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Our Team

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Noelle Nelson

Executive Director

Noelle Nelson serves as Executive Director of Avenue Scholars Des Moines. Noelle spent the past 23 years serving as a teacher, curriculum coordinator, administrator, and most recently, as Executive Director of Leadership and Learning, for Des Moines Public Schools. She is passionate about equity of access for all scholars and has committed her career to removing barriers for our most marginalized groups.

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Mary Mendenhall-Core

Director of Community Engagement

Mary has nearly 20 years of non-profit experience working for organizations like United Way of Central Iowa, Goodwill Industries and the Pinky Swear Foundation. She had previously spent 21 years with Principal Financial Group in various roles. Mary brings her business and community knowledge and connections to the team. Mary is excited to support scholars by connecting them to area businesses and a path to insure they are successful.  

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Carla Miller

Administrative Assistant

Carla Miller is the Administrative Assistant for Avenue Scholars Des Moines. Before coming to Avenue Scholars Des Moines in April 2022, she was employed by Des Moines Public Schools for 25 years. The last 7 of those years as the Executive Assistant for the Leadership and Learning Department. She chose Avenue Scholars Des Moines because this position allows her to build relationships and provide support for the students in our program.

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Brett Burk

Business Outreach Coordinator

Brett’s core belief is that nurturing connections and shared values within communities leads to transformative outcomes for all. He has a decade of community engagement and English as a second language instruction experience. Brett is constantly motivated to understand the needs of students in the pursuit of creating more inviting and engaging spaces for them to grow. He received his B.A. from the University of Iowa in Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language and completed a Master of Public Administration degree at Drake University. Brett is a first-gen college graduate, local civil and human rights commissioner, and grassroots community leadership advocate. 

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Mark Core

Career Coach East HS

Mark is a lifelong educator committed to the wellbeing of students as well as contributing to a more just and equitable community. His roles in education have included classroom teacher, dean of students, athletics coach, and adjunct professor. Since retiring from public employment, he has transitioned to the non-profit sector and has enjoyed continued engagement with young adults who are seeking to maximize their future opportunities through secondary and post-secondary education. Mark is super-excited about contributing to the ongoing success of Avenue Scholars and looks forward to the day when these students take their places as leaders within the community.

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Gable Johnson

Post Secondary Career Coach

Gable Johnson joined Avenue Scholars Des Moines in January 2024 as a Post-Secondary Career Coach. He is originally from central Iowa. In May 2020, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Sport Administration, with a minor in Coaching, from Simpson College. In December 2021, he earned a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s MAIAA program. During and after earning his master’s degree, he worked for Husker Athletics’ Academic Programs & Student Services department for 2.5 years as a graduate assistant, Assistant Academic Counselor, and an Academic Specialist. In these roles, Gable gained both academic advising and learning specialist work experiences, mentoring student-athletes by directing academic skill building sessions, tracking progress towards degree, advising students through course registration, and monitoring eligibility. Avenue Scholars allows Gable the opportunity to build strong relationships with students, helping them develop and realize individualized, practical career plans. He enjoys seeing students learn, grow, and succeed through educational opportunities!

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Carol Mendez

Career Coach North HS

Carol Mendez is a proud daughter of immigrants and first-generation college graduate. Her personal experience with public education led to a career in education. Shortly after graduating from Central College Carol served two years in AmeriCorps under Teach For America in St Louis. In 2017 Carol was recognized as Charter Teacher of the Year. And, in 2022 Carol led her building to score in the top three state assessment scores in the city of St Louis. Carol served 12 years in St Louis working as a teacher, teacher coach/dean, and principal. She then spent a year doing consulting work with a charter school in South Carolina and finally relocated to Des Moines, to be closer to her family. Carol joined Avenue Scholars as she deeply believes that everyone not only deserves a quality education, but quality support to ensure students not only land dream careers but a life full of opportunities. In her spare time Carol enjoys walks, puzzles, yoga, documentaries, house projects, traveling, and spending time with her family!

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Sara Wodka

Career Coach Roosevelt HS

After graduating from Iowa State University, she entered the human services/social work field. Sara has worked with many different, diverse populations over the past seven years. The majority of her experience in the field was as a counselor at a youth crisis shelter, where she learned that she most enjoyed working with young people, particularly high schoolers. Working with and partnering with students gives her energy; they have fire in their steps and the world at their fingertips, sometimes all they need is a little guidance along the way. When the opportunity arose at Avenue Scholars, it seemed too good to be true. Avenue Scholars provides her a front row seat to guide and coach, utilizing skills developed over the years as a counselor, case manager, and mentor. Most importantly though, Avenue Scholars gives her the privilege to watch young people grow, learn, and become who they desire to be -- and that's pretty remarkable.

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