Mary Gulbrandsen, Chair
Executive Director of the Fund For Wisconsin Scholars
Mary’s first-hand inside knowledge of educational systems, concern for the teaching profession, and passion for ensuring excellent educational experiences for all students provided a driving motivation for helping to establish WeThinkBig in 2014.
Mary Gulbrandsen is executive director of the Fund For Wisconsin Scholars (FFWS). The FFWS is a private not for profit foundation providing need-based grants to recent graduates of Wisconsin public high schools who are attending Wisconsin public colleges full time. A pediatric nurse practitioner and former school district administrator, Mary has dedicated her career to helping children by combining her interest and expertise in health care and education.
A passionate supporter of public education, Mary joined the Madison Metropolitan School District over 30 years ago to implement and run the program that placed health-services staff in all Madison public schools. Mary went on to serve in a variety of leadership roles in the school district, including as chief of staff, where she worked on long-range planning, finance and operations and programs designed to improve student achievement.
Mary holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and two masters degrees, in pediatric nursing and in administrative medicine, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Mary also devotes substantial time to volunteerism and board service. She is currently a board member of the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation, the Fund For Wisconsin Scholars, We Think Big and the Opera for The Young. She serves on the Board of Visitors for the UW Madison School of Nursing and the UW Madison School of Education.
Becky Splitt, Secretary
Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer for StudyBlue, Inc.
Becky’s vision for empowering students, valuing entrepreneurial solutions, and harnessing the power of social media and online platforms underscores her dedication to WeThinkBig’s fresh approach to empowering educators and opening doors to the rest of the community.
Becky Splitt served as the first CEO of StudyBlue, a mobile, social study platform that has crowd-sourced more than 300 million study notes to date for more than 12 million students from middle school to medical school. She moved into the role of Executive Chairman in August 2014.
Prior to her work with StudyBlue, Becky served as the Director of MSN International at Microsoft where she was responsible for setting strategy, managing the P&L, and expanding from six to 27 countries. She managed the transition from an access-centric to information portal-centric business model in all markets; executed the sale of MSN’s access business in France, Germany and Canada; and developed the local development and marketing strategies for MSN.com.
As a female leader in a male-dominated industry, Becky has been able to steer some of the industry’s giants into successful business streams, and at the same time has turned small players into industry leaders. Becky can speak to building and managing a global workforce at MSN, running a lean team while at the same time harnessing breakthrough growth at StudyBlue, and provide an array of feedback on how StudyBlue has contributed to the social good. In addition to her role with WeThinkBig, she serves on the Board of Trustees for Edgewood College and the UW Madison School of Entrepreneurship Advisory Board.
Julie Underwood, J.D., Ph.D, Treasurer
Susan Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy & Practice at UW-Madison School of Law; and Former Dean of the UW-Madison School of Education
Julie’s passion for education and the health of our public schools has been a hallmark of her academic and administrative career, and she brings a depth of academic research and breadth of institutional connections to her role with WeThinkBig.
Julie Underwood is a nationally recognized authority on school law and former dean of the UW-Madison School of Education. Prior to serving as Dean, she taught on the faculty of the Department of Educational Administration. She also served as chair of the Department of Educational Administration, associate dean of the School of Education, and co-director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Policy at the Robert M. La Follette Institute of Public Affairs.
In addition to her work at UW Madison, she served as dean of Miami University’s School of Education and Allied Professions, and associate executive director and general counsel for the National School Boards Association in Washington, D.C. where she led a legal advocacy program on behalf of the nation’s public school boards, including producing friend-of-the-court briefs and legal strategies before the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts. She also was responsible for the 3,000-member Council of School Attorneys.
She has co-authored several books, including School Law for Teachers (Prentice Hall, 2005), Legal Aspects of Special Education and Pupil Services (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1994), and The Principal’s Legal Handbook (Education Law Association, 1993). She currently serves as the Board Chair of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.
President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce; Wisconsin Angel Network
Zach Brandon became President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce in November 2012. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce represents more than 1,300 organizations and is focused on creating a foundation for growth for the Greater Madison region.
Prior to joining the Greater Madison Chamber Zach was the director of the Wisconsin Angel Network, an early stage investment organization focused on increasing equity investments in Wisconsin’s entrepreneurs. Zach also served as the vice chair of public policy for the national Angel Capital Association.
Previously Zach served as Deputy Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and served in the agency’s senior policy and external affairs role. Zach advised the Governor, Commerce Secretary and the Legislature on global trade and business development strategies with a heavy emphasis on expansion, investment and entrepreneurial development.
An experienced entrepreneur and small business owner, Zach was part of the leadership team of three start-ups. He was president and chief executive officer of Laundry 101, which in 2003 topped USA Today’s “Best Places” to do laundry.
Zach earned a B.A. in Political Science with a concentration in Management from Kent State University.
Kathe Crowley Conn, CEO
CEO of WeThinkBig
Kathe’s passion for promoting a love of learning, innovation and creative problem-solving drives her work with educators and innovators to shape and support a shared vision for educational excellence through the initiatives of WeThinkBig.
Kathe Crowley Conn is an award-winning professional known for visionary entrepreneurial leadership, creative problem solving and institutional growth, with a special interest in innovation, strategic partnerships and capacity building. Her career has spanned work with grass-roots organizational start-ups to established institutions dealing in international policy and philanthropy.
She is known as an innovative and creative leader who embraces change, works effectively with diverse partners, and who is not afraid to take on challenging problems. She is known for providing innovative professional development programs that are relevant and accessible to learners and address key needs.
Prior to returning to Wisconsin to help launch WeThinkBig in 2015, she was the CEO of a private foundation headquartered on the East Coast. She was recruited to the Foundation after establishing and launching the expansion of the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, its science museum and interactive education programs in Wisconsin. Then serving on the boards of the North American Association for Environmental Education, several state boards and committees dedicated to education, she was also founder of the regional education collaborative and early education portal, Nature Net: the environmental learning network, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.