Instructors and Staff


Rusty Burnette, Ph.D, Executive Director


Fabio Buda, MAT, LBS1 Transitions Team Leader
Fabio Buda has joined the P.A.C.E. Program in 2006. He graduated from the University of Rome, Italy in 1997 and shortly after moved to Chicago to pursue a career in business. After several years spent between the U.S. and Italy working as a financial consultant for a major insurance company, in 2006 Fabio decided to change careers and was hired at P.A.C.E. to work with young adults with multiple learning disabilities in the Transition Program. In 2010, Fabio earned a Masters in Special Education from National Louis University and a teaching certificate (LBS I). In September 2010, Fabio became the P.A.C.E. Transition Coordinator. He has been working with his students in several different settings (Vocational, Life Skills, Academics and Social) to help them achieve their independent living goals. He also continues to work as an academic instructor for the P.A.C.E. second year students.

Iva Kolorav, M.S. Vocational Team Leader: Iva Kolarov returned to the P.A.C.E. Family in 2015. She originally served as the Program’s Vocational Team Leader in the late 2000s. Iva earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Illinois, a Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling, and is completing her Ph.D. from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has experience in higher education settings and multiple clinical settings across the Chicago area as a professor, vocational coordinator, and a clinical therapist (individual, family, and group therapy). Iva’s approach is integrative, person-centered and empowering, and believes that learning is an active, creative, and intricate process.

Lauren Kornhauser, MAT, LBS1 Technology and Communications Lead Instructor
Lauren has been with the PACE Program since 2007, and has been working with people with special needs since 2004.  Lauren has an extensive background in skill assessment, task analysis, and creating individualized goals in educational, vocational, and social settings, as well as experience in curriculum design and IEP writing.  While completing her MAT in Special Education at NLU, Lauren worked as an RA in the PACE dorm, and was hired as the PACE Student Life Instructor in 2011, coordinating the social activities and clubs for students. Lauren now manages the PACE intranet, advises first year students, and assists with student recruitment. She also teaches PACE technology classes and coordinates Service Learning opportunities for students.

Megan Pudela, LSW Interim Residential Life Manager, Student Life Coordinator
Megan earned her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and earned her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  As an undergraduate, Megan worked at Brehm, a program for high school students with multiple learning disabilities.  At the University of Illinois, she was a Disability Advocate at Beckwith Residential Support Services, a residential dorm for students with physical disabilities.  Megan started working at the P.A.C.E program as a Job Coach and Residential Advisor for the 2013-2014 school year. 

Mallory Smith, B.S. Outreach Specialist 
Mallory joined the P.A.C.E. Program in the spring of 2015 as the Outreach Development Specialist.  She has been working in various capacities with individuals with special needs since 2008.  Mallory earned her degree in Communicative Sciences and Disorders from Michigan State University and started her career as a special education teacher at the New England Center for Children, a therapeutic school outside of Boston, Massachusetts that supports individuals with special needs.  Most recently, Mallory served as the program coordinator for The Autism Program (TAP) Service Center at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago where her responsibilities included providing individualized support for families and educators of children with autism spectrum disorders.  She is trained in administering Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) programs, has extensive experience leading social skills groups and is trained as a Sibshop facilitator.  Mallory has presented to a large number of community organizations and parent groups in and around the Chicagoland area.

Instructional and Residential Staff

Joe Connelly, M.S. Academic Instructor Assertiveness Training
Master Joe Connelly has over 40 years experience in martial arts and is a 6th Degree Black Belt martial arts instructor in Taekwon-do. He is the Midwest regional director of Kidpower International, a padded-assailant violence-prevention skills training organization based in Santa Cruz, Calif., and director of Connelly’s Academy of Martial Arts, an Evanston, Ill. He has designed and taught programs that empower populations with special needs since 1981. His background includes 15 years of work experience in business education with IBM and The Fortune Group International, a training firm serving Fortune 1000 companies. Joe has his Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Amanda Culig, Residential Advisor
Amanda joined the PACE program as an RA in the fall of 2013. She has been working with students who have special needs since the summer of 2008. She graduated from DePaul university with a BA in psychology. Currently she works as a special education assistant at Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School. She earned her B.A. in Psychology at DePaul University with a minor in Sociology. 

Sharon Curran, M.S.  Job Coach
Sharon joined the PACE team in 2013 and works as a vocational instructor/job coach.  After receiving her BA in Psychology from National University of Ireland, Maynooth, she began working as a Applied Behavioral Analysis Tutor in both school and home environments. She has a Master’s Degree in Gender and Women’s Studies from Trinity College, Dublin and has worked with diverse populations in a variety of therapeutic and supportive roles. 

Kathy Felice, M.S. Job Coach
Kathy received her bachelor's degree in Sociology and her master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.  She has worked in the field of vocational rehabilitation for several years providing counseling, vocational assessment and job placement services to individuals with disabilities.  She has also worked as a vocational specialist for the Office of Disability Determination and has worked as a research associate in the field of rehabilitation.   Kathy joined the PACE program in 2012.

Wendi Gearing, MAT, LBS1 Program Consultant 
Wendi has been a special education teacher for over 20 years. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art Education at Illinois Wesleyan University, and completed her Masters Degree in Special Education at National Louis University.  Wendi joined the P.A.C.E. Program 22 years ago, starting as a Life Skills Instructor.  She led the PACE PASS-AGES Program as Program Manager for five years before finding her calling when she moved into the vocational component of the program as an instructor, and then as the Team Leader for the P.A.C.E. Program. Prior to working at P.A.C.E, Wendi worked with special education individuals at Little City Foundation in Palatine. 

Selima Ani Hargadon, MSW, LSW Program Consultant 
Selima Hargadon, LSW, joined National Louis University as the Executive Director of the P.A.C.E. Program in early 2013. She has served in multiple leadership positions representing multiple facets of the disability field, including educational, recreational, residential, and employment arenas. As an advocate of inclusion-based services for people with disabilities, Selima was a pioneer in developing community integration services for adults with developmental disabilities in the1990s, and most recently served as Associate Director of Community Initiatives for Aspire Kids.  Her most recent accomplishments includes spearheading the P.A.C.E. Program’s return to an inclusive dorm setting in 2014, and the embrace of technology in teaching and integration into daily living routines which foster independence. Selima holds a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Illinois, Chicago with a concentration in schools and children with disabilities. She is licensed to practice in Illinois.  

Kirsten Higgins, M.Ed Fitness Instructor– Kirsten has a unique background of special education, fitness, and yoga therapy. After several years working in schools, as first a P.E. teacher and then a special education teacher for students with autism, she found her niche working in adult fitness with special populations as a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. In addition to teaching therapeutic yoga and fitness classes at various studios and gyms, Kirsten co-owns her own in-home personal training company, Prestige Personal Fitness.  Kirsten is so grateful to have this unique opportunity to share her passion for fitness and health with the students in the PACE program.

Tiffany Johnson, B.A., Residential Life Assistant
Tiffany holds a bachelor's degree in English from Loyola University Chicago, where she also competed in NCAA Division I track and field.   After graduating in 2010, she began working with adults with developmental disabilities at Misericordia.  Her professional experience includes direct service care, as well as developmental training.  Tiffany enjoys helping people and continues to pursue a career in writing, teaching, and counseling.  She joined P.A.C.E. in 2015 and looks forward to playing a supportive role in the lives of P.A.C.E. students.

Linda Layfer, M.Ed, Job Coach - Linda has been a special education teacher for over 23 years. She received a BS. in Special Education from the University of Michigan.  Her curriculum included all areas of Special Education, including a semester abroad in England observing Special Education programs and student teaching in a Physically/Health Impaired Program specializing in students affected by the drug Thalidomide.  She received a M.ED. in Administration and Supervision and a Type 75 Administrative Certificate from Loyola University. While teaching for the Chicago Board of Education, Linda set up a Pre-school-Kindergarten Program at Shriners Hospital. Linda was an Inclusion Teacher for NSSED in the elementary and middle school physically health impaired program and a substitute life skills teacher for the high school program.  Linda worked for Glenview District 34 elementary and middle school as an Inclusion Teacher and Assistive Technology consultant.   

Daniel Morganstein, Residential Life Assistant
Daniel joined P.A.C.E. in 2014 after three years at Misericordia working with adults with developmental disabilities. He graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Northeastern Illinois University. Daniel is no stranger to the hardships of learning disabilities, for he received special services throughout his academic career. He hopes to pass down the skill of self-advocacy to his students and help them learn that having a learning disability doesn’t stop their development and ability to succeed. His interests include discovering new musical acts of all genres, watching films and reading criticism, and studying postmodern philosophy. 

Maria Pripon, Independent Living Coach
Maria joined the P.A.C.E. Transition Program in 2013. She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics at Northeastern Illinois University with a minor in Applied Mathematics. Maria is working full time with people with developmental disabilities for the last 10 years as a developmental trainer. In her native country, Romania, Maria has worked as a primary school teacher for 16 years.

Suzanne Shy, Life Skills Coach / Job Coach / Classroom Instructor  
Suzanne first started working with the P.A.C.E. program in 1996 as a Vocational Instructor.  From 1997 to 2001 she coordinated activities for 50 students as the Student Life Instructor.  She has taught violence prevention skills through the organization Kidpower for 15+ years and has continued to teach the Assertiveness Training Class at P.A.C.E since it’s inception in 1998.  Prior to working at P.A.C.E., Suzanne worked for 3 years as a child care worker with children and adolescents in residential facilities.  Suzanne received her BS degree in Child and Family Development from Missouri State University.

Shayla Strobel, Residential Life Assistant
Shayla joined PACE in 2015. She graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota, and is currently pursuing an M.Ed in Educational Psychology at National Louis University. Shayla has worked with individuals with learning and developmental disabilities for the past 6 years in several capacities. Shayla has been a client counselor for a home based life skills program in Minnesota for adults with disabilities, an ABA therapist for a company that provides early intervention to children with autism, and most currently a case manager at Clearbrook, a not for profit organization that provides services to adults and children with developmental disabilities.


    NLU’s Chicago campus on South Michigan Avenue occupies five floors of the historic Peoples Gas Building. This landmark building, across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago and Grant Park, is easily accessible by train, bus and car and is surrounded by restaurants, parking lots/garages and shops.

    122 S. Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60603
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Conveniently located in a fast-growing business district off I-90 and Route 31, NLU Elgin features 10 classrooms with high-tech media equipment; a computer lab with high-speed Internet access; two conference rooms; and comfortable student lounges. Parking is free at this recently remodeled and upgraded teaching site, which now includes wireless Internet access.

    620 Tollgate Road
    Elgin, IL 60123
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Opened in the summer of 2006, NLU North Shore at Skokie is a state-of-the-art modern campus located just off the Edens Expressway near the Old Orchard Shopping Center. The campus includes 44 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a walk-in lab in the library; six conference rooms; a public café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; and multiple, comfortable student lounge areas.

    5202 Old Orchard Road
    Skokie, IL 60077
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Located just minutes from the East-West Tollway (I-88), NLU Lisle features 42 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a separate walk-in lab in the library; a café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; conference rooms; and six comfortable student lounge areas with wireless access.

    850 Warrenville Road
    Lisle, IL 60532
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Located in one of Chicago's major northwest suburbs, the newly renovated NLU Wheeling includes 20 classrooms with high-tech media equipment, four conference rooms, four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, large student lounge areas with wireless capabilities and interactive video capabilities, and an extensive research library. The site also houses the university library research collection.

    1000 Capitol Drive
    Wheeling, IL 60090
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Established in 1988 and located in one of the city's major business districts, NLU's Florida Regional Center serves students in 13 counties in central Florida. In addition to six classrooms, this location features a conference room, a computer lab with high-speed Internet access, an extensive research library and comfortable student lounges.

    5110 Eisenhower Boulevard Suite 102
    Tampa, FL 33634
    (800) 366.6581
    Info » | Directions »

    NLU has a proud history of serving graduate students in southeastern Wisconsin. We currently offer all Wisconsin residents online programs in non-licensure education as well as a variety of business-related degrees.

    12000 West Park Place, Suite 100
    Milwaukee, WI 53224-3007
    (414) 577.2658
    Info » | Directions »