Meet your 2016-2017 Executive Council

TN-ASPA’s 2016-2017 Executive Council is hard at work to make this year great with lectures and events for you! We invite you to get to know us better. Our bios are provided below. We look forward to serving you over the next year!
  • President (July 2016 – June 2017):Leah Dupree
  • President-Elect (July 2016 – June 2017): Tyler Carpenter
  • Immediate Past President (July 2016 – June 2017): Nneka Norman-Gordon
  • Treasurer (July 2016 – June 2017): Cara Robinson
  • Secretary (July 2016 – June 2017): Paige Donaldson
  • Communications Manager (July 2016 – June 2017): Joyanna Brassfield
  • Council members (July 2015 – June 2017): Fred Cosgrove, Nathan James, and Debbie Shaw
  • Council members (July 2016 -June 2018): Shiri Anderson, Donna Duarte, and Heather Vandagriff
We recognize with deep appreciation the service of those concluding their terms on Council June 2015: Zachary Bates, Paul Jennings, and Dr. Ann-Marie Rizzo.
There are many ways to get involved with TN-ASPA in the upcoming year, so please contact us anytime at to find out more!


Shiri Anderson is the Higher Education Resource Officer for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. Shiri responds to questions and provides support and information to faculty, staff and employees of the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board of Regents systems. Shiri also reviews and evaluates higher education policy for the Tennessee General Assembly. Shiri has extensive legislative and policy experience in state government. She joined the Comptroller’s Office in 2011 as a Legislative Research Analyst in the Office of Research and Education Accountability. She has managed the Comptroller’s fiscal note support process and represented the Comptroller on the Board of Trustees for the Baccalaureate Education System Trust and Board of Trustees for the Chairs of Excellence. She became the Higher Education Resource Officer in 2016. Prior to joining the Comptroller’s Office, Shiri was the Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and was responsible for spearheading the state’s first 2-1-1 Advisory Council. She has also worked for the Tennessee Governor’s Office and served as an Executive Assistant in the Tennessee General Assembly. Shiri holds a Master of Science in Management and a Bachelor of Science in Public Management and Political Science from Austin Peay State University. She is an active member of the American Society for Public Administration, Conference of Minority Public Administrators, Association of Budgeting and Financial Management, and Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. Shiri is on the Board of Directors for the Mayme Carmichael School Organization, Inc., and serves on the Parent Advisory Council for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Shiri enjoys spending time with her family; her husband Micheal and their three children: Jalyn, Micheal and McKenzie.

Joyanna Brassfield is a Category Specialist with the State of Tennessee’s Central Procurement Office and manages statewide services contracts. Joy is originally from Clinton, Tennessee. She holds a Masters of Public Policy and Administration from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree from Maryville College with a major in international studies and minors in political science and French. During undergrad, Joy studied French abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland. While pursuing her master’s degree, she worked with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) on the Tennessee Municipal Benchmarking Project, evaluating statewide benchmarks for Tennessee cities to improve municipal government performance. Joy previously worked with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) as the East TN Organizing Assistant and the University of Tennessee’s Pendergrass Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine Library as a Student Assistant.

Tyler Carpenter works as a research associate for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), where he works with several government leaders at the state and local level to inform decision making with thorough policy research.  He is originally from Franklin, Ohio and has lived in Nashville for 10 years.  He recently graduated from Tennessee State University with his master’s degree in public administration and previously received his bachelor’s degree from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2010, majoring in business management and minoring in accounting.  While at Trevecca, Mr. Carpenter interned at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio and was active in political organizations and social causes.

Fred Cosgrove is beginning the dissertation portion of his doctorate in public administration, from Tennessee State University. He is researching the organizational structures and behaviors affecting college retention and exploring professional opportunities for applying his interest in public administration in higher education, government service, or non-profit administration. Mr. Cosgrove completed his undergraduate degree in Economics at the University of Colorado and a Masters of Higher Education at Middle Tennessee State University and served as an artillery officer in the US Army. Mr. Cosgrove is a real estate agent and property manager: his professional background includes mortgage lending as licensed broker and brokerage owner, manager, originator and wholesale manager and representative. He is married to Teresa Cosgrove with a daughter and a son, both attending high school. Outside of work, Mr. Cosgrove is an avid reader and enjoys time with his family, college football, relaxing at the beach or in the mountains, hiking, and community service through the Brentwood Rotary.

Paige Donaldson researches public policy for the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability as a Legislative Research Analyst. Researching and writing on a range of topics, she has produced several publications analyzing primary and secondary education in Tennessee. Prior to joining the Comptroller’s Office, Paige was a legislative and community advocate for a non-profit organization dedicated to state education policy. Originally from Johnson City, TN, Paige earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and her Master of Public Administration from East Tennessee State University. As a graduate student, she served as Vice President for the Public/City Management Association of Graduate Students, which explores current public administration practices. When she isn’t working to improve Tennessee government, she volunteers her time with the Davidson County Election Commission. Outside of work you can find her playing kickball or leading her team to victory on trivia night.

Donna Duarte is the Director of Civil Rights Compliance and Senior Multifamily Advisor with the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA). In this role, she serves as THDA’s Title VI and Section 504 Housing Coordinator, ensuring equal access to housing programs throughout Tennessee. A graduate of Tennessee government leadership programs: Tennessee Government Management Institute, Tennessee Government Executive Institute and LEAD Tennessee, she is in the first cohort of the TGL Executive Leadership Certificate program. Prior to joining THDA in 1995, Donna oversaw the collection and review of monetary aggregates for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Donna completed her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from High Point University and is a candidate for the Masters of Public Administration from Tennessee State University. Donna and her husband Bob have one son, Eric, who attends the University of Tennessee.

Leah Dupree is a native of Jackson, TN and has lived in Nashville since 2011. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University, a Master’s in Business Administration from Valparaiso University, and a juris doctor degree from Indiana University. Before relocating to Nashville, Leah lived in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she worked for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Since 2013, Leah has been the Legislative Liaison for the Department of General Services and has been responsible for legislation and constituent services for the Department. Prior to moving to the Executive Branch, Leah served in the Legislative Branch as a Legislative Aide to Senator Doug Overbey. Leah enjoys speaking to youth about career paths and personal development.

Nathan James lives in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee with his wife of 13 years, Carla, and their two children, George and Thomas James. He works as the director of Legislative Affairs with the Tennessee State Board of Education, having come to the position from Louisiana where he served as The Policy Advisor to Governor Bobby Jindal for Education and the Workforce. While in that capacity he served on 6 boards and commissions as the Governor’s representative and was responsible to the governor for the coordination of K-12, higher education, and labor and workforce policy. Mr. James served the Tennessee  Senate as a clerk and legislative assistant from 1998-2002 and as research analyst to the Senate Education Committee from 2008 until 2013. During the intervening years he worked for the U.S. House of Representatives, owned his own ice cream shop, and served as the advocacy director for the American Heart Association. While Mr. James was serving as president of CHART (the Campaign for a Healthy and Responsible Tennessee) in 2007, this organization led a long media and lobbying campaign culminating in Tennessee became the first tobacco state to go smoke free. Mr. James is a Freemason, a Paul Harris Fellow, and has served as a Republican State Executive Committeeman. He is a retired Colonel in the Tennessee State Guard, and a member of the Interstate compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children by Governor Haslam’s appointment. He holds a BS in History and Political Science from Lambuth University and an MPA from Tennessee State University.

Nneka Norman-Gordon is the Director of Operations for the Public Information and Legislative Office in the Department of Human Services. She is responsible for overseeing the Department’s Customer Service Unit responsible for assisting customers, legislators and the general public with concerns relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Child Care, Child Support and Adult Protective Services and assisting with lobbying the Department’s legislation. In 2013, she became Tennessee’s first Higher Education Resource Officer and was responsible for answering questions and providing support and information to faculty, staff and employees of the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents system. Nneka also reviewed higher education policy for the Tennessee General Assembly.  Nneka joined the Comptroller’s Office in 2005 as a Legislative Research Analyst for the Offices of Research and Education Accountability and served on the Comptroller’s legislative team for four years. She previously served in the former Tennessee Department of Personnel as an examinations analyst. Nneka is a former United States Navy officer. She holds a M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Austin Peay State University, and a B.A. in Psychology from Hampton University in Virginia. Nneka enjoys spending time with her son, and stays involved in the Tennessee Chapter of the American Society of Public Administration, Middle Tennessee Boy Scout Council – Cogioba district and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Cara Robinson is an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Tennessee State University. In this capacity, Cara teaches courses in urban studies and nonprofit management. Cara earned her Ph.D. in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Delaware in 2011. Cara has presented and published in a variety of areas including media and democracy, community planning, the impact of charter schools, and homelessness. Cara is the former Executive Director of the Homeless Planning Council of Delaware. In her role as ED, she co-authored “Delaware’s Ten Year Plan to End Chronic and Reduce Long-Term Homelessness.”

Debbie Shaw is the Executive Director of the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation in Smyrna, TN.  The museum and historic home sit on 168 acres, including 15 historic structures and 100 acres of cotton fields.  Ms. Shaw is also the State Coordinator for the Tennessee Association of Museums.  In this role, she helps coordinate communication and cooperation between museums across the state.  Prior to her position at the Sam Davis Home, she worked at the Tennessee State Museum for 5 years in the education department.  She has also worked as an archaeologist.  Ms. Shaw has a BA and an MA in Anthropology from the University of Memphis.  She has a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Tennessee State University and is currently working on her PhD in Public Administration from Tennessee State University.  She has been involved in the nonprofit community in the Middle Tennessee area over the last 10 years.

Heather Vandagriff has served the public sector at the local, state, and federal levels. Heather worked for twenty years in OSHA/TOSHA compliance for Metropolitan Nashville. Among her achievements in that position, she was the first ATTSSA certified worksite safety supervisor for the city. Heather wrote the employee safety manual for her department and set up the information systems to statistically track employee incidents. At the state level, Heather was with Children’s Services and inspected facilities across the state for OSHA and Life Safety standards. Heather graduated in the top 10 percent of her exiting class at Middle Tennessee State University and was a National Merit Semi-Finalist. Heather has post graduate work toward her MPA at Tennessee State University. Heather is a native Nashvillian and avidly pursues her interests in ethics, efficiency, and safety in government.