A team of professionals to bring the best expertise.
Meet our team.
DEI Leadership Institute helps companies build more human-centric, inclusive cultures, teams and products.
Our team of advisors is composed of professionals and academics with deep diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) expertise.
Our team shares a deep collective commitment to building equitable and inclusive communities and that now is the time to develop agents of change to achieve that vision. We see the workplace, classroom, board room, civic life – as a community and an opportunity to make a meaningful impact whenever we come together under a common purpose or mission.
Our team of consultants is united by a belief that we have the capacity to build communities in which every member is included, connected and contributing to their potential.
Co-Founder and principal, Maria Putnam, has lived a dynamic life of wide-ranging experiences across multiple cultures, and she embodies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Born in Bogota, Colombia, she has also lived in several countries, and is fully bilingual and multicultural.
Maria holds a Master’s degree in Community Education from Goddard College, a Principal’s license from the state of Colorado.She oversaw the International Studies program for one of the largest school districts in US, and developed strategic partnerships with educational organizations around the world.
As a business leader and entrepreneur, she has led inclusive practices for hiring committees, organized global leadership conferences, and successfully guided major corporate clients (Comcast, Cisco, Ericsson, Coors, Starz Entertainment) with strategies to reach target markets in the Hispanic, African-American, and Asian communities.
Maria has built a strong network in the business community, and partnered with nonprofit social service organizations. She has mentored leaders in international studies programs, and supported the career growth of minorities in education and social services.
Maria is a frequent speaker at leadership conferences, and has served on multiple boards, including the Global Chamber Denver, where she established the Global Women’s Online Network, and was the recipient of the Champion of the Year award in 2019.
Futurist and author Chet Sisk brings to the DEI Institute a global perspective on 21st Century issues such as climate change, and the dynamic and evolving relationship between culture and technology. He is the founder of Universal Basic Resources (UBR), an organization dedicated to helping individuals and companies thrive in the ever shifting social realties of our time.
He counseled the United Nations on such issues in 2015 and 2017, and has lectured in more than 30 countries about the effects of climate change, social disruption, institutional racism, and how we can empower each other to effect a change for the better. He also created the UBR Climate Strong Initiative to empower entrepreneurs to build climate resistant companies that help us adapt to our shared future.
Chet is a graduate of the Carbondale School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University, and is a management fellow at the Walter Kaitz Foundation. He has written several books, including his latest, You and the New Normal.
Rocío Durán is a psychologist and a certified Life Coach with over 20 years experience in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She has initiated many community development projects that focus on DEI in her native Colombia, as well as the United States.
She holds a Master’s Degree in Community Psychology, and has worked on national projects in Colombia for the Department of National Education (MEN), and The Ministry of Technologies of Information and Communications (MINTIC). Ms. Durán also led the Worlds for Children Project, an initiative that improved educational conditions, services, and care for more than 40,000 children in Bogotá city.
In the United States, her efforts to shift and empower women’s culture include being part of the Week of Women team, an initiative created and promoted by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and CBS4.
Rocío is the co-founder of Latina Leaders and Entrepreneurs, an annual event, which was created to encourage and train a new generation of Latino leaders in Colorado.
As an executive coach, she has collaborated with the Institute for UnLearning to facilitate strategic changes in corporate culture that emphasize engagement and empathy.
Moreover, her extensive experience in DEI bring a dynamic and broad vision to her coaching.
Ms. Durán has been a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Leadership Training, and is currently a fellow of the Latino Leadership Institute’s 9th Cohort at Denver University.
With global experience in accounting, finance and outsourcing operations, John Putnam not only brings deep business experience to the DEI Leadership Institute but he also an appreciation of the experience of working with clients and colleagues from twelve countries on five continents. He has been a partner in two of the global auditing and consulting firms, a finance officer at a Fortune 100 public company and a vice president of a French consulting and outsourcing company. John is a graduate of University of Washington and holds a MBA from Portland State University.
His personal views on the necessity of diversity, equity and inclusion were formed during his elementary and middle school years when his family moved from Seattle to New Orleans in the segregated South at the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
Uma Gopaldass is a global business transformation leader with three decades of field experience working in five continents for Resources, Manufacturing, and Technology industries. Born in Singapore and a graduate of National University of Singapore, Uma began her career offshore in remote Oilfields sites, working with diverse and indigenous cultures.
Since then, Uma has delivered multiple global re-organization projects worth $30 billion in value, resulting in $2.7 billion in cost reduction for industry leaders, including Schlumberger, Accenture, Newmont, and Fortune 500 clients, including Unilever, Deutsche Bank, and Chevron. Uma founded Leading Lotus, a business advisory focusing on inclusive culture for growth, talent optimization & workforce values.
She is certified in Diversity and Inclusion by the Diversity Executive leadership Academy and in Talent Optimization by Predictive Index. Uma is a qualified Corporate Board of Directors (CDI) and serves on the boards of TEDxMileHigh, a non-profit TEDx brand, and Co-Lead International, an advocacy group that champions equality, climate action, and social equity. Uma was inducted into the “VIP Women of the Year” circle from 2016 to 2018 for her excellence, passion, and leadership in mentoring professional women.
Joann Cortéz brings decades of business communications experience to the DEI Institute. She is the Director of Communications and the chief media representative and spokesperson for the Hyland Hills Parks and Recreation District which includes the nation’s largest publicly owned water park, Water World.
Under her media stewardship, Hyland Hills Water World and the District’s other award-winning facilities, all enjoy a reputation for communications excellence, transparency and integrity. She has hosted media teams from all over the world, and her media outreach has yielded coverage at both local and national media outlets. Joann is passionate about understanding other cultures, an essential quality for a dedicated communications professional, and is an engaging multicultural leader who deeply values service to others.
She has experience training and coaching executives on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Christie Jones has worked for 20 years in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion anchored in social justice for marginalized students. She is from Los Angeles where she studied English at UCLA. She began her career as a middle school Language Arts teacher in Florida. While in Florida she earned her Master’s degree in Multicultural Education from Florida Atlantic University. She created collaborative learning opportunities to include missing and vulnerable voices. She also has a Master’s degree in Journalism from University of North Texas.
Her passion for storytelling led her to teaching and the desire to empower students and families with literacy. She has taught middle school, high school, and college students in schools throughout the United States. The past few years she has worked in Denver area schools.
She is eager to build relationships in the community and continue to uplift students and families. The joy of her career is Black Writing Project, a contemporary Black arts movement that engages the community through research, literary arts, and journalism. The Multicultural Alliance Open Mic is a special program of Black Writing Project.
It is a safe space for multicultural voices to come together and create art about issues of social justice. She is currently a Museum and Heritage Studies major at Arizona State University. Her goal is to create a virtual art gallery that exhibits Black and Multicultural art. Her life’s mission is to see diversity, equity, and inclusion in action by curating, archiving, and exhibiting the art of people of color.
Alise Boxer has been an educator for over 25 years in the inner-city school setting. She has taught English as a Second Language for adults with a wide range of first languages, cultures and countries of origin.
Her appreciation of the life situations and backgrounds of her students has made her particularly effective in adult education. Her success in community education has also contributed to the effectiveness of the surrounding inner-city schools. Alise holds a teacher’s graduate program certification in English Language Acquisition from the University of Colorado at Denver and Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology, Dental Hygiene/ Public Health Education from the University of Colorado Medical Center. Alise is the recipient of the Asian Award for excellence in educating Asian students.
She has also coached, supervised, mentored numerous young educators.
María Ortiz Martínez
María Ortiz Martínez has been an educator for the last 9 years. She is originally from Spain, and she earned her master’s degree in Linguistics from New Mexico State University. María has been teaching Spanish at the College and High School level in the USA since she started her teaching career. She also worked in the editorial world as a writer, translator, and reviewer for 3 years. She is certified as a DEI Master Practitioner by the DEI Leadership Institute.
As an educator, María actively seeks to develop equitable communities. She started developing her interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion when she moved to New Mexico for her master’s degree and started working with the Hispanic communities. She is engaged in supporting diversity in schools for staff members and students, with a focus in the Hispanic and Latino communities.
Leslie Chernila has been a businesswoman in the US and an educator in the US, Slovakia, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico for over 30 years. In addition, she has published three children’s books about diversity, cultural differences, acceptance and tolerance. As a high school student, she lived with a French family and traveled while also taking college courses. In college, she received a BA in English with a minor in French. While working in sales for a large corporation and an investment firm, she began volunteering as an English instructor at the Spanish Catholic Center in Washington, DC. Soon after, she finished her MA in English with a concentration in English as a Second Language and began teaching at the University of Connecticut.
As an instructor of Business English, she fulfilled her dream of living and teaching outside of the US by moving to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. This led her to see more of the world and surround herself with new languages and learn about different religions, customs and traditions. Her desire to show her children the benefits of living in and attending school in a country other than their own, took them to Mexico for three years. There, Leslie was a Professor of English at the first American university in Mexico, Arkansas State.
Leslie has written three books for children, but also for people of all ages. Expat Cats is a story about her cats that she brought back to the US from the UAE. It shares the story of two Muslim cats moving to the US post 9/11. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech in Translation: What It Really Means (Kids’ Translations) is a book that breaks down Dr. King’s famous speech. Mexpat Cats shares her youngest son’s experience living in Mexico with his cats, Plata and Oro.