Define American

Transcending politics through a new conversation

Our Team

Define American was founded in April 2011 by Jose Antonio Vargas with Jake Brewer, Jehmu Greene, and Alicia Menendez.

Today, Define American is led by Vargas.

Board Members

Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder and Co-Chair
Patricia Hyland
Shervin Pishevar
Afshin Pishevar, General Counsel



Rev. Ryan M. Eller, Executive Director, Louisville, KY
Responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations of Define American. Eller holds a B.S. in Political Science from Appalachian State University, a Masters Degree in Divinity from Wake Forest University, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Penn State University. Prior to joining Define American, he was the U.S. Campaigns Director at For four years prior to that, he was the Executive Director of CHANGE in North Carolina—the largest broad-based community organizing group in the southern United States (a 501c3). He has extensive experience in the campaign arena as well, having managed political campaigns at both the local and federal level.

Saadia McConville, Chief Communications Officer, New York, NY
Responsible for Define American's strategic communications and media relations. Saadia comes to Define American from Malaria No More, where she headed up communications for the global health NGO. She previously worked at Bloomberg News as a television reporter and producer, covering financial news stories for stations across the country and internationally. In addition to her experience in news, Saadia served as Communications Director for Economic Fairness Oregon, where she helped pass key consumer protection laws in the wake of the financial crisis. She earned a B.A. from the University of Washington and an M.A. from the University of Miami.

Maria Cruz Lee, Strategic Operations Director, New York, NY
Responsible for directing the implementation of Define American's initiatives and developing new programs as needs emerge. Lee holds a B.A. in Media from CUNY Hunter College and served as Special Assistant to former Commissioner Fatima Shama at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs during the Bloomberg administration. She joined MOIA as its first social media intern in 2010, created and implemented the agency's social media strategy on multiple campaigns, including the Blueprints for Immigrant Integration, which are being used in 50+ municipalities and have been internationally awarded as a model. Born in the Philippines, she aims to continually connect, support and celebrate immigrants in all her efforts.

Michael Conti, Digital Production Manager, San Francisco, CA
Responsible for creating original content through all forms of media for Define American. Conti holds a B.F.A. in Photojournalism from Rochester Institute of Technology and has worked both in newsrooms and for custom publishers. Prior to joining Define American, he photographed for national and international non-profits, and documented agricultural and industrial life in small towns throughout the United States. He contributes his passion for meaningful journalism to Define American’s storytelling, and uses his experience in stills, video, writing, and graphics to find inventive ways to reach new audiences.

Julián Gómez, Digital Engagement Manager, Washington, D.C.
Responsible for Define American’s social media presence, email strategy and digital engagement. Gómez holds a B.A. in Film and Media Arts from American University and comes to Define American from Fission Strategy, where he was a Digital Strategy Fellow and managed the organization’s email strategy. His previous experience includes working on political ads during the 2014 midterm election at MeanGreen Media in Washington, D.C. and curating social media for The Harry Potter Alliance, an innovative fan-activist nonprofit. He has also worked as a freelance videographer and editor on many projects including the Student Emmy-winning film “Chesapeake Villages.”  Having moved to Miami, FL from Argentina at a young age, Julián is a proud advocate for immigrant and minority rights and is currently a recipient of DACA.

Marin Hope, Media and Entertainment Associate, Los Angeles, CA
Responsible for executing Define American’s entertainment media strategy. Prior to joining the Define American, Marin studied performing arts at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and has worked extensively as a casting associate in both New York and Los Angeles since 2009.

Karen Lee Willemsen, Education Specialist, Seattle, WA
Responsible for mentoring teachers and working with educational organizations to provide them with Define American-created curriculum and tools for engaging school-age students in conversations on citizenship, identity, and immigration. Willemsen earned her B.A. in American Studies at UC Santa Cruz, her teaching certificate from Santa Clara University, and her Ed.M from Harvard Graduate School of Education. In addition to her work at Define American, she teaches in the Seattle Public Schools.

Jonathan Yu, Operations Manager
Responsible for supporting the staff of Define American and founder Jose Antonio Vargas.

Christine Xu, Executive Assistant, Louisville, KY
Responsible for supporting Rev. Ryan Eller and the staff of Define American. Christine holds a B.S. in Business Administration with an emphasis on Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California, and comes to Define American with diverse experience in nonprofit, philanthropy, social enterprise, and design thinking for social good. Her past work includes implementing social impact programming at Impact Hub LA and expanding educational opportunities for farmworker families in Central California through The Wonderful Company. Born and raised in Arcadia, CA, Christine is second-generation Chinese-American and a proud supporter of mental health advocacy and education.


To reach our staff, please use our Contact Us form.

For all media inquiries, please contact
Saadia McConville
[email protected]

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