads the technology solutions group tasked with delivering IT projects.  At Step Up For Students, Craig has held the positions of Senior Project Manager, Project Portfolio Manager and most recently served as the Senior Director of Project Management.

Prior to joining Step Up For Students in 2014, Craig built extensive experience in the areas of software quality assurance, business analysis, software automation and project management, working on digital marketing, title insurance and lottery system solutions, helping to process millions of transactional records annually for each industry.  Craig spent twelve years traveling to different countries across the globe building and implementing electronic lottery systems for use in the US and internationally.

Joshua Whitley, Senior Director, Software and Quality Engineering
Joshua Whitley is responsible for the organization’s enterprise architecture, software development, quality assurance, business intelligence & enterprise data warehouse, and production application support teams. He is responsible for aligning the company’s software and data technology strategy to the organization’s mission and goals, through strategic third party integrations, as well as platform & software modernization, that allow for greater flexibility and scalability. Joshua has been with Step Up For Students since December of 2020. 
Prior to joining Step Up For Students, Joshua spent over 20 years in various technology and leadership roles in the banking and financial services sectors. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Columbus State University in Columbus, GA. He also holds multiple cloud and software platform certifications.
Amy Graham, Vice President, Policy and Public Affairs

Amy Graham is a policy analyst who recently joined Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income children. A graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, Amy previously worked as a legislative analyst for the Florida Senate and as an education policy analyst focused on school choice programs for the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education. She also is an alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan University.

Dava Hankerson, Director, Enterprise Data and Research

Dava Hankerson oversees SUFS’ research team and manages the business priorities and delivery of enterprise-level data solutions that meet the demands of both internal and external customers. She is responsible for driving SUFS’ data and research strategy of making key data accessible and accurate for data-informed decision making and student success.

Dava has spent her career in education teaching high school mathematics and serving as Department Chairperson and Academic Coach in Broward County Public School system for over 8 years. She then went on to teach several college education courses at Florida State University and work on numerous research projects for the Department of Education and the Center for Postsecondary Success on educational equity/access and education reform. Dava joined Step Up in 2015 and truly enjoys the fact that her work allows her the ability to continue to impact student lives by helping provide children and families access to additional educational opportunities through Florida’s choice programs.

Dava holds a bachelor’s degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University, a master’s degree in Education from Fort Hays State University, and is a doctoral candidate for a PhD in Education Policy and Evaluation.

Jody Hysler, Senior Director, Compliance

Jody Hysler leads the team that ensures Step Up for Students operates within both the statutory and internal policy structure established for scholarship programs and the organization.

Jody joined the Step Up team in 2007 as the Office Manager and School Advocate. During her tenure with Step Up Jody has worked as Director of Operations, Director of New Client Services, Director of Operational Compliance and Training and Director of Compliance.

Jill LaRose, Vice President for Leadership Development

Jill LaRose is the Vice President for Leadership Development. She is responsible for helping SUFS leaders operationalize our two core cultural values–everyone is an asset, and every event is an improvement opportunity–by promoting stronger cognitive and emotional management skills across the organization.

Jill is a certified Life Coach and for ten years was the founder and president of the Angel Society, a nonprofit, child welfare organization that provided shelter and support for girls who were wards of the state. Jill has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education.

Amanda Lopez, Director, Operational Communications

Amanda Lopez is the Director of Operational Communications at Step Up For Students. She is responsible for overseeing communications sent from all departments to our families and schools including strategies to increase efficiencies among the various communication channels.

Amanda joined Step Up For Students in June of 2004 as the receptionist which, at the time, served as our Customer Service center. Over the years she has held many positions at Step Up including Application Processor, Parent Advocate, Senior School Advocate, Director of Community Outreach and Director of Advancement. Amanda earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Florida.

Jillian Metz, Vice President, Development

With combined passions for education and philanthropy, Jillian Metz leads the development team in its annual tax credit fundraising and philanthropic goals that support the organization’s mission of empowering parents to pursue and engage in the most appropriate learning options for their children.

Jillian joined Step Up For Students in 2006 as the communications specialist. During her tenure with Step Up For Students, Jillian has also worked as the marketing and events manager, and joined the development team in 2011 where she currently serves as vice president. Jillian received her bachelor’s degree in public relations with a minor in business from the University of Florida.

Paula Headshot
Paula Nelson, Senior Director, Student Learning & Partner Success

Paula Nelson has been with Step Up For Students (SUFS) for five years in the Office of Student Learning, now known as the Student Learning and Partner Success (SLPS) department.  Paula co-leads a team of educators who serve to support private schools with high-quality instructional resources and best practices. These resources include assessments that drive instruction, digital tools to support learning, classroom culture, differentiated instructional practices, knowledge-based curriculum and much more. The SLPS team also supports interdepartmental initiatives to support the school choice option for students and their families.

Paula holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Specific Learning Disabilities K-12 from the University of South Florida, a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, and an Educational Specialist Degree in Teaching, Learning and Assessment from the University of Florida.  She spent 32 years in Pinellas County Schools as an SLD Teacher, Varying Exceptionalities Specialist, Assistant Principal, High School Principal, and Supervisor for the Gulfcoast Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources Systems (FDLRS) for the FLDOE. One highlight during her tenure in Pinellas County, was the opportunity to join a team of educators and leaders to open a middle school that would lead the district in Total Quality Management (TQM) based on the work of W. Edward Deming.  Paula served as a school-based writer for the Florida Governors Sterling Award for Quality, aligned to the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. Paula also served as an Adjunct Professor at National Louis University in the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Graduate program.

Heidie Nesset, Director, Platform Service Operations

Heidie Nesset currently serves as Director, Platform Service Operations for Step Up For Students. In this role, she provides strategic analysis and oversight for the platform supporting Education Savings Accounts (ESA). Heidie has been with Step Up since January 2012 serving in various roles.

Prior to joining Step Up, Heidie served in various government affairs roles. Heidie holds a bachelors and masters degree in American politics and policy from The Florida State University. She a Certified Product Owner, Scrum Master & Fundraising Executive, was a member of Cohort 11 of the University of Notre Dame’s Reform Leaders Summit and has a certificate in Diversity & Inclusion from Cornell University.