Director, Regional Programs
Frank Avery serves as the director of regional programs for BHEF. In his role, he leads BHEF's regional efforts to enhance local talent ecosystems across the country through partnerships with public, private, and independent sector partners.
Avery has more than a decade of diverse regional economic and workforce development experience. He served as a senior consultant to state agency executives, local jobs agencies, and industry associations overseeing federally funded apprenticeship expansion programs, Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act programs, American Job Centers, and vocational rehabilitation programs. In his role, he assisted partners with preparing and enhancing operations to support employer-driven work-based learning strategies, such as apprenticeships, and preparing for the future of work.
Avery previously served as executive director of an award-winning Florida workforce development board where he oversaw $10M in annual funding for job-training and federally funded work-based learning programs. Prior to that, Avery specialized in establishing and formalizing industry cluster coalitions of business, government, higher education, and the philanthropic sector in Florida and South Carolina. In those roles, he formalized partnerships to grow business, job opportunities, and entrepreneurial activities for municipalities, counties, special districts, and state governments.
Avery is a past co-chair of the US Conference of Mayor Workforce Development Council Best Practices Committee and former guest speaker for the National Association of Workforce Boards and California Workforce Association.
Director, Member Services
Stephanie Blochinger joined BHEF in 2019 as associate program director and is now the director of member services.
Prior to joining BHEF, Blochinger served as program officer at the Global Business School Network where she managed the Johnson & Johnson Management Development Institute. The training program upskilled healthcare professionals in sub-Saharan Africa with critical business and management skills and knowledge to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery. She also has extensive experience managing higher education and exchange programs through her work at the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the British Council. At IIE, she administered the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. While at the British Council, Stephanie managed the Global Innovation Initiative, a multilateral university research grant program to increase international STEM research partnerships.
Stephanie received a B.S. in international affairs from Georgia Tech and a M.S.Ed. in international educational development from the University of Pennsylvania.
Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
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.
Director of Regional Initiatives
Dr. Dave Buonora is director of regional Initiatives for BHEF where he manages multiple, unique regional collaboratives to build capacity and ensure outcomes are met. Working with the programs team, he leverages BHEF’s portfolio of regional ecosystems to drive national impact through convenings around best practices and strategies for creating scale.
Previously, Buonora headed up the workforce development unit at Springfield Technical Community College and was an assistant vice president for workforce at Prince George’s Community College overseeing divisional operations. He has policy and advocacy experience having served as senior legislative assistant at the American Association of Community Colleges, where he advocated the community college position on reauthorizations of workforce and career technical education laws. He also led the efforts on advocacy and business outreach as the chief legislative officer at Howard Community College where he helped secure operating budget increases and funding for three new buildings.
Outside of higher education, he was founding chief of staff of WorkSource Montgomery, the local workforce development board in Montgomery County Maryland, where he assembled and managed the staff of the organization as it transitioned from a government agency to a nonprofit. Most recently Buonora was chief people officer at Saval Foodservice in Maryland overseeing all aspects of recruiting as well as organizational development initiatives. He started his career as a legislative aid on Capitol Hill.
Buonora holds an EdD in higher education administration from Northeastern University, a master’s in public administration from George Mason University, and a bachelor’s in political science from American University.
Director, Programs and Insights
Janet Chen joined BHEF in 2016 as associate director and is now the director of programs and insights. In this role, Chen supports the creation of strategic business-higher education partnerships and regional talent ecosystems in high-demand, emerging fields to increase diversity of talent. Chen is also highly engaged in capturing insights and disseminating learning through publications and action-oriented forums.
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
Dr. Brian K. Fitzgerald, an internationally recognized leader in creating innovative talent solutions, has served as the Business-Higher Education Forum’s chief executive officer since 2005. Under Dr. Fitzgerald’s leadership, BHEF developed and implemented a long-term strategic plan, through which BHEF has formed dozens of successful partnerships between the nation’s leading business and academic institutions to create new talent development solutions in high-demand emerging fields and utilized insights from case studies and cutting-edge market intelligence to influence thought-leaders and policy makers. Dr. Fitzgerald is an internationally recognized expert on the future of the American workforce, and his work has been widely published in domestic and international publications. He regularly presents the organization’s latest market intelligence and insights to business and academic audiences and provides them with recommendations for successfully implementing BHEF’s talent models.
Dr. Fitzgerald has served on a number of commissions and working groups during his tenure as CEO, most notably, he played a major role in the STEM working group under President Obama for the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which produced the widely cited 2012 report Engage to Excel, and the National Academies of Science study group of undergraduate computer science enrollment. Dr. Fitzgerald currently serves as a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center Higher Education Task Force, which will advise Congress on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Dr. Fitzgerald earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he currently serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council. Previously he was a member of the alumni council for four years, and chairman for one. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, where he was named a Distinguished Alumnus and awarded an honorary doctorate in public service. An avid sailor, Dr. Fitzgerald has sailed the Western Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Grenada and crewed on 11 Newport and Marion-Bermuda races, finishing 1st in class five times. He resides in Washington, DC, with his wife and three dogs.
Vice President, Member Services
Bruce Gardner serves as BHEF's vice president, member services. Gardner brings to the role a number of leadership experiences in business and education. Before coming to BHEF, Gardner spent over 30 years leading sales units at IBM, more than half of that time for education clients. Most recently, he was responsible for IBM’s North American education business, where he created mutually valuable strategies, led the sales teams, built executive client relations, and delivered other critical components to customer satisfaction.
Gardner also spent nine years as an elected school board official, where he served four terms as chair. In this volunteer role, he focused on budget and policy, developing the executive team, and strengthening community relations. He has served in various member services roles such as six years as a board of governor of the Foxborough Country Club, two as elected president. Gardner received dual bachelor’s degrees from Brown University in organizational behavior and management and engineering-economics.
Deb Hodge serves as a senior adviser to BHEF. She brings nearly 20 years of higher education and program development experience to the role. She was most recently the managing director of the Capital CoLAB, the skills and talent division of the Greater Washington Partnership, where she led post-secondary partner engagement, supported implementation of the Digital Tech Credential at 20 regional universities, and oversaw student engagement efforts. In previous roles with Excelsior College and SUNY Empire State College, she helped to research, design, and implement programs centered around non-traditional learners. As CIO at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, Deb led the Transformation Initiative aimed at creating accessible and scalable online learning resources for boards of directors. She is passionate about the accessibility, persistence, and retention of all learners. Hodge has a master’s degree in higher education administration and a BA in sociology both from the State University of New York at Albany.
Associate, Workforce Partnerships
Madison Myers joined Business-Higher Education Forum in 2021 as a research assistant and is now an associate of workforce partnerships.
In her role, Myers produces analytical reports, provides technical assistance to regional partnerships, conducts data gathering and research, and supports the planning and execution of project-related meetings. Previously interning as research assistant at BHEF, Myers provided qualitative and quantitative research and supported a variety of programmatic and membership initiatives.
Myers recently earned a bachelor’s of science degree in actuarial science from High Point University.
Vice President, Programs
Jennifer Thornton is the vice president of programs for the Business-Higher Education Forum where she engages business and higher education in the development of strategic partnerships to meet workforce needs. In this role, she works with BHEF members to improve alignment between business and higher education, developing partnerships that foster diverse, highly skilled graduates with emerging skills in digital technologies.
Previously, Jennifer was the director of workforce initiatives for the Greater Washington Partnership, where she led the formation of the Capital CoLAB, one of the nation’s foremost collaborations between academia and business. She developed deep partnerships with university and business leaders to design industry-recognized digital technology credentials and supported their launch in universities throughout the Capital Region.
Prior to joining the partnership, Jennifer managed initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts focused on identifying business-led strategies to increase youth employment and assessing states’ use of data analytics to inform budget and policy decisions. Before Pew, Jennifer spent nearly two decades in workforce policy and leadership in Washington state, where her roles included chief administrative officer of WorkForce Central, senior research analyst for the House of Representatives’ Higher Education Committee and Technology & Economic Development Committee, and workforce education program administrator for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy analysis from Cornell University and a master’s degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.