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Over the past six months, the School for Advanced Research (SAR) Board of Directors appointed eight new Board and Advisory Board members. They bring experience in scholarship, language, marketing, development, social change programs, art history, writing and producing, and progressive engagement with Indigenous communities.

Following is a brief introduction to the new directors we are fortunate to have on our Board.


Dennis Ahlburg

Dennis Ahlburg, Ph.D., Board Director 2024-present, is a Distinguished Professor of Economics at Trinity University, San Antonio, and its former president. The author of more than 100 academic articles and books, he has consulted extensively with a variety of prominent organizations, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the governments of Great Britain and Australia. He received his doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, his M.A. from Australian National University, and his B.A. in economics from the University of Sydney. Before coming to Trinity University, he served on the faculties of the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Minnesota.


Jan Avent, Board member

Jan Avent

Jan Avent, Board Director 2023-present, is a professor emerita in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at California State University, East Bay in Hayward, California. She joined the faculty in 1989 and is the founder of the Aphasia Treatment Program, a unique intensive approach to speech and language rehabilitation following stroke and brain injury. Through her research, she authored the Manual of Cooperative Group Treatment for Aphasia and a chapter in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and other professional articles. Jan earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Tech University in 1977. She holds a Master of Arts degree from University of Kansas and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. She currently serves on the board of the Yosemite Conservancy and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband Dave Rossetti and greyhound Zoe.


Peggy Burns

Peggy Burns, Board Director 2024-present,  is an experienced development and marketing professional who has served on the staffs of Harvard University, the Henry Ford Health System, and the University of Michigan. At U-M, she delivered some of the largest gifts in the university’s history, including $56M for the Helen Zell Writers’ Program and $25M for the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder.


Anne Hillerman

Anne Hillerman, Advisory Board Director 2023-present, is the author of a detective series set on the Navajo Nation using characters her father, Tony Hillerman, made popular. Her debut novel, Spider Woman’s Daughter, received the Western Writers Spur Award as best first novel. That book and the six that followed were all New York Times bestsellers. She is the recipient of the New Mexico/Arizona book award for best book, the Frank Waters award for contributions to the literature of the Southwest, and the Rounders Award for helping keep the spirit of the American West alive. Anne is also an executive producer of the television series, Dark Winds, based on characters she and Tony created. Her newest mystery, The Way of the Bear, was released in April 2023.


Carolyn Kastner

Carolyn Kastner, Advisory Board Director 2024-present, is curator emerita at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, where she organized exhibitions and edited catalogues such as The Black Place: Georgia O’Keeffe and Michael Namingha (2018), Georgia O’Keeffe’s Watercolors: 1916-1918 (2016), Miguel Covarrubias: Drawing a Cosmopolitan Line (2014), Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land (2012), and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: An American Modernist (2012). Since retirement in 2018, her research, publications, and curatorial projects continue to focus on the diversity of American art. In 2020 she curated her first online exhibition, Bursts of Light: Contemporary Glass at the Indian Arts Research Center. Kastner moved to Santa Fe in 2007 to join the art history faculty at the College of Santa Fe as a professor of Native American art. Prior to her move, Kastner lived in San Francisco, where she was an independent curator and taught art history at the California College of the Arts. She earned her Ph.D. in American art history at Stanford University.


Christopher Oechsli

Christopher G. Oechsli

Christopher G. Oechsli, Board Director 2023-present, is President and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, a limited life international foundation that in 2020 completed its grantmaking and operations over five continents. He continues to provide support for Atlantic’s active, culminating grants to establish seven international Atlantic Fellows Programs and the Atlantic Institute. He chairs the Atlantic Institute Governing Board and is a trustee of The Rhodes Trust. Chris has over forty years of experience in international business, law, philanthropy, and policy development in the U.S., Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. He previously served as Counsel to U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and as a director, counsel, or chief executive of operating companies within the General Atlantic Group, an international investment subsidiary of the Atlantic Foundation. Earlier in his career, Chris worked with private law firms in Seattle, Shanghai, San Francisco, and Taipei. Chris Oechsli is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles. Following studies in Chinese language at Georgetown University and graduate studies at Columbia University, he received an M.A. in foreign affairs and a J.D. from the University of Virginia.


Brian Vallo

Brian Vallo

Brian Vallo, Advisory Board Director 2023-present, is a member of the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico. He recently completed three terms as governor of his tribe. Brian has dedicated over thirty years working in areas of sacred sites protection, repatriation of ancestors, historic preservation, museum development, language revitalization, cultural tourism, and the arts. He served as director of SAR’s Indian Arts Research Center for four years. As an independent consultant, Brian works with museums and other institutions throughout the country and internationally to advance initiatives around collaboration with source communities and Native artists, responsible and culturally relevant stewardship of Native American collections, access, and issues surrounding equity and inclusion.


Alaka Wali

Alaka Wali

Alaka Wali, Board Director 2024-present, focuses on an anthropological approach that engages rather than studies Indigenous communities. Using this method, Alaka became one of the first to advocate for collaboration in the museum field. She was hired in 1995 as the founding director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change at the Field Museum in Chicago. In 2012, she was named curator of North American Anthropology. It was largely under Alaka’s leadership that Native communities were brought into the development of the Field Museum’s renovation of the Native North American Hall, which opened in 2022. Alaka received her doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University and her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.