Staff Bios

Mark Sturgis

Mark Sturgis

Executive Director

Mark began working in the Mid-South 11 years ago in the Mississippi Delta, in the areas of affordable housing, health, and education. Here, education became his passion, as a primary lever to challenge inequality. After moving to Memphis, Mark received his Master’s in Teaching from the University of Memphis and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Memphis in Urban Education.  As a teacher, community organizer, and leader in the not-for-profit and advocacy sector, Mark has been deeply engaged in the education reform movement and other local efforts in Memphis and TN, to improve access to high quality education and opportunity. Mark is also a father of three, who attend Shelby County Schools.

Cate Joyce

Director of Continuous Improvement

Catherine Joyce received her BA from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, PA where she majored in Political Science. Later she earned her MA from the University of Memphis in Political Science with a focus in Public Policy and American Government. Cate worked for The Urban Child Institute, in different capacities, for ten years where she focused her professional career on gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing data for meaningful, result-oriented outcomes aimed at improving the well-being of children in Shelby County. She joins our Seeding Success team, as Director of Continuous Improvement, with a personal conviction and professional dedication to help our partners translate data into actions that will benefit children, their families, and the larger community. She lives in midtown Memphis with her daughter Jane and rescued dog Maple.

Melissa Perry

Melissa Perry

Business Analyst

Melissa is motivated to combat achievement gaps between students of different backgrounds. A native of Louisville, KY, she moved to Memphis to join the Education Pioneers Tennessee Cohort in summer 2014. She began her career as a Purchasing Specialist with Toyota’s North American manufacturing headquarters, following her graduation from Centre College with a B.S. in Financial Economics. Melissa helped to establish and lead the Centre College Warehouse After-school ESL tutoring program for local schoolchildren. Since then, providing others with access to improved quality of education has been important to her identity, and she is taking steps to make it central to her career.

Kayla Brooks

Kayla Brooks

Network Manager

Kayla is interested in how systemic poverty plays a role in education outcomes for children in low-income communities. As a Memphis native, she has a passion for making Shelby County a place where all students can receive a quality education. Kayla holds a Bachelor of Science from Vanderbilt University in Human and Organizational Development and a Master of Public Service from the Clinton School of Public Service.Kayla has spent time in Uganda with the Nyaka AIDS Foundation evaluating how improving conditions of families affects education outcomes for their children. Most recently, Kayla worked as Partnership Development Manager for Literacy Mid-South. In this role, she developed relationships with organizations focused on education and worked to provide them with resources and training in an effort to help them better serve their populations.

Garrett Guynes

Communications Manager

Garrett received his B.A. in Public Relations from Mississippi State University in 2012. Following graduation, Garrett worked as a Regional Marketing Manager for Associated Architectural Products in Brandon, Ms. After two years, Garrett made his way to Memphis to assume a role as Marketing and Communications Specialist for the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis and Shelby County. It was with EDGE that Garrett developed a passion for the City of Memphis and its people. Garrett is excited to join the Seeding Success team as the Communication Manager. The son and now husband of a teacher, he looks forward to helping improve the education quality for all students throughout Shelby County.

Courtney Williams Robertson

Network Facilitator

Courtney Williams Robertson is a native Memphian whose love and affinity for the city brought him back five years ago after graduating college. Courtney was named a ‘Next Generation Leader’ by Memphis Business Quarterly Magazine in 2014 for his leadership and work in youth development. He holds a Master of Public Administration from The University of Memphis School of Public & Urban Affairs and Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Purdue University –Indianapolis College of Engineering & Technology. He has also spent time in South Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba learning about Education Policy. Courtney is also a devoted actor with Hattiloo Theatre. His favorite quote is by Muhammad Ali, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth” and he strongly believes that his work in education and theatre is his way of giving back to others.


Kyle R. Cheney

Early Childhood Data Analyst

Kyle is dedicated to helping organizations make data-informed decisions. He began working in education research as an undergraduate in 2007 and later received an MS in Learning Sciences and Technologies from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (2015) and an MS in Psychology from the University of Memphis (2012). After finishing school, he returned to Memphis to put his skills to use supporting not-for-profit organizations focused on ensuring children are given the best opportunity to succeed academically. As a native Memphian, Kyle has deep roots in the community and a vested interested in ensuring our partner organizations are successful in their endeavors.


Karen Bouldin

Data Analyst

Karen received her BA in International Affairs from Lafayette College, an MPA from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, and an MAIS from the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Karen began her career in education as an English Teacher in South Korea, where she developed a strong passion for improving student access to high-quality education. Upon returning to the US, she worked in the education sector as an after-school program coordinator, summer program director, and research associate. Since 2015, Karen has been supporting partners by using data for action.


Paris Ducker

Executive Assistant

Paris has over 25 years of experience in her career of administrative support. She is a Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) through the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). She joined PeopleFirst Partnership and Seeding Success in 2015. She is a transplant to Memphis, TN from San Francisco, CA. She is the proud “Grandy” of two grandsons. She is active as an advocate in Grass Roots programs in the community.

LaDora Watkins

LaDora Watkins

Network Specialist

LaDora received a BA in Psychology from the University of Memphis. Her passion to serve led her to work with children and families as a counselor at Youth Villages. In 2003, LaDora joined PepsiCo and worked at Frito Lay, Inc. LaDora’s employment history at Frito Lay provided experience in Operations and Sales Divisions. She developed a greater love and appreciation for the city of Memphis after becoming an alumna of the Nexus Class of 2011. LaDora believes that her transition to PeopleFirst Partnership is right in line with her life-long purpose of service. As a native Memphian, LaDora is ecstatic to be working behind the scenes to encourage educational success for the citizens of her hometown.