Meet the recipients of the ABTA’s highest honors and learn how they’re making a difference.
Patti Tsai-Steiner—ABTA, Member
Patti Tsai-Steiner joined the ABTA Board of Directors in 2022 and serves as a member of the Development and Mission Committees. She previously served as a patient advocate reviewer for the ABTA Discovery Grants in 2020 and 2021.
A native of Maryland, she completed her bachelor’s degree in physics at Cornell University, and her PhD in physics at the University of California, San Diego.
Patti, now retired, was a tenured faculty member at two California community colleges: Grossmont College in East San Diego County and the College of Alameda in the San Francisco East Bay area. At both schools, she served on numerous committees and as department chair. Over the course of 25 years, she taught all lower division physics, as well as introductory astronomy, physical science, and math. As a result of friendships formed during a sabbatical visit to UC Berkeley in 2001, she changed her style of teaching mid-way through her career to incorporate principles from physics education research, emphasizing the conceptual underpinning of problem-solving, and incorporating metacognition to encourage students to develop awareness and understanding of their thought processes.
Patti is using her retirement as an opportunity to pursue projects that have value to her. She is excited about developments in brain tumor research. She hopes to contribute to improving the experience of patients and families, with a special interest in palliative care.
She’s learning to refinish furniture and turn wooden bowls and is training her Shetland sheepdog for obedience competition.
Mindee Plugues—ABTA, Member
Mindee Plugues serves as Chair of the Development Committee of the ABTA Board of Directors. Since joining the ABTA board in 2017, she previously served as Chair of the Mission Committee.
Mindee is an experienced executive and senior leader in brand and business management, integrated marketing, and people development. She has a proven track record of driving topline, margin, and share growth on multi-million/billion-dollar businesses. Over the course of her 15-year brand management career, she has led transformative marketing and breakthrough innovation on some of the most universally recognized brands such as Kraft Foods, Oscar Mayer, Lunchables, Halls, Trident, and Applebee’s.
A seasoned brand strategist, Mindee is passionate about mining consumer, customer, and category insights to build businesses, brands, and teams globally and domestically. In her spare time, she continues to consult with start-ups and non-profits on building strong brand foundations and developing effective go-to-marketing strategies. Prior to brand management, she spent a decade in software development and product management leading process improvement and digital innovation in business systems and electronic banking.
A Michigan native, Mindee holds an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a B.A. in psychology from Michigan State University. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA with her husband Matthew and their young daughter.
Mindee’s father was diagnosed with a glioblastoma (GBM) in 2000 and passed away 11 months later. During that time, the ABTA was a valuable resource to help navigate her father’s treatment plan. She later got more involved with the ABTA by raising money in 2013 with Team Breakthrough for the Chicago Marathon, in memory of her father.
Jacqueline Lemke, CPA—ABTA, Board Member
Jackie Lemke has served as an ABTA Board Member since January of 2017 and has served on both the Audit and Governance and Nominating Committees.
Certified in Public Accounting, Jackie’s expertise lies in financial and strategic planning, financial reporting and mergers and acquisitions. Her career includes senior leadership roles as the global Chief Financial Officer for Remy, Inc., Motorola and the DuPont Company as well as the Chief Executive Officer for a microcap publicly traded Clinical Research Organization, Bioanalytical Systems, Inc.
Jackie is a strategic thinker always looking to re-invent and re-energize a business strategy. She won the DuPont Marketing Excellence Award for her repositioning of a $100 million resins business and received the CRO Excellence Award for each of the four years as CEO of BASi.
Jackie has earned a Bachelor of Science degrees in both Accounting and Finance from Drexel University, where she graduated first in her class, and a Master’s in Management degree from Northwestern University.
A mother of four, Jackie joined the ABTA to support its goals of improving the lives of brain tumor patients and their caregivers. Jackie’s husband of 27 years, Brian, had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in 2004, so Jackie and her family are familiar with the struggles that accompanying a brain cancer diagnosis. Her hope is that we can reach a better understanding of the brain, extend lives through this knowledge, provide help for those with a brain tumor and their loved ones and, ultimately, find a cure.
Linda Sikora—Director, Human Resources
Linda Sikora joined the ABTA in 2019 as the Director of Human Resources. Linda leads all aspects of the Human Resources function including developing and implementing HR programs while advancing positive employee relations and best practices in support of organizational growth and strategic initiatives. Linda works at developing and delivering creative, cost-effective human resources solutions in support of the organization’s strategic business plan, culture and core values.
Linda has a broad range of experience in Human Resources, most recently within a medically-based fitness center through Northwestern Memorial Healthcare. She has expertise in benefits, payroll, performance management, training, coaching, employee relations and compliance. She is an advocate of employee well-being for optimal work-life balance of all staff.
Linda maintains professional human resources certifications through the Human Resource Certification Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management.
Maxine Doolittle—ABTA, Sr. Director of Business Operations
Maxine Doolittle joined the ABTA in 2020 as the Sr. Director of Business Operations. Her responsibilities include the implementation and support of business-wide technology resources and establishing and managing efficient and cohesive organizational operations. Maxine works closely with ABTA leadership to provide strategic direction, systems expertise, vendor management and information to support their priorities.
Maxine has a long history of proven success in business process optimization, project and change management, and application implementations. Prior to joining the ABTA, Maxine was the Director of Project Management for the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago where she led the technology effort for the migration to their new hospital and served as the regulatory expert for the organization.
Phillip Samuels—ABTA, Sr. Director of Finance & Accounting
Phillip Samuels, Sr. Director of Finance and Accounting, joined the ABTA in 2011. Phil oversees the accounting team, manages budget and operating performance reporting, monitors compliance of operations with budgets and forecasts, evaluates internal controls and provides recommendations of improvements as needed. Phil brings more than 30 years of experience in Accounting and Finance for organizations with annual revenues ranging from $2.5 to $350 million.
Previously, Phil served as Controller for Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah, Corporate Controller and Manager of budgets and assets for O’Bryan Bros., Inc., and Financial Analyst and Accountant for the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago.
Phil received a B.S. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an MBA from Keller Graduate School.
Kelly Sitkin—ABTA, Chief Development Officer
Kelly Sitkin, Chief Development Officer, leads the strategic direction and nationwide implementation of an integrated development and volunteer network on behalf of the ABTA. Leading a department of eight development staff, Kelly and her team are responsible for generating more than $6 million in revenue to support ABTA-funded research and patient services.
Kelly has more than 15 years of development experience including strategic planning, major gift solicitation, community-based fundraising and board development. Previously, she served as the Assistant Director for the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center where she managed the Development and External Relations Departments. She also served as the Cancer Center Director of Annual Giving and Outreach as well as Director of Development for the University of Wisconsin Foundation.
Kelly holds a B.A. in Marketing from Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. She maintains membership with several professional associations including the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers.
Nicole Willmarth, PhD—ABTA, Chief Mission Officer
Nicole Willmarth, Chief Mission Officer of the ABTA, joined the ABTA in 2015 as Chief Science Officer with oversight of the strategic direction, expansion and operation of the ABTA’s scientific and research grants program, which supports the development of innovative ideas across a broad range of disciplines, and fosters collaborative research to improve the lives of people living with a brain tumor. In August of 2018, Nicole stepped into her new role of Chief Mission Officer, where she leads a team in developing and executing ABTA’s investment toward the mission, which includes not only advancing research but also patient support, education and awareness.
Prior to joining ABTA, Nicole worked at Susan G. Komen® where she oversaw the business and science management of Komen’s portfolio of funded research program grants. She worked with patient advocates as well as a team of science managers and grant administrators to ensure the organization’s research investment aligned with the mission and maximized potential to advance the field.
Nicole began her career in scientific grant management with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). She developed, launched and managed several grant mechanisms as part of AACR’s donor-directed research grants programs and provided oversight for the application and scientific review process and science management. She also managed AACR’s Scholar-in-Training Awards, the Associate Member Council and the Molecular Epidemiology Working Group.
Nicole received her Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Michigan where she first developed her passion for advancing treatments in the cancer field. She went on to publish in a number of peer reviewed scientific journals over the course of a decade in oncology research. She currently resides in Chicago, Illinois.
Ralph DeVitto—ABTA, President and Chief Executive Officer
Ralph DeVitto is responsible for leading the ABTA’s dedicated staff, while increasing the value of the organization to patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, scientists, donors, sponsors, partners and other key influencers. Building upon the ABTA’s strong reputation as the go-to resource on brain tumor science and information, Ralph leads the organization’s strategy to expand brain tumor research and further develop learning resources and programs for patients, survivors and caregivers.
Ralph brings extensive experience in association management, including strategic planning, fundraising, volunteer mobilization and partnership building. Previously, Ralph served in numerous leadership roles during his 21 years with the American Cancer Society, including the CEO of the Florida Division and the interim Executive Vice President of the Southeast Region, where he oversaw the merger of operations in five states and Puerto Rico to create the Region.
Danny Monson—ABTA, Member
Danny Monson joined the ABTA Board of Directors in 2021.
Danny is CEO of States Logistics Services, Inc. He has 29 years of experience in the warehouse and transportation industry, and served as States Logistics Chief Financial Officer for several years prior to assuming the role of CEO. He has held various operational and managerial positions in Warehousing, Transportation, Information Services, Customer Solutions, and Accounting/Finance.
Danny has extensive experience in States Logistics software systems and has been recognized as a Certified Transportation Professional (CTP) by the National Private Truck Council. Knowledgeable in system design and analysis, he has directed teams to improve and enhance transportation management systems and work processes.
Danny is an active member of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) and the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA). He received his B.A. in Sociology from San Diego State University in California.
Danny’s 19-year-old daughter Katie was diagnosed with a glioblastoma (GBM) in 2017. The KM Legacy Foundation was created by Katie in 2017 to raise money for brain cancer awareness and research. She passed away in 2018 from a GBM. Danny, his wife Jennifer, and their two daughters continue to lead the Foundation to advance progress in the fight against brain tumors.
Bob Kruchten—ABTA, Treasurer
Bob Kruchten serves as Treasurer of the ABTA Board of Directors. Serving as an ABTA board member since 2018, he previously served as Chair of the Development Committee prior to becoming Treasurer and Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee.
Bob is a 30-year sales veteran of the marketing, media and advertising services universe and recently melded his passions of philanthropy, sports and event-building into his Director, Business Development role with BUMP, an industry-leading fundraising engine for non-profit and professional sports organizations and community foundations.
Bob has been advocating on behalf of the ABTA for more than 20 years in tribute to his best friend, Paul Fabbri, who lost his 10-year battle with GBM in 1998. Bob was presented with the ABTA’s Joel A. Gingras Jr. Award in 2015 on behalf of the Paul Fabbri Memorial Fund.
Mitchel S. Berger, MD—ABTA, Member
Mitchel S. Berger, MD, FACS, FAANS, joined the ABTA Board of Directors in 2021.
Dr. Berger is the Berthold and Belle N. Guggenheim professor and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Brain Tumor Center director. He also served as past chair of UCSF’s department of Neurological Surgery from 1997-2020.
Dr. Berger is a pioneer of intraoperative brain mapping—a technique used to avoid functional areas of the brain during surgical resection of a tumor. His work has enabled surgeons to perform more extensive resection of tumor with less chance of producing sensorimotor or language deficit.
Dr. Berger is a leader of translational research and is the Principal Investigator of the UCSF Brain Tumor Research Center’s Specialized Program of Research Excellence in neuro-oncology, funded by the National Cancer Institute. In addition to speech and motor mapping, his specific research interests lie in identifying molecular markers related to the progression and prognosis of glial tumor; correlating tissue biomarkers with novel imaging characteristics from physiologic and metabolic imaging; and developing in vivo gene editing for brain tumor treatment using CRISPR technology.
During his distinguished career, Dr. Berger has served as President of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), President of the Society of Neuro-Oncology, and President of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery. He has also been a director of the American Board of Neurological Surgery; a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons; and a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel for the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
Ram Subramanian—ABTA, Vice Chair
Ram Subramanian serves as the Vice Chair of the ABTA Board of Directors and Chair of the Mission Committee. Previously, Ram was the Treasurer of the Board and he has been serving on the ABTA Board since 2015.
Ram has over 18 years of experience driving growth and operational excellence through data and engineering across multiple industries spanning Financial Services, Airlines and Consulting. He is currently Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for the $65+ Billion Deposit Business at Discover Financial Services.
Ram has completed the Chief Operating Officer Program from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and the Chief Marketing Officer Program from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He holds an MBA from Arizona State University, MS in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan State University, and a BE in Mechanical Engineering from Delhi College of Engineering, India.
Ram lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife Nimisha and their two daughters – Yuvika and Salonee. Nimisha’s mother is a meningioma survivor having been first diagnosed with brain tumor in 1990. Both Nimisha and Ram have a passion for giving back, and they have been actively involved in serving ABTA and its mission for the past few years.
Carla Varner—ABTA, Board Chair
Carla Varner serves as Chair of the ABTA Board of Directors. Serving as an ABTA board member since 2014, Carla previously served as Secretary of the board.
Carla is the Chief Legal Officer and Managing Director of Franklin Monroe Administrative Services, LLC, a financial services company headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. She joined Franklin Monroe from Guggenheim Partners in 2013. During her time at Guggenheim, she acted as senior transactional attorney for multiple business units.
Prior to joining Guggenheim Partners, Carla practiced law in the Global Finance Group at Sidley Austin in both their Chicago and New York offices. She received her undergraduate degree in Economics and German from Kalamazoo College, cum laude, and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. While in law school, she was an award-winning student contributor to Michigan Journal of International Law.
Since joining Franklin Monroe, Carla was nominated to InsideCounsel’s 2015 R3-100 list. She is licensed to practice law in New York, Illinois and Michigan, and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Chicago Bar Association and the University of Michigan Alumni Association.
In addition to Carla’s volunteer work with the ABTA, she serves on the Board of Directors for Greenlight Family Services. She has a love of gardening and flowers, and spends much of her free time with her husband, their two children and family dog tending to her family’s garden center in Niles, Michigan.
Brandon Starkoff—ABTA, Secretary
Brandon Starkoff serves as Secretary of the ABTA Board of Directors. Since joining the board in 2018, Brandon previously served as Vice Chair of the board, in addition to hosting his annual “Cater to the Cure” fundraiser to support brain cancer research.
Brandon is CEO of Transparent Partners, an independent marketing technology and data consultancy. He is constantly helping organizations re-imagine and adapt to support their customers. He is an experienced global leader responsible for building customized and transformative marketing solutions to generate growth for Fortune 1,000 companies.
With strong expertise in strategy and digitally-driven capabilities, he developed and led activation of a new agency and brand operating vision and models to inspire new data-driven capabilities, cultivate top global talent and deliver against growth objectives.
Over the course of his 21 year career, Brandon has formed trusted partnerships with C-suite executives to introduce and implement several new methods of marketing technology and data infrastructure design, integrated partnerships and measurement solutions to improve speed to market, product innovation and customer experiences leading to impact for his client businesses.
As a 10-year cancer survivor and fighter, Brandon is passionate in helping others stay motivated through their battle and ensure they have the resources they need to manage their care.
Jim Reilly—ABTA, Immediate Past Chair
Jim Reilly serves as Immediate Past President of the ABTA Board of Directors, Chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee and Member of the Finance and Audit Committee. Since joining the board in 2015, he has previously served as Chair of the board.
Jim is Chief Human Resource Officer, Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Communication for WinCo Foods—a leading supermarket chain with over $8B in revenue, 20,000 employees and 133 stores in 10 states. Since joining WinCo Foods in 2018, Jim leads the Human Resource and Corporate Communication functions with responsibility for Talent Acquisition, Learning and Development, Total Rewards, Culture, Field Human Resources and communication.
Prior to joining WinCo Foods, he spent 13 years with Walgreens Boots Alliance where he held variety of Human Resource leadership roles including: Talent Management, Recruiting, Leadership Development and Operations. Additionally, Jim was President of JenningsKelly Executive Search. The firm offered retained consulting services for executive level search engagements across the United States.
In addition to volunteering with the ABTA, Jim serves as St. Luke’s Strategic Healthcare Initiatives Committee Member. Jim received a B.A., with an emphasis in Marketing from Western Illinois University, Macomb IL. He currently resides in Boise, ID with his wife and daughter. Jim’s mother and mother-in-law were diagnosed with brain tumors which inspired him to volunteer with the ABTA.