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Welcome to our Project Be Talks and Conversations With...!

Watch our Videos to listen as our speakers share their stories about how they designed their career and life path and offer invaluable advice to help you to find and create your own path.

Project Be Talks Speakers:


VP, Creative Portfolio Executive

Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneyland Resorts

Walt Disney Imagineering

Luc Mayrand joined Walt Disney Imagineering in 1998. He is currently the VP, Creative Portfolio Executive of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneyland Resorts, overseeing Creative for all WDI projects in China.  Previously, Luc was an Executive Creative Director and Show Producer on several E-ticket projects, as well as doing on-going Blue Sky work for future attractions and parks.  Luc studied industrial design at Université de Montréal and Art Center College of Design.  Prior to joining Walt Disney Imagineering, he worked as creative director and concept designer with independent producers for 10 years.  Luc’s experience includes projects in themed entertainment, film, television and games - working in Japan, England, France, and Korea.  His career and his personal research have been fueled by a life-long passion for the future, stories, science, design and complexity.


Over the last 7 years, Luc has been a core lead in the development of Shanghai Disneyland for China, which will open June 2016.  He currently leads a brand new land called Treasure Cove, based entirely on Pirates of the Caribbean.


Some of Luc's projects include:

Mission: Space - Epcot, Walt Disney World

Space Mountain:  Mission 2 - Disneyland Paris

Space Mountain Relaunch - Disneyland California

Star Trek: The Experience - Las Vegas, Nevada

Babylon 5, television series - Warner Brothers Television

Starship Troopers - Tri-Star Pictures


As Executive Creative Director of Creations at Cirque Du Soleil, Welby Altidor seconds its Creative Guide in overseeing a portfolio of Cirque's core future projects. He was Director of Creation for Michael Jackson ONE, “a multimedia extravaganza that often flies high, but never loses sight of its inspiration” (Associated Press), that is currently in residence at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. He is one of the creators of C:LAB, the creative laboratory of The Cirque Du Soleil Group. The lab's first project is SPARKED, a short film that features 10 quadcopters and unites humans and flying machines in choreography.


Previously, Altidor was Cirque Du Soleil’s Director of Creation in the Images, Events, and Lifestyle division, where he led a number of large-scale creative projects. He was previously Director of Strategic Relations, Arts, Circus, and Sports. In this role, he developed strategic partnerships in more than a dozen countries, including an important alliance with the International Gymnastics Federation. His first position at Cirque was in the casting department as a talent scout, traveling the world and recruiting hundreds of artists for Cirque shows.



Executive Creative Director of Creations

Cirque Du Soleil

In her role as Executive Vice President of Children’s Entertainment for The Jim Henson Company, Halle Stanford leads the Company’s development and production of all preschool and children’s programming for television, home entertainment and digital media in animated and live-action formats. An eight-time Emmy®-nominated children’s television producer, she currently serves as an executive producer on the award-winning series Sid the Science Kid and Dinosaur Train, which currently air daily on PBS KIDS® in the U.S. and in multiple markets around the world as well as the first Hulu Original series for kids, Doozers, a CG-animated preschool series inspired by the wildly popular characters from the classic Henson series Fraggle Rock. Halle is also an executive producer on the live-action preschool series Hi Opie!; the Emmy®-nominated preschool series Pajanimals airing daily on the Sprout Network; and the upcoming preschool offering Word Party which is currently in production and will premiere on Netflix in 2016. Most recently, Stanford executive-produced the Lifetime Thanksgiving television feature Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow. Top titles currently in development include the groundbreaking marine biology series Splash!, the animated series Dot based on Randi Zuckerberg’s popular book, and an untitled children’s series based on children’s books by Al Yankovic. Stanford has also co-authored a book series, "Jim Henson’s Enchanted Sisters," a collection of fantastical comedy-adventure stories for girls published by Bloomsbury.

Stanford began her relationship with The Jim Henson Company in 1993 and has developed and produced many well-known properties for the company since that time. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Film and Theater from Wesleyan University and lives in Los Angeles with her sons Max and Theo.



Executive VP of Children's Entertainment

The Jim Henson Company

Georgina Melone is VP of Invention Labs and Innovation at Hasbro, leading efforts in Goal-Oriented Innovation with a team that identifies and inspires the best innovation from inside and outside the walls of Hasbro.


Georgina is an illustration major from Rhode Island School of Design who got her start in the industry as a puppeteer and character designer. She grew up in a home filled with cardboard boxes, steak knives, bungee chords, and siblings.  In the Melone home, playing with music, food, dirt or any found object was never discouraged.  Georgina is now an industry veteran having invented and developed play experiences for all of Hasbro's divisions and target demographics throughout the years.


In those rare times when she is not strategizing or lecturing on the future of play, Georgina can most likely be found painting, kayaking, or playing with honey bees.


VP of Invention Labs and Innovation


Steve Hickner has spent over thirty-five years working at some of the most fabled studios in animation including: DreamWorks, Disney, Amblimation, Aardman, Hanna-Barbera and Filmation.  He has worked on both the production and artistic sides of the process, serving as Producer on such films as:  American Tail II: Fievel Goes West, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, and Balto.  His Director credits include Bee Movie and The Prince of Egypt.  In addition, Steve has contributed to such feature films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Little Mermaid, The Great Mouse Detective, Madagascar, Shrek Forever After, Peabody and Sherman and Home.  His television credits include the childhood favorite, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He wrote and directed a public service film for the Got Your 6 campaign (United States military veterans) introduced by Michelle Obama. 


Most recently, Steve has contributed to location-based entertainment projects in Singapore, Dubai, China, and London.  He is one of the creative leads on DreamPlace, an interactive Christmas House which has been placed in shopping malls in the US and will soon be in the UK and China. He has been a guest speaker at many colleges and universities, film festivals, and animation events. 


Steve is the author of two books:  Animating Your Career and Animation Rules!


Director and Producer

DreamWorks Animation


Co-Founder and Executive Director

Clean the World

As a social entrepreneur, Shawn Seipler is committed to focusing his business, management and leadership skills on advancing humanitarian, social and environmental causes. His commitment to excellence and passion for corporate social responsibility led to the creation of Clean the World in 2009.


With hygiene relief and education delivered to 100 countries, Clean the World is a social enterprise that offers sustainable, socially impactful programs to a global marketplace. Clean the World’s Hospitality Recycling program and Global Soap and Hygiene Initiative have a shared goal of preventing millions of deaths caused by acute respiratory infection and diarrheal disease while simultaneously diverting thousands of tons of landfill waste. Clean the World’s ONE Project engages meeting planners, companies, schools, clubs, and other organizations in “green,” socially responsible activities that positively impact local and global communities with improved hygiene.


Under Shawn’s leadership, Clean the World was one of the 50 Florida Companies to Watch for 2014 and won the 2011 Sustainable Florida Award for Best Practices. Six entities make up the Clean the World social enterprise: Clean the World Foundation, Clean the World Canada, Clean the World Asia, Clean the World UK, Global Soap Project, and CTW Global LLC. The enterprise has recycling and operations centers in Orlando, Las Vegas, Montreal, London, Hanover, and Hong Kong. 


Senior VP and Executive Producer

Sesame Street

As Senior Vice President at Sesame Workshop, Carol-Lynn Parente is responsible for overseeing all Sesame Street content around the world and across all media-based platforms. This includes serving as Executive Producer of Sesame Street and as a creative guide to keep the program fresh and exciting. Additionally, Parente oversees all of Sesame Workshop’s international co-productions, outreach programs, home video productions and online content. She is the first Executive Producer to have grown up watching the show.  Carol-Lynn has been with the Workshop for 28 years, starting out as a Post Production Assistant and rising through the ranks. In her tenure she worked as a Production Assistant, Post Production Coordinator, Associate Producer commissioning live-action and animated films and Producer of the very popular portion of the show, “Elmo’s World.”


In her role as Executive Producer, Parente has successfully revamped Sesame Street and brought the show critical acclaim. She brought a new girl Muppet™, Abby Cadabby, to the Street, redesigned the hour-long program to an updated block format and spearheaded the creation of the show’s first 3-D animation segment, “Abby’s Flying Fairy School.” All of which has led to higher ratings and a growing audience for Sesame Street. Moreover, in season 43, Parente organized the production of the exciting new segment, “Elmo the Musical.”

Parente’s leadership has garnered numerous honors including several Parents’ Choice and KidScreen Awards, a Producer’s Guild Award and a Prix Jeunesse Award for Sesame Street; and several Webby Awards for Sesame Street’s online and digital content. Parente has won 14 Emmy's for Sesame Street in the Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Series category, and has helped the program achieve the Guinness World Record for Most Emmy Wins by a Television Series with 146 awards.


Sr. Director of Global Design and Innovation Operations


Steven Monti is a dynamic product creation leader with a distinctive fusion of creative and business, education, achievement, and experience.  He grew up in Providence Rhode Island where he received his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in Industrial Design.  


During his career, Steven has worked in consulting, manufacturing, and corporate design organizations across several different industries.  His proven ability to translate market opportunities and consumer needs into innovative product solutions have resulted in eight US patents, awards from notable organization like the Industrial Design Society of America, and variety of media recognition of his work from publications as Complex, Popular Science, and The Wall Street Journal.


He joined Converse in 2005, where he has held several product creation leadership positions.  He has played an instrumental role in empowering design teams with world-class digital creation tools and prototyping facilities to deliver several competitive advantages to the brand.  In 2012, he further advanced his knowledge on how design thinking can positively impact business by acquiring an MBA from Babson College.  In his most recent Converse role, Sr. Director of Innovation and Design Operations, Monti focuses on elevating the ecosystem design functions within, to further unleash product excellence.   


He currently lives in Rhode Island with his family and has a passion for great Italian food and espresso. 


VP of Creative Development

Nickelodeon Experience Design

Ron began his career in the themed entertainment industry in 1983, as a sixteen year-old line employee at a small theme park in Houston, TX.  In the following thirty+ years, Ron completed his BFA and MA in Theatrical Design and set off on a winding career path.  Beginning as a scenic artist in television production, Ron first met his future home at Nickelodeon.  Along the way, he had the good fortune to work with several other world class brands such as Universal, Disney, and AT&T, to name a few. 


Eventually settling down as Senior Studio Director and now VP of Creative Development at Nickelodeon Experience Design , where he leads a talented team of designers and art directors, Ron has worked on a wide variety of projects ranging from theme parks, waterparks, resorts, cruises, live entertainment, exhibits, corporate events, and more.  Some notable projects include Nickelodeon Universe Mall of America and Nickelodeon Suites Resort Orlando, as well as theme park lands and waterpark attractions in Europe, Asia, and Australia.  The through-line in this broad expanse of projects has been his commitment to telling a story that will enhance the guest’s experience and deepen their connection to the brand.  Although the projects can range from modest to massive in scope, Ron continually seeks to identify those critical guest touch points (aka the magic!) in the original creative concepts, and makes it his primary goal to maintain the creative integrity of that guest experience all the way through to opening day…and beyond!



Tucano Urbano

Diego Sgorbati is CEO of Tucano Urbano, the iconic Milan-based brand specialized in apparel and accessories for the urban rider. Developed in the 90's after the invention of the scooter leg cover, the mission of the company is to enhance the safety and the all-weather comfort of those who ride their 2-wheelers in the city, while ensuring an elegant and contemporary style.


Previously, Diego Sgorbati was the Director of Motorcycle Related Products at Ducati Motor Holding SpA in Bologna, Italy.  Diego was responsible for the profitability of the spare parts, accessories and apparel business lines as well as for the steering of the licensing and brand partnership activities.  Diego also served as Brand and Marketing Director, responsible for global marketing strategy and initiatives that include advertising, experiential marketing, customer relationship management,, and the Ducati Creative Center. He was also the steward of the company's brand, leading global brand management, product marketing, and other related activities that serve to protect and increase the value of the Ducati name and multi-billion dollar brand.


After his degree in marketing at Università Bocconi in Milan and at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL and a short work experience in the FMCG sector, he undertook his international career in the automotive industry.  In the past 20 years, he has experienced all of the different aspects of Sales and marketing such as product management, brand management, advertising events, Customer Relationship Management,  P.R., sales planning and others.  He has worked both at the Ducati headquarters and at market level having the chance to combine a strategic and visionary approach with the pragmatism and velocity required in the retail.  Passionate for everything with 2 or 4 wheels, Diego lives in Piacenza, Italy with Alessia.


Kerri Murray has served as President for the international disaster relief charity, ShelterBox USA, which is based in Sarasota, Florida since 2015.  Murray has deep experience working in disaster relief industry having spent six years at Direct Relief - deploying to disaster zones, helping to exceed fiscal goals, creating unique cause campaigns and partnerships, and presenting the organization to audiences worldwide.


Prior to that, Murray worked for 13 years as a marketing and sales executive for GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, living and working in the U.S. and Europe.  In her personal time, Kerri Murray has a 12-year-old daughter, Sofia, who loves to sing and perform in off-Broadway musicals.  She is also the board President for Girls Rock, a nonprofit that empowers young girls through music education.





Director of Product Management - Hardgoods

Burton Snowboards

Chris is a snowboarder with a penchant for technical design and business strategy.  Chris started his journey with Burton Snowboards in 2006 after wrestling to get his foot in the door.  After a few years of applying, and even building his own snowboards in his garage, he finally landed an interview at Burton HQs in Burlington, VT and has been working in the Product Development Group with his dog Captain High Pockets ever since.  Chris started as a Design Engineer and as his passion for business grew he shifted into a role driving business strategy across Burton’s Hardgoods categories (Snowboards, Boots and Bindings).  Chris is responsible for product line strategy, business analysis, creative development and product management processes.  Most recently Chris’ team has been working to infuse design thinking throughout their product development process with the goal of shifting their organization towards a more customer centric philosophy.  When not in the office he can be found snowboarding, travelling, mountain biking, sailing or endurance racing $500 and under race cars.


Prior to Burton Chris studied Mechanical Engineering at UCSD and was working as a lead design engineer for a large aerospace firm.  This allowed for a wide range of design experience from test rigs on the Airbus A380 engine to micro turbine work on military programs.  This experience allowed him to connect across engineering disciplines which spurred his interest in getting his MBA at UVM.  Chris was able to weave a graduate certificate in Ecological Economics into his MBA to build off of UVM’s proficiency in sustainability.  The combination of the technical knowledge, business strategy and environmental consciousness continue to drive Chris towards furthering Burton’s product lines.


Associate Director of Philanthropy

The Nature Conservancy

Alan Monroe is the Associate Director of Philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy, where he currently leads development efforts to support the goal of The Conservancy to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.


Prior to The Nature Conservancy, Alan was the Interim Executive Director of ShelterBox USA, Inc., providing leadership to the U.S. affiliate of the rapidly growing international disaster relief organization.  Alan first discovered ShelterBox at the International Rotary Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2007. Drawn to ShelterBox's mission of providing shelter, warmth and dignity to people impacted by disasters, Alan immediately recognized that his Eagle Scout and other life experiences had groomed him to become a ShelterBox Response Team member.  As a response team member, Alan delivers aid to families in need and has been deployed following disasters in the U.S., Peru, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Taiwan, Haiti, Guatemala, and Indonesia.


Alan’s prior experience includes serving as a Marketing Director for a large heating and air company, Online Sales Manager for a daily newspaper and partner in a company that built aerial maps of state forests.  He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Spanish Language from Flagler College and his Master of Arts in International Affairs from Florida State University.  Alan lives in Lexington, KY with his wife, Casey. 

Galen McKamy is a Creative Director with 15+ years of design and marketing experience. He has been an in house leader at Mattel/Fisher Price, Hasbro, and Kidrobot, as well as a consultant for companies such as Nike, Samsung, Playboy, Marvel, Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks.

Galen's background is in industrial design, but through the years, his career has bled into many different ventures and opportunities.  His interest in culture, lifestyle and brands have led him to work for some of the worlds most creative companies.  In addition to product and brand creation, Galen is an illustrator and artist who has exhibited his work both nationally and internationally.


Most recently, he has collaborated with music industry leaders like The Black Keys', Rhymesayers, and Aesop Rock, to create album and poster art, as well as music videos. Galen currently serves as Creative Director for Match Marketing Group, where he oversees campaigns and experiences for brands such as adidas, Ford, Lincoln, Progressive Insurance and more. 


Creative Director

Match Marketing Group

SPECIAL TALK :  The Death of Curiosity

Steve Hickner has spent over thirty-five years working at some of the most fabled studios in animation including: DreamWorks, Disney, Amblimation, Aardman, Hanna-Barbera and Filmation.  He has worked on both the production and artistic sides of the process, serving as Producer on such films as:  American Tail II: Fievel Goes West, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, and Balto.  His Director credits include Bee Movie and The Prince of Egypt.  In addition, Steve has contributed to such feature films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Little Mermaid, The Great Mouse Detective, Madagascar, Shrek Forever After, Peabody and Sherman and Home.  His television credits include the childhood favorite, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He wrote and directed a public service film for the Got Your 6 campaign (United States military veterans) introduced by Michelle Obama. 


Most recently, Steve has contributed to location-based entertainment projects in Singapore, Dubai, China, and London.  He is one of the creative leads on DreamPlace, an interactive Christmas House which has been placed in shopping malls in the US and will soon be in the UK and China. He has been a guest speaker at many colleges and universities, film festivals, and animation events. 


Steve is the author of two books:  Animating Your Career and Animation Rules!


Director and Producer

DreamWorks Animation

Jenna Ballestrino is a Director at Microsoft’s Human Resource division where she leads the Microsoft Academy of College Hires (MACH) program for the global sales, marketing and services group’s (SMSG).  In her role, Jenna is responsible for the onboarding and development of all MBA and university hires who start in full time roles across more than sixty countries within SMSG.  As part of her role, Jenna partners with leadership teams at Microsoft to help define and articulate SMSG’s global early-in-career talent development strategy.  Before taking up her current role, Jenna has led a number of teams focused on talent and leadership capability development at Microsoft over the last 11 years.


Jenna’s areas of interest include education and learning styles and prior to Microsoft, she worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where she focused on closing the digital divide by placing technology in libraries across the US, Chile and Canada.  She holds a Masters of Instructional Design from Seattle University and a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Washington State University.  


Director of HR Learning and Development


Steve Cousins is passionate about building and deploying robotic technology to help people. Before founding Savioke, he was the President and CEO of Willow Garage, where he oversaw the creation of the robot operating system (ROS), the PR2 robot, and the open source TurtleBot.  In the last three years of his tenure there, Willow Garage spun off 8 companies.


Steve is an active participant in the Robots for Humanity project.  Steve has been a senior manager at IBM's Almaden Research Center, and a member of the senior staff at Xerox PARC.  Steve holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University, BS and MS degrees also in Computer Science from Washington University, and earned a micro-MBA while at IBM.



Founder and CEO

Savioke Robots

Megan Neese is a senior manager in Future Lab at Nissan Motor Ltd., a cross-functional team tasked with uncovering new business opportunities for the future of automotive.


Prior to this Neese has filled similar roles blending design and business as an associate director at BMW Group DesignworksUSA, a senior design strategist at Samsung Design America and as product planner at Nissan North America. As a consultant Neese has helped build design functions at two start-up firms and has led research and strategy programs for clients such as John Deere, LG Electronics, Navistar and Direct TV.  Neese holds a Bachelor’s in Industrial Design and a Master’s in Product Development from Carnegie Mellon University.


Senior Manager

Nissan Future Lab

Diane is the Chief Creative Officer for Cirque du Soleil where she is responsible for the Creation and Creative Operations of live shows globally. She joined Cirque in 2004 and has held several positions of increasing responsibility including Director of Artist Management, VP of Show Quality and SVP of Creative and Artistic Operations.


In 2015, she joined Harvard University as the Executive Director of the prestigious American Repertory Theater and the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training. A native of Toronto, Canada, Diane founded Festival of Classics and was founding producer of Soulpepper Theatre Company. Other positions of note include Coordinator of the Arts Administration Programme at the University of Toronto, and Executive Director of Toronto Women in Film and Television. Diane is a graduate of the Arts Specialist Programme from the University of Toronto with a concentration in arts management and theatre.


Chief Creative Officer

Cirque du Soleil


Corporate Citizenship Manager,

Youth Investment

Walt Disney World Resort

Angie Sola serves as the principal liaison to nonprofit organizations and school districts in the five-county Central Florida area (Orange, Osceola, Lake, Polk, and Seminole) whose main focus is working with and impacting youth.  For over 10 years she led Disney Grants, Walt Disney World’s philanthropic program that distributes over $5 million to nonprofits and school districts.  She leads Disney Dreamers and Doers, a program that recognizes students who are making a difference at home, at school, and/or in their communities.

Angie is the local liaison for Kaboom!, an organization that encourages outdoor play by partnering with communities to build playgrounds nationally.  She identifies potential sites and works with The Walt Disney Company and Kaboom! to bring these play spaces to local children.  She is currently leading a team of HR colleagues to support a company-wide foster care initiative, as well the development a site-specific strategy to support community STEM activities.


Angie began her career at Walt Disney World Resort in Human Resources in 1999, subsequently moving to the Multicultural Project, a small group tasked with creating a strategy to meet the diverse needs of cast members and guests.  In her 19 years with the company, she has established long-term relationships with hundreds of community and internal partners. 


Previously Angie was a Human Resources Manager at Honeywell in Phoenix AZ, supporting aerospace engineering/manufacturing.  Later she served as Diversity Manager, helping to establish five diversity resource groups.  As a college recruiter, she nurtured relationships with engineering and graduate schools nationally, and coordinated a US-wide team to recruit diverse talent.


For ten years prior, Angie worked for Hewlett-Packard in Connecticut as a Human Resources Team Leader.  She supported employees locally, while also serving as the Benefits Manager for the northeast region.  

Edyta is an interaction designer working at Google’s London Office. Previously she worked at the Google HQ in Mountain View, CA. At Google, she worked on Analytics and AdSense teams which are both a part of Google’s core business. She leads projects focused on acquisitions, brand safety, and content discovery. She is also a Sprintmaster and leads product development Sprints across Google. One series of those Sprints focused on site reliability engineering processes – that's the part of Google which makes sure things work smoothly and don't break.


In 2017 she was selected to be a part of a team of Googlers to go to Seoul, South Korea and give talks, workshops and consult 1:1’ with startups. This was a part of Google’s Campus program for startups.


Prior to Google she was running her own startup, and before that she graduated Ringling College of Art and Design, majoring in Advertising Design and minoring in Business of Art and Design.


In her free time she writes about leadership, teamwork, and product development for an internal Google-wide blog. She also has a small printmaking studio in her apartment and is preparing her first exhibition in London. 


Interaction Designer

Google London

Sarah Kambara is a 2014 Business of Art and Design graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design. After graduating, she worked in Production Management on Oscar award-winning features at Disney Animation and Pixar.


Currently, she is Producer at JibJab Media for the animated children's TV show called Ask the StoryBots on Netflix. In life, she loves hiking, camping, and supporting people.




Anthony Esparza has spent his career creating fun by orchestrating all aspects of a great guest experience. From theme parks, attractions, live entertainment, restaurants, retail environments, digital media, television, film, and licensed products, his expertise and award-winning creative teams have touched every demographic for companies such as Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Harlem Globetrotters, Dollywood, and now SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Recently joining the SeaWorld team, Anthony oversees their quest to develop “experiences that matter” by creating fun & meaningful attractions, resorts, and television shows for SeaWorld’s parks and new business enterprises.


Chief Creative Officer

Sea World Parks and Entertainment

Michael is a consumer futurist and change agent at Target focused on developing authentic marketing experiences for multicultural, millennial and gen z audiences. Energized by the dynamic shifts in the retail landscape, he actively researches and teaches the importance of connecting consumer behavior trends to business, marketing and brand strategies. He serves as an internal cultural catalyst,​ guiding Target marketing teams in the authentic participation of relevant consumer conversations that generate engagement and excitement for the Target Brand. He loves empowering teams with real-time insights, consumer conversations, cultural movements that help create ultra-relevant, timely marketing moments.


Michael has 14+ years of brand marketing experience at Target. Most recently, Michael developed the strategy, growth and execution of Target’s first-ever LGBTQ marketing campaign, growing Target to a top brand for LGBTQ consumers. Through his work as a consumer futurist, he has inspired marketing teams to participate in cultural moments like Galentine’s Day, Friendsgiving, Stranger Things Season 2, Mario Kart, and Pokémon Go. And has guided teams in development gender inclusive, body inclusive and sensory-friendly clothing lines.


Consumer Futurist,

Brand Marketing Strategist 


Hunter Thompson is the co-founder and operations director at SailFuture, joining the organization in 2015. During his time with SailFuture, he has successfully led a $100k fundraising campaign, launched Vacations with Purpose, a revenue-generating program, and helped the organization transition from a mentoring-based model to a comprehensive, residential foster care program for teenage youth. In his role as co-founder, he is responsible for all marketing/communications, community outreach, design, technology, events, and program design.


Prior to joining SailFuture, Thompson worked at MaxMedia ad agency as a creative lead, doing in-store retail design for flagships stores in major U.S. cities. He also worked as an independent consultant, art director, and designer for a variety of Florida-based startups. He graduated from Ringling College in 2014 with a degree in motion design. 


Co-founder and Operations Director


Carla Lutz is a multidisciplinary creative currently based in Los Angeles.  She began her career as one of the early interns at DreamWorks Animation Television and has continued to grow within the company ever since.  After graduating from Ringling College of Art and Design with a degree in computer animation and a minor in business of art and design, Carla relocated to California and began to work for DWTV in production.  She started as a production assistant on All Hail King Julien and grew to be a production coordinator while continuing to pursue opportunities to expand her knowledge. She now works as an Animation Artist on one of the upcoming shows. 


Animation Artist

DreamWorks Animation Television

Dr. Larry R. Thompson became president of Ringling College of Art and Design in July, 1999. As head of this premier art and design college in Sarasota, Florida, he is transforming the way people think about art and design and why businesses must embrace creativity to thrive in the 21st-century global economy. He also advocates for “shattering the myth of the starving artist™!”


A lawyer and an educator, Thompson served as Special Assistant to the President of The Ohio State University, President and CEO of the Flint Cultural Center in Michigan, and was founding Executive Director and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio prior to joining Ringling College.


He is the former President for the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design and currently serves as a member of its Executive Committee, is the former Chair of the President’s Council of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, and serves on the boards of many local arts and civic organizations. Dr. Thompson been the recipient of numerous academic and humanitarian honors and awards for his service as a visionary leader and educator.  



Ringling College of Art and Design


Paola Paulino is a far future innovator turned XR visionary for international education. She started her immersive technology career at Microsoft Studios. Paola is part of the first group of people to pioneer experiential design and hardware development for Microsoft Mixed Reality HoloLens. She founded #isnsVR, one of the first high-end VR/AR Immersive Technology Pilot programs for international K-12 education in Asia.


Following the success of this program, Paulino founded the Global VR/AR Association - Shenzhen, she was selected to be the first Ambassador for #VRwomen Asia and founded XR Pioneer Ltd., a Hong Kong/Shenzhen based educational technology solutions company built to serve cutting edge and meaningful tech integration experiences in education — changing the way we learn.



XR Pioneer


Disney Fine Artist

Tim Rogerson was born in Orlando, FL, and moved with his family to North Carolina at the age of four. His father, who at the time, was employed by Walt Disney World as Show Director in charge of managing the parades and performances in the Magic Kingdom, made every day a magical adventure for the future artist. “My father taught me how to draw Mickey when I was five and I’ve wanted to be a Disney Artist ever since, I was hooked.”


Since graduating from Ringling College of Art & Design in 2004 with a BFA in Illustration, Tim has been taking the art world by storm with his whimsical characters and radiant colors. With the help of Collectors Editions, exclusive publisher of Disney Fine Art, Tim has become one of the top collected Disney Fine Artists of today with his works selling in galleries all over the world.  His modern twist to classic Disney images and colorful interpretations of life has won critical acclaim by the trade and his peers.


Tim had the honor of being named Official Artist of the 2006 Olympic Winter Team alongside world renowned artists Peter Max and Alfred Gockel. In 2009, he was named Official Artist of Disney’s first ever D23 Expo where he created his most ambitious work, “In The Company of Legends,” which now sits in the Disney archives as a piece of Disney history. Tim has also been the Official Artist of Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival and most recently,  Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary. 


In 2014, Tim joined forces with Marvel Fine Art to create artworks celebrating the many heroes and villains of the Marvel universe. “As a kid, my favorite two characters to draw were Mickey Mouse and Spider Man. Today, it’s so incredible to me that I still get to paint my favorite two characters, but now as a professional. What a life!” 


Professor and Founder

Project Be

Dr. Wanda Chaves is an educator, organizational consultant, and entrepreneur. Wanda has been a professor of management, leadership, psychology, and business of art and design at the University of South Carolina, Ringling College of Art and Design, Washington State University, the University of Tampa, the University of South Florida, and St. Pete College.  She teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.


She worked at Walt Disney World for many years in the areas of leadership and executive development; organization development; learning and development; and at the Disney Institute.  Wanda has also worked as an Innovation and Creative Practices consultant for Cirque Du Soleil in Montreal, Canada.  She has developed creative projects with organizations such as Microsoft Games, Hasbro Toys, Converse, Sesame Street, The Dali Museum, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Clean the World, Shelter Box, Moonbot Studios, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, and The Jim Henson Co. She co-authored the Project Be journals and founded Project Be Talks to encourage young people and people of all ages to expand their self awareness and to more proactively create fulfilling and impactful life and career paths.


Wanda loves to travel and explore far off places. Wanda has Bachelor's degrees in Psychology and French from the University of Tampa and a Doctorate degree In Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida.


A Conversation With.... Speakers:

Marie-Josée Lareau,

Artistic Coach of Specific Training, Cirque du Soleil


Marie-Josée Lareau was born in Montreal, Canada. Since she was a child, Marie-Josée loved art, photography, figure skating, synchronized swimming, and dance. In 2002, Marie-Josée completed her university degree in Dance and started her own company called Création à l'ENDROIT where she worked as a choreographer and the artistic and founding Director. Through Création à l'ENDROIT, she created and produced five different shows combining dance, theater, and circus.


In 2003, she was recruited by Cirque du Soleil to be the Assistant Choreographer on the show KOOZA where she worked for four years. Currently, she is the Artistic Coach of Specific Training at Cirque du Soleil and works to transform acrobats into circus artists within a very short timeframe. Marie-Josée also teaches yoga and is completing her EMBA McGill and HEC through which she is developing artistic workshops for managers and businesspeople to improve their leadership, communication, and teamwork skills.

Al Konetzni,

Disney Legend


In 1953, Al Konetzni joined Walt Disney Productions as an artist and idea man for the character merchandising division, then headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York. Over the next 28 years, he developed ideas for toys, clothing, stationery, greeting cards, jewelry and more, featuring beloved Disney characters, which were licensed for production by major U.S. corporations. Among Al's most famous creations was a popular lunch box set featuring a host of Disney characters on board a school bus. The lunch box, which sold its 9 millionth unit in 1976, is now a prized collector's item among Disney fans. He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1999.


David Grad,

Senior Producer, MTV


David has spent the last 17 years working in many different capacities within the television and film industries. After graduating from Florida State University with Bachelor's degrees in Theatre and Communications, he has developed dynamic creative and business skills working on both sides of the camera.


His teams have been nominated for several prestigious Imagen Awards, winning for the acclaimed twenty-four spot Tu Pride Campaign. They have also won Gracie, Namic and Creativity awards, and been nominated for two Daytime Emmy® Awards, GLAAD and ANA Multicultural Excellence Awards.


David has a Master's Degree in Strategic Communications and Branding at Columbia University and is the Senior Producer for Strategy and Production of Public Affairs and Pro-Social Campaigns for MTV.

Georgina Melone,

VP of Innovation, Hasbro


Georgina grew up in a Portuguese-Italian-American home filled with cardboard boxes, steak knives, bungee cords, and siblings. Her mom's head was always busy with ideas, and her Dad's hands were always busy building. In the Melone home, playing with food, dirt or any other found object was never discouraged.


As Georgina grew up, she could not abandon play. So, she attended the Rhode Island School of Design and became a puppeteer and, later, a toy designer. She is currently the VP of Innovation for Hasbro, where her quest to create has permitted her, over the past 25 years, to play with many innovative ideas, throughout many lands, with very interesting peoples.



Karl Gnass,

Author, Spirit of the Pose


Karl Gnass has been teaching drawing for over 35 years and in the early days worked for Sid and Marty Krofft in story and character development. Karl started with their landmark children’s 1969 television series H. R. Pufnstuf, followed by The Bugaloos (1970), Lidsville, (1971), and Sigmund and the Sea Monster (1973).


Karl has storyboarded for Coca Cola, Saban and Fox Entertainment's Peter Pan and the Pirates. He worked on story development at Disney Television Animation and storyboarded for Gargoyles, Aladdin, Darkwing Duck and The Little Mermaid, as well as some storyboarding freelance for Direct To Video (DTV) for Disney. He later developed character expressions with anatomical breakdowns for Stuart in the feature Stuart Little. Other Sony Imageworks projects include Hollow Man and Harry Potter, with consulting on the Sci-fi Thriller I Am Legend starring Will Smith and Watchmen with Billy Crudup.

Kate Alexander,

Associate Director, Florida Studio Theater


Ms. Alexander is the Associate Director of Florida Studio Theater. In this capacity, she ministers to the artistic needs of the theatre and its many community and state educational programs. Ms. Alexander has created a vast Education Program, the FST Theatre School. Ms. Alexander has also pioneered an acting training method for children which serves as the foundation for the FST School, serving 600 children yearly.


She has co-created the award-winning WRITE A PLAY program touching the lives of over 55,000 children annually and serving as a model for theatres throughout the nation and serving schools in China, Israel, Scotland and The United Federation of Russia. Ms. Alexander has also been a resident actress with Florida Studio Theatre for the past 20 years. Some of her leading roles were seen in the plays: The Goat, Filumena, Master Class, Three Tall Women, The Play About the Baby, and Golda's Balcony. Also a director, Ms. Alexander has directed numerous productions and premieres on the FST stages including I Love You You're Perfect Now Change, Shirley Valentine, Shotgun, The Miamians, Brooklyn Boy, The Exonerated, Wit, Proof, Lobby Hero, and Ten Unknowns.

Kushil Gunasekera,

Founder/Trustee, Foundation of Goodness


Kushil Gunasekera established the Foundation of Goodness in 1999 in Sri Lanka. As a young boy Kushil felt compassion for the people of his ancestral village in Seenigama, who lacked the facilities to realize their potential despite innate talent and ability. Having become a successful businessman, he faithfully returned to his hometown and with true altruism donated his family property in Seenigama to the establishment of the Foundation of Goodness.


The Foundation is based on providing a holistic response to a community's needs and works to uplift the lives of rural communities through learning and Empowerment. In May 2008, he decided to dispose of his lucrative business and dedicate his resources and time to the organization. He currently donates his time full-time to its furtherance on a purely voluntary basis.


Larry Littlebird,

Founding Director, Hamaatsa


Larry Littlebird is a Pueblo Indian from Laguna/Santo Domingo Pueblos in New Mexico. Larry Littlebird celebrates an indigenous holistic way of life. Over the past 35 years, Larry has worked extensively as a corporate trainer and executive coach, education specialist and national speaker perpetuating the living oral tradition of his Pueblo Indian culture. Larry personally trains and equips people in the areas of generative leadership development, teambuilding, communications, holistic health and community building. His inspired programs have had a profound impact on many lives working with individuals, business organizations, management teams, foundations, schools and community groups.


His experiential learning curriculum model, Learning to Listen©, has been implemented across the nation in classrooms, boardrooms, university auditoriums, theaters in D.C. to San Francisco and around lodge fires where people gather. Providing spiritual guidance and sharing tribal traditions, Larry facilitates remedial results through his work with healing and grief circles, wilderness solos and mountain pilgrimages. Through Littlebird's methods, his clients are able to realize a cathartic process within their own lives, families, business relationships and communities.



Hand Balancer and Cirque du Soleil Performer


Carlos Rodriguez Diaz was born in Havana, Cuba. While in school, he developed an interest in gymnastics. At the age of seventeen, Carlos attended the National Circus School of Cuba where he fell in love with hand balancing. After four short years of practice, Carlos became one of the most talented and well-known circus artists in Cuba.

Throughout his career, Rokardy performed in famous circuses all around the world. He starred in Circus Merano (Norway), Atayde Hermano (Mexico), Gran Circo Mundial (Spain), Circus Scott (Sweden), and the Bolshoi Circus (Russia). In 2002, he joined Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba (Orlando, FL) as one of the show's main characters. Preparing himself for the environment of this large scale production, Rokardy completely transformed his solo act by changing his apparatus, costume, and make-up.

Kathy Altieri,

Production Designer, DreamWorks Animation, SKG


Kathy Altieri has worked for over twenty five years as a production designer, art director, and painter in the animation industry. Her most recent position was Production Designer on DreamWorks' latest feature How to Train your Dragon. Her other DreamWorks credits include Over the Hedge (Production Designer), Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, (Production Designer), and The Prince of Egypt (Art Director). Kathy was the first artist hired at the studio.


Prior to DreamWorks, Kathy worked as a background painter and supervisor at Disney Feature Animation on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Kathy attended UCLA and Art Center College of design, where she will be teaching again this Fall. She is a fifth degree black belt and certified instructor of Aikido and Iaido (Japanese Swordsmanship).


Kyu Yamamoto,

Gifted Sculptor and Painter


Kyu Yamamoto began studying sculpture in a fine arts high school in Nagoya, Japan, under the tutelage of Kozo Shibata. After attending Aichi Fine Arts University, he worked for several years with the commercial Rui Kobo Studios. In 1985, Yamamoto moved to Nashville, TN, serving as Assistant Sculptor for completion of the 42'Athena Parthenos, the world's tallest indoor sculpture outside Japan, located in Nashville's century-old replica of the Greek Parthenon.


Kyu moved his studio to St. Petersburg. FL in 1992. Known for his contributions to public art, Kyu has been faculty/instructor for the Morean Arts Center, the Dunedin Fine Arts Center and the Penland School of Craft.

Shawn Seipler,

Executive Director/Co-Founder, Clean the World


As a social entrepreneur, Shawn is committed to focusing his business, management and leadership skills on advancing humanitarian causes through philanthropic efforts. His passion for excellence and embrace of corporate social responsibility led to the creation of Clean the World.


Clean the World, an Orlando, Fla.-based non-profit organization, recycles hotel soaps and bottled amenities (shampoos, conditioners and lotions) for people in need. In less than two years Clean the World has enlisted more than 550 hotel partners in North America in its ambitious and environmentally friendly soap recycling program. More than thirty million soap bars have been collected, recycled and distributed throughout the United States and more than 100 countries.


Wellington Lima,

Acrobat and Cirque du Soleil Performer


Wellington Lima was born in Recife, Brazil. He started studying acrobatics and capoiera when he was 11 years old. In 1997, after winning Nationals, Wellington moved from his hometown of Recife to Rio De Janeiro to continue his training with the national team. The week he arrived in Rio, Wellington was invited to audition for Cirque du Soleil. A few weeks later, he received an offer to be a part of Cirque du Soleil's new creation La Nouba, which was being developed for the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL. Wellington worked in La Nouba for six years where he played the role of one of the main characters, Pierrot Rouge,


From 2004 through 2009, Wellington joined the touring show Dralion and became a part of the Trampowall act in the show. He traveled through Europe, Japan, and Australia with the show. Currently, Wellington is working on his third Cirque du Soleil creation Viva Elvis! in Las Vegas and continues to teach acrobatics to at-risk youth through Cirque du Monde at least once a week.

Susan Loeffler,

Director, PAL Sailor Circus


As a child, Susan was a student performer in the Sailor Circus for 10 years. She went on to study at Florida State University and received a BS in Family, Child and Consumer Science. During her college years, Susan participated in the FSU Flying High Circus. After College, she directed many summer camp programs and then become a Preschool Director. She began to volunteer as a coach at Sailor Circus and after a year became the circus Director. She has been working with PAL Sailor Circus for 11 years.


Sailor Circus, now in its sixth decade of operation, has grown from a small high school gymnastics class in 1949 to the present spectacular 4 ring youth circus production known world wide as the Greatest "Little" Show on Earth. Students from the 4th through 12th grades in Sarasota and surrounding counties have an opportunity to experience the performing arts in a circus atmosphere. Their dedicated students practice 20 - 30 hours a week and are trained by volunteer coaches who are retired circus performers, sailor circus alumni and enthusiastic parents. The more than 200 volunteers donating over 25,000 hours of their time each season to PAL Sailor Circus demonstrate strong community involvement.


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