The Vanguard conference is a gathering of rising urban innovators working to make change in cities. Designed to bring together professionals working across disciplines and sectors, each Vanguard class includes policymakers and politicians, architects and urban planners, artists and mediamakers, all selected through a competitive application process. After more than a decade of Vanguard conferences, the Vanguards number more than 400. Learn more about Vanguards past and present on this page, where you can search for Vanguards and Vanguard alumni by discipline, geographic area and more. Find your next collaborator or just learn about these rising leaders.
Edith Abeyta is a visual artist living in North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Her current practice is centered around people, identity and negotiating relationships with the built environment. This manifests as temporary installations, sculptures and experiential life events. She frequently collaborates with other visual artists, poets, scholars, and the public.
Carlee Alm-LaBar was recently appointed President/CEO of United Way of Acadiana following a second-place finish for Mayor-President of Lafayette Parish. Returning to the nonprofit sector, she will leverage her previous roles in the public and private sector to bring community solutions to complex problems, particularly in the wake of COVID-19.
With almost 8 years of professional experience, Camille has worked in planning offices as well as private landscape architecture firms. As the co-founder of BlackSpace Chicago and chair of the ILASLA Service committee she enjoys spending her time collaborating and advocating.
Mike Barsotti is the Member Services and Outreach Manager for the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, leading programming for sports-based youth development nonprofits and outreach to support the growth of the SBYD ecosystem.
A Philly native, Mike played professional baseball and worked in politics and government before joining the nonprofit sector.
Brian is a community development and sustainability professional with more than 12 years of experience working alongside neighborhood stakeholders to build relationships and strengthen communities.
Brian adapts community development strategies to build upon existing assets and reflect the needs and experiences of residents. He emphasizes public art, food, culture and community gathering opportunities that allow people to interact, engage, and contribute to a greater sense of community ownership, pride, health, and wellbeing.
Ivory is a South L.A. native and social justice-focused urban planner. She serves as Director of Neighborhood Initiatives for Watts Rising, a place-based, community-driven sustainable community development initiative which is implementing multimillion dollar CA Transformative Climate Communities and U.S. HUD Choice Neighborhood Implementation grants, in concert with the $1B Jordan Downs public housing community redevelopment. Ivory has a passion for animating the genius and promise of Black and Brown people in community design, and hopes to cultivate environments of choice and opportunity for children like her two daughters whom she is blessed to steward.
Allan is a licensed architect and Senior Project Manager at Hester Street, an urban planning, design and development nonprofit that works to ensure neighborhoods are shaped by the people who live in them. Allan’s career has centered on delivering community development projects that focus on racial and economic inequality through affordable housing and community planning. His work leverages inclusive community engagement to drive local buy-in, meeting design and development goals through best practices and innovation in architecture and construction management.
As the Policy Director for North Carolina’s Department of Transportation, Aldea is responsible for improving strategic transportation policies within the agency. She has 18+ years of experience in urban planning policy and legislation, leadership capacity building, community organizing and non-traditional outreach initiatives. She holds her master’s in Geography from UNC at Charlotte and bachelor’s in Environmental Science from NC A&T State University.
Growing up loving nature and the power of a united community, Samir has shaped his career as an urban planner that focuses on the relationship between our physical environment, health, and community empowerment. Samir currently works as the Planning Manager for the Philadelphia LandCare Program with PHS, helping to turn vacant lots into community assets.
As the managing director of Executive Director of Kultivate Labs, he has successfully grown businesses through strategic branding, design, and crowdfunding. As a dedicated community advocate, Desi is currently leading the strategy for the economic development of SOMA Pilipinas, a newly designated cultural district in San Francisco.
Brittney Drakeford combines faith, arts, and technology to energize communities to create equitable places for generations today and tomorrow. Her practice centers on how the built environment holds memories of discrimination and how to leverage the intangible cultural heritage of the marginalized to advance shared leadership and collective action.
Director, Homeless Initiatives & Community Development for The Salvation Army. Former Public Affairs Director for the Golden State Warriors—spearheaded new arena organizing efforts. Former Commissioner City of SF, created over 1,000 affordable units. Notre Dame de Namur University, Bachelor’s in Political Science. University of San Francisco, Master’s in Urban Affairs.
Amber Elliott is the Community-based Improvement Advisor on the Built For Zero Team and the former Housing Director for the North Hartford Partnership, where she works to dismantle the system impediments that create the precursors to homelessness. She is a graduate of Howard University and University of Michigan Law.
Edward is Co-Founder, Head of Strategy and Operations for AreaProbe, a tech-enabled research and advisory firm focused on housing and commercial real estate development in urban communities. Edward has over 14 years of professional experience in real estate finance, research and economic development.
Beau is the founder and Principal Architect of Activate Architecture, an Austin-based design and community engagement firm that collaborates with communities, cities and clients to create socially engaged, sustainable, and beautiful spaces. Beau is passionate about equitable design and advancing equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, especially with the LGBTQIA+ community.
Nancy is the Director of Development at Shift Capital, a social-impact real estate firm focused on making more inclusive and sustainable cities. She draws on her community development finance background and works across disciplines to activate blighted spaces and bring residential, commercial, industrial and mixed-use real estate projects to fruition.
Yonina Gray is a Chicago native with a passion for creatively connecting the dots. Ms. Gray is a mission-driven community development finance professional with a passion for upward mobility of low wealth people and places. She’s known for sourcing relationships that yield innovative solutions, strategic investments and strengthened communities.
Brandon L. Greene manages the Oakland Civic Design Lab. Previously, he created and lead the decriminalization of poverty clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center. He’s a graduate of Boston University School of Law where he was a Public Interest Scholar and Martin Luther King Social Justice Fellow
As the Director of School-Centered Neighborhood Development for the Community Learning Center Institute, Adelyn works to stabilize neighborhoods based on the model of school-centered community revitalization. Before joining CLCI, Hall graduated from the University of Cincinnati with her Master’s in Planning, as well as served in the Peace Corps.
Emma is a community developer based in Greensboro, NC. In her current role she’s leading the redevelopment of a 45-acre historic textile mill community. Her interests lie in repurposing spaces and creating places — through preservation, development, DIY urbanism, and authentic community engagement.
Natalia Hernández is a native to the city of Milwaukee who works for Harbor District, Inc., an organization whose mission is to revitalize Milwaukee’s inner harbor. As Outreach Specialist, her role is to inform and engage nearby residents, community members, and other stakeholders in the development of the Harbor District.
Jerrianne is a Senior Economic Development Specialist where she advocates for small businesses, and connects small business owners to business networking, educational, and financial resources. She believes in the spirit of entrepreneurship and is a strong supporter of the small business community.
As a Financially-Independent Retired-Early (FIRE) alum, Maxwell spends his days pursuing wide-ranging passions including urban advocacy and sustainability. With a professional background that spans the music industry, non-profit sector and real estate development, he maintains a busy “retirement” schedule with various projects supporting the artistic, athletic and startup business communities.
Sam Leichtling is the Long Range Planning Manager for the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development. Sam is a Milwaukee native who has worked at the City of Milwaukee for more than a decade and served in leadership roles in strategic and neighborhood planning and affordable housing development.
Tim Leisman is the captain of Code for Greensboro and an Evaluation Analyst on the Center for Creative Leadership’s Societal Advancement team. He is a civic tech enthusiast, designer of equitable solutions, community organizer, and graduate of Guilford College and UNC Greensboro’s MPA program.
Karlos L. Marshall has been recognized globally as a leading practitioner-scholar at the intersections of social entrepreneurship, civic innovation, and education. He has received some of the following recognitions: Forbes 30 Under 30, United States Library of Congress Literacy Awards, International Literacy Association 30 Under 30, and OpenIDEO Innovation Prize.
Matt Martin has been the Executive Director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership (TNP) since its launch in 2010. TNP manages the Trumbull County Land Bank and focuses on housing, food access, and community organizing in Warren, Ohio. A Cleveland native, he has a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies and a Master of Arts in Environmental Studies, both from Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs.
Alec Martinez is an urbanist from the border city of Laredo, Texas. He has worked on award-winning comprehensive plans, urban agriculture ordinances, safe street initiatives, and all manner of advocacy and activism. He currently organizes through Texas-Mexico border based Red Wing, which is currently creating mutual aid networks for COVID-19 relief. Alec is an Urban & Regional Studies graduate from Cornell University and a Truman Scholar. He sits on the board of NASCO and believes in working towards cooperative community ownership of the means of production.
Abigail is an urban planner specializing in affordable housing development. Committed to inclusion in planning, she recently launched the Black Planning Project and MIIPOC a mentoring initiative with early career IBPOC planning professionals, to promote and encourage dialogue amongst racialized planners and contribute to new knowledge and practice from these perspectives.
Alyssa is an urban design planner for the City of Salisbury, North Carolina. She works on long range community design projects to improve the quality of life and vibrancy of Salisbury, including the City’s annual BlockWork program, sculpture show, and various placemaking projects. Alyssa holds a Masters in Architecture and a Masters in Urban Design from UNC Charlotte and a Bachelor of Art from Franklin Pierce University.
Jane Nicholson is a Planning Senior Project Manager with EDR in Syracuse, NY, where she focuses on long-range planning and resiliency. As a Certified Planner and Flooodplain Manager, she is passionate about creating strong communities through holistic, nature-based designs, and better understanding the relationship between people and the environment.
Nydia has worked as a management consultant serving Public Housing Authorities around the country, as a community organizer, program director, and in various other roles designing and overseeing public. She is passionate about transforming formerly redlined neighborhoods and serving the families who live in them.
Samantha currently serves as Deputy Director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives in the Mayor’s Policy Office for the City of Philadelphia. Through the lens of a practitioner, Samantha offers a blend of theory and practice in policy development, community development, and disaster recovery program design and implementation.
Afif Rahman is the Chief Operating Officer of NuWatt Energy, a leading solar power provider in the US. He is a firm advocate of complementing civic and political efforts with capital mobilization, asset ownership, and enterprise growth in underserved communities to bridge longstanding opportunity gaps and catalyze greater social equity.
Mary Quinn Ramer is President of VisitLEX, where she oversees all administrative, marketing and convention activities for Lexington, KY. Ramer has leveraged 20 years of tourism, marketing communications, and event planning experience to raise Lexington’s national profile while celebrating forgotten histories and telling untold stories.
Emily Scott is an Economic Development Program Officer at Local Initiatives Support Corporation Indianapolis. Emily supports LISC’s commercial corridor revitalization programs and inclusive economic district initiative. Emily received her Masters of Public Affairs from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and her B.A. in political science from Purdue University.
Curator of commercial communities, connector of creative Clients, and enabler of economic developments, supported by locals. 10 years as a Real Estate Consultant, City strategist, and Community communicator, with a vetted network of A.T. Connections.
Kate is a musician, storyteller and creative director. She has 10+ years of experience working in journalism, creative production, design and music—from leading video and emerging platforms production at The Washington Post, to building an award-winning creative content studio, to designing innovative experiences in wellbeing and the creative arts.
Dillon Tyler currently serves with the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and is currently a 2020 Fellow of the New Leaders Council. His work intersects social justice and coalition-building in the public and private sectors. Dillon holds a B.A. in Political Science (Pre-Law) from UNC Greensboro.
Shehara Waas is a queer, disabled, woman of color, and mixed methods policy researcher. With a background in environmental justice and an interest in community development, Shehara seeks to center community voice in the way policy research is conducted. She is the Research Manager of the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council.
As Associate Director of Ball State University’s Office of Community Engagement and Program Manager for Building Better Neighborhoods, Heather works directly with the city’s neighborhood associations to help build capacity and make connections with BSU faculty, staff, students, and programs.
Richard Young is a Kentuckian and an artist working in the field of civic practice. He runs a nonprofit civic education and media organization in Lexington called CivicLex and works to co-create a future for both rural and urban Kentucky through the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange.
Snoweria is a designer, artist, and mathematician. She is currently the Urban Innovation Architect at KPFui. Her work spans architecture, urbanism, computation, and technology. Her design was recently featured on the cover of Nature. She also draws a webcomic called Lonesome Whales.