Seven MLFTC alumni make the elite Sun Devil 100 for 2019

Seven  MLFTC alumni make the elite Sun Devil 100 for 2019
June 17, 2019
Kari Redfield

Sun Devil 100 celebrates the achievements of Arizona State University alumni who own or lead successful, innovative businesses. This year, seven alumni from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College were honored:

  • Yadira Flores, KOI Education

  • Daniel Gulchak, KOI Education

  • Jessica Irwin, S.E.E.K Arizona

  • Angel Jannasch-Pennell, KOI Education

  • Carol May, United American Industries/Wisdom Natural Brands

  • Sheila Richardson, Aspen Communications/Aspen Engineering & Contracting

  • Jay Soloff, DeLille Cellars

Carole Basile, dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, likes to say,  “You never know where an education degree will take you.” After Basile earned her teaching degree, she spent years in private industry, leading training and organizational development before earning her doctorate and eventually taking the reins at ASU’s MLFTC. “Education happens everywhere,” says Basile. “And the skills you learn and deploy as an educator are valuable in so many contexts beyond schools.”  

Yadira Flores

KOI Education

Co-founder and VP of Education and Professional Development

As a KOI Education co-founder and vice president of Education and Professional Development, Yadira Flores (MEd Educational Psychology, ‘04; PhD Educational Psychology, ’10) develops curriculum, and trains and supports KOI’s employees. She also works directly with clients as a consultant, trainer and coach.

“Our company’s approach is to assist schools to obtain outcomes by providing high-quality professional development training using research-based practices. What I am most proud of is being able to do this while creating positive collaborative relationships with our clients as we support their efforts,” Flores says. “My philosophy is that business is about relationships and meeting people where they are. I believe that in order to help meet the needs of our clients, we need to be aware and respect what they bring to the table. It is crucial to building collaboration, buy-in, ownership and trust in order to obtain sustainable outcomes. I am proud of the work of my colleagues and our continued collaboration with educators nationwide.”

Flores says that her doctoral program at ASU was instrumental in providing her with the evidence-based techniques that she shares with clients.

“At ASU, I discovered the world of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and learned about this framework. My dissertation focused on the impact of PBIS on ethnic minority students, combining my two passions: proactive and preventative school-wide systems and culturally responsiveness in education,” Flores says. “KOI Education was a spin-off of the work I was doing at ASU.”

She says she is continually motivated by how schools can transform when they develop, implement and sustain PBIS systems with fidelity.

“If I can help in creating effective and equitable learning environments where students feel safe and connected at school and have the opportunity to thrive, then that is all the motivation I need,” Flores says. “If I can help in creating a school environment where teachers feel safe, supported and can help prevent teacher burnout, then that keeps me motivated to continue the work I do.”

Daniel Gulchak

KOI Education

Co-founder and VP of Education and Research

Daniel Gulchak (PhD Curriculum and Instruction, Special Education ’08) helped start KOI Education in order to help educators create more effective learning environments. KOI was founded on the principles of sharing Knowledge that leads to Outcomes that Impact communities. Gulchak says that he directly applies his extensive MLFTC special education training in his role at KOI.

“What inspires me most is when a teacher tells me they have had the best school year ever because of the systems or practices we helped them implement. That makes me eager to do it again,” he says.

An example of a success story is one school that was less than a year away from being closed down by their district due to chronic behavior problems, gang issues and persistent underachievement.

“Within a year of implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) systems on their campus, teachers and staff were able to turn around the culture and climate of this school, remain open and begin once again to show pride in their school and in themselves,” Gulchak says. “Measurable outcomes include an improvement in school safety, decreased office referrals and decreased suspensions.”

Gulchak is humbled and inspired by KOI Education’s year over year growth. It means that the company can help even more people.

Jessica Irwin

S.E.E.K. Arizona LLC

President and CEO

Jessica Irwin (MEd Curriculum and Instruction ‘11) founded S.E.E.K. Arizona in 2002 in order to provide applied behavior analysis services to clients with developmental and behavioral disabilities of all ages in both classroom and in-home capacities. The company has the esteemed Behavior Health Center of Excellence® (BHCOE) accreditation, demonstrating that it meets the high standards of verified clinical quality, transparency and accountability.

Before founding S.E.E.K. Arizona, Irwin worked as a provider of evidence-based behavioral techniques to students and families with behavior disorders but felt hamstrung that families were so frustrated with the system.

“I wanted to do better for people in need of the services and their families,” Irwin says. “I started the company with very little cash, working out of my home when I hired the first 15 employees.”

Irwin also formed a non-profit, The Foundation for Exceptional Kids, to help families navigate the system of care that has been diminished by the recession-era reductions in funding. It, in cooperation with a number of local organizations and individuals, has helped many families access needed services.

Angel Jannasch-Pennell

KOI Education

Co-founder, President and CEO

KOI Education provides training opportunities for teachers, administrators and other school staff to learn to use evidence-based practices and techniques to eliminate disruptive behaviors. Angel Jannasch-Pennell (MS Special Education, ‘94; PhD Curriculum and Instruction, Special Education, ’96) and her co-founders, Yadira Flores (PhD ‘08) and Daniel Gulchak (PhD ‘08), launched KOI Education in 2011 and quickly spun it into a fast-growing organization dedicated to partnering with educators to create positive academic, behavioral and social achievements within the education community.

“When educators share specific, well-defined expectations with students and follow up with reinforcing actions, not only are classroom distractions decreased and often diminished but teacher satisfaction increases, as do reading levels and overall academic outcomes,” Jannasch-Pennell says.

“One aspect of the meaning behind the name of our organization is the zen-like feeling one can experience when taking a brief moment to watch a fish swimming. A person’s natural instinct is to pause, watch the fish and take a deep breath,” says Jannasch-Pennell. “Taking a pause and noticing the calm is important when working with folks who are stressed and dealing with disruptive behaviors."

One of KOI Education’s goals is to keep students in the classroom learning.

“No child should be left out,” says Jannasch-Pennell. “What we aim to do is create safe, positive educational environments and bring about positive educational outcomes. This is what we are most proud of as an organization. ”

Read more about KOI Education in this article.

Carol May

Wisdom Natural Brands®, maker of SweetLeaf® Stevia Sweetener and Wisdom of the Ancients

CEO and Owner

Carol May (BS Psychology, ‘77; MS Counseling, ’81) started her revolutionary natural foods brands with her husband, James, in their suburban garage back in 1982. It focused on stevia, a naturally sweet herb that James had come across while traveling in South America. The company website points out that back then, few in North America had heard of the plant, but James saw its potential as a premium, great-tasting, plant-based sweetener that he hoped the world would embrace as a healthy alternative to sugar or artificial sweeteners.

The couple put all their savings and assets into the company and even involved their five kids to help at tradeshows. The SweetLeaf Stevia Sweetener was the first stevia to receive Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status. Today, the company makes more than 35 products using SweetLeaf Stevia Sweetener.

According to the website, “The Mays’ hard work paid off and what began as a home-based operation blossomed into a global enterprise with the same core values of integrity, honesty and social responsibility. In late 2005, Wisdom moved into its new headquarters in a 30,000-plus square foot facility in Gilbert, which allowed the warehouse, administrative, sales and conference room space befitting an ever-expanding global company.”


Sheila Richardson

Aspen Communications/Aspen Engineering & Contracting

Executive Vice-President, CFO and Co-Owner

Aspen Communications is a technology infrastructure design-systems integrator with offices in Flagstaff and Prescott. Sheila Richardson (BAE Secondary Education, ’74) and her husband created Aspen Communications to help fill the need for licensed, bonded and insured low-voltage electrical contractors in Northern Arizona.

“Within our industry, it is generally recognized that between 85 to 95% of server problems (and this could easily apply to the hard-wired portion of internet access) are due to the cabling, not the server or the downline computers,” Richardson says. “Over the past 20 years, we have seen some stark and dismal examples of this that are expensive to correct once poor installation is in place.”

In addition to providing much-needed expertise, at Aspen Communications, Richardson developed an apprenticeship program for telecommunications technicians to help fill the workforce pipeline. It trains a beginner or new employee from probationary apprentice to journey-worker (equivalent to a technical engineering certification in telecommunications) in three years of applied, full-time work. Aspen created the apprenticeship in partnership with the Arizona Department of Economic Security and Arizona Apprenticeship Office. It’s recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, making the certification valid and recognized nationwide, and is approved for VA Educational Benefits.

“There is no question that my BAE was instrumental in the development of the apprenticeship program,” Richardson says. “I doubt that I would have attempted it without my education and skill set developed at ASU.”

Jay Soloff

DeLille Cellars

President and Co-founder

Jay Soloff (BAE Secondary Education/Political Science, ’73) has decades of experience in the wine business, starting back when he was earning his bachelor's degree while working in the food industry. In 1992, he founded DeLille Cellars, a boutique artisan winery in Woodinville, Wash., with his business partners, first focusing on Bordeaux-style blends.

Since then, the winery has grown, and over 180 of wines have scored 90+ (across 25 vintages) from leading publications such as Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Vinous/Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar and Wine Enthusiast. Mostly consumers can find the wines in high-end restaurants, but Costco now carries some of DeLille’s wines, such as DeLille Signature Syrah, DeLille D2 and DeLille Chaleur Blanc.

In addition to running the business, Soloff also teaches people how to enjoy fine wine.

“My degree laid the foundation to become a better leader,” Soloff says. “My education classes taught me how to recognize each person’s style of learning, and this epiphany has been invaluable in supporting me in becoming an effective leader.

“Applying these skills in the wine world, I learned to educate with an approachable and non-intimidating style, making wine knowledge accessible no matter what level of expertise or experience my clients or staff held. I soon learned to apply my teaching style in varied scenarios, from tableside education to diners in the capacity of a sommelier, working with sales personnel in markets around the world. The compelling aspect has always been that my ‘classroom’ is always different, keeping me engaged over the years in the wine industry and ultimately making me a better educator.”

His tips for other entrepreneurs are to focus on quality and integrity.

“You may remain small, but you will become sought after and held in high regard by those that recognize product integrity. As the old adage goes, ‘do what you love and the money will follow,’” he says.