BHEF Staff

Suzanne Amoonarquah
Associate Director, Operations and Administration

Suzanne Amoonarquah joined the Business-Higher Education Forum in 2014 as the operations manager, where she manages the operational and administrative needs for the organization. Key functions of this role include accounting, member services and outreach, and planning BHEF’s semi-annual member meetings.

Prior to joining BHEF, Suzanne served as an associate at a boutique food policy consulting firm in Washington, D.C. As a contractor in the food policy space, she supported a number of consultants and nonprofit organizations in their efforts to create an accessible, healthy, and sustainable food system. She has experience in research, multi-organizational meeting planning, data analysis, and government relations. While working in the accounting department of an international law firm, Suzanne was responsible for handling the billing and collection needs for a number of attorneys across multiple practice areas.

Stephen Barkanic
Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer

Stephen Barkanic, BHEF’s senior vice president and chief program officer, joined the organization in 2011. In this role, Barkanic provides overall leadership for BHEF’s National Higher Education and Workforce Initiative aimed at bridging industry and higher education to increase the persistence and diversity of students who go on to earn degrees or credentials in key emerging fields, and align undergraduate education with workforce needs.  He also provides leadership in BHEF’s work in Deeper Learning, or 21st century workforce skills and competencies that focuses on the business need for such skills as critical thinking, creative problem solving, and teamwork in the workforce of the future, and advocating for the importance of those skills on a national level.

Prior to joining BHEF, Barkanic was senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where his work encompassed an array of policy and programmatic areas focused on improving student readiness and success in college. At the Gates Foundation, his responsibilities included managing grants portfolios in STEM education, early college high schools, and initiatives linking public and private stakeholders in local and state-wide education reform.  In STEM, he worked at both the national and state levels to catalyze networks of companies, K-12 and higher education, government agencies, and other organizations to improve education outcomes for all students.

He is former director of undergraduate science education and grants management at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, where he led the design and implementation of grants programs in STEM higher education, particularly in the biological sciences.  A major focus of these programs, which included the HHMI Professors, the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program, and multi-faceted awards to research universities, colleges, and minority-serving institutions, was to help bring the creativity and rigor of research into undergraduate teaching and support hands-on laboratory research experiences for students.  He was program officer and director of grants management at the Charles A. Dana Foundation, which included managing a national grants program in support of liberal arts education, and served as a consultant to the Ford Foundation and other organizations, and as a teacher at the Istanbul International Community School in Turkey.

Barkanic has served as chair of Grantmakers for Education, a national philanthropic affinity group; was a member of the CBE-Life Sciences Education editorial board, and was a member of the Maryland Governor’s STEM Task Force.

Stacey Brown
Senior Director, Finance and Administration

Stacey Brown joined Business-Higher Education Forum in 2016 as the senior director for finance and administration. Before arriving at BHEF, Brown spent four years as the senior financial officer for a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization where she was responsible for the organization's financial, accounting, budget, reporting, and grants management functions. Prior to entering the nonprofit sector, Brown served as both a budget and finance manager in the State of Maryland Higher Education System for 15 years and six years in state government. As a budget and finance manager, Brown analyzed and assessed the funding and performance of University System of Maryland institutions and provided recommendations for funding to be included in the governor’s proposed annual budget. Brown held roles that included grants management, which required preparation of project budgets for large-scale, multi-year federal and private research initiatives. Additionally, Brown was responsible for automating several budget functions in an effort to simplify reporting requirements, produce ad hoc requests, and manage data.

Brown earned master’s degree in accounting and financial management from the University of Maryland University College and a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration, with a concentration in accounting, from Bowie State University.

L. Isabel Cárdenas-Navia
Director of Emerging Workforce Programs

L. Isabel Cárdenas-Navia is the director of emerging workforce programs at BHEF, where she develops and manages innovative partnerships between industry and postsecondary institutions to increase persistence to degree of STEM students, particularly women and minorities, and align undergraduate STEM education with workforce needs. Dr. Cárdenas-Navia has consulted for the U.S. Navy where she had the responsibility to develop, implement, manage, evaluate, and report on activities and programs that strengthen and support the capabilities of non-profits, schools, and postsecondary institutions to participate in Naval STEM education programs and develop the next generation of Naval scientists and engineers. She served as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Human Genome Research Institute, and she received her PhD in biomedical engineering from Duke University and B.S. in mechanical engineering from Yale University.

Janet Chen

Janet Chen joined BHEF in 2016 as associate director. In this role, Chen engages in project management, including tracking reporting requirements, ensuring that projects meet their milestones and provide deliverables, overseeing working groups, and providing programmatic support networks for BHEF.

Prior to joining BHEF, Chen served as director of programs for the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which advised Congress and the Secretary of Education on higher education and student aid policy. During her tenure, she led a study on nontraditional students, which identified the barriers and best practices for these students as well as emphasized the need for a federal-state-institutional-private-sector partnership. Previously, she conducted public policy research and consulting on STEM initiatives. She also supported assessment efforts for the launch of the Harvard College Program in General Education by researching general education curricula and academic program assessment models. Prior to entering the field of higher education, she served as an honors paralegal for the Federal Trade Commission.

Chen earned her master’s degree in higher education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and her bachelor’s degree in social policy from Northwestern University.

Brian K. Fitzgerald
Chief Executive Officer

Brian K. Fitzgerald serves as BHEF’s chief executive officer, developing long-term strategy for the membership organization. Under Dr. Fitzgerald’s leadership, BHEF’s National Higher Education and Workforce Initiative (HEWI) has emerged as the organization’s strategic enterprise. Through BHEF member collaboration, HEWI includes regional projects focused on business-higher education partnerships in selected states, as well as national networks which disseminate insights and scale effective practices. HEWI deploys a model of strategic business engagement in higher education to address our members’ high-skill, high-priority workforce needs. The Wall Street Journal featured BHEF and its work in a front-page article, and the National Science Foundation recognized HEWI’s success with a five-year, $4.5M grant to increase persistence and diversity in undergraduate STEM education.

Backed by some of the nation’s most committed business and academic leaders, BHEF launched highly innovative partnerships in data science and analytics, financial services, cybersecurity, risk management, and social and mobile technologies. At the core of this effort is BHEF’s engagement model. Its five strategies enable business and higher education to move from transactional relationships to strategic partnerships and align undergraduate education with workforce needs. When implemented, these strategies increase baccalaureate attainment and create undergraduate pathways to produce a diverse, highly skilled talent pool to meet a region’s workforce needs in emerging fields. BHEF builds upon these successes to scale at the college/university system, regional, and national levels.

Prior to joining BHEF, Dr. Fitzgerald served as staff director for the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which advises Congress on higher education and student aid policy. During his tenure, the Advisory Committee released several influential reports, including: Access Denied, Empty Promises and The Student Aid Gauntlet; and also commissioned The Condition of Access (edited by Donald Heller). Dr. Fitzgerald has written extensively on policies to improve college access and success. He also served as an adjunct associate professor of government at American University, teaching advanced studies courses on the politics of education. In the private sector, Dr. Fitzgerald held senior project management positions for large-scale education research projects for federal agencies. Earlier in his career, he served as assistant dean and as a lecturer in education at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.  While CEO, Dr. Fitzgerald has served on a number of commissions and working groups, including the STEM working group for the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which produced the widely cited 2012 report to President Obama: Engage to Excel.

Dr. Fitzgerald earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also served on the alumni council for four years and as its chairman. He currently serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, which named him Distinguished Alumnus and awarded him an honorary doctorate in public service.

Debbie Hughes
Vice President, Higher Education and Workforce

Debbie Hughes joined BHEF in 2011. Hughes oversees the development and implementation of numerous strategic areas of the National Higher Education and Workforce Initiative, including: programmatic activities in emerging fields, such as cybersecurity and data science and analytics; research on experiential learning; and validation of a process for strategic engagement between industry and higher education. Hughes also manages a National Science Foundation-funded project focused on measuring the impact that employers can have on students transferring from community colleges to four-year institutions and graduating with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math.

Prior to joining BHEF, Hughes was the director of public/private partnerships for Project Lead the Way, leading the organization’s development of strategic relationships and a national STEM education agenda. Hughes was also a program manager in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists. In this position, she focused on creating opportunities for students and educators to participate in America's research enterprise as a means to improving the competitiveness of U.S. industry and overall scientific literacy.  Hughes also served as the executive liaison to the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Science of Science Policy Interagency Task Group.

Hughes received her master's degree in international science and technology policy from the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor's degree in business from the George Washington University School of Business.

Danielle Troyan
Vice President, External Relations

Danielle Troyan joined BHEF in 2012 as its director of external relations, and is responsible for the organization’s strategic communications initiatives with members, academic institutions, corporations, foundations, and other entities. Prior to BHEF, she held the position of managing director of Enterra Solutions, a software development firm. As director of operations at the United Service Organizations (USO), Troyan managed delivery of core services to America’s military and their families at USO centers located throughout the United States and around the world. She also served as director of external relations for MENTOR, a national non-profit that supports more than 5,000 youth mentoring organizations through its national network of state and local mentoring partnerships. In addition, she worked as a professional staff member for three executive officers of the American Red Cross.

Troyan became president of the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Alumni Association in July 2012, and is a member of the college's board of trustees. Governor Martin O'Malley appointed her in 2013 to the Historic St. Mary's City Commission, which is responsible for museum operations and curation of archeological exhibits of Maryland's first capital and fourth British colony in North America. She also sits on the Historic St. Mary’s City Foundation, the fundraising arm of the museum.

Troyan is an alumna of the Harvard Business School (PLD), the University of Oklahoma (M.A., communications), and St. Mary's College of Maryland (B.A., history and political science). She also completed studies at the Centre of Medieval & Renaissance Studies, associated with Keble College, in Oxford, England.