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Board of Directors

Cara Cookson, J.D. is an independent policy advisor and consultant who teaches courses in the Masters in Restorative Justice Program at Vermont Law School. As the former Policy Director for the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, Cara spent several years advocating for victim rights in the Vermont statehouse and provided legal consultation and technical assistance for victim service professionals, prosecutors, and criminal justice stakeholders around the state.

Cara also has represented individual and business clients as a general practice litigator, served as a law clerk the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, and worked as a U.S. Senate aide to the late Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT). Cara began working with UP’s founder, Helen Beattie, as an eight grade student at Cabot School in Vermont. She has served on the UP Board of Directors since its incorporation and assumed the role of Chair in 2018.

Belan is a lifelong Vermonter dedicated to her equity in her community. Since receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Sociology from Cornell University, she has focused her personal and professional efforts on community development and public policy through a strict equity lens. She has served as a Community Develop Specialist at the Community and Economic Development Office working to close opportunity gaps in educational and career opportunities faced by BIPOC youth and families, particularly within immigrant and refugee communities.

Concurrently, Belan worked to restructure and expand the City of Burlington Equity Report, measuring disparities in the city and offering data-based policy recommendations to promote equity across various domains such as public health, education, and housing. Belan is eager to bring her lived experience and expertise to her role on the UP for Learning Board of Directors, advocating for the needs of all youth through an equity lens.

Daniel is the founder of the Critical Friends Groups organization (NSRF), the Harmony School (high school) and the Project School in Bloomington, IN. He is a national consultant on school reform.

Erin Dezell has always believed strongly in the wisdom of young people to co-create meaningful learning experiences and the power that comes through the partnership of youth and adults working together. Erin became UP’s first full-time employee in 2013 and continued to foster and support UP growth over the next three years. Through her experience at UP Erin realized the best parts of her day were when she was interacting with the school-based teams and returned to school to become a school counselor. After graduating from Northern Vermont University in 2019, Erin has been working at Harwood Union Middle/High School as a 9-12 school counselor. When she’s not in school, you’ll find Erin spending her summers volunteering at Camp Knock Knock, a family bereavement camp, adventuring in Vermont’s green mountains with her dog George, and perfecting her pie crust.

Val is a past principal at Champlain Valley Union School, a Saint Michael’s College professor, and co-director of the Snelling Educational Leadership program.
Hillary is a Hazen Union YATST alumni student, and a communications professional.

Michelle is a former Getting to “Y” youth co-facilitator, and recently earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont. She is currently the Statewide Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Youth Development Program of the VT Department of Health.

Jan is a retired CPA, and has been engaged with UP for Learning’s growth over the past decade.
Ben is an adjunct professor for UVM and the Community College of Vermont, and former Director of Teacher Licensure at Goddard College.