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Meet the People of Rukmini Foundation

We would like to acknowledge our team of board members, staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to realize the mission of the Rukmini Foundation. We are fortunate to have such a diverse group of talented people working with us to achieve our common goal of empowering underprivileged girls through the power of education.

Our Board

Bibhuti Aryal

President / Chair of the Board

Bibhuti is responsible for ensuring that the organization fulfills its mission and achieves the goals set by the board through coordination of efforts of all volunteers of the Rukmini Foundation. Bibhuti brings his years of experience in various industries like: government, construction, finance and technology along with a strong desire to initiate a positive change in the world.

    Priti Bhattarai

    Vice President and Chair of Nepal Team Committee

    With a Masters from London School of Economics in NGOs and Development, along with courses in Social Policy and Gender and Development, Priti brings with her the experience of both policy and development. She was born in Nepal, brought up in Japan, and has lived in England for eight years. Before moving to the United States, she went back to Nepal and worked on issues concerning Education for All and Gender Equality. Her work entailed creating awareness amongst the communities in rural Nepal on issues concerning both health and education, whilst striving for change in the country’s education policy. She recently moved to the Untied States and has become part of the Rukmini Foundation. With her previous experience working in Nepal, she has a great understanding of Rukmini Foundation’s mission and vision and will chair the Nepal Team Committee to work closely with our team on the ground to ensure progress, productivity and help forge new relationship with other entities in Nepal.

      Allyce Pinchback

      Chair of Community Outreach Committee

      Allyce is Professional Development Project Manager for Pittsburgh Public Schools where she is responsible for providing professional development supports for teachers around the District’s Measures of Effective Teaching. Previously employed at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, she has a strong passion for urban education and international affairs and hopes to utilize her skills and talents to promote cross-cultural communication and understanding between the girls the foundation serves and urban students in the Pittsburgh region.

        Linda Githiora

        Chair of Grants Committee / Grants and Research Manager

        Linda brings not only her academic credentials with a Masters in Public Administration, she also brings her talents in proposal development, research, and grants management along with her firsthand experience in combating gender discrimination in her homeland of Kenya. Linda has seen the positive impact that grassroots development can have in a community, and is looking to utilize her skills and experience to make an impact in the communities that Rukmini Foundation serves. Linda will be helping to build a sustainable source of funding for our programs by seeking grants through the various organizations that support education, gender equity initiatives and development work.

          Lauren Smathers

          Secretary / Chair of Quality Education Committee

          Lauren Smathers(BA: International Studies, Journalism; MA: Teaching) works as an English as a Second Language teacher at a local school district in Pittsburgh, PA. Having spent a significant amount of time conducting research, studying, and traveling throughout Nepal, she is well-versed in the challenges that face the country and its people. As a teacher who can also converse in the Nepali language, Lauren’s passion for educating international students will help the foundation to implement effective educational programs. She is also looking forward to utilizing her photo-journalistic skills to help the Rukmini Foundation produce written and visual content.

            Nikolas “Nik” Ristev

            Treasurer / Chair of Budget & Finance Committee

            An Ohio State University (OSU) graduate in Accounting and Law, Nik is responsible for the financial and regulatory oversight of the foundation. As Treasurer of the foundation, Nik will ensure transparency in all financial transactions and help the foundation to make the most effective use of capital in execution of the foundation’s programs.

                Susan Majcher

                Chair of Technology Committee

                Susan leads Rukmini Foundation’s Technology-related initiatives to help run the organization as efficiently as possible through the use of information technology. Susan is currently a sales operations manager focused on data governance and data warehousing for a global biotech organization.  Her vast experience includes applications and data management, database marketing, marketing automation, IT solution delivery, data warehouse operations, data governance and business intelligence.  She has a degree in business administration from Robert Morris University.

                  Cheryl Paxton-Hughes

                  Chair of Health & Wellness Committee

                  Cheryl has over thirteen years of experience in leading consulting, human resources, and marketing and communications functions for small, mid-size, profit and non-profit organizations. Cheryl is a certified instructor in behavioral change curriculums related to leadership and interpersonal skills as well as interviewing. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Business Management and a Senior Human Resource Professional certificate. In her current role at UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), she is the Executive Director of the Center for Connected Medicine, a M briefing center that is designed to educate and share how healthcare delivery is being transformed through the power of technology. At DDI, (Development Dimensions International), Cheryl led a volunteer program where she taught leadership courses to women re-entering or entering the workforce. She is currently enrolled in a Masters program focused on healthcare information management and public policy. Cheryl will chair the Health & Wellness committee and look to enhance the Aayush Program.

                    Kristin Briggs

                    Chair of Fundraising & Events Committee

                    A graduate of Penn State and a practicing nutritionist for a leading global health service company, Kristin is a firm believer that education has a huge impact on overall health. She has been a dedicated volunteer for Rukmini Foundation since the inception of the organization and has managed and organized most of the fundraising events for the foundation. As a board member who is chairing the Events and Fundraising Committee, Kristin has responsibility over the planning and execution of all fundraising events and awareness raising campaigns. With her ability to juggle multiple initiatives and exceptional organizational skills, the foundation has seen consistently more successful events.

                      Our Staff

                        Rojin Shrestha

                        Rojin Shrestha lives in Pharping and has recently completed his Bachelor of Business Studies (Management) from Shikharapur Community Campus. He is joining our team in Nepal as a Program Assistant to help with our mentoring (Didi) program. Rojin will support our mentors in planning and executing activities as well as in data collection and other day to day activities. Besides supporting the Didis, Rojin will also serve as a positive male role model for the girls of our program as well as the boys of our partner schools.

                        Rojin is very excited to be able to help and mentor his younger sisters and brothers. Away from school and work, Rojin loves to play sports as well as indoor games and is an excellent chess player.

                            Sabina Bisunke

                            Lead Mentor

                            Sabina Bisunke is a 3rd year student of Humanities at Shikharapur Community Campus. She is a local as she is originally from Dakshinkali, an area very close to Pharping. She recently joined as our new Head Mentor (Didi) and will be working closely with all Rukmini scholars.

                            Sabina will be responsible for the day to day activities of the Rukmini Foundation and will assist our Program Officers to ensure that the foundation programs are running smoothly and that all scholars are receiving the necessary support to be successful. Sabina will also be working closely with Foundation Didis and other mentors to provide interesting mentoring programs for the scholars and school students. Sabina is enthusiastic, positive and very active in the community. As a local girl, Sabina is proud to be a role model for other girls and is looking forward to learning as well as mentoring.

                              Niroj Shrestha

                              Program Officer

                              Niroj has been managing many of the activities of A School for Community (ASC) in Nepal that has been established to not only promote formal education, but also to leverage the experiences and skills of community leaders and members to promote local development. Niroj will bring his local expertise as well as his experience in managing programs at the grassroots level. He seeks to help the foundation to continually improve the delivery of programs while also building the capacity of our Didis and local volunteers.

                                  Aryashree “Arya” Aryal

                                  Associate Program Officer

                                  Aryashree Aryal, or Arya for short is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from St. Xavier’s College in Nepal. She believes that education is the single most important thing in bringing any kind of positive change in a society. She strives to bring social justice through volunteering work to raise public awareness about issues and supports the empowerment of underprivileged people through her social work. Arya has been working with organizations dealing with children and mental health and is looking forward to working with the scholars of Rukmini Foundation. Arya will help the team in Nepal to conduct, document, and evaluate programs. She will also support the efforts of the Didis (mentors). In her spare time, Arya loves to write and is always working to improve her public speaking skills.

                                    Pramila Gajmer

                                    Administration & Accounting

                                    Pramila will work with Rasmita to support the day-to-day affairs, but will also be working with the Program Manager to ensure that all expenses are accounted for. Pramila will be responsible for record-keeping and providing regular reports to Foundation leadership in Nepal. She will also be supporting the Didi Program and will serve as a mentor to the girls.

                                      Our Advisory Council

                                      Dennis Kremer

                                      Vice-President / Chair of Technology Committee

                                      As a Director for Technology for EFI (a leading printing software vendor), Dennis has been spearheading technical architecture work for many years. He brings over 17 years of software development and management experience to the table in areas ranging from large corporate development in the finance industry, transportation/logistics and independent software vendor experience in the print industry. Dennis also possesses a keen understanding of how technologies can transform and enable agile organizations to achieve success. As a key member of our Advisory Committee, Dennis will help the organization make the best use of technologies in an effort to run the foundation efficiently as well as outline new and innovative ways to bridge the technology gap that exists between students in the US and the students and school(s) that Rukmini Foundation is supporting in Nepal.

                                        Dr. Nabin Aryal, PhD

                                        Special Adviser

                                        Nabin led the foundation’s work in Nepal from the inception till April 2015. He is now serving as a special adviser from his new home in Nairobi, Kenya where he will be working with the US and Nepal Teams to provide strategic guidance for the foundation. Dr. Nabin Aryal received a PhD in Economics from Hitotsubashi University and has been managing NGO programs in underdeveloped areas in India and Sri Lanka and has extensive experience in grassroots development efforts.

                                          Laxmi Aryal


                                          Laxmi was the first female in her family to receive an education. While the education she received was limited, she was able to make the best of it and became the first person from her family and village to complete high school, undergraduate studies and eventually a Masters degree. She eventually earned a Masters Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Public Policy. Hers is an inspirational story that the Rukmini Foundation hopes to replicate. She serves as an inspiration for the foundation and its leadership.

                                            Eri Taniguchi

                                            Gender & Development Issues Advisor

                                            With a M Phil in Development Studies from Oxford University, Eri is an expert in the field of development with a focus on gender equality. Her studies and works have been dedicated to bringing more gender equality and opportunities for women, especially in underdeveloped areas. She serves as a consultant by helping to set the agenda of the Rukmini Foundation as we strive to provide young girls more opportunities in the area of education. She is currently stationed in Ulan Bator, Mongolia with the UNFPA program.

                                                Raquel Buranosky

                                                Health & Wellness Advisor

                                                With her background in public health, primary care, medical student and resident education, curriculum development and community service, Raquel hopes to be able to contribute to the foundation by acting as a liaison between these worlds. With a passion for underserved care, Raquel helped to start the Global Health Residency Track in the University of Pittsburgh Internal Medicine Residency Program as well as to develop the Program for Healthcare for the Underserved at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is a key faculty member in the Comprehensive Women’s Health Program in the Division of General Internal Medicine at UPMC. As an Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency in charge of Curricular Development, she trains residents on a daily basis, including in caring for the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugee population of Pittsburgh. Raquel hopes to be able to improve healthcare to this population through involving residents and medical students with the help of the foundation.

                                                  Our Volunteers

                                                    Shashi Sharma

                                                    Regional Director

                                                    Mr. Sharma has been leading community development work in the areas surrounding Pharping for nearly 40 years. He has led programs to bring infrastructure to the villages, such as: providing running water to homes, building electricity and telephony infrastructure, establishing school systems, and building healthcare facilities. Mr. Sharma will serve in an advisory capacity to develop partnerships with local organizations and build consensus with local leaders in order to effectively implement our programs.

                                                        Kedar Nath Acharya

                                                        Head of Student Selection Committee Head

                                                        Mr. Acharya has been an educator in the Pharping region for over 35 years, and is keenly aware of the challenges faced by potential students there. He is also driven by the opportunities that exist for providing a bright future to people in the surrounding communities. As an educator and a local community leader, Mr. Acharya provides our foundation with the energy needed at the local level to make this program a success.

                                                          Bandana Aryal

                                                          Program Manager

                                                          Bandana Aryal has over 8 years of experience in the NGO sector working with organizations that focus on poverty in rural areas in Nepal. Her expertise are in the area of food security, rural livelihoods, and local economic development in Nepal. She has had a big impact on various projects and programs, including work with the French Cooperation/Ministry of Agriculture, Plan Nepal, and LGCDP/MoFALD. She received a Master’s Degree in Agriculture from Wageningen University of the Netherlands in 2008. Bandana has been able to combine her research knowledge with hands-on experience from the field to design, monitor, and evaluate programs that result in positive outcomes. She is excited to bring those attributes to help improve the programs of Rukmini Foundation. Being a great-granddaughter of Rukmini, the foundation’s inspirations, Bandana has extra motivation to help the foundation reach a new level of success. As a mother of a young daughter, and as a female who has had to fight against perceptions of what a girl and woman is capable of, Bandana knows all too well the challenges facing the girls of Rukmini Foundation. Despite these challenges, she is confident that a combination of a positive attitude and hard work along with the support from the community, we will be able to provide new opportunities and a better future for the girls and their families.

                                                            Prakriti Nepal

                                                            Didi Program & Nepal Community Outreach Lead

                                                            As a student of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Prakriti has a keen interest in grassroots development that can lead to a lasting peace and sustained development for Nepal. Along with her passion for promoting gender equality and education for all, she brings a wealth of experience in working with various youth groups on different projects and programs. With Rukmini Foundation, she is serving as a Lead for the mentoring program (Didi) as well as being the liaison between the foundation and partners in Nepal. Through her leadership and efforts, she is not only inspiring Rukmini scholars but also the other young ladies who serve as mentors for the organization.

                                                              Sandesh Aryal

                                                              Chief Technology Officer

                                                              Sandesh will lead all technology initiatives of the foundation. One of his chief goals will be to establish Internet connectivity for the students in Nepal and to implement a distance learning program. He is also responsible for the technical infrastructure that supports our foundation’s communication and marketing initiatives. He brings expertise in technology and communications as well as his credentials as an educator. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science from Texas A&M University.

                                                                Ang Dawa Sherpa

                                                                Principal Designer

                                                                Ang Sherpa, or Dawa as he is known to us, brings a blend of technical expertise and an eye for aesthetics that helps us present our ideas in a visually stunning manner. He has years of experience in the Technology and Marketing disciplines, but he also has a passion for photography and design. Dawa comes from a proud Sherpa family and has a desire to contribute to the development of Nepal through education.

                                                                    Harinee Suthakar

                                                                    Volunteer Intern - Health & Wellness

                                                                    Hi everyone! My name is Harinee Suthakar and I am a Health & Wellness (Aayush) Program Volunteer. I am an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Rehabilitation Science and Global Studies. I began working with Rukmini Foundation to evaluate, improve, and expand on their existing health education and wellness programs in September 2014. I am passionate about empowerment through education and believe every girl should have the opportunity to lead a successful, happy and healthy life. I hope to pursue a career in medicine and public health with focuses on community health education and health policy.

                                                                        Johanna Whitman

                                                                        Volunteer Intern

                                                                        Johanna studies Rehabilitation Science and Spanish at the University of Pittsburgh and is interested in a career in the medical/public health field. She is a volunteer intern and eager to provide support to the Rukmini Foundation in fundraising, events, and logistical organization. Johanna believes that girls’ education is the key to solving many issues with penury and community empowerment is necessary to achieve its success. She is honored to be a part of the Rukmini Foundation team!

                                                                            Shilpa Krishnan

                                                                            Volunteer Intern

                                                                            Shilpa is a student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Anthropology and Global Studies. Through her coursework, Shilpa became interested in the connection between social empowerment and community health, which led her to begin volunteering for Rukmini Foundation. She is passionate about gender equality and believes every girl should have the right to discover her full potential. She is excited to be a part of the team, and is looking forward to the years ahead!

                                                                                Shruthi Shankar

                                                                                Volunteer Intern

                                                                                Hello! My name is Shruthi and I’m a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh studying neuroscience and philosophy. I am very excited to work with Rukmini because I am interested in the intersection between women’s health, rights, and education. Throughout the next several years, I will be supporting Rukmini’s various community events, as well as raising awareness of South Asian women’s cultural issues within the Pitt campus. I hope that my work here helps pave the way so that a girl’s education is no longer seen as a privilege, but as a right.

                                                                                    Yuan Ren

                                                                                    Volunteer Intern

                                                                                    Yuan Ren is currently a candidate for  a Master of Public Administration degree at Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) at University of Pittsburgh. Her fields are Policy Analysis and Non-profit Management. Based on her academic background, she assists the Rukmini Foundation with the program evaluation, marketing improvement and fundraising. She believes that there is no other effective way to improve the gender equality than to empower girls through education.

                                                                                        Trishna Acharya

                                                                                        Volunteer Intern

                                                                                        Hello Everyone! My name is Trishna Acharya and I am a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh. I intend to major in Neuroscience and pursue a career in medicine/public health. I was born in Nepal and moved to the United States seven years ago. Living in Nepal, I have witnessed many girls my age barred from education due to poverty and the societal belief of perceiving women as second class citizens. Rukmini Foundation’s initiative to change this stigma and help girls reach their utmost potential is what motivated me join this team. I am honored to be part of Rukmini and intend to help expand its mission in every way possible!