Who we are
We have the passion and expertise to create immediate and lasting change.
Meet our team below!
Board OF DIRECTORS
Lauren founded The Academy Project as a result of her passion for and career working with foster youth. She attended New York University where she graduated cum laude with a degree in Theater and Psychology. She has been a lifelong advocate for foster youth and continues to work to strengthen the relationships between the systems and organizations that support foster youth.
Claire Conly joined The Academy Project in 2019 and sits on the funding committee. She attended UCLA where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Political Science. Currently living in Orange County, Claire works at Harvey & Company as a M&A research analyst. In addition to TAP, she sits on the tribal council for the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians of California and volunteers as a military caseworker for the Red Cross.
Michele Kawamoto Perry
Michele is the Founder of The Forward Project, a Los Angeles-based consultancy that designs powerful mindset, emotional intelligence, and behavior-based leadership development and high-performing teams programs to help organizations discover new ways to grow revenues, strengthen their culture, and accelerate their impact. She is an angel investor, a Certified Sommelier, and a lover of travel, food, languages. Most of all, she is deeply passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of foster youth.
Mary has had a long and established career as a critical care and research RN. Wanting to have a more active role in changing and shaping current situations
and events Mary left the nursing role and went on to become an entrepreneur
who has been a significant part of starting several successful businesses in the pharmaceutical and retail arenas. During all of her jobs and endeavors she has maintained being an advocate for people’s rights.
Tammy Watson-Smith is a Principal and the Operations Leader for Mercer in the West Market. She is responsible for managing improvement processes and communication activities as well as project scoping and planning to ensure that projects are delivered on time and within budget. She acts as a strategic thinking partner with the Market CEO on new initiatives, business issues or concerns. Mercer is one of the operating companies of Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc.
Maria C. Koutsoukalis
Maria, originally from Metro Atlanta, graduated with honors from Kennesaw State University, earning her B.S. in Psychological Science. In the winter of 2021, she joined The Academy Project and became one of our Mentors for the Co-Op program at Mann UCLA Community School. In this role, Maria collaborated with our leadership team to develop initiatives and implement educational enrichment activities aimed at fostering identity exploration and social and emotional intelligence among our youth members. Additionally, Maria serves as the organization's secretary, overseeing TAP's LinkedIn management.
Sheila came from a strong family foundation. Her mother, Shirley, was a kindergarten
teacher, and spent her weekends as a Sunday school teacher. Education and activism
were a priority, and these experiences instilled the values of community service,
generosity, and care for others. Sheila’s work with The Academy Project is a reflection
of this commitment.
As a board member, Sheila seeks to lend a creative, collaborative, and knowledgeable
presence to address the challenges facing foster care today. She brings an expertise in
fundraising, strategic planning, and public relations to help TAP achieve their mission to
impact and disrupt the burdened cycle, and build a stable environment where foster
children can progress and thrive with the emotional, physical and financial support they
Above all, Sheila is honored to be on The Academy Project Team and looks forward to
all we can achieve together.