Smarty Pants Are Leaders | Our Team
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Our Team

The SPAL TEAM is a supportive network of Leaders

Board of Directors

Saudia Davis: Founder

team-saudia-insertSaudia Davis was born in San Francisco and raised in Mill Valley, Northern California. Saudia’s diverse background includes working as an actor on stage, commercials, and TV in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Most recently she was co-host of HGTV’s Splurge & Save. She’s also found time to model for several national advertisers. Saudia has always had a strong work ethic. As an artist-entrepreneur, Saudia always maintained a management position in retail to support her creative endeavors. Saudia launched a successful interior design and staging company called Pretty Painters in 1999. She relocated from New York to Chicago winter of 2009, to take over the role of General Manager of Smith & Hawken’s Chicago store and led her team to the number two position of 56 stores in the retailers’ system. There, she created “Kinder Gardens,” a space where kids can learn about growing plants, herbs and vegetables. She also taught adults horticulture tips and how to keep their Orchids alive while maintaining a visually stunning environment. An added bonus about moving to Chicago is that she is now close to her family and can fulfill her dream of helping children, like her two nieces, achieve their goals. Saudia is passionate about children and fascinated by their ability to learn. “I never underestimate the mind of a child, no matter their age.” Mid summer 2009, Saudia was notified with the rest of the country that Smith & Hawken was going out of business. Now Saudia dedicates herself full-time to providing young people with the road map they need to find similar success. Bewildered by, an uncertain economy and high youth crime in the city of Chicago, Saudia Founded a non-profit youth empowerment organization called SMARTY PANTS ARE LEADERS (SPAL). Smarty Pants Are Leaders teaches leadership skills through Art and Gardening to children in under served urban environments. “We focus on youth empowerment by building self-confidence, self-reliance, and healthy nutritional choices.” The SPAL program’s curriculum quietly minimizes violent behavior and makes students less attractive for gang recruitment. Smarty Pants Are Leaders also host other organizations at their Home Base integrated outdoor Art & Gardening experiential classroom. Every area, surface, soil, and plants are teaching tools. “We teach water conservation by demonstration in our vertical garden, the planters are repurposed corrugated water pipes, and the trees that had to be cut were made into tables. My goal with SPAL is to serve our community, enrich our community and inform our community. By offering other organizations opportunities to collaborate with us, knowledge continues to grow beyond the boarders of our classroom.”

Saudia has a BA in English from St. Mary’s College of Moraga California. She is a proud union member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actor’s Equity. She rides horses, practices Ashtanga Yoga and Acro Yoga.

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Bob Merlotti

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team-bob-merlottiBob Merlotti (aka “Fun Czar”) is an award winning comedic writer. Most people with Kellogg MBA’s go on to be productive members of society. Bob went into advertising. After spending his career in Chicago toiling on Bud Light, Mc Donald’s, and Discover, Bob landed at Grey L.A. In 2003, vowing once and for all to get over chapped lips. Well, he’s back in Chicago. His work has appeared on the Super Bowl (in the first quarter, before everybody headed for nachos) and his critical accolades include Clios, Lions, and several other awards that he smelted himself.

Through advertising Bob has worked with Walter Payton, Cohen Brothers (separate shoots), ridden in a Daytona 500 pace car, and filmed on the set of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Bob hails from St. Louis and loves the University of Missouri Tigers, strong coffee, and a good but competitively priced piece of veal.[/toggle]

Celine Ruben-Salama, MBA & MPA Environmental Science Policy

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team-insertCeline Ruben-Salama is a business strategist focused on efficiency, new media, technology, and environmental sustainability.

Recent public sector clients include the United Nations, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Region 2), The Earth Institute, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Her private sector clients include Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, and Discovery Communications.

In addition, Celine is a contributing writer for, the world’s largest online green lifestyle magazine. Her writing has also been published in Consilience, the Journal of Sustainable Development, as well as on Yahoo Green,, and

She is actively involved in local chapters of Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF), Net Impact, Green Drinks, and is an invited member of the Carnegie New Leaders program at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Celine holds a Masters of Public Administration Environmental Science and Policy (MPA ESP) from Columbia University, and an MBA from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, CUNY. She is a Wallenberg Fellow, and recipient of merit-based scholarships from the Swedish-American and Scandinavian-American Foundations among others.[/toggle]

Suzen M. Moeller, MS, PhD, Advisory Board

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team-insertDr. Moeller is a nutritional epidemiologist, teacher, and proponent of nourishing and joyful eating. As a senior scientist in the Department of Prevention and Health Promotion at the American Medical Association, she educates physicians and the public about topics related to diet, nutrition, and other health behaviors, and advocates for policies that support healthier lifestyles. Dr. Moeller previously worked in academia researching the role of dietary habits in chronic disease prevention, as well as on non-nutrition studies of HIV in mothers and infants and the genetics of asthma.

Dr. Moeller passionately believes that healthy eating should be physically, emotionally, and spiritually nourishing – as well as joyful! A native of Detroit, Dr. Moeller received her Masters and Doctoral degrees from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, and did post-doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a member of the American Society for Nutrition and the American Dietetic Association.

Dr. Moeller also has an eclectic teaching and child-caring background, and currently volunteers as a 6th grade Sunday school teacher and 8th grade English and math tutor. She is thrilled to be joining the SPAL team to help engage, inspire, and learn from our future leaders.[/toggle]

William Gerstein

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William Gerstein is the director of Family and Community Engagement at the Chicago Public Schools. Prior to that he was the co-founder and principal of two small high schools. One was the School of Entrepreneurship, a small high school located within the South Shore High School campus in Chicago. In 2007 he left South Shore to start the Austin Polytech Academy in the Austin community. Mr. Gerstein was a high school social studies teacher and track coach for eight years before he became the owner/ operator of a small chain of supermarkets (Mr. G. Finer Foods) in Chicago. While in business, Mr. Gerstein became actively involved in many community activities on the South Side of Chicago including public schools. In 1996 Mr. Gerstein sold his business as part of an effort to expand into a bigger location. After running a community based organization, he obtained a masters degree in school administration. Working with the community and teachers he helped organize four small schools within South Shore High School as the school converted its structure from a comprehensive model to a campus of autonomous small high schools. Mr. Gerstein resides on the South Side with his wife (a Chicago Public School teacher). They have four children and one grandchild.[/toggle]

David C. Driskell

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Born in 1931 into a family of Georgia sharecroppers, David C. Driskell is today a renowned painter and collector of art, as well as one of the leading authorities on the subject of African American art and the black artist in American society. Prof. Driskell has been a practicing artist since the 1950s and his works are in major museums throughout the world, including the National Gallery of Art, the High Museum of Art, and Yale University Art Gallery, to name a few. Since 1977, Prof. Driskell has served as cultural advisor to Camille O. and William H. Cosby and as the curator of the Cosby Collection of Fine Arts. In 2000, in a White House Ceremony, Prof. Driskell received the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton. His contributions to scholarship in the history of art include many books and more than 40 catalogues for exhibitions he has curated.

Even as he has become a world renowned artist, Driskell has not lost his connection to the environment, which he often looks to as a source of inspiration and for physical contribution to his pieces. “Art is one of the great joys of my life. There is an urge within to be creative… I must have my hands in the making process. The garden is another part of rearranging, creating my own world. It’s my order. I think had I not been a painter, I would be a gardener.” Developed as a small child through his mother’s love for her flower garden and his father’s work as a sharecropper, Driskell’s love of both art and the natural environment shows through in his pieces, as seen in The Herbalist, Semblance of Summer, and The Farmer and His Wife.It is this union of love and respect for art and gardening that aligns Driskell’s work and passion with that of Smarty Pants are Leaders. [/toggle]

Roberta Flack, Honorary Board Member

[toggle title=”Read Full Bio” state=”closed”]team-insert“I am excited to have an opportunity to watch the birth of this program, Smarty Pants Are Leaders. The very name fills me with incredible hope for our world for now and tomorrow. Only through education that takes place in a situation that encourages the completion of one’s dreams, can future leaders of all of the countries of the world be developed. This program creates the space that kids need. My prediction is that young people will fill it up to overflowing.”

– Roberta Flack
Grammy Winning Singer/Songwriter[/toggle]

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OUR TEAMMATES – Board Advisors who GIVE without hesitation

Kenneth Hill

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Kenneth Hill, originally from Chicago, Illinois has resided in Detroit for over 40 years. He is a graduate of Howard University with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and Wayne State University with a Master of Arts in Mathematics Education.

Hill worked at MichCon and taught in the Detroit Public School System prior to moving to the Republic of Zambia in Central Africa where he taught calculus and physics to African high school students. Upon his return to Detroit, he developed a nationally renowned program known as DAPCEP (Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program).

Mr. Hill is proud of the fact that 70% of students graduate from college in the fields of math and science.

In 1976, DAPCEP began with 245 students and now has an enrollment of over 6000. The mission is to increase the number of underrepresented African American, Latino American and Native American students who are motivated and prepared to pursue careers in science, mathematics, and engineering. DAPCEP provides instructional and motivational activities to youngsters throughout the school year, on Saturdays and during the summer. Hill led the development the DAPCEP curriculum and put into place an effective teacher-training component.

DAPCEP students continue to win gold ribbon awards in the Metropolitan Detroit Science and Engineering Fair with 44% of the winners in 2003 compared to 10% in 1977. DAPCEP is recognized by the American Council of Education, the Educational Testing Service, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Society of Black Engineers as one the most outstanding pre-college programs in the country.

Hill was the recipient of the 1990 NAACP Distinguished Service Award, the 1993 Distinguished Service Award from the Detroit Public Schools, the Community Service Award from the DAPCEP Parent Advisory Committee, and 1995 “Best Managed Non-Profit” from Crain’s Detroit’s Business. He was selected Michiganian of the Year in 1999. In 2000, Hill was the recipient of the William L. Dawson award from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (Washington D.C.). Also, in 2000 DAPCEP completed a $7 million dollar Growth Campaign for the K-12 program. In 2002, he received the community service from the Ford African Ancestry Network, and in 2004 he received the Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman Award from the Black Slate, Eastside Slate, and the Community Coalition.

Hill is married and lives in Chicago and Detroit.

Hill is currently the President & CEO of the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program, Inc.[/toggle]

William Moss

[toggle title=”Read Full Bio” state=”closed”]team-insertWilliam Moss is a trusted authority in Greening, Gardening and Urban Agriculture. He connects with audiences and inspires people to make healthier choices that improve their lives, their communities and the environment for future generations. William uses his in depth knowledge and charming personality to engage, educate, and entertain audiences with relevant and informative content.

He designs content to create an interactive experience that educated and informs across multiple platforms. Whether in person, print, television, or on-line multi-media, William spreads the good news about gardening and greening. William writes articles for MyOrganicGardeningBlog, Moss In The City, William’s Web, and He also serves on the board of The Talking Farm and as an instructor for the Chicago Botanic Garden. Currently, William is on TV as the host of HGTV’s “DIG IN”, a greening correspondent for The Early Show on CBS, and a QVC gardening guest.[/toggle]

Jamie Poole – Chef Advisor

[toggle title=”Read Full Bio” state=”closed”]team-insertA native of sunny San Francisco, California, Chef Jamie Poole, is the quintessential west coast native, cool, calm and collected. Chef Jamie often worked in the kitchen alongside her parents preparing nightly meals for their family of six. She also found herself experimenting with recipes for holiday gatherings of upwards of 40 guests.

Chef Jamie’s life took an unexpected turn when she lost both parents to cancer. But her positive attitude, the support of her family and the wise words she received from her father, were encouragement to follow her passion of bringing delicious and healthy food to the world. Those lasting words from Chef Jamie’s father were, “Find something you really love, and go for it.”

Chef Jamie threw caution to the wind and enrolled in the world-renowned Culinary Institute of America. After years of working for fortune 500 companies, Chef Jamie pursued a career change that would fulfill her dreams of cooking professionally.

Since completing her training, Chef Jamie has provided her culinary expertise for past presidents, public officials, entertainers and athletes. Her clientele includes some of New York’s most elite residents and A-list celebrities such as Sean “Puffy” Combs and Alicia Keys. Chef Jamie’s six-star service showcases her passion of going above and beyond for clients.

Currently completing her Master’s in Wellness and Nutrition, Chef Jamie’s love for life and nutritious food ensures she is well on her way to accomplishing her dream of making a difference through food. [/toggle]

Abraham Godson

[toggle title=”Read Full Bio” state=”closed”]Abraham Godson opened for the cusp conference this summer. Here’s what they had to say.

Sure he plays lacrosse and video games, but Abraham Godson’s calling must have been pretty clear to his teachers and parents when at a very young age he asked “Why doesn’t everyone love to practice piano?”

The third of five children in a family where music is as foundational as math, language and science, 12-year-old Abraham has been studying piano at the Community School of the Arts in Wheaton, IL for seven years. At age nine he became the full-time pianist for a local church, where he continues to play along with his father as part of a five member band. His music space includes classical, jazz and pop – some of his favorite artist and composers include Mozart, Bach and Liz Story – but he’s always had a tendency to produce a little extra something beyond whatever music is written on the page he’s play from. Now he’s turning those extra somethings into his own original compositions. But only after he’s done with his homework.

For more information go to or [/toggle]