Meet the Team

Debra Humphreys

Executive Director & Founder

Debra is the Founder and Executive Director of CAN and has been involved in education policy and management for over 25 years. She currently serves as Chair of the Board of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, Missouri that she and her husband co-founded in 1993 and where she has led the school’s strategic initiatives. Debra also serves on the Board of Brooklyn Law School where she has sponsored scholarships for women and helped found the BLS Center for Urban Entrepreneurship providing BLS students with opportunities in business and social entrepreneurship. Debra received her Bachelor of Arts in Classics from New York University, her law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and her LL.M. (Graduate Tax Law) from NYU.

“I passionately believe in the power of education to transform lives and communities. I was inspired to found CAN to provide access to enhanced opportunities for students to find inspiration and joy through learning, while reinforcing critical academic, social, and ethical competencies, helping them to become active and engaged citizen-leaders.”

Clayton Carnahan

Program Director

Clayton ensures that the daily program is meeting the larger vision of CAN by working collaboratively with the teachers, Peer Mentors, and others to create and implement the curriculum, build a schedule that supports all the goals of the program, and align all parts of the day to make a smooth and successful experience for the students. Clayton began his career as a middle and high school English teacher at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School and now enjoys teaching Reading and Writing at the elementary level, as well as coaching cross country and track. Having grown up in Southeast Kansas, the mission of CAN is near and dear to his heart. Clayton holds a Bachelor of Arts in Literary Studies from Missouri Southern State University and a Master of Arts in Teaching with a focus on middle and high school English from Missouri State University.

Laura McDonald

Advisor for Program Development

Laura serves as Head of School of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, Missouri. For over 22 years, Laura has devoted her career to helping students make the most of their abilities as a math and science teacher, coach, College Counselor, Dean of Girls, and in several other leadership capacities. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Kenyon College and a Master’s degree in Education from Missouri State University. She is excited for Thomas Jefferson to host the CAN summer program and support public schools in the rural areas surrounding Joplin.

“I believe in the mission of CAN and believe it will provide participating middle school students with an exciting opportunity to build skills and self-confidence during the summer.”

Lisa Knutzen

Director of Marketing and Expansion

Lisa helps to forge new partnerships and expand CAN to communities serving our future scholars. Lisa is responsible for planning, development, and implementation of marketing and public relations activities. Prior to joining CAN, she served as an economic developer, was a Carl Junction Missouri Board of Education member, and earned her B.A. in Economics and Political Science from St. Olaf College. Lisa is most inspired seeing CAN scholars discover their “ah-ha” moment when suddenly they understand a new concept and learning become exciting!

Kelli Mahler

Administrative Assistant

Kelli helps in all aspects of operations and, in particular, coordinates the application process, communication with school administrators, and supports interested students and their families. Kelli is excited about working with CAN because it will allow her to help students build on their experiences and evolve into stronger students and citizens.

“Seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces is my favorite part. You can tell this program is really making a difference in their lives.”

Gabriel Hershewe

Director of Engagement and Technology

Gabriel manages photography, marketing, and internal communications for CAN and supports the program with IT infrastructure and technology in the classroom. He is currently pursuing a degree in Film & Media Studies and Theater from Lafayette College. In addition to working behind the scenes at CAN, Gabriel is excited to continue working as a Peer Mentor in CAN’s programs.

“I’m excited to work with CAN and see the program and our community of CAN scholars grow from year to year!”

6th, 7th & 8th Grade Free Summer Program | Joplin MO | Compass Academy Network

Missouri & Kansas

Questions? We’d love to help.