Lee Sechrist – Executive Director, Founder and Board Member
Lee is the founder and Executive Director of the Gratitude Initiative (GI) and CEO/Owner of Synergy Creations Group. LLC. He is a former Army officer, disabled veteran, and accomplished business owner who brings over twenty-five years of organizational leadership and management experience to GI. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant from Texas A&M University in 1989, Lee had dreams of making a career out of serving his country, but in 1996, he was medically discharged from the Army due to injuries suffered during the first gulf war. While in the Army, Lee served as an Infantry Officer and as a Tactical Intelligence Officer.
Lee and his family have experienced the stress that combat and lengthy deployments place on a family and he remembers all too well the burden of providing for his wife and children when his injuries forced him to transition from army green to corporate gray. He is an active supporter of veterans’ programs and for the past seven years, he has been a guest speaker, mentor, and volunteer for Texas A&M’s Mays Business School’s Entrepreneurial Boot Camp for Veterans (EBV). Lee also serves as a member of the Texas Veterans Commission’s Veterans Communication Advisory Committee. As a business owner, with over thirteen years of experience in helping start and grow companies, Lee has been able to offer support and encouragement to the wounded warrior entrepreneurs who graduate from the EBV program. In the summer of 2013, he resolved to do more to support these great heroes and began working fulltime on a program to give back to those who have given so much to our country. With the help of like-minded friends and business professionals, GI was born.
Lee and his wife Sherri have two children. The oldest graduated from college in 2013 and the youngest is a college senior.
Cindy Bigner Patman– Board Member
Cindy Bigner Patman is Halliburton’s Senior Director of Corporate Affairs and Diversity Initiatives. In this role, she is responsible for providing strategic direction for the Corporate Internal Communications, Community Relations teams, and for leading Companywide efforts to increase diverse hiring and promote inclusion throughout the Company. She also manages the President’s Leadership Excellence Program (PLEP) and Business Leadership Development programs for Halliburton’s high potential talent and serves as Vice President of the Halliburton Foundation.
Being the first person to hold the position as Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion she was instrumental in shaping the Company’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy and objectives.
Mrs. Bigner Patman has experience in all areas of Human Resources, and she has held a variety of positions in the U.S. and internationally, including a five-year assignment leading Human Resources for the Eastern Hemisphere, based in Egypt and, later, Dubai.
She joined Halliburton in 1990, as part of University Affairs before moving into a variety of roles to include Compensation, Human Resources Information Systems and manager of Human Resources for Southern Region and all major property locations in the United States.
Mrs. Bigner Patman holds a Master of Science degree in global human resources management from the University of Liverpool in London.
She serves on the Diversity Advisory Boards for Louisiana State University and the University of Houston. She was recently recognized as one of Houston’s “50 Most Influential Women” by Houston Women’s Magazine, Top Women in Energy by Houston Business Journal two years in a row, and one of the “Most Powerful and Influential Women in Texas” by the National Diversity Council in 2014. Mrs. Bigner Patman was also recently awarded the Women in Energy (WEN) networks’ inaugural “Spirit of WEN Award”. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and other events related to diversity and professional development for women.
Mark “Dill” Driscoll – Board Member
Dill Driscoll is the Dean of The Stafford School of Business at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia. He is the internationally recognized marketing pioneer and entrepreneur behind some of the world’s most recognizable events, including the Coca-Cola Olympic Torch Relay, the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy Tour and the Blue Planet Run. His legendary work spans 190 countries on five continents.
In 1997, Dill along with his wife and business partner Susan founded ignition, a global agency with a mission to make a positive difference in people’s lives specializing in sustainable brand experiences.
With more than 35 years of global experience, Dill has been blessed to work with the world’s biggest brands, setting records and activating the one-of-a-kind experiences that become industry standards. He has helped bring big brands to life such as American Express, British Petroleum, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, ESPN, Gogo, Kangaroo Express, Kia, Spark Energy and the United Nations Foundation.
Dill has started eight companies, many of which stand today as the leaders in their respective fields. He founded Momentum, which was the second experience-based marketing company he sold to McCann Erickson. Most recently he sold his third experience-based agency, ignition, to Havas Media.
In the summer of 2012, Dill became the Dean of the ABAC Stafford School of Business. He is also the Entrepreneur in Residence at The University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business.
Dill has invested significant time and resources over the years in support of our military and veterans through the development of experiential co-branding/co-fundraising campaigns that help bring together corporations and citizens in support of our nation’s heroes. His most recent project was the creation of Carry The Load’s National Relay, a month long event covering over 2,000 miles and brings together thousands of citizens in over 230 cities from West Point, NY to Dallas, TX. In addition to serving on the Gratitude Initiative’s Board of Directors and Carry The Load’s National Relay, Dill also serves on the USO Entertainment Advisory Board and the Road Less Traveled Ministry Board.
John Q. Miller – Board Member
John Q. Miller is a former United States Army Officer and combat veteran. John began his military service as an enlisted engineer in the U.S. Army Reserve while still in high school. Shortly after receiving his commission as an Armor Officer from Texas A&M University in 1989, John served as a M1A1 Tank Platoon Leader in the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). John completed other assignments as a Scout Platoon Leader and Executive Officer in the 3rd ACR and also as an Intelligence and Operations Officer in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Following his military service, John has over 20 years of experience leading operations and process improvement in Fortune 500 manufacturing, consulting, and healthcare companies. John is currently, the Director of Business Transformation for Cancer Services at Quest Diagnostics, where he also leads the company’s Veterans Network.
John earned an undergraduate degree in History from Texas A&M University. He also holds a Graduate Certificate in Financial Planning from the Florida State University, and will graduate in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Executive Leadership from Liberty University.
John and his wife Debra grew up as military dependents; they very well understand the needs of military children. They have two daughters currently attending college.
John Vitacca, Colonel, USAF (Ret) – Board Member
Retired USAF Colonel John Vitacca is a decorated combat veteran, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as supported combat operations in Kosovo. While on active duty, John held various positions including Commander of the 2nd Operations Group at Barksdale Air Force Base, Commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, and Deputy Commander of the 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan at the ISAF Joint Command Headquarters in Kabul. John’s experience in leading hundreds of airmen over his 23 years in the Air Force, both stateside and deployed, has provided him with keen insights into the many issues and difficulties faced by both service members and their families. He is excited to be able to work with Gratitude Initiative to help military children reach their highest potential.
John graduated from Texas A&M in 1989, was commissioned into the United States Air Force and graduated from pilot training in 1991. He has 3,700 hours of flight time in the B-2A, B-52G/H, T-38, T-37 and civilian aircraft. His awards include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Combat Readiness Medal, National Defense Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air & Space Campaign Medal, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal. He currently serves as a Senior Defense Analyst for Modern Technology Solutions Inc. (MTSI).
John has an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a Masters degree in Military Operational Art and Science from Air University, and was a National Defense Fellow at Stanford University. He is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College (in residence) and the Air War College (in correspondence).
John and his wife Amy have two children. The oldest is a college freshman and the youngest is a high school Junior.
Joan Quintana – Advisory Board Member
Joan is the former Director of Communications for the Texas A&M Association of Former Students and she currently serves as the Director of Marketing and Business Development at the Innovation Underground. Joan is a graduate of Texas A&M University. She brings a wealth of experience to GI having worked with numerous businesses, non-profits, and municipal governments across a broad range of industries and at the local level with communities across Texas. Joan is passionate about economic development and working to support the new ventures and social entrepreneurs that help communities grow and thrive. Joan is the youngest of eleven children whose father was a Marine Aviator. Her father retired as a Lieutenant Colonel who served twenty-two years in the Marine Corps to include multiple combat tours in Korea and Vietnam. She is proud to be called a “Marine Brat” and understands the challenges military families and children face on a daily basis. Joan and her husband Jose have five children. Two are out of college, two in college, and one in high school.
Brad Ball – Advisory Board Member
Brad Ball is President of Ardent Creative in the Dallas/ Fort Worth metroplex. Ardent Creative is a full-service creative agency specializing in design, web development, SEO and video production. Brad is a graduate of Texas Wesleyan University and brings a wealth of creative and branding knowledge to the GI team. In addition to being President of Ardent, Brad is also a talented artist. He has traveled the country painting on-stage during music concerts or events as well as teaching workshops. When Brad is not doing some form of art he loves playing golf, doing CrossFit, mud races, and spending time with his family. Brad and his wife Leah have three young children.
Dr. Carla Lane, Ed.D. – Advisory Board Member
Carla Lane has an extensive background in distance learning and evaluation of mediated educational programs. She is Executive Director of The Education Coalition, a non-profit that provides educational evaluation services to districts, universities, and other entities requiring local, state and national evaluations. She has been extensively involved in the education field through her research in distance learning. Her work has been published in many research reports and journals. She has authored three textbooks in educational technology and distance learning. Most recently she, is conducting research in online instructional strategies for active military, veterans, and spouses for the Federal Government Distance Learning Association (FGDLA) where she is the Vice President of the Higher Education Sector. Lane spent fifteen years with WestEd, a regional educational laboratory, as a senior researcher and project director of the Star Schools dissemination project – the Distance Learning Resource Network (DLRN). She is the master trainer in distance learning for UCLA, and teaches in several doctoral programs specializing in educational technology and instructional design for online learning. Dr. Lane has written and been funded for grants through Star Schools, PBS Mathline and TeacherlIne, Challenge, NTIA, TIIAP, California Department of Education, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, US Department of Justice, Los Angeles County Office of Education, and NASA. She earned a Doctorate in Education (Educational Leadership research design/statistics, adult education, educational-technology) from the University of Missouri-St. Louis; a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Webster University; a Bachelor of Science in English from Washington University, St. Louis MO. She also holds a Broadcast Engineering degree.
Dr. Steven Guttentag, Ph.D. – Advisory Board Member
Dr. Guttentag is the co-founder of Connections Academy (now Connections Education). He currently serves as the President of Connections Education, now part of the global learning company, Pearson. Connections Education includes: Connections Academy, full-time public virtual schools; Nexus Academy, full-time public blended schools; Connections Learning, providing virtual learning services to school districts and other organizations; and International Connections Academy, an accredited virtual private school. During the 2014-15 school year, Connections Education will operate 36 full-time schools in 25 states working with charter schools, school districts, and state departments of education and will serve an average of 60,000 full-time students in grades K-12. Additionally, the company will deliver over 500,000 additional courses to institutional customers.
Dr. Guttentag began his career as a classroom teacher and has spent the last 25 years designing and deploying technology-based solutions to improve K–12 education. In addition to his classroom experience, he has held several senior school district administrative positions, with responsibilities in the areas of technology, facilities, special education, policy analysis, labor relations, budgeting, restructuring and grants management. He led KPMG Consulting’s Midwest education practice and was the Chief Education Officer for Education Networks of America, a provider of complete, managed internet access solutions to the education community. His academic credentials include a B.A. from the University of Michigan, a M.E. in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Policy and Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Guttentag lives just outside of Washington D.C. in Chevy Chase, MD with his wife and three boys. He is an active volunteer in his neighborhood schools, a dedicated runner, and avid an supporter of youth wrestling and lacrosse in Maryland.
Kathreyn Harris – Advisory Board Member
Kathreyn Harris is an Army wife, mother, speaker, and advocate for our military and veteran families with extensive experience in helping wounded service members and their families navigate the road to recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Services and Development and a Master’s degree in Management, with a focus on organizational leadership and change. In 2007, Kathreyn’s world turned upside down when her husband, Shilo Harris, suffered catastrophic wounds in an IED explosion in Iraq. She was instrumental in Shilo’s recovery, serving as his advocate, nurse, therapist, and champion. Kathreyn knows first-hand the challenges facing not only the recovering soldiers, but their spouses and children. In October 2008, she accepted a position with the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program and for four years served seriously wounded service members and their families. In 2011, Kathreyn and Shilo were honored by Helping a Hero and ABC-TV with a new home through Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Kathreyn is committed to the Gratitude Initiative’s mission of meeting the educational needs of children from military and veteran families and she will be instrumental in expanding GI’s programs to meet the needs of the hero families we serve.