Meet our Team
Sandy Marshall, Founder/CEO
Sandy Marshall has spent the past twenty years in nonprofit management, including work with the American Heart Association, Special Olympics and Easter Seals; she is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). Three years after creating the national cause marketing campaign, NASCAR Day, Ms. Marshall founded The NASCAR Foundation, which is now a $5 million organization engaging millions of fans annually. In her nearly ten years at NASCAR, she believes her most important work was in the STEM area of NASCAR. Engaging the company and sport with non-profits and making STEM exciting and relevant through motorsports. Due to her passion for helping nonprofits that have the mission and infrastructure to make great social change, she started Sandra Marshall and Associates— a consulting group focused on fueling social impact, www.smaimpact.com. While funding national STEM initiatives through The NASCAR Foundation, Sandy learned of the disadvantages that girls and women have in STEM majors and careers, and became committed to doing what she could to make a difference in her own community - Project Scientist had lift off! Personally Sandy had experienced gender stereotyping and a lack of role models as she pursued a STEM major in college and as a result changed majors. As a mother of two young girls with a passion for science, Sandy remains committed to changing the status quo for her girls as well as girls across the country. Project Scientist began summer 2011 out of Sandy’s guesthouse in Charlotte, NC. The organization is now on four University campuses serving over 800 girls annually. Ms. Marshall attended the University of Southern California, where she received a BS in Public Policy with an emphasis on Nonprofits. She has a certificate in nonprofit management from the University of California, Irvine. Sandy and her family currently split time between Laguna Beach, Pasadena and Charlotte.
Brenda Vass, Chief Development Officer
Brenda Vass brings almost 20 years of experience in the development profession and still finds it incredibly rewarding! After graduating from Francis Marion University with a Mass Communications degree, Brenda’s plans to be the next “Dan Rather” were abruptly changed after managing her first fundraiser as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society just one month before graduating! She knew that her passion was connecting people with purpose and pursued every opportunity to support her vision for becoming a development professional.
Over the next twenty years, Brenda worked for organizations like Special Olympics, National MS Society, American Heart Association, Arts & Science Council and more recently held the chief development officer position for NC MedAssist. Her passion for customer service excellence, storytelling, and a knack for seeing potential in everyone have helped her find success with generating interest, awareness and income for the mission of the organizations she has been fortunate to serve.
Brenda has an excitement for developing strategic approaches to funding challenges and is genuinely curious of people and their motivations—interests that she feels helps her to boldly reject status quo in the pursuit of launching successful initiatives to support the organization’s mission. With two daughters, she feels proud to serve in a role that will help so many young girls find their voice echoing in rooms that they otherwise never thought they could speak.
Alicia Thunell, Chief Operations Specialist
Alicia Thunell joined Project Scientist in 2020 as the St. Paul Market Lead. She believes the value and importance of the mission and vision Project Scientist has set out to achieve. She has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Criminal Justice and a Master’s in Business Administration with Technology Management. She understands the challenges girls face in STEM and believes Project Scientist is an amazing opportunity to inspire girls to succeed. As a mother to two girls, she has actively participated and lead programs for youth academics and wellness programs to ensure all girls have the confidence to transform their goals into realities. Before coming to Project Scientist, Alicia worked in Healthcare Operations and Information Technology. She brings over 20 years of program leadership that will contribute to the development of the St. Paul market and ultimately great success for girls in STEM.
Rebecca Sims, National Program Director
As a Kentucky native, Rebecca attended the University of Kentucky, where she received degrees in Natural Resource Conservation and Soil Science, and the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, where she completed graduate work in Plant Biology. Throughout college and graduate school, Rebecca coupled her coursework with outreach opportunities. Through these opportunities, she gained an expanded understanding on the issues that prevail in STEM education across all self-identifiers, particularly those related to gender. She became more aware that issues of gender and equity can affect students despite their aptitudes and interests in STEM fields. Rebecca is passionate about fixing these leaking pipelines early, and giving a young and diverse community an opportunity to explore their STEM curiosities and view a different future for themselves as she once had the opportunity to do. Rebecca is delighted at the opportunity to be a part of the amazing Project Scientist team where through advocacy, mentorship and education we can create a community where all children thrive!
Kelly O'Brien, Business Office Specialist
Kelly O'Brien has served on the Project Scientist team as our Office Coordinator, since 2016. Over her entire adult life, Kelly has lived her passion for education and for children. Working in education for more than 10 years, Kelly has taught Kindergarten, 4th grade, 6th grade and 8th grade. More recently, Kelly has managed administration and logistics for a property investment start-up. A Northern California native, Kelly moved to Southern California more than 15 years ago to pursue tertiary education. Kelly holds a single subject and multiple subject teaching credential; an MA in Education involving post graduate work at Chapman University and the National University; and a BA in English Literature with a minor in Deaf Education from California State University, Fullerton. A passionate athlete, Kelly believes deeply in fostering an active lifestyle from childhood. Kelly has coached children's soccer and softball and currently, leads a running group for children. Kelly and her husband have distinguished themselves as advocates for children and have elected to invest in an arts and healing program for children of incarcerated parents, founded in their belief that children of all socioeconomic backgrounds and life circumstances deserve equal opportunities to education and educational support programs. Kelly is a married, mother of two and lives in Laguna Beach, California.
Pia Grace Torres, Communications Specialist
Pia serves as the communications specialist for Project Scientist, advocating for girls and women in STEM in the community. She is passionate about philanthropy, and has been volunteering for different organizations since she was 6 years old. Her love for philanthropy paired with her zeal for communication led her to being the marketing manager for Project Scientist.
She began her communications career interning for a multitude of organizations, including Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, FOX Broadcasting and FX Networks. While interning and studying at Long Beach State, she also led as the Long Beach chapter president of PRSSA, a professional organization dedicated to providing resources and opportunities for public relations students. She has been recognized as a leader in communications, winning the “OCPRSA Shining Star Emerging Leader Award” and the Long Beach State “Professional Promise in Public Relations Award.”
Pia is thrilled to have the opportunity to pair her love for philanthropy with her passion for communication to serve as Project Scientist’s marketing manager, aiding in Project Scientist’s mission to empower girls to follow their dreams.
Kimberly Lewis, Community Outreach Coordinator
Kimberly Lewis joined Project Scientist as the Community Outreach Coordinator in 2019. With a background in Business Management from Hardin-Simmons University, Kimberly builds business and client relationships for Project Scientist, and assists in site location management at the national level. She is an integral part of furthering the development of the connections with the organization’s investors, participants, customers and volunteers. Kimberly embraces the opportunity to share her enthusiasm for giving girls the ability to learn and grow through STEM.
Before joining Project Scientist, Kimberly worked as a catering and event coordinator, a representative in service industry, a legal assistant, tutored children with disabilities and interpreted for the Deaf. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Kimberly and her husband have become Laguna Beach locals. For the past seven years, Kimberly has spent her time investing in her children as a stay at home mom, raising three girls who now actively participate and enjoy all things Project Scientist. Hopefully, a dog will become a part of the family picture soon.
Ellen McCarty, Atlanta Site Coordinator
Ellen McCarty brings over twenty-five years of executive leadership experience in the nonprofit sector. She has been the recipient of local, state, and national recognition for her design, creation, and launch of services in, Georgia Title One elementary schools, the juvenile justice system, residential programs for children and youth in foster care and aging out of foster care, and permanent housing for homeless men, women, and children infected and/or affected with HIV/AIDS
Ellen served as a statewide trainer for the Governor’s Office for Children and Families while working in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. She has designed and taught workshops on the nonprofit sector, grant writing, board governance, and best practice boards, unlocking the fear of fundraising, and program sustainability, to name a few. She has served as a guest lecturer at colleges and universities including the Emory University Young Scholars Program. Ellen has also served as an instructor and consultant for Foundation Center - Atlanta; the Georgia Center for Nonprofits – Nonprofit University; United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta’s Volunteer in Training Program; Right Management; Atlanta Public Library System, and nonprofits of all sizes.
Ellen graduated from Troy University with a B.S. in Social Rehabilitation and attended the University of Georgia Graduate School of Social Work. She additionally holds numerous certifications.