Employee Spotlight: Elise Wagner

Elise Wagner is Ascend’s treasured Talent Acquisition Advisor that spends her days helping with all things “new hire”. However, before starting her HR journey, she had a very intriguing past, as she was a cross-country traveling actress, therapist and tour guide.

Wagner currently supports our human resources team, primarily our recruiters, during the interview process as well as new employee onboarding. She coordinates our new CheckPoint events. Before that, Wagner worked in Chandler, Arizona at NASM for almost seven years. She’s a stellar example of how Ascend supports cross-business unit hiring, and encourages innovation.

Now, back to that intriguing past. Wagner is a smart cookie who follows her passion. She has a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas; a master’s degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona; and a master’s degree in Psychology from Montana State in Billings, Montana. Why theatre, you ask? She’s the baby of the family and felt inspired by her siblings to leave their 900-acre Missouri farm and head for Los Angeles and the world of entertainment. 

Q. Before working at Ascend, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?

The most unusual would be driving for UPS in Billings, Montana for a holiday season. I handled the mall during the day and helped deliver to residents at night. The most interesting was working as a tour guide at Universal Studios Hollywood. I met some amazing people as a VIP Guide: George Harrison, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Redford, Jaws, etc.

Q. What’s something you’ve done that most people haven’t done?

Performed at the Kennedy Center as a pregnant nurse…I was in a play called “Dancers”. 

When you think about it, acting is all about human behavior. Some people are surprised when they hear I have degrees in both theatre and psychology. But really, they’re very similar. Both involve studying human behavior, and I find that very interesting. 

Q. Do you have any pets? If so, tell us about them!

Absolutely! My boys are Wally and Desi Wagner and are both rescues. Wally (Woozle) is a Yorkshire/Maltese Terrier mix and Desi (Fang Boy) is a Chihuahua/Min Pin mix. Having relocated from AZ, neither of them are too keen with the KC winters but darn if they don’t look cute in their blue fur-lined parkas!



Employee Spotlight: Jerry Gorham

Ascend employees are the heart and soul of our company, and every employee changes lives with their hard work. We hope you enjoy getting to know one of our employees in this profile.

Άπαντάτε Τζέρι

If you’re Jerry Gorham, you know what that sentence says.

While some of us may brush up on our college Spanish before a vacation, Jerry Gorham, Ascend’s Chief Measurement and Testing Officer, digs a little deeper into his language studies. How deep? Classical Greek. HebrewAramaic.Syriac.Coptic. (Plus, a little French and German on the side.)

Lately he’s been reading Homer – in Greek – and some Septuagint, which, in case you didn’t know, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. And mastering classical languages is just one of the many hobbies he partakes in when not making sure Ascend’s test scores are air-tight, valid and fair.  Here’s more about Gorham!

Q. Education is obviously important to you. Tell us about your degrees.

My undergraduate is from Freed-Hardeman University. I have a Master’s in Greek Studies from Abilene Christian University, a Masters of Divinity in Greek Studies and Counseling from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Statistics from Rutgers University.

Q. You lead our team of psychometricians at Ascend. How do you describe what you do to your neighbors?

Psychometrics is very easy to explain: We use complex modeling and statistical techniques to guarantee that test scores produced by Ascend are valid. Ultimately, our job is to make certain that a score we report is both fair and defensible in a court of law because that score has been produced using best industry practices. Without such assurances, our company could be subject to class action suits for reporting scores that are neither valid nor defensible. Most everyone on our team has an advanced degree in Psychology or Educational Measurement. 

Q. What’s something you’ve done that most people haven’t done?

In middle age, I worked hard to get my pilot’s license and my tailwheel plane endorsement and now fly a small tailwheel aerobatic plane for fun. I usually fly my plane all around New Mexico and up to the Colorado border. I enjoy flying low and seeing the beautiful landscapes of New Mexico. The world looks a lot different when you’re a few thousand feet above the ground.

Generation Z from an Intern’s Perspective

Mark Restuccia, Editorial Intern at Ascend business unit, Jones & Bartlett Learning, shares his insight on what skills and changes Generation Z will bring to the workplace

As a college student with a fresh mind what new perspective or skills do you believe your age group brings to the workplace?  

  I just graduated from college in May. While taking classes, my professors, time and time again, would talk about my generation and how it differs from theirs. I believe there are several essential skills that my generation brings to the figurative table of the workplace and elsewhere due to when we were raised.

     First, my generation (Generation Z) is full of digital natives. A digital native is someone who grew up in the current age of technology, and who have, therefore, been using it their whole life. In our time, phones have gone from landlines to flip phones to slide-out-keyboard phones and finally to smartphones, which are essentially portable computers. In the case of computers, things have shifted during our lifetimes so that now, unlike 15-20 years ago when people had, at most, a single computer for the whole family, each person has their own laptop or PC. People in my generation have been integrating the use of mobile phones and computers together our entire lives, so it is second nature for us to operate them. As a result, we learned how to use technology by exploring and fiddling around with it; if we don’t know something, we experiment until we learn it. I’ve been using Microsoft Office since I was as young as eight or nine years old, but I’m still learning new things about it.

What comes with being a digital native compared to other generations, is our natural inquisitive nature and our eagerness to learn new things about the technology we use. If I don’t know how to do something, I either look around the menus until I can figure out how to do it, or I simply Google it. This curiosity and passion for learning new things serves to make us a self-sufficient generation, while still being unafraid to ask questions if they can’t be found in a knowledge base. This, in turn, makes us both reliable and innovative as workers.

     Second, I believe my generation can and does embrace change in stride. Like other generations, the world, technology, and even our own lives, have all been in constant flux. Not only can we embrace change (one of Ascend Learning’s values), but we’re not afraid to start the conversation around change and be the catalyst for new innovations. This adaptive mindset will be useful to organizations bringing in Gen Z students because of their desire and willingness to push boundaries into uncharted territory. We’re flexible because we’ve always had to be. Therefore, we can not only embrace change, but also bring it about. And likewise, we’re constantly trying new things because, like in the case of technology, new things are always coming about: new jobs, new ways of doing things, and so on.

     Finally, the grads of today are well-rounded and brimming with ideas. College education isn’t always about honing in on one particular skill nor entering a specific field; it is a comprehensive curriculum. Sometimes, especially at liberal arts colleges, it’s about teaching students and grads to be “enablers” of their own educated judgements and decisions. These judgements and decisions are based on the knowledge they’ve accrued from the many subjects they either dabbled or delved into during their college years.

     In today’s world, change is one of the only constants. As my generation enters the workforce, our ability to adapt to new challenges, find creative and new solutions to fix existing ones, and use all our available resources is essential for success. Regardless of what generation you were born into, we all encounter a variety of hardships and obstacles, but my hope is that my generation will bring the additional creative and curious explorers, who are well-equipped with the evolving knowledge needed to surmount them.

Employee Spotlight: Mike Aldini

Ascend employees are the heart and soul of our company, and every employee changes lives with their hard work. We hope you enjoy getting to know one of our employees in this profile.

You know you have a good sales person if they can get creative. Like selling snowboards in the desert! Now that he’s moved on from his stint at a local winter sports shop in Arizona, Mike Aldini lives in Denver, Colorado and is selling pre-licensing material at ExamFX for both insurance and securities. He works to maintain current clients’ needs through constant communication and travel.

His favorite part of his job are the relationships he has built with both clients and the team of sales reps in Leawood, Kansas. When he’s not assisting customers, you can find Mike snowboarding, camping, fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, working on cars, spending time outside or hanging with his black lab Pitbull mix named Pancake (“Cakes” for short).

 Q: What’s your favorite Ascend value and why?

Selfless. I played baseball growing up and team is something that means a lot to me. When you have selfless team members it makes for an incredibly strong unit. If everyone is willing to help you can create something great.

 Q: What’s something you’ve done that most people haven’t done?

I got on a real bull at the local rodeo. By far the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. 

 Q: What is one career lesson you’ve learned?

You can’t let things you have no control over affect your mood. Stay focused on your goals and constantly be working to achieve them. 

Kognito Introduces New Preschool Simulation

Preschool Professional Development with At-Risk for Early Childhood Educators

Today Kognito launches its newest simulation for PK-12 users, At-Risk for Early Childhood Education. Learn more about how this professional development tool for preschool teachers plays a role in building community for at-risk preschoolers who need more support.

Rethinking Disruptive Behavior

It’s hard to argue against the importance of preschool for young children and preschool professional development for their educators. A rising movement in the U.S. is recognizing the value of preschool opportunities so that children can start kindergarten ready for success.

Yet many people are surprised to know that each year, over 8,700 three- and four-year-old children are expelled from state-funded preschool classrooms. This is three times the rate of their older peers, and in childcare settings can be 13 times higher.

Why are suspensions and expulsions problematic at this age? Interrupting early child education has academic, social, and emotional consequences. According to the Institute of Child Success:

Young children who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not. Expulsion or suspension early in a child’s education predicts expulsion or suspension in later school grades.

Why Preschool Professional Development MattersScreen_Shot_2019-08-20_at_9_55_38_AM.png

These consequences are causing policymakers and preschools to rethink how they respond to challenging behavior in the classroom. Recognizing underlying causes of disruptive student behavior such as traumamental health, and home environments can make a crucial difference in connecting children to support.

With disruptive behavior on the rise, managing a classroom of preschoolers ages three to five is a challenging job. It requires not only a focus on early childhood education, but also on classroom management. Lack of training on responding to disruptive behavior can exacerbate feelings of stress and burnout, in turn negatively impacting their teaching.

Preschool professional development is therefore critically important to ensure that young children have a high quality education and that preschool teachers are satisfied in their jobs.

Addressing Young Children At-Risk

With growing attention on emotional regulation among three- to five-year-olds, the Kognito team has developed a new preschool professional development simulation for educators to lead conversations with students and develop relationships with caregivers.

At-Risk for Early Childhood Educators is designed to prepare adults to identify when a young student in their class needs more support. The immersive learning experience, in which teachers practice talking with virtual students and caregivers, builds knowledge and skills in child mental health and behavior management. The end goal is to lead real-life conversations on challenging behavior with young students and to collaborate with their caregivers on a plan.

Learning objectives of At-Risk for Early Childhood Educators are for preschool educators to be able to:

  • Identify signs that a young child in their care might need support
  • Intervene appropriately in response to behavioral challenges or social-emotional skill deficits
  • Bring up concerns with a caregiver and collaborate on a plan, and
  • Practice emotional self-regulation to better support themselves and their students.

About At-Risk for Early Childhood Educators

This preschool professional development tool covers four role-play scenarios in about 45 minutes:

In the first scenario, the learner assumes the role of a teacher who tries to refocus the class and help a student, Eli, calm down after he accidentally hit another student during a group activity.

The second scenario takes place shortly afterwards when the learner checks in with Eli to help him identify his feelings and problem-solve for the future.

In the third scenario, the learner chats with Eli’s mother to share observations and collaborate on a plan around Eli’s behavior.

Finally, the learner sits down with the grandfather of a student, Sophia, in order to build a relationship and learn about Sophia’s behavior at home to inform her approach in the classroom.

Kognito designed these role-play conversations to

  1. help teachers effectively manage their classrooms, and
  2. to collaborate with caregivers to build a community around students who need additional support.

With guidance from a virtual coach, learners try different conversation approaches to see what works to meet their goals.

Preschool Professional Development and Up

At-Risk for Early Childhood Educators joins Kognito’s At-Risk suite of online professional development role-play simulations tailored for elementarymiddle, and high school grades. These tools are currently adopted by schools, districts, and statewide agencies to train school personnel to address student mental health.

Complementing mental health and suicide prevention training, Kognito also offers PK-12 professional development training on the following topics:

For more information, check out the product page. 

Employee Spotlight: Krystal Webb

Ascend employees are the heart and soul of our company, and every employee changes lives with their hard work. We hope you enjoy getting to know one of our employees in this profile.

 Always upbeat and forever a team player, Krystal Webb has enjoyed working with four different teams during her 14 years with ATI and Ascend. Currently, Krystal is the senior training and enablement manager with ATI. In this role, she’s one of the first people new hires interact with when they start their new position at ATI. She welcomes new hires via email, hosts live Skype sessions, and facilitates a live new hire product training class in Leawood, KS office. She and the new hires then stay connected through a 12 week online training program. 

Krystal is extremely passionate about helping ATI employees better understand the business’ incredibly massive solutions offerings. Outside of the office, she loves spending time with her family. Krystal and her husband Brady and their two daughters love to go to church, play outside and just spend quality time together.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the business unit/department you support?

My favorite thing about ATI Nursing is our people! Our internal employees and external clients are my favorite. I love working with the best team on the planet and I love that we support nursing students and educators. I have a special place in my heart for nurses and feel incredibly blessed to contribute to creating better nurses and help prepare them to be the best nurses in the field. We have an amazing organization and I feel very fortunate to get to work with each and every new hire, in setting them up with the right resources and tools to be successful ambassadors of our products and solutions. Seriously, the people at ATI are super special and are one of a kind! 

Q: What is one word that you would use to describe your work team, and why did you choose that word?

Collaborative. The ATI Marketing team is comprised of some of the most talented, passionate people I know. They always know how to get the job done (have you heard of the Nursing Summit? The “Best Work Week Ever” organized and delivered by the ATI Marketing Team), have fun and also deliver the best possible end product.

 Q: What’s something you’ve done that most people haven’t done?

One dream job I’ve held is the role of Professional NFL Cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs. This was a passion and dream of mine for as long as I can remember, since being on the side-lines cheering on my dads team from as early as 2 years old. With a lot of hard work, perseverance and determination, I made my dream a reality. I also worked as a Client Account Manager for ATI while cheering for 80,000 fans and the loudest stadium in the NFL. This was one of the best life experiences I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of. One of my favorite aspects of being a Chiefs Cheerleader was being active in community work and public appearances, being a role model within my community and a role model for young girls to look up to. I also set a goal to run my first marathon on my 30th birthday and I did it! I ran the Las Vegas strip at night. It was a fun and exhausting experience, with my husband cheering me on.

Employee Spotlight: Lynell Wagenman

Ascend employees are the heart and soul of our company, and every employee changes lives with their hard work. We hope you enjoy getting to know one of our employees in this profile.

As the senior operations manager for BoardVitals, based in New York City, Lynell Wagenman gets to work with every part of the business unit while she leads customer support, manages their ACCME accreditation and continuing education programs, as well as relationships with various external partners. In doing so, she’s seen just how diverse and vibrant the BoardVitals team is, while still being close-knit and collaborative.


Q: What’s something you’ve done that most people haven’t done?

I am a classically trained opera singer. I hold a master’s degree in opera and I’ve sung across the US and Europe.


Q: What’s the best thing about the city you live in?

New York City truly is the center of the universe. There is never a lack of things to do – whether it’s live music, theatre, sports, museums, or dining, there is always something new to explore! I will also never get over that I can catch a Broadway show whenever I want.


Q: What is one career lesson you’ve learned?

Work smarter. You can accomplish much more with a plan of action than if you let your day run you.

Ascend Intern Service Project at Giving the Basics

Recently, the interns and other employees at the Leawood, KS office volunteered with the Giving the Basics organization in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Giving the Basics helps over 230,000 people each month gain access to personal care products they are unable to afford. While families may utilize programs such as food stamps, government assistance does not cover products such as toilet paper, soap or toothbrushes. Giving the Basics helps people access these products many of us take for granted.  

After dropping off the items donated at Leawood office, the Ascend team watched a video highlighting families, veterans and others whose lives have been impacted by Giving the Basics. The team then began boxing such items as shampoo, conditioner and all-purpose cleaner; filling palette after palette. We worked until there was no more room to put the items we had boxed up. In total, we sorted, counted and packaged over 8,000 hygiene items and household products.  

Seeing how many people struggle to get these personal care items just within the Kansas City area was eye-opening. Figuring out how to pay for toilet paper or soap is something I have been fortunate enough to never have to worry about; however, there are many out there that do. Children who must sit nervously in class because they have been teased about their hygiene, and parents that carry that burden on their shoulders with no resource to turn to. Without programs such as Giving the Basics, these families may not have anyone to look to for help in their time of need.  

Working as an intern, many people emphasize the importance of getting experience working in a corporate atmosphere to help navigate the ins and outs of “corporate life”. In doing this, I have learned about my expectations of an organization that I would choose to work for. It is refreshing to work for a company that offers a community involvement program such as weAscend. As someone who wants to volunteer more but sometimes struggles to figure out how to get involved, I appreciate programs such as these within the organization. Working somewhere that feels a responsibility to be a contributive member of the local community reassures me of the kind of company I want to work for and what I should expect from it.   

Raymond Forstater

School: University of Kansas

Major: Strategic Communications 

Minor: History

Year Entering: Senior

Team/Dep’t: ExamFX, Marketing