Board of Directors

President - Suvai Gunasekaran

Suvai Gunasekaran is a recent graduate of Northwestern University, where she received her PhD in Biomedical Engineering. While she is still continuing her PhD research in improving MRI of the heart, she is also active in various Chicago-based service organizations. Suvai serves as the Director of the Associate Board for Surge for Water, a non-profit that provides sustainable clean water solutions to developing countries around the world, and she is a Fellow of the Scholar Strategy Network, an organization that works to bridge the gap between scientific research and policy making. In her free time, Suvai enjoys making pizza from scratch, photography, and ice skating at Millenium Park.

Vice President - Megan Nakra

Megan Nakra is a scientist, technologist, activist, and feminist. Her mission is to empower teams to actualize their strategic vision through collaboration, process improvement, and technology. She employs philosophies of kaizen, agile, and grassroots organizing in the quest for optimization, innovation, equality, and gender equity. Megan comes to the UN Women Chicago Board of Directors with experience as a non-profit founder for Action Corps, non-profit board member of The Yellow Tractor Project, public health advocate with National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, and digital transformation consultant. Her previous work effectively engaged thousands nationwide garnering support to fund ovarian cancer research, democratize food aid, realize support for refugees, provide nutritious produce in food deserts, advocate for women cocoa farmers globally, protect access to clean water, and more. As Vice President, Megan seeks to design strategic opportunities around the Sustainable Development Goals that empower supporters to champion gender rights locally and globally. She also enjoys running, cooking classic recipes, and enjoying time with family and friends.

Secretary - Bailey Reiners

By profession, Bailey Reiners is a strategist, seo and writer, but her real passions extend far beyond the work day. In particular, she loves to build skills that both peak her interests and support her local community. In 2019 she started CandledTit LLC — a small business with a mission to celebrate breast diversity across the gender spectrum and support anyone undergoing breast surgery. Through her business, Bailey enjoys working with and supporting women and non-binary individuals to promote open conversations that break down taboo beliefs around breast health and diversity. Recently, Bailey pursued her life-long goal of learning to fly and returned to her home state of Colorado to train in the mountains. After earning her Private Pilot Certificate, she continues to study for advanced certifications, advocate for women in aviation and volunteer for an aerial search and rescue organization. In her free time, you can find Bailey exploring local galleries, reading memoirs and traveling.

Treasurer - Erin Rengel Blakley

Erin Blakley joined the Chicago USNC-UN Women as Treasurer in June, 2018. While she has worked as a corporate banking financial analyst for BMO Capital Markets since 2011, she graduated from American University in DC with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. As such, she spends her free time oil painting and has served on the Evening Associates Board of the Art Institute of Chicago for eight years in various capacities, including Executive Communications Officer from 2014 to 2017. Deeply devoted to the equality and empowerment of women, Erin has also been heavily involved in BMO's Alliance for Women resource group, where she served as Operations Co-Chair on the National Leadership Committee from 2017 to 2019. Contact Erin at treasurer@chicago.unwomenusa.org.

 

Director of Development - Ashley Beresid

Ashley Beresid is a Chicago-based experience curator and creative storyteller who specializes in corporate event management in the digital healthcare space. Passionate about progressive policies and creating a more equitable world for all people, Ashley graduated with a Bachelor's degree in political science and International Affairs from the University of Nevada, Reno and spent her first few years out of college working the campaign circuit in Illinois. Ashley is a graduate of The Second City’s Storytelling courses and has competed in multiple Moth StorySlams. In her spare time, Ashley can be found sipping on chai lattes at coffee shops across Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, sifting through vinyl records to build her collection, or playing with her twin kittens, Wanda and Pietro.

Director of Engagement - Antonia Coffelt

Antonia Coffelt’s innate curiosity and passion for human truth has influenced and elevated her entire career. From living out her own investigative journalism adventure, like Woodward and Bernstein, while editor of her college paper, through to her work as Host, Creative Director & Founder of On a Personal Note… where she showcases the art of incorporating experiences and engagement. A highly-sought after experiential marketing & communications consultant, Antonia empowers individuals and organizations to meaningfully engage their relationships via seamless collaboration, as well as her vast experience and engaging spirit. As a C-suite adviser/thought-leader, interviewer and market researcher, Antonia helps uncover human truths by enabling respondents and clients to “feel” the data and articulate their experiences through insightful, intuitive, and empathetic conversations. Attaining respondent trust in such a short amount of time, enabling them to share the most intimate moments of their life and humanity, is a life-affirming honor and privilege that Antonia finds joy in on every single project. Her comfort in ambiguity strengthens her ability to connect deeply and quickly. 

A Chicago transplant from Los Angeles, Wichita Falls, Texas, and Honolulu, where she attended Chaminade University, Antonia quickly made The Second City her forever home, along with her four-year-old Cairn/Shih Tsu mix dog named Walter Cronbite. Antonia’s favorite thing about living in Chicago is the access to brilliant, creative, innovative people in every respective field – from street art to the highest levels of civics and philanthropy. She completed her graduate studies in Communications at Northwestern University and is a highly-engaged board member of a number of prestigious organizations: Director of Engagement for UN Women Chicago; Events Chair for the Chicago International Film Festival’s Associate Board; and President's Club Young Professional for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Director of Events & Activities - María Barragán Ortiz

María Barragán Ortiz found her activist voice in third grade, when she presented the UNICEF list of Children’s Rights to one of her teachers to demand equal treatment in her classroom. Inspired to be the teacher she needed as a girl, she graduated in English Studies and Literature at the University of Seville (Spain), where she is originally from. She continued her studies and research in language learning and multiculturalism at Jagiellonian University (Poland), and later at the University of Oxford (United Kingdom). Her journey carried on at the International Affairs Office at the University of Seville, providing legal orientation on international issues and collaborating with refugee support services. María is currently a mentor, speaker, dual language teacher and social-emotional coach in the Chicagoland area, specializing in women empowerment through education. She coordinates and facilitates intercultural social-emotional programs and activities for young women, and also founded her own international project leading women empowerment circles. In her free time, María loves traveling, reading and expressing her creativity through writing.

Director of Marketing & Communications - Payal Patel

Payal Patel is an international award-winning communications leader, crisis management expert and multilingual media spokesperson. Currently at Navy Pier, Payal leads the communications efforts for one of the top destinations in the Midwest, which typically welcomes nearly 9 million annual guests. Previously, she spent a decade in the sports industry holding key communications positions at the NFL Players Association, Chicago Fire FC and Chicago Soul FC, following a brief stint as a sports reporter. Presently, Payal serves on the board of directors for the Publicity Club of Chicago and has previously served on the board for the Public Relations Society of America and Women in Sports and Events. She is also an active supporter and ambassador for Room to Read (an organization committed to girls’ education and youth literacy around the globe), Saris to Suits (an initiative created to empower and celebrate the advancements of South Asian women) and Apna Ghar (a critical resource and service organization for gender violence victims/survivors). Through her philanthropic work, she is proud to champion and advocate for gender, economic, racial and survivor justice. Payal earned a Master of Science in Communication from Northwestern University, with much of her academic work and research focused on crisis management. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast and Electronic Communication, Public Relations and Spanish Language and Literature from Marquette University.

Director of Public Affairs - Saundretta James

For Saundretta James, getting several degrees and then choosing to stay home to raise children has been an experience that has shown her the importance of equality for women, regardless of what path they choose. For Saundretta, putting health and family first is what makes her feel powerful. Saundretta James was born in Chicago and raised in Hamilton, NJ. She received her Master’s Degree in Education from UNC Greensboro in North Carolina. Her interest in women’s rights became stronger after giving birth to her son and daughter. Saundretta started her own fashion design company Africana Cultura Fashion, as a response to staying in during COVID. Sewing has been therapy and she has been able to tap into her creative energy. She also teaches her children at home. For Saundretta, it is important that her children receive an education that honors Black children, so she is investing her time in educating them globally. After losing her first child at eight months pregnant to stillbirth, Saundretta became passionate about health and wellness. She is currently a Global Goals Ambassador for UNA Chicago for UN Sustainable Development Goal #3: Good Health and Well-Being. She created Bloom Chicago to promote healthy eating and green spaces in Chicago. Moving forward, Saundretta wants to see an overall improvement in the area of Black women’s health. For her, being healthy is key to a good quality life.