Staff

Ilir Zherka
Exec
utive Director

Ilir Zherka joined the Alliance for International Exchange as Executive Director in early 2016.

Ilir is a life-long human and civil rights leader. He has served as the Executive Director of three other organizations, where he worked on a bipartisan basis to help end ethnic cleansing in Kosova, advance DC representation in Congress, and increase civic engagement. Ilir gained policy and political experience working on Capitol Hill, serving as an advisor to four presidential campaigns, and as an appointee in the Executive Branch.

Ilir is the author of Winning the Inside Game: the Handbook of Advocacy Strategies. He has testified before Congress and has appeared on a wide-range of television and radio news programs. As a recognized community leader, Ilir has received numerous awards including the Whitney M. Young Jr. Leadership Award and the John F. Kennedy Public Service Award.

Ilir has personal experience with exchange programs. He was an IREX fellow in Albania and helped to create the Hope Fellowship program. Ilir is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Virginia School of Law.

Ilir is originally from the Balkans, speaks Albanian, and grew up in New York City.

Contact Ilir
 


Lisa Heyn
Associate Director for Government Relations

Lisa Heyn has served as Associate Director for Government Relations since March 2016. She first joined the Alliance as Policy Fellow, then served as Policy Specialist, and later as Senior Policy Specialist. Lisa holds a Masters degree in Regional Sciences North America, Public Law, and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Bonn, Germany. During her studies, she spent a year abroad as Language Assistant of German at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin. Earlier on, she gained international experience as a high school exchange student in the UK and as a Daycare Assistant in Canada in 2005.

Lisa is originally from Bonn, Germany, and speaks German, English, and Swedish.

Contact Lisa
 


Oriana Piña
Communications Manager

Oriana Piña joined the Alliance as the Communications Manager in May 2016. She supports the advocacy efforts of the association by developing and supporting innovative communication strategies that help advance public policies affecting the international exchange community. Prior to joining the nonprofit space, Oriana worked for the Elliott School of International Affairs, and completed internships at the U.S. House of Representatives and the Atlantic Council. She received her Master’s degree in Global Communication from the George Washington University, where she focused her research on public diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges in Cuba. Prior to that, Oriana worked as an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. While pursuing B.A. studies in International Affairs at the Florida State University, she participated in study abroad programs in Angers, France and Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Oriana is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, grew up in Florida, and speaks Spanish and French. 

Contact Oriana

Laine Cavanaugh
Mana
ger for Public and Member Affairs

Laine Cavanaugh is our Manager for Public and Member Affairs. She joined in June 2016 after graduating from American University with a M.A. in International Communication and a concentration in Transnational Education. During her time in graduate school, Laine completed internships at IREX and World Learning. She also traveled to Kenya to conduct original fieldwork in non-formal schools surrounding Nairobi. Prior to graduate school, Laine participated in City Year, an AmeriCorps program, where she was a mentor for underserved youth in West Philadelphia. As an undergraduate at Ursinus College, Laine had the opportunity to study abroad in Wollongong, Australia while pursuing her B.A. degree in Media & Communication Studies.

Laine is originally from Reedsville, Pennsylvania, and has achieved research proficiency in Arabic.

Contact Laine


 

Ranit Schmelzer
Communications Consultant

As the President of Schmelzer Strategies, Ranit advises nonprofit organizations, individuals, and foundations on the development, planning and implementation of comprehensive communications strategies. These engagements most often deal with complex public policy advocacy and legislative challenges. Ranit has more than 25 years of experience at the highest levels of government and in the nonprofit community as an advisor, senior strategist, and spokesperson. Prior to entering private practice in 2011, Ranit led the public affairs office at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps and other national service programs.

Ranit provides Alliance members with an exclusive oportunity to enhance their commmunications capacity and external reach by engaging a highly-experienced communications consultant at a cost-effective price. For more infomration on Ranit's communications services, please contact the Alliance.

 

Edward Adutwum
Summer Intern

Edward Adutwum is interning with the Alliance for the summer of 2017. He graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A. in Political Science and an undergraduate Certificate in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution.

During his time at Pepperdine, Edward participated in a study abroad program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, focusing on Pre-Columbian History and Spanish. He also studied in London, England, where he examined the influence of post-WWII British society on British theatre.

Edward also served as President of the Student Government Association, where he advocated for programs to improve student life. These efforts resulted in diversity and inclusion training for faculty and staff, funding for general education book reserves, and the revision of the Student Handbook.

He loves to play tennis and draw, and hopes to become a diplomat and lawyer.

Edward is originally from Kumasi, Ghana, grew up in Maryland, and speaks Spanish and Twi.

Contact Edward
 

Savannah Stephens
Summer Intern

Savannah is working as an intern for the Alliance during summer 2017. She is a rising junior at Florida International University where she is pursuing majors in International Relations, Geography, and Anthropology. Before beginning her undergraduate career, Savannah spent a gap year completing a foreign exchange to Brussels, Belgium. She lived with four different host families learning the language and culture. Prior to this, she graduated valedictorian of her high school class.

Savannah loves reading, camping, and traveling, and has visited nearly every state in the US. She hopes to promote intercultural understanding in her future career.  

Savannah is originally from Jacksonville, Florida and is conversational in French. 

Contact Savannah